Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wage Law Balance, Presidential Influence on Media, and Worst Toilets in the World

Quick Hits for April 22, 2010

* I am always puzzled by the debates about wage laws. I hear some on the left talk about a living wage, as if a law could magically create that utopia. The truth is if a living wage is $40,000 today and you mandated everyone have at least that wage, by tomorrow inflation would make it a poverty wage. It is unfortunate, but any capitalist based society will always have rich and poor. However, it is what drives a lot of our advancement. Be happy that America's poor have it far better than 80% of the world's middle class.

The flip side that makes little sense is this notion that there should be no minimum wage and a complete failure to understand the role minimum wage plays in our society. We know that minimum wage increases also tend to increase other wages. So the role minimum wage laws really have isn't mandating some living wage, but rather to create pressure to increase wages when wages aren't keeping up with inflation.

It isn't that wages or profits should dominate each other, but rather that economics is about balance: the balance between profit taking and taxation, the balance between profit taking and re-investment, the balance between costs and affordability, and more. When someone tells you that one factor is the all important factor in any economic discussion, call BS because economics is always about balancing two or more factors, not the domination of a single factor like low tax rates.

* It is interesting but laughable to hear Fox News claim that the Obama Administration "controls the media" as if President Obama was somehow the CEO of each of the news organizations all at once. It is laughable because it assumes some grand conspiracy to keep it secret from the rest of the world, but Fox and the right love a good conspiracy of the left to take over the world.

What makes it interesting is that it is completely and utterly devoid of any understanding of how the White House has historically "controlled" the media over the years. Kristina Borgesson's Into The Buzzsaw detailed the subtle influence of the White House over the years regardless of political party of the President through using access to information, interviews, and "leaks" in modern times and the number of books on government influence on the media through manipulation run rampant.

It isn't some Stalinist-like control as much as the same kind of manipulation that Presidents from Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and many others have used to influence organizations. News organizations live off of access through exclusive interviews, relationships that help "leak" stories, and the perception that they have the "breaking story" that others don't have. Administrations have long used this access or the threat of losing it to limit the questions media asks.

Whether or not President Obama's administration did anything like that for this story has yet to be shown, but this whole notion of a grand White House censorship conspiracy is laughable and indicates Fox journalists simply don't know much or lie about what they do know for political influence.

* Gotta love a ranking of the World's Worst Toilets, yet in viewing it, I have seen far worse toilets in The Philippines, which I am positive are not the worst in the world. Something tells me the toilets here were done by someone with limited travel experience. What are your worst toilets in the world?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CO2: Volcanoes vs. Humans; Palin and Iranian Clerics; Teabaggers and taxation; FDA and Salt; and Why do you Trust or Distrust Govt?

Quick Hits for 4/21/2010

* I have to say I keep hearing anti-environmental ignorance by the right on conservative Facebook pages as they proclaim that more CO2 is created by volcanoes than humans, yet factually speaking we know that we average about 200 Million tons of CO2 by volcanoes per year and about 24 Billion tons of CO2 by humans per year. It isn't even a close comparison yet they keep spouting the lie. I have always thought that if your position rests on lying, you might want to take a better position.

* I am not sure which shocked me more... an Iranian cleric proclaiming promiscuity causes earthquakes or Sarah Palin actually admitting the religious right actually wants a theocracy and believes the Founders wanted one too. Then again, on Glenn Beck's show, she struggled to find the name of a Founder when Beck asked her to name her favorite.

* I wonder just how many Teabaggers realize that they complain about taxes but advocate a flat tax, which would be a tax increase for at least 47% of Americans, if not far more.

* The FDA is talking about regulating salt in processed foods, which has the left saying "good" but the right is calling it a "nanny state" policy. If they were talking about regulating the salt intake of Americans, I would agree with the right. However, they are talking about regulating the salt in processed foods, which few actually realize what is in them. Given the state of health for Americans and how we all get to pay those costs, whether it is through insurance or government, taking the salt intake choices up to Americans and out of the hands of corporations is probably the best choice.

* A recent CNN poll indicated about 26% trust the federal government but about 52% trust their local government. Yet, the level of corruption is often higher in local government. I am guessing one key factor to the poll is the result of media focus on the federal government, whereas local governments are often ignored.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Quest to Improve Eating in America

There is no doubt, Americans are largely obese and our kids aren't getting any better for it. Studies show obesity is linked to many health problems including heart problems, cancers, and much more. There has been a call by some for government action to outlaw certain things like cokes or sugar snacks. Instead of heeding these calls, it might be better to take the approach of the Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver.

His efforts in his new television show attempting to create a "Food Revolution" in America has gained support and shown just how ingrained our bad eating habits are. We have moved from a nation that is the breadbasket of the world with fresh, high quality foods to the processed foods capital of the world. Oliver points out one of the biggest problems comes from that processing and the added ingredients that aren't healthy for us.

One of the problems is the perception that eating well is either bland and boring, or it is too expensive. Much of that is overcome with help, but most don't know where to turn.

For easy recipes for great food, utilize the internet. My favorite website is Food Network because it gives many recipes with reviews from the most simplistic to complex recipes. Sometimes, the reviews show you problems and solutions to those problems with the recipes that make amazing food. Give it a try. You don't have to be a chef to cook, just be able to follow directions.

For saving money, I often recommend strategies I learned at Grocery Game, but I tend to avoid the processed foods and utilized a lot of the price matching and sale price techniques. Pick up some more tips from the $5 Dinner Mom.

In the end, Oliver says one big difference isn't giving up the hamburger but rather making it with fresh ingredients instead of processed. A hamburger should have 4-6 ingredients, not the 40 in a processed burger. Remember, you are what you eat so eat well.

Unthinking Reactionaries or Just Constant Opposition: A Case Study on Facebook

One thing that just seems to get me is watching how silly and overreacting people can be sometimes without any apparent clue of what they are talking about. Here is one such case I found on Senator John Cornyn's Facebook page.

The author of the post got hysterical over an article where the military and Senators said they were looking at setting up guidelines for the military to deal with cyberattacks against the United States. If you read the article, there aren't many details but more significantly it doesn't indicate any actual action being put forth other than "looking" at the situation. To that, the author wrote this:


What the hell is going on at the Hill? Are they smoking crack? Are they drunk? This is flippin ridiculous! Where the hell do they think they get this kind of power? WE did not give them this power. HELL NO!!!

Looking at an issue indicates they must be drunk or smoking crack and abusing power? There was no prescription of action. There was no debate about actions being taken. There was simply a plan to look at the situation.

Before we get too far, let me help people understand for a minute. A cyberattack is essentially an attack using a computer. Some might ask, "what are they going to do, hit me with the computer?" Cyberattacks have been going on for a while and many have very little impact, but they can have a major impact. It is so significant that the Joint Chiefs of Staff do a study every two years to see just how vulnerable America is to cyberattack. Some of the threats cited in the past include:

* The ability to shut down an entire city power grid;
* The ability to re-route orders in the military creating potential chaos;
* The ability to hack the banking system causing monetary chaos;
* The ability to blow up certain types of highly explosive buildings;
* The ability to disrupt the food chain across the nation;

And worse. These could kill millions or lose a war, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine going to the store and not knowing if the food in cans, bottles, and packages are safe or deadly. Imagine not knowing if your money would be in the bank tomorrow or electronically transferred half way across the world. Imagine the oil refinery in a near by bay blown up to shut down the harbor and all commerce that might go through it killing a lot of people.

Now, keep in mind, cyberattacks are often hidden by being routed through computers of users, often without them knowing it. It is possible a cyberattack is going through your computer right now as you read this. Many attacks happen everyday and every year, but most are just testing possibilities, few actually do much. But the potential for disaster is still there. And the military has been dealing with it for more than a decade, often unguided and without any oversight. So if you wonder if the military has seen inside your computer already... they probably have, but not by some analyst, but by some computer program that is harmless unless you are a cyberterrorist.

It is a serious issue and one the military has been dealing with for a long time, so to get upset about the government dealing with it now is a little strange and makes little sense. However, what makes people sound exceptionally silly is that they get upset over people looking at a well known problem that has been published about since the 80s.

The odds are good, these posters simply don't have a clue at what they are looking at but they know they don't like the Obama Administration for being Democrats. That is a fundamental problem: unthinking reactionaries that have no clue what they are looking at but are happy to get upset and shout about it.

America demands better from its citizens. All governments founded on Democratic principles do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tea Party "Contract from America" Contradicts itself with Doublespeak

Further illustrating the Tea Party links to the right wing, following the Contract with America and The Ten Commandments, they have created the "Contract From America" to indicate their principles. Their 10 point contract includes the following:

1. Protect the Constitution: "Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does."

I realize protecting the Constitution is important, but our policymakers are just that... policymakers, which is why we have the Supreme Court, to make sure the policies are constitutional. I am not sure exactly what benefit comes from writing the constitutional clause in the bill considering the Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of bills already.

2. Reject Cap and Trade: "Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures."

While I believe Cap and Trade is a bad policy too, the way this lays out means that any bill that someone can randomly claim will impact these areas must be rejected by the party; nevermind that teabaggers don't believe global climate change exists which would stop any changes on environmental issues.

3. Demand a Balanced Budget: "Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike."

Need I remind anyone that these are the same people who voted for Reagan's big deficit budgets and GW's tax cuts that took us from an annual surplus to deficits instead of paying off the $5 trillion in debt that existed at the time? Their track record isn't great in what they support.

4. Enact Fundamental Tax Reform: "Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words -- the length of the original Constitution."

This is an example of the problem as they insist on a 2/3 vote to get a tax hike, and in the next step put forth a flat tax which would be a tax hike on 47% of American households who paid $0 in income taxes last year. Given the consistency of demographics between Americans and teabaggers in terms of economics, it is likely it would increase taxes on about the same number of teabaggers.

5. Restore Fiscal Responsibility and Constitutionally Limited Government: "Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states or local authorities, or ripe for wholesale reform or elimination due to our efforts to restore limited government consistent with the US Constitution’s meaning."

I guess this is a review of bills already passed and applying the first tenant to it, but anytime a politician appoints a taskforce or commission it is generally doublespeak for "give me your vote, I won't do much in the end but you won't be focused on it by then anyway."

6. End Runaway Government Spending: "Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth."

I just have to wonder how this provision would have worked out in World War II or under Reagan's "arms race" to win the Cold War. And if it is statutory, can't each Congress simply waive it?

7. Defund, Repeal, and Replace Government Run Health Care: "Defund, repeal, and replace the recently passed government-run health care with a system that actually makes health care and insurance more affordable by enabling a competitive, open, and transparent free-market health care and health insurance system that isn’t restricted by state boundaries."

Notice, while many of the teabaggers are on Medicare and Social Security, they only want to repeal "recently passed" health care, not their own government run health care plans. Conservative Scholar Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out the recently passed plan was actually made up of predominantly Republican health care plans of the past as laid out by the Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney, and moderate Republicans in the 1990s. It actually creates a framework for competition, not government run health care.

8. Pass an "All of the Above" Energy Policy: "Authorized the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation, lowering prices and creation competition and jobs."

I am not sure exactly what regulatory barriers there are considering Exxon made $34 billion in profits but only paid somewhere between $0 and $46 million in federal income taxes or less than half of one percent. It seems that energy corporations are already given excessive breaks. Maybe it is time to realize that necessity is the mother of invention and as prices rise, a necessity to adapt to new forms of energy like fourth generation nuclear power and microgeneration will move America to lead the world in energy technology instead of relying on 19th century technologies. And yes, that will require government help, just as oil gets government help to avoid their taxes and write off their development.

9. Stop the Pork: "Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark."

Remember, the Democrats cut "pork" by 15% last year alone but Republicans have led the way to keep it (as have some Democrats) but that is really a small portion of the budget compared to its totality. It is like foreign aid, under $20 billion out of a $3.5 trillion dollar budget. It is like shooting at the guys who clean the toilets in war as a strategy to win a war, it ignores the real problems.

10. Stop the Tax Hikes: "Permanently repeal all tax hikes, including those to the income, capital gains, and death taxes, currently scheduled to being in 2011."

In other words, make the Bush Tax Cuts that gave us these deficits permanent. But at the same time, create a flat tax (which would be a tax increase for 47% of Americans). It is as if someone tossed darts at ideas on a wall and came up with this list, even if its own items contradict each other.

Next time you decide to put together a list of your core ideas, make sure they actually make sense together.

Exxon Pays 0.3% in Federal Income Taxes in 2009

Apparently, the claims that Exxon had paid nothing in federal income taxes are erroneous as Exxon claims it paid $46 million in federal income taxes in the United States in 2009, a year where it had a profit of about $34 billion.

In a place that conservatives claim is the highest corporate tax rates in the world, Exxon claims it paid $46 million in federal income taxes in the United States but paid over $15 billion to foreign governments in income taxes.

Maybe it is time to re-evaluate how America taxes the oil companies if Exxon can pay 0.3% in taxes while you and I pay considerably more.

Pork Projects and Spending Decline in Democratic Congress

The "Pig Book" report, which details "pork" spending and programs in the federal budget, put out its fiscal year 2010 report.

Ironically, while the Republican Party has tried to claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility (despite the Reagan, Bush-41, and GW Bush eras of massive deficits), the report indicates that reforms put in place by the Democrats in 2006 have helped to decrease "pork" spending. The result for 2010 is a reduction of "pork" spending by 15.5% and a reduction in "pork" programs by 10.2% compared to 2009.

Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) had the highest number of "pork" projects at 240 projects worth about $490 million, also the highest cost.