Friday, October 29, 2010

Prison Business in AZ drives anti-immigrant laws; Civil Campaign in CT; Mail from Yemen; Rally to Restore Sanity; and GDP Report Delivers Message

Thoughts for October 30, 2010:

* The GOP Model continues: Big Business pays GOP lawmakers in Arizona to get the immigration law that was so highly protested in private and write the legislation for the people they buy to pass it. Then they fan the flames of emotion on issues, pushing hot buttons without regard for actual policy facts, and the result is big prison business living off of govt subsidies to make massive profits: The GOP version of Socialism.

* I wish this was the way politics was done: Two candidates, being civil, engaging in open discussion continually through a campaign, without negative attack ads, focused on helping their state to be better. The ability to have an honest discussion without worrying about negative ads, political gotchas, and pasts from 20 years ago is a campaign near extinction, sadly.

I wish it would catch on. But there is too much money on the line, too many people buy into these tactics, and quite frankly, it doesn't pull in audiences in a 24/7 news cycles. It isn't sexy, but it is how things ought to be. Too bad the odds of it becoming common are about the same as Rush Limbaugh campaigning for Barack Obama in 2012. Just ain't gonna happen.

* Today's major event has to be the US bound packages from Yemen, some containing bomb materials, that were intercepted. There are numerous debates that will abound, and many of them will be emotional but completely lacking any thoughtfulness.

I think people don't understand just how lucky we are. Al Qaeda isn't seeking to kill Americans, but rather to break America and its global credibility. It isn't to cause chaos. It isn't to kill millions of Americans. It is to expose America as a global hypocrite, a dominater not a liberator.

God protect us the day they realize they want to kill Americans and realize how easy it really is. The amount of chaos, disruption, and death that a few people acting independently and simply is something most Americans don't realize. It doesn't take a nuke. It doesn't take anthrax. All it takes is a few people dedicated with enough creativity to see the easy and the obvious.

America needs to live up to its values and stop just talking about them to turn away this threat. Until it does, we will continue to be in danger.

* Who's going to Rally to Restore Sanity? Apparently, there is a broad range of people, ages, and reasons for going. Don't forget, there are a ton of events going on around the nation in numbers that are incredibly impressive for those who can't get to DC.

While Stewart's message is the same as it was when he addressed CNN's Crossfire crew years ago; I am sure he hopes it will have more impact today than it had then.

Our focus on the clash, the conflict, that creates negative ads that seemingly are increasingly jumping the shark in campaigns appears to have eliminated the ability to have civil discourse in all but one race in Connecticut. Will people get the point or jump on their own reason for going ignoring Stewart's reasons? Only time will tell.

* The GDP Report brought a mixed bag: The GDP grew 2 percent in the third quarter. However, it was lower than it could have been because most of the purchases were imports instead of domestic products. There are signs of consumer and business confidence improving, but it takes time for that to create jobs, and it takes time for it to build upon itself.

The question for many Americans is how long will it take to create jobs? The answer needs to be that they should start utilizing the best business environment around, where starting your own business in this internet era is easier than ever before. Don't wait for a job, start a small business. And if you have a job, you should start one too.

The sad reality is given how the election appears to be lining up, the economy will not receive any additional stimulus, but will probably see a decline in government stimulus efforts. That means any gains will have to come in spite of conservative efforts to dampen the economy by cutting spending in areas like unemployment, food stamps, welfare, social security, and medicare.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reading the Stock Market. Obama the Anti-Colonialist or not so much? Cutting Defense? Implications of Rove's New Power . New Financial Tools.

Thoughts for Thursday, October 14, 2010:

* It is interesting to see how people try to figure out economics based on the stock market without understanding it. Since 2003, the market has been driven by dividends, which doesn't mean economic growth necessarily at all, and can be a negative sign of expansion.

And if you are heavily invested in the market, you may want to move your money before 2013. We may well be looking at a significant market crash/collapse around 2013. Why would it do that? Think about what happens when the largest generation and the first generation so broadly invested in the stock market starts to retire and pull their money out of their 401k to retire on, most of which is in the... wait for it... stock market. Put your 401k into another retirement fund that is not market reliant before then. The flip side: Great market pricing opportunities around 2015.

* One of the most embarrassing CSM pieces ever spouts that President Obama is an ideological copy of his father (by implication a communist, and many other things) meaning he is "anti-colonialist." It is poor argument because it creates a poor argument with weak internal linkages. Why do people write garbage like this? The answer is simple, some people aren't taught to critically evaluate it better than this.

Look at Obama's policy actions: Focus on privatizing local space, shift NASA's mi...ssion to Mars and planetary missions (which are expensive), which means spreading the costs among nations so the American taxpayer doesn't have to foot the bill for everything (fiscal responsibility), and use that opportunity to improve relations with Muslims for national security reasons... seems more pragmatic than anti-colonialist. There is still the colonizing of space through planets, and privatizing the colonization of local space and the moon. Hard to call that decolonizing.

Then again, some will believe anything the RW spouts without thought.

* Ron Paul and Democrats call for cutting Defense Spending to balance the budget. Defense spending is out of control, that is true. And to say cut defense to a reasonable number makes sense. But there are two problems with it:

In the generic sense to say cut something is one thing, but when you get down to the specific cuts, support shifts dramatically. That makes all cuts hard.

The black budget is so woven throughout the whole budget, not just the DoD budget, that defense spending cannot be reigned in honestly until we start to expose the black budget. Some estimates have the black budget ranging as high as almost $1 trillion in the budget. That is probably too high, but the hundreds of billions may well be true.

So what can you do? Take the anti-American hits for trying to balance the budget or fail to heed Eisenhower's warning and go broke?

* Karl Rove seem to have more power outside the White House than inside it with his raising of $56 million to spend on campaigns nationwide. Outside groups aren't a problem... ugh... dating back to the Swiftboat group in 2004 and before, outside group influence has shifted the balance of power from individuals to the corporate cash cows (Thanks SCOTUS with Citizen's United for a bad decision).

It wouldn't surprise me to start to see corporate wars fighting for government contracts in the future through the election of political parties, all done through fundraising by outside groups who can function largely outside the campaign finance rules that parties and candidates must endure, but are closely enough linked to almost seem in lock step.

Is it a better world? Imagine the founders and their reactions.

* Here are some interesting ideas emerging in money management and social networking. Take a look, and share your thoughts. I am still thinking threw some of the implications of them, but here is your chance... what do you think?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gays and Gay marriage, Unemployment and Trickledown Economics, and Progressives as a Social Movement

Today's thoughts for October 7, 2010:

* For the first time in 15 years, less than 50% of the nation opposes gay marriage. There are still more people that oppose gay marriage than support it, but it is significant progress for gay marriage advocates.

The question has to be about the strange supporters and opposition to gay marriage. The "anti-government" party that claims to want liberty, freedom, and choice for all Americans wants the government to outlaw gay marriage, a free choice for individuals to make; whereas, the "pro-government" party wants the government to allow people to be free to have more choices about who they may marry. Is it a role reversal issue? How ironic.

* Jobless filings fell below 450,000 this week, which is the lowest we have seen in about three months. It shows signs of progress, but is still high for a "recovery" period. Clearly, there is reason for concern about having so many jobless claims and prolonged unemployment above 9%. President Obama has taken heat for his claim that we needed the stimulus plan to keep us below 8% unemployment, showing America he is a politician, not an economist.

One major reason is the focus on trickle down economics that has largely been accepted in the last 30 years, largely as a misunderstood theory. The way it is commonly understood is that if we give money to rich people, they will spend and invest it, creating jobs for all. That is a big mistake as we are finding out. Currently, US companies are sitting on a ton of cash and not spending it. They claim many reasons, but the primary one is that American consumers aren't spending like before, and thus, they won't get a solid return on their investment.

Reagan had the right point, but it was spun out of control. If we give people incentive to invest, incentive to take risk, incentive to start their own business, and the freedom to do it, they will create new businesses, new industries, and new jobs for everyone. The problem became when it shifted to giving the rich everything, and praying they would invest it to create jobs for everyone. Currently, they have the money, but aren't investing it in jobs.

To create new jobs, we need to shift from major corporation lovefests, to incentives and leveling of the playing field for new small business owners and innovators. We need to insure things like Net Neutrality which give benefits to small business owners; we need to level the playing field between corporations and small businesses which has been skewed to corporations for too long; we need to remind people that they have skills and should take the risks to start their own businesses instead of just job hunting; and we need to restore the tax incentive structure to help corporations re-invest their money to avoid a balanced capital gains and dividends tax.

* Periodically, friends and family find links to articles and send them to me for my thoughts. Nate Silver's column in 2009 recently became one of those articles. Nate argued about a distinction between types of progressives, differentiating between "Radical Progressives" and "Rational Progressives."

While semi-interesting in its application, it became pretty obvious it was little more than the basic application of social movement theories. If you simply re-frame it in terms of any movement, where "zealots" or "core" members of the movement start it, and to grow the movement, they must appeal to more moderate people which create two "factions" of a movement, it becomes the exact same thing.

That is, in general, how a movement works. A small group of people get upset or energized over a cause. They have a view that is specific, but they need support. Others see the problem that energized the group, and join in. They may not share the exact vision, but they support ending the problem in a similar way. The movement needs to get more people to achieve its goals or it will remain small and eventually die as an ineffective movement. Thus, it often moderates its message to get more followers.

As the movement gets more followers, two paradoxical things happen: First, the movement gets larger and stronger. Second, the core group often loses influence since the followers are more moderated. The result is they get upset when the movement doesn't go after or achieve the more "radical" views of the original group, but instead the more moderate views are adopted.

In many ways, it is an incremental approach for change in society that utilizes the zealots as leverage in a societal "negotiation" for change.

It was nice to see someone apply basic social movement theory to a situation properly, but it wasn't some revolutionary piece of work. It wouldn't surprise me if some student in a social movements class in the last three years hadn't already done something similar. They just didn't publish it on their blog.

* I try to avoid Sarah Palin commentary because it is just too easy to take a shot at. However, Sarah recently said she "chose" not to be gay. This leads to a couple thoughts:

First, I highly doubt Sarah thought about it at all before her first attraction to a male. I know that I haven't found anyone tell me they actually thought about their first attraction's gender prior to being attracted to them. Maybe someone on the internet will stand up and shout, "I was 5 and I actually had a thoughtful discussion with myself about whether or not I should like Johnny or Jane in Kindergarten. Anyone? Bueller?

Second, I think the question of whether or not we choose to be gay or straight may be one of the biggest wastes of political time we face. I find it ironic that those who shout the loudest for "liberty" actually care about people exercising that liberty between two consenting adults in their own bedrooms. Whether someone chose to be gay or was gay by nature is irrelevant. They are two or more consenting adults, why should they have to justify those actions to the state, their neighbors, or anyone else if they keep the sexual behavior in their homes and bedrooms?

Oh, and who cares if they kiss in public? If you don't like it, don't watch! You can turn your head the other way when I kiss my wife too, but I am still going to kiss her in public and private. Anything beyond that, you don't get to see. If you see it, you went looking for it, and they aren't to blame.

It could be me, but the gay vs straight debate may be the most idiotic issues of the day. If you want to be gay or straight, go for it. If you want to enter into the contract of marriage, go for it. If a church wants to marry you, go for it. If an employer finds a benefit in giving you and your partner (gay or straight) access to benefits, go for it. After all, it is supposed to be a free country, right?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stewart And Colbert: What's the Point?

Source after source continues to try to figure out what to make of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. While it doesn't seem that difficult, it appears that Republicans didn't get Colbert before they asked him to speak at a White House affair only to be shocked that he was not one of their own. Today, the Christian Science Monitor asks if they are walking on dangerous ground and getting serious with their events in Washington DC this month.

It seems that people don't seem to understand the role of comedy in society. Comedy is a mirror that shows us ourselves. It tries to get us to see something that we might otherwise ignore, or that is too serious a topic for us to see in another light. It seeks to show us something about ourselves in a different, often a deconstructionist light.

To ask if Stewart is getting serious is to ignore his past. It seems as if they forget when Stewart went on Crossfire and asked the pundits to "stop," as he explained just how they were "hurting us." Stewart has been making a serious point for quite some time as a media critic through the lens of comedy. He has done it well enough that many young people actually get their information from Comedy Central instead of news organizations.

What people forget is that in this day of 24 hour media, where networks don't use news as a loss leader or a public service, but as a profitable vehicle; the news gets presented in a way to attract viewers, not to serve the public. And that isn't evil, but it is a reality that far too few realize. And when you don't realize what's going on with the media, it is too easy to get duped. And that is where Colbert fits in, as he shows just how bad this propaganda machine can go.

Don't get me wrong. Stewart is correct. It isn't the left or the right. It is the media machine that tries to define the "news" as a debate of two ideologies instead of some attempt to find an objective truth (note: this does not mean objective in an unbiased sense, but rather objective in the attempt to discover and report the information discovered with as little "spin" as possible.). It is the media machine that focuses on the clash, not the public service, not the "truthiness" of the information, not the importance of the subject.

Fox is the right wing media machine, MSNBC has decided to move to the left, and CNN has long focused on the drama regardless of truth or implication. None of them care about what matters to society or the people involved other than that those people should create the type of story they want for their viewers because they believe those are what attracts their viewers. And more viewers means more ad sales and more profits, while suiting their purposes.

Stewart is a critic, but he is also an artist. Artists tend not to focus on their wallets as much as the significance of their views of society, and how it ought to function. Thus, explaining Stewart's comments on Crossfire where he begs with the pundits to help the people instead of the corporations and politicians.

Whether Stewart's interpretation is correct or not, he clearly has indicated that he feels a responsibility to fight "for the people" against the politicians and the corporations in that appearance. He views himself as one who can see through the things others can't see through, as well as being able to present it to the people in a way that makes the problems apparent to them.

The primary question isn't about whether or not Stewart and Colbert take themselves seriously, or are trying to be serious with a point; all comedians have a serious point.

The primary question is: will their audience get the point, act on the point, create the right changes, and create those changes in time to have the desired impact before it is too late.

The focus isn't right versus left. The focus is on the process: How can the people make informed and intelligent decisions in the democratic process if they are never given the relevant information about the people and the issues they are voting on?

Stewart and Colbert seek to show the people the smoke screen, not to decide the policies. And that is their role as critics.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Will The Tea Party Splinter; Are Americans Battling Depression; and How Important is Pre-Natal Life?

Sunday Review:

* Republican Senator John Thune spoke about the possibility of the Tea Party splintering off of the GOP on Sunday. That isn't a very good sign for the GOP considering the Tea Party is simply the invigoration of a group of Republicans that show up periodically throughout US history. It sets up the possibility of what has happened in Kansas, where the differences in the GOP split the party so badly that a Democrat was elected Governor twice, while being in a party that was dramatically smaller than the other.

Given the disjointed nature of the Tea Party platform, such a split may well be coming regardless of what the GOP does. The party itself is a paradox in its interest groups and their values. It can only be a matter of time before such a split happens.

* Who would have thought that one in ten Americans is battling depression? I have to admit, I didn't expect the number to be that high, but I also realize a lot of depression goes undiagnosed. One has to wonder what the cause of the depression rates might be. It is plausible that the economy and unemployment rate has a lot to do with it, since they are at comparable levels.

There could be various other causes too, from the stress of the political election season, to the decline of real wages, to marital problems, and more. It may point to a niche market exploding for motivational speakers and life coaches though.

* The debate of how we grow up has largely focused on the nature versus nurture debate, but new research is indicating that the pre-natal period may be just as important. Research is finding that the cycle of poverty may start before birth for many people, as well as that sweet tooth you may have. The research is still in its infancy, but if you are considering having a child, as my wife and I are, pre-natal health may be just as important as everything you do after birth.

Things to work on include managing stress, avoiding toxins, and having a healthy diet. There are many things that are important, and using the internet and the information available today to find out what one should do before having a baby is a parental responsibility. We owe it to our children just as much as health care or a college education.

Moving Beyond Political Blame: Honest Viewing of The Debt

Candy Crowley's State of the Union interviewed Republican Ed Gillespie where he indicated that President Obama had significantly raised the deficit far worse than President Bush. This is not a new claim, but one that the Right has perpetuated on talk radio, on social media, on blogs, on Fox, and so on. Even Politifact can't seem to get it right, as they evaluated a Dick Durbin statement in June:
For those keeping track, the debt estimate for the end of 2010 -- two years into Obama's term -- is $13.787 trillion. That's a 38 percent increase over two years. Looked at another way, the debt under Bush went up $4.357 trillion over eight years, while it has gone up under Obama by $3.801 trillion in two years.
However, they seem to have changed their evaluation in August, when evaluating a Chip Rogers claim:
Third is that it's not fair to blame Obama for budgets that he didn't control, Riedl said. The 2009 budget went into effect Oct. 1, 2008, almost four months before Obama took office.
By Riedl's reckoning, for 2009, you can hold Obama responsible for discretionary spending he signed off on after he took office, plus the $220 billion of the stimulus package spent that year. You can also pin the debt for fiscal year 2010 on him as well.

This comes to about $2.1 trillion,...

The easiest way to explain this is as follows:

The federal budget does not start in January. It starts on October 1. That means the budget ends on September 30.

When a President takes office, he has eight months to work with Congress to get a budget passed. When President Obama took office, the spending going on was from President Bush's budget. On October 1, 2009, President Obama's first budget took effect. Given that the budget was passed in 2008, it is impossible to blame President Obama for the budget ending in 2009.

In fairness, sometimes, emergency spending measures are passed that impact the immediate budget. In 2009, the Stimulus Bill had some tax measures that did affect the 2009 budget, estimated to cost about $220 billion. However, most of the stimulus bill took effect in 2010.

To assign credit/blame, let's look at the budget numbers.

When President Bush's first budget was passed in 2001, the debt was: $5,807,463,412,200.06.

When President Bush's last budget ended, the debt in 2009 was: $11,909,829,003,511.75.

About $220 billion of the 2009 deficit belonged to President Obama, so to be fair, we will take it out to make the number $11,689,829,003,511.75.

We are not counting the 2001 tax cuts that took effect in 2001 and applied to the Clinton budget because we don't have a good value for that. So President Bush gets a favorable accounting for his debt evaluation.

Thus, President Bush's credit/blame for the debt over 8 years is valued at $5,882,365,591,311.69 or an increase of 101.28% over what he inherited.

It is time that we move past the ignorance of "on my watch" blaming and credit for actions when many of the actions were put in place prior to someone taking office, or happened with no relation to the person in office.

Until we get a better understanding of our world, we will continue to credit and blame politicians for things totally unrelated to them. We will also continue to insist that government is responsible for the consequences in our world, even when they had nothing to do with it or should have nothing to do with it. We need to look at what is really going on, seek to understand it realistically not ideologically, and move towards individual action first.

In some cases, political action needs to happen. But too often, we get so caught up in assigning blame, we don't even seek to find out why something really happened. The recession didn't happen because of political actions of the GOP or the DNC, but because of basic demographics. Yet, both sought blame very quickly. We must move past that.