Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I quit!

After 9/11, President Bush called on American’s to perform their national duty . . . going shopping. Soon after Bush Sr. and Clinton put out a public service announcement, basically saying stay calm and buy a lot. Hillary said she and her husband discussed performing their national duty by spending a weekend on the town in New York. I believe those plans were disrupted by urgent calls from their first passion, destroying the political careers of good and honest citizens attempting to rescue America from itself.

This week, in discussing the house and white house negotiated economic stimulus plan, John Beohner, a house minority leader, further defined average American citizens role in this great country. He said, “The sooner we get this relief in the hands of the American people, the sooner they can begin to do their job of being good consumers.” Good consumers. GOOD CONSUMERS. That is all we are to the American government.

They do not value us for our ability to select good leaders. Ok . . . They got us there. The best leader we have had in my adulthood was Reagan the Great who called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and announced on a radio program that the bombing would begin in 5 minutes. The Soviet Union may have been evil. Maybe we should have bombed them, but don’t announce it on the radio. Five minutes is plenty of time to duck and cover. Unprovoked bombing should be a surprise. Announcing it on the radio is like saying “Your on Candid Camera!” before you make someone the victim of a silly prank. By the way, Candid Camera is an old people version of Punk’d.

The establishment doesn’t value us for our knowledge and intelligence. Ok . . . They got us there. The United States consistently scores poorly on international academic tests. They don’t value us for our knowledge of foreign affairs. Ok . . . They got us there. According to The National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs, three years after the U.S. occupied Iraq for the second time since 1991 and 2,400 U.S. military lost their lives there (only counting the second invasion), two thirds of American young adults couldn’t find Iraq on a map. A third of them couldn’t find Louisiana on a map even after Hurricane Katrina. Forty-four percent couldn’t find Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Israel on a map. Less than half can find New York or Ohio. I understand about Ohio but New York? I wonder how many of these kids (age 18 to 24) could find their backside with toilet paper if that had to use a map.

The first Iraq invasion was actually started by President Reagan in 1986. He told a general to destroy the Soviet Union (without alerting them by radio this time). The general grabbed a map and went out to accomplish his mission. Unfortunately nobody could actually read the map. None of the men would stop the tank to ask directions either. In 1990 they landed in Iraq. Not really sure of where they were, they consulted the map. When that didn’t help their best option was to start blowing things. In 1991, Soviet Union dissolved so, their mission accomplished, the general brought our soldiers home.

Beohner’s good consumer comment gets under my skin for yet another reason entirely. He wants us to “begin” doing our jobs as good consumers. He is implying we haven’t been good consumers yet. We spend more than we make. Our debt levels are higher than ever before. We buy and dispose of things at a rate not matched by any other culture in the history of the planet but Beohner expects us to begin being good shoppers soon. On the positive side, he does seem to have faith in our ability to shop more than ever before.

Unfortunately I feel I have been doing my job as a good consumer all of my adult life. Additionally, even as a child I prodded my parents to buy me things. I have given all of my life to my consumer job but I still have not lived up to Beohner’s standards. It is my failing. The government has been showing us how to be good consumers for decades. It spends way more than it could ever earn. It has accumulated huge debts. If our government had saved as much as it owed, we could purchase other countries. Then we could use them as summer countries on warm August weekends, only to be boarded up October through May.
To the government and Beohner, I must tender my resignation. I prove to incapable of my job as a good consumer. I will now seek another position. With retraining, I may be able to get a position as a responsible consumer (buying less than I earn and saving the rest).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

shortsighted rebates

It appears the senate will approve a slightly modified version of the $150 billion stimulus package agreed to by Bush and the House. The piece of the stimulus package receiving the most airtime is the seemingly free money every working adult will receive just in time for summer vacations. My little family of four (soon to be five) should get in the neighborhood of $1,800, maybe a little less depending on the senate’s tinkering. To receive our $1,800, all we have to do is not start a violent revolution when the federal government adds a mere $150 billion the federal deficit.

Let’s play with the numbers a little, shall we? I think I’m being generous assuming the government has to collect $5 to spend $4. Figure the cost of handling, mailing, policing, bribes, processing, printing, communicating, etc. A 20% cost of collection is probably giving the government more credit for efficiency than it deserves. Therefore, the government needs to only collect $187.5 billion to pay for the $150 billion stimulus package.

Let’s continue our generosity and assume the government will pay off this deficit in only 5 years with a 6% cost of funds. I have to admit it has been a long time since my finance classes in college. To keep things simple, I assumed the government would pay off the incremental deficit at the end of 5 years. Further assuming that I used the excel function correctly, the total cost becomes to just a smidge under $253 billion. There are 300 million people in this country, so my family’s bill for our $1,800 rebate is $843 per each of us, adding to a total of $3,372. It only costs my family 1.87 times the amount we receive.
I’m starting to feel simulated. When I feel stimulated, a part of me extends. You know the part. It’s the part just between my ring finger and my pointer finger. . . . on both hands.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hugs and Kisses

My wife and I don’t believe in spanking our kids. Our two main weapons of attitude correction are time outs in the corner and taking treasures away from our little lovelies. Basically they are good kids but they are also siblings. Siblings are genetically driven to bounce on each other’s head at regular intervals. At 4 and 5, we usually only send them in to the corner for a couple of minutes. That is (usually) enough time from them to be distracted from experimenting on ways to convert their sister’s head into a beanbag chair or to forget exactly why their heads hurt. Occasionally, a couple of minutes is not enough time for my wife and I to remember that we do not believe in spanking. Those are the times I send them into the corner until “I’m grown up enough to stop being mad.”

On the rare Sunday afternoon where our little lovelies are more familiar with the corner than with the look of adoration from their father, I get a taste for everything princess and fairy. I have literally emptied a bedroom of anything with a princess or fairy on it. That particular room has a princess bed and fairy stickers on the dressers. My daughter finally left the corner to find her room empty of everything except a rug and a chair that was too awkward for me to carry without damaging the walls. Unfortunately, I did not know about the chairs ability to damage plaster before I entered that room. I was in the empty room arranging blankets, some of our few blankets without princess or fairies on it, on the floor for her to sleep on. My daughter cried. I cried because the antique dresser was heavier than my back was ready for and the glider put a hole in the plaster.

With my point made, I relaxed a little. My daughter really wanted all of her things back into her room. I wanted them back in her room as they were now between my bedroom door and my bed. We allowed my daughter to negotiate getting her things back before bedtime. She had to apologize and stay off of her sister’s head long enough for my back to stop throbbing. I’ve now learned to both confine my princess and fairy escalation policies to less massive items and to lift with my knees, not my back.

It has recently come to light that my lovely wife has a different escalation policy while I’m at work. My five foot one wife does not remove beds or furniture. She does not threaten to put a bed and a port-a-potty in the corner. My wife makes our little lovelies explain why they aren’t making the best decisions at the moment. On the surface this sounds like a reasonable step toward self-correction but my wife has a liberal acceptance policy. She has found the most common reason for head to beanbag conversion at our house is caused by lack of parental hugs and kisses. To correct such a lack requires a child to leave the corner, accept hugs and kisses from the parent with the liberal acceptance policy, and to go off on their merry head sitting way.

I tend to be a “fix it” type of person. By that I don’t mean anyone should trust me with hand tools or nail guns, but I instituted a mandatory parental hugs and kisses policy. I believed addressing the root cause (lack of parental hugs and kisses) would diminish the negative behavior (head sitting). After one week of my new mandatory parental hugs and kisses policy, I have not noted a decline in head to beanbag conversion. Perhaps parental hugs and kisses are cumulative and positive results are still pending. While I wait for measurable positive results, I will not be moving antique dressers but instead will occupying myself with patching plaster walls.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"I don't think this campaign is about gender, and I sure hope it's not about race."

"I don't think this campaign is about gender, and I sure hope it's not about race."

What an interesting comment for Hillary to make. While I haven’t heard Obama support or justify his campaign based on race, his inspirational speeches do use African American history to drive his point home. He does use other examples too, but African Americans seem to always be included. It is like watching the original Star Trek. Kirk would use two earth based references and then through in the obligatory “like Bryn Caltach from Mylar-4.” African Americans are Obama's Mylar-4.

Hillary on other hand continues to make references about “making history” by “breaking the highest and strongest glass ceiling.” Gender has definitely drawn additional attention to Hillary. I’m not saying that women who support Hillary are just doing so based on their shared number of X-chromosomes. Some women do but I bet most do not. I would suggest that many won over by Hillary’s stance on issues may not have even been aware of Hillary’s existence had it not been for her gender. Gender has also made her democratic rivals attacks on her more edited. Not because they wanted to be chivalrous but because they were afraid of a gender backlash. All in all, gender has worked well for Hillary.

My fear of Hillary in the White House (again) is based more in her as an individual. She voted for giving President Bush authority to invade Iraq without even reading the security briefing. Hillary claims that she was thoroughly briefed about its contents but no one on her staff had the security clearance to read it on her behalf. Additionally, even if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the United States I wish to live in does not invade another country outside the confines of war. I believe Hillary’s vote for the war was based less on principals and more on the fickle public opinion polls. Since the polls have turned against the war, Hillary has come out against the war. To hear her husband tell it, he was against the war from the beginning. An honest review of history says otherwise, but Bill has never been very faithful to honestly.

Now, firmly in the anti-Iraq war camp, Hillary voted to label Iran’s national guard as a terrorist organization. This effectively gives Bush the same authority against Iran that she gave him in Iraq. I don’t know if there were unread documents for her to read on this one. She was probably reading “How to win friends and influence people” at the time. Ok, two errors in judgment on basically the same facts. At least she is more consistent the Romney. During a primary debate, when asked what response a president should have in the aftermath of another 9.11, Obama tripped over his own tongue a few times. Clinton calmly and confidently said that she would seek vengeance. Vengeance? Vengeance! Has she learned nothing from third grade playgrounds? Vengeance feels good. It can feel really good if done well, but vengeance only gains you more enemies. I would have applauded “justice” but “vengeance” is not goal I can support. While the media scored one for the Clinton camp due to Obama’s stumbling, her answer put me firmly in the anyone but Hillary camp.

At a more recent debate, Hillary waxed on about how she could prevent further terrorism by using our military to punish countries that provide safe haven to terrorists. We have no right to invade other countries. We have no right to militarily punish other countries unless we are at war with them. Going beyond simple principals, invading another country will only make us more enemies. Many of these countries are struggling to maintain their own existence and don’t have the resources or public opinion support to actively hunt down terrorists as defined by U.S. policy. Attacking terrorists in their own country could collapse their government and provide more anarchy in which terrorists thrive.

Hillary scares me. I don’t think she should be allowed to own a gun not to mention control the most powerful fighting force the world has ever seen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Obama, call me

I have to grudgingly admit that Hillary and her handlers performed well in New Hampshire. It really hurts me to say that but it is the unfortunate truth. During the weekend debates, she answered the questions thoughtfully and clearly, not a traditional Clinton trait. She also somehow managed to express a quite charm and a sense of humor. Her (staged?) tears on the campaign trail also humanized her a bit and, not coincidentally, created sympathetic support from the more soft hearted and headed among us. Even her post results speech was improved from prior performances. Her normal speech of, and I quote, “Me. Me. Me. Me. Democrat for president. Me. Me. ME!” at least added, “What you can do for Me. We can all come together to support ME.” Unfortunately, I don’t really care for her “Me” and I think the only people who should care if a democrat becomes president are the handful of democrats trying to become president. The rest of us simply want the best person for the job.
Ok, that wasn’t a direct Hillary quote, just what I hear when she speaks. Obama, on the other hand, is a fantastic speaker. I normally think of myself a grumpy cynic beyond inspirational speeches but last night I was jumping up and down in my bed shouting “YES WE CAN!” I haven’t seen any benefits from my New Year’s resolution to exercise yet, so after the third bouncing “YES WE CAN” I sat in my bed coughing out “Yes (pant) CAN”. I was still there in spirit.
Camp Hillary has rightfully challenged Obama’s experience. She doesn’t have that right based on her experience. While she is old and has been in the public light for way too many years, the majority of her experience is being the wife of a governor and then the wife of a president. I admit that gives her a leg up on how to order lunch at the white house but it doesn’t have any reflection on her ability to run the country. During those 16 years, she had no accountability and questionable successes. Next month my wife is going to give birth to another child. Our current pediatrician is wonderful doctor with a lot of experience. We plan on asking him to be the pediatrician for our new child. We don’t plan on asking his wife.
Obama’s experience should be challenged based on whether or not he can be an effective president. His inspirational speeches are phenomenal but as someone very out of touch with today’s reality might ask, “Where’s the beef?” Washington State for Obama lists a number of accomplishments at both State and Federal levels. These include a number of sponsored bills, ethics reform and expanding health insurance coverage. Most importantly to me was his judgment against going to war in Iraq before we invaded. My United States, not the one we live in but the principled proud United States we could live in, does not invade another country except in time of war and we don’t start wars. He continued his good judgment by being against the current administration’s desire to label Iran’s guard a terrorist organization. Of course, his judgment faltered when he didn’t actually show up to vote against it. It is hard to maintain respect for him when he didn’t show up for the vote, but that is better than Hillary’s voting to give Bush military powers against Iran.
I believe that Obama’s strength may be more in uniting and inspiring the American people than in his policy experience. I’m quickly becoming OK with that. The government is not and should not be the answer to all of the problems facing our nation today. The greatness of the United States has always been based on the actions of individuals acting alone and in concert. Individual responsibility and motivation is missing today. Obama may be able to inspire the people to accept the responsibility to act. I long to be inspired. I don’t remember ever being inspired by a president. The time for inspiration may be now. I hope the time is now.
Note I said Obama may be able to inspire us. He certainly has inspired a dedicated following that is giving the “inevitable” candidate a challenge. Obama does not have to become president before he inspires us (beyond trying to inspire us to vote for him). He should begin his call for greatness now. If his message is heard and people act, his candidacy is almost certain. If people fail to get inspired enough to act, than Obama’s power is not great enough and we should consider another candidate.
There are three ways an individual act to restore our greatness. First, we can elect competent respectable leaders. Obama is working on that one, assuming that he is both competent and respectable. Second, individuals can make their voices heard beyond helping Hillary have a Doctor Phil moment. Individuals can email elected officials from president and senators down to city selectmen. Tell them what you value and what you expect from the officials if they are to have you support for their next election. Tell them to act now. Additionally, individuals can email corporations and other organizations with similar lists of principals and calls to action. Third, individuals must act on their own principals. Individuals can select items to purchase or boycott based on sets of principals from “Buy American” to “Save our planet”. Individuals can turn off the T.V., park the SUV and volunteer in their local schools or hospitals. I call on Obama to call on the American people. He wants to inspire us. I want him to inspire us. Obama, inspire us now. Don’t wait until 2009.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


We had a great January holiday season. It was really challenging with both holidays falling on the same day. To provide a little extra structure to the day we celebrated "Stay In The Corner Until Daddy's Head Stops Hurting" in the morning. We wrapped up the obligatory ritual of yelling until Daddy forehead vein starts to pulse just before lunch. Then we moved on to the next holiday, "National Paper Plate Day." As you are aware this holiday occurs several times a year to honor the fact the Mommy and Daddy can't keep up with the dishes. We really celebrated hard this year by using paper cups and plastic forks. I tried to going completely over the top but boiling noodles in a paper bag really wasn't successful. I'm really looking forward to "Leave Daddy Alone In Bed All Morning Day" next week.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Representative John Dingell offered a discussion draft outlining a new tax proposal. A large piece of this proposal is a $0.50 a gallon tax increase on gasoline. The tax is designed as a way to use market forces to combat climate change. He stated, “I’m trying to have everybody understand that this (fighting climate change) is going to cost and that it’s going to have a measure of pain that you’re not going to like.” Additionally, he said, “This is going to cause pain.”

While I agree that climate change is a human problem and a problem what will require significant action, I don’t believe that climate change is going to require significant pain or sacrifice. I believe we can significantly tackle climate change through market forces (without pain) by also improving out efficiency. Here’s how.

First, we eliminate income tax on low and middle-income families. Second, replace lost income taxes with excise taxes on products that contribute to climate change, global instability, poor health and United State’s security. These include oil, natural gas, coal, virgin timber, high fructose corn syrup, etc. Of course these taxes will cause the price of many products to increase dramatically. Oil, for example, will climb dramatically. Any product that uses a lot of oil or gasoline to get it to the end consumer will also climb dramatically. The target is to have prices increase the same amount as income taxes were reduced.

For a simple example, let’s look at a two-income family. Each adult made $30,000 and together they had a 15% realized income tax. They owe $9,000 in income taxes. To keep it really simple, let’s assume excises taxes were only applied to gasoline and I’ll ignore secondary price increases (since it costs the pizza delivery boy more to bring that pizza to you, he will have to increase his prices). Assuming that the family drives 25,000 miles a year between to two adults in cars averaging 20 miles to the gallon, taxes on gasoline would have to increase by over $7 a gallon. Yes, gas would be $10 a gallon BUT since the family does not have to pay income tax, they would have more money to pay for the high price of gas. If the family did not change one driving habit, they would be no better or worse off in either scenario.

Now, assume gas is suddenly $10 a gallon, how would you react? I imagine you would quickly trade in that 20 mile a gallon car for a 40-mile a gallon hybrid. You would be very careful about how long you let your car idol. You would make sure that are tires are inflated and maybe you would walk to the convenience store down the street instead of driving. Remember, if you refused to change a single action, the amount of taxes you pay would be identical. Under the excise tax system, you could greatly influence how much taxes you pay by making ecologically friendly decisions. In effect, you would be paid to take care of the earth. Businesses that currently use a lot of oil in their production process would look for alternatives. Economics and market forces would drive a significantly cleaner country.
There are two drawbacks to consider though. First, each year consumers and businesses would strive to save money by becoming more efficient. Therefore, excise taxes on these items would have to increase each year. Second, countries that disregard environmental common sense would have a cost advantage. Therefore, the United States would have to place carbon import taxes on any country that is not meeting agreed upon reductions in carbon. If, China for example, chose to continue to build coal power plants at a rate of one per week, they would face an import tax.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Where is my America

I was raised to believe that the United States of America stood for certain principals and, while we are not perfect, we strive to stand on high moral ground. Now we learn that our government has authorized torture of suspected terrorists. We allowed our soldiers to act shamefully humiliating Iraqi prisoners and desecrating the prisoners' religious artifacts to gain information. We have sent other suspected terrorists to other countries that freely torture.

Information gathered during torture is highly unreliable. Some would argue that American sanctioned torture may have prevented attacks on Americans. That might even be true. Unfortunately, for every act of torture, for ever time we are willing to put our short term security ahead of human rights, we create dozens of new potential terrorists. We create hatred and loathing of Americans and we justify it. Our long term security rests upon the most powerful military the world has ever seen, a strong economy and a perception that the United States of America acts with principals and a strong moral authority. When we torture, we weaken ourselves.

I look for a candidate that is not only willing to say the following but to uphold these principals when in office:

We are the United States of America.
We hold ourselves, our community and our government to a high standard.
Under no circumstances do we torture anyone.
We do not arrange for other countries or organizations to torture on our behalf.
We do not, through inaction, allow other countries or organizations to torture to suite our needs.
Any interrogation technique that requires debate to justify is torture and, therefore, is intolerable.
Water boarding, nudity, sexual humiliation, desecration of religious artifacts, withholding access to religious materials, sleep deprivation, causing fear of physical pain and non-medical use of chemicals, medicine and/or stimulants are all forms of torture and are not used by the United States of America.