Monday, August 8, 2011

... As The Global Financial Community Dissolves Into Farce

The past 48 hours have seen such screaming, wailing and gnashing of teeth in the global financial markets as hasn't happened since the Great Depression.  Gloom, Despair and Agony!  It must certainly be The End!  Television commentators clench their microphones in white-knuckled grip as they stare with horror at the floors and pits of the world's trading centers, awaiting the moment when surely the entire structure will begin to melt before their very eyes!!!

And then, in the midst of it all, a discordant note, so small, so slight, so overwhelmed by the cacophony of dismay; yet, just barely, still discernible.  'midst the flood of Global Panic, comes the sound of ...... laughter?

Oh.  I'm so sorry.  That would be ..... me.

Yes, me - laughing.  Laughing hysterically!  At every mention of how dismal are US stock futures, the news that Israel's market actually had to CLOSE because its index dropped 6%, the cold-sweat dread which anticipated the opening of the Asian markets - I was laughing harder and harder.  The whole situation is just so comical!

How dare I, say you?  How do I justify this outrageous mirth?  Well, that's fairly asked, I suppose.  And the reason is, simply, the whole thing is just absolutely, delicious FARCE!!  It really is just too amusing to watch the reaction to this pronouncement, especially as well-telegraphed and widely-expected as it was.  Oh, you understand not from whence my humor springs?  Am I some cold-hearted cad, you ask, that I take delight in the misery of Big Finance?  No, no, no, not at all.  I take absolutely no delight in the misery of others.  (Well, that Iranian fellow, Ahmadinejad - I wouldn't cry many tears if I knew he was miserable.  But aside from him?  Nooo, no, not really.)  Follow my thought process (if you dare!), perchance you will understand.

Can we all agree that the US economy is perhaps the most closely monitored in the world, the T-Bill perhaps the most widely purchased?  Yes, yes, I know, other economies are certainly closely watched - the European Union, Russia, China, Japan and probably others, certainly have a great deal of influence.  But the US of A's has long been the dominant economy.  And so, the problems facing our nation in terms of the recession, near-term deficit and long-term debt are all well-studied, well-known and well-understood by anyone who has any knowledge of global markets.  US markets had a very bad week, to be sure - especially Thursday, with its 500+ drop on the Dow-Jones Industrial Average - but it certainly appeared on Friday that there were, after all, cooler heads.  That is, until 8pm Eastern Time that evening.

That is when Standard and Poor's released their statement that The Emperor - as played by Uncle Sam - while not at all nekked, really should have better to wear than jeans and a t-shirt.  Meanwhile, the other two main rating agencies, Moody and Fitch, averred that the jeans were of a high quality material, and the t-shirt did have a nice print of an American flag, after all, and they apparently are not at all concerned.  But 'twas the damning review by S and P that wrought such anguish!

Think of it - had any numbers changed between the time the US markets closed on Friday and the mid-East markets opened on Sunday?  Absolutely not!  But that one pronouncement by one rating agency was enough to trigger a panic that would have bewildered Chicken Little, and it has fed upon itself until this point, at the very least.  As I write this, it is just after midnight in the Eastern US.  The Asian markets are taking losses, but not - yet - as serious as had been feared.  European markets will open in the next few hours, and hopefully the brokers of filthy lucre will have had time to consider the situation and shrug it off.  If so, I shall be glad, for I do recognize there are consequences to be considered.

If not, well, then I shall be mirthful still, as I observe the panic brought about by the pronounced judgment, from the least of the three most-watched credit agencies, that America's gold standard has a wee bit of tarnish.  Goodness, Chicken Little really does look jealous, don't you think?
 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Education funding - how to make it local again?

It is no secret that conservatives dislike even the concept of federal involvement in what they see as strictly state or local issues.  Certainly no better example of this is the US Department of Education - even the suggestion of its elimination is guaranteed to bring cheers from right-wing audiences, who resent having even well-meaning bureaucrats (and not all are) lecture school systems across the nation on assorted minutiae which might or might not be appropriate for their particular communities (and which might or might not actually be for "education"!).

But now that federal income taxes have been supplementing locally-generated revenues, how do you eliminate the "federal" without eliminating the "funding", since the revenue levels are now more-or-less built into the system?  Some of the total could be eliminated just by wiping away the cost of compliance, i.e. the expense assumed by school systems to ensure all federal funding is utilized in accordance with the laws and regulations (aka "strings") under which the monies were provided.

Could, perhaps, some calculation be made to determine what percentage of today's federal income tax goes to primary and secondary education?  That percentage could then be deducted from federal income tax owed, either as a deduction against income or as a credit against what is currently defined as the total federal tax liability on any given tax return, and credited to that state's revenues.

This is far from an ideal solution.  Its greatest fault, perhaps, is that it is not a long-term solution; this is not a practical device over the long term.  Also, it introduces a new complication into the areas of the tax code regarding personal income taxes which, as I have opined elsewhere, should be devoid of such complications.  It will not reduce overall tax liabilities, but then, it isn't intended to do so; it is intended to be revenue-neutral for both the federal government and the school district.  It will give mischief-makers at the state level an opportunity to play games with all the extra cash - citizens will need to demand their state legislatures keep track of how much revenue is derived and insist it is apportioned in an equitable manner.  Likewise, at the local level, citizens will need to involve themselves to make sure the local school boards, no longer under the yoke of federal spending restrictions, do not then make free with what is still the taxpayer's money - one occurrence of Bell, CA, is quite enough, thank you.

So, then, this is a first step towards returning control of schools to the local level, or, at the very least, to the states.  These are not federal schools, nor should they be.  But at present, every federal dollar brings more federal intrusion; every federal dollar moves control of our childrens' education closer to Washington, DC, and away from parents.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

We Must Protect Gov't Programs Even If There's A Better Way??

I really don't care if some action would "gut" an existing social safety net.  I am far more interested in knowing if a proposed alternative would provide a better outcome.  The program shouldn't mean a thing - the intent of a social safety net is, after all, the protection of some distinct group of people from some perceived lack: Social Security is supposed to provide some level of income to retirees, Medicare/Medicaid, access to medical care, food stamps, access to food, etc., etc., etc.

I really don't have any issue with the intent; I don't want to see my parents - and later, my wife and I! - in poverty, with no access to medical care, and I don't want poor people to starve to death.  (Take that, Congressman Grayson [D-FL])  But I wonder if there isn't a more effective delivery system.  Unfortunately, whenever someone proposes even some minor change, there are charges that it means the program will be gutted, usually resulting in a hue and cry, and eventually a hasty retreat from the advancement of the change.

Forever unknown is whether the change might just result in an improvement for the people receiving the benefit.  But that's okay as long as some politico keeps his job because his baseless allegations keep him on the good side of the electorate, who will continue to scrape by when they might have thrived.

What absolute utter stupidity.

Marriage vs ...What?

Right now there's a huge hullabaloo in California over same-sex marriage.  A federal district court judge has declared that to withhold the status of "married" from a same-sex couple is to violate rights recognized in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  The conventional wisdom is that this will now compete with Arizona's anti-illegal-alien legislation for top billing at the Supreme Court.

As I understand it, the homosexual marriage movement is primarily, but not entirely, a pursuit for the same legal status as heterosexual marriage.  (I use that caveat, "primarily", because some domestic partner laws seem to be "marriage" in all but name, in spite of which some still agitate for that specific expression.)  When I began thinking about this, a question arose in my mind: is marriage primarily a religious or a secular status?  Presently, there is an overlap between the two domains.  Clergy can conduct a marriage ceremony for any and all they desire, according to the tenets of their own faith, but the law won't recognize any of them unless a marriage license - a secular document - is granted, signed and returned to the government.  In the case of a marriage ceremony conducted by a Justice of the Peace, or other non-religious authority (e.g. ship's captain), we have become accustomed to referring to the couple's status as "married", even though some later have an actual religious ceremony.

So perhaps it's time to officially separate the legal contractual status from the religious status.  This would not require much change in the religious domain, as the various churches could retain their current practices, including the right to refuse holding a marriage ceremony if such would violate that church's tenets.  On the legal side, however, some term should be recognized to infer a contractual status between two individuals, a status recognized by the states - yes, all of them - as being accorded the privileges of a married couple.

(This should not imply carte blanche for same-sex couples, by the way.  Some of the arguments opposing same-sex unions are well-taken - legal recognition of polygamy and polyamory would have too jarring an impact on society, and anti-incest restrictions should still be vigorously enforced, for various reasons having to do mostly with the psychology of such relationships.)

This would not will not be an easy shift for society.  Religions, with relatively few exceptions, do not recognize homosexual relationships as being acceptable to their respective Deities.  Their objections to the legal recognition of same are understandable, and yet, this seems to be an evolution in society which will not be denied.  The acceptance in society of gays and lesbians as individuals is becoming more and more prevalent, and the institutions of our society will need to adjust, however reluctantly.  Better to address the issue now, while we are relatively early in the evolution and can perhaps better control the outcomes, than later, when the decisions will be handed down as decrees from the judiciary.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Putting The Horse Back In Front Of The Cart

I need to back up a bit here, because already I've gotten ahead of myself.

I have many opinions on many subjects, and have discussed and debated these subjects in many forums: talking with family and friends, entries on other blogs, letters to op-ed pages in both electronic and print media, and so on.  But I have always felt a level of uncertainty, because I'm not sure I have all the relevant facts, and frustration, because I seem to always forget some key point until after the discussion is over.  The thought occurred to me, some time ago, that writing out (Computer: "Ummm, you're typing."  Me: "Yeah, whatever.") my thoughts, and then re-visiting these writings (Computer: "TYPINGS!!!"  Me: "Will you just let it go?"), when I get new information or some new perspective, would be an excellent way to reinforce, refine, or modify my positions.

But there's a problem with that, as well, i.e. just typing my thoughts in some document on my own PC might be all well and good, but that doesn't serve the idea of "refining."  Oh, sure, I can get input from any number of sources, but usually the action is all in one direction: I'm absorbing, either from the television or the computer.  Discussions with live people are great except, as noted above, it has its own drawbacks.

So, I finally decided I would blog.  It provides me with a platform upon which I can write down (Computer: "You're not writing, you're typing!"  Me: "Oh, shut up, already!!!") my thoughts AND it provides for more interaction between myself and others who enjoy issues-oriented discussions.

I had thought to note in my FPOB a summary of many positions upon which I will be elaborating.  So much for that idea - there can be only one FPOB, and that is already posted.  So the SPOB (Second Post Of the Blog) will have to serve.  To wit:

- I am conservative, the reasons for which should become apparent through this blog.

- I am a federalist, i.e. I believe in a sound central government for our nation, but one which is limited in its scope.

- "Trading freedom for security, and losing both" has been applied mostly in arguments regarding national security, especially the Patriot Act.  I see every single law passed by government at every level as such a trade.

- I believe our tax code has become the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels (the first refuge is, of course, "patriotism.")*, and has become possibly the foundation for most cases of abuse of power - again, by government at every level.  Bring on a flat tax rate.

- No, despite the sentiments expressed in the previous statements, I am not an anarchist, i.e. "get rid of all government".  I probably lean towards libertarian.

- "Eliminate the IRS."  While I appreciate the sentiment, let's be realistic, shall we?  The federal government does have some legitimate functions, and as such, a legitimate need for revenue.  Regardless of the source, an agency of some type will be necessary to manage the collection of said revenue.

- I believe Social Security should revert back to the role originally envisioned (or stated, anyway - who knows what FDR actually had in mind): a program to ensure a subsistence level of income, not the fully-paid pension as people have come to see it.

- I believe Barack Hussein Obama II is a legal citizen of the country.  Can we PLEASE move on?  (Note: the federal lawsuit to have Obama declared ineligible was filed by a Hillary Clinton supporter. True statement!)

- I do not believe the US government, or any member thereof, had anything to do with the attacks of 9/11.

- I believe in the soul, ... the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, ... opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.  (Okay, okay, ripped without shame from "Bull Durham" - great bit from a great movie.)

- I think it the height of stupidity to send money to Washington DC and then have to figure out how to get it back to pay for local needs - that's what local taxes are supposed to be for.  Highways and local schools are two such areas that come to mind.

- I believe there are too many occasions when racial has been equated with racist.

- I believe in the elimination of the corporate income tax, the capital gains tax, and the inheritance tax, all of which are nothing more than spending enablers for politicians.

- I find interesting the idea of repealing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for direct election of Senators by voters, placing such elections back in the hands of the state legislatures.

- I believe the jihadi prison at Guantanamo Bay should remain open.

- I question the justification for Operation(s) Desert Shield/Desert Storm, aka the "First Gulf War".

- I do not question the need for Operation Iraqi Freedom, based on the information available at the time.

- I absolutely do not question the need for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

- I believe Russia is still worthy of suspicion.

- I believe China is still worthy of suspicion.

- I believe North Korea needs to be invaded by China and South Korea.  (Computer: "But you just said..."  Me: "Yeah, I know - it's complicated.")

- I believe Iran is pursuing nuclear arms with aggression.

- I believe there are no good approaches to prevent or counter a nuclear-armed Iran.

- I believe war with Iran is becoming more and more likely.

- I refuse to "be green," although I have taken to using fluorescent bulbs since they do seem to last longer then incandescent bulbs.

- "Anthropogenic climate change" might or might not be occurring.  Regardless, I believe the potential effects have been enormously overblown.

- I believe high-profile advocates of sacrifice should walk the walk; this is an area where I will be hard-pressed to avoid posting vulgarities of the worst kind.  (Computer: "Temper, temper!"  Me: "You want me to start with you?  I can always get another PC and recycle you!")

This is hardly a comprehensive list, but I think it's a good start.  Please feel free to comment - that's the whole idea behind this effort, to get feedback and develop some interaction.

*UPDATE - Much to my chagrin, I have found that the widely recognized phrases are actually, "The claim of consensus is the first refuge of scoundrels", and "Patriotism is the final refuge of the scoundrel" (Samuel Johnson, 1775).  Mea culpa.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

FPOB - First Post of the Blog: What is "Fair"?

I have come to have a profound dislike for the word, "fair", when discussing policy.  It is perhaps the most subjective expression in any language, guaranteeing conflict in almost every discussion between people with even moderately differing viewpoints.  It exacerbates disagreements between those attempting to arrive at a consensus, and is the catch-all expression for any perception that one has been denied one's due.

I don't have a problem with people seeking, in good faith, some equitable arrangement - such activity is fundamental to a civilized society.  I do have a problem when  people ignore or dismiss a good solution, which may involve forgoing some level of benefit, because it isn't the perfect solution for their own constituency - be that some group of people, a corporation, or themselves as individuals.  "All for me, none for thee!", they essentially declare, insisting that such is the only solution that is "fair".  Phooey.