Obama sets a liberal/progressive tone…

January 23, 2013

Felt rather self-conscious when one of my brothers asked me what I thought of the inaugural or more specifically President Obama’s speech . I had not watched it and had only read the headlines over the past day or so. Been real busy with the real job.

But I got on the computer and watched and listened to the whole thing through the magic of You Tube.

It was rhetoric but good rhetoric. And really that is what an inaugural speech is all about, pure rhetoric. It is meant to set a tone.

And the tone was good.

It seems as if Mr. Obama may be ready to cash in on some of his accumulated political capital via his resounding victory in winning a second term.

Sorry conservatives and listeners to Rush Limburger Cheese, but the nation has turned somewhat liberal/progressive. And that may well be the result of hard economic times and the reality of what can happen when everyone is left on his or her own. Actually only folks around the age of my mom (she’s 102) really know what that means. She was a young housewife when the Great Depression began.

The President said that “preserving individual freedom requires collective action”. So freedom in his estimation does not mean I have my guns and I can hold you off as long as my ammunition holds out. I was kind of paraphrasing a liberal commentator there.

I think the president meant that government does have to take steps to protect the minority from the majority at times.

And this sounds promising: he said that “a decade of war has now ended”. Now you could read and interpret that in many ways, but I took it to mean that a stage of perpetual war is no longer going to be our policy as had seemed to have been the case under Bush/Cheney. He did say we will continue to protect ourselves.

For the benefit of all the climate change disbelievers and the rest of  us who wonder why people have such a hard time with reality and science (and yes, no one knows all the facts on this), he said: “we will respond the threat of climate change.” I think a lot of reactionary right-wing people think that just means the liberals want everyone to drive around in a tiny car.

And after kind of muted or ambiguous support of gay marriage in his first term, the president came out solidly for it.

(I’m sure that was tough for him and simple politics ruled. For me it is a tough one because it deals with tradition and morals and even practicalities. But there seems to be a realization that homosexuality is a born trait and not some kind of learned bad behavior. While I had thought and continue to wonder if civil unions for homosexuals could not suffice, it seems that such would be just a version of the legally abolished separate but equal doctrine.)

The president also called for equal pay for women (hard to believe that it is still an issue).

And finally, he addressed the reality of gun danger by saying that we have to protect our children on the streets of Detroit (the urban ghetto) and Newtown, Conn. (white suburbs).

One line I particularly liked was:

“Being true to our founding doctrines does not require us to agree on every contour of life.”

While I personally prefer fairly close attention to original meaning in interpreting the constitution I am always uneasy with people who claim to be able to decipher with ease and certainty the meaning of words and phrases that sound confusing and somewhat complex and sometimes even down right ambiguous to the rest of us at times.  I’m talking about those who claim to be following the “literal” meaning of the Holy Bible and those who follow just exactly what is written down in the constitution.

I did not cover every word of the speech, but I hit most of the high points I think.

It was rhetoric, but as I said before, good rhetoric, I think.

France takes on the terrorists…

January 18, 2013

So, way to go France!

French soldiers are going after Islamic extremists in the west African nation of Mali, which was once part of the French colonial holdings on the African continent.

And meanwhile there is an ongoing hostage situation, or it may be over, and several hostages dead, in Algeria, another former French colony. Islamic extremists threaten gas fields there heretofore thought to be out of the way of terrorist threats. The Algerian military was handling that situation (and it seems to have gone badly as of this writing).

You don’t usually think of France as a leading military power, especially when you consider that nation’s pathetic early fall in World War II. Of course in the day it was a reigning power in Europe.

And the notion of the French Foreign Legion has always intrigued me. It’s the stuff of romance and adventure — I never wanted to join, though. The Foreign Legion is open to recruits from all over the world but is run by French officers. Men looking for adventure or for an escape from life situations are part of the legend of the legion. The legion has units going into Mali.

France, you will recall, took the lead in helping the insurgency against Ghadafi in Libya .

But go get ‘em France! I just read the Mali invasion has wide support among the French populace and in Mali.

France is having a kind of identity crisis within what with the Islamification of many aspects of its culture due to heavy immigration.

I’m part French and feel some identity with its people.

While I think George W. Bush and the neocons took the wrong approach in the war on terror, it seems clear that there is an ongoing effort by Islamic militants to grab control wherever they can. I also think that many or most of these militants are no more than thugs using religion and cultural identity as a cover and a tool.

The trick is going to be supporting people’s who want to be free in their struggle against these thugs without being so heavy handed that we (the west) fall into the trap of looking to be the bad guys and end up creating more recruits for the extremists.

And we cannot go into these places with the notion that we have no choice but to wreck countries in order to save them (you will recall Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan).

Should the U.S. get involved in the flare-ups in Africa? We may have to. But it will require a very careful, clear-headed approach and commitment. That is what we so often seem to lack — commitment.

A trillion-dollar coin to keep the Ponzi scheme going

January 10, 2013

If you can simply make money based on nothing but you saying it is money and worth something then who among us would have any financial problems? We’d just design our own version of dollar bills and have them printed up or copied on a copy machine. We wouldn’t even have to risk getting arrested for counterfeiting if we used our own style of money (well I don’t know the actual law on that, really).

That such an idea of minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin that the federal government would then deposit in the Federal Reserve Bank, thus making $1 trillion of debt disappear could even be floated, at least semi-seriously, clearly demonstrates how dysfunctional our political system has become (and then why not mint $16 trillion or so to pay off the whole national debt?).

I have been so busy in the past several days I had not even heard of the trillion-dollar coin idea and when I saw a headline on it while surfing the web I did not even bother to read the story at first — but then my curiosity picked up when I kept seeing references to it.

As I understand it there is no trillion dollars worth of platinum available to the government, but some quirk in the law makes it possible for the U.S. Treasury to mint a platinum coin of lesser value and assign whatever value it wants to it. Well, that is pretty much how all of our money, paper or coins, goes.

I along with probably 90 percent of people don’t fully understand the concept of money and how its value is decided. Once upon a time when I was a kid I was led to believe that paper money at least represented gold and/or silver kept at Fort Knox. I was later stationed at Fort Knox in the U.S. Army but I did not go anywhere near or at least did not see the gold or silver. But anyway even though we once did base our currency on the value of precious metal we really had on hand, that went by the wayside some time ago.

Nonetheless, the dollar has been the world’s standard currency for a long time. People and governments want our treasury bonds even when they are worth nearly nothing because they are safe. Or at least they have been safe. But the threat of default, first by the crazy fiscal cliff crisis and now by a coming re-enactment of the debt ceiling limit battle, threatens the stability and trust of our financial system.

Even though it would seem that the Republican Party is the predominant obstruction in all of this, I would put blame on both the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democrats are to blame because of their unwillingness to face up to the fact that you cannot or should not indefinitely spend more than you take in (does not work for individuals and does not work for governments) and the Republicans are to blame for playing politics with the crisis, threatening to let the whole nation and even the world fall into a financial abyss in order to exact spending cuts on social programs and the lower taxes.

The GOP appears sharply divided on this issue. Old guard Republicans, who tend to be more moderate, are willing to compromise, while the newer Tea Party type know nothings want to dismantle the whole system. I imagine most business types, particularly big business types, see the need for compromise. And by the way, that reference to know nothings was not a mere accusation of ignorance but more of a historical reference to a political faction back in the 1850s.

Needless to say, the minting of a trillion-dollar coin does not seem wise nor practical and maybe it was just a joke anyway.

But our government does essentially print up dollar bills based on nothing but money borrowed via treasury bonds issued. When everything goes great guns it’s all kind of like a Ponzi scheme. We keep ahead of the game. Somehow back in 2008 we fell behind (the burst of the housing bubble was blamed).

Simply printing money based on no real underlying value has not historically worked. It results in hyper-inflation and loss of trust in the currency. The oft-cited example is Germany after World War I with the image of people pushing wheelbarrows full of German marks down the street to buy a loaf of bread and the famous photo of a hausfrau burning them to keep warm. A more recent example is in the African nation of Zimbabwe where money was simply printed up based on no real value at all. The annual inflation rate was as much as 11.2 million percent at one time. People quit using the local currency and used dollars instead.

The United States borrows so much money from China, we might be in danger of having to carry around billfolds full of Chinese yuan.

In light of the recent election I think the moderates are going to prevail here in the United States.

But the know nothings are posing a serious threat.

The only way out of our fiscal hole may be to make more money…

January 4, 2013

With our aversion to raising taxes or cutting government spending there seems only one way out of our fiscal hole. Make more money.

I don’t mean roll the government printing presses.

What I mean is get more productive. I have written it and so have so have many others, but we must get the United States of America producing things in more quantity — real things that people need or even think that they need.

If there are barriers to starting or expanding business then they need to be removed. And I know that is the tricky part. Certainly I am not talking about removing reasonable health and safety and environmental  regulations. And tax breaks are problematic because they end up being tax shifts to someone else. Also I suspect tax breaks are often given out unwisely due to political pressure (lobbying). But in some cases tax breaks as an incentive might be appropriate.

One phenomenon we are facing within this context is mechanization and technological advances that are destroying jobs. That is probably inevitable but then again, if there was a labor force to handle things there in many cases would not be quite the incentive to do away with many jobs. Of course a whole host of jobs are gone forever too.

Why don’t we produce more textiles in this nation? We used to have a strong textile industry. We certainly have the resources for the raw product, such as cotton.

I presume the answer is cheap labor offered by other countries where the standard of living is lower than ours.

While we don’t want to bring down our own standard of living it would seem that it would make sense to find a way to offer employment to so many who are chronically unemployed. I don’t mean grab people off the street and put them at a sewing machine. But if work was the only way to get by, many people would opt for gainful employment.

The way it is now, what with unemployment payments and perhaps sometimes too liberal disability awards and the much-abused Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) siphoned off by adults, there is a large and I think ever-growing population of idle people.

And there is a large population of quite willing to work and talented able people for which there does not seem to be employment or at least adequate employment.

We need industry and we need to find a way to limit the restrictions on it to those that are really necessary and we need to cut the red tape.

Unemployment insurance and disability insurance are a must for a stable society, and certainly we do not want any children to go hungry (no matter the reason). And we don’t want to lower our standard of living. But we have to do something or we will go broke for real.

Sometimes prudent families take stock and figure out what lifestyle is acceptable to them and then they realize that the only way to pay for it is to — make more money. I think that is where we are as a nation.