Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Food, Fuel and Bio-fuel, Part 2

"U.N. Warns Food Shortage Will Continue Up To 2010"
"Price Shock In Global Food"
"Seattle Food Bank Facing Its Own Rice Shortage"
"Wales Warning of Food Shortage"
"Food Prices Rising, But No Shortage In US"
"UN Says Gaza Facing Food Shortage"
"Forget Oil, the New Global Crisis Is Food"

Sounds sort of surreal and shocking, doesn't it? But it's where we are... The UN's WFP (World Food Program) data shows that prices of some food rose by up to 40 percent last year in many nations, citing that the escalating energy and grain costs, the effects of climate change and demand for bio-fuel are primarily responsible for the soaring prices. Josette Sheeran of the WFP says that it "is not a short-term bubble and will definitely continue." She did say this while briefing the European Parliament and asking for vast sums of money for the program, but she probably has a point. 

Food is an issue. The demand for bio-fuel (which I loosely covered in Part 1) is a contributing factor. Droughts in some areas, floods in others is also a contributing factor. Weather extremes such as this are not conducive to growing healthy crops. People in the East are clamoring for a lifestyle that more closely resembles that of the West, which means more driving and more meat eating. The amount of grain necessary to feed livestock is taking away from the grain available to feed people around the world. Supply and demand... demand is high, price goes up. 

So I was asked how I think all this will affect the general election this year... 

Well, it might not affect it at all. Simply put, most people don't have a real grasp on what's going on... the majority of people in the United States vote based on the sound bytes they hear on the news and in television commercials or what they hear from family and friends. There are some people who vote strictly based on party affiliation - and because their entire family has voted either Republican or Democrat for generations. 

But I think the issues of food, of grain, of bio-fuel, of clean energy, of gas prices, etc... those ISSUES will affect the election. But who will benefit? Who will lose out? Well, who can tell the prettiest lies? We know Hillary is able to tell lies... but she doesn't tell pretty ones, and she doesn't do it well. We know that Barack can tell a whopper or two... and some of his even put on some nice clothes and makeup, but they're not really pretty lies, either. John McCain can lie to achieve his ends... but I honestly don't know how pretty he can make them, mostly because I still can't manage to make myself stay awake while he's talking. 

But the truth is, no matter who is elected come November, the food crisis, the oil crisis, the "global warming" crisis, and any other "crisis" that can be dreamed up between then and now, won't be fixed. This is due, in part, to the fact that some of these crises are manufactured by politicians (if I hear the term "scientific consensus" one more time, I'm going to flip my lid). Government is itself responsible for some of the food crisis. Last time I checked, our government was paying subsidies to farmers in an effort to limit the amount of food they grow. Government is also responsible for the idiotic idea of using our tax dollars to make gasoline from corn... and not only are they not considering putting a stop to this, they are considering putting MORE of our tax dollars into that business. 

So, here's what I think. 

Barack Obama will speak to some of these issues... he'll talk about the gas prices and let everybody know that he's not in bed with "BIG OIL." If he talks about the food shortage, he will make sure that everybody understands that he's for change - and that means taking care of feeding the poor. And he will talk about how global warming is a serious issue affecting all of us - and we need to pull together, black and white, to solve this dilemma.

Hillary Clinton will talk about how the Bush administration's failed policies are what brought us to this point and she will take us back to the prosperity and plentiful food and cheap fuel of the 90's. Any time anybody asks her a question about any of these issues she will say, "You know, back in the 90's when my husband was President, we didn't see food shortages. Gas prices were at an all time low. And Global Warming was almost unheard of. I intend to bring us back to the progressive times we shared then!"

John McCain? I'm not sure what he'll say, but I'll do my best to stay awake this time.

Food, Fuel and Bio-fuel, Part 1

To hear the news, one would think the end of the world is drawing nigh... gas prices soaring, food prices out of control (and even rationing?), Jihad around the world threatening to eradicate our way of life, "politics of personal destruction" rampant (gotta love that one), and insane leaders -whose names are so easy to make fun of - insisting on nuclear technology. Sounds almost like a recipe for... oh, I don't know... disaster?

Up to this point, I've just watched what's going on and shook my head. I've had a semi-firm belief that the President of the United States doesn't have much control over soaring gas prices, unless you're talking to me about the Carter administration and then I seem to think he was the cause of soaring gas prices back then. I am fully aware that these beliefs make no sense together, but I have not had the inclination to research enough to figure things out, so the beliefs have always just stuck there in the back of my mind. 

I recently had a friend write to me, asking me to blog on the gas prices as well as the food shortages and how I think it will all affect the election this year. Never being one to back away from a challenge, I put some effort into understanding current events as relates to fuel. Even with the effort I've made, I must admit to feeling somewhat kerflumoxed... but I'll do the best I can here.

Gasoline prices are affected by many factors. Too many to list them all here - and too many for me to understand in a short period of time. Keeping it simple, the cost of basic gasoline is broken down into the cost of crude oil, refining, distribution and marketing, station mark-up and taxes. 

The price of crude oil rises and falls. A year ago, the price per barrel was around $65.00. This year in January, crude oil hit $100.00 per barrel for the first time. It is now at $118.75 per barrel. From what I've been able to read, the price of oil is soaring in part because of new demand. However, crude oil prices are only a small fraction of what is driving our gas prices higher at the pump. 

Every spring and summer, the price of gasoline goes up. One might assume that the oil companies (or BIG OIL as they're sometimes called) are interested in making an enormous profit and they're willing to do it off the back of the working man as he tries to take his sweet family camping in the summertime. Not so. Summertime gasoline has a higher ethanol content than wintertime gasoline. Ethanol is more expensive (and less efficient, I'm told) and this causes the price of the gasoline to go up. That, coupled with the switch-over from making winter mix to a summer mix, raises the prices. 

So on to Ethanol. Why bother? ...I mean, I read about it and I'm still asking -- Why bother? Ethanol burns cleaner than regular gasoline. Fine. But consider what goes into producing it. Ethanol is made from food products. In the United States, ethanol is generally made from corn. Brazil is the largest ethanol producer in the world, and they make theirs from sugarcane. The production of ethanol not only takes a large measure of energy (which can be derived from "non-renewable" energy sources), but it also takes a lot of corn. A LOT. So, in order to create a fuel that will burn "cleaner" in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the air, we have farmers cutting down trees (which process carbon dioxide) to grow the corn to create the fuel. And the very creation of this fuel also releases carbon dioxide into the air. Add to that the fact that it's less efficient and you're having to fuel up your car more frequently and I just don't see the point. 

Some people are wanting to "bring down the price" of gasoline by suggesting fewer different blends for the country. (Different areas and regions have different blends suited to their needs and their clean air laws.) Others argue that reducing the number of blends would perhaps lower the price in those areas of the country that already require the cleaner burning blends, but would raise prices on those who have less stringent blends. California fuel is, no surprise, the most expensive fuel in the world to produce. If the country were to go to one or two blends, that would mean a price increase for most of us. The Energy Information Administration wrote, "There does not seem to be a means of reducing price volatility in the short term by reducing the number of fuel types. The measures needed to reduce price volatility could cost the nation more than they would save a particular region." 

Here's where it gets political. Many Republicans are calling for domestic drilling. Hallelujah! Of course, we all know that this isn't going to happen barring complete disaster. And drilling is kind of a long term solution, not a solution to bringing down the gas prices now. Even if the government were to authorize new drilling and refineries in the US, all that takes time to begin. 

Democrats, along with those in the renewable energy business, have called for higher taxes for oil companies (which really means for us because the oil companies are going to pass that along to the consumer), with the money being used to fund renewable sources. Democrats are also trying to get President Bush to stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The SPR, in May of 2007 was storing 690 million barrels of oil, which amounts to a 60 day supply if all oil imports were suddenly cut off. In 2005, the Energy Policy Act directed the Secretary of Energy to fill the SPR to its authorized 1 billion barrel capacity. 

Loosely translated, this means that the Democrats are in bed with big business (renewable energy) and that they're wanting to take money away from the taxpayers to bolster that big business. Anybody who tells you that ethanol isn't "big business" is doing some "big lying." The fact is that the ethanol business has been subsidized by the taxpayers all along. And now they want more. Also, the Democrats are wanting to stop filling our "rainy day oil fund" and they're encouraging President Bush to break a 2005 law in order to do so. Of course, if he followed their advice, they'd attack him and say that he thinks he's "above the law." Silly stuff. A couple more reasons to be glad I'm not a Democrat (as if I needed them). 

I suppose for reasons of fairness, I should also loosely translate the Republican position of caring more about cheap oil than for the beauty of ANWR and the wildlife it contains. 

More on food shortages soon...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Embracing Evil

ABC News.com had a headline, "Bush Embraces Pope Benedict XVI." On the flip side of the coin, the AP ran an article by Dalia Nammari titled, "Jimmy Carter Embraces Hamas Official." Talk about a clear difference between two men!

Oh - and when the article says "embraced," it means just that. The former president gave Nasser Shaer, a leading Hamas figure, a hug. Of course, hugging Hamas is  just one of those things that would come naturally to a buffoon like Carter, but the Israelis don't see it as a sweet moment. They're kind of ticked. The AP tried to help out Carter all they could, saying that hugs between men were commonplace in the Arab world -- but I'm not thinking that too many people are going to buy that this hug was a cultural nicety. Especially since Shaer told the AP, "He gave me a hug. We hugged each other, and it was a warm reception. Carter asked what he can do to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel... and I told him the possibility for peace is high." 

On top of that Carter laid a wreath at the grave of Yasser Arafat. Bestowing hugs and postmortem honor on people who are evil? No biggie -- because in Carter's little world, the Israelis are to blame for the world's troubles. After all, if they weren't trying to keep a little place called "Israel" as their own, nobody would hate them so much. Carter has written a book likening the Israel/Palestinian relationship to Apartheid, with Israel (of course) being the big bad white guy. 

Israel and the West Bank are only the first stops on a visit that will extend to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria (where Hamas is headquartered). Hamas is an Islamic jihadist group that is responsible for the deaths of some 250 Israelis via suicide bombings. To say that Hamas is "anti-Israel" is probably a bit of an understatement... but Carter is urging both Israel and the White House to "stop isolating them." According to Carter, this is because "Since Syria and Hamas will have to be involved in a final peace agreement, they have to be involved in discussions that lead to final peace." 

The United States government has asked Carter to knock it off (but probably worded it a bit more diplomatically than I), but he continues to traipse around the globe acting as if the US government backs him. 

To make matters worse, Carter's visit is offering a certain amount of legitimacy to Hamas and therefore is undermining the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip last year -- the Palestinians are even fighting amongst themselves. 

Of course, proving that journalists everywhere are milk-toast weasels, the Haaretz newspaper in Israel criticized their own government for offering such a cool reception to Carter. According to that paper, "Jimmy Carter has dedicated his life to humanitarian missions, to peace, to promoting democratic elections and to better understanding between enemies throughout the world." Well... Jimmy Carter may have good intentions, but his lack of wisdom is astounding. If I decide I want to teach a child to swim and my method is to not allow them out of the water -- and they end up drowning - I don't deserve a medal for my efforts. No matter how good my intentions were in trying to teach them to swim, I did such a lousy job that I caused their death. A cool reception would be too good for me. 

Carter has offered to serve as a conduit between Hamas and the US and Israel, although he acknowledges he has "no authority at all." According to him, "I'm not a negotiator. I'm just trying to understand different opinions and provide communication between people." Uh-huh. Try understanding your own country's opinion and keep your nose out of it then! It is the opinion of the United States that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Frankly, this runs more to fact than opinion, but I'm giving ole Jimmy the benefit of the doubt here... 

And another funny little tidbit... Carter's office was complaining that a request for security provided by Israel has not been met. Israel said no request was made. And then - aha! - Steward Tuttle, the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said the embassy never relayed a request for protection because Carter was on a private visit. Carter can't seem to take the hint, though... he's determined to use his "no authority at all" to protract a peace agreement between Hamas (who states that they can live alongside Israel but that Israel has no right to exist) and Israel (who says that Hamas is a terrorist group and they will not negotiate with terrorists). Hmmm... I'm thinkin' it might take more than "no authority at all" to get that job done. It will take an act of God Himself.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Three Strikes and You're OUT

Well, we're back to the New York Times editorial board again today. There was an editorial in today's paper titled "Crime and Punishment in Connecticut." 

The governor and the Republicans in the Connecticut legislature have proposed a "three strikes" law, which would require a life sentence for any criminal three times convicted of violent crimes. The New York Times is opposed to a "three strikes" law, saying that it would do more harm than good. According to them, "The proposed law, which would mandate life in prison for anyone convicted of three violent felonies, is a bumper sticker solution that would create injustices by barring judges' discretion in sentencing. It would also not deter the many crimes committed by people who have not committed three violent felonies." This statement was directly preceded in the article with, "Last July two recently paroled men broke into a home in Cheshire and tortured and murdered three people. Last month a man who served more than eight years for assaulting a 5 year old - and had been out on probation for less than a month - broke into a New Britain home. He accosted two women, wounding one and killing the other."

Perhaps I'm simply a person lacking compassion. I don't know. Maybe I'm just a short sighted person who needs some enlightenment... but when judges are so moronic that they refuse to give heavy sentences to repeat violent offenders, maybe it's time that a law is passed requiring it to be so. If two men were released from prison and immediately went out, broke into somebody's home and tortured and murdered three people -- this is a problem. I want to know why those men were released on society to begin with!

As is typical, though, the New York Times is too busy blaming society for the crimes of the men rather than holding them responsible for their own behavior. "Connecticut's system for sharing crime information, which could keep some of the most dangerous offenders off the streets, is antiquated. It has neither inpatient treatment for sex offenders nor housing for them once they are released. Hundreds of former inmates are on a waiting list for inpatient drug treatment. The suspect arrested in the New Britain case had been staying in a homeless shelter at night but roaming freely during the day while waiting to begin outpatient sex offender treatment."

Clearly, a person capable of going into a home and sexually assaulting two women, seriously injuring one and killing the other, is in need of treatment of some kind. I am not suggesting that there should be no treatment provided. But I am suggesting that there is no reason why the state cannot provide such treatment within a prison setting. Why are these violent people being released and sent to treatment - whether in-patient or out? People who commit acts such as these don't belong in a snug treatment center. They belong in prison, as do serial killers, rapists, burglars, etc... 

But the New York Times is not wanting to see any mandatory sentencing such as the three strikes law. Rather, they would like to see "other urgent reforms, including more re-entry programs and jobs training and better monitoring after prisoners are released on probation and parole." Ah, I see!! These men who went out and assaulted and murdered were doing so because they had not been adequately trained by the state for any other job!! Silly... Re-entry programs are essential. People who have spent years behind bars get used to that kind of life and living outside them is frightening. But a re-entry program wouldn't have stopped what those men did. And "better monitoring?" How much monitoring would have prevented these despicable acts? Only prison bars or death. 

Of course, I realize I sound like I really lack compassion right about now. Prison bars or death?? Puh-leeze. But who is going to show compassion for the innocents who are maimed and killed so that we can all feel compassionate towards the criminal? Where is the compassion for the victims of these senseless crimes? For the families of the victims left behind to deal with their grief and anger? How about the communities who struggle through life knowing such a violent act was perpetrated in their midst - wondering if and when it will occur again? Where is the compassion for them? Frankly, I get concerned when people get all wrapped up in compassion for the perpetrator of a crime and forget to have compassion for the victim. Seems kind of backward to me. 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Real Issues

I received a comment from an anonymous somebody who seemed to be disgruntled because the Democrats didn't cover the "real issues" in their most recent debate. This got me to thinking -- what are the real issues? I guess the issues one considers to be "real" vary depending on one's values and worldview. I tend to lean quite conservative, so the values I embrace will dictate which issues I consider to be important:

I believe wholeheartedly in a personal God. This belief and my faith frames and shapes my entire worldview. However, the fact that I put my faith in God doesn't mean that I require God to be an "issue" in my politics. Frankly, I'd rather there be a little less discussion of God and religion on the campaign trail. To me, it all sounds rather false and pandering.

I am fully anti-abortion. I would love to see all abortion made illegal in the United States of America. I think this would be a wonderful way for the country to behave. However, I am a full believer in the Constitution of the United States as well, and I think the Constitution supports leaving the issue of abortion up to the individual states. If this ever happens, there will probably be some states that choose to outlaw the practice and some states that choose to keep things as they are. Perhaps some even allowing more lenient practices. I fully support leaving abortion up to the states.

Ecclesiastes 3:8 states that there is a time for war and a time for peace. The war on terror is, I think, a major issue this election cycle. I believe that pulling out of Iraq would send the message to the terrorists that they can win against the United States as long as they hold out long enough. I think that we need to be certain that we are fighting smart... but we shouldn't stop fighting until it's won. I think the threat we face in militant Islam is very real and we should never forget that.

Taking care of the poor, the elderly, the orphaned and the widowed is a Christian principle - one which I think should not be neglected. I think most people can agree on this, be they Republican, Democrat, Conservative or Liberal. Where we find a large chasm is in HOW we should be taking care of the poor, the elderly, the orphaned and widowed. I would like to see more private support and less government intervention. This is born out of the notion that the government is NOT run like a well-oiled machine. The red tape and waste that oozes from governmental programs are not, in my opinion, conducive to taking good care of anybody. 

In line with the above paragraph, heath care is a major issue in this election cycle. I hate the idea of nationalized health care. It's one of those things where you can look at the other countries who practice medicine this way and their system STINKS. To me, it just makes no sense to emulate something that doesn't work. It's kind of like going to a restaurant and ordering a meal. You end up HATING what you've ordered. So you ask the waiter for the recipe and go replicate it at home so you can eat it again. It's just stupid.

I know that age is going to be a mini-issue this election because of McCain. I believe back in 2006 he was asked if he would be running for president in 2008 and his answer was, "In 2008 I'm going to BE 2008!" Good that he has a sense of humor about it, I guess. Anyway, how much his age is an issue for me will depend on who he chooses for his running mate. I read somewhere that people were thinking McCain should have to make his medical records public because of his age. This, to me, seems ludicrous. Last time I checked the obituaries, you didn't have to reach a certain age before you could die of some dreaded disease. Life is a crap shoot. Medical records aren't going to help anybody have a more informed vote. 

The economy is always an issue in a presidential election. And, let's face it - our economy isn't at it's finest. There are so many factors that can contribute to this that I don't understand them all. I am not an economist - I try to learn what I can, but I confess to not having a very full understanding of what makes things tick. Common sense tells me that higher taxes will drag down the economy further. If you pull money away from people's pockets, they no longer have that money to spend. That's just kind of... "duh." Beyond that, I can't really dissect economic policies very well... which is apparently just fine because none of the candidates seem to have one they're willing to share. 

And the last and most important issue -- the most real issue I can come up with -- is integrity. Can a person be trusted? And this just causes me to heave a big sigh... because none of the candidates have true integrity. I know that politics is an ugly business. But why do they have to make it even uglier? Why can't anybody say what they actually think and actually mean? I know that political races tend to melt down into popularity contests... but it shouldn't be that way. Frankly, we might as well just have a swimsuit contest and vote based on that if we can't believe what the candidates are campaigning on. At least then when the president came on TV we'd know they were good-looking. 

Friday, April 18, 2008

Another Democrat Debate

The democrats had another debate. Hillary and Barack - both trying to make their case now to the super-delegates, more than anything. It was interesting to listen to what they had to say since (for once) the press was actually asking them some tougher questions. Of course, now that the tougher questions were asked, the democrats are crying "foul," saying that they were being treated unfairly. Well, let's just examine that for a second:

Charlie Rose asked Obama about his "bitter" comment regarding small town people who cling to guns, religion, and immigration opposition because of their frustration with government. Obama tried to fix that statement by saying, "The point I was making was that when people feel like Washington's not listening to them, when they're promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change, and it doesn't, then politically they end up focusing on those things that are constant, like religion." Let's back up the truck for just a second and ask... how does a person "politically" focus on "religion?" What does that even mean?? But Obama goes on to say, "They end up feeling, 'This is a place where I can find some refuge. This is something that I can count on.' They end up being much more concerned about votes around things like guns, where traditions have been passed on from generation to generation. And those are incredibly important to them." Yes... the tradition of gun ownership HAS been passed on from generation to generation -- it began when the country did, through the second amendment to the Constitution.

Of course, for Hillary's turn, she pointed out that she's the granddaughter of a steel worker and that HE would have been offended at the comments. 

Another question posed to Obama was regarding his "spiritual mentor," the Rev. Wright. Obama has claimed that he never heard Wright say from the pulpit the things that are so offensive (and are broadcast all over YouTube). But more than a year ago, Obama rescinded an invitation to Wright to attend the event where Barack announced his candidacy. According to Rev. Wright, Obama told him, "You can get kind of rough in sermons. So what we've decided is that it's best for you not to be out there in public." Then the question was, "What did you know about his statements that caused you to rescind that invitation? And if you knew he got rough in sermons, why did it take you more than a year to publicly disassociate yourself from his remarks?"

Obama's response was to say, "Understand that I hadn't seen the remarks that ended up playing on YouTube repeatedly.... Reverend Wright is somebody who made controversial statements but they were not of the sort that we saw that offended so many Americans." He went on to talk about all the good work that the church as done with HIV/AIDS, prison ministries, providing people with comfort. He also said (regarding the sermon preached damning America immediately after 9/11), "Absolutely many of these remarks were objectionable. I've already said that I didn't hear them, because I wasn't in church that day. I didn't learn about those statements until much later."

The moderators then got on Clinton... "Senator Clinton, we also did a poll today, and there are also questions about you raised in this poll. About six in ten voters that we talked to say they don't believe you're honest and trustworthy." Really?? Forty percent of people think Clinton is honest and trustworthy? That's scary. They played a clip from a voter in Pittsburgh, "Senator, I was in your court until a couple weeks ago. How do you reconcile the campaign of credibility that you have when you've made those comments about what happened getting off the plane in Bosnia, which totally misrepresented what really happened on that day? You really lost my vote. And what can you tell met to get it back?

Clinton's response? "Well, Tom, I can tell you that I may be a lot of things, but I'm not dumb... I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004... On a couple of occasions in the last weeks I just said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book. And you know, I'm embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I've said it was a mistake. And it is, I hope, something that you can look over, because clearly I am proud that I went to Bosnia. It was a war zone." Hmmm... what a fancy and nice way of saying, "I lied. And it was a really stupid lie because it was obvious I was lying. I hope you can look past that, though, and vote for me anyway because I'm not really dumb. But one of my favorite parts of her answer is, "So I will either try to get more sleep, Tom, or, you know, have somebody who, you know, is there as a reminder to me. You know, you can go back for the past 15 months. We both have said things that, you know, turned out not to be accurate. You know, that happens when you're talking as much as we have talked." And this is a not-so-fancy way of saying, "You know, Tom. We're both big fat liars. And we've both been caught at it -- you have to expect that when two big fat liars are talking for fifteen months. It's really hard to keep your lies straight in that long a time period."

Obama is also taking some hits because of his relationship with William Ayers, who was part of the Weather Underground in the 70s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings in an effort to disrupt/overthrow the government. On 9/11, Ayers was quoted in the New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough." The fact that Democrats are riled that this question was asked just kills me. Can you imagine if John McCain had held one of his organizing meetings at the home of a former bomber of abortion clinics who was completely unrepentant -- was only sorry that he didn't bomb enough of them? What would the press be doing to McCain?? 

Obama's explanation, though, is that "this is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from... The fact is, is that I'm also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate..." Nice. He also brought up the fact that President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground... And that, along with Clinton rah-rahing over Obama's tough questions, gave the debate a feeling of, "You're worse... no YOU'RE worse. Nu-uh, YOU are."

Both candidates took a hard and fast pledge to get the United States out of Iraq - no matter what is going on at the time, and no matter what the advice is from the generals. I just cannot see how this appeals to anybody. But, I guess, if 40% of Americans are stupid enough to think that Hillary is honest and trustworthy, maybe they're stupid enough to think that pulling out against the advice of our generals and creating a blood bath is a good idea, too. 

Obama showed himself to be an economic moron, too. He was asked about raising the capital gains tax - which he has stated he would do (or "look at doing"). It is now set at fifteen percent, and Obama said he would raise it to twenty-eight percent. The moderator pointed out in his question that every time (historically) the tax rate is dropped, revenues INCREASE and when it is raised, the revenues DECREASE. They then asked, "Why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?" Obama's response? He would raise the tax for the "purposes of fairness." He says, "Those who are able to work the stock market and amass huge fortunes on capital gains are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That's not fair." He's essentially saying that he will enact a policy, in the interest of fairness, that will decrease revenues to the government. (For the record, there is nothing unfair about everybody in the country paying a fifteen percent capital gains tax rate. It's not as if the secretary is paying a higher capital gains tax than her employer. If she invests, she'll get that same fifteen percent tax rate.) 

Hillary Clinton says that if she raises the capital gains tax, she would not go above 20 percent. Well, thank you for that, anyway. Although, coming from a self-professed big fat liar, this doesn't mean much. 

If you penalize investment, you're going to get less investing - which means that businesses will suffer, the economy will suffer, and the government will collect less revenue. Lowering tax rates has increased revenues for the government historically speaking - I cannot understand why politicians can't get it.

There was more to the debate, but it would get far too boring to go into all of it. I still think it's a toss up as to whether Barack or Hillary is the candidate of choice for the Democrat party. It will probably go all the way to the convention without us knowing for certain. And, frankly, I don't know who I'm hoping for. They're both darned scary - it kind of makes John McCain look good by comparison. 

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Truth, Justice, and the Worldly Way

I like the truth. I really do. That's not to say that I always like hearing it... sometimes the truth is a bummer to hear. I need to lose fifteen pounds. This is a truth that is pretty much undeniable. I really don't want people on the street to stop me and tell me about it, though. I'm also opinionated and irritating. I get reminders of this occasionally from people who love me. I hate hearing it, but I appreciate the fact that these people in my life are willing to tell me what I need to hear rather than just what I would LIKE to hear. 

But in the big scheme of things... what is truth? How can we know it? What does it look like? Are there different kinds of truth? Can your truth be different from my truth? 

I once had company over and when I went into the half bath on the main level of my house, I was horrified to see how dirty it was. (Yes, along with being overweight and irritating, I'm not the cleanest person on the planet. I'm starting to sound like a real prize, huh?) I came out of the bathroom and expressed my embarrassment and dismay at the state of my bathroom and the husband who was over looked me right in the eye and said, "What? What's wrong with it? I didn't see anything wrong with it." Since I knew this man and his standards of cleanliness, I knew he was NOT telling me the truth. I also figured that he was telling me a "white lie" in order to save me from further embarrassment. Being the way I am, his doing this actually lowered my opinion of him which probably means we should also add "judgmental" to the growing list of my negative attributes. 

I also heard about a "pregnant man" who was going to be on Oprah. I did not watch the show and don't even know when it aired, but I went onto Oprah's website to check it out. When my friend told me about the pregnant man, I told her that there had to be a catch. Well, there was. The pregnant "man" wasn't a man at all, but was a woman who had been a lesbian and then underwent the hormone treatments to become a man, then went through the court system in Oregon to legally become a man. This "man" also decided to keep his/her female reproductive organs so that s/he could have a baby someday. Apparently that day has come. This is all just very weird... and yet the Oprah website was trying to sell this off as just another "normal family." This is not a truth. Not for me, and not for them. Frankly, if any of the people involved in putting on this show thought that a true statement, there wouldn't be a show. Talk shows are not made about normal families... if they were, nobody would watch them. 

There's a lot of negative talk about "absolute truth." There lies out there the assumption that nobody can know it. I don't buy this... it's not even a reasonable statement. If it's impossible to know absolute truth, then it's impossible to know that statement is absolutely true as well... and you arrive at an impasse. 

And then there are the people who say that I'm very wrong to judge the actions of others. Judgment is very, very bad... which is, of course, a judgment - which should make the person who thinks judgment bad feel very guilty indeed for making the judgment on judgment. Getting dizzy yet? 

I've also heard that having a "worldview" is a dangerous way to live your life. Hmmm... would that be your worldview then? A worldview is simply a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. To not have one is, it seems to me, to be brain dead. Not a particularly dangerous way to live, I suppose, but not a very exciting one, either. 

So I've come to the conclusion that there are certain absolute truths. And I think they can be known. I certainly don't know them all -- but they're out there, just waiting for us to discover them. Perhaps this means I have a dangerous worldview... but I've always found danger to be a little bit exciting.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

New Orleans, Where "Gimme Gimme" Reigns

It has been a while since New Orleans was flooded by a combination of Hurricane Katrina and the stupidity and irresponsibility of their city and state governments. In spite of the length of time since the massive devastation, the city is still in shambles. Much grumbling and complaining is being done about this... and I got to thinking.

What is it about New Orleans that is so different from other areas of the country? Being the conservative I am, I would love to blame it on liberalism and leave it at that. But I can't. I still believe that liberalism (as it is today) is not a healthy mentality to have and that some liberals have a measure of class envy and an entitlement mentality - others suffer from a guilt complex over their own success. But I compare New Orleans to places like California and their devastation from fires... to New York City and the devastation that occurred there in 2001 - and I get blown away by the differences in the people's reaction to their circumstances.

The New York Times ran a story in today's paper about how slow the rebuilding process is in New Orleans... In March of 2007, city officials unveiled a plan to redevelop New Orleans... and so far nothing has been done except a paved walking path. New Orleans city officials - and Louisiana's state government - don't have a good track record on getting things done. They do have a long history of corruption, which has given them further ethics constraints on their spending (read: more red tape and hoops). This has slowed things down considerably.

The NYT writes: "Weary and bewildered residents, forced to bring back the hard-hit city on their own, have searched the plan's 17 'target recovery zones' for any sign that the city's promises should not be consigned to the municipal filing cabinet, along with their predecessors. On their one-year anniversary, the designated 'zones' have hardly budged." This cracks me up -- it sounds as if the NYT is feeling so sorry for the residents of the city because they're weary and bewildered... and forced to do some work to recover their city. 

The library in N.O. still has the cross-hatch markings made by emergency teams right after the hurricane (to indicate that there were no bodies inside the building). I have no idea what these markings were made with -- but really there's no excuse for that to still be there. Why couldn't the people of the city get together and do a clean up effort? Paint a little? Act as a community? I am fairly certain that if the residents went to the city officials and said, "We're wanting to get something done. Here's our plan. We'll start with the library..." they wouldn't be turned down. 

Again from the NYT: Many of the hardest-hit neighborhoods remain stuck where they have been for months, with a few houses on a block occupied and the rest in varying stages of abandonment or repair. In Broadmoor, one block might appear carefully restored by residents, while another will seem derelict. Vacant grassy lots newly pepper the city, ambiguous signs of progress: blighted houses recently sat on them, but construction has often not followed demolition. The grim housing projects have started to come down, part of a federal replacement plan. But an acute shortage of low-cost housing spurred hundreds to wait hours in line for rental assistance vouchers in mid-March, the biggest crowd officials said they had ever seen. Financing for dozens of developments in New Orleans now appears uncertain, thanks to the national downturn.

Silly question here... whose job is it to rebuild a house that's been demolished? Would that not be the homeowner's job? Did these people not have insurance on their homes? If people chose to take their insurance pay-out and use it to pay off their mortgage and demolish their home... and then move to another area of the country, well so be it. I imagine that obtaining homeowner's insurance in New Orleans right now might be a bit costly and perhaps skipping town is just a more affordable thing to do. 

Housing projects are being demolished -- I assume because they are not livable, and the federal government is going to rebuild them. I'm making the assumption that this is what's meant by a "federal replacement plan." But an acute shortage of low cost housing led to a bunch of people standing in line to get vouchers?? This because the uninhabitable places were demolished? How is it possible that there is a shortage of low cost housing in an area where people can't sell a house to save their lives, and there are vacant homes everywhere? Shouldn't there be plenty of low cost housing in such a place?

The NYT also writes of the current population of N.O., making it sound as if it's just not acceptable that so many people have failed to return. Unemployment is lower than the national average there due to construction projects (but I thought construction wasn't taking place?? I'm getting so confused!!), but then they go on to say that high end jobs are few. So? My husband does construction - guess that's not considered a high-end job. But we're not in line waiting for a housing voucher, either. They then say that "more expensive homes sit unsold for months." Again, SO?? The more expensive homes sit unsold for YEARS all over the country right now. Big deal.

Reconstruction efforts are being headed up by Blakely, a black intellectual from California. (Yes, I specifically commented on his skin color - there's a reason.) Blakely was quoted in the NYT as saying that progress so far is "still light stuff. I think people were expecting they'd wake up one morning and it would be nirvana. But little things are happening, cleanups, fixups, and so on." He also said that there have been some uniquely N.O. hang-ups. And I quote, "Lots of tensions in the staff. Black people have a hard time taking instruction from white people." What!?! Also that there is resentment "if a white person asks them to do something. It's really bad. I've never encountered anything like this." 

How sad!! But, you know, it's not surprising. The lack of personal responsibility is what really got New Orleans into much of this mess to begin with. And now they sit there with their hand out, screaming, "Gimme! Gimme!" And they wonder why things aren't "being done for them." Truly amazing -- and I still haven't figured out from where that attitude comes.