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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New Year’s Resolution for Consumers: Add a “Credit” Diet to a Weight Loss Commitment

The government has been non-stop in rewarding irresponsibility. A recession is the perfect excuse for the government to spend trillions of dollars propping up politically connected institutions. Capitalism goes further and further down the drain as the government continues to buy ownership in failed financial institutions. There is no end in sight to reckless government spending as more and more “needy” institutions line up for some cash. Currently, the government has not drawn the line on bailouts. In fact, there are plans for another $500 billion in spending. With China (one of our biggest buyers of Treasury bonds) enacting an enormous stimulus package of its own to the tune of $586 billion, one has to wonder if they will sell their Treasury bonds to finance their own government spending. Investors have turned to the U.S. dollar during these turbulent times, which can induce China to sell. However, upon sale of said securities coupled with insane amounts of government spending, it is very likely that the U.S. dollar will suffer a worse fate than it did in 2007. Don’t get used to those low gas prices just yet…

The government refuses to learn from history. Government-injected spending has always prolonged the agony and has paved the way for bigger and more costly problems in the future. Over the years, “funny money” has severely weakened consumer purchasing power. What ever happened to the days of buying cars for cash, and a $20,000 mortgage? Answer: the Fed, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailouts. In addition, these institutions were only interested in protecting large commercial banks. After decades of protection, now they are too big to fail! There’s a reason why small banks are virtually non-existent in your local neighborhood.

The IMF has been bailing out entire countries since the 1940’s. From Mexico to Hungary, Iceland, Pakistan, Tanzania, South Korea, Ukraine … the list goes on. As a result, the world has all of this “funny money” floating around. Currencies are devalued, global inflation sets in; and nations are riddled with debt. With each “crisis,” the price tag for bailouts grows. The Fed dealt with million-dollar crises in the early part of the 20th century. Today, the Fed is dealing with trillion-dollar crises, and the more artificial money the Fed injects into the economy, the more costly bailouts will be in the future.

Some economists are predicting a global financial apocalypse. I don’t believe the future is that dismal, but something does need to change because there will be a point in time where the Fed, IMF and World Bank will no longer be able to supply money to crashing economic sectors and nations. That time is coming soon – possibly in the next 20 to 30 years.

What is the solution? It’s certainly not the government. Rather than treat the disease, the government treats the symptoms. The remedy starts with the consumer. In the coming months, our new President and government officials are going to tell you, the consumer, to SPEND SPEND SPEND! Help is on the way. People in lower-income brackets may even get another $600 check from the government to spend away in order to “boost” the economy. It worked wonders last time, didn’t it? My condolences to all who thought Obama wouldn’t continue Bush’s economic policies.

There IS a solution. Consumers must go on a credit diet. People must learn to exercise some fiscal discipline. The government won’t do it, but consumers can lead the way. People have always been the solution to our nation’s problems, and that will not change. Consumer contractions in spending will force the market to react. Short-term deflation will pale in comparison to the long-term problems that lie ahead if consumers do not force the government to change its economic policy.

For those who have read my columns for some time, there is one message that is constant: BAD ECONOMIC POLICY. You, the consumer, can reverse course by changing your household economic policy:

1) Minimize credit card debt with an ultimate goal of paying off everything that is charged on a monthly basis. All credit cards charge a higher rate of interest depending on the type of card and individual risk. It is impossible to forge ahead when minimum payments comprise a portion of your monthly expenses.

2) Don’t buy too much house! The mentality that a big house = wealthy cannot continue. A home is NOT an investment when you will repay 3 to 4 times what it is worth in mortgage interest alone. In addition, state governments have raised property taxes to the point where one is basically “renting” their house from the government. Owning a home is still the best option. After all, why pay the landlord’s taxes through rent and forego a tax deduction? However, the key is to own a smaller home and avoid a huge tax burden and mortgage.

3) Take advantage of easy-to-use software programs that help with budgeting. Do not live beyond your means. If you are borrowing money for the family vacation, something is severely wrong.

In summary, the consumer needs to kick their addiction to credit. The government will continue to feed into the problem by propping up failed institutions for appeasing the hunger for credit. The only way to reverse course is for the consumer to overcome their addiction. It is a fallacy to believe that the supply of “funny money” is endless. What’s next? Quadrillion dollar bailouts? The government may have killed capitalism, but it cannot destroy the will of the consumer to prosper by making smart credit decisions. Opportunity will always be out there even in the most precarious situations.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Iraq May Be Won, But The War Isn't Over

An amazing thing happened on Thanksgiving: the Iraqi Parliament peacefully agreed to a slow withdrawal of our troops that would have Americans out of Iraq by 2012. This act, above all other acts in the five years since we toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, is the victory we have wanted for so long. Despite the propaganda from the White House, the Pentagon and others about timetables, this is exactly what we all wanted. There is no greater sign of our victory that our free Iraqi allies and our diplomats hashing out a consensus on withdrawal and the Iraqi Parliament, without violence, passing the resolution by a majority. Victory doesn't mean the war is over, but that its ending faster than any of us imagined.

With our mission accomplished in Iraq (we should take that phrase back, in my opinion), we cannot be blinded to the fact that the War On Terror is not over by a long shot. A success itself, Afghanistan still requires our help in the pacification of the Taliban and Al-Qeada bandits that still throw out massive offenses each spring and summer. The drug trade in Afghanistan also requires our attention as a massive amount of funds to the terrorists come from the poppy/herion trade. All this must be looked too as our troops hold their head high as they leave a stable, democratic Iraq behind.

The biggest threat, though, is not the Taliban or even Osama bin Laden's group. Not anymore. The biggest threat is the hydra known as Jihad, as proven by the co-ordinated and cowardly attack on civilians in Mumbai, India. Since we've taken out most of AQ's command and control, the strategy has become one of ideological infection. The biggest threats are no longer foreigners crossing borders (though that tactic should not be ignored), it is home grown radicals and misguided misfits hoping for a place in history that aim their rifles and bombs at the innocent. London was an example of this. Even in my former home of Canada, several homegrown terrorists planned a massive attack upon the Canadian parliament, though their operation was very, very amateurish.

As during the Cold War, this is a war of ideas as much as it is a war of soldiers. We must not simply just fight them with guns, but with our words and our thoughts. We must make the citizens of the world totally reject that mass murder is a legitimate tool of petitioning one's government over an issue. We must also wipe out the idea that radical Islamist terror is blowback, a term the left has perverted for their own agenda. Any number of our covert and overt operations has created blowback in the Middle East and Near Asia, but that digresses from the fact that committing heinous acts of mass violence for a radical religious pan-Muslim nation is an inherent aspect of radical Islamist terror, not a symptom of our foreign policy.

Cross-posted at Conservative Underground

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Utahn #5: Escaping to Reality

Lack of sleep bring many thoughts. There are the ones about my lunch for work. The ideas on a new car that will be purchased in many years. Thoughts on religion, politics and my wife's amazing cooking last night. One thought has held in my mind this night: escapism.

Since the turn into 20th century to the turn into the 21st, entertainment has gone from stage shows and big bands to video games, movies worth more than some small nations, reality TV, games on your phone and so on. From radio serials and variety shows to Battlestar Galactica and Hogan Knows Best. From playing outside in the fields and the alleys to fighting aliens or rolling around a big ball for a flamboyant extra-terrestrial king. Things have change a lot since the first days of the modern age. Entertainment escapism has become a worldwide, multi-billion (maybe trillion) dollar industry that has pushed further into introversion than ever before.

I'm a child of this age of online communities, adventures in your living room and acceptable alter-egos. I was born during the age of Atari and Commodore 64 and grew up during the exponential explosion of the DVD and the PlayStation-style consoles. I'm sad to say I used to cope with the troubles in my life by rushing to the PC and firing up a universe I could hide in (Privateer and Morrowind being my favorites). I had shelves of computer games and boxes of console games, not to mention the stack of DVDs I'd throw on at night to aid in my sleep. A habit found to actually hinder my sleep soon after moving away and not having a TV. Movies and games are wonderful escapes into places we can always visit, but never truly affect. Escaping to these worlds is a pleasurable limbo in which nothing is solved, but for a while you feel away from reality. Escaping is a drug in our times, just as bad as the ones people now gorge on to function in an ever increasing disconnected reality.

Hopefully, I got across in Utahn #4 my increasing disdain for cities: their collective mindsets and their suppression of the spiritual need to explore. That disdain plays into what's been rolling around in my head. I've held the notion that my slow pushing away of cities and of so-called "cultured" civilization was escapism. That it was my way of dealing with the reality of the spread of urban areas and that a majority of people live within city limits (80% of Utah's population lives in one long urbanized front). Alas, I'm increasingly coming to the solid opinion that what I feel is not escapism at all, but in fact a need to put my soul back into some form of reality outside of the modern human construct. For years, I have lived on television, computers, video games and countless other man-made gadgets to tie up my brain in a false world. Hell, books used to be enough escape for people before the invention of TV and Mario Bros. Now, with the growth of disconnected interconnectivity, I'd hope many of us would start searching for our own "escape" into the world of dirt, hard work, clean air and hands-on creation.

This isn't a rejection of technology all together. I am not a Luddite or a Zerzan disciple, though I used to be years ago and some of it has stuck with me (specifically the ideas of disconnection). Technology has done us much good, but as Socrates and Plato preached moderation, and we should as well. There is only so much technology can do for a person before he/she is hollowed out into the mindless consumer/watcher that the left warns us about, but it is not the fault of the company that provides us with such amazing gadgets or programs or games. It is the individual who must tear itself away from the screen and open the door to the outside. The company nor the government is the keeper of your natural soul. It is only you that can take a hike instead of watch another crap reality show on some fifth-rate celebrity family.

Hikers in the Maze in Utah's Canyonlands National Park.
The Maze is only accessible by a day long hike.

We Won

From AP:
Iraq's parliament approved Thursday a security pact with the United States that lets American troops stay in the country for three more years, setting a clear timetable for a U.S. exit for the first time since the 2003 invasion.

The vote in favor of the pact was backed by the ruling coalition's Shiite and Kurdish blocs as well as the largest Sunni Arab bloc, which had demanded concessions for supporting the deal. The haggling among the political factions highlighted sectarian-based tensions that hinder reconciliation efforts, nearly six years after Saddam Hussein's ouster.

The Shiite bloc agreed to a Sunni demand that the pact be put to a referendum by July 30, meaning the deal must undergo an additional hurdle next year. It took nine months of difficult talks for U.S. and Iraqi negotiators to craft the agreement.

Under the agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 and the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012. Iraq will have strict oversight over U.S. forces.
Happy Thanksgiving to us, to the Iraqis and to all free peoples.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Utahn #4: City/Country and the Pioneer Spirit

It has only been 150 years or so since the United States expanded across the continent. Not that long ago in the history of Western civilization. 150 years ago my home in the Salt Lake Valley was nothing but vegetation and the cold wind coming from the Wasatch Front. Just over 150 years ago the pioneers coming into Utah first saw the Valley from Big Mountain. The first major settlers to see the valley were the ill-fated Donner Party, followed soon after by the first Mormon settlers who held to the low areas and avoided the weather that fell upon the infamous cannibals.

The View from Big Mountain

Last week, I stood upon the very mountain the first Mormons stood upon when they laid eyes upon the Salt Lake Valley. As you can see from the picture above, they saw their entire future from the top of Big Mountain; the entire Salt Lake Valley and beyond can be seen. I felt like I had just discovered the valley myself when I got out of my car and took in the view. What the Mormons must of felt we cannot fathom. What drove them to cross near half-a-dozen states and over one of the great American mountain ranges also cannot be easily explained. Whatever their emotions and motivations, they were one of many millions to settle the American frontier.

The American frontier still exists today, but in a odd reverse of traditional usage the frontier is within the borders of the United States, not on its edges. The largest cities in the country are located on the borders or in the old East and, unsurprisingly, most of these cities are centers of collective, urbanite thinking. Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Detroit, Washington D.C.; grand cities held under the sway of their own bloated, over-civilized nature. You have to travel outside the borders of these beacons to find one ounce of the adventures that the brave Americans had not too long ago. When I lived in Los Angeles it took me near two hours to get out of the continuous linkage of cities that make up Los Angeles County. It was not until the highways dwindled to two lanes, until swathes of homes faded into rough hills of arid desert, until the sky became bluer and the air cleaner that I could feel truly outside of grasp of modernity. Los Angeles and San Fransisco hold millions, but are specs upon the map of California, and yet hold much sway in its politics. Driving through the desert I found people who's lives were completely alien to the residents of the cultural centers of the state. These people use firearms, drive big trucks, rely on less-than-clean sources of energy for employment; things that are abhorrent to the civilized of the Golden State. I've had a respect for the natural world for many years, but it never occurred to me until I moved to one of the largest cities in the country that city life truly did not meld with my nature. It wasn't until that asphalt and concrete replaced grass and dirt that I found the repulsiveness of metropolitanization and felt an affinity towards the country-minded folk and the land untouched by inorganic improvement.

This week displayed the great divide between those of the urbanite mindset and those who are of the country/pioneering philosophy. Alaskan governor and former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave an interview at a turkey farm. While being interviewed, in the background, a farm hand was in the process of bleeding out a turkey. For those who have a reality-based mindset, this is simply what happens on a farm on a daily basis. To the anchor on MSNBC, it was a chance to lampoon Mrs. Palin for her apparent feeble-mindedness and inhumanity towards the fallen fowl. No less than five different mocking subtitles for the interview clip appeared during the MSNBC piece. As soon as the clip made the blogosphere, the cyber-intelligentsia took it upon themselves to suggest Mrs. Palin be the one bled out, or that the turkey was “slaughtered alive”, or that her support for the farming industry and for meat products is a barbaric one. Apparently, these people believe their meat is produced harmlessly, without killing, or that supporting the meat industry is something only dummies do. I would not be going out on a limb to say these people are city folk (but it does not necessarily mean each of them are from the city) and that the rigors of a life not found at the nearest store is one they cannot comprehend.

I've been living in and working in cities all my life. I am a born and bred city boy, but today it is the last thing I want to be. For most of our history people have come to the cities from the country. Today's world reverses that: people of means are now turning to the country for their freedom. There are those who love tall buildings, busy sidewalks, concrete and the collective atmosphere, but most of the country isn't even close to the visions of the urbanites. You look at a physical map of the US and it's not dotted with gray steel cancers, but with brown, green and yellow farms. It's covered in land untouched by modernity, save for new irrigation systems or hikers with iPods and GPS. It's covered by forests, deserts, plains and mountains open for new explorers to discover.

The United States is not just those who gravitate to the ends of the country and congregate themselves in condos, suburbs or the high rises. America is not just those who dress up to go to work, hold their breath for the newest celebrity gossip or spend a month's pay on uncomfortable shoes. America is also the farmer, the hunter, the small town clerk, the lone county sheriff; these citizens who hold to the ideas of smallness, of humbleness, of simpler, easier lives. The city/country mindset is not Democrat/ Republican, liberal/conservative, white-collar/blue-collar or city-dweller/farmer, it goes much deeper. It touches the very nature of those who stayed in the East and those who took up the motivation to cross dangerous land and create new parts of the country. Like me, a city dweller can have the country mindset or a small-town resident can dream collective sheep. It comes down to one's willingness to take one's life into one's hands and to shape it through the unknown and through an undying need to explore that unknown. I long to find new places, make new trails, find things few see for few really take the time to climb a mountain (even in a car) or explore old paths (physical or historical). The pioneer spirit lives on, both geographically in the wild between the East and West Coast, and within individual Americans looking to find their own Zion. Take time to explore, you never know what you'll find.

Cross-posted at Conservative Underground

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How Much of a Role did Mark-to-Market Accounting Play in the Credit Crisis?

Not many people outside of the financial world would consider the possibility of a technical accounting rule playing a role in the credit crisis. Unfortunately, it takes a crisis of this magnitude to bring these concepts to light.

In a nutshell, mark-to-market accounting assigns the current market price to a held financial instrument. For example, if you buy 100 shares of XYZ Corporation’s stock at $10 per share, the value of your shares would be worth $1,000 (100 shares x $10/share). Six months later, the stock is trading at $20 per share. The “mark-to-market” value of the stock would now be $2,000 (100 shares x $20/share). By employing mark-to-market accounting, the net worth of your asset just doubled. In the simplest terms, this practice makes sense. The current value of the stock should be recorded on a company’s books regardless of whether this affects their balance sheet positively or negatively. However, there are two things to consider: 1) potential for major abuse when applied to more complex financial instruments – especially debt instruments and 2) how both realized and unrealized gains/losses affect the market’s perception of an entity.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued Statement No. 157 in November 2007 with the intent to establish a framework for measuring fair value in generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and expand disclosures about fair value measurements. (1) FAS 157 established a hierarchy of asset classes which attempts to assign values to assets that are not as liquid as a stock that trades on the market everyday. In other words, how is a value assigned when it cannot be assessed by its current trading price? The trade value of a stock can be verified at any time, but what about financial instruments that do not trade in the market on a daily basis? Assets are broken down into three levels:

Level one: consists of assets that have an identifiable market price (price of a stock that trades on the market).

Level two: is a class of assets that do not have market prices. A model is then constructed to determine the assets’ fair value. Some inputs include but are not limited to prices of similar securities and interest rates.

Level three: is comprised of assets that don’t have market prices, and the valuation techniques used to price “level two assets” are not available. As a result, an entity is allowed to use its own assumptions bearing in mind that the asset should be priced based on what a willing buyer would pay.

The analogy behind the level three asset classification is what gives what gives way to the famous term “mark-to-make believe.”

The value of mortgage-related securities relies heavily on assumptions – assumptions that had a positive effect during the housing boom, but now have a very negative affect as banks are now recognizing billions of dollars in losses.

What happens when investors panic and sell? What assumptions can be used to value financial instruments being sold in mass panic? This is where things get murky. Assets being sold out of panic make it extremely difficult to assign value. In addition, the inputs that are used are nothing more than educated guesses by accountants. What a way to halt trading in the market when things go astray! The problem with many valuation techniques is that they overstate the value of assets, which then overstates losses.

Mark-to-market accounting also wreaks havoc on the liability side of things. Bond prices are inversely related to the company’s risk. In other words, if the price of a bond falls, it is in response to the market’s perception that the company’s risk has increased. Think Goldman Sachs and Lehman brothers here. Mark-to-market accounting allows these entities to record GAINS on their income statement. One may ask why on Earth they would be allowed to do this. For those who stayed awake during Accounting 101: remember the basic accounting equation? Shareholders’ equity = Assets – liabilities. When the value of the bonds decrease, the result is a decrease in total liabilities which means shareholders’ equity INCREASES…hence the gain. It’s a wonder how Lehman Brothers was able to report $2.4 billion in pre-tax profits by “marking to market” its liabilities. Then, shortly after the collapse of the market bubble, the company is bankrupt. (2)

In summary, the FASB and the Securities and Exchange Commission should rethink the use of mark-to-market accounting in publicly traded companies. Perhaps it should remain only in the futures exchange where the practice originated. Accounting should be uniform and give a conservative, accurate picture of where an entity stands. There are too many unknown factors, and blind assumptions are made when applying valuation techniques. This gives way to artificial market bubbles and extreme volatility when the bubbles burst. If entities are able to use mark-to-market accounting which allows unrealized gains to manufacture synthetic profits which then quickly spirals into realized losses, the housing bubble and burst will the first of many in the future.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Dems and National Security: Where Change Is Actually Needed

Since President-Elect Obama's victory two very important national security issues have been brought up and commented on: the status of the prisons at Guantanamo Bay and the Missile Defense System. Both answers have been discouraging.

Mr. Obama gave no guarantees that the MDS program in Eastern Europe would continue. This answer comes only a few days after Russia brazenly moved missiles in the direction of Poland and a few months after Russia invaded Georgia. Earlier this year threatened the Ukraine with nuclear destruction if it joined NATO. This answer comes during a time with an uncooperative Iran testing long-range, nuke-able missiles with increasing frequency. This answer comes when North Korea is on the verge of a new era of leadership or a new world of chaos as the Stalinist state deals with competing strongmen.

Apparently, our new president has not learned anything from the Cold War. The benefits of the containment strategy are up for debate, but the deterrence strategy was undeniably one of the major reasons the Cold War never went hot between the United States and the Soviet Union. Our ability to retaliate in such force as to completely annihilate the Soviet Union kept the Communists from attempting such an insane idea. Our conventional force acts a deterrent as well. North Korea could easily overpower the forces we have just outside, except that tens of thousands of dead American soldiers would not bode well for the power hungry dynasty. There's a reason our only major enemy during the two decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain has been fanatical terrorists bent on our complete annihilation and its not our lack of things that go boom.

Concerning Gitmo, President Bush has had quite the time trying to explain to the public and to the Democratic left the complexity of the operation and the reality of their detainment. Many of the terrorists and terrorist suspects at Gitmo were picked up on the battlefield. Out of the original 600 prisoners, now there are only 250. Some of those released ended up back in prison, picked up while aiming their rifles at American soldiers. Some have even been been culprits of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. Many of those still in prison have nowhere to be sent as many nations think having terrorists and terror suspects in their borders an abhorrent idea. These terrorists are not normal soldiers, but they are also not the straight up criminals you find daily in American courtrooms. This is a new war in which both national security and criminal justice must be sated. This is not an easy task, and as White House Spokesman Dana Perino has pointed out the Democrats are about to discover this jarring fact.
"We've tried very hard to explain to people how complicated it is. When you pick up people off the battlefield that have a terrorist background, it's not just so easy to let them go," Perino said. "These issues are complicated, and we have put forward a process that we think would work in order to put them on trial through military tribunals."
There are two major questions we must ask the President-Elect if he plans on shutting Gitmo down. Firstly, will the terrorists and terror suspects have access to American civilian courts? Secondly, where are these terrorists and terror suspects to go if no nation takes them?

The first answer can be found in the Supreme Court's ruling Boumediene v. Bush. This is a ruling in which a terrorist was given access to American civilian courts so he may challenge his detention. The 5-4 decision was along ideological lines and outraged the White House as well as national security experts. The ability of terror suspects to challenge their detention through civilian means, and the idea that the War on Terror is only a law enforcement or a military matter, will subvert our defenses against an enemy that has created a version of asymmetrical warfare that requires both law enforcement and military methods to defeat it.

The second answer can be found in another ruling in which 17 Uighur terror suspects found in Afghanistan were allowed entry in to the United States since no other nation would take them. These suspects were not found to have committed crimes against the United States, but there is a significant Islamist insurgency by Uighurs in China. The biggest threats against the 2008 Olympics in Bejing were from these Islamists. Although not our enemies by action, these men are of the same mind and ideology as the bombers in Iraq, the murderers in Spain and Britain and the suicide pilots on 9/11. It is one thing to let these men go because they are not a direct threat to us; it is another thing to send them into a completely alien culture they may find detestable at minimum, an abomination at most. We have millions of non-citizens crossing our borders illegally to find better jobs and lives and there are millions more are trying to get into the United States through legal means. Why would should we allow 18 non-citizens that may have ideological and cultural animosity towards us? One is not an American purely by the fact one resides in America.

President-Elect Obama needs to set his mind straight on these issues. Both involves the lives of Americans and both involve the security of many nations, not just ours. We cannot allow aggressive, imperialistic nations to intimate us and our free allies nor can we just throw back to old, static strategies when it comes to a new breed of military enemy in a new, complex world. Mr. Obama needs to adhere to his talk of change because if he sticks to the rhetoric of the old Democratic Party and of the left wing nothing good will come of it.

Cross-posted at Conservative Underground

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Corporate Bailouts: Will They Prolong a Recession?

I’m sure I’m not the only taxpayer frustrated by Washington’s generosity to irresponsible, politically connected corporations. We hear that the credit markets are frozen. Without federal dollars, America would see a domino effect of banks failing one after the other. If you believe this, I have some land I’d like to sell you. Look through your “junk mail,” both snail and online, and see how many invites you receive for credit. Take a stroll to your local car dealership this weekend and see how quickly they’ll get you financed. While it may be true that people who have less than appealing credit or are overextended may not be getting offers, but is that a bad thing? Aren’t reckless loans what got us here in the first place? Isn’t it natural for banks to hold back on lending in harsh economic times? What is the demand for borrowing when people are afraid of losing their jobs?

President Bush’s $168 billion economic stimulus plan in February of this year was supposed to give the economy the boost it needed. Then, along came Bear Stearns. The federal government extended a discounted loan to JP Morgan Chase to entice them to buy Bear’s troubled liabilities. Case closed – economy saved…hardly. In October, the market began to hemorrhage. State governments are now asking for federal dollars along with the troubled auto industry. President Bush addressed the nation assuring us that the federal government would rescue the falling economy. The government being the rescuer is the equivalent of a small raft being thrown to someone drowning in the ocean in the middle of a hurricane, when the one throwing the raft was the cause of the storm!

The federal government now has plans to take stakes in nine of America’s top financial institutions and equity investments in potentially thousands of other banks. One month later, the DOW continues to plunge, consumer confidence is in the tank and the threat of more foreclosures still exists. The threat of a global recession is eminent. What does our President-elect say? More economic stimulus is needed! Why not, as it has worked so well thus far. Don’t forget; he was hired to fix the economy!

One only needs to take a look at history to see how well government intervention works. Did President Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation of 1931 and 1932 end the Great Depression? Hoover gave federal loans to politically connected companies much like the Paulson/Bush plan. When President Roosevelt took over, he invested heavily in the country’s infrastructure and took the Keynesian approach. Both of these approaches turned a bad recession into the Great Depression and further prolonged misery.

Critics of capitalism and a laissez-faire approach fail to realize that economic downturns are part of the overall economic cycle. Recessions do not mean that capitalism has failed. That also doesn't mean that government oversight is not needed; but there is a difference between proper oversight and intervention. The problem with government intervention is that it prolongs the downturn and creates new problems in the future. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were the outgrowth of “The New Deal” along with the waves of entitlement programs that the government is currently having a difficult time funding.

The Bush administration wasn’t interested in bailing out the “dot com” companies at the beginning of this decade. Is the tech sector dead as a result? America had an 8-month recession with a decent recovery. While the credit crisis is far more severe, over-reaction can make a bad situation worse. The federal government has already spent over $1 trillion to try and stop the bleeding. The new administration plans on spending more and possibly a move to bail out the ailing auto industry. As it stands, the federal deficit will exceed $1 trillion next year. The potential effects these actions will have on the value of our dollar and impending inflation, one has to ask if we are pouring water into a leaky bucket and what the opportunity cost will be from allocating an incredible amount of resources to banks, individual states and companies that are poorly run.

Utahn #3: Family, Masculinty and Politics

When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses. -Joyce Brothers
Family and Masculinity

Family is the most important thing in this life next to air and food. It may be blood relation, adoptive parents or emotional attachment to a group of people, but there is nothing more important to the sustainability of the human heart than a family. The stability of the home reaches in to the mind of all involved and from there builds the social workings and attachments of our great society.

Masculinity in today's world is hard to pin down. The acceptance of alternative lifestyles has led to a mix of gender roles (the benefits of such mixing are up to the individual). In my own personal history, my break from that mixed, slightly feminized mold came when I realized the role I would have to play in the lives of my future children. I am going to have to be a father to my children, especially to any sons and to be a strong father one has to be a man mentally, in my opinion. Biologically and culturally, men have a specific role in child rearing and having a redundant mother-figure instead of a solid father figure leads to a shift in not only the upbringing of the individual child, but in a culture as a whole. One wonders what affect easy divorce has had on the way our culture operates today.

Masculinity and Politics

Realizing the responsibility and the purpose of a father and of a man, it wasn't long before my political views were affected by this new philosophy. Embarrassingly, I have to admit the film 300 was a catalyst for the thoughts on masculinity that had been building up. At the time I was a near-anarchistic libertarian that was anti-war and slightly anti-American. I was starting to smarten up on a lot of things, but for all intents and purposes I was still a idealistic leftist. After seeing 300 I started to wonder if my focus on how to make everything equal and how to make everyone exactly the same was a tad naive. I bought a book called The Spartans, which detailed Spartan history, culture and traditions. I became enthralled (maybe slightly obsessed) with Spartans, but I suddenly understood the allure of patriotism and nationalism. And I suddenly understood the why I felt the urge to join the military, felt the urge to work out, to be physical more than on my ass doing nothing. It may sound silly, but that's how it was. It took a movie and a long dead culture to turn me on to the role of a man and to tap in to its natural wants that were caged inside of me for years.

Patriotism took hold within months of my realization and, unlike what some on the left would say, it wasn't based on arrogance or pride nor was it a cover for fear. It was born out of a love. Love for a country I hadn't really understood until I drove across it and settled in it. Love of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (I bought a pocket version soon after moving to Los Angeles). Love of a people who held similar values and who I had a common bond with. With that love came a re-definition of events and people I used to detest. Reading more on the Iraq War turned my opinion from a war of imperialism to a mistake-riddled, but noble cause that deserves our support instead of our scorn. Re-valuating President Bush from a fascistic moron to a man who is trying and is facing huge disasters out of his control, but floundering in his attempt to mix conservatism and populism. It takes a man to admit mistakes, and I admit I made so many the Grand Canyon couldn't hold them. My entire worldview was in error and I sought to correct it. For the most part my beliefs now are no longer just part of teenage angst (socialism), or a rebellion against the world and everything in it (anarchism), but set in principles that are thousands of years old mixed in with some recent revelations in political theory. It's not simply what you feel is right, emotional politics is easily corrupted, its what you know is right by the evidence of history.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Price of “Progress”

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” -President-Elect Barack Obama
Barack Obama's politics are full of love. He talks of “change”, “hope”, “unity”, “an end to divisiveness” and other such soft, warm words. His programs and ideas promote an new, motivated American citizenry ready to revolutionize the nation and the world with the power of their idealism. Before his nomination, even I had a tinge of euphoria when I heard one of President-Elect Obama's speeches. He gives you the image of the new America and the new American. Barack Obama's politics are not a new [link to Jonah's LA Times article]. Barack Obama's politics are dangerous.

The benevolent, caring government is an idea that spans ages. It goes back to the days of state religion and monarchy. The kings and queens with intelligence saw that their popularity relies not on their narcissism or greed, but the love of the people. The love of the people came from their comforts, their patriotism and their faith. Elizabeth knew this and she earned centuries of admiration from the British and the Commonwealth. The American Progressives tapped into this populism and exploited it. Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican that is idolized in some circles, held that the government could do anything that wasn't expressly forbidden by the Constitution to help the people. Woodrow Wilson held that the nation needed to become an ideological organism, a body politic and went so far as to suppress all opposition to his presidency during World War I. Franklin D. Roosevelt is held in high esteem for his speeches and uniting persona during the Depression and World War II, but such unity came at a price. FDR created vast amounts of authoritarian bureaucracy and formed the Civilian Conservation Corps, a paramilitary group eerily similar to those in Italy and Germany. All held the people as their mandate and as their will made manifest. All entrenched large benevolent government into the American psyche.

Ideologically, the benevolent government is the basis of communism and fascism. The former being a more international movement and the latter being more focused on a nation's traditional culture and its greatness. By the traditional American definitions of left and right, both are of the left. History has shown us the consequences of these forms of government in Europe and at home through the American Progressives. With President-Elect Obama, are we to expect a modern Progressivism? Are we to expect a new National Reconstruction Administration? A new CCC? A new push for a New Patriotism? A New America? Where does this push for change end? We sit on the threshold of a new historic thrust into benevolence and social revolution, if Obama's rhetoric is to be made true. The past will become irrelevant. Social and legal tradition will be ignored. The American Revolution will be supplanted by a new revolution of the mases that will have all the hallmarks of a political mob.

Please, do not take this as an premature indictment of President-Elect Obama's policies. As this is being written, his actual policies are largely unknown and his true beliefs still in question. Please, do not take this as a reactionary view or an alarmist screed. The future is unknown and the actions of Mr. Obama are anyone's guess. This is just a warning based on the rhetoric of Mr. Obama and information taken from his platform. This is just speculation based on the facts we are supplied with.

The Roman Republic was part of the foundation of philosophy of the American Patriots that gave their lives for our nation's liberty. For hundreds of years, Romans lived in relative freedom and prospered. When the Republic started to fracture and collapse, a popular figure, one loved by the masses took hold and birthed one of the greatest empires of Antiquity. Yet, this national greatness led to the loss of liberty, began a long march towards deep-seeded moral corruption which laid the path to the downfall of the Empire and the creation of the violent and tyrannical Dark Ages.

When liberty is sacrificed for pragmatism, when morality is sacrificed for greed, when a great and moral people fall, tyranny arises.

We have been warned.

Cross-posted at Conservative Underground

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Oil Speculation: Good or Bad?

One of the most difficult things to hear during the Presidential campaigns was the continued bashing of oil speculation. We elect officials to represent us in Washington and carry out the people’s business, yet most do not have even a beginner’s grasp of how our markets work. I don’t know which was worse during the campaign: Obama’s instance that high oil prices were due to the war in Iraq coupled with investor greed, or McCain’s populist pandering that illustrated his ignorance on the topic as well.

In order to understand the truth behind oil speculation, we must first understand a very simple concept of economics: supply and demand’s effect on prices. Speculation does not just begin on a whim. In other words, investors don’t dump investments in other sectors to flock to the commodity market as Paul Krugman would like you to believe. Increased demand is what drives oil speculation. Globalization has caused global poverty to decline rapidly this decade. In fact, since 2002, the world economy has grown 4.6% which happens to be the highest sustained rate since the 1960’s according to Michael Mussa of the Peterson Institute.(1) When economies prosper, an increased demand for oil is the result.

Now that we have established the motive for speculation, the process must be explained. Speculation is not greed driven. It’s a HEDGE against future price increases. If an investor buys oil futures, that person is betting on the fact that oil prices are going to continue to rise. The contract locks them into today’s prices. However, if one person buys a futures contract that means someone else is selling it. The seller has different expectations than the buyer. The seller believes that prices will DECLINE in the future. In addition, the person bidding up and buying oil futures must then turn around and sell the oil later. This means that the more people’s bidding drives up the prices, the greater prices will FALL in the future. The economic growth the world has enjoyed since 2002 has now come to a halt with the global credit crisis. This means that demand for oil is no longer as strong as it was before. As a result, crude oil is currently trading in the low $60 range as opposed to the $140 range this past summer.

Critics of speculation argue that speculation restricts supply. This statement is false. If a person buys an oil contract now to lock in today’s prices, they cannot sit and hold the oil off the market. They have two options: 1) take delivery of the oil or 2) sell the contract to another investor. In any event, when the contract expires, there is no net effect on oil supply.

Think of speculation as an insurance policy. If you own a company whose profitability is severely hurt by high oil prices, it’s in your best interest to lock in today’s price. If you are correct and the price of oil continues to rise, your business can survive and your employees whose livelihood depends on the success of your business will thank you. If you are wrong and prices drop, you will lose money; however you are still in business and can recover as opposed to shutting your doors had the opposite happened.

Should they not be allowed to do this? Are critics saying that business can’t hedge to survive? What’s the alternative? Should companies close their doors, lay off workers and be deprived of capital to grow? Who does that hurt?

The bottom line is this. If speculation was driven out of pure greed, then we would have seen what we saw in early 2008 years ago. After all, if it’s solely greed driven, then these greedy speculators can drive up the price any time they wish. Remember that there are two sides to these contracts. The global credit crisis blindsided the market, and now people are seeing instant relief at the pump thanks to those greedy speculators who are now recovering from losses.

(1) Samuelson, Robert J. “Let’s Shoot the Speculators!” Newsweek (July 2008) Online

Religious Liberty and Gay Marriage

Unsurprisingly, the gay community is throwing a huge fit over the victory of Prop 8 (no mention of Prop 101 and Prop 2, though), and they're taking it out on the only minorities deserving of intolerance: Mormons and Utahns. According to AP, the advocates are calling for a boycott of Utah tourism and for investigations into the tax-exempt status of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. From the AP:
Utah's growing tourism industry and the star-studded Sundance Film Festival are being targeted for a boycott by bloggers, gay rights activists and others seeking to punish the Mormon church for its aggressive promotion of California's ban on gay marriage.

It could be a heavy price to pay. Tourism brings in $6 billion a year to Utah, with world-class skiing, a spectacular red rock country and the film festival founded by Robert Redford, among other popular tourist draws.

"At a fundamental level, the Utah Mormons crossed the line on this one," said gay rights activist John Aravosis, an influential blogger in Washington, D.C.

"They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards," he said. "You don't do that and get away with it."
In their fight to attain the rights they think they have, the gay marriage advocates have forgotten two very important actual rights: freedom of speech and religious liberty.

Enshrined in the First Amendment, frees speech and religious liberty are a cornerstone to the foundation to our republic. Our ancestors fled religious persecution in England and soon after the mother country was at war with itself over religious and political matters. The Founding Fathers saw the stability of allowing people to believe in whatever faith they wished and it has done us well for 230 years. Free speech is inherent in the protection of religious freedoms.

Mormons weren't the only religious group involved with the pro-Prop 8 campaign, but their singling out is an example of what may happen when fanatical advocates get full reign on their causes. The calls for the revocation of the LDS's tax exempt status is based on a very lazy invocation of the separation of church and state. The advocates believe that because the Church encouraged its members to support Prop 8 means that the church violated that wildly cited, but rarely understood principle of our government. The separation of church and state is to prevent the church from becoming the state, as it so often did in medieval and Elizabethan times in Europe. The principle has nothing to do with preventing the faithful from getting in to political campaigns or from churches from encouraging their members to. The Mormons weren't stupid with their call. As far as I know, no church money ever went into Prop 8 coffers; even the leadership refused to donate. Mormon investment into Yes on Prop 8 was by individuals who have every legal right to donate or not to donate. There were even LDS members who were against Prop 8 and made sure the church knew it. If gay marriage advocates in their current form get their way in a court-friendly state, the tax exempt status of churches and the religious freedoms of its members may be in jeopardy.

I'm an atheist, but I am also an American. My views on God (or lack of a god) are irrelevant when it comes to violations of religious liberty and free speech by political zealots. I'd just as soon defend gays against the LDS if the LDS was attempting to silence them through the legal system. What people need to understand is that gay marriage is not a civil rights issues, as there is no civil right being violated as it was during Jim Crow. Marriage is a privilege regulated by the state as the state deems necessary for the public good. It is not having your right to vote blocked by a poll tax, or having cops force you out of a public area because you are black. This issues is an issue for each state to decide on its own and through its voting populace. Anything else would just fan the flames of the gay marriage zealotry and force the traditionalist and religious factions to entrench further.

That's the last thing we need.the last thing we need.

Cross-posted at Conservative Underground

Friday, November 7, 2008

Gay Marriage and Federalism

With gay marriage bans passing in three states (Prop 8 passing in California, Prop 102 in Arizona and Prop 2 in Florida), the issue of gay marriage seems to have taken a new turn. Surprisingly, California voters defied the California Supreme Court and overruled their ruling from earlier this year, even with the Governor supporting the decision. The question this and the other voter-backed propositions bring up is how are we to reconcile a very motivated gay movement with the will of the voters of 41 states? The answer has always been there: federalism.

The US Constitution gives the federal government certain powers and delegates all other powers to the states through the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. For the most part. social issues have been a state matter. Abortion and gay marriage have put major pressure on federalism and its advocates. Roe v Wade forced every state to allow abortion through a very expansive reading of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This reading has led to other expansive rulings like Kelo (making eminent domain no longer just a public need tool). California's own expansive reading of the Equal Protection Clause was the basis of the California Supreme Court's ruling making gay marriage legal. This precedent may be the basis of any gay marriage case taken to the Supreme Court. Other than the destruction of federalism, a SCOTUS ruling that forces gay marriage nationwide would ignite a new front in the culture war that already has some very nasty battles.

It may not make any gay marriage advocates happy, but federalism is the best way to get what they want. Focusing on more liberal/libertarian states would create havens for gay marriage, just as some states have more conservative/libertarian gun laws than other states. This is the beauty of federalism: a nation united, but as diverse as the Amazon jungle. Some states may have full and equal straight/gay marriage, some states may have separate-but-equal marriage/unions and some states may outright ban gay marriage. That's how it is.

Marriage isn't race. Anyone who equates the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s to gay marriage is making a false analogy. The oppression in the South during that time was in violation of the 14th Amendment. Marriage, unlike voting, is not a right, it's a privilege regulated and licensed by each state. As such, each state's voters, through their legislature, determine their social structure for which marriage is a part of. If a state wants to protect gay marriage, they need to amend their state's constitution through the legislature, not force it through judges that may forget what their job is.

I'm all for gay marriage. I think gay couples who wish to make the pledge of marriage and build a family should be allowed to, but not at the expense of the foundation of our nation's political structure. It's not worth giving a future president and/or congress unlimited powers through the courts because gays couldn't handle working within the framework that has created the most diverse, most stable nation on Earth.

Cross-posted at Conservative Underground

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gay Marriage and Federalism: A Blurb Before A Real Post

I've got my hands full with Conservative Underground, so I apologize if my posts turn infrequent.


Cliff's Notes of the Future Article

-gay marriage is an important issue, I believe gays should get married
-social issues are state issues, so says the Constitution
-social issues should be up to the voters
-a federal ban on/a federal law forcing gay marriage would be bad for federalism
-a resolution is needed that would sate both traditionalists and gay marriage advocates

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Building a Moderate Identity: Post Election Thoughts

The results of this election and some of the discussion I have read/heard have left me a little worried and a little peeved. So bear with me as I attempt explain why, along with some other thoughts.

I’m not worried about Obama. I voted for the man, and I’m behind him. I would list reasons for that, but I have found that most people that ask really don’t want to know my reasons. They’re just assuming I have none, or that they include such inconsequential things as the color of my skin and campaign slogans. People who know me know better than that, and those who don’t know me tend to learn quickly. Please believe me when I say that my vote was the result of a relentless pursuit of information pertinent to the issues I deem important. Also believe me when I say that I’m pretty sure that I have never once uttered the phrase “yes we can” in relation to Obama’s election. I never promised to cast my vote for “hope and change.” I promised to cast my vote for a candidate that I researched myself and agreed with a decent percentage of the time, and I believe I can say mission accomplished on that one. Obviously, that is the part of this election process that has left me peeved.

The specific thing this election season has made me worry about is my own political identity and its compatibility with the current political climate. Economically, I’m a very slightly left-leaning moderate. I’m overall socially libertarian, but I keep pretty close to the middle. The only word I have ever felt comfortable using to describe myself has been moderate. But where do moderates fit in? What do we do when things said by people on either side have this odd ability to simultaneously apply to us and be completely irrelevant to us? At this point, I’m not quite sure. I’m still busily building my political identity, and part of that growth is figuring out where exactly I sit in the spectrum and being comfortable with it. I learn more and more about different people of different beliefs and values every day, and I’d be crazy to even think that I have all the answers and that I know exactly what’s going on with everyone.

Not totally related to the above statements, and possibly needlessly said, any and everyone who can’t see past what they’ve identified themselves as also irk me. Royally. I simply cannot wrap my mind around people on one side that can’t imagine why the other side thinks they’re correct. I can see why liberals believe they’re correct and logical beings. I can see why conservatives believe they’re correct and logical beings. I think both sides say some great things, and both sides say some horrible things. So, here’s what I essentially have to say about the election from that point of view:

To those of you who believe that this spells the destruction of our nation and that it is going to be a disastrous time in which we dissolve into a welfare state – you’re probably wrong.

To those of you who believe that this is the best thing ever and that things are going to change drastically for your version of “the better” and that all of your problems will be solved – you’re probably wrong.

I believe I have only ever had one history class in my life that I enjoyed. And I believe that I enjoyed that class so much because the first major thing that the teacher ever discussed with us hit home with me in a big way. It was something that I had known for a long time, but had never taken the time to articulate. Paraphrased, the truth is always somewhere in the middle. There will always be people around telling some extreme version of what has happened, what’s happening now, and what will happen in the future. It is up to us as intelligent human beings to not take information that we’re provided by some source that we haven’t looked into at face value. We have to pull information from a myriad of sources and come up with our own interpretation of what is factual and what is not. Most importantly of all, we need the strength of character and mental clarity to accomplish that task independently. We do not need other people or institutions attempting to tell us what, when, or how to interpret situations. We don’t need people editing or directing our conclusions.

Of course, our conclusions may not always, or ever, match up with our neighbors’ conclusions. However, I am not of the belief that the proper response to that is to tell your neighbors that they are stupid for thinking as they do. We should listen to one another, and be open minded enough to consider that maybe… just maybe… someone else may have an excellent idea, even though we may not agree with them on any other thing that ever comes out of their mouth.

As of now, that is what I believe to be the basis of my moderate stance – accepting the good and bad from as many sides of the die as I can manage, and processing that information logically to come up with solutions and compromises that we can all live with.

America’s Impending Hangover: How it’s Love Affair with Obama Will Be Short-lived

As I stared in disbelief at the cheering crowds last night, I couldn’t help but think about how lost we are as a country. What was shown on television last night would lead one to believe that America is experiencing great prosperity as opposed to an ugly, looming recession on the horizon. No one was worried about the net worth of their life savings last night. What is more astounding is the blind faith so many have in one person who they believe will make America’s problems go away overnight – as if the President and federal government have solved so many problems in the past.

Change we can believe in! We are going to get change all right, but it won’t be for the better. Last night’s election was a blind vote for change coupled with a protest against George W. Bush. The country’s unfounded hatred for President Bush has caused America to cut its nose off to spite its face. We have now elected a candidate to be chief executive with less experience than most front-line managers. Barack Obama has never run anything besides a brilliant campaign well funded by Hollywood and the media with a slogan that was a sure winner. His work is non-existent in the private sector, yet we are expected to have faith in his belief in the free market. This presidential ticket has no military experience, yet we are to believe he will “use our military wisely.” His record in the state of Illinois does not amount to much – 129 “present” votes, and not a single piece of significant legislation that have improved the lives of Illinois residents. Although many in the IL General Assembly use the present vote, that vote will not be an option as Commander In Chief. These criticisms may be old news, but it’s mind-boggling how America has so much faith in a person with a resume that is almost a blank page.

Fellow conservatives whose disappointment I share, look no further than President Bush and the Republican Party for blame. I cannot remember a time where the GOP has governed so poorly – perhaps the days of Herbert Hoover. President Bush enjoyed a Republican majority for 6 of the 8 years of his Presidency. If one had been in a coma the past 8 years, they might wake and think that our national debt has shrunk greatly along with the size of government. Instead, the harsh reality is that the size of our government has more than doubled, and so has the size of our national debt. In addition, our current federal deficit is in excess of $400 billion.

The clear abandonment of conservative principles has led us to this point in time. When the GOP abandons its principles, it gives the media and the Democrats the opportunity to use party affiliation to pin blame of failed liberal policies on failed conservative principles. In other words, if it’s a Republican idea, it’s a conservative idea. We conservatives know better, but the masses don’t. Most people believe that we have been governed under conservative principles the last 8 years, and they have failed the nation. What they don’t know is that there hasn’t been a whisper of conservatism in the Bush administration. This will be one of the harshest lessons that an Obama presidency will teach the nation.

Because Republicans have failed the nation, Obama’s victory was inevitable. John McCain fought hard, but the mistakes and missed opportunities the campaign made showed that he wasn’t the right person for the job. His populist approach, his vote on the bailout and the fact he did not show up for the debates saved conservatives from having another President water down conservative principles. This is a fate worse than an Obama Presidency – America cannot afford to destroy conservative principles further.

We have been governing center-left for the past 8 years. When the American people realize this, they will see that Obama brings no change at all. One has to look no further than the Carter administration to see the results of America governed by the far left. If stagflation excites you, you may get to experience it again! My critics say I’m wrong and that he will govern from the center, but that is a pipe dream with Pelosi and Reid at the helm in Congress. The following is not governance from the center:

  • Increased taxes on our biggest job providers with the proceeds distributed to those who pay little or no taxes. One has to ask if a $500 check is better than upward mobility in their career. Companies will continue to do more with less as they will be forced to cut employee overhead and continue to relocate to overseas environments that are more tax friendly.
  • Expanding the role of government in healthcare. Haven’t Medicare and Medicaid done enough damage? This topic needs a separate blog, but it is an idealistic dream that the government will make healthcare affordable for people when it is the very body that has blown costs out of proportion. Not convinced? Look and see what other sectors the government is involved in (i.e. housing and education) and see how well costs are controlled.
  • Over $1 trillion dollars in NEW spending. See what that does to the value of our dollar in the coming years. I balk at the fact our national debt could exceed 50% of our GDP in an Obama administration.

Government disappoints, so I ask the American people why they want more. Why do they believe one man can change government to be efficient? Why will history be wrong this time? Truth is; it won’t. If Obama governs from the far left as I predict he will, America is going to suffer from a tough 4-year hangover. Soon they will see Obama’s policies for what they are – resurrected failed policies of the New Deal and Great Society. The champaign toasts and dancing in the streets will soon give way to sheer discontentment. The cold, harsh reality of a real recession will be on the minds of Americans as they see their jobs dissipate and the value of their investments continues to shrink.

The 2006 election was about change as well. Currently congress has a lower approval rating than President Bush. Americans will soon learn the harsh lesson that congress really governs the country. If you like the way things have been going under Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the past two years, you will no doubt be delighted with the new administration. How could Obama move the Congress in a new direction when he was one of the most partisan members of Congress? He’s never once taken a stand against his party, why would he do so as President?

In summary, to all the disappointed folks out there – don’t despair. Conservatism is not dead. Liberals make a case for conservatism just by being who they are. We are still a center-right nation. I have confidence that far left governance will make the strongest case for fiscal conservatism since 1980, and perhaps the GOP will consider a strong libertarian in 2012. Remember this election was not a vote against conservatism, but rather a vote against a President who temporarily subdued it.

Launching the Conservative Underground

In cooperation with several other young (20s-30s) conservatives, we've launched Conservative Underground. Its an attempt to bring together a new band of conservative thinkers and activists that wants the GOP principled and the image of the conservative movement made true to form.

Its going to be a long four years.

Welcome to Day One.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

No on Prop 8 Group Pushes Disgusting Anti-Mormon Ad

I'm all for gay marriage, but this ad makes me want Prop 8 (the one-man, one woman marriage Amendment to the CA Constitution) to succeed out of spite.

I'm an atheist, but by the will of our Founders we were blessed with the ability to believe what we want freely and that includes Mormons. Such beliefs come in the form of political donations and political support for causes and the LDS and their fellowship have chosen Prop 8. They are within their right to donate, despite the countless number of layman commenters that say its a violation of church-and-state. Apparently, the separation of church-and-state is about preventing religion for occurring, instead of just mixing the church and political spheres as King Philip II did or leftist hero Woodrow Wilson:
"He was passionate in his relationship with his God. All that came from a kind of much-repressed but inward highly burning fire. . . . He believed that he was directed by God, and he frequently said so. He thought that God had made him president of the United States.”
Faith is part of freedom, no matter what stripe of faith you have. Attacking someone for their faith by using the worst of stereotypes about them is equal to the bigotry the "No" group thinks they're stopping.

I swear, if the end of the world came and it came down to the California leftists and the LDS, I'd kiss Joseph Smith's picture and put on my best tie. I cannot abide such idiocy.

Gitmo Actually Has Terrorists

From the WSJ, hat tip to K-LO at NRO:
According to the six-year narrative of the press and political class, the Bush Administration's counterterrorism policies fall somewhere between the Spanish Inquisition and the Ministry of Love in "1984." So it was something of a shock to read a remarkable front-page story in the New York Times yesterday, the abridged version being: Never mind.

In their 1,600-word dispatch "Next President Will Face Test on Detainees," reporters William Glaberson and Margot Williams discover that, gee whiz, many of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay really are dangerous terrorists. The Times reviewed "thousands of pages" of evidence that the government has so far made public and concludes that perhaps the reality is more complicated than the critics claim.

Lo and behold, detainees are implicated in such terror attacks as the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Those with "serious terrorism credentials" include al Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and the so-called "Dirty 30," Osama bin Laden's cadre of bodyguards. The Times didn't mention Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, though he's awaiting a war-crimes tribunal at Gitmo too.
I bet it would come as a shock to some Democrats that Muslims aren't a race, Iranians aren't Arab and that France funded Saddam. The shallowness of so many of the left (and, sadly, a few on the right) concerning our national security and the war has made simple facts an amazing discovery.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Next Four Years

Whoever wins, small government conservatives will have their hands full for the next 4 years.

Vigilance and honesty will get us through it.

Grab your hats. The bull is about to be unleashed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Myth of the Monolithic Conservative: A Conservative History - Burke


"The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations." -Edmund Burke
The so-called father American conservatism (some call him the antithesis) was Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke and his titan book Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke found the French Revolution abhorrent on ideological grounds, as did many Americans like George Washington and John Adams. Unlike our Founders and their war to retain the rights of Americans, the French revolutionaries had the goal of totally remaking France based on a utopian vision of a new republicanism. A vision that wasn't readily agreed upon to the point inter-factional violence killed between 20 000 and 40 000 people and ended up crowning a little Corsican as emperor. Of the revolutionaries, Burke said: "Nothing can be conceived more hard than the heart of a thoroughbred metaphsyican. It comes nearer to cold malignity of a wicked spirit than to the frailty and passions of a man." [1]

Burke's main philosophy was that traditions and customs of states, especially states that have lasted for centuries, are a greater base for a nation than abstractions outside the natural order. Burke's England was one that had evolved from feudalism and monarchy to a country with much more separation of powers and protection of rights than any other nation, though nothing like modern liberal democracies have today. Burke found a slow, stable change much more appealing than the violent re-creation of a nation as the French attempted. In the 209 year since the French Revolution ended France has gone through over a dozen coups, revolutions and flips of ideologies. In the exact same time, the US has gone through one civil war, and the UK has gone through none.

Burke's lineage to American thought has be contented by both liberals and libertarians. Allen Guttmann held that Burke were "utterly remote from American life", affirming a thesis by Louis Hartz that said the only American philosophical tradition was that of John Locke [2]. Burke's adherence to British tradition alienated him from the more liberty maximizing factions in conservatism (F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mieses), but Kirk contends that Burke's defense of the natural truths of man, for which our Founders fought to defend, is what makes him part of the American time line. It's up to the reader's views to determine the authenticity of Burke's views on American life, but it cannot be denied that his writings on the dangers of the French revolution and on revolutionary theories have influenced countless numbers of conservatives.

[1] Kirk, Russel. The Conservative Mind, Seventh Revised Edition pg. 26

[2] Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. pg 173

Friday, October 31, 2008

Utahn #2: Building Identity

A person is a mangle of emotions, ideas and subjectivity. No two people match in their outlook on life, their philosophies or other beliefs. Each and every one of us build our own singular identities based on one of a kind experiences that may be similar to millions of others, but remain yours and only yours. Out of these millions of minutes of unique experience comes a singular human being among billions of singular human beings.

The search for a coherent identity is nothing new; it's part of the human condition. From a child up to late teens, we are out for the most self-assuring, life elevating experience we can find. Through religion, politics, social interaction, drugs, alcohol, sports, etc, we look for a concrete foundation to base our life upon. Naturally, finding what fits us is hit-and-miss and brings with it a lot of pain, aloneness and confusion. Some people never end up finding it; some find only parts of it and ride along through life with half-a-philosophy. It's up to your perception if a good amount of people or very few people have a fulfilling base (the biggest argument would come from the religious perspective), and that in itself comes from finding yourself.

Utah fits into my self-identification at the current end (never know when it may change) of a long and very turbulent road. Raised with two sisters, a mother who was a homemaker until a few years ago and a father who worked countless hours for the betterment of his family, my experiences of masculinity were out of the ordinary. My alone time with my dad was always great, but it often went hand-in-hand with his job, where I worked often as a runner. Through him it was hard to gauge the exact meaning of being a man. He absolutely was the epitome of the breadwinner; working no less than ten hours a day for months on end, working out deals and kicking ass left and right to get the job done. It was the home aspect that he lost me on (and eventually would led to the shaping of my views on family interaction). There peace was more often the goal than solving the underlying issue. More often than not this came up in sibling rivalry and accusations of parental coddling. I won't say who or what or whatever, but in short a hold-cold war was the norm. Also, while at home and quite understandable, my herculean father focused more on recharging, relaxing and enjoying lazy time with his children. Pro-active interaction (showing how to fix something, playing ball, doing guy crap) got less and less as he took on more responsibility and wanted more downtime (I want to make sure you readers know I blame him for nothing, as any action he did different would have shaped me). It was in this very loving, but mixed atmosphere that I was raised.

During the eight to ten years of this search, the majority of the time I was a timid, shy personality. My nerves had my social life on the back burner as my comfortableness with socialization, and my ability to socialize, were severely retarded. Again, this was not my parents fault, this was just how I was and how I made myself. Friends were hard to come by. One group of friends I had in my last year of elementary turned on me nary a semester into high school. Through that rejection I found a new group of friends and ended up with one lasting friendship, so rejection wasn't always bad, but it did sting. High school, like elementary, was awkward more so because of my social retardness along with the normal hashing out of juvenile identity cliques. I was in a very mixed group that included a genius electronics student, a computer programmer, my lasting musician friend, a future skilled auto mechanic and me, the proto-emo semi-political wannabe filmmaker. This was my cushion during the last years of high school. A group of friends that I could count on at school, and one I could count on beyond school. It wasn't much, but it was enough. It was during this time my politics was building, and like any good student I was on the far left. Music about loss and hurt took up my knowledge more than war and economics, but it seemed I was versed more in the second oldest profession than most people around me, which only fueled my arrogant notion that I knew everything. Grasping the meaning of a masculine identity was far out of my reach during this time. I had no idea what it was or how it could improve my life, but once it hit, like seeing those Utah mountains basked in the glow of the glorious sun, it would bring a completeness and stability on which a deeper being could be built upon.

College was the beginning of the transformation. Starting, oddly enough, with the re-election of President Bush in 2004, my mindset began to shift away from dependence. It was midnight and I laid upon the couch staring at the President's victory over John Kerry. I looked at it and came to the conclusion that democracy is not the highest form of government. I came to the conclusion that government itself could not hold the mantel of social justice. It was up to the people as a whole to achieve that justice without government tainting it with compromise and power brokering. Anarchism was the way. From there I found that independence was the way. Over the next three years. in increments, I wanted more and more freedom. My mind took it to absurd levels, as juvenile understanding of politics usually does, but by the end of my college years in 2007 I was beginning to find a concrete, mature, masculine identity. I was finding that my mind was becoming more and more focused, my views more detailed and my heart tamed, yet strong. This was the beginning of being honest about who I am, about knowing who I am, and using that knowledge to advance myself into the real world ready to take it on. It would be in Utah that everything would come together in a single, coherent being.

Related Post: Utahn #1: Finding Identity

The Folly of "Change You Can Believe In" ... How the Blind Sheep Follow....

There is no doubt in my mind that the title of this column will anger Obama supporters; however, this is for the ones who still have the capability of deprogramming their minds.

My desire to write this piece stemmed from people watching....hearing how they'll dance in the streets, get drunk and wildly celebrate on November 5th, should their "chosen one" win. While I'd never criticize young, impressionable minds from engaging in the political process; I do take issue with their blind faith that one man is going to undo the country's problems. While they haven't seen enough presidential elections to know better, the key issue is why so many believe that success in their life rides on who sits in the White House. This is a very strange belief for a country whose principles stood for limited government.

Almost 40 million people watched the half-hour presentation - millions of dollars well spent by the Obama campaign. So much for campaign finance rules. I guess those only apply to grassroots politicians who think they can still make a difference. It's nice to have friends in Hollywood. The set was very well done; it was well scripted and directed. Apart from that, what did this half-hour documentary achieve? Millions of dollars allowed people to watch a half-hour's worth of substanceless nonsense...a pathetic attempt to move to the center...promises that could never be kept...and no mention of how he intends to pay for all he wishes to give away. The accountant in me still wants to know.......

I understand the frustration of voters who are wondering if the principles of limited government will ever be resurrected, or has George W. Bush put the nails in the coffin for good? To those voters who believe that Obama and the government are the answer, I ask that you consider the following:

How is it that Obama can bring change and work for the people when corporate America owns him? He's already been bought by the biggest investment houses in the world. Both candidates have, but I'm not making a case for John McCain here. Follow the money trail, and you'll see. We hear that NBC is "in the tank" for Obama. Wonder why? Follow the trail. NBC is a subsidiary of General Electric. Why does GE care? How money does GE get by way of government grants? Google and see.

As for the corporate bailouts, Obama received the biggest donations from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in his very short tenure in the Senate. "Too big to fail" they say. There is no such thing in a true capitalistic environment. Too big to fail simply means less competition. Less consumer choice means more control by the government who now owns a stake in the banking industry. Socialism much? Who is alarmed that corporate America has an open siphon to the U.S. Treasury?

Taxes. One may ask how corporate America could buy Obama when he wants to tax them. That makes no sense! It makes no sense to the untrained voter. Who essentially pays business income tax? Can an entity really pay tax? Truth is taxes will never hurt profit margin. Corporations pass the tax to the consumer in many ways: 1) higher prices for products, 2) layoffs, 3) outsourcing, or 4) all of the above. Martha Stewart says that they'll just have to suck it up because they can afford to pay the tax. I wonder if her company will lay off workers in the next four years. Corporate America is not afraid of Obama because they know how they can pass that tax on - pass it on to the very people he says he'll protect while he is in office.

Democrats' desire to woo the working class in America with goodies is nothing new. Some will always be happy with the crumbs they are tossed at the expense of their upward mobility in society. I've seen many presidential elections, but I have never seen such a blind following. Hats off to the Obama campaign for taking the same old tired rhetoric and passing it off as change. Jeers to the Republican Party for straying so far off principle that George W. Bush has become a conservative in people’s eyes. Which is the bigger myth?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Home Sweet Home!

I'm Nikeela, and I'm determined to ruin this blog. Seriously. Okay, not seriously.

I suppose I could discuss something super serious that a lot of people care about for my first post. However, I'd rather write about something that will hopefully induce a giggle and a bit of consideration. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Namely, it is about the place that I love to bits and call my home. Alabama. The 22nd state admitted to the union, as of December 14, 1819, Alabama is a beautiful place. We have the mountains and the beach. We have lakes and rivers, forests and wildlife. It is also a place that is widely considered one of the most ignorant, backwards, bible-beating, hate-filled places in the world.

Part of my family is from a tiny cow town in Texas. Here are things that they probably would have found surprising about life in Alabama a little more than ten years ago:

1) We do not live in a shack in the middle of a cotton field. There are actually houses and development and such.
2) We are not constantly in danger of getting lynched or having a cross burned in our yard.
3) Not as many people as you think in Alabama are riding around in a huge, jacked up truck and waving a confederate flags.
4) Having a Wal-Mart Supercenter in your town is nothing to brag about. In fact, it's pretty ho-hum.

I'm not sure that those things would still be so unbelievable now. You never really know what people outside of your community are thinking unless you go ask, though. I'm not sure why life being “normal” seemed more of a possibility in rural Texas than in one of the largest metropolitan areas in Alabama. That concept doesn't surprise me or shock me as much as it did then. Some of the reasons that I believe people have these notions about Alabamians are also some of the reasons why I believe that Alabama is a pretty sweet place to live, and why I would have to be offered a ridiculous sum of money to move north of the Mason-Dixon Line. So why do I love this state that so many people see as backwards? Why do I love these people around me who are widely viewed as ignorant?

I love this place and these people because there are no illusions about who anyone is. We are able to all have diametrically opposed views on any and everything AND still coexist beautifully (the majority of the time). We don't like to offend anyone, but we WILL if we have to. We are intelligent, innovative, driven, and will hold the door open for you if you come into a building behind us. We’re relaxed and easy going, we sprint to where the air conditioning is in the summer, and we will smile and offer tea to people who demean us.

This is not because we’re lazy or docile. It is not because we are too stupid to know when we are being insulted. It is not because we are too gracious to comment. It is because we are laughing. We are laughing because you're silly enough to generalize southerners. There are not two boxes that we all fit into. We have just as many variations as any other place in the nation. It's amazing how people who are supposedly more intelligent than the typical southerner can make this mistake over and over.

But hey... we can't all be southern!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Utahn #1: Finding Identity

I was born in Burbank, California in 1985 to two Canadian-born individuals residing in the state. My father was born dual (American-Canadian) due to his mother, and because I, along with my sisters, were born in Burbank to Canadian parents we attained dual citizenship by birth. In 1993, my folks decided to move back to Canada, leaving behind friends, a broken state and the only home I'd ever known.

For my sisters it wasn't that hard. They have little to no memory of our small, run-down home in Glendale, California (next door to Burbank), of the streets and sky and the view of mountains from the corner. When we left, I was seven turning eight, and I had only known California. My dad worked in the entertainment industry and had taken me down into Hollywood countless times to his place of work. We had relatives two hours away in Riverside who we visited frequently. My parents' friends were like family to me. My little world never reached outside of Southern California. The moved shocked me into the concept that my world was much, much bigger.

Living in Canada wasn't as different as I thought it would be. English-speaking and as Western as any my old home it was easy to fit in, though school always seemed a harder place to fit in, but that's another story. With both sets of grandparents living within city limits of my new town, being surrounded by family all the time was interesting. Visiting was no longer was annually, but weekly, and with a Anglo-Lebanese grandmother (on my dad's side) the food was copious and delicious, and vacations with my mother's parents constant. For 14 years I lived this life, but for 14 years it never really fit. There was always something missing in my heart. It may of been the small world I returned to, never venturing far outside of the urbanized corridor that lines Lake Ontario, or it could of been that Canada could never replace California as home. When it came time to move I decided to move back to my birth place. I had a job offer there and I had the feeling that returning to California would allow myself to lose that empty place in my heart. It didn't.

California is a beautiful state. Full of mountains, deserts, plains and countless animals and plants. I'm a desert lover, and California fit my love of arid wastelands. Yet, when my life settled in California was my soon-to-be wife, things that felt set were not. It was as if the completeness was just in passing, The pieces not made to hold together. It was the atmosphere of Los Angeles and of my job. Fast paced and unstoppable, it took over my life quickly. My boss even told me that I had to think of my job 24/7. That my job is inseparable from me. That seemed to work for many of my co-workers, but television was never me, not totally. I chose it for my college degree, but I had so much more I wanted to do, but once I discovered that freedom I had already put so much into television study that it would of been a massive waste to quit. It was around this time that my love quickly grew tired of Los Angeles as well. Add in a political climate hazardous to our views and a search for a new home was quickly in the works.

The moment I fell in love with Utah was on June 2nd, 2008. I had been through Utah before, but only through the southern territories where the are more mountains than people and more people than plants. A beautiful area and one that put Utah on my very small list of potential states to make my home (Arizona was the other state). While driving our Uhaul towards the ever growing mountains to the east I saw a small mountain range out the driver's side window. The sun had been peaking in and out of the clouds and at that moment its light was painting the mountains in such a grand way that the first words out of my mouth was: "This is truly God's country." As a strict atheist, I don't actually believe God claimed Utah as his or even believe in any supernatural power, but at that time it sure as hell felt like I did. This was the culmination of years of spiritual searching (which I'll cover later) of the heart of a man that seemed biologically unable to believe in a higher power. As it turns out, one can have faith and love and belief without a dot supernatural ink.

Love, faith, belief. You can have all that in the place you live. Your country, your state, your fellow citizens. The religion of community.

Home is an abstract concept when your roots spread across two nations. Home becomes a feeling, an intuition, where family geography is negated by its dilution between your birth place and where your parents are from. But once you find your home it hits you like seeing your future wife for the first time. Its a near-religious experience. Its an epiphany on the future of you, your spouse and the tons of little pink critters that'll you'll have to raise and teach and hope for every day. When you're home you love every single moment that occurs there. And that is beyond anything a book or a organized religion can supply.