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Friday, October 30, 2009

Real GDP Grows 3.5% in the Third Quarter – A Path to Prosperity Perhaps?

Not so fast. Estimations for positive GDP growth began early this summer; however, a closer look at how this was achieved will reveal a bleak outlook in the future.

The key contributions to growth in the third quarter are listed below:*

• Real personal consumption expenditures increased 3.4 percent in the third quarter, in contrast to a decrease of 0.9 percent in the second.
• Durable goods increased 22.3 percent, in contrast to a decrease of 5.6 percent.
• Real residential fixed investment increased 23.4 percent, in contrast to a decrease of 23.3 percent.

The Economic Recovery Act of 2009 had very little impact on the numbers as the federal government's contribution to GDP growth was up just 2.3 percent.* In addition, the money spent thus far has exceeded total output from quarter to quarter. However, much of the growth is attributed to the government’s “Cash for Clunkers Program” and the $8,000 first-time home buyer credit.

The costs of these government programs have well exceeded $1 trillion. Was this exorbitant cost worth 3.5 percent “growth?” More to the point, there wasn’t any REAL growth! The government has essentially printed money it doesn’t have to BUY growth. This is similar to individuals borrowing money on their credit line, going out and buying goods and claiming that their personal wealth has increased. Money shifting hands is not growth. Speaking of money shifting hands, how many people borrowed more than they can afford to take advantage of these programs betting on the fact a strong recovery is in sight? Does the word “bubble” come to mind?

Now, let’s have a look at the more discerning part of this report.

“Current-dollar personal income decreased $15.5 billion (0.5 percent) in the third quarter, in contrast to an increase of $19.1 billion (0.6 percent) in the second.”*

This is a cause for concern. 4.1 million jobs have been lost in 2009, and unemployment currently stands at 9.8 percent. People who still have jobs have been reduced to four-day work weeks in many cases. With personal income declining and no change in the high unemployment status, it’s time to look beyond the textbook term for an end to a recession.

“Personal current taxes increased $4.8 billion in the third quarter, in contrast to a decrease of $119.1 billion in the second.”*

Current-dollar personal income has declined, but personal current taxes have increased. Many individual states have raised sales taxes, property taxes and income taxes to cope with very large budget deficits. If people’s personal income increased, an increase in tax liability would have made sense.

“Disposable personal income decreased $20.4 billion (0.7 percent) in the third quarter, in contrast to an increase of $138.2 billion (5.2 percent) in the second. Real disposable personal income decreased 3.4 percent, in contrast to an increase of 3.8 percent.”*

Translation – people are barely getting by. Households and businesses have cut down expenses as far as possible. This is not a good situation for a consumption-driven economy.

Finally… “Personal saving -- disposable personal income less personal outlays -- was $364.6 billion in the third quarter, compared with $533.1 billion in the second.” “The personal saving rate -- saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 3.3 percent in the third quarter, compared with 4.9 percent in the second.”*

A key indicator of real recovery is an increase in the personal savings rate for obvious reasons. An increase in personal savings is indicative of job growth and an increase in personal income. People then have dollars to invest to strengthen the markets.

In the end, what does all of this sum up? It reveals how just how effective government intrusion in the economy really is. What do we have in exchange for 3.5 percent GDP growth?

• A very weak U.S. dollar (Take no notice of the short-term bounce it has received from the GDP news, as it will be temporary.)
• A real possibility of a V-shaped recovery, inflation and stagflation if the government does not reverse course soon
• Personal income and savings declining and taxes rising
• A jobless recovery thus far
• An economy currently reliant on excessive government spending to produce positive growth with government spending exceeding the rate of growth

Considering how fast and how much the U.S. economy has declined, growth should have been much higher – possibly 6 or 7 percent. Perhaps that would have been possible with less government intervention and a focus on a strong U.S. dollar. For those naysayers who still believe that a weak dollar is critical to recovery, it is important to state that the U.S economy is not one that relies on exports. In addition, do people really think the U.S. will ever outdo China in terms of labor cost?

I’ll save my celebrating until the United States’ government looks backward in time and remembers the effects of Keynesian “stimulus.”


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Religious Freedom and the Public Square

What's so bad about religion? What's so damn wrong about it that it drives inverted church-and-state activists bonkers? Is religion so powerful that seeing a lone cross in the desert will create the notion that the government supports Christianity over all else? Is it really so important to muzzle religious speech by banning or diluting the original message of a display? What does that say about how we Americans view religious freedom as compared to our Founders who pioneered the idea? I hope with this post to answer these questions and to lay out a moderate and liberty-based approach to religious freedom in this great country.

Religion and Culture

From the dawn of time, man has had stories of gods, devils, spirits and all kinds of paranormal beings creating the world we see around us. Throughout the years religion has evolved from trying to explain the sun, the stars and the wind to become the staple of the world's most advanced cultures on the planet. Not only that, religion has created some of the most beautiful art, inspired the most profound works of literature, and even was the rallying cry behind the American Revolution and the call to free millions of blacks from the bondage of slavery and suppression of the civil rights. There is not one nation, not one culture, that hasn't been based around or based on a religion.

Even today, in spite of anti-religious rhetoric, every human being is wired to have some kind of faith. They have faith in God, faith in Allah, faith in any number of scriptures, texts, ideas or powerful creators. Our modern society has even reached the point where political ideologies have reached such extremes that the term “political religion” describes the movement's religious nature to secular ideal - not a political ideology based in religious doctrine. To use a current issue, people talk about “believing” in universal health care, having “faith” in its workability, or even outright dismissing fact and proclaiming it good and moral, as if the very declaration will destroy the pitfalls.

Secular political religion in America has a very big grudge against traditional religion and traditional culture as well. One does not have to be an atheist or agnostic to be part of the secular political religion movement. There are many groups of faithful people who also believe in the strict secularization of America's public square. From removing God from the pledge of allegiance to banning any moments from schools that could be used for prayer, the secular political religion has made headway in all aspects of American life. Either knowingly or unknowingly, they have created a wedge between America and her culture, between America and her national values, between America and the ability to teach moral lessons on a national scale. This is dangerous in the long view because no matter how you view a certain religion, or all religions, a moral code is necessary for a moral and just society. There is no better teacher of basic individualistic morality than religious texts.

Defining the Great Line

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
-First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.
-Thomas Jefferson. From his letter to the Danbury Baptists on government interference in religion.


As read by the secularization movements, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” along with “a wall of separation between church and state” indisputably means that religion must be either totally removed from the public square or accommodated in full by all other faiths. Otherwise it would seem that the government, state or federal, is “establishing” a religion. A theocracy-by-perception, if you will. This is a ludicrous view of the First Amendment and its history. It also distorts Jefferson's meaning of “church and state” and his personal views on religion in the public square.

Firstly, before anything else, one must read the entirety of the religious clauses of the First Amendment. It says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The first clause is pretty clear in that the United States is not to have a state religion, a state church or any kind of state subsidized religious domination by one section over others. The second clause clearly states in light of the state not establishing a national religion, that the free exercise of religion cannot be prohibited. It does not say that the state cannot have religious displays in national parks, state parks or city parks. It does not say the state must accommodate a religious display with displays of other faiths around it to remove the perception of religious establishment. It does not say that without accommodating other faiths, such displays must be removed for the sake of secular views on religion. It states simply that the state cannot establish a national faith nor can it deny the expression of faith among its citizens. The religious clauses were intended as such as seen by their early drafting, which were written by James Madison as: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience by in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.” [1]

While the First Amendment has a clear cut definition of what is and is not permissible by the government in the religious realm, as in all things, modern complexity has brought up many issues that may not fit so easily into the original intent of the clauses. For instance, should a public school have a recited prayer before classes begin? During the first two centuries of America (and before the creation and implementation of incorporation to the states), it was not seen as a violation to have prayer. But with the ever increasing number of secularists, atheists and agnostics, the issue was eventually brought up before the infamous Supreme Court ensemble known as the Warren Court. The verdict in the case (known as Abington Township v. Schempp (1963)) created a new test for judges to use in such cases and is known as the “secular purpose” test. The test is supposed to determine if an activity is secular enough to be compatible with the Establishment Clause. In my opinion, the Warren Court ruled justly. In today's society, the Christian faith, while the majority, no longer has the super majority it once had. To be faithful to the intent of the Establishment Clause, an obvious Christian prayer, even if it's non-denominational, cannot be mandatory in a government-run school.

If the line had been drawn there, I don't think anyone including the politically active religious of us would be able to argue against a simple reforming from a Christian to a secular moment in public schools. Prayer would not be suppressed, but simply not encouraged by the state. Alas, the line was not drawn in rock, but sand. Since then, prayer at after-school games and clubs have been banned or called into question. Christian groups on high school or college campuses have been banned or threatened with banning if they did not include people of other faiths in their clubs. Government voucher programs for poor minority students have been cut with some justifying it on the grounds that the money went to religious schools and the government should not be supporting such schools due to the Establishment Clause. (They forget that these schools were being paid for their service - not subsidized for being religious. Nor do they remember these lucky children were removed from violent and failing public schools that were awful in spite of massive funding.) This hardly scratches the surface as displays religious and seemingly religious in nature are being taken down or are in the process of being struck down. Even World War I memorials in the lonely Mojave Desert are not safe from those who see a single cross on public land as the creeping shadow of a government sponsored religion.

The Hammer, the Flea and the Vase

This post is not meant to demean secularism or try to make excuses for those who wish to see a more religiously based government in America. The former, in the form of the Establishment Clause, has done much to prevent the permanence of religious-based idealists like Woodrow Wilson or (God help us if he ever become President) Mike Huckabee. But, in contrast to the vast good the Establishment Clause has done, the misreading and its abuse by anti-religious groups and overzealous secularists has put religion in a bind, and with that, the nation's moral center.

Every major religion in America has the same common views on life, its importance and its care. Christians, Muslims and Jews may argue over theology, but there is concurrence on topic such as abortion or euthanasia. One will see a beautiful display of inter-religious harmony. Human cloning, destroying embryos for research and other science versus morality issues all require that we look to our moral leanings for guidance. It doesn't matter if you think Christians are polytheists, that Muhammad was a child rapist or that Buddhists are just wackos worshiping a fat statute. When it comes to reflecting on moral choices, religion has the monopoly that no one can break.

The thing is that secular political religion has a problem with the moral monopoly. It may be because of religion's view on gay rights, divorce, drug use, child rearing, etc. The more outlandish and idealistic of the secular movement don't simply want religion in its rightful place in the public square, as the Warren Court provided, but it wants it gone from the square completely. Those in like-mind with the anti-religious crowd, even though they may not be anti-religious themselves, cannot justify their views unless they are prepared to admit they are either anti-religious or making a big mistake. To me, the secularist, who isn't anti-religious, sees an ugly flea of dangerous religious power on the face of the beautiful religious culture vase and wishes it gone. However, instead of simply blowing the flea off the vase with their breath, (something that won't harm the vase), they take a hammer and smash the vase into pieces just to remove the aesthetic unpleasantness of a single flea. How does that help anything? It doesn't, and it drives our faithful citizens to object to the destruction of our grand and free religious traditions - traditions that have done so much for the people of this country. What do they get for their objections? Anti-religionists and like-minds saying religion has no place in this discussion - bold words from the temple's vandals.

Secularize the Government, Pluralize the Square

Most Americans have a rightful fear of the government, either economically, militarily, religiously or politically. Some fear it on all sides, and some do not fear it at all. Religious freedom today has been suppressed on the fear of a religiously powerful government growing from the raising of monuments by private citizens, students and localities. American history does have its times of religiously motivated political extremism, from preachers defending slavery to civil rights suppression and the President saying God wants the nation under a united culture of Christianity. We should not ignore the dangers of a religious-driven politic. Yet, we can't simply throw out the baby with the bathwater, or in this instance, the faith with the demagogue.

As written by the Founders, government has no place in the religious square. Government should not regulate religion nor should it invite religion to create policy or give it undue control of anything. Government should not pick one religion over another; or a group of religions over another group. No public building should have religious imagery without a historical or secular purpose, as the Warren Court ruled. Basically, government can't play favorites with the public's faith. However, the government shouldn't be playing policeman with people's feelings and (mis)perceptions either. Private events approved by public schools, private monuments on public land approved by a city or state should not be torn down over the objections of overzealous secularists under the pretense of a person's perception (most of all theirs). Isn’t it possible to simply regulate HOW MANY private memorials can go up in any section of land - not WHAT KIND of private memorials go up? Hell, just for safety's sake, put a sign saying “The government is not responsible for the views of the displays in this park,” or something along those lines just so everyone knows that the government isn't about to toss gays in jail or atheists into churches. It's simpler and more free to secularize the government, but leave the public square to the plurality of faiths that have built and kept America moral since its birth.

One's ability to display their political views and religious faith in the public square is the core reason of the First Amendment. To toss away half of a guaranteed freedom for bleeding hearts, hand wringers and angry bigots proves that we're cowards, not enlightened.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Leadership and Media

Yesterday was the birthday of Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of the United Kingdom. In spreading the word on Michelle's Facebook group, it became apparent that Mrs. Thatcher was not a well-liked figure by the Left. Wishes of rotting in Hell, accusations of personal political greed and all the various other accusations that the Right should be accustomed to after the Bush era. When you cross the Left's moral line, beware.

In spite of the Left's objections, the world should be thankful for people like Mrs. Thatcher, her American counterpart Ronald Reagan, and all the other stalwart leaders of West during the Cold War. Post-World War II Earth was not a place for the wishy washy foreign policy pillow talk. Out the destruction of three dangerous imperialisms came the unfortunate birth of a new, more dangerous power. While the fascist powers were overtly imperial and used their military might to show it, the Soviet Union had its forth column of fellow travelers, spies, satellite countries and useful idiots. What was a war of might from 1939 to 1945 became a war of ideas from 1945 to 1991.

In a war of ideas, it goes way beyond one's ability to be a diplomat, a general or a dreamer. For 50 years, the United States and the Soviet Union danced around places like Berlin, Hungary, Suez, Israel, Cuba, Vietnam, Angola and Afghanistan. In each one of these conflicts, both cold and hot, the soldiers were only one part of the equation. The press, especially in the West, was unbelievably important to influence. For example, the Tet Offensive was a massive psychological blow to the war effort due to the press's assumption the war was lost. You ask a random person, and if they know what the Tet Offensive is, there is good money that they think it was a military victory for the Viet Cong. In fact, the Tet Offensive severely crippled the once vast resources of the Communist insurgents. But, for the pictures, video and commentary, no to mention the future President Nixon on the horizion (we all know how much of a backbone he had), by all common sense, Tet would have been a conclusive victory.

The whole world, from the intellectuals to the peasant, is watching us more than ever. From the Mullahs to the enslaved soldier. From the Prime Minister of Israel to the Palestinian child. One could wavier and not be noticed 50 years ago, even more so 100 years ago. But today, a President is under a 24-hour microscope and there is no agreement to what is seen. Leadership of today has to be strong. It has to be steel. It has to be both feet in the dirt Hoplite-style. The enemy must be crushed by your immovable will. Otherwise, they will see the crack, they will expose the crack and they will bash it open into a chasm to which the world you detest will pour in like a mudslide.

This doesn't mean you can't debate all you want privately and publicly, but once you set your feet down, don't move it. Otherwise, you'll lose your footing, you'll teeter and fall. Sometimes being a stubborn ass is the best thing, especially when a leaf on the wind may be blown over a cliff.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama’s Nobel Peace “Surprise”

On the morning of October 9th, the world woke to learn President Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. What does the Nobel prize mean these days? Well, unfortunately, to me it hasn’t meant a whole lot for quite a while now. Today the award has become more about picking the most out spoken liberal than choosing someone who truly promotes the idea of world peace. Al Gore won the prize in 2007 for his documentary that was riddled with mistakes, exaggerations, and even a few untruths. Many feel that prize should have went to Irena Sendler, the sweet woman who saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust instead of Al Gore, but who are we to judge?

I thought I had heard enough when Yasser Arafat and Al Gore had taken home the prize, but Barack Obama winning this year simply takes the cake. Every major piece of legislation this man has pushed as President has failed to pass – cap and trade and health care being are among the largest. I cannot recall our country being more divided as it is today despite Obama’s campaign rhetoric promising to be everyone’s president. A worthless spending bill as pay back to the left wrapped up and disguised as an economic stimulus package is his most notable accomplishment. The stimulus bill that was supposed to protect us from 10 percent unemployment has failed to free us from the shackles of unemployment which topped 9.8 percent this month. (1)

Barack Obama becomes only the fourth US president in us history to win the honor. Former president Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2002. He had been out of office for over 20 years and had spent a lifetime devoted to promoting peace around the world. I agree very little with Carter politically, but one can justify Carter getting the award after a lifetime of dedication to peaceful causes. Woodrow Wilson was awarded the prize for founding the League of Nations in 1919. Theodore Roosevelt was given the honor for assisting with various peace treaties in 1906. Both Roosevelt and Wilson were given these awards after they had been in office for many years. Roosevelt was president for about five years and Wilson for six. Barack Obama was given his award after only 10 months in office.

Well Obama must be one heck of a president right? Let’s take a look at his record after 10 months as the leader of the free world. We still have troops in Iraq who are still in danger helping to keep the current Iraqi regime in place. At the same time, his general that he has chosen to turn around Afghanistan has begged him for 40,000 more troops and a new strategy. Obama has yet to make a decision on this and every day more troops and civilians are in danger while the President consults with his advisors. The President has said publically that the Taliban will have to remain in power in certain areas, but away from the Afghanistan central government. (3) The Taliban is still the same group that has supported terrorist actions against civilians and Americans in the Middle East for many years. Gitmo remains open for business, only without harsh interrogation techniques that kept us free from terrorists for many years. North Korea still possesses nuclear weapons and Iran is getting closer every single day to building one. Meanwhile Israel has made it clear all options are open to prevent a nuclear strike from Iran. None of this sounds like peace to me and sounds like the world is getting worse every day. To his credit, Obama did inherit a lot of these problems and was very humble when he accepted the award. I do, however, find it ironic that continuing many policies of the previous administration put Bush in exile, but awards Obama with the peace prize.

So why did he really get this award? What could the committee possibly see to have awarded Obama this honor? Some feel this is a slap at former President Bush and others prior to him who supported America as a super power and sometimes an interventionist. I personally feel this was done as a token of good will from the Norwegian Nobel Committee to make sure Obama doesn’t fade from his radical left agenda. Polls for the President are slipping and he has lost tremendous support from moderate Democrats and many independents who are shocked by the giant leaps to the left our President and this Congress have made recently. Without a drastic change in policy, Obama and many liberal Democrats stand to be voted out of office in the next few elections. This was a way the Nobel Committee could say to our President, while many Americans may disagree with you in these areas, the rest of the world is behind you. This is the single most powerful means of encouragement to keep Obama on his current pace to change America into a more collective system that Europe has had for decades. I also see this as a way for Norwegian elites on the committee to thumb their noses down at Americans like myself who are unhappy with the liberal direction our country has taken. After all, what do we the peasants know anyway? Haven’t the elites always made the best decisions for us throughout history?

The good news is the Nobel Committee does not vote in our elections…you do. As I have said time and time again, America will always reject these ideas because we are a nation that focuses more on individual freedom and individuality rather than a collective rationing body. No foreign Committee will ever decide what you think is best for America. Sadly, the real losers in this deal are all the significant people who have earned this prize throughout the years back when it meant something. Every year this award becomes less and less meaningful and more political. This year’s decision has all but destroyed any sanctity that remained with the Nobel Peace Prize. Many people around the world see this for what it is and many high ranking liberal commentators are calling this act premature. Perhaps there is an outspoken liberal in his home right now who is worthy of this award today. Maybe we could take this a step further and award this honor to everyone in the world so we can all feel good about ourselves. I guess I should be happy that another American has won the prize. However, when the prize is given away for political purposes, as it has for many years, I would rather it went to someone else in another country who really deserves it.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Memorial, A Threat...

The Supreme Court will hear a case on a lonely World War I memorial in the Mojave Desert.


Because a good number of Americans believe a upside-down Orwellian reading of the Establishment Clause based on the misreading of Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists on why government (key word: GOVERNMENT) should stay out of religion.

Monday, October 5, 2009

You're Too Stupid to Argue Politics: Moral Outrage

Dear God in Heaven, it's been one of those months. Missile defense, the slow death of the public option, Chicoms getting a birthday wish from an American landmark, Joy Behar getting her own show and Iran's not-so-secret nuke plant to name but a few. Everything is just dannnnnndy this September, ain't it?

However, what's getting me today is backwards moral outrage.


What? Really? Hold on a tick.

“Health care reform,” as it's used by the Left, means government-run health care. It means the public option. It means more regulation. It means a closed market like they're trying to do with student loans. Reform, as far as I remember, means changing the current system. It doesn't specifically mean having government shove its hands up the collective asses of American doctors. It could also mean (SHOCKINGLY) reversing the decades of uneven and conflicting regulation and (SHOCKINGLY) freeing up the market to small individual providers who don't lobby Congress to fence the market in their favor.

The speediness that the Left wants this passed (the day before yesterday) is amusing, because the reform bill currently on the table wouldn't be implemented until 2013. FOUR YEARS. Rush through reform so we can wait? Something is up. Usually, it’s the uncanny ability of smart Americans to notice things that may be wrong... like... the entire damn thing. Why do you think Obama wanted it done in August? It wasn't because he was going to sunbathe with Nancy in Hawaii and wanted to keep the date.

These people, not every Leftist, but the big, loud, super morally outraged at every damn thing but things that matter, are sick people. These are the same folk who support the troops by rooting for the Taliban and pushing to cut funding to the war. These are same people who check the casualty lists so they can be outraged at the increasing number, all the while they are for the restrictions on the war that get our men and women killed more often. These people like bad things, so they can use it to change the world. It's a tactic of the far Left... create the chaos so you can change the world. The anarchists of the 19th and 20th centuries blew up buildings, murdered nobles, massacred priests, creating the authoritarian response that would bring people to their side. Today's out-of-their-mind Left follows in their footsteps.

Think about it. Why did the housing market crash? First, the Fed kept credit cheap, so loans were cheap so people could keep buying houses. “It's the American dream to own a home,” was the call. Second, the government manipulation of the home loan market with various programs and institutions that either forced or disproportionately loaned at sup-prime rates to people with bad credit, no credit or little income. Community ratings. Housing rights. Name your social justice catch-theme. It all contributed to the downfall. And now, after the CRA, after ACORN, after the obvious failing of government diddled markets, they want MORE rules and MORE special interest. Dear God.

Now, what does this have to do with health care? Let's see. People can't buy across state lines. Employer-based health care is the only way many people can get insurance. The FDA has monopoly power over what drugs get on the market. Issues like massive corporate tax rates, mandated coverage for non-health emergency things like simple check ups that people can pay out of pocket, monopoly-regulation on different drugs depending on who is running Congress, and the list goes on and on. The health care insurance market is full of so much GOVERNMENT red tape, the private industry red tape can wrap around the ass of a dust mite with just enough slack for a nice little bow.

For God's sake, Ted Kennedy, the lion of the Senate, the icon of government health care, the great man of the little man, was cared for.... IN A PRIVATE HOSTPITAL!!!!! That shows you who he trusts with his life.

If you want to be outraged, how about at Chicom labor camps, North Korean mass graves, Cuban execution of gays, Venezuelan closing of free press, Bolivian discrimination of natives, British arresting of kids for playing war... SOMETHING that actually deserves some outrage.

The politically ignorant emotional jerkings of a rotting corpse of ideological laziness does not make a moral code. Got it?