Sunday, January 31, 2010

Youth Sports and the Dark Side of Man

Well, I'd heard about it, and read about it, and now I've experienced it - insanely pathetic parents. My seven-year-old son is playing youth basketball, and at the last game of the season, I listened to a referee warn a coach who was cursing at his players, and I watched, open-mouthed, as a mother stormed on to the court to yell at the ref during the game after her son fouled out and was sent to the bench for unsportsmanlike conduct after he shoved a player to the ground while pushing through a screen.

And, I realized, if we are going to be in youth sports, then we are on the right team with the right group of kids because our coach and parents were shocked and would never do that.

A colleague who coaches, and whose girls have been through youth and club sports, told me, as I signed up for the team after years of decrying this kind of behavior for years, "You've entered the machine. Be careful."

Yes, exactly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My State of the Union

My Fellow Americans,

January 27th, 2010 is an incredibly exciting time to be alive, and days like today represent all that American has been, all that America is, and all that American can become. Today American's first African-American president will deliver his first State of the Union speech. And, today Steve Jobs and Apple premiered, the iPad.

The nation which John Winthrop, and later Ronald Reagan, described as "a shining city upon a hill" was founded on hope. President Obama was elected on that idea of hope and change. Hopefully, he will offer a vision today of how he is going to change, and how that change will create a better future for all Americans. Steve Jobs has already done that.

Jobs and Apple have changed the game again, creating a niche where there was none. The innovation that is constantly percolating in the mind of Jobs and in the rooms at Apple represents all that is good and distinct about America. America is the land of innovation, and it's where the future happens. And people like Steve Jobs, and companies like Apple, have always done it. They don't need any incentive to create and innovate. They don't need the encouragement or a grant or a handout or a hand-up. They just need the freedom and the opportunity. They don't ask. They just do.

Granted, there is conflict and concern in America. Many would claim our government is a mess and the two factions just can't get along. But think of how awful it's been in the past, and think of how horrible it is in many places around the world and across time. We are in conflict. But we're working it out. We're talking it out. And it's messy. And it takes a long, long time. And it often seems like we're not getting anywhere. But we're still here. The republic survives, and democracy thrives. And the roads are firm and the buildings are sound and the water is safe and the electricity works and men and women stand at post all night long defending our country and our cities and our communities and our homes from threats both near and far, real and imagined, man-made and natural. And they do it for all Americans. And they do it well. And when tragedy strikes in some corner of the world, the world looks to America to help. And we do. We do because we can, and we can like no other country in the history of mankind. And we will continue to do so. Always.

Granted, it is not easy for many of us on a daily basis. People are struggling and disagreeing and blaming and wondering and worrying and complaining. And they have good reason. But in the morning, they are going to get up and get back to it. It might be a job or a job search, but they are going to get after it. Because that's what we do. In the face of adversity, Carl Sandburg reminds us, the people will live on. In the night ... they march: Where to? What Next?

"Next" is what America is all about. It's why the colonists settled here. It's why the people moved west. It's why we went to the moon. It's why we're talking about going to Mars. It's what's next.

And, so, my fellow Americans. The State of the Union is what it has always been. It's a state of potential. And I have great hope for the future. I have great hope because I have great faith in the hearts and minds and strong backs of the American people.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Good night.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Deficit Dithering

The cold, hard reality is that the United States government has accrued $12 trillion in debt. Most of that came in six years when the Bush Administration proposed and passed two unfunded tax cuts, two unfunded wars, and a huge unfunded expansion of the entitlement system with a prescription drug plan for Medicare - one that is now being asked to expand to close the "doughnut hole." While the debt went from $3 trillion to $10 trillion during that time, government spending did not increase by $7 trillion. Thus, any competent middle school math student can conclude that the budget deficit has ballooned the debt primarily through a cut in revenue. However, spending most certainly played a role. It played a huge role. In no way should this post be construed as absolving the Democrats of responsibility, especially for wasteful spending.

Thus, as David M. Walker and the Concord Coalition have argued since 2003, the debt and deficit will not be addressed without spending cuts AND tax increases, and significant entitlement reform. It is that simple. It's so simple. It's astoundingly obvious. Cut spending AND raise taxes while reforming entitlements. That is what the proposed Fiscal Responsibility Committee would have done. That's what a new bill in Congress to re-institute "Pay-as-you-go" would have done.

Yet, the GOP has vowed and voted to defeat these attempts because it will raise taxes. Of course, it will. It has to. And, then, Senator McCain responded to ABC news today by claiming the spending freeze might be OK, but he would "cut taxes" so that revenue would increase. Even though cutting revenue is the majority of the problem. Ugh! Does everyone in the GOP misunderstand the lessons of the 1980s and 2000s, and the inherent flaws in supply-side economics. Or are they just that pathetic in their fear of PACs and "think tanks" that threaten to derail the career of any Republican voting for tax increases.

It's $12 trillion.

I want to see taxes at the 1992 and 1983 levels. That's where the economy can be strongest. That is absolutely the goal. And, to do so, spending will have to be cut and entitlements reformed. I know that. I get it. I want the spending to go down, so the taxes can go down. But the debt and the deficit have to go, too. And taxes will have to go up, for some time, in order for that to happen.

This is our problem. There are no, or few, fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party. No one is willing to be pragmatic about this. Fiscal conservatives are not conservative if they think the deficit and debt can be handled without tax increases. Just crunch the numbers. Really. Do the math. Lower taxes are preferable. Less wasteful spending is the goal. But do the math. Be honest with yourself.

It's $12 trillion.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Legalized Bribery

I have never given a dime to a candidate running for political office. And I never will.

When I ran for city government I didn't take a dime in donations. I, of course, lost. However, in the race I was in, no amount of money would have made a difference, and I didn't run to win, just to raise awareness of the issues.

The reality is that money corrupts nearly everything, but it holds a special place in its heart for politics. And we can be clear on one thing: from a Constitutional point of view, there is absolutely no doubt that the Framers of the Constitution never intended money to be protected as "speech." Jefferson and Washington would have vehemently - if not violently - opposed such nonsense. Adams and Madison are a little tougher to gauge. Franklin never would have taken a donation, but he certainly wouldn't have opposed someone buying him a drink over which to "discuss" legislation.

From a purely practical point of view, here's a good question: if I can give a candidate $10K and you can give him $10K, and then we can form a "corporation" and give him a million, then how is that not double-dipping and circumventing restrictions in the first place? How can the "corporation" fully represent the views of its employees and its stockholders when there is certain to be disagreements? If you can't give a politician $90K in cash to vote on a bill, but you can give him an equal amount "for his re-election campaign," how have we not completely abandoned rational thought.

Judicial activism or not, money has become "free speech" - irony of ironies - and nothing is going to change that or control that. Thus, it simply becomes more of an imperative for voters to be well informed in the area of policy, as well as argumentative strategies used to manipulate them.

Never gave a dime. Never accepted a dime. Never will. And now I will just continue to vote my conscience.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Taxes and Society

So, here's a thought, as I continue to debate my Burkean conservatism with the voices of "Libertarian Populism." As I've mentioned before, Edmund Burke effectively argued that "the revenue of the state is the state." Little or no revenue = weak or non-existent society.

Consider this:

Alabama and Mississippi - and many southern, or red, states - have low tax rates. They also have poor quality education, poor health, poor roads, less industry, less wealth, lower quality of living, higher crime, weaker family structure, fewer college educated people, and they accept the highest levels of federal aid.

Connecticut and Massachusetts have higher tax rates. They have high quality education, better health and health care, better roads, more industry and finance, more wealth, higher quality of life, less crime, less divorce/social problems, more colleges and college educated people, and they pay the most in federal taxes at the same time they accept the least amount of federal aid.

Where would you want to live?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Polar Bears and Pollution

I don't think too much about the "global-warming-climate-change-cap-and-trade" debate that rankles so many people these days. Though, I certainly don't make or support ridiculous statements about the recent cold spell being the proof that climate scientists are wrong. For me, it's really not about that. It's not about the polar bears, or the ice caps, or ocean front property, or carbon limits, or the effects of those limits on industry. Those aren't on my mind when I take my position. Here's what is.

It's the (cough! hack! ugh!) pollution, people.

The other day I was walking to school, as I do each day, across the student parking lot to our school. The lot is just east of the school district's bus parking lot, which is incidentally, just north of my house. As I made my way on a two-minute walk to the West building, the buses were warming up, and I could barely breathe. Several were belching some black smoke, which was wafting east, and I could barely make it across the lot.

Halfway through the school day, my lungs still hurt. Hurt. They literally hurt from the ingesting of noxious fumes from engines burning fossil fuels. And these were diesel, supposedly burning cleaner than most. My lungs hurt ... here in the beautifully clear Rocky Mountain air.

We simply need to stop burning fossil fuels at the present rate, and I support restrictions. Whatever happens to the polar bears, I care about my health. There is no way to argue that moving away from oil and gas is a bad idea. And, the concerns that restrictions will be hard on business is dubious at best. Some businesses may go under? Good. Better them than my health. I know we heard the same complaints after the founding of the EPA and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts of the 1970s. Of course, those arguments were secondary to the fact that the Cuyahoga River had caught on fire several times in a week.

Did restrictions cause those polluters to go out of business. Who cares? Did the economy crumble? Did the world come to an end? Uhmmm. The answer is no. Thomas Friedman was on the news the other day talking about his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. He pointed out that there is no doubt the earth is warming and it's causing "problems." There's a pretty good chance that man's industrial output is playing some role. How big is debatable. But, regardless, when we face potential disasters, we buy some insurance. That's what climate change legislation and polices are. They're insurance.

I'd like some insurance against the lung cancer I may have contracted. If that helps the polar bears, too, then good.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wooly Worms and Sunspots

Last fall, the meteorologists around the country were calling for a warmer and dryer than normal winter across the country, especially in the Northeast and upper Midwest. According to all the computer models and latest technology, the coming winter was set to be pretty mild. On the other hand, the Farmer's Almanac, drawing from its centuries old secret formula using natural signs such as sunspots, predicted a frigid winter across the same areas with heavy amounts of snow.

I have to go with the folk logic at this point.

In Colorado we haven't even been near the average temperatures, as we are freezing and my furnace is kicking on all night long. More snow is coming tomorrow, and the last bout from Christmas week hasn't even melted yet. That is unheard of for suburban Denver, where we rarely worry when it snows because it (usually!) melts off in a couple days at the most. Last winter, we were able to go sledding only once, as the snow often melted by the time I got home after school to pick up the kids.

Of course, I am not going to go with the snarky comments from my neighbor who comments every time it snows "So, what about that global warming?" Obviously, just because there is still some cold and snow somewhere doesn't mean that a consensus of science experts are wrong about the warming trends and man's probable role.

But, it is, no doubt, cold. And no computer models can tell me it's not.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ridiculous Comments on Health Care

In the past couple days, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh and Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman have been hospitalized - and both have used the incidents to make rather crass and ridiculous statements about the health care situation in America. Limbaugh was hospitalized for chest pains and Coffman broke his ankle. Both responded to the press that they have "tested" the American health care system and found it to be working perfectly.

How crass.

The only thing Limbaugh and Coffman have learned is that the health care system works for people worth $400 million dollars and for Congressmen who have government administered, taxpayer funded health insurance. That health care is available and high quality for the wealthy and upper middle class who have good - and untouchable - benefits has never been in doubt. Coffman, by the way, went on to note that he pursued a second opinion at a specialty clinic, for which he paid the additional $350 out of pocket, and it was "well worth it." That, of course, is not difficult for a man earning a salary of $175,000 of taxpayer-funded salary.

And it is to be expected that Limbaugh to comment this way. However, Coffman's comments are beneath the dignity of his office, and he should consider the many of his constituents who can't afford their premiums, or who have had their insurance eliminated by employers, or who can't get any policies, or who can't afford hundreds of dollars for second opinions.

I voted for Mike Coffman, but I am profoundly disappointed in his flippant, insensitive comments to the media, and I will be letting him know.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Taxes Ceiling and Floor

As we come into 2010, the telling statistics of the decade are that the Dow is almost exactly where it was ten years ago and the decade amounted to almost zero job growth. Yet at the same time, families earn less overall and are worth less overall, at the same time they are more vulnerable to economic crisis due in no small part to lack of security in terms of health care and health care costs. This is taking place at a time when, overall, America's tax burden is about as low as it has ever been, across the board.

And amid this, Sarah Palin told Greta Van Sustren last night that America needs to learn the lessons of Ronald Reagan and the Eighties by cutting personal taxes to free up the private sector to create wealth and easing corporate taxes so they won't export jobs. Sadly, Van Sustren completely ignored the opportunity to ask the reasonable but tough questions. For example, have Palin and Van Sustren forgotten that when Reagan cut taxes the marginal rate was 89%? Have they failed to notice that taxes are at historic lows? Are they not aware that the average American corporation pays no corporate taxes and those that do average about 5%, which is far below the countries that Palin thinks are taking American jobs. Do they not know that payroll is the primary expense of any company, and that is the reason they move and offshore jobs? Do they fail to note there is no specific identifiable link between taxes and job growth? Have they no knowledge of the impact of the oil embargo and the Fed's breaking of the inflation cycle? Are they really that ignorant, or just that partisan.

As a Burkean, fiscal conservative, I sympathize with many concerns about government spending and growth. However, the one thing I cannot cop to is outright ignorance of historical facts. There is both a ceiling and a floor to revenue for the government - that is the greatest lesson for current state budget crises. Thus, while I am still too disgruntled to be a Democrat, I will remain a recovering Republican.