Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So much to bitch about!

I listen to NPR radio when I drive to and from work. Usually I end up listening to part of the news and some talk show material before I get to work, then All Things Considered on the way home. I get frustrated. There is so much discussion about what we should be doing to correct the ills in our society you forget how much is right.

I listened to a program about how the Prison Guard Union in California grew from a small group to one of the strongest, most well funded unions in the state. As a result they lobby hard for increased sentences, "Strike Three" sentences and anything they can to do maintain or increase the prison population in California. They lobby hard against the legalization of drugs. Why? So they can keep their union membership up and fully employed. Seems like the wrong kind of motivation to me.

Another program talked about how Bail Bondsmen lobby against ROR time for petty crimes. How they charge a fee and if a criminal skips they don't pay the full amount of the bond to the justice system. Seems awfully unfair and unscrupulous to me.

Today economists speculated on what the U.S. has to do to recovery from its financial crisis.

But, I can travel to Tennessee if I want to and don't need anyone's permission. I can write just about anything I want to on this blog and don't have to ask anyone's permission. I can own a firearm, I can drive across this country without fearing police interference. I can vote and even though it may not count for much I have confidence that it will be counted. I can write the government and criticize the leaders, and I can attend a city council meeting if I want. I can participate in the running of this country and my views may not be in the majority but they get represented. While I do not like what I have to go through for healthcare my needs are addressed.

Everyonce and a while it is good to sit back and reflect on just what our forefathers created. It is up to us to insure that creation stays in place untarnished and still able to respond to the needs of its citizens.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

History Revisited

Someone once said, "If we do not learn from history we are bound to repeat it." I am getting close to the end of a book titled "The March of Folly" by Barbara Tuchman. In the book she traces three periods in history and how countries or governmental agencies continued to act with folly in the face of what appears to be evidence to the contrary. I found the first section of her book to be of little interest, it seemed her point was made early and why read on. However when you get to the section about Europe in the Middle Ages it becomes interesting.

Tuchman covers a period of time from 1470 to early 1500's. It seemed that the Catholic Church had a number of Popes who were more secular than spiritual. Lavish spending, mistresses, debauchery and the building of grand edifices seemed to characterize the period. During that time there developed a lot of pressure from other religious persons decrying the immorality of the church hierarchy. It eventually lead to the rebellion of Martin Luther and the break away religious sects many that exist to this day. The selling of dispensations to the wealthy to fund the Popes lavish styles and building of grand cathedrals was common place. Bishops positions were sold to royalty. In the face of growing and active resistance to the use of church assets for individual aggrandizement Pope after Pope seemed locked in to the course without consideration of how change would fundamentally alter the face of religion in the Western Hemisphere

The next period she writes about is Vietnam. Now this period I have some knowledge of. I was in the army from 1967 to 1971 during the growth of civil unrest in the United States. Once again it appears we did not learn the lessons of history. In the face of the French experience of frustration and inability to control the country we simply picked up where they left of and had no further success than they. I found the book infuriatingly accurate and I've not heard anyone in years say anything good about Vietnam. We required a whole generation of men to go and fight in a war we could not win. They did not return from Vietnam in honor but were spate on by their countrymen. It is a period of shame, government deceit, a president getting caught in political expediency and not being able to extricate himself from the war that was pulling him down.

What about today. We are in Afghanistan. The reason, the threat of terror against our citizens. Russia expended considerable assets trying to break the war lords of Afghanistan and ended up fighting a war similar to Vietnam. It became a heavy economic toll and unpopular among their citizenry. Oh, we are using a little different argument. We don't intend to take the country over, we just want to develop a democracy with a stable government that will handle the terrorists for us. Ain't gonna happen.

We ended up in Iraq due to the arrogance of our leaders and their bellicose beliefs that we are entitled to control the rest of the world. That has been thrown in our face and as a country we are despised in other parts of the world for our arrogance and belief that we are owed. I do not support the war in Afghanistan. The billions we are pouring in to the loss of American servicemen could better be spent on developing technology that prevents terrorists from entering our country and killing our citizens. Either that or just destroy the country, make it inhabitable for 10,000 years and don't worry about a home for terrorists in that place. History has shown that you shouldn't be where you are not wanted. We on the other hand, take the position that we will help you develop a democracy in an country that has no history of it, nor do I know of any movement or agitation by the people to develop a democracy. But no, let's have it the American way.

Bush started us on another road of folly, Obama is going to perpetuate it. Unless he does what he said at the end of a year and that is give a serious reevaluation to the effectiveness of our effort. In the meantime there will be American mothers and fathers lamenting the death of a loved one in a country that doesn't want their presence. Afghanistan is lead by men who have a history of corruption and self-service. We are mired again in a war we should not be in.

When will we ever learn?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lessons of Mistakes

Perhaps it is the internet with its tremendous capability of communicating information widely in an instance. I frequently received emails that purport to provide a huge number of facts about the background of President Obama. Almost all that I have seen have concerned Obama's roots in Islam, his ties to socialism, to radical political figures, to extreme religious views, to extreme everything. It is disgusting. I have never seen a public figure appear to raise such antagonistic fervor as Obama.

I received an email from a friend with a huge listing of supposed facts that show Obama to be all of the above. One fact even mentioned something about the anti-Christ. I currently live in the South and I start to wonder if what I am seeing is due to the racial bias that exists in the South. However, the friend who sent me the email is from the north and I have no idea where the email originated from.

I scanned the email and immediately became incensed with the language of the writer. It is apparent that the sentences were calculated to create a hostile reaction to Mr. Obama. It is also apparent that the so called "facts" were statements taken out of context, were statements made on supposition with no accredited references, and some were just obvious fabrications.

One statement told of Mrs. Obama's Senior Thesis at Princeton being restricted and not given out to the press. The way the sentence was written made one think there were things in the article that would support the idea that the Obama's are not what they present themselves to be. It turns out to be true, the thesis was restricted - by Princeton. The Obama campaign made a copy of the thesis available to the press. After that action Princeton opened up access. The few remarks I read from the thesis show a very smart, intellectually astute woman writing about how white institutions like Princeton alter the ideals of black students. No shit!

Any public official is open to vilification. They are sitting ducks. Take a course on Central American politics like I did you might become a radical subversive. Take a course on the great religions of the world and you might become sympathetic to Islam or Buddha. Go to a school that has a course on the Qur'an and you become a terrorist.

What President Obama appears to have done is responded to growing up like a kid. He appears to have thoughtfully studied many subjects to learn. His values are no more rooted in extremism than mine.

The people that write the trash I've seen come in my emails are stupid. They are narrow minded bigots who are intellectually dysfunctional. They lack the imagination of a slug. They are probably control freaks who are challenged by diversity and the open discussion that intelligence can create. The people who pass along this information as factual fall into the same category as the people I mentioned above. Imbeciles all!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Can Time be right?

Yesterday I took my wife to a dental appointment. While sitting in the waiting room I started going through some Time magazines catching up on items of interest. Now, because I'm in a waiting room I usually do not read articles closely as I don't like getting caught having to put down a magazine before I finished the article. So I may be guilty of not completely understanding the article I read.

The article concerned 401(k)'s and seemed to be saying that as an investment device they are not performing as intended. In addition the author(s) seemed to be saying that 401(k)'s were never meant to be a replacement for defined pension plans or to replace social security. In fact the article went on to suggest that the government should develop a system that pays a pension to every citizen at some predetermined age.

I guess we are seeing a flock of authors who seem to feel that U.S. citizens are entitled to retirement funds regardless of their contribution. It also purports 401(k)'s are not providing people with enough value because they are tied to market conditions and of course those have dropped severely in the last year.

Hmmm! I went through the initial start up of 401's and I do not ever recall anyone coming out and saying that these funds were meant to add to pension plans or were a replacement for pension plans. The article is correct to say that companies started using the funds originally set aside for pensions to fund operations. That is true. However, if 401(k)'s were meant as added perks for executives then don't you think the government would not have required the funds be available to all employees instead of a select few in the upper echelons. In addition, upper management was limited on how much they could contribute because of the tax deferment clause, and that there had to be some average savings rate across the board for all employees. I find it hard to imagine how an employee thought they weren't getting something they didn't have before. If the company did not have a pension plan covering all employees, and some didn't how could those employees not view a 401(k) as a retirement program. Where the view that there was a benefit to the plan was viewed was in the possibility of companies matching the employees contribution, then you are getting free money. Even then wouldn't the average "Joe" in the work place think they had a retirement fund.?

What I really object to is the author(s) trying to create the idea that the average citizen is due a retirement program. We aren't due anything in this country except life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We aren't guaranteed happiness, only the pursuit of it. I have maintained for some time that the government should regulate banking, medical coverage, and defense of our welfare. Beyond that, we should be free to pursue whatever economic return we can manage and if we can't build a nest egg then at least a social safety net should provide a floor, but it shouldn't allow me to travel to Europe.

I may have misunderstood the article, but I found it confusing and creating the thought of let "big daddy" take care of me. I'll take care of myself, thank you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tough to live with

I enjoy the holiday season. I particularly like the college bowl games. I'm sure I spend too much time watching them, but besides the game I like the stories we learn concerning players. There are always some issues that cause controversy, both on and off the field. There are also lessons to be learned that instruct us on how people have to live their lives.

Yesterday was "stinker" day. Most of the bowl games I've watched have been well played, highly contested, and some real spectacular plays. However there are always a few games that you wonder why the teams are there and what their purpose is? Yesterday was such a day. The University of South Carolina, coached by Steve Spurrier stunk up the field against UConn. However, during the season one of UConn's players was killed, number 6. When the Connecticut team entered the field of play one of the players was carrying the dead teammates jersey and it was prominently displayed for all to see. A fitting tribute to a fallen comrade. When the game was over and UConn had won the jersey was carried around the field in front of the cheering fans as a final tribute. Warriors all and well played. On the other hand USC stunk the field up. They showed none of the strength and skill they had displayed on the few occasions I watched them play during the season.

Then we get to Oklahoma State and Old Miss. Gad, neither team wanted to win. Right at the very end the defense for Old Miss scored a go ahead touchdown and then the team came back with another score making the game 21 - 7 Old Miss. But that happened right at the end of the game and until then both teams were ineffective, incompetent, and boring. It wasn't a tough, hard fought defensive battle. It was lackadaisical. Later in life the men who played in that game won't have much to relive. The Old Miss alum will be able to say they didn't play well, but they played well enough to win. I don't know what the OSU guys will recall. However, it was a day they collectively stunk up the field.

Arkansas and Eastern Carolina University could it get worse. The one significant situation concerns the ECU field goal kicker. Twice in regulation he had the opportunity to put the Pirates ahead with a field goal, he kicked wide left, then shanked it wide right. He had plenty of leg, just the wrong direction. Then the game goes into overtime. ECU losses the coin toss and Arkansas elects defense, which is the proper call in college overtime. ECU struggles, but comes up short. Finally on 4th down ECU tries another field goal. Surely if the kicker was wide left, then wide right he should've figured out the proper direction, but no, the ball is wide right. Arkansas makes their attempt, and finally kick a 37 yard field goal in overtime to win the game.

Just think of the FG kicker for ECU, and what he has to live with. He was a senior so there will be no chances to redeem himself. He will carry that thought of three missed field goals throughout life. While it should not greatly effect him, after all it is only a game, it will. At reunions, at gatherings, and late in the night when he should be sleeping the thought of how he let his team down will enter his mind. I hope he has the maturity to deal with it and not let it become an important factor in his life. After all, next year I won't recall that Arkansas beat East Carolina, it will fade from some of the fans memories. Hopefully all will have the maturity to treat it for what it was, a bad few moments in time that only decided a game, that's all a game.

So ended the "stink day." There'll be others.