Archives For Government

2014-03-23_11-53-26Looking at all the religious oligarchies around the world I am thankful that the U.S. is not a Christian nation. Without exception those countries that adhere to a strict religious dogma are plagued with strife, war, and are constantly battling with their neighbors.

I am totally convinced that the reason that the U.S. is what it is today because of our diversity. We are a nation of immigrants from hundreds of countries and religious beliefs.  I can easily see that the diversity level in the blue States is glaringly higher than in most red States. Maybe this accounts for some of the more fundamentalist attitudes among those in those parts of the country.

I grew up in a rural area in the very red State of Indiana and was therefore never exposed to our diversity until I went to college.  Part of my rural Indiana heritage in the 1950s and 60s was also being exposed to the local chapter of Klu Klux Klan. My dad kept very much away from those folks and demand that I do the same but we did see the cross burning on occasion out west of our small town. To me the KKK is somewhat representative of what our country might at least to some degree be like if we were a Christian nation.

Several of the original thirteen colonies were established on various religious groups. There was very little tolerance for anyone in those colonies for people of different religious beliefs. Some even imposed a death penalty for trying to convert its citizens to your brand of religion. Thank heavens they had to shed any of those remaining beliefs before they were allowed to join the union. We are the nation we are because we have celebrated our differences instead of always fighting each other because of them.  I hope we never forget that basic fact.

2014-03-08_08-01-44

Half of American adults ages 18 to 33 are self-described political independents, according to a survey out Friday, but at the same time half of these so-called millennials are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, the highest share for any age group over the last decade.

In addition, young adults tend to be single and churchless — turning away from their predecessors’ proclivity for religion and marriage, according the Pew Research Center survey. Almost two-thirds don’t classify themselves as “a religious person.” And when it comes to tying the knot: Only about 1 in 4 millennials is married. Almost half of baby boomers were married at that age….

Only 36 percent of the millennials said the phrase “a religious person” described them very well, compared with 52 percent of the Gen Xers, 55 percent of the baby boomers and 61 percent of the Silent Generation. And they’re significantly less religious than their immediately predecessors, the Gen Xers. When they were the same age, almost half of the Gen Xers — 47 percent — identified themselves as religious.

SOURCE: Many millennials are skipping church, marriage and political affiliations, study finds | The Rundown | PBS NewsHour | PBS.

Let’s face it, America is changing. As the title of the graphic above says people are becoming unmoored from entrenched institutions.  In many cases I think that is a good thing. Those between 18 -33 years old are more independent thinkers than any generation in the past. They are for the most part pragmatists. I kind of think much of that is due to the proliferation of information available because of the Internet.

I can remember in my youth having to spend hours in the library card stack trying to find information for a school essay. I took my writing as seriously then as I do today so research was the name of the game. Now just about any question you can ask has answers almost immediately via an Internet search. If it is a political question you don’t just get a party line Republican/Democrat answer anymore but also a myriad of other possible explanations including even this blog. The information age will radically change our nation in the coming years.

This dramatic season of change requires that many our current social institutions must change or go the way of the dinosaur.  The “truths” of yesterday are no longer the truths of today. This change creates opportunities for some and death for others. It should not be a surprise that conservative politics of anti-this and anti-that is quickly losing favor.  The political party that presents answers instead of grid-lock will find favor. It is heartening to see that the demise of the radical right-wing of politics is on the horizon.

By the same token religious institutions that focus on God’s love rather than his Old Testament wrath will flourish. Those that successfully meld science and spirituality will be those who continue to exist in the coming years. In my mind the movement known as the emergent church is just such an institution. It focuses on core beliefs and  action rather than ancient beliefs and outdated customs.

When the younger generations eventually drag the power away from those entrenched in the “old ways”, there will be some exciting times in our country. For those who are getting ready to jump on the comments wagon, no this is not a black/white thing. Many of the truths that we call morality will not be overthrown. But those based on fear, intimidation, and outdated traditions will get their due demise and that is as it should be.

Most of us, and especially my very conservative friends at least during Democrat administrations, have in our minds how government simply can’t do anything right. Whatever it does is most likely screwed up and can be done much better in the private sector….

In direct contrast is one thing most conspiracy theories contain is the idea of a hyper-competent government doing things way beyond any concept of normal activities.

It totally amazed me that there are so many popular conspiracy theories around today. If you want to see a list go to Wikipedia by clicking on the name.

Lets look at the area of extraterrestrials to get a sample of this hyper-government beliefs. Here is what is in the above link about that:

AliensA sector of conspiracy theory with a particularly detailed mythology is the extraterrestrial phenomenon, which has become the basis for numerous pieces of popular entertainment, the Area 51/Grey Aliens conspiracy, and allegations surrounding the Dulce Base. It is alleged that the United States government conspires with extraterrestrials involved in the abduction and manipulation of citizens. A variant tells that particular technologies, notably the transistor—were given to American industry in exchange for alien dominance. The enforcers of the clandestine association of human leaders and aliens are the Men in Black, who silence those who speak out on UFO sightings. This conspiracy theory has been the basis of numerous books, as well as the popular television show The X-Files and the Men in Black film series. The X-Files based the plots of many of its episodes around urban legends and conspiracy theories, and had a framing plot which postulated a set of interlocking conspiracies controlling all recent human history.

In order to even begin to accomplish anything in the order of conspiring with alien abduction and manipulation of U.S. citizens would take much more than a handful of people.  I worked for the company that invented the transistor many year ago and if it was given to us by aliens instead of being an idea of William Shockley and a few others it is one of the best kept secrets in that company. Not a single person has come through with any proof of alien cooperation in over fifty years!

It is totally unfathomable for me and I think the vast majority of us to believe that so many government employees needed to pull something like this off can keep this massive secret for all these years.  But it would be kind of nice if some of my friends who are haters of government, any government, would latch onto a small dose of the hyper-competent government idea.  Everyone who draws a public salary are not complete blithering incompetent idiots as so many seem to think.

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When will the USA become the DSA? Will it be in my lifetime or further out? I don’t really think I have an answer to this dilemma but if things don’t change soon I think that, like the Russian professor who generated the map shown here, the DSA is a very distinct possibility. I am proud that our forefathers had the wisdom to create a constitution that has allowed us to flourish for more than two-hundred years. But that does not insure that the USA is a perpetual entity.

Division seems to be the way of the world right now. If you look at a globe made fifty-years ago you will find many new country names now.  And then there is the sectarian violence in so many other parts of the world right now. No one seems to be able to get along with their neighbors anymore. Everyone wants regime change but the biggest problem with that is there is almost never a new regime even close to being able to take over for the ousted one so therefore only turmoil results.  Because of that the world is actually getting messier because of all the unrest.

We in the United States are fractured along political and wealth lines. But, unlike so many other countries our fracture has yet to result in violence or death in the street. Will we be able to buck the current trend of change by violence? I pray we will but kind of expect we eventually won’t .

The Russian professor who made up the map above predicts that the U.S. will be controlled by foreign sources. I can’t imagine that happening. It is more likely that like Europe  before its union, we might divide into separate countries with individual governments. I only use the map above to get you to thinking about this possibility.  If we do split it will probably be more like a north/south/west thing or a red/blue one.

Sometimes the idea of a Divided States of America is not that fearful to me. There just seems to be two very distinctively different worldviews in our country right now.  Will those very different views come to a compromise as has been our history or will we fracture as so many others have done? The issue of slavery divided us for much of the first half of our existence. For the last one-hundred years our basic differences between humanity and money have torn us into two distinctive camps.  Will our fate be the DSA??

But with pensions for non-government workers on a path toward extinction, federal employees get little sympathy from most experts.

“Their private sector counterparts would be jealous of the benefits they’re maintaining,” said John Ehrhardt, a principal at the actuarial and consulting firm Milliman.

While 38 percent of private industry workers received pensions in 1979, just 14 percent did so in 2011, the most recent figures from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which advocates for benefit programs.

Besides retaining their pensions, most federal workers also can contribute to a 401(k)-like savings program, the Thrift Savings Plan.

That combination is far better than what’s available to most private industry workers. In 2011, only 11 percent of employees in the private sector had both savings plans and monthly pension payments, according to the research institute.

For federal workers, the government matches up to the first 5 percent of employees’ contributions to their retirement savings.

SOURCE:  Federal workers’ pensions targeted in budget deal – Yahoo News.

Up front I want to admit that this is likely a very contentious post where many might not agree with me. But when has that kept me from saying what I think. :)

I have very mixed feelings about this topic.  Should our government employees be able to benefit from plans no longer available to private sector employees? Or should they also go the way of current non-government trends? As the above article mentions in 1979 close to half of all employees received a defined benefit pension. I am one of those employees. I was lucky enough to get in my thirty years while that plan still existed.

My pension along with Social Security allow me to live a pretty comfortable life as long as it is lived with simplicity in mind. No I can’t dash off to the latest hot spot in the world for a quick get-away but I don’t have to worry about whether the bills are paid and especially where my next meal will come from.

Government exist to do the people’s business. Congressmen are there to represent us in political matters. Soldiers are to protect us from foreign enemies. EPA workers to help keep our environment clean. Government workers are solely there to do our corporate will.  Should they be treated and paid more than those they represent? I think the answer to that is no. Their circumstances should reflect those they are serving. So, yes when the private sector losses a particular benefit government employees should have to follow suit.

If only a 401(k) is good enough for the private sector then it should be good enough for the everyone. But of course we know that those in certain positions of power in both sectors are treated differently than the rest of us. When you leave the Oval Office you will lead a rather lavish lifestyle for the rest of your life at the expense of the taxpayers. When you are in the military you can retire before age forty with a pretty lucrative pension only dreamed of in the private sector.

Living in a perfect world everyone should be treated the same. But, of course, our world is anything but perfect….

More Heat Than Light…

February 17, 2014

2014-02-08_11-13-20There are two ways to look at the great debate over light bulbs.

One is that government regulations meant to save energy by filling the nation’s roughly 4 billion light sockets with vastly more efficient light bulbs are an outrageous offense to personal freedom.

The other is summed up by a funny Internet spot last year for Cree’s super efficient light emitting diode (LED) bulbs: “The light bulbs in your house were invented by Thomas Edison in 1879. Now think about that with your 2013 brain. Do you still do your wash down at the creek while your eldest son stands lookout for wolves?”

SOURCE: Light bulb attack sheds more heat than light: Our view.

I know that for some when the government does anything they will come out in opposition to it. For them “if the government wants it then it must be wrong”. I like to think that at least in this issue those folks are in a distinct minority.  I am perhaps at the other end of the spectrum. To me one of the primary purposes of government is to establish rules for the overall good of its populace.

While, as it should be, personal freedoms is an important part of our democracy it is not the only and maybe not even the  primary purpose of government. In order to maintain our 21st century advances means that we continue gobble up more and more energy. Where we get that energy is paramount to our existence but how we use it is of equal importance. Edison’s lightbulb of 1880 has served us well but it is widely known that it actually creates more heat than light and therefore is a very inefficient means of creating luminance.  Like many things we need for our own good to be told to move on to more efficient things so that we postpone, at least for the little while, destroying our earth in search of more energy.

I know that this general topic is very much a conservative vs. progressive thing. When a Republican president was in office for most of the first decade of the twenty-first century. He did little to accomplish anything in the energy conservation area.  The technology was there to make a much more fuel-efficient engines for our cars but that progress had to wait until a Democrat mandated that it happen. Just in the last four years our energy consumption has dramatically improved in that area and will continue to improve in the coming years.

Sometimes it just requires collective action to spur us into where we need to go and that almost always is done by our government.

2014-01-29_16-33-57I know I swore off politics as a whole but that does not mean I can’t weigh in on some of the issues once in a while. ;)

The issue I want to discuss is the pragmatism of the president vs. the “Silver bullet Syndrome” of the Republican controlled House.  I must admit that I didn’t watch the “State of the Union” speech but I did see a few of the responses to it on the Internet.  It seems that the president is going to do piece meal what he can’t get the congress to do  in any form.

When the president announced that he would raise the minimum wage on all contractors doing business with the federal government there was a wave of rants that followed that “this won’t solve the problem as it is in the future and does not affect any present contracts”.

It certainly is true that this limited action won’t solve all our current jobs problems but at least it is a start. I am a pragmatist and I know that sometimes you just have to do something that you know will help but is not a total solution. Is there really ever such a thing as a total solution anyway?  It seems that our congress will not act on any solution unless it alone solves the entire problem, in other words a silver bullet.  But maybe that is because they know there is no  Lone Ranger or silver bullet and they don’t really want to do anything anyway.

Government Promises….

January 23, 2014

Top Democrats said they would revisit the cut, which raises $6 billion over 10 years, before it takes effect in two years. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash. — Ryan’s negotiating partner on the budget agreement — was grilled by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., on whether she knew the cut could reduce by $80,000 the lifetime benefit of a soldier who retires in his or her early 40s.

“I would suggest the senator ask that question to Chairman Ryan,” Murray said. In a document defending the cut, Ryan’s staff called pensions to middle-aged military retirees “an exceptionally generous benefit, often providing 40 years of pension payment in return for 20 years of service” and noted that “most begin a second career after leaving the military.”

SOURCE: Bipartisan budget agreement nears final passage – Yahoo News.

I believe that one of the major fiscal problems with our current deficit stricken government is that they promise way too much to those who won’t collect on those promises until the person who voted for the bill is long gone from congress. Providing a lucrative 40 year pension for 20 years of service is definitely one of those things. This is way beyond what those of us who spent 30+ years in the private sector could ever hope to get.

I know that cutting benefits to anyone is onerous but it is especially so for our soldiers.  When this cut was announced there were an infinite number of criticisms shouted across FaceBook pages. They typically showed a severely injured soldier in uniform and then shouted “How can we cut benefits to someone who has given so much for their country!!” I certainly agree with those feeling but for these cuts that is certainly not the case. Disability benefits will continue for those maimed in our many wars but for the 97% of our soldiers who went through their service with no injuries, they will have to face the reality that our country just can’t afford the very lucrative pensions that many may have promised.

Of course lucrative public employee pension benefits go way beyond the military. There are many public employees who have been promised sizable future benefits for sacrificing some current pay. This certainly includes postal employees, police officers, and firemen as well as a many of others. We simply can’t afford to continue to dole out future lucrative programs that put the expenses onto future generations.

It is not often that I agree with Mr. Ryan but in this case I think he has it right.

As Wall Street\’s best year in more than 15 draws to a close, few are expecting a repeat performance in 2014, though traders have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic.

SOURCE: Big year ends with Wall Street hopeful for 2014: Fidelity.

I have a fair share of stocks in my retirement portfolio and have seen them go up quite a bit this year. It almost reminds me of the year 1998 when I started thinking about retiring. It is good news to see stocks going up especially since the Feds have bond interest rates stuck at 0% for so long.

But then I look at this year from a political view and things couldn’t have been worse. Total gridlock and the total “do-nothingness” congress. How can these two things occur in the same year? Of course my hero Will Rogers  had already told me but I failed to listen I guess.

Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for. – Will Rogers

In fact he told me even more bluntly and I am paraphrasing because I can’t find the quote right now

The best thing congress can do for the country is take a two-week vacation.

Those yahoos spend more time at home than they did in Washington this year. Maybe that in financial terms is a good thing. But I do kind of wish they would have stayed around long enough to do a little something for the guy out of work and struggling to feed his family.

No Flesh In The Game……

November 21, 2013

2013-11-10_16-52-31War Crimes and Misdemeanors

HEY PRESIDENT OBAMA: The Nobel Peace Prize committee is calling. They want their medal back.

The coveted award, which many felt was premature, at best, when bestowed during the president’s first year in office, was seriously tarnished in the eyes of many by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and other military endeavors.

But Obama’s role in waging drone warfare—particularly in Pakistan and Yemen—has made a mockery of the prize that Alfred Nobel said should go to the person “who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.”

Obama’s drone attacks—according to a May investigation by The New York Times, Daniel Klaidman’s new book Kill or Capture, and other sources—are arguably in direct violation of U.S. and international law, and immoral to boot.

The drone attacks started out with clear rules: Only target those who represent a direct threat to the United States. Those rules soon went out the door—a senior U.S. official called it a “little liberalization that went on in the kill lists,” according to The Washington Post, while a former counterterrorism official said that “the elasticity of that has grown over time.”

SOURCE: War Crimes and Misdemeanors – Jim Rice | Sojourners Magazine – August 2012.

This article has been sitting on my desk for almost a year now waiting for attention. I am glad I finally uncovered it. It deserves attention. Like all previous presidents there are things I like and also dislike about our current one. I thank him for at least getting us started down the path of universal healthcare.  Even if what he is finally implementing was for the most part a Republican plan from a couple of decades ago and one that had already been implemented in the State of Massachusetts. I guess getting even that through this totally obstructionist GOP House was still quite a feat.

One of the things I very much dislike about our current president is his use of robot drone warfare. They say, and I believe rightly so, that the drone program is the best recruiter for Al Qaeda. But what scares me even more it the concept of having “no skin in the game”. When a country has robots to kill their enemies they have no risk of lost of life of their own so it is easier to hit the “kill” button. Every thing about this drone program is veiled in secrecy. We simply don’t know what the process is to order a kill of a person and resulting collateral damage (that means innocent lives).

Yes, we appear to presently be the only country to have killer drones at our disposal. But how long do you think that is really going to last? What happens when our enemies, whoever they are at the time, decide to strike us with robot killers.  Are we really ready for that scenario? I’m sure one result would be that we would launch our killer robots on them and then things would likely escalate beyond that.

I watch enough sci-fi movies to see the utter consequences of killer robot drones. Why can’t those currently in power, especially Mr. Obama realize that his present actions will likely have dire future consequences?