Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Here there be Pirates!

There is a scene that sticks in my head from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. As Captain Jack Sparrow is entering harbor, he passes a skeleton hanging in a cage from a cliff. The cage has a note warning pirates that a similar fate awaits them in harbor. The impression is that the skeleton once belonged to a pirate that was left in the cage as a warning to other pirates. The harbor Johnny Depp's character is heading towards apparently takes a pretty dark view on piracy.

And why shouldn't they? Movies and books have romanticized the pirate world, but there is a reason words like bloodthirsty and cut throat accompany pirates. Real life pirates, both in the Caribbean and off the coast of Africa, are bad guys. They are true parasites on the world. They steal the lifeblood of the rest of the world. As Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal points out, "Pirates, said Cicero, were hostis humani generis – enemies of the human race – to be dealt with accordingly by the captors. Tellingly, Cicero's notion of piracy vanished in the Middle Ages…" Pirates weren't extinct, but they were close. Now they seem to be reemerging. Many of us have read about the supertanker captured by pirates. Did you know that while that story has been unfolding, pirates have captured nine vessels? Did you know that pirates have attacked 80 vessels this year?

The two articles mentioned above point to one reason for their return: our failure to deal with them in the manner they deserve. In today's world, we have an aversion to severely punishing people, even if their own actions have warranted that punishment. Like terrorists, today's governments are unsure how to handle pirates. Do we give them Constitutional rights? Do we detain them until an impartial jury can be assembled? What happens if they are captured? Do they get Geneva Convention protection? According to the United Nations, if a military vessel suspects another ship might be a pirate ship, it is to first send over a boarding party to discover the true intent of said Black Pearl. Gone are the days of placing a shot across her bow.

But perhaps that is the problem with our society and with pirates, terrorists, and others. We are uncertain how to deal with problems that demand a quick resolution. Some people act with such malice that they deserve no protection from international bodies. Pirates and terrorists play on our fear, and would destroy any society they could lay their hands on. Cicero, and Mr. Stephens have it right: Hang them!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Of Cars and Bailouts

I once heard Joss Whedon discuss the themes of his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. He said that the one lesson he tried to explore through the entire series was that our choices have consequences. This is a lesson managers of GM, Ford, and Chrysler, as well as Congress and the UAW would do well to learn. Upper Management at GM, Ford, Chrysler, and the UAW are all begging Congress for a bailout. They are looking for a loan of around $50 Billion in addition to the $25 Billion Congress has already made available for them in the form of loans for changing equipment at their factories.

I own a GM vehicle. Today I received an email from GM asking me to contact my representatives and ask them to vote for a bailout package for the auto industry. It is important to point out, there are a number of car manufacturers here in the United States that aren't looking for a hand out, and don't want their competitors getting tax money these better run factories have paid to the government. I think they have a good point.

GM, Ford, and Chrysler aren't looking to change their practices. They are looking for free money. Imagine if a company came to your house one night and asked to borrow money from you because they were on hard times. The company had a history of not turning a profit, said it stood behind its management team and their decisions, insisted on making no major changes to their operations, and wanted you to give them $75 Billion to let them keep their doors open for a few months. What would you say?

Some have argued that the big three are in this situation because of the Unions. I agree that the UAW has some share of the blame, but so does Congress, and the car manufacturers themselves. Congress has long believed they are automotive engineers and have mandated an assortment of standards that they themselves probably can't explain how to obtain. Congress is good at throwing money at problems, but not so good at coming up with real solutions.

George Will points out today that there is a very good solution for these automakers: Bankruptcy. The companies would be forced to restructure and reorganize. They would be able to renegotiate the bad contracts they have currently have with labor. As Mr. Will points out people who have retired from these companies, but are too young for Medicare, might lose their health insurance. That is OK. If they are that young, they can probably find new work. Some argue these automakers are too big to fail. Mr. Will points out they have already failed. The thing to do now is to see if the auto makers can restructure their company for success.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quick Notes: What Do You Believe In?

A co-worker suggested this post a few weeks ago. Now that the election is over, and the holiday season is about to be upon us, I think it is a great time for it. My friend suggested a post simply exploring what the readers of my blog believe in. When it comes to politics what do you believe?

Personally, I believe the U.S. Constitution should be the backbone of our government. I also believe the Constitution should be read in the original intent of the founding fathers. What about issues the founder's could never have predicted, such as the internet? The Founder's allowed for these things, they included an amendment process.

I believe our government spends way too much on programs the federal government shouldn't be involved in. I believe we need to have more problems solved at the local and state level. I would point to the Department of Education as a great example. There are 50 states. Many of these states have different problems facing them. Let the states be more involved in the curriculum of there schools to help solve these problems. And if the federal government isn't involved in the school system, we shouldn't be taxed to pay for it. I don't believe the $700 Billion bail out is within the scope of what the Federal government should do.

I also don't believe in man-made global warming. If it is science, it isn't consensus. There is a lot of scientific evidence and fact on bot sides of the argument. Most global warming claims are made based off what computer models predict might happen. They aren't made off of real world observations. More importantly, I don't believe the government should legislate based on a "best guess" theory. If there is science supporting both sides of the global warming argument, the government should stay out.

These are just a couple of examples. What do you believe? Do you agree with me? Is there something I didn't touch on that you think is important for our government to do or not do?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Throwing More Money Away

As our government continues to spend money like it grows on trees, I continue to believe that our elected officials have no idea what they are doing. Pelosi, Reid, Obama, and many Republicans seem to believe if the government throws enough money at a problem the problem will suddenly be solved. They aren't changing any of the laws that got us into this crisis, and they aren't asking business to change any of the practices that got them into this problem either.

The latest chapter in this tragedy started playing today. Treasury Secretary Paulson today said that the original, authorized, use of the $700 Billion bailout wasn't working fast enough. No the Treasury Secretary is going to focus on, "…direct capital injections into the struggling financial firms." The government is just going to buy pieces of these firms. This is the same Federal Reserve that refuses to identify how it has spent $2 Trillion in emergency loans already. Does anyone really feel comfortable with our government spending this money as fast as it can without any real accountability? The government does two things well: make war and waste money.

Today I saw an article where a number of different industries are going after the big bailout. The automakers are getting the biggest play on the news, but other groups like credit card companies, auto dealers, boat dealers, and several Hispanic business groups. The Hispanic business groups want to manage the homes the government might own as a part of this bail out. Pelosi and Reid are talking about using part of the bill for the auto industry, and there are signs the details of qualifying for help under the bailout may change under an Obama administration. This coupled with Paulson's desire to spend the money in a different way is probably the worst thing our government can do right now. They are creating more uncertainty. The Great Depression went on as long as it did because business had no idea what FDR was going to do next.

So far, there have been no talk of changing any of the practices that got us here, or making any changes in the way our government does business with financial institutions. If we really want to improve the economy, the government will stop issuing bailouts, and start cutting taxes. We will stop adding clauses and requirements to the auto industry, and start cutting the requirements we have on their manufacturing.

There is some small hope. Some Republicans are against more bailouts. Richard Shelby (Republican Senator from Alabama) has said, "I do not support the use of U. S. Taxpayer dollars to reward the mismanagement of Detroit-based auto manufacturers…" Amen.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The New World Order?

Something happened tonight that was a first for me in the two years I have been writing this blog. I sat down at my computer to do a final proofread on a blog that was going to appear here. It was written and ready to post. Before I uploaded it, I checked out Drudge. The first article I read made me scrap the old blog post, and start over. Here is the first part of the article, as reported by Reuters, and linked to on Drudge:

LONDON (Reuters) – The international financial crisis has given world leaders a unique opportunity to create a truly global society, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown will say in a keynote foreign policy speech on Monday.

In his annual speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet, Brown – who has spearheaded calls for the reform of international financial institutions – will say Britain, the United States[,]and Europe are key to forging a new world order.

I have seen no article on President Elect Obama that frightens me half as much as the intent of this article, and a comparable one from Bloomberg with the headline, "Brown Seeks 'Global Consensus' on Tax, Spending at G-20 Summit". Anytime I see the phrase "global consensus" in politics, I get very worried. This is no exception.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is trying to unite the world's economies to get a coordinated, global plan to trim taxes and boost spending. Since March, Britain has enacted spending increases and tax cuts targeting the low income earners to the tune of $7.6 Billion (U.S.). While I am almost always in favor of tax cuts, low income earners don't hire people to work for them. Brown is ready to increase borrowing and may be looking for a global consensus to protect his own hide. Has the Prime Minister considered cutting spending instead of increasing borrowing? To make matters worse, the Bloomberg article hints that other countries (such as China) may be interested in this new world order. Governments only make matters worse when they try to legislate the direction of the economy. I can't even imagine how much worse a global legislative agenda could make things.

Of course there is an even larger issue here. The United States should not cede our economic policies to any foreign body, global society, or new world order. I envision this new world order would be a United Nations like body focused on its own definition of economic policies. What does our current United Nations do well? Waste Money (with a capital M), and attack U.S. policy. What would supporters of Mr. Brown's position expect out of this UN-like body? Why should the citizens of the United States ever believe a global body would have our best interests at heart?

Our Constitution gives people we elect (Congress and the President) power over our own economic policies. These people are expected to represent us, and we have seen what a mess they have made of the economic crisis. What happens when representatives from France, Russia, Iran, or China get to dictate our tax and spend policies?

President Bush and President Elect Obama should both dismiss this idea from Mr. Brown as quickly as possible. The U.S. Senate should pass a resolution forbidding the President from signing any treaty that would require the U.S. to seek foreign council on economic policies. If we cede our tax policies and our economic policies, what happens next? When do we start suppressing other areas of the Constitution in favor of a New World Order? If you believe Mr. Brown's economic policies are a good idea, read this article on talks in Britain regarding,"…banning the media from reporting on matters of national security…" It won't stop with taxing…

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations to President Elect Obama

Having supported McCain and Palin for President, I was disappointed with the results of yesterday's election. Having said that, I think congratulations are in order for Senator, and now President Elect, Barack Obama. Obama's election is historic for a number of reasons. First, and most prominatly, Barack Obama has proven that our Presidency is no longer only available for middle to old age white men. He disserves credit for that. Anyone claiming that America is a place of racism will have to explain how Obama became President.

Second, President Elect Obama had a very significant win with the Electoral College yesterday. As I write this, Missouri and Virgina are still being listed as too close to call. Even if both of those states should go to McCain, no one will call this a close election. Obama won the election, and won without it being very close. No one will be looking for hanging chads or to try any states election process in court.

Finally, we in the United States take for granted the changing of our Presidency. Yesterday, we had a regularly scheduled election, that no party had to call for. The result of the election was that the party that controled our Presidency was thrown out, and the rival party gained the Executive branch. All of this happened without any use of force, and without any bloodshed. This is very rare in the rest of the world, and we should be proud of it.

In the months to come, we will see what kind of President Obama will be. Will the Obama who voted in Illinios and the Senate, the Obama who never disagreed with his party, become President? Will the Obama from the campaign trail, the Obama who pormised a new type of politics become President? I hope for the centerist Obama, but worry we will get the leftist Obama.

Regardless of what the future holds in store, congratulations Mr. Obama. Good luck in your Presidency.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Quick Notes: Pre-Tuesday Edition

This is likely to be my last post before the country heads to the voting both on Tuesday. Most blogs and news outlets are spending their time today predicting what will happen on Tuesday. I have decided to make a post that you can sit back and enjoy no matter who you support:

Go Vote! I would be a terrible political junkie if I didn't tell everyone reading this site to go vote. Whether you support Obama, McCain, or some third party candidate, take the time on Tuesday and cast your ballot. Our country has had somewhere around a 50% turn out rate on Election Day. That isn't good enough. Voting isn't a gift, it is a responsibility. Go do your duty!

What if no one gets 270 votes? Our election process is based on a Presidential candidate getting a majority of the number of electoral votes, and not popular votes. That means Obama or McCain must get 270 electoral votes to become President. Well, what happens if neither of them gets the required 270 votes? According to the Twelfth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, the House of Representatives would then meet and elect the President. There are a few rules that govern this. Most importantly, each state only gets one vote. That means Texas = Rhode Island = New York = Alaska when it gets to this stage. It wouldn't matter the percentage of Democrats or Republicans in the House. The Senate would meet and vote for the Vice President using similar rules.

To carry the "what if…?" out a little further, if the voting process in the House drags out to Inauguration day, what would happen? Jefferson's election got thrown into the House and it took some 36 ballots. Should the House of Representatives be unable to declare a President by the end of January, then the current Vice-President would become President as if the President was removed from office. You read right, say hello to President Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney would then be able to nominate a Vice President for confirmation by the Senate until the House could decide what to do. This is potentially the most entertaining possibility of all the different political tales being told.

Starbucks and You. Finally, if you do go vote on Tuesday, Starbucks wants to reward you. They are running spots saying if you come to a Starbucks on Tuesday and tell them you voted, they will give you a free coffee. Just one more reason to go out and do your duty.