Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Sequester

I thought it might be a good idea to do some research on the latest Washington manufactured crisis; the sequester.  For those of you who are not aware of what is happening, and judging by polls and in the street samplings, that includes almost 3 out of 4 Americans, this particular sequester refers to the automatic budget cuts that will kick in this Friday,  March 1st, if Congress does not send an alternate plan to the president before then.  Of course, part of the problem, part of the reason this situation even exists is the American voters lack of participation in the governing process, lack of follow-up to see how our elected officials actually behave/vote, but no lack of cynicism and apathy concerning our democratic processes.  Consequently, when this newest "day of doom" was created in 2012 when Obama and Boehner failed to agree on the Grand Bargain that they had worked on, we all yawned, chalked it up to another example of party politics trunping the good of our country, and, believe it or not, re-elected the vast majority of our Congressmen, those same people for whom we allegedly held a 10% approval rating.

I won't say, we get the governance we deserve, but....

Anyway, with all the talk about the immediate $85 billion in spending cuts, along with the extended 10 year $1.2 trillion in cuts, I thought it best to try to find where, exactly, these cuts were to occur.  Which Americans might actually suffer as a result of these cuts, which were spared, and would it be good for America.  Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.  As stated in the below link which I found as factual as any, "there are several guides, but we have to warn you: it's less like sitting in an easy chair and more like wandering through a dark, unlit dungeon."  Isn't that wonderful!  There do appear to be a few areas that can be winnowed out of the morass that is this sequester, and the federal budget itself, and I will comment on a few of them below.  But first, take a few minutes and click on the link below to read one perspective of this latest attempt by our political parties to "win" without completely ruining the American middle class in particular, and the economy in general.     


For all the gnashing of teeth emanating from the Pentagon, it surprises me that they can't take a $42 cut from their over $600 billion budget.  It is about 2/3 of one percent.  Especially considering that 2013 and 2014 will see a reduction of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.  While it may not be the same perspective, my paycheck was just reduced by over2% when the 2 year social security reduced contribution plan expired on December 31st.  Still, I am bothered to think what percentage of this savings will come from furloughs of hard working middle class Americans as opposed to a hit in the profits of some of our more overpaid defense contractors and/or elimination of unnecessary weapons systems . 

As for all the cuts to domestic programs that help low income citizens, provide for child care, help fund Head Start, etc, its seems that one of our favorite past times when trying to balance the budget is to hammer the "young and powerless", while refusing to even consider means testing to reduce benefits and tax breaks for those who don't require them.  At the end of the day, again, middle class people will bear the brunt of the cuts while asking of the rich only that they make the difficult decision as to which low salaried employees to lay off.  Poor babies.

Clearly, it is easy to discern that I am unhappy with the high percentage of cuts that affect the most disadvantaged among us. Frankly, it is obscene, and completely belies the fantasy that we are a Christian nation.  To add further insult to injury, I found the following history of tax receipts as a percentage of GDP.  In a nutshell, it illustrates how our corporate tax structure, or lack thereof, allows corporations to enjoy the freedoms of America, the profits that they gain from the purchases of goods and services by our everyday citizens, even grants them the status of individuals as ruled by the Supreme Court in the area of political donations, yet excuses them from paying anywhere near the same percentage of taxes that individual Americans pay.  Now, I know that I am fond of saying that you can use statistics to prove virtually anything so we should always be careful to look askance at conclusions that derive solely from one statistic, but this history of tax receipts chart as compared to GDP shows that there was a time when corporations paid a similar aggregate amount of taxes as individuals, in fact paid more so during certain years as detailed by the chart.  The stark reality is that the corporate tax contribution has remained at or below 2.7% since 1980, and, in fact below 2% nineteen of the last 32 years, while individual tax receipts have been over 8% nineteen of those same 32 years.   


The sequester, for all its bad decisions and bull-in-a-china-shop approach to our budget problems, attempts to stem the tide of red ink that has resulted from the two non-funded overseas conflicts in the middle east, tax cuts that benefited the wealthy, a horrible recession that threw millions of Americans off the rolls of taxpayers and onto the rolls of the various assistance programs (a kind of double whammy), and an aging population that reduces those contributing to social security and medicare while requiring more outlays from those two important programs.   Sadly, it does so, not through adult decision making, compromises, and shared sacrifices, but by targeting those least likely to host a $1000 a plate dinner.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Most Hated President

I have struggled to post these past few months.  Sure, with the holidays and working a second job again, my time is limited.  But limited time to write has always been part of my day and it didn't interfere in the past.  A bit of sadness pervades my psyche since the passing of my father in December, but life's experiences, the highs and the lows, are generally good fodder for the creative process.  My current theory is that it is due to post presidential election doldrums.  The debates, the sound bites, the crazy political ads, the apathy of the electorate, the ever widening range of opinion as displayed by the far right and far left, provided a treasure trove of blog topics.  Also, perhaps, the fact that we had an election, America spoke, yet our elected officials in Washington seemed to have not heard, or continue to ignore us is adding to my lack of inspiration.  Hopefully, I will emerge from this lethargy soon, as I am sure my "audience" hopes as well.

Speaking of audience, and despite the lack of interest in and reduced quantity of my recent posts, my blog has been getting "hits" at a remarkable pace this month.  In particular, my post from last August, Back to the Future, has skyrocketed into the top 5 of my most read posts.  It appears much of the renewed interest in this post is from foreign lands.  Last month a bunch of people in France accessed this post and this month Sweden seems to have discovered it.  So, for the first time I will provide a link within a post to access a post that is being read, dare I say it, around the world.


With no real research or discussions with historians, I have concluded after reading the current issue of Smithsonian, that the most hated president in our brief history was, drum roll please, Abraham Lincoln.  See link below.


We all know that President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  But what do we know about the ongoing plots to kill him that preceded that successful attempt?  The article above details an assassination plot targeting Lincoln before he took office after winning the election of 1860.  I will leave the telling of the story to the fine writer from the Smithsonian.  What really struck me was the level of hatred that emanated from many Americans, especially those with Southern viewpoints.  This animosity was so prevalent that the writer describes scenes in public places where discussions about killing Lincoln could be discerned without much effort.  Now, of course, Lincoln is considered one of our greatest presidents, his likeness enshrined on our currency and Mt. Rushmore.  It is certainly interesting how, at the end of the day, history and time are the best judges of the stature and rightness of our elected officials.

For those of you who may have suspected that this post would be about our current president, there is certainly a link.  I read recently that the number of death threats received by the president and his family is up three fold from the previous president.  Clearly, the perspective that Lincoln would eventually free the slaves was a huge factor in the level of dislike that the South had for him.  Imagine, a culture where those of dark skin were nothing more than a tool for working the fields, caring for the livestock, and cooking meals.  Possessions to be bought and sold like horses or hay.  Now imagine the outrage of those who truly believed in this state of man, even perhaps thought it was God's will, who are now faced with the very real possibility that a directive from Washington, a place much further away geographically as well as culturally in those days, might order those possessions to be set free.  IT CAN'T BE ALLOWED TO HAPPEN, would certainly be their only reaction.

We have come a long way since those days.  African Americans fill important roles in our business community, spiritual hallways, and, obviously our political chambers.  But there is still an undercurrent of hatred for this "colored man" who dares to tell us what to do.  It has been demonstrated in the disrespect exhibited by certain GOP Congressmen and it is spewed daily on our public air waves. 

It seems especially transparent in the area of gun control.  Since Obama took office, the amount of guns and ammunition sold in this country is unbelievable.  In some munitions companies, even a third shift hasn't provided the labor to keep up with demand.  Paradoxically, this increase has, in some cases, worked to limit/delay access to guns due to a back order situation.  Much of this renewed sense of arming oneself begins as a reasonable distrust for the government, but then blooms into a full blown paranoia that the government, the United States government, is anti-people and anti-Constitution. For some, especially those only a generation or two from descendants that believed in the separation of the races, this perspective is all the more easily embraced with a black president in office.  The fact that there has been no suggested policies or alterations to the 2nd Amendment at any time by the Obama Administration does not matter to those who constantly beat the drum of fear that law abiding citizens will lose their right to own a gun if Obama has his way.  For some this drum beat means big profits.  For others a growing organization which means a stronger lobby.  

In a previous blog I posed the ridiculous notion that some of the more extreme gun enthusiasts are preparing for the day when zombies come down their driveway to steal their food and children.  Unfortunately, some believe it will be armies of black men doing the bidding of their black president that will be coming for them. 

The good news is that I continue to have high hopes for both my president and my country.  Obama is now, finally, actively engaged in our generation's civil rights fight, to grant the same rights and privileges to our gay and lesbian citizens while recent victories at the polls show that the populace is also moving forward.  Additionally, providing access to health care insurance continues to be a priority of the Obama Presidency.  While there are many GOP governors who refuse to do the right thing for their constituents, as everyday Americans realize that they do not have to choose between bankruptcy and dying, between health insurance industry profits and necessary health services, I feel confident that we will realize the importance of the richest nation on earth being known, not for the number of its citizens without insurance coverage, but for the strength demonstrated by its leaders and populace to make health care insurance for all a priority.
History may show that President Obama was one of the most hated presidents of all time.  More importantly, we should all hope as Americans, that, like Lincoln, history also reveals him to be one of our best as well.     

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Aha! Moments

To me, one of the most underrated of moments in life is the AHA! moment.  Some AHA! moments are emotional, such as the exact time and place that you first saw your spouse to be.  For me, that was a day involving a sad neighbor lamenting about spoiled chicken in a closed apartment on a hot summer day.  Some AHA! moments are intellectual in nature.  In the world of Science they are often called Eureka moments, and many great inventions and discoveries have resulted from such unexpected occurrences.  If you spend time with children, either as a parent, teacher or caregiver, you can witness on a daily basis, AHA! moments; new ideas, new skills, new understandings abound as they develop and grow.  Unfortunately, it seems that we experience less of these moments as we age, or at least we perceive less of them.  Or perhaps, we just forget how to recognize them.  Or worse how to appreciate them.

I recently recognized two AHA! moments which I would like to share.

The first involves my eyesight, and more specifically my glasses.  As many maturing individuals of my age group, I have in recent years had difficulty reading with my prescription glasses which, for all my life have been fashioned to address my myopia.  So, as I had seen my dad do so often in his life, I would remove my regular glasses to read.  At one point, about 5 years ago, I had a pair of prescription glasses made that enabled me to read which led to my having to carry them around when I anticipated the necessity.  I also kept the standard prescription glasses that I had before my current strength version because they allowed me to see in the middle range; something I needed when I was delivering newspapers from fall 2010 to spring 2012.  So, ridiculous as it may seem, I had three pairs of glasses that I used for different reasons. 

The obvious answer, of course, was to put aside my pride and be fitted for that dreaded, old age indicator; bifocals.  I finally succumbed late last year, but due to the holidays and the events surrounding my dad's illness and death, I did not pick them up right away.  Avoidance of the inevitable, one might say.

Well, I am glad to say that once I did drag myself back to the eye doctor to pick up the new glasses, I experienced an amazing AHA! moment.  I had decided on the progression style of bifocals; no visible line in the middle of the lenses.  As the young lady who placed them on my head instructed me, I just had to point my nose at what I wanted to see and AHA!, I could see it clearly.  My own personal version of point and click.  No more reading glasses, no more intermediate glasses, no more removing my primary glasses to read small print; just point and click.  Obviously, there have been some minor issues, but all in all, my new glasses are wonderful and I rue the time I spent avoiding the decision to make the leap to bifocals.  (Perhaps another AHA! related to facing ones aging).

The second AHA! moment involves the discovery of a new magazine to read.  I first encountered the knowledge that it existed in a recent issue of Smithsonian which ran a brief piece on a man named Lewis H. Lapham who has been publishing a quarterly magazine for about 5 years.  Each issue focuses on one topic and draws on comments, essays and opinions about that topic from all of written history.
After reading about the man and his magazine, I went on the website and, as in that stupid commercial for V8, I smacked myself in the head and exclaimed; AHA!  Perhaps this is an overstatement, but I felt like the cave person who discovered how to control fire.  Not just because it appeared to be an amazing discovery, but because it made me wonder how I lived before its discovery.  To be more specific, I began to wonder how I could have possibly thought that I knew anything about anything before this revelation concerning Lapham's Quarterly.

Since this was just before Christmas, I ordered a back issue for my son and a year subscription for my wife for Christmas knowing full well that I would also be able to read each issue myself.

(See link below if you wish to check out info concerning this publication)


So, with bated breath I awaited both the arrival of my son's back issue, Christmas morning when he would open it, and both his and my wife's reaction when they could peruse its contents.  AHA!'s all around!!

A quick diversion here.  As some might know, but most of you do not, I work for a Wine and Spirits Store.  In the larger scheme of things, I generally excuse this line of work as a way to support my family and provide me with the opportunity to write.  What I am saying is that I don't consider this line of work all that important compared to careers that involve teaching, serving the public good, and/or improving the lives of others.  Don't get me wrong, I still do my best to help my customers choose the correct libation, while providing them with a safe, clean, friendly environment in which to do so.  But as for making a difference in someone's life...  

So, much to my surprise, the very first issue that my wife receives of Lapham's Quarterly is titled Intoxication and includes essays from as diverse a list of notables as you could imagine.  Lincoln, Cato, Harp Marx, Socrates.  Words from times before the age of Christ to as recent as 2008.  Opinions as to the good, the bad, the highs and lows of humankind's experiments with both the mind blowing and the everyday modes of altering one's mood and perception.  I have only just begun reading the issue, but already feel a bit better about my function as a perveyor of fine wines and spirits, and the importance of this commodity in history of man.  Granted, its still not the spiritual uplifting that I hope that I might occasionally provide via my writing.  But it isn't just sloppy drunks on a Friday night either.

AHA! moments; priceless.