Saturday, September 29, 2007

$195 Billion More? No.

President Bush has put forward a supplemental budget request of $195 billion to fund the Iraq occupation and the Afganistan war for the next year.

Just to put that number in perspective:

- It is roughly twice the annual budget for the entire state of California or seven times the budget of Pennsylvania.

- It's also roughly the combined total annual budgets of the U.S. departments of education, transportation, and energy.

- It's greater than the 2005 Gross National Product of Iran ($187 billion).

What else could be done with this incredibly large sum of money? How about:

- Buying every student in the United States a really nice laptop computer?

- Building many desalination plants to provide the American southwest with water from the sea?

- Your suggestion here...

But the problem is that we don't have the $195 billion. Bush is going to borrow it by selling our bonds to the Chinese, or the Arab, governments. They're the ones who have dollars to lend. After they lend it, they will own more of us.

That's right. Bush is going to borrow money from the Chinese and Arabs, then blow it on a war in Iraq. We'll get nothing for it, but we'll owe it.

This insane president needs to be turned down flat! Or, impeached.

Friday, September 28, 2007

$14 Trillion and Friends

The most recent projection of the Social Security deficit (unfunded liability) is over $14 trillion dollars. That's the difference between what has been, and will be, paid into Social Security by us and our employers and what the current benefit plan says must be paid out to us in future years. What this means is that our government is worse than Enron, worse than the biggest scammer you can think of, and that every federal politician, but Bush most of all, should be tarred and feathered for not dealing with this elephant in the room. Cowards and bastards/bitches all! Their negligence is going to kill our country in the long run. Better put your own money away, Woozie, 'cause the government won't have anything for you.

And on a brighter note, I'd just like to point out that the best things in life are the people you love and the people who love you. Your spouce, your true friends.

The Good Witch and I just got home from a casual dinner with three old friends in a small cottage on Lake Ontario. The wind came straight into the windows off the white-capped lake below the clouds that showed through the moonlight, and we drank wine, ate salad, chili and cornbread, and had grape pie, fresh peaches, and vanilla ice cream for dessert. It was a beautiful evening in every way, but it would have been nothing without the friendships that we celebrated. Cultivate your friends!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Celebrating Course Completion!

The Good Witch and I last night completed the 48th, and last, 45-minute lecture of "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music", by Professor Robert Greenberg of The Teaching Company. I'm a little sad, since Greenberg seems like an old friend who I won't see again soon.

How can I adequately explain to you that I will never again listen to music in the same way I did before I took this course? That's the funny thing about learning from someone who knows and loves the subject they are teaching - your life is changed. Although I have always loved music of all periods and listened attentively, I now listen with a brain that decodes much more about the sound I'm hearing. I won't get into the details - I'll just say that the experience of music is much richer to me than it was before.

Maybe music is not your thing, but learning should be. If you are not in school, consider going online to "", checking out what's "on-sale", and purchasing a course that interests you. You won't be disappointed, and you will be smarter and happier for the experience.

We've now completed "The History of Western Civilization - Part I" and the course mentioned above. The next one in line is "Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition". In a few weeks the Good Witch will understand the theory of relativity, and I will understand it even better. If you're not learning, what are you doing?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Global Warming Hysteria - Coming Soon?

I've been reading a new (2007) book by Fred Pearce entitled "With Speed and Violence - Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change". I do not recommend this book for reading immediately prior to bedtime. It's scary.

The author, who does not appear to be a kook but has some real credentials as a reporter, interviewed many scientists who are looking at various aspects of climate change. The chapters describe how each driver of climate change is behaving now, and how it is likely to affect our future climate. I've learned what these experts believe is happening with CO2, methane, peat bogs, permafrost, the albedo, clathrates, ocean currents,and other stuff.

I'm only halfway into the book and the news is all bad, so I'm done reading. If these people are right, we've put the global climate change train on the track, pushed the throttle on full, and retired to the club car for a few drinks while we wait for the inevitable and totally horrific wreck of our planet. Worried about over-population? Fuggetaboutit! Mother Nature will take care of this problem shortly, and the many fewer remaining humans will live in a much different fashion than we do now. We are quite adaptable, you know.

Who knows where this will go? We may have already started that train, or perhaps there is some time left to mitigate our climate-changing activities. But one thing I know: we humans are quite resistant to change. If inconvenience will be required to head off the end of the world as we know it, well, the world is going to end at some point anyway... Our best hope is that all this gloom and doom has been over-hyped and some compensating factors will keep our planet from overheating.

Stay tuned. It seems that the answers to almost all these questions will become apparent in this century, or perhaps in its first half. In the meantime, have another drink on me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Iraq War Cost Update - Your Share is $1,523 Plus Interest

The National Priorities Project has calculated that the "incremental cost" of the Iraq War will hit $456 billion on September 30, 2007. This is money already spent, and does not include any future costs such as the medical treatment and disability benefits for soldiers wounded in Iraq - costs that will be giant in their own right.

"Incremental" means money that we would not have spent if we had not gone to war. For example, regular salaries of troops are not incremental, but combat pay is. Buying vehicles to replace those that have been worn out early or blown up in combat is incremental. You get the idea.

In 2003, when we invaded Iraq, that country had a population of about 25 million men, women, and children. As of September 30, 2007, the U.S. will have spent an "incremental" $18,280 for each of them in our effort to create a working, friendly democracy in Iraq. Or, to put it another way, George Bush has already spent $1,523 on Iraq for every one of the 300 million Americans.

Maybe you don't think this is a lot of money. Here's yet another way to think about it. George Bush could have taken the $1,523 and put it into a Social Security lock box for each one of us, to compound until we retire. If we were 18 this year, that money would grow by about $8,500 until we retired at 65. Now, here's the really bad news: since Bush borrowed this money and added it to the national debt which will not be repaid, we and our children will be paying out $8,500 in interest on this $1,523 over the next 47 years - and a good chunk of that will be going to Chinese investors.

The next time you meet an Iraq War Hawk, remind him or her of the amount his family has spent on the war to-date. For a family of five, that's $7,500, not counting the future medical costs or interest on the debt. Have the results been worth it?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!

It's Sunday afternoon. I went to church this morning where a tiny female substitute minister also played a beautiful Chopin variation on her violin together with a large black female guitar player who was excellent. Afterward I went to the ambulance to prepare financial statements for tonight's board meeting, but I took a call shortly after I finished the statements since no other medics were around. Now, after an interesting call, I've been home for awhile watching Tiger Woods win the Tour Championship tournament by an outrageous number of strokes - and also win the very first FedEx Cup. Just another day for Tiger...

2007 is Tiger's 11th year on the PGA tour since he left Stanford University after his freshman year to turn pro. He's won 61 tournaments and over $70 million, and he owns so many records I couldn't begin to relate them. His golf game is unique - no one has ever had as complete a game as Tiger. He hits it far; he hits it straight; he recovers from bad shots; he plays from sand like it isn't there; his short game and putting is possibly the best ever. But none of these things is the #1 reason I'm a great Tiger fan.

My #1 reason for admiring Tiger is that he has an unrelenting drive to excel. His golf game today is nothing like his golf game in 1997, where he won the Masters by 12 shots and embarassed every other top pro golfer. In those days he combined great talent and "feel" with youthful exuberance and confidence. Now though, he's much stronger, smarter, and "technical" - he dissects golf courses like a top-flight surgeon, and he can win even when he's not hitting the ball perfectly. He's changed his swing several times since 1997, struggling to do it a new way and willing to have some dry spells as he changed over. Tiger has never said "I'm good enough", and he's worked as hard as any other golfer to play his best. As a result, he's still as far ahead of the other golfers as he was 10 years ago, even though all his competitors have also improved their skills.

We can all learn a great lesson from Tiger, the lesson that improvement is a continuous goal regardless of our level of success. Even if our objectives fall short of being world class at anything, we can always try our best to do better every day. And that is the #1 reason why Tiger is a more admirable person than I am: he's worked harder and sacrificed more to maximize on his natural ability than I have worked and sacrificed to maximize on mine. Excellence in human activities, even in sports, is important to our species. In golf, Tiger burns bright because he brings in the fuel and keeps it lit at all times.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Munitions from Iran? Golly, What a Surprise!

The latest outrage reported by U.S. Army spokesmen is a 240mm mortar round, likely from Iran, that caused the death of one of our soldiers. Its terrible that those dastardly Iranians let one of their big boomers get into the hands of our Iraqi enemies!

Well, guess what? The U.S. and the Iranians both have engaged in arming friendly militias for as long as I can remember. In fact, old Ollie North once sold arms to the Iranians in order to get cash to support the Nicaraguan "contras". Ollie wasn't on official business when he did this (until it was shown that he and Reagan lied about our involvement), and neither are the shadowy Iranians who just happen to have access to weapons that make their way into Iraq. Also, the U.S. just happened to lose a whole bunch of shoulder-fired missles in Afganistan about the time the Russians occupied that country. Apparently it's OK for us but not OK for Iran.

The fact of the matter is that all kinds of weapons tend to leak into irregular war zones. Al Queda is getting its arms and high-tech explosives from outside suppliers, probably in return for cash that came from Saudi Arabia. The Sunni militias are getting more sophisticated arms from their supporters, and the Shiite militias from theirs (Iran chief among them, most likely).

Arms are simply a commodity that follows demand, and the U.S. has created a huge demand in Iraq by destabilizing that country. Why the U.S. administration was clueless about this, and about the giant stockpiles of arms that it left unguarded early in the war, is baffling. Obviously, those in charge were naive at best.

There are reports of semi-organized resistance forces inside remote areas of Iran. If they do exist, do you think for one minute that their weapons were acquired absent clandestine U.S. support? Remember this when you hear the next complaint about Iranian meddling. It's just par for the course in the messy business of sub-rosa Nation -vs- Nation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering 9-11

Yes, today is a sad day. The bad guys broke through our pitiful defenses, killed many Americans, and scored a huge PR victory on 9/11/01. Unfortunately, our government had been much more concerned about a North Korean missile attack (and spending huge dollars on an anti-missile defense) than about heeding the Clinton administration's concerns about an attack on America by Islamic radicals.

It's also sad because our president and commander in chief, George W. Bush, that day sat in a gradeschool classroom after the second tower was hit and read a book about a goat while looking rather dazed, then ran and hid in a bunker for awhile, until he felt safe.

It's also sad because 9-11 (going after Al-Queda) was used as a pretext to go after non-existent terrorists in Iraq, costing us Americans $1 trillion and almost 4,000 lives.

It's also sad because we remember how many first responders broke every rule in the book by running inside the Twin Towers, only to die there. And we also remember how, just this year, the sadly stupid firemen did the same thing again when an unoccupied building next to the Twin Towers caught on fire - some of them died, too. This may seem heartless, but maybe it's time to expect firemen to obey their own rules. As an EMT, I may break the rules about scene safety, but if I die I don't expect to be named a hero - just call me a brave but stupid guy.

It's also sad because this entire "terrorism" thing is wasting an incredible amount of resources that should be used to deal with a whole bunch of serious world-wide problems that threaten humankind in general. Like Peanuts said, "We have met the enemy and it is us!" It's time for some serious conversation and a halt to all this bullshit.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Liberal Libertarianism

Leading politicians, republican and democrat, are doing Americans a disservice by limiting our choices regarding the role of government in our lives.

Republicans, by and large, favor a status quo which allows wealthier Americans and large corporations to prosper. They focus on cutting taxes, subsidizing the agricultural, pharmaceutical, banking, and oil industries, and weakening regulations on business. Their "family values" mantra attracts votes from social and religious conservatives who would otherwise not fit the criteria to be republican. Republicans seldom talk about their vision for the future, since they resist changes other than regressive ones.

Democrats, on the other hand, are oriented to changes that purport to favor the lower classes. They focus on increasing government benefits, regulating just about every aspect of life, being scared of just about everything,and further solidifying the power of public bureaucracies and unions. They talk incessantly of "fairness", but they have no credible plan to fund the immense cost of the socialized society they envision.

Neither of the major parties is addressing the fundamental issue that faces America in the 21st century: how to stay competitive in the world economy. The simple fact that neither party chooses to state in outright fashion is that the wealth of a society is what provides for the general welfare of its citizens - and wealth is either accumulated or frittered away in the impersonal worldwide economy. Although America's wealth is currently decreasing at an alarming rate, neither republicans nor democrats want to talk about the actions needed to reverse this trend. We need "liberal libertarians" to come to the fore.

Liberal libertarianism combines the social goals of the democrats with the philosophy of personal responsiblility that was the original (now lost) theme of the republicans. The goal, simply stated, is to create an economy powerful enough to rebuild America's wealth and thereby generate the funds to pay for the high standard of living that Americans expect for their children and grandchildren. We need to reverse the current trend of increasing national debt by harnessing the power of a new America filled with highly educated, motivated and self-reliant citizens. This will be achieved only if government policies are dramatically modified.

The most important policy modification deals with education. Americans need to be told, unequivocally, that they are responsible for ensuring they become educated to the full extent of their abilities - and hopefully, in areas of interest to them. Educational opportunties need to be provided on the basis of student ability and commitment, regardless of social background, but those who do not show interest in formal or technical education need to be given some clear understanding of what their future will definitely hold: manual labor, minimal housing, and minimal benefits. Don't want to be productive? You get screwed. Get with the program? You get a life. Just like the American colonists and frontierspeople, and most of our grandparents.

The other major cultural change must address personal responsibility. Americans have gotten used to too many free rides. Are you voluntarily obese? No longer will your insurance rates be as low as those who watch their weight, and you may not get coverage for diseases, like adult diabetes, that are related directly to obesity. Have a child you can't support? Mandatory birth control for you, or no welfare check. Want to take a risky job like coal mining or roofing? You get a good paycheck, but don't think about suing your employer if you get hurt; that's what insurance is for. Want to start a school or send your kids to a neighborhood school co-op? Feel free to do just that, and the government should refund some percent of your school tax. In short, Americans need to get back in charge of their own lives, and there are lots of areas where changes need to be made.

How do the social values of the liberals get addressed? National health insurance, for starters. If you aren't covered by your employer or wealthy enough to buy your own health insurance, the government should provide insurance that you can afford (if you are willing to work at any job offered by the government). Same with minimal housing and food. People who are now the most defenseless, like children and some elderly people, would get much more assistance and intervention than they do now. In short, we need a society where people who are self-sufficient can make their own decisions and people who obviously need help get it whether they want it or not.

Liberal libertarianism. I think something like this is what the founders of America had in mind. Too bad the republicans and democrats don't offer anything like it, because it's the only way to rebuild America for those who follow us here.