Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Odd Couple


"Felix and Oscar? No, this is much stranger."

Well, here they are folks. The odd couple. One who knows reality, and one who is trying to escape it. One who calls the enemy by name, and one who only tries to wish them away. One who was a warrior, a real hero, and one who was a .... community organizer. Both trying to scope out a strategy in the Middle East which looks something, even a little bit, like a cohesive plan. Good luck.

Is this the odd couple? You betcha! And my money goes with the one who has the knowledge, the guts. And why do Bebe and our President not get along? Simple. They are the odd couple in international politics. One lives right next to the mayhem, and the other just hopes this mayhem will never visit these again. The one who lives right next store to the mayhem has seen it, tasted it, experienced it. The other one has only read about it.

One knows Iran for what it is. The other one knows Iran for what he hopes it will be. The bottom line is this - Iran is a bad actor. It has been for years. It will continue to be a bad actor for years to come. It presents a clear and present danger to the region. To the State of Israel. Soon, to all of Europe and the United States. Appeasement will not work. Negotiations will not work. Even more sanctions will not work. What will work? An ultimatum backed up by military force. Shut down your nuke program by a date certain or we will shut it down for you. Simple as that.

If Iran gets a nuke with a reliable delivery system, it will be a game changer for the world. We already have one unstable government in the Korean Peninsula with a nuke, we sure don't need some anti-sematic mullah also controlling nukes. Bad guys are all the same. They only understand one thing - strength. They thrive on weakness. Over the past six years our posture has gone from strength to weakness. It is part of the promised "transformation of America". Our growing weakness is not a secret. The world knows about it. Everyone knows about it.

Israel would like to have our support. However, they can live without it. They have had to go it alone in the past, and they can do it again. The Prime Minister gets very upset with our President not just because they have different world views - he gets upset that our President cannot smell the danger. Sense the treachery and deceit that comes out of Tehran. In today's world, naiveté can be rewarded with death and destruction.

So we will see what happens. If the odd couple can kiss and make up. Or better yet, if one side of the odd couple can wake up. Not to wake up and smell the coffee - rather to wake up and hear the centrifuges continue to spin.   

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Retirement Blues


"We really do need to figure out a way to keep the golden years golden, and not blue..."

I have been thinking quite a bit (and reading quite a bit) about retirement lately. How it is changing. How it has changed. What the future of retirement is. If it is going in the right direction. So I decided to jot down a few thoughts.

Defined Benefit Plans - If you are working someplace which still has a defined benefit retirement plan, count your lucky stars. Unless you work for the government, there are precious few of these plans remaining. When I started working in 1975, they were common in large (and some not so large) companies. When I retired in 2008, not so much.

With the generation before mine, company pensions were very common. My Dad retired in 1985 and started drawing a pension. After he died 11 years ago, my Mother was entitled to part of it. To this day, the pension dollars still come into my Mother's account, and will until she dies. My Mother retired in 1983 and started drawing a pension. Because she worked part time, the pension was not very much. However, she is still drawing it today. And she will keep drawing it until she dies (she is now over 96 years old).

It is for reasons like this, that companies quit offering defined benefit plans. Way too hard to estimate. Many actuarial tables were wrong. People started living much longer. Plans became way too easy to underfund. Many companies now offer a "you are on your own" plan. A 401k or 403b for non-profits. These plans are excellent if we all knew the stock market was solid and would be going up forever. However, many of us experienced the volatility of the market in 2000 (dot com bust), 2001 (terror attack), and 2008 (great recession).

If you work for the federal, state or local government, chances are you probably have a defined benefit plan. Those are safe, right? Not really. Many are severely underfunded. If your plan is with the Federal Government and the plan's assets fall below 65% (or whatever the threshold is) money is just borrowed from the Treasury to make up the gap. In other words - it adds to our monstrous debt. If you plan is with the state, local or public unions, there is a risk your plan could be curtailed or go bust. Only the Feds can borrow or print more money.

One of the big problem with the remaining (non-Federal) retirement plans is the rate of return was predicated upon 1990's type of interest. 8% per annum was common. Many plans still use that. If anybody knows where I can get a steady and guaranteed 8% these days, please call me. Some financial people believe the underfunded municipal pensions are a ticking time bomb as large if not larger than our debt bomb.

I really do feel bad for the next generation in how they will do retirement planning. I would be clueless if I was trying to plan my retirement today. We need clarity and reason to plan. That seems to be in short supply today from what we are hearing from Washington. It is not too late to turn this thing around. However, if we keep ignoring the path we are on, rocky shores lie ahead for all of us - defined benefits or otherwise.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The teat of dependency


"Life is good when everything is decided and done for you. It is like being a baby all over again!"

This morning's newspaper said it all. It explained in great detail the Governor's budget. How he wants to spend OUR money. Who he wants to reward, and who he wants to punish. For those he wants to punish, he is ready to take away their drug of choice. Which drug is that? Money. Our tax money in which we entrust to the government.

The government uses our money to reward or punish. Most of all however, the government uses our money to enslave. To make us dependent. As we know dependency leads to obedience, to votes, and then to more dependency. And the government is very good at this.

The Governor, as the arbiter of our tax money, is going to take it to the Minneapolis Park Board. They have committed a mortal sin against the "machine". What have they done? Since they are entrusted with the preservation of the city parks, they balked at how the Met Council wants to construct the SWLRT line. Consequently, the Governor did not like the Park Board spending some of their own budget to look at alternate paths for this choo-choo train. A different path to protect the parks. Because any light rail line is looked upon as sacrosanct by the statists, the Governor looked at the Park Board as committing bureaucratic blasphemy. To punish the Park Board, the Governor is going to withhold their funding.

The MNSCU system is also getting spanked. The Governor does not like the fact the vision going forward is not unified. Rather than sitting down with them and deciding what is best for the state of Minnesota, he threatened to (gasp!) not increase their funding. Wait a minute! I thought we were in a "tuition freeze". What do we need an increase for?

Rather than worry about the fact that many of our kids graduate ill-equipped for college, tech school or life, the Governor wants to bathe the Pre-K system will all kinds of money. It is funny - us "Baby Boomers" did not have Pre-K. We did however, have a good and normal curriculum to learn from. And many of us lived in households which were not dependent on the "system". Most of us seemed to turn out okay. Much can be said for not being raised with the teat of dependency in our mouths. And who put the teat there to start with? For the most part, we can thank Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society Program from the 60's.

So the battle is now joined. We shall see how the Republican's react to this bloated budget. If they will stand strong on principle, or if they will cave like a bunch of wounded and scared RINOs. Based on behavior from the past, I am not very hopeful about the future. Move over, there might soon be another empty teat available... 


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Still a land of 10,000 taxes...


"With the tax structure in this state, some of us are barely holding on..."

I need help. Badly. I am very, very confused. What are we doing in our great state of Minnesota? Are we trying to become more tax and business friendly? Are we going to try to build and maintain roads and bridges. Are we going to build more choo-choo trains which few people ride (and never pay for themselves), or what? At the same time, the Met Council wants us all living vertically in Minneapolis driving no cars by 2040. This is enough to drive an old sailor to drink!

Timing is everything. Yesterday in the mail I received my license tab renewal for my 2013 truck. $500. For one year. And Governor Whosit wants it to go even higher. This is after we just paid $300 for my wife's 2013 car tabs last month. Now Governor Whosit wants to raise our gas tax AND sales tax. We really need that money to pay for roads and bridges. As they say out west, bull crap! I simply don't believe it. One of the things that Candidate Johnson wanted to do before the last election, was to do an "acid test" on each and every program in the state. Find out where the money was really going. Like him, I have STRONG doubts that all money collected for transportation is being used for it's designated purpose.

And what is up with taxing the retired people in this state? Neighboring states do not. Kiplinger has rated Minnesota as one of the ten worst states to live in if you are retired. Social Security, military pensions, all pensions are taxed. Why? Who the heck knows! This state has a blood thirst for money. Why? So Governor Whosit and his merry bunch of DFL thieves can fleece the innocent. 

Our sales tax is high - very high. It is almost 7%. Some items are exempt, and the DFL chattering class keeps wanting clothes and food thrown in the mix. You know, more money for the machine. The tax proposal put forth by Governor Whosit will not only raise our gas tax, but also sales tax in the seven country metro area. By another 1/2 cent. That will put our sales tax over 7% on most things we buy (in the metro area).

I have told this story before. A woman I worked with at my first company graduated with an MBA at a very prestigious college in Chicago. So did her husband. They did not have kids, lived in a townhouse, and both made very good salaries. One day at coffee she confessed to me that she and her husband might have to file for bankruptcy. I was shocked. I asked her why. They both were compulsive spenders. No matter how much they made, they spent more. Get the picture? They were both the personification of Minnesota.

As other states "get it", our state (run by Governor Whosit and the DFL loons) do not. Not even close. TAX, TAX, TAX. It has become a mantra, a calling card for the DFL. High taxes only hurt the middle class. The poor get assistance and the rich get tax attorneys. Those in the middle get caught in the tax trap. Soon, the slow trickle of an exodus will turn into a stampede. Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and a host of other states are looking better and better all the time.

Governor Whosit, you are choking the life blood out of this state. The sad part is, I don't think you really care.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Bebe Factor


"So you want a leader? This man, Bebe Netanyahu, is a leader and then some!"

The chattering class in Washington really has their undies in a bundle this morning. The unthinkable has happened. This no-good, right wing zealot from Ohio (that be the Speaker of the House), invited the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress. Without informing (or asking permission of) the President! What was he thinking? Of all the dastardly things to do!

First off, a bit of disclosure. I like Benjamin (Bebe) Netanyahu. Not a little bit - a whole lot. I respect him, I respect his service to the State of Israel. He is a hero and a leader. While our President was in college smoking some weed and community organizing, Bebe was in the military and on the front lines. The country of Israel is under threat 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not from across an ocean or two, but from right next door. The man knows his business.

The Speaker and the new Senate Leader were on one of the Sunday talk shows. When the Speaker was asked why he did it, why he would skirt protocol, the Speaker was very clear with his answer. The Speaker responded (and I will paraphrase a bit), "Our President is trying to wish away the War on Terror. That will not work. We need to know the true status of the threat as well as what is happening with Iran. We feel we will get the true story from the Prime Minister of Israel." BINGO! And that is the truth! Bebe, as well as most Israelis do not live in "la-la" land. They live in much too (as Rush calls it) "realville".

I also think our President still has his nose out of joint from when the Prime Minister "schooled" him on the Middle East. How dare he! Our President's thin skin did not handle that well. I would pay a lot of money to have a one on one session with Bebe Netanyahu. It would not only be a high honor, but I would also come away a lot smarter.

My advice going forward is simply this. Our President should call up the Prime Minister and invite him over while he is in town. Have a nice dinner and do some fence mending. Then ask the Speaker if he could also attend the March session. It would do him a world of good to find out the real truth of the threat. It would also do our country a world of good.

Honor amongst friends?


"I know there is no honor amongst thieves - but friends? There should be!"

This past weekend while my wife and I were witnessing the birth of our grandson, a fairly large "dust up" happened on social media. It went from mild to very testy in a short period of time. Hurtful things were said. There was even some name calling. Was this between hard core conservatives and progressives? Nope. This was between people who should be on the same side of the fence.

Before I continue, let me digress for a minute. Many years ago while employed at a large company in Bloomington, I received a huge break in my career. A man I worked with, whom I really respected for his ability, made a fatal mistake with a customer. He let a negotiation get personal. The negotiation quickly devolved into name calling then even some threats. The next day, this very talented man was yanked off the program and the position was offered to me. My boss told me, "This customer can be very abrasive, sometimes a real jerk. But we need this account. Don't take the bait. When in doubt, kill him with kindness."

Wise counsel from a wise man. That was my mantra for the rest of my working days. Listen better, talk less, learn more. Now back to the social media "dust up". It all centered around a radio interview with my congressman over his vote for Speaker of the House. Many people weighed in on this issue. I know some, I know of some others. I know our congressman. All are good people. All are on the same side. The vote my congressman took for Speaker can be discussed from a pros and cons perspective. Nobody needs to be thrown under the bus. Nobody needs to have their character impugned. Honor amongst friends can and should rule the day.

I have said this before and I will say it again. We will not win the next election unless 1) we can win over people from the middle as well as the other side and 2) we stop "means testing" and practicing fratricide on each other. As Ronald Reagan always said, "we can disagree without being disagreeable." Our side continues to have the right ideas. We know the right course for our country. We will never get the other side to see the light if we call them stupid. If we call our own people traitors. If we name call anybody. And if we don't practice honor.

If anyone thinks this is a call for all of us to become RINOs or to reach across the aisle to surrender principles, it is NOT. Someone asked me a while ago why I did not attend more conservative meetings. I have in the past, and they are fine gatherings of like-minded people. But I am tired of preaching to the choir. The battlefield of ideas lies in the street.
It is the other side we need to win over. The other side always comes out strong in a presidential year. Before 2016, we need to show a united front. Articulate our message. Convince (in non-derogatory ways) the other side they are WRONG, DEAD WRONG.

Most of us when kids heard this from our parents - "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." When talking to people on our side, or the other side, first be nice. Being respectful and listening does not mean you lay down and surrender. The ballot box is always the final arbiter, whether it be in a primary or a general election. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and be smart in how we get there.    

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A new light....

"Brave Helios, wake up your steeds, bring the warmth the countryside needs..."
The Day Begins
Moody Blues

Yesterday, the world became a little brighter. A little better. New light has appeared. My first grandson was born late in the day. Am I saying that the birth of this new baby will bring a light brighter than any other baby born? Absolutely not. But like all who are born, his light will be unique and exciting.

One of the things I have learned as I have aged is a simple axiom -  we do all of us shine a light. We all matter. In this crazy, sometime mixed up world, it is our light, ourselves, which can make profound differences in other lives. Yes, it truly is the Butterfly Effect. The great multiplier. God has graced us all with power, this unique power used as a special gift to affect lives. To affect change. To change the world, if only by a small measure. 

Yesterday, when my son-in-law put his hand on my grandson's head, the baby stopped crying. His face, all squished up like a prune, was trying to figure out what had just happened to him. All of a sudden, he had been thrust into this new world of light and sound. Then for the first time, he opened his eyes. To look at his world. This brave new world he would live in, he would dwell in. Yesterday he saw the world as a blank page, an empty canvas, just waiting for him to leave his mark.

What I would like to tell him when he is old enough is simply this - the saying "life is a journey and not a destination" is most certainly true. If we look at life as only a destination, it is pretty bleak. We all know where life ends. But the journey is where his stories will be written. Where people live, whose lives he will impact. The people who in turn will have an impact on him.

I will also tell him the most important thing in this world is love. It is God's greatest gift to us. God commanded us to love each other with the same fierceness we love ourselves. To love others, and also love God. The rest will fall into place. Part of love is kindness. Some will know him by deeds he does, but all will know him by his kindness. I know he will be raised in a house bathed in kindness. And kindness is very contagious. My prayer for my grandson is that he will model his kindness after his parents.

New light, new life. And most of all, new hope. Welcome to the world little man. Exciting times await you. Life will not always be easy, but it will always be worth it. Enjoy the journey.


Friday, January 23, 2015

As the world continues to roil....


"Just when you thought the skies became as dark as possible in the Middle East, they just got darker..."

It has been a busy and turbulent week. Just when we thought things could be about as unsettled as they could be, they got worse. Much worse. The Middle East continues to be a cauldron, and the temperature keeps going up. That region is a mess of historical dimensions, and there are many, many people who are in there stirring the pot.

With the death of King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia yesterday, the Western world lost a friend (of sorts). Who or what will replace him is a question. Will the Wahhabis take over? There are many forces in the region which would love to reshape that kingdom. To retake Mecca. To make Saudi Arabia into an important part of the caliphate.

As bad as this was, the bigger story in the region is what happened in Yemen. Yemen, the country that POTUS put on a pedestal during last year's SOTU address, has fallen. The entire government is gone. Who is in charge? The rebels. How will they govern? Sharia law? Are they aligned with ISIL in any fashion? Iran? Will they poise a threat to neighboring Saudi Arabia? Many more questions than answers. Having a country will ill intentions at the choke point in the Suez Canal would unleash the dogs of war. 40% of the world's oil could be held captive.

Finally, last night on the news it was reported that our intelligence has determined Iran has built a long range missile, capable of reaching targets "far beyond Europe". Funny that tidbit of information did not come out during this week's SOTU address. All we heard about Iran is that POTUS will veto any additional sanctions. Our policy of appeasement has worked so well this far. This new missile sits on a launch pad right outside of Tehran. Most of us "know nothings" in fly over country believe Iran is about as peaceful as Attila the Hun. To appease this country is borderline nuts. I firmly believe if he continue on our current course, Israel will do it for us. Then the ship will really hit the sand.

DESPITE the best efforts of this Administration, we have continued to develop our energy resources. Should the Middle East oil supply become disrupted, we will not be over the same barrel as we were during the oil embargo of the 70's. The same cannot be said for the rest of the world however.

Where does that leave us? As we continue to withdraw from the world's trouble spots, we also continue to shrink the size of our military. Our leaders need to wake up and smell the coffee. See the roiling. This is not a game played at Harvard - this is for real. We need to be strong and resolute. It will not take much of a match right now to light the fire. And once the fire is lit, it will be very hard to put out.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The rise of the blind mule


"They are cheap, they are affordable. They can be used for everything from killing terrorists to delivering packages..."

None of us should be surprised it has come to this. The technology has been there for a while. As with any technology, this technology can be used for good or nefarious purposes. It is a technology which will not go away. It is not a passing fad. It will be here forever. On the southern border, this technology is referred by some as the "blind mule".

What is it? Drones. Plain and simple drones. The advances in drone technology continues to get better and the product continues to become more affordable. Current drone technology (used for commercial drones) advertise payloads going up to slightly over five pounds. However, some manufactures say if a heavier payload is needed, they can build a more robust drone by strapping on some additional rotors.  

Yesterday a drone crashed in a parking lot in Southern California. It was carrying meth. It was coming up from Mexico. This was a "blind mule". Sending drones over the border is a "no muss, no fuss" for the cartel. They are not that expensive, hard to detect, and reusable. If this idea spreads, it could let the drug intrusion over our southern border become even worse - a lot worse.

My biggest fear is not the drugs which can be snuck over the border. That is bad enough. My fear is what terrorists could put on a drone and penetrate our airspace. Things like bio weapons, chemical weapons, or in the event of drones being able to carry much heavier payloads, a small nuke.

This is just one more thing DHS planners will have to stay on top of. If we looked back five years, could anyone imagine Amazon suggesting they could deliver packages faster to your back yard using a drone? And yet that is what they are saying today. Same day delivery to your year. It begs the question, where is this technology going to be five years from now? Are we going to have our skies filled with drones, doing just about everything that could be imagined? And what about 10 years? 25 years? The brave new world could be unfolding right before our eyes.

More on this in the future. More on the most recent advances in nanotechnology also. And robotics. With everything else going on today, these important stories often go unreported.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Our broken wagon


"When too many people ride in the wagon, and/or there are not enough pulling the wagon, the wagon breaks..."

Okay - it is over. The SOTU speech was everything it was cracked up to be. Empty promises, free stuff, snarky comments , more free stuff, more programs, scolding and more free stuff. No, I did not watch it. I did not have to. Every station was playing the highlights (or lowlights) from the speech. Blah, blah, blah. It was all about putting more people in the wagon and to continue whipping the folks pulling the wagon.

Truthfully, I am often amazed when I hear a Leftie give a speech on what is wrong with America. How little they understand about our economy. About Capitalism. About our Constitution. About simple economics. Sometimes I believe many of these folks still believe in Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy and money trees.

One of the snarky comments the President used last night was telling Republicans they should try raising a family on $15,000 a year. Here is a news flash for POTUS - most of us worked for minimum wage at one time or the other. It was common when we were young and untrained. MOST PEOPLE, become dissatisfied with that kind of salary. MOST PEOPLE figure out a scheme, going to college, tech school, or whatever, to get a better job paying a higher salary. The minimum wage was NEVER intended to raise a family on.

So people who have figured this out, who have become successful through hard work and innovation, are now the bad guys. The ones who pull the wagon are being asked to pull harder. Not to do so, is selfish. I honestly believe that many of the Left think we should scrap our current Constitution and replace it with a system of government which is a hybrid of Socialism and Communism. That is what "equal outcomes" and "fairness" is all about. "Equal opportunity" is way too hard. It involves work. It involves getting out of the wagon.

If I can stay on the wagon issue for a bit longer. I see a successful America as being made up of three types of people. The first group, who have the means to do so, will continue to be the "strong horses" pulling the wagon. The next group will be people WALKING ALONG SIDE of the wagon. These are people who at one time rode in the wagon, but pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to get out of the wagon. The third group contain people who truly need to ride in the wagon. These people, by no fault of their own, cannot make enough to support themselves. This way, the wagon will never break, and the wagon pullers will remain strong and vibrant.

When Ronald Reagan became the Governor of California, California was a mess. Many, many people were riding in the wagon. Many of them were people who had no business riding in the wagon. Then Governor Reagan became instantly unpopular with the Lefties. People who could work, were thrown out of the wagon. People who could not work by no fault of their own, were given some of the best benefits in the country. Suddenly, California's wagon was fixed.

The next two years will tell much about our country. How our wagon will look. If it will break, or if it will still be able to work. Time will tell.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Our pugilist POTUS


"He swears he will go out kicking and screaming. No surrender or compromise with the loyal opposition. Only trench warfare looms in the offing..."

Well it is here again. The year sure has gone fast! What is it you ask? The State of the Union speech of course! The night when Netflix and Amazon Prime score big on ratings. Some people will watch the speech. Mostly political pundits or the dwindling cadre of "true believers". Many (like myself) will be binge watching Dark Skies or something on that order.

Besides all of which, the "high points" of the speech have already been leaked. It is a grab bag of leftist goodies (like most years). Only this year, they don't stand a snowballs chance in (you know where) of passing. Then why go to all the trouble of proposing them? Simple - he is itching for a fight. They only group POTUS hates worse than ISIL are the Republicans. This speech will be an excellent opportunity to show the masses he is a "man of the people" while the Republicans remain married to Wall Street and the one percent class.

The problem is many lemmings believe this dribble. Many Democrats in Congress are fabulously wealthy and have strong ties to Wall Street. Hillary Clinton is a multi-millionaire and has a strong connection to Wall Street. They will stand and applaud when POTUS suggests things which will constitute a major threat to our fragile and healing economy. 

Like what you may ask? Raising the capital gains tax for one. Because Professor Obama never really worked in the real world, he does not understand that investors invest because the gains they can make will be taxed more gently than ordinary income. If we raise the capital gains rate, there will be less investment. Less investment means less growth. If you want more growth, you lower the tax on capital gains. Simple concept. I learned it my first year in business school.

Then there is changing the taxing rules on inheritance. You know - after you pay taxes on money you have saved to pass on to your heirs, the government wants to tax it again. After all, it is not "fair" that you should have money, saved through discipline and hard work. All money belongs to all the people. Gosh - that almost sounds like Communism. Oh well, I might be getting ahead of myself.

Now I am going to say something which might shock some of my friends. First let me set the table. I am NOT in favor of Pre-K for every child. The jury is still out on the long term positive effects of Pre-K. I am however, fully supportive of grades 13 and 14. And I say that with two caveats. First, only if the curriculum is solid and not something squishy like Common Core. We must stop the graduation of kids who have very little knowledge. If you talk to most colleges, they will confess many of the kids walking in the door are in no way prepared for college. They must start out with remedial classes.

Second, these additional two years will not be "free". Kids must work part time to chip in. This is how real college works. You pay to go, you work to help get money to pay for school. If POTUS would frame this idea with those caveats, he might get some support from the other side of the aisle. If not, this proposal will also be DOA.

One more thing (and trust me, I could go on for pages). If POTUS really wants to hit a home run tonight, spend a good part of the speech talking about the growing threat of radical Islam. What he and our government are going to do to keep us safe. Be specific. The threat is very real. Leon Panetta said the other day he expects a Paris type "hit" in the United States in the next couple of months. People need to know that they are safe, that their government is on top of things.

Well that is it. That is what I would like to see. What I know we will see is a guy coming to the end of his second term, just itching for a fight. Not with ISIL, but with fellow Americans. I have to sign off now. It is time to start my binge watching on Netflix

Monday, January 19, 2015

Innocence lost (reprise)...


"As bad as we thought it was, it was so much, so much worse..."

What have we wrought? Not us (US) so to speak, but the human race? We kill, destroy, kill and maim, and no one seems to know our name. How bad is it? See either Lone Survivor or American Sniper to get an idea of the answer. And that answer is not pretty. We confront evil in its most primitive form. And we expect our young boys and girls to go into the pit of hell and fix it.

We have been down this road before. Any war in which we have needed to send our young people to fight. World War I, World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam. There are also others, only not as large. In each of these conflicts, our young people have seen a side of humanity which is anything but humane. Many of our young people have come home scarred. If not physically, then emotionally. They found out the adage "war is a dirty business" to be so true, and then some.

As much as I would like all wars to end, and our brave peacekeepers to come home safe and sound, I am not that naïve. Today we face a new evil which knows absolutely no boundaries. As brutal as the Axis juggernaut was in World War II, this group of ideological zealots are worse. Much, much worse. Soon the United States, as well as the rest of the free world, will need to make a choice. Do we commit our young men and women to fight a ground war against this evil, or watch it slowing capture more territory while exterminating those who live there.

Part of me wants to just bomb this group into the stone ages. If there is collateral damage, then so be it. But I know that would be the wrong answer. The innocents who live there no more deserve to die under our bombs than they do under the knives of the butchers. And who are the enemy? Many are nameless and faceless and wear no uniform. They conscript old men, young men, women and even children. Some are innocent, some are not. The ones who are not innocent can be as deadly as any soldier on the battlefield. 

My belief is 2015 is going to be a critical year in the War on Terror. How we will fight it, if we  fight it, and then who will fight it. They enemy has taken asymmetrical warfare to the furthest extreme. To win this, we are going to have to know their tactics in order to counter their tactics. We are going to have to get in the mud with them. We are going to have to capture, not kill more of the leaders. We are going to have to keep Gitmo as well as the rendition centers open and packed full of captured terrorists. We need to get the Hague involved in trying some of these monsters for war crimes. For what they have done to children, to babies, to anyone.

Asking young people to sacrifice their lives and/or their innocence is a hard thing to do. For any leader. But we are fighting an enemy, an evil which knows no bounds. An enemy who wants very much to come to our shores and take care of the "great Satan". An enemy who will not accept our surrender, only our heads. This gathering menace is real. It is coming. It may already be here. We need to wake up before the sleeper cells do.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Freezing to death in Minnesota

"Freezing to death? In 2015? Can that actually happen? Yes it has, and will continue if we don't stop it..."

Whenever I get into a spirited discussion with someone on hunger, I am reminded that hunger is a huge problem for many within our country. That being said, we don't have the same problems with hunger as some other countries do. In other words, nobody actually starves to death in this country. I dare say that if someone was found in any metro area who had starved to death, it would make the national news.

And why don't people starve to death in this country? The answer is quite simple. In this country, we are awash with food. We have enough food to not only feed our people, but also a good portion of the world's population. Even though we have many who do not get enough food, or the right types of food, everyone gets enough to live on. So as far as food is concerned, this country does not have a resource problem (like many countries do), we have an allocation problem.

Dying from exposure in this country is quite another matter. Yes, it does happen. In 2015, people in many cities are still dying from exposure. Living on the streets, hypothermia can set in and be deadly. Hypothermia is a condition where a person's core drops below 95 degrees. The longer the core stays below that temperature, the more deadly hypothermia can become. Confusion can set in. A person can actually start shedding clothes instead of adding clothes. If it goes on long enough, the body cannot sustain life. The heart simply shuts down.

How can someone die hypothermia just feet from a heated building where the temperature is a comfortable 72 degrees? Are there not warming centers for people who are homeless? Yes there are. However a nagging problem which plagues many homeless people is untreated mental illnesses. People on the street are extremely vulnerable. Not only to freezing to death, but also disease, robbery and violence.

My youngest daughter works in street outreach. The organization she works for is committed to finding people who need help the most. Getting these people off the street and lined up with the services they need. It is not an easy job - it is being on the front lines of combating homelessness. But she loves it. She is good at it. And she has a huge heart for people who have no home but the streets.

Nobody is immune from homelessness. There by the grace of God, go we. Our job is simple - to care for these people. To help these people. They are us - pure and simple, they are us. It is time to make a stand. Not one more person will freeze in our town. Period.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A very secret war...


"What happens in Africa always seems to receive the short end of the news cycle..."

This past week or so, the attention of the world has been focused on Europe. What happened in Paris, the close call in Belgium, and suspected terror cells in Germany. As the saying goes, it "sucked the air" out of the news cycle. What little air was left, was spent on covering the carnage in Syria and Iraq. However, there is another war going on. It does get some press, but often not nearly enough. It is just as brutal as the ISIL conflict in Syria and Iraq. And just like Syria and Iraq, the bodies keep piling up.

I am addressing the lawless slaughter which continues today in Nigeria. The slaughter which is orchestrated and performed by the radical Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram. Similar to their ISIL cousins in the Middle East, this blood thirsty group will stop at nothing, and kill anyone who gets in their way. Men, women, children and babies are all fair game. They have been especially hard on the Christian population. Churches have been burned and innocent people killed while worshipping. This is an outrage of the highest order. The United Nations, which usually does nothing, should have put "Blue Helmets" all over Nigeria. They should be putting an end to this carnage. But they will not. The United Nations, as well as the rest of the world, remains a passive bystander. And people continue to die.

This is not the first time parts of Africa has burned and nobody did anything. Some remember 1994. It was a year in human history none should be proud of. In Rwanda, during a 100 day period between April and July, mass genocide of historic proportions took place. This event had nothing to do with radical Islam, but it was just as brutal.

Members of the Tutsi tribe and moderate Hutu tribe were hunted down like animals. They were hunted by the majority Hutus. Many weapons were used to perform this attempted mass extinction, including machetes. The world had a front row seat to the horror unfolding in Africa. And we did nothing. During that 100 day period, somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people died. Nobody will ever know the exact number. Many who did not die were left maimed or disfigured. And where was President Clinton and our military at that time? Focusing on a tin horn dictator in the Balkans. We ignored genocide in Africa in an effort to dethrone Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia.

Now don't get me wrong - Milosevic was a bad man and brutalized his people as well as neighboring countries. But he was "chump change" compared to what was going on in Africa. In April of 1994 when the African carnage first started, we should have done an immediate pivot. We should have left the Balkans and gone into Africa. The Hutus would have been no match for our modern day military.

Bill Clinton did say in later years he had regrets. Regrets that we did not do something to save innocent people in Africa. Regrets? Mr. Clinton, you can tell that to the tens of thousands of people in Rwanda living without limbs. Or to the children forced to grow up as orphans, living in extreme hardship. As far as I am concerned, our failure to act, to help stop this carnage, is an ugly stain on our history.

Today were are once again spectators rather than protectors. We watch helplessly as thousands upon thousands of innocents are taken prisoner or executed by this lawless group called Boko Haram. For what they have done to innocent men, women and children, they deserve the same fate as ISIL. The United Nations as well as the United States can no longer afford to be feckless in the face of human slaughter. We are better than that. We always have been better than that. And we should be now. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

The name which shall not be spoken!


"For the Obama Administration, the only name which is more taboo than Lord Voldemort, is Radical Islam..."

Today is my daughter's due date for our first grandchild. Like a true Minnesotan, I believe he has gotten wind of how cold it is here, and has opted to spend more time in his Mother's comfortable tummy. It may be comfortable for him, but it is certainly not for my daughter! I have been given permission to disclose the sex of my grandson. However, not his name. His name has been picked out for months now, but it is the name which shall not be uttered outside the confines of the family (or close friends). I tease my son-in-law by saying my grandson's name is more secretive than Lord Voldemort's name from the Harry Potter series.

As much as I would like to say my grandson's name in public, that is nothing compared to the lid put which has been put on the term Radical Islam by the Administration. Whenever pressed about our ever growing terror threat, Josh Earnest has more dance moves than Fred Astaire. He, along with everyone in the Justice Department, State Department and even the Defense Department, have come up with non sequiters to describe our terror threat. The avoidance of this most obvious term goes from foolish to ridiculous.

More and more people are now asking the very important question - "why?" My theory is similar to others being brought forward. The terrorists are off script. They are a nuisance. They are nothing more than hold overs from the failed Bush Administration. Putting it another way, if we just ignore them, maybe they will go away. Not using their proper name is a good start.

Here is the truth as I see it. The terror threat today is just as dangerous as it always has been. Maybe more so. We need to call a spade a spade. They are Radical Islamic terrorists. We need to stop droning the bad guys, and capture more. We need to keep Gitmo and other rendition facilities open. Hang on - We also need to resume water boarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques. I really don't care if a bed wetter or two does not like this. These terrorists deserve no quarter. They behead children. They stomp babies to death. They bury people alive. It is time to send in Jack Bauer to get some real intelligence. We need to find out what is in the works. What mayhem the bad guys are planning for us and our allies in Europe. 

Tom Ridge once said the War on Terror is tricky because "we have watches, but they have the time". This a problem we cannot just wish away. The bad guys are not going away. We need to tackle this head on. We start by telling the American people that the War on Terror is not over. We are at war with Radical Islam. Period. Say it over and over again.

Europe is starting to get the message. They are taking stronger measures to fight this threat. They are tracking citizens who have recently returned from Syria and Iraq. Tracking those who might have been radicalized in the ISIL battlefield. Good. We need more, much more of that. They enemy is no longer at the gate folks. The enemy might be inside the tent. Time to get going. Time to get serious.    

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Conceding Minnesota

"Most were born here, raised here and worked here. Now it is time to leave..."

Shhhh. If you listen closely, you can hear it. It is the sound of footsteps, many footsteps leaving Minnesota. And these are not just ordinary people. These are the people who have been "pulling the wagon" (so to speak) for years now. Some are people who have worked here all of their lives. Some others have started businesses here. The finally have had enough. And they are leaving. And leaving fast.

Even your humble author is considering relocation. If not year round, then part of the year (like a snowbird). I will confess that part a potential relocation has do with the uninhabitable weather in this state. The other reason is the one which is driving many out of this state - the back breaking tax structure and lousy business climate.

Yesterday, I attended a meeting to learn more about the tax structure in other states. It was put on by a neighboring state of Minnesota. A state who has stopped drinking the Kool Aid, and woken up to what is happening. A state which is using common sense in luring not only businesses, but also people looking for a better life. A better life by having more left in their paychecks.

This last election in Minnesota was the deal breaker for many. If I offend by what I am about to say, I apologize in advance. We re-elected a Governor who is imminently unqualified to hold this high office. He was not qualified the first time around, and that is when his health was better. He is now on some kind of medication which makes him look and sound bad, real bad at times. The man who ran against this sitting Governor last election (whom I supported), was 100 times more qualified for this job. However, the blueness of this state took over, and trumped common sense. We voted once again for the status quo.

Minnesota's loose and open welfare laws continue to draw people here by the thousands. And many are unskilled or no skilled lower income people. Not only from neighboring states, but also from abroad. Yes, the story of "Moneyapolis" has traveled worldwide. And where does all this money come? The money to dish out all this welfare to the masses? That is right - you and I. We use the tax code to punish the producers. To fleece the successful. And now, many are saying "enough!" Yes, Atlas is starting to shrug, and the wagon is too full to pull.

The sad part of this exodus is that nobody seems to care. I know some of the people who have left. Good, solid citizens. Patriots. Smart people. Many at first did not want to leave, but were forced to by our rapidly changing climate - and I am not talking about the weather.

I am going to be working with my state reps to make sure this issue receives the attention it deserves. I am on the cusp right now. It will not take much more to make me an expatriate of Minnesota while still remaining a patriot of this great country.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

And who is our new John Galt?


"At some point in time, the makers, the producers in our society are going to take one final vote - with their feet..."

By now, most have read Atlas Shrugged, seen the movie(s), or both. A timeless piece of fiction, which is looking more like non-fiction all the time. It is a book about the real people who keep the country moving. It was about those people deciding to say "enough is enough". The movement to pick up and leave was led by a visionary named John Galt.

I have thought quite a bit about Atlas Shrugged as of late. For the past few decades, we have been like frogs in water which is starting to boil. Both parties have let us down. There are a precious few in either party that truly believe in the sanctity of our Constitution. Of true freedom. Of liberty. There are minions however, who believe in either riding in the wagon, or at least holding on to the sides. Should this continue, soon the "wagon" of our economy will be unmovable. The makers will continue to be outnumbered by the takers. Some of the makers will leave. All will appear to be lost. That is, until our version of John Galt steps forward.

We need a John Galt right now like nobody's business. The engines which power our economy, the entrepreneurs, are becoming an endangered species. Why? Somewhere along the line, the central message in our Constitution became twisted. Rather than knowing our country guarantees everyone equal opportunity, the new think being sold by the statists is our country should guarantee everyone equal outcome. To put it in the common vernacular, it is not fair if someone succeeds and others do not. The statists want to fix that.

Most Conservatives know that way of thinking is killing the country. Everybody is entitled to everything. Where does the money come from to do conduct such a massive giveaway? Why the people who produce of course. The makers. Tax the wealthy. Eat the rich. Occupy Wall Street. A bunch of populist crap. As Margret Thatcher once said, "The problem with welfare is sooner or later you run out of other people's money." Well Madam Thatcher, that day might soon be here.

We need a John Galt that can tell people the truth and why it is important. Money does not grow on trees and Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy do not exist. We have had our fill of charlatans, liars and peddlers of snake oil. Empty promises backed up with no money, only debt. At one time, this country only offered one thing - and that one thing was more value than gold. Opportunity. Unfettered opportunity. Small limited government on the sideline doing nothing but "plowing the road" for the makers. 

Who is going to be our John Galt? I don't know. All I know is this. He better show up before long, or Atlas Shrugged is going to turn into 1984.     


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Coming Crash


"So we spent our stash! So what?!?"

A bit of family history. Shortly after we were married, my wife and I were out with some friends on a Friday night. After a couple of rounds of drinks, my wife and I thought we would might have one more round with our friends. My wife looked in her purse to see if we had enough for another round. She found $40 she did not know she had. Party on! We had the third round and then ordered dinner. It was not until we went grocery shopping on the following Saturday we realized we accidently spent our grocery money. Ouch. Since we were students back then, and usually stone cold broke, the food situation for the following week was very bleak indeed.

Why do I tell this story? This is the same thing which is happening to our country right now. Really? Like how? Remember the Social Security Lock Box? The money which was going to protect our Social Security Fund, and keep it going almost forever? Gone. Not only gone, but never existed. Where is all that money? Spent. Some on Social Security benefits, some on "other".

There is now talk of juicing up the Federal gas tax to reinforce the Highway Trust Fund. Seems the roads and bridges the Feds are suppose to maintain are not in good shape at all. Where the taxes taken in for the Trust Fund too little? Maybe, or maybe not. One thing is for certain however - much of that money has been siphoned off into "other". If we had not spent some of that money on bike paths and fitness classes, the fund might still be viable.

This type of thing is happening across the board. It seems the math used to ascertain funding required to match appropriate spending, went sideways. In other words, there was no math. We have obligated trillions of dollars (that is trillions with a "T") to be spent on entitlements, pensions, trust funds, you name it - without having the correct amount of funding or oversight.

So where does that leave us? It is as simple as a law of physics. Either programs which were promised are going to go bankrupt and fail, or we are going to have to pony up with some HUGE cash to get the math right. When I say huge cash, there might not be enough tea in China to make this happen. The dollars required are simply staggering.

Whose fault is this? Ours. We elect idiots, morons and crooks to manage this kind of money. Then after we elect them, we go into "auto pilot". In other words, we just assume they are doing the right thing. They are not and they have not. For decades now, they have not. We have known there is a problem, and yet refuse to fix it. You know, kick the can down the street so to speak. My old boss once told me, "When you are in a ditch, stop driving the same way." Amen to that. We truly are in a ditch right now.

With the new Congress in session, it is okay to ask them what we are going to do about this. It is not okay to hear the same pabulum we have heard for years. A crash is coming. The only question is this - will it be a bad crash or a fatal crash? That decision is up to us and the new Congress.

Monday, January 12, 2015

He's just a nowhere man...


"He's a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody..." 
Nowhere man
The Beatles

Where in the heck was he yesterday? Gone. MIA. I even looked for his picture on the back of a milk carton. The biggest event in the world was happening in Paris, and one person in particular was missing. Nobody important. Only the leader of the Free World.

It has been said what France went through last week was their version of 9/11. Terror came to visit as an unwanted intruder to this long standing European ally. The way this terror happened, the carnage it left behind, the symbol of free speech it tried so hard to destroy, touched many across the globe. For that one day, yesterday, Paris became a Mecca for freedom loving people everywhere. It was a huge demonstration against terror. Over 1,000,000 strong attended. Leaders of nations marched arm in arm. That is, except for one. Our President. Neither he, nor the Vice President, nor the Secretary of State attended.

His absence was duly noted my many in Europe. Some of the Euro newspapers blasted him for not coming. It was an opportunity lost. And why? Is it he has such a distain for even saying the word "terror"? Or "Radial Islam"? What is it? He has zero problem hopping on Air Force One and going anyplace in the country for fund raising. And golf? Stay out of his way, or get run over. However as the leader of the Free World, there are tacit responsibilities that come with the title. Attending the event like the one held yesterday is one of them. Everything should have been cleared off his calendar and he should have been there. Arm in arm, with the other world leaders.

More and more people worldwide are starting to get the message about terrorism. It is here, it is growing, it is morphing, and it is not going away. We need a President to call freedom loving leaders together and come up with an iron clad strategy to beat this thing - and soon. The longer we let it fester, let it grow, the more chances we will have another Charlie Hebdo.

My advice for your final two years Mr. President is simple. Put your clubs away. After your term is up, you can play every day with no conflicts. Work with the new Congress in passing legislation the people want. The vote last November was crystal clear in what they want and need from Washington. If you really want a lasting legacy which is positive, put the wheels in motion to develop a strategy. A strategy to soundly defeat this terrorism. And you can start by calling it by its proper name - Radical Islam.

A ROARING 2015!! (?)


"Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear let's sing a song of cheer again, happy days are here again..."
Happy Days are Here Again

Holy smokes! This is better than the Roaring 20's! The economy has mending and we are all doing much, much better! Well, that is the cover story on many of the MSM news channels. Are we doing better? Is the economy healed? Have the President's policies really helped? Time to take a look I believe.

Recently I listened to a host of one of the more popular financial shows on cable. His words - "The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer, and those in the middle are going nowhere fast." He went on, "The only reason our economy is looking so good right now is that all the other world economies are so much worse." I then decided to look at our metrics as of the end of 2014.
  • Unemployment - Ah, the number we all love to talk about. The U3 rate has dropped to a paltry 5.6% at the end of December. That is good right? Not really. As has been said many times before, that number is about as useless as a screen door on a submarine. With over 92,000,000 people out of the workforce, the U3 keeps dropping. The U6 number however, is still at 11.2% Our labor participation rate dropped to 62.7% (hint: that is very bad). The statistic which is the most shameful is black unemployment. It is still at 10.4% with black youth unemployment at 33%.
  • Wages - For the middle class, they remain flat. However, the net take home pay went up solely for one reason - fuel costs. With gas being under $2/gal in many areas of the country, that is an additional $1,000 net dollars for the average family every year. The mystery to many is why in this era of high labor demand, wages are not keeping up. One reason is Mexico. They continue to offer a lucrative option for touch labor manufacturing. The average wages for manufacturing in Mexico is $5/hour. NAFTA has made that option very easy. The other reason is technology. More and more jobs are becoming automated.
  • Debt - I can hear it now - "Will you PLEASE stop gripping about the debt?" Okay, I will. I will only talk about obligations. The national debt is just a smoke screen anyway. Mere chump change to the real issue. In fact, the real issue is so scary, it is rare to ever hear it discussed in Washington. Our unfunded liabilities is $92.5T, and growing. The total of our national assets is only slightly higher than that. If we were a household instead of a country, our credit score would be under 500.
  • Banks - tick tock, tick tock. I have addressed this issue a few weeks ago. All the metrics are once again in place for another financial catastrophe (like derivatives). Tick tock, tick tock.
So maybe happy days are here again. Or maybe this is the calm before the storm. It is of little solace knowing our economic prosperity is based on the fact we are the best of the bad. Time to sign off and go to Costco. I need some more survival food. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Head on collision


"Head on collisions are about as bad as they come..."

In the past few weeks, we have had two head on collisions. And neither one had anything to do with driving. What collided? Tyranny against liberty, that is all. To me, it was a textbook example of these two forces coming together in an unpleasant manner.

The first involved Hollywood, the purveyors of filth and bad movies. Oh, they are still capable of making a good movie (once in a great while). However, the trend line has been for vile and tasteless humor. It seems the recent movie The Interview ruffled some feathers over in North Korea. They did not like the way it portrayed the current "Great Leader". I guess even at the end of the movie the "Great Leader" gets a ticket to the "Great Beyond". I don't know for sure, as I did not see it.

Before the release, in came the threats. The Norks were going to do something nasty to Sony. They were going to hack the heck out of their IT infrastructure. They were going leak sensitive data. They were even going to hack movies which had not yet been released and (gasp), release them for free on the internet. The final straw came when they also threatened movie theaters who showed this movie. A "9/11" type fate would await any theater who released this garbage movie.

The second of course, was the bloody massacre in Paris last week. Over some tasteless cartoon and satire, done by a small group of people who satirize just about everyone in power. Many times the cartoons are borderline pornographic. However, they "stepped over the line" when they made fun of the Prophet Mohammed. Death threats were issued, and then carried out. 

The collision happened in both of these incidents because of two opposite principles. The first is tyranny. This principle is one person (or government, or organization) stealing the liberty of another person(s). History is replete with examples of tyranny. The second is liberty. The freedom of Hollywood to make garbage movies, of cartoonists to satirize anything or anybody, and so long as nobody is harmed, they have that right to do so. I also have a right. I have the right not to see movies I find objectionable. I have the right not to read papers or look at cartoons that might offend me. Those are iron clad, God given rights. They are known in this country as part of our freedoms.

In the future, look for more collisions of these two principles. These will continue so long as we allow tyranny to exist. Once tyranny is gone, or at least held at bay, driving the liberty express will again be safe - anywhere in the world.