Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Senate is not Parliament

There is a major difference between the US government and the Parliament in the United Kingdom. Both are two party systems with a conservative party and a liberal party. Both have different sides of the room to sit on, and the parties within each have very different ideas about how the government is supposed to run the country. Arguably the biggest difference between the US Senate and the UK Parliament is the power of the minority party. In the UK when one of the parties comes into power, all power is stripped from the opposing power. They are removed from any positions of power in the cabinet and are left to complain about how they would have done things differently if they were in power. The US is different, or at least it is supposed to be. In the US Senate, any decisions must be voted upon by the entire party and can only pass with a vote of at least 60, a clear majority over the 51 needed for a simple majority. While this measure may mean fewer things pass, it also provides for a certain amount of discussion that would not exist otherwise. Needing more votes means that there must be a level of compromise from both parties.

Well today that may have changed. In something as normal as passing the US Budget Outline, the Democrats in the Senate have managed to change some of the basic workings of our government. When the Democrats added a last minute change, they made it possible to pass the US Budget later in the year with a simple majority vote in the Senate. While some may think that is does not sound like a big deal, the truth is that there are some major repercussions that will follow. Part of the government process should always involve discussion. While I think that the use of filibusters on both sides of the isle are taken too far, it is far better to talk too long than not to talk at all. The ability for the Democrats to pass the Budget without having any input from the opposing party looks much more like the UK Parliament then the Founding Fathers had in mind.

We all want what is we feel is best for us. Some of us think that the answer lies in complete government control looking towards Canada and France as examples. Others believe that the less the government steps in, the more the economy will grow. The answer is clearly not to rely on one extreme or the other. Only through the compromise of both have we reached a system that, while it has its many problems, works for us here in the United States.
Why then are we allowing the system to be changed just because the President can say the word “antiquated”? We need to stop and take a step back, remembering that the only way we have survived this long as a country was on our ability to come together. We did it back in WWII, and again after the September 11th attacks. Why do we refuse to do such when it comes to the decisions that we really need to make together. If we allow for one party to take power with no control or restraint, we will undoubtedly follow in the path of so many others, complete socialism. This may be the goal of some, believing that the American people are so far gone that they cannot take care of themselves, but I have more faith than that. I believe that it is possible for the American People to take care of themselves. They simply need to be told that they can, and not told that the only way to overcome the problems that surround then is to let the government rule.

The System works because we have two parties, and they are always in competition, not just when elections role around. The answer to the problems lies in working together and taking the time to stop and consider what is going on in the world. It is simply wrong to make it possible to skip one of the most important steps and move on to simply getting whatever you want, regardless of what it may cost.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Is The US Prepared For An Attack

April 27, 2009: The temperatures of arriving passengers on a thermographic imaging device are checked at Narita international airport, east of Tokyo.

As the reported cases of the Swine Flu increase in both the United States and worldwide, concerns about the nation's ability to deal with a true viral pandemic has been called into question. This shows however, the American people's complete dependency on the government for the wellbeing. As a people, we no longer take responsibility for the preparations needed to care for ourselves in the event of a major disaster. We have several examples from our lifetimes that show us the consequences of our apathy.

The most remembered in the last few years would be the results of Hurricane Katrina. We all remember the videos of all the people that were stuck in the city at the few shelters, begging the media for food and water. I remember a story on the news about a man who when into diabetic shock and it took searching among the thousands of stranded civilians to find a single syringe of insulin. A week later, when help in the form of Army Reserve Units, Water Trucks, and celebrities arrived, all we heard was how long it took for help to show up and how the FEMA had failed the people.

Did we as a people not learn from the disaster that fell upon New Orleans? We know from our experiences that we cannot rely on the government to help us in the event of a disaster. This is not a bad thing. It is not the responsibility of the government to provide for those who can provide for themselves. We have the information to shield ourselves from the problems that face us. It is our responsibility to gather the things necessary to survive. The basics of food and water, clothing and warmth are all things every single American has the ability to provide for themselves. Why is it then that we expect the government to provide them for us?

We need to return to a time where each of us provides for our own needs. 72 hour kits filled with the most basic essentials can help us survive the most critical hours in a major disaster. We must also educate ourselves in the basic principles in preventing the major problems. I know it sounds basic, but we need to wash our hands on a regular basis. That simple action will prevent the spread of most major infections. We have been warned by the World Health Organization as well as the US Health Department that we need to avoid travel to Mexico. The government has done its part already. They are doing what they can to protect the public from the near pandemic we face today, but the only one we will be able to count on is ourselves. If we get the flu, go see a doctor. Don't think it can't happen, or that the FEMA will come to the rescue. That mind set will almost guarantee that you will have major problems in the future.

I can't force you to do anything. As always, it is your choice to prepare or not. What I can do is hope that you will take a page from the book of the past and give yourself a chance at protection. We all have the power to make the world a better place, and all it takes is the simple actions that prepare for and prevent the major crisis that may be just around the corner.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Even the Best Can Fall

April 8, 2009: Deputy U.S. Marshals and U.S. Postal Inspectors seize an automobile
from the home of Shawn R. Merriman in Aurora, Colo

Last Tuesday, the SEC filed a lawsuit against a former LDS bishop in an attempt to recover funds that had been embezzled in a ponzi scheme over the last 13 years. Shawn Merriman is accused of milking almost $20 million from investors as his scheme grew.

The real importance of this story is not that that there is another person that has been caught stealing money from others, rather who that person was, a religious leader. I have often come across those who feel there comes a time in life when a person becomes so righteous that they are no longer tempted to do things which may be unethical or even illegal. At a certain point, a righteous member of their religion is free from the trials that face the rest of us. That could not be any farther from the truth.

Each member of society is responsible for their actions. That does not change with age or position. The only thing that does change with age is our ability to make a bad decision. As we are given more responsibility in life, we are also given the change to succeed or fail. If we fail to act with a basic level of morality, then we are failing in our responsibility as members of our community. These decisions can be very small at first. They may come out of desperation. Merriman was at one time trying to do some legitimate investing, however, after losing $400,000 of his investors money, he turned to a dishonest practice to cover up the losses.
They may come from greed, but they well come given enough time.

What may be upsetting to many is that Merriman was a respected member of his community. He was not simply a "banker on Wall Street", but was a religious leader and respected by many of his neighbors.

We must remember that each one of us has the potential to be the next victim of a bad decision. The choices we make effect others in ways we may not be able to see, and the consequences of those decisions may last for years. While it may be easier to think that there is an easy way out, or that if I go to church, then it won't happen to me, we need to understand that it can and does happen to the best of us, bishop or CEO or member of the congregation.

If we truly want to live in a peaceful society, we must recognize that the problem exists, and that we will be forced to face it from time to time. When we are prepared for the challenge, regardless of who we are and what positions we may hold in our community, they we will be well on our way to living in our own personal Zion.

Playing With the Big Boys

In an expected move last Friday, North Korea test launched a missile that would show that the country was capable of launching a nuclear weapon that could possibly reach as far as the United States. While the move has been seen as hostile by most countries, as well as much of the United Nations, any moves to punish North Korea are sure to have little, if any, effect. Why won't North Korea stop developing nuclear weapons? The answer is simple; they want to play with the big boys.

At the very mention of nuclear weapons, everyone pays attention. It does not matter how small you are, or how much military force you can scrounge up, if others think you have the biggest stick, they are going to listen to you. The "haves" as they are called, or the countries that currently have nuclear weapons, are always looked at in a different way than the "have not's". To understand this point, we need only hear a few names: The US, Russia, China, India, The UK, and Israel. I am sure that each of us knows these names and will have some idea of where in the world they are. You may even know a little about our nation's policy towards these countries. Now consider these names: Chad, Argentina, Moldova, Belarus, Somalia, and Turkmenistan. My guess is that you have no idea where any more than one or two of those countries are, and probably have no idea as to US policy towards them.

Now let's consider two final names: North Korea and Iran. Before the war in Iraq, most of us could not tell the difference between Iraq and Iran. All that has changed in the last few years as the potential of these countries developing a nuclear program became clear.

Yes there is reason for us to be concerned with more nuclear weapons in more hands around the world. No one thinks it will be a good idea to go back to a Cold War stance of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), and nuclear proliferation should be done with extreme care. There is no reason to assume, however, that North Korea' s purpose in developing nuclear technology is so that it will be used. We can see from their past actions that they simply what to be included in the conversation at the "adult table".

When North Korea detonated their first nuclear device in 2006, the world quickly moved North Korea to the center of attention. Media coverage focused of the county and its eccentric leader for months. Every news organization vied for the chance to go inside North Korea and be the first "on scene", and for the first time after the Korean War, we all knew what was going on across the Korean Peninsula.

Overnight, North Korea moved from being a small country on the other side of the world that had a crazy leader, to a small nuclear country on the other side of the world with the same crazy leader, but now we cared about them. With efforts for peace and nuclear disarmament we allowed North Korea to remain a major actor in world politics. We sent the New York Philharmonic to play a historic concert that was "bridging the gap" between our nation and theirs. And then the North Korean government started to destroy its nuclear program, or at least the part of the program that we could see and could be broadcast on CNN. Reporters showed us how much progress was being made and how well the world was getting along.

But all that faded away over time, and we all once again stop paying attention to Kim Jong Il. We knew that the North Koreans had nuclear weapons, but they could not send them anywhere. We stopped including North Korea in the discussions and moved on to the "economic crisis" that was bringing the world to its knees. So what is North Korea to do, how about launching a "satellite" that we all know is just a way to show that they have the ability to launch a nuclear weapon into space.

And look, it worked! We all care about North Korea again. We all want to see what is going on half way around the world, and the media is happy to supply us with pictures of projected missile flight paths and of a tiny dot in the middle of a field that we are told is a missile that is ready for launch. We once again respect, or should I say fear, what someone has the power to do on the other side of the world.

Will North Korea use nuclear weapons on South Korea, Japan, or even the United States? That is doubtful. They simply want to feel like one of the big kids and the best way they know to make it happen, Carry the biggest stick around. Don't worry about North Korea. Wait for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons program. Then we might have something to worry about.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Enjoy It While It Lasts

In an unexpected move, today the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a state law that banned same-sex marriage. In the unanimous decision, the court effectively ruled that same-sex marriages were legal in the state, making Iowa the third state to allow same sex marriages. The new rules will come into effect in as soon as 3 weeks.
While this may seem like a win for the gay community, I beg to differ. Iowa is a very conservative state, and while the law as ruled down, it was passed in the first place. The people of Iowa are mostly corn farmers who hold their beliefs and value systems in high regard. They may not be the most educated state in the country, but I would argue that it is one of the smartest states in the country. Iowa know how to use the system. There is a reason that they are the first state to hold their primary presidential elections, and refuse to move to Super Tuesday. They know that the government wants to keep the voters happy so the Iowa people will keep them in office come election time. This comes out in numerous subsidies that the corn industry receives.
Moving back to the issue at hand, The people of Iowa know how to get things done. They first passed the law to ban same-sex marriage. That has now been struck down. Do the people of Iowa give up and allow something that they came together as a people to ban, absolutely not. They will come together again and change their constitution.
Is this possible? If it is, will it happen? Yes! How can we know that? It has happened already. Iowa's neighbor to the west, Nebraska, went through this a few years ago. I would know, I lived there. Initiative 416 was the movement to change the Nebraska Constitution to effectively ban gay marriage. Was 416 contested? Yes. Were there hateful actions preformed on both sides of the issues? Of course. Was I called out at school in the middle of class and yelled at by a girl throwing out labels like bigot? You bet, but 416 still passed. Not only did it pass, it passed by a large margin. As much hate that came my way, including people destroying my property and dumping their cigarette trays in my driveway, the people made a decision and did not let the screaming of a few influence the laws that bind everyone.
Will this be the case in Iowa? Most likely it will be. The religious component of Iowa is very strong. Not only will the small churches push for the change, but the larger churches are willing to add their support. The ruling from the Supreme Court is not planed to be contested, but I would be very surprised if the constitution was not changed to override the Courts. It may seem a victory for now, but the people will undoubtedly come together and show the they still disagree with gay marriage, don't want to allow it, and will do what it takes to make their "quiet voices" heard.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Smoke’em Out

A new federal tax on cigarettes went into effect today, and apparently it's breaking news. When I got to the CNN website this morning, the very first picture on the page is a man complaining about how he has to pay more for his smokes. "They're picking on us poor people…" say the man, "They have been for years." While I know what it feels like to feel picked on, I don't really have much sympathy for smokers. The main complaint appears to be that smokers feel that they are being singled out for tax increases every time the government wants to fund something, and all I have to respond to that is… "You are, Deal with it."

It's not often that I side with the majority, but in this case, I have too. First off, we all know that smoking is bad for you. If there is anyone still out there that doesn't agree with me is either completely naïve, or is so old that they are still living in the 50's. Smoking is related to an increase in every health risk from cancer to diabetes. There is a reason that smokers get charged higher health insurance premiums. Study after study has shown that smoking is a slow painful death, and yet there is still a group out there that refuses to stop the habit.

Next, smokers are part of a group that, in economics, which are referred to as inelastic. Inelastic means that if the price of a good goes up, the demand for the good remains the same. This means that if the price of cigarettes increases, very few people will stop smoking. This is a great thing for the government. If the lawmakers need to find a way to fund a program, inelastic goods are great things to tax.

There is a way to combine these two points. Smokers often fall in the category of not having health insurance. They have an income under the poverty level and cannot afford it, or they are already living off the government and have everything paid for by Medicare or Medicaid. This does not mean that everyone under the poverty level or on Medicare smoke. But there are many studies which show that smokers are lower income households with no medical insurance. So what happens when these people get sick? The government pays for their medical care, while they continue to smoke. So why should we not have them pay for some of the other programs.

What was the new program funded by the tax increase, SCHIPs, State Children's Health Insurance Programs. That's right, the increase is slated to help develop programs that provide health insurance for children of parents who can't afford private insurance for their children but don't qualify for Medicaid. Why are smokers complaining?

Yes the new tax is almost 10 times more that it was a yesterday, and yes it is going to cost an extra $10 to buy a carton, but you can always avoid the tax and quit smoking. It would help everyone, especially you. Stop complaining just for the sake of complaining. If you are not willing to change, regardless of the price, both money and health, then be quiet and hand over the cash.