Archive for July, 2011

No Debt Deal and No Beer Makes Blogger Go Crazy

The craziness in Congress has spread to me.  They are driving me nuts.  How so?  I didn’t intend to, but today I pretty much placed the blame for the debt ceiling crisis on my running partner.  Her “crime”?  She voted for Senator Richard Shelby.  Two years ago.  I mean, it’s a very logical argument, right?  When Shelby ran two years ago, he won by just a single vote.  Or was it 452,812 votes?  I can’t remember for sure.  All I know was the guy I voted for was a very credible candidate!  Just check out his website!  Look, he stood for….um…..two issues (oh wait, four!  He just didn’t have two of them in his pull-down menu).  But I’m sure his ideas on those two four subjects were awesome….just check out these….er….very generic and few ideas.  So did I vote for him because he wasn’t Shelby and he apparently was also not an apparent rapist?   Okay, nevermind that.  Because the ringleader of all this, the man responsible for gumming up all the works, is….Richard Shelby?  Hmm.

Yeesh!  Is irrationality contagious?  Because I do believe I have caught the disease from Congress.  Anyway, as a catharsis, let me post a few more thoughts on the debt ceiling developments.  I hope to be more rational now:

  • Tea party folks are really pushing for a balanced budget amendment.  On the surface, this idea really does have some appeal.  After all, there is not much sign that Congress can keep its spending in line with its revenues in the long run.  That said, sometimes things that seem like a good idea on the surface have negative connotations when you peel back the skin.  Economists say it is a bad idea.  Liberal economists say it’s a bad idea.  Conservative economists say it’s a bad idea.  Lots of economists say it’s a bad idea.  How much of a bad idea?  For instance, without further revenues, in fiscal year 2009, cuts would have had to been made to 100% of our discretionary spending, including all of national defense, and we still would have had to make cuts into Medicare and Social Security.  I tend to try to give a lot of weight to the experts in any discussion.  Also, I believe that we are largely in this mess because of the idiots we put in charge.  The same idiots will still be in charge with a BBA.
  • As a related issue, the House tied raising the debt ceiling next year to passage of the BBA.  I don’t know.  Something unseemly about that.  Too much like blackmail to me.  I would like to think even if they flipped it and said that it was tied to voting down the BBA, I would still oppose it.  Legislation should be voted on or against on its own merits, not linked to other legislation as a leverage tool.
  • We are now actually having to consider gimmicky loopholes to try to get the debt ceiling passed.  One option is for President Obama to unilaterally invoke a clause in 14th Amendment that says “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”  But as you might imagine by mentions of insurrection and rebellion, and becomes even more clear reading the rest, the intent of this amendment was to take care of some post-Civil War business.  (On the other hand, one purpose for this was so that returning Southern Congressmen wouldn’t hold the debt hostage.  Pretty much what is happening now.  So the case can certainly be made for its usage.)  So it’s kind of a go-around of the checks and balances.  It also means legal challenges and possible impeachment proceedings brought against Obama.
  • A more interesting option that somehow stayed off my radar until my running partner mentioned it this morning (before I decided she caused this) is the trillion-dollar coin.  It sounds like something straight out of The Onion, but crazy times call for crazy measures and some are legitimately proposing it.  The idea is that the U.S. Treasury could mint a coin and declare it having a huge value ($1 trillion or more).  The Treasury simply then takes that coin to the Federal Reserve and buy up Treasury bonds and retires that amount of debt.  The Federal Reserve has to take it, because by law they can’t refuse legal tender.  It’s really sort of a clever, awesome idea actually.  Absurd certainly (may I suggest we put the Montgomery C. Burns on the coin in honor of the original one trillion dollar bill?).  But so is this whole situation.
  • It appears that we have people who don’t know what they are doing in charge?  But how did that come to pass?  We have 93 new Representatives and 13 new Senators.  The other 342 Representatives and 87 Senators should know better.
  • Republicans refuse to raise taxes on anyone for any reason.  Yet if the debt ceiling is not increased and if our debt is downgraded, guess what?  Interest rates are going to go up for everyone.  Call it a stupidity tax.  Except this tax will not contribute one iota to debt reduction.  In fact, it will do just the opposite.
  • I fear we are heading toward another recession no matter what happens at this point.

Ok, deep breaths.  Everything will be fine.  Now repeat, ‘Do not take this out on your friends, do not take this out on your friends, do not take this………’

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I think the debt ceiling thing is important.  I encourage you all to write your representatives and tell them what you think.  I have.  Here is my “letter”:

I am writing you out of concern about the debt ceiling which if not raised will prohibit this nation from borrowing the money necessary to pay for its obligations.

I think it is important to remember these obligations exist due to the passage of legislation by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. The spending was approved, and we as a country now owe the money. We have a moral obligation to live up to our expectations as a nation.

Additionally, while there is debate about what exactly will happen to the economy if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, the consensus is that it won’t be positive. Considering the current shaky state of the economy, I do not believe we can afford to risk any negative impact. It should be remembered that a poorly performing economy makes it that much more difficult to reduce the debt.

I am also very disappointed that all sides have chosen to use the debt ceiling vote as leverage in negotiating spending cuts and/or tax increases. Most of the consequences that create this leverage will not be suffered by those in office negotiating, but rather the American people. Further, I believe that drastic spending cuts and/or tax increases deserve careful consideration and debate. These are things that should not be done in a rushed manner caused by an arbitrary deadline.

Please also consider raising the debt limit by a sufficient amount to meet this country’s needs beyond the 2012 election. It is my opinion that election politics has severely hampered this process so far, and that will only be much, much worse if this debate continues into 2012. There is no reason that spending, taxes, and even the debt ceiling itself cannot continue to be election issues even with the passage of a sufficient debt limit amount. But let’s please not let the uncertainty of our current situation continue for months, as I fear such doubts could cause some of the very same economic consequences as not passing anything at all.

Finally, I hear a lot of talk about what the American people want or don’t want, or elected “us to do”. The “American people” voted for you. But the “American people” also voted against you. And the “American people” also voted for your opposition. The “American people” do not have a singular monolithic vision for the country. I’m a part of the “American people”. You were elected to represent the best interest of all Alabamians, not just those that voted for you.

Thank you for your consideration.

In other words, the writer of this blog believes that this country should not be economically ruined. 🙂

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"Boehner needs this putt for all the tax cuts!" "He is going to try to put the ball into the hole, Cotton."

Man, wasn’t the golf game between President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner suppose to settle this?  Maybe they should have just made it a winner-take-all match.  Even better, they could have had it broadcast on television.  That would be compelling “reality TV”, right?  Had it simulcast on C-Span 2 and ESPN (perfect for the Ocho!).  Irresponsible you say?  Is it really any more so than the game they are playing even as you read?

The Onion was spot-on with this article:

Congress Continues Debate Over Whether Or Not Nation Should Be Economically Ruined

WASHINGTON—Members of the U.S. Congress reported Wednesday they were continuing to carefully debate the issue of whether or not they should allow the country to descend into a roiling economic meltdown of historically dire proportions. “It is a question that, I think, is worthy of serious consideration: Should we take steps to avoid a crippling, decades-long depression that would lead to disastrous consequences on a worldwide scale? Or should we not do that?” asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), adding that arguments could be made for both sides, and that the debate over ensuring America’s financial solvency versus allowing the nation to default on its debt—which would torpedo stock markets, cause mortgage and interests rates to skyrocket, and decimate the value of the U.S. dollar—is “certainly a conversation worth having.” “Obviously, we don’t want to rush to consensus on whether it is or isn’t a good idea to save the American economy and all our respective livelihoods from certain peril until we’ve examined this thorny dilemma from every angle. And if we’re still discussing this matter on Aug. 2, well, then, so be it.” At press time, President Obama said he personally believed the country should not be economically ruined.

Brilliant.  I also liked what host Peter Sagal of NPR’s Wait, Wait….Don’t Tell Me said on today’s show.  He said it has been like being on board the Titanic, but with six months of warning. True.  And let me tell you, the American people are not a part of the “better half”.

I hate how this whole process is going down.  I think the debt ceiling raise should be a clean bill with no strings attached.  After all, the reason we need it is due to commitments already passed by the government.  I also think that even though getting the budget balanced and reducing debt are ultimately good things, I don’t think the best way to do that is through a Congressional rush job that is self-imposed.  Finding ways to more efficiently Medicare and Social Security, for instance, are good ideas.  But that deserves thorough thought and debate.  And that should happen before you put a price on the amount of cuts.  I fear a bill will get passed, and then afterwards everyone will try to figure out exactly what was it in.

Republicans are too focused on making Obama a one-term President, consequences be damned.  For my money, Obama places a little too much emphasis on trying to appear reasonable, although it is fair to say that he now can’t get something passed through the House without some Republican help.  Whatever happens, this has already been a failure, regardless of where the blame ultimately lies.

I do have a question.  Why during the five times the debt limit was increased during the Bush administration was it not a big deal?  You didn’t see Senate Democrats demand tax increases in exchange for voting for raising the debt ceiling in 2007, did you?  Or even before this, it seems like before now there was a kind of gentlemen’s agreement that the economy took precedence over political wrangling.  What has happened?

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I’ve decided to rip off an idea from Birmingham News columnist John Archibald and right about the things that tick me off.  Then again, he just ripped off the idea from Washington Post columnist John Kelly.  So maybe at the end of the day none of us are really that original.  Anyway:

  • Grandstanding Politicians Sure, grandstanding politics has been a fact of life for as long as I can remember.  But is it me, or is it getting worse?  As in the grandstanding is getting in the way of things that matter.  Sure, we still have the pointless battles over things like light bulbs which will ultimately go nowhere.  But now we have games over such things as the debt ceiling, which if not passed will have real world consequences.  Hey, I love a game of chicken as much as the next guy.  But the way the game is being played here is that both parties are holding the same gun and they have it pointed toward the American people.  The leverage only comes from each party fearing that they will be accused of pulling the trigger.  The terrible thing is I’m not sure, if one party thought they could pin the blame on the other, that they wouldn’t go ahead and shoot.
  • Media Hype – Exaggeration – I can’t stand how the media will hype of stories as doom and gloom.  Oh no, it’s the snowpocalypse!  My goodness, downtown Memphis is going to completely flood (except by downtown, we really me just a small stretch of road right by the river.  Sure, smaller rural communities really are flooding, but as a reporter, would you rather me have to go to farms or go party on Beale Street?)  And this weekend, it’s Carmaggedon!!!!!!   It’s a little freaky that the media nowadays somehow come to an agreement of what to call these things.  Do they have a meeting and decide, ‘hey, how about we all call this weekends closing of an L.A. interstate “Carmaggedon”?’  To which somebody replys, ‘That’s gold, Jerry!  Gold!’  It’s funny enough when they exaggerate with play off words like Armageddon and apocalypse.  It is even funnier when NOTHING HAPPENS.  Speaking of which…..
  • Media Hype – Non-Stories – Sometimes the media take total non-stories and make them into stories.  Bird Flu.  Mad Cow Disease.  Obama’s birth certificate.  Sarah Palin.  Jon & Kate or whoever they are.  Y2K.  What about the Casey Anthony trial?  Why was I suppose to care so much again?  OMG, she was found not guilty!????  Clearly a travesty of justice, because the case was decided by the evidence and the jury of her peers, and not by Nancy Grace like our forefathers had intended!  Right?  Oh, while I’m thinking about it….
  • Nancy Grace
  • People who claim that there is nothing to do in (blank city) – Live in podunk USA as I have and then get back to me about having nothing to do.  If you live in a city of any size, there IS stuff to do.  Birmingham, which is not gigantic by any measure, has museums, parks, a minor-league pro baseball team, a theme/water park, a zoo, theaters, restaurants of any variety you can think of, etc.  They have great events like an independent movie festival, art festivals, concerts by the symphony orchestra, marathons, etc.   I think saying there is nothing to do just sounds better than saying that I’m too lazy to get off my ass and do something.
  • Traffic jams caused by rubberneckers – It’s bad enough that there’s a wreck.  But it really annoys me when traffic is tied up not so much because of the wreck itself but people slowing down and sometimes outright stopping just to gawk at it.  But nothing ticks me off more when it turns out the accident is on the OTHER side of a divided road, and it is 100% the fault of rubberneckers that your commute has taken a million years!
  • People that don’t know procedures when traffic lights go out – It’s real simple.  If the traffic light goes out, the intersection becomes a 4-way stop.  It doesn’t become a free-for-all clusterfrick.  Oh, well it does.  But it’s not suppose to, and the fact it does ticks me off!
  • Fast food cashiers that refuse to use math – You go to a fast food place, put in an order, and the cashier rings up some ridiculous total.  Oh, no problem, you think.  Because any idiot could see that the price is wrong.  But alas, you are not dealing with just any idiot.  You are dealing with a fast food cashier.  All that he/she knows is that he/she hit the right pictures on the machine.  And all the pleading about just doing the math will do you know good.  They don’t get paid to do math, they get paid to hit pictures.  Even reasoning doesn’t work.  Does $9 for an Egg McMuffin and juice sound like a meal DEAL to you?  Grrr!
  • People that don’t clean their dog’s crap in public places – OK, you don’t want to clean up your dog’s crap.  It stinks I know.  But imagine if EVERYONE took that attitude.  This enjoyable park/trail/whatever you take your dog to would no longer be enjoyable.  Make sense?  Oh right, you don’t think of anyone but yourself.  What really ticks me off is when the crap is right in the middle of  the sidewalk, path, trail, etc.  I mean, ok, you are too lazy to clean your dog’s crap.  But does it really take too much effort to drag your dog off the path so at least it does its business where other people aren’t walking/running/ skating/ etc.?  What’s that?  Oh yes, I did forget, you don’t think of anyone but yourself.  My bad.

So what things tick you off?

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Any ideas?  I’m sure I don’t have the solution.  Pretty sure those in charge don’t either though.  The funny thing is it’s not all the economy that is screwed up.  Companies are profitable.  They are sitting on wads of cash.  Yet unemployment remains at a frustratingly high 9.3% while employers just added a paltry 18,000 jobs in June.  What gives?

Really I find that I have no answers.  I just have questions.

  • Not that it’s not important, but can this raising the debt ceiling thing really fix anything about the economy?  It seems to me that if you don’t raise it, it can really screw things up.  But I’m pretty sure raising it just means we keep the status quo.  I could be wrong though.
  • How does the government “living within its means” give business confidence to grow and create jobs?
  • If the goal is to reduce national debt, what sense does it make to make any tax increase revenue neutral by creating tax decreases elsewhere?  This was the Republican leadership’s idea of compromise on the tax issue (which now appears they are backing away from, because apparently there are enough Republicans stating they just flat won’t vote for a tax increase on anyone regardless of the circumstances.)
  • Isn’t the problem right now that people just aren’t buying stuff?  If so, all the tax breaks for corporations will do no good.  It doesn’t make sense to hire workers to make stuff that’s just going to sit on a shelf, it doesn’t matter what the tax rate is.  And corporations are only obligated to stockholders to maximize profits.  If that means using tax breaks to pad the bottom line, that’s what they will do.
  • If the problem is that people aren’t spending money, is this a good time for the government to also spend less money?  Or in the short-term, should they step in and spend more?  It would seem if nothing else, less government spending means less government jobs.  Wouldn’t this be a great time to spend even more money upgrading the country’s infrastructure (and in the process provide jobs not being provided by the private sector)?
  • If we are struggling so bad with national debt, why isn’t ending the wars on the table even for strictly economic reasons?
  • Does balancing the budget and reducing national debt create jobs and get the economy going?  Or does creating jobs and getting the economy going help balance the budget and reduce national debt?

I will say that it’s a whole lot easier to criticize than it is to actually come up with solutions.

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In Idaho, it's illegal for a man to give a women a box of chocolates weighing less than 50 pounds.

2011 has been quite a year for stupid state legislation.  Fortunately for state legislators, thanks to old antiquated laws still on the books, laws getting passed now are probably not the most stupid things in the code.  Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Alabama:

  • 2011 Stupid Law:  Not wanting to be outdone by Arizona, my home state passed an even more extreme anti-immigration law.  Police can arrest anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant if they stop that same person for any other reason.  Also, schools must determine the immigration status of all students enrolled and that of parents of enrolling students and report the data back to the state.  And it is illegal to give an illegal immigrant a ride if you know the person is an illegal immigrant or should have known.  Nope, no chance for witch hunts or racial discrimination here.
  • Might Be A More Stupid Law?:  Bear wrestling matches are prohibited in the state of Alabama.  Pig wrestling matches, however, are encouraged.

Florida:

  • 2011 Stupid Law:  Florida has passed a law that basically makes it harder to vote and register voters.  Individuals working to register voters must register with the state and face fines of up to $1,000 if they do not submit a form within 48 hours (groups are suspending registration activities to avoid the liability).  Additionally, early voting has been reduced to eight days from fifteen, because more convenience is always a bad thing when it comes to democracy.  Also, voters will no longer be able to change their registered address on election day as they have been able to the last four decades.  All in the name of curbing a fraud problem that there is no evidence actually exists.  So some suspect the real purpose is to curb the voting for Obama problem that occurred in 2008 by frustrating students and others with longer early voting lines and rule changes.
  • Might Be A More Stupid Law?:  Having sexual relations with a porcupine is illegal in Florida.  And really just a bad idea.

Maryland:

  • Stupid  2011 Law:  In Maryland, you are now presumed guilty of traffic violations upon receipt of the ticket.  You can either just pay the fine, ask for a waiver trial to explain your side of the story to a judge before pleading guilty, or petition for a trial.
  • Might Be A More Stupid Law?  Thistles may not grow in one’s yard in Maryland.  And those dreams of thistle gardens go down the drain.

Oklahoma:

  • Stupid 2011 Law:  Oklahoma pushed through a law that makes it illegal for judges to consider Sharia Law and/or international law in their rulings.  Because if I had a nickel for every time a judge in his/her ruling decided ‘hey, screw U.S. and state law because those laws suck, I decided to use Sharia Law instead’ I would have….let’s see….add it together….um, zero nickels.
  • Might Be A More Stupid Law?  Whaling is illegal in Oklahoma, proving the state has a history of fixing problems that don’t exist.

Tennessee:

  • Stupid 2011 Law:  Tennessee has been on such a roll of stupid legislation, it’s hard to just pick one.  So I will go with a couple related laws.  First, all local (city, county, etc.) laws in the state regarding discrimination for groups not protected by state law have been overturned.  Localities also can’t pass new laws regarding discrimination for these same groups.  While the clear target of this legislation is gay and lesbians, the law is broad enough to remove protections for others as well, such as the disabled.  Because Tennessee is all for small localized government….except for deciding who does and doesn’t deserve protection.  In which case, Tennessee knows strong centralized government is the only option.  Otherwise laws may get in the way of beating the sin out of folks!  Also, just for good measure, Tennessee also made it illegal to say the word “gay” in the classroom.  Ah, I remember how big of a part of the curriculum that gay education was in Tennessee when I grew up.  No, wait, that didn’t happen.  Where does this happen?
  • Might Be More Stupid Law?:  You can’t shoot game, other than whales, from moving vehicles in Tennessee.  Jealous Oklahoma?

Wisconsin:

  • 2011 Stupid Law:  Wisconsin passed a law stripping the right to unionize from most public employees under the premise that such arrangements were bankrupting the state.  Because we all know that public employees are known for extravagant salaries!  Now we can take those savings and pass them on to the poor old Wall Street employees.
  • Might Be A More Stupid Law?:  Wisconsin has a law that states that when two trains meet at an intersection of said tracks, neither shall proceed until the other has.

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