As 2011 Comes to a Close. . .

The 2011 calendar will always hold a special place in the attic that is my recollect as it is the year that I became both a husband and a father. I will also remember this as the year that I was fortunate enough to travel overseas. Such amazing events in my personal life put 2011 pretty high on my top 10 list but looking back on the year puts things in a different light.

The year began with the not-so-proverbial bang of a Congresswoman being maliciously shot in the head last January. Uprisings in Egypt brought the resignation of its Prime Minister in February. The month of March saw nuclear disaster and the United Nations issue a resolution that led to NATO action against Libya, resulting in the eventual death of Qaddafi.

In April, Sony's PlayStation network was hacked, leaving millions of users' personal data exposed, tornadoes ravaged heartland communities and the President of the United States, after 3 years and $2 million spent contesting its release, finally gave in to political pressure and produced a questionable version of his Hawaiian birth certificate.

Osama bin Laden finally met with justice in May and Portugal got bailed out. Syrian oppression cracked down on its own Arab Spring movement in June while Greece dealt with anti-austerity protests. The seemingly peaceful and serene land of Norway was irrevocably rocked in July by an enigmatic assassin's killing spree. The manufactured crisis presented by the "debt-ceiling" debate in August led to the largest increase in the arbitrary limit in the nation's history, only to be raised quietly three more times before the year's end.

September brought a somber ten year anniversary of the worst attack on America's soil while the President's re-election campaign strategy of class warfare began in earnest with his 'jobs' plan that amounted to another labor union stimulus tied to tax increases. Occupy Wall Street began to occupy the headlines in October with their incoherent message of economic fairness struggling to be articulated. As Lenin's useful idiots ran wild in the streets, Europe teetered on the brink of collapse throughout November.

The war in Iraq came to a ceremonious end in December, leaving many questions unanswered as Iranian war drums got louder and the Great Leader of North Korea passed on, creating many new questions. Also just this month, a Defense Authorization Act that enables the indefinite detention of American citizens became law while politicians argued over defunding Social Security for an additional 2 months or one year.

As the year nears its conclusion, I see few bright spots on the horizon in 2012...other than watching my son learn to walk and talk. The media will continue to wage a misinformation campaign on us all. The polls used to measure public opinion will be subject to even further manipulation as we are already seeing.

For example, the unemployment rate's drop to 8.6% this month was heralded as evidence of improvement. Digging beneath the headlines reveals that the new stats no longer consider hundreds of thousands of people whom are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits, thus allowing the government to claim that these people are not actively seeking a job. Not to mention the impact of temporary holiday seasonal hiring.

Even the President's approval numbers are suspect. The media reported this week that Presidential job approval is at 49%, a 5% jump since the same poll was conducted last month. Again, what they don't tell you is this month's poll included 7% more professed Democrats than Republicans and how that skews the result. Last month's poll only had 3% more self-described Democrats.

Much of the same is happening across the pond. Despite what is being touted as strong, necessary reform, the people of Europe will continue to resist more authoriatrian controls from a more centralized European authority. More government bailouts will only prolong the inevitable collapse of the Euro and a potential breakup of the Union itself.

And though it is being widely reported that both the Tea Party and Occupy movements have fizzled out, don't be so sure. The Tea Party will be active throughout the Republican primaries and will have its impact felt in November as well. The Occupy crowd will be too, once the weather improves. The Occupiers, having gone through their test run this fall, will be much more of a disrupting force next time around, however.

So while the President enjoys his time off in Hawaii at the cost of $4 million to the taxpayer in between killing the Bill of Rights, defunding Social Security and quietly raising the debt ceiling $1.2 TRILLION, the country takes a collective breath before the new year. 2012 is going to be a bumpy ride. Perhaps the Mayans were on to something.

Decline of the.....television?

For the first time since statistics have been recorded, American television ownership has actually decreased. More than a million less people today have a television in their home than did a year ago, even as the total number of households continues to rise. We are told it is because of the economy. I think otherwise.

Let's perform a mental exercise.

I know, I know....who wants to perform a mental exercise?

Well this is actually case-in-point #1. Through our incessant consumption of media, we are trained to avoid mental exercising. Physical exercising, now that makes us look good and has the potential to get you on Jersey Shore so that is more encouraged, never mind the mental health benefits. That's unimportant.

But I digress. Back to the mental exercise. How many media outlets can you name that promote positive, values-based living styles? Where are we told as much about the importance of being a proud, productive member of society as much as the extravagance of some affluent housewives? What news organizations extol the virtues of those 'occupying' various cities with filth, drug use and immoral behavior while condemning another peaceful, responsible, clean movement as racist and a threat to America?

When you ask yourself these questions, conclusions are not hard to come by. It is easy to see that ABC/NBC/CBS/CNN/MSNBC all report the exact same stories with the exact same slanted perspective every single night. It is easy to see the number of 'prime-time shows' that corrupt ones sense of right and wrong. It is easy to see all of the attacks from all angles on Fox News as unbalanced when Fox News is the one mainstream outlet that dissents from all the rest.

If you were to only watch the major nightly news, every story you would hear about a Republican presidential candidate would be negative. Every one will be projected as a bumbling fool that will destroy the country and has no business being in the race all the while failing to give coverage of their respective resumes and just why it is so many people agree with their policies. Contrast that with the coverage of Barack Obama and his extensive resume of community organizing, phantom education and shady associates.

People hear quick soundbites or see headlines of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and claim they are racists, morons and bigots without ever having listened to their radio program or seen them speak. Never mind the tens of millions daily that arrange their schedules to hear them or their ratings dominance versus their liberal competition. Why is that?

Why is it that as Europe is failing the majority of the media reports another Federal Reserve bailout as a positive thing, while ignoring the $7.7 TRILLION in secret loans it has made to banks worldwide since 2008? Why is it reported as strong leadership Chancellor Merkel's calls for tighter central European controls? That is like saying Washington D.C. can tell each state what their budget is and what they can spend it on.

Oh, but I guess that is their idea of a positive. More consolidated government control.

More people are seeing the light and turning off their televisions. Much as you will be told doing so puts you in the dark.

Acropolis Falls

Serious trouble is brewing across the Atlantic. After decades of trying to integrate the historically sovereign economies of the European continent, the Union once touted as the counter-weight to the United States is on the verge of spectacular collapse. In one last twist of fate, the final straw appears to be the weight of democracy.

Although the logic of stringing nearly two dozen incredibly diverse and structurally divergent fiscal governments together via one common currency was always difficult to work through, the time apparently nears where the experiment will have run its course.

Greece, among many of the EU countries, has been living a fiscally unsustainable life for a good while now. With an economy fueled predominantly by tourism and minor agricultural exports, Greece was living high on the Trojan horse until the collapse of 2008 swept in harsh realities. Greek public debt as a percentage of its GDP has increased from 107% in 2007 to an economically-stagnating 145% in 2010. 2012 forecasts project as much as 180%. So Greece, like far too many other nations, has been borrowing far too much to finance its standard of living. Sound like home yet?

The problem is that Greece shares a currency with 21 other 'independent' countries and cannot independently print more money....I mean implement a quantitative easing program of their own. They require real loans from real banks. Tied to real strings. Meaning no more cushy public jobs, paid for by German taxpayers. No more public officials retiring at 50 with large pensions for life.

Last week a late deal was reached to provide a bailout to Greece in exchange for austerity measures imposed upon the Greek fiscal house and a European oversight commission telling the Greek government what it can and cannot do. Stock markets around the world rose on the news that new money would back bad Greek debt, even at reduced returns. The media spun a story that the EU was saved. Until this week.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou responded to the deal by calling for a Greek popular vote on the deal. He said the people need to decide on the future of Greece in the European Union. This of course sent stock markets around the world plunging. Why? Because new money financing bad debt was now placed in jeopardy as it is unlikely the Greek people are going to vote in favor of a deal that cuts their cushy standard of living in any way and hands over their government to politicians in Berlin, Paris or Brussels.

The failings of Europe are not isolated to their continent. The same situation is playing out at a slower pace here in the United States. We too have a collection of near-autonomous governments spending money at varying paces. Some states are perilously close to default, requiring massive injections of federal taxpayer money to finance its unrealistic obligations.

The state of California is trying to build a high-speed rail system that has now tripled in projected costs to a staggering $98 BILLION from what was approved in a voter referendum and the planned 20 year construction has not even yet begun. This in a state with a $25 BILLION budget deficit each year. When a bailout of California is inevitably required, it will be the taxpayers of the other 49 states that foots the bill.

What happens when states with sound fiscal houses object to spending their hard-earned and well-managed money on systems that are financially insolvent? What happens when people are forced to take 50% cuts on their promised government pensions and benefits? What happens when people take over governments with the intention of spending as much money as possible to buy political coalitions at the expense of solvency?

We are starting to see the results across the pond and the conclusions will not be pretty.

The New 5 Year Plan

The intellectually-superior liberal Left is at it again. As the economy continues to stagnate amid repressive conditions and global debt crises, one congressional genius has found the ever-elusive and supposed only answer to our job-creating woes.

The remarkable Reverend Jesse Jackson's prodigy, whom has been unfortunately influencing national policy for 16 years, is now proposing that the federal government employ all 15 million of the unemployed in this country. The economic-savant would like each paid $40,000 to participate in civilian conservation corps and something called a Works Progress Administration. Cleaning up communities. Because those pesky unemployed occupiers are definitely swift with the sanitation....

Congressman Jackson Jr. claims the initiative could be a 5 year program. At a cost of only $600 billion. What he does not mention is that this sum is a per year figure, meaning the entire cost of his proposal would be somewhere around $3 TRILLION (or 20% of our national debt). To pay people to sweep streets. Equally. And fairly.

The esteemed legislator also recommends the President circumvent Congressional appropriation processes by using "extraordinary Constitutional means," since Congress is in a state of "rebellion" unseen since the Civil War. Definite justification for further erosion of our Constitution.

Mr. J-cubed apparently thinks that the economy will work itself out by the time the Federal money spigot gets turned off in five years time and that all of these 15 million people will then funnel back into tax-paying, actually productive jobs in the private sector. Or maybe he doesn't. Maybe this is just the beginning of the end of the private work force. I seem to remember Stallin instituting some 5 year plans....

The Occupation of Decline

Have we become the France of the 21st century? An interesting perspective provides insight into how we have facilitated our own decline. The similarities are striking.

Lower Manhattan has been occupied for the last three weeks by a group of spoiled, under-performing college kids intent on getting their voices heard. Their poorly-communicated list of demands includes: free college, $20/hr minimum wage, fair living wage for the unemployed, free health care, and elimination of all debt in the world. They say a job is a universal right. All Utopian fantasies that sound great but have no successful practical application.

Encouraged by a complicit media that spins favorable coverage (versus the misrepresentation of the Tea Party) they claim corporate greed has ruined our society and Wall Street refuses to create jobs. What is failing to be realized is that their comfortable existence thus far has been enabled by ambitious, entrepreneurial companies that have grown and advanced the quality of life for everyone. When they decry million dollar bonuses, they fail to acknowledge that 35% of that check goes straight to the federal government, not to mention the state income taxes that hit the residents of New York. The wealthier residents of New York have an overall tax burden in excess of 50% when you consider state and federal income taxes in addition to property and sales taxes. Hardly less than their fair share.

To be sure, there has been fraud and corruption in some corners of our financial system. But when people point to propaganda efforts like the movie Inside Job, produced by the massive corporation, Sony, narrated by $20mill/movie Matt Damon and with commentary from Barney Frank and George Soros, the conversation is seriously skewed toward misinformation. Not to mention the sad irony of using Eliot Spitzer as a protagonist commentator juxtaposed against Wall St. solicitation of prostitution as an example of corruption.

So many of these immature protesters complain about their massive college debt. Do they not realize that without banks "investing" in college education, most would never get to play frisbee on the hallowed grassy lawns of University life? Where is the outrage at their own schools for charging so much while their tenured faculty heroes get guaranteed salaries for teaching one class a week?

The answer is not the destruction of the system that has created the most dynamic nation the world has ever seen. The answer is also most definitely not sitting in drum circles in-between tweeting frustrations from your iPad, sipping your Venti MochaFrappacino.

The answer starts with the defeat of the mentality that encourages people to be dependent on others. Self-motivation and the enrichment of one's skills and abilities breed success. If some of these people spent half of this energy creating a useful product or service to sell to a willing buyer, they would realize very quickly just how great this country can be.

The alternative is answering the Former Occupation question on a future job application with the foreboding term: Wall Street.

The Torture Hypocrisy

One of the political Left's loudest complaints with President Bush was the previous Administration's policy on "Enhanced Interrogation" and detainment procedures related to CIA prisons abroad and more popularly, Guantanamo Bay. Calls of war crimes have been common for both the former President as well as former Vice-President Cheney.

A few months ago, an elite covert operations team performed a raid on a foreign compound based, in part, on intelligence gained from enhanced interrogation of detainees at these military facilities resulting in the execution of Osama bin Laden. No moral outcry was heard in regards to a lack of due process.

Now this past weekend, yet another drone strike has taken out an al Qaeda operative. This time the casualty was an American citizen. Again, no moral outcry. Instead the media elites are offering confused rationalizations

How is it that pouring water over a terrorist's face or making them listen to Eminem is inhuman torture but ordering commando death raids and firing collaterally-damaging rockets that kill American citizens abroad is strong, efficient leadership?

Inflating the Baseline

A common debate on the news is whether or not government spending should be cut. Large numbers followed by the terms billions and trillions are thrown around for effect and we are all led to believe significant changes will be made to the way our government is financed. 

The truth of the matter is that these cuts that get discussed are actually only proposed reductions in mandated increases. For example, if a government agency has a billion dollar budget this year, by law, this same government agency's budget will increase up to $50 or $100 million by default. Any cuts (or increases) proposed to this agency's funding would be against this increased budget amount.

This happens because the scorer of the cost of government, the Congressional Budget Office, uses a technique called baseline budgeting. Because of a 1974 law, all funding for discretionary programs must inflate itself to keep up with the times so all programs increase year to year by a formulaic percentage. This works great when revenues are steadily increasing. But when the economy retracts, no correction in government spending is made to correlate. Any talk of spending cuts is only against mandated increases.

So going back to that hypothetical agency....if a "cut" of 2% was proposed to its funding, the net result would be a budget that had actually increased in real dollars by $29 million. This goes on across the entire federal government.

A legislative solution has been proposed to change the CBO's technique to a zero-baseline formula, one where any changes to a program's funding must be explicit and outright. One where a cut is actually a cut. Anyone serious about solving our deficit crisis should be in favor of this legislation.