I Should Have Known

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Politics

Ok, I have a confession to make. I listen to Nation Public Radio (NPR). Usually in the car on the way to and from work (but due to my commute, that translates into about three hours a day) – and mostly just to keep my blood pressure from dropping too low.

On the weekends, I do really enjoy a few of their shows and if I’m out and about between about 10:00AM and 1:00PM, I may listen then as well. One of my more conservative friends asked why I listened and I told him, “so I can hear what the progressives think without having to actually talk to one”. That was a little tongue-in-cheek – I talk to plenty of liberals and progressives on a daily basis – but NPR is usually just so focused in how they express their bias that it gives a little deeper insight into the progressive mind than you’d get from a friendly conversation. (Yes, people can disagree politically and still have friendly conversations.)

You see, one of my great concerns with social media – and media in general these days – is that you can easily drop into an echo chamber. It is entirely possible to surround yourself with only sights and sounds with which you agree. Soon your opinions can devolve and allow you to fall into left- or right-leaning groupthink. In my opinion, there is not an issue where the left of right has the answer 100% correct.

And yes, I am aware that some people who feel incredibly strongly about some issues will stop reading after that last sentence. I’m ok with that.

The Set Up

So anyway, I was listening to NPR this last weekend and hear the introductory portion of the show This American Life. This one was titled Essay B, (transcript: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/625/transcript).

The intro was a really compelling story about a Pakistani young-woman in an American high school. From everything I could tell, she was doing everything right, making every attempt to fit in and join American society (maybe even going too far to fit in). Despite all this effort, she still wound up realizing that those around her still saw her as an outsider and not just another American high schooler. In all seriousness, the first part of the transcript is worth a read (or a listen if you tune into the podcast). It illustrates quite well the hurdles first- and even second-generation Americans face while striving for their version of the American Dream.

I was 100% with Mariya (the young woman) until the very last portion of her interview. But to understand what happened, I must give you a little more background.

Mariya was a Texas high schooler. Many of her classmates were applying to college in Texas state schools. Part of that application process was answering several essays and one of those essays was “Essay B”. Since Mariya was applying for schools outside of Texas, she didn’t have to answer Essay B. Since she was also the editor of the school paper, she was enlisted by a teacher to help assess other students’ essays.

The Pitch

Here was the essay question:

Many students expand their view of the world during their time in college. Such growth often results from encounters between students who have lived different cultural, economic, or academic experiences. With your future growth in mind, describe a potential classmate that you believe you could learn from, either within or outside a formal classroom environment.

What Mariya found was that many of her classmates (who were mostly white) described interactions that they had had with Mariya as the basis of the interactions with the “potential classmate”, and then went on to describe some of the learning experiences they had, or wished to relate that they’d had to college admissions folks. In reviewing these essays, Mariya found that despite all her efforts to assimilate, she was still seen as some exotic ‘other’ by her peers. Like I said, this was a really compelling story and I was with her.

Then came the curve ball. You see, I was thinking – ‘This is a great story. This young woman can go on and pursue that American Dream despite being perceived as an outsider. This is the story of immigration and how a person with will and gumption can get out there and be a success.” I should have known better; I must have forgotten I was listening to NPR.

So here is how the interview wrapped up. From the transcript:

Mariya Karimjee

Even when I was in high school and I was reading this prompt, I remember being very aware of the fact that that question was not meant for me. Every time I read it, I had to think like, who on Earth am I going to write about? Who is different from me? I just can’t get around the idea that the question is only for white people.

It says, “With your future growth in mind, describe a potential classmate that you believe you could learn from.” When it’s saying, “Your future growth in mind,” who is the your in that context? In my opinion, it’s white people. Who else needs to learn and grow from people different from them? It’s like the prompt is saying that college is for white people and everyone else is here for the benefit of white people.

Curve Ball to the Left

I wanted to paste that exactly how it appears in the transcript, with no alterations. But now I’ll go back and call out the portion that made me shake my head and turn the radio to a music station. That part is, “I just can’t get around the idea that the question is only for white people.” Seriously?

There is not a single person who is not white that could not benefit in some way from ‘encounters’ with people from ‘different cultural, economic, or academic experiences’?

  • No rich person could benefit from an encounter with a poor person?
  • No poor person could benefit from an encounter with a rich person?
  • No Latino/Latina could benefit from an encounter with an African American?
  • No non-Asian could benefit from an encounter with a person of non-Asian descent?
  • No non-white could benefit from an encounter with a white?
  • No conservative could benefit from an encounter with a liberal?

…or vice versa…

Then to take the next logical fallacy leap to go from encounters with others can only benefit whites to the fact that this question insinuates that college is only for whites just takes things to a new level of lunacy.

And, just like that, my fear that you can self-select into an echo chamber is fulfilled. For those who listen only to liberal media, their thoughts / concerns / biases were not challenged. This story will serve only to further the confirmation bias of NPR’s base audience and thus drive a wedge deeper between the red and blue Americas.

There was once a belief that if you sailed far enough, you’d fall off the edge of the earth. This was based on the flawed logic that the earth is flat. The conclusion here is similarly flawed, based on a flawed underlying assumption. But the fact that it was not just accepted, but used as the premise for the entire show illustrates just how opposed to critical thinking NPR would like its audience to be.

Trying to Make it Home

My challenge to you is confront your bias. Find someone you can talk to who disagrees with you. Establish a ground rule that you’ll both be respectful and then sit down and have a conversation – make it over lunch initially so there is a limited amount of time…and talk. Who knows maybe you’ll find that you’re both human. Maybe you’ll find that you both care. Maybe you even find that an encounter with someone from different cultural, economic, or academic experiences are beneficial to us all and aren’t reliant on the color of our skin.

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This is weird.

I know I’m white. I know I’m male – at least in the currently accepted definition of the word (check back though, these things apparently change). But I’ve never thought of myself as angry and I have an MBA, so I’m more educated approximately 89.1% of the U.S. population as of the 2010 census. So, in all, I don’t feel like I fit the description of the uneducated, angry, white male who just screwed things up. Oh, and ‘by screw things up’, I mean by voting for Trump.

Apparently 42% of women are uneducated, angry, white men as well.

43% of degree holders must be uneducated, angry, white men too.

(Stats via Pew Research initla estimates)

Approximately 29% of Latinos are uneducated, angry, white men along with about 8% of blacks as they voted for Trump as well. (Source: The Telegraph).

All of that may come across as a bit snarky, and it was meant to be because I believe that anyone who stands by the narrative of the uneducated, angry, white, males is being pretty snarky as well. It is playing into the hands of identity politics and it is dangerous. The dangerous are many, and this election serves to underscore some of them.

What Difference Does it Make?

Maybe it isn’t about being angry, uneducated, white or male. There are certainly people with advanced degrees, happy, non-white and female (or any of the 56 other gender options Facebook offers in the US or 69 others offered in the UK) who voted for Trump. The law of large numbers comes into play here and says that is a virtual certainty.

[See what I did there? I used that education to throw out a pseudo-scientific sounding phrase that backs up my point without actually giving you something substantial that you can dispute. I’ve learned a lot from NPR over this election cycle.]

Let me take a moment and quote someone from the other side of the situation: “What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?” The race has been run and the finish line crossed. What does it matter who voted what?

It doesn’t really matter. That is, unless you want to come to a point of understanding; a point where the results – and the situations that led to these results – can be avoided in the future.

Rational Self-Interest

Here is another term for you, pulled straight from those courses that should have turned me anti-Trump: rational self-interest. It is an economics term that basically means people make economic decisions (buying and selling) based on whether they believe those decisions are good for them. It applies in the political field as well.

Just as in economics, I believe this is the first step in understanding choices in the political realm. So often we hear people calling the other side crazy or delusional, they may go on to insult their intelligence, their education level, their ethnicity, their race, their socioeconomic situation – whatever they can latch onto in order to isolate those ‘others’ into a box where they can be classified and for ever after, ignored at best or derided at worse.

Whether it is “the 1%”, “liberal whack jobs”, “uneducated”, or “bleeding hearts”, both sides do it – and it has gotten worse over the years as I’ve watched.

If we take a moment, step back and say to ourselves, ‘that person is acting rationally based on their life experience’, we begun to travel a path that leads to greater unity than division. It takes us to a place where we can begin to understand one another. That allows us to take the next step where we can begin to work together for the changes we want to see.

Why Would We do That?

Some will say, ‘we won, why try to understand the vanquished?’ Others will say, ‘we lost, does it matter why a man kicks a dog, you must just stop the kicking!’ Both would be right in their own short-sighted way. The problem is that if we don’t seek to understand one another, the divisions will continue to get worse and the swings from side to side will get greater. Or one side will eventually ‘win’ and the other side will be subjugated under the rule of the other side – a situation that rarely works out well for either side.

So let me start down the path. As a well educated, reasonably intelligent (score on the high end of IQ tests), mostly rational human being, why would I vote for Trump?

Let’s get a couple of the major assumptions out of the way:

  • I’m not an evangelical – not even actively religious, though I do believe.
  • I’m not anti-gay. I feel that a stable, loving relationship is hard enough to find and whether people find that in different genders or the same gender is not my call to make.
  • I’m not anti-Muslim. I am anti-terrorist but I don’t conflate the two.
  • I’m pro-immigrant. I do also believe that the word ‘immigrant’ is a legal status conveyed through the immigration process and so calling someone an ‘illegal immigrant’ is an oxymoron that renders the phrase null.
  • I’m not misogynistic (my books even have strong female characters who are pretty awesome). Not to mention that my wife would give me a serious thrubbing if I start on some misogynistic path. 🙂
  • I’m not racist – I know everyone says that, but you can take my word for it or not, it would be difficult for me to care any less whether you believe it; I believe it so it is the reality of my life.
  • I’m not a capital C ‘Conservative’ (but neither is Trump so I guess that one doesn’t count).
    • When I worked for the Red Cross I was one of the most conservative people in the building. When I worked for a small Central Texas business I was one of the most liberal.
  • I didn’t want to vote for Trump.

So, Why Do It?

Especially in light of that final point, why the heck did I vote for him?

Truly it is because I felt I had no other option. While I may not be a conservative, I do believe in the founding principles of this nation. I’m a Constitutionalist. When I looked at the candidates I saw a possible incompetent who may fail and a possible traitor who may succeed.

Trump may lead our country astray. He may get us mixed up in situations that future administrations will have to repair.

Clinton was set to alter the country in a manner that could not be repaired. The policies she espoused would have made it virtually impossible to repair.

It really comes down to the fact that once Trump is done we’ll still have the United States. It may be even more flawed than it is today, but we’ll likely be able to fix it. What Clinton proposed was to alter the country in a manner that it would not have been capable of self-repair.

I was reading a book recently called The Quartet. It is non-fiction and about the period between the American Revolution and the signing of the Constitution (I don’t fully agree with everything presented, but highly recommend the book). In it the Founders – Adams in particular – had a dilemma.  Either they could stand on their principles and demand that slavery was outlawed through the Constitution with the full knowledge that this decision would mean the southern states would not join – and thus not be subject to the Constitution anyway – or they could not press the case and allow the country to be unified so that the foundation was laid for slavery to be outlawed.

As I read this early last month, I realized that was the Trump dilemma I faced. I could essentially abstain by voting for one of the third party candidates and risk the future of the country, or I could suck it up, do the wrong thing for the right reason, and preserve the ability for the country to continue so that any wrongs which may be undertaken can be reversed in the future. Other people made other calculations and while I don’t agree, I do understand.

What I hope is that over the next four years we’ll take the opportunity to understand one another better so that this Faustian deal does not have to be repeated.

Let me restate the first part of the title. I do not like the National Rifle Association. At least I don’t like the scare tactics they use to get people to join, the hyperbole they use to keep people members, and the off the wall messaging you get to sign back up. I don’t like it.

[I want to take a moment to say that I began writing this article prior to the shootings by police in Baton Rouge and Minnesota as well as the shooting of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge. While tragic, none of these events successfully argued against the tenets of this entry, so I have moved forward with posting.]

What I like less is that they are right.

War of Attrition

Unfortunately the rights acknowledged and guaranteed by the Second Amendment are under attack. Make no mistake about it, the people who want to limit the rights of lawful gun owners in the United States of America are waging a war of attrition. All it takes for those of us who want to retain our rights is to let our guards down for a moment – especially after a tragedy (even one what wouldn’t have been altered in any way by a new gun law) – and these supposedly inviolate guarantees of natural law will disappear into the ether.

What About the NRA?

There are so many articles out there about gun rights, the Second Amendment, and personal self defense that this article could be book-length before I got to the end of my thoughts, so I’ll depart from that line at this point.

Back to the main point, I don’t care for the NRA. Wayne LaPierre is particularly annoying to me. I’m sure he is a nice guy and all, but when I see him in a commercial all I can think is ‘how much money do you want this time?’. And that’s kind of the deal with the NRA, they are a massive money-generating enterprise. You basically pay a membership to get put on a donor list.
Talking to another friend this weekend, other guns-rights groups are the same way. You might get a little bit of info here and there, but the bulk of the interaction you’ll have with these groups is when they are reaching out to reach into your pocket. To make their fund raising efforts more effective, they find the most inflammatory interpretation of events and use the most exaggerated language possible to express that interpretation. It’s annoying, really, really annoying. I can look out across the political landscape and see that the Second Amendment rights are under attack. I don’t need the verbal equivalent of twenty-seven exclamation points.

On top of all of that, I’m not a fan of fanatics. I believe in a society of varying shades of grey rather than stark black and white. There is almost always room for discussion – even if it is only so that you can better understand who you disagree with. The NRA doesn’t really play in grey areas; you’re pro-gun (pro-NRA) or anti-gun (anti-NRA). I think that makes it harder win converts and such a hard line stance from fence-sitters is seen in a negative light as opposed to those who appear to be calling for ‘common sense’.

So Why Did I Join?

Let’s for a moment take a step back and think about what would happen if we were wrongly accused of a crime. Let’s say a big one, like capital murder. You’re sitting there in the court room and there are two lawyers sitting across from you. One is a public defender who is so busy that he can’t look up. He is disheveled, specializing in plea bargains and – best yet – is just entering his third month on the job. The other is an arrogant defense attorney with over 20 years experience in capital cases, has plead less than 10% of the time, and won over 80%. Which one would you choose?

That’s kind of where I am with the NRA. I wouldn’t like the arrogant defense attorney, but if I’m wrongly accused of a crime then I want the best defense attorney I can possibly get, even if we can’t stand the sight of one another.

The way the pro-control crowd is going about things, they are basically accusing gun owners of pre-crime (check out the movie “Minority Report” if you’re unfamiliar with pre-crime and can stomach an hour and a half of Tom Cruise). You are assumed guilty until proven innocent (you much have a background check to prove your innocence or you cannot exercise a Constitutionally-guaranteed right – a right which can only be denied if the person is a criminal). Once you are proven innocent, you are limited to a subset of items which you may want to purchase unless you pay for the privilege (which used to be a right) and agree to give up your Fourth Amendment rights (acquiescing to warrant-less search and seizure).

So basically we who believe in law-abiding gun ownership constantly stand accused and I want the roughest, toughest defense I can get. If that means I don’t want to go have drinks with my defender at the end of the day, I’ll take it and be happy that at least someone is willing to step up and do the dirty work.

Important on YouTube

Posted: May 31, 2014 in Economics, Politics

Really?  There is something important on YouTube?  Amazingly, yes.  At least in my opinion.

LearnLiberty

There is a channel called LearnLiberty.  It has short videos from a variety of professors at a variety of colleges that explain big concepts in an easy to digest manner.  Most of the videos range from a minute and a half to five minutes, and deal with one specific aspect of one specific topic.

Here is a playlist of four videos (less than eight minutes total) that deal with Edward Snowden and the NSA phone data situation.
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-erRSWG3IoAj1s_b9593U6x6K-i2bniA

Why do I consider a channel on YouTube to be ‘important’?  Because, as a nation, we’re slowly being directed away from an understanding of our founding principles.  We’re – in my opinion – being directed into a state of passive submission that is not what I volunteered to protect when I went into the Marines, regardless of how little time I spent there.  I don’t believe this current state of government is what my friends and family members volunteered to offer their lives to protect either.

So I believe it is important because if we’re continuously educated away from the values that founded this nation, in short order we’ll no longer have a nation worth volunteering to defend.

No Time?

I know we’re all busy.  But take a moment and think.  If you could spend seven minutes (between commercial breaks) watching sports scores, couldn’t you spend three minutes reconnecting with our nation – that’s two of the videos I linked to.  If you can spend three hours watching one football game can you not spend one hour encouraging others to rejoin the informed voter populace? Spend two hours watching the latest blockbuster, but give the country that allowed the filmmaker the freedom to make the movie thirty minutes as well.

The average American spends 35 hours per week (5 hours per day) watching television.  Some of us are well above that average, others are somewhat under.  But if you could take back just one of those hours per day, I think you’d be amazed at the impact it could make.

Myself, over the last year I’ve cancelled seven shows from my DVR and spent that time becoming better educated about current events and the the history led to them.  It has really made me think on a level that I hadn’t in the past.  For those of you who have kids, I hope you’ll have them join you. Their generation will have even higher walls to climb.

As I’ve constantly said, I don’t care which candidate you vote for as long as it is an educated vote what you truly feel.

I hope each of you will take the opportunity to reconnect.

The Whole Enchilada

If you’d like to see everything on LearnLiberty, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/user/LearnLiberty

I guarantee if you spend even thirty minutes on that channel, you’ll find at least on thing you didn’t know, one thing you agree with, and one thing you disagree with – and they’ll all make you think.  For me, that’s adequate compensation for missing on sitcom.

Damn the Racism!  Damn the Guns!

Wow, am I glad I got that out of my system!

You see, this last weekend was a three day weekend and I did myself a favor.  I sat out from the news.  I chose not to watch or read the news, not to Tweet or Google.  I chose to give my brain a break.

So I missed the first round reporting on the Isla Vista shooting.

Let me take a moment to say that my heart goes out to everyone involved, and I hope that there can be some true healing, physically and mentally for the survivors.

Now that I’ve caught up on the reports a bit, let me say that the reaction and reporting has made me almost as sick as the action itself – as often happens.

 

The Racism

I’ve seen a few articles that firmly blame racism for these issues.  Not because this was a racially motivated crime, but because “Everyone involved in this tragedy was white.”  I’ll let you know that quote came from The Daily Kos website and if you Google that phrase and that site, I’m sure you’ll come up with the article.  For myself, I’m not going to justify the premise of the article with a direct link.

The theory goes that since the police were called out to a ‘white person’s’ house to investigate the son when the parents reported him for personality ‘irregularities’, they were more lenient than they would have been if the kid been black.

I say that there are enough true issues in our country that we don’t have to go around making stuff up.  Maybe it was because the suspect was from an affluent family.  I’ve known affluent Africa-Americans.  Maybe it was because the kid was in college.  I’ve known African-American’s in college.  Maybe it was because of X.  Whatever your X, I can probably think of an X African-American.

But I’ve seen several reports that insinuate that the only reason one person receives favorable treatment and another does not is based solely on the color of their skin.

I’m not deluded enough to think this doesn’t make a difference in how people are treated.  But it would be equally delusional to think it is the only thing that matters.

All of that discounts the fact that not ‘everyone involved’ was ‘white’.  From the reports that I’ve read many of those impacted were of Asian (or at least partially Asian) ethnicity.  Perhaps in a country where there is only white and black, Asian is considered ‘white’.

I’d challenge the people who are reporting that the shooter, and many of the victims were white, to go to Asia and ask the people how they would identify themselves.  I’d put money down that they wouldn’t check the ‘white’ box unless it was the only option available.

Another report that I saw said that at least 20 people were killed in Chicago over the weekend.  But most of those were inner city blacks.  That wasn’t widely reported outside of Chicago.  Now when six non-blacks lose their lives and it gets hours of coverage, and more than 20 blacks lose their lives and it receives practically no coverage…to me, that smacks of racism.

 

The Guns

Oh the guns!  Damn them!  Damn them all!

Do you realize how dangerous a gun store would be if guns killed people?  You couldn’t pay a patron to go into a gun store if guns killed people.  I’ve been in my fair share of guns stores and I swear to you that I would not go into another one if guns killed people.

The simple fact of the matter is that people kill people and, for better or worse, we don’t really have a choice – we have to be around other people on a daily basis.  They’re everywhere!  You pretty much can’t avoid them!  And yet, on most days, most people don’t kill anyone else.

Those who do generally have mental problems.  The perpetrator of this crime was one of those people.  He’s had issues over a long period and really needed some mental help.  But failing that help, he would have been likely to use some other weapon to kill people.

Oh, what do you say?  He used a knife as well?  Should we then regulate knife purchases?

Hang on, he sent people to the hospital from hitting them with his car?  Maybe we should regulate the sales and use of vehicles as well!  What do you mean we already do that?  How can it be that someone must have a license to drive a car and keep it registered?  People are constantly using cars to kill others.  By the ‘tougher’ laws theory, license and registrations would stop this kind of behavior.  How can this be?!?

 

Placating the Masses

Regardless of above, the police must be seen as ‘doing something’.  So now they’ve issued a search warrant to investigate the store that sold the guns.  To me that is a bit like closing the barn door once the horse is out.  It also sounds like busy work to make it appear like the police are doing something.  Don’t get me wrong, if they are doing something illegal punish them appropriately.  But don’t make it seem that this is anything other than a ‘feel good’ action to placate the community and try to keep the heat off the police.

But I certainly hope that they also search whatever store sold the knife, the car dealership, and the Department of Public Safety that issued the perpetrator his license to wield another deadly weapon – his car.

 

Face the Facts

As long as humans exist, there will be those who harm others.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  Whether it’s a rock, a club, a knife or a handgun, humans will find ways to harm one another.  If we want to make a difference, we should stop looking at how they do it, and begin looking at why.  That’s where the problem can be impacted.  But, just facing the facts, it will never be eliminated.

 

If I asked you, “What is the key to liberty”, what would your answer be?

I have asked people this and I’ve gotten several good answers, but most of them are somewhat superficial and pre-programmed conservatism or libertarianism:

  • freedom
  • independence
  • political activity
  • being left alone
  • being able to do what we want
  • small government
  • lower taxes

I say that these factors are more symptoms of liberty than the cause.

The True Key

In my mind, the true key to liberty is knowledge.  You can’t be liberated if you are unable to provide for yourself in some fundamental manner.

By extension, if knowledge is the key to liberty, then literacy is the path to liberty.  It was through literacy that the feudal systems were broken.  By distributing pamphlets and books our Founding Fathers rallied others to the cause of freedom.

Freed slaves would have been forced back into subservient lifestyles that would have been little different than their previous lives.  Regardless of whether the person is held a slave by law or by circumstance, the result is the same.

So we must be literate (at least as a culture, if not individually) in order to become liberated.

We must be set in the West then, right?

Don’t get too arrogant though…we in the United States rank #83 in literacy in the world, behind many countries we’d have a hard time pronouncing and many of us couldn’t find on a map.  Check out Wikipedia for stats if you like.  I could given them to you here, but then I wouldn’t be supporting you in building a critical research skills.

The New Front

While is it true that we’re fairly literate, the new challenge – the new front in the war on liberty (if something that has been going on for decades can be considered ‘new’) – is not in whether we can read and write.  It is in whether we can understand.

See, both ends of the political spectrum only want us to see things from their perspective.  They are attempting to control the language and by controlling the language, they control how we interpret what we read and how what we write is perceived.

Political correctness is a major issue to me.  If you’re dealing with a racist bigot, wouldn’t you want to know that s/he was a racist bigot?  Why are we forcing people to hold back on the language they use when it gives us insight into who they are?  Personally, I say let people say what they will – and then make decisions based on who they are rather than who they can portray themselves to be.

Even our schools are in on it.  When I was taking classes for my MBA, one of the courses was designed to help ‘develop critical thinking skills’.  One such project was given as a team project.

Try getting your five closest friends to decide on which is the best tasting cupcake.  That gives a little insight into how difficult it is to get a team to decide on the most important point from an essay discussing a controversial subject and then what was objective or subjective.

Now imagine only getting a cupcake if you chose the same as the person asking the question.  Pretty soon most people would start choosing the ‘correct’ cupcake – because isn’t some cupcake better than no cupcake?  Same way with grades.  If you want to pass the class, don’t you start regurgitating the answer you know they want even if it isn’t the one you truly believe?

I could continue with lists and lists of examples, but I’m sure you’re getting tired of reading this already.  Besides, I would prefer if you could think of your own examples and start breaking out of simply listening to someone else.

In the end, they can’t really take away our ability to read, but they are attempting to alter the way we think about the information to which we are exposed.  Don’t let them do it.

Don’t let them voluntarily give up your liberty.

Hey folks, I just wanted to let you know I’m still here.  Most of my time is just spent finishing up book two in the Ankara Fever series.

Book One (Ankara Fever: Journeys)  is here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GXEY6LG

In the meantime, here are ‘just a few things’ that are on my mind.

Ukraine

The Ukraine situation is still occupying a good bit of my thoughts.  I just get the feeling that Russia is play chess while we in the West are still trying to play checkers.  It’s a whole different level of strategy for the guys in red.

Now that NATO is getting involved, but just enough to ‘protect’ their member countries, we’re giving all kinds of propaganda potential to the rest of the world.  I hope someone in high places has a plan that we simple mere mortals are unable to see at this point.

Not that all my ire is focused on the western establishment.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think that Russia overstepped.  But I think they overstepped in how rather than in what.  Playing their hand so close to the ending ceremonies of the Olympics, it seemed obvious that with was planned and held until after the games.

So if it was planned for a while, why not ratchet down the military tone, have Crimea hold the vote in a legitimate fashion?  Here’s what Russia could have done to make it a bit more internationally palatable:

  • Back off on the use of military forces – no one’s fooled by unmarked uniforms
  • Structure a ballot that had ‘no’ answers as well as the ‘yes’ answers you want
  • Give the opposition the chance to vocalize their side

With that, really there would have been little anyone could say.

Silent War?

But, in my mind, this may all be moot.  What if we’re simply playing Putin’s game?  What if this is not another cold war, but the next evolution – a silent war?

If I knew that Action Z would result in Consequence 100, why wouldn’t I take little steps toward Z and only suffer consequences 1-99 in the meantime?

In other words, if Putin wants all the territories of the USSR back (and many analysts believe he does), he could declare war and go on a rampage.  He might even scoop up a few of them.  This, however, would bring about sanctions, diplomatic issues, and probable military defense.

But what if he engages in a silent war?  Foment a bit of trouble here and there, step in and ‘save the ethnic Russians’ where he can, nibble off another piece of territory, bite by bite.  If he does that, he may eventually suffer the full blown response that he would have had if he’d simply declared war.

In the silent war theory, though, all consequences not suffered from the beginning is a net gain.  Chess versus checkers.

Til next time folks ~

Brian S. Vinson

 

OK…this might be a little of an ‘economics wonk’ type of post.  Please forgive, but I think it is illustrative of several things going on, particularly in the US, but also in other countries where the central banks are performing all kinds of antics to keep enough water bailed out that the passengers don’t realize the ship is sinking.

OK, here we go:

US Federal Budget for 2014 (proposed): $3,770,000,000,000 – a.k.a. $3.77 trillion.

We have a current debt of approximately $16.7 trillion.  This, coincidentally, is about the same as our GDP.  That means that as a country, we owe an amount approximately equal to the entire production value of the entire country for a year.  We could use every penny that the entire country produces and pay it toward our national debt (forget about personal debt for now) and we’d just about break even.  But even that wouldn’t do it because if businesses stopped paying suppliers then the suppliers couldn’t pay their supplier or employees, so it would all stall.  But I’m getting way off topic.

Here is how the budget breaks out:

Discretionary 30% 1,131,000,000,000
Mandatory 64% 2,412,800,000,000
Interest on Fed Debt 6% 226,200,000,000
Deficit (proposed) (7,440,000,000)

So we’re proposed spending 3.74 trillion dollars and we’ll be over spending our revenues by approximately $7.4 billion.

I really want to focus on the $226.2 billion in interest payments.

When you do that math, $226.2 billion comes out to about 1.35% of the $16.7 trillion in debt.  That means that our government is counting on the fact that interest rates will not rise above 1.35% over the next fiscal year.  If it does, we’re in even more trouble.

Let’s talk a second about the ‘prime interest rate’.  This is the rate that (most) banks charge each other for exchanging money.  It also used to be the rate that banks charged their ‘prime’ customers – those with excellent credit and a huge cash flow.  This rate is set at three percentage points above the federal funds rate – which is basically the rate that the Federal Reserve charges banks to use its money (yes, the Fed owns all the money).  Right now the Fed has pegged the federal funds rate at 0% to -25%.  This means that the prime rate – the best interest rate anyone should reasonably expect to get is 2.75% (3.00-0.25).  Our government is budgeting at less than half that amount.

So, with all this in consideration, it is unlikely that the Fed is going to allow interest rates to creep up.  If they do, the federal government will have to incur even more debt simply to pay off the debt we have, and now you see where the ‘death spiral’ people are talking about comes in to play.

As long as the federal funds rate is kept so low, perceived inflation will continue to be low.  (The difference between actual and perceived inflation may be covered at another time.)  If perceived inflation stays too low then people don’t see a continued reward for continued effort (or continued investment) and the economy stagnates.

As so it goes.  Stagnant economy means fewer tax dollars.  Fewer tax dollars means increased national debt, which leads to maintaining the status quo on interest.  Around and around and around we go again.

So, to break out of the cycle we have only a few options.  Stop borrowing – which means stopping essential services to some members of the population.  Allow interest rates to rise – which means blowing out even more money on the budget.

Here are the repercussions of increased interest rates – on the current debt level, not including the $7.44 billion already factored into the budget or any real expenditures that will fall outside the budget:

1%

167,390,000,000

2%

334,780,000,000

3%

502,170,000,000

4%

669,560,000,000

5%

836,950,000,000

6%

1,004,340,000,000

In my estimation, we should be pushing about 3-4% just to start motivating the economy to expand again.  At that rate, we’re adding at least another half billion a year in interest payments.

So, what’s the point?  You could say the point is that we’re done with easy solutions.  There aren’t any so we should stop looking for them.  Even if there were no adverse outside influences, we’re just prolonging the inevitable.  We’re in a non-sustainable pattern and the quicker we deal with it the better.  It is going to hurt whenever we do it, but the longer we wait, the more it is going to hurt.

Everyone is going to have to take hits.  Those on assistance will have to get less assistance – and it pains me to say that because I know several who are on government assistance and they need everything they get.  Those who are working are going to have to pay higher taxes.  It pains me to say that because I’m one of those people.  In the end a do-everything government can only exist if it gets everything and controls everything.  That path leads down a dark road where I’m not prepared to let my mind go.

So really, what’s the point?  The real point is that politicians will never admit that they can’t control it.  They’ll point fingers and tell you why the other guy hasn’t let them fix everything, but none of them can get us out of the mess without pain and pain is bad for votes.  In the end this means that we should all be doing what we can to protect ourselves for the hard times ahead.  Whether this year or next, this generation or next, the reckoning is coming and the time between now and then does not look all that rosy.

Self-direction or no?

Posted: March 12, 2014 in Politics
Tags: , , ,

Let me start with a disclaimer: This is not a commentary on the Ukraine / Crimea / Russia situation.  This is commentary on politics and self-direction of a people.  This is a commentary on consistency in speech and action.

In 2007 ABC News reported:

MOSCOW – Facing criticism for having backed the “wrong” side in the recent coup in Honduras, President Obama Tuesday tried to explain his advocacy on behalf of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

America supports now the restoration of the democratically-elected President of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies,” the president told graduate students at the commencement ceremony of Moscow’s New Economic School. “We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not.” (emphasis added by me)

The president’s remarks came in the midst of a speech in which discussed “America’s interest in democratic governments that protect the rights of their people” and supported Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for judicial reforms in his country.

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2009/07/in-russia-president-obama-explains-his-support-for-ousted-president-of-honduras/

I find it very interesting that our president issued this statement.  In Honduras at the time, there was a military coup that displaced the democratically elected president who was trying to rewrite the Honduran constitution to end term limits.  The military stepped in and removed that president from power.   Our (I’m an American) president essentially argued that we should support someone we don’t care for because that was the person the people chose to lead them.

Now I look at the situation in the Ukraine.  Our same president says that a referendum put in front of the people which would allow people to choose their own leaders would be illegal because it is against Ukraine’s constitution.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty on the other side of the aisle who are saying the same thing.

The point of contention I have is that there should be a “universal principle that people should choose their own leaders”, or there shouldn’t.  This is what democracy is all about and this is why the Founding Fathers of the United States of America did not create a democracy.

A democracy, in its base form, is simple majority rule.  The ancient Greeks threw stones in baskets and then counted the stones.  Whichever basket had the greatest number of stones represented the side that won the election.

Democracy sounds great until you have two neighbors who want to divide up your property or until three guys of low morals find a young woman walking down the street at night.  In each of these cases, in a pure democracy, the outcome would be considerably less than favorable.  This is why a pure democracy doesn’t work in the modern world.

So, what am I saying?  I’m saying that there should be a longer term strategy in foreign affairs than simple reactionary knee jerks.  I’m saying there should be consistency in messaging and consistency in words and action.

If we say that people should be able to choose their own leaders, even if we don’t like them, they why would be threaten sanctions for simply allowing the people to vote who they want to lead them?

I think that international politicians are just a bit scared.  If a region such as the Crimea can actually determine its own fate and choose which country they want to be a part of and which they don’t, the people of the world may find that the power really is in the people and the leaders may once again have to comply with the will of the led.  None of them want that.

Alas, there is little history of peaceful secession.  Whatever direction the Crimea goes, I believe the impacts will have rippling repercussions for years to come.

Really? How to Plan? Does anyone really have to be told how to plan?

There are many of us who have been doing the preparedness thing for a while who may have lost sight of those first few days, weeks, and months when everything was new and maybe even just a bit overwhelming. So learning to plan, or having a systematic method for planning may be just what is needed to move forward more easily.

If you are taking a trip across town or going to the movies with friends, the planning may be simple and virtually any responsible person can plan for it. However, if you are dealing with a potential life or death situation with several possibilities, several contingencies for each possibility, and dire consequences if it all falls apart you might want to do more than throw a few things together and hope you’re doing what you can. Most people in the comfortable social cocoon of modern society have had to think a life-saving plan through past remembering the numbers 9-1-1.

911 (or 999 for our UK friends) is good to remember and will likely be the most common resource you’ll need. Make sure you know it and make sure your kids know it (but know not to call unless there is a real emergency).

If you are out of cell phone range, away from a phone, or if the situation is truly beyond the ability of authorities to respond you’ll need to know a bit more than 911 and you’ll have needed to know it and prepare for such an eventuality should the time come.

Lessons learned should feed our thought processes and preparations for the future. I was a part of the response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as an American Red Cross employee. For this reason you’ll notice that this event (as they have rolled together as one even in two phases in my head) has shaped much of my thinking. There are a lot of the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (TEOTWAWKI) types out there who are encouraging anyone who will listen to prepare. The Hurricane Katrina / Rita (KatRita) event showed that it does not take a TEOTWAWKI event for authorities to be overwhelmed. The 2010 Haiti earthquake and Japanese earthquake/tsunami/meltdown illustrated the same point: the rest of the world could go right on and individuals can be stuck in a prolonged situation where the cavalry just isn’t coming in a timely manner. As our world gets more complex and disasters seem to be getting more widespread and greater in magnitude, we need to be prepared to take care of ourselves for a while – if not indefinitely.

So, how do we plan? First we need to know what we’re planning for. To help determine this, I think a Risk Assessment Matrix is handy. It looks like this:

Item    Impact (0-10)    Likelihood (0-10)    Risk Score (I * L)

There are various ways to populate this table so I’ll lead you through the process that is quick, easy, and successful for me.

Enter the item such as house fire.
Determine what you believe to be the impact of that event. In this instance it is really disruptive but with good insurance you can probably get through it OK…you’ll just be without some of the sentimental things so let’s put it halfway up the scale.
We have a smoke detectors in the house, it is relatively new and built to code with Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) listed furnishings and electronics so we should be pretty safe. However, it has been very dry lately so there is a chance of a stray spark in the neighborhood setting the whole place on fire so we’ll go with a “3” on the likelihood scale.

Now multiply the impact score times the Likelihood score to get your Risk Score.

Item             Impact (0-10)    Likelihood (0-10)    Risk Score (I * L)
House fire          5                                      3                                15

That is the process, pure and simple. Yes, the rankings are subjective but planning is as much for peace of mind as for absolutely certainty so go with what feels right to you in this instance. (In industry we have standards and measures to go by. You can find these for potential household risks if you like with a little poking around on the Internet.)

Now populate your table with the other risks you can think of. Take in to account whether you live in a flood plain, Tornado Alley, along the Gulf Coast or lowers Easter Seaboard (for Hurricanes) or other environmental factors that may affect you.

Now you’ll have something that looks like this:
Item                                Impact (0-10)     Likelihood (0-10)      Risk Score (I * L)
House fire                                5                                   3                                             15
Hit by car                                 7                                    1                                              7
Struck by lightening            9                                    1                                              9
Wildfire                                     7                                   5                                            35
Alien attack                           10                                   0                                              0
Flood                                          8                                    4                                            32

(Call me crazy, but I don’t believe there is any possibility of an alien attack.)

Now establish your threshold.  Contrary to popular belief, you can plan for everything.  You can prepare for everything.  But you cannot do it efficiently. But we’re talking practical survival here. Is it practical to install a full building fire suppression system in your house? If you can afford it, maybe, but I can’t..and I don’t think it is practical in most situations.  So at what time does a ‘risk’ deserve your attention and financial considerations?  This is another subjective call, but I like to look at the highest risk items and work my way down the list.

For this example, Flood and Wildfire are to two top contenders. If we can only prepare for two things, we know which two to prepare for.  An added bonus of preparing for the big ones is that they’ll probably help take care of some of the little ones along the way.  For instance, if we’re prepared for the possible eventuality of a wildfire or flood, chances are we’re also prepared for a house fire.  This is very similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) website aimed at preparing for the “Zombie Apocalypse” (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/socialmedia/zombies_blog.asp) where they imply that if you are ready for a zombies rampaging through the streets, you’re likely ready for other disasters as well.

Once you know where to start, the planning becomes easier. You must first know what you are planing for; determining the risks is essential to being able to overcome them in the future.

There are full masters-level college courses available in risk management and risk mitigation (I took them as part of my MBA). Trust me, they aren’t necessarily as fun as they sound…What is presented here is a very simple, very condensed version of one process (the Risk Assessment Matrix) that can be used to determine risk.  It is the most accessible tool for the broadest audience.  That is why I chose to include it.  If there is enough feedback, perhaps other risk management tools will be forthcoming.  If not, this should get you firmly on the road to planning appropriately.

[As an aside, let’s look at the house fire again to see what really is practical.  If you notice we’re multiplying a potential 0-10 (Impact) times another potential 10 (Likelihood).  This gives us a potential number from 0 to 100.  This can be used as a percentage.  So for the house fire we have a 15% risk score.  Now, if you can install a full building fire suppression system that will do less damage than the actual fire will – water is very damaging to household items – and it can be installed for less than 15% of the value of the home then it may be a practical solution for you.]