Monday, September 6, 2010

The Green Zone, or did the U.S. cover up bad intel about Iraq?

Holidays are always slow at the job (as in maybe 5 calls all day), so I usually check out a couple of Redbox films and while away part of my day. I watched two films today; The Book of Eli (which I’ll talk about in the next post), and the Green Zone.

I was half expecting Green Zone to have a Bourne feel to it considering the star and director, but it really didn’t. The movie has a strong message to it: there were no WMD in Iraq and the US Government created a cover up so that they could go in and topple Sadaam.

Your view of how good the movie is will probably be proportional to your agreement with its premise, so let’s talk about the premise for a minute. The CIA report concluded that there were no WMD there, and Bush said his greatest regret was not finding any WMD. On the other hand, in 2006, small amounts of degraded weapons (around 500) were found, but certainly not on a large scale. So for the sake of argument, let’s agree with the movie that there were no WMD.

Two questions remain: Was there a cover up and what were/are we doing over there?

I don’t think there is any evidence for a cover up. If someone is pointing a loaded gun (or in this case WMD with significant range) at your head, and you’ve taken reasonable steps to determine whether the gun is loaded or not, at some point you have to take defensive step yourself. Other than the cries of the liberal anti-war crowd, there is no evidence that Bush lied about WMD’s. Hindsight is always 20/20 and when you are in the chair trying to determine which intel is good and which intel is bad, with stakes that are higher than anything the average person can imagine, erring on the side of caution to protect your country is the expected response. All that to say, under the circumstances we were probably right to go in.

But once you’ve invaded a country and taken down their leadership, and then find out that your original premise was wrong, it’s easy to try to keep from egg getting on your face. And yet, the CIA published a report saying just that. There were probably some people who tried to keep the report from being published, but the CIA handled it properly and admitted that we were wrong. Granted it’s just a movie, but that is part of the movies message and that part is very likely wrong.

The second question is what we were/are doing over there. When your original premise for being somewhere turns out to be wrong, do you dig your heels in? The argument I usually hear is that we had just toppled a government, destabilized a region, and therefore we had to patch it back together. Please excuse me while I try to stop laughing. The Middle East has NEVER been a stable region. Sadaam killed thousands of people, and terrorists killed thousands more. Any arguments saying that the U.S. pulling out would have caused a bloodbath completely ignore the bloodbath that was already there. As much as I would like to see the spread of democracy around the world, we need to protect our strength as the world’s best hope for democracy here. Part of preservation is that even if you can beat the other guy in a fight, you do everything you can to avoid the fight and preserve your strength. I am not, and never have been, in the military so I’m not going to make and absolute statement on this, but it seems to me that we should have pulled out of Iraq as soon as practicable after confirmation that there were no WMD there.

Would this have created a bloodbath? Probably. Has Iraq been a bloodbath ever since we invaded? Absolutely. It’s hard to know what would have been, but part of protecting our strength is to know when to fight. The amount spent on the Iraq war was tremendous, and the return is meager at best. The debt incurred has become a major burden on our country (although other factors have been even greater contributions to said debt). Because of all the above factors, a good argument can be made that we should have been out of Iraq completely at least 5 years ago.

Does this mean the bad guys win? Maybe in Iraq. But until they are actually threatening America, it’s not really our business. At that point, any red-blooded American will be completely in favor of taking them out.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Iraq war v. Obama's stimulus

I recently posted the following article on my Facebook page: Little-known fact: Obama's failed stimulus program cost more than the Iraq war

One of my liberal friends came back with a response but the conversation will not fit into the facebook boxes so I’m bringing it to this blog. His post is below:

You have to spend money to make money at this is a direct reflection of the bush years and if anyone says anything different, they are in denial. Instead of just getting the info from right wing outlet like that Washington Examiner. If you look at their site, there is nothing balanced about it; it’s just another scare site.


Reagan blew five trillion on the military without raising taxes to pay for it. Bush blew five trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without finding a way to pay for it. Matter of fact, not only did he increase spending but then gave tax cuts that DID NOT trickle down like what he said would happen. Obama is trying to get us out of the hole by a stimulus package by rescuing several companies to prevent the total bankruptcy of the US. The major difference is that Obama will raise taxes on the rich to help pay for these items. Plus some of the money that he is spending will be paid back to us. If you look at the charts during the great depression, you will see a sharp increase of government spending in order to turn things around. There are many sites that are unbiased, that show the facts. The Washington Examiner is not one of them. Trusting that site would be the same as trusting FIXED News.

I have a question. Why is no one talking about the $1 million News Corp and Fox Owner Robert Murdoch gave the Republican Governors Association. Why is there no talk that the person that owns the 2nd largest share of FOX NEWS is one of the main money contributors of the Mosque being built at Ground Zero? They like to talk about why it would not be right to build it but never say that they have a hand directly in it. These are things that need to be pointed out as well but I never hear any of that from the right. All i hear is spending is bad but never come up with a plan as to what they would actually do, except for using bumper sticker slogans. What is there plan?? Can someone tell me that? Cutting social security and Medicare is not a plan either like Mitch McConnell is proposing. That is crazy. He actually wants to do that in order to extend the bush tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans. So let the rich keep their money but then take it out of the hands of people that are less fortunate. They preach that this is a Christian nation; that does not sound too Christian to me. I find you to be a smart person Jason. Do you not see any of this, or are you just so anti Obama that you turn a blind eye? Just curious man, friendly debate, hit me back.

A couple thoughts in response:

1. Bias: There is no such thing as a non-biased news outlet. Everyone has a bias. Fox News is biased conservative, NBC/MSNBC is biased liberal, CNN is more centric but leans slightly liberal, etc. There is no way to completely eliminate bias. As I recall from a previous FB post you made, you prefer to watch MSNBC. It speaks to your view point and that’s fine, but you have to keep its bias in mine. And I freely admit that I prefer conservative news sources.

2. Reagan/Bush: I don’t see how Reagan’s tax cuts are probative to the current situation, other than to say that they were effective in lifting us out of the economic stagflation that characterized the 1970’s. That seems to be an argument against the Obama stimulus so I don’t really understand why you brought it up. As far as Bush, his mistake was in extending the war in Iraq long after we should have. The reason we went in was because of bad intel that was provided. The deficits that Bush ran were because of the war, not the tax cuts. In fact, if you go back and look at the tax cuts which became effective in the 2004 tax year, you will see that the total amount of tax revenue went UP after the tax cut rather than down and has continued to do so:

1998             1,769,408,739
1999             1,904,151,888
2000             2,096,916,925
2001             2,128,831,182
2002             2,016,627,269
2003             1,952,929,045
2004             2,018,502,103
2005             2,268,895,122
2006             2,518,680,230
2007             2,688,946,349
2008             2,742,190,129

3. As to the effect on the little man: most of the working force works for small companies, not large corporations like we do. If a business owner does not see a financial advantage in expanding his business, which is seriously cut into by the level of taxes that they are starting to see, they will have less motivation to hire more people. This contributes to the unemployment/underemployment rate that we are seeing. Also, on a theoretical level, this goes against the traditional promise of America being the land of opportunity. There is little motivation for someone our age to go into business if the risk does not match the reward, and the risk is high. This leads to an eventual shrinking of the private sector which even Obama admits is the vehicle of growth.

4. Great Depression: A perfect example of why the government is ineffective at turning things around. It spent billions of dollars (in today’s dollars) when adjusted for inflation on government programs to try to start the economy again, but what actually was effective was the private enterprise being forced to build the mechanisms of war for WWII. Granted, they were building for the government but it was the private sector doing it, and doing it very efficiently.

5. Fox News/Mosque issue: Rupert Murdoch has the right to give money to whoever he wants to, so does Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. This issue bears some clarification. First of all, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal owns 7% of News Corp, Fox News parent company, which no one will attempt to argue is a controlling interest. Fox News is also the fastest growing news agency in the United States. Any businessman wants to invest in growth. Businessmen regularly buy stock in companies whose products they don’t like because it makes them money. So while it is certainly disturbing to see him contribute to the Mosque, I do not see this as inconsistent under the circumstances (desire to make money and to support his religion).

6. Social Security is not what anyone would call a “going concern”. If you expect to get anything out of it when we’re in our sixties, you have another think coming. As far as Medicare, or Medicaid for that matter, Obamacare has made that more expensive for the middle class. We didn’t need Mitch McConnell for that. As far as Mitch McConnell, I’m not sure what I think of him at this point. He seems to be Republican old guard which I don’t like at all.

7. Economic plan: Get the government out business. Sure, keep the corporate taxes there, just put them at levels that will not kill investment and growth. Allow medical insurance companies to compete across state lines. De-Regulate businesses in general.

8. The Church: The modern American church is a sorry excuse for what it should be. Instead of focusing on the commands of Christ to feed and clothe the poor and do good works it is focused on the latest building programs. I completely agree with you in that regard. Having said that, the government is terribly inefficient in any kind of charitable endeavor. A solution needs to come from the church side on this.

9. I don’t turn a blind eye and I’m always willing to be shown the error of my ways, but this is something that goes to core American principles for me. At its very basis, the Federal government is not supposed to be there to take care of people. Its supposed to protect us from all enemies foreign and domestic, and solve disputes between the states. All other powers are supposed to be reserved to the states and to the people. Both parties have done a miserable job of pursuing these ends. We may disagree on these things, but I respect your opinion while strenuously disagreeing with it.

P.S.  For a better understanding the Great Depression economics and how it effects us today, see the following book:

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Potential Effect of the healthcare bill on the underemployment rate

Yesterday the Waco Tribune had an article entitled "Waco companies search for ways to cut insurance costs".  It specifically addresses how the costs are exponentially increasing for small businesses to provide healthcare to their employees.  The bottom line is that either the employers will have to raise their prices and pass it along to their customers, or they will keep their prices the same and reduce benefits while increasing costs to their employees.  Either way, the cost increase to the employers is inevitiable.  What the article does not address is the potential impact on the unemployment and underemployment rates.

One way to avoid a significant increase in healthcare costs is to backfill any open positions with two part time positions rather than one full time position.  This avoids having to pay expensive healthcare benefits, and it also decreases the unemployment rate.  The job market being what it is right now (an employers' market), there is not much motivation for employers to be competitive with benefit packages as many people are just happy to have work at this point. 

The problem comes with the much-ignored underemployment rate.  Just because people have a job doesn't mean that it is providing their financial needs, as happens with underemployment.  Underemployment does not jump start the economy and does not pull an economy out of a recession.

In the past, employers were more likely to hire full time, all things being equal, because it had less mobilization costs and created a more stable workforce.  However, with the increase in healthcare costs, the mobilization costs for two part time employees may not look as bad compared to the healthcare costs for one employee.

So we see yet another potential way in which the healthcare bill will likely hurt the economy thru the underemployment rate.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sam Walton's Way

This is another short by New Word City Books about Sam Walton. Sam was incredible in that he started with just about nothing, and built an empire. One of the keys was that he did not try to build all at once. He built one store at a time and grew his business slowly and surely through its formative years.

This short book outlines several things that differentiated Sam Walton and provided him the success that he enjoyed:
1. He defined his overarching goal and never lost sight of it, no matter what little things tried to trip him up.

2. He empowered his employees by giving them information about the business. He stated that the more they know, the more they would understand and the better decisions would be made.

3. Listen and Look. He watched his competitors and listened to his employees for ideas.

I found this interesting because Wal-Mart is a corporation that I do not like very much. I see them as a company that puts small mom and pop businesses out of business. On the other hand, the way Walton built his business reads like a textbook on how a business should be built. He was just very diligent about it, which is a good thing.

So maybe my issue with Wal-Mart isn't a principle issue, it's a charity issue. Wal-Mart obviously doesn't need my business, and probably doesn't even care about my business. I can get better quality merchandise at the same or slightly more prices elsewhere and make me feel that I am actually making a difference in their business and helping someone succeed.

On the other hand, I shop at big box electronic retailers and buy books on Call me inconsistent, but I'm human.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Some quotes from Peter Drucker

Tonight I read a short book on Peter Drucker who was a business theorist during the 20th Century. While I usually have little respect for theorists because they don't usually know from what they speak and ignore the pragmatic side of things, it seems that Peter Drucker had his feet planted squarely on the ground. The following is a list of quotes from the book that I wish modern management would live by:

1. One either meets or one works
2. The best way to predict the future is to create it.
3. Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.
4. There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all
5. The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said
6. When you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision

Some good thoughts for modern management.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How Obama is about to screw the neediest of the lower middle class

Actually, he's already done it. I know, I know, he said he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone making under $250,000 per year. The buck stops with him, he made a campaign promise. He gave his word.

Please stop laughing in the peanut gallery. We're trying to have a serious discussion here.

This has to do with Flexible Spending Accounts. Now, lets be clear. An FSA is not an entitlement program like Obamacare. It's a tax cut. It allows you to specify a specific amount of money you want your employer to withhold from your paycheck throughout the year, and this money can be used, PRE-TAX, for medical expenses. In other words, no tax on medical expenses. The catch, of course, is that if you don't use it, you lose it. No big deal, just lowball it a bit and you get a great deal.

Roughly 20% of employees take advantage of an FSA account. Of the 20% that participate, 80% of them keep their annual contributions under $2500 (significance of this number discussed below).

Currently, there is no Federal cap on how much you contribute, although most employers place their own cap. My employer has two programs, with caps at either $4000 or $5000. The former program works better for us. Due to my daughters medical expenses, we use every penny of this $4000 every year and it is a huge help. Many other families with special needs kids have used it to great benefit also.

But Obama has to raise taxes somewhere. And this is a way to do it that won't bring a lot of news media or attention. An added benefit? It only effects those who REALLY need medical care, and will be forced to upgrade to more overpriced, government mandated plans that give the same coverage to special needs kids as to kids with runny noses.

So, in 2011 all over the counter medications will need a doctors order to be FSA eligible. Wow, that sounds cost saving. Where before I could have just gone and got the $10 worth of medicine, now I'll have to take them to a doctors appointment which is a $20 co-pay typically and counts towards my FSA limit.

On top of that, in 2013 the government will cap the FSA contributions at $2500. More revenue for them, more taxes for those in need of medical care. Win-Win for Obama.

Glad that he's looking out for the little man. I feel so cared for.

For more information, click here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Life of Benjamin Franklin

I recently finished reading the autobiography of Ben Franklin. I think this book should have been more aptly named “Excerpts and Principles from my life”. It is an enjoyable read, but don’t expect to have a complete chronological account. He wrote it at three different times in his life and there are gaps in the chronology. He does cover his formative years very well which is good, because it gives a lot of background on how he became who he was.

One of the interesting things he addresses is his religion. He states that he became a Deist, but soon left it off because he found it didn’t explain God fully. He returned to mainstream Christianity but, although he was raised Presbyterian, refused to join any specific denomination. He does speak twice of attending a church. The first was a preacher who seemed to think that his pulpit was a seminary classroom. He soon bored Franklin who stated that he felt that every sermon should have some moral or virtue, in other words, application to our daily lives. The second minister did a good job of this, but because he differed with the denomination on some points of doctrine was soon expelled. Unfortunately, we have the same issue in the modern church. We get so far beyond the essentials of our faith that we major on the mint, thyme and cumin and ignore the weightier matters of righteousness, justice and mercy.

Not being a member of any specific sect helped Franklin. He was able to be the mediator between sparring factions more than once and became a friend to many different denominations. He had an especially interesting relationship with the preacher George Whitfield. Whitfield did not see Franklin as saved, and attempted to convert him, but Franklin did not budge. Franklin was familiar with Whitfield’s oratory and went to listen to him one time, knowing that Whitfield was going to make an appeal for money for the orphanage he was putting together in Georgia. He made the firm determination that Whitfield would not get a penny. However, by the time Whitfield had finished, he had given all the money he had in his pocket! Interestingly enough, one of his few criticisms of Whitfield was that Whitfield printed his sermons. He stated that in print they sounded far different than when preached and that it gave rise to being taken out of context and criticized unfairly. The interesting part about this was that it was Franklin’s printing business who did all the printing for Whitfield in America!

Franklin also understood the need for experience. During the colonial period in the French/Indian war, the city of Philadelphia organized a militia to defend and watch the city. By this time he was considered one of the city fathers and could easily have demanded leadership in the militia. In fact, it was offered to him, but he refused and served as a private. He stated that as he had not been a military man before, and knew nothing of the subject, he would serve his city as a private. At a later time when he had the experience he accepted a leadership position.

Franklin understood business. Here I’d like to quote an excerpt:

Partnerships often finish in quarrels; but I was happy in this, that mine were all carried on and ended amicably, owing, I think, a good deal to the precaution of having very explicitly settled, in our articles, every thing to be done by or expected from each partner, so that there was nothing to dispute, which precaution I would therefore recommend to all who enter into partnerships; for, whatever esteem partners may have for, and confidence in each other at the time of the contract, little jealousies and disgusts may arise, with ideas of inequality in the care and burden of the business, etc., which are attended often with breach of friendship and of the connection, perhaps with lawsuits and other disagreeable consequences

In other words, business is about expectations. If you set the expectations correctly and then follow thru, much of the angst that can be caused will be avoided. Having said that, Franklin was in partnership several times and only one of his partners treated him fairly. The others ended up costing Franklin. He paid off the debts and did not seem bitter, but it still cost him dearly. His last partner worked out well and they were in partnership for 18 years. He had been a journeyman for Franklin for 4 years already so Franklin knew his work habits quite well.

Franklin was a man who was always trying to improve himself. He understood his faults and attempted to correct them. He had an interesting way of looking at it:

…My faults in it vexed me so much, …that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax of a smith, my neighbour, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge. The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel; he turn'd, while the smith press'd the broad face of the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on, and at length would take his ax as it was, without farther grinding. "No," said the smith, "turn on, turn on; we shall have it bright by-and-by; as yet, it is only speckled." "Yes," said the man, "but I think I like a speckled ax best." And I believe this may have been the case with many, who, having, for want of some such means as I employ'd, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that "a speckled ax was best"

The system he is talking about is his 13 virtues. He found 13 areas of his life that he wanted to work on, wrote them each down on a card, and worked on one per week, letting the others fall to the natural chance. In doing this, he was able to improve his character. Below are his 13 virtues.

Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He stated that his biggest issue was orderliness, which I can relate to.

Franklin was a giant of his time, and an example to ours and future generations of the benefits of hard work and benevolence to your fellow man. This book is highly recommended.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Texas Election Recommendations

Governor: Rick Perry

Kay Bailey Hutchinson talks conservative and votes liberal. She was never an option in my book. The choice between Perry and Medina was much more difficult. I like Medina’s libertarian leanings and agree with much of what she says, but I am extremely leery of people who run for the top office without working their way up the ladder and learning as they go. I think this becomes a valid concern due to some of the public statements she has made and the unrealistic expectations she has. She needs time to mature and refine herself before she’s ready to become governor. I would probably vote for her if she was running for state representative or an equivalent position, but not for governor. We don’t need a Jimmy Carter running the State of Texas.

On the other hand, I’m not completely comfortable with Rick Perry either, mostly due to the HPV vaccination issue and the Trans Texas Corridor. However, my biggest deciding factor is that he has done a fairly good job of keeping Washington out of Austin and rejecting federal dollars that come attached with strings. He has grown a backbone and become much more effective in recent years.

My biggest issue is keeping Hutchinson out of office. Let’s be honest, Medina doesn’t have a chance and I really don’t want to see a runoff between Hutchinson and Perry as that would give more time for Hutchinson to win.

SBOE Place 5: Ken Mercer

Tim Tuggey has made significant donations to liberal democrats and then gone one to lie about Ken Mercer. Mercer seems conservative.

Texas Supreme Court Place 3: Rick Green

Personal friend and strong conservative.

Propositions: Yes to all

Prop 1: Photo ID necessary to vote. In favor in an effort to make voter fraud more difficult

Prop 2: Controlling government growth. Limiting government spending and creating accountability to taxpayers is always a good thing.

Prop 3: I’m voting in favor of this, but don’t see how it is going to help. It seems more of a resolution to me than anything. I agree that taxes should be cut and we shouldn’t have economic “stimulus” packages, but just don’t see how this will override the federal governments runaway spending

Prop 4: Same position as 3. I agree that GOD should be publicly acknowledged, but federal laws are to the contrary. Nevertheless, I am voting in favor of this since I agree with its sentiment.

Prop 5: Requiring a sonogram before a medically unnecessary abortion. In favor as this has been shown to be a deterrent to abortion.