Saturday, May 26, 2007

Crazies to the left of me, wimps to the right

Crazies to the left of me, wimps to the right.

Okay, this is probably a mistake. I haven't finished reading "Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right" by Bernard Goldberg, but I'm writing my opinions on it anyway. Naturally, as what Goldberg would consider a liberal, I am a little critical of some of his key points. But I am surprised on how much I agree with his contentions.

Goldberg on Fox News: why liberals hate it so passionately - and why it's the fairest of the networks. There are tons of reasons why someone should have trouble with Fox News, and it isn't merely because it is run by Roger Ailes as Goldberg suggests. What it comes down to is that Goldberg suggests that Fox is fair because they SAY that they are fair. Fox likes to take a topic, and find people with opposing views and have them thrash it out. Here's the rub. Not every story has two equally valid sides. Do we REALLY need to have a pro and a con on the topic of child abuse? Fox treats every subject as equal and that all topics have equal merit pro and con. This isn't and shouldn't be the case. Sometimes editorial boards dismiss one side of the story because it is with minimal merit. That's what editorial boards are supposed to do. When Fox gives equal merit to the guy who thinks the holocaust never happened, that's a problem.

Goldberg on George W. Bush: why he has become for the Left the very personification of evil. Perhaps...but isn't Bill Clinton still the personification of evil for the right? I guess my problem is that Goldberg is treating the "Bush Boogie Man" argument as unique to liberals. The "Clinton Boogie Man" seems to be alive and well on the right. Secondly, conservatives miss the argument sometimes. People were critical of the post Katrina clean up due to how Bush and his appointees ran FEMA. However, several conservatives boiled down the criticism to liberals blaming Bush for the weather. No. That wasn't the argument. The point was that if FEMA was being run correctly the response would have been better. Liberals didn't blame Bush for the hurricane. They blame Bush for the failures related to the cleanup.

Goldberg on Conservative ideas: alive and well, even though Republicans are on the ropes. I agree. In fact, I'm still taken by how much I agree with Barry Goldwater's ideas, although I really think he missed the boat on the civil rights act. But is this because I'm becoming more conservative or because the political landscape has shifted so far to the right that a conservative now looks liberal. This really isn't my point. Goldberg suggests that liberals are just plain crazy and always have been. He suggests that he is still conservative, but the republicans have lost their way. My argument is that conservatives may have lost their way, but so have liberals. I don't think that you can say that a 2000s "liberal" is the same as a democrat or is the same as a Truman liberal, New-Dealer, or even a New-Frontier liberal. The vanguard of both sides aren't very representative of the rank and file. And this is why no one votes in elections (imho).

Sunday, May 20, 2007



As part of my Masters in Public Administration degree, I took a course on "Economics for Administrators." One interesting fact that the professor made in the class was that fuel costs, especially, gasoline costs generally have not kept pace with inflation. So, while people were complaining about $2 and $3 per gallon gas prices that summer (two years ago) the truth was that, adjusted for inflation, gas prices were still lower than they were at almost any time.

The Kansas City Star reaffirmed this point. The article actually reported, "When adjusted for inflation, monthly average U.S. pump prices have hit that level ($3.22 per gallon) only once in the last eight decades. That was in March 1981, according to the American Petroleum Institute. (The actual cost back then was $1.42 a gallon, if you can imagine. Kansas Citians haven’t been used to that in seven years.)"

What does this mean? It isn't very sympathetic, but honestly, the cost of gas has had the same affordability or been a bargain in recent years. What's the difference? Inflation. While people enjoy railing against $3.00 gas prices and recalling $0.20 gas. However, those folks rarely consider income, or the cost of other consumer goods and services at the same time. I was thinking about this recently. My Dad used to take home about $200 a week in the late 1970s (with double digit yearly inflation). Gas was about $0.75 per gallon. So, given the size of a gas tank, it would cost about $10 to fill a tank, or 5% of his take home pay. I really don't know that current pricing is setting at much more than 5% of take home pay to fill a gas tank. Again, consider that other times with "gas crisises" in the U.S. also involved recession, stagflation, heavy unemployment, and other conditions that exacerbated the problem.

When people wax poetic about inexpensive gas, they rarely discuss about how other goods and services have increased. People also rarely talk about how other "necessities" take pieces of our income. Cell phone, cable/satellite TV, personal computers and internet service, are all new bills that people routinely pay today as opposed to 1980. And, with that money going out for these staples, it will impact the money available to pay for a tank of gas.

Then, there is the cultural issues. We live further from our jobs. In the 1980s, Greater KC stretched to about south 110th street. It's now pushing south 225th St. in Johnson/Miami county. We have to drive a very long way to get anywhere. Or, we have to rebuild a new "city center" as we move further and further from the established areas (e.g. Town Center Plaza, Zona Rosa, etc.). We don't have walkable conditions anyplace...from shopping centers to housing editions, to schools. Due to safety concerns, children don't even walk to neighborhood schools. And, let's not forget about the fuel economy of our vehicles.

Conservatives like to point out the lack of refineries in the U.S. I agree that this is an issue. However, I also think that the lack of new refineries has been much less about ecology and more about economy. If prices had been high enough to justify new refineries, they would have been built and no amount of tree-huggers or Greenpeace protesters would have stopped big oil. It is simple supply and demand.

Don't get me wrong. I really don't like paying for expensive gas. However, I really don't know that gas prices are actually higher than today than they've ever been.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The National Guard

The National Guard

It was interesting to see the White House go after Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius this week over her comments about the tornado damage. The President's use of the National Guard in the war on Iraq has been very questionable. Frankly, I believe that this is all personal. Most understand that serving in the National Guard during the Vietnam era (as George Bush sort of did) was akin to draft dodging. My feeling has always been that Bush's over use and activation of the National Guard for duty in Iraq was to give National Guard service a "makeover" to make his service appear more legitimate and sacrificing.

Okay, that may be a bit too much. But it is very interesting to me that what Kathleen Sebelius said was the truth. The reason that recovery efforts were slower in Kansas was because the needed labor and equipment was in Iraq...not in Kansas. Is it possible that the Katrina fiasco was also slowed and ineffective because the needed Guard troops weren't available? The Republican spin likes to point at events like Katrina and the Kansas tornado and say, "sure, NOW the Democrats blame the President for the weather!" That's not what's happening. No one can control the weather, I agree. However, the ability to react and to respond to disasters can be affected by policy decisions.

Here's my ultimate point. Sebelius said something that was factually true and not a political jab. The National Guard couldn't be in Kansas and Iraq at the same time. Her comments didn't come from opportunism. She's said this long before the tornado. Since the decommissioning of the state militias, the role of the National Guard has been chartered with help during local crisis as first responders. However, they can't help locally and serve on the front line, twelve time zones away at the same time. First responders need to be close. Even if you accept the White House comments that the National Guard could called in from other states, that's not the answer. First, all other states are undermanned, too. Second, bringing the National Guard from another state isn't really first response. That takes time. Which is EXACTLY what Sebelius said.

Did Sebelius belittle the sacrifice of the Guardsmen? No. Did she insult the troops or set out to undermine morale? No. All she did was question the White House policy at a time when resources were needed in her home state. This is what a good leader should do. It amazes me how easily the White House discredits anyone who questions their policies. Asking questions of your leaders is central to democracy.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Age Warfare

Age Warfare

For several years, I've heard people talk about political parties pitting class against class, sometimes called "class warfare." What's interesting to me is that we seem to be lining up for age warfare.

I'm not a baby-boomer. I was born in 1966. Typically a "baby-boomer" is defined as someone born between 1946 and 1964. All my life, I've had a slight disdain for the baby-boom generation. Following in the wake of a great social tidal wave has made my life pretty interesting. My music was always seen as being less important than the music of the previous generation. Schools were always a little more aged as enrollments decreased and people started to question school taxes (since their kids were no longer in school). Requirements and regulations on student financial aid became very strict since so many baby-boomer defaulted on student loans. And, the list goes on.

Over the past decade, I've believed that the government really needed to do something effective about Social Security and the social programs that focus on the aged. My concern was that if something important wasn't done before the baby-boomer hit retirement age, then the political will would go away. I think in Missouri, we've seen evidence that this is exactly what's going to happen.

The Missouri Legislature has passed legislation that exempts social security benefits from taxes. Sounds like a great idea. Help the elderly, on fixed incomes. Here's the rub. In Missouri, social security benefits aren't taxable at all unless an individual has a benefit of $25,000 or more. Combined with a lower taxable rate (seniors pay a lower percentage) property tax exemptions, and combined with pensions, IRAs, 401ks and the like, does the tax break for people receiving OVER $25,000 really make a difference? It does. But it may not make a difference to the seniors. It makes a difference to those who have to make up the difference in state revenues...namely the members of Generation X.

Just as all this was playing out in Jefferson City, I finished reading Boomsday by Christopher Buckley. It's a nice piece of fiction. However, I feel that it may be closer to reality than anyone cares to admit. I believe in the social contract. However, I also believe that baby-boomers, as a generation, have proven that they are so self-absorbed and self-centered and so unwilling to sacrifice (compared to the WWII/Great Depression Generation) that this is just the first round. Be on the lookout for monster mausoleums and tax breaks for segways!