Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Are We Controlled by History and Weather?

Are we a country trapped and held back by its own history?
Be patient with me as I work my thoughts out here. I'm learning as I type. 
The most powerful and largest cities in the world are also some of the oldest. The worldwide centers of power continue to reside in their historic birthplaces. And as I look over pictures of of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Washington, DC and New York City, I can't help but wonder if it is unwise for such important businesses and agencies to be housed in geographically precipitous areas? 
Centers of power are located not in the area most protected or beneficial. They are located where history grew them- which means they are centered around archaic trade routes, usually based on ocean or maritime trade. (New York, London, Hong Kong, Chicago, etc.) Most major cities were built around rivers and wind trade routes. As the major ports of commerce, it made sense back then. No major cities were built in their locations because they were centrally located to the nation, in a well-protected (easy to defend) spot, or in an "elementally" wise area (unlikely to be hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, and crippling snowstorms). In fact, most major cities, because of their maritime roots, were built in the worst locations possible for weather problems. 
Why haven't any major countries moved their center of power to a more modern, wiser location? I realize it would require a massive and costly change of infrastructure, not to mention overcoming public sentiment and attachment. But with all of our modern technologies and abilities it seems strange to me we have not relocated seats of government and centers of economic strength to more prudent location. 

The New York Stock Exchange has been closed for two days. Think about the fiscal impact that has around the world. Weather is controlling the economy. Wouldn't it be smarter to locate such an important financial institution in a more habitable clime? 

To me it seems strange that since we have the ability to relocate the most important parts of our infrastructure to more reasonable, safer locations, that we have not yet begun to do so. 
Not to mention the national security factors! Wouldn't the seat of government be safer not on a seaboard and instead in the center of the country? Or shouldn't the government and financial headquarters be in areas less likely to be affected by severe weather? 
We have NORAD, and most data happens online, and is (in theory) appropriately backed up so as to prevent irreversible losses. But it still just seems to me that it would be wise to move power centers to more modern and technologically wise locations that aren't historically rooted in maritime trade. 
As I think it through though, I'm not even really sure where in the U.S. more prudent locations would be. The center of the country- St Louis, Kansas City - comes to mind, but they are very prone to severe weather. San Diego and Phoenix seem to be two of the least weather affected locations in the U.S.. But then, San Diego is also a beneficiary of maritime winds and trade. (Ooh, but more food for thought- how different would the war on drugs be if the government were located that close to the border??) Also, it isn't central enough or secure enough (earthquakes). The more I think about it there is only one state that really comes to mind for not having severe weather. It isn't incredibly central, but it is landlocked, and would have good natural defenses for security purposes. I've never heard of major snowstorms, earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes affecting this region. It has no existing infrastructure though. 
So my question to you is this- if you were given the terra firma of the United States, with natural resources intact, as a blank slate to build from the ground up, where would you put your government, military, and financial seats of power? 
(I'll put my spots in the comments below.)

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Future Fallouts

The election is finally less than two weeks away. The “fiscal cliff” is only about two months away. The federal fiscal year has just begun, and many companies and agencies are feeling good.  The jobs report next month will look great with many companies getting in some quick hiring now that the federal fiscal year has turned over and new budgets are out.
But will it all hold up? Will the presidential election change things? And how will the fiscal cliff impact you and your portfolio?
Here’s some food for thought: Democrats like to create jobs within the federal government. Republicans like to create jobs with military spending (the jobs come both within the military and in civilian contracts with the military). There is a well defined line between federal and military jobs. The biggest difference is that federal jobs don’t directly help the overall economy (but they do help the government and community), and it only creates a finite number of jobs.
Military sector jobs not only help the military, they help foster research, inventions, development, and improvements from the commercial sector, and help the economy. Not all military spending goes to bullets and bombs. Much of it goes to create new technology that starts out as a need for the military, and gets adapted for civilian use. Case in point- the internet (regardless of what Al Gore may have told you), microwaves, cargo pants, and duct tape. U.S. defense contractors are concerned about future and on-going operations due to uncertainty over military budget cuts promised by President Obama in his campaign, and federal spending cuts under the sequestration (“fiscal cliff”).
The largest defense contractor is Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT). The company researches, designs, develops, manufactures, integrates, operates and sustains advanced technology systems, products and services. It serves customers in domestic and international defense and civil markets. Lockheed will be vulnerable to cuts because of its role in large projects such as the Joint Strike Fighter. The company employs over 100,000 people worldwide.
Lockheed’s CEO, Bob Stevens, said in a call with reporters about the company’s third quarter earnings that the Pentagon had indicated no impact on contracts was expected on Jan. 2 when the cuts would come into force, unless Congress drops the move during its lame duck session. The government advises that contracts would likely not be affected for at least three months (or one fiscal quarter) after that.
Joining the club of CEO’s concerned about sequestration is W. James McNerney of Boeing (NYSE: BA). In September he said that the threat of tax increases and spending cuts “throw cold water on long term planning.” Considering the contractor employs more than 150,000 people across the United States and in 70 countries, it is not good news to hear it is hesitant to hire.
Like all other CEO’s, Northrop Grumman’s Wes Bush is against sequestration. However, on an earnings call in July he told investors, “I want to be clear that we will be ready to address the environment should [sequestration cuts] occur ... we’re going to be ready.”

Active duty military personnel will be exempt from many of the budget cuts, and the Department of Defense will be able to move funds in order to keep critical readiness activities running. However, the cuts do not exempt new equipment and facilities, such as the ones contractors like Boeing and Northrop Grumman provide. Sequestration would mean the layoff of more than 100,000 Defense employees. The Pentagon’s ability to award new contracts will also be seriously limited and reduced, which will effect contractors down the road (3-4 years).

The fiscal cliff would hurt many businesses and put thousands of people out of work. Can the upcoming elections prevent this disaster?
Here are some scenarios-
First, Congress has to be able to work together, and much of the Congress will be “lame duck.” Motivation should be high regardless of re-election, one would hope, but even the most motivated of employees and/or elected officials have trouble with productivity around the holidays. And much of the required work will happen around the holidays.
If President Obama is re-elected, he will have to contend with re-elected Republicans who will be out to make a very strong point. The possibility of unity and cooperation will be a pipe dream, as Republicans set out to send a clear message to the president.
If President Obama is not re-elected the situation is still muddy and complicated. First, a lame duck administration has nothing to lose. Historically, previous administrations have included the incoming administration on important events. This administration has yet to show a penchant for following previous examples. Will a lame duck administration and a lame duck Congress pull together? Or leave the mess for the new party to deal with?
If the fiscal cliff is not averted and President Obama is re-elected, there will be massive cutbacks, layoffs, and much higher taxes. And all the money men on Wall Street will see it coming, and pull back their money in advance, leading us down the path to a massive crash. And that's before the crushing taxes hit! This is the “taxmageddon” scenario so many people have feared. (My recommendation- withdraw all your savings, move to a tropical island, and live off of $3 a day. It may be your only hope.) Also say goodbye to dividend stocks  in the defense industry for several years.
The Washington, DC area will specifically be very hard hit with no turnover in political jobs, while thousands in the defense sector become unemployed. Expect the DC area housing market to take a very hard hit.
If the fiscal cliff is not averted and Governor Romney is elected, there is slightly more hope. There will still be higher taxes, cutbacks, and layoffs due to sequestration. However, Romney promises to make several changes on “Day One” that would alleviate tax burdens on many individuals. The defense sector will also be able to breathe easier, knowing that Romney intends to increase spending, and not make cutbacks on them.
The Washington, DC area will see the typical election turnover in political jobs, and under Romney, not as many defense employees will face long-term unemployment.
If sequestration is avoided and Romney is elected, the defense sector can throw a party. More spending, more jobs, and more contracts mean better stocks. And Washington, DC will suddenly be a great place to find a job with lowered taxes, more spending, and less fear of layoffs.
There is one positive note if sequestration occurs- federal income taxes will likely get delayed a few weeks as the IRS and lawmakers work to quickly rewrite and disseminate the changes to the tax code.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ruminations on the FINAL Presidential Debate (can I get an amen?)!

I love the body language and presence in this picture!

Here's a little secret for you-
When it comes to foreign policy, I am not a Republican. Nor am I a Democrat.  My personal foreign policies have never found a good political home and probably never will, unless Mother Theresa and General Schwartzkopf ever decide to form a party together.

I'm sure you want to know what my foreign policies are, so I'm going to tell you, in my roundabout sort of way. Have you ever read the book, The Ugly American? Well, to put it mildly, this 1960's novel had a profound effect on my political views. But it wasn't just the novel, it was traveling and volunteering in places like Haiti, Romania, and Cambodia and seeing scenes from the book play out in real life.

My political views on international affairs begin with humanitarian aid, and education. I give just as much weight and importance to issues such as sex trafficking and education in low-income countries as I do to sanctions against Iran. Educate and feed the poverty stricken countries now, and you'll improve the world economy and have more peaceful allies in the future. Putting a higher emphasis on bringing clean water and education to countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and large portions of Africa, can help prevent regimes like Gaddafi's in the future. 

Want to create more American jobs? Send Americans overseas to work in third world countries!

Now, back to the debates-

One man had a record to prove and defend; the other had an opinion to defend. And the one with the opinion often had no choice but to give his opinion to journalists before he ever had all of the facts. Of course I say this assuming that a sitting president has far more intel and details about world affairs than a former governor who until recently got his information from the media.

In short, the debate could be summed up as such- Governor Mitt Romney wants the U.S. to play a stronger role in international and peacekeeping conflicts, and would spend more money on the military. President Barack Obama believes the U.S. plays a strong role in the world theater, and tried to show that his leadership is working, and that Romney’s ideas would not work. The problem is that the two men want the same outcome, but their plans to get there are barely different from the other’s.

Shh! I can hear all of you Romney supporters screaming at me from here! I know you hate to hear anyone suggest such a thing, but it’s the truth. Romney and Obama are not that different when it comes to foreign policy. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I kind of missed Ron Paul tonight. He would have at least brought some color and a different opinion to the table.
Both candidates are firmly against Iran getting a nuclear weapon. (But then, is there any candidate, other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wants Iran to have an nuke?) Both favor sanctions against Iran, and want to form better allies in the fight against Iran. Romney tried to set himself apart by saying he would take a harder line than Obama, and would indict Iran’s president for inciting “genocide.” Whether or not that is actually a feasible or possible plan, I do not know. It sounds exciting and strong, but may not actually play out well at the United Nations.

The facts of the matter are that we only have so many options in dealing with Iran- turn a blind eye and hope for the best, or military actions, sanctions, and strategic alliances. To the best of my knowledge only Ron Paul favors the blind eye approach.

On the subject of Libya, President Obama said he has taken a leadership role in the changing Middle East, including the ousting of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.
"I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to—without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq—liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans," he said. (And English teachers everywhere cringed.)

For some reason Romney didn’t take that opportunity to attack the President on the Benghazi assassination. He has not been shy about criticizing Obama on the issue in recent weeks. It was surprising that he didn’t do it in this debate. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.

The one place the two candidates differ significantly is on defense spending, and these differences aren’t just their differences, they are deep down to the core party differences. Democrats don’t like to put money into the military, Republicans do. It is that simple.

Here’s some food for thought: Democrats like to “create jobs” within the federal government. Republicans like to create jobs with military spending (the jobs come both within the military and in civilian contracts with the military). There is a well defined line between federal and military jobs. The biggest difference is that federal jobs don’t help the overall economy, they help the government. And it creates a finite number of jobs. Military sector jobs not only help the military, they help foster research, inventions, development, and improvements from the commercial sector, and help the economy. Not all military spending goes to bullets and bombs. Much of it goes to create new technology that starts out as a need for the military, and gets adapted for civilian use. Case in point- the internet (regardless of what Al Gore may have told you), microwaves, cargo pants, and duct tape.

Both men declared their support for Israel when asked what the U.S. should do if Israel were attacked by Iran. Obama said, “I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked.” Moments later Romney declared, “If Israel is attacked, we have their back.” But again I ask, is there anyone who plans to turn their back on Israel?

Both candidates also oppose U.S. military involvement in Syria. Obama did try and make some points on his leadership efforts in Syria. However, most of these points failed to hit home, and will not resonate with anyone. The U.S. population overall has remained disconnected to the Syrian conflict, with most of the major news outlets (excluding CNN) largely ignoring it.

A CNN poll released right after the debate showed no clear “winner” for the night. An MSNBC poll showed 59% of viewers were more likely to vote for Obama after the debate (no surprise there). The ABC poll showed the candidates in a virtual tie on international affairs. And a CBS poll showed 53% of the people feeling Obama “won” the debate, 23% felt Romney won, and 25% felt it was a tie. As of midnight, there was not a Fox News report on who “won” the night. But I'm pretty sure we can all predict what their poll will inevitably say. 

It is unfortunate that international affairs and foreign policy will continue to stay the American people’s shortcoming. Equal or adequate time is rarely given in classrooms or the media when it comes to the subjects. There are enough domestic issues to fill newspapers and news reports, without needing to invest much in conflicts and stories in faraway lands. And so we are often misinformed and under-informed. We are naively guided by biases, rumors, and third hand ideas, rather than facts and figures. We build opinions on what another country needs having never been to that country, met someone from that country, or listened to the voice of the people in that country. All too often we assume that what they need is a little dose of our American medicine and trample our military in to give it to them. I am happy that both presidential candidates shy away from this approach, and instead lean to negotiations and sanctions first.

All this talk about Iran has me thinking of one of my favorite Saturday Night Live digital shorts- 

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

President Obama at the Al Smith Dinner (or Obama Embraced by Catholics/Romney Dines with Rich People)

President Obama had a few good jokes at the Al Smith dinner too. But only a few, not a lot. His delivery wasn't quite as good as Romney's, and he joked about himself a little too much. But, to be fair, he was funny too.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mitt Romney Jokes at Al Smith dinner with President Barack Obama

My only regret is that we can't see the President's reactions!

This is one time where real life actually did it better than the "West Wing."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thoughts on the Second Presidential Debate

First, I think President Obama decided to listen during his debate prep sessions finally. He must have figured out that "hope" isn't an actual debate strategy.

That's not to see Governor Romney didn't bring is A game. I believe he did. But the match was more evenly balanced this time. 

The big hot topics that emerged from the debate-

1. "Binders full of women."
I admit I did not hear this line the first time around. I was listening as I drove in the car, and missed this entire segment. I was surprised when I got online later that this statement, "binders full of women," was such a big deal. I was very curious what it could be about, because all I could find were people mocking the phrase, but no one saying what it meant, or what was wrong with it. I imagined it to be some horrible thing. I was actually incredibly disappointed to find what a benign statement it really was.

To be honest, it was awkward phrasing, but really, what was so wrong with it?? I don't get it.

2. Libya
Oy vey.
I never have liked Candy Crowley, in spite of my love for CNN. She just really likes to tell people they are wrong and to be critical. I honestly don't think she is more Obama than Romney. She just really likes to correct people, and in this case, she picked poorly. But I actually put the blame for this little moment of confusion on Romney for not fully explaining things. "Act of terror." He should have better explained that calling it an "act of terror," and yet, not terrorism, were not the same thing. But shame on Candy Crowley for not being a better moderator and asking him to explain himself, rather than cutting things off. Even Obama looks a little confused as to what went down.

And the correction admission

3. President Obama's speaking style.
I bet everyone else with ADD like me is incapable of listening to him for more than a minute. There's so much dead air I lose focus and move on to shiny objects reflecting off the stage lights or counting freckles on the back of my hand. For the love, Mr. President, SPIT IT OUT!
You may want to complain that Obama got 3 more minutes of time than Romney did. But really, he just took up time. It wasn't speaking time. He likes to (pause) speak in (pause) short (pause) staccato (pause) phrases followed by a quick jumbled line altogether when he (pause) doesn't (pause) have a teleprompter to keep him together. (Pause..........................)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Voting with my lady parts?

President Obama (and others) have encouraged women to "vote with their lady parts."
Yes, I get the point. He wants women to vote for him, the candidate, who has more open and liberal women's rights pertaining to contraception and "women's health.*"
But here's the thing, when did thinking with a sex organ ever lead to a smart choice?
Oh, that's right.
In fact, don't we actually spend a lot of time trying to convince our friends not to think down south and use their heads instead??
And why would anyone want to ever vote one-note? One cause voting? It's the liberal equivalent of voting strictly on gun rights! Can you even imagine the outcry if the other candidate launched a campaign that said, "vote with your trigger finger?"
You also want to know why "voting with your lady parts" is just plain stupid? The POTUS has very little influence over such things. Congress, the Supreme Court, and state legislators have a lot more influence. Oh and so do doctors. If you are concerned about your lady parts, see a doctor, not a politician.

*I hate the term "women's health." No one is against women having good health. Just like no one is against men's health. This is one of the stupidest terms in recent history. How about we call it what it really is? Reproductive and sexual health would be a better term for it.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Debates- do they matter?

Debates- do they matter?

I live in a swing state (obviously). I like politics (obviously). I can't go 30 minutes without somehow being bombarded by a political ad (TV, radio, internet, road signs, and/or phone calls). So I admit it is hard for me to fathom that there are undecided voters out there. How can anyone not know at this point?!

The "presidential debates" will start tomorrow night. President Barack Obama versus Former Governor Mitt Romney.

Is there possibly even one thing that could happen in these debates that could sway a voter? Is it wrong of me to assume that the undecideds are also the uninformed? And are they the type likely to watch a debate?

I can't say I don't want to see the two candidates pitted against each other. But only because I want to see my candidate win. It isn't because I want to be taught. Don't get me wrong, there is that tiny modicum of a possibility that maybe President Obama could do something so outrageously unexpected (for instance, admit he sucks at the economy and is a crappy leader) that could make me like him (not the same as sway my vote). Really, I only watch these things in hopes of another Newt Gingrich, "No I would not!" moment.

Which brings me back to my question.

Debates- do they matter?

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