Monday, June 27, 2011

Revisiting a Tough One

In what sounds like a preemptive grab at some kind of divine endorsement for president, Michelle Bachmann, while announcing her candidacy in good ole' Waterloo, Iowa, took the time to speak about her own religious beliefs. She wasn't so bold as to say that God is a straight ticket GOP guy, but I suppose that in some ways he qualifies: He's old, He's (at least in most paintings) white, and He has no need of health care benefits from the government. He's rich, too.

Now, at the risk of getting too grim, I'm going to revisit a subject that I have not written about for several years - abortion. Nobody's really asking, but my personal views would, I think, guarantee rejection from both major opinion camps. If asked to counsel a woman on the subject, I would be on the side of trying to encourage a live birth, perhaps adoption by a third party, and some sort of reimbursement of medical expenses and (perhaps) work time lost to the birth mother. At the same time, I would dread the involvement of state or federal police power in the cause of preventing abortions or punishing those involved in them. I oppose amending the Constitution on this issue, which surely would put us over the line of "establishing religion". I may be the sole advocate of "Pro choose life", a position with no lobbyists, religious backing or secularist support. That's OK, since minority opinions in this country are free and usually legal.
With all that in mind, I point to two trends my GOP friends seem compelled to follow, and where I can't go. In South Dakota, the state stretches to do all in its power to prevent abortions by establishing "centers" which offer help, but will never mention the word "abortion". I'm a little fuzzy as to who pays for this, but believe it should not be the state trying to prevent what is, after all, a legal procedure. The screen this system's advocates hide behind is "education", claiming to aid the woman's decision by "educating" the would-be criminal, I mean, mother. The trouble is, all other kinds of education which might have made this last decision unnecessary, are staunchly opposed, especially in public schools. Nope, it's "abstinance only", a strategy which works poorly in the states where it has been tried.
The other trend is a kind of naked use of legislative and executive power to trump judicial power. In Kansas, someone discovered that the legislature had both the votes and a governor eager to help make abortion legal, but unavailable. A law was pushed through the legislature requiring added restrooms and more recovery space in the state's three abortion-performing facilities. The three will be inspected at the end of the month, and if they fail the new requirements, they will all be closed. In this case, the hiding screen is "health", as in "These poor women cannot be made to suffer without these extra requirements." To me, it sounds much more like "Honey, you're going to have to go out of state to get what you want. Our side had the votes, and the governor, and we shut all those places down because we could. 'Bye now". I can imagine the Kansans celebrating their success now, congratulating one another on the success of 'small government". Meanwhile, ther's someone off in a corner making sure things stay the way they are by drafting legislation that would require solid gold doors on any future abortion clinics.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Points of View

How we see things depends quite a bit on our vantage point. The same circumstances can make us feel very differently depending on who we are and how we see ourselves in relations to everyone else.
There's the man you might have read about, for instance, in North Carolina whose physical problems just became to great to bear. Without a job, he concocted a plan, which you and I might think of as drastic, in order to get medical treatment. He walked into a local bank, handed a teller a note demanding $1, then took a seat to await police. They came, he was arrested and his physical treatment soon began - in jail. "Only in America"? Maybe.
There's Serena Williams, trying to come back from almost a year of tough physical problems of her own. Her comeback effort began today in the 1st round of Wimbledon today, which she won. Then, in a rare emotional moment, she broke down in tears describing her last year to the tennis press. I would think this would make her a more sympathetic figure, though she's young enough to still make mistakes that make her less appealing. I wish her well.
Suppose you're one of the winners in life's lottery, whose only job is to monitor the family fortune earned some time back. Suppose it's been drilled into your pampered head that you should only vote your pocket book, and you always have. Now you have your favorite for the next presidential election, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who says that as president she will end long term capital gains taxes. Who makes up for this major loss to the U.S. Treasury? That would be, ah, everyone else. Yes, the rich have suffered enough.
John Huntsman, Jr., former GOP governor of Utah and, until recently, our ambassador to China, is now running for his old boss's job, president. He's known as a thoughtful problem-solving type who gets along well with those from the other political side. His worst nightmare is no doubt the decision facing him when the campaign staffers deliver the news that he will have to get meaner on the daily stump, and that there must be no words in speeches longer than three syllables in order to fit the Party's current demographic. Of course, he always has the option of retiring to the life of the coupon-clipping rich described above. And it won't cost much to endorse Bachmann, right?
Finally, there's the viewpoint of our three oldest (11, 9 and 6 years old) granddaughters, who came from Iowa to visit for a couple of weeks, ending just yesterday. Let's hope that their view is: Grandma and Grandma are kind of old, but they took us to the beach, the zoo, to see the big trees and to the harbor. Grandpa even tried to teach us tennis. We got to peddle the little surrey in one town, and watched Grandpa and his friends do some stories and poems, which was funny. Someday, we'll go back, hopefully before we become insufferable adolescents.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Big Picture?

Last week, I was noting the number of movie sequels set to hit the marketplace soon. It turns out I left out a couple. First, there's the continuing saga, which I guess is finally ending, of the Harry Potter movies. I guess our hero will finally be known as "Mr. Potter". And the original movie that introduced Americans to the future governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Conan the Barbarian" has been redone and is awaiting release. Maybe it's not a sequel, but it might as well be. "Yaahhh!"

I have a healthy suspicion for anyone who claims to understand economics and the business trends which affect our lives so deeply. Nevertheless, I'm trying to get a handle on this stuff just because it is so important.
I think, for instance, that all Americans should not only know what happened three years ago as the economy was brought to a literal standstill, but why. Following that, we should be able to sort through today's winners and losers, if for no other reason than to know whose statements are less truthful come the real election campaign next year.
The 2008 meltdown was a bit too late to figure much in the election, but we can now look backwards to get an idea of what went wrong. My friends from the Right informed enough to have an opinion will try to claim that certain members of Congress pushed the nation's banks to make loans to less than creditworthy borrowers for home purchases. This is not true.
What is true is that deregulating the financial system allowed commercial banks, investment banks and credit rating agencies to pass extra risk on to unwary institutional customers who had no idea that the mortgages making up their securites were not only subject to default, but sometimes set up in such a way as to make a profit for the investment banks when defaults happened! Yes, it's complex, but informed citizens should come to know just what a credit default swap is, and how this totally unregulated market came to be the cause of the fall of some of the nation's best known investment banks. Sadly, this stuff is unlikely to be in the news again, because the Obama administration has evidently concluded that this debacle had so much guilt spread around that no one will ever be brought to trial. Gee, at least when the much smaller savings and loan scandal hit the fan there were indictments, trials and actual jail terms. I guess it's a case of "the greater the crime, the taller the statue."
I saw a chart today. It measured the relative share of the total business revenue pie taken in wages by employees. The measures started in the late 1940s, a pretty long time back, as my aging body would attest. The shocking part is that right now is the lowest point on the entire chart. In other words, complaints about stagnant wages or jobs shipped overseas are not just union-invented whines. In all that time, being a well-paid boss has never been more attractive, and never has being a working stiff offered less. And the cure for this malaise? In many GOP-controlled states, the answer lies in cutting off unemployment benefits. That's how Arizona voted yesterday, and it was federal money they were declining in order to (I guess) get the unemployed off the couches and into resume writing class. I did not see the GOP presidential candidate debate from New Hampshire last night, but I was told that the term "middle class" was mentioned - not once.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Planet of the Sequels

This week's entry is, ah, late. We're hosting some family (a daughter and three granddaughters, the daughter's nieces), and while they're good kids, they kind of like to get your personal involvement in things that may use up time. All three, for instance, insist that they want to learn to play tennis during this trip. That's a challenge, considering that none of them are yet twelve, nor have any of them ever played before.
But that hasn't stopped me from doing certain things, like watching the NBA Finals. I have lots of respect for the players, and don't really care if they are overpaid. When they succeed, of course, everyone sees it, but the opposite is also true. When a player fouls up, every non-athlete sofa jockey anywhere is free to mercilessly mock the guy.
The commercials, I find, are either getting more interesting, or my attention span is getting shorter. Anyway, I seem to notice more of them. For instance, did you know that the NBA has an "official car"? No, the League doesn't need an official car any more than the Olympic Games needed an official soup (Chinese boil-up noodles) a few games back. And you'd never guess the car, but, for what it's worth, it's the KIA Sorento, made in Korea, carrying an Italian-ish name and sold in the USA. Since the average NBA player is something like 6"7", I kind of doubt that many could fit into a Sorento, but I suppose the teams all have shorter employees, too. How did the Sorento earn the honor? I presume in the usual way - outbidding the competition.
Then there's the movies they're hoping to show to packed houses this summer. If you can sum them up with one word, that word would be - sequel. Think about it. There's the X-Men sequel, the Hangover sequel, and others: Kung Fu Panda, Pirates of the Caribbean and another Transformers on the way. They've even got a new sequel for a series that goes back to the sixties - Planet of the Apes.
I have a theory or two why sequels are done so often, but then I'm talking about business, a subject which has baffled me throughout my life. There's even a movie coming, though I'm not sure this is really a sequel, but it would certainly cover some old ground, entitled Cowboys and Aliens. I suppose we're all going to root for the cowboys since they 1. have to somehow save the planet for humanity, and 2. are usually better actors than aliens. But explain to me if you can, why they recruited Daniel Craig, a good welterweight actor (as James Bond), but about as American as mu shoo pork, as one of the cowboys. Maybe the studio's hoping that people will buy tickets with that very question in mind.