Archive for February, 2010

22
Feb
10

Don’t let Republicans tell you how to vote

You know with politics that the more things change the more things stay the same. Every few years we hear stories about how the electorate is fed up with whatever congress is doing, and how it is time for a change. The only problem is that the average voter goes right on back to the same group of people. In the movie “The Untouchables” Sean Connery tells Kevin Costner “If you are afraid of getting a rotten apple then don’t pick one from the barrel, go straight to the tree.” Well folks, Washington politicians are the rotten apples.

I don’t particularly care if people vote for Republicans or Democrats, or third party candidates. What I do care about is people voting for good candidates, not for the party they find the least offensive. This is why I find it ironic that people on the right, folks like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, are ringing their hands worrying about these Tea Partiers, and whether or not they will be a force for good (meaning vote for Republicans) in November, or split the conservative vote and actually help the Democrats. Frankly I don’t know or care.

What I do know is that when you elect incompetant people the results are always bad, and right now I would say Democrats who control all branches of government at the moment, and Republicans, who controlled all branches of government for six years, have both done a pretty lousy job. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t vote for a Democrat or Republican, but the candidate you vote for should share your ideas, not simply have a “D” or an “R” next to their name, which you think makes them better than the other guy. Voting for independants gives this country a great chance to change the current mess in Washington, and frankly, a few libertarians wouldn’t hurt when you look at the rampant spending going on.

I know that some conservatives will point to the 92 election as an example of what happens when you vote for a third party. Their thinking is that because some conservatives voted for Ross Perot instead of George Bush that that cost them the election. But let’s re-examine that election briefly. First off, not all of Perot’s voters were staunch Republicans, many of them were young moderates, and disenfranchised voters that would not have voted for either mainstream candidate. But even if Perot did cost Bush the election that wasn’t necessairly a bad thing. Perot’s success in the polls forced President Clinton to run on balancing the budget, and when he was elected he did just that. The Perot success also taught conservatives that they needed candidates who were stronger on cutting taxes, and limiting government. When candidates ran on that message in 94 conservatives won in a landslide. A little political turmoil is always good for Washington. It reminds the guys on top who really runs the show.

I am sure Republicans will do well in the mid-term elections. All signs point to this, but if we elect bad Republicans we will be no better off than we are right now. When voting don’t simply listen to what a candidate says (believe me, they will all be talking about limited government this November) but look at what they have done. Candidates like John McCain, and Arlen Spector (who used to be a Republican) are just as bad on spending as most Democrats.

If you want Washington to change then you have to change how you vote. If you don’t then don’t be surprised to see a few more of those rotten apples come November.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

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17
Feb
10

The Birthers, Tea-Partiers, and American Revolutionaries

For some in the media, and some in Washington, the recent flurry of activity from the Tea Party movement, the Birther movement, and the Independant movement can be neatly lumped into a dissatisfying right-wing stew; dissidents, muck-rakers, and all-around wacko’s people say of them. In some cases this may be true. I can not defend people who honestly spend their day and nights worrying about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. My 88 year old grandfather reminds me that Obama has never shown his birth certificate every time I see him. I try to tell him that such things don’t matter, but some people love a conspiracy, on either side. And beyond the “birther” movement there are those Tea Partiers who go beyond simple government reforms and take an anarchist approach to solving America’s problems. Some would have us tear down the whole system.

So of course, I realize there are nuts out there. There always have been some in American politics. And while we are on the subject those American revolutionaries in 1776 were seen as pretty nutty at the time, and how about those southernors who bled the ground red at Gettysburg? Only at the end did some Union soldiers realize how committed the Confederates were, how right they thought they were, even if history doesn’t see them that way. America has always been a little nutty. We wanted to build a rail-road that went across the entire country. How crazy was that? And put a man on the moon? Surely, you jest.

It took an American named Franklin, flying a kite with a key on it, to truly discover electricity, and what it might mean. Thomas Edison was mocked by everyone when he kept trying out his lightbulb invention only to have it fail time and time again. One day Edison rubbed some coal on his wiring, thinking it might create a better conductor. he accidentally stumbled upon the idea of a filament, and the rest as they say, is history.

America has always been a place of radicalism and revolution. From the days of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, through Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, all the way down to Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, Americans have always fought for what they believe in, whether it was popular or not, whether it made sense at the time or not. We are not a nation of cowards. This is evident not only by the number of wars we have won, many when long odds were against us, but by the power of our ideas, and the ability to use passionate, radical thinking, to improve life for the better.

I can not say that all the Independant’s making the news right now are on the cusp of something big. Perhpaps the Tea Partiers and their ilk are nothing more than a foot-note, a small political movement not unlike the 92 Reform Party, a platform and a candidate (Ross Perot) that quickly fizzled. But I can say that the recent political dissidents are more than a bunch of crazed lunies. These are American Patriots, you may like them or hate them but they passionately disagree with the direction this country is heading, and they are a reminder that Washington is still here to do the will of the people, not the other way around.

We live in an age of cynism, and fragility. The people of this country feel ineffective, without power. Often we are taken for granted, and feel their is no hope to fight back. But every now and then we glimpse some sense of the raw American spirit that has made this nation shine brighter than any other. We saw this in the days after 9/11 when this nation came together in true unity, and we all had a common goal. Mostly though, we fight our fights on an individaul level, and leave Washington to its own devices. But once and a while the people must be heard. Most Americans love this country, and I believe the dissidents love it still. We are not Americans because we all agree on everything, or because we should just shut up and take it when our government does us wrong. We protest, and we fight for what we believe in, and only history can record who was on the right side of things.

Bill O’Reilly, the New York Times, and all of the others who try to organize or label the current populists movements in this country have got it wrong. It doesn’t matter if you think the Tea Partiers, and the like are nuts. It doesn’t matter that they have a specific platform. It matters that they are Americans, and that their voice is heard. Radical ideas bring about radical change. That is what this country is all about. This is one independant who hopes it always will be.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

10
Feb
10

A small example of why people don’t trust banks

While strolling through Yahoo today I came across a link to a New York Times article regarding  how people feel about their banks. According to the Times, nearly one third of consumers believe their bank cares more about the bottom line than about their customers needs. Of course business caring more about their bottom line is not shocking, but most of the time they hide it pretty well,  and banks should engender a certain degree of trust, right? After all, this is the place where you are putting your life’s savings, the place that pays your bills. So why do people think their bank doesn’t care? It’s simple; they don’t.

Not surprisingly the two banks that consumers liked the least are Bank Of America, and Chase. I have had accounts with both. My first banking experience occurred when I was 16. I had just received my first job working part time for Golden Fried Chicken. My pay was $4.35 an hour, big bucks, I know! My mom and dad didn’t want to see me squandering away my fortune on such useless necessities like the latest Nirvana C.D., a copy of Spin magazine, or whatever death metal shirt I could find at whatever concert I was attending (Incidentally I went to see R.E.M and Radiohead the week I turned 16.) So not unlike that poor kid with his Toppins’ in Mary Poppins I was marched to the local bank and made to open a savings account. That was Bank of America, and at that time they had yet to consolidate with Nations Bank and become the corporate behemoth they would turn into. I stayed with Bank of America through High School, and after I was eighteen opened a checking account. In college I also stuck with Bank of America, and even procured my student loans through their lending house (back when banks actually loaned money for people to go to school.)

Throughout all this time with Bank of America I never had any reason to question, or really care what my bank was about. I put money in, I take it out, simple huh? But like many people when I reached my twenties I started some bad spending habits.I began to run up credit card debt, and wasn’t as diligent about balancing my checkbook. When I was 25 I was still going to school and working part time for Whataburger. I didn’t make much money and got paid every other week. Because I lived 35 miles away from the nearest Bank of America I only deposited my checks twice a month. One day I went into the Bank to make a deposit and I asked for my balance. -162.56 they told me. Yes, that is a negative sign! How in the world did this happen! This is the first time I learned an expensive lesson in overdraft fees. What happened was that my last check went mostly on bills, and when I made a few key purchases I went under my balance. My bank charged a $35.00 fee for going under. But $35.00 is a lot less than $162, so I was still confused. Well, the bank doesn’t just charge you that one fee, but actually charges you an additional $30 fee for every transaction afte you go under your balance. Over the course of two days, right before I made it back to the bank, I had rung up a few purchases on my debit card ( I think one purchase was a meatball sub for four dollars.) At the time my paycheck would barely cover the overdraft fees and leave me any money in my account for other expenses. I decided to talk with the Bank manager. I begged and pleaded for her to take off the fees. She didn’t want to. I asked if the bank could take off some of the fees, and she wouldn’t do that either. I didn’t close my account that day ( mostly because I had to wait in line to talk to someone else) but I knew then that I would shortly be leaving Bank of America. A few months later I went to Chase, and so far they have been the better bank.

Now I am not here to excuse my poor spending choices. Everyone should learn to balance a checkbook, and in a way Bank of America taught me an expensive lesson, but Bank of America’s policy when it comes to fees is out of whack. Penalizing someone once when they have an overdraft is one thing, but charging a fee for every transaction is just piling on. And if a customer has been with you for awhile (at the time I had been with Bank of America for ten years) and they haven’t had a history of overdrafts why not waive the fees all together? And it isn’t just overdrafts. Bank of America has high fees for funds transfers, ordering checks, and just about any mistake you make. If Bank of America can charge a fee they will, and they are not the only one. Many people tell me similar things about Chase and Wells Fargo. So why do banks do this, when so many customers are turned off by the practice? This is the “pickle theory” of economics at work. The “pickle theory” (it has other names) is basically that if you own a pickle company and you produce however many million jars of pickles each year, and then suddenly you reduce one pickle frome each jar (usually without telling anyone) all of the money saved on those extra pickles will add up to millions of dollars over the long haul. If Banks raise fees, or charge them more consistently on items they used to not charge them for, and banks have millions of customers it won’t take long for those banks to start raking in the extra money.

In recent years we have seen Banks suspend or transfer their student loan divisions. They have consolidated, gone multi-national and have rung up huge corporate debts. Many banks have inderectly swindled people out of their hard earned money through poor management and corporate greed. And while little people like myself get overdraft fees we see some rich C.E.O.’s raking in several million a year. It is no wonder so many people don’t trust their banks. We know when a business doesn’t care about us, even when we don’t say it.

Just recently I finished a book on Mastery principals writted by an Aikido master. In the book, and using Tao principals the author makes the point that often the journey is more important than the bottom line, end result. It is easy for corporations to look at a spreadsheet and determine whether or not they are doing well. In order for a C.E.O. to keep his job he must raise revenues each and every year ( a feat that gets harder the bigger the company becomes). But rather than focus soley on profits, banks and other institutions need to think about the role they play in our society. The companies that treat their customers with respect will earn the most business long term. This goes for banks as well as any other company. If your bank doesn’t respect you then feel free to leave it. Maybe then they will take notice.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

09
Feb
10

The Scientific Jefferson

I don’t know if it’s because I was recently watching John Adams, the HBO miniseries, or because with all the political news I have observed our nations capitol buildings with some regularity, but whatever the case, I have discovered a recent, and profound interest in our nations founding fathers. Last month I read Newt Gingrich’s excellent “Rediscovering God in America” and this month I am reading Walter Isaacson’s “Benjamin Franklin; An American Life.” In between I stumbled across “The Scientific Jefferson” by Martin Clagett. This book, published last year by the University of Virgina Press details Jefferson’s serious advancements in the world of science.

I can’t speak for everyone but I think most people when thinking of the founding fathers think  only of their political, or perhaps social, accomplishments. Everyone knows about the Declaration of Independance and the Constitution, but few people realize the vast ways in which our founding fathers shaped this country even before the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson, our third president accoplished much in his political life, and as President he presided over the Louisiana Purchase and westward expansion, but long before this Jefferson was an eclectic mind whose intellectual pursuits were almost always fruitful, if not for himself than for the nation he helped build.

Clagett’s book is divided into five sections, each dealing with a specific branch of science Jefferson pioneered. In the late eighteenth century Jefferson was confronted with a profound arrogance and misconception about America while visiting France. The French historian “The Compte de Buffon” argued that the American soil was not fit for agriculture, and that the Indian tribes inhabiting America were feeble minded, ethnic degenerates. Jefferson felt differently, and decided to publish his findings in his Notes on the State of Virginia. His earliest claims involved American agriculture where Jefferson was surprisingly, well rounded. Jefferson used considerable fortune to purchase Italian grains, and animals, particularly the Marino Ram, and long-grains rice. Jefferson illegaly smuggled many such goods into the U.S. thereby increasing the supply of quality grain and wool, while also proving that European exports could thrive here in America. Jefferson invented the “mould-board” plow, a device that used a hinged-blade that allowed for up to four-times the conventional plow rate.

Jefferson also funded early scientific expeditions, including those of Lewis and Clark, to discover much about the land west of New England, and the native tribes that inhabited them. At one time Jefferson traced exact etymology of some three-hundred tribes, with direct French and English translations of key words. Jefferson’s studies not only proved that the native americans were more than “mindless savages” but his scientific research would prove useful in discovering and pioneering the west.

Other Jefferson achievements include spreading Edward Jenner’s small-pox vaccine to rural New England, inventing the modern cryptograph (which was used by the Navy up through WW2), modernizing New England architectural designs with his theories on space and light, and developing the earliest forms of American paleontology and archaeology (Jefferson even created the first “strafing techniques” still used by archaeologists today.)

Without Jefferson’s scientific achievements not only would Americans have suffered, but Jefferson himself would never have become the impactful leader and statesmen in later years. Perhaps Jeffersons final, and most lasting achievement was The University of Virginia himself, where Jefferson built a remarkable library and taught all the critical arts and sciences necessary to early Americans. Jefferson designed much of the building and it is one of the few achievements he wanted listed on his tombstone. It is fitting that a man that never used his ingenuity for monetary gain, wanted his legacy to be that of the knowledge he left behind.

When we think of the founding fathers we should consider more than their poltical legacies. The earliest American minds did more than just create a country; they filled that country with the most remarkable achievements known to man. They left a legacy beyond mere words. Men like Jefferson gave Americans a great world to live in, long before they had a country to call their own.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

09
Feb
10

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