Monday, March 15, 2010

What (and Why) I Believe

I've been interested in politics for about 10 years.  I'm not entirely sure the exact time I first became active politically, but I know it occurred sometime between the 2000 presidential campaign (which was my first year of eligibility in the voting booth, and I choose to sit that one out because at the time I didn't care who was president) and 09/11/01.  It was during this period that I began to start reading blogs.

The first blog I stumbled into was, where a man by the name of Lee discussed the day's current events.  (Incidentally, the first -- and up to this point, the only time -- that I cried while reading something online was the day last year that the guys at his blog announced that Lee had died.  While I'd never met the guy, I felt a connection to him and his writings and it broke my heart that he had died at such a young age). directed me to the Godfather of Blogging (University of Tennessee law prof Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds).  And, soon after that I discovered a conservative comedy blog by some Frank J. fellow.  These three blogs were the perfect trifecta of blogdom for me.

The Instapundit links to tons of stories from around the blog-o-sphere, giving a nice glimpse of what people are talking about at that time.  He will occasionally give a sentence or two of opinion or snark, but for the most part, he just exhibits the pieces of the day and allows you to pick and choose what you want to read.

Frank J. provided me with a daily dose of (usually) political humor from a conservative slant and perspective.  Growing up with comedic heroes who (I would later find out) were liberals, it was a breath of fresh air to be able to read someone who made fun of the people who I thought were funny, mainly liberals and hippies.  Frank J. also talked much of nuking the moon, which was an idea I could get behind.  Frank J. was the funny pages of my daily blog read.

And Lee had his own niche in my political world.  He would pick a story or two to expand upon and would spend time giving his opinion, proposing policy, and/or waxing philosophical.  I would have to say that over the years, Lee earned a spot as one of the top five influences on my political worldview.

One of the things that I will always appreciate about Lee was his ability to explain complex ideas in a coherent and effective manner.  (Not sure he'd appreciate this comparison, but he was able to do with the written word what Rush Limbaugh does verbally on his radio show).   

Lee was the first libertarian who I ever read on a daily basis.  He was able to pull me closer to a libertarian worldview.  He was the first staunch defender of capitalism who was not a cultural conservative.  Up until that point, I'd always assumed that fiscal conservatism and cultural conservatism went hand in hand.  To me, a person who supported free-markets, limited government, strong national defense, etc. also was against drugs, gay marriage, abortions, etc.  I just thought that's how things went.  You were either a conservative Republican or a liberal Democrat.  Yet, Lee was able to defend capitalism AND the abolishment of the drug war.  He was able to simultaneously support tax cuts AND gays serving in the military.  The guy had a solid understanding of where he stood on issues and was able to explain and defend these ideas.  In doing so, he caused me to reevaluate my stances on issues and adjust them where necessary, as well as strengthening my positions when I felt he was wrong.

In short, over the past ten years I have been immersed in politics.  Over this time I read thousands upon thousands of news pieces.  I read tens of thousands of opinion pieces.  I always took part in an internal dialogue while reading.  I argued against and for issues.  But, until last year, I never aired these positions publicly, except for the occasional discussion with my immediate family (sorry to my Pally, Bro-in-law, and Sisters for forcing you to be my sounding board for all of those years).

So, in an attempt to emulate my blog hero Lee, I'm going to attempt to be more philosophical/rational in my writing on political matters.  I'm going to use snark more sparingly, and instead use logic and reason more liberally (which is only a dirty word when talking about hippies).

In the future, I'm going to spend more time explaining why a particular story or opinion piece does or does not mesh with my worldview.  In this way, I hope to strengthen my rhetorical skills and increase the audience to this blog because I believe I can attract more ants with honey than with vinegar.  In previous posts I often pointed out that the people in Washington (and state and local governments around the country, and world for that matter) are idiots (which everyone already knows).  In the future I want to spend less time attacking and more time defending my position against their attacks.

With that said, the political issue that is the most important to me is fiscal policy.  It is most important to me that our political leaders are good stewards of our money.  I believe in limited government because I believe that I know best what to do with the money I earn on a daily basis.  I also believe that my neighbors, my friends and relatives, and my fellow American's know best what to do with the money they earn.  When looking at other policy issues, I approach them with one question in mind, "Will this policy be the best use of my (our) tax money?"  (or "How much of my money do you want to take and what are you going to spend it on?")

I am a fiscal conservative.  I believe that capitalism and the free market are the best way for this country to run.  I believe that these practices are the reason that our country is as great as it is.  I believe that collectivism/statism/communism/socialism/facism are vastly inferior to capitalism.

Therefore, I am greatly dismayed about the state of our financial situation in this country.  Today I read that for the first time since the 1980s, Social Security is going to pay out more money in benefits than it brings in.  From Yahoo News:
For more than two decades, Social Security collected more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits — billions more each year.
Not anymore. This year, for the first time since the 1980s, when Congress last overhauled Social Security, the retirement program is projected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes — nearly $29 billion more.
Sounds like a good time to start tapping the nest egg. Too bad the federal government already spent that money over the years on other programs, preferring to borrow from Social Security rather than foreign creditors. In return, the Treasury Department issued a stack of IOUs — in the form of Treasury bonds — which are kept in a nondescript office building just down the street from Parkersburg's municipal offices.
Now the government will have to borrow even more money, much of it abroad, to start paying back the IOUs, and the timing couldn't be worse. The government is projected to post a record $1.5 trillion budget deficit this year, followed by trillion dollar deficits for years to come.
 [Emphasis mine]

So, for years and years, our elected leaders have been "borrowing" from the Social Security "lock box", kicking financial and budget problems down the road like a tin can, rather than reigning in spending and/or raising taxes (solutions that are politically toxic).  Now, we are facing trillion dollar deficits for years to come with no end in sight for government limiting itself (see Health Care Reform, Cap and Trade, etc.) at the same time that our country is trying to climb its way out of a recession.

And as poorly as our Federal Government has handled their check book, state governments have been doing no better.  From Barrons Online comes news that promised pensions benefits for public-sector employees represent a massive overhang that threatens the financial future of many cities and states.
Some 80% of these public employees are beneficiaries of defined-benefit plans under which monthly pension payments are guaranteed, no matter how stocks and other volatile assets backing the retirement plans perform. In contrast, most of the taxpayers footing the bill for these public-employee benefits (participants' contributions to these plans are typically modest) have been pushed by their employers into far less munificent defined-contribution plans and suffered the additional indignity of seeing their 401(k) accounts shrivel in the recent bear market in stocks.
Most public employees, if they hang around to retirement, can count on pensions equal to 75% to 90% of their pay in their highest-earning years. And many public employees earn even more in retirement than their best year's base compensation as a result of "spiking" their last year's income by working ferocious amounts of overtime and rolling in years of unused sick and vacation days into their final-year pay computation.

A survey by the watchdog group California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility found that some 15,000 Golden State public employees are knocking down $100,000 or more, while some 200, mostly police and fire chiefs and school administrators, are members of the $200,000-a-year-and-up club.
The prospects are bleak for many state and local governments as a result of all this. According to a survey last month by the Pew Center on the States, a nonpartisan research group, eight states -- Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia -- lack funding for more than a third of their pension liabilities. Thirteen others are less than 80% funded.
[Again, emphasis mine]

I recommend reading the rest of the article.  The prognosis is quite troubling.  And it all comes down to fiscal responsibility, of which most politicians only give lip service to when they are seeking election, and then they spend their time in office as if they have a blank check to use however they see fit, regardless of the ramifications.

And, since we are in such a deep, deep hole at the moment, a solution to this problem is not going to come very easily.  I will probably spend the rest of my life living under a bloated government shackled with debt and deficits.  And, hopefully our citizenry isn't too addicted to suckling at the government teet to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to remedy the solution (mainly raising taxes, cutting spending, scaling back services, and eliminating waste).  From where I sit, there is going to be much pain and suffering financially in the coming years, and it all starts with the almighty dollar (even if that dollar is much weaker now than it was a decade ago).

SONG:  "Sunglasses at Night" by Corey Hart

THINKING BACK ON:  Lee of's writings before he died.

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  combing through the archives of and revisiting Lee's thoughts on the topics of the past (and comparing them to the topics of today.  I imagine there will be some consistency to be found).  I have recently returned to his blog and have been enjoying the blogging that his friends have been doing since his absence.  The year before his death, he was living and working in China.  Before he left, he turned over the reigns of the blog to some of his fellow libertarian and conservative bloggers.  They have done a fine job maintaining Lee's online legacy.

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