Posts Tagged ‘America’

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Big Bonuses, Round 2

January 11, 2010

It’s bonus time again on Wall Street and, true to form, they will be record high this year.  According to ABC News, the amount will be north of $112 billion for just six of the larger banks.  That is a staggering amount of money but in the end, it is only symptom of a systemic problem with the way banks conduct business.

The banks that plan on paying them are quick to point out they have paid back the bailout money (the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP) which is true.  TARP funds are only half of the issue though.  What they don’t talk about is the ability of banks to saddle up to the Federal Reserve for extremely low-interest or even no-interest loans.  The amount of money involved in this action dwarfs the $700 billion bailout.

Many economists state both the bailout and loans kept the economy solvent.  Assuming that is true, it fails to address two key points – the irresponsible action by the banks and Wall Street that created this mess and that they continue to act irresponsibly with the bailout and discount money borrowed.  Rather than reduce so-called “toxic assets,” the reason for TARP, banks used the money to ride out the storm an in some cases, make investments (such as buying other banks).  In effect, the bailout money lined the pockets of investors rather than freeing up credit to consumers and small businesses.

Approximately 7,450 businesses now file for bankruptcy protection each month.  The majority point to lower sales and lack of credit as the two primary reasons.  Logic dictates that money loaned to banks to shore up the economy be used by banks to do just that.  Instead, banks used it to shore up investors.  For banks to pay bonuses in this environment  is a slap in the face of every hard-working American.  Banks fully expect to go back to business as usual and make money hand over fist.  It seems Congress is primed to let them do just that.  Here is another way to look at the bank bonuses, there are around 154 million working Americans this month.  The bonus paid by only these few banks equals about $750 per worker.

Now to really make you mad, I’ll simplify what is going on:  banks make huge amounts of money taking risks, risks fail, banks get bailout to cover losses, banks borrow money at no interest and invest it rather than make loans.  The other shoe is banks entice consumers with low-interest rate credit cards, issue them to anyone with a pulse, set very high limits, wait until the financed amount is high, then jack up the interest rate to a point people can’t pay, force them into default, and drive consumers into bankruptcy.  We loan banks money at little to no interest only to have them loan it back to us with huge interest rates.  Are we really that stupid?  The answer must be “YES!”

We cannot do anything about the bailout now, other than learn from it.  What we can do is regulate the banks to prevent the behaviors that take advantage of both, the system and us.  We learned this lesson after the Great Depression, and then Congress changed the rules allowing Americans to get screwed.  Banks were all to willing to do just that.  We have a right to regulate banks, they only exists because we bailed them out.  Our economy does not belong to banks either; it belongs to us, the American people.  It is time we take it back from Congress and all the special interests that now hold it hostage.  2010 is an election year, we need to make sure Congress remembers that.  You can bet Wall Street used some of that bailout money to see that they don’t.

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What You Don’t Know… It Can Hurt Everyone

January 7, 2010

We all run across that person that seems to know everything, not the one that brags about it, but the one that’s just plain smart.  Truth is, they don’t know everything but have a well-rounded general knowledge on most subjects.  They can answer questions like who was the sixteenth President of the United States.  If you were wondering – Abraham Lincoln.

That general knowledge of our history is a rare thing these days.  Knowledge of civics, even current events in civics, is rarer still.  I think most Americans can name the current President, only if you were on Mars for the last year and bit could you not.  The more important question is who represents you in U.S. House of Representatives or who are the Senators from your state?  The knowledge of state a local elected officials is even less.

We really have no right to complain about our poor state of affairs if we cannot be bothered to participate in the process.  For example, I live in Beaufort County, South Carolina.  According to the South Carolina Election Commission, the county has approximately 112,000 residents of voting age.  In the last election, only 90894 residents registered to vote.  Of that number, only 69380 actually voted.  That works out to be 81% registered and 62% voted.  Amazingly, over 21,000 people took the time to register but did not vote.  The election had record high turnouts to boot.  The numbers are even worse for mid-term elections.

Of course, the justification for not voting boils down to apathy, what difference can one vote make after all?  Accepting, for the sake of argument that is true, it is only true at the national level.  One vote for a school board member or county commissioner has a greater effect.  Think about the 21,000 that registered but did not vote.  That is about seven times the highest number of votes any school board member received in the last election.  For two seats fewer than thirty votes made the difference.  That makes every vote of great importance.

American requires “Advanced Citizenship” to work properly at the local level.  We cannot simply leave it to others.  We elect the sheriff, probate judge, treasurer, county council and school board members to name a few.  These people have influence over our lives as well as the lives of our children each and every day.  Yet, few of us even know who they are, much less what they believe in politically, or their vision of the future, or how they spend tax dollars.

Do you know who your local representatives are?  You should because, in this case, what you don’t know can harm you, your family, and the community.  It is up to each of us to create the community we want to live in.  That will never happen if you sit on the sidelines and watch.

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How We See Ourselves

January 5, 2010

I often wonder which is more important, how I see myself, or how others see me.  It is something most of us do at some point.  At first glance it seems an easy answer but the more you think on it the answer becomes trapped in a cycle of circular motion.  The same goes for nations and national pride.  Is it more important for us, Americans, to have a positive image of ourselves or for others to have a positive image of us?  Regardless of which way you happen to think, the answer can be both right and wrong at the same time.

Living through events like the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, it was easy to become cynical about our national identity.  So much so that by the time we elected Ronald Regan as President we were amazed he even spoke of things like being proud.  We needed that.  Whether or not you agree with his politics, President Regan resorted a since of pride to the nation.  For the first time in a decade we saw ourselves positively.  It is almost as if he gave us permission more than any policy enacted.

At the same time though, much of the rest of the world saw us less favorably.  It is understandable if we look at it honestly.  We meddled in the affairs of other countries, toppled elected governments, and supported brutal dictators when we needed something from them.  The cumulative effect of one hundred years of a heavy-handed foreign policy undermined the good will the American people.  While we see ourselves separately from the government, other nations see us as one.

With that in mind, the true answer is in the middle someplace.  It is just as important for us to see our nation positively as it is for others to see us positively.  The question then becomes how.  First we have to be consistent.  We cannot support one dictator we like while opposing one we don’t.  For example in Saudi Arabia, we support an oppressive regime that denies its people freedom while we oppose another oppressive regime, Iran that acts pretty much the same to its people.  It’s true for how we deal with communists countries like Cuba and China too.  It is hypocritical to say the least, to point out human rights abuses in Cuba while turning a blind eye to the ones in China.

The effects of all this are of great consequence to us.  If we do not have national pride, we become disinterested and special interests find it easy to control things as they see fit.  One only has to look around today to see that is true.  On the other hand, if others see us negatively overseas, we will have more nut-jobs coming here to blow things up.  We have replaced true pride in America and its freedoms with pride in Americans that think the same as us, be that liberal or conservative.  The truth is neither the Democratic nor the Republican party are as important as America.  It’s time we have pride in America rather than Americans described as “true.”

When we guide our actions by what is best for us as a nation, rather than what is best for a political party, we will do what is best for other nations too.  In the end, to do what is best for others is our best interest.  If we do just that, we will find it unnecessary to take unilateral actions that make us the bad guy everywhere but here.  We will still have groups that hate us but no right thinking nation will give them credence.

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