The Most Important Year In U.S. Politics?

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2012…mark that year in you calendar as it is perhaps the most important year in U.S. politics that we will ever have.  This is what the politicians would have us believe, but this year they might just be right.  Here’s why…

In the U.S. we have been living “high on the hog” for quite a while.  The “chickens are coming home to roost” as they say.  It’s also “time to pay the piper” (they say that as well).

America is a land of plenty in many ways.  It has loads of natural resources and a huge population base.  The economy has had tremendous power over the years and this economic engine has been able to mask over many of the problems that America has today.  Here are a few of those problems…

For starters, the population of the United States is aging.  As more people retire there are fewer people to earn money and pay taxes to support this aging population.  It is basically as simple as that.  As people age they need more government services, such as health care, to take care of them.  Someone needs to pay for that, and if younger workers are not going to be able to do it we will need to find another source.

The rise of other nations is another serious problem here in the United States.  As other nations emerge into the economic mainstream they are in many ways able to provide goods and services at a much lower price than we can here in the United States.  This has caused many people to lose their jobs, then their health care, then their houses…and the list goes on.

Our reliance on other people’s oil.  In the United States we import a huge amount of oil from foreign countries, especially very politically volatile regions like the Middle East.  If this supply were to be cut off we would be in a very serious crisis.  We need our gas and oil to fuel our economy…so this supply of foreign crude must keep coming.

Yes, 2012 is a very important year in United States politics.  Will the current line-up of President and challengers be able to solve our problems once they are whisked into office?  Probably not…but they had better have a plan because we need it.  Like an oil tanker needing a 1/4 mile in order to turn around it is not always easy to solve these problems.  It will take time so we need to set a course for the right direction as soon as possible.  Not an easy job…I’ll stay in computer security thank you very much…

The American withdrawal from Iraq

I normally write about investing techniques and subjects such as a getresponse review but I would like to share my thoughts about some of the implications of the American withdrawal from Iraq. A little more than eight years after Iraq was supposedly liberated, America has announced the formal end to the war and withdrawn its troops. I find it telling that the ceremony announcing the end of American involvement had to be held behind fortified walls and kept brief to limit the possibility of attacks.

Not far from where the ceremony took place, there stands a refugee camp which undermines the American claim that Iraq is now stable and peaceful. Well over one million Iraqis live as refugees in their own country. Many of these people have been driven out of their homes by the war. Another one and half million Iraqis are living as refugees in neighboring countries mainly Syria and Jordan. It is also likely that the Iraqis in Syria will be forced to leave because of the unrest in that country.

Probably the most vulnerable sections of the Iraqi population are a considerable number of people [estimated at some 70,000] who worked for the American armed forces. These people were promised a safe refuge in the US but very little has been done to redeem this promise. Obama criticized the Bush administration on this count but has himself not achieved much. Congress approved a bill to issue 25,000 immigration visas but only about 3000 have actually been issued.

Most of the refugees in the camps are living in disgraceful conditions and lack sanitation, access to clean water and adequate medical facilities. The pity is that because these people are deemed to be illegal occupants, they are unable to obtain documents that would qualify them for employment or for welfare relief. Iraq is a country which has been torn apart by the war and its problems are far from over.

Republican presidential candidates for 2012

An unexpected surge in support for Newt Gingrich has turned him into the Republican front-runner according to a poll conducted by The Des Moines Register newspaper. The poll showed support from 25% of the likely attendees at the Republican caucus as compared to 7% in late October. The same poll showed Texas Representative Ron Paul and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney second and third with 18% and 16% respectively. Minnesota Representative Michele Bachman and former pizza tycoon Herman Cain [who has now suspended its candidature], were in a tie at 8%.

Cain had led the poll in October but now the indications are that this is going to turn into a race between Gingrich and Romney. Gingrich has just opened an office for his campaign in Iowa and has hired staff including some who had previously left. His advisers admit that they are a little late in their preparations for the race but hope to catch up with their intensity and their intelligence. Romney has lost ground in Iowa because conservative voters dislike his support for abortion rights and health care reform.

However, Romney received a shot in the arm when the Sioux City Journal endorsed his candidacy. The paper described him as the best bet for creating a plan for strengthening the economy and restoring fiscal prudence in Washington. He is expected to return to Iowa shortly in his continuing effort to convince voters that he is the best alternative to Obama. However, it is clear that a majority of the Republicans who will participate in the caucus have an open mind about which candidate they will support.

Polls may not be as accurate and scientific as stock valuation but it is worth noting that in 2008, this very same poll forecast accurately that Obama would win the Democratic caucus while Mike Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas, would win the Republican caucus.

Trends in American Parties

By the mid-1970′s a number of major trends affecting American political parties could be discerned. Party procedures were more frequently being regulated by law, making party affairs less a private matter conducted by a few people and more a public process open to many people. The advent of the direct primary as a means of nominating party candidates in the early 20th century was a major earlier step in this direction. In later years, steps were taken to open the national convention delegate-selection process to greater numbers of voters.

Another trend reflects what is virtually a revolution in the kinds of campaign techniques political candidates and political parties use in seeking to win public office. In some areas party organizations, through door-to-door canvassing and other campaign activities, still may serve as an important conduit of political information between party candidates and potential voters for the party. But increasingly, extensive and expensive media campaigns (particularly on television) are the main technique that major candidates use to reach the voters. Here, as in several other areas, there has been an erosion of the Earties’ traditional function in American political fe.

Two other important tendencies are an increase in the role of issues in motivating American voters, and the greater role of ideology in American political behavior. Instead of relying on party loyalty, substantial numbers of voters seem to vote on the issues. Relatively fewer party workers seem to be motivated by an interest in tangible rewards, such as government patronage jobs; and relatively more party workers are motivated to political action by ideological concerns and issues. These trends may make it more difficult for parties to play their traditional role of broker among competing interests, thus facilitating accommodation and compromise, in the American political system.

Large interest groups now perform many functions that parties once performed in election campaigns. In 1968, for example, organized labor registered nearly 5 million voters, recruited almost 100,000 election-day workers, and distributed 115 million pamphlets and leaflets. Most of this activity was on behalf of Democratic candidates.

The strength of the voters’ adherence to the two major parties appears to be weakening. Between 1940 and 1974 the percentage of the electorate who called themselves independents rose from 20% to 33%. And in actual voting, widespread ticket splitting and crossing of party lines by many voters further reflects the independent spirit of the electorate. This weakening of the stabilizing effect of party identification could make American politics more fluid and unpredictable- making possible wide swings from one party to the other in future presidential elections.

These trends should not be construed as signaling the end of American parties. Political parties continue to exist and have considerable vitality in some parts of the country. Most candidates who seek public office would rather run as the nominees of a major party than as independents seeking office on their own. Nevertheless, these trends do mean that the parties increasingly have had to share some of their traditional functions with other politically oriented groups, and it will probably be more difficult for the parties to play the brokerage role they traditionally have tried to assume in American political hierarchy.

Michelle Obama’s Choice For Decorations

Michelle Obama has been referred to as the first lady who is most like Jaqueline Onassis on quite a few different occasions.  From the way that she carries herself, to how she dresses, interacts with other people, and even how she chooses to decorate their private home.

When it comes to the outdoor areas around Michelle and Barack’s home she tends to use more of the faux wood blinds, and other similar styles.  The faux wood helps prevent them from showing their age too quickly, and allows for the blinds to be easily cleaned.  Having them around the pool area and in the sun room makes the rest of the decor pop.

Michelle also loves to use real wood bamboo blinds for the interior of the home, in areas where the windows allow more light to come through.  Michelle and Barack love the look and feel of tropical, lush settings and having natural bamboo wood in the home helps them achieve the look that they are going for.  Bamboo wood blinds are incredibly easy to clean, giving the housemaids less to do when there is dust and pollen in the air. 

When it comes to putting together a high class decor, Michelle Obama loves real wood bamboo and faux wood blinds.

Stepping-stone to the Presidency

Being Vice-President has not proved to be a good way to be elected President. Governors, Senators, and military heroes have a better chance of being elected President than do Vice-Presidents. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and Richard M. Nixon were the only ones to be elected to the Presidency while serving or after having served as Vice-President, and both Jefferson and Adams were chosen Vice-President before the 12th Amendment went into effect. John C. Breckenridge in 1860 and Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 complete the list of Vice-Presidents who have been candidates for President.

“Accidental” Presidents

John Tyler was the first Vice-President to assume the Presidency on the death of the President. He came to power in 1841, when President William Henry Harrison died in office. Whig politicians disputed Tyler’s right to assume all the powers of the Presidency for the duration of Harrison’s unexpired term. They considered him to be merely the acting President and called him “His Accidency.”

Tyler courageously resisted the attempts to deny him full Presidential powers and successfully completed Harrison’s term as President. Since Tyler, no one has ever denied the right of a Vice-President to the full powers of the Presidency on the President’s death.

Besides Tyler, the other Vice-Presidents who became “accidental” Presidents were Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Alan Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Gerald R. Ford. Because of the haphazard way in which Vice-Presidents have been selected, only Lyndon Johnson, of these nine men, was considered to be Presidential material at the time of his nomination to the Vice-Presidency. However, Lyndon Johnson, Roosevelt, Coolidge, and Truman each went on to win a full term as President on his own.

The Politics of Malaria

According to research carried out by the World Health Organisation, every year the planet Earth sees one million people die of malaria.  The vast, vast majority of these deaths occur in the developing world, with only a few thousand in the developed world. 

For those of us who live in the west this is a tremendously comforting statistic.  Western healthcare is fantastic, and we can usually rely on our local hospitals to protect us from the worst the world can throw at us.  However, there are many ways in which the politics of the western world can leave us in the west at a disadvantage.

Let me tell you a story.  About ten years ago my older brother spent six months teaching English in a small school near Bangalore, India.  About half way through the trip he contracted malaria and nearly died.  He was found unconscious in a railway bathroom, taken to hospital by a kind stranger and cared for until he began to improve. 

Now, Indian hospitals are poor, deprived places.  Compared to the west the hospitals are poorly funded, but the thing is that they are geared up to treat such diseases as malaria.  Back in the west we’re clueless.  When my brother was returned to a hospital in the UK to recover he was placed in an overcrowded ward and treated by doctors who may never have seen a case of malaria before.  

Fortunately my brother survived, and today he’s a lot more careful about learning how to treat mosquito bites and using his electronic bug repellent when he’s abroad.  If he ever gets malaria again, though, I’d advise him to stay overseas to be treated. 

Tatted Up

Tatted Up

I appreciate the guest post, Jamie Guy

I’m absolutely determined to get this new tattoo. I’ve done everything I can to save money. Ready for the list? Garage sale, car wash, no more Starbucks, sitting in the dark and Shope electricty rates TEXAS for better power rates, wear dirty clothes, eat Ramen, flirt for free drinks, and go home for meals on the weekends. I’m ridiculous, I know. But working at Best Buy barely pays the bills – which probably means I don’t really NEED this new tat. No, I do. I’m thinking full sleeve on my left arm. Thoughts? My friends say I’m turning into Kat Von D and I am totally okay with that. I don’t do piercing, though. Ouch. I just love the stories that tattoos can tell on your body and the artistic abilities of the people I’ve had do mine. So, this time next month, I will hopefully have a tribute to Bob Marleyon my left arm complete with dreads, music notes, his face of course, and a little “greenery” to top it off. My mom will just die. Looks like I’ll be wearing long sleeves year round…

Tatted Up:I appreciate the guest post, Jamie Guy

The Mongol Rally and Turmoil in the Middle East

The place: Iran.  The year: 2009.  The event: The Mongol Rally.

I was scheduled to depart on the Mongol Rally in July of 2009 – an epic road trip that would take me from the UK to Mongolia over the course of 50 days.  A route had been planned, visas had been applied for, goodbyes had been said.  And then disaster struck. 

In the wake of the hotly contested Iranian election of 2009 the cities of Iran exploded in protest.  In response to yet another suspicious election result from the Middle East the British government stopped issuing visas to Iranian nationals.  The Iranians retaliated by rejecting applications for British nationals – including me.  My Mongol Rally plans were scuppered.

The Mongol Rally should have taken me though Turkey, across Iran and into Turkmenistan, but the visa refusal meant that I would have to drastically alter the route of my Mongol Rally. Bypassing Iran, I would have to head north from Turkey along with several other Mongol Rally teams, entering Georgia and then passing through Azerbaijan. Finally, with about 12 other Mongol Rally teams I would have to catch a freight ferry across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan.

This all happened just a week or so before the launch of the Mongol Rally, so there was no time to apply for the new visas I would need before the launch.  Instead I would have to join dozens of Mongol Rally teams at the Azeri consulate in Istanbul to apply for a transit visa for Azerbaijan. 

The experience left me shaken, and my Mongol Rally trip was almost ruined before it had even begun.  Fortunately I managed to bribe the officials at the Azeri consulate with a ukulele and a chocolate cake in order to get my visa application expedited, so I could continue on my Mongol Rally route without much delay. 

All in all the Mongol Rally took me 50 days to complete, and before reaching the Mongol Rally finish line in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia I passed through 17 countries, was threatened with a gun 3 times and was deported from Kazakhstan.  All in all, my Mongol Rally was a fantastic success.  Kind of.

If you’d like to take part in the Mongol Rally 2012 you can sign up on several days before the end of the year.  Watch this space for Mongol Rally news!

Welfare Reform: Why Nobody Steals Bread Anymore

In the United States, obesity is a sign of poverty. Nobody is starving for bread anymore, and nobody is forced to steal for a living. Is this a good thing? Or is welfare reform something that is needed to bring some checks and balances into ordinary people’s lives?

Law abiding people now can have their cake and eat it, too. This makes for queasy stomachs and bad bookkeeping. The new libertarian musical, The Debt Collector, tackles this age old problem. Listen to the song Law Abiding People and see what you think. Should people unwilling to pick fruit from other people’s trees be given that fruit for free, after others had to work hard to cultivate the land and pick the fruit?

In the musical The Debt Collector, the character of Lottie Lark, a welfare mother with seven children and another on the way, explains to her children that while collecting welfare, reneging on contracts and failing to pay the bills on time are all right, stealing is the one thing that can get you in trouble. And why bother to steal when you can get it all for free?

All parents try to do what is best for their children. All parents try to prepare their children to do well under the conditions prevalent in the world as we find it. If working hard is not rewarded, what mother would want her child to grow up to work hard?

For more information about welfare reform, please read the article “Law Abiding People.”