John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: February 2005
John Wayne's Holster
Visit my main blog at Monkey Wrench Revival. Visit my birdwatching blog at The Birding Nerd.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Fixing Social Security

As I am sure most of you are aware, the Social Security system is in a bit of a pickle. Govt statistics project that SS will be bankrupt by 2042. The current plan being pushed by the Bush adminstration has been popularly called the "privatization plan." Will this plan work? Are there viable alternatives?

Please comment if you have suggestions or if I have made any error or misstatements. Send a link to you friends who may be interested in this topic.

The way I understand the privatization plan, it has three phases.

In the first phase, the govt will default on its debt to the SS Trust Fund. In other words, we all contributed money to pay SS benefits. The surplus was put into a trust fund to pay future benefits. The govt borrowed that money. They won't be paying it back.

In the second phase, the govt will cut SS benefits for those born after 1950 to make-up for shortcomings in current revenues. SS will essentially be converted to a pay-as-you-go system. If these changes are not implemented, taxes will have to be raised or SS will go bankrupt much sooner.

In the third phase, income earners can choose (or not) to divert 1/3 of their SS tax into their own investments. At retirement, workers will collect thier benefits, minus the amount they diverted into their private investments. In order to contine paying benefits, the govt will have to borrow money (to replace the 1/3 diverted to private investment). The taxpayer will pay back these loans. The govt claims that they can get loans for 3% interest. They also project that the average return on investments will be about 4.5%. If that is the case, that leaves us with a 1.5% return on our investment (adjusted for inflation, it may be a little more).

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable idea to me. After all, I am more inclined to trust myself with my money than I am to trust the govt with it. However, there are a few things that bother me.

1. How can the govt get away with defaulting on its debt to the SS Trust fund? Try that one with your home bank. That is our money they are defaulting on!

2. The govt will borrow money in phase three to make-up for lost revenues. Who will lend it to them? Don't forget, they defaulted on a debt in phase one! What happens if the market tanks? How will we pay back the interest then?

3. I am also concerned with all the way that companies have been manipulating the stock market. Is the market really a safe place to invest? Will some CEO skim company profits to pad his own wallet at the expense of investor dividends? Certainly the govt has done some window dressing by pretending to address this issue, but it is not enough!

4. THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT! If you break this plan down, the money we are diverting into private investments is being relaced by money the govt plans to borrow and we have to pay back. In other words, we are investing borrowed money - investing on the margin. This is precisely what happened during the roaring 20s that eventually led to the Great Depression.

Bottom line: I am inclined to favor the idea of privatization because I don't trust politicians with my money. After all, they already took money from the SS Trust Fund and are not going to pay it back (phase one). However, I do not like the plan currently being put forward by the Bush administration. I think it is too risky.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Lunch With A Swimsuit Model

I saw this banner ad on CNN. Its for a contest - the winner gets a free lunch with a Sports Illustrated swim suit model. Uhm - the first swimsuit model. Hurry up! Click on the banner and register for your chance to win!



This is right up your alley Boris!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Iran - The Next Battleground in the War on Terror?

I saw this guy on the Jon Stewart show the other day. He spoke about how the Bush administration continues to revamp our intelligence agencies, with the end result being that they can essentially do what they want, when they want....and can basically circumvent the Congress in the process. He wrote an article on this topic in a recent issue of the New Yorker. I must admit, I am not familiar with the author, so I don't know his bias. Nevertheless, he raises some serious issues that need to be looked into.

Here is a short exerpt from the article. The full aricle can be found at the link below.

THE COMING WARS
by SEYMOUR M. HERSH
What the Pentagon can now do in secret.

George W. Bush’s reëlection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national-security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities’ strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control—against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorism—during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as “facilitators” of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long-range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush’s reëlection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America’s support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon’s civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing.

“This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”

For the full article, click HERE!


I invite your comments!

Honky-tonk and Truckin' Tunes You Need to Hear

Here are a few reviews of some country albums from the 1960s and early 70s that seem to have gotten lost over time . These albums are really gems and need to be rediscovered. Get a hold of them if you can. Some of them are available in CD format, other are available only on vinyl (digital formats are available to the resourceful).


Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs. Picture the gunslinging heroes of the 50s and 60s cowboy movies. Now picture him with a guitar crooning songs about lonely nights on the cattle trail, tragic love affairs, or gun fights with outlaws. Overlay these stories with crafty guitar work. Rumor has it that Robbins recorded the album in a single afternoon. Featured on the album are classic songs like “El Paso” and “Big Iron” which have gone on to become country standards. This is country & western music in its truest form.




Dave Dudley – Songs About the Working Man. Dave Dudley debut album for Mercury in 1964. This album contains a collection of songs dedicated to the working man. Songs about the tedium of steel work, tragic songs about death in the coal mines, songs about truckers and cab drivers. And of course, the classic “Six Days on the Road”. Dudley would later go on to establish himself as singer of truck-driving songs. The same trucker beats and rhythms can be found here. This is a must have for every gear-jammer.




Red Sovine – The One and Only.
The master of spoken recitation. Sovine spins and weaves incredulous stories of tragedy into tear-jerking tales that are guaranteed to have you bawling your eyes out. In addition, Sovine has a commanding baritone voice that fits right in with the driving rhythm that will make you want to drive an eighteen-wheeler to California and back. While your at it, stop by a record shop and pick-up his albums “Giddy-up Go” and “I Didn’t Jump the Fence”.




Eddie Bond – The Legend of Buford Puser. This collection of honky-tonk songs chronicles the true story of Sheriff Buford Puser. Puser was a shit-kicking sheriff who fought corruption and moonshing in McNairy County Tennessee in the late 60’s. Puser's way of doling out justice was extreme – he did it with a hickory switch. Puser survived multiple assassination attempts – he was shot eight times, stabbed seven times, and struck by a car. Buford has also killed two people in self-defense. One one occasion, he fought six men at once, and sent three to jail and three to a hospital. Another time, he hopped on the hood of a speeding car, smashed the window and subdued the man who tried to run over him. A man’s man – without equal. A fantastic album – the only way it could have been better is if Johnny Cash sang it.



Other albums worth listening to

Dick Curless – Tombstone Every Mile. Classic ballads of truckin’ up in the woods of Maine.

Johnny Paycheck – She’s All I Got. Johnny Paycheck – the man sho taught George Jones how to sing. This album contains songs about drinking and lost love. Paycheck was the master of the county ballad. Had it not been for his rough and rowdy ways and unmarketable image, he would have gone down as one of the greatest country singers ever.

Flatt & Scruggs – Hard Travelin’. Album of unbelievable banjo and dobro songs. Features classics like Wreck of the Old 97, and the Ballad of Jed Clampett. Get it, you won’t be sorry

Monday, February 14, 2005

Howard Dean as DNC Chairman - good or bad?

Howard Dean was recently elected as chair of the DNC. Is this a good thing for America? A friend of mine at lifeunderamicroscope.blogspot.com, recenlty alerted me to an interesting article by Jesse Jackson regarding this event. The Jackson article is pulbished on the Democracy for America website.

http://www.blogforamerica.com/

As someone who is not a republican (or a democrat for that matter) who voted for Bush (somewhat reluctantly), I felt it appropriate to weigh in with my two cents.

Let me start by saying that I am not a big fan of Howard Dean, but I think he touches upon a lot of issues that need resolution. I am glad he is keeping them on the table where they can be debated, and their merits and shortcoming examined. That being said, I think his views are a bit too extreme. He is to the democrats what Pat Buchanan is (was) to the republicans. However, I do have some optimism that Dean may actually accomplish something. Although his rhetoric seems extreme, his record as governor of VT seems more moderate. Certainly he has a proven track record as a fund raiser – something that always comes in handy in politics. His real challenge will be to win back the so-called Reagan democrats – those that were recently coddled by Zell Miller.

I agree that the US has to move toward the moral center. The debate arises in just how we do that. In our age of partisan politics, the party seeking power is almost always against the initiatives of the party in power – regardless of the of virtue of their cause. This is evident today in the Democrats vs Bush, and it was apparent in the prior administration in the Republican vs Clinton. I suppose that politcal practicality mandates this, but it does not justify it.

It is in this light that I view Jesse Jackson’s column. Jackson offers no solutions - just a laundry list of criticism and complaints. Some of his statements, while casting some shadow of truth, are misleading. For example, I believe that he is being disingenuous when he states that “…conservatives wanted to maintain slavery… did not fight legal segregation… did not march in Selma”. Statements of this nature are divisive, not unitive. By analogy to our present system, conservatives is a euphamism for republicans. It is not my intention to suggest Jesse Jackson is the only person who employs this tactic (most politician do). I am simply trying to illustrate that statements like this are made to polarize people by suggesting that the republicans are morally bankrupt by linking them to shameful aspects of our collective history. When the Republicans came on the scene, they were put forward as an alternative to the loyalist Whigs. We should not forget that it was the party of Lincoln (i.e. Republicans) that ran on an anti-slavery platform. Similarly, many of those “conservatives” who did not march in Selma were Republicans, as well as Democrats (I don’t recall George Wallace or “Bull” Conner being there).

Its also misleading to suggest that during the Clinton era, when the democrats were in power, that all was well in the country. Let us not forget that the recession that we are still emerging from started on their watch. That is not to say that Clinton was a failure in terms of running the economy. On the contrary, he did a pretty good job for the most part. I think the Republicans can learn a lot by implementing similar policies in our present economic climate.

And this thing about the Florida election – the democrats should drop it. It is not relevant anymore. There were problems with the ballots in Florida - that’s a fact! Both parties were trying to get the problematic ballots thrown into their pile. To me, that is unobjective and unfair. Count the valid votes and move on. If a problem exists with Florida elections, fix them – don’t blame the candidates. As far as the Supreme Court getting involved, that is a different issue – a bunch of “political dick-waving” if you ask me. It was really a state issue (not a federal issue) that should have been handled in Florida. Both sides, with their “dream teams” of lawyers, are responsible for getting the Supreme Court involved. Some even suggest that, Florida aside, Gore should have won because he had more popular votes. Again, I disagree. It is precisely this that the electoral college was established – it guards against regional bias in the election. The issues that affect the coasts are not the same as those affecting the south, the midwest or the plains.

As far as the economy goes, I think this is one area where Dean and the democrats have a valid argument. There is indeed much too large a gap – a “canyon” if you will – between the rich and poor. Skewed distibutions in wealth have historically been linked to downfalls in economies. However, on the flip side, welfare states don’t sustain economies very long either. I think it was Pliny who said something along these lines, (paraphrasing) "Economies fail when people learn that they can vote themselves benefits from the treasury". On this issue, I don’t think either party has a realistic plan. The Republicans contend that their economic policies are designed to stimulate investment and job growth. That idea certainly worked for Reagan. The downside is that it widens the gap between rich and poor. The Democrats contend that the wealthy should foot the bill for entitlements that would give the poor and middle-class a sorely needed economic boost. This money would ultimtely be collected in the form income taxes. The downside is that would take money away from investment, and slow job growth. I am not sure what a working solution would look like, but something more along the lines of eliminating income taxes and establishing a sales tax may be more appropriate. This way, distributing the tax burder would be more evenly cast, and those who consume more (the wealthy) would pay more taxes.

The war in Iraq? WMDs? Imminent threat? Whatever! The fact is that Bush needed to go into Iraq. Did he believe WMDs existed, or that and imminent threat was there? I think he did. But I think that is only part of the reason he went in. Equally if not more imortant to the Iraq situation are oil and stability in the middle east. Let us not kid ourselves, oil (and other energy sources) is the driving force behind the US economy (and those of just about every other country for that matter). Iraq, via it's invasion of Kuwait, was attempting to get a stranglehold on the mideast oil supply – not enough to control all the oil, but just enough to be able to manipulate and destablize the market. This was viewed by the US (correctly or incorrectly) to be a major destablizing factor to our economy and our “way of life”. Thus Gulf War I. Through its non-adherence to UN sanctions and other actions, it was believed by many that Iraq was attempting another run at this. Then came 9/11. 9/11 represent a single event that caused $Trillion hit to our economy. Another such blow, be it terrorism or some other source, could spell disaster for the US. So potentially destablizing forces, be they expanding terrorism or Iraq manipulating the oil market, could not be tolerated. Thus Gulf War II. In addition, I think it is a widely help opinion that stablility in Iraq (and Afghanistan for that matter) could serves as a lighthouse for stability in the region, which is good for all involved.

So where is the moral center on Iraq policy?

That is not an easy question to answer. Anytime one goes to war, their will always be ethical dilemmas. Innocent people will always be killed. But lets not fool ourselves. Iraq before 41 and 43 (i.e. George and "W") was not, as Micheal Moore will have us believe, a place where children flew kites and ran around carefree. Something needed to be done. Sanctions were tried, by the UN had no backbone to enforce them (or was being bribed not to enforce them) – so they ultimately failed.

On the flip should, we should not be fooled by the “humanitarian” face that has been put on the Iraq wars. Wars are - and always have been - about two things, money and power. If humanitarianism were really the issue, why do we do or say nothing about the Saudis? So if you want to know the real reason for the war, follow the money trail!

I think the real question we all have to ask oursleves concerns our “way of life”. Why do we consume so much energy in the first place? It is this gluttonous consumption that causes our reliance on foreign oil. In addition, our capitalistic greed has also led us to suck the lifeblood out of many foreign countries. We go in like leeches and extract as much as we can, while providing very little (if anything) in return. And who says that imperialism is dead! The beast still exists, but in a different guise!

Anyway, back to the point…The new DNC Chairman is being summoned to move the democratic party back to the moral center. The question remains whether or not Dean is the man for the job! Will Southerners forgive him for remarks he made during his presidential campaign when he said they should base their votes on something other that "race, god, guns and gays”, or by implying that those who fly the Confederate flag were racists? I think this is a tall order for Dean, but I think it is something he can indeed accomplish. He is a very charming and charismatic leader. In this world of “what have you done for me lately”, people become forgetful of the past if they like what they see in the present, or what is beign offered in the future. If Dean can offer solutions to the problems that plague our current political and economic climate, he will be successful. To do this, I think he has to move not only to the moral center, but also to the political center. It worked for Bill Clinton, and he was the only Democrat to be elected to a second term since FDR. Dean would be wise to heed the sentiments of Zell Miller, who speaks for many people whose support the Democrats sorely need.

Anyway, that’s my two-cents.

BTW, when did the take the “cent sign” (the little “c” with the line through it) off the keyboard?

Also, check out his web-site if you get a chance.

http://www.americansforrice.com/

Take care,
Joe

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Chicks of Country Music

Here are a few reviews of some albums by alt-country chicks I recently picked up (the albums that is). I did not review albums by well-known artists like k.d.lang, Lucinda Williams or Gillian Welch. Rather, I reviewed albums by artists who need to be exposed more (I am speaking the music, although I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of Allison Moorer).



Please leave comments if you have any. Blogger may ask you to register to comment. You can simply scroll down and click "Anonymous comment" to speak without registering. Anyway, here goes.





Allison Moorer - The Duel. Allison Moorer has a powerul soulful voice with great dynamic range - a notch above sissy Shelby Lynne. Both sisters would give k.d. lang a good run for her money. The lyrics touch upon the darker side of life, but are not depressing. The guitar-work is pretty intense – a nice mix of acoustic and driving electric sounds. In my opinion, this is the best album of 2004. If you have a few extra bucks, pick up her live album, “Show”.







Mindy Smith – One More Moment. I was attracted to this album by her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. Mindy Smith does a good cover of that song, but for my money, Dolly does it better. The rest of the album is pretty good, although a tad mellow. The lyrics are a bit lofty at times – sort of, but not quite like, Patty Griffin. Good CD to entertain you at work, but not good in the car.







Tift Merritt – Tambourine.

I have been waiting for two years for this album. It is a mix of rich soulful tunes with country overtones. Overall, the album is really good, but overproduced in places. It fell a little short of my expectations – not quite as good as “Bramble Rose” or her work with the Two-Dollar Pistols.







Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose.

Immortal Country Legends Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson scored big successes in their collaborations with slick producers Rick Rubin and Daniel Lanois, respectively. Loretta Lynn looks to follow the same path with producer Jack White at the controls. Unfortunatly, this album falls flat. Although the album does have its moments, overall it doesn’t come off well. It still sounds like the “Coal-miners daughter” singing to the White Stripes. Reminds me of the heavy metal album Pat Boone put out. Save your $$$ or buy one of the albums below.





Other albums worth listening to


Beth Hart – Screamin’ For My Supper. Nice mix of Janis Joplin and Eva Cassidy. Or perhaps Courtney Love with some twang.



Kasey Chamber – Wayward Angel. Excellent guitar work. Voice a bit like Iris Dement but better. Also pick up Barricades & Brickwalls.



Cailin Carey – I’m Staying Out. Former Whiskeytown vocalist Caitlin Carey. The CD is good, a step above here previous album “While You Weren’t Looking”. The songs are a bit more upbeat than Whiskeytown. Reminiscent of the Jayhawks.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Eagles Fall Short

Boy am I bummed! The Eagles came up a bit short in the Supe. Donovan was a bit tight and didn't have his best game, but I do think he played well enough to win. T.O. had a fantastic game - in retrospect, they should have gone to him more often. The turnovers certainly did not help, but I think the reasons they lost the game were: 1, inability to establish the running game. 2, defense could not pressure Brady, and 3, poor clock management at the end. Not much else to say, except that the Eagles will be back next year.