It’s Getting Mighty Hot

Global Warming.jpeg

This is a advertisement around Washington DC alerting people to the dangers of global warming.

“I’m Too Hot”

And 

“9 of the 10 hottest years have occurred since 2000.”

Wait a second, for some (or many) a little extra heat may be considered a good thing especially if you live up north with generally freezing cold and miserably snowy winters.

So don’t just tell us about it getting hotter, but tell us how hot is it actually going to get and what will happen when it does–melting glaciers, rising oceans and catastrophic flooding of cities, weather abnormalities and violent natural disasters, and so on.

We need to move on to the substance of this. 

Just like with the national debt, we keep talking about it going up (and up). 

Well what’s so bad about that if we can just print some more greenbacks and pay for more stuff, maybe it’s a good–or great–investment in our country and future?

Here again, the message that isn’t getting out clearly is what is going to happen when the debt becomes unsustainable and printing or devaluing dollars will not solve the problem and may actually exasperate it by creating run-away inflation, a downgraded or junk credit rating, and higher debt payments possibly tanking our economy and people’s savings.

Yeah, we don’t want to cause a panic. 

But shielding people from vital information on the dangerous paths we are on will only lead to going further down into the abyss of non-action and potential for cascading calamity. 

Let’s face it–it’s unpopular to talk anything doom or gloom–financial crises or natural disasters or especially anything with WMD–but if we aren’t the adults in the political room, who will be? 

For once, I’d love a leader who tells it straight, who helps us face our own worst nightmares, and actually gets us back on track again, rather than keeps the wool pulled over our eyes for another term or two.

Leadership is lost in rosy glasses, vote counting, pundits called upon to obscure the truth from the people, keeping a false calm, and creating wildly inflated legacies.

These motives for now are stronger than the determination to deal with the threats we face, but not forever, and then the pendulum will most abruptly swing in the other direction, precariously late for the ensuing global effects. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Balancing The National Books

Balancing The National Books

Bret Stephens had an interesting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (28 May 2013) called “The Retreat Doctrine.”

He argues that America’s retreat militarily from Iraq and Afghanistan may not mean revitalization for us by refocusing on domestic issues, but rather decline by prematurely ending a war with enemies that may not have ended their hatred and hostilities to us.

Interestingly enough, it is not just on the battlefield that we are retrenching, but on many other fronts as well, for example: economically, we are cutting federal budgets; monetarily, we are anticipating cutting the $85 billion per month bond buying by the Federal Reserve; social entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are on the butcher block, defense cuts are imperiling military programs, and employment cuts have resulted in a labor force participation the lowest in 30 years.

While many cuts are beneficial in terms of beginning to get our arms around the over $16 trillion deficit we’ve accumulated and in forestalling another rating downgrade by the big three credit rating firms, it is as Stephens implies, perhaps not a sign of health and renewal, but of national illness and a retrenchment of a global power.

I remember in Yeshiva learning (Exodus 34:7) about the sins of the fathers being visited on the children and grandchildren–3 and 4 generations–and I always wondered how could a just G-d hold future generations responsible, accountable for what the prior generations did?

But perhaps, the answer is evident here, where we cannot blame G-d for our own actions, where we live big, beyond our means, and cause future generations to pay the piper.

When the stock market is rallying–up almost 17% year to date and about 27% over the last year, while our GDP growth is only about 2.4% annually, something is very off-Kilter.

You can argue that retreat is renewal or you can see retrenchment as leading to decline, but either way we will be paying the national bill coming due and all our children will be on the hook for cleaning up after the party is over. 😉

Righting Our National Economy

Washington_monument

We made it through he fiscal cliff–whew!  But the economic landscape remains a minefield. 

In terms of our national debt ceiling, we already passed the $16.4 trillion mark at the beginning of the year and are on borrowed time (no pun intended) until about mid-February when we exhaust accounting gimmicks and can no longer pay our national bills. 

Then there is the elusive government budget where we are on a “continuing resolution” that funds the government at the prior years spending levels until the beginning of March; there is no agreement on what the budget should be after that. 

Finally, there is the Sequestration that was delayed from the beginning of the year to March, which will produce across the board budget cuts to government–not surgically, but sweeping cuts that will hit almost all major government spending. 

All of these budgetary and debt issues are highly contentious and politicized and involve substantial policy decisions in terms of tax reform, spending cuts, and even income and wealth distribution. 

As difficult as it is to navigate a mine field, there is genuine fear that our national luck is running out and the sides are digging in such that even if we get over another one of these hurdles (likely by another delay) or even two of these, what are the odds that we get through all three unscathed economically and with our national image and strength intact?

Already in August 2011, S&P lowered the U.S. credit rating because of these unresolved issues and political stalemate around them, and Moody (in September 2012) and Fitch (this past week) threatened the same putting us at risk of higher borrowing costs, inflation, and even recession. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (3 August 2011) using game theory seemed to advocate for political compromise–that produces a “deal no one likes” but avoids pure political victory by one party over the other where one party gives in and the other holds out, and also avoids “financial Armageddon” where both sides hold out and can’t get any deal done at all. 

In games of “chicken” both sides “entertain the option of killing everyone” until they finally realize this results in mutually assured destruction (MAD). 

In Washington “everyone, however, is playing a game called ‘election'” and “the only possible goal in that game is to win the next one”–in this game, the real question–is there the leadership to rise above the politics, the short-term focus, and bring the two sides together in compromise to forge a path through a difficult economic road ahead. 

Truly, there is really only one way ahead and it is through national sacrifice that will spare no one, but may save the country and our ideals and make us stronger in the end. We are at a dead end for kicking the can further–next step must be to right the ship through cooperation and making the tough choices.

Just like the Washington Monument is one, we must become one. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Desperate For A Meal

Hungry_child

I was really moved by an article in The Washington Post (5 November 2011) called “A Hungry Challenge With Food Stamps.”

Last week was the launch of the 2nd nationwide Food Stamp Challenge–“part of an interfaith campaign to raise awareness about America’s poor.”
For one week, Rabbis, Pastors, Imams, and members of Congress (600 people) took part in the program to live on $31.50 a week (or $4.50 per day) for food–the average that an adult gets on the food stamp program.
Intuitively, knowing what food costs these days, it makes no sense!
Even a basic meal from a fast food restaurant costs more than what the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides for a whole day.
The money for food is so meager that participants in the challenge report being overwhelmed by thoughts of food–“When am I going to eat?  What am I going to eat?”
According to the USDA, food stamp usage has risen to the highest level ever, with almost 46,000,000 Americans on the program (that’s more than 1 of every 7 people in this country!)
This is up almost 65% from 28,000,000 people in 2008–just 3 years ago.
With the food stamp program, while better than getting no help at all, people are still surviving on limited types of food and meager portions of things such as lentils, cornflakes, eggs, and so on.
It is frightening and humbling to think that any one of us–or our families–could be in that situation–wondering where our next meal is coming from.
I remember as a kid, before the SNAP program issued the food assistance on debit-like cards, seeing people in the supermarket actually tearing off and handing stamps to the cashier–they never seemed to have enough and invariably had to put back groceries.  They were noticeably embarrassed, self-conscious, and fearful–often holding children in their arms or by the hand as they tried to work the math of feeding them all with what was obviously not enough.
While I have not participated in such a program as the Food Stamp Challenge, I am awed by those who take the time and effort to see what such hunger feels like and to learn the lessons of empathy, social justice, and charity.
As we enter the last few weeks of deliberation by the Deficit Panel Super Committee, I am afraid at what $4,000,000,000,000 (trillion) in cuts looks like to our nation and how the very real pain coming will be distributed.
With a nation already feeling squeezed by lost jobs, sunken housing values, near zero interest rates on fixed income investments, an rickety stock market, and global economic challenges from abroad, I wonder how our nation can take the deep cuts that we must without going into economic cardiac arrest.
Yet, Moodys and Fitch are waiting in the wings to downgrade our debt, if we do not embrace the tough love or if we fudge the numbers rather the do what our long-term economic health demands.
I pray that G-d helps us through this challenging period for our country and that the people who are hungry today and those that may suffer tomorrow are spared by the almighty in his everlasting mercy.
(Photo Source: here)