Friday, September 26, 2008

The Worthless American Dollar: Part One

From the 29 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

“They get our oil and they give us a worthless piece of paper.”

Those words were spoken nearly one year ago – and have been repeated in various ways ever since – by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was taking a shot at the US dollar when he delivered those controversial words at the end of a rare meeting of OPEC’s heads-of-state. Most Americans considered this to be meaningless anti-American drivel and the ranting of a madman. After all, Ahmadinejad is the man who denied the existence of the Holocaust and counted Christianity and Judaism among the World’s evils.

He may be a little crazy at times, but, alas, he was spot-on with his assessment of the American dollar. It is basically worthless, and matters are only getting worse. The death knell was first rung in 1971 when most economies abandoned the concept of the gold standard and turned to fiat money. The move towards a paper currency with no tangible backing whatsoever was a huge gamble, one, that in the hands of a welfare state (which America has become), will never pay off. To satisfy its over-expenditures, America has produced and will continue to produce reams of paper money, saturating the market with the stuff and making all existing dollars worth less if not worthless.

By increasing the supply of money used in a market that possesses only a limited supply of the goods and resources it is supposed to purchase, governments create inflation. It ends up taking more dollars to buy what could once be had at comparatively lower prices. This creates a significant decrease in an individual’s purchasing power because the labor market cannot adjust wages to meet reckless inflation because even though it would theoretically take more dollars to buy a worker’s services it really doesn’t because both sides of the labor market (the workers and the employers) perceive there to be an endless and highly-competitive supply of labor in a global marketplace. So, the consumer - the worker – always ends up being the loser in the government’s push to create money out of thin air. That’s why we’ve all lost significant amounts of our discretionary income in the past twelve months; we’re spending many more of our dollars to get the suddenly-expensive foods and fuels that we need.

You know an economy based in fiat money is on hard times - just as ours is - when inflation begins to spiral out of control, exceeding what is believed to be a stable (“acceptable”) inflation rate of 2% to 3%. The current rate of annual inflation is 5.4%, a number quite large and frightening, but still underreported. The government does not include food or fuel in its calculations, so the real inflation that is experienced by the consumer is estimated by maverick economists to be in the 9% to 12% range.

The short-term growth in the rate of inflation has spiked considerably in calendar year 2008 because the federal government has produced unprecedented amounts of greenbacks. Here is every event for which money that our federal government did not have was produced by it to meet its own excesses:

The newest bailout package: $700 billion

Refinancing of failed mortgages: $300 billion

Batch of new money pumped into international markets: $274 billion

Loans to banks in the Fed’s Term Auction Facility: $200 billion

The purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: $200 billion

The economic stimulus package: $158 billion

Financial assistance to JP Morgan Chase: $116 billion

Loan to AIG: $85 billion

Grants to local communities to buy foreclosed homes: $4 billion

In total, all that social and corporate welfare accounts for $2.037 trillion in fake money let loose since May. You can add to that another $410 billion, the estimated federal deficit for 2008, which does not include any of the above. That brings the amount of fiat money produced this year to a staggering $2.447 trillion, money that never existed prior to this year, money that will be in our system forever.

Because of that, one can assume that the 5.4% inflation reported by the government, as painful as it has been, will be a cake walk to what we’re going to experience in 2009 and 2010. It’s definitely not a stretch to say that government-calculated inflation will be in excess of 10% in those years, meaning what we’re really going to feel may be 20% to 25%.

It’s scary when a nutcase like Ahmadinejad makes perfect sense.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Four "E"s of Good Civics

From the 22 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Holding a public office isn’t for everyone. It shouldn’t be. But, that doesn’t mean that government isn’t for everyone. As a matter of fact, we live in a nation in which the government is for everyone, one in which you are the government.

The United States of America is, in this regard, unique amongst all societies past and present. No nation before us had ever been run under the principles of self-rule. Even in the most democratic of societies there was always a ruling class that earned its ranks not from the interests of the people but rather from lineage, ownership or spilled blood. Our nation is quite unlike that, founded on the basis that our government is of, by, and for the people.

Because of this charge to take responsibility for our collective actions and well-being, our nation is only as good as what we put into it. Each of us, whether in office or not, has a series of duties to assume. Upfront that may sound like an enormous task. That is expected when one realizes that we control our own destiny. But, meaningful self-governance is not really that difficult. As a matter of fact, it’s easily accomplished through something I call the “four “E”s of good civics”.

The first “E” is: Educate yourself.

The old maxim is true. Knowledge is power. To be the most powerful citizen you can be it’s imperative that you learn about the world around you. Exercising your right to vote and paying your taxes requires more than just pulling the levers and writing the checks, respectively. You should know exactly why you are voting for an individual and exactly where your hard-earned dollars are going. This requires an understanding of government itself, as well as an awareness of social and economic issues. They’re all related and they all affect one another. Open your mind to that domino effect and what you can and will learn by reading the newspaper, listening to talk radio, browsing the blogs, or taking college courses might shock you. Freely range in your pursuit of knowledge, too. None of us are expected to be experts; it’s best to possess a little bit of knowledge in a little bit of everything.

The second “E” is: Educate others.

Take what you learn, and the conclusions you draw, and share them everyone you know. Never assume that your family and friends know what you do about certain issues. Not everyone makes a concerted effort to educate themselves on the issues. If you do it for them you might be that much-needed spark that gets their fire started. Give them the facts. Warm them up to your opinion. You can even agree to disagree. There is no more powerful a tool in getting the voting population out than educating them on the issues and framing that education in a way they understand, highlighting how what their government does affects them.

The third “E” is: Engage your elected officials.

Just as you educate other voters on the issues, do the same to your representatives. They are your voice in your town, county, state, or nation. As one of their constituents, your best interests are supposed to be their best interests. Let them know how proposed legislation will hurt or help you. Let them know how specific laws stifle your freedoms. Be yourself, pick up that phone or write a real letter. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be responded to. It’s rare a politician who won’t engage us in conversation, whether by phone or print. Over the years I’ve found our local, state, and congressional officials to be open to communication and quite often responsive to my requests.

The fourth “E” is: Elect the very best.

If you find that your elected official isn’t game to the third “E” and, therefore, doesn’t meet your needs or those of the community around you, let him go. We have a very powerful term limit in our possession: it’s called an “election”. If you’re dissatisfied, focus on the first two “E”s and get others to vote lock-step with you. If the incumbent is facing someone who’s a great candidate in terms of what he can bring to the table, elect him. Ignore party lines or the false beliefs of seniority. Similarly, if you think your elected official is the best there is, keep him in office. This is an extremely important “E”, for that person is supposed to be your voice for years at a time.

Once you’ve completed the four “E”s, repeat them. It’s a never-ending cycle, one that when it’s made a habit is one you will cherish. There’s very little more rewarding than being a good citizen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Stop Subsidizing Abortions

From the 15 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

The right to life will always be one of the most contentious issues in American politics. It’s pretty much guaranteed that we will never come to a consensus on abortion, because for all the folks who, like me, are strongly against it there seem to be just as many people who support it.

Having said that, as long as there exists a Right-Left balance in most legislative houses and executive branches, we will always see the policy battles that occur on the floors of our national and state capitols, battles in which the pro-lifers long to block abortions and the pro-abortion crowd looks to improve access to embryocide. The discussions over abortion bills always turn to lengthy impasses, both sides debating the issue for hours at length, never coming to an agreement and repeating the discussion in the following legislative year. Because of those extreme philosophical divisions in the political world (and community), it’s quite rare that legislation from either side gets passed anymore. That’s why a bill like New York’s liberal Reproductive Health Act has been debated the past two years and will be again in 2009. It’s a never-ending cycle of redundancy.

These stalemates are also a reason why those who are against abortion must focus on reasonably-achievable goals and not pipedreams like overturning Roe v. Wade. We’re wasting our energy if we think we can take on the Supreme Court and win. Nothing even remotely close to a positive development has been achieved in the 35 years of activism since that infamous case.

The most critical and realistic inroads can be gained with a reformation of public spending.

Most people are unaware that considerable taxpayer funds are dedicated to abortions or that our home state is one of the guiltiest of this. New York is one of only 17 states in which abortions of convenience are funded by taxes. In any given year nearly 45 percent of all abortions in New York are paid for with state Medicaid dollars, the very same Medicaid that eats up more than half our County property tax bills. The final numbers for our “investments” are quite appalling: New York is the abortion capital of the world, with 1 in 10 US abortions occurring here, something to the tune of 165,000 per year. We’re helping to pay for almost 75,000 of them.

The amount of subsidization is just as bad at the federal level. Uncle Sam gives $335 million per year to abortion clinic/consultant Planned Parenthood. Admittedly, some of those dollars go towards education and counseling. But, most of those dollars (once again, our hard-earned money) are dedicated to abortions. Planned Parenthood performed nearly 290,000 of them in 2006.

In essence, the average New Yorker contributes to the extermination of 365,000 lives annually.

This doesn’t need to happen. Making change at the State level is the easiest of the battles. 33 states don’t fund abortions of convenience, choosing instead to fund only the abortions they feel are necessitated by rape, incest, or overwhelming medical emergency. New York can become one of them, by right-minded legislators introducing legislation which mirrors that of the other states.

The federal government has already taken steps to stop funding Medicaid-related abortions. Thanks to the Hyde Amendment of 1976, the federal government will not provide funding for abortions which do not meet the rape and incest provision. But, in the case of New York and similar states, Hyde ends up being a wash because the state uses its own Medicaid coffers. Regardless, the Hyde Amendment does set a precedent for the parameters of the public funding of abortions and a very good lawyer could make a legitimate claim that New York is operating outside the boundaries of the law.

Due to the nebulousness of Planned Parenthood, stopping the federal funding of it is a slightly more difficult yet still attainable goal. Leveraging the legal precedence of the Hyde Amendment along with public sentiment, the flow of monies could be shut right off. Such an effort does have its champions, too. In July, Congresswomen Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota offered a very compelling argument in Washington decrying the practice, an argument she plans to bring up in earnest in 2009 with many politicians planning to jump on that bandwagon.

This fight makes philosophical, fiscal, and legal sense. Longtime readers of this column know there are a lot of things I don’t want my tax dollars doing. Killing innocents before they can ever appreciate the world outside the womb has to rank right at the top of that list. Millions of people would probably feel the same way if they were aware that the government really does subsidize abortions.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mexico's drug problem is ours, too

From the 08 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

As a general rule of thumb, Americans are an extremely ethnocentric lot and care very little about other nations. Sure, every year our government provides untold billions of dollars in financial aid and military might to other countries, but, overall, our citizens are completely disconnected from the realities of the world we live in. Compared to the news media of other developed nations our news agencies provide very limited – and sometimes non-existent – coverage of global happenings unless they might have a significant short-term impact on America.

That way of thinking is not only unfortunate from a philosophical standpoint (why do we so devalue others?) but it can also cause some problems down the road when we finally do find out about the problem, which is typically after we’ve stepped right into the mess. Our shortsightedness has proven time and time again to be our undoing, our reactions being too little too late.

A current international issue with long-term implications that we’ve chosen to ignore is that of Mexico’s drug problem. To most Americans it’s a given that some of Mexico’s drug problem is our problem, too. The statistics do not belie this: According to the CIA, 90% of all cocaine used in the United States is trafficked through Mexico and Mexicans produce 10,000 tons of weed and 25 tons of heroin imported into the US. They might give us our drugs, but that’s where the shared problem ends as does our understanding of the issue. The drug culture that we obsess about here in the States pales in comparison to what’s going on in Mexico.

What sets their drug problem apart from ours is the frightening drug-related violence so pervasive in their urban areas. It’s nothing like the violence on our streets. What the gangs do in Mexico makes their American counterparts – the much-feared Latin Kings – look like choir boys. So far this year nearly 3,000 Mexicans are known to have had their lives taken by drug violence. The numbers are frightening, but it’s the sheer brutality of the violence that’s most unsettling. Perhaps as a means to send a message to their enemies, the drug traffickers typically beat their victims mercilessly for minutes or hours on end and then execute them in an extremely-exaggerated gangland style, most bodies ending up riddled with dozens of bullet holes. That’s almost pedestrian compared to recent acts of violence. Two weeks ago a pile of 12 bodies was found in Meridia, a city thought to have been spared by drug violence. Every one of those bodies was decapitated.

What these gangs are doing is not run-of-the-mill impersonalized violence. It’s personalized, direct-contact butchering, a sign that the traffickers are overcome with unparalleled amounts of evil and are as completely indifferent to humanity as Middle Eastern terrorists are. And, that is when you know that you’ve truly lost control of a situation; No police force or government agency has a chance of easily stopping gangs that far gone. As a matter of fact, the government is in their sights, too. These gangs routinely assassinate police officers and two weeks ago took the lives of two police chiefs in neighboring cities, only hours into their new jobs.

Americans need to keep a close eye on this breed of violence, not only because it’s occurring in a neighboring nation, but more so for the reason that the chances are very good this bloodshed will soon be happening on American soil. The drugs at the center of the killings are mostly going to the USA, brought by deliverymen bringing with them their new ultra-aggressive culture. Add to that the millions of Mexicans who have – and continue to – illegally emigrate into the states and you wonder when our Southwestern cities will be taken over by the blood-thirsty pigs.

It can even happen here in the North. Think back to 2005, when numerous Hispanics posing as migrant workers used a town of Lockport home as the regional hub for distribution of Mexican cocaine. They were armed to the teeth. You don’t think they would have done harm to anyone who crossed them or might have stumbled onto their drug ring? They probably did and we just don’t know about it.

We need to do something before it’s too late. What can we do? Sending troops to Mexico is not an answer. Strengthening our border security is. Getting illegals out of the US is. Ramping up inner-city police coverage is. Wiping the drug traders off our streets is. For now, though, it’s extremely important that we just pay attention to what’s happening in Mexico, understand the beast and ready ourselves for it. Frankly, if we don’t, all of Mexico’s drug problems will one day be ours, too.