Monthly Archives: November 2012

Scapegoating or Trolling for a President?

The Republicans are not after Susan Rice; they are after President Obama. They believe that he did not tell the nation that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist attack because he felt that it would negatively affect him in the election. They must believe that the only reason he won the election was because he killed Bin Laden and so many other key al Qaeda people. They must believe that we, the American people think that al Qaeda has been wiped out and is no longer a threat. However, I, for one, don’t believe either one of these things. It is a terrible thing when an American ambassador and his staff are murdered. However, not one of us thinks that either the President or Susan Rice is responsible for these deaths. While many Middle Eastern states are in the midst of chaos we may not have any way to adequately defend our people who serve in these areas. It seems we need to hold off sending in our people until an unstable government coalesces into one that is functioning well. This is the real lesson of Benghazi.

 
 

So the only thing  the Republicans are up in arms about is what the administration told the American people about Benghazi. I don’t know if Obama kept terrorists out of the news for political reasons but I don’t think knowing the answer before the election would have changed the election results and I don’t think the GOP will be able to impeach the President now. The extreme positions of the Republican Party and their exclusivity caused them to lose the election. Stop investigating the President and find the people who committed these murders. Investigate what the intelligence community could have done to prevent or repel this attack. Find out what we need to do so this will not happen again. Then you need to stop trying to distract us from solving our financial issues. Stop turning Susan Rice into a scapegoat. Stop pushing your passive aggressive Benghazi dialogue, in which we have no interest, and solve the tax issues that Americans want you to resolve. And please don’t forget to raise the debt ceiling.

Should We Go Off the Cliff: The Rationale

Many economists and others believe that we should do only the things we must to avoid sequestration and that we should raise taxes on the wealthy and we should deal with some of the tax loopholes and raise the debt ceiling, but we really need to do more right away in stimulating growth in the economy through doing what is necessary to make more jobs available, more jobs that pay a living wage and have a path to advancement, and we need to tackle infrastructure and education.

From Huffington Post:

So, the big takeaway is that we should never do this again? Should we trust Congress when they say they will meet in a committee to draw up substantial spending cuts? Going forward, it’s going to be hard to do so. The good news, however, is that if we can avoid the nonsensical level of fiscal austerity that the sequestration is threatening, Congress can start work on a more critical, near-term project that I like to call “ameliorating the negative effects of that gigantic financial collapse that happened four years ago.” Getting the long-term budget trajectory in line is something that can be safely put off until after we’ve solved the unemployment and foreclosure crisis, and we’ll have already gotten a good head-start on that once the Clinton-era tax rate levels on upper-income earners are restored. This is what the American people want Congress to do anyway — as usual, they do not give a tinned turd about the deficit.

Jason Linkins, author

From The Examiner:

“In August 2011, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate voted for the threat
of sequestration as a mechanism to force Congress to act on further deficit reduction. The specter of harmful across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense programs was intended to drive both sides to compromise. The sequestration itself was never intended to be implemented. The Administration strongly believes that sequestration is bad policy, and that Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package.

As the Administration has made clear, no amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts. Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument. It is not the responsible way for our Nation to achieve deficit reduction. The President has already presented two proposals for balanced and comprehensive deficit reduction. It is time for Congress to act. Members of Congress should work together to produce a balanced plan that achieves at least the level of deficit reduction agreed to in the BCA that the President can sign to avoid sequestration.”

When it comes to non-defense spending cuts, they will be wide-spread as the law requires. Medicare will be cut 2% which is the maximum the law allows Medicare to be cut. Other mandatory qualification-based domestic programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps, etc will be cut 7.6%.

Domestic discretionary programs such as scientific grants and Education Department programs will be subject to 8.2% cuts across the board. Congress and the White House also get their budgets cut. Pell grants, food safety, the FAA, FEMA, farm programs also get cut 8.2%. These cuts will hit nearly every agency of government.

Most people when asked are for spending cuts at least until the cuts affect a program they like or use. Then, the attitude changes. Cut everything else, leave my program alone.” When everyone says that, nothing gets cut. That is why we have the debt.

The problem with this plan, however, is two-fold. First, the cuts are not strategic. They are not based on the cost-effectiveness of a program. They are across the board.

Secondly, economists warn that austerity at this point in the recovery would cut GDP, slow the recovery, or perhaps send us back into recession. An average cut of 8.2% in federal salaries alone will mean tremendous layoffs. So will cuts by defense contractors. That will raise the unemployment rate, hurt consumer spending, stifle small business, and throw ice on the recovery.

Despite the severity of the problem, nothing will happen until after the election—if then.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are paying the salaries, expenses, and medical plans for Congress to do-nothing.

From The New York Times for November 26th, 2012 here is what Paul Krugman has to say:

But the deficit scolds aren’t giving up. Now yet another organization, Fix the Debt, is campaigning for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, even while making lower tax rates a “core principle.” That last part makes no sense in terms of the group’s ostensible mission, but makes perfect sense if you look at the array of big corporations, from Goldman Sachs to the UnitedHealth Group, that are involved in the effort and would benefit from tax cuts. Hey, sacrifice is for the little people.

So should we take this latest push seriously? No — and not just because these people, aside from exhibiting a lot of hypocrisy, have been wrong about everything so far. The truth is that at a fundamental level the crisis story they’re trying to sell doesn’t make sense.

You’ve heard the story many times: Supposedly, any day now investors will lose faith in America’s ability to come to grips with its budget failures. When they do, there will be a run on Treasury bonds, interest rates will spike, and the U.S. economy will plunge back into recession.

This sounds plausible to many people, because it’s roughly speaking what happened to Greece. But we’re not Greece, and it’s almost impossible to see how this could actually happen to a country in our situation.

He has more to say. You can find his article at this link:

I think many of us are perplexed by the complexity of the issues involved in dealing with all of these things at one time:  decide what to do about taxes, decide what to do about budget cuts, decide what to do about the debt, decide what to do about the deficit, decide what to do about tax loopholes, decide whether or not to simplify the tax code, decide how best to stimulate job growth, decide what to do about “entitlements”, and make sure we keep inflation low while we tackle and solve all these issues. Solve them? That could take several lifetimes. Pick a direction and see how it works while keeping in mind that we may have to try something else? That’s probably more like it. Why are we trying to accomplish all of these things at once. 
Let’s deal with one or two things at a time. Raise the debt ceiling and raise top tax rates. Just do it! Make some careful cuts but leave “entitlements” alone for now. Tackle education and infrastructure to help grow jobs, but make sure to chose projects that really will help. In terms of education spend money to train people for those jobs that are going unfilled. In terms of infrastructure look at how to get the most bang for our buck. What parts of our infrastructure will help jobs or trade or business. If we have solved the problem of the water resources in Nebraska build that Keystone Pipeline the Republicans want so much. Then make some more cuts and begin work on “entitlements” only if necessary.
Doing this all of the things we need to do at one time is huge and it is like trying to straighten out a giant pretzel. Oh, but I forgot, the whole idea is just to obfuscate the process by focusing everywhere but the taking care of budget business. We may have to take to the streets on this one. Get your signs ready!   (My view represents the view from the cheap seats.) 

 

 

 

 

Should We Go Over the Cliff: The Numbers

What does sequestration mean in terms of cuts – how much and to whom?

·         $900 billion in cuts in discretionary programs over the next decade

·         Would impose further automatic across-the-board spending cuts in many programs, unless Congress enacts an additional 1.2 trillion in deficit-reduction measures by Jan. 15, 2012

·         Would take effect in Jan., 2012

·         9% annual cuts in non-defense programs

·         9% cuts in defense programs for each year from 2013-2021

·         New Budget Control Act which implements the debt limit deal

o   Raises debt limit by 2.1 trillion in steps

o   Establishes binding “caps” on annual appropriation bills covering non-entitlement spending – e.g. defense, education, National Parks, FBI, EPA, low-income housing assistance, medical research, etc.

o   Requires Congress to vote on balanced budget amendment this fall

o   Establishes a Joint Select Committee to draft, vote on by Nov. 23rd and report by Dec. 2nd this year – definite reductions through 2021 beyond the $900 billion – if they fail that will touch off automatic cuts known as sequestration

·         Cut 54.7 billion from defense each year from 2013-2021

·         Cut 54.7 billion from non-defense programs each year from 2013-2021 from both mandatory (entitlements) and discretionary programs

Mandatory cuts:

·         Cuts Medicare payments to providers and insurance plans (limited to 2%)

·         5.2 billion to other mandatory programs like farm price supports

·         Social Security, Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP (food stamps), child nutrition, SSI, refundable tax credits, like Earned Income Tax Credit, veterans benefits and federal retirement are exempt from sequestration

That leaves 38.6 billion in non-defense cuts which would come from

·         Across-the-board cuts for discretionary programs except Veteran’s Medical Care and Pell Grants

·         2014 – 2021 – reduction in statutory caps on total funding

I guess what I didn’t realize that these cuts would happen every year for 10 years, although years 2-10 would be configured in a different way. Yikes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxes By Income If We Go Off the Cliff

 
Who will be affected if a budget deal is not reached and how? The Wall Street Journal published some interesting data in answer to this question on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 in its print edition. Of course the WSJ skews conservative Republican, but they also are our financial race track sheet for stocks, bonds, and commodities, so, hopefully, we can trust them to give numeric data that is not too skewed.

In this chart WSJ shows what % of tax increases, and therefore of the fiscal burden, would affect which group of American tax payers: 
 
 

They also give us some concrete examples:

First:  A higher-income working couple  (if Bush tax cuts disappear and if AMT relief goes away and investments get hit by higher rates in dividends and capital gains)

Income Example: $350,000

Federal tax change in dollars: $13,847, 20.3% tax change, 29% tax rate, 4.9 points up

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Second:  A Single Unemployed person (will have some of the largest tax increases with loss of benefits for working poor being a big factor)

Income Example: $10,000

Federal tax change in dollars: $159, 55.5% tax change, 8.4% tax rate, 3.0 points up

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Third:  Lower income working couple

Income Example: $25,000

Federal tax change in dollars: $1,423 (previously this group got a $15 refund), 5.5% tax rate, 5.6 points up

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Fourth:  Higher Income Professional (will lose protection from Alternative Minimum Tax)

Income Example: $150,000

Federal tax change in dollars: $6,662, 24.5% tax change, 24.5 tax rate, 5.0 points up

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Fifth:  College Student (will lose education breaks, payroll tax holiday)

Income Example: $15,000

Federal tax change in dollars: $308, 37.9% tax change, 7.5% tax rate, 2 points up

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Sixth:  Retiree Household (will lose Bush-era tax rates)

Income Example: $35,000

Federal tax change in dollars: $540, 42.4% tax change, 5.1% tax rate, 1.5 points up

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Seventh:  Very High Income Household (their federal tax bill would rise, yet share of overall federal tax would go down because the impact of the fiscal cliff on lower earners would be so great)

Income Example: $1 million or more

Federal tax change in dollars: $254,637, 24.2% tax change, 39.7% tax rate, 7.7 points up

 

You will have to judge for yourself whether, based on this information, you will be able to survive if you personally are taken over the fiscal cliff.

 

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin – Book

Book 3 of The Song of Ice and Fire Series is called A Storm of Swords (by George R. R. Martin) and is also known by the name Game of Thrones from the HBO adaptation. These books are full of wars and plots and treachery and death and yet they are exciting and engrossing. Martin knows how to keep us involved with his characters through tragedy after tragedy and through a constant barrage of obstacles that they must overcome. In fact the obstacles come at the characters so quickly just staying alive to meet them is heroic.

Usually an author kills off or maims very few of his main characters and if you don’t like the writer to meddle with your “peeps” then you won’t want to read this series of fantasy books. Martin seems to have no qualms about deforming main characters and even occasionally killing one off. In fact one of my favorite families in this book of competing families is the Stark family of Winterfell. The Stark family was intact when I met them in Book One and their castle was a wonderful ancestral home. Now the father is dead, the mother is dead, the oldest son is dead, Sansa the elder daughter is being used as a pawn and is mistreated by one house after another, the younger daughter, Arya, has been traipsing over half the kingdom captive to sellswords, outlaws and feuding families as she tries to reunite with her family that dwindles in size with each new book in the series. The castle has been burned and the beloved family servants killed. The younger sons, Bran, Rickon, and the bastard son, Jon Snow have each met interesting, although not necessarily fatal fates. (Even these few statements may be considered spoilers by some.) And yet, I still hold out some hope that the Starks and Winterfell will rise again.

Swords are not kind to warriors. A number of the most talented warriors sport terrible wounds by the time this Book Three is done. These injuries involve ears and faces and parts that are highly visible and turn our warriors into grotesques. Tyrion, the dwarf, already considered expendable by his culture because of his physical challenges, receives awful wounds to his face which make him even less acceptable in this world of royals. The Clegane boys, Gregor, “the Mountain” and Sandor, “the Dog” also get hacked, chopped and burned until any beauty these giant warriors once possessed is gone.

In this book we also meet the Wildlings who live beyond the Wall with their allies the Giants, and the Mammoths. I thought the Wildlings would remain a nondescript mass of enemies similar to the early Celts who were paid by various armies in the British Isles to fight because of their savagery and because they struck fear in their enemies. But now I see that we will be introduced to some of the Wildlings; that it is possible that in future books they will settle on the side of the Wall occupied by the Seven Kingdoms and that their lives will intertwine with the lives of the characters that have previously had a monopoly on our interests. Will some of these Wildlings become recurring main characters? I don’t know, but I suspect they might.

So far the Seven Kingdoms have been so involved in their own affairs and have had almost no interest in what is threatening from beyond the Wall, although they have noted that “winter is coming” and they do remember what happens when the forces that have been kept at bay by the wall escaped in a past age and threatened the existence of all mankind. Beside the Wildlings, who are really just free humans there are the Others and the walking dead. These groups are the real reason for the Night’s Watch who eternally guard the Wall and are the first line of defense against the dark enemies who live beyond the Wall.

The Wildlings attack the wall in this part of the tale; they attack at a time when the forces that guard the wall are weak and in disarray. Only one King from the Seven Kingdoms realizes the importance of guarding the Wall and turns away from his own campaign for the Iron Throne to help the Night’s Watch at the Wall. King Stannis who plans to get rid of the Lannisters and put the Baratheons back on the throne, acts like a true king when he puts aside his own ambitions to answer the calls for help sent by the ravens from the Night’s Watch on the Wall. While watching the scheming people of the Seven Kingdoms strive to gain power and watching the things they will do to each other to get what they want, it is hard to imagine that the enemy beyond the Wall could be any worse than the supposedly civilized people south of the Wall.

While I was sad to finish Book 3 I am happy I still have at least two books to go. George Martin better not kill off any more of my favorite people, but I bet he will.

Is Apocalypse Inevitable?

Most books and movies that paint a picture of the future of mankind give us a dark, empty, scary post-apocalyptic world that posits an argument that we are so bad for our planet and for each other that our only hope is to wait for us to destroy our planet and most of the people on it and start over with almost nothing. I had this conversation with my sister when we were leaving the movies recently and I must give her credit for crystallizing my own observations of the rather gloomy outlook presented by recent fiction. People obviously feel that we are on a path that will inevitably destroy us, and wound our planet, although not necessarily fatally. These stories hold out more hope for the regeneration of nature than for the survival of humans.

We had the Road Warrior series of movies with gangs of people in rags and stylish accessories creating strongholds to hoard fossil fuels and sallying forth to attack each other with vehicles that may have inspired robot wars; lethal vehicles driven by equally lethal skinheads who kill with little or no provocation and with an obvious sense of glee. They have one opponent, Mad Max, who is a vengeful hero who alone exhibits a sanity that seems to have deserted the rest of the bare planet that serves as the backdrop for these future wars. Only the children who Mad Max reluctantly champions hold any hope for a future less savage than the past or the present.

Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road is perhaps the dreariest and emptiest of all the post-apocalyptic books. Is our planet killed by disease, war or pollution? We guess at but are not sure of which of the sins of man has produced this grim future in which a man, growing weaker and sicker, tries to escort his son to some unknown group of people who will offer him a chance to survive and start a new history for mankind. On the road they encounter small groups of survivors who will kill them if they can to help eke out a survival from the scant resources available. In spite of the inability to find any community of survivors who have retained any degree of compassion and unity these two trek on until they reach the Pacific Ocean and just as the father must leave his son, we get the tiniest hope that the human race and the man’s son will go on.

Waterworld is certainly not any world that tempts us to create a similar future and The Postman, although it does inspire with the heroic attempts that are made to preserve a small aspect of the law and order the US government represented, also first shows us a world that has gone terribly wrong, a world where a thug rules by fear and savagery through a gang that accepts despotism as strength (where have we seen this model of human government before – answer – everywhere).

Even Cloud Atlas, that crazy quilt time travelling history of mankind, shows us losing the world as we know it through greed, self-indulgence, laziness and ennui to the amoral application of bad science to fuel our comfort. Starting over, by consensus, in each of these stories seems the only hope for our earth and for mankind.

It is no wonder we long to travel into space. A future that gives us the ability to populate other planets and form an Empire that takes in the whole universe seems to be the only future that promises any positive outcome where humankind with all of our flaws gets to survive for centuries and centuries more. Of course fiction is by definition not true, and this is us, putting our fears on screen and on paper. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy or just a warning to change our ways? Will we heed the warning? Is the conquest of space the answer, not to changing human nature, but the answer to longevity for mankind? Right now that doesn’t matter because we have not developed the ability to travel in space. What if we never do? What if this little planet is all we have? Can we avoid a future where we turn our dead into food (Soylent Green)? I assume we can, but will we? We have a lot of work to do to avoid the apocalypse and save our planet and ourselves. If we can’t agree on short term policies how can we hope to invent a long term survival?

 

Gifts for Gamers, 2012

Best Video Games of 2012

I found this list of video games at pcgamer.com. If you go to the article there is a description of each game and a screen shot from each game. I did not see what platforms were appropriate for each video but if you go to an online store to buy a title I am sure you will get info about the appropriate platforms.

 

ACTION:

1.       Grand Theft Auto V

2.       Cross the Dutchman

3.       Metal Gear Solid: Rising

4.       Brothers in Arms: Furious 4

5.       The Darkness 2

6.       Strike Suit Zero

7.       Prototype 2

8.       Spec Ops: The Line

9.       Shank 2

10.   Shoot Many Robots

11.   Captain Blood

12.   Solaris Assault Tech

13.   Assassin’s Creed 3

14.   Super Monday Night Combat

15.   Street Fighter X Tekken

16.   Transformers: The Fall of Cybertron

17.   War of the Roses

18.   Star Trek

19.   Darksiders II

20.   Max Payne 3

21.   Scivilation

22.   Devil May Cry 3

23.   Raven’s Cry

24.   Ride to Hell

25.   The Amazing Spider Man: The Movie

26.   Ghosts of Moscow: Death to Spies

27.   Top Gun Hard Lock

28.   Lollipop Chainsaw

29.   Anarchy Reigns

30.   Inversion

31.   Tomb Raider

32.   Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City

33.   Smite

34.   Ravensdale

35.   MechWarrior Online

36.   Awesomenauts

SIM:

1.       Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WW2

2.       War Wings: Hell City

PUZZLE:

1.       Nabara World: The Labyrinth of Light

2.       Quantum Conundrum

3.       A Virus Named Tom

4.       Toki Tori 2

5.       Monaco

RACING:

1.       Time@tack

2.       Ridge Race Unbound

3.       Crash Time IV: The Syndicate

4.       Project Haste

5.       Race Driver: GRID 2

6.       F1 Online: The Game

7.       F1 2012

8.       Carmegeddon Reincarnation

ADVENTURE:

1.       The Mystery of Wicked Village

2.       The Thirty Nine Steps

3.       J.U.L.I.A

4.       Extrasolar

5.       Fables

6.       The Silver Lining Episode V: A Thousand Times Goodnight

7.       Catherine

8.       Realms of Ancient War

9.       The Lost Chronicles of Zerzura

10.   The Journey of Iesir

11.   Y: The Case of John Yesterday

12.   Twilight Zone

13.   Lucius

14.   Haunted

15.   Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

16.   Men in Black: The Videogame

17.   The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

18.   The Secret Files 3

19.   Botanicula

20.   Deponica

21.   Amy

22.   Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle

23.   Hidden Mysteries Titanic 2

24.   Beyond Good and Evil

25.   Mages Initiation: Reign of the Elements

26.   Jack Keane 2

MMO:

1.       World of Darkness

2.       Infinity:  The Quest of Earth

3.       Phantasy Star Online 2

4.       Living After War

5.       Otherland

6.       Royal Quest

7.       The Secret World

8.       Sevencore

9.       Wizaredry Online

10.   Lime Odyssey: The Chronicles of Orta

11.   Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millenium Online

12.   World of Planes

13.   Bounty Hounds Online – Pro Pack

14.   Eligium – The Chosen One

15.   Age of Wulin – Legend of the Nine Scrolls

16.   Fallout Online

17.   Salem

18.   Wakfu

19.   Tera

20.   Wildstar

21.   Deadlands

22.   Shadowrun

23.   Star Conflict

24.   Raider 2

RPG:

1.       The Dark Eye – Demonico

2.       Kingdom of Amalur : Reckoning

3.       Risen 2: Dark Waters

4.       North Star

5.       Gorky 21

6.       Dead State

7.       Of Orc and Men

8.       Clan of Champions

9.       Kings Bounty: Warriors of the North

10.   Dungeons and Dragons: Neverwinter

11.   Two Worlds II: Pirates of the Flying Fortress

12.   The Sims 3: Masters Suite

Platform:

1.       Rotastic

2.       Closure

MUSIC:

1.       Skillz: The DJ Game

SPORT:

2.       Cricket Life 1st Edition

3.       Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13

4.       RTL Winter Sports 2012

5.       Fifa Street

FPS:

1.       Aliens: Colonial Marines

2.       Far Cry 3

3.       Miner Wars 2081

4.       Iron Front Liberation 1944

5.       Gotham City Imposters

6.       Counter Strike Offensive

7.       Taking Point

8.       Warfare

9.       Prey 2

10.   Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Patriots

11.   Ghost Recon Online

12.   Blacklight Retribution

13.   Sniper Elite V2

14.   Metro: Last Light

15.   Arma 3

16.   Zone: Battleground

17.   Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2

18.   Syndicate

STRATEGY:

1.       Dota 2

2.       Fields of Glory: Wolves from the Sea

3.       Jagged Alliance: Back in Action

4.       Legends of Pegasus

5.       Magna Mundi

6.       Prime World

7.       Dragon Commander

8.       Port Royale 2

9.       X – Rebirth

10.   Wargame: European Escalation

11.   Men of War: Condemned Heros

12.   Gettsburg’s Armoured Warfare

13.   Naval War: Arctic Circle

14.   Warlock – Master of the Arcane

15.   Masters of the Broken World

16.   Carrier Command

17.   Crusader Kings II

18.   Scrolls

19.   Star Wolves 2 : Ashes of Victor

20.   Circus World

21.   Victoria 2: A House Divided

22.   King Arthur 2: The Roleplaying War Game

23.   Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

 

Games that will be released in December, 2012, pre Christmas:

1.       Far Cry 3 (Xbox 360) – 12/4/12

2.       Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth (PS-Vita) – 12/4/12

3.       Family Party: 30 Great Game Obstacles (PS – Vita – 12/4/12

4.       Rayman Legends (PS – Vita) – 12/4/12

5.       Hawken (PC) – 12/12/12

6.       Far Cry 3 (PS3) – 12/4/12

 

http://vgreleases.com/ReleaseDates/All-12-2012.aspx

Lookie, lookie what I found on Huffington Post Tech page. It’s called a Gameklip and it’s for cell phone gamers.

You can find it at gameklip.com.

 

 

Thankful

 
 
It’s always so difficult to think of the things you are thankful for when someone asks you to or when it’s your turn at Thanksgiving dinner. Some days you feel your gratitude and other days not so much. Maybe you are having a grumpy day or you are just caught up in the more hum-drum nonsense of everyday life. Maybe your life is really busy and you can’t catch a moment to yourself to just breathe. Maybe you have had a sorrow in your life or you are in the midst of a personal crisis and you’re feeling as if the universe may not be on your side. Maybe life hasn’t been on your side for some time and you can’t get in touch with anything to feel thankful for.

 But often people who seem to have the most miserable lives can still put a smile on their face and enjoy the sun on their face, or a conversation, or a ladybug that lands on their arm. Unwittingly they can bring shame to the rest of us who have fairly wonderful lives we don’t always appreciate. And when you really think about it there are so many things to be grateful for that it becomes difficult to know how long to make the list.

We can be grateful for general categories of things or we can be grateful for lots of tiny simple things and often we are thankful for both. We can be grateful for life; we can be grateful for freedom; we can be grateful we have enough to eat; that we have families, and friends, and love. We can be grateful that our lives are so much easier than those of the people at the first Thanksgiving even though our lives still hold challenges and tedious tasks. We can be thankful for the seasons, each beautiful in its own way and for all the beauty in the world. We can be thankful for twinkle lights. And stuffing.

You get the idea. We each could make a very long list and we most likely will not do that every day or even every year when Thanksgiving comes around. But sometimes at the end of the day when we are in our beds taking stock, we may remember to be grateful. Sometimes we do have a Thanksgiving when we really are in touch with the best parts of our life, and we do remember to say thank you or just enjoy the awesomeness of being alive. It is appropriate, I believe, to set aside a day each year to give thanks.

Thinking Inside the Box

We are all, as American citizens, concerned about the fiscal problems our government is experiencing. After all it is the people’s government, our government and our fortunes rise and fall as the fortunes of our government rise and fall. Right now we get the sense that we are all falling. We also do not feel that all is lost. We believe we will somehow right the “ship of state” and once again our country and its citizens will prosper, but we also believe that our fortunes may depend on the decisions we and our government make right now.

We have, through our recent election, discarded the notion that continuing to make more money available to the wealthiest Americans will solve our economic woes. We have also discarded the notion that we need to adopt a “tough love” approach and push all of our poorest Americans out of the safety net to fend for themselves. We have accepted that our safety net costs are creating stresses on our federal budget, stresses that will get worse with time. We have accepted that we will have to accept some changes in this safety net it we are to keep it at all.

We would all like to contribute to improving the American economy so that it meets our own needs and keeps us competitive with the rest of the world’s economies. But many of us cannot afford, at this moment, to part with any more of our money in the form of levied taxes. However, in times of need, the American people often pitch in and help. Look at Katrina, look at Sandy, or even look at the money Obama raised in his recent campaign from individual donations. Perhaps we need to think outside the box and put a check mark inside of a box.

You know how there is a spot on our tax forms where we can contribute a few or many dollars to fund Presidential elections? What if we had a similar spot on our tax forms where we could donate to a fund for health care, a fund for Social Security, a fund for education, and a fund for infrastructure? If people can choose where their dollars will be spent they may be willing to contribute out of their own pockets to save or enhance programs they favor.

We often raise a lot of money this way in times of disaster. This time our disaster is our national economy. People may be willing to volunteer their financial assistance, even though they might not be happy if they were required to contribute. Health care dollars could be used to keep Medicare and Medicaid functional and to prevent it from eating up our budget. Social Security monies could be used to extend the life of the Social Security program. Educations monies could be dispersed among the states and earmarked for specific initiatives (like buying computers). Of course, if our wealthiest Americans take on infrastructure we might not need a fund dedicated to that purpose, but if they did not then we could also have a fund that would be dispersed among states to upgrade infrastructure.

We still need to work on our safety net. There are people who are able to scam the system. There are doctors who will sign forms that ascribe a disability to people who don’t actually have one. There are people with disabilities who could be trained to do a job that will work around their disability. Our Congress can continue to look for ways to cut health care costs. If we combine a bottom-up and top- down approach to our safety net we may be able to keep it almost intact.

An End Run Around Grover Norquist

Wealthy men built our railroads. They didn’t do it out of the kindness of their hearts. They did it from necessity. They were making products to sell and mining coal and drilling for oil and they needed an efficient way to get their goods to the population centers where people would buy and use them. These men did not invent railroads – they had already been invented and were in limited use. But these men raced to build the railroads (with slave and/or very cheap labor) once they realized how effective the railroads would be as product movers. They competed with each other to try to get a monopoly on certain routes; a monopoly which might drive competitors out of business.

Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie were three of the competitors we remember best and these men, already wealthy, became very wealthy indeed in the process of creating and improving on this piece of American infrastructure.

All of this history has implications for the present. If we cannot, after heroic attempts, get the GOP to agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, maybe we can get them to contribute monies to an infrastructure fund to bring us a futuristic transport apparatus that can flexibly accommodate high speed rail and cars that drive themselves, but require electricity along with oil and gas. Of course they are already richer than Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie so they need reasons to take on this huge project. Well, it might help bring business back to America, it would take a big expense out of the federal budget, in the long run it would grow their personal wealth,  it would give them something meaningful to accomplish, and they would become the “new philanthropists”. Since the wealthy wouldn’t have as much free time as they do now, it might also make vacations exciting to them again.

They could get rid of all our crazy elevated super-highways , clover leafs, and double clover leafs that cut up our cities. They could build by-passes around our cities with parking lots at the exits where public transport to the city center would be provided. We would not use our vehicles in cities at all, only small electric public vehicles (taxis).

 

New lanes could be added to highways for cars that drive themselves. Newly updated service areas that recharge electric cars quickly, in addition to providing fossil fuels, would be built. High speed rail would complement all the highways improvements. Perhaps there could be considerations for accommodations that could help travelers at places which frequently experience extreme weather also.   

You guys have already shown that you have skills to make money or at least hold on to money, so I am sure you could form, fund, and manage a company or group that could take this on. Although it might require a huge infusion of your cash to begin with I’m sure you could figure out ways it could benefit your bottom line in the end. And we wouldn’t have to raise taxes so we would get around that pledge you all made to Grover Norquist. It’s a win-win strategy. “If you build it they will come.”