Shift Focus From the Little Things

*Federal Budget Discussion Rant*

I’ve been watching for a while and the federal budget discussion is disgusting.  Fox News and MSNBC just keep feeding the rabid idiots with bad information. 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people and the press are glomming onto line items that don’t matter.  For some reason the politicians have been able to successfully position this debate and make everyone believe that this is about “waste” or “excess” without addressing the reality – it is all broken and it is going to really really hurt to fix it. 

A harsh reality is that the “greatest generation” is to thank for building this country into what it is, and at the same time responsible for the core policies that have brought us to the precipice. 

I haven’t done a good political rant in a while so here is something I hope people start to realize. 

 

1. We can’t balance the federal budget without growth.  Period.  End of discussion.  No mathematician on earth can do it.  We need real growth, not this 1-2% nonsense.  You can’t legislate growth, no matter what politicians tell you.  This is something we all have to fix. 

 

2. We can’t “trim the fat” enough in the federal budget to get it back under control.  It is like believing that you can balance your household budget by cutting out toothpaste and going to cheaper toilet paper.  Both just make it miserable.

 

Ponder this, if we eliminated all foreign aide (less than 1%), all welfare (less than 6%), and the entire Department of Education (less than 4%) we would still be in the hole by about 7% or $245 billion dollars.  Stop worrying about the little things and endlessly going on with this incessant debate.  

Nearly 70% of the TOTAL federal budget goes to three categories; Defense, Medicare/Medicaid, and Social Security.  Defense is the sacred cow of the republican party, Social Security is the sacred cow of the Democrat Party, and no one wants to touch Medicare/Medicaid because seniors all vote.  We absolutely can not fix our long term issues without changing the way these three things are structured.  I don’t ever see that happening without major public pressure to do so. 

Right now there is none because we are all fixated on things like a militaristic shutdown of the National Parks and why we are sending money to Somalia…   

 

The solution for you and I is to stop voting people out of office that compromise.  We the people are to blame for ratcheting up the rhetoric.  Stop negatively labeling politicians as a “RHINO” or “Blue Dog Democrat.”  If there was ever a time in our history we needed some ugly ole fashion behind doors sausage making in Washington DC it is right now.  I’d trade some federal bill filled with horrible .00003% pork spending if it restructured Social Security and made it solvent for my generation.

 

*rant over*

 

Call me when the parks open back up.

A Culture of Surveillance

I watch the news and I read twitter. I love Flipbook. I’d consider myself up on current events. I’m blown away.

I’m scanning the headlines every day and cant help but wonder why more people aren’t people talking about our government monitoring your every move? This is scary. The implications are enormous. If you are part of the “I don’t have anything to hide crowd” you are naively justifying actions that you obviously don’t understand.

They are building a database on every person that eats and breathes. All in the name to “protect you.” Who watches the watchers? They are supposed to work for us after all. “In the name of National Security” shouldn’t be a Carte Blanche excuse to data mine everyone’s very existence.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised based on what is popular on television. In a strange way did Reality TV pave the way for the societal acceptance of this?

We are quickly deteriorating into a society of surveillance.

This is the absolute top news story in every country but this one and this society of Americans… of “freedom loving people”… is far more concerned with what Katniss will wear in the Next Hunger Games.

Every click on Facebook builds a profile on you, but you choose to use the product. The government taking that data and aggregating it with your life doesn’t provide you with a choice. They are tracking your car at every stop light. They are following your check ins. Sure you aren’t a “target” today… but what if you were unfairly accused some day? What if the politics swing and you end up having a viewpoint that needs to be “watched?” It may seem like I’m wearing a tin foil hat, but its all out there now.

I am at my wits end with frustration with all that is happening. I am flummoxed with the fact that there isn’t outrage from people that should be clearly outraged based on their actual principals.

Instead, I watch as people tow a party line and defend a party and president that doesn’t deserve your support. This feigning love affair with Barak Obama has me utterly baffled. He can get on that podium and people just fall into line.

See… I was under the assumption that liberal people valued the right to choice, privacy, and personal freedom above all else. Oh and you republicans… you supported the Patriot Act in droves back in 2001. Doesn’t feel as good now that the shoe is on the other foot?

I somewhat understand. I used to be far more partisan and defend the wrong ideological decisions based on nothing more than lemming loyalty. Actions people. Watch the actions of those in power. Stop being sheep. Ignorance is not bliss.

We have to collectively stand up to try to stem the tide. This is just the beginning.

Man of Steel Review

My Man of Steel Review for those that care:

I really wanted to like this movie, and before you say it could never have lived up to my expectations, that isn’t true. I loved the Star Wars prequels, even though they weren’t great movies. I can overlook lots of flaws for fun. But I need fun. Man of Steel wasn’t much fun.

After a night to sleep on it, the movie has a lot going for it. I actually think the acting and casting was superb. The ideas behind the story were intriguing;

– We saw a fully fleshed out alien culture in Krypton. If the whole movie would have been as intriguing as the opening scene I would be going back to see it again today.

– How would our post 911 world react to an indestructible alien? Not well.

– Clark Kent as a child being scared and unsure of why these strange things were happening to him, like being able to see his fellow classmates skeletons through their face. Crazy!

That is good stuff and felt real, but Zach Snyder got schizophrenic and never stuck to a small handful of ideas and let them play out. It is like he took every idea he ever had for Superman and expected them all to work at once.

Flashback sequences can work in movies, but they need to be used sparingly. The biggest issue is that this movie constantly removed you from the story and jumped you into a related story from the past. It never let the audience emotionally connect with what was currently happening, and made the movie timeline jump all over the place.

Telekinetic conversation (mind melding), rarely works in movies. We just don’t need surreal dream like sequences where people fall into skulls and scream. Nah.

We did get to see Superman’s powers like never before. He flys at supersonic speeds everywhere and the battle sequences show the real power we always pictured he had. The first time he lets loose on Zod for hurting his Mom… awesome! And while the CGI is excellent, it gets so repetitive. How many times can you throw someone through an entire building in one movie? Well Zach Snyder proved it can be done about 300 times in 2-1/2 hours. Enough already.

And I know I wasn’t the only one that was tired of watching Supes slowly rise after ever pummeling while the bad guys just jumped right up. Enough dramatic slow rises…

I love big spectacle movies too. Avengers was total carnage, but it never felt like you couldn’t watch any more. After the slow build up we watched 45 minutes straight of city leveling battle. I was real ready for it to be over when Zod met his end. The destruction done to Metropolis would have caused millions of deaths and I couldn’t help but think of that implication in the cartoon like violence.

And the score… The slow melancholy piano music didn’t work for me. It was feigning emotion when it wasn’t an emotional scene. Hans Zimmerman gets a D-. John Williams original Superman theme was uplifting and no where to be found.

The movie flat out needed better editing. The movie needed far more focus. The movie would have greatly benefitted from being 35 minutes shorter. If someone recut this same movie in a straight chronological fashion, without the flashbacks, I bet I would love it.

And I do love Superman. Always have. Sadly the plodding 2006 Superman Returns was a better movie. Sad, I know.

Overall, I still hope it makes gobs of money because I really want to see another Superman movie. The last 30 seconds of the movie are just great and I’d love to give them another chance, because if this one isn’t a financial success I’m afraid they will abandon trying to bring my favorite superhero to the screen ever again.

A Paradigm Shift in Theme Parks?

It goes without saying the Mouse is the 800 pound gorilla in any discussion on theme entertainment or amusement parks. Their dominance of the market is impressive. I can’t think of another company that dominates in an entertainment field quite like Disney does for the top travel dollars of tourists bound for Orlando or Anaheim.

The biggest threat to Disney is obviously Universal, now owned by Comcast. They are flush with cash and emboldened by the huge success of one boy wizard taking up residence at one of their parks.

In the past Universal was a nice one day detour for the throngs of people streaming through Main Gate toward the Disney kingdom. Even through big multi million dollar moves Universal Orlando has never been able to wrestle the focus or the first dollar away from Disney.

No longer. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s huge draw has swung the public interest clearly toward the Universal Orlando Resort. Universal is doubling down too with big expansions planned for the future. They smell blood for the first time, and it isn’t some aberration.

Since 1999, when Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened they have been leading the industry in innovative attractions. Disney hasn’t even attempted to wrestle the creative crown back either. They have instead rested on their loyal fan base to keep returning based on nostalgia and clever marketing campaigns.

There is a real long term danger for Disney in Orlando. All young children love Disney, but that has to be more than a childhood connection for someone to become a fan. At some point later in life someone has to make that connection and fall in love with the place. For me it was my teenage years. Universal existed, but no IOA. This was the early nineties and Disney was amazing to me. Truly magical, not just a corporate greeting. We went every year, sometimes twice and were always amazed by the new attractions, resorts, and areas opening at a faster pace than our frequent visits.

Herein lies the real danger. If kids today grow up thinking Disney is stale and Universal is magical then not too far down the road those “kids” bring their kids to the resort that gave them the real magical experience. Just like we return to Disney with our kids today. The paradigm can shift in a big way and a cultural shift like that is nearly impossible to recover from in the short term.

I live and work amongst young professionals with families. I can’t tell you how many are planning Universal trips, not just because of the boy wizard, but because “the rides are so awesome.”

Attendance goes flat. Then starts slipping. Then never recovers. The once giant is left to wonder why their new attractions dont change the cycle.

Perhaps they recognize this or perhaps they are so caught up in the corporate machine they are blind to the real danger.

This would be a common narrative of once industry dominant American corporations. I hope it doesn’t happen to my favorite company.

Not Very Batman – Batman

After all the positive reviews here are my thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises.

I enjoyed it. It was a good movie, but far from great.

My biggest issue is that it was a Batman movie without being very Batman. It was almost like Nolan decided he had played all the secretive sneaky ninja Batman tricks in the previous films and was now going to just march him right into the middle of the action? Where was the big clever Batman style entrance and take down? He goes to war with a couple hundred police Braveheart style? Stupid. Not in character. Threw out the play book.

It was bloated as well. 30 minutes should have been trimmed from the movie to make it more streamlined. Over two and a half hours? Ok Peter Jackson.

Bane was an awesome badass for 80% of the movie and then is a non-factor for the climax? I get the League of Shadows tie in, but there has never been a less interesting villainess or less obvious twist in a superhero movie. If you didn’t see that coming you weren’t paying attention.

Lastly, he ends up with the calculating self centered burglar that tried to kill him thrice? Cliche.

Dark Knight > Batman Begins >>> Dark Knight Rises

Finding Clarity in Pain

The last four years have been utterly brutal for me and many of my closest friends. I hope I never have to experience something like this again and I hope if you were lucky enough to escape relatively unscathed that you never face that reality.

I understand that those that were not hurt during this period don’t carry the same vehement hatred for those involved. I will not hide my disgust. I will not shut up. I’ve always been politically conscious, but never carried such anger into an election.

Don’t read it if you aren’t interested or if you want to just put your head in the sand. It doesn’t bother me one way or the other. And if you haven’t noticed I enjoy a good debate, so come prepared.

The rhetoric stings more true this period.  The words inside of the sentences are being noticed. I am listening close and watching actions. I am tired of this discussion about the birth certificate or some sort of class warfare worry about what offshore accounts someone has. It is beside the point.

I feel I am more globally aware than ever before. I also feel we are in way more trouble as a country and as a society than ever before. We have always had growth to pull us out of the shitter before and the hole has never ever been a fraction of this large. Little nitpicky political jib-jab just doesn’t raise my ire because believe it or not we are at the precipice of a global financial meltdown that will make 2007 look like a wet dream.

What would you do if our money collapsed?

It is something we take for granted at this point.  What would we all do?  Would society go back to the stone age – well no, but there isn’t a rule book to follow for this sort of thing.  The only example we really have for a global currency collapse is the Roman Empire.  Sure… things have changed and diversified a lot since then.

WHEN we can’t pay our debts any longer as a global economy a monetary collapse is precisely what we may be looking at.

Go ahead ignore what is occurring. 

Don’t tell me to put my head in the sand and tell me everything is going to be okay. Something big is going to happen within our lifetime. Our generation is going to have to face the reckoning of what has been sewed by 200+ years of politicians pushing the log down the river.

It seems the Democrats have made their decision – future issues be damned.  So while the choice is more clear it is also more cloudy.

I remember what the Republicans didn’t accomplish in Bush’s second term.  I also remember things like the Patriot Act and them embarking on a spending spree of epic proportions between 2004-2006.  I also really don’t know what anyone can do about the coming storm.

There are some Republicans like Ron Paul and Paul Ryan that understand the real meat that needs to be shed.  Most think we can trim around the edges, but anyone that has ever had a budget problem will tell you if 65% of your budget goes to three categories you won’t make much progress without addressing those three items.

Department of Defense
Health and Human Services
Social Security Adminstration

Both parties seem focused on their own favorite institutions.  Well with a collapsing dollar those institutions won’t be there anyway if we don’t do something.

 

THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF BEST INTENDED LEGISLATION

I am not one of these conspiracy theorists.  I believe at their core most legislation is brought to a vote with absolute best intentions.  As a person that went without medical insurance in the past I fully realize the medical system we have is broken.  However, the reason I am against almost all government intervention is that even the best intentions in legislation are paved with many unintended consequences in application.   You just can’t stop people from finding the cheapest solution for them.  In practice very few will make the final decision based on the “greater good.”

If you are a big fan of the new Affordable Care Act be prepared for some unintended consequences.  If you think this doesn’t affect you or universally makes your life better – I encourage you to review the legislation beyond the intended benefit and look at it from a realistic implementation standpoint.  Contrary to the title of the law, things are going to get more expensive.  For everyone.  In the end this will help some, but at what cost?

I will post some thoughts today – not intended to be snarky – just my honest thoughts on some of the likely fallout that will affect many.

Affordable Care Act
Best Intentions Unintended Consequence #1:

All medium sized employers, defined as employing over 50 persons, must provide health insurance for their workers or face a penalty.  The tax penalty for not complying would be $2,000 per employee.

Real World Application:  A full service restaurant that employs 58 people would now have to comply.  Providing this insurance is a new expense, the money doesn’t just appear.  This business owner will analyze the cost of providing insurance against the tax penalty.   Let’s say for argument sake the private health insurance cost is about $300 per month per employee.  For 58 employee providing the insurance could be around $210,000 or the penalty would be $116,000.  Easy choice right?  Well the business owner will see that no matter what their current bottom line is affected by a minimum $116K without either significantly increasing business or raising prices.

Increasing revenue is difficult and prices are set by what the market will bear.  How do you think raising menu prices by 15% will affect people going out to dinner?  Their customer base will drop – people may still come out, but come out less.  That 15% increase isn’t just manufactured, that is put off to you and I as the consumer…  Additionally, if more people go out to dinner less often the business owner still sees revenue drop even with the menu price increase.  They are then forced to either lay off workers or go out of business.

What is even more likely to happen is that employers on the cusp of the 50 employee limit will cut their workforce to 49 persons and take themselves off the formal payroll.  Nine employees in this case were just laid off to no fault of their own.  The owner didn’t want to do it, but financial survival necessitates the decision.  Those nine employees were not only negatively impacted from a loss of income they are also now in the public care for health insurance thanks to this law.  We pay thrice – once in the loss of tax revenue, once in the increased cost of goods, and also in the increased cost to more people being on the assisted care.  Those same nine people once excited about getting health insurance are now not so excited about not having a job at all.

Do you think this cost doesn’t get passed onto the consumer?  A consumer that has less and less expendable income.  What will happen when the Fed stops artificially pushing down interest rates and we have real inflation to deal with all this debt?  Your money would be squeezed all the more.  The average person ends up being crushed financially, not the “big evil insurance companies”…

Affordable Care Act
Best Intentions Unintended Consequence #2:

Three major changes occurred in the legislation intending to correct an unfair practice; if you are already sick, you are screwed – no one will cover you.  Also in our previous system, if you are elderly your insurance will cost so much you can’t afford it.  The elderly overwhelmingly end up on Medicare, which limits your care and choices.  Private insurance companies to this because the elderly are a far bigger medical risk than say a 23 year old.  It sucks.  We all get that.

Per the Affordable Care Act: the elderly cannot be charged a premium higher than 3x what is charged a young healthy person, an insurance company may no longer deny coverage for a pre-existing condition, and anyone that does not carry insurance will be required to pay a $695 penalty.  These three things coupled together are intended to encourage all people to be on insurance and the added cost of the sick and elderly is “offset” by using the combination of a larger pool of customer + the young’s raised insurance premiums.

(NOTE: This tax penalty of $695 is intended to go to the government sponsored stop gap, Medicaid.  I’ll tell you that $695 doesn’t go very far when paying for a hospitalization…  That budget hole is something else we will have to deal with.)

The real issue is that young people don’t have any money and it isn’t like they are going to magically get paid more tomorrow to cover this added cost.  Many young people will figure out that it is far cheaper to pay the $695 penalty then pay for an insurance premium – which they already don’t pay and which is now going to increase to cover the cost of the elderly.  Also, since the law requires insurance companies to take all comers, regardless of medical condition, one can now sign up for insurance the moment after something occurs for which they require medical care.

So… what WILL occur in many cases is that one can choose to pay the penalty rather than the costly insurance, than IF something happens sign up for insurance care, which by law they have to provide.  After treatment is complete that person could then drop the insurance again.  It becomes a shell game.  Didn’t get sick this year – did just fine – next year got really unlucky and had a debilitating car accident – got signed up for insurance.

Insurance companies will find a way to manage their risk and make up this loss.  Once again, the money isn’t just manufactured out of thin air.  Where does the money come from to cover all these new expenses?  Ah… the real unintended consequence…  Once insurance rates rise to cover this potential loss the average person will be more and more willing to pay the penalty rather than these increased premiums.  The only possible way then for insurance companies to make up the difference after this shell game compounds is by passing on the added cost to the employers already providing health care for their workers.

Currently the second highest cost for businesses in the United States is Health Care Premiums, right behind salaries and above rent.  The cost of health care could overtake salaries in short order as the largest single expense for employers.  As stated previously, drastically increasing revenue to cover these huge new costs doesn’t come easy.  Something will have to give.  Remember that raise you thought you were entitled to?  It just went to cover the cost of your 11% premium increase.

This will slow the economy and job creation.  Two things we didn’t need right now.  Don’t think I’m right?  I hope you are correct then.  My viewpoint is that this is a bad law with the best intentions.