Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A couple of things.

As much as I would like to sit down and pontificate on a single topic for a while, there have been a few topics eating at me this month. Let me highlight one of them, though I admit this is a revisit of something I spoke about before.

(1) - Pistols and Concealed Carry

The other day, a friend of mine looked at me while we were talking and asked, "When you and [your wife] go out to eat at like a McDonald's or something, you don't take you're gun with you then, right?"

I looked right at him and said "That is exactly when I would take my gun with me, moron!"

I'm sure some of you are cringing at that responce, but there is a very good reason I am revisiting this topic. Something a lot of people don't seem to understand if the "why" in my decision to carry a concealed firearm. I don't put this thing on hoping to use it. And I don't see myself as a potential knight in shining armor in the event of a violent crime. I didn't buy this sidearm so that I could carry concealed. I carry concealed because I happen to have a sidearm for professional reasons. The reason I carry it is because I don't ever want to look in the mirror and have to say to myself "you could have protected that person if you had just remembered to put your gun on that morning."

Does that sound extreme to you? I'm the same way with my Leatherman and my mobile phone. Both are invaluable tools that I try and have on me at all times. More to the point, I do routinely chastise myself when I forget one of them. Given the nature of a firearm, and when it would be used, pulling it for any reason would be a grave circumstance by definition. And like I have said before, when I'm wearing it, I'm looking for ways out of a situation, not how to shoot myself further into it. If it were just me and something happened, trust me, I would probably find cover somewhere and wait for help. But if my wife or son were with me, and cover wasn't readily available, going toe to toe with an attacker might be the only chance I have to protect my family. I already own the gun and the CWL, what's the point in not carrying it?

(2) - The current US budget situation.

Today the Gainesville, Fla., Tea Party released a summary of the national budgetary situation. They have effectively removed the last eight figures from each category, and framed the whole thing as a household budget. As much as I like to think I am a numbers' person, this process helped to clarify for me exactly how ridiculous the situation is.

The information they provided reads like this:

Your annual income is:                       $21,737
Your annual expense is:                     $38,188
Your annual "credit card" use totals:  $16,451
Proposed cuts total:                                $385

You owe your credit card company: $142,000

Alright, first of all, if you want to argue these numbers, go ahead. I'm not even going to try and verify them, the last time I tried to wrap my head around the US budget I would up with a headache and more questions than answers. Seriously, if these are wrong, just post a reply and tell me.

Now, to the meat of the issue. As someone who's had to actually work with a budget that looked something like this, I actually know how bad this is. In my case, I wasn't spending that much, and it was all critical items, like mortgage, bills, gas and so forth. But still, I was racking up more debt than I knew what to do with. I should note that at that point, I was unemployed and we were living off my wife's income. A second job helped, but I'll talk about that in a second.

I'll admit, up until now I was someone arguing for cuts and a balanced budget. After seeing this I have come to two conclusions. First, I was one of those people who didn't have a good instinctual understanding of "millions" verses "Billions" verses "trillions". I understand the numbers, but the proportions are too abstract for me. These numbers up here are more familear, and that means they hit home. Looking at the proportions as listed here, I think it's safe to say I'm much more pessimistic about "balancing the budget"  now than I was a week ago. And this brings us to my second realization:To balance the budget without increasing revenue (upping taxes) would mean cutting better than 40% of all expenditures. That's not trimming a little off the top, thats taking a hatchet to the defence budget, Medicare and Medicade, just to name the top three. I don't think the discretionary spending portion of the national budget has enough money allocated to it to even take a major chunk out of the overage.

So what does all this mean? Let me tell you, it means a bunch, and let me talk about it for a moment. First of all, unless we want to actually take an ax to the the existing budget (which we won't do, in my opinion), a tax increase in inevitable. And to be honest with you, I'm currently not even opposed to an increase after looking at these numbers. However, we need to go about it smartly.

1) ANY increase needs to come with a legal mandate that the budget be balanced from that point on. Otherwise we are just giving messy children more mud to play with and hoping they don't make another mess. The congress will spend whatever they are given without a second thought, and that goes for both sides of the aisle. Money is the currency of power at that level, and any revenue increase would give our elected officials more currency to spread around in order to curry favor with voters. Personally, I think that we could raise every penny of the short funds, and at the end of the day congress would still come up in the red because of "unexpected" needs. Its not that I don't trust our elected officials... no, actually, it is because I don't trust them. I don't trust them at all.

2) As loathed as I am to agree to a tax increase, I will also say that we need to go about it smartly. I'm not going to sit here and try and say who should pay what. But you can bet I'm going to challenge any ideas that come down the pike. When I say challenge, I don't mean shoot them down, but I do want to examine the logic that is out there.

The bottom line for me goes like this; for each tax bracket or demographic, I want to know how much they are supposed to pay, how much they are actually paying, and what their percentage looks like compared to the others. Like I have said before, I don't want to tax the hell out of the rich just because they are rich, but if they are paying 2% of their income in taxes, and I'm paying 15% (just as an example), then we do have something to talk about.

3) One of the reasons that I think the process won't be even remotely this straightforward is the fact that the Tea Party was elected largely on a strong "no more taxes" platform.

4) I also think we need a good, strong look at what our obligations are with each portion of the budget. I don't think there is any single area that should be axed, and in fact hitting any one too hard for cuts could likely cause upheaval domestically. Meicare & Medicade affect two very venerable populations within the US, and the real kicker is that both groups have a healthy voting demographic to go with. Militarily, as much as the a lot of people aren't thrilled with the US presence in Afghanistan and what's left of Iraq, we need to keep in mind that the military is still the primary proactive force in the counter terrorism and national defense effort. Additionally, China had effectively engaged in a race to upgrade their military, as well as a technological race with us in space travel. While I gladly admit that the chance of them militarily threatening the US is remote, even under the most optimistic of circumstances. But, as a superpower we do have obligations to our allies, some of whom are less than a stone's throw from the Chinese border. Any number of political fights today could turn hot in a very short time (Taiwan, South Korea, Iran). With the world currently in hard times across the board, there's no telling what culture will react to what pressure the wrong way. I'm not trying to say that we should spend like we have been, or even like we are, but there are people out there who would gladly knock our armed services back to the 1990s in terms of equipment in order to save money on them, and that is tantamount to using flintlocks in today's military environment.

I guess my point overall is that we need to take a hard look at what our obligations are, and how badly we want to keep them. As much as I hate to say it, even with tax increases, we may well be looking at reductions across the board, and that includes cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and the military.

The foot note to all this is that no mater what, I don't think its possible to balance the budget without pissing off better than 50% of the electorate. So whichever party manages it (if either of them do), can probably look at having every one of their members thumped soundly during the next election cycle. If they cut funds, the recipients will be hacked off, and if they up taxes, a lot of other people will be mad six-ways-till-Sunday.  I might be wrong, but I don't think so.

Okay, moving on yet again.

(3) Social Networking

Let me go ahead and wrap this lengthy tirade up with a bit about social networking. I'm currently on Facebook, but the way things are going that isn't going to last much longer. I was one of the entry-level Google+ users, and I'm here to tell you that from where I'm standing, Facebook looks an awful lot like  its panicking, and rather than swimming, its thrashing around pointlessly, just waiting to drown. I'm sure that's a lot of oversimplification of the facts, but I'm not thrilled with the new look, the new features, or all of the crap that came with.

On the flip side, I'm really getting used to Google+, and enjoying the way they manage their information and offer their services. Perfect? Not by a long shot. But they are light years ahead of Facebook right now.

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