Friday, May 22, 2009
A new American friend in cyberspace sent me an email today asking if from the title of my blog I was an Expatriot or an "expatriate". Quite honestly it gave me pause. I decided I'd better check good ole Websters to see if who I think I am fits the label. I also responded to the mailer asking what the words meant to HIM. I look forward to his response.
The online dictionary gave me these definitions:
An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin ex (out of) and patria (country, fatherland).
It really didn't have a separate definition for my spelling of "Expatriot", so I was stuck with going back to the apparently "correct" spelling of e-x-p-a-t-r-i-a-t-e. But wait a minute...some of the potential definitions of this word do not fit with my self- description...
–verb (used with object)
1. to banish (a person) from his or her native country.
2. to withdraw (oneself) from residence in one's native country.
3. to withdraw (oneself) from allegiance to one's country.
–verb (used without object)
4. to become an expatriate: He expatriated from his homeland.
5. expatriated; exiled.
For me, living outside the USA has been totally by my choice and volition. I have not been "banished" or "exiled". Therefore, I have taken that word out of my title for this blog space and replaced it simply with "American". But then again, "American" is a word that may be misunderstood or not be very defining as well. Boy, this is getting complicated. What does it mean for me to be American and/or an Expat?
A⋅mer⋅i⋅can /əˈmɛrɪkən/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [uh-mer-i-kuhn]
1. of or pertaining to the United States of America or its inhabitants: an American citizen.
2. of or pertaining to North or South America; of the Western Hemisphere: the American continents.
3. of or pertaining to the aboriginal Indians of North and South America, usually excluding the Eskimos, regarded as being of Asian ancestry and marked generally by reddish to brownish skin, black hair, dark eyes, and prominent cheekbones.
As seems typical in our modern day world, labels and names have become distorted or narrowed in meaning from what they may have meant earlier in history...or only 50 years ago. To accept the broad sense of the adjective "American", it can mean just about anyone in the western hemisphere...or at least in the "Americas". Then when you take into account definition #3, the original Americans were aboriginal Indians who in just 2-3 short centuries were overrun by "invaders", "explorers", "foreigners", most of whom were white Anglo Saxons, Spaniards or Portuguese. The original American culture has been relegated to reservations or folklore while in Central and South America SOME original Americans still have their tribal areas that they occupy and own. But the term "American" is not used by or for them and instead quite narrowly describes for most people in the world only the citizens of the United States of America. Quite the narrowing for such a broad term.
OK...without going into detailed pursuit of how or why this happened in the past 150 years or so, let's just assume it is OK and we are moving forward. The USA during the past two centuries has become more and more of a melting pot. While it seems to me that many relatively new Americans have forgotten where they came from or lost their previous cultural identities and languages, it is still undeniable that the USA is actually THE most diverse democracy in the world. While educated white people still tend to be the "poster children" of what an American is, the truth is white Americans are a dwindling majority. According to Wikipedia, our racial breakdown as of 2006 was:
* Total population: 299 million
* White alone: 74% or 221.3 million
- Not including the 23.2 million White Hispanic and Latino Americans: 66% or 198.1 million
* Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, of any race: 14.8% or about 44.3 million
* Black or African American alone: 13.4% or 40.9 million
* Some other race alone: 6.5% or 19 million
* Asian alone: 4.4% or 13.1 million
* Two or more races: 2.0% or 6.1 million
* American Indian or Alaska Native alone: 0.68% or 2.0 million
* Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander alone: 0.14% or 0.43 million
The big news here is that Hispanic Americans have bypassed Black or African Americans as percentage of population. And I should point out the obvious that within the "white" statistics you include most of the people of Mediterranean or Middle East heritage including Jews, Arabs, Russians...quite an assortment of white people that you would not immediately identify with "American" traits.
Now let's consider the meaning and characteristics of a "Patriot". It seems the roots of the word are found in Greek, “patrios”, of one's fathers. Again, not a word that matches what I think it has grown to mean in the minds of most Westerners. Most people nowadays think of Patriot as a description of nationality versus “kin” or family.
One of my favorite movies of Mel Gibson is “The Patriot” which is a reasonably good dramatization of what it meant to be a “Patriot” in the founding of the USA. While most of the movie was fictional and hyped in Hollywood drama, it did illustrate what I believe were realistic struggles of those early modern “Americans”. They were still relatively new to a new continent of settlement. They were caught between the battles against the original American Indians who they were driving west while fighting their former sovereigns from Europe from their “backside”. In many ways they were out manned and out gunned, yet their passion to live freely in a “new country” was the force that the new “America” was built on. There is no doubt that many of the new “Americans” were violent, racist, and many had criminal pasts they were running from in their home countries. Yet, the founding fathers that developed out of the original 13 states were able to miraculously pull most everyone together under an unprecedented Constitution and Magna Carta. The thirst for new beginnings and individual freedom from centuries of aristocracies and monarchies in Europe and the East became a magnet of likeminded people of all races and statures to pursue their new beginnings in…”America”.
Now, a short two centuries later we still have “Patriots” fighting for our country. Fortunately for us Americans, they are fighting in other countries, in other people’s backyards and towns. Yet, I fear the call of Patriotism has been watered down tremendously by the growth of Big Government and a culture that has become so rich so fast that a majority have lost the core fundamental values that formed our greatness. Our government continues to beat the drum of “God and country” while I would argue a majority of Americans have lost their sense of personal values when it comes to the meaning of freedom and individual rights. I feel we are in a quiet “civil war” amongst ourselves of what it means to be an American…a “Patriot”. A majority of Americans seem to be content to go along with Big Government and relinquish their individual sovereignty for the “greater good”. Taxation without representation has been the standard for so long that it is just now, during these perilous economic times, that Americans like the voters in California this week and elsewhere are voting down any tax bill that comes down the pike. The Federal Government has stopped asking permission to increase taxes… and just locked step between the Executive, Congressional and Judicial branches to support and sustain this monolith of bureaucracy “at any cost”. In my mind, they have redefined “patriotism” as going along blindly with the government program. The new “Patriot Acts” have stripped away American’s individual rights and due process of law to where I find it hard to call it a true “democracy”. Some of the emerging markets and countries are purer forms of democracy and freedom than my home country. This saddens me to no end, and quite honestly the core reason of why I now find myself in the role of “expatriate”. Until my country can get back to its core principles of free enterprise, due process of law even by the government, and taking care of ourselves instead of expecting government to do so…I would find it hard to move back there. Maybe I am more exacting to label myself a "Global Patriot"?
Does this mean I am “Un Patriotic”? Hell no! I would suggest that there is a growing tide of individuals like myself, both inside and outside the USA, who are getting more earnest and passionate about taking back our lives and freedoms from our government. We will no longer vote with the mainstream two party systems that increasingly bear no distinction from one another. We will no longer accept the interference and intolerance of our government for dissent. A growing number of us want the USA to return to the foundations of its Constitution, a return to the principles of free enterprise that drove competition and once made us the most powerful, richest country in the world. How can it be in such a short span of 60+ years our country has been turned into a bankrupt, power mongering “Super Power” that for the sake of pride and cover-up of past sins is spending itself into oblivion and fighting many fronts of non-declared wars that are bringing us to our knees economically? I believe our country is becoming more divided by the minute…between the conservatives and the liberals, the Democrats and the Republicans, the religious and the non-religious, and primarily the rich against the poor. Unfortunately, the ranks of the poor are growing at a much faster rate than rich producers. If you are a mathematician or a scientist, you quickly understand where we are heading. Only if you are a blind believer in God or Government are you able to feel “Ok” about what is going on right now.
So, who is the true “Patriot” or “American” today? Is it the blind hordes that are cutting every corner and taking every handout they can get from government coffers? Is it the few remaining middle class, productive Americans who still have a job to go to in the USA, pay their taxes without complaint, and go to church every Sunday? Is it the young Libertarian or “independent” who is picketing for certain causes, demanding a balanced budget from their government and looking for reversal of the “Patriot Act”? Is it those of us who have chosen to live outside our country yet still looking in and trying to shout back to our friends and family “back home” what we are seeing and hearing?
I would argue that today’s true “Patriot” is a “Global Patriot”. We don’t just want “our country” to win at the expense of the rest of humanity. Our morality does not allow us rise financially by stealing from our neighbor or future generations, and we don’t think Governments should do that either. We embrace globalization, if only because we realize it is here to stay…unless of course the “super powers” among us succeed in obliterating each other in irrevocable nuclear exchanges. We are “Global Patriots” because we want ALL governments to agree together to save our environment, reverse the effects of Global Warming, and stop our constant aggressions for “Patriotic” reasons. “Global Patriots” want to know and understand all of humanity and find ways to peacefully coexist without having to dictate what kind of government or religion our neighbor wants to practice. “Global Patriots” believe that TRADE is a better unifier than running guns and armaments to “somehow” balance the foreign powers that we support or agree with. And finally, Global Patriots support freedom for all to live, worship, celebrate life, pursue liberty and happiness however THEY define it, as long as it does not affect the next person’s freedom to do the same.
To cut to the chase…I believe if American Patriotism doesn’t soon evolve into some form of “Global Patriotism”, our country and way of life as we have known it will be completely over run. I AM American…but I am also Global…so my struggle and my vision has multiplied in dimension more than I will probably ever comprehend in this lifetime. I am the sum of those I have grown to know and love…therefore…I am American, I am Latin, I am Jewish, I am Arabic, I am Embera Indian, I am Norwegian, I am Black, I am Asian. The word Patriot…or “expatriate”…is way too limiting and meaningless in comparison.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Throughout my little over half century of a lifetime, I have always been attracted to the complexities of "contradictions"...or maybe more specifically "oxymorons". You know...those two words that in practice never seem to go together. Some of my favorite examples of late are "holy war", "safe investment", "smart bomb", "bankrupt Millionaire", "easy payments", "free trade", "flexible budget", and now "moral Government". Yes my friends, it is now very difficult to point anywhere in the world to a government who you could truly call "moral".
First, what does it mean to be moral? Morality and moral "behavior" can have a wide range of meaning and connotation depending on what culture or religion you grow up in, but I think there are some basics a vast majority of the world would agree add up to acceptable or obvious attributes for being "moral". Let's try listing a few of these features:
Speaks the truth, doesn't lie
Follows the rules, doesn't cheat
I could go on but you get the point. Most moral people are good people, productive and provide balance to a world that is oft times not very moral. The biggest problem with morality is it’s not something that can be mandated or forced by rule of law. True morality is part of who a person is and what they believe. There are so many variations to it that in my opinion most morality cannot be "legislated" even though our world governments seem to be going more and more down that path...the path of heavy rule of law and the continuous battle of enforcement.
Let's back up first to a core understanding of what "purpose" government serves. From my understanding, the fundamental purpose of government is the maintenance of basic security and "public order". In the USA constitution, we establish a democratic system for government "of the people, by the people and for the people". This means government is meant to "serve" the people it governs...securing the peace and settling disputes that arise between individuals or business concerns. Unfortunately this basic, core government role has expanded greatly in modern times to many areas unforeseen by our forefathers. Government now is seen as providing economic security, Social security, Environmental security and even a further extension to "morality policing".
While I could probably turn this into a book, let me cut to some short specific views I'd like to share where governments throughout the world are now overstepping their purpose and morality. Let me preface by saying, governments normally rule at the acquiescence of those being ruled...so most people in the world have the government they "deserve". Most people in the world have been well trained by their culture and or government to follow and support their government or their "nationality". It is looked at as "unpatriotic" to question or criticize your government in most places in the world, and actually in most places governments have made it ILLEGAL to do so with little respect for free speech or individual human rights. Autocratic rule, often times connected at the hip with religious intolerance, make up a large percentage of the governments ruling our globe. I fear the USA is going down that same path to its demise.
I would like to present the case of how "the State" is supposed to act and stay within its justifiable role:
Governments should never intervene or interfere with "markets". It upsets the natural order of free trade or market driven economics. When governments step in, it always favors one faction over another and normally immorally colludes with government "benefactors". In other words, big money behind governments always has the upper hand over individual or small business concerns. To me this is against core morality standards covered in natural law and most of the religious holy books. Supply and demand was a system I believe set up by God from the beginning. There is a natural order to most everything under the sun...but modern day governments and big money want to try and change that order. They want to control markets by their power and influence, not by pure trade. They want to protect losing business propositions while sucking the life out of new businesses and technologies that would destroy the "status quo" or compete with them. We see this happening in the USA major industries of automotive and financial companies. Nothing good will come from this government interference accept to put off the inevitable and make future generations pay for our mistakes of yesteryear.
Price or market fixing necessarily demands that someone will win and someone will lose...as determined by government intervention. It is immoral to tell a farmer he MUST sell his crops or livestock at a set price and MUST limit his scope to domestic sales. It is also immoral to take MY money and give it to a farmer so that he DOESN'T plant a certain crop or pursue productivity. It is immoral to place wage decrees on employers or set limits on the profits a company or individual can earn. Yet this is what our whole system has become dependent on...and in my opinion it is a "house of cards". Let the natural laws of supply and demand perform its function and level out the field of competition...both nationally and internationally. Governments need to GET OUT OF THE WAY of progressive markets and business development. Yes, governments need to intervene for CRIMINAL activity, but that is the limit.
Government should not be in the "charity" business. Charity starts at home, the local community, and state which will ultimately lead to a more healthy and charitable nation/state. Our pyramid is upside down where each individual first looks to the "state" to bail them out of difficulty or guarantee their next meal. This has never worked in the history of governments and civilizations.
Socialism is the "religion of man", a product of humanism. Instead of depending on self, our brother, or God as champion of our security...we have replaced all that with "the State" as provider and sustainer. Socialism is a power theory where the individual lives for the good of the masses, controlled by the majority State. By rule of socialism, "someone" is always left holding the bag of debt or loss to cover someone else misfortune or error in judgment. For me this totally goes against traditional truths like "he who works eats" or "it is better to teach a man to fish than just give him a fish". These are fundamental truths that haven't changed from the beginning of time.
Coercion is always required at some point to enforce and control the "will of the State"...which is why governments want to control all the guns and not let their citizens freely own any. Governments should obviously have guns and military to DEFEND their borders and security...but they should not be used in aggression or coercion of it's own citizens unless of course they are threatening the rights of another individual citizen or group. To use arms to quell dissension of a citizen or group of them who are PEACEFULLY protesting an act of government is immoral. The arms race between governments is in my opinion also totally immoral, and we are reaping what we are sowing as we continue the un-winnable arms race. The world needs some good old fashioned "turning of swords into plowshares". If we spent on the business of food production and trade what we spend on armaments, I would argue there would be no hungry citizen on Earth. Poverty and hunger is in direct correlation to our social immorality, or the enslaving borders we put up against our fellow man.
It is immoral for governments to control currencies. It would be better for the world to go back to one standard of value, whether that be gold, silver or "bananas" upon which to determine currency values. The international monetary system has become totally statist controlled or controlled by a few powerful rich factions who can manipulate currency markets. The Federal Reserve is a prime example of that in the USA. How can you have a moral, free system of enterprise if you have multiple currencies manipulated outside of the market? Impossible. Again, false manipulation of currencies always favors a winner against a "loser" just based on their geographic location...usually determined by borders of a State.
Slavery is immoral. Yet I would argue that a majority of the world lives in some form of virtual "slavery". Most governments have "taxation without representation" which means that a productive citizen in most of the world pays half or more of their income to the "government". In my opinion, it is another form of slavery to exchange your individual freedom to work or develop profits anywhere in the world for a government system of socialism. Just look at the percentages of GNP (Gross National Product) that go into covering the costs of modern day governments. Then imagine if these percentages were instead put into the local or international markets for trade and development. My observation is that Government sucks the life and profits out of business and trade. Looking back in history, only slave states gained this kind of income off the backs of its citizens. It is time for the world to put this tendency in reverse motion...before you lose what little that remains of your personal wealth and sovereignty. It will soon be revolt and revolution time all over again in this cycle of humanity, cause and effect.
Credit is immoral. Unless you have money or income to backup a loan, it is immoral to pursue credit. Yet modern day morality with government assent and even programs to stimulate more spending has put much of the developed world, and especially the USA, in a tremendous economic and moral crisis. Instead of "common sense" and natural behaviors of spending less and making more in order to correct an imbalance, our crazy world has embraced unrestrained and unlimited credit as an answer to our global economic dilemmas. As you see currently from the USA, governments are manipulating markets, running over creditors and shareholders, and entering immoral contracts leveraging potentially decades of future generation's wages and tax contributions to cover the failures and unsustainable systems of today. Governments are not allowing "some" failed institutions to fail while raising taxes and income from those few successful and profitable entities within the system to "bail out" the failures. There are no fundamental values supporting these issues of credit in either government or private sectors...so I argue that our government is acting immorally and irresponsibly to the current crisis...and more importantly, a majority of citizens are going along for the ride without dissent. Reap and reward (or lack thereof) is just around the corner because of "cause and effect".
Our legal systems are immoral. The USA is reaping its reward also in the area of justice and lack of morality in our whole culture. Without re looking up the detailed fact on this, I read a while back that lawsuits and especially tort law enforcement was eating up almost 30% of our annual GNP. The core fundamental of that means that our culture has grown to such a dishonest and immoral state of being to where only lawyers and court systems can determine or resolve conflict between people and companies. The USA has something like 75% of all the world's lawyers while having a very small percentage of the world population. What does that alone say about our morality? Every time I have a problem or disagreement with my neighbor or trading partner, I have to sue in the legal system in order to get justice? That has become part of our socialism my friends. In the Old Testament days if I had an issue with someone who was lying...or said I was lying...about an agreement we had, your first step was to get your own witness and meet with the person to try and resolve the issue with an impartial 3rd party. If that didn't work, you brought a group from the community together to hear and help settle the issues. Only after all that was the King or government of the day brought into the situation to render a judgment. Our modern system has bypassed what worked for millenniums, and justice has become a major industry within our culture, full of ambulance chasers and TV judges or lawyers all rendering their expensive verdicts...at a terrible financial cost to our whole economy. And every time something unfortunate or a mistake happens to us, we think "someone" needs to pay. There is no natural order in the universe that says governments or others are liable for every bad thing that happens to you. If someone steals from you, THAT PERSON should be forced to make restitution to you and pay a penalty. But, if you bought a cup of scalding hot coffee and spilled it on your lap with serious burns...how does that somehow become my responsibility or a business’s obligation to pay you MILLIONS of dollars? These things are immoral.
My final point today is that free enterprise and enormous capital investment will not alone change the status of our globally faltering economic system. There has to be a fundamental change in personal and government morality. "To whom much is given, much will be required". The "consume at all costs", me-first mentality of contemporary generations needs to be totally redirected. The focus of the culture needs to change from "things" to "values". We need to value our fellow human more than we value "things". We need to esteem "man" more than the edifices or creations of men. We need more freedom and interest in traveling to other cultures to know how to communicate and understand our neighbor before we can establish trade with them. We need to turn mutual loathing into mutual respect. We need to return to governments "of by and for the people" in place of "Uncle Sam" or "Big Brother"...which means we must take a more active role in determining those governmental forces. If we are not allowed an active role, we may need to leave them behind and vote with our feet and pocketbooks.
Morality and ethics in government start with the morality and ethics of the governed. If we want change, we must initiate it...and be living examples of how we want the world to be and interact. Only when government represents moral people will it be forced to act morally itself.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
I couldn't help but be impressed by this NYTimes article on Norway's economy. While by heredity I could feel a sense of pride in this news since 50% of my genes are Norwegian...I really look at this more as an American. If our President and country is intent on going down the road of "socialism", I much rather prefer Norway's version than the one our government is espousing and acting upon.
It seems the Norwegians have been "contrarian" to what most of the markets and countries have done in relationship to recent economy declines and fluctuations. When times were flush and oil prices were exorbitant at over $140 per barrel, they went into savings mode and unlike Britain and other governments of those heady days, they didn't spend lavishly with the windfalls. Then when times quickly changed and the markets dumped including energy, they have used their savings and huge cash positions to buy world assets at huge discounts. This is "investment 101" my friends, and it doesn't seem that many in the world beside Norway quite understand this basic concept anymore. And how is it that such a dominantly strong socialist system can so easily beat the first world former capitalists at their own game? I would suggest it is simply a matter of ethics and responsible financial management.
The Norwegians, unlike our own government, have seen fit to take stock of future generation's needs. They have acknowledged the power of cash and limitations of debt...the basic science of finance and economy. Yes, Norwegians are some of the most highly taxed citizens in the world...yet they also work fewer hours per week than most any other industrialized nation and have less personal debt per capita than most other first world citizens. Even the Heroin addict on the street who has NEVER WORKED gets $1500 per month from the government to support his chosen habit/lifestyle. In the USA this guy would be living in some filthy tenement or back alley, panhandling in the streets and probably robbing people to survive and support their addiction. While I am obviously no socialist and don't believe in the long run this is the best example of positive socialism, I have to recognize that it seems a lot more humane treatment of human frailty and failure than our American system has where everyone is just dumped in jails...AT A COST MUCH HIGHER TO THE PUBLIC THAN $1500 PER MONTH!!! Our USA system is just insane in my opinion.
In summary, I think Obama and his Democratic cohorts need to go to Norway for a seminar on how to provide productive, profitable "socialism" if that's what Americans want. Their current version is totally sucking the life out of whatever productivity and profitability that is left in our country, while mounting up debts that will take decades of future generations to pay off. All of that simply because our system of debt and upside down economics is now a blaring example of what NOT to do when the money is pouring in. I would point out that going all the way back to Old Testament times in Judeo Christian history and ethics, debt was a major ethical no-no...with heavy prices to pay. Governments are now trying to find ways around millenniums of financial principles.
One final thought...I am hearing the media and politicians spewing out the lies of how America's financial fall is the fault of runaway "capitalism". I would argue that our country has not had true capitalism in over 60 years. Going back to FDR's "New Deal" on through Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society", the long term manipulations of a private "Federal Reserve", and the use of liberal bankruptcy and tort laws for the rich to buy their legal ways out of failure for generations...we have created a system that is not pure ANYTHING. There is no longer any such thing as "laisse fare", free enterprise, free trade, or pure capitalism. The government has taken on the role of controller of all financial systems within their borders, and have tried their damnedest to carry that to the international arena as well. And we now want them to take that to another level? This is like the slaves telling the Slave Master that they want more controls and less freedom. Our current failing scenario is primarily because of this loss of personal or corporate freedom to compete freely in markets of the world...and to pay the cost naturally if we fail. Governments role is to ensure a fair and level playing field, but not to determine or control the outcome. The masses are now crying for more of the same medicine that is killing them...MORE government controls. Good luck with that model. It didn't work the last 100 years...why do you think it will work the next?
Sunday, May 10, 2009
While my last blog was somewhat supportive of Obama's moderate approach to the national "prayer day", I must quickly go on record to say this does not mean I am a blind supporter of this new President and his current policies. If anything, he is proving to be more progressive and "Leftist" towards BIG Government ideals than I had ever thought he would be. While I admire the man's accomplishments and his charisma, I still find myself on the opposite side of about 70% of his views...so don't count me in as a new "Democrat" just because there are some issues I support him on.
Of course the latest case in point is Obama's new tax reform proposals. His unabashed appeal to go after American corporations and individuals living and/or doing business "offshore" is obviously not in my best interests...nor do I believe it to be in the best interests of our country or accomplishing what he is trying to achieve. Obviously he cannot keep forking out all the money in the tax coffers and nationalizing banks and automotive companies without eventually have a source for those funds. He knows his election was carried by the working class, the poor and the socialistic left in our country, so he can't go to them for more money even though they only pay about 6% of the national tax bill. So, it seems obvious to me he is going to go after funds of those who probably didn't support him to begin with...the wealthy and international corporations...and wealthy estates. He is following the traditional Democrat model of taking from the rich...and after shaking the piggy bank around to support your big government complexes and budgets...getting some small percentages of the take to the real economy.
Somehow in the 20th Century our government succeeded in making its tax codes a patriotic theme. I think that a majority of Americans think it a patriotic duty to pay whatever tax their government demands...and along with that citizens become more and more demanding for government controls and entitlements BECAUSE they pay these taxes. Somehow we have grown to believe that 1)it is the government's legal right to leverage taxes at any time or level, and 2)it's OK for the government to have unbalanced budgets and live off trillions of dollars of international debt because they DO "take care of us". As many wise writers and thinkers of the past 200 years have said, the end of democracy and freedom is when citizens expect their government to cover their every risk and need by entitlement. Our country is living on an upside down "Pyramid" economically and theoretically. Each year a higher percentage of Americans are living off of government programs and entitlements while the producer's numbers continue to shrink and disappear. It is no wonder that Obama wants to go after offshore money, because that's where most of the money is...and based on these actions will probably accelerate in going there. So he is both trying to stop the money from going there, and going after what percentages he can of what is already there.
I think he has a couple core deficiencies in thinking here. Number one is somehow he and most of the G20 nations think that the rest of the world is just going to rollover and accept the "bones" that these countries are offering for access to their financial markets and disallowing competition in taxation between countries. One of the core remaining equalizers in world law are the various laws pertaining to sovereignty of nations...and one of the main reasons so many foreign countries do NOT respect my country, even after millions or billions of dollars of aid to many of them, is the thinking that the USA can control them...from their politics to their economies. I think our days of controlling world conflicts through wars, CIA espionage, intrigue and just by writing big checks to our neighbors are over. The combination of our global empiricism this past 100 years on top of our current economic greed and meltdown has put the USA in a position of having a "loud voice" but less of a big stick to back up our words. The past 8 years of dual conflicts against the "enemies of freedom", and probably more significantly our domestic lack of foundations in work ethic, education, and a dying middle class have weakened our nation like no other time I can think of in this century. This is no joking matter my friends, and what our leaders do now will float or sink the rest of the boat. The end of historic great empires have always fallen at the point where they thought they were invincible. We just don't have that kind of power anymore. Sure, we still have military power...but the coffers and production capacity are declining together to where our superiority is unsustainable.
OK, now that we have reviewed a couple macros of why we are in this mess, lets look at the folly of using tax codes to "right the ship". A government cannot tax itself into financial health. It just doesn't work. And you can't keep spending more while taking less in. No business in the world survives with that approach to accounting, yet somehow our government thinks it can sustain itself by increasing the budget and increasing competitive production in our economy...while sucking the lifeblood out of the hens that are still laying eggs. This program is going the wrong direction in a hurry. Sure, markets for short spurts are going to rejoice when the government floods them with billions of relatively "free" money, but this will be short term when all this freshly printed "money" becomes more and more worthless against more productive and cautious global countries and currencies. Sure, the government is still big enough and has enough of a following to hold on to the "tigers tale" of swinging global economies...but as you run out of money and followers due to failure, there will come a point where you have to let go and dive for protection from the Tiger.
Putting aside the allegories, let's cut to the heart of the matter. Nationalization and killing of free markets or tax competitions is not going solve the USA dilemma. Now more than ever, the USA needs successful global companies to do business within our borders and successfully sell our products and ingenuity outside the USA. We need more wealth to come to the USA, bringing jobs and productivity to meet the growing global competition and demands of better products and services. If our government continues to fleece its domestic companies and entrepreneurs doing business globally and if they continue to out tax a majority of other countries on the profits that are made...no matter what laws or tax codes are passed, the USA will hear a big "WHOOSHING" sound of capital and companies leaving the USA so that they don't go down with the ship. I see very few incentivizing ideas coming out of our current government. Instead, they want to castigate and villainize the few remaining profitable productive companies and patriots. They want independents and producers to feel guilty about their gains, and push forward as "patriotism" a more altruistic attitude towards the country and government. From what I am seeing where I sit, they are just putting up more walls and defenses on the part of the companies and people outside the USA who they need to produce right now. Talk about doing the opposite of what you SHOULD be doing...
Obama obviously has a flood of support and political clout right now and will probably succeed in getting most of his taxes and initiatives passed by Congress. What will be interesting to see is how the international business community and foreign countries respond to an increasingly desperate and controlling USA government who like France and even Venezuela are speeding towards total socialism and elimination of incentive for private investment. The wealthy, industrious people of the world will continue to be pressure to escape these tyrannies in small paradises throughout the world...while the huge irrational government systems will continue to implode the once free and productive society some of us remember growing up in.
I am going to read more in coming days about competitive tax structures, and try to come up with some constructive suggestions for a sane and just tax system that would be preferable for the USA. I'm sure Obama and company are just dying to hear my ideas:)...
Here are links to some of the alarming news articles that caused this diatribe.
Business Groups Gear Up To Fight Tax Plan
Corporations Assail Latest Obama Tax Plan
Obama and the Tax Dodger
Thursday, May 7, 2009
I couldn't help but take notice of this online "news" today. I can't believe with all the problems our country has that the right now wants to make a big issue about public prayer in the White House? I'm going to bite my tongue (I mean fingers) and let this article from Wall St Journal speak for my sentiments on this subject.
National Day of (Conservative, Christian) Prayer
By Steven Waldman (Link to actual article online)
Conservative religious groups are criticizing President Obama for what the Associated Press called his "muted" observance of National Prayer Day Thursday. "At this time in our country's history, we would hope our President would recognize more fully the importance of prayer," said Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of National Day of Prayer Task Force, which organizes the prayer day festivities. The Family Research Council said Obama's decision to not have a big White House prayer event constituted a "de-emphasis on prayer."
I think this is actually a case of religious conservatives having cut off their noses to spite their faces. Putting aside for a moment the question of whether it's appropriate for the White House to be involved in encouraging prayer, this particular occasion has evolved in a way that almost guaranteed its demise.
The Bush White House had National Prayer Day run by a conservative, evangelistic Christian group. The mission statement on the Task Force's Web site states that "in accordance with Biblical truth," the Task Force seeks to, among other things:
* "Foster unity within the Christian Church"
* "Publicize and preserve America's Christian Heritage"
* "Glorify the Lord in word and deed"
The event became a showcase for religious conservative Christians to lead the nation in prayer.
I think it's wonderful that groups like this are encouraging prayer. I hope they organize millions to pray this week and in the future. But for them to have an official or semi-official role is clearly against the spirit of the Constitution and insulting to all those non-Evangelicals who pray (not to mention those who don't.) As James Madison argued, politicizing prayer is a great way to turn people away not only from politics but prayer.
I believe Obama had no choice but downplay any event led by this Task Force. Instead he issued a proclamation which will satisfy neither conservatives nor those who think the President should stay far away from religion: "I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love." The text of the full proclamation is here.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Here in Panama we just experienced the election of a new president, a new mayor of Panama city and some legislators. While everything is not perfect in Panama, I couldn't help but be impressed with their roll out of this election and the positive signs we are seeing for freedom and democracy in this small country. Compared to the directions the USA government and other Latin countries are going, I predict Panama will soon be a beacon of democracy compared to my home country...and this concerns me greatly. Here are a few reasons why...
First, Panama had 3 parties and candidates to vote for...and they just liberalized the electoral laws for more independent candidates to run in future elections. That means this country is less controlled by moneyed political parties who can easily control the media and therefore the minds of the masses. I think we have become brainwashed in the USA to think that only a Republican or a Democrat can run our country. In today's arena I think there is very little difference between those two USA parties...they both seem to want bigger governments and more socialism.
The other amazing fact was that over 73% of eligible voters participated in the election. Many of these people have to walk or bus for miles and/or hours to vote. Typically, only about half of USA registered voters participate in their elections. I personally witnessed many polling stations as I was out and about with huge lines of voters. I was very heartened to see this...and not only that...people waited more than 2 hours at the polls after they had closed to get the early announcement of who had won. The winner, Mr Martinelli, was announced within 2 hours of the polls closing? Amazing and speedy results. This is pure democracy in action. No "Electoral College" delaying or "representing" the electorate. No Supreme Court interference or "chad" paper ballots being examined or thrown out. If the election had been close, it would have only taken a 1 vote majority to determine the outcome. By all this I believe the people of Panama feel more empowered in their system than we Americans do. A sad era for America.
President Martinelli was elected on the premise of being "pro business", less interference and corruption in government, and going for a flat tax on all corporations and wage earners, with increasing percentages of tax paid the MORE you make...but maxing out at about 23%. And why can't the USA pursue such a plan? I predict if he accomplishes just this, the Panama coffers will be rolling in dough and hopefully more of these public works and help for the poor will be covered by this revenue instead of constantly borrowing from other countries like the USA is doing right now. He also has called for speedy transfer of non titled lands to titled which will do away with much graft and corruption related to government concessions given out on a political agenda, and create more tax revenue for the country as well from land owners who will have a much cleaner system for trading in land values. I think the majority, at least here in Panama, will take to a flat and fair tax system versus the complicated and ever changing tax system here that I swear must have been adopted from the USA.
Finally, one of the most significant changes in law in the USA that I hope Panama never has the audacity to pursue is Obama's new plan to increase taxes on USA corporation's income WORLDWIDE, and abolish almost overnight a whole section of rules and laws that companies spent billions of dollars setting up around. Now believe me, I understand that the precarious position the USA has gotten into economically calls for some drastic measures and sacrifice. And yes, it is probably important that the wealthiest in America do more or pay more, because the poor have nothing more to pay with except their blood. But as usual, the government pendulum swings quickly in an all encompassing arc and in panic mode without thinking about all the consequences this will cause. Here are some core problems with the Obama administration and democratic leadership's plan:
1) Corporate values and profits are already getting killed in the marketplace and because of heavy debt. Because of decreased values and cash positions, USA companies are already falling into tougher competitive positions in the global economy. Now the USA government wants to take MORE from what little remains...and continue to sap funds out of private and public industry to cover their own huge debts and continued bailouts of their insider buddies.
2) The USA already has one of the highest tax rates in the first world on domestic corporations. Also the USA has historically been a TAX HAVEN for foreign companies, directly inhibiting fair competition with their own domestic corporations. They have done this to induce international investment in the USA and to sustain jobs for Americans. Nothing wrong with that agenda...IF it does not mean making my competitor tax free while I remain in a high tax bracket. It is SO hypocritical of my country to criticize other "tax havens" when they have their own version of the same thing. It is the USA's own historic agenda that caused US companies to go international in order to survive and grow in the first place. Now...because of these foreign successes...the government now wants to paint these companies as "dishonest" or even "traitors" for using the USA's own historic laws and exercising their constitutional freedoms to do business and invest anywhere in the world that seems proper and in their best interests. It is VERY scary to me when you have our elected leaders saying that the success of companies or individuals have somehow been off the backs of the poor and disadvantaged and that now these companies or individuals OWE it to society to give it back. I don't buy all the right orientated bashing these days from media people like Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, but Obama's reasoning and some of his actions are looking more and more like Chavez and other leftist leaders in Latin America. Nationalize the banks and major industries, more heavily tax the productive, and if they don't pay, just take them over. This is a scary shift of reason my friends...and I am sorry to even have to write about it...but I would feel less than patriotic NOT to voice my concerns here.
3) And here is the "coup de grace" of this whole Obama plan...the government will have no "burden of proof" to go after international investors or companies they claim are "hiding" international income or business activity. They are making it the ACCUSED burden to prove they are NOT! Obviously this opens Pandora's box for government witch hunts and politically motivated accusations that can cost Americans and American companies billions of dollars per year just in defending themselves legally from their own government! This is the biggest reversal of constitutional rights I have seen my government try to pass yet, and I still have big problems with the "Patriot Act"! All this is saying to me is that the USA does not want to compete globally in the tax arena. They want to dictate to all Americans and the world at large what the tax rates and size of government will be. It's the old "if you can't win the game, just change the rules". I do hope and believe this would go to the Supreme Court before being a reality...but there again I am now fearing what kind of judges our current leadership will put on the court with the upcoming vacancies.
4) And back to little ole Panama. Justice is not pure here and you can pay for access or verdicts...just like you can in the USA. But so far at least, little Panama has rejected the USA's push for lifting corporate and banking privacy. From what I'm reading so far, the reason the USA has not ratified the free trade agreement with Panama is because of this rejection by Panama of USA pressures to join them in taxing the living daylights out of everyone in sight. Panama smartly realizes that without their banking and corporate advantages over the USA, they would just be rolled over competitively by US market makers.
This is a panic play by the USA...and I hope sooner than later calmer, more legal minds will prevail and pursue some better ideas like...
1) Give the markets and free enterprise a chance to sort out the current challenges to productivity and debt. Get the government OUT of the markets.
2) Quit giving all the funds to the failed enterprises and political mucky mucks...and instead give it to small business and individuals to grow more PRODUCTIVITY in order to survive.
3) Yes...let the large failed institutions be cut up and bought out by smaller enterprises and the new leaders of the future America.
4) Please, let the markets find their natural "bottom" so we can start rebuilding on real numbers and factoring instead of supporting false expectations based on government bailout funds...which are on fumes. With the government in the way, there is no way to get a real value on current corporations and/or assets.
5) Most importantly, don't kill the one productive milk cow just because YOURS died. Pay a fair price for the next calf and wait for it to grow. Otherwise you will kill the whole system. America and its government needs to re-build slowly and effectively, not by robbing and stealing from its own people or the international community.
President Obama...get with President Martinelli. It might be good for the whole international community and the future of America.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Over the weekend I finally got my Argentina photos sorted and posted a travelogue of photos online. Click HERE if you want to take a peak.
My time there was mixed between business and tourism. I would say it was a nice balance. I had thought two weeks might be too long to be gone and exploring these new countries...but actually it went by fast and I left many places to be discovered in the future. Also hopefully next trip will be with my faithful partner who spent her time in Bogota instead while I was gone.
Argentina is very different from every other Latin country I have visited or lived in. I look at it as a unique crossroads between Europe and Latin America. Buenos Aires itself has so much European architecture and style...and not just Spanish. There is a lot of Italian and French influence as well throughout this fine city.
I had perfect weather almost the whole two weeks. I think there was one cloudy day with light sprinkles in BA (Buenos Aires)...otherwise it was usually sunny and very comfortable in the low 70s by day and down into the low 60s at night. Sweaters or light jackets were the mode at night. This is their fall season...going into the winter...which is just opposite of our seasons in North America. But...they hardly ever get snow that sticks on the ground...so if I have to do winter somewhere, this is my kind of winter. No shoveling...
The food...well, the standard cuisine fits right into my comfort food zone. Steak and cheeses along with fine wines are the standard mode here morning, noon and night. They serve ALL the great parts of domestic meat products...the kidneys, beef heart, tongue...it's all good in Latin America and especially in Argentina. A great steak and a half bottle of wine you will be hard pressed to spend more than $20 on. And a majority of these people are in good physical shape. You don't see the level of obesity that you do in North America or even here in Panama. I think they eat much less starches and are walking testimonial as a culture to the "Atkins Diet".
While there is plenty of traffic and congestion especially during rush hours, BA is chock full of parks and wide pedestrian thoroughfares that can get you across the city comfortably and safely at all hours of the day. There are lots of motor scooters and cycles along with a reasonable amount of bicycles that traverse the city instead of cars. Motorcycles and bikes seem to have free parking everywhere just like Panama, so as a motorbiker it is my kind of city.
There are trash cans everywhere and all the parks and plazas looked completely manicured and taken care of on a daily basis. There are lots of trees in the city compared to most big cities I have known...and of course it is always nice to have a major body of water like the Rio Plata that runs to the Atlantic ocean and provides a huge ocean port and water views from many parts of the city.
The service levels were far superior than Panama and Costa Rica where I have lived the past almost decade, though it would not be as consistent as most areas of North America. There seems to be good infrastructure for electricity, telcom and internet. I was able to "rent" a phone chip at the airport for local connectivity for $30 plus time for 2 weeks. Wireless broadband was plentiful in the public cafes to your private hotel room. Public transportation was plentiful with clean newer buses than I am used to, and taxis that all have working meters and normally friendly conversant chauffeurs...once again, a refreshing change from Panama or Costa Rica.
My peak experiences were the San Telmo neighborhood Sunday antiques market and a couple of the museums. The San Telmo Sundays have been going forever it seems and there were lots of interesting goods to be observed, musicians playing on every corner, living statues in elegant outfits, and a variety of food and drink for the masses. The "Recoleta" cemetery was very intriguing to me as was my personalized tour of the Jewish synagogue and museum. Since the 1860s the Jewish population has been very significant in the growth and expansion of Argentina as a culture and as a market. Interestingly, their population has shrunk from over 500,000 25 years ago to less than half that now. Many of the younger Jews have moved back to Israel or to other markets that have maybe had more stability economically than Argentina. The biggest factor has been the obliteration of the textile industries and mills which used to be more rampant in Argentina and run by the Jewish community.
Some of the negative you learn about Argentina over time is it's erratic economic and political pasts...which tend to go hand in hand. Historically there has been too much military oversight of this country and culture. To replace that, you now see huge government compared to the overall size of the population and economy and a significant tendency towards a socialistic system (of course we now see the USA going that direction as well). Apparently syndicates and labor laws make Argentina a difficult place to do certain kinds of business. For this reason many industries and wealthy people have left Argentina...if only to go over the border to smaller but more manageable Uruguay. Overall you see in their history a tendency to want strong monarchistic rule versus democracy...and this cultural fact alone would give me great pause to ever move here permanently. But...if you have all the money you need and don't have to work or do business in Argentina, it might be just what the doctor ordered for many people. I know a lot of famous Hollywood types have invested and/or live part time in Argentina...like Robert Duvall who reportedly married an Argentine lady and spends half his time in Argentina when not on a project.
I also got to know personally some of the key polo people in Argentina. Argentina is the global epicenter of Polo, the sport of "kings". Apparently the best polo horses and riders/players are found throughout the more than 40 polo clubs in Argentina. Some of the people I met with are trying to develop their sport in Panama now as a potential and natural site for centralized competition throughout the Americas. I have a lot of reasons for wanting this to happen.
So, in short summary, if you like being around attractive people, lots of hustle and bustle that seems to have a semblance of organization to it, and a wide variety of food and spirits and Tangos in the street...Buenos Aires and Argentina could be YOUR kind of place. I will be back, and hopefully get to know Cordoba and a couple other famous zones in Argentina I have yet to discover.