3 of 4 Ain’t Bad…

…but I really wish I went 1 of 4.

That’s right.  Back in 2011 I looked forward way forward to what the future would bring. That New Years Eve, I sat on the couch in my friend’s living room and pondered what would be coming in 2012.

I can’t say that it came as a surprise that that Barack Obama was re-elected.  There was no terrible double dip recession.  Big surprise (not!), unemployment dropped below the 8% mark just before the election.  The election was about the economy.  Barack Obama didn’t have to show up, he just didn’t have to suck.  He succeeded.

But enough about the politics, at least for tonight.  I’m writing to let you know, dear reader, (hello?) that there will be more posts coming.  And I promise there will be more posts than in 2012. To that end, I’ve formulated some carrot-and-stick incentives to help me with this.  For example, I will not be able to eat meat until I have posted something substantive.  I’m kidding about that last part, but not about incentivizing myself. If it wasn’t embarrassing and didn’t involve video games, I might inclined to share the specifics.  But not on a public post.

My goal this year, at least with ExDeserto, is to be more than just a talking head that regurgitates week-old news.  That can be a bit too easy. (Conversely, it’s also a bit more difficult too – trying to stay fresh on the news, post the moment there is a breaking story etc, etc.). Instead, I see this blog as taking on more personality.  Again, shouldn’t be hard when measured with the hiatus last year. It’s amazing, already I have practically fulfilled my objectives and it’s only January.  I suppose the best resolutions are the ones that you can finish before you have time to break them.

With that said, I’ll start slow and see if I can’t start to bring back the lonely spam bots that scoured the web and drifted upon this blog.  Hopefully I’ll also be able to find some real people.  If I’m lucky, maybe we’ll even see comments, points, counterpoints, and discussions.

Maybe this will be the year to achieve that one 2011 resolution/prediction I missed.

Are Factions Killing the Republican Party?

I suppose it is both a blessing and a headache that each American has the right to liberty and expression. As Americans, we can disagree with each other and propose policy solutions to social and economic difficulties that develop in what is still a young democracy. While I disagree at times with my left-leaning counterparts, I am confident that we both want what is “right” for America; we have different opinions about how to reach that goal.

A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend about the typical political issues: taxes, entitlements, regulations and health care. While we both agreed that fostering a climate of economic growth was beneficial to a stable society, we disagreed about the means for accomplishing that goal. Our disagreement was quite civil, but it begged a deeper question: how does one go about implementing the means to achieving our individual ends?

One example that comes to mind is the palpable tension between taxation and entitlements. The conservative right oft advocates that lowering taxes would benefit all Americans by incentivizing individuals to make and keep the profits of their risks. But achieving this end requires shrinking the government and ending certain programs that are stifling, expensive, and overbearing, (like, the Department of Education, Energy and maybe the EPA). The liberal left, on the other hand, prefers a more paternalistic attitude toward entitlements. It is – according to many supporters – the government’s obligation to provide for the welfare of its citizens and level the playing field to allow everyone to succeed and contribute according to one’s own financial means. Neither ideology would advocate an absolute direction in one way or the other. Remove taxes and the nation cannot protect itself. Tax too highly, and it and the tax base plummets to zero.

It is axiomatic that our Constitution protects those with divergent opinions. In fact, the Constitution anticipates the possibility of majority power silencing dissent. Individual, enumerated liberties permit citizens to express themselves, and advocate positions – even unpopular minority positions. John Madison, in the Federalist Paper #10, suggests that central to liberty is faction – that is, to encourage diverse viewpoints and interests to prevent any one position from becoming too strong and swallowing the minorities. Rather that eliminate factions, they should be encouraged.

The Federalist Papers #10 explains that:

Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

If the majority could squash out competing viewpoints using the machinery of government, democracy would be a fraud. For all its failings, democracy has served well here in America for the past two hundred years. It isn’t to say that the country has always done the right thing, but it has taken steps to correct many of its failings from happening again (Japanese internment camps during WWII, infringement on Native American sovereignty, slavery, etc).

But a majority is precisely what is needed implement the changes needed to make our country great. The Democrats have it; the Republicans don’t. The Democrats are largely united in their positions. Certainly differences exist, but by bloc voting, they are largely able to push through legislation that promotes their interests – and supposedly the interests of their constituents. The Republicans on the other hand, cannot seem to find common ground amongst themselves. They have factioned so much that it seems that any sense of unification behind one particular ideology appears naught.

So are factions killing the Republican party?

There lies a tension between idealogical purism and pragmatic realism that conflict the conservatives in the Republican party. Those that hold deeply-rooted conservative values – the tea partiers and the like- want the pendulum to swing as much to the right as it swung to the left over the past number of years. On the other hand, conservatives embroiled in east-coast politics are far less ambitious in terms of policy positions than their purist foils. But the criticism against the pragmatics is simple: there lies little difference between pragmatic conservatism and pragmatic liberalism. It’s a question of degrees. Absent a significant difference, there lies little motivation for the more traditional conservatives – or even independents – to rally behind such an ideology.

Of course, pragmatic conservatives also criticize the conservative purists as unrepresentative of the nation and unelectable. Absent a compromise between the two factions – perhaps absent another faction – the liberal largesse continues to unveil its imposed vision for America. Well-intentioned as it is, without accountability, steamrolling policy changes run dangerously close to converting democracy to a regime imposing the power of the government oppressively upon its citizens. The pitfall of democracy is that it is theoretically possible to abrogate its provisions and morph it into a more centralized political powerhouse governed by the few.

But another possibility is that citizens may eventually decide that any alternative faction is more beneficial to the one in power. In this sense, factions are not killing the Republican party; factions are providing opportunities to offer an alternative voice the the growing government. Be it tea-partiers, east-coast conservatives or some flavor in-between, democracy – while it still exists – permits its citizens to choose between the status quo or its alternative, whether the alternative is but another shade of gray or a stark contrast to the liberalism currently in power.

Looking Forward

There isn’t like waiting until the eleventh hour to make a decision to post. Indeed, this will be the final post of the 2011. Speaking of not being able to make a decision, I suppose I would fit in fine company were I in Iowa as the final poll predictions are coming out with Romney coming out on top. Still, for Republicans, this has been a roller coaster ride. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rick Santorum actually top the polls in the next couple days.

2011, I feel, was a relatively unremarkable year from an economic perspective. As I posted last year, 2011 was not much different from 2010.

But while I have a few moments, here are my predictions to usher in the New Year.

1) Barack Obama will be re-elected. Let’s face it, if the economy recovers, this will be all but assured.

2) There will not be a double dip recession. If there is a double dip recession before election day – which I sincerely doubt – my first predictions will be shot.

3) Unemployment will drop below 8%. Again, economy.

4) I will post twice a month. At least.

I know, short post. More to come in January. Times two.

Derailing the Cain Train

As recently as this month, I posted on the meteoric rise of Herman Cain. This post here is notable for two reasons. First, of course, it is very, very rare that I will mention one of my prior posts that I wrote earlier in the same month. On average, with only one or two posts a month on various topics, it’s like actually watching lightning strike by referencing another same month post. I probably haven’t done that in nearly two years. Second, it goes to show how quickly a candidate can fall into ill-repute in a matter of weeks. Yes folks, less than three weeks ago, we were looking at King Cain, the GOP frontrunner rivaling Mitt Romney. Now, King Cain has been thoroughly dogged by yet another alleged mistress. Maybe Herman Cain is the Tiger Woods of politics?

Herman Cain supporters no doubt need only point to Ginger White and say: consider the source. She has filed a sexual harassment claim with her employer about ten years ago, declared bankruptcy, has been evicted numerous times, had a restraining order against her for stalking, and sued for libel and defamation. Surely Herman Cain could do better. That said, the Cain Train is likely derailed and (I believe) unlikely to get back on the political fast track for this presidential election.

In the meantime, the new guy on top: unlikely Newt Gingrich. One can only wonder if he will be the next one up on the chopping block. Think: wack-a-mole.

In the meantime, I leave you with this gem from Jon Stewart. I would embed this if I could figure out how, but in the meantime, click the link and watch. It’s only five minutes.

Black Friday’s Encroachment

Has Black Friday swallowed the importance of Thanksgiving?

I understand the motivations for Black Friday shopping. It’s almost a cultural pastime that is practically heralded as a holiday in and of itself. Many people are probably more aware of Black Friday than they are of the start of Advent. In recent years, stores all throughout the country close their doors (and reinforce them with metal rebar) the day before Thanksgiving as they prepare for the onslaught of frenzied shoppers camped outside and anxious to pillage the bounty inside.

From a strictly economic perspective, Black Friday is generally a losing proposition for those wanting to score the big ticket items: TVs, computers, and other electronic widgets. If one arrives at a Best Buy in Anywhere, USA at precisely 5AM, I am assured that any of the door buster item has already been purchased at 5:01AM. The alternative – to wait in line – is also generally a losing proposition unless one comes with camping gear, sterno, blankets, hot chocolate, and company (the latter is of vital importance. Misery loves company). Even then, waiting ten hours to save $200 sounds miserable. Sleep is worth at least $20/hour. Yes, I am speaking from first-hand experience. Last year, I camped outside Target with my dad and sister to score a 42″ LCD TV for $298. It’s mounted in the garage now with all the pomp and circumstance that accompanies hanging a trophy buck in the man cave. Was it worth it? Only with the right company.

This year, however, many stores will be opening their doors at 12:01AM, a minute after Thanksgiving Day.

There was a time, I’m told, where most stores were only open six days a week. The purpose, it was said, was to allow people to spend time with their families. It was called: a day of rest. A blue law. Now, a store not opened on a Sunday is the exception than the norm. With all the hustle and bustle of modern life, the only days where one can guess that a store will be closed is on a federal holiday. Even then, exceptions exist. This year, stores are pushing against the limit of when doors will open. Midnight is the new 5AM.

For a store employee, Thanksgiving becomes synonymous with “Thank God I have a job.” For a consumer, this means no waiting through the wee hours of the night. Of course, this also means possibly skipping the Thanksgiving Day dinner to land a spot in line. Or, quite possibly, it could require pushing up Thanksgiving Day dinner to finish early enough to make it in front of the store. At the very least, Americans should consider holding the turkey if they plan on shopping afterward.

As I sit back, I wonder: with everyone lining up earlier and earlier – has the frenzy to scoop up the best deal taken place of the family shared Thanksgiving Day turkey? If so, how is this negative and what, if anything, should be done about it?

Comments appreciated.

If 9-9-9 Wins, The Republicans Lose

I confess, I am astounded by the meteoric rise of Herman Cain. I suppose Romney turns off many conservative voters, understandably so. I can’t say that I’m surprised though. I am sure I probably mentioned this before (I’m just not prepared to dig back three years so check whether I predicted this), but ever since the last election, I have been ridiculously skeptical of anything offered by the GOP, especially when it comes to candidates. There isn’t a single one that excites me; that was true as three years ago as it is today.

I was completely disenfranchised with “Maverick” McCain who seemed to shift his position to the right much more when he was running for office. Even putting Mormonism aside – which a portion of Americans cannot do – Romney’s east coast governing sends shivers down many small-government conservatives.

Now comes Herman Cain touting his 9-9-9 plan. Never mind the plan not being thoroughly vetted and him not having any foreign policy experience. He continues to hold high numbers in the polls. I personally think that if he is elected, the GOP will be solidly thumped in the general election. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan is catchy, but that’s exactly what it is – more of a catch phrase rather than a meritorious, plausible program. But he seems to be capitalizing off the slogan. This morning, while reading the Drudge Report, I came across this advertisement.

myWPEdit Image

If this is the best the GOP has to offer, I submit that November 2012 will be Obama’s election to lose. Even though much hay has been made in the tabloids that no sitting president has won reelection when unemployment has been above above 7.2% with the exception of Reagan. Low approval numbers are also not in Obama’s favor. As mentioned by the Washington Post:

At 43 percent approval in a Gallup poll conducted Oct. 28-30, Mr. Obama recently referred to himself as an “underdog” — with good reason. Of all the presidents since World War II whose job-approval scores were lower than 50 percent one year before Election Day, only one went on to win a second term.

The exception – President Nixon.

But with the circus of candidates in the Republican party, Obama doesn’t need low-employment numbers or high approval numbers. The cards are still in his favor.

Halloween – Fruit or Candy?

As many trick-or-treaters head out tonight to load up on sweets necessary to remain in a semi-permanent sugar high until Thanksgiving (and this whole time, you believed it was the tryptophan in turkey that made people sleepy. Nope, it was the post-Halloween sugar crash.). Meanwhile, in a move that seemed more “trick” than “treat” the White House doled out dried fruit to its attendees. To be fair, White House M&Ms were also included. Happy Halloween America.

Mitt’s Mitt-mentum

The current buffet of Republican candidates could hardly be less appetizing. According to the Miami Herald, America has two options in the current GOP nominating process: Mitt Romney or Not Mitt Romney. In other words, any candidate that has held front runner status – besides Romney – has been quickly relegated to the back of the pack. Parodoxically,Herman Cain, who won the Republican straw poll in Florida, was ripped in the last debate by all the candidates for his 9-9-9 plan. Even “brother” Perry couldn’t help but offer to “bump plans” with him. Still, he has maintained his position near the top of the field. The Western Republican Leadership Conference straw poll saw him edging out Mitt Romney. It’s not so much that people love Cain as it is that the other candidates just aren’t that appealing.

Try as I might, I can’t see him being the GOP candidate. That he’s garnered so much popularity and success with his dark horse status is indicative of the overall discontent that the Americans have displayed toward a potential Obama replacement.

And then there’s Mitt Romney.

He hasn’t been able to generate the enthusiasm to energize the field, but he’s as close as we can come to a generic, bland, Republican candidate.

If Mitt Romney, already the de facto choice for Republican connoisseurs does secure the nomination, he’ll have the advantage of already being thoroughly vetted. Additionally, he can probably win the a portion of the independents. On the other hand, Obama’s political machinery likely has ads already produced and ready to run in case Romney won the candidacy four years ago.

The big question is not whether Mitt Romney will be palatable to the Republican party. Republicans, it seems, would rather have bland if the alternative is not eating. The big question is whether, despite Romney’s blandness, he will have the Mitt-mentum to carry him into the Oval Office.

Is the Election for Obama to Lose?

Much hay has been made over Obama’s low poll numbers.  The July Gallop poll suggests that a generic Republican can beat Obama.  But is this really the case?  For as much as people are dissatisfied with Obama’s promised “change,” I’m not sure that “one-term presidency” is in the cards.  The problem for the GOP is that there isn’t a candidate that anyone particularly likes.  Yesterday, Perry launched negative ads against Romney.  Last month, Ron Paul launched a negative ad against Perry.  Cain picked some obscure issue about Perry’s ranch from about thirty years ago and made headlines.  Welcome to the GOP circular firing squad.  The quest for a candidate almost seems like a gang initiation.  To join, the potential invitee is thrown a blanket party.  Surviving that, the members rally behind the beat up and bruised candidate.  Love hurts.  And this is looking to be a very painful election process.

Any significant swings GOP debate tonight only mark the fluidity of the race.  At the very least, Perry will be worth watching.  He was heralded as the cat’s meow when he first announced his candidacy, and then he tried to debate.  And then  conservatives took a look at his immigration policy.  Amazingly, virtually all the popularity Perry lost, Herman Cain gained.  Herman Cain, has his own issues.  Jon Stewart makes well sure that everyone knows about those too.  While most people are not enthused with Romney, he only needs to focus on not pulling a Howard Dean.  I also wouldn’t joke about being unemployed either.

Listening to the radio on the way in to work today, one disenfranchised voter from New Hampshire didn’t really feel a whole lot of excitement toward any of the candidates.  With primary voters decidedly undecided, one is left to wonder whether the eventually GOP candidate will be received as enthusiastically as Sarah Palin.

The Death of an Innovator

Steve Jobs, the leader of Apple, Inc.

Yesterday, while driving home from work, my iPhone started buzzing.  I signed up for “breaking news” text alerts from AzCentral (perhaps inadvertently because I haven’t found them particularly newsworthy, yet I haven’t bothered to turn them off).  Imagine the shock when I read that Steve Jobs, had passed away.  His death was not particularly unexpected as he had battled with pancreatic cancer since 2003.  His health seemed to turn for the worse when he resigned as Apple’s CEO in late August.  Even with that, I was among many that thought he would likely return at the helm after a period of months.  Even the anemic photo that appeared sometime in September depicting Jobs as gaunt and frail could be dismissed as an anomaly or something expected in the course of cancer treatment.  Not everyone believed that the picture was a precursor to his final exit.

As recently as October 4 when Apple announced the new iPhone 4S, some pundits and many Mac-heads expected Steve to make a guest appearance to announce the revised iPhone or provide some words of reassurance that Apple’s best years still lay ahead.  Alas, this was not the case.  I would not be surprised if Jobs himself lay on his bed and watched the successful keynote.  Perhaps, that keynote allowed him some modicum of closure.  For him, that was his last chapter in a book he charged Tim Cook, the new CEO, with writing.

Of course, this is all speculation.  I have no special knowledge not possessed by the general public.

Steve was a giant that completely revolutionized computers, music, and technology.

I’ve been part of the Mac faithful since the very early 90’s when my dad walked in from school and brought back the Mac Classic (which later evolved into the iMac).  Even when Apple entered the “dark period” of the mid-1990s and the company faltered, our family continued upgrading: the Macintosh Performa, and later the Power Mac 6500.  Oft-criticized by a couple of close friends that had “unparalleled” computer games that were incompatible with my Mac, I couldn’t switch platforms (probably because I had no money, and my dad bought the computers.  I didn’t have a say in it.  I bought or downloaded what few games I could.  Oregon Trail,  Bolo,  Stuntcopter, Command & Conquer, and dozens of now-defunct titles).

I can’t claim that I should somehow feel worse because I’ve been with Apple longer than the majority of consumers, which, by the way, started purchasing Apple products in the last ten years.  It’s just that Steve Jobs had always exuded confidence in his products and the direction of the company.  He developed a cult following that captivated the consumers and both intrigued and frustrated his competitors.  He even strong-armed the entire music industry to fit within the Mac environment.

CEOs lead companies.  Steve Jobs did not fit the ordinary mold of a CEO.  He did not lead the wildly successful computer-turned-technological-giant company so much as he embodied the company whose stock shot up 7000% since championing Apple out of the dark ages.  It seemed that people were loyal to Steve first, Apple second.  For years analysts and shareholders worried about the lack of succession plan if Steve was unable to lead the company he once founded.  It wasn’t until recently that Apple announced its plan about how specifically it would move forward in a post-Steve Jobs world.

Now the time has arrived and with it the challenge to relentlessly innovate walking in part of the shoes of Steve but also progressing in a new, but hopefully equally successful direction.

As I sit with my iPhone at my side and type on my Macbook, I can’t think of a better platform I would rather write this post.  To this, I thank you Mr. Jobs.