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Presidential Budget Balancing January 31, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : The Chip , add a comment

Presidential SealCongress has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness, as a body, to actually balance our budget. As such, almost every year our government spends more than it takes in via taxes, resulting in a huge national deficit.

If you have a job, and you pay bills, then you know that you simply cannot do this forever. If you are a normal person, you end up in bankruptcy and lose your house and credit rating. If you are a country, your economy fails and your citizens struggle to make ends meet with virtually worthless bits of whatever it is that you try to hold forth as currency. Maybe your leaders make things pretend to work for a few years, or even a few decades, but eventually things go wrong. Eventually the people “inherit” their share of the debt run up by their leaders, in the form of joblessness, runaway inflation, economic failure, and bloody wars over foreign resources.

I have a suggestion, for our President, whoever that is now or might be in the future. When Congress hands you an unbalanced budget — again — then take a look at the projected actual tax revenue. Compare that with the budget. Issue an executive order to every department of the federal government, requiring them to reduce their expenditures by the exact percentage of the national shortfall. Every department, every agency, every office, every single money-spending aspect of our federal government.

This would force Congress to reallocate the overall expenditures to fit their real desires/mandates. If Senator John Doe wants his program to have $50 billion to spend, but the overall budget is 10% off, then he will have to argue enough to cut the overall budget so much that it is 10% lower overall in order to protect his program. Alternately, he can argue to boost his program to something on the order of $55.5 billion without any change to the rest of the budget. If his program is so important that the rest of Congress agrees, then he will get his way. Otherwise, his program is cut by 10% like every other program. Of course, if he manages to raise his program’s expenditure without any offsetting cuts to the overall budget, then the overall budget exceeds the tax revenue by an even greater percentage, and his program gets an even deeper cut. Back to the drawing board, and the negotiations!

The sad fact is that if this approach works, it will only hold us at our current level. We will remain in debt, and continue to pay 10-20% of our tax revenue as mere interest on our existing debt. That is, for every $100 you pay in taxes, $10-$20 goes to pay interest on our existing debt without actually improving our situation. Thus, what the President really needs to do is to reduce expenditures of the executive agencies by at least slightly more than the shortfall in projected revenue. If we are projected to be 10% short in tax revenue, then the President might choose to reduce all federal spending by 11%, for example.

Earmarks not voted by Congress January 28, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : The Chip , 1 comment so far

I was watching the President’s State of the Union Address tonight, sort of, in the background while I worked on a writing project. Maybe he said something else interesting, but the first thing I have ever heard him say that I really liked and that I thought was a really smart move was something along these lines:

“Today I am issuing an executive order forbidding the agencies of the United States government from carrying out any earmark provision not voted upon by Congress.”

That seems like a really clever way to try to force Congressional members to stop slipping unread, unapproved clauses into bills, at the last minute, without the knowledge of the rest of the legislative body. I hope it works, somehow.

Cooking for One, Hitting Your Head January 27, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : The Chip , 1 comment so far

There are many little reminders that life alone is very different from living with others. One of those differences is driven home nearly every evening, yet continues to plague me. For almost six years, I regularly cooked meals for myself, my estranged wife, and her two children (both prior to me). For months now, I have been cooking for myself alone (excepting when friends are over). However, it is still an ongoing adjustment to cook dinner for one, rather than four. Often I find myself with absurd amounts of leftovers, as once again I fail to reduce the quantities sufficiently. Other times, I find myself cooking odd dishes that don’t work out, because with no one else there to risk leaving hungry I get more creative than I probably should.

Occasionally, I am faced with harsher reminders. Thankfully these are as rare as they are disconcerting. A couple of days ago, I realized I had foolishly forgotten to grab a clean towel before hopping into the shower. Rushing out of the bathroom, I snagged a fresh one from the laundry, and raced back into the bathroom to avoid getting even more water on the carpet of my house. As soon as I hit the bathroom floor, my feet slid from under me. Luckily, this time, I managed to catch myself as my head lurched directly towards the edges of my sink-cabinet. Still, a few of my abused muscles protested for the rest of the day, and I could not help but imagine myself lying unconscious and bleeding on the floor with no one around to realize that anything was wrong.

Obviously neither of these points are important to the grand scope of the world. They are just little things which run through my mind occasionally, as I adjust to a solo life again. I try to remind myself that adjusting to having a family was pretty freaky sometimes, too.

The world keeps changing… January 24, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : The Chip , add a comment

Sometimes the world changes in ways which are invisible or surprising to us. Other times, it changes in ways that we somehow manage to read clearly, yet everyone around us asserts that we are seeing changes that are not there. With your own predictions stacked against the opposing visions of numerous people, many of whom seem more knowledgeable than you, it is easy to subvert your own gut instincts. Today, I watched one of those changes that I previously saw clearly, but was assured was not going to happen, revealed as foresight after all. Maybe this has happened to you before, and you understand what I mean. It is an odd feeling, eh?

Snowing in Atlanta January 19, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : The Chip , 1 comment so far

snowflakeFor some people this is not such a rarity, but living here in Atlanta (since 1999), it is rare to see it snow. This week, we have gotten snow twice—Wednesday night and today! Coming from Virginia, the snows here do not usually seem particularly impressive in comparison, but I am rarely in Virginia anymore. It just sort of feels more like “home” when it snows at least a little bit in the winter. Thankfully, in Atlanta snow doesn’t usually last long enough to be a real nuisance either.

The snowflake graphic is from my Apple laptop’s OS X icons.

Company and Roses January 15, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : The Chip , 3 comments

Tonight contained another painful reminder that my estranged wife Rachel left last June because of us fighting about her interactions with other men.

Okay, first a little context. My estranged wife keeps asking that I maintain contact with her youngest daughter, Deva. Deva is not my child, but she thinks she is. Someday, surely, she will be told this, and hopefully it will not adversely affect her. I still have love for her mother – my estranged wife – and the little one. But trying to make the little one happy has been very difficult for me.

I talked to Deva again tonight, and again she inadvertently broke my heart. She sounded really excited that I called her, but she immediately wanted to follow up on our most recent discussion.

Half a week ago, she said to me something like, “I want you to talk to mommy, and make her happy, so we will come home.” Then, during that previous conversation, she literally put me on the phone with her mom and demanded that we talk. I explained the situation to Rachel, with an unfortunately predictable lack of results. When I asked about the current status of things, Rachel said she had been busy and had recently had company. She left it all vague and ugly like that.

Deva desperately wants us to be a family again, but Rachel seemingly has no desire to settle things in any positive manner. Rachel continues to assert something along the lines that she is “more concerned about Deva being happy than she is about being happy herself.” Given that Deva wants us to be a family, and Rachel apparently wants something else, I don’t see that as anything but self-serving nonsense.

Tonight, when I called to speak to the little one (she is 5 years old, 6 years old in April), her first question to me was “What did mom say when you talked to her?” I had to tell her that her mother did not want to talk about coming home. Then she went on to tell me that “Dan” had been visiting her mom for 6 days and 3 weeks (obviously she is confused), and that her mom had just taken him to the airport to go to “Canada” so she couldn’t ask her mom about coming home. (See, Dan lives in California, and Shaun lives in Canada, and my estranged wife was having inappropriate interactions of some sort – whether by internet, by phone or in person – with both of them even before she left. Deva is as bewildered as I am.) She also said that “Dan” had given her mom a rose, and had stayed with them, and that he had given her some bubble bath.

I am unsure what the reality of the situation is, but that has been happening to me for some time now. I feel really bad for Deva, as she is stuck in a position where she loves a “father” that is not really her father, and lives with a mother that is more concerned about maintaining secret relationships of some kind or other with multiple men than she is with maintaining some sort of stable family unit for her daughters (Kira and Deva).

I will probably rewrite this, or delete it, as I am confused and really upset by the situation. My estranged wife said she wanted a divorce, so I filed for one in November, but she has sat on the papers for a long time without returning them. Yet, it seems like the only thing she wants from me is for me to pretend to be Deva’s dad, while she continues her other activities. Every time I try to keep contact with the little one, who is absolutely delighted when I call on the phone, I get these painful jabs in return.

I have a recent poem about the situation in my Pathos category of my blog.

Swiftboating January 6, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : The Chip , 2 comments

On January 3rd, the state of Iowa held its presidential caucuses. Senator Barack Obama won 38% of the Democratic caucus votes, with John Edwards coming in at 30% and Hillary Clinton at 29%. Early polls for the upcoming New Hampshire primary suggest that Obama is in a similarly leading position. As the proud owner of an Obama for 2008 t-shirt, I have a fairly specific hope for the future of my country. However, I have a fairly specific fear, as well. I imagine the dirty tricks machines waiting in the wings, ready to manufacture whatever garbage they think might stick in the media.

In the prior election, the Swift Boat Veterans “for Truth” ran advertisements which falsely demeaned the military service of presidential candidate John Kerry. Kerry served in Viet Nam, but returned home to protest against the continuation of the war. Whether you agree with his protest against the war or not, it is a fact that peaceful protest is his right as an American. Whether you agree with his protest against the war or not, the decision by a tiny handful of “conservative” veterans to issue fraudulent statements for the purpose of smearing Kerry for Republican political gain is a matter of moral failure. George W. Bush never was man enough to denounce the false attacks, either, despite the fact that Republican John McCain did so.

Evidence suggests that the SBVT group misrepresented Kerry and his service in Viet Nam in order to create a negative ad campaign designed to destroy his political career. I am not a fan of the overuse of our military, and I think that trying to destroy a patriot for having humane feelings is bullshit.

If you are interested in the subject of negative political ads, you might be able to catch a rerun of the recent CNN documentary, “Campaign Killers,” but don’t be surprised if it is one of those stories about which you cannot help but form a strong opinion (one way or the other) once you have watched it. What bothers me most, however, is the fact that dirty trick operators are willing and able to fraudulently manipulate national elections without consequence.

Given that these people are using publicly sanctioned airwaves, it seems to me that they should be bound to the same “truth in advertising” laws which bind commercial entities. In fact, I don’t see how political groups can even vaguely argue that they shouldn’t be bound to the same rules as the rest of us. We should be punishing these false advertisers every time they use our public airwaves to propagate their lies and tricks. Whether you share my hope that Obama wins, or you have some other candidate in mind, I hope you share my belief that advertisers should not be allowed to lie on public airwaves. Better yet, I hope something will be done about it.

The New Year January 1, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : The Chip , add a comment

As the last seconds of 2007 ticked away, my friends raced to get a TV to actually show the ball dropping in Times Square. We were all at a New Year’s Eve party, held by my friend Mike Todd, and people were spread around the house—drinking, eating, talking, playing video games, and generally having a good time. New experiences and general merriment joined with old friends and new. I had “white chili” for the first time (and it was vegetarian), and Jeff Bishop brought a bottle of Feckin Irish Whiskey specifically because it had an amusing name (someone at the party said it wasn’t that great, but as I am not a whiskey drinker it tasted pretty much like any other whiskey to me).

As the last minutes of the year fled, we were all distracted. Suddenly somebody realized that about 2 minutes were left in the year, and most of us rushed to catch the Times Square ritual. Guitar hero players were encouraged to finish that last game (which I think was being played by Melvin Davis’s girlfriend Tacha), and remote controller comedy ensued. Eventually, the familiar images of Times Square filled the screen, and about 4 seconds remained, 3, 2, 1… Happy New Year!

We returned to other activities, a fire was lit in a low brazier-like contraption on the back porch, and we laughed that we had barely watched that particular ritual. In retrospect, describing the evening doesn’t make it sound super exciting, maybe because it lacked the stereotype White Wolf absurdities. It was fun, however, and it was what every holiday should be: time spent enjoying the company of friends and/or family. I had been surrounded by friends and co-workers for the entire evening, and (perhaps miraculously) scarcely gotten tipsy in the process.

Eventually, sometime after 2 a.m., I drove home to get some sleep. Awhile after I woke up, I carried out another, more Southern, new year’s ritual. I don’t buy into the superstition of this one, but nonetheless, it is tradition: black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, collard greens and corn bread. (The exact choice of greens is apparently controversial/regional, but a kind old lady at the store on the 31st assured me that I simply must get collard greens.) I cooked them all up and had a nice late brunch. It is still strange cooking for one, even though my estranged wife and her kids have been gone since June at this point.

Reflecting on the past year, and the bad times it brought, makes me pretty sad. It is time to look ahead, though. It is a new year, and last night’s New Year’s Eve party was a reminder that I have good friends and a good job, and that the future holds better times for me.