The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘driving’

BE AFRAID–BE VERY AFRAID

What is the most fundamental right of citizenship in the United States?  If you answered, the right to collect a stipend from the Federal government you get the gong.  According to the USCIS (The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) the correct answer is the right to vote.

USCIS is the agency that is responsible for making sure that immigrants who apply for citizenship have an understanding of our government and are qualified to become new members of American society.  One of the requirements for citizenship is that these individuals be able to pass a test, taken from a field of one hundred questions.  They are asked ten which are randomly selected and must answer at least six correctly.

It seems reasonable that we want new citizens to be thoughtful and understand the way in which our country operates.  If voting is indeed the most fundamental right (and we’ve amended the Constitution four times to deal with this issue) then it certainly makes sense that we want an informed electorate to participate in that process.

I have posted the link to the list of potential questions below and if you review them you will certainly have no difficulty answering them.  In fact, any high school graduate should be able to answer them – because by the time they are graduating they typically have gained the eligibility to vote.

http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/blinstst_new.htm

I am fully confident that everyone who regularly reads this blog would score close to 100% on this test.  Congratulations!  And if you watch the video below you will realize that you are smarter than the average American bear.  Be prepared to be shocked.

http://youtu.be/ogVW8zvEzNg

If you both reviewed the list of questions and watched this video you realize that all of the questions in the video were on the list which we might pose to those who want to become naturalized citizens.  And you are also aware that the native born Americans in the video had, with one exception, great difficulty answering them.

So this leads me to a thought.

If you hold the designation, “General Securities Representative” in the financial services industry, the SEC mandates that you have to pass a continuing education exam and be certified that you are current in your knowledge of the business.  Passing that exam is required every two years.

If you hold a driver’s license, you will periodically be required to take an eye examination, a written test and perhaps a road test to make sure that your skills still meet that state’s requirements to be designated a safe and knowledgeable driver and should be allowed to continue the privilege of operating a motor vehicle.

If we require a “literacy taste on American government” of those who aspire to American citizenship, is it unreasonable to expect that those of us who, through accident of birthplace, should not meet those same standards?   Passing this test should be simple since we should have absorbed most of this information through osmosis if not through our school studies.

The USCIS is correct in saying that the “most fundamental right of citizenship is the right to vote.”  But they omitted one very important phrase which I would add to the end of their statement.  That phrase is, “in an informed manner.”

I would like to credit the genesis of this post to Rick to whose blog I subscribe.  I would have re-blogged the post which served as inspiration but was unable to find a way to do that from his site.  He has put up some very insightful posts and I would urge you to visit him at http://billericapolitics.org/.

If the people who were interviewed in the video are typical of many who will cast their ballots on November 6, 2012, we should all, “Be afraid – be very afraid.”

HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN

It seemed appropriate to drag something out of the musical archives with this song written in 1929.  After all, it was the theme song for FDR in his 1932 presidential win and is also the somewhat “unofficial” song of the Democratic party.  And it is to their current standard bearer, President Obama to whom we turn.  The subject of this post is the price of gasoline.

You may remember an earlier post in which I suggested that I would not be surprised to see gasoline hit $5.00 per gallon during the summer.  I am glad to report that I may have erred to the high side.  The most anyone has reported paying is a friend who has homes both in California and Las Vegas and said that she had paid over $4.50 per gallon.

But the price of both oil and gasoline have declined significantly over the past six weeks.  Oil topped out at $110 a barrel and is now trading in the low $80’s.  The highest price I saw for mid-grade – my car’s beverage of choice – has dropped from about $4.05 to $3.88 or thereabouts.  I expect to see a few more cents’ decline as this week moves forward.

Now what is the cause of all this movement in the petroleum market?  Perhaps you remember that about three or four weeks ago, President Obama stormed out to give a speech on the very subject.  It was an important speech and if you do not remember it that is probably because he has delivered twenty or so more important speeches since then.

Well, to recap the President’s remarks, “We have high gas prices because the market is being manipulated by speculators.”  He went on to promise to put an end to this dirty-dealing by hiring more investigators for the CFTC – the agency which oversees commodities trading – and to root out all evil-doers.

Perhaps you have seen the Federal government in action (or is that inaction).  Surely you realize that an administration which left hundreds of “important positions” open for almost six months after taking office, cannot possibly already have hired these new protectors of our welfare.  So what has caused the decline in the price of oil and the amount we pay at the pumps?

They do say that politics makes strange bedfellows.  I think that the President can say, “Thank you first and foremost to Greece and Spain.”  Oh yes, there’s that other thing called a free market – but I would not expect the President to acknowledge that.

One final thought.  If it were true that speculators drove up the price of oil and gas – why is it not equally credible that they drove it down as well?  I’ll let you know when the President is ready to acknowledge them in another important speech.

In the meantime, we can all rejoice and sing a few choruses of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

JUST MORE GAS

Recently Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) spearheaded a letter-signing campaign whose signatories include 68 Members of Congress.  The impetus for the good Senator’s efforts is a report produced by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank that, after five years of study, suggest that 15% of the increase in the price of gasoline is due to “excessive speculation.”

As a result of this extensive study, Sen. Sanders is pushing for the CFTC, the federal agency that oversees (one could argue – overlooks) commodity trading to reduce the limit of the number of gasoline contracts that any one individual or institution could hold in order to curb this excess.  Sen. Sanders wants that agency to move faster than their time schedule in evaluating this (they planned on a one year study to accumulate data) – but that is not fast enough for the senator from Vermont.

The CFTC has shown itself to be rather ineffective in curbing “speculation.”  Take the case of MF Global (headed by former NJ Governor and Senator, Jon Corzine).  Here’s a case of a mere $1.6 Trillion missing-in-action which has still gone undiscovered since MF Global mentioned they had a “shortfall” on October 30, 2011.  Amazingly, no one has yet to be charged in this massive fraud.  Compare that with the swiftness the way the fraudsters in Enron were charged.  Some of you who are cynical would perhaps allege that CFTC Chairman Brad Chilton, a Democrat is offering preferential treatment to one of the former leading lights in his party – but I dismiss that as mere conspiracy theory combined with a smattering of political name-calling.

As you may be aware, the Federal Reserve does some of the most profound and excellent research in the world of economics.  You may also be aware that it has a dual-mandate – to set monetary policies to promote “full employment” – (currently in excess of 8%) and to reign in inflation.  (Those of you who purchase groceries or gasoline which have respectively increased by 25% – 30% and 35% – 40% during the last year may decide how good a job they are doing at that).

Of course one of the ways that government reports these inflationary pressures is to report them ex-food and energy.  By those measures the Fed is doing a good job – so much so that our elderly citizens received a 3.6% increase in their Social Security benefits this year – the first increase in three years.  (Interestingly, all Federal employees received an annual cost of living pay increase in each of the three years in which Social Security recipients were over-looked).

But back to Sen. Sanders’ letter.  Let’s assume that the Fed got it exactly right and that 15% of the price increase is due to excessive speculation.  Okay, by my math that leaves 85% of the price increase due to other factors.  Wouldn’t it be more productive to focus our attention to the overwhelming majority of the cause of the problem rather than addressing the periphery?

In the 1980’s with the oil embargo we saw long lines at the gas pumps.  There were days when you could pump gas (if the station had any) based on whether your license plate ended in an odd or even number.  There was a true shortage of imported oil and consequently of gasoline.  So the Congress did something intelligent (did I actually say that?)

They reduced the speed limit on federal highways to 55 mph.  The estimate was that this reduced gas consumption by over thirty percent – twice the amount that “speculation” accounts for under the St. Louis Fed study.  I have yet to hear either Sen. Sanders or anyone else in Congress or the White House offer that simple solution in today’s economic climate.  Why?

But even assuming that implementation and assuming further that the CFTC does enact new rules regulating gasoline “position limits” which actually save us fifteen percent of the impetus in increasing gasoline prices – that still leaves us with 55% of the problem unaccounted for.  What could be the cause of that majority remainders?  Simple.  Lack of a cohesive and well-thought  out and defined energy policy.

We have talked about formulating a comprehensive energy policy for twenty years.  Co-incidentally, Sen. Sanders has served that amount of time in Congress currently as a senator and previously as congressman.  I have done my best to try to review the legislation which Sen. Sanders has introduced during his twenty years of service and have yet to find an energy conservation bill which was authored by the gentleman from Vermont.

Although we have a superfluity of natural gas we are barely utilizing it and CNG is at historic lows in prices.  Switching our utilization of fossil fuel energy to natural gas could significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and benefit consumers.  But other than T. Boone Pickens – a man who has spent his whole life in the energy business – no one is talking about this untapped resource.

It would be too simplistic to believe that Sen. Sanders’ motivation in finally making some waves over “over-speculation” is motivated by his making points with the voters of Vermont as he seeks re-election on November 6th.  But if I were a voter in the  “Green Mountain State” I would be asking him for his vision of an energy policy for the country.  In fact, that’s an excellent question to ask all our representatives and senators.  Otherwise, their output is “just more gas.”

MORE ON DRIVING AND TEXTING

A gentleman commented on yesterday’s post which was entitled “Text While You Drive”.  He thought that my suggestion that we ought to encourage people to text while they drive, allowing the laws of natural selection to wipe them out through their foolish behavior was “terrible … but funny.”  (I truly do have the bumper sticker pictured on my car).  I think of it as “dark humor” or irony.

Those who know me think of me as one of the gentlest people they have ever met.  None of my neighbors has ever heard me raise my voice in anger – because I am virtually never angry at anyone or anything.  One friend likes to describe me as “an old soul” – sometimes with a bit more emphasis on the “old” part than I would prefer.  I know she means it as a compliment.

I believe that reason, common sense and civility are far more effective in persuading people to a point of view than are anger and invective.  That is my modus operandi and has been for many years.

If you read either my profile or some earlier entries on this blog (including yesterday’s) you understand that I believe that we must take personal responsibility for our actions and not rely on “big brother government” to enact regulations intended for our “benefit”.  So it will probably surprise you that I am advocating yet another government regulation – but one that I think would actually be beneficial.

The statistics are very clear.  Distracted driving is by far the major cause of traffic accidents and fatalities – exceeding even drunk driving.  Logic would suggest that if we were to reduce the amount of distracted driving (texting and holding a cell phone to your ear while operating a vehicle) we would see a reduction in the number of vehicular accidents and deaths on our streets and highways.  Bravo!  Good idea.

However, the problem with passing a law making it illegal to engage in those activities, while it makes us feel warm and fuzzy and feel that we are addressing the problem, is that it is unenforceable – making the law worthless.

Fortunately, I have a simple solution.  This should appeal to everyone with the exception of three groups:  1) People who feel above the law and want to continue making calls or send texts while driving; 2) Owners and employees of auto repair body shops and; 3) Personal Injury lawyers.  Yes, even our politicians can endorse this idea without fear of voter backlash.

Thanks to Steve Jobs and others, most of us are now equipped with “smart phones”.  These little devices can tell us where we are and how to get home … well you’re probably more conversant than I as to their capabilities since I only acquired my first smart phone last month.  So far I have figured out how to accidentally end a phone call but have yet to explore much of its potential.  (Unfortunately, I do not have any 10 year olds at home who could explain its more advanced features to me).

So here’s the proposal.  Congress passes a law called the “Pay As You Go Surcharge”. (PAYGOS).

Since cell phones know where you are they should also be able to tell the rate of speed at which you are moving (or if not, that modification should be easy to make by the engineers who designed them).

If you attempt to text someone and are moving at 10 miles an hour or more, a warning would show up on your phone’s screen, “There will be a $2.50 surcharge for completing this message.”  The recipient would also be advised, “There will be a $2.50 surcharge for accepting this message.”  On the theory that texting is 10 times as dangerous as completing a voice call – the surcharge for completing voice calls would be $.25 to both parties.

The revenues collected from those who continued to text and call while driving would be required to be used to pay down the national debt and for no other purpose.  (As I said, even the politicos could get behind this).

Washington has spent so much time talking about deficit reduction without doing anything about it.  This proposal is a way to turn talk into real debt reduction.  Perhaps this is far too simple to get the attention of our lawmakers.  I hope not.

CommSenseBmprStck5596

TEXT WHILE YOU DRIVE

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One of my favorite childhood memories was going with one or both of my parents to Central Park which was about a half mile from our apartment. When I discovered the swings, I would amuse myself for hours, always trying to see if I could go high enough to touch a cloud.

Of course, we had to cross a number of streets to get to the park. I remember, as clearly as if it were just yesterday that when we would get ready to cross a street, my parents would take my hand in theirs and then they would say, “Now we wait until the light turns green. That means we can go. But even though the light is green, you must look both ways to make sure that there are no cars coming.” I heard this a thousand times or more – and it sunk in.

Even at a young age I had seen an auto wreck or two and I realized that if cars got bent out of shape as the result of an accident, I would have no chance whatever if I were hit by one. So I took my parents advice to heart and to this day I wait for the green light and look both ways. It’s simply a matter of common sense.

Now I guess my parents could have said, “If you cross the street when the light is red, you are violating a municipal ordinance and could be charged a fine.” That explanation would, of course, have been totally lost on me. A lot of regulations are lost on me.

For example, this morning I went to take some clothes out of the plastic bags from which they were returned by the cleaners. Now I know that this warning has been on these bags for at least 20 years – probably more – but this morning I actually read it.

Here’s what it said:

(Recycle symbol) WARNING-TO AVOID DANGER OF SUFFOCATION, KEEP AWAY FROM BABIES AND CHILDREN. THIS BAG IS NOT A TOY. (Then there was another symbol – probably the insignia of the department that issued the warning – though I couldn’t make out any details even under magnification).

Let’s think about it. Does our government believe that we are so incredibly stupid that they believe there is a need to place this warning on all these bags? Apparently so. But the problem is that if an adult were that dumb, he or she is probably not going to pay attention to it anyway. And the people whom the warning is intended to protect, babies and children can’t read it!

The only useful information on this warning was that the plastic was recyclable (which I already knew). In fact, I was removing it from the garments so that I could include it in my next recycling pickup.

As a response to this kind of “govthink” I have created my Text While You Drive bumper sticker which I am proudly displaying on the rear of my vehicle. I believe I am doing all intelligent American drivers a service by allowing the laws of natural selection to thin the ranks of those who drive irresponsibly – thus making it safer for the rest of us.

(No government intervention necessary, thank you).

CLICK-IT OR TICKET

Whether it’s you or the government it’s clear that we all have limited resources. In order to be a success in life we have to make sure that our expenditures do not exceed those resources. So when the “Click-It or Ticket” campaign resumed on TV, I began wondering about whether this was a good use of my dollars as a taxpayer. I decided it was not.

If you’re not familiar with this campaign – it is designed to warn drivers that if they do not wear their seat belts while driving they are going to get arrested and fined. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable way to protect the driving public from themselves and from others. But let’s look below the surface.

There is no doubt that people die while operating a motor vehicle. In 2010 almost 33,000 Americans died while in their vehicles according to the National Highway Transportation Agency’s official report. In addition, many more thousands were injured – some seriously – because of vehicular accidents. So it seems logical that government – operating in our best interest – would enforce laws and encourage conduct which reduce the number of those fatalities. Let’s examine this situation more closely.

There are certain laws of physics which even the government cannot override. One of those is that when two vehicles attempt to occupy the same space at the exact same moment in time, a crash will occur. That is true whether neither, one or both of the drivers of those vehicles is wearing a seat belt. That’s a fact – plain and simple. People die in car accidents because of the accident. At best, wearing a seat belt might mitigate the effect of the accident – but in no way does it eliminate the cause of the potential tragedy – the accident itself. Let’s put it another way.

SEAT BELTS DON’T SAVE LIVES. ATTENTITIVE, COURTEOUS, LAW-ABIDING DRIVERS AVOID ACCIDENTS AND SAVE LIVES.

You probably heard about one of the reasons for the financial meltdown of 2008. It was that Wall Street had engaged in trading “derivative” instruments. Wall Street was taken to task for engaging in these dangerous practices. 

Wearing a seat belt is a “derivative” intended to ameliorate the underlying problem. The problem is that there are a lot of dangerous drivers on the road and our law enforcement agents are simply not doing their job in arresting them – making it safer for those of us who are responsible when we are behind the wheel.

Living in Las Vegas I have observed that there is very little enforcement of the speed limit laws. And speeding is probably the most significant cause of traffic accidents. Since we have very few Dunkin’ Donuts in town, I’m not sure where the Metro Police are hanging out. They’re obviously not patrolling the streets and arresting speeding violators.

I have tried to monitor this myself. My Volvo is equipped with cruise control which I have used in order to validate my observations. It doesn’t matter whether I’m “cruising” at 35, 45 or 65 – whatever the posted limit is – I cannot go a mile without having at least 10 or more drivers pass me by as though I were going in reverse. They have to be doing at least 15 to 20 miles over the limit – with absolute impunity.

If the police are not arresting these speeders – what is the likelihood that they are going to arrest them for not wearing a seat belt? Zip. Zilch. Nil. Nada. 

So the money that is spent advertising the “Click-It Or Ticket” campaign is just a complete waste of money. But that’s government at its finest.

And there go more of your tax dollars “at work”.

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