Historic Inauguration

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I am going to be upfront at the start of this post.  I am not a registered Republican.  I am not a registered Independent.  I am a registered Democrat.  I have, only once in my voting life, voted for a Democrat for president of the United States.  I do not look at party affiliation when voting but at stance on issues.

Yes, I have a son – one who is somehow a diehard conservative, particularly in terms of fiscal policy – who is in Washington, DC today for the inauguration.  He and approximately 70 people from his school – students and teachers – went down yesterday to experience the inauguration.

I don’t get it.  Yes, I have CNN on in the background.  Yes, I am buying into the “watching history” aspect of the inauguration.  That is where it stops.  I am appalled at the money – even though it is largely donated monies – being spent on this event.  I am appalled at the coverage of this inauguration over others in the past that I recall.  I am just appalled that, in a country that is going down fast, anyone – including a soon-to-be new president – could think that this type of a show is a good idea.  The only good point about this inauguration is that it pumps cash into the economy quickly as opposed the almost 1trillion dollar economic stimulus plan that Obama is pushing.

Amazing Grace – Video

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Yesterday was a huge personality split for me.  I could not decide whether to watch the AFC and NFC Championship games or watch coverage of Washington, DC and pre-inauguration events.

Football won out with the often channel flip during timeouts and commercials.  Today, on the other hand, I was watching the CBS Early Show – a morning ritual in my house, followed today even though there is no school – when they showed the group Il Divo.  The group will be performing at the Purple Inauguration Ball tomorrow night.  Today, they sang “Amazing Grace” on the National Mall.  While I cannot find that particular video online yet, below is the same group singing the same song.

DC Bound

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Today is a federal holiday, a day when schools are closed to honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  My 18 year old son and I were up at 4:30 this morning.  We were out the door and on the road by 5 am.  We were headed to the school.  Most of his fellow students at Maine-Endwell High School were still wrapped in a warm bed, sleeping.  He had his pillow and an overnight bag (duffel bag) and was rather excited to be up and out of the house on his way.

Ben and approximately 70 of his classmates and teachers are headed to Washington, DC at this moment.  They are going down for the historic inauguration of Barack Obama.  Yes, today is early but that is okay.  This trip has a plan. 

Hopefully, they will be in DC by noon time.  It is snowing here and the teacher in charge did send out a text at about 4:35 telling the kids the roads are slick and to plan driving time to the school accordingly.  I think once they get on the highway, the trip will be fine.

Today they have the afternoon at the Smithsonian Museums.  Dinner, tonight, is planned for the Hard Rock in DC.  They will spend the night at the Hilton at BWI.

Tomorrow morning, they are boarding the bus at 2:45 am.  They are heading for the College Park Metro substation.  They will take the metro into DC for the Inauguration.  Only two people in the group – one teacher and one student – have tickets to the actual inauguration.  The rest will line the parade route and watch on jumbo trons on the National Mall.

Can’t wait to hear what they think when they get back!

Peanut Butter Crackers Being Removed from Store Shelves

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Austin and Keebler brand peanut butter crackers are being removed from store shelves according to ABC News.  Both are made by Kellogg’s.  The company says it does not want to take any chances as it does buy peanut butter from the large distributor who is being investigated by the FDA in the recent salmonella outbreak.  The salmonella outbreak has sicked 430 people in 43 states and resulted in five deaths.  Please throw out any of these peanut butter crackers you may have.

Includes Austin® and Keebler® branded Toasted Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Crackers, Cheese and Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, and Peanut Butter-Chocolate Sandwich Crackers.

http://kelloggs.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=230

Obama and the Economy – The Details

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The plan is long and the comments many.  You can read the entire content that has been released here.

I am going to take each section and blog about it separately.  My thoughts come so fast I cannot do the entire plan in one post.  I will start with “IMMEDIATE ACTION TO CREATE GOOD JOBS IN AMERICA.”

  • New American Jobs Tax Credit:  “Details include a temporary tax credit to companies that add jobs here in the United States. During 2009 and 2010, existing businesses will receive a $3,000 refundable tax credit for each additional full-time employee hired.”  The big question here is how does the federal government guarantee these jobs stay in the US.  Yes, the company creates the job here in the US.  They train or start a US person, get the tax credit.  After a year, they ship the job elsewhere to make it more economical as the tax credit is a one time item.  Is there not a way to guarantee that the company has to keep the job in the US for five, maybe ten years? 
  • “Raise the small business investment expensing limit to $250,000 through the end of 2009″  This extends a change to Section 179 expensing limits that expired in December 2008.  I think this is a good idea.  I do have some concerns regarding it, though.  Without banks releasing credit and monies, there is not much to invest with.  Smaller businesses – which, in the plan listed at change.gov, are the target of this portion of the plan – do not necessarily have the money to invest at this point in time.  I don’t know that this portion of the plan will work without additional loosening of credit to businesses in this country.
  • “Zero capital gains rate for investment in small businesses”  What is a small business?  What start-ups qualify for this?  In theory a good idea but I would prefer seeing a few more details in the plan as to who would benefit from this portion.
  • “Save one million jobs through immediate investments to rebuild America’s roads and bridges and repair our schools”  That is what the bulleted portions of the plan says.  If you read the entire back up information, the last line will say “create or save” jobs.  It is one thing to say you will create jobs to help us out of this recession.  Saving jobs is equally important but does not address the huge number of people who are currently unemployed and looking for work.  Also, the plan says “help ensure that in-progress and fast-tracked infrastructure projects are not sidelined.”  These were projects that have already been started.  Finishing them is essential to the infrastructure of this country.  I do not believe this is simply an Obama-Biden plan.  I believe every politician would want to finish what is started.  Obama is simply the one saying we will find the money – although, I am totally unsure where – to finish these projects.
  • “Partner with America’s automakers to help save jobs and ensure that the next generation of clean vehicles is built in the United States”  Obama wants to double the $25 million in guaranteed loans to the automobile industry to help create new technology for vehicles.  I go back to my original stance on the automobile industry.  Money is not the only thing that is needed.  New technology is not the only that is needed.  A new, longer-term vision is absolutely necessary.  If the automobile manufacturers continue to think they way they have, in another 30 years, they will be facing yet another crisis.  While you and I may not have to deal with that – although we will still be alive – someone will.  This industry needs a huge revamping of their management and engineering styles.  They have been providing what the consumer will buy, what the consumer wants.  They need to be providing what the consumer should buy, what the consumer should want.  The industry needs to push the vehicle by putting out there what is not necessarily on the consumer’s shopping list, as opposed to letting the consumer dictate what is designed.          

The State of New York – Part II

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Since I finished my earlier post on part of NY Governor David A Patterson’s State of the State address, I have watch President-elect Obama’s address on the economy and his “bailout” – I mean reinvestment – plan.  I have come to the totally uneducated decision that the DNC must be holding lessons on how to make important speeches and not give anything up.  Another waste of time looking for details occured with the Obama speech, as occurred yesterday with the Patterson speech.

Patterson discussed education and the state of it in NY.  He state that three out of ten high school students do not graduate from high school.  I want some clarification on this statistic.  I am not saying that it is an unreasonable number.  I just want to know if this is a No Child Left Behind number or an actual NYS statistic.  Patterson also indicated that the number is higher if you look at minorities and disadvantaged homes.  Stating the obvious does not make a person smart enough to be in public office.  He proposed a $350 million – I originally heard $35 million and thought that was not a useful amount – student loan program to allow students in NYS to borrow for college when needed.  While this is a tidy sum, I do not see where NYS has the money or the ability to get into the student loan program more than it already is.  Such an agency as establishing the New York State Higher Education Loan Program means more state workforce and more hierarchy involved in the student loan area.  This is the last thing students and their families need. 

When discussing local schools and education, the governor invoked his “we can’t spend more so we have to spend more effectively” quote again.  He realizes that there is no more money to give to local school districts.  What he did not do or discuss was any sort of mandate relief – in specifics – that would help local districts and municipalities lower costs.

In discussing businesses in NYS, Patterson got his biggest round of applause when he said we should cap property taxes.  Unfortunately, he needs to tie this into mandate relief or it is just a shifting of burden, not an actual cap.

The biggest part of Patterson speech dealt with energy.  He stated that energy was our new rate of exchange.  This can indeed be true at some point in the future in NYS.  We need to, as the governor stated, assess the value of the energy we produce in the state.

Patterson also stated that by the year 2015, NYS will get 45% of its electricity from clean, renewable sources.  This is a program that was started under former Governor Pataki and followed through by ex-Governor Spitzer.  Agencies in government will help with this program, which scares me a bit.  Whenever you add in government, the process slows and the cost increases.  There will be a resource center where schools, facilities and local governments can receive assistance in conversions.  This is good news until we put a bigger government into it.  This is an area that private industry can, and should, take over.  Private industry works quicker, more efficiently and at less cost in most cases than government.

Governor Patterson discussed creating an Upstate Consortium that would help develop and manufacture the next hybrid electric battery.  I do hope that Patterson is not looking through too small a tunnel on what the next “big” automobile idea will be.  I believe hybrid electric will be big but I also think that Honda has the right attitude in its clean natural gas vehicles.  We cannot spend state monies to develop just one piece of a changing industry.  We – and anyone else who is trying to provide this piece to the puzzle to keep the automotive industry afloat in the US – must be looking big picture.  We must not narrow what this hybrid industry will be.  We have spent too much time looking at only what is here and not what might be coming.  That is the attitude that has put the automotive industry in the US in the shape it is currently in.  We need to look at more than just electric hybrid.

The governor closed his speech with words on volunteerism and law enforcement.  As I told one friend this morning, I would give the governor an A on presentation.  The effort put into memorizing a twelve page speech for someone who cannot use aids in the delivery is impressive.  Unfortunately, I believe the content of the speech ranks a D.  Details were not given.  The budget was not “sold.”  The governor failed to convince me he is the man to lead this state.

Obama and the Economy

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Granted, the economy is probably on more Americans’ minds than why Bill Richardson withdrew his name from Secretary of Commerce consideration.  Granted, the economy should be the number one issue on Capitol Hill and on the mind of the incoming president.  This is evident in the address President-elect Obama gave today at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Unfortunately, the speech was long on rhetoric and short on details.  As Governor David A Patterson did yesterday in his State of the State speech in Albany, New York, Obama quoted figures at the beginning.  The problem is these figures were not dealing with his “Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.”  The figures were dealing with job loss in the US.  One figure that I had not heard before and am totally unsure where data such as this comes from is that 2.8 million Americans have settled for part-time jobs where they would prefer full-time jobs.  This is on top of the nearly 2 million job losses last year.

Obama, as was his habit in the primary and general election period, spoke in grand terms – “not too late to change course,” “extreme action,” “before a bad situation becomes dramatically worse” and more.  Obama discussed the loss of trust and loss of confidence in our economy, markets and government that we the American people have experienced.  He feels “we” can rebuild that lost trust and confidence.  Yet, he did not give any specifics as to what the rebuilding process will cost us.

President-elect Obama stated that his plan is a new policy, a new approach to end the crisis.  The cost is considerable – the only real nod to cost in the entire speech.  It will add to the deficit in the short term.

This plan, which Obama believes should begin today – but we all know Congress cannot, and should not, act that fast, will save or create 3 million jobs.  It will invest in energy, education, health care and infrastructure.  Hard to find fault as those are all areas that can use investment.  Obama insists the overwhelming majority of these jobs will be in the private sector.

A few of the details that were in the speech are below.  Unfortunately, there were no cost details associated with any of the few details.

  • We will double the production of alternative energy in this country in the next three years.
  • Within five years, all health care records will be computerized. 
  • We will update our electric grid to a new smart grid.
  • We will expand broadband lines to make rural businesses more competitive.
  • 95% of working families will see a $1000 tax cut.
  • We will continue the extension of unemployment coverage.
  • The federal government will help out struggling states.

Obama said some might be skeptical.  I fail to see what there is to be skeptical about.  The speech was all ideas.  There were no details so how can you be skeptical that the plan will work.  He said the federal government will not just throw money at problems but will invest it what works.  I didn’t see how that was presented.  Evidently, only his ideas are what works.

Good news for open government advocates!  Obama says the decision on where to invest will be transparent.  We still have yet to see that this will occur.  Any taxpayer will be able to go online – although not sure where online – to see how and where our tax money is spent.

This plan will not solve all the problems.  It should begin an open and honest discussion.  At this point, President-elect Obama urged Congress to act quickly.  He insists that we all should be asking “not what is good for me” but “what is good the country my children will inherit.”

Week One of a Photo a Day

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One of my goals for 2009 is to take one picture a day.  I generally take more than one when I see something that I want to snap but now I am truly trying to get one a day.  Below is my gallery of week one of 2009.

The State of New York

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The Wednesday after the first Monday of the new year – only NYS could word something in this manner.  That is the date on which the governor is required to give his State of the State address to a joint session of the NYS legislature.  So, yesterday, shortly after a new majority leader for the NYS Senate was announced, Governor David A Patterson took the podium for an historic address.

Why historic?  First off, Patterson was not elected governor.  He inherited the office, along with the mess that has come with it, from Eliot Spitzer who resigned in the middle of a prostitute incident(s) last March.  Second, Patterson is legally blind so would not be using teleprompters for his almost hour long speech.  An article in today’s newspaper says that Patterson spent approximately 60 hours memorizing the speech.  Third, and in my analysis the most important historical point, the speech would be given three weeks after the governor presented his 2009-2010 budget.  Normally, the governor gives his State of the State address and then presents his budget a few weeks later.

Why did I think this third point was more important than the others?  With his budget already out in the public domain, Patterson could make a speech filled with details.  He could explain why he chose the new taxes he did and why he cut expenditures where he did in his budget.  He could also explain why he increased expenditures where he did in his budget.  This was not only Patterson’s chance to show NYS voters that he was up for the job – an election stop of sorts since he has indicated he will run for governor himself in 2010, it was Patterson’s chance to sell his budget, his vision of where NYS should be headed to the people of NYS and to the legislators who will put together their own budget shortly.  Patterson, in my opinion, did neither of those items.

Patterson started off his speech by recited a poem of less than 20 lines – “Opportunity” by Edward Roland Sill.  This was after Patterson re-introduced many dignitaries that were in the audience.  At the end of the poem, Sill talks about a great cause.  Patterson segwayed into the “meat” of his speech by saying the great cause is the culture and spirit of NYS.  He did no harm in paraphrasing former Governor Mario Cuomo as he discussed whether we would make promises we can’t keep or we would be honest about the crisis we are in.

To be honest, the poem and paraphrasing of the former governor laid a path straight to the bad news that Patterson was about to detail.  It is not that New Yorkers do not know that the state is in bad shape.  I am pretty sure 90% of us do.  It is that many do not realize how bad that shape is.  NY has an escalating budget deficit.  It increased $60 million a day between mid-August and the end of the last year.  The state is truly in “perilous” condition as Patterson noted.  There is a stark economic challenge facing state government. 

Most in NY realize that unemployment is a huge issue.  Just in the Binghamton area, there are friends of mine who have been looking for jobs since June or July and still haven’t found one.  There are some jobs to be found but not general employment.  The state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, estimates that 225,000 New Yorkers will be laid off, or in some way lose their jobs, this year.

The escalating deficit is due in part to matters beyond the state’s control.  Wall Street contributes 20% of NY’s tax collections.  With the decline in the financial sector and the loss of major players in this area, these collections are down tremendously.  While the decline in these collections is beyond the state’s control, the spending and dependence on these tax collections that have taken place historically are not.

After painting a dire picture of NYS, Governor Patterson said this is a “time for courage and hope,” a “time for action.”  Unfortunately, the governor’s call to action was not specific enough for my taste.  Patterson, at least twice that I heard and possibly more than twice, indicated that “if we cannot spend more, we can spend more effectively.”  The problem here is that he would spend more if given the opportunity.  This is not learning a lesson from the situation we are in.  And, are we not doomed to repeat history if we do not learn from it?  That would definitely be the case as, at the end of the speech, Patterson introduced a family of five from Cicero, New York.  He outlined how previous members of this family had lived through financial crises in the 1920′s and 30′s and in the 1970′s.  We are still not learning from what has happened so will be doomed, at least in NYS and possibly the country, to repeat this type of catastrophe again.

Patterson did draw some logical conclusions during his speech.  The anticipated, and already happened, job loss would mean health care coverage loss.  This is not always something that is brought up.  The governor wants to add 226,000 New Yorkers to Family Health Plus.  This is admirable as these unemployed and laid off workers will need health care.  Unfortunately, I am not sure this is fiscally responsible for the state.

Another health care item the governor wants to begin is requiring that insurance companies allow families to insure their “children” between the ages of 19 and 29 on their family plan at their own expense.  While I understand the need for this, I have to say it scares me.  I currently have three children in college.  Because they are full-time students, they are still covered under their father’s insurance until the age of 25.  My gut instinct tells me that if legislation passes, as the governor would like, insurance companies that currently offer this option for full-time students will stop.  My full-time students do not cost me extra.  They are part of the family plan.  I cannot see an insurance company out there turning down the chance to make money off this group as they tend to be one of the healthiest demographics.  This would be a huge burden on the middle class if suddenly all college aged family members would need to paid for as opposed to being part of the family policy.

The portion of the governor’s speech that dealt with childhood obesity annoyed me.  It did not annoy me because I am denying that childhood obesity is an issue.  It is.  It annoyed me because I do not believe that the governor understands the problem.  He continually said “parents don’t know.”  I do not believe that is the case in the majority of households.  I believe that the economic reality of life make it so parents make choices that may not be in the best interest of their families.  I believe that it is the economic reality of life that make parents ignore the medical realities that childhood obesity leads to so many other issues.  Yes, I believe this needs to change.  I do not believe this is a change that can come from the top down.  This is not something that is legislatable – I make up words when I need them.  I am not sure that the five point plan the governor outlined is going to help eleviate childhood obesity.

There is so much more that was said in this speech but reality is calling and I need to end.  I will pick up with education and volunteerism and energy later.

Three Bean Soup

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It is winter in upstate NY and I am in soup making mode.  Number one, I have more mouths to feed during college breaks.  Number two, nothing warms the body and the soul like homemade soup.  Number three, I love to make soup.

I cannot take full credit for the recipe below.  I swear I saw one similar to it somewhere, meant to be made in a slow cooker.  I should see if I emailed it to any of my kids who are big on using their slow cookers.  This is the way I made Three Bean Soup on January 1, 2009.

Three Bean Soup

Three Bean Soup

Three Bean Soup

 

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, sliced thin

2 bay leaves

5 cups vegetable broth (mine was made a week prior)

1 can (approx 15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can (approx 15 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 can (approx 15 ounces) pinto beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups pre-cooked (according to packaging directions) brown basmati rice

2 tablespoons tumeric

Salt and Pepper, to taste

 

Coat bottom of dutch oven or stock pot (depending on what you have on hand to make soup in) with olive oil.  Place onion in and sauté until translucent.  Pour in broth and add bay leaves.  As liquid and onion are heating, open and drain the three cans of beans.  Add beans to pot.  Stir to combine.  Add turmeric to pot.  Stir.  Bring soup to boil and turn back heat to simmer.  Remove bay leaves, or leave in and be sure to not serve in a bowl of soup.  Before removing from heat to serve, add rice.  Let simmer so rice heats up.  Taste soup and season with salt and pepper.  Serve with a hearty bread.

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