privacy

You Have No Privacy, Get Over It

“My privacy has been violated”, came the outcry from the American public.  “The NSA is reading my emails!”

Get over it people.  You have not had privacy during most of your lifetime.  Tracking back to the beginning of credit – as early as the mid-1800s – we began sacrificing our privacy for purchasing power.  By the mid-20th century, the plastic credit card entered our universe and we gave up ever more information.  Credit cards have always tracked your purchases and targeted marketing accordingly.  You’ve had a credit report since the moment you were issued a Social Security card which is currently when you are born.

The government has tracked your income, your every job and home location since the inception of taxes.

As we moved into the social media era, we take pride in “sharing” our information with the world.  Some of you go to extremes with privacy settings but most people can be located in seconds on a search engine and much can be learned about you – of your own doing.

And then, we scream because the government might be reading your emails or listening to your phone calls.  I find the irony of this whole outcry extremely humorous.  While the government shouldn’t be “spying” on you, the bulk of most emails, texts and phone calls are so inane that I pity those who have to track them.  Additionally, the  data they are tracking is so voluminous that they have tracking software to help ferret out the most important trails of conversation.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can only imagine my own “file” in the NSA or other government entities.  As a Professor, I research everything from global topics to pornography.  I assess the role of women in many countries to how they are treated in the entertainment industry.  That should certainly garner someone’s attention.

In my professional life, I work with clients from all over the world.  Our firm’s clients are located in multiple countries and even our North American based clients have offices and operations in numerous locations around the globe.

To top off all of that, my son has had some interesting countries for research projects the last couple of years – the currently volatile Mali and Yemen.  That should have raised some eyebrows, particularly when he and I became obsessed with the sport of camel jumping…..

Surely, through all of this, the government has taken some interest in my patterns of behavior.  But really, I don’t mind.  I’m not doing anything wrong.  If they want to watch what I’m doing, I hope it provides some form of entertainment to someone who thinks this person is “weird”.

The bottom line is that we have gradually and willingly given up our privacy over the years.  People have been decrying “big brother” for decades.  Unless you are doing something wrong, you really have nothing to worry about!

 

sequester

“The Sky is Falling”….. or, the Sequester is Starting

Today is the day and Congress has not reached an agreement.  After setting themselves up for a high-powered game of chicken – seeing who would blink first – they failed to move and the car crash has happened.

When Congress put the Sequester legislation together, they never actually thought it would come to this.   Sadly, this is how broken the system has become.  The Democrats and the Republicans are failing to do their jobs and solve the nation’s challenges.

After staring each other down for months now, the day has arrived and neither side has given an inch.  This sometimes feels like it is all fun and games for their childish behavior in D.C.

But for us real folk at home, the people they supposedly represent, what does it all really mean?  To hear the media tell it – our schools will collapse, airports will close, criminals will run free, hospitals will turn patients away and our way of life will basically fall apart.

Well, maybe not so much, at least not today.  It will take a period of time for the cuts to become effective.   The government departments and agencies have been putting forth their most dramatic scenarios in order to pressure Congress to act and to encourage  citizens to engage more and influence them to keep the money in place.

Frankly, each agency will address their needs and determine the best path for the cuts.  Does it mean some things will change?  Yes, it does.  Does it mean America may collapse because of it?  Not likely.   We’ll keep moving forward.

Meanwhile, the bigger issue is one the American people have to answer.  How long are we going to allow our elected leaders to behave like bad children?  We have to decide what we want.  When they ask us in polling, we rate Congress among the lowest of all.  We loathe their very existence.  But when they ask about our own Member of Congress, we cheer on their position.

Well, they are just representing us.  We have allowed our country to be led by posturing and positioning.  Members of Congress make significantly more money than the average American and many of them were comfortable financially before they were elected.  They often live their lives far removed from the rest of us.  Their healthcare plan is best and they exempt themselves from many of the laws governing the rest of Americans and American business.

Yet, we pat them on the back individually and tell them they are doing a good job.  Really?

It is time for the members of the House and the Senate and the White House to get their act together and govern this country.  Stop talking to the airwaves and try talking to each other.

And if you can’t do that, be sure that the Sequester includes significant cuts to your own budgets …… or we will cut your budgets ourselves  - by sending you home!

 

 

state of the union

State of the disUnion

Last night, the President addressed Congress in his annual State of the Union speech.  A great American tradition, this Congressional address allows the sitting President to present his agenda to Congress without outside influence.  The pomp and circumstance of the event is significant in its history and that most of Washington’s influential politicalaratti are present.

This year, President Obama, apparently feeling empowered by his comfortable re-election, laid out his own agenda in strong and aggressive terms.  He was forthright in his expectation that a rising tide lifts all boats and that austerity measures hurt those who can least afford it.

Much of the President’s speech repeated campaign themes.  The challenge with it was that it offered little to no olive branch to the Republican-controlled house.  Some may say he doesn’t have to do that since they were put in their place in the election.  I disagree.  If anything at all is hoped to be accomplished – all the ideas the President presented – there must be bi-partisan support.  It was clear that the Republicans did not like much of what they heard.

As to that, Marco Rubio’s response was rather mild.  He didn’t aggressively attack the President but simply contrasted their philosophical responses.  He was gracious and classy, even if he did need a drink of water.

The emotional ending of the speech about gun regulation was probably the most interesting of the night.  The President seems to be personally emotional about this issue.  The Newtown shooting were one of the first times this President let his emotions show publicly and that came through again during this section of his speech.

As well, his comments on voting reform and pointing out the 102 year old lady who waited 6 hours to vote.  While it was a contrived dramatic moment in his speech, I was most disappointed that the Speaker, John Boehner, didn’t stand out of simple respect.  I guess no one ever taught him to respect his elders.  The look of disgust on his face summed up the Republican point of view on the President’s presentation.

So, there you have it – expect more discord and disUnion from your elected leaders in Washington!

Perry

Immigrating the State of the State

Tuesday, January 29 was a big day in politics.  President Obama presented his plan for immigration changes that will primarily affect America’s Latino population.  Previously, a bi-partisan committee of U.S. Senators also presented a plan. While the details of the plans will be hotly debated over the next few months, it may be that immigration reform will be passed this year.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry laid out his State of the State speech before the Texas Legislature.  After 13 years of serving as Governor, he shared with us that he will “scrub the budget” and look for ways to refund taxes to Texans.  Personally, I found it fascinating that there is still more budget to be scrubbed.  Governor Perry has had 13 years to clean up the budget and the Legislature has been completely controlled by Republicans since 2002.  The budget ought to be fairly well scrubbed.

Meanwhile, he also suggested using a portion of the Rainy Day funds for the state’s water plan.  This is a truly critical policy issue for the State of Texas.  In the early 1990′s, then Lt. Governor Bullock told me that “Water, Nancy, it’s going to be all about water next century”.  And that has proven so very true.  Texas must address our complex water management issues.  Apparently, the still “in need of being scrubbed” budget, cannot find any additional funds for water management so they will use Rainy Day funds.  Doesn’t matter to me – just do something!

The Governor also mentioned infrastructure and charged the Legislature to fund improvements.  Thank goodness.  With all of Texas’ growth, our roads and infrastructure are not keeping up.  I hope they can scrub the budget and find more money to fund highways.

Perry  touched on education policy without going into too much detail on funding.  Most attributed this to the pending lawsuit against the state by a number of school districts.  It is expected that the Legislature may have to address funding in a Special Session after the court rules.  School-choice remains a hot topic for the Session as well as testing reforms.

Governor Perry, I do want some money back.  How about providing more education funding so my local property taxes decrease?  For all the budget “scrubbing” over the last few years, more costs have been passed to local governments.  This has caused significant local tax increases.  If the state could figure out how to help solve that problem, most Texans will benefit.  Hey, we don’t have a income tax in Texas but if you own property, you pay serious taxes.

Interestingly, the Governor did not address immigration reform.  He’s leaving that one to the feds but plenty of legislators have ideas, including how to separate Texas from federal “mandates”.

It’s going to be a fun year!

 

LegislateDistMain_small-e1323617948539

Ponderings Potpourri

All hail Friday!  What a week it has been.  We started with the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday and the Inauguration of our President.

The President’s speech was a shout out to all those who helped re-elect him as he touched on emotional topics.  Interestingly, he didn’t speak much about guns but that is the issue that is swirling all around the nation.  The President and various bills introduced by U.S. Senators, called for by Mayors and filed in State Legislatures are single-handedly driving up the sales of guns and ammunition.  I find the whole thing humorous as people work themselves into a frenzy on both sides while the gun manufacturers ride the wave and make ever more money.

I do not believe that anyone in Texas is in danger of losing their right to bear arms.  Furthermore, we have bills introduced in Austin to allow you to carry your weapon openly, without concealment.  I think I prefer that actually.  At least I will know who to pick an argument with versus who not to.  Meanwhile, our Lt. Governor has called for providing teachers with arms training and arming them in the classrooms as well as beefing up school security.

And what about Hilary Clinton?  Her long awaited appearance to testify before Congress on Benghazi created a dramatic event worthy of Oscar-wining performances for her and several  Members of Congress.  I was only able to follow on Twitter initially and then headed to a TV set because of all I was seeing from reporters Tweeting.  Alas, when I hit the office’s panel of TVs, more of them were devoted to Beyonce and her possible lip-syncing at the Inauguration than were showing the hearings.  The bits I did see looked like pure entertainment, though.  Who needs reality shows when you can stuff like this?

Meanwhile, back home, the Senate District 6 election is this Saturday.  If you vote in that District, be sure and cast your ballot.  Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia lead a field of 8 candidates.  Most observers anticipate a run-off between these two but who leads into the run-off and by how much may be a good indicator of an anticipated eventual outcome.

Hope you like the new look of Ponderings!  Let us know and we’re back in action now.

 

 

2013 = Wild Political Ride

Welcome to 2013!  There will be so much to ponder this year that we tremor with excitement just thinking about it all.

First up will be the Special Election in Senate District 6.  I don’t know about you but I have seen numerous commercials for Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia throughout the holidays.  We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

Even before the Special Election, the Texas Legislature will convene on January 8.  No doubt this will keep us all entertained between now and the end of May.

The President will give his State of the Union speech in late January and we will ponder if Congress has any hope of accomplishing anything this year.

And to bring it home, it is a City of Houston election year.  The fundraising window opens in February and candidates are already lining up.  We anticipate that Mayor Parker will have a strong opponent in Benjamin Hall and others may follow suit.  There are three Council Members term-limited so they will generate competitive races and a few incumbents are certain to face opposition.

Other local elections may involve school districts in the region seeking to emulate the success of HISD’s bond election and seeking their own bond approvals.

It will be an exciting year!

Housekeeping:  A few things to note about Ponderings.  We are planning an upgrade to the site so bear with us as we work to improve.

“We” versus “I” – I, Nancy Sims, author Ponderings.  However, I have a number of  team members  and sources that work with me.

News 92.1 FM – Every Monday morning, at approximately 9:44 a.m., I will be discussing politics with Dennis Spellman on News 92.1 FM.  We are working to be able to add the audio files to the blog, in case you cannot tune in at that time.

Again, thanks for you support!

 

 

 

Falling off the Fiscal Cliff

Apparently, the election results meant nothing to Congress and the President. I can see how our message was a bit confusing. We said we liked the President and we liked our own Members of Congress.

We basically returned the same leadership to D.C. Given our message, neither side seems prepared to compromise with the other. Thus, we’re speeding rapidly toward a “fiscal cliff”.

The American economy is responding. It seems that every time the President or a Congressional leader mentions the word “fiscal cliff”, the markets dip and swirl – going up on hopes for a compromise and spiraling downward for fear there will not be one.

So, I’m sending my Christmas wish list to our elected leaders. Just work it out. At this point, most of us can’t purport to tell you how to solve the problem but we do need you to solve it.

We don’t need this volatility at the end of the year. The economy has slightly improved this year and we want it to get even better in 2013. We want you to govern, lead and quit playing politics. We ask that all of you quit behaving like pre-schoolers and just solve the problems.

The saddest thing is that most Americans have election fatigue and they are not paying close attention. When they see your faces or hear your voices, they are just tuning out. Each day, more and more of us believe that you are just continuing to play games.

Please, give us all a good holiday – solve the immediate problems and come home, surround yourself with real people and enjoy your holiday, too.

Pierpont Pundits: Policy Projections 2013

Last Friday, my firm hosted a half day session on Policy Projections for 2013. We focused on how the 2012 elections will impact policy in 2013 and what that means for business.

Providing speakers from the national, state and local level, we addressed how the federal government is refusing to act, the state government overreacts and the local government pays the bill.

Our federal relations speaker, Neil Dhillon of MSLGroup D.C., focused his comments on sequestration and the idea that Congress may fail to act on critical budget issues. If this happens, all government agencies will receive an automatic budget cut, currently projected to be in the range of 8%. It will also seriously affect the country’s credit rating. Neil further discussed energy policy, health care, and more. In the end, he projects that if Romney wins, Congress may get moving again but if Obama is re-elected, we are likely to see continued gridlock in D.C.

John Pitts of the Texas Star Alliance presented on the upcoming 2013 Legislative Session in Texas. His comments focused on the budget and the challenges the state faces in funding everything from education to prisons to health care. He indicated that the Legislature is facing very difficult decisions. He also discussed the impact of the State rejecting participation in federal programs such as health care and education.

Yours truly provided the local perspective and reminded the participants that no matter what happens in the lofty environs of D.C. or Austin, kids still go to school, criminals are still arrested, roads are still driven on and health care is still provided. The local government does not have the option of ignoring these issues. We also discussed the $2.7 billion worth of bonds on the November ballot in the region and how they might bolster business if adopted.

We topped off our day with a light-hearted point of view provided by White House reporter for Sirrius XM’s P.OT.U.S radio program, Julie Mason. Julie is also a former reporter for the Houston Chronicle. She regaled the audience with humorous, but serious perspectives of the people and players in Washington D.C. While the audience had the opportunity to laugh out loud at some of her tales, we also learned how the level of cynicism effects policy discussions.

Overall, a great opportunity to view policy from all levels of government and prepare ourselves for the coming year ahead.

Health Care Media Mania – Just the Facts, Please

My Twitter feed was filled with anticipation of the Supreme Court decision on the President’s health plan yesterday morning. National reporters and bloggers that I follow were joking about who would “break the news first”. Then, it broke and my feed was a little lighter than I thought. First I tried the SCOTUS blog but I couldn’t get through. I actually left the computer and went to the reception area at the office to watch news channels. We have 6 mounted televisions so I figured I could gather better information.

Not one of those stations were reporting the same information. It was confusing. By now, we all know that Fox and CNN initially reported wrongly. My Twitter feed was now alight with the correct information and lots of people poking fun at CNN and Fox.

I ultimately realized that none of these sources were going to provide me with the real information I sought – a deeper understanding of the ruling. It is actually quite complex and while headlines raged “John Roberts rules with liberal judges”, I wasn’t convinced this was the case. So, I kept studying.

It is difficult to wade through today’s media mania to find factual information, especially on an issue as complex as this one. Twitter requires us to communicate in 140 characters or less and soundbites last an average of 10 seconds, before punditry kicks in to drive the story. There is no way to dissect a complex Constitutional interpretation within these parameters.

As the day progressed, I found myself searching for Legal scholars. Most of them were taking their time digesting the decision. Yet every media outlet had a lawyer pontificating on the meaning of the decision.

Frankly, I found the media mania on this issue frustrating. They were so driven to be first that major networks couldn’t even get the headline right. From there, the discussion deteriorated into one side versus the other and political punditry filled with vitriolic hatefulness ruled the day.

My favorite Tweet of the day was by a guy who said, “Wow, according to Twitter and Facebook, we now have 80,000+ Constitutional scholars out there.” Well put and I retweeted it.

One of the best places I have found to gain a deeper understanding of the Court’s ruling is here. SCOTUS Blog provides insightful information on a consistent basis regarding activities of the Supreme Court.

Best of luck to you as you muddle through “what does all this really mean to me?” May I encourage you to find that out before leaping to judgment created by political punditry.

Supremes Ponder Health Care

The Supreme Court is listening to oral arguments regarding the new health care law and the public is weighing in with vast opinions. Pontificators are reading innuendo into every question asked by a Justice and projecting their interpretations through megaphones.

Oh yes, one must love the American political system. If you do not like the action of the legislative body, appeal it to the Courts. Some of our most significant laws in this country have been established via Court rulings.

The new health care law is clearly a monumental change to existing systems and laws. The Supreme Court is being asked to consider the legality of those changes and to determine if aspects of the law are constitutional.

Meanwhile, the lovers and the haters are outside the building protesting. Say what you may but this is democracy in action. Protesters, lawyers, pundits and the Supreme Court. It truly does not get much better than this in terms of action within the unique American system of governance.

But, what will be the outcome? This ponderer has no idea how to predict the actions of the Supreme Court Justices and nor do I fully understand the bulk of the proposed changes to the health care law. All I know is that my health care payments through my employer are equal to a car note today and will likely be equal to a mortgage soon, if something doesn’t change. I’m blessed that I can afford it now but have no certainty that I will be able to in the future.

Is the new law going to solve that problem for me? I don’t know. I did find this video produced by the Kaiser Foundation and narrated by Cokie Roberts to be helpful. Maybe the Supreme Court Justices should view it too.

I personally expect the outcome to be a convoluted mix of rulings that will change some elements but not void the entire legislation. Stay tuned.