Made in America

This past weekend I was out shopping at a large upscale mall near where I live.  The mall is called Irvine Spectrum and is always packed with shoppers.  There is a Nordstrom and Macys, along with many other upscale retailers.  I was there to shop for a new pair of running shoes and decided to do a bit more shopping.

I went into Lucky Brands, a upscale mens and womens clothing store.  They specialize in selling  high quality jeans and accessories.  While I was looking at a pair of jeans, a clerk came over and asked if I would be interested in buying a pair of pants that were “made in America”.  I was really surprised, I had never been approached by someone offering me clothing with that selling point.

I decided to take a look at the jeans, they didn’t look any different from the other jeans, other than the price, which was about 20% higher than the other jeans I was looking at.  I thought to myself, would I be willing to pay an extra $20 for a pair of jeans to support US manufacturing jobs.  Then I wondered how much of the Jeans were actually “made in America”, or were the components just put together/sewn together.  Was the cotton grown in the US, was the cotton woven into cloth in the US, was the cloth dyed in the US, was the zipper made in the US and etc.

I ended up not buying anything, but did realized that prior to this, I’ve never really thought about where the clothes I wear were made.  The important thing to me has always been about quality, style and price.

I continued my shopping and found myself at American Apparel.  A retailer who uses, Made in the USA as part of its logo.  100% of its clothing are sewn in the US and it is vertically integrated, so the many of the materials it uses are also sourced in the US.  According to their website, they operate the largest sewing facility in the US.

As I am shopping at American Apparel, I notice that the pricing is considerably higher than similar clothing at other retailers.  American Apparel, unlike Lucky Brands, isn’t considered a ‘designer’ brand that you would expect to pay more for.  Basics such as button down shirts were over $50.  After shopping for a few minutes, I leave without buying anything.

I really like the idea of buying American, supporting US based manufacturing jobs and US based workers.  However, I am not sure what it is worth to me to do that.  Am I willing to pay 20% or more for something that is made in the US.  I really don’t know the answer to that.  My initial thinking is probably not, since I tend to be very price sensitive, but if it helps the overall economy, perhaps it makes sense.

There isn’t really a clear answer for me on this.  If the prices were the same or very close, I would buy everything that was made in America, however, with the price difference, this is something that I will have to think about.


Beau Biden and ObamaCare

This past week, Vice President Joe Biden spent several days with his son in Houston at one of the best cancer treatment hospitals in the world.  He was there with his son who recently experienced some medical issues.  After seeing his own doctors, they decided to seek out the best care possible at the Houston facility.

Several years ago Beau Biden had a minor stroke and they clearly were all concerned about his health.  Beau Biden is a public official himself, serving as Attorney General of the State of Delaware.  I can understand and respect the fact that they wanted the best possible care.  Years ago, Vice President Biden lost his first wife and a daughter.  Beau Biden is a husband and father of two.

As Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden has unlimited access to financial resources and medical professionals.  Doctors around the world would be waiting in line for the opportunity to treat the Vice President’s son.  Treating Beau Biden would bring positive press and prestige.

The Vice President and his son have every right to use every means possible to obtain the best possible care to treat his condition.  They have every right to travel across the United States to visit the best hospital and be seen by the best medical professionals.  They have every right to chose what care they are getting.  Every American should have that same right.

Under ObamaCare, many Americas will be giving up some of that same choice the Vice President and his son have.  They will be forced to pay for a health care plan that limits their choice or they will be forced to pay a tax to the Government for not having a required health care plan.  ObamaCare is forcing employers to provide health care to its employees or face penalties.  Businesses and workers should have a choice.  If workers, want their employer to provide health care, they can get a job that provides it.  If a employer wants to provide health care for its employees they should have the choice to decide how to do that.

One of the founding principals of the United States is choice and personal freedom.  ObamaCare takes away some of these choices.  I know the Vice President and his son are happy they had the choice to get the best possible treatment without restriction.  It was a choice in their total control.  All Americans should have the same choice to get the medical care they desire.

Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy

The non-elected Federal Reserve has had far too much power over the US economy.  Governments and investors around the world watch and listen to the leaders of the Federal Reserve for any indication on what strategies they will be employing to help the US economy grow, while keeping inflation in check.  While these economist are experts in their field, they yield far too much power over the United States economy.

There was a time when Congress and the President balanced out the Federal Reserve with the fiscal policy of the United States.  The amount of Federal debt, the annual deficit, taxes and spending are in the control of elected officials.  However, they have not been doing their job so as a result, it seems as though we are almost fully dependent on the Federal Reserve to take proactive steps to improve the economy, while it should be more of a partnership or a joint effort between fiscal and monetary policy.

It has been over 15 years since the Congress has passed 13 appropriations bills to fund the Federal government.  This to me is unbelievable and unacceptable.  Who gets to keep their job for over 15 years while NOT completing a core responsibility.  These appropriation bills set the priority for the Federal government.  The bills can help business sectors grow, can fund or create whole new ones, they can leave more money in the hands of taxpayers or they can take in more to pay down the debt or fund new programs.

With about 6 weeks until the October 1st deadline, it appears that once again Congress will not be completing its job.  The consequence of this this are both direct and indirect.  The most significant being the incremental power that it gives to the Federal Reserve.  I hope that at some point a future Congress and President will see this and do their job and take back some of their power and influence on the US and World economies.

California SMOG Test

A few weeks ago I received a notice that it was time to renew my car registration and when I opened the envelop, I discovered that I needed to have a smog test done.  My general understanding of the program was that if you live In California it is required to have a smog test done on your vehicle every 2 years by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or they won’t allow you to renew your registration.

I decided to learn more about the program and discovered that in about 18 counties you are not required to have the smog test done and in six counties, you only have to do it if you live in some specific zip codes.  I was amazed at this.  To think that the government put into place a program to keep the air clean and then limit it to specific areas of the state, or zip codes, doesn’t seem to make sense to me.  I don’t believe that drivers are restricted to only driving in the county that they live in or even specific zip codes.  Further, that there are some imaginary ‘walls’ around counties to prevent the SMOG from crossing county or zip code lines.

The purpose of the smog testing program is to make sure drivers keep their cars and trucks in good working order, so that they don’t put any unnecessary pollutants into the environment.  In general, I am ok with this.  I think it is important to have clean air.  I think that too many drivers would delay or not fix their cars if they were not forced to do so.  Keeping the environment and air clean is an important role for government.

However, I do not feel that excluding 18 counties and parts of 6 others makes any absolutely no sense.  We don’t restrict where people can drive.  We don’t limit have any imaginary walls.  Like most government laws and regulations, there always seems to be exceptions for special groups.  I am fairly confident that if I were to go back to when the program was enacted, state politicians from those areas demanded that there was no smog problem in their counties, so that they shouldn’t have to be unfairly penalized.

The State of California really needs to go back and reevaluate this program to make it more fair and equitable.  If the smog test program removes pollutants from the air in some areas, it should be put into place across the state.

USPS Visit

Yesterday I had the very rare pleasure of visiting my local post office.   I am one of the people who is putting the Post Office out of business, as I pay 100% of my monthly bills either via bill pay, through my bank, or on the business website.  However, I had to mail in some material to the IRS and it forced me to visit the Post Office to have it sent out.  What a mess that experience was.

First, to set the picture, I went mid-afternoon, on a Monday.  I pulled into a packed parking lot, in doing so, almost got hit twice, by people in a rush.  Once I entered the building, i noticed a horrible smell, it smelled like urine.  I believe it was the person panhandling in the lobby, in front of the PO Boxes.

I make my way to the separate area where the Post Office clerks are and discover that there are about 18 people ahead of me (yes I counted).  I figured the place would be empty since it was in the middle of the afternoon, hours after most people take their lunch breaks.  Thankfully the line moved surprisingly fast, since it appeared that there was a clerk at every station, which is the first time in my recent memory that I’ve seen that.

The area I was in appeared to be dirty and outdated.  There were old signs on the wall that looked liked they had been there for years.  However, I was impressed to see that they had a few display units offering packaging supplies and greeting cards.  It is about time that the post office tried to increase their revenue from the people there to use their mailing services.

As I reached the front of the line, I see a basket with hundreds of forms in it, with no explanation or directions.  I thumb through the basket, as I was hoping to get some sort of delivery confirmation for my package.

I hear ‘next’ and made my way to the open clerk.  I hand her my envelop and ask to have it mailed first class with a email confirmation of delivery (I was pleasantly surprised that offered this service for only $1.25).  The clerk proceeded to tell me that I used the wrong kind of tape to make sure the overstuffed envelope was secure.   I asked her if I needed to redo it and she replied in a very curt manner that she would fix it for me.

A few moments later she tells me that it is going to cost $6.85 for the envelope, which was a bit more than I expected, but took my credit card out to pay.  I ran my credit card through the processing machine, like I have done thousands of times and was told to wait a moment.  It has always been my experience that if someone tells you the amount you owe, they are ready for you to pay.

A moment later I hear, ‘it’s ok for you to slide your card’, so I did.  Then as I’m putting away my card, she asked me to see it.  I handed her the card and noticed that she took the security code off the back and entered it into her computer.  I have used that card and other credit cards, thousands of times and have never had anyone, in a retail environment do this.  I am used to having to show identification in rare instances, but never this.

The clerk then hands me my receipt and I take a look it.  I then realize that I’m sending my envelope via priority mail.  I was shocked in that it wasn’t what I asked for.  I mention this to the clerk and she proceeds to tell me that due to the weight of the envelope, priority service is my only option.  As this point I didn’t really know what to say and just put the receipt into my wallet and walked out.

I read recently that the Post Office is looking to start delivering alcohol to increase its revenue, I think this is a good idea.  I do hope that the Post Office starts to realize that they have competition and in order to be competitive, it needs to update its locations, improve service and expand its services.

Leading by Example

I read recently that the White House is having solar panels installed to help power the complex.  I have to commend the President and the government’s landlord, the General Services Administration, for undertaking this ground breaking effort.  While the President promised this over 3 years ago, I’ll give him a pass for moving it along.  I’m fairly confident the delay was a result of planning to make sure the right system was selected, that the location would not cause a structural or security issue, etc.

Several years ago, the First Lady decided that her family was planting a vegetable garden on the White House grounds.  She used this to tout the benefits of a healthy diet, the outdoors and exercise.  The First Lady invited children and her daughters to help.  This was covered by a wide number of media outlets.

Growing up in Western New York, my family always had a vegetable garden.  My grandfather always had tomato plants, string beans and pepper growing.  My mother had us dig up a large plot in our back yard to plant vegetables.  Our next door neighbor was from Cuba and he had 6 children, he dug up 90% of his back yard to grow food for his family.  Over time, I believe we have moved much too far away from our agrarian roots as a society.  While it may not be feasible it all parts of the country, I do believe the First Lady reminded up all that we can move closer back in that direction.

Both Solar Panels on the White House and vegetable gardens, may seen like unrelated topics, however, I believe that they are very much related.  The President and First Lady are using the traditional power of his office to promote change in our county, without forcing it.  Without a new government program, without a mandate or new laws.  Without new taxes and without new government spending.

This is leading by example, this is leadership.  Hopefully these efforts will make a difference in improving two very significant issues facing America, our dependency on fossil fuels and the obesity epidemic.

Government Assistance Paradox

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times indicates that in California, only 42% of those eligible for food stamps are actually receiving the benefit.  The article further states that California is 51st in the nation in its ranking among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Conversely, Tennessee has the highest percentage with 92%.  The article further identifies that Tennessee, unlike California, has the legislative and executive branches of government controlled by Republicans.

The article stated that the program requirements were different between the two states and that perhaps California’s requirements were too stringent.  These requirements were put into place to help cut down on fraud and has resulted in a lower participation rate.  The article further went on to talk about how these are “free” dollars, that are funded out of federal tax dollars, can help the State’s economy.  It was mentioned that the California state legislature recently passed changes to the program, to lessen the requirements, in an effort to increase the number of program enrollees.

The requirements to get food stamp assistance should be difficult (as well as other forms of government assistance).  There should be very stringent eligibility requirements to encourage people to get on and stay on the program only as long as they need it and to prevent fraud.  Further, these are NOT “free” dollars to the State as the article indicates.  The citizens of California pay taxes and these tax dollars could go to other programs or could potentially go back into the pockets of the tax payers or even pay down the Federal debt.

Another factor, that could potentially explain the lower participation rate, is the entrepreneurial culture of California.  I have lived in California for over 10 years and the people in the state work hard, start businesses, do what it takes to support their families and thrive.  The article ignores this fact.  Perhaps the biggest reason California has a low participation rate is they get help from family and friends, other private organizations or they roll up their sleeves and work a little bit harder.

Having a low participation rate should not be considered a bad thing.  It should not be considered a problem that has to be fixed.  Turning back or not spending all the available Federal tax dollars should not be considered bad for the State or its citizens.  We need to have tough requirements that cuts down on fraud and that makes sure only the most needly can qualify.  The food stamp program is a safety net, not a permanent crutch that people should become dependent on.

RNC to Punish CNN and NBC

I just read that the RNC is going to “punish” NBC and CNN by not allowing them to broadcast the primary election Republican Party debates.  As a long time Republican, I think this is totally absurd.  While I understand the Republicans don’t like the fact that Hilary Clinton is being given an “unfair” advantage in the Presidential race, I believe there is a difference between news and entertainment.   I believe the American voter understands that.

I am concerned about where this takes us in the extreme.  So what if the White House decided to not do anymore interviews with Fox News and tells everyone in the administration to never talk to any conservative news organization or reporter.  Does that do the American people any good or does it hurt more.

What if the DNC told all the networks that if they do any positive stories on any potential Republican candidates, they were going to ban them from covering the Senate, the White House and any “political event’.  And further that if they do any nice human interest stories on any Republicans they are on the outs for all future DNC conventions.

I do believe that there are biases in the media, I think the better approach is to give people a choice.  The RNC should work with the other networks to have counter programming on the leading Republican candidates.  The RNC should work on promoting itself and its candidates rather than trying to pull down the networks.

The reality is Hillary Clinton is a pretty remarkable woman.  I may not like her politics, leadership or the way she conducts herself, she has had a remarkable career and life.  She will go down in history as a woman who broke through barriers and made an impact on the United States and world.  Many young girls and woman look up to her.

The Republican National Committee needs to reverse itself and go on the offensive to promote its ideas and values.  It needs to stand behind its candidates and push them forward, rather than believe holding Hillary Clinton back is a worthwhile strategy.


CBS Morning Show Report on Coffee

This morning there was a report on the CBS Morning Show that talks about a recent study that showed a higher incident of death among men who drank 4 or more cups of coffee a day.  I am one of those people who drink 4 or more cups of coffee a day, so I wondering if I should perhaps cut back on my coffee consumption.  Surprisingly, the study indicated that at 3 cups of coffee a day, there wasn’t a higher incident of death.

In thinking about my daily routine and lifestyle, I’ve decided that coffee is a simple pleasure that I’m probably going to continue to enjoy.  I don’t smoke, I exercise everyday.  I rarely drink alcohol and when I do its only beer or wine.  I maintain a vegan diet and try to minimize the amount of stress in my life.

This may prove to be a bad decision, time will tell.  I take full responsibility for my health and well-being.  I don’t want the government to monitor and restrict my ability to drink coffee (as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has attempted to do with soda in New York City).  I believe it is each individuals responsibility to make conscious health choices for themselves.


Cost of Health Care

The implementation of ObamaCare is heating up.  Companies are being faced with either paying a heavy fine or providing health care for all their employees.  Some are even evaluating whether they should stay in business or change their business all together to avoid the additional burden.

While I am generally pro-business, anti-regulation and don’t support the idea that one solution is the only way to go.  I do believe something needs to be done with all forms of health care; eye glass, hearing aids, dental work, weight loss, preventative care and etc.

Two weeks ago I went to the dentist and had to get a cavity filled, the first in over 20 years, and if cost me over $400.  How does someone making minimum wage afford that and still pay for gas, rent and food.  The dentist had me come back today for a surface cleaning, that cost me another $126.  That is over $500 for routine dental work.

I do hope that with all the debate going on regarding health care that something is done, that we don’t put off dealing with the problem, like we have done with the Federal budget, debt ceiling and deficit.  We need to bring down the cost.  We need to provide affordable solutions to everyone.  I don’t believe ObamaCare is the solution, but I do hope something is done to address the issue of health care costs.