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Archive for the ‘Economy & Politics’ Category

When times are tough, you look for expenses in your household budget that maybe you can do without: “this is nice to have, but we don’t need it right now”; or, “we need this, but maybe we can be paying less for it.” Shouldn’t our State government be doing the same thing??

Instead, what does Beacon Hill do in difficult economic times? They go back, time and time and time again, to their own bottomless ATM (the Acquiescent Taxpayers of Massachusetts). They’re like some kind of rabid monster – “must get more revenue, need more revenue, can’t lose any revenue!!” As if raising revenue is the only option for dealing with budget shortfalls.

This morning we learn that *at the same time Beacon Hill is already getting $11 Billion from the Porkosaurus Rex stimulus bill* Governor Patrick is going to jack-up the gas tax by 19 cents per gallon (nearly doubling the state’s gas tax). God forbid the Governor actually trim some of the grotesque fat that oozes from every door jamb in the State House. Why don’t we just hand them our entire paycheck, and then they can give us a weekly allowance? Oh, and now we know why the Governor proposed a 50 cent gas tax last week – it’s the oldest political trick in the book: threaten a 50 cent tax, and then when everyone gets outraged, drop it to 19 cents…suddenly the ignorant masses think they’re getting a bargain. All this from a Governor who ran on promises of property tax relief – what an absolute joke!

And you know the saddest part? We aren’t going to do anything about it. The majority of voters in this state are spineless lemmings. Every November they go into the voting booth and check D-D-D-D-D-D, all the way down the page. Here’s the bottom line: if you voted for this Governor, if you voted ‘No’ on Question 1, if you continue to vote for all these incumbent Democrats, then you have no leg to stand on and ought to keep your mouth shut about this gas tax. Your votes already sent a clear message to Beacon Hill: “Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s fine with me.”

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The stimulus, if it is going to actually do anything productive, needs to be temporary, targeted, and timely. This bill is none of those things. Instead, it’s a disappointing, unfortunate product of fiercely partisan politics and the epitome of business-as-usual. And I’m sorry – honestly, because I wish it wasn’t true – but you can’t even make the argument that this is “change.”  It’s a massive permanent increase in government discretionary spending (pork) mascarading as economic stimulus. Ninety percent of the alleged stimulus is for special-interests and social programs that, however well intended, will not and cannot create economic growth. This thing is an albatross. (more…)

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MoneyYou wouldn’t think so, but despite the fact that we’re in the midst of a big economic fart, people are still spending money on lots of things including games. Forbes.com recently compiled a list of the ten things we’re still buying despite our skinny wallets.

It is no surprise to me that video games are on the list. Video games actually saw a 14% increase in sales in 2008 (according to the Electronic Entertainment Design and Research Group). Games are a way for people to escape and have fun, so when you’ve just lost your job or your house, what better way to forget about those things for an hour than playing a game.

So, how else are we spending our meager moolah? Personal care (shaving cream, hairspray, etc.), other technology (smart phones and netbooks), gym memberships, movie tickets, restaurants, car maintenance, toy building sets (huh?) and dress casual shoes (shoes that can be worn at work and on the weekends).

P.S. – I’ve been involved with the New England Games and Interactive Entertainment Special Interest Group (MIT Enterprise Forum) since the fall and our next event is on March 3rd. The panel will actually discuss how the video game industry is being impacted by the economy. I’m looking forward to it.

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I used to love reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books, and was inspired by two very different stimulus ideas I saw today…here it goes:

Economic drought has stifled the flow of goods and services all across the land. Something must be done to revive it. You – the wise journeyman – have set out find the way to Prosperity, the great land of economic goodness. You’ve journeyed for many moons and many miles, and now, you’ve reached a treacherous, tantalizing fork in the road.
A sign at the fork seems to offer a clue: “Both roads add $800 billion to the deficit, but only one leads to Prosperity. If you want to find the way, remember that for every promise, there is a price to pay.”
Choose your adventure…if you dare…
The Imperial Road
No Promises

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The Year in Markets

Economies and markets around the world really sucked this year, and a lot of hard-working people got screwed in the process. There was no place to run, no place to hide…and now – maybe, hopefully – no where to go except up (click the thumbnail to enlarge).

 I don’t like dwelling on the negative, and there’s little use in it anyway. President Truman said, “an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” The same way a forest fire gives way to and fertilizes new growth, this year’s swath of economic destruction will fertilize new opportunities, and in some cases, for entirely new groups of people. Case in point, right now mortgage rates are at all-time lows. First-time buyers…all aboard! Happy New Year, everyone, and here’s to a healthy and happy 2009!

30-Year Benchmark Mortgage Rate

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A silver lining on the otherwise gloomy economic cloud – As of December 22, gas prices in Massachusetts (adjusted for inflation) are at their lowest level since April 2002.

ma-gas-prices

Source: Energy Information Administration, weekly retail gasoline prices. Inflation adjustment based on Northeast regional Consumer Price Index time series from BLS.

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civics-quiz1

Test your American civics knowledge. The test contains 33 questions about America’s founding principles, political history, international relations, and market economy – the basics about the systems all Americans participate in every day.

For the last three years, the ISI (Intercollegiate Studies Institute) has conducted their American Civic Literacy Program study to see whether people have a grasp of basic knowledge required to be an informed citizen (the 2008 study is finished, you can take the quiz for fun by clicking the link above).

For three straight years the results have shown that Americans are alarmingly uninformed about our Constitution, the basic functions of our government, the key texts of our national history, and economic principles. Seventy-one percent of Americans fail this test (score 59% or less), which is really, really sad. Fewer than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government. The study has also consistently shown that college educated participants and elected officials fail the majority of the time.

Most Americans would probably agree that it’s pretty damn important for high schools and colleges to be teaching our future leaders about America’s history, key documents and institutions, but evidently this isn’t happening in an effective way. This is a sad commentary on our education system, including colleges and universities.

The findings and survey methods are described on the website.

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