Why I’m Voting For Mitt Romney And Paul Ryan

On Tuesday, I’ll walk in to the polling booth at the church in New Albany where we vote and touch the screen for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  I recognize that that decision won’t come as much of a surprise for loyal readers of our family blog.  I think it’s only fair to explain why, if only to add one more person’s perspective to the national conversation about this election.

In my view, the most important issue confronting our country is our federal deficit and national debt — the latter of which has passed the $16 trillion mark.  I care about other issues, of course, but I view our debt as the most fundamental issue of all because it involves basic concepts of national sovereignty.  Our debt is so large, and has existed for so long, that we tend to think of it as a kind of abstraction . . . but every dollar of that debt is a real obligation of our country, reflected in an instrument sold by the U.S. treasury to a willing buyer who will be paid a specified interest rate.  With each additional bit of borrowing, we give those people from whom we are borrowing leverage that may allow them to dictate terms — at first, the terms of the debt instruments, by insisting on higher interest payments, and then eventually the terms of how our government operates, by dictating whether we need to adopt austerity measures in how our country operates if we hope to obtain additional loans.  At that point, our national sovereignty is at stake.

We know this to be the case, because over the past few years we have seen it occur in Iceland and Ireland, and in Greece and Portugal.  Those countries borrowed irresponsibly and saw the interest rates on their debt instruments rise as investors became increasingly concerned that the debts might not be repaid and demanded higher rates as the price for accepting that risk.  And, ultimately, outside forces — the International Monetary Fund, European Union bankers, and others — went to each of those formerly sovereign nations and told them what they needed to do if they hoped to continue to borrow money.  Those governments accepted the conditions and agreed to the austerity measures imposed by outsiders because they had no choice.

I don’t want to see that happen here — yet, over the last four years, we have seen the United States move down that very same path, with annual trillion-dollar deficits that have taken our total debt past the unimaginable sum of $16 trillion.  We also passed a significant milestone on that road to perdition when our national credit rating was downgraded.  I don’t think that downgrade has received the attention it deserves.  Imagine!  Credit rating agencies presuming to raise questions about the credit of the leader of the free world, a country so stable that its currency gave rise to the now-antiquated phrase “sound as a dollar.”  But the ratings agencies are so presumptuous, and we are kidding ourselves if we think our many lenders aren’t also carefully considering our credit-worthiness.

I don’t want to wake up one morning and see that our political leaders are having to dance to the tune called by teams of grey-suited bankers from the IMF, or China, or Germany.  If that happens — and if we continue to rack up trillion-dollar annual deficits, it inevitably will — we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what it would mean.  Does anyone think federal funding of NPR or contraceptives, to identify only two of the issues being discussed during this campaign, would survive under the austerity measures forced upon us by creditors?  Does anyone think the bankers would hesitate to require fundamental changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare?  Does anyone think our country could continue to function as a world leader, and a force for good, as a debtor nation struggling to deal with its overwhelming credit problems?

I recognize this is a dire scenario, and some believe it just can’t happen here.  My response is to look at what has happened in Europe, to countries that have just been ahead of us on the irresponsible fiscal policy curve.  Their experience shows, I think, that it can happen here — and it will, if we don’t do something about it.  I’m too proud of this country and what it has accomplished to let that happen without trying to change course.

I don’t think President Obama places a high priority on grappling with our deficit and debt problems.  He’s talked about them, but his actions speak louder than his words.  He continues to propose budgets that would result in trillion-dollar debts for years into the future, and continues to propose the creation of new federal agencies and federal programs as the solution for every problem.  He hasn’t used the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage Congress to act.  I’ve seen nothing from President Obama to indicate that his performance over the next four years on this crucial issue of national sovereignty would be any different than his performance over the past four years.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, on the other hand, do focus on the issue of our deficit and our debt and have proposed approaches.  I think they understand the fundamental nature of the problem and would make working with Congress to address the issues in a meaningful way their top priority.  I want someone in the White House who will tackle the debt problem, not let us drift into catastrophe.  That’s why I’m voting for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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Europe Is Still There, And Its Problems Are Getting Worse

In America, we have the ability to just ignore the rest of the world now and then.  When the news from abroad is too depressing, we turn it off and focus on more interesting American things instead, like a celebrity scandal or  the new iPhone or a weirdly viral YouTube video.

I think most Americans have tuned out the debt crisis in Europe.  It has been going on forever.  There’s no end in sight.  Lots of different, faraway countries are involved. The Europeans appear to be dealing with it.  So why should we care?  Look, a squirrel!

On Friday Standard & Poor’s cut the credit ratings for the debt issued by nine European countries.  France, Europe’s second-largest economy, lost its AAA status, Italy’s debt is now rated the same as that of Kazakhstan, and Portugal’s debt is down to junk bond status.  Even worse, it looks like Greece won’t be able to reach agreement with its creditors, which would mean that the latest Eurozone effort to address the Greek debt crisis would fail and Greece would be facing default and bankruptcy in March.

In the modern world, the economies of countries are connected in countless ways.  We sell lots of good and services to Europe; if its economies crash, those markets vanish and American businesses will suffer.  American banks, mutual funds, and investors have purchased the sovereign debt of European countries and would experience huge losses in the event of defaults.  And, of course, Europe’s current predicament is just a peek at America’s likely future if we don’t deal promptly with our governmental debt problems.  European countries that are saddled with enormous debt are now at the mercy of ratings agencies, creditors, and faceless bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund.

So, we can be distracted if we choose — but Europe is still there, and its problems are, too.  They may be our problems soon, if we don’t start paying attention.

Uh Oh (Again)

The news from Europe has not been good for some time now — but today may be a turning point into even more negative territory.  As the United States enjoyed the Labor Day holiday, equity markets across Europe plunged by an average of 4 percentGermany’s DAX took the hardest hit, falling by more than 5 percent.

It’s not hard to understand why European investors are troubled.  Greece, Spain, and Portugal all are struggling with serious debt problems, and recently Italy, one of Europe’s biggest economies, also has tumbled into distressed territory.  In the meantime, the large, more solvent northern European countries — particularly Germany — have had to prop up their profligate southern European partners.  Germany’s financial support of free-spending Eurozone countries hasn’t gone down well with German voters, who delivered a stinging rebuke to the ruling party in regional elections.

Interestingly, some political leaders in Germany and elsewhere seem to see the ongoing problems as a reason for an even closer political and economic union between the nations of Europe — whereas European citizens, in contrast, appear to be yearning for more control over the destinies of their own countries.  The depths of the Eurozone debt problems are not yet fully understood, and analysts wonder how much worthless debt is held by European banks and whether the piecemeal bailout efforts will ever staunch the outflow of investor confidence.  Given all of these circumstances, it’s not hard to foresee more hard times ahead in the Eurozone.

Eurotrip 2011: Lisbon and Porto

The riverfront in Porto.

I had a feeling that I would like Portugal. Like Istanbul and Athens, my two favorite cities from the first half of my trip, Portugal seemed like it would be “on the edge” of Europe, so it would have a less touristy, more intimate vibe, inside and outside the hostels. My intuition proved to be correct; Portugal was one of the best parts of my trip so far.

I spent six days in Portugal – three in Lisbon, three in Porto. Both cities were beautiful, thanks to plenty of hilly views, non-stop sunshine, and to the Portuguese custom of covering the outsides of buildings with colorful tiles. Unfortunately, the Portuguese also have a less pleasant custom of making their sidewalks out of bits of slippery tiles.

The Portuguese tile style.

More tiled buildings.

Lisbon was great, but gritty. Its oceanfront is taken up by a busy road and some decrepit buildings. It’s impossible – for a young man, at least – to take a walk without a few guys coming up to you and whispering “hashish, marijuana, coke.”

The main thoroughfare in Lisbon.

Another view of Lisbon.

Porto was my favorite of the two cities. In fact, it would rank near the top of my list of my favorite destinations on my trip. It has a beautiful riverfront with steep banks occupied here and there by layers of buildings, many of them abandoned and falling apart, but in a charming way (for some reason, deteriorating buildings look good in Europe but not in America). There are many tall bridges spanning the river, including one designed by Gustav Eiffel. Porto’s riverfront is one of the places that gave me a specific sensation that I’ll always remember.

Porto's riverfront.

The view of the riverfront from the top of Eiffel's bridge.

An abandoned building by the river.

Porto also has many lovely churches which use the tiled-exterior style.

I turned 25 the day I arrived in Porto, so I got a nice seafood dinner, compliments of my mom and dad. A pair of American couples at the table next to mine struck up a conversation with me, and when they learned it was my birthday they bought me a slice of cake.

Strangely, one of my favorite things about Portugal was that there weren’t many famous museums and historical sights that I felt obligated to go to. The only item on my agenda was to enjoy the beauty and the culture. This came at a welcome time; after traveling more than two and a half months, I was starting to feel a little burnt out. I took lots of naps, especially in the hammock they had in the backyard of my hostel in Lisbon.

I did some sightseeing, however. I took a daytrip from Lisbon to Sintra, where I hiked up to a 9th-century Moorish castle with a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside.

The Moorish castle.

Both of the hostels I stayed in were big hits. In Lisbon I stayed at the Lisbon Chillout Hostel. You already know that it was awesome because I mentioned that it had a backyard with a hammock. My hostel in Porto was the the Yellow House hostel. The hostels reminded me of my hostels in Istanbul and Athens in that they were small, they had great hang-out areas, and the staff socialized with the guests a lot. They both had breakfasts that were beyond anything I expected from a hostel at this point – an unlimited supply of cereal, toast, coffee and orange juice. Having gone more than two months without cereal, which is a major part of my diet in the United States, I ate about two bowls a day.

The chillout area of the Lisbon Chillout hostel, with hammock.

One of the employees at my hostel in Porto told me that there weren’t any hostels in Portugal until a few years ago, so all the hostels there are new. Maybe that’s why both my hostels were so good – they haven’t realized that hostel guests don’t expect to get an unlimited supply of cereal with their breakfast.

On the 28th I finally said goodbye to Latin Europe. I took a flight to Paris, and from there I took a train to Bruges, my current location.

Eurotrip 2011: Madrid

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul