The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 27, 2014

Zachary Hubbard | Random thoughts on politics, our money


JOHNSTOWN — Lately, the news has contained more baloney than usual. Let’s start with Ukraine, where I left off last time. There are about 100,000 Russian soldiers currently deployed opposite Ukraine’s eastern border. It’s anybody’s guess if or when Russia’s President Vladimir “Vlad the Mad” Putin will order an invasion.

Meanwhile, powerless to take direct action to counter the Russian military threat, President Obama recently dispatched his vice president to Ukraine to shake some hands, make some assuring speeches and promise $50 million in aid. Thanks, American taxpayers!

Speaking of the Ukraine mess and your tax dollars, Poland recently made headlines. The Poles are concerned their country might be next on Putin’s list for conquest. On April 19, the Stars and Stripes reported, “Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Si-korski is urging NATO to station 10,000 troops in Poland.”

On the same day, the Washington Post reported that Poland and the United States will intensify their cooperation in air defense, special forces, cyberdefense and other areas. Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak indicated his country will play a major, regional role “under U.S. patronage.” Simply put, American taxpayers will foot most of the bill.

So where is Germany while Putin rattles his sabre? The most powerful European member of NATO is hunkered down, fearful of more Russian bullying. If Germany appears too strongly opposed to Russia’s shenanigans in Ukraine, Putin might shut down his critical natural gas pipeline again, leaving the Germans and others in the cold.

Despite having the world’s fourth largest nominal gross domestic product ($3.9 trillion) in 2013 and largest trade surplus ($275 billion), Germany still rides America’s coattails when it comes to defense. Thanks, American taxpayers! With a GDP roughly four times greater that of Germany’s, the United States spent 10 times more on defense last year.

Energy bullying is equally as threatening to America as it is to Germany. America’s  clout has suffered because of its energy dependency on Middle East oil tyrants. Americans suffer from increasing energy costs. Energy prices trickle down through the entire economy, directly or indirectly affecting the price of nearly everything.

Yet, despite having already ruined the nation’s economy, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill simply won’t put their heads together to formulate a viable national energy policy. The Keystone XL pipeline fiasco has become a poster child for their political dithering.

On April 18, the Obama administration announced yet another delay in its five-year review of the pipeline proposal. Stretching some 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the pipeline would give America easy access to Canada’s vast tar sands oil reserves.

According to the National Journal, Keystone XL would carry about 700,000 barrels of oil per day to the United States, half as much as it currently imports from the Middle East. Most Republicans want the pipeline. Most Democrats don’t. Recently, however, some key Democrats have begun criticizing the administration’s delays. After all, it’s an election year.

Been grocery shopping lately? Prices are way up. Many analysts attribute the spike to prolonged drought conditions in the western United States, Brazil and southeast Asia. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American grocery prices rose an average of 2.8 percent annually since 1990. A Wall Street Journal article on March 18 indicated that federal forecasters estimate retail food prices will rise as much as 3.5 percent in 2014. Today, the price of hamburger is more like the price of steak was a couple of years ago.

How will Americans pay for higher food costs? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of unemployed Americans ages 25-65 possessing at least a bachelor’s degree was 27.3 percent in March. That’s a far cry from the official overall U.S. unemployment rate of 6.7 percent reported for the same month. It doesn’t take an economist to see there’s a fuzzy math somewhere ( The government can report that unemployment is 6.7 percent, but the struggling Joe Sixpacks know better.

Speaking of fuzzy math, a growing number of Democrats have begun shying away from the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare – another sign that elections can’t be far off. The controversial price tag gives ample reason for concern in a country that already can’t pay its bills.

While the law may yet prove popular across the nation, it’s a sure bet that won’t happen before the November elections. While distancing themselves from Obamacare might help some Democrats win re-election in the mid-terms, it could leave them in the doghouse with their party bosses.

Meanwhile, Congressman Jim Moran, a Democrat, wants a raise. Calling Congress the “board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world,” Moran recently told Politico that $174,000 is too little for congressmen to live comfortably in the Washington, D.C., area. This sort of thinking is a sure sign Moran views his position as a job, not a calling. Too many professional politicians share his opinion. Ask the woman working two minimum-wage jobs just so her family can get by if she could eke out a living on such a paltry sum?

If you heard a big “whoosh” when you read about Moran, it was the sound of congressional approval ratings sinking farther. According to a recent Gallup poll, the approval ratings started 2014 at a whopping 13 percent.

I could go on, but enough pain for now. Lately, just reading the news makes me want to grab another Xanax. But there’s a better solution than drugs for America’s anxiety. It’s called the ballot box. As I’ve frequently encouraged you before, please join me in the revolution this November and vote them all out!

Zachary Hubbard, formerly of Johnstown, is a freelance writer and retired Army officer residing in the Greater Pittsburgh area.