Archive for November 2011

LOL in LA

November 30, 2011

The Michael Jackson’s wrongful death trial ended yesterday when the Judge issued his sentence.  The Judge handed down a four year (maximum) sentence to Conrad Murray and then added insult to injury with a scolding from the bench.  Only in LA.

The whole trial atmosphere and the findings are surreal.  It revealed a world where by day Jackson prepared for a new road show and by night was incapacitated with high tech drugs administered by a private doctor.  Jackson lived in a rented home with his three adopted children yet no one thought to seek State child protection.

Jackson’s family attended the sentencing looking politically correct with words of “justice has been served”.  What type of a family would have let their son live like this without some type of intervention?

Los Angeles, of course, did not disappoint the media.  In a county and a State where there is not enough prison space to house all those convicted for their entire sentence and no money to build more, LA found the money to put on a show trial where the verdict means nothing.

Undoubtably Jackson was a willing participant.  Equally clear, the good doctor Murray was both incompetent and uncaring in administering such powerful drugs in a private home.  Murray also trashed his credibility by not reporting Jackson to State mental health officials as well as State child care authorities.  It is tough today to make a buck.

All the major television networks and tabloid newspapers have had an advertising field day reporting this sick story.  How any serious news media outlet could justify putting reports on the trial’s progress in the same newscast as news about the Arab Spring, seems inexplicable.   But these days making a buck is not so easy.

Hopefully America has heard the last of Dr Murray and Michael Jackson.

I just wonder what might have happened had Wall Street been located in Los Angeles?  Would the mortgage companies, big banks, and investment firms’ executives who gamed the system and nearly bankrupt the nation while looting pension funds and average Americans have been tried?

I’m not sure it would have happened since LA likes LOL.

What’s The Story?

November 29, 2011

Yesterday the media was aglow with reports that a woman has accused Herman Cain of a 13 year affair.  She knew it was wrong but she did it anyways, she said.  Is that the story?

Most reporters raced to the probable impact this revelation might have on Cain’s chance to gain the GOP Presidential nomination.  These reporters should be all fired since Cain has between zero and zilch chance of winning any primary let alone the nomination.

Some reported Cain’s attorney saying that the sex life between consenting adults is none of anyones business particularly the press.  This is a worthy story but not what the conservative social value followers want to hear or read.

The real story, as when the first allegations of sexual harassment emerged against Cain, is who leaked the story and what was the gain expected by those bringing the charges?  Was it for money?  (Like that would never occur to a civic minded citizen.)

At this moment there is no smoking gun… that has been found.  If I were to look for one, I would be looking in either Rick Perry’s or Karl Rove’s closets.

Perry has only a little time to get into the top three now that Newt has slipped into number two making Perry number four.  If Perry could discredit Cain, maybe Perry could live to fight another day.

The Rove options is a little deeper stretch.  It is true that Rove already has vast experience at smear tactics and planting false and unflattering rumors about others.  It is part of his DNA.  However, as of now, Rove has no dogs in this fight… that is if we only consider the declared candidates.

Rove is already busy with influence ad postings (via American Crossroads).  He is just missing an announced candidate.  Rove is a stretch, but not that far out a one.

Sadly, the news media is as lame as advertised.  They are fully compromised since the next 12 months represent the biggest pay days for television, radio, and print media.  If they are fed misinformation and told to forget who told them, they will for fear of missing the next really big piece of news.

Dead rats, however, have a habit of creating such a smell that their presence finally does become known.  We will see.

Time To Be Strong

November 28, 2011

The year end is approaching rapidly.  Our Country is faced with a dysfunctional Congress trying to deal with an out of control deficit and a dangerously large debt.   It is, also, time to get out of Iraq and it is time to begin a steady reduction in troop strength in Afghanistan.  While Iran represents a threat to both regional and international peace, keeping troops at its front doors is not the answer.  It is not in our national best interest.

The war hawks and the even more numerous chicken hawks (remember them from the Iraq invasion and occupation) think otherwise.  They are chanting for maintaining a strong visible presence in the Middle East.  Some even call for a preemptive strike.  These voices were wrong before and they are wrong now.

Striking Iran without taking control with occupation will be too little too late.  This invasion option, regardless, is off the table given the lack of world support.  The second reason this approach is a non-starter is the supporters are unwilling (again) to pay for it, plain and simple.

This is a time for America to be strong.  Strong does not mean putting fighting men and women on the ground.  Strong means ensuring the Country has the financial strength and resolve to deal with issues that impact the entire country.  Feeding the Defense Industry is not a strategy of national purpose given what other tough sacrifices are facing Americans.

There is $200 billion a year that can come out of the Defense Budget without breaking a sweat.  To be sure the problem is not just defense spending.  It also includes what foreign and domestic policies the country wishes to follow.  Not often mention openly are strategic economic policies.  Goals such as access to oil or other precious raw materials, or keeping the seas open so American exports can reach foreign markets are important goals too.

While there is probably a good for the general population within these goals, we must not overlook that there is a “greater good” for the top 2% of America’s earners from these policies.  If the top 2% do not want to pay higher taxes, then another set of foreign policies, requiring less Defense Department spending will be necessary.

Don’t bite for the Iran threat.  This is a time to be really strong.

Early Christmas Present

November 27, 2011

The breathtaking news flashing across television screens yesterday said it all.  Professional basketball was not dead for 2011/2012.  A deal had been reached in what must make most Americans wonder who is the adult in the room.

NBA owners were unsatisfied with their 43% take of team revenues.  Not surprisingly, the players did not want to give up their 57%.  A firm and final offer of 50-50 was rejected by the player’s union.  Fifty percent of the annual $4 billion was not enough.

Most observers of the game find it a bit boring.  For sure some players are brilliant athletes and a pleasure to watch.  Other players hustle only in the final moments of the game and some nights seem content to dog it the entire evening. The players are quick, however, to wear the gear they endorse (and receive gobs of money for doing so).

The owners try their best to spice up these bore-fests with all sorts of fan entertainments like cheer leaders or mascots or contests.  They seem to throw in the actual game as an after thought.

It must have suddenly occurred to both sides that they were walking away from a gold mine.  So after an overnight bargaining session, a new agreement was announced.  The players would receive between 49 and 51% of the total revenue.  Sounds a lot like 50-50.  Games would resume in time for Christmas.

The irony is that the owners greed is just as much responsible for the strike as that of the players.  The owners could not trust each other to be reasonable in awarding salaries.  They suspected that some owners would pay more to attract the better players.  Then other owners would pay more to retain those same players.  All of a sudden they feared they might be paying the players all the revenue.

So we will have basketball to take our minds off the equally bizarre behavior of our Congress.  When sensible compromise, fair to all parties and necessary for the health of the country, are cast aside in order to benefit one special interest or another, maybe Congress should look to the NBA for a clue.

Some big problems are not that hard to solve.

Great Mysteries of Life

November 26, 2011

The most recent opinion GOP Presidential nomination polls show Newt Gingrich on top.  His margin is not much but the mere fact that he is not on the bottom is amazing.  It makes you wonder what type of cool aid people are drinking.

The more I thought about this mystery, the more I realized that one explanation is that the bottom was already crowded and getting more crowded each day.  There is no room there for Newt.

Rick Santorum hangs out there.  His conservative, strong military, and hugely social conservatives views have so far not caught the nation’s attention.  Bumping into Rick is Michelle Bachmann.  She is sinking from her brief time in the upper atmosphere like a rock.  To her credit, Michelle is never at a loss for words, facts yes, but words, no.

Rick Perry cut loose his parachute during the debates and is seeking his more appropriate level in the bottom world.  Given enough time he will settle right on top of Santorum and Backmann.  Ron Paul has a steady poll following of about 10%.  Paul is legitimately interesting and consistent.  His Libertarian views, however, do not satisfy the bible thumpers or the war chicken hawks.

Just above is Herman Cain.  His time in the sun is fading fast.  Herman was interesting and fun to watch.  His treatment of woman and total lack of any foreign policy knowledge seems to have burst his bubble.  He is destine to float  down too.

At the top of the tree we find Mit Romney and Newt Gingrich.  This is a familiar place for Mit.  He has been there for the entire political season.  All that has changed has been who was just above him or just below.  Now is Newt’s 15 minutes of fame.  Newt will self destruct soon.  (His candidacy would be too much of a gift for President Obama.)  Newt seems not limited to a prepared script and spouts off what comes into his head.  He is experienced but comes with a history of hypocrisy and changed positions.  It is just a matter of time before Newt begins his drive to the bottom.

By far the largest mystery is Jon Huntsman.  He is conservative and pragmatic.  He has a record of executive leadership and is well spoken.  He is both sensible and courageous.  He would be an excellent candidate to oppose President Obama.  So why not?

The pundits tell us it is all about name recognition and Huntsman’s name is not well recognized.  This may be but why is that?  He has been married to only one wife.  He can’t see Russia from his porch (although he can speak Mandarin).  He rejects water boarding along with all other forms of torture.  He advocates a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal aliens living in the US.

It seems to me that Huntsman’s dilemma has everything to do with his absence from making preposterous statements which fail the test of fact or logic.  So with this type of opposition, the greatest mystery is why have a 2012 Presidential election?

Mattel’s New Competitor, the Defense Department’s Defense.

November 24, 2011

Between now and Christmas, television sets will be filled with commercials.  “Buy this”, or “Buy that”.  “This is what every child wants”!  Soon, however, there will be more heart wrenching advertisements.  These ads will be designed to keep make you worried and keep you awake at night.  What are they?

These ads will be naked endorsements for the defense industry.  They will advocate minimum, if any, cuts in defense department spending.  Cut Medicare or some other government spending program but not any defense spending.

Human nature tells us that the defense contractors are concerned about their own self interests first.  They will lobby as a group but when it comes to their contract, that is personal.  Right now phones are ringing off the hook at Congressional offices.  State and local authorities are worried too.  Defense contractor employees pay taxes and buy from local communities.  This is big business.

Stepping back, it is amazing.  The US is borrowing 40 cents for every dollar the government spends.  The GOP says “no tax increases”.  So where exactly are these cuts to come from?

The US spends more on defense than anyone else and the defense budget is as large as all others combined.  Other data shows clearly that health care costs in the US are 50-100% more than other first class countries.  You can’t fix Medicare and Medicaid unless you fix health care.  So where are the cuts coming from?

No increase in taxes, no defense cuts, and no changes to health care adds up to “Nonsense”.

Mattel makes toys.  Toys are nonsense but they make children’s lives happy.  I wonder whether Mattel can make a “Here’s How To Balance Your Budget” toy for our Congress members?

Occupy, Super, and the GOP

November 23, 2011

What is the similarity between Occupy Wall Street, the Super Committee, and GOP policy?  Give Up?

The answer is they are all losers.

Occupy Wall Street may have began with a noble, if not idealistic, goal of exposing the over the top behavior of big banks and investment houses.  The movement has now morphed into a collection of multi-purposed sub-groups, each with its own identity.  Their message has been lost.  These sub-groups have robbed the Occupy movement of validity in making any statement.  The original message which told of how the 99% of Americans have been stiffed over the past 40 years while the top 1% have lived the American dream has not progressed beyond the code word – 99%.

Looking to Congress, the Congressional Super Committee disbanded, and as expected, with no agreement.  Incredibly with a $3.5 trillion annual budget, a $15 trillion debt, and a budget deficit of over $1 trillion, this Super Committee act like mental midgets and could find no cuts.  Once again the American people have been shown how valuable their Congress really is.

GOP policy as seen in the Super Committee proceedings and much more visibly in the Republican Presidential debates is clearly stuck in a non-sensical and non-productive tract.  The GOP has staunchly protected the top 1% from any tax increases even when there is a pressing need and no evidence that their current tax rate has benefited the country.

It can be well understood that in negotiations, no one concedes something without the other side conceding too.  You would have expected the GOP to say we will support raising tax revenues and we will support taxing the wealthiest 1%, if we also see comparable decreases in entitlements and other government spending.  That is sort of “put up or shut up”.  We heard no such offer from the GOP.

In a strange way, all three dots can be connected.  Occupy. Congress, and the GOP are broken.  They are on paths that will produce no fruit.

The GOP’s refusal to support tax increases in the face of Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal’s situations, or ignoring the complete lack of practicality of deporting 11 million undocumented aliens represent delusional and destructive thinking.

Congress’ inability to address issues that impact all of America and instead only recognize the needs or wants of special interests clearly demonstrate that Congress members are interested only in themselves.

Occupy’s foundering signals a group with deep emotions and little or no sense of how to channel these emotions.  Of course, it may not be that Occupy is broken or dysfunctional.  Rather it may show the depth of despair in America as the nations cries out for the chance to return to the American dream only to find all roads blocked.

Two “Two Faced” Groups

November 21, 2011

What do Congress and conservative religious groups have in common?  Answer, they are both “two faced” about what they say they stand for.

It is really easy to see that characteristic in Congress members.  We are so used to our politician’s behavior that we sort of think that “two faced” nature comes from their DNA.  Saying “I’m 100% in favor” before the election date, and “I have to vote my conscience” is time honored and gives plenty of wiggle room.

The most recent failure of the “Supper Committee” fits the two face mold perfectly.

Reducing the $1 trillion Federal deficit would seem a task for shared sacrifice.  Looking closer,  cutting entitlements will hurt middle class and poorer citizens much more than the wealthy.  The wealthy simply have more discretionary income.  The rich can use their greater income to pay for any cost shifts associated with changes to Medicare and Medicaid.  The rich can pay and still have plenty of money left over, the bottom 99% can not.

With respect to taxes, the very wealthy prefer as income dividends and capital gains which are taxed at 10%.    That is a tax rate far less than what a plumber or school teacher must pay.

Are cuts to entitlements without changes to the tax code “shared”?  Is that fair?

Conservative religious groups lead by the Catholic Church try to project quite a different image.  They are tending to their flocks.  Surprisingly, they have also been lobbying behind the scenes.  (So what else is new?)

Their objective has been to obtain an exemption from the Department of Health and Human Services’ rule that employers must include in employee health insurance coverage for birth control methods.  These groups say birth control conflicts with their beliefs.

Fair enough.

Interestingly, no exemption should really be needed because the law does not require members of those beliefs to use birth control.  And it should be crystal clear that these religious groups have no right under our Constitution to impose their beliefs on others.

To make this “two faced” nature of this position even starker, just remember these groups position on abortion.  Abortions result from unwanted pregnancies.  Birth control methods sharply reduce unwanted pregnancies.  So, how exactly can someone be opposed to abortion and also oppose methods to prevent the need for abortion?

Being “two faced” seems a badge of honor in Congress.  Church leaders seem to feel right at home mirroring Congress’s behavior too.

I guess being “two faced” is the new standard for leadership.

Super Solution

November 19, 2011

The Congressional “Super Committee” is wrestling with finding $1.2 trillion is deficit reduction measures.  So far they have been stymied.  Shouts of “no new taxes” and “don’t cut my Medicare” fill the air.  The most hypocritical group are the defense hawks who predict a national disaster if the Committee fails and sequestration is used by default.  This end of world scenario voiced by defense hawks is really about cutting spending to their favorite defense contractor.  At least the “no tax” crowd and the “protect Medicare” group are honest about their self interests.

Here is a proposition for a Super Solution.  Actually it is only part of the solution but at least it would get us to focus upon the real intractable parts of this budget problem.

Step 1 is to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for everyone, middle class and wealthy.  That returns the country to a tax rate where the country experienced growth and balanced budgets.

Step 2 alters the tax code so as to treat capital gains and dividend income as ordinary income.

The first two steps signals all the income Congress will have.   Their task becomes one of contracting spending to fit with this level.  This is somewhat like all Americans do with the personal budgets.  No more whining about taxing the rich.

Step 3 lumps Defense and Medicare, the two biggest expenditures.  Congress’s task is to reduce expenditures by change in policy, improved efficiency, and lower purchasing costs.  The Medical expenditures represented by Medicare represent such a huge amount, there must be cost reductions that hospitals, doctors, and drug companies can make.  The exact same expectation is true for defense contractors.  Remember, the US spends more on defense than all other countries combined, and US health care expenditures are 30-50% more per capita than all other countries without commensurate results.

Should Congress not be able to agree upon sufficient cuts to now balance the budget, automatically taxes must be raised.

As part of Step 3, Congress could get additional expenditure savings from other areas of the Federal government and that could help moderate the amount needed to be cut from Defense and Medicare.

Once the budget was balanced (no deficit), Congress could look to how to reduce government spending further or how to collect more tax revenues.  For example, all of the individual and corporate tax code exceptions (loopholes) could be closed thereby raising tax revenue.  This increased revenue could be offset by lowering marginal rates.

Of course this post is pure fantasy.  Our Congress Members have virtually no interest in fixing the $3.5 trillion budget.  Given their wishes, this budget would be even larger.  Spending means there is a chance to enrich someone and obtain a favor in return.

Living beyond ones means forever is not possible.  The circus that is playing these days in Europe is all about countries that are happy to borrow and spend but are not willing to pay back what they borrowed.

Hmmm.  Maybe “tax and spend” is not such a bad policy after all.

Where Are You, Joe, When We Need You?

November 18, 2011

This post is not about Penn State’s Joe Paterno, or Joe DiMaggio for that matter.  It is about Joe Sestak who ran for the US Senate and was defeated in 2010 by Pat Toomey.  If only Joe had won, maybe we, as Pennsylvanians, wouldn’t have to be embarrassed and shamed by our elected US Senator.

Toomey, former Club for Growth President, has been billed as the Republican’s Senate lead dog on tax reform.  He’s on the Super Committee and has made the newspapers this past week with his statements indicating GOP willingness to accept some new tax revenues.  Is this a breakthrough?  I’m afraid not.

Toomey’s plan would trade income tax margin reductions for some tax code deductions.  The net he claims would amount to a $300 billion (read $30 billion per year) tax revenue increase.  Think about that.  The US has a $1 trillion deficit and the GOP proposes $30 billion in offsetting tax revenue increase!

Joe would not have proposed anything like that.  He can do the math.

But Pat Toomey’s proposal is not just about poor math.  It is about outlandish tax policy and abuse of fairness.  Toomey proposes lowering the margin rates from 35% to 28% for the top and lowering from 10% to 8% for the lowest tax bracket.  Think about this.

What is it about unfair income distribution that Toomey does not understand.  The wealthiest would see their marginal rates reduced 7% while the working person would only see a 2% rate decrease and possibly see that offset by the tax code deductions changes.  How could any Republican stand up and make a proposal as preposterous as that?  Joe would never do that.

The real wealthy, that is the top quarter of 1%, receive much, if not most, of their income from dividends and capital gains.  Under Toomey’s proposal they could still keep their 10% dividend/capital gains rate and get a new lower rate on the rest of their income.  Such a deal!

Toomey’s GOP proposal is both unfair and irresponsible.  It does practically nothing for decreasing the deficit and once again hands out generous favors to those who most can afford to pay more.  Joe would never do that.

The GOP spin suggests Democrats are not willing to make big cuts to entitlements.  That may be accurate criticism and if true why doesn’t the GOP layout entitlement cuts and offer in exchange fair increases in tax revenues?

Joe would do that.