Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reality, not bumper stickers . . .(a bit of political wonkiness)

I was told today that liberals believe in fairy tales and ignore reality.

Here is some reality.

Since 2002 the United States has been involved in two wars. The cost of those wars, so far, is 1.2 trillion dollars.  There was no effort by the federal government to pay for the war in any way, be it tax increases or reductions in other areas of the budget.  This is not about whether the wars were good or bad. This is about sound financial policy. In 2008, the year that the economy was collapsing, the cost of the war was around $180,000,000,000.00 (that's billion) dollars. Hopefully the costs of the wars will continue to go down in the next couple of years, but they will continue to add to the deficit in smaller amounts. That does not take into consideration continuing increases in costs of treating and supporting our veterans.

In 2003, Congress enacted what is now Medicare Part D, which provided assistance to seniors with the high costs of prescription medicine.  Like the wars, it was not paid for, either by new taxes or reductions in other areas of the budget.  This is not about whether the program is good or bad. This is about sound financial policy. It is estimated to cost forty to fifty billion dollars each year, and will continue indefinitely.

In 2008 the U. S. economy hemorrhaged jobs, losing 2.6 million.  In December, 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent.  The unemployment rate had risen to 7.4 percent in January, 2009, an increase of 2.7 percent in one year.  That is where it stood when President Obama was inaugurated.

In 2007 U. S. Tax revenue was 2.6 trillion dollars, falling to 2.5 trillion in 2008 as the effects of the recession began to hit tax collection. . U. S. federal tax revenue dropped to 2.1 trillion in 2009. (I think revenues received in a given year reflect the tax liabilities of the prior year, if that is wrong, let me know). That's a drop of half trillion dollars in collected revenue in two years, fourteen to seventeen percent of the federal budget.

In January, 2009, before President Obama was inaugurated, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that the 2009 budget, already in its fourth month, was projected to create more than a trillion dollar deficit.

The housing industry was in free fall. The financial system was near collapse under the weight of a mortgage and lending crisis and a busted real estate bubble.

I will leave out the discussion of the federal income tax cuts of 2003, except to say that taxes were cut with no commensurate  cuts in spending. Not very prudent during a war.

Reality is that a president took office when the unemployment rate was around 7.5 percent.  After reaching a high of above ten percent in the next couple of years, the unemployment rate was down to about 8.5 percent at the end of his third year. That president was Ronald Reagan.   And Barack Obama.

Not excuses.


Reality is that Barack Obama proposed and pushed through Congress the original stimulus package, to spend 750 billion dollars, about thirty percent of which were tax cuts.  That spending is the primary thing that President Obama has contributed to an increase in spending. It is fair to examine that policy decision during his re-election campaign.  .

And it is fair to examine other real policy decisions about foreign relations, health care reform, energy, education, immigration, the environment and all the rest. It is fair to honestly look at how much he has spent and on what, how much spending he has cut,  and how much his policies have raised or lowered taxes.

But it is just ignorance to dismiss Obama as a  socialist or a liberal.  Or question his citizenship. Or his patriotism. Or his religion. Or any other label that you might post on facebook or stick on your bumper.  Those notions are just fairy tales.

Get real, or get over it.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Show a little class . . . (warning: a little preachy)

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

At lunch the other day a friend of mine said,

"I am sick and tired of hearing the whining and complaining about class warfare by the guys that have already won it."

I wish I had said that.

"Class warfare" is a mantra from page one of the Republican 2012 song book (if mantras are in songbooks. I do not worry about such nuances on Saturday morning, I try not to worry at all on Saturday mornings . . . aummmmmm . . .)  (And I find it very open minded of the Republican conservative  religious right to be chanting mantras anyway, considering that the practice derives from Eastern religions, and I don't mean Boston, so maybe some progress is being made in religious tolerance . . . or perhaps they are singing praise choruses)  The term "class warfare" has been introduced into the discourse by the GOP (I don't really believe the GOP still exists, so I will no longer refer to the Republicans as such. While I have never been a member of the GOP,  I long for the days of the dependable, traditionally conservative adversary, the Grand Old Party. Perhaps I romanticize days gone by)  (I am using too many parentheticals this morning, so I will stop that now.)

I was talking about "class warfare" before I was interrupted by my own parentheticals. The Democrats have generally not used the term "class warfare" in this election season, except in response to the Republicans assertions.  The Democrats, more specifically President Obama, have simply pointed out the rapidly increasing sizes of the upper and lower economic classes, and the endangered species known as middle class America. The Republicans have screamed "class warfare" in response to this statement of an undisputable truth.

There is a sad irony here.  The Republicans cannot win without the support of fiercely committed conservative Christians.  It is these Christians that have, to a great extent, nailed down many of the planks of the Republican platform.

But the nails in the platform are not the only nails being pounded by the harsh, mean rhetoric of the Republican campaign.

For those who have forgotten, Christians are followers of Jesus Christ.  His brief earthly story is recounted in the New Testament.  The One they follow is the One who said, reflecting the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,"
Luke 4:17-19

He is the one who said,

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Matthew 19:23-25

He is the One who said,

"‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Matthew 25:41-45

He is the One who Paul was talking about when he said:

"This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross."
Acts 2:22-24

Jesus favored the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the outcast,and  the stranger.  His harshest language and actions were directed toward those who ignored, abused and used them.

Policy should be discussed.  Government may be the answer, maybe not.  But Christians, if we are following Christ, cannot tolerate the demonization of those who Jesus said He came to free.  Jesus beloved include those on food stamps.  His beloved include those on "welfare."  His beloved include illegal immigrants. His beloved include children. His beloved include the lonely, the elderly, the sick. His beloved include gays, His beloved include straights.

His beloved include us all, because we are all poor in some way, no matter how much money we have or don't have.

Any words that do not recognize this, do not embrace this, are not the words of Jesus.  And they cannot be the words of anyone who is following Him.

I suppose some might say that Jesus incited "class warfare."  His accusers said as much to Pilate when  they said he was stirring up the people with his ravings.  His words of love. His words of truth.

Put away the nails.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thurvey 1/26/2012

Thursday has rushed upon us once again, and with it the Thurvey (Thursday survey).  I would like to ask who it is that keeps passing these cold germs my way, but that won't be a Thurvey question. You may confess if you are the culprit.  Excellent commentation from last week's Thurvey convinced the Thurvey staff writers that fewer questions must be better, so less is more will continue.  Many of you may get tired of reading the instructions on how to comment each week, because it may be as natural as splenda to you by now, but, there are still millions of cyber-introverts who are intimidated by sharing their thoughts, and lean on the exaggerated complexities of posting a comment to avoid expressing their views. (Obviously not facebook users)  Who knows, they may be hiding the secret to world peace. So bear with me. If you wish to comment, type your comment in the box below, sign your name if you wish (or a pseudonym), click on the drop-down menu and choose anonymous, then click on publish.  If no comment box appears below, click on the little "comments" below and a box will appear.  So, now you have no excuse to stay in your shell. The world needs your input.

#1   The term "class warfare" is being heard in much of the political rhetoric of the 2012 campaign. The obvious classes being referred to are the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots.  One side raised the term saying that the discussion of the wealth gap is causing division.  The other side says that the division already exists and ignoring it is not the answer, nor does stating the truth mean it is fanning the flames of "class warfare."  Does such a significant gap exist in the U. S. or is the idea of it just a creation of those who would want to use it?  Is it a problem that needs correction or just a natural result of a free economic system?    What other types of "class warfare" either truly exist or are created for political purposes?  How is victory defined in "class warfare?"

#2  How do you keep from catching a cold?  How do you cure it?  Are kleenex recyclable?  Any information about how to endure a stupid cold is appreciated.

#3  Are you more interested in the Super Bowl or the Oscars?  Give any opinion you wish about either, or both, or explain you preference.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thurvey, 1/19/2012 . . . a cleaner, leaner Thurvey

Here we go with the Thurvey (Thursday survey) again.  Based upon anecdotal data it appears that the large number of questions from which to choose may be daunting to potential responders.  So, the Thurvey staff has cut back dramatically on the number of questions.  If you wish to share your responses with the world, simply type your response in the comment box below, include your name if you wish to be known, click on anonymous from the "comment as" drop down menu, then click on publish.  If the comment box does not appear below, click on the tiny "comments" below and voila, it should appear.

1.  The presidential election is nasty, and keeps getting nastier,  and that is just among the Republicans in the family feud.  It will only get worse.  So, let's try an exercise that I learned somewhere in my childhood.  I think it was the roots of my penchant for sarcasm.  Pick out a candidate other than the one you support, preferably the one you like the least, and say the best things you can muster about him (or her for those who are just aching to say something nice about Michelle Bachman, even though she stepped aside.)  For instance, I might say that Newt Gingrich reminds me of Captain Kangaroo and Mitt Romney reminds me of Mr. Green Jeans.  Now that I think of it Santorum reminds me of Mr. Moose and Huntsman reminds me of Mr. Bunny Rabbit.  Chris Christie reminds me of Dancing Bear. Paul reminds me of Grandfather Clock.  I have fond memories of all of these characters from Captain Kangaroo, and so now I feel a warmer spot in my heart for all of them.  (For you younger readers, these are all characters of the early TV hit childrens' program "Captain Kangaroo.") I suppose my Captain Kangaroo theme might stem from typing this while eating fruit loops and watching morning TV, not wanting to go to school . . . I mean work.  Anyway, that's what I might say. Serious or sarcastic, it doesn't matter.  Let's just try to feel better about each other.

2.  Ron Paul was booed by the crowd at the last Republican debate when he suggested that the Golden Rule, do unto others what you would have them do unto you, is an appropriate consideration in our country's foreign policy.  How do you feel about that?  Why?

3.  What is the best movie you have seen since Thanksgiving? Why?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ordinary income?

Okay, this post is a bit dry. But I want to know if what I'm thinking is true.  Hopefully some reader can point me in the right direction.  Because it is time to get serious, and it is hard to find serious information in the circus atmosphere of politics these days.

Today Mitt Romney reluctantly mentioned that he thought his effective tax rate on his income for the past year is somewhere around fifteen percent.  He still isn't releasing his tax return, but he did reveal this tidbit of vague disclosure.  His lack of specificity makes one think perhaps it might be a little less than that. On an annual income of millions of dollars.  He says that his income is taxed at fifteen percent because it is all investment income now, from the buying and selling of equities and other investments, as he is not employed by Bain Capital anymore.  It is legal.

What he is not yet discussing is whether he ever paid more than fifteen percent rate on the income when it was originally received.  Odds are he did not.

Even those of us who are not particularly knowledgeable of the tax code have heard the general argument that one of the reasons that taxes on capital trades are so low is that the capital was taxed as income at some point as it was being earned and saved, so it should not be taxed again at the same rate.

But that is not the case with Private Equity Managers, such as Bain Capital, for whom Mitt Romney worked.  Private Equity Managers have eked out a loophole for themselves, saying that the compensation that they receive from their company is comprised of assets that have appreciated, and therefore not subject to ordinary income tax, but rather capital gains tax.  In other words, it is common for Private Equity Managers to never pay an ordinary tax rate on compensation they receive from their employment.

So, I am wondering.  Did Mitt Romney ever pay more than ordinary income tax rates on compensation when he was paid it by Bain Capital?

I don't know, but I suspect it won't be just me considering this question in the next few days.

If you already know the answer, please let us know by commenting.


Monday, January 16, 2012

A letter from the past . . . to the present

I went to Birmingham today.  Not the Birmingham that I go to two or three times a week for court or meetings or entertainment.

I went to the Birmingham where the jail is located.  The jail from which Martin Luther King wrote the letter.  The letter from the Birmingham Jail.   If you have done nothing to reflect on all that Martin Luther King evokes in the consciousness of the United States on this day set aside, then I suggest you read this long, long letter penned by Dr. King from the heart of Birmingham as the civil rights movement was reaching critical mass. Like the prophets of the Hebrew Testament, his words are eerily timeless. If your time is limited, read it instead of the rest of this post.

The crowds strolled through Kelly Ingram Park today, almost oblivious to the powerful display of the civil rights sculptures which are permanent fixtures of the greenspace, seeming to be much more interested in talking and laughing with one another than reflecting on the message of the inanimate objects. There was music in the air and the smoky aroma of barbecue and polish sausage.  This crowd knew too well the story and the message of the sculptures along the tour in the park. They didn't need the recorded tour.  They just wanted to be there on this day.  At the edge of the park, facing the civil rights museum, there is one statue where almost everyone paused for a moment . . . Martin Luther King.

The line for entrance into the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute stretched down the formidable front steps of the institute and along the curb of 16th Street.  It was estimated that between 3000 and 4000 visitors went through the BCRI today.  I was not one of them.  I was on a tight schedule and could not stay long enough to get in.

So I walked across the street to the 16th Street Baptist Church, where, on Sunday, September 15, 1963, four children were killed, and 22 others were injured by a dynamite blast, set by radical segregationists.  The children killed were preparing for a youth day event at the church later that day.  Prior to the explosion the church was a center of organization for the Birmingham civil rights movement.  After that day it became a civil rights icon around which much of the nation rallied.

Today the church was a place of joy, celebration and commitment.  Several speakers were on the program, remembering the past and speaking to the future. They honored King. And Shuttlesworth.  And there was a choir.  A choir that sang about justice. And freedom.  About Bull Connor and the Constitution. And about justice.

I started a post about the Republican Presidential race today.  But after going to Birmingham, after attending the church and hearing the speakers and the choir, after reading several of King's speeches, the politics of today just seemed silly.

Today I saw thousands of African Americans strolling through the park and around a church in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, where about fifty years ago they lived and fought in mortal fear of being attacked by Bull Connor's dogs and firehoses and the KKK's dynamite bombs.  I was reminded of the leaders and foot-soldiers of the civil rights movement, many of whom didn't survive.  I was reminded of Presidents and Attorney Generals and Congressmen who struggled with the pressure of making the decisions to change in spite of personal danger and potential political suicide. But some of them did what had to be done.  All of them together.  Not perfectly. Not quickly enough. But they did it.  It was not over then and it is not finished even now, but looking at the difference that was apparent around 16h Street and 6th Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama today, it reminds me and inspires me that we as a people are capable of doing the right thing, the good thing. The incredibly important thing.

So there won't be any post about politics today.  It just seems embarrassingly silly. I'll get on that tomorrow.

Because it is time to get serious. Again.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Hampshire, same old song . . .

New Hampshire has spoken. Mitt Romney received just over a third of the votes cast in the Republican primary. Normally that would not seem like much of a victory, but when votes were split among six candidates, seven if you count Michelle Bachman, who has previously stepped aside,  then thirty seven percent of the vote is not bad. Not great, but not bad. In his victory speech Mitt acted like he had won the nomination.  Most of his attention was turned to attacking President Obama with the usual hyperbole, throwing in the term "European socialism" a couple of times.  He was certainly trying to look like the Republican  nominee.  It was a good speech, by Romney standards. No gaffes. He used a teleprompter.

You would think that Mitt is it. Finally.

And I am pretty sure he is.  But none of the other candidates left seem to believe that Mitt is it.

Ron Paul came in second in New Hampshire with a respectable 24 percent of the vote.  For Paul 24 percent is a mandate. In his speech he claimed a moral victory, promised to drastically reduce the size of the American military, keep the government out of our personal lives, and keep us out of war.   He is headed to South Carolina.

John Huntsman came in third in New Hampshire with 17 percent, an increase of about ten percent in the past few weeks.  Huntsman called for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, and for restoration of the people's trust in federal government.  He is headed to South Carolina. Probably with a couple of million of his father's money.

Newt Gingrich received 10 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.  He hates Mitt Romney for what Romney's super pac did to him in Iowa. In his speech he told us of something he had learned from the way New Hampshire handled their budget process.  He didn't call anyone a liar.  He is headed to South Carolina where he has already placed a 1.5 million dollar ad buy, which most assuredly will be dedicated to disemboweling Mitt Romney.

Rick Santorum also received 10 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. He did not expect to do very well in the moderate state of New Hampshire.  But South Carolina is Santorum's kind of place. Socially conservative. So, Santorum cannot wait to get to South Carolina.

I'm not sure about Rick Perry, but he says he will be in South Carolina as well.

And the weird thing is, none of them seem to be able to admit that by not stepping out of the race, they are insuring that Mitt Romney will be nominated.

Mitt Romney has a big problem.  He is not the choice of a huge majority of Republican voters.  The support of all the "non-Romneys" is somwhere upwards of sixty percent. Not just in New Hampshire. Pretty much everywhere.  Romney cannot seem to attract more than 35 to 40 percent of the Republican voters.

I have often thought that President Obama is one of the luckiest politicians.  But Romney may be luckier. All of these men who so passionately want to defeat him in the Republican race are assuring his victory by splitting the huge anti-Romney vote into insignificant morsels.

I am a Democrat.  But I enjoy politics of all stripes.  This Republican race has been and continues to be entertaining. For bigger military, for less military, pro-life,  pro choice.  Trust government, fear government.  For pure entertainment, I would like for it to go on for awhile.  And I suppose, as a Democrat,  the argument can be made that as long as the Republicans try to rip Mitt apart, President Obama's chances in the general election increase.

But I am getting tired of the silliness.  This general election will offer an opportunity for valuable public discourse about national policies and directions that will set the course for our future. The opposing platforms and ideologies will be distinct.  That serious conversation will not begin until the Republicans decide who they are this year.  And it seems like they are still a long way from figuring that out.

But, the show goes on. Next stop South Carolina.

This may call for a road trip. It's gonna be quite a show.


Monday, January 9, 2012

It is time . . .RTR

I was a bit late taking a lunch break today, heading the Prius down main street Oneonta around 12:30 to fetch me some loaded potato soup and a toasted pimento cheese from Downtown Diner.

There was no one in town.  I thought I saw a tumbleweed roll down 3rd Street.

The crew at  Downtown Diner was on duty serving the two or three of us that showed up for lunch, but main street was deserted.  Roll Tides were exchanged as I left the Diner and headed back to the office.

Two afternoon appointments cancelled.

After I left the office I stopped by Walmart on the way home.  That's where everbody was.

Getting ready.

For the game.

As most of us have been all day, even when we were doing other things.  At the courthouse today settlement negotiations would drift into Championship game predictions.  Pregame analysis.  Snack and drink menus.

Game faces were being put on.

There are important things going on in the world that need discussing. But not right now.

It's time for the national anthem. . .


Saturday, January 7, 2012

I wouldn't read this one, but I had to cause I wrote it . . .

I have a cold.  My strategy for fighting a cold is denial, which proved quite effective for most of the week, until Friday afternoon, just in time for me to lie down on the sofa for the weekend.

So, I have been sneezing all week.  Personally, I enjoy a good sneeze. It is quite a physical release if you are willing to give in to it. I realize, however that sneezing is an intensely personal thing.  Some have a more Victorian attitude about it than I, suppressing the sneeze as if it were something shameful.  I often worry that those who suppress the sneeze will blow up their head somehow.  I have heard that a sneeze exits the mouth at speeds of around 100 mph.  Where does that Category 2 hurricane force go when the sneezer clamps his mouth shut?  Through the sinuses up into the brain I suspect.  FEMA can't help with that damage.

  So don't squeeze the sneeze.

This has been a public service announcement of One Day at a Time.

I am watching the Republican Presidential Candidates debate in hopes of being inspired to write about something.

I suppose this sneeze issue may deserve a closer look.

I believe that I have a right to a full throated, body-wrenching, eye-watering explosion of a sneeze, including the traditional and culturally accepted expression of the sneeze, "ah-choo."   That is what a sneeze is.  Not this politically correct respiratory implosion resulting in popping eardrums and potential storm damage of the brain.  So I was hurt this week when people looked at me with disdain muttering epithets regarding my thoughtlessness as I let a couple of thunderous sneezes go. These are the same people that stifle their sneezes, catching anything that might escape their respiratory system in the crook of their elbow and the sleeve of whatever garment they are wearing. I can't imagine the bio-hazard nightmare that grows in those elbow bends. And yet, these snotty sleeved people are looking down on me for sneezing the way people have been sneezing for generations.  It's just crazy.

They act like they own the air or something.

Don't let them take this basic right, this way of life away . . .

Don't squeeze the sneeze.

I'll do better tomorrow.  Or Monday.

Real Time Analytics