Archive for July 2014

The Huddled Masses and How Easy It Is to Mislead Them

In my never ending quest to explain why we get most of our politics so wrong I present the following.  I recieved this email this morning and while it contains a grain of truth, Congress (read Republicans) are scum, it badly misleads and misdiagnosis’s.  It gives us the wrong solution that would, if anything make our lives worse:

The Buffet Rule

                                     I REPORT, YOU DECIDE.                                             The Buffet RuleWe must support this…pass it on and let’s see if these idiots understand what people pressure is all about.

Salary of retired US Presidents . . . . . . . . . .. . $180,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of House/Senate members . . . . . . . . $174,000 FOR LIFE This is stupid

Salary of Speaker of the House . . . . . . . . . . $223,500 FOR LIFE This is really stupid

Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders . . . . . . . . $193,400 FOR LIFE Ditto last line

Average Salary of a teacher . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. $40,065

Average Salary of a deployed Soldier . . . . . .. . $38,00

I think we found where the cuts should be made! If you agree pass it on, I just did.

Warren Buffet, in a recent interview with CNBC, offers one of the best quotes about the debt ceiling:

“I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.

The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971 – before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took one (1) year or less to become the law of the land – all because of public pressure.

Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.

Congressional Reform Act of 2014

1. No Tenure / No Pension.

A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office.

2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 12/1/14. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.

Congress made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Don’t you think it’s time?

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!

If you agree, pass it on. If not, delete.

You are one of my 20+ – Please keep it going, and thanks

Well, where to begin?  Let start with the salary comparison.  No question teachers are underpaid, but once again that is a tax payer choice and they get the school system they pay for.  Soldiers?  A bit misleading here.  Some are and some aren’t and note they don’t account for housing and other allowances.  But the real question is are Congress people overpaid and my answer is a resounding no if you don’t want anybody but millionaires in Congress.  Think about managing two households and living in a high cost of living area location like Washington D.C.  Granted the Republicans aren’t working this year and are about to partake in a 5 week vacation having done nothing, but if we do eventually want to educate ourselves and vote for good representatives, salaries and retirement have to be commensurate if they are going to dedicate their lives to politics.

Now what is just a lie?  Well first is the social security claim.  They all pay social security.  Second is the retirment claim.  Here is the reality:

Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. They are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80 percent of his or her final salary.

Now that may seem cushy by your standards, but in reality that is what we all need if we are to maintain our lifestyles in retirement (see any retirement planning site), so you may be envious, but it is what the standard ought to be and from a CEO perspective it is living on the margins.  So think about that.  It says something about their hypocrisy, but not justice.  There is a Social Security offset for any Social Security received and they pay a higher contribution on their salaries than the rest of Federal workers.

On the healthcare issue, no, I don’t agree.  They have the same system I have as a retired federal employee (and no I don’t get anywhere near 80% of my top 3 for retirement pay and I got penalized for my military service and Social Security pay).  It is really a single payer system where we pay a basic subscription depending on the plan.  With Obamacare, most people are covered with a similar system.  Yes it is hypocritical that they (Republicans) want you to loose your Obamacare, but Democrats wanted a single payer system, so don’t blame all Congress for Republican stupidity and hypocrisy.

Now let’s get to the deficit stuff.  It is a variation of fear the deficit when the deficit is not a problem. Here is one you really have to think about.  GDP is like your salary, it is the nation’s earnings.  Most mortgage companies consider your debt payments at 30% of your income (your deficit) as a reasonable figure.  Note also the difference between debt and deficit.  Debt is the total debt you have, and deficit is how much debt you incur every year.   Right now our deficit is about 3% of our GDP (that is what they are talking about) and has been coming down at amazing rates (37% last year), probably hurting the economy for lack of government spending.  Our debt stands at about 78% of GDP. During WWII it was almost 122% of GDP and we didn’t pay it off, we simply grew our GDP after the war to reduce it. We could and should do the same now. And note that most of us carry a debt more than our yearly income (Mortgage and credit cards, auto loans, ect.), 100%+.

The last thing you might want to think about is how debt hurts us as a country.  Note that all corporations carry debt to invest in the future so the first thing is debt is not necessarily a bad thing. So when can debt become a bad thing?  Well the first is interest rates.  If you have so much debt that you are seen as a risk, then your cost of borrowing goes up.  Our interest rates are at record lows and it is a national disgrace that we are not borrowing at these rates to rebuild our infrastructure.  When you consider inflation, interest is zero or negative.  We can always pay off our debt because we print our own money (fiat currency).

That raises the inflation fear.  We have been printing money like mad to keep money in the economy in the hopes that businesses will borrow and invest, hence jobs.  They haven’t except for some leveraging in the stock market, hence the growth in GDP, but no jobs.  Business types decry and warn of inflation, but it simply has not happened and won’t as long as the economy is depressed and people don’t go on a buying spree (where would they get the money since they don’t have jobs).

The third issue about debt is the “confidence” factor thrown out by the business community.  With a high debt, there is uncertainty about interest rates and business will hold back on investments so they say.  It was the argument that got us into austerity and it is totally bogus.  It is a demand problem with the average consumer not out there spending and thus businesses have no incentive to invest when American’s middle class is losing ground in spending power.  Businesses are sitting on tons of money right now (they don’t need to borrow) and they are not spending it because we have a depressed economy and no major growth in spending.

My point is simply this:  Debt is not the bogey man and appropriate levels of debt depend upon how the economy is performing not some magical number.  The email above is a lot of oversimplification and misinformation to make you just hate both sides (Congress).  It doesn’t add to a real honest discussion of what we need to be doing right now. What we really need to do is get money out of elections and shorten the campaign session. Candada did it and most of Europe does it, but heh, they have all that bad single payer medical care that is so much better than ours so what do they know. But most people buy this stuff and is why Congress doesn’t work. We are always looking for easy answers to the wrong questions and then we vote for those who gives us this garbage.  And then are surprised.

Suing the President and Other Nonsense

Let’s see, the Republicans are going to sue the President because he delayed the implementation of the employer mandate, which they were in favor of delaying. But a law is a law, right? Except it is settled law that this is within his prerogative and, there is no harm, so no basis for a law suit. You know, those frivolous law suits Republicans hate so much. Oh, and when President Bush delayed the implementation of Medicare Part B, well that is different, right? Anybody see a problem here of dysfunctional Republicans which leads to dysfunctional government?

Oh, and this is a boon for Democrats because they are raising money on this issue? Who cares about the money? Actually it is kind of sad that money is what elections are about. What is really important is the question of whether people will finally wake up and vote. It is sad that this kind of nonsense is the only way people get motivated to exercise their right to change what we are doing.

Meanwhile in the never ending IRS “scandal”, the Republicans have found an email where Lois Lerner, the IRS official that took the 5th, referred to the crazies and assholes in the Republican Party to a friend in a work email, and further, referred to the “whacko wing” of the Republican Party and conservative radio shows. All very true, but highly inappropriate for a government official for sure. So Republicans are using this as proof that she discriminated against conservatives.

Let’s try to stay focused here. They also went after liberal groups, and NO ONE WAS DENIED TAX EXEMPT STATUS. And none of them should have gotten tax exempt status, Republicans or Democrats, because all these organizations are political organizations trying to hide their donors, not avoid paying taxes because the amount is minuscule. The law is clear even if the administrative implementation rule muddied the waters. So once again, where was the harm?

Or asked another way, where are the jobs? Where is the legislation to raise the minimum wage, invest in our infrastructure, solve immigration, or fix the VA? It is tied up in Republicans suing the President and inventing scandals. They have to do that because in order to stay in office they can’t be seen as helping government work. Think about that. John Boehner said:

We will debate and pass the resolution authorizing the lawsuit openly, transparently and in regular order. At the same time, we will also continue to add to the list of more than 50 House-passed jobs bills currently awaiting action in the Democratic-controlled Senate. … I believe this path is the right one to defend our institution and preserve the Constitution, while continuing to focus on the American people’s top priority — helping our private sector create more American jobs.

Forty some odd of those bills awaiting Democratic action are for repealing Obamacare. Name a bill they passed to create jobs, like infrastructure spending, Are you starting to see where the problem is? Vote you morons!

So What Do We Expect?

I was watching TV while I was working out and I saw a promo for the new spinoff from NCIS in New Orleans, where the lead character throws a suspect brutally up against a wall. Name a show where you do not see some form of police brutality depicted as being tough with the bad guys. Trouble is the bad guy is the cop. Just ask Eric Garner who died the other day in New York at the hands of this kind of treatment.

This was between breaks on the show the Dome where one character says I know X killed my girl friend and I am going to see him suffer. There you have it, justice on TV. And we are surprised at police brutality and mob thinking when our entertainment pushes this kind of simple minded justice which is really police brutality and revenge as justice. So when did respect for the rights of others and human decency become a sign of weakness? We have come a long way baby!

When Did Boldface Obvious Lying Become Normal Political Dialogue?

The other day John Boehner said the following to the American people:

I believe the president’s actions in a number of areas — including job-destroying energy regulations, releasing the “Taliban 5” from Guantanamo without notice and waiving the work requirements in welfare — exceed his constitutional authority.

Well the job destroying energy regulations will only destroy jobs in the coal industry while it will create many more jobs in alternate energy. Released to day was a study showing the failure to act on climate change could cost us $150 billion a year. The release of the Gitmo 5 was very probably not illegal (Vox). But here comes the real lie: “Waiving the work requirements in welfare”.

It’s a total outright lie and nothing more. Romney raised this is the election and it was debunked then. So why are leaders of the Republican Party lying to the American public (think death panels, climate change doesn’t exist, Mexicans with calfs the size of cantaloups, disease ridden children at the boarder, Obamacare is not working, or debt out of control)? Because it works.

I pay attention to the news. I read several newspapers and read informative blogs (not shrieking liberal or conservative ones), and fact check many things. I know when they are lying or lying by omission. Do you think the average voter knows when they are lying. The answer is no. They hear random stuff and if it is not debunked before their eyes, it becomes fact. It is why we have the Tea Party and so many misinformed Americans. How did we get here?

The answer sadly is 24/7 news that is so focused on bringing you the latest news that there is no fact checking. You are getting unfiltered garbage packaged as entertainment. Reporters don’t come prepared to the party. The just come armed with the latest talking points. I like to say we spend more time on politics than issues, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Instead of being more informed, the average citizen who doesn’t have the time or inclination to look deeply into the news, is badly mislead.

If you look around us we are surround by an almost surreal amount of crazies that have gotten into power. They say things that are patently false, cruel, disenfranchising, and they are the mainstream. It is because the news doesn’t filter what they say and give us a fact check on the spot. Until we fix that, and ask them how they can lie so boldly to our face when they make these outrageous statements, we are just going to sink further into the pit of ignorance.

A Quiet Monday

Not much to say as things never seem to change. I listened to one woman defended Palestinians while the host of the news show tried to ask if launching rockets on Israel was not a war crime. It was a who hit the other one first argument we get from siblings that really makes no difference, they both have to give up hitting. So as long as we have these defenses of which side is more egregious, nothing changes. The only solution is to forget all that nonsense and past mayhem, and decide on what tomorrow will look like. As long as they are about settling scores, it is wasted time.

I see where the Senate has a short term bill to solve the VA crisis. Short term is a problem in itself, and I don’t know what they agreed on where the money is going to come from, which of course is the real issue. Both sides know this one is a no brainer, but that still doesn’t solve the issue of no new taxes and no net change in spending and revenues. That is the real political issue.

ISIS apparently is gaining favor in Europe and specifically in the Netherlands with immigrant Middle Easterners. They are taking up the anti-semantic sword and I think that we have been down this road in WWII. I would have to say that hate speech maybe grounds to deport these new immigrants who bring their hate and ignorance to Europe. They want us to be tolerant of their intolerance.

Apparently the Europeans may be willing to finally step up to the plate on real meaningful sanctions against Russia. I think maybe the downing of Flight 17 and the Russians further incursions into Ukraine may have woken them up. Let’s see how long their resolve lasts if it starts to hurt their pocket book.

Meanwhile in Washington land, the “we are not taking impeachment off the table, but we are pressing ahead with suing him Republicans” are not making sense. Since President Obama has used the Executive Order fewer than most presidents and their buddy George Bush did all kinds of EOs, they look a little threadbare here except for their faithful, ignorant of the facts, supporters.

So nothing really happening today. SSDD (Same shit, different day).

Another Sunday Morning Mistake: Meet the Press

So I am up in my office while it is still cool, and not too smoky (the Sand fire is dumping smoke and ash on my vineyard), and I turn on Meet the Press and immediately understand why America is such a mess these days.

Earlier in the day I had read the NYT editorial on legalizing marijuana which I totally agreed with, like no duh. So Meet the Press takes on this topic and what I heard were people so out of touch with the reality of America, it was almost scary. No it is not a gateway drug anymore than alcohol or cigarettes are, and with less severe health effects.

One panelist did not want her son to have access. Huh? He and every other kid out there have access now and we are clueless about what is in it, much less how it drives other criminal activity. At least if its legal, we can regulate it, limit the sale to minors, and turn it into a revenue source. What I heard was why America can do nothing new. They seemed to be oblivious to the problems their prohibition causes, or the fact that it is entirely fruitless. But let’s just keep doing it anyway because … ?

Because we are afraid of change even if what we are doing is not working. It is the very definition of conservative and this “bipartisan” panel shows how far to the right we have drifted (and why nothing works anymore).

Just an Observation

We have “revolution” breaking out everywhere, ISIS in Iraq, Hamas in Gaza, the war in Syria, the fighting militants in Libya, the separatists in Ukraine, gang warfare in Central America, and the Muslim radicals in Africa. It makes one consider the following:

  • Do revolutionaries do anything but destroy? They all seem to want to tear down the civilization that has been so carefully crafted. Are there revolutionaries out there that want to build something besides anarchy?
  • Arming revolutionaries, say as we did against the Russians in Afghanistan and the ones in Libya, apparently has some major blow back. May want to think about whether just raising the stakes by arming the guys you think are on your side is a good idea (John McCain)

Just thinking about these things while looking at a world that seems to be on fire and enjoying apparently the rare peace and quiet of a Sunday morning that we are so lucky to have. Of course we have our own anarchists in the Republican Party that is trying to tear our government down because, well they hate government. Maybe we had better wake up.

Some Final Words on the Never Ending War in the Holy Land

I am sure something will happen to make me want to comment, but let’s face it, this has gone on my whole life and I am 68, and nothing ever changes. Here is what we do know: There are good people making good arguments about whose at fault on both sides of the problem. So it is irrelevant. Like South Africa, you have to forgive and move on if you want a solution. That seems to be anathema to religious and Middle Eastern culture and so it goes on and on.

The fix is simple. Read our Declaration of Independence with its declaration that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Palestinians and Jews, women and children, are all part of all men. So we need a solution that enforces that self-evident truth. Forget religious or historical claims, a solution is about a better world for our children. Until they can do this, you can just turn off the news. It is a rerun.

I Wonder What They Have on Him

When President Obama ran for the office, he was the defender of our rights and government over reach. Now he seems to be their handmaiden. One can take the view that as a candidate he did not have the responsibility of keeping us safe and the circumstances of office muted his views. I think that is too easy an answer and is an indictment of no there, there.

What got me thinking about this was an article today in the New York Times about how the CIA has brought in George Tenet to help them prepare their response to counter the Senate findings on torture and its effectiveness. Meanwhile the White House has dragged their feet on releasing the report and seems to be letting the CIA have a free reign in redacting the report:

But some Senate Democrats are seething about how long it has taken to declassify the document, what they see as Mr. Obama’s inattention to the process, and the role played by Mr. McDonough, who is personally coordinating the redaction of the document and has a close relationship with Mr. Brennan, who served in the White House as Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser during the president’s first term.

Instead of leading on this issue the President has been in charge of damage control whether it is the torture by the CIA or the spying by the NSA. From his let’s not look backward, to his promise of more transparency in the drone war and not providing it, he has been in the damage control mode, not in the leadership role.

There is something missing here. Whether it is the refugees on the border, the economy, or his approach to foreign affairs, they all seem to be crises to tamp down, not focal points for real leadership to lead the nation in new directions. He seems to look for “compromise” solutions that sweep the root issues under the rug so we can get on with fund raising. Like a cease fire in Gaza, it stops the carnage, but does nothing to prevent the next carnage.

Part of it, I believe, is the difference between a manager and a leader. President Obama has always been the manager, not the leader, That is why I describe him as having no there, there. At the bottom line he finds comfort in what makes everyone happy, not in a principled stance. Dr. Stephen Covey, in the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People describes the differentiation of managers and leaders:

He talks about a group, an organization, committed to swathing a path through the jungle. In this organization, he identifies three roles – the machete-wielding worker, the manager and the leader.

While the worker is cutting down the undergrowth, the manager is behind the action making sure the worker is well supported – sharpening machetes, providing training, nutrition, strength building, you could even imagine this manager providing supportive words of encouragement… “Great slash! A couple more like that and you’ll be up for hacker of the year!”

The leader is perched atop a tall tree ensuring direction, and if necessary, yelling “Wrong jungle!” (Nevin)

President Obama has been missing in action yelling Wrong jungle!. From our “let’s not look back, but forward” on torture, to his pivot on the economy from jobs to the debt to assuage the Republicans, he has been the manger directing the hacking, and not the leader taking in the big picture and redirecting the effort.

So when you look at President Obama’s approval ratings, I think they reflect this basic fact. Conservatives are crazy and they hate him no matter what, but liberals like myself are also sorely disappointed in him because whether the Republicans block his every move or not, he has not climbed that tree and screamed at the top of his lungs, Wrong Jungle! None of us have a sense of his vision* for the country and his total reversal on secrecy and transparency are frightening. It almost as if they have something on him to keep him in check. I wish it were that simple.

*Note: One can argue that he has in fact given us great speeches about his vision. That is true, but when it comes to his actions, what really counts, we see disturbing trends whether it is the “Grand Compromise”, his transparency on drone strikes, or his seeming willingness to strike down the law protecting children at the border to get a compromise with Republicans. There is no there, there.

Two Really Irreverent Things on a Friday Afternoon

WARNING! IRREVERENT RANTING

Apparently they are rioting in the West Bank in their “Day of Rage” over the invasion by the Israelis in Gaza. So what does rioting and destruction of your own home territory say about you? Oh, and it is all guys in the street. I just love the whole culture.

And it was okay for your brothers, Hamas, to launch indiscriminate rockets on the Israelis (a war crime) , but when they bring the battle to you, well it is outrageous? But wait, the closing of the borders was cruel and must be reopened. So does that mean you innocent Palestinians will no longer tolerate Hamas’s war on all Jews across those borders? The answer to that kind of raises the whole question of how much of an innocent victim you are.

Meanwhile back in this country there is a big push to say thank you to our “heroes”. This really gets my dandruff up. First of all most of us are NOT heroes. We did our job. Calling everyone who serves a hero waters down the real meaning of hero, and there are heroes out there.

Second, if you want to say thank you, fund the VA and accept the fact that your taxes have to go up to pay for these wars everybody thought was such a good idea and could pay for it by buying more stuff at the mall. Don’t assuage your conscience by saying thank you because you sent a bunch of kids (or somebody else’s kids) to do your dirty work that you could not be bothered with and do not want to pay for.

And from one old crabby veteran, I don’t want or need your thank you. What I need you to do is realize that you have a responsibility to see that veterans are taken care of when they return. At that you have failed miserably and continue to look for some Republican free ride with a happy face and a thank you. Piss off.

Time to open some wine.