Saturday, February 11, 2017

Look at that Plate-Spinner!



(click through title link to see video)

One the most amazing acts in television history, if you are of a certain age, was 'The Plate-Spinner' on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' in the 1960s.

Ed Sullivan was a producer of many vaudeville acts and had really no discernible talent other than he could spot new acts and trends and put them on the air before anyone else knew who they were.

When he announced 'The Beatles!', America went wild. Elvis Presley graced his stage as did innumerable actors and bands.

But there was one act that seemed to be on at least 2 Sundays every month that captivated and mesmerized anyone who saw it: The Plate-Spinner.

Erich Brenn of Austria would come on-stage with a lot of fanfare music in the background and proceed to start spinning plates and bowls and whatever he could get his hands on it seemed on top of 5 or 10 or 15 long sticks on a table or stuck in the stage floor somehow.

All a person could do was to sit transfixed for the 2-3 minute performance watching the plates or bowls start to lose momentum and then somehow, Erich Brenn would spin the sticks and get them moving again properly instead of crashing to pieces below.

So far, in the first 3 weeks of President Donald Trump's presidency, we have been reminded of 'Erich Brenn, the Plate-Spinner from Austria!' mainly because the ultra-left in this country seemed to have gone bonkers over every single action, word and appearance of our new President.

And whether it is by design on the part of President Trump (he coulda been the second 'Ed Sullivan' you know) or happen-stance, all that attention on a tweet he sent out or a comment he made about his daughter's clothing line seems to have unhinged the Democrat opposition to the point where it is all they can do to find the next place to protest, riot or block and impede any conservative speaker or cabinet official from entering a building to speak on a matter.

Which leads us to remind everyone of the truly 'serious' and important work his administration and this Congress have got to do over the next 4 years. The more the left stays unhinged focusing on the trivialities of his plate-spinning, the more will get done to solve the truly big problems we face as a nation, beginning with this great summary below from The Committee for a Responsible Budget


  • 'Trump has taken office with higher levels of debt as a share of the economy than any president other than Harry Truman in 1945.
  • Unlike the debt under President Truman, which began to fall rapidly shortly after World War II ended, debt is projected to rise continuously during President Trump’s time in office and beyond.
  • Federal entitlement programs and interest currently represent a larger share of the budget than under any previous president, leaving relatively less room for defense and non-defense discretionary spending.
  • If in office for two terms, President Trump could face the insolvency of three major trust funds, and an additional one – the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund – soon after.


Debt is Higher Than at Any Time Since Truman

Over the past 50 years, the national debt held by the public has averaged about 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and was only 35 percent of GDP as recently as 2007. Since then, debt has grown dramatically, and is now higher than at any time since just after World War II.

Between 2007 and 2016, debt more than doubled as a share of GDP, from 35 percent to 77 percent.

This means that President Trump entered office with higher debt than any president since Truman in 1945, when debt was 103 percent of GDP.

At 77 percent of GDP, debt at the beginning of President Trump’s term is significantly higher than the 58 percent of GDP when President Eisenhower took office, the 46 percent when President Clinton entered, or the 44 percent at the beginning of President Obama’s tenure.



Trust Funds Are Headed Toward Insolvency

In addition to the overall debt and deficit situation, President Trump is confronted with a number of major trust funds out of long-term balance, with three that could be depleted by the end of a hypothetical second term in office.

CBO projects the Highway Trust Fund to become insolvent some time in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. At that point, $70 billion of general revenue that was transferred into the trust fund in 2016 will have been spent in its entirety. As a result, the $40 billion of dedicated revenue will fall about one-third short of the projected $57 billion in spending in 2021. Through 2027, spending will exceed revenue and trust fund reserves by $139 billion, requiring significant adjustments to align them.

Two years later, in FY 2023, CBO projects the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) trust fund will exhaust its reserves. When that happens, beneficiaries will face an immediate 16 percent benefit cut. To delay this cut, policymakers will need to close a $175 billion shortfall between 2023 and 2027. Over a 75-year period, the SSDI shortfall equals 0.65 percent of taxable payroll (the Social Security Trustees estimate a 75-year shortfall of 0.26 percent of payroll).

By FY 2025 – either near the end of a hypothetical second term or the beginning of the following president’s term – CBO projects the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund, which funds Medicare Part A, will also reach insolvency. When this trust fund is depleted, Medicare payments would be cut by 13 percent unless policymakers close the program’s $198 billion shortfall between 2025 and 2027 and the significantly larger long-run deficit (the Medicare Trustees project Medicare will be insolvent by 2028 and faces a shortfall of 0.73 percent of taxable payroll.)

Finally, CBO projects Social Security’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund will deplete its reserves by calendar year (CY) 2030. At that point, under current law, all beneficiaries would face a 31 percent benefit cut. Though this date is still 13 years away, it is unlikely policymakers will be able to prevent insolvency (or prevent a large general revenue transfer) if they don’t act in the next few years. As we’ve explained before, delaying action on Social Security will ultimately require larger tax increases and spending cuts spread over fewer cohorts with fewer possible exemptions (such as current beneficiaries) and less time for workers to plan and adjust. Over 75 years, CBO projects Social Security’s retirement program faces a massive gap of 4 percent of payroll – the equivalent of one quarter of spending or one third of revenue (the Social Security Trustees estimate a 75-year shortfall of 2.39 percent of payroll and an insolvency date of 2035).'

As always, we encourage you to read the entirety of the report from CRFB and print it out and keep it handy if you have to; it is only 11 pages.

But while the left is getting all steamed up about 'Trump-The Plate Spinner From Queens!', you'll be able to soberly and calmly discuss with your friends and colleagues the importance of reducing federal spending so we can get our financial national fiscal house in order not unlike what has happened in the state of North Carolina over the past 4 years that has led to a $556 million annual surplus in the next budget.

(We couldn't resist: here's the Ed Sullivan Show announcing 'The Beatles!' to the world in 1964.

If you have never seen it, you just can't understand how much of an impact this performance had on America. 73 million people watched it that night when the population of the US was only 191 million folks. That would far exceed current Super Bowl ratings if adjusted for population growth)


The Ed Sullivan Show First Appearance of The Beatles in video on Jukebox[4] from Zip Code on Vimeo.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Don't Like the 60-Vote Hurdle in US Senate? Here's A Way Around It Perhaps.....

'My '60' Was Easier To Get To Than
The US Senate's '60'!
The media is breathlessly obsessing over whether Democrats in the US Senate, led by New York Senator Chuck Schumer, can keep 8 Democrats from crossing over to vote with the 52 Republicans to get to the magic number '60' so that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch can be voted on to fill the seat left open when Justice Scalia died last year.

What is so 'magical' about the number '60' in the US Senate anyway?  When did '60' become so important so as to effectively be used to shut down operations of the Senate and therefore the entire federal government for much of the past 17 years essentially?

It is not like Roger Maris in 1961 trying to break Babe Ruth's home run record of 60*. There is nothing inherently 'magical' or even 'constitutional' about the number 60 in the US Senate, is there?

We think there is a very simple way to make the number '60' in the US Senate virtually worthless in short order. However, first a little history:

The 'terrible' thing that the US Senate wanted to prevent with the number '60' was the long 'filibuster' that would occur when or if a Senator would claim the floor and then proceed on a long sustained speech for 1, maybe 1.5 days at a time thereby stalling all Senate action for the duration.

Appropriately enough, the word 'filibuster' comes from the Dutch word for 'pirate' or 'freebooter':
'FILIBUSTERING'is a term lately imported from the Spanish, yet destined, it would seem, to occupy an important place in our vocabulary. In its etymological import it is nearly synonymous with piracy. It is commonly employed, however, to denote an idea peculiar to the modern progress, and which may be defined as the right and practice of private war, or the claim of individuals to engage in foreign hostilities aside from, and even in opposition to the government with which they are in political membership. ["Harper's New Monthly Magazine," January 1853]
'Piracy' of full and open free debate, that is. Filibusters do nothing other than delay free and open debate in the US Senate which should be anathema to anyone in the United States of America.

In 1917, the Senate adopted a rule that called for 67 votes to close off debate (called 'cloture'). Previously, since the beginning of the Republic, there was unlimited debate on an issue as long as the there was unanimous consent (100%) to continue debate before taking a vote.

The president pro tempore (or his designee) of the Senate could keep recognizing Senators who wanted to continue a filibuster as long as he wanted (and his party agreed to).


Remember: the rules of debate in the US Senate are just that: adopted rules by the Senate at the time. There is no constitutional requirement in the US Constitution regarding 'filibusters' or 'cloture' or anything like that.

As it is today, you would think the number '60' is ingrained in Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution relating to the establishment of the Senate.

It is not. Anywhere.

Unlimited, open and free debate about everything was the hallmark of the US Senate, commonly referred to in the past as the 'World's Greatest Deliberative Body'.  No longer can it be claimed as such primarily due to the cloture rule of 60 today. Both sides engage in threats to 'do filibusters' simply to bottle up contentious issues and avoid making the tough votes and compromises on the big issues we send them to Washington to work out in the first place.

Cloture votes were designed to limit the obstructionist use of free debate of the opposition, especially obnoxious to the majority party in control of the Senate at any particular time.

'Filibusters' are great when you want to oppose an issue. They are 'awful' when you want something passed but your opponents engage in the dilatory tactics of the filibuster.

One the more famous (or infamous) individual filibusters in recent history was when South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond took to the floor in a filibuster against allowing debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He started speaking at 8:54 pm on August 27 and ceded the floor back to the Chair at 9:12 pm on August 28, 1957.  He spoke for 24 hours and 20 minutes on a wide range of issues from reading Shakespeare to his momma's recipe for 'pot-likker'.

Great theatre. Looked like Jimmy Stewart in 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington'. 


What stopped Senator Thurmond?

Nature itself. Lack of sleep, physical fatigue will ultimately get every human being to submit to yielding the floor. 'Nature called' in the sense that Strom Thurmond eventually had to use the bathroom facilities and get some sleep, although Capitol Hill legend has it he used some sort of catheter device to postpone his inevitable visit to the bathroom.

After a 60-day Civil Rights filibuster in 1964 that was essentially broken when Republican Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois brought 27 Republican Senators to invoke cloture at 67 votes, many observers sought to reduce the cloture vote even lower to frustrate future filibusters.  This finally was accomplished in 1975 when the rules to invoke cloture were changed in the US Senate to bring the threshold down to 3/5s or 60 votes from 67.

Today, all you hear about is how hard it will be to get 8 Democrats to switch over to join 52 Republican Senators to get to 60 in the Senate to invoke cloture (end any potential filibuster) and allow the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to get to the floor of the Senate where he could be approved by simple majority or 51. (Republicans have 52 in the Senate today)

We think the effective number today to end cloture is 51 simply because former Majority and Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada quite honestly, and 'stupidly' as history will bear out, got a Senate rule lowering the vote for federal judges to simple majority rather than be subject to cloture rule votes. They were frustrated by their inability to get many of former President Obama's judicial nominees through the Senate because Republicans would not join the Democrats to get to 60 votes.

See? Obstructionism is bipartisan.

This is the so-called 'nuclear option' you keep hearing about. It is not 'nuclear' in the sense that the Senate will be radioactive for 250 years after using it. But it does take the US Senate far from the original intent of allowing minority party rights in the US Senate by our Founders that it might as well be considered a 'nuclear bomb' to our form of government and should be avoided at all costs.

'Resorting to the 'nuclear option' reduces the US Senate of the United States of America to merely being a second House of Representatives where majority rules and minority parties just get creamed and lose leverage in any compromise solution.

We don't need or want a second House of Representatives where popular emotion can often rule the roost in times of stress or crisis. The US Senate is supposed to be a place where cooler heads prevail and members of both parties are FORCED to make accommodations in compromises to pass laws and confirm nominees that reflect more of the center of the political spectrum than the extremes on either fringe.

So, what is the 'solution' alluded to earlier?

  • Let Senators go ahead and filibuster their brains out.
  • Let Nature take her course and her revenge against them. 
  • Nature always wins.

Think about it. Former Senator Harry Reid has effectively reduced the cloture vote to 51 anyway. It is like saying a women is 'half-pregnant'; she either is or isn't pregnant. The effective cloture vote now is 51 whether anyone likes it or not.

Senator Mitch McConnell can urge Senators to adhere to the 60-vote threshold now in the rules of the Senate but when push comes to shove, if only 7 Democrats join the 52 Republicans in the Senate to invoke cloture, Republicans in the Senate can just change the rules in the Senate and adopt simple majority rules to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and be done with it.

So there. That is what is going to happen in the next month or so in a nutshell if you don't see 8 Democrats crossover to vote for cloture in somewhat of a dispirited effort to 'return to tradition and principle' in the Senate.

Allowing a Democratic Senator to start the debate by filibustering the Gorsuch nomination for a day or 2 at best would allow Majority Leader McConnell the opportunity to claim the floor when that Senator passes out from exhaustion and recognize a Republican Senator who could make the motion to proceed to debate the Gorsuch nomination on the floor of the Senate.

Debate will have started. The filibuster will have failed. The next speaker is recognized. And a motion to proceed to vote can follow some adult-level debate about the relative merits and demerits of Judge Gorsuch.

At that point, Mr. Gorsuch could be voted onto the Supreme Court with 51 votes, not 60 as it sounds like today.

What the Senate would lose is a day or so of listening to someone read Shakespeare or the New York City phone book (if such a thing still exists nowadays) into the Senate Record. It might be an affront to efficiency and common sense but the US Senate is not supposed to be 'super-efficient' when it comes to passing legislation in the first place.

Making Senators actually do a filibuster would be much more 'painful' to them personally, physically and emotionally than constantly falling prey to their 'threats' to filibuster. Make them do a couple of them, particularly the older and more frail Senators by age, and the allure of engaging in prolonged, dilatory tactics becomes much less interesting of an option to most sane people.

Including Senators.

In addition, people of their state might grow tired of their Senator constantly gumming up the works of the US Senate instead of doing the very hard work of working to find ways to get the bill in question amended in some way that would allow their affirmative vote.  Having a Senator spend 1 day per week screwing things up in the Senate might be fun for a couple of weeks or a month but after awhile, it will grow old and stale as last year's bread.

Order would be restored to the US Senate in terms of restoring it to the 'World's Greatest Deliberative Body' where substantive debate can and should be engaged and let the cards fall where they may based on reason, fact and persuasion.

As it should be.

(Restoring earmarks in appropriations bills so deals can be made and cut to get a Senator's vote once again would be helpful as well. Putting an earmark in for a state for a bridge to be built across a small river to a revered historic landmark in honor of the home state Senator's dearly beloved grandmother who hailed from the region would be a small price to pay to get things moving again on a bi-partisan basis...but that is a story for another time)

*(editorial side note: every major league player who hit more home runs in a season than Roger Maris is tainted by questions about their use of illegal or at least unethical PEDs or performance-enhancing drugs so 61 and 60 are still 'magical' numbers in Major League Baseball at least)

** (Caveat)- There may be some obscure parliamentary rule we are unaware of that experienced parliamentarians spend years in academia debating whether it was offered by a specific number of angels on the head of a pin. However, this discussion came out of a discussion from a veteran of Capitol Hill recently who went to Washington in the 1970s and has basically 'seen it all' so we are going with his observation.


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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

President Ronald Reagan Had His 'PATCO Moment' in August, 1981

PATCO didn't work
President Donald Trump has had 7 PATCO moments in his first 11 days in the White House.

What is a 'PATCO Moment' you may ask?

First, a little history lesson:

PATCO was the acronym for the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization that served as the union for all the nation's air traffic controllers at all the nation's airports.

No one in their right mind would suggest theirs is not a very important job to our personal safety and national commerce. They are highly trained people and everyone should be grateful they do a great job every day.

However, they are also federal workers. Public servants as much as any congressional staff or administration official is.

Here's the oath they take when they accept the job at any of the approximately 10,000 US airports:

'I am not participating in any strike against the Government of the United States or any agency thereof, and I will not so participate while an employee of the Government of the United States or any agency thereof.'

President Reagan took that oath seriously. As do the vast majority of federal workers when they take federal jobs.

Except the PATCO workers as of August 3, 1981, that is.

'At 7 a.m. on August 3, 1981, the union declared a strike, seeking better working conditions, better pay, and a 32-hour workweek. In addition, PATCO wanted to be excluded from the civil service clauses that it had long disliked. 

In striking, the union violated 5 U.S.C. (Supp. III 1956) 118p (now 5 U.S.C. § 7311), which prohibits strikes by federal government employees. 

Ronald Reagan declared the PATCO strike a "peril to national safety" and ordered them back to work under the terms of the Taft-Hartley Act. 

Only 1,300 of the nearly 13,000 controllers returned to work.

Subsequently, at 10:55 a.m., Reagan included the following in a statement to the media from the Rose Garden of the White House: "Let me read the solemn oath taken by each of these employees, a sworn affidavit, when they accepted their jobs"

He then demanded those remaining on strike return to work within 48 hours, otherwise their jobs would be forfeited. At the same time, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis organized for replacements and started contingency plans. 

By prioritizing and cutting flights severely, and even adopting methods of air traffic management that PATCO had previously lobbied for, the government was initially able to have 50% of flights available.

On August 5, following the PATCO workers' refusal to return to work, Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life.1)

And they never worked as an air traffic controller at a US airport ever again.

That one singular act was routinely referred to as the 'signature moment' when everyone in the nation knew for sure that President Reagan was setting a new course for America after 4 years of dismal economic growth, 'stagflation', rampant inflation, sky-high interest rates, 444 days of Iran holding 52 American hostages in Tehran, gas shortages and rising gasoline prices under previous President Jimmy Carter.

President Reagan had survived an assassination attempt in March of 1981, barely 2 months after he was sworn-in as President and he had started the process of passing tax cuts to revive the economy.

But the PATCO strike was the moment that defined the early years of President Reagan since it signaled a return to law, a return to reason, a return to honorable selfless public service and a return to common sense.

President Reagan had that signature PATCO moment in August, 1981 just over 7 months in office.

President Donald Trump has had 7 'PATCO-like Moments' in his first 11 DAYS as President of the United States.

  1. Signed order allowing Keystone Pipeline to proceed
  2. Withdrew US from Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations
  3. Announced hiring freeze in federal government
  4. Announced freeze and rollback of federal regulations
  5. Announced the beginning of the construction of the border wall with Mexico
  6. Issued temporary halt to immigration from 7 countries most identified with Islamist extremism
  7. Announced the selection of Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to the US Supreme Court.
We may have missed a couple along the way. At this rate, President Trump may average a PATCO-esque moment or 2 per day for each day he is in office.

You may love this change of direction under President Trump or you may hate it. But there is no denying that just as ex-President Obama promised significant change in 2009 as he took office, President Trump is delivering on significant change in 2017 as he takes office.

As monumental as many of these actions have been,  it remains to be seen what the US Senate and Congress will do since that is where substantive changes can be made to last the long-term through legislation.

If Congress follows suit, this year may be one of the most active and substantial sessions of Congress in perhaps the last 20 years. 

You might want to stay tuned.


1) from Wikipedia

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Monday, January 23, 2017

What Do You Do When The Chickens Finally Do Come Home To Roost?

'Where do you want us all to sit?'
Ever wonder where such descriptive idioms come from?

You would think that it would come from a farmer who was well-acquainted with the ways of barnyard chickens. You have to believe that when they do come back to roost at night, there is a fair amount of noise and cackling and general filth that has to be cleaned up on a regular basis.

The specific idiom as commonly stated today got its start with Robert Southey's poem 'The Curse of Kehama' in 1810:

"Curses are like young chickens: they always come home to roost."

Well, when it comes to federal budgeting policy, 'multiple past poor budget decisions' are like those same 'curses'. And they are coming home to roost right now right before our very eyes.

First: Here's a list of all the ways you can choose to pay for federal spending:
  1. Taxes
  2. Borrowing
That is it. When a dollar leaves Washington DC to pay for any federal program from defense to Social Security to Mohair price supports (yes, there really is such a thing for Mohair farmers in Texas), it comes from either your taxes paid every week, month and year OR from bonds issued to foreign sovereign nations, corporations, foundations or (mostly) wealthy individuals domestic and abroad.

There is no Tinker Bell pixie fairy stardust anyone can turn to to pay for anything. Those are the only two options.

Second: In order to reduce our current budget deficits (which has to be done first anyway) and then reduce our $20 trillion national debt, here are the only ways you can achieve those goals as well:
  1. Raise your taxes
  2. Cut spending
  3. Allow more inflation to pay off debt with less valuable dollars in the future
Choose your chicken. Or your poison, depending on your perspective.

Borrowing more money over the past 40 years has always been the pressure safety valve to which less-then-principled elected officials almost always resorted instead of making the very difficult decisions as to raise taxes to pay for new programs or cut spending on existing programs to pay for any new program.

When the federal national debt is 33% of GDP as it was just as recently as 20 years ago, the adverse consequences of adding more debt are not as dangerous as when national debt is approaching 75-80% of GDP as it is today.

When it hits 100% of GDP, the use of more national federal debt really becomes very problematic. If you don't think so, ask any rational economist: 'Why not just go to 200% of GDP? 300%? 500%?'

No sane person would answer in the affirmative.

The Trump Administration has floated the idea of reducing federal spending by over $10 trillion over the next 10 years to the collective gasp of naysayers. We will talk more about this as it develops but since 2001, at least, every federal policy decision has been towards increasing deficit-spending and debt by passing more tax cuts AND more federal spending.

2 of the easiest and most popular things for any Congressman, Senator or President to do.

Just to set the parameters for your brain to be able to consume and process all that is about to come at you like a firehose: consider the following example before you cast off the possibility of reducing federal spending by $10.7 trillion over the next 10 years:
The federal budget is about $4 trillion now. Assume in 10 years it will grow to $6.5 trillion under current growth estimates which is what CBO says it will be.
That is about $53 trillion or so of collective accumulated federal spending expected to go out the door over the next decade.
A $10 trillion 'reduction' from that gross amount is about 19% from the total amount.
But instead of federal spending being $6.5 trillion in 2027, taking these somewhat urgent steps now would lower baseline spending so that federal spending in 2027 would 'only' be, say, $6 trillion, not $6.5 trillion. 
FED SPENDING WOULD STILL BE ABOUT 50% HIGHER THAN TODAY UNDER THAT ASSUMPTION! 
It just wouldn't be as much as some people would like it.
It is either cut spending now or add another $10 trillion to the $20 trillion debt we now have which would be 120% of GDP in 2027.
And that might be all she wrote...as they say.
This is the price of inaction on controlling federal spending from 2002 to 2017. You will note that covers Presidents W, Obama, and both Republican AND Democrat control of Congress and the Senate.

Chickens really don't care what they do when they come home to roost for the night. Or the week. Or the decade.

Neither does debt. It has to be paid regardless of who is in power.

Debt rules the roost. We have to do something dramatic to arrest it.

Now.



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Monday, January 16, 2017

More Hard Facts To Memorize


Know how many people in the United States of America have a firm grasp of unadulterated, unbiased hard data when it comes to understanding federal tax, budget and health policy?

About as many people as who have been reading Telemachus these past 8 years now.

We wish that number was in the multi-million but it is not. So congratulations for being in the 'enlightened' group.

A friend from Washington budget days just posted this on social media this weekend: 'Anyone who thinks there's too much Econ 101 involved in federal policymaking has obviously never been INVOLVED in federal policy-making'

Sort of funny but sad and true. You can add accounting according to GAAP principles, basic fundamental processes of business on a day-to-day practice; tax policy or law and a varied array of other issues that underpin our free market economy.

Which is another set of reasons why we need more business people from the private sector to run and serve in elective office locally while still working and probably while retired in Congress or state legislatures.

Take a good long look at the two tax charts above put together by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board. It is about as stark and unbiased of a presentation of the facts about who pays which tax and how much across income categories.

No distortion of the facts to show how an ever-decreasing percentage of upper-income folks are paying a large part of the individual income tax burden; no slanting of the data to show how rich people and corporations are 'not paying their fair share!' (whatever that is on any given day); no bashing of the '47%' who are not paying any federal income tax at all because successive Congresses have kept excluding more people from paying any federal income taxes at all.

We hope this Congress and this new President can once and for all and for everyone's sake clear the underbrush out from our entire tax code and eliminate most if not all tax exemptions, exclusions, credits and allowances, all of which were inserted by some sly or nervy lobbying group for this particular group or another.

General overall lower tax rates coupled with elimination of such tax shelters not only should rev up the economic engine of the US after these last 8 years of being gummed up by more taxation and regulation but it probably would generate more tax revenue as wealthy people and corporations stop paying expensive tax lawyers and accountants to hide their money and just pay the lower rates and be done with it.

It would help the public dialogue if everyone memorized these charts above. You be the first and set us on a new path toward reasoned civil discourse in America.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Has Obamacare 'Worked'?

Was The Overall Cost of Obamacare Worth It?
You are going to see and hear a lot of debate in the next few months about 'repeal and replace' the ACA, otherwise known as 'The Affordable Care Act', aka 'Obamacare'.

The question really seems to revolve around the issue of whether it is truly 'affordable' or not, yes?

Not just to the individuals who have been added to the Medicaid rolls, essentially for free, or to the individuals who have been able to afford subsidized health insurance on the exchanges but to everyone as a whole when counted collectively as federal and state taxpayers and individually as participants in the private health insurance market where many to most people have seen their private health care premiums simply explode over the past 6 years of implementation.

First, here are some hard stats for you to begin the year with:

'In calendar year 2016, on an average monthly basis, according to CBO:

  • 57 million people will be enrolled in Medicare, 
  • 77 million will be enrolled in Medicaid, 
  • 6 million+ will be enrolled in CHIP, and 
  • 12 million+ will be covered by insurance purchased through the marketplaces

Among people who are under age 65:
  • Most—about 155 million—will have private health insurance obtained through an employer, 
  • 9 million+ will be covered by a non-group policy purchased directly from an insurer, and 
  • 27 million+ (or 10 percent of the under-65 population) will be uninsured'

Roughly 11 million people are considered 'dual eligible' for Medicaid and Medicare due to their age and income status. There are only 313 million people in the US today and the above totals add up to 343 million less the 11 million dual-eligibles for a total of 332 million so there is a lot of double-counting going on somewhere in the official CBO/Joint Tax Committee 'éstimates'.

Dual-eligibles make up 14% of Medicaid enrollment, yet spend approximately 36% of Medicaid expenditures. Dual-eligibles total 20% of Medicare enrollment, and spend 31% of Medicare dollars.

The total amount of government funds spent on dual-eligibles accounted for close to $300 billion in 2011 alone. It has to be close to $400 billion today spent between the federal government 100% through Medicare and mostly through the federal share of Medicaid plus the matching state funds.

It might be wise to consider some sort of new category entirely in the federal budget to deal solely with dual eligibles in any upcoming health care reform.

'In calendar year 2014, national spending for health care was an estimated $2.9 trillion. Of that amount:

          52 percent was initially financed by private sources:

  • 34 percent came from private health insurers; 
  • 11 percent, from consumers in the form of out-of-pocket spending; 
  • 6 percent, from other sources of private funds, such as philanthropy

    The remaining 48 percent of national spending on health care was public: 
  • Gross federal spending for Medicare accounted for 22 percent;
  • Federal and state spending for Medicaid and CHIP, 18 percent; 
  • Spending on various other programs (including those run by state and local governments’ health departments, by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and by the Department of Defense), for 8 percent.'
There will be a test tomorrow on all these facts.

Imagine you are a freshman Congressperson from Idaho who has just been sworn in to uphold the Constitution 'to the best of your ability' and you really wanted to go to Congress to work on ranch issues and 2nd Amendment rights. The first thing you might be asked to vote on is the overhaul of close to 17% of our national economy and 'repeal and replace Obamacare' in the next 100 days.

Given the immense complexity of the issue as evidenced by the above stats from CBO and Joint Tax, do you think you would be ready to cast such a momentous vote as one of your first acts in Congress?

It ain't easy.

Estimates are that since the passage of the ACA in 2010, roughly 15 million people have been added to the Medicaid rolls mostly across the 31 states (including DC) that enacted Medicaid Expansion as allowed under ACA. Another 10 million people are estimated to have been added to the private insurance rolls under the subsidized federal exchanges in the states that enacted such exchanges.

However, other estimates say that close to 5 million people who previously had private insurance or employer-sponsored insurance either dropped their coverage, lost it or couldn't afford it as private insurance premiums skyrocketed in many cases over the past 4 years, 25%+ per year in many of those cases.

In the private individual market, we experienced at least a 25% per year annual increase. We are fortunate to still have coverage and be able to pay for it. Many people couldn't do it.

So, after all of the Sturm und Drang and political angst over Obamacare, with 2 congressional elections in between passage of it and today including one of the nastiest presidential elections ever in American history, we think we can fairly say that 15 million previously uninsured people are now covered by Medicaid through the ACA and 10 million new people may have private federal-taxpayer subsidized insurance but that accounts for only a net gain of say 5 million more people covered by private insurance since the passage of the ACA.

Was it worth it? That is the question Congress and the new President will have to answer in the coming months.

What we would like to see but is beyond our capacity to ever guess-timate is a report that adds up the entire cost of the spiraling, escalated private insurance for everyone other than the new 10 million enrollees in the federal exchanges, the 164 million people covered by private insurance either through employer-paid plans or non-group individual plans, over the past 4 years and compares that to the direct cost of paying for the expanded cost of Medicaid with the 15 million new enrollees plus the subsidy costs of the 10 million people who now have health insurance.

That must be an enormous number when you add up the additional cost of the health care plans for 164 million people paying anywhere from 10%-35% more per year for the past 4 years.  It may be that it might have been less expensive to us as a nation as a whole to have included not only the 15 million new enrollees in Medicaid expansion as has already happened but also have added the 10 million people enrolled in the federally-subsidized ACA exchanges into Medicaid instead of the exchanges and hoped that the 10-35% annual increases in the vast majority of private insurance plans might have moderated some to at least single digits, not high double digits since 2013.

It is something to consider.


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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Payback Is Not Always A Good Thing

Not for adults leading our country......
At least not when it comes to running a constitutional democratic republic, it is not a 'good thing'.

It might 'feel good' for the moment and provide a temporary sense of happiness at 'turnabout being fair play' and all that. But this is not a child's game our elected leaders are playing; it is running the greatest elective representative democracy the world has ever known.

We should run it the right way.

The US Senate, under the control of Democrats and under the leadership of now-retiring Harry Reid of Nevada, changed the rules of the US Senate on 11/22/2013 to allow a simple majority vote on all presidential nominations except for Supreme Court nominations.

It passed 52-48. Democrats held 53 seats at the time and 2 Independents, including Bernie Sanders, typically caucused and voted with the Democrat majority. 3 Democrat Senators voted against the motion.

'So what?' you might say. 'The Republicans were just stonewalling against anything and everything President Obama was doing ever since he got elected in 2008! Harry Reid had to do this to get something done for the nation!'

Here's the 'so-what': Now that President-Elect Trump has a majority of Republicans in the US Senate, he could get Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo confirmed to serve in any presidential appointee capacity he wanted if the Senate continues to adhere to the so-called 'nuclear option' precedent set forth by Senator Reid.

We hope Senate Republicans will vote to restore Senate rules back to the threshold of 60 immediately upon being sworn-in in early January 2017. In fact, we don't mind if the Senate returns to the concept of 'unanimous consent' and abolishes the 60-vote threshold altogether and returns to the days when 1 US Senator could stage a filibuster like Jimmy Stewart did in 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington' and shut down proceedings for days.

Here's why:

  1. Restore Integrity To The Process of Governing

    We like to think of our former brethren in the Republican Party as at least being 'rule-followers' much as we admire professional golfers on the PGA Tour who routinely call penalties on themselves in order to 'protect the integrity of the game of golf'. Period.

    We love it when a professional golfer calls a penalty on himself.  Cameron Tringale called a penalty on himself in the 2014 PGA golf championship and essentially disqualified himself from contention and forfeited at least $53,000 with his confession. For a violation that no one else ever saw.

    The US Senate must never be allowed to operate like the US House of Representatives where simple majorities rule the day. We lived through a decade of being in political purgatory from 1985-1995 working in the minority party of the US House by close to 85 seats (votes) every session.

    That was not fun. In the least little bit.

    However, every day we went into work, we knew that the rights of the minority party in the US House, us Republicans, were going to be protected in the US Senate whether the GOP was in the majority or the minority over there.

    Why? Because any legislation that we thought was terrible was going to have to run the gauntlet of Senate rules over there where 60 US Senators were going to have to vote to at least allow debate on the floor of the Senate or else it would be bottled up on the Senate side, never to see the light of day.

    Protection of minority party rights in our democratic republic is critical to the long-term health of not only each party but the nation as well. You do NOT want to live in a representative democracy where any majority can run roughshod over the wishes and rights of the minority party.

    That is just plain and simple un-American.

  2. Re-Establishing the 60-vote threshold forces comity and compromise

    If the Republicans in the US Senate maintain the simple majority rule status set forth by Senator Harry Reid on presidential appointments, it will not be long before the siren call of 'payback' or revenge sets in and they change the rules of the US Senate to be a simple majority on EVERY piece of legislation.

    That will be the day the US constitutional form of government stops being as unique and as special as we all like to believe it is. Because it really is a uniquely crafted government carved out of the brains of some of the smartest people we have ever seen in this country or around the globe.

    Having a simple majority in the US House of Representatives insures that the will of the people gets expressed every two years at the election booth. Doing the same thing in the US Senate reduces the US Senate to just another cauldron of emotion where prevailing public sentiment can be not only expressed but passed into legislation, assuming a President is unwilling to veto bills passed by his own party.

    Having at least a 60-vote threshold to consider debate on the floor of what once was called 'The World's Greatest Deliberative Body' (but sadly is no longer) at least provides a place where reasoned debate can occur to 'cool' inflamed public sentiment on any particular issue and come up with alternatives and compromises that might amend the original bill into something that actually works and stays in force for awhile.

    Going back to the original filibuster threshold of 100 would only accelerate and intensify the process of compromise and reconciliation between the 2 parties. NO ONE would get anything done that they want if they consistently stand in the way of 99 other Senators getting at least a debate on their pet issues and causes.

    When there is 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (MAD) amidst 100 US Senators, a lot of things would get done pretty fast you gotta believe.
Not following the simple majority Senate rules for presidential nominees as put forth by Harry Reid in 2013 may sound like a retreat for any conservative Senator who endured and suffered through the years of Senator Reid who might have been as ruthless of a Senate Leader there ever was. There certainly will be no glowing biographies of the days of Harry Reid as there have been about Henry Clay or any other Senate Majority Leader in our nation's history.

But it would be the right thing to do for our nation and our constitutional government. Just because a person or a political party does something really dumb like lead a bunch of lemmings off a cliff into the raging ocean below does not mean everyone else who follows should be equally as ethically and intellectually-challenged, does it?

Resisting the temptation to continue the wrong policy set forth by Senator Reid would show the nation that the Republicans are indeed the 'adults in the room' and ready to lead again.


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Monday, November 28, 2016

Donald Trump Is The 45th President: Now What?

Lorenzo Charles over
Phi Slamma Jama
David Over Goliath
In perhaps the greatest upset victory against 'conventional wisdom' since NC State upset the Phi Slamma Jama of Houston in 1983, or maybe even dating back to Little David knocking out Goliath in ancient days, Donald Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States of America starting at noon, January 20, 2017.

You may have heard the old saying commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (but never fully proven): “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”

Critics of Donald Trump never got past the 'laughing at' stage. Perhaps that is why they missed what was actually going on beneath the surface which was clearly stated in every poll where 70%+ of the people in America did not think America was on the 'right track' even though President Obama enjoyed a personal approval rating of 53%.

'Can Anyone Here Play This Game?'
There is a big difference between being personally 'liked' and affable and having people 'approve' of your policies and leadership skills. Look at Casey Stengel, the long-time lovable loser from the NY Mets. He was personally 'loved' by New York Met and sports fans in general. But his Mets were truly amazingly horrible during his 4-year coaching tenure and won only 30% of their games under his leadership.

Many people feel as though President Obama only 'won' on maybe 10% of his initiatives both domestic and foreign as Chief Executive of our nation. Some even less.

People who voted for President-Elect Trump want a significant change from the direction and policies of President Barack Obama from the past 8 years.

They are about to get it.

'How so?' you may ask?

Here's a timeline of sorts that you can use to monitor the progress of the Trump Administration that will start at 12:01 pm, Friday, January 20, 2017:

  1. Probably that afternoon, President Trump will sign executive orders unwinding and reversing every executive order or memoranda signed by President Obama over the last 8 years, close to 400 in total.
  2. While he is at it, President Trump may choose to go back and unwind any onerous executive order dating back to George Washington if he wants to. Any executive order can be unwound by any future President thereby pointing out the futility of going it alone as President without leading the US Congress and US Senate into some sort of legislative compromise that would stand the test of time.
  3. Each of his Cabinet Secretaries and agency appointees will be charged to go through their department's budgets line-by-line to see what can be deleted, reduced, or reformed in terms of spending priorities. Due to their business backgrounds and abilities to see through worthless or out-dated, ineffective programs, expect to see a plethora of wasteful spending cut out of each agency's budgets like so much fat out of a holiday goose or cured ham.
  4. As the executive orders are reversed, the Federal Register will become a place of heightened activity as all the regulations promulgated (love that word) over the Obama years to support and explain the intent and scope of each Obama executive order has to be reviewed and essentially unwound and deleted as well. This could take 6 months to a year. As the executive orders are eliminated, there is no need for the expanded regulations to stay on the books but a review and comment period has to be allowed for the public to be able to comment on it nonetheless.
  5. While this is going on, a review and examination of every page of the over 860,000 new regulations promulgated by the Obama White House since 2009 will be made by the new Administration under President Trump to see which of those can be tossed into the trash bin of history. Since those are mostly tied to any legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, primarily Obamacare, they will have to wait to be reversed until Congress makes changes to the underlying passed legislation....which brings us to:
  6. Congressional 'Repeal and Replacement of the ACA', aka Obamacare.

    Nothing may have signified a higher sense of disgust with the Obama years as the explosion of cost of health care premiums after the ACA went into law.

    Future historians will note that millions of folks, us included, received notices of much higher health care premiums for 2017 in mid-October ranging from 25% to over 100% across the entire nation.

    Our premiums leaped another 25% on top of the 30% and 50% increases we received over the past several years. We only had the courage to open up our notice over the Thanksgiving holidays to finally get the 'bad news'.

    Each of those people, most of whom did not qualify for any federal subsidy to help pay for their health insurance, showed up at Trump rallies by the pickup and van-ful. They voted with their hands and feet against Obamacare and, by extension, against Hillary Clinton who vowed to not only continue Obamacare but expand it.

    Congress will begin its process of amending the ACA in early February, 2017 which will necessitate the elimination of thousands of pages of promulgated regulations from the federal Register over the coming years.

    What will be left behind will include coverage of pre-existing conditions and keeping people on family plans up to age 26, two of the most popular features of the ACA. But it will be significantly scaled-back and replaced most likely with some form of a 'Medicaid-Plus' program that provides catastrophic coverage for people now eligible for the ACA plus some prescription drug benefits and wellness coverage care and then people can decide for themselves what other coverage they would like to buy on the open market or set up health savings accounts to pay for other health coverage during the year.
  7. Once the heavy wet blanket of federal regulations imposed on the economy under President Obama starts to be peeled back, economic growth should start to grow organically on its own.

    The American economy depends on 'confidence' far more than it does on tax or fiscal policy alone. Expect to see an economic policy looking more like that of Calvin Coolidge where the combination of slashed federal spending, lower taxes and less regulation led to an explosion of the economy in 1924 instead of the sluggish, if that, 1.5% annual growth of the economy under President Obama for the past 8 years.

    From the 300,000 foot viewpoint above the US economy, we 'only' need about 0.5% more economic growth per year than what is currently projected by CBO to balance the budget in the next 4-5 years sans ANY other tax or fiscal policy change.

    That would be a 'good thing' since balancing the budget is the first step towards arresting the exorbitant growth in the federal debt which is important to do before interest rates return to their 'normal' levels of 5% which is now more likely to happen since business confidence will return and the competition for scarce capital will begin in earnest once again and drive interest rates up from near-zero levels today.
  8. On top of that, if President Trump and Congress succeed in holding federal spending growth over the next 4-5 years to below 3% overall, THAT ALONE (again) would balance the federal budget sans any other tax policy change or additional rates of economic growth.
  9. Combine the two, achieving economic growth 0.5% above current CBO projections AND hold federal spending below 3% per year average annual growth, and we may have the elixir that produces the right combination to get us out of this economic and fiscal mess we have been mired in for the past 8 years and produce the sort of economy where everyone who wants to can participate and can find a job and provide a better future for themselves and their families.
We may be due for a slight recession early in the Trump Administration simply because we have not had negative economic growth for 2 consecutive quarters since the end of the Great Recession of 2008-2010, even though most of the time has not felt like an economic boom resembling any previous economic recovery.

Republicans may over-reach (again) as most political parties do once in full control of any government, federal or state, and try to enact an overly aggressive tax cut that will only add to the deficits and debt in the short-run which may be counter-productive to sound fiscal policy right now.

However, if it is done intelligently with an eye towards lowering corporate and individual tax rates while AT THE SAME TIME eliminating most, if not all, of the tax breaks covered under the so-called 'tax expenditure' tables we have referred to many times in previous posts, and they repatriate overseas profits of American corporations of $2.6-$3 trillion, which could yield $400 billion in immediate tax revenues to the US Treasury, the impact on the size of the deficits and national debt could be ameliorated somewhat while at the same time, produce a tax system that is more fair and consistent across-the-board.

You could see all this happen in the first 100 Days of the Trump Administration as some people dream, or by the end of June, 2017 which would be more likely.

Even if it takes a full year, the changes to our economic and fiscal house in America will be like night-and-day from the Obama White House days.

We could all use some robust good economic news nowadays, yes?



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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Now?

'I Toldja So, Didn't I?'
Before anyone on the right gets way too comfortable and complacent with the election of President-Elect Donald Trump and starts to think his election gives them the green-light to do whatever they want unimpeded, they need to realize one thing:

The Unaffiliated voters who voted for Donald Trump en masse don't like the Republican Party much more than the Democrat Party!

As liberal filmmaker Michael Moore postulated on October 25 in a letter he wrote and explained in a speech and video, millions of disgruntled, disenchanted and disaffected Americans would go into the ballot booth, pull the curtains and then quietly cast a ballot for Donald J. Trump and give the biggest revolutionary middle-finger to the media elites and the political establishment on both sides of the aisle we may have ever seen in American history.

As it turns out, Mr. Moore was right.

This may be the first time in American history that a true 'Independent' candidate has run for the White House and won. We have been seeing the rise of more and more independent/unaffiliated registered voters in NC for some time now; roughly 1/3 of the people who voted last week were UNAs or unaffiliateds.

Donald Trump somehow was able to do what Teddy Roosevelt couldn't do with his Bull Moose Party in 1912 or Ross Perot did with his 'I'm All Ears!'And 'Giant Flushing Sound!' Party in 1992 and 1996. Granted, both TR and Perot were running as a third candidate in a 3-way race which made it harder but still, Trump did what neither of them could do.

President-Elect Trump figured out how to defeat 16 other GOP candidates on their home court in the gauntlet of never-ending primaries and then beat the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton on her home court of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to win the Presidency.

 But he is still way more Independent in his outlook and philosophy than Republican in many ways.

What is so 'amazing' and should be so 'alarming' to the GOP in control of the House and Senate?

These unaffiliated Trump voters want ALL OF THEM, Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the Senate, to do their jobs, balance the budget, pass economic growth policies, fix health care, protect them from terrorists, shut up, stop blaming everyone else...and then go home and shut up again.

The people who elected Trump are NOT in love with the GOP leadership over the past 16 years. If the GOP leadership thinks Republicans can sit back and not do anything for the next 2 years and not work across the aisle with sane and sentient Democrats who want to get things done, these UNAs who supported Trump will turn on them with a vengeance in the mid-term elections in 2018.

The Trump voter is not a voter for 100% ideological purity. The Trump voter has just had it with the status quo of nothing happening that directly has helped them lead better lives with more prosperity and more safety and security over the past 16 years really and they voted for 100% political practicality. As in 'get something done!' Anything! On any issue!

Shutting down the government is not an option. Not compromising with enough Democrats to get 50%+1 (or 60 to get a bill on the floor of the Senate) is not an option. Not balancing the budget or passing comprehensive immigration laws or stopping radical Islamist terrorism dead in its tracks is not an option.

Anything less than bold, principled,practical leadership on the part of the GOP in the House and Senate will lead to a repudiation of both as in 2006.

I went to two of these Trump rallies in Raleigh at Dorton Arena on the State Fairgrounds, one last December 2015 and one on Monday before the election. 10,000 people at each one.

I did not see one single person I knew from any country club, bank, investment bank, GOP High Dollar Ranger Club or with whom I had gone to Carolina or Duke or that I have seen at any other political event in my entire life. Nobody I had ever seen before at hundreds of Republican political and fundraising events over the past 36 years in North Carolina were at either Trump event.

No Mercedes in the parking lot. No Volvos, Range Rovers or Maseratis. No fancy stickers on the rear windows touting their private school or Ivy League affiliation. Lots of NASCAR bumper stickers and flags; hardly any 'Save The Whales' or Greenpeace emblems.

Almost all of the people in attendance at both rallies were blue-collar, middle-class people who want to see massive change in Washington who took time off from their hourly jobs and drove to Raleigh from 60-150 miles away in their pickup trucks and old used Caravans packed to the gills.

One guy from Lee County brought 27 members of his family to see the next President of the United States of America at Dorton Arena. Wife, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, cousins, second cousins and third cousins twice-removed. Met them all. 25 of the 27 had already early voted for Donald Trump. The two that hadn't early voted were going to be escorted by their father to vote on Election Day 'or else'! he said.

They want to see their elected leaders in Washington do something big. Like doing their job. Period.

Because that is what this election was all about. It is not about some high-faluting philosophical exposition of Fredrich von Hayek free market principles or Reinhold Niebuhrian ruminations on the nature of man or whether the Laffer Curve works or not.

It is solely about electing people in our democratic republic to go to Washington and do the dirty but necessary work of debating, arguing and then negotiating and compromise to get a majority of the House and Senate to pass a bill that President-Elect Trump will sign and then go on to the next problem to solve.

And President-Elect Trump is a deal maker. Don't ever forget that.

So what does this mean policy-wise going forward into 2017? We will list a few things that we are almost 100% sure will happen from Day 1 over the coming weeks to try to help you dig deeper and expound more on the nuances of most of them, especially pertaining to tax, budget and health care policy.

Barack Obama said on Election Night in 2008 when he was elected President: 'Change is coming!'

Well, it is about to come again. Elections matter. Obviously.



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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Like Two Tsunamis Crashing Into Each Other

  









Six months ago, someone asked if Donald Trump's character and HB2 here in North Carolina were still going to be campaign issues come Election Day, November 8, 2016.

'Yes, of course it will!' I said. Even blind hogs find acorns every now and then, right?

But no one ever thought that in this year of a 'change election' that those would be the ONLY two issues people were concerned about this year. No. One.

The economy is sluggish, if that. We have never come close to a robust recovery coming out of the worst recession since the 1930's. The early years right AFTER a nasty recession are usually the best ones in terms of growth simply because so many of the laid-off workers are usually the first ones hired back once excess inventory is sold off or houses start to get built again, for example.

President Obama will retire on January 20, 2017 as the only President in modern times to have not presided over a US economy that exceeded 3% GDP growth in any quarter of any of his eight years in office. That would be 32 quarters.

That is like a football team scoring maybe a safety or a field goal every other quarter or so over 8 looooong seasons. At least they are 'scoring' every now and then you could say but they are never going to win a lot of games nickel-and-diming it along like that. Ever.

Under President Obama's watch, we have seen the national debt explode 100% to $20 trillion, up from $10 trillion when he took office. The federal deficit today is now half of what it was when he took office in 2009, that is true. However, it was over $1.2 trillion in that first year due to stimulus payments and bailouts and buyouts as we tried to stop the hemorrhaging of the economy so 'cutting' the deficit to $500 billion is nothing to write home about or win any award for achieving.

And by the way, CBO just came out with a report showing the budget deficits going UP this last year under President Obama to $650 billion on his way out of the White House and heading BACK UP to over $1 trillion in the next several years. Mainly because nothing fundamental or structural was done over the last 8 years to do anything constructive or helpful to solve our nation's fiscal deficiencies.

Add in ISIS; deteriorating racial relations; illegal immigration; no comprehensive energy policy; health care costs STILL rising almost exponentially despite the fact that President Obama got everything he wanted in the ACA passed in 2010 and a raft of other pressing issues, and you would have to believe the American people are just going to run to the polls to vote for a 'Big Change' to everything it would seem.

And yet, at this juncture 16 days away from perhaps the most consequential election we will see in a while, this election is boiling down to 2 things, at least here in North Carolina, that is:

  1. Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be in the White House?
  2. Does everyone have the right to choose which bathroom they can use?
It is like two tsunamis, one coming in from the west and one coming in from the east and colliding in the middle, say, over some small isthmus of land and totally covering it up with sea water and foam and detritus of all kinds.

And it is going to take some time to clean up after it all. That is a guarantee.

Let's take a look at how this might play out come Election Day:

For one thing, 'Election' Day has already started. Absentee ballots were requested and many already returned by the time early in-person voting started Thursday, October 20 in North Carolina.

By the time November 8 rolls around, over 50% of all ballots will have already been cast based on past experience. Around 4.5 million people in North Carolina can be expected to vote this year and close to 2.5 million ballots will have been cast before November 8.

You are going to hear both the left and the right crow about how their supporters are 'swamping the polls!' between now and then. Based on the first day of record turnout in Wake County, there is probably cause for jubilation on the left, at least in the larger cities.

However, the same thing could be happening in the smaller towns and more rural counties, many of which are going to be slower to report their turnout based on the resources they have at their disposal.

Add in the fact that many polling places are still underwater in and around the Neuse River down east, not to mention the fact that thousands of houses and homes have been destroyed by the recent floods.

Many of those people could care less about the general election today when they are more concerned about where they are going to live and eat the next day.

Finding a clean place to just go to the bathroom and shower and clean up is more of a concern to them than who has the right to join them right now.

The basic question that remains to be seen is this:

'Who is going to show up to vote this year and will the final electorate look more like the Obama turnout of 2008 and 2012 or will it not look like either of those 2 years?'

A bit of history might be helpful at this point. In 2008, with historic high levels of African-American and young voters voting for the first African-American president in American history, President Obama won North Carolina by 14,000 over a very weak and uninspiring John McCain.

In 2012, with slightly lower turnout levels among African-American and young voters but still way higher than what was considered 'normal' before 2008, President Obama lost North Carolina by 88,000 votes to Mitt Romney, even though Pat McCrory won the gubernatorial race by over 250,000 votes over Walter Dalton.

Many people attribute that drop-off to Mr. Romney's Mormonism. It might be other things factored in as well but it is impossible to believe that it did not play some role in such a disparity in his vote totals in North Carolina in 2012.

You almost never see a down-ballot candidate out-perform the presidential candidate at the top of the ticket in almost any presidential year. Most people want to vote for the President first but then lose interest as they go down the ballot all the way to the district judges and bond referenda before their eyeballs fall out of their head due to lack of interest in such issues or even knowing who, what or why 'judicial temperament' is a good thing for any candidate for a judgeship to possess.

Secretary of Labor Cheri Berry garnered 100,000 more than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Think about that for a minute.

In order for Hillary Clinton to win North Carolina's 15 Electoral Votes, experts say that 22% of the final electorate has to be African-American. That means that close to 1 million votes have to be cast for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina or almost 1/2 of her total votes in the state.

If she does that, she will win hands-down going away all flags flying.

However, she has failed to generate the enthusiasm in the African-American communities and young voting block that President Obama did which stands to reason since he was the first African-American to win the presidency and a cool symbol of progress for many young people and African-Americans nationwide.

What HB2 has done on the left is to energize thousands of progressives in the major cities mostly to turn out and vote against the Republican Governor Pat McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly which is one reason why we saw long lines on the first day of early voting.

So perhaps that will be enough to offset any drop in African-American or youth voting statewide.

To them, it 'feels' like a tidal wave that is going to sweep out all of the Republicans and the dozen or so Democrats who voted for HB2.

On the other hand, the sheer size of the rallies for Donald Trump at every site large or small in North Carolina this past year gives hope to people on the other side that a tidal wave of conservatism is swelling on their side that is going to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning North Carolina's 15 electoral votes and keep Governor McCrory in the Governor's Mansion and Republicans in solid control of the General Assembly for another two years.

10,000 people showed up for a Trump rally in tiny Kenansville, population 775, this past summer. People don't show up for a political rally in those numbers if they do not intend to vote in large proportions for that candidate, that is for sure.

Based on who you talk with, you could be persuaded that this is going to be a 'wave election' for the Democrats at the state level where they win every Council of State office except Secretary of Agriculture and they at least get Republicans below veto-proof majorities in the NC house and senate.

Others can convince you that Republicans will keep the Governor's Mansion and close to veto-proof margins in the NCGA; Senator Burr and Trump will get the 15 North Carolina electoral votes he needs to have any chance of winning the Presidency simply because they 'know' a 'wave election' is building for Trump and the Republicans much like Reagan in 1980.

One by-product of this nasty and in many ways, desultory presidential campaign, other than its interminable length, might be the surprising numbers of people who have just given up on our democratic process and just choose to stay at home and not vote this year.

Many people say they just can not vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump this year. You might see totals for both of them fall below the votes cast for the gubernatorial candidates on both sides as we saw in 2012 with Mitt Romney which came as a surprise to most observers.

You can hardly blame anyone for not voting this year. It reminds us of the Rolling Stones' song, '(Stuck Between a) Rock and a Hard Place':


But you still need to vote. One way or another. Up and down the ballot in all the races and referenda.

It is the only system of government we have. We will make it through. Somehow. America always has in the past. And this is certainly not as 'scary' of a time as the Civil War, World War I, Great Depression and World War II were for our forebears and ancestors.

We even survived 25+ years of dismal presidential 'leadership' (sic) before the Civil War.  Take a look at that list of presidents. James Buchanan was the last one and he was so awful that historian place him at the absolute bottom of all of our 44 Presidents so far and he won that almost by acclamation.

Mick Jagger is no poet along the lines of now-Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (will wonders never cease?) but perhaps we should heed the words to 'Rock and A Hard Place' as we go forward after this election:

'You'd better stop; put on a kind face....We're in the same boat on the same sea and we're sailing south on the same breeze...and our children are playing with loaded dice'

Indeed. Just the 'loaded dice' of the burgeoning national debt at $20 trillion and rising with the attendant potential explosion in interest costs if interest rates just return to 'normal' rates of 5-6% is enough to keep you awake at night.

Hopefully, our next President will lead us in an effort to finally do something about it.


lyrics to 'Rock and a Hard Place'

The fields of Eden

Are full of trash

And if we beg and we borrow and steal
We'll never get it back
People are hungry
They crowd around
And the city gets bigger as the country comes begging to town

Stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place

This talk of freedom
And human rights
Man's bullying and private wars and chucking all the dust into our eyes
And peasant people
Poorer than dirt
Who are caught in the crossfire with nothing to lose but their shirts

Stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place
You'd better stop put on a kind face
Between a rock and a hard place

We're in the same boat
On the same sea
And we're sailing south
On the same breeze
Guiding dream churches
With silver spires
And our rogue children
Are playing loaded dice

Between a rock and a hard place
You'd better stop

Give me truth now
Don't want no sham
I'd be hung drawn and quartered for a sheep just as well as a lamb

Stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place
You'd better stop put on a kind face
Can't you see what you've done to me










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