Friday, October 17, 2014

'The Good News Is: Everything We Have Tried So Far Has Failed'

(Not) Said by Winston Churchill
An oft-quoted but mis-attributed quote always seems to have merit when it comes to the basic general wisdom of the American people:
'Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities'
This generally has been attributed to British Prime Minister and statesman Winston Churchill, mainly because it sounds like something he would have said way back when.

But the general sentiment was actually first uttered by Israeli diplomat and politician Abba Eban, not by Sir Winston. Mr. Eban was more general in his comment which was: “Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.”

Daniel Henninger of the WSJ has written a very good piece, 'A Year of Living On The Brink' about the recently concluded IMF meetings in Washington where world finance leaders met to discuss the pressing issues of the world today....and came away after having concluded to do absolutely nothing of any consequence.

He concludes by saying in essence: 'We have tried everything that traditional Keynesians and monetarists have said would work in the past...and still, the American economy is acting like a big tank stuck in molasses'.

'It is essentially the prescriptive promise of this 2009 to 2014 policy mix that was repudiated by officials at the IMF meetings in Washington the past week' Mr. Henninger wrote somewhat calmly but with the ominous presence of a threatening thundercloud.

What is 'so good' about finding out that everything President Obama and other world leaders have done over the past 6 years has not gotten the American and world economy out of the economic doldrums?


No matter what politicians try to do to sell themselves to the American people to get their votes, there is only one thing that really matters: 'Does it work to help people find jobs and enjoy economic prosperity for themselves and their families'?

If a politician running for office 'promised' the American people that eating 1 government-paid for peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich everyday would return us to full employment, higher wages and a happier life, and he/she got into office and made it happen through legislation, and it worked somehow, that person would be elected for life by that state or district.

Maybe even President.

That is the 'probable cause and effect' of politics. It has almost nothing to do with actual economics in the minds of the voting electorate. They don't want to be bothered with the inner workings of quantitative easing or Keynesian economics or what Milton Friedman thinks about monetarism.

They just want to know one thing and one thing only: 'Did it work for ME!?'

If it didn't, vote for someone else who will promise something different.

What is the 'good news' about the failure of the IMF meeting to take any further steps down the road to perdition we have embarked on with massive government stimulus programs and 'expanding the balance sheet' of the Federal Reserve (read: 'Make up more currency out of thin air') under the entire 6 years of President Obama?

It means US policy-makers have no choice but to 'try something else'.

That 'something else' is what has worked over the entire history of America and in free societies the world over: Let people make their own decisions with their own money with a minimum of taxation and interference from government sources.

Throw in a few years of less government interference and more mature adult federal budgeting such as:

  1. Gutting the entire Dodd-Frank legislation that is the banking equivalent of Obamacare in the medical world;
  2. Repealing the most onerous sections of Obamacare and allowing people to actually 'keep their doctors if they like them' and drive out the cost factors in health care that are making it simply unaffordable in the first place;
  3. Freeze overall federal government spending for just the next 4 years at FY 2014 levels which will 'magically' balance the budget without any tax hikes or complete elimination of any government service (although some agencies should be eliminated completely);
  4. Come up with a truly 'Grand Bargain' on reforming and reducing the cost and the taxation of entitlements coupled with a pure simplification of our tax code (we favor moving to a consumption tax..see other posts)
And we will all quite possibly see the greatest economic explosion America has ever seen.

The markets and the world will know that the adults have returned to run the US government after years of childish and almost infantile leadership on many levels. The mere mention of adult leadership will send such shock waves of confidence through the world markets that we may not really know what hit us until years later.

We are on the verge of becoming self-sufficient in oil and gas production which will reduce our reliance on oil coming from the Middle East where the truly crazy people such as ISIS and Al Qaeda roam.

There may be technological breakthroughs on new energy sources such as cold fusion (Lockheed Martin and Tom Darden of Raleigh both recently announced investments in that space) which could completely and radically transform our energy industry in America.

Young people we meet everyday in the sciences and technology fields tell us about the exciting new technologies they are learning about in the classroom and in the laboratories. The only thing government needs to do in most instances is to 'get out of the way' and let these young inventors and entrepreneurs take the risks to grow these new industries much as Henry Ford established Detroit as the world's mecca for the automobile industry...until labor unions, excessive onerous government regulations, local government corruption and corporate mismanagement destroyed the Detroit automobile industry, that is.

Everything in life has an action and a reaction. It is a basic law of physics.

So it is in economics. If we allow it to happen, that is.

Politics is the only way to unleash the economic power in America that can soak up almost all of the un- and under-employed people who want to work but can't find a job. Government can never do that nor can it provide a living wage for everyone who can't find meaningful work today. We just can't afford it given that we have maxed out our credit card of national debt and created more money at the Fed which runs the risk of igniting the inflation demons down the road.

As Mr. Eban or Mr. Churchill or whoever said: 'Americans will do the right thing when they have run out of all other options'.

Now is that time in our history. Let's get it right for a change we can all really believe in.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

'My Advice To You Incumbent Democratic Senators....Is To Start Drinking Heavily'

'My Advice To You...Is To Start Drinking Heavily!'
Just took a look at some of the historic losses in the US Senate by incumbent Presidents in their off-presidential year elections.

  • 1918 Wilson -7 D seats; 
  • 1922 Harding -7 R seats; 
  • 1926 Coolidge -7 R; 
  • 1930 Hoover -8 R; 
  • 1938 FDR -7 D; 
  • 1942 FDR -8 D; 
  • 1946 Truman -12 D; 
  • 1950 Truman -5 D; 
  • 1958 Ike -13 R; 
  • 1986 Reagan -8 R; 
  • 1994 Clinton -8 D; 
  • 2006 Bush 43 -6 R; 
  • 2010 Obama -6 D seats; 
  • 2014 Obama -4?-5?-9? D seats. . .

That is an average of a 6.69 seat loss in the Senate for the party of the incumbent president on both sides of the aisle. That for either the Democrat or Republican side indiscriminately.

It is not a 'racial' thing or a 'class' thing; it is a 'philosophy of running our democratic republic' thing.

Depending on what happens in KY, KS and GA, President Obama could be right up there with FDR in terms of total losses of Senate seats during his terms in office as many as 15.

And he lucked out on 5 races the GOP should have picked up in 2010 and 2012 but were done in by less than stellar candidates who said things left better unsaid. Such as 'I am not a witch'; 'There is such a thing as legitimate rape' and so on. They are most definitely not on the ballot this year.

With those 5 lost pickups, the GOP would now be possibly looking at a majority of 59 GOP senators in the US Senate instead of possibly 'just' 54.
'Why's everybody always pickin' on us?'

Why do Presidents typically lose seats in the congressional election of their second term?

Why is it that a wildly popular president such as Ronald Reagan can win a still-record electoral victory in 1984 over the hapless former Veep Walter Mondale with 525 electoral votes and winning 49 states only to lose the Senate 2 short years later?

It is because it is one thing to make campaign promises in an election.

It is entirely another thing to get legislation passed to reflect those priorities in the very messy and discombobulating US Congress, especially on the Senate side where 1 Senator can muck up things pretty badly if he/she really wants to do so.

The economy also weighs in heavily on any election. When people are out of work, they tend to throw the bums out who are in charge. When things are going peachy-keen, they are not so angry so they let them stay.

President Reagan had the Iran-Contra issue come up in the summer of 1985 which tinged and tarnished his glowing reputation. Iran-Contra hurt the Republicans in 1986, along with a very nasty short recession and economic downturn which always gets a politician in trouble regardless of party.

President Obama has had his share of scandals scar his second Administration so far including the IRS; the NSA; Benghazi and now the nebulous response to ISIS in Iraq, the 'invisible fence' that allows illegal immigrants to continue to spill over the Texan border and the delayed response to the severity of the spread of the ebola virus.

All of these scandals at the top of the ticket, even though the president is not on the ballot during congressional elections, tend to flow down and tinge and tarnish the reputations of candidates down the ticket.

None more so than the US Senate incumbents of the same party. The implication seems to be that since you were supportive of the President's policies in the US Senate, you should be thrown out for one of 2 things: 1) Not stopping the President from doing such stupid things in the first place and 2) aiding and abetting his policies that turn out to be wrong-headed and detrimental to the country as a whole.

Remember: President Obama just said a couple of weeks ago: 'Make no mistake about it. My policies will be on the ballot this fall'

He might as well added: 'Read My Lips! More New Taxes!' and hung them like a millstone around the necks of every Democratic Senate candidate running this year around the nation.

One of the most dogged incumbents has been Kay Hagan of North Carolina. She has consistently led in most polls, that is, until about 2 weeks ago when she was forced to admit that she missed a hearing on ISIS to go to a fundraiser.

The highest percentage Senator Hagan has seen in a poll is 46%. Not good 3 weeks out for any incumbent anywhere in any election in any year, presidential or congressional. Any time any incumbent is below 50%, that is trouble since people who have already decided to support her have already done so. The others? Not so sure about her.

Elizabeth Dole and Erskine Bowles (D) were dead-tied going into Election Day 2002. We were told by her campaign manager to expect a long night, and, I think I got this correct, to 'start drinking heavily'. No one on either side thought it would be decided until the wee hours of the next morning.

CNN's Candy Crowley (or some other reporter) announced Dole's victory at 9:20 pm. She had won 56-44. Apparently, those late breakers all went to her in the last days of the campaign.

The question now is whether those people in North Carolina who have not definitely made their decision to support Kay Hagan for a second term will do so once they think about what President Obama said about his policies being on the ballot.

That is why so many incumbents of the President's party lose in mid-term elections, especially in the second term of the President.

Many of these people just say 'no' to the President and it spills on down the line on the ballot.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Market Opportunity in the Political Marketplace

Where are the majority of American voters today?
We saw a poll last week from PPP that somewhat shocked us.

It showed a tightening race in South Dakota's Senate seat, one previously thought to be solidly in the GOP pickup camp.

But not solely because of the Democrat candidate Rick Weiland.

Because of the Independent candidate. Former GOP US Senator Larry Pressler who is running as an Independent against the front-runner and presumptive favorite former GOP Governor Mike Rounds.

The most recent poll results showed 35% support for Rounds; 28% for Weiland and 24% for Pressler.

First of all, we were surprised to see the name 'Larry Pressler' on any ballot nowadays. He served in the US Senate as a Republican Senator for 18 years from 1979 to 1997 and is now 72 years old. Good for him....still alive and kicking and participating in American representative democracy.

Second, we were surprised to see him with 24% of the poll results. As an Independent. In South Dakota.

In Kansas, the Democrat Senate candidate dropped out of the race against long-time incumbent GOP Senator Pat Roberts paving the way for 'Independent' (but decidedly a liberal Democrat) wealthy businessman Greg Orman to challenge Senator Roberts. The race has become more serious than anyone thought even 2 months ago.

What is this saying about the 'rise' of Independent candidates running for political office in America, if it is saying anything at all?

For a long time, we have been observing and writing about the incredible surge in registered Independent (Unaffiliated) voters in the state of North Carolina. Recently, an article came out that said there were counties 4 counties in the state where Unaffiliateds were now the clear majority of registered voters; 39 counties where Unaffiliateds were second to Democrats; and 26 counties where Unaffiliateds were second to Republicans.

That is 69 counties out of 100 where Unaffiliateds were either #1 or #2 in voter registration in North Carolina.

That is simply hard to believe. In 1992, when that crackpot but well-meaning Ross Perot ran for
'I am all ears!'
President ('Can't you just hear that giant sucking sound?'), Unaffiliated registration in North Carolina amounted to less than 4 %.

He got 19% of the vote nationwide but no electoral votes. Thankfully upon reflection.

North Carolina is one of the few states where legal voters can register Unaffiliated so it provides a pretty good petri dish to try to discover why there are so many Independents nowadays.

It is pretty simple: Over the past 14 years, under both Republican and Democrat complete and partial control of our government in the Congress and the White House, our big problems have not been solved.


We had a $11 trillion national debt when President George W. Bush left office in 2009.

Today, we are just under $18 trillion of national debt under President Barack Obama who had 100% Democrat control of the House and Senate from 2009-2011 and a split Congress since then.

The economy feels as stagnant in terms of job creation and wage expansion for the middle class as it has at any time since the truly desultory years under President Jimmy Carter that mercifully ended in 1980.

The costs of health care keep going up and now, under Obamacare, people are NOT paying $2500 less per family and people are NOT able to 'keep their doctor if you like them'.

Suffice it to say, if you want to look at it in market-based terms, the current suppliers of political leadership are creating a vacuum in the market for effective and real and tangible results from their political leadership.

Any time there is an opportunity in the market not currently being filled by existing companies or services, someone comes up with a new product or service to fill that gap and hopefully make millions in the process.

Same thing with political leadership.

So what is happening today in American politics?

In 1985, Lee Atwater said the majority of American voters would be 'socially libertarian (for the most part) and fiscally conservative' way back in 25 years.

Looks like he was just about right on-target. The Independents are fed up with both the 'extremes' as they see them coming from both the Democrat and Republican Party in Washington at least.

Maybe the established parties will reform themselves and start moving to accommodate these disaffected voters more in the middle.

Maybe pigs will start to fly and become drones who will shoot sausage-and-bacon bullets at ISIS terrorists in Iraq, yes?

Do you really see the Democrats becoming 'less' active on social issues and 'more' fiscally conservative over the next decade? Or the Tea Party Etc. Republicans becoming less concerned about social issues and focus like a laser beam solely on the economy, reforming entitlements and balancing the budget?

The 80% majority of Americans have fallen into the following categories over the years: Southern Democrat; moderate Republican, sentient Libertarian, JFK Democrats.

Here's what the far-left extreme of the Democrat Party calls Southern Democrats nowadays: 'Extinct'

Here's what the far-right extreme of the Republican Party calls everyone to the west of them on the political spectrum: 'RINO'

Which  means to them: 'Really. I know everything about politics. And You Don't'

But somehow, the 'wackos' on either end of the spectrum are the tail wagging the dog in both parties now. It is most likely because of the extreme gerrymandering that has taken place in both parties where the only real election takes place in the primaries to see who is the 'most pure' when it comes to 'party principles'. Whatever that is nowadays.

'Party Purity' is a dangerous thing in most cases. In any form of government. In any nation over the span of hundreds of years.

That is why there is such an opening for Independents nowadays. All you have to do is run in the general election, not in any vicious primary. And all you have to do is win 34% of the general election vote (in most normal states outside of Louisiana) and see the other 2 candidates split the vote 33%/33% and you win.

There are hurdles to any Independent winning such as having to get 4% of the registered voters in your race to sign a petition allowing you to be on the ballot (as they do in NC). Another hurdle is the lack of institutional history as a party plus no real organization or list of donors to call on for help.

However, in these days where 527s and powerful technology advances have basically made parties more marginal and the personality and organizational skills of the candidate more important, don't be surprised to see more Independents running soon.

When you see trends such as in North Carolina where both Democrat and Republican voter registration drop 3-5%/year and Independent registration rise by 5%+/year, that is called 'market disruption' in any business we know.

Maybe the 'Lost Republicans' and 'Lost Democrats' in the Independent camp will keep coming home to vote for the Democrat or Republican candidate each election.

But what they are 'coming home to' nowadays...burnt-down smoldering buildings on both sides where nothing gets accomplished for the good of the nation as a whole when all is said and done?

'Going out' with the Independent in each race might become easier and easier to do each election cycle to come. As long as the Independent candidate can think deeply and act like a real leader, that is.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

'Make No Mistake About It: My Policies Are On The Ballot This Fall'- President Obama

Truer words were never spoken.

The problem for the President and the Democrats this fall is that he is so unpopular now with the American people because of his policies that he threatens to bring them down this fall and allow the Republicans to regain control of the US Senate and possibly expand their majorities in Congress.

President Obama's policies both domestic and foreign have now been on full display for over 5 years and the American people are telling him they don't like what he has been doing in either arena.

They are saying back to him: 'Make No Mistake About It: We Don't Like Your Policies And We Are Going To Do Something About It!'

Republicans used to say that Bill Clinton did something no other person could have done for them in 1994: He brought them all together to defeat his policies, which included HillaryCare in 1993.

That was the first time in 40 years that the GOP had controlled the US Congress. Not since President Harry Truman brought all the rebellious Republicans together after World War II.

That is as long as Moses led the Hebrews on their long, lost march about the desert looking for the Promised Land, isn't it?

One of the main reasons why people are 'not happy' with President Obama is that his policies have failed to allow a boom in employment among people who want to and are able to work.

Miserably so.

More unemployed people stopped looking for work in every single month since President Obama was sworn in than the number of unemployed who have actually found a job! (see below from the BLS and as reported in FiveThirtyEight.

'Stopped Looking' For a Job Doesn't Mean The Same
Thing as That Person 'Found a Job!'
That is simply an astounding fact. You can't make that sort of thing up, now can you?

At this rate, we may one day have the 'official' unemployment rate hit zero....and have 60% of the American people officially say they have 'quit looking for work' and are now 'out of the job market'.

Are we supposed to be happy then?

Elise Hilton points out 5 reasons why people can't find work in her article in the Acton Institute Powerblog (worth the read):
  1. The U.S. has poorly-enforced trade agreements. 
  2. We are suffering from misguided energy policies. 
  3. Our government burdens us with both regulations and taxes. 
  4. Corruption and monopolies are costly, not just abroad, but right here in the U.S. 
  5. We struggle with disincentives to work, poorly-administered higher education and immigration issues. 
And all of this is leading up to a scenario where President Obama's unpopularity is probably leading to the loss of the Senate by the Democrats and a return to control by the Republicans who will replace Majority Leader Harry Reid just as soon as they can gavel in the next session of Congress in January, 2015 (WashPost article by Chris Cillizza):

So there you have it in one fell swoop: the connection between a President's policies that are on the ballot; the lack of job creation and a sluggish job market and a political party's prospects at the election polls.

It is not rocket science. But when you are on the downside of the rocket engines thrusting the other way, it sure feels like some sort of rocket engine burning you apart.

It is not fun. Unless you are on the winning side.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Imagine No Religion And What It Would Mean For Society

Imagine if John Lennon Got His Way
in his song 'Imagine'
We have been struck by the number of attacks on religion and religious freedom over the past several years not only from the Obama Administration (Hobby Lobby just to name one) but also from various citizens and non-profit groups at large.

Always remember: The Founders thought freedom of worship was equally as important as our freedom of speech, freedom of the press and right to assemble or else they would not have crammed them all into the First Amendment for all the world to see forever in history.

You can worship dung beetles in America if you so choose. It is entirely your prerogative to do so. (The ancient Egyptians worshipped, and some cultures in Africa still worship, the dung beetle or scarab as a symbol for the god who pushes the sun across the sky every day)

Let's say the anti-theists get their way and everything religious is wiped away from the face of America. Let's assume John Lennon got his way when he wrote his song 'Imagine'* and there was 'no religion too' and all the people were living their lives in peace. (like that is ever going to happen. c'mon...get real)

Let's try to look at what America and the world would look, act and feel like in a totally religion-less, non-spiritual realm.

Would it be far better or far worse than the America and the world we know today?

It would be like Clarence the Guardian Angel telling George Bailey in 'It's A Wonderful Life' that life now would be as if Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Mohammed and Buddha 'had never been born'.

Now that you have re-calibrated your brain to life without all those annoying Christians or pious Jews or peace-loving Muslims telling everyone what to do with themselves every day of their lives, we only have one question:

'What would we fill that ethical and moral vacuum with now?

How would we go about trying to govern ourselves and participate in the world events now that all vestiges of religious belief and 'appealing to a Higher Order' are gone, wiped out from the face of the planet?

Some have suggested that we could operate totally under 'natural law'.  This is the concept that human beings are such rational beings that each of us can observe things that occur in nature and in the natural order of things and deduce that they are universal and therefore universally-held and agreed-to by all people.

The Founders were deeply influenced by the philosophy of such writers dating back to Thomas Aquinas through Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.  Many of them thought 'natural law' was so self-evident to everyone that we could actually fashion a government based on it alone.

Well, we don't know about you, but it sure seems as though the Founders really thought that mostly the 'good side' of human nature would shine forth on a daily basis.

Not the 'bad side' of human nature that we all know lies within us each and every day. We see examples of deleterious behavior both large and small on a regular basis not only in our lives but in the lives of other people around us and around the nation and globe.

Although it is quite the stretch, let's now assume that every single person now living in America has the capacity to observe and learn and think rationally at all times. Apparently, this would also assume that people do not ever make rash decisions born out of anger or emotion and they take their own sweet time to analyze every situation and deduce what is the 'right' decision to make for the optimal outcome each and every time.

Be that as it may, how would our American democratic republic look and operate on a daily basis differently from what we have today?
  • Would we see such 'second-chance' laws such as American bankruptcy statutes that have to be one of the most lenient in the history of the world? Or would people be thrown into debtors prison for failing to pay back loans as people were as recently as the 19th century?
  • Would we see any sort of 'assumed innocent until proven guilty' statutes in the criminal code plus repeated avenues for appeals upon appeals upon appeals as we see in American jurisprudence? Or would we see immediate meting out of justice such as shooting alleged criminals at dawn or death by hanging in the public square?
  • Would we see any massive out-pouring of generous philanthropic financial support for the millions of people who go to charitable and church-based hospitals, schools, colleges, shelters and food banks? Or would rich people just keep it all to themselves and consume billions of dollars somehow themselves?
We all 'hope' that without any religious beliefs, the 'better angels of our nature', if you will pardon the expression, would show up on a second-by-second basis in our daily corporate and community lives, don't we?

But if 'nature' gives us any clues as to how religion-less human beings might act, the chances are pretty high that a religion-less society would produce the following results with terrifying ramifications not only for the United States but for the world at large which has benefited from our exportation of democracy and democratic republican principles since our inception:
  • The strongest and smartest will always prevail...and keep and eat all that they 'kill' or create in a business, for example. No profit-sharing plans for employees; no health benefits; no pensions. Work for the corporation til you drop...and then good luck later in life.
  • Colonies would form to support the Queen Bee at the head of every city, business or entity. Your identity would be solely related to supporting the 'king' or the 'president' of any state or locality, much like the feudal kingdoms used to operate in the Dark Ages of England.
  • When people get sick, much like the weakest in the herd, they would be left behind to fend for themselves. No one would take the risk of treating a patient, particularly if they have a deadly disease such as the Ebola virus which we have already witnessed Christian medical missionaries who were willing to risk their own lives to fly to Africa to treat victims of that dreaded disease there for no other reason than it was 'the right thing to do'.
We could go on forever translating the 'dog-eat-dog' or Darwinian principles we can easily observe in the animal kingdom and apply them to our own daily human experience.

Something about arguing that just allowing our 'basic human nature' to govern us on a daily basis, both privately and corporately, doesn't give us a lot of comfort, truth be told.

Suffice it to say that left to our own devices based solely on human nature and inherent, hard-wired DNA and chromosomes, it is unlikely that human beings would act on much else other than their own self-interest and survival. Especially when it came to competing with others for scarce food or resources.

'Natural law' might work in some areas as the Founders wished. But on the whole, 'nature' is a deadly, dangerous place for most animals in and up the food chain on a daily basis, isn't it?

Is that really the way you want to see the United States of America work on a daily basis, without any religious or Higher Order reference underpinnings at all?

You might want to think seriously about that before you answer it.

*Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You, you may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will live as one

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Friday, September 26, 2014

One Reason Why Socialized Medicine in France Costs Less Than American Health Care

'Je suis un Americain.
Comment pourriez-vous dire?'
Does anyone care to make a rough guess of how many obese or severely obese people we saw in 8 days in Paris recently?

Mind you, we were out every day at the various parks and tourist attractions from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre to the Jardins de Luxembourg; riding the Metro, the train or in the taxis; or just walking the streets of Paris to see the various neighborhoods from the Latin Quarter to the Place des Vosges to whenever the mood led us.

Also mind you, these Parisians eat a basket of croissants and baguettes in the morning at a 2-hour breakfast; break for a hearty petit dejeuner around noon for another 2 hours of eating and a bottle of wine or two or three; and then, after a few lattes during the day and a pastry here or there along the Rue de Whatever, they cap the day with a plate of fromages and more baguettes at 5 pm with wine only to be followed by a heavier dejeuner later in the evening such as 3 fried pork chops or a plate of hot sausages on spiced lentils. And another bottle or two or three of French wine, of course.

How many of the Parisians we saw in Paris were obese or severely obese as in America?

0. Zero. Not a single solitary one. Not anyone in a scooter. Not anyone in a wheelchair because of obesity issues at least. No one having to use any sort of device or aid even as simple as a cane to help them along because of overweight issues.

We thought we saw one late in the week but walked past him only to find out he was speaking in a Brooklyn accent that could only be from Brooklyn, New York and not anywhere else on the planet.

The only place we saw some rounded, more corpulent people was when we toured the art museums and saw a Reubens painting here or a Cezanne there with women who were decidedly not 'thin' by any stretch of the imagination.

As soon as we returned to the States, we realized that the basic shape of Americans is now a rather large pear whereas the Parisians we saw looked more 'normal' as in relatively thin and angular. Like Americans used to look 40-50 years ago.

How in the world can a society of people such as the French eat so much (and so well) and still look like the healthiest people on the planet?

We saw thousands of people, if not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, walking everywhere in Paris. They walked to work, to the park, the museums, the shops, church...wherever they wanted or needed to go,

Parisians seemed to want to walk over driving or riding in taxis. If their destination was a long distance away, they walked to the Metro or RER train stop several blocks away and then walked to their destination when they reached their Metro or RER stop.

If they were not walking, they were riding a bike. Paris has 1800 rent-a-bike kiosks all over the place but the first 30 minutes is free. There are 20,000 bikes, all of which seemed to be in use all the time.

With that in mind, we took a brief look at some of the readily available data comparing French health to American health conditions.

Americans are about twice as likely to develop diabetes as a typical French person. Americans are also about twice as likely to develop heart disease as a typical French person.

Know what 2 of the main leading causes of higher health care costs are in America today?

Diabetes and heart disease.

As of 2010, the per capita expenditure for Americans ran close to $9000/year which is surely much higher today.

The per capita expenditure for the average French person? Just under $4000.

The one area where the French exceed the Americans in disease is in their rates of cancer. No doubt due to the enormous amount of tobacco they consume, mostly cigarettes along the Champs Elysees as they sit and drink wine and eat fromage and baguettes and croissants and pastry and watch people as they go by.

But they do not see any obese people. We tried and we did not see any of them as we saw immediately in the US airports when we returned.

That is not surprising. 2/3rds of Americans are now considered overweight or obese. 1/3 are simply considered obese of which 6.7% are considered morbidly obese.

The US has roughly twice the obesity rate of France. Obesity leads to so many health complications, diabetes and heart disease just a couple of them.
'We're #1! We're #1!'

So what does this mean? Does socialized medicine in France keep the costs of health care down or does the more healthy lifestyle of Parisians help keep the costs down because they are avoiding the extremely expensive side effects and consequences of being obese?

We don't have all the data points academics would demand to make a sophisticated analysis of the health care comparison between the US and France.

However, based on a rather large data set that we saw with our very own eyes over an extended period of time in Paris, we saw with pretty much certainty that Paris does not have the obesity problem we have in America.

To contrast what we saw in Paris with an average everyday occurrence in America, here's conceivably a day in the life of an average American with a good job in an office building somewhere:
  • Get up. Eat some sugar-laced Mini-Wheats or Entenmann's pastries for breakfast.
  • Drive to work but go through a drive-thru Starbucks first to get a calorie-driven double-whip mocha latte with at least 700 calories in it before you put in 3 packs of 'all natural' cane sugar as if that is going to help you somehow.
  • Park in the parking deck. 
  • Take an elevator to your office.
  • Sit at your office all day long staring at a computer in an ergo-dynamically perfect office chair to take the strain off your back
  • Take the elevator down to the Burger King in the food court of your building and buy a Whopper with cheese ('Have your diabetes/heart disease your way!') with a side of greasy fries on the side. 1000+ calories at least
  • Take the elevator back up to your office and ergo-dynamically perfect office chair.
  • Take the elevator back down to your car.
  • Drive the car through a drive-thru window on the way home and buy (whatever you want). 1000+ calories minimum.
  • Sit down in front of the television to watch the news and then some favorite movie for the 10th time.
  • Eat some ice cream while doing so. Add on another 400-600 calories for sure.
Americans can go through an average work day without expending one ounce of energy on exercise or walking or running or lifting anything heavier than a Big Mac. We might burn up a fair number of calories on basic body functions such as our beating hearts and basic metabolism that keeps us alive but that is about it.

In our American Dream effort to find every comfort in life, we are literally killing ourselves by ingesting maybe 2000 calories more per day than we burn up.

No wonder we have perhaps the highest obesity rate the world has ever known outside of colonies of sumo wrestlers.

And with that, we have the highest per capita health care costs in the world. Obesity and exorbitant health care costs from complications due to obesity go hand-in-hand like two very large peas in a pod.

No wonder French health care costs are lower than America. It has less to do with socialized medicine than the fact that the French people take far better care of their bodies than Americans do.

They enjoy eating and drinking, don't get us wrong. But they seem to walk it all off whereas here in the States, we do not .

Sadly for many reasons.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

'Where Are The Thomas Jeffersons, James Madisons and Alexander Hamiltons of Today?'

They are all around us.

They are not running for public office. Yet.

We just returned from an exciting day-long seminar series at Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tennessee where we met with 19 young scholars and campus leaders through The Institute for the Public Trust we are running to find and train new leaders to run for office.

If you want to regain your hope for the future of America, spend any time with any young scholar or campus leader you can find and sit and listen to them for any length of time.

America's best times are ahead of us. Not behind us. These young leaders convince us of that.

We asked Stewart Harris of the Appalachian Law School in Grundy, Virginia and the Madison Center on the Constitution at Montpelier to come to Baylor to talk about why the Founding Fathers were such great visionaries, leaders and revolutionaries not only relative to their times but to all times in all nations since then.

There were many reasons why they succeeded at establishing our democratic republican self-government when so many had failed over the entire previous history of mankind. Not the least of which was their high level of education; their backgrounds, their families and perhaps sheer Fate, Destiny or Pure Statistical Luck of the Draw that so many of them lived at the same time in a relatively small geographic area.

It struck us as we were listening to Stewart speak to these young Baylor Leaders of Tomorrow that maybe we put our Founders on too much of a pedestal when it comes to their 'knowledge' of things in this world.

Not their native 'intelligence'. Clearly, if IQ tests existed back then, the collective IQs of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and any of the other dozens of signers of the Declaration and/or who attended and perhaps signed the US Constitution (not all the attendees did so) might surpass the collective IQs of 100 US Senators, 435 Representatives and 1 US President now in office today.

That might not be too much of a stretch when you really think about it.

When it comes to actual 'knowledge' of the world, consider these musings:

  1. Did the Founders know anything about nuclear energy, DNA or the operations of the cosmos as we do today?
  2. Did the Founders know anything about computer science, artificial intelligence or biomechanical engineering, subjects that many serious students today in American universities study as undergraduate majors?
  3. Did the Founders have any concept of advanced business management techniques, statistical analysis and complex financial investment and budgeting as any young graduate of the nation's business school do before they enter the work force?
We could go on all day about what even the average citizen in America 'knows' today that far exceeds the database of knowledge that was available to our Founders in 18th century America. Or Europe for that matter since many of them spent extensive time in France and England studying and working before returning to start the American Republic.

Mr. Harris went on to identify several other characteristics of our Founding Fathers to set them apart as great leaders, not all of which would be considered 'great' in anyone's eyes today or maybe even then.

Alexander Hamilton could be a self-important jerk on occasion with id/ego problems that were hard to believe. His heightened sense of moral (at least in public) rectitude lead him to accept a duel with then-sitting Vice President of the United States of America (!) Aaron Burr when a nice apology and quiet words of conciliation would have allowed Mr. Hamilton to live longer than his short 49 years of life here on earth.

Can you just imagine the uproar if Vice President Joe Biden challenged former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to even a mud-wrestling match on the West Front of the Capitol? (Who wouldn't pay big money to see that one?)

The point of this observation is that we do not suffer from a lack of 'knowledge' in America today. 

We suffer from a lack of courageous, convicted leadership on the part of our very best citizens to run for public office.

The Founding Fathers and Geniuses such as Franklin and Jefferson would have thought they had died and gone to heaven if they had these basic tools of American life and business today in their hands and at their disposal: a laptop; an IPhone, an IPad and a working wifi internet connection.

24 hours a day.

The computing power in any average citizen's IPhone, not a NASA engineer, in 2014 is perhaps 1 million times the computing power of the Apollo guidance systems that took our astronauts to the moon in 1969.

And people use them for games and for posting beef stew recipes today. Good grief!

Look at what the Founders did with just quill pens and rudimentary printing presses! It took weeks if not months for news to travel overseas or up and down the East Coast!

In many ways, we think it is fair to say that we 21st century Americans are 'smarter' than even Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, two of the smartest Americans or human beings who have ever walked this planet.

We may not be as natively 'intelligent' or even curious as those gentlemen were. But we sure do know a lot more about everything than they could have ever dreamed in their wildest imagination.

So what is the problem today?

Our very best citizens do not run for public office. Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Franklin did.

Plain and simple. It isn't rocket science to figure that out.

Imagine a US Senate today without Majority Leader Harry Reid or Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or any of the other 98 Senators who just don't get much of anything done of any consequence any more and haven't for the past 5 years.

Instead, imagine that the most successful or recognizable person in each of the 50 states allowed themselves to be considered for election to to the highest elective office in the nation, The U.S. Senate.

Who might they be?

How about a Senator Bill Gates from the state of Washington? A US Senator Warren Buffett from Nebraska. Senator Oprah Winfrey from Illinois. Senator Michael Jordan from North Carolina. Senator Francis Collins of Maryland. 

How about any of the bleating talking heads on talk radio or cable would even try to run for public office? Like him or hate him but you got to hand it to US Senator Al Franken of Minnesota who was a SNL regular before turning into a biting political commentator: He walked his own talk and ran for the US Senate rather than bleat and bray about it on the street corner where not many people really care anyway...and he won in Obama's landslide of 2008.

That is the level of distinction and achievement we saw from our Original Founders. They made their way in something other than politics before running for public office where they could take those talents and experiences and bring them to the common table of political discourse to help solve the big and truly intimidating problems we face as a nation.

Think it might be nice to have more accomplished accountants, financial managers and CEOs running the federal budget? Doubt we would have a $17 trillion debt going on $20 trillion before President Obama leaves office in the next 2.5 years.

Think it might be nice to have more accomplished scientists such as Francis Collins who heads the NIH? There are people now serving in Congress and state legislatures who couldn't tell you a molecule from a mole hill or a beauty mole.

Think it might be nice to have some more distinguished military leaders such as retired generals or admirals serving in the US Senate or Congress? They might know what to do about ISIS more than the 80% of the current sitting US Senate and Congress who never served in any military service. Including President Obama who never wore the uniform of our armed services either.

You get our drift here?

We know for a fact that we have the next Thomas Jefferson, James Madison or Alexander Hamilton now living in our midst.  We have many living in the state of North Carolina alone. We know because we have seen them, met them and trained them to run for public office.

We hope they do so. Sooner than later. We see no reason why every Baylor student now in our class series over this next year, or any of our over 500 graduates now, will not run for some elective office from county commission to city council to school board to state legislature to Congress and serve at least 1 term at any level.

Who knows? Maybe one will run for the White House one day as well.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Comes First: Liberty, Equality or Fraternity?

Liberté (freedom: blue), égalité (equality: white),
Fraternité (brotherhood: red)
There has always been a tension in modern western civilizations between the individual liberties of every person and the collective needs of every citizen.

Representative democracy in the form of democratic republican forms of government is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of mankind, isn't it?

It really wasn't that long ago that human beings lived relatively short and brutish lives. In the roughly 3 million years of human development, it has only been in the last 225 years or so that people have tried to govern themselves as opposed to having some dictatorial king, czar or tribal warrior keep them under his or her thumb and tell them what to do, think and believe.

As fate would have it, the United States adopted the US Constitution in the same year as the French Revolution toppled their monarchy, 1789. Much of what inspired the American Revolution in 1776 inspired the French in 1789 when they stormed the Bastille prison; they were sick and tired of callous, indifferent, vainglorious leadership in the form of their king at the time, Louis XVI and his wife, the Queen Marie Antoinette.

Both desired something truly 'revolutionary' and 'radical' in the history of man. Both wanted freedom to control their own destinies.

Perhaps the French said it best with their national motto now embedded in their Constitution:

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

What does this mean really in today's 21st century France, or America for that matter?

Is it a 'vertical priority list' in which 'Liberty' comes first for everyone; then 'Equality' and then 'Brotherhood' or looking out for each other?

Or is it more of an equally-shared 'horizontal priority list' where each condition is to be honored and respected by everyone in 33.3% shares every day or every year for every person?

We think it is a combination of both for America which we will explain. It entails the extent to which each person in each nation views the proper role of government in their daily lives and how each nation is to be governed by their federal and state governments.

The French?

While France is simply an amazing country when it comes to the freshness of the food (their strawberries and tomatoes taste as vibrant and fresh as farm-fresh American fruits and vegetables used to taste 50 years ago, just to cite one example), their history and their arts and culture, the French clearly have placed 'Fraternité' and 'Égalité' far above 'Liberté' in 2014.

56% of the French GDP goes to government spending versus about 21% of GDP for America. They brag about the richness and thickness of their social welfare system, including health care. Even with exploding health care and Social Security retirement costs associated with Boomers retiring by the hundreds of thousands every month now, the French have got us beat by a country kilometer or two.

Small businesses in France are subject to a 66% tax which clearly discourages new investment. Excessively high tax rates and over-regulation by government authority is nothing more than confiscation of freedom by those in power who like to use the coercive powers of government to make everyone comply with their wishes.

'Coercive confiscation of freedom' is always a dangerous proposition, no matter which political philosophy may prevail at any particular point in time. Thomas Jefferson objected to the concentration of power in Congress in the hands of just a few...even when he agreed with them philosophically and politically for just this reason.

What person in their right mind would say this in their calculation for a new business plan to be implemented in France:
'Sure, France is such a wonderful country and their food, art and culture is so terrific that I am willing to risk every asset I have and borrow as much money as I can and suffer through the indignities and difficulties of starting any small business so I can pay 66% of what profit we earn each year to the French government. On top of the 17% VAT that we will have to pay along the way as well.'
There are proposals in France to cap an individual's ability to earn income over 1 million euros by confiscating or taxing it at 100% once you earn that much in any given year.

How they get soccer stars to come play for French professional teams is a mystery under those conditions. Think LeBron James will ever play for the professional basketball league in Paris? Doubt it.

The French clearly value leisure time far more than Americans do. One French observer says: 'The French work to live. Americans live to work' which may be a bit of an over-stretch but shows clearly the difference in priorities between the two cultures today.

The French value the 'horizontal priority scale' where equality and fraternity enjoy large and equal shares of attention. They must realize this comes at the expense  of the freedom of the entrepreneur to make as much money as possible without any constraints whatsoever. They are actually quite proud and upfront about it.

America was founded in 1789 primarily as a nation dedicated to the proposition that 'all men were created equal' so clearly stated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. However, it was clearly in the context of allowing a person the individual freedom to determine his or her future as he or she sees fit, not what the government or any other person says how your life should play out.

Many of the Founders understood the inherent contradiction of forming a nation 'dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal' as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently spoke about in the Gettysburg Address, while they also condoned the perverse institution of slavery, including slave-owner Founders such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison.

They knew slavery had the capacity to tear the nation apart. They were proven correct about 70 years later.

We think the United States falls more in the 'vertical priority list' of 'Liberty' first with equality and brotherhood perhaps equal seconds.

Or at least it used to.

We think the generosity of the American people comes in terms of the voluntary nature of their charitable giving. Check out who sends the most aid to natural disasters whenever they occur around the globe. It is almost always the United States who sends the most aid to help those in need in America and around the globe.

We also always marvel at the sheer magic of how people's lives are transformed whenever they have a good job working with great leaders and other workers. They make money to feed themselves and their families; the company pays for the majority of their benefits, including health care and much of their retirement plans and, to top it off, these people pay taxes that support the social programs to support those who are not as well-off and are in need of assistance.

We need more private sector jobs. Not less of them.

We have not advocated the utter destruction of the federal government or any essential services that it now provides millions of people.  We agree with Ronald Reagan when he said in his First Inaugural Address:

'Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work--work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it. 
We prefer to think that our government is something that should be used to help us live productive lives rather than be an adversary at every turn which it can be when run by people who love more government and less freedom, especially in the private sector.'

We don't think President Obama or any of his close advisors have ever read these words from President Reagan's First Inaugural Address. They have 2.3 more years to do so and get it right.

What should anyone care if anyone from Bill Gates to Warren Buffett to the Koch brothers to LeBron James makes $100M, $1 billion or $10 billion in any given year in terms of salary, stock bonuses or Nike contracts?

They haven't stolen anything from anyone, have they? They haven't illegally tapped into your bank accounts and frustrated LifeLock or any other security program and stolen all of your money, have they?

In almost all cases of people being wildly successful in American business life such as Bill Gates, they have started a company or provided a service that has made the lives of hundreds of millions, probably billions of people around the globe far less brutish and far more pleasurable and enjoyable than our forefathers in American or the revolutionaries in France could have ever dreamed in 1789.

Even LeBron James can be counted as having created thousands of jobs. What would the guys at ESPN do every winter without LeBron jamming his way through the cold dark winters?

The case can be made that if the next Administration in the White House wants to be truly 'revolutionary' and get back to the roots of the American Republic to allow more freedom to prevail, we can and will leave the rest of the world behind in our dust once again. We can escalate the creation of new jobs with new technologies America always seems to come up, the 3-D printer just being one of the latest in the long line of creations that include mass production of the automobile to the PC.

Let France and England and every other nation become more socialist and tax the entrepreneurial spirit out of their creative citizens much as the bioengineering and food regulations have apparently squeezed that taste out of American strawberries and tomatoes.

Why do we have to let our elective representatives do that in America?

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Isn't The 'Best' Jobs Policy Just Getting A Job?

Rich Golfers Doing Good?
When is a 'job' a 'good job'?

Usually when you have one. As opposed to when you don't have one.

The word 'job' is sort of odd, isn't it? It comes from an uncertain origin, probably around the 1550s in Olde England where a 'jobbe of worke' meant a 'piece of work' as contrasted with continuous labor*

But the importance of 'having a job' can not be underestimated, can it? Without a job, a person can't support him/herself; his/her family and generally suffers from a lack of identity and a certain air of dignity.

We have all experienced this from time to time, especially over these past 5 years. If you haven't, thank your lucky stars or God Above.

We were struck recently by a story we saw over the weekend regarding the Evans Caddy Scholarship Program during the BMW PGA Championship in Denver, Colorado.

Many people think being a caddy on a golf course is a low-level, demeaning job. It is usually very hard work often lugging 2 huge golf bags on both shoulders for rich white guys at fancy clubs in the morning and afternoon in awfully high heat and humidity across much of the nation during the summer.

'Looping' some people call it. 'Hard as hell' many younger caddies call it.

Everyone is probably aware of the 'Caddy Scholarship' made famous in 'Caddyshack' when Judge Smales asked Danny how he liked being 'Mr. Scholarship Winner Danny Noonan':

Caddies went the way of the dodo bird for the most part in the mid-1970s as more and more golf courses went to renting golf carts because they could make more money and get more golfers around the course in less time. There are still some clubs around the nation that still use caddies but they are few and far between compared to 50 years ago.

But caddying also deteriorated because of the public perception that it was 'beneath' anyone to do in modern-day America. Some people consider caddying 'hard demeaning work'. Some even go so far as characterizing it as 'white men keeping young African-Americans down on the plantation' which seems a bit excessive to be honest about it in 2014 America.

Caddying is a very hard, sweaty, tiring manual labor job, there is no question about it. But is the deterioration of caddying a 'good thing' or not for America and America's youth, especially during the summers when they need a job of any kind?

The Evans Caddy Scholarship program has sent over 10,000 caddies to college on full scholarships. 10,000 full college scholarships paid for by mostly rich white guys who have made money and been successful in business, law, medicine, academia, you name it.

Isn't that an indication that rich mostly white people can at least sometimes do very good things with their money, time and effort? After all, when was the last time you heard that a poor person was able to set aside a couple of million dollars and set up a scholarship that could help thousands of other people down the road? It would be next to impossible to do, yes?

Most of the time, business people in America are their own worst enemies. They don't tell their positive stories often or well enough. And when they make mistakes, they are so mind-numbingly clay-footed and tin-eared that they deserve all the ridicule that can be heaped up on them.

Cue any news story on the collapse of Wall Street in 2008 and 2009. You'll see what we mean.

Here's a classic case of the private sector providing entry-level jobs for mostly young people that achieves many social goals most of us say we want to see any way we can get them. On top of learning how to be a good caddy; show up on time, be polite and respectful to others, read the greens; find the errant tee shots and managing the money and tips they get each summer, every caddy doesn't face the complete opposite of what they see today: not working every day for instance.

Isn't that a far sight better than any social welfare program or after-school basketball league the taxpayers can and have been asked to fund over the years?

What do you think a young person learns on the golf course when they see a golfer such as Cameron Tringale call a penalty on himself and forfeit $50,000 in earnings as recently happened on the PGA this summer?

It is a far different lesson learned than watching Ray Rice slug his girlfriend in an elevator, isn't it?

Our honest question is this: With teenage unemployment at all-time highs, especially among African-Americans and Hispanics during the summer months when they are out of school, what is better: To have a tough, hot, sweaty, demanding job as a caddy....or to not have a job at all?'

The entire nation would benefit from golf courses and clubs doing away with electric carts altogether and reinstating caddy programs for their members and guests.

#1: You would get more exercise walking than riding a cart and flailing at the ball 120 times or so during each round.

#2: Young people of all races, creeds and colors would get a chance to learn what it is like to work really hard for hard-earned pay and most likely, avoid indolent summer days where there is no job.

It is amazing to reflect on what the Evans Caddy Scholarship Program has done for these 10,000 young people over the years. It is also amazing when you realize it was started at the initiative of one man, Chick Evans, and 26,000 golfers voluntarily contribute $12 million annually to support the scholarship fund.

They don't have to do that you know. They do it because it is the right thing to do and they chose to use their financial resources to make it happen.

So the private sector does work, right?

When you think about how many hundreds of thousands more young people could have the same opportunity if we put a premium on hard work once again in America instead of stigmatizing what used to be considered a good entry-level job for young people, you have to slap your forehead and wonder why this is such a hard thing for so many people to understand.

*Online Etymology (further explanation of the word origins for 'job) 'of uncertain origin, perhaps a variant of gobbe "mass, lump" (c.1400; see gob) via sense of "a cart-load." Sense of "work done for pay" first recorded 1650s. Thieves' slang sense of "theft, robbery, a planned crime" is from 1722. Printing sense is from 1795. Slang meaning "specimen, thing, person" is from 1927. job. (1) A low mean lucrative busy affair. (2) Petty, piddling work; a piece of chance work. [Johnson's Dictionary] On the job "hard at work" is from 1882. Job lot is from obsolete sense of "cartload, lump," which might also ultimately be from gob. Job security attested by 1954; job description by 1920; job-sharing by 1972.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

'For Tar Heel Time, Set Your Clocks Back 100 Years'

"Jackson has lost his left arm; I have lost my right."
General Robert E. Lee, May 3, 1863
One of the best classes any undergrad could take at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the mid-1970s was the Civil War history class taught by Dr. James Leutze.

He brought the facts and figures of that bloody war to life each day in class. The Civil War generals and politicians and people seemed to magically come alive with each and every passing class.

One of the most searing images was his recounting of how Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was mistakenly shot in his left arm at the Battle of Chancellorsville by his own troops as he was reconnoitering the Union lines after his brazen and successful flanking maneuvers that brought victory to the Rebel troops.

We were so taken by this story that we trudged through the muck and mud one day soon after graduation trying to find where his amputated left arm had in fact been buried. Under a small copse of trees, right where Dr. Leutze said it would be, we saw the small headstone. (photo above) We marveled that the doctor and his team who had amputated thousands of limbs up to that point in time during the War Between the States would take the time to find Jackson's severed left arm in the pile of dead limbs outside of the field hospital and give it a proper burial near Ellwood Plantation in Orange County, Virginia.

General Jackson died 8 days later on his way to Richmond and was buried later in Lexington, Virginia never to be reunited with his left arm in death.

We bring that story up not only to praise Dr. Leutze's teaching ability but to point out his fine attention to the details of history. Anyone who knew about where Stonewall Jackson's left arm was buried sure knew how to dig through a lot of research and come up with the truth.

Dr. Leutze went on to do great things in the UNC system, most prominently at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where he now serves as Chairman Emeritus. We met with him several times when he came to Capitol Hill to discuss matters of importance to the UNC system as well as specifically UNC-Wilmington.

He has written a scathing opinion piece about the Republican Governor and General Assembly for the News and Observer titled 'For Tar Heel Time, Set Your Clocks Back 100 Years' that you might want to read. (text below as well)

We bring this up not to lambaste Dr. Leutze whom we hold in high regard. We bring this up more to point out the significant difference between 'politics' and 'history'.

History entails looking at all the facts of any event or time in the past and try to bring some sense of proportion to the modern reader. Politics, on the other hand, looks at one side of any issue, present or past, and tries to beguile the registered voter into 'seeing things your way', not the other way.

For one thing, maybe some eager junior editor sought to gin up reader response with such a provocative headline. Does he really mean that the Republicans now in charge of running the state of North Carolina government has actually taken the 8th largest state in the Union back to 1914 living standards right before World War I broke out?

Surely that can't be true, can it?

In this opinion piece, Dr. Leutze departs from looking at the totality of recent history, say the last 3 where Republicans have finally had a chance at running this great state of ours after 140 years, and takes the usual liberties that any seasoned politician, consultant or partisan would take.  This is entirely fair to do in a democratic republican form of government such as ours. Both sides do it so 'c'est la guerre' as the French would say.

But is Dr. Leutze writing here as a dispassionate historian or as an active partisan of modern-day politics?

Let's take a look at some of Dr. Leutze's claims and see if they really hold water as a historian first. We know he is a great historian because he was telling the truth about Stonewall Jackson's left arm and we saw it for ourselves.

How about this claim that 'North Carolina has turned back 100 years' as the title of his opinion piece claims? Is that really 'true' or just 'hyperbole' that anyone can expect in the public square today?

Claim #1: 'The new GOP-dominated legislature passed the nation’s most restrictive voter ID law (which just like) the constitution of 1898 effectively suppressed African-American voting'

It remains to be seen whether the new voter ID laws will lead to any advantage in any voting patterns among any demographic group be it along racial, ethnic, gender or age lines. There is one reason and one reason only why we just don't know if there will be any diminution of voter turnout in any cohort or sector of the voting population:

The new laws don't even go into effect until the 2016 elections in the first place!

So how can it be proven that the new voting laws will suppress ANY voter turnout along any lines when they have not even been implemented yet?

If you are a law-abiding citizen, you have got to have a photo ID of some kind to partake of ANY activities at any of the offices or stores in North Carolina or the United States of America.

  • DMV 
  • Airports 
  • Hospitals
  • Pharmacy 
  • Blood Donation 
  • Banks
  • Writing a Check 
  • Using Credit Cards
  • Gun Shop 
  • Social Security Office
  • Pawn Shop
  • Jail 
  • Courts 
  • Unemployment 
  • Public Schools 
  • Adoption Agency
  • Parole & Probation 
  • Auto Insurance 
  • Traffic Stop
  • Passport
  • Post Office
The only place in America where you do not need a photo ID or any sort of positive identification today is apparently the voting booth.

Claim #2: 'The plutocrats seem content to let North Carolina go back to Rip Van Winkle’s slumber'

Again, we don't mind some hyperbole in any political discussion.

But we have to ask: 'Who and what are the plutocrats in North Carolina today anyway? And is North Carolina really in a 'Rip Van Winkle slumber' today in 2014?

The tobacco, textile and furniture barons of the late 19th century and most of the 20th century are gone as are hundreds of thousands of the relatively stable manufacturing jobs that went overseas to lower wage cost countries. Many small communities in eastern and western North Carolina would give anything to have those jobs back instead of seeing most of their population now on unemployment or most of their buildings boarded up.

Who are the 'plutocrats of North Carolina' today unless they are the founders of the high tech and health care giants that thankfully still call North Carolina home and employ tens of thousands of highly skilled people who come out of our Research Triangle Park universities and laboratories?

For every Art Pope on the right side of the political spectrum, there have been 10 on the liberal side of the North Carolina political spectrum willing to fund any and all liberal causes for the past half century. Are rich people on the left not 'plutocrats' simply because you agree with them?

Claim #3: 'The new GOP-dominated legislature lowered taxes on the wealthy – causing a half-billion revenue shortfall – thus starving schools and infrastructure'

You know what is really odd? No one on the progressive liberal side of the aisle ever brings up the inconvenient truth that the real reason why schools, including primary, secondary and higher education and infrastructure face shortfalls in funding is because of close to $2.5 billion that was spent on over-runs in the mismanaged state Medicaid program under the Democrats' rule prior to the GOP takeover in 2012.

The computer systems were antiquated and insufficient to handle the claims made on Medicaid by the state hospital and physician care community. On top of that, the General Assembly under Democrat control never considered moving to a Medicaid Managed Care plan adopted by 39 other states in the Union, some of which have now saved billions in their Medicaid program.

Where can those savings ostensibly be spent? On teachers' salaries; the UNC system; community colleges, infrastructure (although we would prefer that every road in North Carolina be re-paved first) and yes, further tax cuts.

There had to be some economic effort to jumpstart job growth under the Republicans when they took over all of the reins of government in North Carolina in 2013. Republicans prefer tax cuts as their economic stimulus packages; President Obama and liberal Democrats prefer 'job-ready' infrastructure spending projects as their economic stimulus packages.

It is like the swallows returning to Capistrano every year at the exact same time. It is just what both parties 'do'.

The added cost of Medicaid over-runs plus the lost savings for each of the past 5 years brings the marginal cost of Medicaid to over $5 billion that has been spent on that one single program in the state budget that did not need to be spent had Medicaid been run in a more responsible, fiscally sound manner.

'1/2 billion in revenue shortfall' pales in comparison to these $5 billion in lost Medicaid savings.

Claim #4: 'Redistricting had been so masterful that they won nine of 13 seats despite the fact that almost 200,000 more votes were cast for Democratic than Republicans in the state’s combined congressional races'

With all due respect, this is a non-starter issue if you have been on the short-end of the stick of redistricting as a Republican in North Carolina. Here's what the Republican representation was for congressional delegation just for selected sessions in the 80's (out of 11 total): 1981-82 (4); 1983-84 (2); 1985-86 (5); 1987-88 (3); 1989-90 (3); 1991-92 (4 out of 12)

Congressional redistricting has been done by the majority party for the advantage of the majority party in every state since the Founding of the Republic in 1789. To assert that the GOP majority did something nefarious in 2011 when they won control of the legislature for the first time in 140 years and they now have 9 out of 13 congressional seats, soon to be 10 after this fall's elections in 2014, the very same thing could be said about the Democrats when they were in charge but you almost never ever hear it said today.

So what can be learned today? There is a huge gulf of difference between 'history' for history's sake and 'politics' for politics sake.

Reinhold Niebuhr once said: 'Politics is the art of finding approximate solutions to basically insoluble problems'.

It would help if both sides could use the same set of data before launching broadsides into each other.

(text of Dr. Leutze's opinion piece below)

For many years, North Carolina was known as the Rip Van Winkle state because it was so backward. Stingy public officials and business tycoons wanted low wages and low taxes so there was little investment in civic needs. Roads and other public facilities were ignored while education of the state’s youth was minimal.

The state was governed by the whims of a plutocracy of landed aristocrats, then tobacco barons, monopoly industrialists and eventually bankers and insurance executives. They had little use for an educated workforce or civic infrastructure. Too often they viewed things through a racist or misogynistic prism.

The constitution of 1898, established after the political coup in Wilmington, effectively suppressed African-American voting. The state’s leadership refused to ratify the 19th Amendment for women’s’ suffrage, (symbolically ratified in 1971) and kept Native Americans from voting until the 1950s. The leaders also kept taxes low and regulation lax.

As late as the 1950s, historian Hugh Lefler noted that North Carolina was not moving in the right direction. Industrial wages had stagnated, per capita income near the basement (46th out migration increasing, and tax revenues failing to meet critical public service needs.

In the 1960s North Carolina experienced a transformation, melding with the modern world.

Governors Kerr Scott, Luther Hodges and Terry Sanford moved to join the mainstream. While Scott, Hodges and Sanford initiated the modernization momentum, it was in 1977 when Jim Hunt became governor that the state began the steady climb in education, civic improvements and broader prosperity. Critical to Hunt’s success was recruiting the business community and selling it on his agenda of public education, government services and modest environmental protection as critical to industrial and economic advancement.

The Research Triangle Park blossomed into a high-tech, high-wage and high-skilled business recruiting dynamo. Charlotte emerged as one of the nation’s leading financial centers while other areas of the state saw schools, community colleges and universities provide a trained labor force. The state’s national ranking rose under Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Jim Martin (28th capita income in 2000). It seemed this new course had been irreversibly set.

However, today that trend is in jeopardy. The shadows of the state’s Southern regressivism had never vanished. Paralleling Hunt’s career was that of Jesse Helms, with his hallmark arch-conservatism and race-baiting rhetoric.

Starting in the mid-1970s, Helms and other conservative Republicans set up think tanks to give academic rigor to their ideology, recruiting bright lawyers and conservative journalists. In North Carolina one recruit was Art Pope, heir to a discount retailing fortune. Pope turned his energies toward establishing the John Locke Foundation and a stable of spinoffs. He joined with out-of-state forces like the Koch brothers and their Americans for Prosperity.

Ironically, it might have been the election of 2008 that sparked the GOP sweep of 2010. The Red State Project headed by Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove determined that to control a state and ultimately the federal government, they needed to take a sufficient number of state legislatures in a census year – thus controlling legislative redistricting. With that prize in view, Pope and Americans for Prosperity poured in millions. Republicans swept to victory in both the state House and Senate in 2010. They then imposed a redistricting plan that maximized the GOP strength and will likely keep them in place for at least the next decade.

While the 2010 GOP campaign mantra might have been jobs, jobs, jobs, it was quickly jettisoned to focus on divisive social issues, appealing to the newly labeled “tea party” base.

Just as had been done after 1898, they attacked voting rights, taxes, public schools and added to them contemporary issues of gays and abortion. The new GOP-dominated legislature passed the nation’s most restrictive voter ID law and lowered taxes on the wealthy – causing a half-billion revenue shortfall – thus starving schools and infrastructure. They added mean-spirited cuts in unemployment benefits and Medicaid and eliminated the Earned Income Tax Credit. In four years they laid waste to 40 years of moderate progress.

In 2012 the new Republicans added the governor’s mansion to their booty. Redistricting had been so masterful that they won nine of 13 seats despite the fact that almost 200,000 more votes were cast for Democratic than Republicans in the state’s combined congressional races.

The business community Hunt had so carefully and effectively courted abandoned the progressives. The N.C. Chamber imported a director from Kansas who emphasized the old standbys: low taxes, low government spending, weak regulations. The plutocrats seem content to let North Carolina go back to Rip Van Winkle’s slumber.

Now comes the 2014 election. In this off-year contest, incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is locked in a tough race against Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis. When Tillis won the GOP primary, it was curiously hailed as a victory for the mainstream despite the fact that Tillis leads tea party forces in the legislature. Over $20 million of out-of-state money has poured in to defeat Hagan – control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance. Will the election be determined on the effectiveness of voter suppression efforts or will voter discontent for what is going on in Raleigh outweigh discontent with Washington government and the U.S. Congress?

Dr. James Leutze is chancellor emeritus of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

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