Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dean Smith and Wallace Wade: Teachers of Life, Not Just 'Coaches'

How were Dean Smith and Wallace Wade most alike?

'They saw themselves as 'teachers' first and foremost'.

'What's that you say? 2 of the most successful collegiate coaches in the history of college sports in America thought of themselves as 'teachers' first and 'coaches' second? Are you kidding me?'

It's true. Of course, it helped them a ton that they were great strategists, tacticians and geniuses of the sport they coached as well. And great recruiters, let's not ever forget that.

However, at the heart of both men was the heart of a 'teacher' in the truest sense of the word.

Dean Smith has been eulogized for the past week by many people and writers, as well it should be. The theme of 'greatest college basketball coach ever' and 'retired with most wins ever' at the time has paled in comparison to the other attributes Coach Smith had towards his players and University, most of which indicated a selflessness of the man and a desire to teach young men how to become men.

95% of his players graduated with a degree from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That may be a record that will never been reached by any coach in the future due to the pressure to 'win at all costs' which usually means 'at the cost of the student not getting a real education'.

Know what Coach Wade used to tell his recruits to play football at Duke University from 1931-1950?

'Duke University will do far more for you in your lifetime than you will ever do for Duke University on the football field'

Meaning: 'Come to Duke, go to class in substantive courses, get your degree and you will be able to live a full and wonderful life regardless of whether you get drafted to play in the pros or not'

Of course, back then, pro football players made $100/game so playing pro ball was not as lucrative or as attractive as it is today. The average salary of a NFL football player is about $2 million per year notwithstanding the fact that a few QBs make $25 million per year.

Coach Wade was recruited to come to Duke from the University of Alabama Crimson Tide where he coached 3 national championship teams in the 1920s including such teams as the 'Thundering Herd of Red Elephants' in 1931 which must be where Alabama picked up the association with their elephant logo.

Know what he wanted in his negotiations to come to Durham to coach a lowly football program after winning 3 national titles at Alabama, then and still a hot-bed of college football?

He wanted to be: 1) head football coach, of course; 2) Athletic Director, which makes sense and 3) Director of the Intramural Athletic Program for all undergraduates.

Director of Intramurals? That would be like Dean Smith wanting to be the director of the UNC fraternity flag football leagues and all the indoor intramural basketball, wrestling and racquetball leagues during the winter and softball leagues in the spring!

Coach Wade thought it was important to be the Intramural Director. Simply because he was a teacher first and foremost and wanted to be a molder and shaper of men's character, morals and ethics, all of which come to light during any athletic contest. Just watch and see how different players react to bad calls by a ref next time you watch a game.

Coach Smith believed in the team first, not the individual player. That is why he was the 'only person who could hold Michael Jordan below 20 points per game' goes the old saying. (actually it was 17.7 ppg)

The team was always stronger than the individual, Coach Smith preached. He invented the 'finger point' to the guy who passed the ball to the guy who got an easy shot because of his unselfishness and game smarts. He invented the 'run-and-jump' which was a variation on the trap defense. He invented the huddle at the foul line to call the next defense.

And...he invented the Four Corners offense. (or as he claims, he saw an Air Force team do it one time and he adapted it for his use at Carolina). If there ever was a way to teach people how to use your head to win a game, Dean Smith figured out how to do it regardless of the talent level he had on his team which was mostly great as the years went by.

He said of the Four Corners: 'It was a way to tell the other team that we owned you. Completely'. How demoralizing for the other team. And it was simply an impossible offense to practice against in freshman ball at Carolina.

But you know what Coach Smith and Bill Guthridge and the entire Carolina coaching staff put at the highest priority year-in and year-out?

'Going to class'.

If you wanted to run 32 flights of steps in Carmichael long ago, all you had to do as a varsity or jayvee player was skip a class and the next thing you knew, you were running up and down 32 sections at Carmichael with a 20-lb vest strapped to your chest and back. Try that sometime.

Dean Smith and Wallace Wade could not have been more apart on the political spectrum than any other two men on the face of this planet. Coach Smith was an active proponent of liberal causes from civil rights to nuclear freeze movements. Wallace Wade supported conservative causes and candidates such as Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms.

You know where they both seem to be very similar?

They believed in the meritocracy of sport. That is, the best should play because the best players give your university the best chance of winning. Regardless of race; regardless of background.

Coach Wade played in the 1916 Rose Bowl as a guard on the  Brown University team with one of the first black All-Americans ever, Fritz Pollard. In 1938, Coach Wade took his southern Duke team up north to play Syracuse which had a black running back named Wilmeth Sindat-Singh who had been adopted by Indian parents. Coach Wade could have canceled the game or asked that Singh not play because of racial attitudes at the time but he didn't.

Coach Smith recruited the first black player to play at Carolina, Charlie Scott in 1967. Scott had been insulted in a Davidson, NC soda shop when a coach named Lefty Driesell took him there to seal the deal to have Scott join the Davidson Wildcats under Lefty who had Davidson in the top 5 in national basketball polls at the time.

After the incident, Scott supposedly told Driesell: 'I think I am going to play at Carolina, Coach'. No doubt Lefty got that guy fired from the soda shop for helping him lose one of the most talented players in the nation at the time.

Both Dean Smith and Wallace Wade won a lot of games for The University of North Carolina and Duke University, respectively. That is for sure.

Perhaps their most enduring legacy, or at least should be, was their dedication to the noble ideal that college athletics should be used to shape and mold the character of young men and women and help them get a solid broad-based liberal arts education while in college. Not to have college athletic programs used over-abundantly as a springboard to the NFL or NBA.

Less than 1% of all college athletes ever get a chance to play professional sports, About the same amount of high school athletes ever get the chance to play at the collegiate level. A star high school athlete has a far greater chance of becoming a neurosurgeon, a business person, a lawyer or astronaut than becoming a professional athlete....assuming he takes advantage of the opportunity and goes to class every day and works his butt off like every other student who wants to achieve the same outcome.

It is true that the highest average lifetime earnings by any Carolina undergrad major is geography. Mainly because Michael Jordan was a geography major, which to his credit, he promised his parents and Coach Smith he would come back to get even as a star with the Chicago Bulls which he did.

You would have to imagine that both Coach Smith and Coach Wade would be saddened by the almost ridiculous commercialization that has taken place in college athletics over the years. They both played a part in that commercialization, mainly because they put out so many great teams that people wanted to watch play in person early on and then later in the Smith era, on television.

However, regardless of whether or not they contributed to the commercialization of college sports or not, they both held true to their basic principles that colleges and universities are there primarily to educate the minds of  young people and train them to be productive citizens for the future. Not to be mere steppingstones on the way to a professional career.

We don't know if Coach Smith or Coach Wade would agree with this but maybe college sports should adopt the same rule that exists in MLB.  A high school baseball prospect has to decide whether to sign right out of high school and go into the minor league baseball system or go to college and not be eligible for the draft until after their junior year. That would be a minimum of 3 years for the athlete to go to class with other students and learn what it really means to be an academic student above and beyond being a jock on campus.

Plus, if they don't become the next Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, they have an education they can use to start a business or get a job somewhere.

Nothing is ever perfect about college sports. It never has been. But in a world of imperfections and downright scams and disappointment in many athletes and programs, Dean Smith and Wallace Wade have set the standard for what collegiate athletics can, and should be all about.

Like the Philosopher Kings, we'd all be fortunate to see more 'Coaching Teachers' like them.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Medicaid Expansion in North Carolina

Medicaid-The PAC-Man of Government Budgets
We are always interested in what people say to justify what they want to do politically.

Sometimes what they say lines up with the cold hard steel facts of business, economics, accounting and basic money principles.

Most times, it does not. Sadly.

Let's take a cursory look at the issue of whether or not to expand Medicaid coverage in North Carolina under the ACA. It is a very complicated issue involved hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars each and every year across the nation, both state and federal. Very few people, including many legislators, even know what the difference is between Medicare and Medicaid, truth be told.

Here's the basic deal offered by President Obama and the Democrats who controlled Congress in 2010 when they passed ACA:

'States that expand Medicaid can get the federal government to pay 100% of the costs of expansion for the first 3 years PLUS 90% of the expansion cost for the next 2 years!'

You can almost hear some carny barker like Billy Mays selling Oxy-Clean on television saying: 'But wait! There's more!' 

It sounds too good to be true, yes?

Let's see if it is too good to be true:

Medicaid expansion would probably add on 600,000 new enrollees on top of the roughly 1.8 million North Carolinians who are now on Medicaid. That would mean 2.4 million out of the over 9 million people in North Carolina would be on Medicaid.

Not everyone stays on Medicaid forever.  The average length of time on Medicaid is estimated to be about 9 months per enrollee. However, at any one time, the number of North Carolinians on Medicaid is about 1.8 million people for now.

The current budget for Medicaid in North Carolina is just under $14 billion this year. Accounting solely for inflation and current expectations of program growth, it is reasonable to see this number grow to $15 billion soon and possibly to $16 billion in a couple of years.

Out of the $14 billion now spent on Medicaid's 1.8 million enrollees today, roughly $4 billion is paid by state taxpayers through the state general fund as passed by the General Assembly bi-ennial budget; $10 billion is paid by the federal government. The official Medicaid split for North Carolina is 65% federal/35% state.

$14 billion divided by 1.8 million enrollees amounts to $7777/person spent each year in Medicaid. This number is vastly skewed by the fact that roughly 50% of the entire Medicaid budget is spent on nursing home care and not on every single Medicaid patient every year. But for argument's sake, let's use the $7777/person figure for purposes of illustration.

Let's assume North Carolina today accepts the ACA deal of 100% coverage for Medicaid expansion in years 1-3 and 90% for the next two years, what will that cost in absolute budget terms?

For 600,000 more enrollees at roughly $7777/head, that totals an additional $4.6 billion more spent on Medicaid in North Carolina per year or the first 3 years. Regardless of whether there is a 100% or a 90% match paid by the federal government. Probably this figure will be a lot higher.

'See there! North Carolina would get $4.6 billion more per year from the federal government scot-free to pay for these people who need health care! What could be wrong with that?'

For one thing, this is not 'free' money from Washington like it is some Monopoly money in a game. YOU are paying for the federal match share of Medicaid through your federal taxes paid to Washington just like YOU are paying for the state match share of Medicaid through state taxes paid to Raleigh.

Assuming you are paying personal income taxes of some form, that is. Close to 50% of American taxpayers pay only payroll taxes and excise taxes, not personal income taxes.

Medicaid is not paid for by your payroll taxes even though it is an entitlement just like Medicare. It is funded entirely through general funds allocated by the government every year, not paid for by a dedicated payroll tax sources such as is the case with Medicare.

About 25% of the new expanded Medicaid spending will probably be paid by more debt borrowed abroad. So what? We have already hocked our kid's futures to the tune of $18 trillion and counting...why not add on about $1 billion federal debt more for 5 years so we can expand Medicaid coverage in North Carolina?

The second problem comes when the high 5-year Medicaid ACA matching payments ends, say in 2020 if expansion happens in 2015. What happens then? *

Well, what happens then is that the historic 65/35 federal/state match comes back into play where North Carolina no longer gets 100% or 90% of the Medicaid expansion paid by the federal government but has to start paying the 35% match again. Forever. Including the 600,000 expanded coverage universe of Medicaid enrollees.

'That doesn't sound like a lot' we can hear advocates of expansion say.

Well, again, 35% of an additional roughly $5 billion in added Medicaid costs amounts to an additional $1.75 BILLION per year that North Carolina taxpayers will have to pay forever, adjusting upwards for inflation annually.

That would be on top of the $4 billion NC taxpayers are currently playing for our state share of Medicaid expenses as it is. The total would be at least $5.75 billion in 2020 if North Carolina expanded Medicaid coverage this year and probably another billion or two more if Medicaid costs keep expanding as they have annually for the past 30 years.

Want to guess where this additional $1.75 billion per year will come from in 2020 and beyond? It almost certainly will not come from more taxes since the GOP is likely to retain control of the General Assembly for the next 5 years at least. Plus, people already feel overtaxed and over-burdened as it is.

If you think they are not over-taxed, try running for any office anywhere in NC on this Walter Mondalesque platform: 'I will never cut spending anywhere and I will raise taxes everywhere to pay for more state government spending across the state!'

You will have a better chance of running the gauntlet unscathed than you will getting elected that way.

That additional $1.75 billion in Medicaid spending will come from where it has already come from in the state budget under Democrat and now Republican control: public education, transportation and every other program ending in '-tion' in the state budget.

Medicaid is the PAC-Man of state and federal budgets. It (and Medicare) have gobbled up increasingly larger shares of taxpayer dollars in Washington and across the states such that the other discretionary programs are much smaller as a percentage of the overall budgets than they were just 10 years ago.

You want to pay teachers more in salary? Or support higher education through the UNC system? You will not be able to do it if Medicaid chews up an additional $1.75 billion of state tax dollars in 2020.

The entire state budget today, sans the federal matching programs, is only about $21 billion. $1.75 billion would be an additional 8% of the state budget by 2020 and it could be more.

The North Carolina Medicaid program has had a long history of not being managed very well and having to go back to the General Assembly at the end of legislative sessions to ask for an additional $300 million to $500 million to pay the bills in the last 5-6 years. The first priority of business is to figure out how to oversee and manage the existing Medicaid program so that costs can be controlled while offering the best care possible to our state's Medicaid recipients.

We have explained before why we think Medicaid MCOs (Managed Care Organizations) are a good idea whose time has come for North Carolina. For one thing, they typically produce better health outcomes for the very people who need better outcomes the most, the poor and indigent, simply because they are assigned health care caseworkers who monitor and counsel their every health care decision and move.

For another thing, MCOs can possibly finally get North Carolina's state Medicaid budget costs under control with or without expansion. If Medicaid expansion ever does happen, the costs to the taxpayer and the other programs in the state budget will be mitigated significantly.

The main point here is to point out that the old adage of 'There is no such thing as a free lunch!' is very much true. Especially in the ACA Medicaid expansion issue.

On the House Budget Committee, when tough decisions needed to be made, someone would invariably say: 'This is why we have to be the adults in the room'.

Adult decision-making that takes into account both the short- and the long-range implications of expanding Medicaid is important at this time.

Just have all the math and the arithmetic at your side.

* Medicaid Expansion is complicated as heck as you can well imagine. Some advocates will say this is a good deal because the ACA, 'as written' does not call for a sunset of the 90% federal match specifically. It can be read as saying the 90% match can 'extend for as long as it is sustainable or until Congress says it can't be that high any more'

Which stands to reason since no prior Congress can bind the arms of any future Congress.

Here's some important information you can read that explains how the states will have to adjust to the realities of the federal budget pressures going forward, regardless of whether or not Congress explicitly repeals the 90% match going forward after the 5-year period.

No budget guy we have talked with in DC is willing to bet the farm that after the 5-year expansion in any state, the Medicaid federal match will stay that high and not revert back to the historic norms for each state.

in NC, the match is 65/35 fed to state. In Mississippi, for example, it is 73/27 or something like that.

Chuck Blahous is one of 3 Medicare/SS Board Trustees and has worked on entitlement issues in the US Senate under Senator Alan Simpson and in the Bush White House for 8 years.

He has written a pretty detailed explanation of what states face when considering Medicaid Expansion....here's the summary version: http://www.economics21.org/commentary/expanding-medicaid-conflicting-incentives-facing-states

full version here is you really want to dive in deep here: http://mercatus.org/sites/default/files/Blahous_MedicaidExpansion_v1.pdf

After you read those two reports, you might want to read this in detail and depth....it is a 10-year forecast from CBO about everything in the federal budget.


Deficits are expected to go back up to $1 trillion around 2020, if not sooner.

It is very highly unlikely Congress is going to allow Medicaid expansion stay at 90% under continued upwards budget pressure. There are too many inherent contradictions such as where a pregnant woman at 60% of the federal poverty line gets a lower reimbursement rate from the feds than a childless adult with double the income,

It is the 'Law of Unintended Consequences' again. Such contradictions will lead to more review of the ACA going forward, not less.

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

President Obama's National Prayer Breakfast Speech

'Christians: Get Off Your High Horse!'
What is the big deal about President Obama's speech to the National Prayer Breakfast?

After all, there's no secret that some people have used Christianity to further their misguided or horrific goals in the past.

Possibly the worst and most polluted human life form with a brainstem that has ever lived, Adolf Hitler, tugged at the strands of the diminishing thoughts and writings of a declining Martin Luther who became increasingly more anti-semitic as he aged, to justify what came to be known as 'The Final Solution' as he and his henchmen exterminated at least 6 million Jews during World War II and possibly millions more.

Mentally and morally sick and corrupt people will grasp at any ethical or religious straw they can to justify their abuse of power. It is somehow embedded in human nature to do so.

Which is precisely what the Islamist terrorists are doing today in the name of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.

Which begs the serious question:

If the President can say that certain Christians have used Christianity to justify slavery and Jim Crow laws in the South, why can't he also say that certain Muslims have used Islam to justify jihad and kill infidels such as Americans wherever they can?
What is so difficult about that? This President seems to be ever-willing to blame America first, Christianity first, capitalism first for all the national and global ills but he is simply unwilling to cast blame on other nations, other religions or other government systems the world over for much of anything.

It is like President Obama sees himself as 'The Great Apologizer' for past American sins or something.

Here's the official transcript of the President's speech as put out by the White House immediately when he began talking at 9:13 am on February 5, 2015. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Based on the fact that this was issued at 9:13 am makes you have to believe that his comments about the Crusades and Jim Crow were not ad-libbed or a deviation from the written text but rather a fully-thought-out-in-advance-and-vetted-with-staff-and-speechwriters-beforehand planned statement.

For the most part of the speech, there seems to be no controversy or unusual language in it. Just another of the usual run-of-the-mill political speeches at a religious event which is not as easy as it sounds to pull off unless you have seen it up-close-and-personal.

But here are the incendiary words that have set off like M-80s in the Christian community around America:
'And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.'
'Lest we get on our high horse?'  What sort of language is that for the Leader of the Free World to use at a religious meeting of any source?

The essence of President Obama's misguided words as heard by many Christians, whether fairly or not, in the audience at the National Christian Prayer Breakfast and in the general public was this:
'Christians are no different than the ISIS terrorists who are now slaughtering, beheading and burning innocent people to death in Iraq and Syria'
Talk about bad timing. Talk about an unforced error. 48 hours after witnessing the horrific immolation of the captured Syrian pilot who was locked in a cage like an animal before being doused by gasoline and set aflame, President Obama and his team somehow inexplicably chose to compare Christianity to these radical ISIS terrorists right when everyone still had that horrific image in their heads.

We can not see Winston Churchill in Parliament comparing the atrocities of Hitler to the Anglican Church of 1939 or even the Crusades. We can't see FDR on December 8, 1941 comparing the Japanese terrorists who bombed Pearl Harbor the day before to the institution of slavery in antebellum South.

There was no equivocation faced with the dangers of severely demented and dangerous political and military leaders in Germany and Japan. These ISIS killers are clearly cut out of the same bolt of poisoned cloth as were Hitler and the Japanese Imperialists from Hirohito on down through the military leadership.

Almost immediately upon the conclusion of the speech, we were contacted by a person we highly respect who was steaming about the speech as he was driving down the road somewhere. He has the added benefit of having served our country in the Afghanistan war theater for many years and has an acute understanding of the political situation over there, especially among the Muslim nations and factions we are facing.

Here's what bugged him the most about the President's speech:
  1. The timing was awful.
  2. It played into the narrative of the radical terrorists
  3. The President of the United States should not be giving our opponents and people who want to kill Americans any sort of support by comparing us to the Crusades since they already believe the US is part of the history against Islam from the Crusades which essentially ended in the 13th century.
It's no coincidence that the Taliban and other Islamic extremists regularly refer to the United States and its coalition partners as "crusaders." By invoking the Crusades of history, the Taliban and other such groups create a "thematic frame" to lure recruits and others by recalling supposed horrors against Muslims. By also pointing back to the Crusades, the President of the United States utilizes the same thematic frame, which only serves to amplify extremist messaging.

We could go on all day about this but suffice it to say that we are looking forward to the day when we have a US President once again who can see the good in America despite the warts and moles and cancers we have had in our past.

One thing the President could have said at the National Prayer Breakfast about Christians in America is that they were the driving force behind the abolition of slavery in perhaps the first eradication of slavery in recorded human history. The Transcendentalist movement in the Northern churches produced the abolitionists who pushed for the end to slavery almost from the beginning of our Republic.

William Wilberforce in England pushed relentlessly for the end to the slave trade in Britain almost solely because of his devout Christian faith.

America and Britain and other western cultures may not be perfect.  Certainly there are, and have been, inequities in capitalism, the Christian Church and democratic republics in history.

Winston Churchill probably said it best in one form or another: 'Democracy is the worst form of government...except for all the others that have been tried from time to time in history'

Maybe the same can be said for Christianity in the religious belief world as well.

It is our job to constantly try to make things better whether through our political views or our religious beliefs or just because it the right thing to do. It would help to have a President share in the basic inherent goodness of democracy and Christian belief to help lead us and the world towards that better tomorrow.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

'Morning Mika' And The Minimum Wage

We were somewhat stunned to see the interview above on 'Morning Joe' recently, not because of the content of the story but because of the reaction and body language of Mika Brezinski, one of the co-hosts.

(Why isn't it called 'Morning Mika and Joe' yet, you have to wonder in these days of equality and all that?)

We thought this was an important lesson not only in the distance many in the media seem to be away from the 'real world' of everyday life where normal people run normal businesses or have normal jobs but also because of the lack of serious understanding about how our free market system works in the first place.

If you don't want to watch the entire 7-minute segment*, here's the basic story line. Alan Beatts, a small bookstore owner in San Francisco, of all liberal and tolerant and accepting cities in America, is going to shut his business down due to the mandated $5/hour hike in the minimum wage that the city recently passed into law.

'That doesn't sound like a very big hike to me', Ms. Brezinski said after Mr. Beatts told his story in a very calm and matter-of-fact manner.

Of course not. $5 is not a big deal to most people. Certainly not someone who is making $2 million per year in salary according to some sources. (Joe Scarborough pulls down $4 million per year which is not bad for a show that may have 367,000 people watch at any moment during their 3-hour morning segments. That is $10/viewer for Morning Joe; $5.67 for Morning Mika according to the Daily Beast.)

But what about to the small businessman such as Alan Beatts, owner of Borderlands Bookstore in San Francisco? How does a $5/hour hike in the minimum wage affect him? He is the 'owner'; certainly he can afford that, right?

Well, let's do the simple math:

He has 3 minimum wage employees. $5/more per hour means his costs go up immediately upon implementation of the new wage scale $15/hour. He has to pay his workers for at least 8 hours per day as they rotate on shifts; time-and-a-half for overtime or holidays and weekends perhaps.

If it is just a straight 8-hour workday for all 3 minimum wage workers, that is $15/hour x 8 hours/day or $120/day in extra costs to Mr. Beatts.

'That still doesn't sound like a lot of money to me!' we can hear Ms. Brezinski exclaim.

Of course not. $120 shouldn't be a big deal to a 'fat cat, wealthy business owner' who are all presumed to be the Koch Brothers by the news media for some reason.

The reality of life in America is that for every Koch Brother, there are probably 13.5 million small business owners in precisely the same situation as Mr. Beatts of Borderlands Bookstore in San Francisco, California. Maybe millions more.

To put this in the bottom-line context, which is important in any business, that $120/day in marginal increased costs to Mr. Beatts amounts to $26,400 over a 220-day work year, just in minimum wage hikes alone. When overtime and holidays are factored in, it could be $36,400 or more.

Mr. Beatts said that the new minimum wage on San Francisco will drive up his costs close to 39% alone not counting any other factor.

In addition to that, he will have to pay his manager more simply because the minimum wage has pushed up the wage scale across-the-board. Every other non-minimum wage worker will want to see his/her hourly wage or salary go up in commensurate scale which will add more costs to his bottom line.

What will Mr. Beatts have to see happen in his bookstore when the minimum wage goes up to $15/hour for his 3 employees to make it work? That is right...he would have to see more books sold on a daily basis to produce enough new revenue to generate a gross profit of at least $121/day to stay ahead of the game.

Is that even possible in these days of Kindles and on-line books against the backdrop of the average American reading only 1 book per year in all likelihood?

Mr. Beatts doesn't think so. So he is making plans to close his bookstore in San Francisco.

So what will happen to these 3 minimum wage workers and the manager? You are correct. They will be laid off unless they can find other work in which case they will leave Mr. Beatts all along to pack up his belongings and close down his shop that he probably bought/built with savings out of his own pocket or credit cards he maxed out to the hilt to get the original inventory of books on the shelves to sell in the first place.

If they can't find other jobs, they will apply for unemployment benefits which will drive up the costs of government and mean higher taxes which will mean another round of more debt and more spending and more central planning by government.

This is one reason why we think everyone who runs for public office should be forced to show proof that he/she had any experience running a business, even if it was a lemonade stand growing up or delivering newspapers back when people used to read them every morning.

Running any business at any level is very difficult work.We have said it before but it bears repeating again: These business people deserve a Congressional Medal of some sort just for taking the risks and making the investments and having the skills to run a business so the rest of us can be employed by them because: 1) we lack the skill to run our own business: 2) we are too risk-averse to put all of our savings at risk to start a business with no assurance that it will even succeed at some point in the future or 3) we just prefer to do our job, go home and let the owner do all the worrying and fretting every night.

What oftentimes sounds like a 'good thing' to do, such as raising the minimum wage by 30% as in the case of San Francisco, many times winds up hurting the very people that political advocates say they are trying to help.

Ask Mr. Beatts and his 3 minimum wage workers.

*( click on the link above if you are receiving this via email distribution to see the entire interview)

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

'We Solve This Health Care Problem...and You Will Have Saved The Lives of Millions of Registered Voters!'

'President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and every elected Member of the US House of Representatives and US Senate now in Washington, DC:

'This message is for you!'

When Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman in 'Ghostbusters' makes more sense than most of our politicians do, you might want to think something is wrong.*

But seriously, how in the world can Congress and this President do anything that will 'save the lives of millions of registered voters?'

Perhaps by doing nothing.

'Nothing' as in the sense of messing up whatever seems to be going on in health care nowadays.

Granted, Obamacare has made what was a colossal mess before implementation in 2013 even more of a colossal mess after implementation.

However, recent reports have pointed out that overall health care costs are moderating to around 3.5% annually, down sharply from the 7-9% annual increases that occurred for most of the 30-year period from 1980-2010.

There is a wide array of opinions ranging from the ACA advocates who say it is because of Obamacare, which is sorta weird since the slowdown began 4 years before the ACA actually started, to the experts who point out the lingering effects of the Great Recession to hospital administrators who say they are doing a great job mitigating costs.

The bottom line, right now at least is this: No one really knows for sure.

Which is why maybe we shouldn't do anything on health care for awhile. If health care costs are truly moderating, maybe we should let it happen on its own. Changing laws and regulations all the time might be causing some of the upward pressure on costs in health care.

We have written many times, early and often, about the severe impact rapidly escalating costs in health care across the board have had on the federal budget. Medicare and Medicaid, the two largest federal programs have grown a couple of percentage points relative to GDP over the last several decades vis-a-vis the rest of the federal discretionary budget.

Military and VA health care costs have exploded as well to the point that a former undersecretary of defense readiness once told us what he laid awake at night worrying about:

'Sure I worry about Al Qaeda and the Taliban (all pre-ISIS) but what I really worry about is the ever-increasing share of the defense budget now being take up by health care instead of providing guns and ammunition and ships and fighter jets to fight the enemy!'
Health care costs as a percentage of the defense budget are now at an all-time high almost 10%, up from 4% in 1990. It is a very real national security issue and problem.

But, just for a moment, let's suspend disbelief and assume that somehow, someway, we have knocked the underpinnings out from under the health care costs spiral that has been out-of-control for most of our adult lives.

Here's the Long-Term CBO Projections link you may want to look at. Take a look at this January 2015 budget projection chart as well and see for yourself.

If what the optimists are saying is actually 'true', that the back of health care cost inflation's back has been broken and we are in for modest 3% annual increases in health care costs for the foreseeable future, we may balance the budget along about 2019 or 2020 or so by doing nothing else.

Think about that. Despite all the mistakes that have been made in fiscal, tax and monetary policy over the years, and all the aborted attempts at health care reform here, there and yonder, of which the ACA seems to be the most egregious still, we have a chance to balance the federal budget in the next 4-5 years through almost no fault or credit of our own.

It would be as if Tinker Bell waved her magic wand over everyone and sprinkled fairy dust on the health care problem...and it just 'went away'.

We are not in that camp of belief. We just can not shed ourselves of the fear that health care costs are about to spiral again out of control after decades of hoping for them to be tamed and cured somehow.

Apparently, the CBO is not in the kumbaya camp either based on their projections that show health care costs ever-increasing over the years for various reasons, mostly the expansion of the ACA without the revenues to cover it. They show escalating deficits after President Obama leaves office in 2017, not reductions, going to $814 billion/year by the end of the next President's first term in office.

As Ruth Marcus points out recently in her recent article 'The Debt: Mission Unaccomplished'despite President Obama's rosy scenario talk in his recent SOTU speech and his press secretary Josh Earnest cheering like the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders from the sidelines, one of the greatest failures of this President has been his almost oblivious disregard for the dangers ever-expanding debt can cause for our nation and futures of our children and grandchildren.

Maybe our health care costs are 'solved' as some wish it to be. And maybe CBO and every other budget expert will be proven wrong by health care costs dropping to  the rate of general inflation or less somehow.

As Professor Venkman told the NY Mayor, 'Lenny', if we do solve this problem, however or whichever way it happens, it will have saved the lives and the futures of millions of registered voters...and non-registered voters as well.

We certainly hope so.

(*if you can't see the video at the top of the article in the email distribution format, click on the link and you will be able to see it)

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ever Wonder Why We Can't Just Solve Some Of Our Biggest Problems?

You should see how hard it will be
to get a budget done this year
Such as infrastructure, for example.

The United States has close to 63,000 bridges that need to be repaired or replaced. Some estimates place the cost of such repairs and replacements at over $1 trillion. Some experts think it far exceeds that amount.

That number may sound excessively large when viewed in isolation. In truth, it 'only' represents 10% of all bridges in existence in America today which number close to 650,000 bridges across this great land of ours.

Just think about that the next time you cross some long bridge that looks like it was built before the 21st century. Especially in Pennsylvania which has the most deficient bridges in the country. Do you feel 'lucky' passing over the one you are driving on, or not?

Here's some facts to keep in mind as you start to see the US Senate go back into 'regular' order after 6 years of doing very little under Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Senate has already considered 15 amendments to bills in the last week or two alone in January 2015. They considered 15 amendments on the floor of the Senate...during the entire YEAR of 2014 under Harry Reid.

Remember that our federal budget today is just over $4 trillion. We still borrow close to $500 billion per year over and above what we take in in federal tax revenues from all sources. The GDP of America is just $16.9 trillion in 2014.

Spending $1 trillion on infrastructure improvements would represent a significant claim federal government resources. Whether it is spent all in a couple of years or spread out over the next 5-10 years, such spending would crowd out other much-needed and desired investments across the board.

When you also consider that the federal gas tax is providing less and less revenue to the highway trust funds over time due to more and more fuel-efficient cars, either a new funding source has to be found or other programs have to be cut to pay for such a massive amount of spending on new highways, roads and bridges.

If you are an advocate for any of the following issues, you have a stake in how our budget is set up; run and funded:
  1. Education
  2. Environmental Protection
  3. Defense
  4. Tax Cuts
  5. Homeland Security
  6. Science and Tech
  7. Housing
  8. Welfare
  9. 'Free' Community College
  10. Research Funding
Why do we bring this up?

Because the totality of our federal budget and national debt is something that never gets brought up in the press or on talk shows, cable shows or in polite conversation with people with whom you tend to agree.

We are today now paying for the decisions past Congresses and Presidents have made by not having the flexibility and the discretion to make decisions in the national interest no matter how important they are to the future of this country.

In essence, we have 'purchased' a $18 trillion national debt since 2000 and not used any of it to rebuild our national infrastructure which has been done in the past to improve our economic output, the Erie Canal being just one obvious example. Or any other major national investment.

President Obama may really want everyone to have 'free' community college for everyone but that is not going to happen with the GOP controlling both the House and the Senate with him asking for higher taxes to pay for it. They certainly are not going to stop funding homeland security or defense or housing to free up the funds for his proposal either.

The discretionary budget of the United States has fallen roughly 7% relative to GDP over the past 2 decades. Where has that money gone?

To Medicare and Medicaid. Our two largest federally funded health programs have grown massively in absolute dollars per year and in relative share of GDP over the same time period.

We have funded 2 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that totaled at least $1 trillion from 2002 to 2013. The vast majority of that came from deficit-funding through supplemental appropriations bills that occur during the middle of legislative sessions mid-year where they could be passed without having to be included in the annual budget process.

President Bush and the GOP Congress passed the 'temporary' Bush tax cuts that President Obama made permanent in 2013. So both of them now 'own' the tax cuts that so many people decried during President Obama's 1st and 2nd presidential campaigns.

All of these have contributed to add to the $18 trillion national debt we now own lock, stock and barrel. That national debt, and the debt service we will sometime soon owe on it, pretty much make it almost impossible to do anything on even a semi-grand scale to address the big problems we face today in America.

In other words, we have painted ourselves into the proverbial corner. Just as every prudent politician and economist said we would as far back as 1980 when Ronald Reagan started pointing out the dangers of running continuous budget deficits.

As we have pointed out many, many times before, the real danger is not in the absolute amount of the national debt at the current time. We have survived many other explosive periods of national debt at critical times in our national history, mostly during major wartime efforts.

The real skunk in the woodpile will be when interest rates return to their more 'normal' rates of interest, say 5-6%, way up from the 2%+ interest now being paid on the national debt.

When the national debt hits $20 trillion before President Obama leaves office in 2017 perhaps, and when interest rates hits just 5%, the annual interest cost will be $1 trillion. Per year. And growing.

$1 trillion of your taxpayer money going out as 25% of the national federal budget each and every year will dry up every available dollar for the programs you may want to see funded and then some. We need bridges to be rebuilt and, at a very minimum, all of our roads need to be re-paved but that can't be done with such pressing interest costs staring us in the face.

Same with community college tuitions. Or environmental protection. Or any of the programs you may like a lot and think are very important to the country and people.

Just keep some of these thoughts in mind as we start to see action in Washington DC unlike any legislative activity we have seen in the last 6 years.

We hope they work it all out. But it is going to be a tough slog for everyone from President Obama to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to Speaker John Boehner to you the American voter.

There are no easy choices left to make. They are all going to be very hard and very difficult to make.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Duke Chapel, The Adhan and Tolerance in 2015

This is the Duke Chapel, Not the Duke Minaret
From the moment it was announced that a weekly Muslim call to prayer was going to be sent out over an amplified sound system from the top of Duke Chapel at Duke University last week, you knew it was going to be controversial.

After all, Duke University used to be Ground Zero for the training of many Methodist ministers in its Divinity School. James Buchanan Duke's own words lay out the reasons why he wanted Duke University to receive the lion's share of the Duke Endowment in the first place:
'I have selected Duke University as one of the principal objects of this trust because I recognize that education, when conducted along sane and practical, as opposed to dogmatic and theoretical, lines, is, next to religion, the greatest civilizing influence.” 

It was, and still is, a pretty amazing display of foresightedness and generosity that has not only paid off many times over in the state of North Carolina in terms of education and medical care and research but also around the globe.

It is also a pretty amazing example of the benefits we all, as a society, enjoy when some people succeed in the business world beyond ours and their wildest dreams. But that is for another time.

The thing that struck us last week when we heard of the proposal to allow the call to Muslim prayer from the top of what was set up originally as a Christian place of worship was how many people were confusing 'tolerance' with 'acceptance' and 'agreement'.

We think it is worth delving into further simply because this confusion permeates not only our religious world today but also our political speech world as well.

'Tolerance' for one another's religious beliefs does not mean I have to agree with another religious belief system. In fact, I can despise it and argue against it as much as I want...as long as I don't take action to harm the other person or deny him/her their right to do the same to my religion.

There are tribes in Africa that worship the dung beetle since it pushes a clod of animal dung around and around and over and under a larger dung pile through tunnels. They worship the dung beetle because it symbolizes the rising and the setting of the sun, which if you think about it, makes some sorta sense.

Who are we to say they can't worship the dung beetle? We had a professor in college who said those same tribe members would ask a Christian why would anyone worship a man who had been crucified on a wooden cross?

Good point.

The point that some people seemed to have missed last week when they came out for the call to Muslim prayer from the top of a Christian Chapel of Worship is this:

'You will never see a call to Christian worship from the top of an Islamic mosque!'

Or from the top of a Jewish synagogue either! And they shouldn't. While all three religions are branches off the same tree stemming from Abraham in the Old Testament, each one has its own unique defining core beliefs that make full acceptance of the tenets of another contradictory to the belief of their own religion.

Each religion has its own unique places of worship; rituals, hymns, prayer meetings and language. Let them all stay separate for worship purposes. There is no need to blend them together like a smoothie in the name of 'tolerance'.

Both Islam and Judaism belief denies the existence of a Messiah named Jesus who declared Himself to be the Son of God and who died and resurrected and went to heaven and sent his Holy Spirit to guide His believers and followers.

Why would they ever allow a Christian minister or an evangelist such as Billy Graham in his hey day to climb to the top of any mosque or synagogue in the world to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ then?

They wouldn't. In many Muslim countries around the world, Christians are actively persecuted for their belief and either killed, forced out of the country or forced to convert to Islam. You don't even want to ask Jews how they have been treated in other lands over the centuries solely because of their religious belief.

If you want to see how 'free' we are to worship freely here in America, go to some of the Islamic countries now under control of the more fundamental leaders and try to talk about Christianity or Judaism in the public square. You may not come back.

Thank God we don't have that same kind of oppression here in America. Or Whoever you want to thank.

Let's compare excerpts from the Adhan, the Muslim Call to Prayer, with something as basic to the Christian faith as the Nicene Creed:

Muslim Adhan:

'I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah.'

The Nicene Creed:

'We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
   the only son of God,
   eternally begotten of the Father,
   God from God, Light from Light,
   true God from true God,
   begotten not made,
   of one Being with the Father.'

Does anyone see where the inherent conflict is here?

There might have been a sincere, albeit naive, attempt to bring people of different faiths together with this short-lived effort at Duke University last week. That, we can all agree on, is a good thing.

We can all agree that we should treat our fellow man and woman with respect, love and mercy, yes? As long as those basic tenets of each faith are followed, we should all be able to live in harmony, no?

One of the strongest tenets of the US Bill of Rights has been our right to freely worship, and in context, 'freely associate' with others who share those same beliefs. That also means we are free to 'not' worship with any other faith or in a mosque or temple if we don't want to do so.

It also means we never have to accept those beliefs or worship any God if we so choose. Thomas Jefferson pretty much made that a mandatory factor in American life when he helped get the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom passed in in 1786.*

My father once described what he saw was the basic characteristic of North Carolinians he knew, or at least the ones he grew up with in independent-minded western North Carolina in Asheville during the Depression.

'If you ask them to help you, they will give you the shirt off their back. But if you tell them to give the shirt off their back, they will tell you to (well, you know where they will tell you to go)'

Same thing with people of a different religious belief. You can't 'tell' them or force them to agree with you. You might get them to see something positive in your religion if they see something different such as your kindness or generosity and gentleness of spirit perhaps but you can't force-feed someone else your religious beliefs.

The next time there is a furor over some religious issue in the press or on some college campus or in some city, because there will be, you can count on it, remember this lesson from the Muslim Call to Prayer from the Top of Duke Chapel Incident:

'America's greatest commodity is freedom. Let's try to keep it that way'.

*You should click the link and read it sometime...one of the most important documents in our nation's history that doesn't hardly ever get its due credit)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

'Time To Call A Spade A Spade'

Or a 'Radical Islamic Terrorist' a 'Radical Islamic Terrorist'.

It used to be that one could use the 'spade' quote before it became associated with a racial slur towards African-Americans, apparently because it brought in the connotations of being 'as black as the ace of spades' somehow.

The truth of the matter is that the ancient philosopher, and last man to have read literally every single manuscript there was to read in the known world at the time, Erasmus, used the spade quote to mean 'clarity of thinking and saying and doing'.

A spade was nothing more than a shovel, and still is called that in many places around the world.

After being called many different names as chief of staff to a US Congressman and US Senator, most of them 'bad', being called a 'shovel' would have been considered a compliment in any book.

Or an 'ace'. Instead of another 3-letter word.

With that in mind, here is the question of the day to ponder:

'Why in the world is the Obama Administration, and many in the media playing along with him, so afraid to call the thugs who caused the horror that took place in Paris last week and around the world for the past 6 years what they actually are: 'radical Islamic terrorists'?

Press Secretary Josh Earnest almost turned himself into a pretzel of monstrous proportions recently trying to explain why they don't call them 'radical Islamist terrorists' to NPR's Mara Liasson. It just doesn't make any sense.

Several things we should know by now from history:
  • There are always going to be crazy people doing terrible things to other innocent people
  • We have to call things as they are and not try to sugar-coat who they are or what their intentions might be when their actions clearly prove they are not after peace and love and kumbaya with everyone else on earth
  • A tiny fraction, relative to population, of extremely deranged people really want to dominate masses of populations and subject them to degrading pain and suffering and death for some unearthly reason.
They have to be stopped. Before they can do as much damage as the Hitlers and Stalins et.al. have proven can be done before them.

Before Pearl Harbor, isolationists and 'America Firsters' (yes, we have had them many times before Rand and Ron Paul came on the scene) such as aviation hero Charles Lindbergh had such an aversion to antagonizing the imperialist Japanese Emperor Hirohito or the insane megalomaniac Adolf Hitler, they refrained from calling them what they were: 'murderous Japanese and German terrorists and killers'.

These recognized 'leaders' of Japan and Germany were treated by such isolationist ostrich head-in-the-sanders as if they were respectable leaders of any other nation be it England, France or Spain. Appeasers such as Neville 'Peace in Our Times' Chamberlain and virtually every other British leader outside of the realistic Winston Churchill kept kowtowing and paying obeisance to these killers hoping that somehow, some way, Hitler had some smidgen of humanity in the deep recesses of his polluted brain somewhere.

He didn't. Adolf Hitler was a historic testament to the potentiality of the complete brutality of the human species when left unchecked, unchallenged and not utterly defeated and crushed.

The only difference between Hirohito and Hitler and the modern Muslim terrorists is that they were somehow duly-elected or appointed leaders of a nation. These modern Muslim killers are not; they are more like leaders of deadly guerrilla campaigns first used against the Roman Empire by King Mithradates of Pontus whom author Adrienne Mayor points out in her excellent book, 'The Poison King' is considered a hero of the modern Al Qaeda terrorists for his ability to stand up to the Roman Empire in the first century B.C.

'So what are we supposed to do today in 21st century America and around the world to confront these murderers in Paris and around the world?'

For one thing, it would help immensely if the Obama Administration and the news media would call these Islamic murderous terrorists what they are: 'murderous Islamist terrorists'.

That is not so hard to say, now is it? For some reason, the Obama Administration and the news media have assiduously avoided tagging these murderers as 'Islamic' or 'Muslim' terrorists. Why is that?

President Obama's entire Administration for the past 6 years has never tagged these murderous attacks as acts caused by 'Islamic' or 'Muslim' terrorists. It is as if they believe these hundreds of violent and deadly attacks have somehow mysteriously happened purely by random chance and none of the Muslims who have yelled 'Allah Akbar!' while shooting or blowing up innocent citizens around the globe have done it in the name of the Prophet Muhammad or the name of Islam.

They are certainly not motivated by their Christian faith, are they? They are not motivated by their Buddhist faith or Hindu faith or Shinto or Taoist beliefs as far as we have ever heard.

They are not even plainly motivated by sheer insanity. They all may be 'insane'; at least that would be one logical factor that would put some course of reason to these hundreds of attacks.

However, even if they are all 'insane', the one common thread is their consistent proclamations that they are doing what they do in the name of Islam and to protect the Prophet Muhammad.

We need to call them what they really are: 'Radical Muslim terrorists'. It is the only way we can clearly identify the enemy, such as they are, and try to figure out a way to crush them before they ascend to greater power as Hitler did in Germany.

If we haven't learned anything else from history, we should have learned this one crucial fact: mass murderers on a global scale such as Adolf Hitler need to be stopped before they get started.

The 'radical Islamic terrorists' pose the same threat. First to the nations in the Middle East. Second to the world at large.

There is a very small minority of Muslims who have been radicalized by the two wars in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.  They are fundamentally offended by the freedom, democracy and capitalism they see in western nations, especially the United States.

This includes freedom of speech, freedom for women, freedom to worship as you please or not please. You name it in the US Bill of Rights; the radical Muslim terrorists are against it.

You get upset about Christians bringing religious beliefs into American politics? What til you get a load of radical Islam, then...you will learn immediately that there is NO separation of mosque and state. The Mosque of Islam IS The State.

The odd thing is that 'The Great Satan United States' was the primary supplier of war materiel such as Stinger anti-helicopter missiles and reconnaissance that helped free Muslim Afghanistan from Soviet occupation in February, 1989. Go figure.

Today's violence is not a new occurrence of confrontation between 'radical' Islam and 'modern' Christianity. The Judeo-Christian world has been at odds with Islam ever since Abraham sent Ishmael away into the wilderness close to 4000 years ago.

Even the Angel of the Lord was pretty clear about the temperament of Ishmael in Genesis 16:12:
'He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”
Apparently, some of Ishmael's genes and temperament have passed their way down through 40 centuries and found their way into these radical Islamists of today.

However, it is fair to say that we in the United States are not 'at war with the overall religion of Islam'. We are not at war and never have been with any nation or people who want to live in peace with themselves and their neighbors regardless of where they live. We have one of the most pluralistic of all nations on earth when it comes to religious diversity and our Constitution guarantees that we can all choose to believe whatever we want to believe faith-wise or not believe at all in anything.

It is fair to say we are 'at war with radicalized terrorists who draw on extreme views of Islam to justify their efforts to kill us'.

Maybe this is a matter that moderate and sentient Muslims around the world will have to solve. Maybe the Western world can not be the ones to solve the problem of 'radical Islam'.

But we have to be the ones to defend our freedoms and safety. No matter what these crazy terrorists believe or why they invoke Islam and the Prophet Muhammad to do it, we have the right to defend ourselves and our freedom to live in safety and peace.

Ronald Reagan pretty much brought that attitude with him to the White House when he was inaugurated on January 20, 1981. The Iranian hostages were released 30 minutes before he was sworn in because they knew he would not stand by and try to flatter the Ayatollah Khomeni into releasing them back to freedom.

Dealing from a position of strength with these radical Islamist terrorists is the reality we have to face today as a nation. Our elected leaders from President Obama to Congress and the Senate have to act realistically to protect us as a republic of freedom-loving people.

Ignoring who they really are has not worked so far, has it?

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

How Will We Know Who 'Wins' Under President Obama and the GOP Congress?

Well, if anything positive gets done on a bi-partisan basis, that would be a good first step.

We have long been concerned that American politics has been reduced to the ESPN level of 'who won/who lost'. If FSU goes undefeated for 2 whole years but gets whomped in the Sugar Bowl by 39 points (which didn't leave too many fans crying outside of Tallahassee, now did it?), does that mean they are 'terrible' or they got what they wanted 29 times out of 30 games over 2 full years of playing football: a victory?

Politics is not like sports in one crucial manner: You don't have to win the 'final' game each season to be victorious. You don't even really have to win 90% of the time or even 75% of the time to have a 'good year'.

You really only need to prevail 50%+1 of the time on each and every vote in both the House and the Senate and then get the President to agree with you. The calculus on each vote can be different with different votes in both the House and the Senate each time as long as it adds up to 50%+1 and is something the President can sign into law. Otherwise, the road to victory gets harder as Congress will have to find a 2/3rd's majority to override the Presidential veto.

That is the way the Founders set it up. So that is the way we have to play this game in Washington.

We bring this up because now that the Republicans have taken over the Senate by a 54-46 majority (Bernie Sanders is not truly a 'Independent' from Vermont; he is an avowed Socialist and we'll see if Independent Angus King of Maine ever votes with the Republicans on anything) and increased their majority in the House to historic highs not seen since President Truman days, we are probably going to see an avalanche of bills passed by Congress under normal order and sent to President Obama, perhaps even in the first 100 days as we saw under LBJ in 1965.

Will they ALL be vetoed by President Obama? Or will he take a page from Presidents Reagan and Clinton and learn to compromise along the way with the majorities in Congress? That is the key question the entire nation will face in the next 3 months for sure.

If you see the nightly news and cable shows start to report that President Obama is meeting regularly with the Republican leaders of the House and the Senate and his legislative liaison people are stampeding Capitol Hill for round-the-clock negotiations on everything from the budget reconciliation process to tax reform to repatriation of corporate profits overseas to modification of Obamacare, then you can start to let yourself be 'hopeful' that this could be one of the most productive sessions of Congress in the last 2 decades.

However, if you see a defensive posture on the part of President Obama in each and every press conference where he is wielding his veto pen, you can be assured of more of the same old, same old we have seen for the same two decades: lots of screaming and shouting about marginal issues and absolutely no progress on the issues of concern that affect us all, black and white, rich and poor, country and city, north and south and east and west.

What are some of those key issues and how can they be objectively measured?

  1. Balancing the federal budget and reducing the growth of national debt.

    This is such a basic core function of our elective leaders that you would think it would be easy to focus on and solve.

    It isn't. We heard one senior person close to the action comment that one basic test of whether a person could be considered 'eligible' to serve in Congress would be if he/she could read a simple balance sheet and explain what it means. Apparently, not many of them who have served for the past 20 years have any idea of what the federal balance sheet looks like or the income statement or the national debt statement.

    If you see an 'omnibus budget reconciliation' bill advancing through Congress that includes significant tax reform and simplification coupled with entitlement program spending reforms that reduce their rates of growth, that will be 'progress' this year.
  2. Getting More Americans Back To Work In Full-Time Employment

    There are over 2 million fewer Americans working in full-time employment positions today than there were in 2007 before the Great Economic Crash hit us all.

    Our population has grown by more than 16 million in those 7 short years. You can't say that the economy is terrific when so many adults and recent college grads are struggling to find gainful employment in fields where their expertise and interest lie.

    The workforce has not been reduced by that many Boomers officially retiring, although that is a contributing factor. 'Full employment' means everyone who wants to work can find a good job, not that they have left the workforce frustrated by not being able to find a job.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we are just now approaching the same number of employed Americans in the work force, 147 million, in 2014 that existed in 2007 pre-crash. However, we now have over 2 million more Americans employed part-time due to economic reasons who want to find full-time work but can't.

    Millions of jobs have been destroyed in the student loan and secondary mortgage industries, for example, due to the nationalization, in effect, of both under President Obama. Never to return, unless, of course, these financial markets are allowed to return to the private sector.

    Ask members of your extended family, friends, church-goers and colleagues at work if they know of anyone who is working at a part-time job or one below their skills level just to make ends meet. That will give you a pretty good indication of the weakness of the jobs market today.
  3. Reform of Health Care Insurance and Cost Spiral

    Yeah, we know, we know: 'Obamacare was passed so now everything is hunky-dory in the world of health care insurance and costs'.

    Well, if our recent re-evaluation of our individual health care plan is any indication, health care insurance is FAR from being 'fixed' as any advocate of the ACA would try to say.

    We have a high-deductible HSA that basically covers nothing but catastrophic health care costs over a $11,000 annual family deductible. When we asked BCBSNC and 2 other agents if we could do better under the exchanges, all 3 put us on hold for 2 minutes exactly and came back to the line to say this:

    'Stay where you are. If you change your plans, you will get screwed. The next 'best' plan will cost over $1000/month and the deductible will be higher to boot'.

    This is 'health care reform' at its best?

    The best that can be hoped for in health care reform is that the Republicans will chisel away at the ACA with logical, level-headed reforms and present them to the President and dare him to veto each of them singularly in advance of the 2016 presidential election.

    Efforts should be made to get at the heart of the medical cost care explosion rate over the past 30 years. Inflation has been about 160% since 1980. Health care costs have gone up about 480% during the same time period. (College tuitions have exploded by 750% but that is another matter)

    Single-shot bills such as 'allowing everyone to keep their plans if they like them...forever' would be one start. Another would be to repeal the employer mandate that has already been delayed twice by President Obama in order to help the Democrats at the polls in 2014 which didn't work out as planned.

    The Supreme Court is hearing a case, King vs. Burwell, this spring which could further cripple the ACA. The issue at hand is whether federal tax credits can be issued to anyone buying an ACA plan in a state that has not set up its own state-run exchange as outlined in the specific legislation passed by Congress in 2010.

    If the Supreme Court rules against the ACA in this provision, that could effectively knock the props out from underneath the ACA in the 30 states that have not set up exchanges which would effectively strike a crushing blow to the fate of Obamacare perhaps by June of 2015.
We have long-said that perhaps the ideal political matrix is for one party to control the White House and the other Congress. No party can ever get 100% of what they want under this setup, therefore, to get anything they want done, they have to compromise their rear ends off.

2015 could be one of those years. Reagan and the Democratic Congress under Tip O'Neill got a lot done. Bill Clinton and the GOP House under Newt Gingrich and the GOP Senate got a lot of great things done from 1996-2000, namely 4 budget surpluses in case you have forgotten.

It can be done.

(click on the title link of the post to view the video at the top)

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

'It's Okay to Hate Republicans'

'It Is Okay To Hate Republicans!'
Most people who have read at least one of our musings over the past 5 years (we just passed 1 million pageviews so someone must be reading them and we thank you) know that we love a good, spirited debate as long as A) facts are used; B) verifiable facts are used well; C) ad hominem attacks are not used (because they are childish and show a lack of confidence in their argument) and D) the debate and tone remain civil.

We also like to see 'balance'. No one side is 100% right all the time nor are they wrong 100% of the time. Political advocacy lends itself to amplification of the 'truth' as the speaker sees it; it also lends itself to selective omission of pertinent facts that might contradict those treasured 'truths' as seen through the eyes of a partisan.

We saw something that caught our eye yesterday mainly due to its abject honesty. A University of Michigan professor, Susan J. Douglas, penned an article (see below) titled 'It's Okay To Hate Republicans'

If you have ever been around or in elective politics, those are strong fighting words when it comes down to it. 'I disagree with Republicans' is a polite way to express displeasure with someone's political opinion.

'I hate Republicans' takes it to a different level.

With that in mind, just for balance, we thought we would take the following piece by Ms. Douglas and use her same words against progressive liberal Democrats just to show how stark a piece might sound had it been written by a conservative academic professor on any public university faculty around the nation, substituting only 'Progressive Liberal Democrat' for 'Republican' to see how it reads.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander, correct?

We are pretty sure that such language does not bode well for civil discourse and ultimate compromise on any issue. It is very hard to feel warmly towards your adversary after having been demeaned in public and called bad names, regardless of which side you are on.

Judge for yourself and then reflect on some of your own language lately and see if you are contributing to an atmosphere of hatred and vitriol or to civil discourse and uplifting dialogue.

It is important to do more of the latter and less of the former.

It’s Okay To Hate Republicans

In our era of polarization, one party is guiltier than the other.

(Original Version)

I hate Republicans. I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal “personhood.”

This loathing is a relatively recent phenomenon. Back
 in the 1970s, I worked for a Republican, Fred Lippitt, the senate minority leader in Rhode Island, and I loved him. He was a brand of Republican now extinct—a “moderate” who was fiscally conservative but progressive about women’s rights, racial justice and environmental preservation. Had he been closer to my age, I could have contemplated marrying someone like Fred. Today, marrying a Republican is unimaginable to me. And I’m
 not alone. Back in 1960, only 5 
percent of Republicans and 4
 percent of Democrats said they’d
 be “displeased” if their child married someone from the opposite
 party. Today? Forty-nine percent 
of Republicans and 33 percent of
 Democrats would be pissed.

According to a recent study 
by Stanford professor Shanto
 Iyengar and Princeton researcher 
Sean Westwood, such polarization has increased dramatically 
in recent years. What’s noteworthy 
is how entrenched this mutual animus is. It’s fine for me to use the word “hate” when referring to Republicans and for them to use the same word about me, but you would never use the word “hate” when referring to people of color, or women, or gays and lesbians.

And now party identification and hatred shape a whole host of non-political decisions. Iyengar and Westwood asked participants in their study to review the resumés of graduating high school seniors to decide which ones should receive scholarships. Some resumés had cues about party affiliation (say, member of the Young Republicans Club) and some about racial identity (also through extracurricular activities, or via a stereotypical name). Race mattered, but not nearly as much as partisanship. An overwhelming 80 percent of partisans chose the student of their own party. And this held true even if the candidate from the opposite party had better credentials.

How did we come to this pass? Obviously, my tendency is to blame the Republicans more than the Democrats, which may seem biased. But history and psychological research bear me out.

Let’s start with the history. This isn’t like a fight between siblings, where the parent says, “It doesn’t matter who started it.” Yes, it does.

A brief review of Republican rhetoric and strategies since the 1980s shows an escalation of determined vilification (which has been amplified relentlessly on Fox News since 1996). From Spiro Agnew’s attack on intellectuals as an “effete corps of impudent snobs”; to Rush Limbaugh’s hate speech; to the GOP’s endless campaign
to smear the Clintons over Whitewater, then bludgeon Bill over Monica Lewinsky; to the ceaseless denigration of President Obama (“socialist,” “Muslim”), the Republicans have crafted a political identity that rests on a complete repudiation of the idea that the opposing party and its followers have any legitimacy at all.

Why does this work? A series of studies has found that political conservatives tend toward certain psychological characteristics. What are they? Dogmatism, rigidity and intolerance
 of ambiguity; a need to avoid uncertainty; support for authoritarianism; a heightened sense of threat from others; and a personal need for structure. How do these qualities influence political thinking?

According to researchers, the two core dimensions of conservative thought are resistance to change and support for inequality. These, in turn, are core elements of social intolerance. The need for certainty, the need to manage fear of social change, lead to black-and-white thinking and an embrace of stereotypes. Which could certainly lead to a desire to deride those not like you—whether people of color, LGBT people or Democrats. And, especially since the early 1990s, Republican politicians and pundits have been feeding these needs with a single-minded, uncomplicated, good-vs.-evil worldview that vilifies Democrats.

So now we hate them back. And for good reason. Which is too bad. I miss the Fred Lippitts of yore and the civilized discourse and political accomplishments they made possible. And so do millions of totally fed-up Americans.

Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and an In These Times columnist. Her latest book is Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work is Done (2010)

It’s Okay To Hate Progressive Liberal Democrats
In our era of polarization, one party is guiltier than the other.

I hate progressive liberal Democrats. I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid or any of the legions of other blowhards opposing policies that would create real jobs and economic growth; thwarting real healthcare reform at its roots or championing 'immediate citizenship' for millions of people who blatantly ignored existing law.

This loathing is a relatively recent phenomenon. Back
 in the 1970s, I worked for a Democrat, Henry 'Scoop' Jackson, the US Senate defense hawk from the State of Washington, and I loved him. He was a brand of democrat now extinct—a “moderate” who was fiscally conservative but socially aware and active about women’s rights, racial justice and environmental preservation. Had he been closer to my age, I could have contemplated marrying a version of Scoop Jackson. Today, marrying a progressive liberal Democrat is unimaginable to me. And I’m
 not alone. Back in 1960, only 5 
percent of Republicans and 4
 percent of Democrats said they’d
 be “displeased” if their child married someone from the opposite
 party. Today? Forty-nine percent 
of Republicans and 33 percent of
 Democrats would be pissed.

According to a recent study 
by Stanford professor Shanto
 Iyengar and Princeton researcher 
Sean Westwood, such polarization has increased dramatically 
in recent years. What’s noteworthy 
is how entrenched this mutual animus is. It’s fine for me to use the word “hate” when referring to Progressive Liberal Democrats and for them to use the same word about me, the Tea Party or social conservatives but you would never use the word “hate” when referring to people of color, or women, or gays and lesbians.

And now party identification and hatred shape a whole host of non-political decisions. Iyengar and Westwood asked participants in their study to review the resumés of graduating high school seniors to decide which ones should receive scholarships. Some resumés had cues about party affiliation (say, member of the Young Republicans Club) and some about racial identity (also through extracurricular activities, or via a stereotypical name). Race mattered, but not nearly as much as partisanship. An overwhelming 80 percent of partisans chose the student of their own party. And this held true even if the candidate from the opposite party had better credentials.

How did we come to this pass? Obviously, my tendency is to blame the Progressive Liberal Democrats more than the Republicans, which may seem biased. But history and psychological research bear me out.

Let’s start with the history. This isn’t like a fight between siblings, where the parent says, “It doesn’t matter who started it.” Yes, it does.

A brief review of progressive liberal Democrat rhetoric and strategies since the 1980s shows an escalation of determined vilification (which has been amplified relentlessly on ABC News, NBC news, CBS News and small niche outlets such as MSNBC since 1996). From Harry Reid's relentless attacks on Mitt Romney basically accusing him of sending millions of American job overseas and causing cancer for those who remain; to Chris Matthews/Rachel Maddow/Ed Schulz hate speech; to the Democrats endless campaign 
to smear George W. Bush over the Iraq War when 3000 innocent Americans were slaughtered on 9/1; to the ceaseless denigration of every Republican President since Reagan (“stupid” “right-wing fundamentalist Christian”), the Democrats have crafted a political identity that rests on a complete repudiation of the idea that the opposing party and its followers have any legitimacy at all

Why does this work? A series of studies has found that political liberals tend toward certain psychological characteristics. What are they? Dogmatism, rigidity and intolerance
 of ambiguity; a need to avoid uncertainty; support for authoritarianism; a heightened sense of threat from others; and a personal need for structure. How do these qualities influence political thinking?

According to researchers, the two core dimensions of progressive liberal thought are resistance to following the law and conventional thinking. These, in turn, are core elements of social turmoil. The need for disruption, the need to manage social engineering, lead to black-and-white thinking and an embrace of stereotypes. Which could certainly lead to a desire to deride those not like you—whether people of faith, gun owners or Republicans. And, especially since the early 1990s, progressive liberal Democrat politicians and pundits have been feeding these needs with a single-minded, uncomplicated, good-vs.-evil worldview that vilifies Republicans.

So now we hate them back. And for good reason. Which is too bad. I miss the Scoop Jacksons of yore and the civilized discourse and political accomplishments they made possible. And so do millions of totally fed-up Americans.

Professor Ballance is a professor of political science at ASU (Any State University) and a columnist. Her latest book is 'Enlightened Conservatism: It Is Not An Oxymoron' (2010)

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