Friday, October 29, 2010
Such is the case today with the tired old ‘They are going to take away YOUR Social Security, Seniors!’ attack ads hurled against conservative Republicans by staunch Democrat candidates and defenders of the status quo.
And in Florida, these pathetic attack ads are being hurled by not only the Democrat candidate, Congressman Kendrick Meek but by the current sitting governor and former Republican, Charlie Crist, against the ‘new face’ in national politics, Marco Rubio who is going to be the next Senator from The Great State of Florida.
The reason why these Social Security attacks ads won’t work anymore?
Demographics, plain and simple.
Frank Luntz, a national pollster, once did a poll that came back with this startling conclusion: More Americans under the age of 50 at the time believed in space aliens, (not illegal aliens) than they believed they would ever receive their full Social Security benefits in retirement.
Score one for Marvin Martian.
That poll was conducted close to 20 years ago.
That means that those very same people in the younger Boomer age cohort and the following Generation X and Millennial groups of American voters are now 20 years older or close to 50-60 years of age now.
(There is a tremendous, great book called 'Generations' by Neil Howe and William Strauss that you have got to read. They forecasted this inter-generational transition of beliefs way back in the early 1990's, almost 20 years ago)
It also means that the ‘Greatest Generation’ of WWII and Great Depression-era Americans are in their 80’s and 90’s now and diminishing in numbers every day, unfortunately. Many of this cohort of voters want absolutely no change to Social Security and have been misled over the years from the AARP to believe that any changes in the future, such as raising the retirement age, would mean taking money out of their pockets.
Now, how can an 85-year old person be worried about raising the retirement age to 70? They are already 15 years past that age threshold and completely grandfathered and grandmothered into Social Security as it is today!
So when the advisors to Senate Democrat candidate, Congressman Kendrick Meek and Independent candidate Governor Charlie Crist started wringing their hands with glee and ran millions of dollars of ads against Mr. Rubio who says he will vote to raise the retirement age in Social Security once elected, they were just wasting their time and their contributor’s money.
Because they are talking to a majority of voters who believe more in space aliens and have already accepted the fact that they are not going to get their ‘full’ SS benefits anyway!
Hardly anyone now below the age of 60 truly believes they are going to get all these promised benefits, in SS or Medicare. We have seen the debate for 30 years now and nothing has happened in the interim that leads anyone under 60 years of age to believe either SS or Medicare has been ‘fixed’ by anyone in Washington.
So save your money from now on, ‘Mr.-Bash-People-In-The-Head-If-They-Even-Talk-About-SS’ political advisor. Marco Rubio is going to win the Florida Senate seat by a comfortable margin as the first truly ‘generational change’ elected Senator in the US Congress.
And guess what? Did we mention that he is going to be elected from the Great State of Florida, home to millions of senior citizens, despite his support of a higher retirement age?
The times they are a-changin'.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
As in: 'I refuse to run for any Congress that would have me as a Congressman/Senator!'
This great line from Groucho Marx could apply to hundreds of candidates each and every year it seems.
This year has been particularly distressing, hasn't it? We have all these monstrous problems facing us as a nation and we know more about who is and who is not a witch than who is actually going to reduce these budget deficits, for one glaring example.
Politician-bashing is great fun and great sport and entertainment and has been around the globe throughout recorded history. It has happened since time immemorial back to when the ancient Greeks performed plays on a regular basis ridiculing or lampooning those who were in elective office.
But, seriously, haven’t we taken the noble profession of public service too far into the gutter in the last decade or so? And by that I mean, the cable talk shows; the 'investigative' (sic) journalism; the on-line sniping; the onerous restrictions on income and the financial disclosure rules and regulation.
That is why we get people like Meg Whitman running for Governor in California cause she is one of the very few who will spend $141 million of her own money to pay for ads to fight through all the stuff that confronts a modern-day candidate. But do we really want an oligarchy of extremely wealthy people being the only ones who ever step up to the plate and run for office?
Who in their right minds would ever want to run for any public office nowadays in America? Would this generation’s Jefferson and Madison take one look at the financial disclosure rules or the cable chattering heads and say: ‘You know, on second thought, I think I’d rather stay at home in my nice house and just hope someone else will do it!’?
Abraham Lincoln, of all people, had to suffer the indignity of being called a ‘baboon’ in newsprint and to his face. That might be enough to even get a reprimand out of NPR nowadays based on their heavy-handed firing of Juan Williams recently.
To his credit, ‘Honest Abe’ knew how to turn an insult into a funny quip a la Ronald Reagan 120 years later. When called a ‘baboon’ and ‘two-faced’, Lincoln would reply calmly: ‘If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?’
But seriously, do you honestly and cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die believe we really getting our '#1 draft picks' to run for public office nowadays? Do we really have the 435 smartest and most able people serving in Congress right now, or about to? How about 100 of the smartest and most able people serving as Senators?
Or are they our ‘#14 round draft picks with a player to be named later’?
One thing about our First Constitutional Convention: It can be reasonably surmised that the best and the brightest people in the land actually were in attendance during those 4 hot, smelly, humid months in Philadelphia in 1787. Madison. Franklin. Hamilton...you name them, they were there fighting it out on the only floor of debate that actually matters in a democratic republic, the legislative arena.
Even the ones who drank heavily every night such as Luther Martin of Maryland who was a noted jurist during his sober days…they were all highly educated; could read Greek and Latin; understood history and philosophy and could communicate, negotiate and yes, even compromise to come out with the most amazing document the world has ever known, the U.S. Constitution.
Think about who you are voting for in 7 days now. We need the next Jefferson or Madison to run and serve. Maybe they are not in this crop of candidates. But we have to get them in the political game before it is too late.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Unless the United States is not careful, the classroom depicted in the new ad from Citizens Against Government Waste, 'Chinese Professor', might become unbearably 'real'.
CAGW, an advocacy group in Washington, DC that has been working for more efficient government since 1980, has unleashed one of the most searing and indelible images on the American public since Ronald Reagan's 'Morning in America' ads in 1984 or his equally effective 'Bear' ads depicting the Soviet threat.
There is no candidate to support or oppose in the ad. There is no talk of political parties or philosophy. Thankfully, there are no ridiculous charges about a candidate's personal integrity, or lack thereof, being cast about like a bullwhip.
It is a stark, clear image in a futuristic pristine university setting. The Chinese professor speaks with a calm firmness in his voice signifying his assurance that his observations are correct.
After recounting the current debt buildup of the United States, he turns to the camera and smiles a wry grin and says, 'Of course, we owned most of their debt...and now they work for us!'.
In Chinese, of course.
And you know in your heart that what he is saying could be true one day, unfortunately.
The Chinese students in the classroom laugh, much like American students in 1960 used to laugh about any comment that Americans would one day drive Japanese cars (wouldn't those students be surprised looking at the cars on the highways today?) American students used to laugh about buying clothes and products from Latin America and Southeast Asia and used the dismissive 'Made in China' as a comment of pure disdain for their low quality.
No one is laughing about either of those 'threats' any longer, are they?
Watch the 'Chinese Professor' ad once and see what you think and how you feel after seeing it this first time. Let it sink in some and then see how you feel about it, whether you think it is corny and completely unbelievable or on-target and a hit to your solar plexus.
And then make some adult decisions about who you are going to vote for in this very important, critical election on November 2, (unless you have already voted already because you know how important this election really is)
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Except that this time, it would have zero impact on reducing federal tax revenues, increasing deficits and the national debt and it would all be done by the 'private sector', not the public sector.
John Chambers, Chairman and CEO of Cisco and Safra Katz, President of Oracle, are proposing that Congress and President Obama pass a big reduction in corporate income taxes on profits earned overseas by US corporations.
In an article they co-wrote for the Wall Street Journal today entitled 'The Overseas Profits Elephant in the Room', they clearly identify $1 trillion in money that would almost immediately be returned to the United States by American corporations operating overseas if they knew that they would not be exorbitantly taxed relative to other tax rates around the world.
That is $1 trillion that would be available for new investments in plant and equipment; new jobs; research and development; new jobs; expanded benefits; and have I mentioned: "New Jobs!" yet? The funds would be available almost immediately, or just as soon as the corporate accountants and tax lawyers can make sure they comply with the new law.
This proposal by Mr. Chambers and Mr. Katz would be just a small example of the sort of explosive job creation we could generate via lower corporate income taxes to get out of this accursed recession now into its third year regardless of the fact that the economists say it ended 6 months ago.
(What do they know anyway? Maybe only 1 of them, Noriel Roubini of NYU, even came close to predicting the cataclysmic events we have lived through recently.)
If you like the economy as it is today and want to replay the experience of our parents and grandparents who endured almost a decade of depressionary economic conditions in the 1930's, then by all means, please ignore the Chambers/Katz proposal in the linked article. What many people seem to conveniently ignore is that the United States never officially got out of the Great Depression (and in fact, suffered a big 'double-dip' of it in 1937) until December 7, 1941 despite the fact that FDR and Congress passed public works program after public works program for about 120 straight months.
In other words, 10 years of public works-types of public infrastructure programs like the Obama stimulus package passed 2 years ago.
But if you really want to see an explosion of new job creation in America, abolishing the entire corporate income tax code in its entirety would do the trick and then some. Federal tax collection of corporate income taxes accounts for less than 6.8% of all taxes collected by the IRS each year and that percentage has been steadily declining over the past 20 years.
Companies would then make investment and expansion decisions based on the economic fundamentals of the marketplace and not because of some consideration of an obtuse or obscure provision of the US tax code. And since we are the largest economy in the world by a factor of at least 3 over China, there would be plenty of incentive for corporations to move operations back to the United States and, yes, hire more Americans here instead of foreign workers over there.
If the last two years has taught us anything, it is that our elected officials do make a huge difference in the way our economic futures are going to play out. Listening to experienced corporate leaders such as Mr. Chambers and Mr. Katz seems to be a great place to start.
elephant courtesy of www.metafilter.com
Sunday, October 17, 2010
With the elections coming up in 15 days on November 2, it is a good time to evaluate whether anyone you vote for understands anything about solving the humongous problems facing us as a nation.
And no, they do not include witchcraft, calling a female gubernatorial candidate a 'whore' or whether a woman who ran the WWF will 'fit in' the US Senate (looks like 2010 certainly is the 'Year of the Woman', doesn't it?)
Probably the biggest reason why we have not dealt a death-blow to the seemingly intractable and unsolvable problem of burgeoning budget deficits and exploding national debt is our inability to even talk about Medicare and Social Security in any sort of rational way.
GOP Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina who is running in California to unseat Barbara Boxer steadfastly refused to answer Chris Wallace's most basic question on his Sunday morning news show today that was stated thusly:
'Which entitlement program, no matter how tiny, would you cut, Ms. Fiorina?'
She could have been answering a question about Euclidean geometry or Japanese arithmetic for all we could tell based on her response which was essentially: 'Nothing!'
That is no way to be one of only 100 US Senators who are supposed to be solving our problems, not running away from them like scalded dogs.
Anyway, here is the 'truth' about health care for seniors, in case Ms. Fiorina or any other candidate wants to know. (Ms. Fiorina, for a short while, attended the same public high school in Durham, North Carolina as I did, believe it or not)
Once you hit the magic age of 65 for Medicare eligibility, and then a year later, 66 for Social Security, (how is that for a messed-up system?), you basically qualify for ‘free’ health care insurance all paid for by the American taxpayer.
And whatever we can trick the Chinese and other foreign nations into continuing to loan to us and get paid almost-nothing in real interest rates nowadays.
In order to see what we mean, push the ‘reformat’ button in the computer in your brain, or what is left of it after the past 3 years or so, and forget all of the propaganda you have been told over the ages.
Click your heels like Dorothy in the 'Wizard of Oz' and repeat after me: ‘There Is No Trust Fund! There's No Trust Fund!'.
In either SS or Medicare. No matter what politicians or the AARP tries to tell you.
The payroll taxes you have paid in over the years are the same as income, excise, capital gains or estate taxes you paid that went for defense, education or welfare programs. They are spent and long 'gone'.
So forget the entire notion that you have paid into something that is just sitting there so you can take it out when you retire. It just ain't so.
Medicare Part B is the physician fee side of national health insurance. Part A is the hospital side of things.
Part B is ‘paid for’ by 44 million enrollees who pay for 25% of the cost of the program each year. This amounts to about $325/month out-of-pocket expense per senior over the poverty level.
75% of the cost of Part B is paid for out of the general revenue funds of the US budget. This accounts for between $900-$1200/month per senior depending on income status.
Social Security pays around $300/month to each eligible senior.
What many seniors do is automatically apply the $300/month they receive in SS benefits directly to pay the monthly $300+/month Part B premium.
Voila! This amounts to essentially ‘free’ health care insurance coverage for senior citizens.
‘Why?’ you might be asking yourself.
Social Security is not a true ‘trust fund’ in the traditional, fiduciary sense of the word used in the private sector. The money you have paid into it is not actually ‘there’ at all, and never was. Your benefits will not come out of any dedicated trust fund account in a safe location like Fort Knox.
Your benefits will come from the same sources as they do now for retirees: the pockets of your hard-working sons and daughters and grandchildren. Assuming we ever get out of this recession, that is, and they can all find work that is profitable and therefore, 'taxable'.
There are other federal/state programs to help poor seniors get health care in America. We should help them in whatever way possible.
But does every single senior citizen of this nation, regardless of health, income or wealth status 'deserve' free health care insurance merely by making it over the 65/66 years of age retirement threshold?
We are the only nation in the world that tells our senior citizens, in essence, that the older and more decrepit you get as you age, the less expensive your health care insurance will become.
Talk about delusional thinking! Even Dorothy woke up from her dream one day.
Zero progress will be made on the federal budget or health care, despite the results of the November 2 elections, until we admit the falsehoods of such things as ‘trust funds’ and ‘lockboxes’.
They are as 'real' as the 'Glinda the Good Witch'.
Vote for some adults on November 2 for a change we truly can all believe in. And make sure they tell you the truth about such things like Social Security and Medicare and stop acting like they are reading some children's fairy tales to you every day and night.
Glinda courtesy of www.agelessbodytimelessmom.wordpress.com
Friday, October 15, 2010
Let's think about this for a moment.
The actual cost per senior citizen according to actuaries who get paid to do this sort of work is between $12,000 and $15,000 per year depending on age, health and life-styles.
Instead, the average senior today pays around $300/month for their share of the Medicare Part B premium. The taxpayer, you, pay the $900-$1200/month remainder of the bill. For 44 million seniors. Each and every month. Of each and every year.
Why one senior who smokes 10 packs of cigarettes per day; eats junk and fatty food; drinks 2 six-packs at dinner and never gets off the couch except to get more Cheetos gets charged exactly the same as a perfectly healthy responsible senior defies the laws of sanity but that is another issue.
A one-week cost out-of-pocket would be about $300.
That is what most seniors pay per month for Part B coverage today!
But if seniors had to pay the full cost of health care for just one week, the clamor for true health care reform would be deafening.
All of the cost drivers embedded in the current health care system would be tossed out the window like spent cigarette butts.
Tort reform? Done. Malpractice insurance reform? Done. Buying across state lines? Done.
Because senior citizens take the 'citizen' part of their names very seriously. They vote in each and every election! Why do you think over 1/2 of the $3.5 trillion annual budget goes to SS and Medicare today?
If they had any inkling that the ‘real’ cost of their health care was over $12,000 per year, or $1000/month, they would be screaming and yelling and beating legislators over their heads with umbrellas and canes. Legislators would pass comprehensive tort reform; malpractice insurance reform and even raise the retirement ages for future retirees like the Boomers and X-ers to 70 almost overnight.
When the structural upwards cost-drivers such as these are finally pounded out of the health care system in America, then businesses will be able to afford reasonable health care coverage for their employees once again and the federal budget will be balanced in no time flat…perhaps as soon as 2020 just due to the amelioration of health care inflation alone.
Monday, October 11, 2010
That is a stupendous number when you think that at the depths of the Great Depression, nearly 13 million of the adult male workforce (women did not work in large numbers at the time) were unemployed.
It will make a huge difference who you vote into office on November 2 as to which way our nation will take to get people back to work and our economy running on full cylinders once again.
Granted, the 13 million unemployed in the Great Depression represented 25% unemployment among adult males in a smaller national population of around 125 million when compared to 2010’s US population of 310 million. Still, 20 million people looking for substantive sustainable work nowadays is eye-popping.
So how do we get all these people employed again?
We have been advocates for completely eliminating the US corporate income tax code at the federal and state levels for quite some time now. It is an onerous, out-dated, duplicative and mind-bending Byzantine maze of complexities that yields minimal revenues to governments in terms of proportion to the overall amount of money collected by the tax authorities each year (and virtually nothing in a recession like the humdinger we are still dealing with)
The corporate income tax basically tends to enrich smart, clever lobbyists, tax accountants and lawyers who spend all their time devising ways for corporations to avoid sending more tax money to Washington and the state capitols than is absolutely necessary.
We believe abolishing the double-taxation that is inherent in the corporate tax code would open America up to a massive expansion of investment and job creation unlike any we have seen since the internet boom of the 90’s. Or perhaps the industrial boom that followed WWII as the US rebuilt the economies of the entire world in essence. We think industries that are not repelled by excessive regulation of their business will return to set up shop in the US once again to take advantage of what could be close to a 50% gain in retainable profits and earnings. Elimination of the corporate income tax would do a whole heckuva lot to offset lower wages overseas.
When oil prices hit $100/barrel; $200/barrel or perhaps $500/barrel, don’t you think many of these industries will be absolutely dying to get back to American soil and lower their shipping costs once again? In many cases nowadays, the shipping cost to America equals the cost of production overseas. Abolition of the corporate income tax would get them back that much sooner.
Here’s our main question when it comes to long-term ‘real’ job private sector creation in America today: ‘What comes first: people having enough money to ‘create demand’ for a product or service or an entrepreneur or inventor who sees a need in the market for a new product or service and then proceeds to invest to develop it into a usable product and hiring people to help make it and sell it to the public?’
We think it is a blend of both, which makes the free enterprise capitalist system almost as amazing to see in action as the human body is with all of its intricate processes and systems like the eyeball or the brain. (Experts say we use less than 10% of our brains which sure explains the last decade in politics, doesn’t it?)
There can be no ‘demand’ for any product if people don’t have money or the means to pay for it. People would just go to stores or on-line and look at all the wonderful I-Pads and I-Pods (all made in China now, by the way if you are keeping score at home) and marvel at them...and never pay for one.
On the other hand, people did not even know they had the ‘demand’ for a PC in 1979 until Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple 'personal computer' in a garage in what was soon-to-become known as the Silicon Valley in California. If you don’t have a laptop or a cell phone today that could probably launch a rocket to Mars with its computer memory, you really are considered ‘destitute’, aren’t you?
We tend to fall perhaps 85% on the side of the Golden Egg of Job Creation as being generated from the minds and efforts of entrepreneurs and risk-takers in America and God bless them for being so! There are millions of businesses that have been created over time in America when brave souls have borrowed money from friends or family or mortgaged their house to the hilt and hired other people to fulfill their mission and dream.
Some, or perhaps many, of them were the ‘C-students’ you sat next to in high school and have gone on to succeed and become billionaires and hired hundreds of thousands of other Americans in the process.
We think there is a completely new bow wave of products and services out there just waiting to be invented like perhaps cures for cancer that come in bubble-gum form (Why the heck not? Polio was ‘cured’ with kids eating sugar cubes!) or cars that fly on hydrogen like in the Jetsons cartoons.
Let’s abolish the corporate income tax; put some responsible adults back in office in Washington and the state capitols; run government in a more responsible manner, get out of the way and let these entrepreneurs do what they are good at….creating products, services and new jobs, all at the same time.
We will all benefit from that, don’t you agree?
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Anyone who has been in politics for any length of time over the past 30 years will recognize this famous quote from Robert Redford’s great 1972 movie, ‘The Candidate’.
A long-shot candidate is convinced to run against a long-term, entrenched, seemingly unassailable incumbent senator from California by his political operative (sound like a Tea Party candidate?) and with a push from his wealthy father. So he runs on a platform of ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ and speaks his mind openly about the issues confronting the voters, good, bad and the ugly (again, Tea Party-like?)
But, without spoiling the ending, (he pulls off a shocking upset win), the Candidate and his political operative are confronted with the most basic of questions for any political candidate at the end of a campaign:
‘What Do We Do Now?’
Indeed. After this upcoming election in about 28 days: ‘What do we do now’ as a nation?
As long as we have vacuous campaigning on both sides of the political spectrum, 'Hope and Change’ on the left and ‘We Are Not As Bad As THEM!’ on the right, (the Democrats ran on that exact some platform in 2006 and 2008 as well), will we ever muster up the political strength to solve the truly massive problems we face today?
Just to remind you of the severity of the issues we face, in case you have not been able to discern what they are through the din and fog of recent campaigning, here's what are the real issues of the day:
-A $14 trillion national debt well on its way to becoming $24 trillion by 2020.
-$1.5 trillion annual budget deficits
-$1 trillion + in debt held by the Chinese and much of the rest held by foreign sovereigns
-A Social Security system that is now technically ‘bankrupt’
-A Medicare system that is 100% simply ‘unsustainable’ in terms of financing and cost
-Installation of a new health care program, ObamaCare, to the tune of at least $1 trillion in cost
-Potential threats of rapidly escalating rates of inflation
-Potential threats of explosive increases in real interest rates as a result
And these are just the basic fundamental nuts-and-bolts types of problems we are facing in terms of dollars and common economic sense. We have not even gotten to the problems of fixing our national public education system; fully protecting our borders through Homeland Security; what to do about Al Qaeda and Afghanistan/Pakistan or protecting the environment.
Have you heard ANYONE say ANYTHING about how they are going to deal with any of these major fiscal problems and get us to a balanced budget before we expire?
We are going to give the Republicans some credit, finally, for stepping up to the plate and saying this in their 'Contract for America' recently: 'Go back to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus FY 2008 spending levels and hold it below the rate of inflation going forward.'
That might be the best anyone can do in this day and age. It also might lead to a federal budget circa 2020 where 100% of the money goes to 4 things: Interest on the national debt, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid but more on that in a later post.
Here’s something that drives us completely stark-raving mad: Many Republicans are now running ads similar to the following one pointing an accusatory finger at the Democrats for supposedly 'taking $500 billion out of Medicare' to pay for ObamaCare.
The hope is that this ad will help stiffen the spines of senior citizens and get them to vote for the GOP candidate in their district or state against those ‘dirty dastardly Democrats’.
Well, the ‘truth’ of the matter is that the Democrats did gut the Medicare Advantage Part C Programs that the Republicans put in place in the early 2000’s which was designed to help more moderately wealthy seniors buy a better package of benefits and services than under the prior Medigap system.
But it was one of the very few ‘offsets’ they put in the bill to make sure the cost of ObamaCare didn’t top $2 trillion over 10 years, not ‘just’ $1 trillion! The Democrats in Congress just don't like the Medicare Advantage program at all. They love the Medigap program run by their old friends at the AARP.
If we don’t ‘gut’ the Medicare Advantage program to the tune of $500 billion, then what do we do? Raise taxes by $500 billion? Gut Medicare Part A and/or B by $500 billion? Something has to be passed to ‘pay’ for this deficit-reduction loss or else we will do what we always do…pass along $500 billion more in debt to our children to pay.
Here’s another thing that drives us nuts, sometimes in the same ad as the one you just looked at: The Democrats reverting to the same old and tired bromide that ‘Republicans will take away your Social Security checks if you elect those children of Satan to Congress!’
Can there be anything more childish or desperate? There is absolutely not one thing that is ever going to be done to the SS benefits of anyone who has already crossed the finish line and turned age 66 for Social Security. Your benefits are ‘safe’ and will always be there.
Any changes to Social Security will be imposed upon ‘future’ beneficiaries, all who are under the magic age of 66, namely Boomers about to retire and Xers to follow them. Which it should in the form of rapid rises in the eligibility ages for SS and Medicare and to stop paying entitlement benefits to any super-billionaire senior citizen of any sort and at least down to the $5 million in household wealth category.
It is just plain insane to pay ‘entitlement benefits' of $350/month for SS and a subsidy of up to $15,000/year per senior for every Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and their wives.
So ‘What Do We Do Now?’ as voters?
Try voting for the more adult-acting candidate in any race in November. It might be hard to decide but at least they might have a fighting chance to do the right thing when in office....like hold down the rate of growth in spending and not pass a bunch of expensive new programs we don't want to pay for with higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere.