Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Declaration, The Constitution, The Gettysburg Address and Barney Fife

On this July 4 weekend, John Adams wants every American citizen to set off fireworks in celebration of the new Republic.

So go ahead.  Do it.

He wrote to his wife, Abigail:

It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
But it is also a time to think about what The Declaration of Independence means to us as a nation.

Which means it might be a good time to actually read it first and see what is in it and not in it.

While you are at it, why not go ahead and read the US Constitution and the Gettysburg Address as well, the two other foundational documents on which our democratic republic stands?

The reason why we think it is important to do so is because it our distinct fear that many elected leaders and citizens know as much about the Constitution as, well, Barney Fife says he knows in one of his best clips ever from the ‘Andy Griffith Show’.

Be honest. Did you know more about the Preamble to the Constitution than Barney Fife before you saw this clip?

We were taking a look at the Constitution last night and were struck by several things, again, while reading it. This particular phrase from Article VI caught our attention:
(N)o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Pretty interesting since we seem to spend an awful lot of time wondering and worrying about whether someone is or is not a Christian; and if so, are they Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist or Evangelical; or should a Mormon or a Catholic be President (JFK already broke through the chalice barrier on that one)

How about if they can say the following as having sufficient qualifications to be President of the United States of America:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." (Article II, Section 1)
We think the next President should use his Article I, Section 7 veto power a little more than W and Obama have, particularly on spending matters.

Gerald Ford used it 66 times in about 2.5 years. What is so hard about that?

The Declaration of Independence is about as eloquent of a document you’ll ever read about people wanting to live freely without masters or kings. We liken it to the Gospels in the sense that it is the ‘Good News’ version of human self-governance.

The Constitution, on the other hand is a bit more dense and less eloquent, mainly because it was written by a Committee of Up To At Least 33 Delegates to the 1787 Convention in Philadelphia. In those regards, they are more like Paul’s Letters to the Churches of Corinth and Galatia and Thessalonika because the Constitution lays out the actual ways of self-governance envisioned in the Declaration written 11 years earlier before the Revolutionary War.
‘Women honor thy husband. "Husbands, (stop being so pig-headed, selfish, stupid and obstinate and) sacrifice yourself for your wife.’
That sorta practical everyday advice.

And the simple brilliant eloquence of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of 1863 in 272 words reminds us of the Revelation to John the Apostle, which is not very short or eloquent or easy to read but helps 'reveal what is to come' just as Lincoln's words showed the American People what our nation could become once again after the War was over.

So without being too blasphemous, we hope, try to think of the Declaration, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address this weekend as the ‘Trinity’ of the American Republic and read them all if you can, out loud perhaps, to your family and children.

You might be as surprised as Barney Fife at what you find in all three of them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The AARP: 'The Association of Advocacy for Ripping-Off (Young) People'

This is the last straw!

We can handle it when they, the AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, 'say' they are not competing with for-profit insurance companies when, in fact, the AARP is one of the world's largest retailers of health care insurance, travel insurance and life insurance in the history of man.

We can handle the fact that the AARP has 44 million members and has stalwartly stood in the doorway to fiscal sanity in Washington not unlike George Wallace did in Alabama when he took a stand against integration. 'Social Security and Medicare Sanctity and Chastity in the past; in the Present and Forever in the Future!'

We can also swallow the almost-humorous line when the AARP says they are the most 'non-partisan' organization in history of Washington, D.C. We know for a fact that the AARP has engaged in some of the most vicious political campaigns against any candidate who dares to utter the following words of heresy:  'We need Social Security and Medicare reform now before the US slides into bankruptcy!'

The American political landscape is littered with the carcasses and skeletons of brave souls who have done so in the past...and not lived politically to be able to regret it.

But what we can not stomach is opening up a new box of Raisin Bran early in the morning, somewhat bleary-eyed, and read the following: 'Buy any 3 Kellogg's products and get a new or renewed AARP membership'!  A membership that only costs $10 to begin with!

Why not put this AARP promotion on a pack of prunes instead? Or how about some Depends adult diapers?

Are we that old and senile now, fellow Boomers? Can we really be 'bought' by a free membership to join one of the main reasons why we are leaving our children and their children with this enormous debt to pay off, the notorious AARP?

Is there no shame anymore? We are being bought out for 15% discounts on movie tickets and early-bird specials at Denny's and IHOP!

We can not think of another single organization in Washington that is more directly responsible for the exploding budget deficits than the AARP. We have looked and searched and hunted high-and-low for ANY indication or scrap from the historical archives that the AARP has actually proposed or supported any responsible budget solution that would take the inherent budget cost drivers out of the costs of Social Security, and more acutely, Medicare over the past 25 years....and we have come up flat empty.

Without blinking or suppressing laughter, the AARP maintains that every senior citizen, including Warren Buffett and other super-billionaires, deserve their full complement of entitlement spending once they pass the age of 65 for Medicare and 66 for Social Security. Why, it almost amounts to $3000/month for Mr. Buffett today! What would he do without Social Security to depend on?

Since we went to Washington in 1985, the AARP has stopped every single effort to put any common-sense reforms into SS and Medicare. The good people of Chile (Chile!) have a far more advanced and modern operating Social Security system they implemented 30 years ago where every Chilean citizen now has a significant nest-egg built up to retire on. (see Chilean plan below)

If you die 1 second before midnight the day before you turn 66 to become eligible to receive your first SS check of about $2000/month, you get nothing. Squadoosh. Zippo. After all those years of hard work and having money withheld from your weekly paychecks to something called 'FICA' that many people still do not know what it means.

That is crazy. And unfair. And far inferior to the private account system Chileans passed into law 30 years ago. Just about the time the Caliphates at the AARP decided to stand in the doorway to any common-sensical improvements to a system that is almost as old as the current Chicago Cubs World Series drought.

Nope. This is the last straw. We are not going to take it anymore. No more Kellogg's products bought any more, certainly not Raisin Bran. We think there should be a national uprising of every person under the age of 55 to do the same: boycott Kellogg's products for supporting such an organization as the AARP that routinely skirts the law to run their 'non-profit' (sic) financial empire with tax-advantaged status across-the-board and which engages in overt political activity in violation of their non-profit status.

And for those of you over the age of 55 who, for some reason, have already succumbed to the temptation of buying 3 Kellogg's cereals so you can get a free $10 membership to this monolithic organization in order to get 15% discounts on movie tickets, please tear up your card and ask the AARP for a refund.

They probably won't give it to you. But the only way to stop the AARP from destroying your children's future with their intransigence to common-sense budget solutions is to have their membership slowly start to dwindle from 44 million to 40 million; to 30 million and then down to 1 million members and then vanish into the sunset of history.

So stop buying Kellogg's cereals. Tell all your friends to do the same. Eat some prunes instead.

You'll feel better about yourself when you do all three.

(Article about Chilean SS program passed 30 years ago:

Chile's Private Social Security System Turns 30
May Day — socialists' paean to class warfare — evokes memories of
Soviet tanks in Red Square and leftist radicals rioting. But Chile
celebrates the actual empowerment of workers.
May 1 marks the 30 years since Chile became the first nation to
privatize its social security system. By turning workers into
investors, the move solved an entitlement crisis much like the one
America faces today.
"I like symbols, so I chose May Day as the birth date of Chile's
'ownership society' that allowed every worker to become a small
capitalist," wrote Jose Pinera, former secretary of labor and social
security and the architect of this pension revolution. He is now a
senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.
What he designed has succeeded beyond all expectations. Yet Congress
remains reluctant to adopt anything like it, despite efforts by
Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to partially privatize an
American system.
Instead of paying a 12.4% Social Security tax as we do here, Chilean
workers must pay in 10% of their wages (they can send up to 20%) to
one of several conservatively managed and regulated pension funds.
From the accumulated savings, they get a life annuity or make
programmed withdrawals (inheriting any funds left over).Over the last three decades these accounts have averaged annual returns of 9.23% above inflation. By contrast, U.S. Social Security pays a 1% to 2% (theoretical) return, and even less for new workers.
Long-Term Boom
History shows that pension funds prudently invested in a diversified
portfolio appreciate significantly over long periods of consistent
saving. In 1981, the Dow industrials stood at 900; today, despite
three market crashes, it's nearly 13,000.
In 2005, New York Times reporter John Tierney worked out his own
Social Security contributions on the Chilean model and found that his
privatized pension would have been $53,000 a year plus a one-time
payout of $223,000. The same contributions paid into Social Security
would have paid him $18,000.
The system is doable here, but does require citizen education and
political resolve.
First, implicit debts must be made explicit, which most politicians abhor.
Chile decided to compensate workers for money already paid into the
system, through "recognition bonds." It financed this via bonds,
partial diversions of existing pension taxes, sales of state assets
and spending cuts.
Its road was made even easier as economic growth from a system that
encourages work, saving and responsibility filled government coffers
with new streams of tax revenue.

In the U.S., Social Security already is in bad shape. It's already
paying out more in benefits than it gets in payroll tax revenue.
Politicians for decades have raided excess workers' contributions
intended to cover baby boomer retirees. They left IOUs, giving the
program the right to other government revenue. But that means the
Treasury has to issue even more debt.
Those political raids can't happen in Chile — private accounts are
legal property, a right Pinera embedded firmly into the 1980
As for Social Security, even the IOUs are projected to run out in
2037. If nothing is done, payouts will have to be slashed 22%.
Private accounts could generate better returns to help offset likely
benefit cuts.
Thirty countries have adopted a Chilean-style system.
Yet U.S. reform efforts have been timid. Rep. Paul Ryan's "Road Map"
called for creating personal retirement accounts with one-third of
Social Security funds. But his 10-year House budget did not explicitly
address the retirement program.
Given what's at stake, it's surprising that there is no bold proposal
to "take the bull by the horns," as Pinera put it, and reform Social
Security completely on the Chile model. Missing this is missing a big

Monday, June 20, 2011

‘Minority Rights’, Pledges, Compromise and The United States Constitution: Thank God The Founders Protected The Rights of the Minority

Many modern-day politicians and citizens see the words ‘Minority’ and ‘Rights’ together and think: Martin Luther King and voting and civil rights protection for black people in the South in the ‘60s.

Older women would have thought of the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the early 20th century when Susan B. Anthony, among many others, got the 19th Amendment passed to achieve the right of women to vote in America.

(‘Suffrage’ is strange-looking word, isn’t it, when applied to voting rights? It looks like it means women had to ‘suffer’ to gain the right to vote, which they did. But why wasn’t the Civil Rights Movement of 1963 called ‘The Black Suffrage Movement’? It basically comes from a Middle English word meaning ‘a voting tablet’ that we suppose you were handed to chisel your name in as you voted when you came out of your hovel on Pre-Historic Election Day.)

We have a young brainy-type friend who majored in the Classics (not rock ‘n roll or comics) in college AND Latin AND Greek. He, of course, read all the classic books from antiquity that Jefferson and Madison read in Latin and Greek just like they did.

So there is hope yet.

But when we argued that the American democratic republic established in 1787 was the first ‘real’ democracy since the ancient Greeks in Athens 2500 years previous and the first ‘true’ republic since the ill-fated 3-month Ciceronian republic in Rome, this young man corrected us.

‘The Greek democracies and Roman republics were never really ‘true’ democracies or republics simply because not everyone had equal standing under the law or in society. Mostly only land-gentried wealthy men were allowed to vote and women and minorities (slaves) were not.'

Not until the Civil Rights Act of 1965 passed in the United States could it be argued that a ‘true’ democratic republic had existed anywhere in the world. Ever. No kings to tell the people what to do; no wealthy elite from the House of Lords (how pretentious!) dictating everything for everyone all the time.’ Women and ethnic minorities finally were allowed full access to vote.

So congratulations! You are living in the first truly ‘democratic republic’ that ever graced the face of this earth and it is only about 46 years young now!

Maybe that is why it feels like we are still taking baby steps to running our nation. We just haven’t been doing it long enough yet.

But we see people getting confused over all of the terms used to make democratic republics run correctly. ‘Minority Rights’. ‘Compromise’. ‘States Rights’. You can’t just take 1 or two pieces of the Constitution and say the Founders meant ‘this’ or they meant ‘that’.

You have to take it in its totality and marvel at their collective incredible genius along with a considerable amount of luck and serendipity. As in: ‘The Founders were all smart and well-educated and had read about Greece and Rome in the original Greek and Latin.’

We believe the Founders believed in ‘majority’ rule, that is a given. However, given their very strong aversion to ANY concentration of power in ANY person or legislative body’s hand, particularly acute because of King George’s ham-handedness prior to 1776, we also believe that they took extraordinary steps to guarantee that the rights of ANY minority in America would never be trampled on. By anyone. And we mean for every minority, based on race, creed, religion, color and, yes, on political philosophy towards our own self-governance.

And that includes conservatives when they are in the minority. And that includes liberals when they are in the minority.

Let’s just look at a couple of insurance steps they took to guarantee 'minority rights' in Congress.

Originally, The Founders wanted the state legislatures to appoint the Senators who would serve their state in the US Senate on Capitol Hill. No direct election of Senators from 1789 until 1913 when the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted. That’s a long, long time, 124 years to be exact of our nation’s history.

Why would the Founders have been so ‘opposed’ to direct election of Senators? They weren’t afraid of ‘direct election’; they installed it for Members of the US House. The President is the only single person ‘directly elected’ by voters across the entire nation, but even there, they set up the Electoral College to somewhat blunt the direct election mechanism to avoid the rise of factionalism which they feared would fracture the nation. (They have been proven correct, haven’t they?)

We believe the Founders, being creatures of the state legislatures that they were, wanted to institute an umbilical cord of control directly from the state legislature to what is simply the most powerful part of our government in terms of legislative procedure bar none. They were 'legislative supremacists' of the first order.  Henry Clay came along 30 years later to fully show the young nation how Congress was going to shape the growth of the young nation through muscular legislative action, not executive power or privilege.

Think about it. A US Senator was given the power, through Jefferson’s Parliamentary Procedures Manual, to: 1) put a 'hold' on any piece of legislation or nomination to the judiciary; 2) hold virtual veto power over the entire Senate and therefore the entire Congress because each bill requires ‘unanimous consent’ to advance it to the floor for consideration and 3) perhaps most importantly, the power of the 'filibuster', or a one-man gang that could tie up legislation and traffic on the floor of the Senate for as long as one man could read the entire New York City phone book and the Bible into the Senate record for days and weeks on end.

And if the legislatures selected one of their own majority colleagues from their state legislature to the Senate, don’t you think they would write him regularly to tell him to 'do this' or 'block that' on the behalf of our beloved home state, or else we will recall you from that cushy position at the end of your 6-year term and make you come home to our (hot, muggy, mosquito-infested) state down South?

Reading the Bible into the Congressional Record for months on end might have been seen as far preferable to returning to a southern state where you might contract malaria back in the 19th century.

But such protections of the rights of the minority in the Senate necessarily forced reasonable compromises that were somewhere in the middle along a continuum from the extremes at both ends of the political spectrum. No 'signed pledges' back then; only an oath to 'support the Constitution' and 'defend us from our enemies' when they were sworn into office.  They maintained the flexibility to negotiate and compromise to the best of their abilities...and then come home for 6 months at a time.

Now with the direct election of Senators by citizens of the state, Senators no long feel tied or bound to anything the state legislatures want them to do. Many Senators do not even communicate with their state legislative bodies anymore. The US Senate has taken on such an air of importance and superiority that, well, let’s just say that the state legislatures are not viewed as being ‘as important’ as many US Senators view themselves.

Back from 1789 to 1913, the state legislatures and their leaders in the majority were viewed as pretty ‘DAMN IMPORTANT!’ by every US Senator and feared in many ways. Especially the day when the state majorities changed for some reason or another. Goodbye, Potomac Fever! Hello, Yellow Fever!

With the abolition of the out-and-out 100% pure filibuster as a threat to derail all legislation in the Senate, compromises can be avoided as long as the majority thinks they can get to 60 votes to vote for cloture, which comes from a French word meaning literally ‘closure’; ‘bring to a quick end’ and in some references, ‘guillontined’. Which is why every leader in Congress now says, in essence:
'We so roped down by all the pledges we have signed to outside groups that we can't negotiate or compromise on anything.  So let's just hunker down and wait til the next election and see if we can't get 60 senators and 218 Congressman to do it 'our way' or the highway!'
We think going back to state legislative appointments of US Senators and allowing full filibusters would more correctly reflect the intent of the Founders to protect the rights of those in the minority on Capitol Hill.  At the same time, we think more reasonable compromises would occur instead of allowing Congress the repeated opportunities to kick problems down the road and not fix them now, such as on the budget stalemate for the past decade or so.

Anyone for the 28th Amendment to repeal the 17th Amendment?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What the Heck is ‘QE-2’ Anyway?

We have heard the same answer from 2 different people who know far more about complicated financial matters than anyone else we know so we guess it must be 'true':

‘QE-2 is where the Fed expands its balance sheet by making up money out of thin air. This allows them, the Fed, the ability to buy the US bonds we need to sell to pay our bills since no one else is buying this (expletive-deleted) anymore, not even the Chinese or the Saudis or the foreign leaders of sovereign nations.’

The two people we talked with have Washington backgrounds at very high levels of government and they do not know each other as far as we can tell. They said the same thing even down to the 'expletive-deleted' part. And they were from two different political parties.

It sounded like they were reading from the same talking points memo. Which really scared us no end.

When some people hear 'QE-2", they think of the magnificent ocean liner run by the Cunard Lines and which honors Queen Elizabeth, the second longest-serving monarch ever in the British Empire at over 59 years, second only to Victoria who reigned for over 63 years.

We are talking about the American version, ‘Quantitative Easing’ of our money supply conducted by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and endorsed by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

We have had ‘QE1’ and now ‘QE2’ is about to expire this summer. So 1) what is it anyway?; 2) has it worked?; and 3) do we need to do ‘QE3’?

Here’s a pretty good and relatively simple explanation of QE from the vaunted Bank of England no less.

The basic idea is to do something to stabilize and then stimulate the economy in the event of a severe downturn (as we have experienced from 2008 to present and never is seeming to end) when: A) fiscal measures by Congress don’t seem to be working (duh!) and B) interest rates are next to zero.  Zero real interest rates diminishes the ability of the Federal Reserve to stimulate growth (and inflation) through traditional means of manipulation of the supply of American money in the world economy.

In zero interest rate environments, the number of arrows left in the quiver for monetary decision-makers are just about gone. What is the Fed going to do, 'pay' people to borrow money next?  Doubtful, but you never know nowadays, do you?

Remember, we no longer live in a world where only hard paper greenbacks and metal coins constitute 'money supply' as in the 18th century. Expansion of credit and electronically-displayed digital 'Federal Reserve Balance Sheets' all now also constitute American 'money supply' as well as we shall soon see.

This all does not mean a hill of beans to someone who is out of work; about to lose their home through foreclosure or about to run out of unemployment benefits and savings. All they want to know is: ‘When is this American economy going to get better so’s I can find a job once again!?’

To that question, we do not have the answer. But we do get the sense that ‘something ain’t working out just right so far'. Maybe there are better ways to handle the economy from the White House to the Congress to the Fed to the US Treasury.

In short, it is a mess. And it needs to be cleaned up and soon.

We seem to be chasing our tails here in the US by constantly trying to defy the gravity that is immutable in the laws of physics as well as economics.  We have politicians and Presidents wishing and hoping and huffing and puffing as hard as they can that this economic crisis will just ‘end’ somehow and go away so we can start living our normal lives again.

Whatever 'normal' might be one day in the future.

We don’t want to be the Cassandra of Doom And Gloom any more than we already have been over these past 2 years. We are trying to be objective and honest and play it down the middle of the fairway. We trust the American people to want to do the right thing once they get all the information they need to make the right decisions.

It is natural for Americans to try to point the finger and blame someone for their ills. That is plain human nature. Mankind has progressed a lot in our 5000-year history but one thing we have not been able to evolve out of yet is our propensity to avoid looking at ourselves squarely in the eye in the mirror and say: 'You know what? Maybe, just maybe, it is my (our) fault this time around!'

Ron Paul says: ‘Abolish the Fed! And all our troubles will be solved!’ President Obama says: ‘Tax the rich! And then all our troubles will be solved!’ Isolationist Republicans say: ‘Bring all the jobs back from China and all our troubles will be solved!’

We beg to differ. We think almost all politicians are missing the point.

Congress is the only duly-ordained legislative body in the world that has 100% control over what we spend and what laws we pass in the federal government. Not the Chinese. Not Al Qaeda. Not the Fed.

Our duly-elected representatives and senators in Congress are the only ones who can fix the problem and that is by eliminating the reason why the Fed has to monkey around with their balance sheets in the first place.  Which are the enormous annual budget deficits Congress has been spitting out like watermelon seeds for the past decade now.

Here’s what we would think would happen at the Fed if we had zero national debt and balanced budgets from here on out: ‘Nothing’.

Ben Bernanke would be so bored he would quit to go write more tomes about the Great Depression. Every other worker at the Fed would retire early because computers could do what they are supposed to do…maintain and steady growth rate in the money supply of around 3% per year to account for population growth and keep the currency steady and healthy.

QE1 and QE2 and maybe QE3 are just manufactured ways that the Fed is trying to cover for the massive mistakes made by Congress and the White House over these past 30 years but mainly these last 10 and especially in the last 2.5 years and counting.

You want to diminish the role of the Fed in our lives?  Tell Congress to balance the budget tomorrow and see what happens.

You'll never hear from Ben Bernanke or any other Fed Chairman ever again.

And the only 'QE3' you'll ever see or hear about will be the gigantic cruise liner that will be built to honor Queen Elizabeth of Britain when she finally relinquishes the crown to her long-patient son, Charles.

In about 25 years probably.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The $14.7 Trillion National Debt Brought to You By Grover Norquist, The AARP, The US Congress And Campaign Pledges

Generally, we do not try to blame any 1 person or 1 group for all the $14.7 trillion+ national debt that is still growing at leaps and bounds.

So we’ll blame three factors: Grover Norquist and the AARP. Norquist for the 'No Tax' Pledge and the AARP for their 'Don't Do ANYTHING to SS or Medicare...or We Will Kill You! stance (or at least defeat you in the next election!)

And the pig-headed people in Congress who sign campaign pledges to both sides and then wonder why they can’t ever find common ground and come to some reasonable solution in the middle.

First of all, who is Grover Norquist and why is he so important? What office did he run for and get elected as King Potentate for Life anyway?

The Washington Post recently ran a story on Mr. Norquist, the reigning head of Americans for Tax Reform. It contained the rather startling revelation found in this following sentence:
‘The germ of the pledge came to Norquist, he said, when he was 14 and thinking about a teacher’s comment that no one knows who his or her congressman is. If Republicans were known as the party that never raised taxes, he recalls thinking, they would be spared spending “millions of dollars explaining to you who they are and what they stand for.” They could just “stand up and say, ‘I’m the Republican.’ And you go: ‘He won’t raise my taxes and he won’t steal my guns. Got it.’
Well, first of all, we just gotta ask: ‘What sort of a 14-year old kid is worrying about taxes in the first place?  And second, whatever happened to playing basketball outside and memorizing crazy baseball boxscores and looking at Farrah Fawcett posters when you were young and growing up as a hormonally-challenged 14-year old guy someplace?'

Fast forward to Michael Gerson’s article of  June 10, 2011 wherein Mr. Gerson educates us on how a ‘diphthong’ at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD somehow applies to the current budget stalemate in Washington, DC. (We are with Senator Tom Coburn on this one. Check out the list of Tax Expenditures yourself and go to page 239 to start with and especially page 252 and beyond to see what this means)

The main point in this article is that Mr. Norquist has somehow managed to co-op the entire Republican Party to sign his Taxpayer Protection Pledge that apparently he saw in a vision at age 14. Every duly-elected official must adhere to Mr. Norquist's pledge on a higher plane than the ‘oath’ they take to uphold the Constitution when they are sworn-in at the beginning of each Congress.

Is there something wrong with this picture?

Doesn't it seem strange to you that a group advocating no higher taxes is not also holding our elected representatives' collective feet to the fire to hold down spending at the same time? Why not? They do go together you know in a constitutional manner. Congress has the power to raise the funds necessary to pay for federal spending programs and to pay all debts incurred by the federal government.

We think candidates for public office can and should convey their general philosophy towards government spending, taxation and general public policy during a campaign.

But we think signing a pledge is irresponsible and borders on the reckless. Especially now when we need cooler, much smarter heads to prevail and prevent the US from heading off the cliff of debt like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain or Zimbabwe.

We fear exorbitant debt and rising interest rates and possible hyperinflation far more than any tax Congress could possibly pass. Why? Tax hikes can be repealed by the next Congress. Hyperinflation can't.

Got that?

Here’s the one question that never fails to pop the balloon of any anti-tax advocate:
“Will you or will you not accept a $1 tax hike on every single one of the 150 million taxpayers in America today in return for a $10 trillion reduction in spending from the baseline for the next decade?’
If you have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, you are forced to say: ‘No. I am very sorry. I can not take that common-sense solution and help return the US to some sort of fiscal sanity because I signed Grover Norquist’s Pledge and he won’t let me break his pledge.’

Who is the elected official here? The Congressman/Senator or Mr. Norquist?

But just so as to not appear to be blaming the ‘No Tax’ crowd for these enormous, outrageous budget deficits and debt, let’s look on the flip side and see the types of pledges the AARP and others like them have gotten candidates to sign during their campaigns in exchange not for the votes but to avoid their opposition:

‘I will not touch Social Security in any way, shape or form.’
‘I will not touch Medicare or Medicaid in any way, shape or form.’
‘I will not touch Defense spending in any way, shape or form.’

And the absolute hell of it all?

Many to most times, sitting Members of Congress and the US Senate have signed both the ‘No Tax Hike’ Pledge and every ‘No Spending Cut’ Pledge under the sun!

So how in the world are we ever going to balance these budgets if we can’t raise taxes or cut spending?

We can’t. It is simply and ontologically impossible.

And we can’t grow the economy at 10% per year to grow our way out of this mess either, no matter what Tim Pawlenty or any other spin merchant might want to try to tell you.

We don’t like higher taxes any more than anyone else does.   We have put our mouth where our mouth is over 4 long years of slogging through the House Budget Committee where were helped produce $500 billion in spending cuts, $175 billion from Medicare and Medicaid alone. We have yet to meet anyone who has done more to reduce spending in the US Congress than we did or the 14 other Republican Members on the House Budget Committee in 1991 who put this package out on the table against all odds and saw the bulk of it finally passed in 1997. (Rick Lazio of New York was the only GOP Budget Committee Member to vote against it in committee and on the floor of the House)

What we virulently object to are people who never support the tough spending cuts necessary, mostly in the entitlements and yet cling to the notion that all they have to do is oppose any tax hike and they have done their job.

They have done only 'half' their job. Spending control is the only way to truly control deficits and debt and most of the anti-tax hikers have never supported or voted for any real spending restraint in these difficult areas.

We would prefer to see spending held flat for the next 5 years and allow the economy at least fighting chance to recover and allow tax revenues to catch up to the level of spending at the federal levels and balance that way.  But even that would entail some rearrangement and reorientation and yes, cutting of federal programs from SS to Medicare to domestic programs, even so slightly as to allow the overall rate of growth to remain under 2% for quite some time.

It is the only way out, honestly.

But if you are an elected official and you simply insist on signing pledges simply because you like to sign pledges, (we still don't think it is a good idea to do so) and Grover Norquist forces your hand to sign his tax pledge, we are going to start a counter movement and get you to sign the following in succession:

1) 'No New Taxes!--Grover Norquist
2) No New Spending!- Telemachus
3) The Balanced Budget Amendment to the US Constitution, Amendment #28 - Common Sense.

If you would like to help us start the 'No New Spending!' Pledge movement, please let us know and we will set up a new website to do so. Our goal would be to have every Member of Congress who has already signed the Tax Pledge to also sign the Spending Pledge and the Balanced Budget Amendment by the end of this Congress, 2011.

Then, we will be getting someplace.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How About Extending The Voting Rights Act To The Entire Country?

We were having lunch yesterday with an old friend, meaning we have known him for 30 years now, not that we are ‘old and decrepit’ just yet.

Being the political people we are, the conversation naturally turned to redistricting and the intricacies of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as it pertains to congressional and legislative districts now being drawn around the nation.

What else do normal people talk about…sports? the weather?

One point he made that made us sit up straight and take notice was his comment: ‘Is my vote as important as any other in this nation?’

‘Of course, it is. One-man; one-vote. All men are created equal and all that sorta jazz.’



The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to make sure that African-Americans in the South would never be disenfranchised again as they were during post-Civil War Reconstruction and then under Jim Crow laws that required such things as literacy tests and poll taxes for someone to vote.

The Republican Party under Abraham Lincoln started out as ‘The Ultimate Voting Rights Act Party' by advocating the end to slavery, having Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and then ratifying the 15th Amendment in 1870 giving the right to vote to the freed slaves.

All of these legislative actions had to take place to help re-orient the United States back towards the Jeffersonian/Lincolnian ideal of ‘all men are indeed created equal.’

At least in America, that is what we all believe in, correct?

The reason why this gentleman’s question made us sit up straight was because he then went on to say:

‘Then why do mostly only the Southern states designated under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have to have their redistricting plans submitted for ‘pre-clearance’ by the US Justice Department in Washington, DC?’

Which leads to the next logical question:

‘Why not submit EVERY state’s redistricting plan to the US Department of Justice in Washington, DC for pre-clearance?’

Treat every voting jurisdiction in the country the exact same.  One man/one vote and equal protection under the law both seem to come to mind as constitutional principles at play here.  If every district is not treated exactly the same as to the governance of everyone's right to vote, then perhaps the Voting Rights Act should be repealed.

After all, we are all ‘created equal’; we all have the same one vote to cast in each election (if duly registered to vote); and non-discrimination principles throughout history demand that every man or woman’s right-to-vote be respected on an equal, non-biased basis.

It would make eminent sense then to submit every state’s redistricting plan to the US Department of Justice for pre-clearance then, or none at all?

Wouldn’t it?

So the question to ponder for today is this:  Why not extend the Voting Rights Act nationwide? We are as sure as we are sitting here that there is and has been racism conducted in the state of New York (some parts of NYC and other major cities are subject to the Voting Rights Act); Illinois; Anchorage, Alaska and California over the same length of time since 1965

We understand the terrible atrocities of the KKK in the South for close to 100 years after the Civil War. We also understand the terrible inequities that were exacted on African-American men and women in the South for lo those too many years.

One of our fathers who was born into a Catholic family in 1917 opened the door to his home in Asheville, North Carolina at the age of 6 and saw 3 burning crosses in his front yard, 1 for him and 2 for his parents. The KKK didn’t like Catholics or Jews living in the South either in case you didn’t know that before.

We ‘get it’ when it comes to the idiotic racism and hatred of some not-so-very enlightened men and women in the South before 1965 and are glad most of it have been eradicated.

But we also acknowledge that time moves on.  We went to a junior high school in Durham, North Carolina during the first wave of integration in 1968 and overnight, the school went from being lily-white to close to 35% African-American.

After a month or so of some pretty tense moments, things settled down and, for the most part, we all just went to school together; had some great football teams and had some great parties now that you mention it. Being able to buy beer at age 18 certainly made eminent sense to us back then when we were 18…(why not now?)

Our point is this: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 did what it was supposed to do. It corrected the imbalances and injustices for the most part in the South.

Why not extend it to the entire nation? Surely other pockets of racism need to be eradicated elsewhere, don’t they?

On top of that, it would put every voter’s vote on an equal keel again where no one’s vote is considered ‘inferior’ or ‘superior’ to any other one around the nation and subject to a concentrated power’s ‘pre-approval’ in Washington, DC.

That just sounds like a constitutional challenge waiting to be made.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Prediction for 2012 POTUS RACE: 269 to 269 Electoral Votes?

It is that time again…as hard as it is to be believed.

Politicians in America are announcing their intentions all over the place to run for the Republican nomination to unseat President Barack Obama in 2012.

The fun never ceases to end, does it?

The almost incessant American presidential elections just about make you want to adopt the parliamentary/ministerial model of Britain, doesn’t it? The Party in control gets to decide when the next election will occur, and they are over and done with in say, 3 months.

You can bet your bottom pound sterling that the leader won’t call for an election during a terrible recession or when their approval ratings are rock-bottom. (although sometimes they are….they have to be held within 5 years of the last seating of the existing parliament regardless)

Anyway, here are the states in which, if you live in them, be prepared for an onslaught of presidential campaigning and ads unlike any in our nation’s history so far. And if you don’t live in these battleground states, you can thank your lucky stars that your state is so far red or blue that you really don’t have to pay any attention to either candidate for president this time around.

In your state, the presidential campaign for 2012 is ‘already done’ and ‘baked in the cake.’

Ohio – 18 (electoral votes in 2012) 2008 vote---Obama
Virginia – 13 Obama
Colorado – 9 Obama
Florida -29 - Obama
Nevada – 6 Obama
Wisconsin -10 - Obama
New Hampshire – 4 - Obama
Indiana – 11 - Obama
North Carolina – 15 Obama
Pennsylvania- 20 Obama
Michigan- 16 -Obama
Iowa- 6 - Obama
New Mexico- 5 –Obama

Total Battleground Electoral Votes for these 13 states in 2012— 162.

As you can see, in 2008 all of these 13 states were carried by ‘Hope and Change’ Barack Obama over ‘Country First’ John McCain. (See? Campaign slogans do really ‘matter’).

But Obama only received 160 electoral votes from these battleground states in 2008.

What has happened in the meantime?

The 2010 Census was taken last year. All of the states in the Union were reviewed and reallocated congressional seats based on the net changes in population over the past decade, mostly from the old Rust Belt industrial northern states to the sunny growing climes of the South and Southwest. There's roughly a net shift of 24 electoral votes from blue states to red states overall, meaning 12 lost to Obama states and 12 picked up mostly by Republican states.

Think of it like when some clown on the basketball court tries to do a superhuman, Phi Slamma Jamma dunk in a wide-open court instead of the easy backboard layup....and it clanks off the back rim and rebounds to mid-court where the guy from the other team takes it to lay it up in his basket for an easy 2 points. That is not a '2-point swing' but a '4-point swing'..the 2 your clown clanker didn't get for your team plus the 2 the other team got for being smart about it.

Same as with the electoral vote switches from blue states to red states this time around. 12 seats lost by the North mostly to the South and Southwest means a net switch of 24 in reality.

Heck, Texas picked up 4 congressional seats all by their Lone Star selves!  You think those votes are going to President Obama in 2012?  That is an 8-vote swing right there to the GOP candidate over 2008.

Then you need to add in the new redistricted seats that are supposed to be completed this year, 2011. New congressional delegation majorities can be created almost out of thin air in states such as North Carolina where Republicans have sole control of drawing new legislative districts for the first time in 140 years.

Yes. 140 years. Mean old Carpetbagging Republicans from Abe Lincoln's day probably helped draw the last Republican congressional and legislative lines back in 1870.  Imagine that.

The Old North State could go overnight from having 6 GOP Congressional seats to 9, just like that and the majority of the state's 13 congressional seats.

Why is this so important?

Because if there is a tie in the electoral college, 269-269, between Obama and his as-yet-unnamed Republican opponent, then the election of our next President goes to the newly-elected House of Representatives for the next Congress to be seated in 2013 where each state gets 1 vote to cast as a delegation. And the majority party in each delegation almost assuredly would force the vote for the nominee from their side of the aisle and not the other, doncha think?

What does this mean for President Obama?

It means he is going to have a relatively ‘tougher’ time selling what he wants to sell to what historically have been more conservative-leaning Southern and Southwestern states in the Union.

True, Colorado and New Mexico are not the 'shoot-'em-up!' Western cowboy states people used to think were dominated by John Wayne and Wyatt Earp.  Many Southern/Southwest states are more ‘purple-red’ now but not azure blue politically like New York and California.

So, how many of these states in 2012 have to turn against President Obama in order for him to lose his re-election bid?

Not many. Maybe half of them.

Obama pounded McCain by an electoral margin of 365-173 in 2008. That is a difference of 192 electoral votes. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?

Obama also crushed McCain by a popular vote margin of 69.4 million to just under 60 million. That’s a lot of popular votes, highest in history.

But popular vote count doesn’t matter in US presidential elections, as we have seen from at least 3 elections where the winner did not get the majority of popular votes cast. 1876, 1888 and 2000 were the 3 elections in case you are interested. We suppose you remember The Thrilla in Palm Beach County, Gore vs.Bush 43.

In one celebrated case, there was an electoral college tie, in 1800, between good old Thomas Jefferson and his supposed running mate Aaron Burr. Since the rules were not completely thought-out well enough then, they both got the same number of electoral votes and it went to the House of Representatives to be decided state-by-state. The 12th Amendment fixed that little problem our Founders, as brilliant as they were, completely swung and whiffed on.

All the GOP candidate has to do in 2012 is turn a measly 97 electoral votes from the list above that Obama won in 2008 into the GOP column and he gets the 270 votes necessary to become POTUS in 2013.

There are 15 votes in NC that historically have been in the Republican column since 1976. 13 more in Virginia, now with a GOP Governor to help organize the state for the GOP candidate. Florida’s 29 votes should lean Republican if it reverts back to the mean of voting Republican over time. There are 57 votes right there in 3 states.

Ohio is now headed up by an old friend of ours from House Budget Committee days, Governor John Kasich so those 18 votes could swing to the new GOP President if Kasich has a strong organization and following in the state. The total is now up to 75 of the 97 needed to win.

Mitch Daniels is still the GOP Governor of Indiana, even though he decided he loved his family more than running for President in 2012. He should be able to get those 11 Indiana electoral votes into the GOP column. Now we are at 86 votes and counting.

If Pennsylvania goes Republican, there is almost no way Obama can win re-election under any scenario.

But New Hampshire’s 4; Nevada’s 6; Iowa’s 6 and New Mexico’s 5 electoral votes are going to be crucial to either candidate. Any combination of Iowa/Nevada plus New Mexico can get the GOP candidate up to over the net swing of 97 electoral necessary to become the nation’s 45th President.

Still, it seems to be President Obama’s election to lose at this point, notwithstanding the terrible unemployment figures that came out this week; $5/gallon gas at the pump and no action at all dealing with our #1 national problem, this exploding and increasingly unmanageable national debt. He does get major credit for having Osama Bin Laden killed under his watch though…you gotta hand him that.

Ain’t American presidential politics grand?  It is never really 'over' because there is so much at stake each time around.  The 2012 POTUS election has all of these tectonic plates shifting underneath in terms of the census and redistricting that this one could be the most interesting of all of them.

Get ready for lots of chads and dead people voting.  It could be a tight one. Like 269-269.  And then we'll just have to wait and see who controls the House in Congress after Election Night, 2012.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Remember When Our 'Best and Brightest' Actually Ran For Congress?

You'd have to be 260 years old, then to remember when 'our best and brightest' in America made up virtually 100% of the sitting US Congress in 1789. That is probably the last time every single delegate to our federal government were among the very best in the nation in terms of brains, ability, accomplishments and negotiating skills.

We have spent a lot of time thinking about the difference between the makeup of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in that hot, smelly summer of 1787 and the current makeup of Congress and state legislatures around the nation.

There can be little doubt that the very top talent of the American population in terms of education, experience, brainpower and leadership ability were there among the 33 delegates at Philadelphia that hot, smelly summer. (Have we mentioned how unsanitary the conditions were back in 1787 Philadelphia? They were horrific.)

Those 33 delegates were in the top 1/10th of 1% of the population of America in 1787. Primarily due to education received; family sprung out from; wealth and privilege and all that accompanies such status in life. Very few people back then had far more educational and business opportunities than the majority of Americans living at the time. That was just the way it was.

There was James Madison, trained at Princeton and a certifiable genius in his own right. Benjamin Franklin was only one of the greatest scientists, philosophers, authors, journalists and all-around thinkers the American Republic has ever known on top of being a statesman, diplomat and all-around European sensation as he negotiated with foreign powers on treaties and massive international debt loans for the young republic.

Franklin would be right at home in the 21st century as our emissary to China begging them to keep loaning us trillions of dollars to fund our enormous debt. His raccoon hat would drive the Chinese people wild.

Alexander Hamilton was a brilliant military aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and a skilled legal mind, writer and the first Secretary of the Treasury, only to be shot dead in a senseless duel with Aaron Burr who was a smart guy as well. So there really is no guarantee of great leadership from smart people, is there?

But Hamilton and Franklin both rose up from more than modest circumstances, Hamilton a bastard child to boot. Through the sheer power of their abilities and hard work, both men rose to prominence in the infant nation. Only in America can ability and perseverance trump position and power.

(One of our favorite expressions heard recently is that someone who is very wealthy was 'born on third base but thought he had hit a triple to get there!')

Our favorite unknown 'Founder', Luther Martin of Maryland, got smashed and plowed every single night for 4 months in that hot smelly summer of 1787 at the local pub. Delegate Martin bumped into a cow one night and apologized for ‘running into you, ma’am!’ as he doffed his hat and stumbled back to his hotel room to sleep it off.

And then presumably offered amendments and legal thoughts in the next day’s proceedings for the drafting of the vaunted US Constitution that has survived the ages, so far anyway, for these past 222 years.

‘Government of the people, by the people and for the people’ includes the sober and the drunk alike, remember.

You know what the main reasons highly qualified, successful and experienced people give today when asked to run for Congress and they decline, sometimes not very politely?

1) The press. 2) The disruption to their personal lives. 3) The media. 4) The reduction in income. 5) The intrusion into their private lives by the media and opposition research hit squads. And finally, 6) The media.

But subsumed underneath all that is this unspoken attitude: 'Running for the duly-elected Congress of the United States of America is beneath me....somehow.'

Really? Was it beneath the dignity and intelligence level of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, the richest, smartest, most well-educated, successful and well-known leaders at the time, to take humongous risks to establish this great democratic republic called the United States of America in the first place?

Put another way, if our nation was in extreme peril, a state of economic distress and uncertainty, and facing domestic and foreign threats that threaten the very survival of our nation, (it is all of these 3 things and then some) would our very best and brightest of today leave their work places and opulent homes to run for Congress and try to help right this ship of state by being in the US Congress or Senate or the White House?

We sort of 'wonder' if they would or would not. We have had close to 3 full years of the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression plus 2 wars overseas and heightened domestic alerts relative to terrorist attacks....and have any of our 'best and brightest' declared their intentions to run for public office?

Let's just tick off a few names everyone might have heard of who might be the modern-day equivalent of the 'best and the brightest' in attendance at the formation of the American Republic in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. You know, the top 1/10th of 1% of all the people you have ever known who scored perfect SAT scores; were presidents of their student bodies in college; made millions in business and now live in 10,000 square foot homes on a golf course with 4 vacation homes in which to rejuvenate from time to time.

They should be no different today from Jefferson and Madison or Washington, should they?

How about Bill Gates...would he serve as a Congressman from The Great State of Washington? Or 'Senator' Warren Buffett from the Cornhusker state, Nebraska? We always pick on them as being Primo Exhibit A when it comes to people who do NOT deserve one penny paid to them from any federal entitlement program; why not elevate them to become the Jefferson or Madison of 2011?

Oprah Winfrey, now there's an American success story if there ever was one. Born into poverty in Mississippi, she is now a billionaire with her own television network and is credited with boosting Barack Obama's success against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries on his way to the White House.

Thomas Jefferson ain't got nothing over Oprah, that's for sure. 'Senator Winfrey from the Great State of Illinois' one day?

How about a movie star or two? Clint Eastwood served as Mayor of Carmel back in the day; he'd be tough-against-crime-and-terrorists in his reprisal as 'Congressman Harry Callahan' of 'Dirty Harry' fame. Alas, Arnold Schwarzenneger...two terms as Governor of California already seems to have done him in, although the thought of a former 'Terminator' leading our country against the terrorists does have a certain mass appeal to it, you gotta admit.

How about a professional athlete? They are the nation's most recognizable faces and names, you know. No NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball back in the 1776 so no Babe Ruth, Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Johnny Unitas in the first Congress seated in 1789.

Michael Jordan? Would he ever serve in the US Congress? LeBron James? Which state, Ohio or Florida now? Peyton Manning, now there is a Majority Leader who could get things done if there ever was an audible on the floor of Congress and tell everyone what to do or else he will drill them in the back of the head with a tight spiral.

How about Shane Battier of the Memphis Grizzlies? He conducted his admissions interview at Duke in German and everyone thought he would be the first African-American president in the United States.

He waited too long to run, apparently.

Our point here is not to make light of any prominent US individual but rather to point out that we need our best and brightest to look at the broader world and ask themselves:  'Does it make more sense for me to put my talents and abilities to work for the public good right now in this time of confusion and lack of positive direction in Congress or any elective legislative body or just stay in my place of business and 'comfort zone' right now?'

To those who worry about taking a 'pay cut' when running for office, rest assured that if you are a multi-billionaire before you run for office, you will be a multi-billionaire after you run and serve your country for awhile. Even if you are 'only' a multi-millionaire, as long as you have set up your finances and business structure beforehand with some forethought and planning, you can return to your place of business after you serve your country with distinction and integrity.

Think about it this morning. This article might be directed right at you to consider and ponder deeply.

There are congressional elections coming up in 18 months, November 2012. Now is your chance not only to 'make a difference' but to 'be the difference' at the very highest levels for your nation's future.