Saturday, October 31, 2015

'Is This A Comic Book Version of a Presidential Campaign'?

Now THIS is a Comic Book Version of a President!
With that question, CNBC contributor and recent (but never again probably) GOP Presidential Debate interviewer John Harwood may have cemented the reputation of modern American media as being completely 1) biased; 2) incompetent; 3) petty or 4) (add in whatever pejorative statement you want to make about what used to be one of the most important parts of our democratic republic: a free and impartial press)

The 'comic book version' of a presidential campaign has come mostly from the media side of things. They have chosen to portray current GOP front-runner Donald Trump as some sort of buffoon and second-place runner Dr. Ben Carson as an idiot while they saluted Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as a Queen-in-Waiting for Her Coronation for having 'such a great week' during her Benghazi hearings.

Even though it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she really did lie about the attacks on the embassy there and tried to put the blame on an actual cartoon about the Prophet Muhammad in the last weeks of the 2012 election campaign of President Barack Obama.

Talk about 'comic book' versions of campaigns! The media is writing them!

So while CNBC perhaps had the worst week ever in terms of covering presidential politics, we thought we would try to help sort out the men and women from the boys and girls so you can actually try to make the right decision for who you want to be in the White House from 2017-2021 and possibly until 2025 to lead this great nation of ours.

  1. We strongly believe that the best person to serve as President of the United States of America should be determined not by performances, either good or bad, on contrived media appearances but rather based on their records, experience, intelligence and integrity.

    Charisma can only take a President, and therefore, the country only so far.  A solid understanding of basic economics, fiscal accounting and federal budgeting, monetary policy and foreign affairs and military strength are far better than just plain 'charisma'.

    Electing a President based solely on how they handle 'gotcha' questions from current American media moderators, who are asking such inane questions as 'What is your greatest weakness?' in the first place solely to drive up their rankings, not help pick our next President, is exactly the wrong way to go about perhaps the most important thing we do as a country every 4 years.
  2. Former Florida Governor Jeb! Bush put out a comprehensive plan to shore up Social Security and reform Medicare to more of a premium support plan last week, even though you may not have heard about it amidst the clutter of the other news of the week. Take a good look at it and see what some of the things are that need to be changed in our nation's largest retirement security plan and largest health care plan of any kind in the nation. We have been writing about such things as raising the retirement age gradually over the years and means-testing the entitlement programs for the past 7 years now so that billionaires such as Warren Buffett and yes, Donald Trump don't have full access to the same benefits a lower-income retiree would receive.

    It just doesn't make any sense.
  3. Ohio Governor John Kasich unveiled his plan to balance the US federal budget within 8 years of his presidency which we have every confidence he would put 1000% of his time and effort into achieving since we sat right next to him on the House Budget Committee in 1993-94 when the whole process to balance the federal budget since man walked on the moon started and then culminated in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act that did indeed balance the budget from 1998-2001.

    Heck! We have already pointed out that just keeping the US federal budget from growing over a 3% annual rate overall would balance the budget by 2022 without any tax hikes or budget cuts or any changes at all! Just having a President in the White House who would be willing to work and compromise with Congress and the Senate to produce pro-growth policies that would allow the US economy to start roaring ahead at a 4-5% annual rate instead of the anemic sub-2% per year growth we have had for the entire Obama presidency would balance the budget through increases in tax receipts alone during the same period of time.

    So we are all for the Kasich approach. Absent any other reason, that is one very good reason to consider voting for Governor Kasich in our humble opinion.
  4. Donald Trump's tax plan would certainly help the US economy rebound and explode but it would also increase the federal debt by another $10 trillion according to the Tax Foundation.

    President Franklin Roosevelt, when asked why he appointed a 'crook', Joseph Kennedy, to be the first head of the SEC after a career of manipulating stock trades before the Great Crash of 1929, said with a wry smile: 'It takes one to catch one'

    We don't think Donald Trump is a 'crook' in the Joe Kennedy mold. However, he does know how to manipulate the US tax code with the best of them which probably makes him as much of an expert on how to close loopholes as any of them which is probably a positive for him.

    But we know we don't need another $10 trillion of debt to be piled on our children or country on top of the $20 trillion we will have the day President Obama leaves office on January 20, 2017.
  5. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has put out numerous statements on entitlement reform as have a few other serious potential nominees.
  6. We don't have time to list every candidate's platform or proposals but urge you to bypass the news media as much as possible and go directly to the source of any candidate's plan and read the core documents themselves. Every candidate website has them and every plan has its advocates and detractors that you can read just by googling the plan.
These are the real issues we would rather hear candidates discuss in important forums rather than their 'weaknesses' or whether fantasy football should be legalized or not or whether they picked on some kid in kindergarten recess way back in their day:
  • How will our next President deal with Russian expansion under Vladimir Putin? 
  • How will our next Commander-in-Chief deal with the scourge of ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Middle East to protect and defend innocent people as well as strategic US interests in the region and protect the right of Israel to exist as a nation? 
  • How will our next President help lead the next true economic expansion where some of the close to 20 million people who are either unemployed, underemployed, part-time employed or who have dropped out of the workforce because they couldn't find a job over the past 7 years can actually find a job and re-enter the workforce?
Try to be the voice of reason and adulthood when you are discussing these very weighty decisions with your friends, families and colleagues over the coming months.

Don't get caught up in the trivialization of our nation's most important collective vote every 4 years by our nation's media and political commentators and talking heads. For goodness sakes, don't let the media make the decision for you as to whom they think you should vote for for President based on some non-consequential or trivial issue such as 'what their weakness is' or what their position on fantasy football is or whether or not they are worth $10 billion or $4 billion or $2 billion in net worth.

Try to be smarter than them all. Cause you are.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Is North Carolina Punching Above Its Weight When It Comes To Funding Higher Education?


There are always interesting things you discover when you start looking deep into statistics and facts of any public policy issue. 

In North Carolina, one such 'interesting' case is the whole issue of higher education. Particularly the issue of who should pay for it: should it be the taxpayer, or the student and his/her family? 

When talking about budget issues in general, a couple of things stand out when you look for serious budget analysis by political parties or unbiased special interests: 

  1. It usually isn't 'serious' or 'unbiased' analysis at all. 
  2. It is almost always slanted to support one angle or another for political advantage. 
  3. Democrats tend to look at 'marginal analysis,' that is, what is the effect of spending or not spending the next dollar without considering the bulk of past expenditures as the base; 
  4. Republicans tend to want to look at the totality of expenditures, except when it comes to defense budgets in which case they adopt the marginal analysis approach favored by the Democrats. 
  5. Or in their favorite special-interest program, be it agriculture in rural states and Congressional districts or tax breaks in the tax code. 
Speaking of higher education spending in particular, there has been much written about the demise and destruction of the college system in North Carolina since the 2008 recession, but especially since the Republicans gained control of the General Assembly in the 2010 election and the Governor's Mansion in 2012. 

With that in mind, we thought we would ask several people both in and out of state government the following question: 

Where does North Carolina rank in terms of overall absolute dollars appropriated to high education vis-a-vis every other state in the Union? 

(Remember, North Carolina is now the 9th largest state in the country.) 

Based on news reports and political commentary, many have guessed that North Carolina ranks 25th, 35th or even 40th in the country when it comes to spending total amounts of gross dollars on public education. 

The overall picture that gets painted by the news media is that not only is North Carolina doing a terrible job on public education, it is also short-changing and doing a terrible job on higher education as well. 

Is that true, based solely on the facts and the statistics put out by reputable independent review groups? 

The answer is 6th. North Carolina will spend just under $3.8B this last fiscal year on 16 campuses plus the NC School of the Arts and at 59 community colleges strategically located around the state. 

North Carolina is behind, as you would probably have guessed, California ($11.7B); Texas ($6.8B); New York ($5.4B); Illinois ($4.9B) and Florida ($4.2B) * 

Isn't that a little surprising? Based on relative population size alone, North Carolina should be in the 9th slot for overall spending (which would be New Jersey, at $2.07B this past year). 

Ok, but what does all this mean? 

It means two things: 

1) North Carolina is still 'punching above its weight,' as the old boxing adage goes when someone in a lower weight class moves up to fight against heavier, stronger opponents. 

2) In return for a higher allocation of state appropriated dollars (the taxes you paid), students who go to UNC universities across the state pay a far lower in-state tuition than, say, students in Illinois do. 

Students in UNC system universities could expect to pay an average of $6,677 last year in tuition and fees for the school year. 

Students in Illinois system universities could expect to pay $12,770 last year in tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year. Almost double what North Carolina public university students paid. Illinois has about 30% more people living in that state than we do in North Carolina. 

Compare the $6,677 average tuition and fees for N.C. in-state students versus our neighbors to the north and south, Virginia and South Carolina: $10,899 (VA) and $11.449 (SC). That’s 61% as much as Virginia in-state students; 58% as much as South Carolina in-state students.** 

Take a look at the chart below. Almost all of the top 10 states are just now reaching the level of expenditures they had in FY 2008, with Illinois and Florida being the two most notable exceptions because of large increases they have been able to appropriate to higher education. 

The Recession of 2008-? was a nasty one. Don't ever let anyone ever try to tell you it wasn't. The most pronounced effect it had was on state budgets and on public education across the nation. Medicaid budgets continued to grow unabated in many states which further crowded out increases for public education for the past 6 years. 

We can and will continue to have spirited debate on how much to appropriate for the public university system and community colleges forever in all likelihood. Questions about salaries, overhead, pensions, health care coverage will always be in the mix. 

One thing that would be helpful to have at your side as you consider all of these debates is some context and idea about what the level of spending is today in total for higher education at your state's public universities.

Otherwise, questions about the 'proper' level of in-state tuition versus out-of-state tuition and all of the other items named above get lost in the debate much like a picture loses its identity the closer to zoom in on it. Pretty soon all you see are the pixels on
 screen and you forget whether you are looking at a portrait or a landscape. 

* These are expected numbers for FY 2014-2015. Included are appropriations for community colleges and public universities (source: Grapevine, Illinois State University

** Source: College Board

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