Thursday, December 8, 2016

Payback Is Not Always A Good Thing

Not for adults leading our country......
At least not when it comes to running a constitutional democratic republic, it is not a 'good thing'.

It might 'feel good' for the moment and provide a temporary sense of happiness at 'turnabout being fair play' and all that. But this is not a child's game our elected leaders are playing; it is running the greatest elective representative democracy the world has ever known.

We should run it the right way.

The US Senate, under the control of Democrats and under the leadership of now-retiring Harry Reid of Nevada, changed the rules of the US Senate on 11/22/2013 to allow a simple majority vote on all presidential nominations except for Supreme Court nominations.

It passed 52-48. Democrats held 53 seats at the time and 2 Independents, including Bernie Sanders, typically caucused and voted with the Democrat majority. 3 Democrat Senators voted against the motion.

'So what?' you might say. 'The Republicans were just stonewalling against anything and everything President Obama was doing ever since he got elected in 2008! Harry Reid had to do this to get something done for the nation!'

Here's the 'so-what': Now that President-Elect Trump has a majority of Republicans in the US Senate, he could get Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo confirmed to serve in any presidential appointee capacity he wanted if the Senate continues to adhere to the so-called 'nuclear option' precedent set forth by Senator Reid.

We hope Senate Republicans will vote to restore Senate rules back to the threshold of 60 immediately upon being sworn-in in early January 2017. In fact, we don't mind if the Senate returns to the concept of 'unanimous consent' and abolishes the 60-vote threshold altogether and returns to the days when 1 US Senator could stage a filibuster like Jimmy Stewart did in 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington' and shut down proceedings for days.

Here's why:

  1. Restore Integrity To The Process of Governing

    We like to think of our former brethren in the Republican Party as at least being 'rule-followers' much as we admire professional golfers on the PGA Tour who routinely call penalties on themselves in order to 'protect the integrity of the game of golf'. Period.

    We love it when a professional golfer calls a penalty on himself.  Cameron Tringale called a penalty on himself in the 2014 PGA golf championship and essentially disqualified himself from contention and forfeited at least $53,000 with his confession. For a violation that no one else ever saw.

    The US Senate must never be allowed to operate like the US House of Representatives where simple majorities rule the day. We lived through a decade of being in political purgatory from 1985-1995 working in the minority party of the US House by close to 85 seats (votes) every session.

    That was not fun. In the least little bit.

    However, every day we went into work, we knew that the rights of the minority party in the US House, us Republicans, were going to be protected in the US Senate whether the GOP was in the majority or the minority over there.

    Why? Because any legislation that we thought was terrible was going to have to run the gauntlet of Senate rules over there where 60 US Senators were going to have to vote to at least allow debate on the floor of the Senate or else it would be bottled up on the Senate side, never to see the light of day.

    Protection of minority party rights in our democratic republic is critical to the long-term health of not only each party but the nation as well. You do NOT want to live in a representative democracy where any majority can run roughshod over the wishes and rights of the minority party.

    That is just plain and simple un-American.

  2. Re-Establishing the 60-vote threshold forces comity and compromise

    If the Republicans in the US Senate maintain the simple majority rule status set forth by Senator Harry Reid on presidential appointments, it will not be long before the siren call of 'payback' or revenge sets in and they change the rules of the US Senate to be a simple majority on EVERY piece of legislation.

    That will be the day the US constitutional form of government stops being as unique and as special as we all like to believe it is. Because it really is a uniquely crafted government carved out of the brains of some of the smartest people we have ever seen in this country or around the globe.

    Having a simple majority in the US House of Representatives insures that the will of the people gets expressed every two years at the election booth. Doing the same thing in the US Senate reduces the US Senate to just another cauldron of emotion where prevailing public sentiment can be not only expressed but passed into legislation, assuming a President is unwilling to veto bills passed by his own party.

    Having at least a 60-vote threshold to consider debate on the floor of what once was called 'The World's Greatest Deliberative Body' (but sadly is no longer) at least provides a place where reasoned debate can occur to 'cool' inflamed public sentiment on any particular issue and come up with alternatives and compromises that might amend the original bill into something that actually works and stays in force for awhile.

    Going back to the original filibuster threshold of 100 would only accelerate and intensify the process of compromise and reconciliation between the 2 parties. NO ONE would get anything done that they want if they consistently stand in the way of 99 other Senators getting at least a debate on their pet issues and causes.

    When there is 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (MAD) amidst 100 US Senators, a lot of things would get done pretty fast you gotta believe.
Not following the simple majority Senate rules for presidential nominees as put forth by Harry Reid in 2013 may sound like a retreat for any conservative Senator who endured and suffered through the years of Senator Reid who might have been as ruthless of a Senate Leader there ever was. There certainly will be no glowing biographies of the days of Harry Reid as there have been about Henry Clay or any other Senate Majority Leader in our nation's history.

But it would be the right thing to do for our nation and our constitutional government. Just because a person or a political party does something really dumb like lead a bunch of lemmings off a cliff into the raging ocean below does not mean everyone else who follows should be equally as ethically and intellectually-challenged, does it?

Resisting the temptation to continue the wrong policy set forth by Senator Reid would show the nation that the Republicans are indeed the 'adults in the room' and ready to lead again.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Donald Trump Is The 45th President: Now What?

Lorenzo Charles over
Phi Slamma Jama
David Over Goliath
In perhaps the greatest upset victory against 'conventional wisdom' since NC State upset the Phi Slamma Jama of Houston in 1983, or maybe even dating back to Little David knocking out Goliath in ancient days, Donald Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States of America starting at noon, January 20, 2017.

You may have heard the old saying commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (but never fully proven): “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”

Critics of Donald Trump never got past the 'laughing at' stage. Perhaps that is why they missed what was actually going on beneath the surface which was clearly stated in every poll where 70%+ of the people in America did not think America was on the 'right track' even though President Obama enjoyed a personal approval rating of 53%.

'Can Anyone Here Play This Game?'
There is a big difference between being personally 'liked' and affable and having people 'approve' of your policies and leadership skills. Look at Casey Stengel, the long-time lovable loser from the NY Mets. He was personally 'loved' by New York Met and sports fans in general. But his Mets were truly amazingly horrible during his 4-year coaching tenure and won only 30% of their games under his leadership.

Many people feel as though President Obama only 'won' on maybe 10% of his initiatives both domestic and foreign as Chief Executive of our nation. Some even less.

People who voted for President-Elect Trump want a significant change from the direction and policies of President Barack Obama from the past 8 years.

They are about to get it.

'How so?' you may ask?

Here's a timeline of sorts that you can use to monitor the progress of the Trump Administration that will start at 12:01 pm, Friday, January 20, 2017:

  1. Probably that afternoon, President Trump will sign executive orders unwinding and reversing every executive order or memoranda signed by President Obama over the last 8 years, close to 400 in total.
  2. While he is at it, President Trump may choose to go back and unwind any onerous executive order dating back to George Washington if he wants to. Any executive order can be unwound by any future President thereby pointing out the futility of going it alone as President without leading the US Congress and US Senate into some sort of legislative compromise that would stand the test of time.
  3. Each of his Cabinet Secretaries and agency appointees will be charged to go through their department's budgets line-by-line to see what can be deleted, reduced, or reformed in terms of spending priorities. Due to their business backgrounds and abilities to see through worthless or out-dated, ineffective programs, expect to see a plethora of wasteful spending cut out of each agency's budgets like so much fat out of a holiday goose or cured ham.
  4. As the executive orders are reversed, the Federal Register will become a place of heightened activity as all the regulations promulgated (love that word) over the Obama years to support and explain the intent and scope of each Obama executive order has to be reviewed and essentially unwound and deleted as well. This could take 6 months to a year. As the executive orders are eliminated, there is no need for the expanded regulations to stay on the books but a review and comment period has to be allowed for the public to be able to comment on it nonetheless.
  5. While this is going on, a review and examination of every page of the over 860,000 new regulations promulgated by the Obama White House since 2009 will be made by the new Administration under President Trump to see which of those can be tossed into the trash bin of history. Since those are mostly tied to any legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, primarily Obamacare, they will have to wait to be reversed until Congress makes changes to the underlying passed legislation....which brings us to:
  6. Congressional 'Repeal and Replacement of the ACA', aka Obamacare.

    Nothing may have signified a higher sense of disgust with the Obama years as the explosion of cost of health care premiums after the ACA went into law.

    Future historians will note that millions of folks, us included, received notices of much higher health care premiums for 2017 in mid-October ranging from 25% to over 100% across the entire nation.

    Our premiums leaped another 25% on top of the 30% and 50% increases we received over the past several years. We only had the courage to open up our notice over the Thanksgiving holidays to finally get the 'bad news'.

    Each of those people, most of whom did not qualify for any federal subsidy to help pay for their health insurance, showed up at Trump rallies by the pickup and van-ful. They voted with their hands and feet against Obamacare and, by extension, against Hillary Clinton who vowed to not only continue Obamacare but expand it.

    Congress will begin its process of amending the ACA in early February, 2017 which will necessitate the elimination of thousands of pages of promulgated regulations from the federal Register over the coming years.

    What will be left behind will include coverage of pre-existing conditions and keeping people on family plans up to age 26, two of the most popular features of the ACA. But it will be significantly scaled-back and replaced most likely with some form of a 'Medicaid-Plus' program that provides catastrophic coverage for people now eligible for the ACA plus some prescription drug benefits and wellness coverage care and then people can decide for themselves what other coverage they would like to buy on the open market or set up health savings accounts to pay for other health coverage during the year.
  7. Once the heavy wet blanket of federal regulations imposed on the economy under President Obama starts to be peeled back, economic growth should start to grow organically on its own.

    The American economy depends on 'confidence' far more than it does on tax or fiscal policy alone. Expect to see an economic policy looking more like that of Calvin Coolidge where the combination of slashed federal spending, lower taxes and less regulation led to an explosion of the economy in 1924 instead of the sluggish, if that, 1.5% annual growth of the economy under President Obama for the past 8 years.

    From the 300,000 foot viewpoint above the US economy, we 'only' need about 0.5% more economic growth per year than what is currently projected by CBO to balance the budget in the next 4-5 years sans ANY other tax or fiscal policy change.

    That would be a 'good thing' since balancing the budget is the first step towards arresting the exorbitant growth in the federal debt which is important to do before interest rates return to their 'normal' levels of 5% which is now more likely to happen since business confidence will return and the competition for scarce capital will begin in earnest once again and drive interest rates up from near-zero levels today.
  8. On top of that, if President Trump and Congress succeed in holding federal spending growth over the next 4-5 years to below 3% overall, THAT ALONE (again) would balance the federal budget sans any other tax policy change or additional rates of economic growth.
  9. Combine the two, achieving economic growth 0.5% above current CBO projections AND hold federal spending below 3% per year average annual growth, and we may have the elixir that produces the right combination to get us out of this economic and fiscal mess we have been mired in for the past 8 years and produce the sort of economy where everyone who wants to can participate and can find a job and provide a better future for themselves and their families.
We may be due for a slight recession early in the Trump Administration simply because we have not had negative economic growth for 2 consecutive quarters since the end of the Great Recession of 2008-2010, even though most of the time has not felt like an economic boom resembling any previous economic recovery.

Republicans may over-reach (again) as most political parties do once in full control of any government, federal or state, and try to enact an overly aggressive tax cut that will only add to the deficits and debt in the short-run which may be counter-productive to sound fiscal policy right now.

However, if it is done intelligently with an eye towards lowering corporate and individual tax rates while AT THE SAME TIME eliminating most, if not all, of the tax breaks covered under the so-called 'tax expenditure' tables we have referred to many times in previous posts, and they repatriate overseas profits of American corporations of $2.6-$3 trillion, which could yield $400 billion in immediate tax revenues to the US Treasury, the impact on the size of the deficits and national debt could be ameliorated somewhat while at the same time, produce a tax system that is more fair and consistent across-the-board.

You could see all this happen in the first 100 Days of the Trump Administration as some people dream, or by the end of June, 2017 which would be more likely.

Even if it takes a full year, the changes to our economic and fiscal house in America will be like night-and-day from the Obama White House days.

We could all use some robust good economic news nowadays, yes?

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Now?

'I Toldja So, Didn't I?'
Before anyone on the right gets way too comfortable and complacent with the election of President-Elect Donald Trump and starts to think his election gives them the green-light to do whatever they want unimpeded, they need to realize one thing:

The Unaffiliated voters who voted for Donald Trump en masse don't like the Republican Party much more than the Democrat Party!

As liberal filmmaker Michael Moore postulated on October 25 in a letter he wrote and explained in a speech and video, millions of disgruntled, disenchanted and disaffected Americans would go into the ballot booth, pull the curtains and then quietly cast a ballot for Donald J. Trump and give the biggest revolutionary middle-finger to the media elites and the political establishment on both sides of the aisle we may have ever seen in American history.

As it turns out, Mr. Moore was right.

This may be the first time in American history that a true 'Independent' candidate has run for the White House and won. We have been seeing the rise of more and more independent/unaffiliated registered voters in NC for some time now; roughly 1/3 of the people who voted last week were UNAs or unaffiliateds.

Donald Trump somehow was able to do what Teddy Roosevelt couldn't do with his Bull Moose Party in 1912 or Ross Perot did with his 'I'm All Ears!'And 'Giant Flushing Sound!' Party in 1992 and 1996. Granted, both TR and Perot were running as a third candidate in a 3-way race which made it harder but still, Trump did what neither of them could do.

President-Elect Trump figured out how to defeat 16 other GOP candidates on their home court in the gauntlet of never-ending primaries and then beat the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton on her home court of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to win the Presidency.

 But he is still way more Independent in his outlook and philosophy than Republican in many ways.

What is so 'amazing' and should be so 'alarming' to the GOP in control of the House and Senate?

These unaffiliated Trump voters want ALL OF THEM, Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the Senate, to do their jobs, balance the budget, pass economic growth policies, fix health care, protect them from terrorists, shut up, stop blaming everyone else...and then go home and shut up again.

The people who elected Trump are NOT in love with the GOP leadership over the past 16 years. If the GOP leadership thinks Republicans can sit back and not do anything for the next 2 years and not work across the aisle with sane and sentient Democrats who want to get things done, these UNAs who supported Trump will turn on them with a vengeance in the mid-term elections in 2018.

The Trump voter is not a voter for 100% ideological purity. The Trump voter has just had it with the status quo of nothing happening that directly has helped them lead better lives with more prosperity and more safety and security over the past 16 years really and they voted for 100% political practicality. As in 'get something done!' Anything! On any issue!

Shutting down the government is not an option. Not compromising with enough Democrats to get 50%+1 (or 60 to get a bill on the floor of the Senate) is not an option. Not balancing the budget or passing comprehensive immigration laws or stopping radical Islamist terrorism dead in its tracks is not an option.

Anything less than bold, principled,practical leadership on the part of the GOP in the House and Senate will lead to a repudiation of both as in 2006.

I went to two of these Trump rallies in Raleigh at Dorton Arena on the State Fairgrounds, one last December 2015 and one on Monday before the election. 10,000 people at each one.

I did not see one single person I knew from any country club, bank, investment bank, GOP High Dollar Ranger Club or with whom I had gone to Carolina or Duke or that I have seen at any other political event in my entire life. Nobody I had ever seen before at hundreds of Republican political and fundraising events over the past 36 years in North Carolina were at either Trump event.

No Mercedes in the parking lot. No Volvos, Range Rovers or Maseratis. No fancy stickers on the rear windows touting their private school or Ivy League affiliation. Lots of NASCAR bumper stickers and flags; hardly any 'Save The Whales' or Greenpeace emblems.

Almost all of the people in attendance at both rallies were blue-collar, middle-class people who want to see massive change in Washington who took time off from their hourly jobs and drove to Raleigh from 60-150 miles away in their pickup trucks and old used Caravans packed to the gills.

One guy from Lee County brought 27 members of his family to see the next President of the United States of America at Dorton Arena. Wife, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, cousins, second cousins and third cousins twice-removed. Met them all. 25 of the 27 had already early voted for Donald Trump. The two that hadn't early voted were going to be escorted by their father to vote on Election Day 'or else'! he said.

They want to see their elected leaders in Washington do something big. Like doing their job. Period.

Because that is what this election was all about. It is not about some high-faluting philosophical exposition of Fredrich von Hayek free market principles or Reinhold Niebuhrian ruminations on the nature of man or whether the Laffer Curve works or not.

It is solely about electing people in our democratic republic to go to Washington and do the dirty but necessary work of debating, arguing and then negotiating and compromise to get a majority of the House and Senate to pass a bill that President-Elect Trump will sign and then go on to the next problem to solve.

And President-Elect Trump is a deal maker. Don't ever forget that.

So what does this mean policy-wise going forward into 2017? We will list a few things that we are almost 100% sure will happen from Day 1 over the coming weeks to try to help you dig deeper and expound more on the nuances of most of them, especially pertaining to tax, budget and health care policy.

Barack Obama said on Election Night in 2008 when he was elected President: 'Change is coming!'

Well, it is about to come again. Elections matter. Obviously.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Like Two Tsunamis Crashing Into Each Other


Six months ago, someone asked if Donald Trump's character and HB2 here in North Carolina were still going to be campaign issues come Election Day, November 8, 2016.

'Yes, of course it will!' I said. Even blind hogs find acorns every now and then, right?

But no one ever thought that in this year of a 'change election' that those would be the ONLY two issues people were concerned about this year. No. One.

The economy is sluggish, if that. We have never come close to a robust recovery coming out of the worst recession since the 1930's. The early years right AFTER a nasty recession are usually the best ones in terms of growth simply because so many of the laid-off workers are usually the first ones hired back once excess inventory is sold off or houses start to get built again, for example.

President Obama will retire on January 20, 2017 as the only President in modern times to have not presided over a US economy that exceeded 3% GDP growth in any quarter of any of his eight years in office. That would be 32 quarters.

That is like a football team scoring maybe a safety or a field goal every other quarter or so over 8 looooong seasons. At least they are 'scoring' every now and then you could say but they are never going to win a lot of games nickel-and-diming it along like that. Ever.

Under President Obama's watch, we have seen the national debt explode 100% to $20 trillion, up from $10 trillion when he took office. The federal deficit today is now half of what it was when he took office in 2009, that is true. However, it was over $1.2 trillion in that first year due to stimulus payments and bailouts and buyouts as we tried to stop the hemorrhaging of the economy so 'cutting' the deficit to $500 billion is nothing to write home about or win any award for achieving.

And by the way, CBO just came out with a report showing the budget deficits going UP this last year under President Obama to $650 billion on his way out of the White House and heading BACK UP to over $1 trillion in the next several years. Mainly because nothing fundamental or structural was done over the last 8 years to do anything constructive or helpful to solve our nation's fiscal deficiencies.

Add in ISIS; deteriorating racial relations; illegal immigration; no comprehensive energy policy; health care costs STILL rising almost exponentially despite the fact that President Obama got everything he wanted in the ACA passed in 2010 and a raft of other pressing issues, and you would have to believe the American people are just going to run to the polls to vote for a 'Big Change' to everything it would seem.

And yet, at this juncture 16 days away from perhaps the most consequential election we will see in a while, this election is boiling down to 2 things, at least here in North Carolina, that is:

  1. Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be in the White House?
  2. Does everyone have the right to choose which bathroom they can use?
It is like two tsunamis, one coming in from the west and one coming in from the east and colliding in the middle, say, over some small isthmus of land and totally covering it up with sea water and foam and detritus of all kinds.

And it is going to take some time to clean up after it all. That is a guarantee.

Let's take a look at how this might play out come Election Day:

For one thing, 'Election' Day has already started. Absentee ballots were requested and many already returned by the time early in-person voting started Thursday, October 20 in North Carolina.

By the time November 8 rolls around, over 50% of all ballots will have already been cast based on past experience. Around 4.5 million people in North Carolina can be expected to vote this year and close to 2.5 million ballots will have been cast before November 8.

You are going to hear both the left and the right crow about how their supporters are 'swamping the polls!' between now and then. Based on the first day of record turnout in Wake County, there is probably cause for jubilation on the left, at least in the larger cities.

However, the same thing could be happening in the smaller towns and more rural counties, many of which are going to be slower to report their turnout based on the resources they have at their disposal.

Add in the fact that many polling places are still underwater in and around the Neuse River down east, not to mention the fact that thousands of houses and homes have been destroyed by the recent floods.

Many of those people could care less about the general election today when they are more concerned about where they are going to live and eat the next day.

Finding a clean place to just go to the bathroom and shower and clean up is more of a concern to them than who has the right to join them right now.

The basic question that remains to be seen is this:

'Who is going to show up to vote this year and will the final electorate look more like the Obama turnout of 2008 and 2012 or will it not look like either of those 2 years?'

A bit of history might be helpful at this point. In 2008, with historic high levels of African-American and young voters voting for the first African-American president in American history, President Obama won North Carolina by 14,000 over a very weak and uninspiring John McCain.

In 2012, with slightly lower turnout levels among African-American and young voters but still way higher than what was considered 'normal' before 2008, President Obama lost North Carolina by 88,000 votes to Mitt Romney, even though Pat McCrory won the gubernatorial race by over 250,000 votes over Walter Dalton.

Many people attribute that drop-off to Mr. Romney's Mormonism. It might be other things factored in as well but it is impossible to believe that it did not play some role in such a disparity in his vote totals in North Carolina in 2012.

You almost never see a down-ballot candidate out-perform the presidential candidate at the top of the ticket in almost any presidential year. Most people want to vote for the President first but then lose interest as they go down the ballot all the way to the district judges and bond referenda before their eyeballs fall out of their head due to lack of interest in such issues or even knowing who, what or why 'judicial temperament' is a good thing for any candidate for a judgeship to possess.

Secretary of Labor Cheri Berry garnered 100,000 more than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Think about that for a minute.

In order for Hillary Clinton to win North Carolina's 15 Electoral Votes, experts say that 22% of the final electorate has to be African-American. That means that close to 1 million votes have to be cast for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina or almost 1/2 of her total votes in the state.

If she does that, she will win hands-down going away all flags flying.

However, she has failed to generate the enthusiasm in the African-American communities and young voting block that President Obama did which stands to reason since he was the first African-American to win the presidency and a cool symbol of progress for many young people and African-Americans nationwide.

What HB2 has done on the left is to energize thousands of progressives in the major cities mostly to turn out and vote against the Republican Governor Pat McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly which is one reason why we saw long lines on the first day of early voting.

So perhaps that will be enough to offset any drop in African-American or youth voting statewide.

To them, it 'feels' like a tidal wave that is going to sweep out all of the Republicans and the dozen or so Democrats who voted for HB2.

On the other hand, the sheer size of the rallies for Donald Trump at every site large or small in North Carolina this past year gives hope to people on the other side that a tidal wave of conservatism is swelling on their side that is going to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning North Carolina's 15 electoral votes and keep Governor McCrory in the Governor's Mansion and Republicans in solid control of the General Assembly for another two years.

10,000 people showed up for a Trump rally in tiny Kenansville, population 775, this past summer. People don't show up for a political rally in those numbers if they do not intend to vote in large proportions for that candidate, that is for sure.

Based on who you talk with, you could be persuaded that this is going to be a 'wave election' for the Democrats at the state level where they win every Council of State office except Secretary of Agriculture and they at least get Republicans below veto-proof majorities in the NC house and senate.

Others can convince you that Republicans will keep the Governor's Mansion and close to veto-proof margins in the NCGA; Senator Burr and Trump will get the 15 North Carolina electoral votes he needs to have any chance of winning the Presidency simply because they 'know' a 'wave election' is building for Trump and the Republicans much like Reagan in 1980.

One by-product of this nasty and in many ways, desultory presidential campaign, other than its interminable length, might be the surprising numbers of people who have just given up on our democratic process and just choose to stay at home and not vote this year.

Many people say they just can not vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump this year. You might see totals for both of them fall below the votes cast for the gubernatorial candidates on both sides as we saw in 2012 with Mitt Romney which came as a surprise to most observers.

You can hardly blame anyone for not voting this year. It reminds us of the Rolling Stones' song, '(Stuck Between a) Rock and a Hard Place':

But you still need to vote. One way or another. Up and down the ballot in all the races and referenda.

It is the only system of government we have. We will make it through. Somehow. America always has in the past. And this is certainly not as 'scary' of a time as the Civil War, World War I, Great Depression and World War II were for our forebears and ancestors.

We even survived 25+ years of dismal presidential 'leadership' (sic) before the Civil War.  Take a look at that list of presidents. James Buchanan was the last one and he was so awful that historian place him at the absolute bottom of all of our 44 Presidents so far and he won that almost by acclamation.

Mick Jagger is no poet along the lines of now-Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (will wonders never cease?) but perhaps we should heed the words to 'Rock and A Hard Place' as we go forward after this election:

'You'd better stop; put on a kind face....We're in the same boat on the same sea and we're sailing south on the same breeze...and our children are playing with loaded dice'

Indeed. Just the 'loaded dice' of the burgeoning national debt at $20 trillion and rising with the attendant potential explosion in interest costs if interest rates just return to 'normal' rates of 5-6% is enough to keep you awake at night.

Hopefully, our next President will lead us in an effort to finally do something about it.

lyrics to 'Rock and a Hard Place'

The fields of Eden

Are full of trash

And if we beg and we borrow and steal
We'll never get it back
People are hungry
They crowd around
And the city gets bigger as the country comes begging to town

Stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place

This talk of freedom
And human rights
Man's bullying and private wars and chucking all the dust into our eyes
And peasant people
Poorer than dirt
Who are caught in the crossfire with nothing to lose but their shirts

Stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place
You'd better stop put on a kind face
Between a rock and a hard place

We're in the same boat
On the same sea
And we're sailing south
On the same breeze
Guiding dream churches
With silver spires
And our rogue children
Are playing loaded dice

Between a rock and a hard place
You'd better stop

Give me truth now
Don't want no sham
I'd be hung drawn and quartered for a sheep just as well as a lamb

Stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place
You'd better stop put on a kind face
Can't you see what you've done to me

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

#Hillary and #Trump May Have Done The Democratic Republic A YUGE Favor

'And so will be the 2016 Presidential Campaign!'
When this presidential election finally and mercifully ends on November 8, hopefully*, America will be ready to remember Gerald Ford's statement after he was inaugurated to succeed Richard Nixon in August, 1974:

'Our long national nightmare is over'

Isn't there anything we can do to adopt some semblance of the British electoral system where elections are called and usually take place 60 days or so thereafter? 1 year is too long. 2 years is insane. If we are looking at 4 years of campaigning by anyone on the losing side this year, we should just all agree to ignore them until October, 2020 and be done with it all.

After the latest revelation of another inappropriate comment by Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton's drip, drip, drip of damaging Wikileaks emails and memos, it occurred to us that between his comments and Hillary Clinton's almost pathological inability to tell the truth about anything, both may have done something that will actually help the American Republic down the road.

As hard as that is to believed right now.

Think about it. On Election Night, one or the other is likely to get to 270 electoral votes, barring some unforeseen circumstances. Will there be euphoria and fireworks on the winning side? Will hundreds of thousands of people swarm to see the President-Elect give a rousing, positive inclusive speech on the grounds of some historic building where something important happened in the past?

Both candidates combined have the highest aggregate unfavorability ratings of any 2 candidates in American history running at the same time. Out of a total of 200 points, 100 points of unfavorability being the worst for each of them, these two presidential candidates have a grand total of about 140 negative points, around 70% apiece.

They have both earned them fair and square for reasons and incidents that are too numerous for us to share here.

It is highly unlikely that the next President will enter the White House with any sort of positive 'electoral mandate' or have a post-election honeymoon with the Congress and Senate. On what sort of basis would either have an 'electoral mandate' to do anything? Both would claim 'Hey! I am not as bad as that other person!' but that is hardly any sort of galvanizing force to rally the country around.

Neither will enter the White House with anything close to being considered as having the 'moral high ground' on much of anything. How could they possibly look the American public in the eye and say in essence: 'Trust me to do and say the right thing. All the time. No matter what'

The respect either will have with the American public might rival the respect many Americans have for a dishonest used car salesman who somehow stays in business despite cheating and lying to the same customers year after year after year.

That is not good.

However, the silver lining in all of this might be as follows.

We have long been proponents of diffused governmental power. The more checks and balances the better; the less power any one individual has at their disposal the better as well. We are very Jeffersonian in that regard; legend has it that he did not like the concentration of power in a few hands in Congress even if they were members of his own political party and persuasion!

He wrote a lot about the tyranny of power concentrated in a few. Except when he became President for 8 years and found out that having a lot of executive power at his disposal was something he rather enjoyed.

Which brings us to our point:

Perhaps Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have done us a massive favor. Perhaps this presidential campaign has so damaged the reputation and respect of the Office of President and reduced the aura of that office to the degree that we can return to the ideal that was central to the Founders of our Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787 which was this:

'We Don't Want No King!'

The Founders had absolutely zero interest in setting up a President who could do whatever he pleased, much as the king they despised, King George of Great Britain, had done to set them off on the dangerous and treacherous course of independence from the Crown.

They fully intended to have a government 'of the people, by the people and for the people' as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it 76 years later at Gettysburg and that did not include having total indiscriminate powers on anything really.

Every single thing the President was tasked to do in the Constitution is subservient to the US Congress and Senate. The office of the Presidency was the second article, not the first, which dealt with the legislative branch comprised of elected delegates 'of the people'.

The President was tasked to be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. However, no funds could be spent on prosecuting any war without the concurrence of Congress.

The President could nominate people to the Supreme Court (who don't need to be lawyers or judges by the way). However, he could only do so with the 'advice and consent' of the majority of the US Senate on top of their recommendations in many cases of lesser judges in the judicial branch.

If there was anything that the President was seen as doing outside of the specific powers allocated to him in Article 2 of the Constitution, Congress always retained the 'power of the purse' and could either agree to fund something the President advocated or could withhold funding in total.

Of course, Congress retained the ability to impeach a President in the Constitution, not the other way around. A US President could never try to disband Congress as you may see in other lesser republics around the globe; the reaction to such an effort would be immense and hopefully, it would be unanimous and seen across-the-board as antithetical to the American spirit and system of self-governance.

We think that regardless of who is elected this year, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, both are such damaged goods in terms of being viewed by a vast majority of Americans as a 'moral leader' that we might see a golden opportunity for the US Congress and US Senate to reassert both legislative bodies as the 'board of directors' as elected representatives 'for the people' for whom the President works, not the other way around.

Henry Clay and other great leaders in Congress spoke often of 'legislative supremacy' which in its purest form embodies exactly what the Founders had in mind when they decided to give representative democracy a good go in 1787. Many did not think it would last long. Even James Madison, The Father of the Constitution, soon regretted many of the features of the ratified Constitution and thought the young republic would soon fail under the weight of its many pressures.

Ever since FDR, we Americans have somehow become inured to the idea that maybe a great President can all of a sudden become 'Superman!' and save us from all our troubles.

A good friend of ours, Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC (yes, such a place does exist...check it out) cautions us all to adopt an 'Augustinian sensibility' when it comes to politics and the ultimate impact it can be expected to have on our lives. Augustine said we are here between the temporary and eternal worlds so we should moderate our expectations for a mere mortal man to lift us up and our depressions when our side doesn't win an election.

Maybe the accumulated foibles of both major political candidates for President this year will finally pop the bubble that 1 person can and will 'solve ALL of our problems and set us free!'

They won't. No matter how great any candidate could possibly be.

No, we think there is a silver lining after all to this truly desultory political campaign. Regardless of who wins, 40% of the country is going to completely ignore his or her legitimacy as our President. A large percentage of people beyond that are not going to respect either one who is elected because neither has seized the high moral ground of leadership and authority by their conduct or by their prosecution of this campaign.

It is a campaign of anger on all sides. And that anger will take a lot of time to subside and heal which usually takes place when great leaders emerge to lead us.

In the meantime, however, knocking down the concentrated power of our Chief Executive to its proper place as envisioned by the writers of the Constitution might not be altogether a 'bad' thing after decades of more and more power accruing to the Executive Branch of our federal government.

#Hillary and #DonaldTrump may have both contributed more to that diminution of power than even they recognize at this point.

If it happens, and more power devolves back to the legislative branch in the US Congress and Senate in the coming years, we might even be able to thank them one day.

As soon as we forget how disgusting this campaign has been.

*(unless something else happens, that is,between now and then to allow Gary Johnson to win New Mexico's 5 electoral votes or something crazy happens in Utah to allow Evan McMullin to win those 6 electoral votes and deny Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump a majority in the electoral college and send it into the House of Representatives for the election of our next president)

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Think Everything Has Been Solved Under President Obama?

Think again.

Most recent forecasts and projections by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) show that federal spending jumped in 2016 just as tax payments from small business and individuals dropped due to the weak economy.

The scary thing about these projections is that they still project a relatively 'calm' rate of interest on the national debt for the next 10 years, increasing from near zero today to 3%-4% by 2026. If interest rates spike at any time during that period, these projected deficits will increase even faster.

There is not much more we can add to this CBO report (which we urge you to download and read as you hunker down watching Hurricane Matthew this weekend; the summary is only 9 pages) that we haven't already written about before.

For the past 8 years, we have been pointing out the critical importance of having our President and elected US Senators and Representatives come together on some sort of 'Grand Bargain' whereby the major entitlement programs would be thoroughly examined, evaluated and then reformed, especially in the health care programs, Medicare, Medicaid and the military and VA health programs; worthless and wasteful programs in domestic discretionary and defense budgets would be eliminated and, if absolutely necessary to gain a majority to get it passed in Congress, some small tax hikes somewhere to garner the necessary votes for passage and ultimate signature signing ceremony in the Rose Garden by President Obama.

We have put it this way to reluctant conservatives opposed to any tax hikes ever under any circumstance:

'If you could get $10 trillion in spending reductions from the baseline over the next 10 years GUARANTEED and in place BEFORE any taxes take effect, would you agree to a $1/head tax hike on everyone to complete the Grand Bargain'?

Had such a bargain been completed in 2009 instead of President Obama and the Democrats, who had 100% control of the US Senate and Congress at the time, steamrolling the Republican minority in Congress to pass Obamacare which is now coming apart at the seams like a cheap suit (Even Bill Clinton calls it 'The Craziest Thing Ever!'), our national debt would be closer to $12 trillion or maybe just $13 trillion today instead of $20 trillion heading to $21 trillion.

The greatest threat to our future going forward is not higher taxes, although they would tend to mitigate accelerated economic growth. We have proven that somehow we can absorb, or avoid, the higher taxes and regulations of Obamacare over the past 8 years and not completely fall apart as an economy.

The greatest threat to our future going forward is not getting firm control on our exploding federal debt. Anyone who has been in Congress or the US Senate or The White House for the past 8 years and not voted for a legislative package that would have limited spending first and possibly agreed to some small tax increase in return to curb these deficits has, in essence and in results, 'VOTED' FOR HIGHER NATIONAL DEBT!

There is no other way around it. Anyone who was not part of a solution has been part of the problem no matter how loud they cry that they 'Did NOT Vote for Higher Taxes!' or 'Did NOT cut this-or-that program!'

By their own decision to default to inaction, they have willfully and thereby almost intentionally 'voted' to increase the national debt on everyone, especially our sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters and their progeny for possibly the next century to come.

Great Britain just made the last payment to the United States recently for debt they incurred during World War ONE which ended close to 100 years ago.So it has happened before.

Everyone who has been elected to go to Washington over the past 8 years had the power to not add $10 trillion to the national debt but they failed in their responsibility and duty as our elected representatives, Senators and President.

No manner of excuses or finger-pointing or name-blaming can exonerate each of them from such a judgment of history. They were there; they didn't do anything about it; others who follow will have to clean it up and clean it up fast or else we will all suffer the consequences for their inaction, carelessness and in many ways, sheer stupidity.

'Here's a great book you might
want to read....'
One thing we can all agree on is that there is some definite finite point where any economy on the face of this earth can incur 'too much debt'.

As Alan Greenspan used to say when testifying about the federal budget and national debt before the House Budget Committee or the Joint Economic Committee (where he and 1 Federal Reserve aide were often the only 2 people at the hearing other than the Chairman and his staff and the congressman I worked for and myself so it was very easy to hear and understand what he was saying):
'I don't know where the line is that crosses us over from 'manageable' amounts of national debt to 'unsustainable' levels of federal debt. But what I can tell you is that if we do recognize it and start to try to do something about it only then, it will be too late at that point in time'.
Why take that chance?

You are going to get your chance to vote for people to go to Washington to fix this crucial public policy problem in about 1 month.

Choose wisely.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How About A 'Stand For The Flag' Constitutional Amendment?

Unless you have been around for awhile, a pretty good long while, you would think the Colin-Kaepernick-kneeling-during-the-National-Anthem controversy was the first of its kind in American history.

It is not.

We remember quite well the controversy nationwide over the so-called 'Flag Burning Amendment' since it was introduced and debated during the time we were serving in the US Congress in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in a split 5-4 decision that burning the US flag in a protest was protected by the First Amendment.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said this at the time:
“The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result...And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.
Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt”
This is a tough issue for many Americans to parse through and grasp.

On the one hand, the flag is a symbol for freedom that millions of Americans have sacrificed their life and limb for over the past 2 centuries so we can enjoy those freedoms today.

For many Americans, especially those who have ever served in the military or have had family members serve and/or die or be wounded while in combat serving our country, kneeling during the national anthem is perceived as being a profound act of disrespect for their sacrifice and honor of duty regardless of what the protester might be saying they are protesting against at the time.

On the other hand, many people hold a 'list of grievances' against things in American life they consider to be 'unfair' or 'unjust' and feel that protesting against the flag is one way they can express their displeasure with the way things are today.

Colin Kaepernick said he felt moved to kneel during the national anthem to show his support for protesters who were protesting shootings of African-Americans by white police officers around the nation. However, when pressed, he did say that he held soldiers and the military in high esteem and this protest was in no way directed towards them.

That is the problem with many protests. You don't really get the chance to parse out the reasons and the targets of a simple act such as kneeling down or burning the flag and then saying later: 'Well, I only meant it to mean what I meant it to mean'

We don't disagree with anyone's right to protest almost anything in the United States of America. If we had not had our inherent right to freedom as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, which was really an extended 'list of grievances' against the King of England, we wouldn't have fought the War of Independence to gain those freedoms and would have been content to just obey anything the King wanted to throw at us and we'd be sipping tea every afternoon at 3 pm instead of guzzling coffee at Starbucks all the time.

But there are 2 other things that such 'freedom of speech' has guaranteed every American citizen that many seem to have forgotten for some reason:

  1. The right to not listen.
  2. The right to disagree.
If the sight of watching a professional athlete kneeling during the national anthem is offensive to you, you have every right to do two things:

1) Turn off the TV and go for a hike or play a round of golf; or
2) Stop buying expensive tickets to go to a professional football game and throw the ball around the backyard with your kids or grandkids.

Or you can watch the opening ceremonies and either acknowledge that the athlete is expressing some legitimate concerns about American life or just ignore it and get ready for the big game.

Everyone has a lot of freedom when it comes to speech in America, don't they? 100% of the right to speak freely doesn't lie solely with the protester.

We guess there could be a law passed to prevent people from kneeling during the national anthem. Or a constitutional amendment offered to do the same.

But maybe the best course of action to take might be to have people from all sides of any controversial issue meet to discuss the issues with all the facts on the table and try to come up with complicated solutions to very complex matters such as the unrest in many inner cities when it comes to interactions with police.

We might be sounding like a broken record by now but we don't think there is any substitute for rational, enlightened civil discourse and compromise when it comes to living in a diverse democratic republic such as the United States of America.

Maybe that is too much to be asking for in this day of hyper-ventilating TV and radio talk show hosts and super-partisan newspapers and news media outlets. Political parties on both sides and news media outlets are making way too much money over fanning the flames of political discord to be really all that interested in peace and love and harmony.


We have long thought that one of the best things that could happen to any super-partisan news media or talk show personality would be for them to run for any political office and THEN return to their line of work after such an experience.

As one of our sons told us after he came off the field after missing what we thought was an easy shot while playing in a 3rd-grade lacrosse game in snow flurries in late fall in a Northern Virginia off-season game:

'It is not as easy as it looks, Dad!'

So it is with running for public office. It will take real leaders with real leadership abilities and talent who have respect from supporters and opponents alike to lead us out of these contentious situations where partisans on both sides have every reason to not want to seek a solution and make gains at the polls this fall.

Perhaps the 'best protest' you could make as a private citizen would be to throw your hat into the ring and run for political office and show us how mature, sober and serious adult leaders can lead us to concrete solutions in the political arena instead of watching others just protest and inflame things.

You might just win, you know. And a grateful nation would applaud wildly.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Want a REAL Topic For The Next Presidential Debate?

'At least we are talking about the critical issue of
Quemoy and Matsu instead of tax returns and
birth certificates!'
How about changing our tax system for the better?

Wouldn't that be a topic you would like to see some moderator have the decency to bring up and ask questions about at the next debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

We don't know about you but we are about fed up with the news media that thinks this is some sort of inconsequential reality show or, worse, Jerry Springer or Maury Povich Show whenever they get the chance to host a presidential debate. It is like the moderators huddle in a kindergarten classroom to come up with the most trivial matters that will titillate the other students later in the day.

We want to know a few things about our next President, namely what are they going to do once elected to round up enough votes in the US House and Senate to get things passed on issues that we care about such as:

  • Taxes. Are you going to make us pay more or less of them?
  • Spending. Are you going to spend more or less in Washington?
  • National Defense. Are you going to wipe out ISIS and protect us or not?
  • Health Care. Are you going to repeal Obamacare & make health care more affordable or not?
  • Supreme Court. Are you going to appoint judges who want to be de facto legislators or not?
Coming up with trivial matters just to boost ratings and titillate ardent supporters on either side is really beneath contempt when it comes to moderators of these debates.

People are always bemoaning the loss of true statesmen in the political world.

How about the almost total extinction of 'true journalists' in the news media who would conduct themselves in a fair and balanced manner as in debates of the past?

In 1960, Howard K. Smith of CBS News moderated the JFK/Nixon debate along with panelists Sander Vanocur, NBC News, Charles Warren, Mutual News, Stuart Novins of CBS News and Bob Fleming of ABC News. 

Most people never even knew who the moderators were in those debates. They were like the referees of a football game; no one knows who the referee is unless they really, really, really screw up big-time, right?

Whoever the next moderator is, and we hope we don't know who it is so they won't try to steal the spotlight again from the two candidates, here's a topic we would like to see discussed in total fully:

'Will you lead an effort over the next 4 years to finally fix our sclerotic, confusing and inefficient income tax system?'

We don't think this is a question for 2 minute answers and 1 minute rebuttals. Surely both candidates would try to wiggle off the hook and start to veer into attacks on the other candidate about what they did or didn't do or said or didn't say 30 years ago.

Who cares when we have a sluggish economy, close to 20 million people who are either unemployed or underemployed and a $20 trillion national debt staring us in the face?

We think there should be at least 30 minutes dedicated to this question of true tax reform with an electric shock buzzer attached to both candidates so that if they veer off into not answering the tax reform question, they get shocked back into reality until they actually do answer this question of utmost importance.

Here's some context to get started:

Our income tax system on both the individual and corporate side is so riddled with exemptions, loopholes and exceptions that if it were a house, it would collapse on itself. There is really no overall encompassing principle that binds it all together and makes it seem 'fair' to everyone while bringing in the necessary revenues we need to fund the government.

We can argue about what is 'essentially needed' in our federal budget in the next debate. Which would take maybe 10 hours to complete.

Close to 1/2 of our federal collection is paid for by taxes on individual incomes. Over 1/2 of all taxpayers do not pay any income tax to the support the federal government. The top 1%  of all taxpayers, the highest income earners, pay close to 1/2 of all individual income taxes as it is today.

Lots of 'halfs' going on in our income tax collection nowadays, isn't it?

The corporate income tax accounts for 11% of all tax collection today. During the recession, that fell to 5%. No net income earned, no taxes paid.

Can't pay taxes when you lose money, you know. So you should be cheering for big corporations and businesses to make a profit so they can pay taxes to support your favorite federal program. Just like JFK did when he said the US government and companies were 'business partners' back in 1961.

The 50% of the taxpayers who do not pay any income taxes DO pay payroll taxes on earned income.

Just like everyone else does regardless of income earned and declared all the way up to people earning hundreds of millions of dollars in earned income such as NBA players with guaranteed contracts.*

Know what the payroll tax really is?

It is a 'flat tax' on the incomes of every working American regardless of income, race, age or gender. Everyone pays a 12.4% tax on wages up to the annual threshold for Social Security, which was $118,500 in 2015 with half (6.2%) paid by workers and the other half paid by employers.

Everyone pays a 'flat tax' on their earnings as well that goes into Medicare Part A, or the Hospital/Medical part of Medicare. You pay a 1.45% Medicare tax on your earnings to be matched by your employer at 1.45%. There is no threshold on the Medicare Part A payroll tax so the more money you make in earned income (not capital gains, etc), the more you pay in Part A Medicare taxes.

In addition, there is an additional Medicare 'flat tax' of 0.9% passed under the ACA or 'Obamacare' that you must pay if your income exceeds a certain amount, $250,000 for a married couple filing jointly. This must be matched by your employer as well.

Of course, if you are self-employed as many people are, you are just going to have to pay both sides of the tax, your side and the employer side (although you do get to deduct the employer side, so good for you)

The point of all this is to ask the simple question to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the next time they meet on stage:
'Wouldn't it just make sense to abolish the corporate income tax and the 'death tax' (which brings in so little income relative to the effort to collect it, approximately $20 billion in 2014 or less than 1% of all federal tax collections, that it is inconsequential almost as a line-item in the budget) and slowly expand the 'flat tax' concept of payroll taxes to replace them?
At least there would be no tax cheating on payroll taxes. Everyone pays them because they are flat taxes and there are hardly any tax exemptions or exceptions to payroll taxes when compared to the litany of gigantic tax tunnels in the corporate or individual income tax side of things.

Getting rid of the corporate tax exemptions and exposing that income to a flat tax almost is guaranteed to bring in more revenue just as a common rule. We have close to $1.4 trillion in existing tax expenditures as it is today, a lot of it from the corporate side of things.

We think the next step would be to replace the entire income AND payroll tax system with a consumption tax.

But we will save that for the 2020 Presidential election.

Which will start November 9, 2016 about 10 seconds after we know if we are going to have a 'President Hillary Clinton' or a 'President Donald Trump' for the next 4 years.

Won't that be fun?

*by the way, if you just take the total team salaries of the 30 NBA teams, $3 billion or so, and apply the payroll tax to just 500 NBA professional basketball players, that accounts for close to $100 million in just Medicare taxes alone they pay each year or about $160,000 in payroll taxes alone per player - (assist from former NBA Baltimore Bullet All-Star and Duke University All-American Jack Marin for that bit of information)

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

'The Curse of Bigness'

We have been reading a pretty interesting book lately, 'Louis Brandeis: American Prophet' and been struck by many things he wrote in his opinions while on the High Court in Washington, DC but perhaps none more than this:

'Many of his most devoted disciples apparently didn't read all of his decisions or understand the totality of his philosophy towards government' 

It is not all that unusual. John Calvin, in many respects, would not understand what many of his Calvinist followers came to proclaim later in his name nor would Martin Luther agree with many doctrines of the Lutheran Church as the centuries rolled along.

Disciples of almost any belief have an interesting human way of distorting and contorting the words of a leader over time into ways and rituals they like and seek to control for future followers to follow.

Supreme Court Justices Sotomayor and Ginsberg wrote glowing accolades of Justice Brandeis for the cover of this book and called him their 'guiding light' for their judicial philosophy and decision-making processes.

There is no doubt that Brandeis would have considered himself a 'progressive' for his time in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Some of his ideas, such as raising the rates of taxation so high on big corporations in order to force them to stay small entities (somehow) might sound like Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail in 2016.

However, the recurring theme of 'American Prophet' is this:
Justice Brandeis' disdain for and distrust of anything 'big' where a concentration of enforced power could be concentrated in a few people's hands and hurt other people with their capricious behavior.
He talks about it over and over and over again. He overturned several programs of FDR's New Deal because he felt they overstepped the constitutional boundaries of executive power in the US Constitution and violated the aversion to concentrated power, especially in government, first put forth by his hero and guiding light, Thomas Jefferson.

He opposed oligopolies in business where wealthy businessmen could manipulate markets to their own benefit first.

He regularly deferred to the states as 'laboratories of democracy' (a phrase with which Brandeis became well-known for) where state and local government leaders closer to the situation had the freedom to experiment with different alternatives to see what worked best without interference from other judges or bureaucrats outside of the state or locality, especially from far-away Washington, DC with all of their inherent federal powers to regulate, tax and direct.

If you have been concerned or disturbed by executive power over-reach of the Obama Administration over the past 8 years and expansion of federal regulatory power, are you comfortable with Hillary Clinton following the same policies and line of attack when it comes to being President?

If you are not concerned or disturbed by executive power over-reach of the Obama Administration over the past 8 years and expansion of federal regulatory power, are you comfortable with Donald Trump following the same policies and line of attack when it comes to being President?

Either way, Justice Brandeis would have probably stepped in to rein in the executive powers of any 3 of these people as President and admonished the US Congress to exercise its constitutional authority and prerogative by withholding funds for any such expansion of executive power as a critical check on any individual gaining too much power in our constitutional form of democratic republican self-governance.

Here's the question to ponder, especially as we head to vote in the next several weeks for President down to school board:

'What is it about our federal government in Washington, DC that many people seem to think will become more altruistic and noble the larger it gets if those same people think BIG BUSINESS, or big churches or big anything are 'bad' in many ways?'

The way Justice Brandeis puts it in many of his opinions, leaders in virtually every institution, government entity, business or private or non-profit charitable organization are subject to the same human emotions and negative traits such as envy, anger, revenge, ego, power, money, accumulation of wealth and status that can be used to hurt other people in seemingly capricious ways, either unintended or, sadly in most cases, well-intended, thought-out and premeditated.

There is no rational reason to believe that people who run for office and want to be our local, state and federal leaders are more 'saintly' than any other human being, although we hope and wish and pray for our elected leaders to be so.

The larger our federal government becomes, the more tools and powers it accumulates with which to use against people who might be in disagreement with the prevailing political party in the White House or in control of Congress.

So why give anyone the keys to an ever-expanding bureaucracy with which THEY get to control more of your life through the law of this country than absolutely necessary if there is any chance of any or all of them turning to the dark side once elected?

It seems as if the limited government concepts put forth so forcefully by Thomas Jefferson at the beginning of the Republic should be some sort of rallying point for people of all political persuasions to start with and continue some reasoned discussions on what to do about many of our nation's problems.

It really doesn't even matter what your political philosophy is. All of us should be vigilant against electing people who can wind up being just as 'bad' as many people think the barons of Wall Street were in the years that led up to Great Crash of 2008 and wiped out trillions of dollars in savings, investments and equity of millions of American families only to see their federal government bail these same barons out with their tax money and federal backstop through the Federal Reserve.

Here are just a few of Justice Brandeis' pithy observations:

  • 'Curb of bigness is indispensable to true Democracy and Liberty. It is the very foundation also of wisdom in things human....(unless Progressives at the time could see this truth), 'we are apt to get Fascist manifestations...If the Lord had intended things to be big, he would have made man bigger--in brains and character'.
  • 'Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary.

    They valued liberty both as an ends and a means.

    They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.

    They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of American government.'
  • 'I don't want money or property most. I want to be free'.
Thomas Jefferson was always in the back of Justice Brandeis' mind as he wrote his many opinions. His words still ring true today:
'We have nothing to fear from the demoralizing reasonings of some, if others are left free to demonstrate their errors and especially when the law stands ready to punish the first criminal act produced by the false reasonings; these are safer corrections than the conscience of the judge' 1)
'If there be any among us who wish to dissolve this union or change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it' 2)
'American Prophet' is a book that might well be worth your time this campaign season. Before you vote, of course.

1) Jefferson 1801 letter to Elijah Boardman
2) Jefferson First Inaugural Address

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