Everyone who can get on TV has something bad to say about the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates It’s hard to recall a race where the emphasis was so much on the disqualifications of the contenders, as opposed to their qualifications.
Perry isn’t smart enough, Paul isn’t realistic enough, Romney isn’t Republican enough, Bachmann isn’t factually grounded enough, Gingrich is too self-indulgent, Santorum is too pious, Huntsman is too Romney, Cain is too horny.
But maybe not enough concern is being expressed about a characteristic having nothing to do with sanity or purity or competence. Too many of them are just too darn old. One is over 75. Three others are 64 or over Several of the youngest although, for other reasons, least electable are well into their 50s.
The elephant in the elephants' room this year is age. The Presidency, like the locale of the eponymous movie, is no country for old men. It isn’t now, and in truth it never was. This nation has elected a President age 65 or over just three times in 220 years (out of a possible 46). Only 10 have been over 60.
Voters sometimes came to regret the deference they'd showed toward the aged. John Adams (61 at his inauguration) had become so sot in his ways that he found Washington, DC, completely insufferable. He governed his last few years from Boston, where he wouldn’t have to come in contact with Congress and other Capitol city low-lifes. He wouldn’t even come back for his successor’s (Jefferson) inauguration.
Andrew Jackson (nearly 62) was only marginally old, but a lifetime of pugnacity had convinced him there was nobody in Washington he couldn’t personally whup. He spent eight years pretty much trying to discipline anyone who disagreed with him as a disobedient whelp.
His mind is a jumble, an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. He plays air guitar with ideas, producing air ideas. He ejaculates concepts, notions and theories that are as inconsistent as his behavior.
Maureen Dowd (on Gingrich)
Nobody knows what kind of President William Henry Harrison (68) might have been. He caught cold during his inauguration address, delivered without benefit of topcoat or hat on a bitterly cold day, and died in a month.
Ronald Reagan (almost 70) was pretty much beloved no matter what he did, but he was 78 when he left office and was considered troublingly senile in the later years of his second term. Everybody thought he was stonewalling Congress in his post-Presidential testimony during the Iran Contra hearings, but it turned out Dutch was telling the truth. Just about anything they asked him about, he really couldn’t recall.
George H.W. Bush (64) didn’t seem that old at first, probably because he followed Reagan, but the people only gave him one term, primarily because of a bad economy and a broken tax pledge, but also because of a growing feeling that he was just too out of touch with the modern world. He was replaced with a far younger man, Bill Clinton, 46).
Just in the last race, John McCain (then 72) turned out to be not much of a match for Barack Obama (47). He had some help but age was surely a factor.
If Newt Gingrich were to get elected to two terms, he’d be 80 when he left office. Herman Cain would be 74. Ron Paul, gasp, 83. Even the fit-looking Mitt Romney would walk down the White House steps for his last time at a relatively sedate 72, possibly with the aid of a cane.
Everybody talks about how the Presidency ages a (wo)man. And magazines love to cluck over time-lapse photos showing our leaders with their fresh outcroppings of gray hair as their time in office ticks by.
As a matter of actual fact, the validity of that concern is enthusiastically disputed by a number of authoritative personages (albeit most of them old). But true or not, a lot of voters are inclined, whatever their politics, not to give their vote to someone who’s already old starting out. How have we lost sight of that this time around?
Dobie Gray died Dec. 6, 2011. Singer, songwriter whose career spanned soul, country, pop and musical theater. The “In” Crowd (#13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1965); Drift Away (#5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1973). Born July 26, 1940. "Other guys imitate us, but the original is still the greatest."
12/5/11 -- Joy to the World? Or is it Bah Humbug for you?
Let your true feelings be known this Christmas. Record your holiday mood swings on this year's Christmas Spirit Index. Cast your vote at the 2011 Skelly Family Christmas Website. It's now posted. Click here!.
Dept. of You Don't Know 'Jack'
Did the previous posting in this department feel like a college course you shouldn't have signed up for? Yes? No? No matter. Here's graduate school.
Fortune: "Three ways to Guage a Scary Market"
Nov. 21, 2011
For insight on stocks it pays to keep an eye on a few key credit spreads (which right now signal trouble ahead).
The TED Spread (the difference between interbank loan interest rates and short-term U.S. Treasury bills) has more than doubled since Jan. 1 to around 40 basis points ("... a far cry from from the 400+ basis points reached during the financial crisis, but still... troubling": Gina Martin Adams, equity strategist, Wells Fargo)
The difference between yields on 10-year U.S. Government bonds and high-yield junk bonds reflects the premium investors demand for taking on the extra risk of default It hit 7.6% in October, well above the historical average of around 6% (anticipating a rise in defaults)
Credit default swaps spreads for sovereign debt (contracts that insure a buyer of debt against the possibility of default) monitor the sruggules of European economies. France's five-year CDS spread stood at 1.9% in October, almost double the cost in January.
(Editor's note: If you need a chart to tell you that sovereign European debt is dicey just now, you should probably be avoiding the market altogether for the near term.)
11/18/11 -- ROCK 'n ROLL’s (rather long) Magic Moment
No one really knows who put the Ram in the Rama Lama Ding Dong, but it was Leiber and Stoller who made strings a defining element of Rock & Roll music. They did it in 1959.
The song was There Goes My Baby, released by The Drifters on Atlantic Records. The instrument was violins, and the sound was one The Drifters and everyone else would turn to again and again for years to come.
The Drifters followed There Goes My Baby in swift order with Dance with Me, Save the Last Dance for Me, I Count the Tears and This Magic Moment, all produced in 1959 and 1960. How’s that for a run?
There Goes My Baby was written by Ben E. King, Lover Patterson, and George Treadwell, and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, whose musical accomplishments would eventually be immortalized on Broadway in Smoky Joe’s Café. And who counted among their junior employees at one time or another Carole King and Neil Diamond.
All household names now. Back then, their futures were all still unwritten, laying in wait for them.
The Drifters were more than just a singing group, they were a business. The best analogy might be to a modern-day corporation that follows a business model which stresses underpaying current employees and dealing successfully with high turnover.
There Goes My Baby was the first single by the second incarnation of The Drifters, a bunch of replacements previously known as the 5 Crowns who assumed the "Drifters" name in 1958 after the lead singer left and manager George Treadwell fired the rest of the original lineup.
The group was aptly named. Anybody who got anywhere with The Drifters eventually moved on because Treadwell, who controlled all the money, didn’t want to pay anybody. They were like the early Oakland A's of pop music, and Treadwell was Charles O. Finley. No matter who they put in the lineup, for years on years they just kept on winning.
Leiber and Stoller had worked with the original group as well, headed by lead singer Clyde McPhatter who had left to pursue a solo career and more money.
They went for a different song structure with this new group, incorporating both violins (which had already been used by at least one other group but not to the same effect) and Brazilian samba rhythms. The combination of new style, new sound and new singers fit together just fine. There Goes My Baby reached number two on the Hot 100 and number one on the Billboard R&B chart and on the Cash Box sales chart for two weeks, in the summer of 1959. The Atlantic Records release marked, as well, Ben E. King's debut as lead singer of The Drifters.
Ben E. King left the group, too, in 1960 despite the torrent of hits. Guess why? To pursue a solo career and more money. He scored pretty much right out of the gate with Rose in Spanish Harlem, and followed that hit up with Don’t Play that Song (You Lied) and the pop classic, Stand by Me. The soundtrack of the eponimous movie starring River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland among others would reprise King's musical fame two decades later.
The sound of strings eventually went on to fuel both Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and the Motown Sound. Other folks, like Electric Light Orchestra, were kind of fond of them, too, over the years.
The Drifters' all-time biggest-selling hit
And the Drifters? They continued evolving and revolving, featuring changing personnel and a succession of lead singers including Rudy Lewis, Charlie Thomas and Johnny Moore, putting out hits like Please Stay, Some Kind of Wonderful, Under the Boardwalk, Up on the Roof and On Broadway.
Today folks don't always know which iteration of the group they're talking about, but very few who ever heard them sing didn't love The Drifters. All of them.
Thirsty for more? Click Here for a reasonably complete discography of The Drifters' oeuvres as well as links to documentary materials and a YouTube Drifters playlist.
Dept. of You Don't Know 'Jack'
Why you will never make money in the market
The Charlotte Observer: "Money and Markets"
Nov. 13, 2011
S&P 500 companies are on track to report $23.78 per share in 3rd-quarter earnings, topping last quarter's record $22.24. The last time profits were that high was 2Q07, when they peaked at $22.18, before the recession. The U.S. economy grew more strongly than expected last quarter, says Citi economist Steven Wieting.
Analysts expect profits to keep rising. They forecast S&P 500 profit growth of 15% in the 4th quarter. "This remains the strongest corporate earnings recovery on record," says Linda Duessel, stock strategist at Federated Invesors.
American Research Group Survey
released Oct. 21, 2011
A total of 58% of Americans say the national economy is getting worse and 17% say it is getting better.
S&P total per-share earnings and prices: Q1 2007-Q3 2011
11/9/11 -- Math Problem
MS Initiative 26 was supposed to be a nail-biter. The "personhood" amendment would have established that human life begins in Mississippi at fertilization. It failed, handily, by a 58%-42% margin.
The steady drumbeat from the press was that it was a hugely important vote with huge repercussions, and it could go either way. Polls showed before the election that 45% of voters were for it, 44% against and 10% undecided.
Today they’re reporting the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The amendment went too far. People weren’t willing to cede control of a personal issue to the government. Even the churches were divided, with some clergy fearing it might backfire if it got to the Supreme Court.
It was misguided. It was too vague. It was too complex. The governor, who voted for it, said it was done all wrong and probably should have gone through the legislature.
So what happened to “nail-biter”? How did they get it so wrong? Well, it was a really good story, it stirred people up on both sides, it fed our darkest fears about each other. And it hung around, so you could fill up pages and pages by going back to it again and again. And it wasn’t very expensive to cover.
History shows that popular technology is often supplanted by entirely new models.
Eric Schmidt Executive Chairman, Google Inc.
Besides, not everybody did get it wrong. The Baptist Press News Wire Service called it the day before the vote. They thought its prospects were bleak, based on the numbers, citing a survey done the week before by Public Policy Polling. Their story just wasn’t nearly as exciting, so it kind of got overlooked.
Men (48-42 percent), Republicans (65-28) and whites (54-37) support it, while women (42-46), African Americans (26-59) and Democrats (23-61) oppose it. The 11 percent who are undecided could determine the measure's fate. Of undecideds, 58 percent are women, 54 percent Democrat and 42 percent black.
"Those still on the fence disproportionately belong to voter groups that oppose the amendment," Public Policy Polling said.
Putting aside a momentary question of why opposing abortion seems more important to men than women, the lesson would seem to be this. If there’s one segment of society worse than politicians when it comes to an absence of collective memory and the correlative embarrassment that should accompany it, it’s the press.
Journalism is the opposite of history. There is no yesterday to the media, so what they said then is never an issue. They entertained you as best they could. Now all they ask is, just look at this new headline. And maybe if some of you, in this age of the internet, could just pay up for it?
For the next lesson, maybe we’ll address why absolutely anyone would think something of such fundamental importance as when human life begins, involving as it does myriad, complex and thorny theological, scientific and medical considerations, might be resolved by turning it into a popularity contest.
Banks want to charge you for using your ATM card as a debit card. Bank of America just announced a $5.00 monthly fee will go in effect after the New Year. Season's Greetings.
Does anyone recall that it was the banks who encouraged us to pay for purchases with a debit card in the first place? Checks, (which is how you used to pay for your groceries, remember?) are expensive, labor-intensive and time-consuming.
Plus, most people don't think about it this way, but a bank's debit card business (the retail bank) is actually competing with the credit card division for payment mechanism fees. They are battling for the right to handle your payments.
Think of it as friendly competition. It's like the bank CEO has two big dogs and likes to watch them fight, with other dogs and with each other too. Ask Michael Vick.
The ATM card stacks up pretty well as a payment mechanism. Debit transactions cost about 17 cents apiece. They're so cost-effective that they have a smaller profit margin than a credit card does. Credit card transactions go through many hands in settling. A debit card settles between the merchant and the bank directly. And there's less credit risk.
They still turn a profit though. Before the Dodd-Frank bill, banks charged merchants about 44 cents to handle each debit transaction. (You paid nothing. You smell a rat already, don't you?) Now the debit card merchant fee is capped at 25 cents. That still ekes out a profit, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who championed the reform rule on debit card fees, must have felt it seemed a little more reasonable and a little less like gouging.
But For 25 debit transactions a month, the bank used to get about $10 in fees. Now they’ll get half that. They don't know from gouging, and they don't care. They want their five bucks back. And banks are entitled, no? They have to make their money somewhere, right?
Only the idea behind debit payments in the first place wasn’t fee generation, it was cost reduction. Such payments saved banks a fortune over check processing. About 30% of checks are generally written on the same bank as the one a merchant does business with, it's estimated. The rest have to go through a clearing bank. Takes time, takes money. Merchants didn't like it either. They had to wait for their money.
But what's past is prologue as the poet said. Banks not only want to get their five bucks back, they want you to get an object lesson in why government regulation is bad for you. See? Dodd-Frank is costing you money. They're forcing the banks to hurt you.
In short, banks are just showing their pique at being saddled with as toothless a bit of bank reform as has come down the pike in some time. Concept rich; detail light. So far only 38 out of 400 rules have actually been written, including this one. It's been a very good year for bank lobbyists.
What to do? Well, you could just swallow the fee. After all, if you do 30 transactions a month, $5.00 is about what you're costing the bank in processing fees. (Although on top of your five spot, the banks will still be harvesting that 25 cents per transaction from the merchant). Or you could start carrying really large amounts of cash.
Or, you could go back to writing a check for purchases. Most merchants still take them. A little slower, a little more cumbersome, but ironically, that outdated and costly payment mechanism remains free for most bank customers. For now.
P.s. This posting started out as a letter to the editor at the local paper. Only they didn't print it. They only seemed to have room for letters supporting the reasonableness of the fee. See, Charlotte sill thinks of itself as a banking town.
10/8/11 -- Paul Takes Values Voter Straw Poll
Values Voter Summit, Washington, D.C., Oct. 7-9
Cain (form. talk show host, CEO)
Gingrich (form. House Speaker)
Huntsman (form. U.S. Ambassador to China)
Romney (form. Gov. MA)
Santorum (form. Sen. PA)
"Paul has a history of scoring surprising straw poll wins by packing the electorate with his diehard supporters. Even so, the Values Voter Summit represents a setback for Perry, who is counting on voters who share his socially conservative views to help power his candidacy into the top tier of Republicans." (National Jurnal)
10/7/11 -- 1,000 Words: How Long Did You Think It Would Take?
Job Recovery Could Be Slow And Weak
As losses mount, economists fear that hiring could be a problem even after the recession is over.
December 5, 2008
Five Myths About How To Create Jobs
1. Surely there's a quick fix.
The country would need to create more than 200,000 net new jobs each month for the next seven years to get unemployment back to what was once considered a normal 5 percent.
February 7, 2010
U.N. Says Global Employment Needs 5 Years to Rebound
To get back to the level of employment in 2007, the global economy needs to create nearly 23 million jobs, including more than 14 million in developed countries.
September 30, 2010
The Quest For Jobs
Even if growth accelerates, unemployment will remain worryingly high for several years.
September 10, 2011
Editor's note: Number of months with 200,000+ non-farm employment gains since 2001:
'01: 0; '02: 0; '03: 1; '04: 4; '05: 5; '06: 5;
'07: 2; '08: 0; '09: 0; '10: 2; '11: 2.
9/27/11 -- The Summer of '11
Summer's over. Carry it in your heart from now on and forever. Or wasn't it one of those summers for you? Maybe Halloween will be kinder. Anyway, here's your top 20 Summer Song Jukebox Plays, Memorial Day to Labor Day, 2011. Ah, the memories....
1) Under the Boardwalk The Drifters (1964)
2) Summertime Blues Eddie Cochran (1958)
3) One Summer Night The Danleers (1958)
4) Yesterday's Gone Chad and Jeremy (1964)
5) Summer Song Chad and Jeremy (1964)
6) Gone in September Mike Posner (2010)
7) In the Good Old Summertime Julien Neel trudbol (1902)
8) Surfer Girl The Beach Boys (1963)
9) The Boys Are Back in Town Thin Lizzy (1976)
10) Summer Of '69 Bryan Adams (1984)
11) California Gurls Katy Perry (2010)
12) Summer Rain Johnny Rivers (1967)
13) The Lonely Surfer Jack Nitzsche (1963)
14) You Took the Words Right Of My Mouth Meatloaf (1976)
15) Dancing in the Street Martha and the Vandellas (1964)
16) Wipeout The Safaris (1963)
17) Boys of Summer Don Henley (1984)
18) Suddenly Last Summer The Motels (1983)
19) Sealed with a Kiss Brian Hyland (1962)
20) Summertime, Summertime The Jamies (1958)
9/24/11 -- Cain Surprises in Florida GOP Straw Poll
Presidency 5 Straw-Poll, Orlando, FL, Sept. 24
Cain (form. talk show host, CEO)
Gingrich (form. House Speaker)
Huntsman (form. U.S. Ambassador to China)
Romney (form. Gov. MA)
Santorum (form. Sen. PA)
The Florida Straw Poll hath spake, and now it’s all over, says that state’s chief executive Gov. Rick Scott (R). He notes that the Florida Straw Poll is historically an unerring predictor of the eventual Republican Presidential nominee. In that it’s been right all three times it’s been held. (Reagan won in ‘79, Bush Sr. in ‘87 and Dole in ’95; it was not held in 1999 or 2003; Presidency 4 had no poll in 2007.) Technically that meets the definition of "unerring," but with that thin a track record, it shouldn’t be too surprising if the results this time don’t settle all debate.
The NBC News website First Read said candidates have sometimes been reluctant to participate in a poll requiring them to shift time and resources to the large, expensive state like Florida. Presumably, the concentration of a Faith and Freedom Coalition Rally, the FOX-Google debate, and the Florida CPAC gathering all in the same week this year made the effort seem worthwhile. Even so, there was less active campaigning this time. Romney and Bachmann informed organizers up front they did not plan to participate. Cain, Santorum and Gingrich spoke at the Saturday convention. Paul, Perry and Huntsman sent representatives to speak in their absence, although Perry hosted a delegate breakfast earlier in the day.
“Iowa basically is a paid straw poll,” Blaise Ingoglia, co-chair of the organization putting on the straw poll, told NBC. “This is actually more of a true representation of how the voters are going to vote in Florida.” The eligible voters are some of the most passionate Republicans in the state. Some 3100 who applied earlier in the year were chosen by lottery and paid $175—which gave them the opportunity not just to vote but to attend an array of Republican events. Another 300 or so were selected by the state party chairman. The overall delegation is supposed to represent the geographic makeup of the state.
8/23/11 -- 2,000 Words: Where the Train Left the Tracks
Click to enlarge charts
Can you spot precisely (point with your finger) where the Obama spending spree spun out of control?
Might the country also have a revenue problem?
If employment tracks with GDP, how much will spending cuts hurt employment?
Can you make heads or tails out of these charts?
Do you think John McCain can?
How about Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann?
8/13/11 -- On Her Knees in the Night, Saying Prayers by the Street Light
That Rick Perry, he’s some slick politician. Even if Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll, she’d still have to split the headlines with the Texas Governor. And a lot of people think that’s the last time they’d ever be tied.
The honest-to-God truth? In terms of actually getting the nomination, Bachmann never really had a prayer. Maybe she’ll lose out to Perry along the way, but it’s more likely she’ll be seen as merely setting up the table for Mitt Romney. Sucking all the oxygen out of the room and suffocating the likes of Pawlenty, Huntsman, Paul, Cain and the rest who, let’s face it, were barely breathing anyway.
Perry probably wouldn’t be any more successful than Bachmann in overtaking Romney, but he’d have a better chance. That Newsweek cover photo wasn’t that far off the mark. Tina Brown and a broad swath of the electorate know in their hearts that Bachmann is what you’d call a religious fanatic. The fat cats in the Republican Party know it, too.
A long historical record demonstrates how poorly devout types ultimately fare in the political arena. Look at William Jennings Bryan. Look at Thomas Moore. Look at Joan of Arc. Look at Jesus Christ.
Does anyone really think Karl Rove was going to let Michele Bachmann run the Republican Party? Does anyone think David and Charles Koch were going to let Karl Rove let her run the Republican Party?
This is not to dismiss Bachmann out of hand. Doyle McManus pointed out in the LA Times, “She has managed to turn the primary campaign into a straightforward, head-to-head contest between two versions of modern Republicanism: her insurgent tea party conservatism and the more traditional, big-business conservatism of Romney.”
But that was always where it was going to end. In the Republican Party, the smart money will always bet on the smart money. Basically Bachmann cleared out the riffraff, better probably that Romney could have himself.
The path of the devout is arduous. Most of us are simply not ready to follow it. Once people get the full wonder of Bachmann’s brand of conservative reconstructionist Christianity digested, their collective reaction is likely to be that where she wants to take us is just not worth the journey. We're not worthy.
Too many rules. Too many demands, too many beliefs, many of them a little hard to swallow (especially if you happen to be not Christian in the first place or even just the wrong kind of Christian).
Bachmann is the product of a school of thought that sees the destiny of America as that of a definitively conservative Christian state, ruled by conservative Christians and for conservative Christians.
Her intellectual mentors at Oral Roberts Law School taught her that whenever American law came in conflict with their interpretation of biblical law, adherents should try unrelentingly, through legal and political means, to get the former to change. (Sounds a lot like Sharia Law, no?)
Gene Wilder to Marty Feldman: "Damn you eyes!"
Feldman to Wilder: "Too late!"
She wants a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
She wants the same for gay marriage. She rejects evolution and wants it mandated that Intelligent Design be taught in public schools. These positions are ironic since they would likely create a bit more government than Republicans say they want. Many opposed to abortion and gay marriage and even biology might be uncomfortable with extending the government’s reach into what may be at some level private matters.
Many of Bachmann's views are guided by an almost mindless—certainly an unyielding—certitude, one seemingly impervious to mere facts. No matter how skilled a politician she becomes, and she’s getting better all the
time, one suspects the closer the discussion gets to exposing her core beliefs, the more voters are going to fidget.
While we might not admit it in public, a lot of us get nervous around people who think
they have an ongoing conversation going with God, one where he answers back and provides detailed directions. That creeped people out about George Bush, and everyone knew he didn’t even really mean it. Ever since the days of enlightened despotism, the march of democracy has kind of been away from that kind of thinking.
She may feel she’s all “Onward Christian Soldiers,” but for a lot of people it might feel more like Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paridise.”
What next for Bachmann? She should consider moving.
To Greenville, SC, where she’d find a lot of like-minded, kindred spirits. She should go down there with Sen. Jim DeMint.
With his quest to “save souls” in Congress he’s not feeling very much love in Washington anyway, even from his fellow Republicans. He knows South Carolina, and could be very helpful with introductions.
A large contingent of folks in the region think just like Rick Perry talks: about seceding from the Union, creating their own idyllic Christian state and letting the rest of the world go by.
That ship sailed 150 years ago. But there’s nothing to stop them from creating their very own political party. To build one with the requisite scale to actually change the direction of the country would take a lot of money, of course, and it’s unlikely they could get that from the Republicans,
But if she made her goals clear and played her cards right, there’s money out there. There’s a good chance the DNC, for instance, might be willing to chip in and lend a hand. And they’ve got real money. Obama has fat cats, too, and once they fully grasped the idea, they’d probably be glad to help her out.
7/31/11 -- Divisive We Stand
The way House Speaker John Boehner won the support of recalcitrant members for their own party’s debt ceiling bill was to propose a balanced budget amendment for the US Constitution. Basically the same proposal Republicans had earlier approved in their previous “Cut, Cap and Balance” legislation, which passed the House on a party-line vote before vanishing into the dustbin of the Senate’s history.
Basically, President Obama said we should “eat our peas,” so Speaker Boehner trumped him by proposing to add an “eat your peas” clause to the Supreme Law of the United States.
Republicans of late seem inclined toward constitutional amendments as the way to settle a variety of matters, frequently ones they’re in the minority on. It’s an idea that has come up with respect to gay marriage, abortion, and immigration(where they would actually be amending an amendment, one passed in 1865 that made the descendents of slaves, and anyone else born here, US citizens. That amendment was approved by their Republican ancestors, but now they don’t like the idea so much.
Historians would point out this is a different Republican party. The one in the 1860s was considered in many respects a party of progressives. Recall that at the time, many Conservatives, particularly of the southern persuasion, regarded Lincoln as a big-government tyrant hell-bent on leading the nation down the road to socialism (even though they didn’t really know what that was yet)..
Lately, you can’t show Republicans a constitutional amendment they’re not in favor of. The last one they were against was the Equal Rights amendment in the ‘70s (which passed Congress but which the states failed to ratify). This seems somewhat ironic. The current Republican-controlled House of Representatives convened with a reading of the complete US Constitution, (although they inadvertently skipped part of Article IV.).
The idea was to showcase that party’s Constitutional devotion and their commitment to passing only laws that conformed to its tenants (a requirement Congress is actually already burdened with). But given their regularly-invoked desire to alter its contents, one is inclined to wonder what it was they saw in the document that they liked so much in the first place.
Since its ratification in 1789, the US Constitution has been amended 27 times. Ten of those were done in a group at the Constitution’s inception and are referred to, as every school child knows, as the Bill of Rights.
There was a flurry of amendments around the end of the Civil War, of course. And then again around World War I concerning the right to vote (women) and the right to drink (everyone). That latter, well-intentioned amendment (passed while most of the drinkers were out of town) was, upon sober reflection, subsequently rescinded, by means of another amendment, which is the way the Constitution works.
Signing of the U.S. Constitution at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, by Howard Chandler Christy (1940). The painting is so large Christy painted it in a sail loft. Currently on display along the east stairway in the US House of Representatives.
There really haven’t been all that many amendments if you exclude the Bill of Rights, the temperance flip-flop and several unexceptional changes to the order of succession to the Presidency and mundane changes to terms of office for the President and Congress.
But such stability belies the inner unrest of this country’s political beast. Some 10,000 amendments have been proposed since 1789. In modern times, about 200 or 300 proposals surface every year. Most go nowhere, but clearly a lot of people are unhappy with the Constitution, lip service to the contrary. And the truth is, it was that way from the beginning.
Patrick Henry of Virginia, whom school children from an early age are taught to revere for the fiery rhetoric of his patriotism, had nothing good to say about the US Constitution. He called it, "the most fatal plan that could possibly be conceived to enslave a free people."
The mechanism for changing the Constitution was built into the original document. It’s no simple matter, of course. The Framers didn’t want it to be too easy in order to discourage ill-conceived, half-cocked or hastily passed amendments.
The U.S. Constitution on display at the National Archives.
To date all amendments, ratified or not, have been proposed by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress. However, if two-thirds of the state legislatures demand one, Congress must call for a constitutional convention, which would have the power to propose amendments. After passing Congress, an amendment must also be ratified by three-fourths of the states (either by state legislatures or special state conventions.)
Actually, the Bill of Rights was a defining issue in the Constitutional debate that took place among the young nation’s 55 delegates in Philadelphia in the hot, hot summer of 1787. Lots of people felt no fashionable Constitution of the time could be complete without a specific delineation of individual rights. Federalists felt the rights were already delineated and one wasn’t necessary; anti-Federalists made their approval contingent on one’s creation.
You probably know this already, but the whole point of the Constitutional Convention was to create a more powerful federal government. Many influential founders, like George Washington, felt the country couldn’t get anything done under the Articles of Confederation. But even back then there were many who feared the encroaching power of big government.
So the Bill of Rights was a way to calm folks down while still making it possible to raise the money needed to pay an army and, important in a country that didn’t have many, particularly to the suburbs, build the roads that would support national expansion.
In short, the Bill of Rights was a compromise meant to mollify the feelings of delegates that the new Constitution was too much about how things worked and not enough about championing individual rights against the powers of government.
(Originally, the Bill of Rights included legal protection for white men only, excluding most Americans and all women. It was left to subsequent amendments, a civil war and any number of Supreme Court cases to extend the same rights to all U.S. citizens.)
It has become fashionable among some modern politicians and pundits to characterize our founding fathers somewhat sentimentally as a monolithic and single minded-corps. Actually they were a contentious and disagreeable bunch. That they got anything done at all was actually their single biggest accomplishment.
The US Constitution was borne of many compromises, as well as tacit agreements to ignore some matters deemed too sensitive to even compromise on. Most notably, the whole issue of slavery was passed over by the Framers and left to be settled a hundred years later with a war of secession that nearly succeeded in tearing the country in two.
Other major sticking points requiring negotiated compromises, or left wholly or partly unresolved, included large state versus small state representation, business versus agrarian interests, tariffs, executive elections, the extent of the federal government’s power, the exact role of the office of the President, and even the length of the terms of Senators.
In point of fact, the Bill of Rights amendments were ratified in 1791 three years after the Constitution, but in many states it was understood they were coming and voters based their ratification on that understanding.
Eventually all thirteen states ratified the Constitution. Some did so unanimously, but in others the votes were quite close: Massachusetts 187 – 168; New York, 30-27; and Rhode Island 34-32.
Rhode Island never did like the idea of the Constitutional Convention in the first place, and had refused to even send a delegation. Patrick Henry declined the opportunity to serve as a delegate himself but agreed to attend as an advisor to the Virginia delegation. He advised, vehemently, against.
Clearly, many delegates were less than pleased with the results of the effort, Bill of Rights or no. Thirteen Founding Fathers not only refused to sign the new Constitution, they left the convention before it ended and went home. Another three stayed on but still would not sign the final document.
Bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant.
7/8/11 -- "But Miss Scarlett, where we gwine get 400 billion dollars?"
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But our elected officials in Washington are now demonstrating that it’s never too late to look good tackling an old problem. Namely, the deficit.
So it seems only fair that you, loyal visitors, also get a second shot at fixing the budget, only this time under new, more generous rules.
Washington's new goal is to cut $4 trillion in spending. How can they do that when spending only amounts to about $3 trillion annually? Well, what they’re talking is over a decade. Why do they do that? Most likely because it sounds more impressive than $400 billion, which is the annualized hit they’re really talking about.
Now that’s your new goal, too. Much more achievable, no? Give it a shot.
What’s the point if that’s only about a third of the deficit? Listen: These guys may be stupid, but they’re not as stupid as you think they are. How do you think they got you to vote for them in the first place?
First, $400 billion in annual cuts when combined with $400 billion in new revenues suddenly covers two-thirds of the deficit. Second, remember the recently popular Republican mantra about how we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem? Well, as you probably figured out (because you’re not as stupid as they think you are either), we’ve had both ever since the recession came to live with us.
Each year, revenues now come in a bit short of where they used to. Guess by how much? $400 billion. Trifecta! If we could just get back to where they were in 2008—as Obama gets down on his knees every night and prays they will—voila: The deficit is gone. Think he doesn’t want a deal? With all his heart. That way, he can eat Romney’s heart in the next election. Right in front of him.
Imagine the Republicans dropping an opportunity like that in his lap. Also worth noting, Obama is apparently thinking more along the lines of $100 billion in new revenue. So even if he were to get the deal, it would still come up a little short.
But just in case, go to work. Do your part. And then don’t forget to pay your taxes. Both the new ones and the old ones. You don't hear much about it, but the biggest problem Greece has is they don't pay their taxes over there.
(One little caveat: remember when Roosevelt cut spending and raised taxes mid-way through the Great Depression. Of course, you don't. You're too young. So are these guys.)
7/4/11 -- Summer Song Jukebox Top 20: Our Listeners Speak.
Since the Summer Song Jukebox first launched last August, here’s what you’ve been listening to. These are the top 20 Summer Songs as voted on by you, our esteemed site visitors, through your song selections. (Skelly votes didn’t count.) Thought you’d want to know.
How about those Beach Boys? Did they have a run in the early 60s or what? In addition to 2 of the top 5, they scored two more that just missed the Top 20: “Surfin’ USA” and “Surfer Girl.” And that’s without their seminal first big hit, which, technically speaking, does not mention the magic word, “summer.”
And then it came crashing down when the British invaded. B. Wilson and Dudes. continued to do some very good work, but until the mopheads it really looked like The Beach Boys were going to rule the school forever.
Even so, they didn’t score the top spot. That went to Mike Posner’s “Gone in September” just edging out “Warm California Sun” by The Rivieras. Which no doubt leaves some of our more wizened fans scratching their heads in wonder. Not how could that be so much as who is he?
To conflate a couple of clichés, it may be a mean old man’s world, but the future belongs to the young. And evidently I’m younger than I thought, and evidently so are some of you. Posner graduated from Duke in 2010 (with an overall GPA of 3.59.) But like another smart college kid named Kris Kristofferson, he’s evidently got music in his veins. His most recent charted opus: "Bow Chicka Wow Wow." But let’s see if he’s got a second summer song in him. But hey, timeless message if you're a guy, no?
Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” doesn’t crack the top 20? Unbelievable. And what, no “Under the Boardwalk”?
In the Hey, Really Old People! department: Top summer song from the 50s is Billy Grammer’s “Gotta Travel On”?
One thing, no doubt, that contributed to the popularity of “Girls on the Beach” was the full-breasted nudity on display in the video. Whoa, missed that, did you? Watch its ranking climb in the next couple of weeks. Just like with everything good in life, you have to pay attention.
Katie Perry and her vacuous chunk of “California Gurls” (the appearance of Snoop Dog notwithstanding) a no-show as well? Quelle surprise! Clearly this audience has a modicum of breeding and taste. I mean, she’s definitely hot and all, but that song was like nowhere, man. I don’t care how many people hit it up on YouTube. Probably her family mostly.
It’s not even about summer.
The Chart: 8/9/10 - 7/4/11
1) Gone in September – Mike Posner (2010)
2) Warm California Sun – The Rivieras (1964)
3) Girls on the Beach – The Beach Boys (1964)
4) Pipeline – Dick Dale and Stevie Ray Vaughan originally recorded by the by The Chantays) (1963)
5) Gotta Travel On – Billy Grammer (1959)
6) All Summer Long – The Beach Boys (1964)
7) Graduation (Friends Forever) – Vitamin C (2000)
8) Summertime Blues - Eddie Cochran (1958)
9) Wipeout – The Safaris (1963)
10) Summer of '69 – Bryan Adams (1984)
11) One Summer Night - The Danleers (1958)
12) Yesterday’s Gone – Chad & Jeremy
13) Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) – Bruce Springsteen (1972)
14) Beach Baby – First Class (1974)
15) Suddenly Last Summer – The Motels (1983)
16) Good Old Summertime – Julien Neel trudbol (1902)
17) Summer Rain – Johnny Rivers (1967)
18) Summer of ’42 – Peter Nero (1971)
19) The Lonely Surfer - Jack Nitzsche (1963)
20) You Took the Words Out of My Mouth – Meatloaf (1976)
Some songs may have suffered in the rankings because Youtube will drop a video from time to time over copyright infringements. When I find such, I look for a different release that’s dispute-free. But the code that calls the song has then changed, and the ranking drops because that song is then counted in the statistics under two different codes. (That may be what happened to Henley, and it happened to “Surfin’ USA” as well.) Such issues were left unresolved. I don’t have that much of a life to live down here, but it does preclude that degree of wonkish industry. The lawn needs cutting from time to time.
Other notable absences from the Top 20:
Dancing in the Street – Martha and the Vandellas
Summer in the City – Lovin’ Spoonful
Summer Song – Chad & Jeremy
Summer Wind – Ole Blue Eyes
Night Moves – Bob Seger
And finally, most of you passed up two of the best of all. The diamond in the rough and crowning achievement in the brewmaker’s art: “Summertime” by Billy Stewart (1669) and “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzie (1976). What is wrong with you people? Have you no range? Well you’ve got all summer to make amends. It’s too hot to got outside anyway.
Now that Michele (too few “l”s, too many “n”s) Bachmann has embarked on her fifteen minutes of fame, it seems likely that Sarah Palin, overshadowed, will officially drop out of the race she was never really part of. She’ll point out that she said all along she’d take the plunge if she felt the right candidates weren’t stepping up. She’ll allow as how she’s pretty comfortable with the field right now and there’s no reason for her to have to step in and save her party and her country in that order.
Her announcement will gratify some people and disappoint others. Most of the rest will have already moved on, the average American’s attention span being what it is. But one group will absolutely despair: the men and women who make their living reporting on politics for the nation’s newspapers, magazines, news services, radio, TV, and internet outlets. Sarah Palin makes good copy, and that talent will be sorely missed by her biggest fans: the lame-stream media.
Not since Jesus has a single person seen to the care and feeding of so many. And she does it effortlessly.
…he who warned the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringin' those bells and, um, makin' sure as he's ridin' his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we're gonna be secure and we were gonna be free. And we we're gonna be armed.
With a single off-the-cuff response to a reporter’s casual question about her day—fewer than one-hundred words long, reeled off in under 20 seconds in her trademark garbled and nearly grammar-free fashion—she unleashed a media frenzy that lasted two weeks.
With it, she re-opened all the familiar partisan wounds, rekindled all the unfair media claims, reminded us all of how annoyingly smug and closed minded she can be and what a beacon she is for all the true values that make America great and which we’ve somehow lost. Kind of like Ed Norton trying to explain to both Joyce Randolph and Jackie Gleason simultaneously how he really feels about Trixi’s mother.
It also calls to mind that classic ad spoof from Saturday Night Live in which Chevy Chase tells Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd: “Hey, hey, hey, calm down, you two. It's both a floor wax and a dessert topping!” Click to view.
Palin didn’t have every detail completely wrong. Someone had gone to some trouble to make sure she was armed with (probably too many) little-known details of that famous day and year. However, few of those details had much to do with the motive behind Paul Revere’s ride. Somebody may have rung some bells, and somebody else may have fired some shots, and Paul Revere may have indeed told a British Major after a patrol detained him outside of Concord (by which point his ride was over) that he’d alerted the countryside to the British march, (presumably to try to con them out of moving on Lexington too quickly). But clearly what Revere had been trying to do all along was just get to Lexington to alert Adams and Hancock they were in danger of arrest and to let the Minutemen groups along the way know that the British were on the move.
So why not just say what everyone else would have said: Paul Revere’s ride was to tell the people the British were coming? Because, clearly, she wanted to say something about the gun thing. She wanted to use the moment to stand up for one of the core verities of her ideology.
So she chose to make some kind of vague reference to an amendment to a constitution that wouldn’t be written for more than a decade for a country that few people in the Boston area, or anywhere else, were then even contemplating. Because that’s what Sarah Palin does. She likes to tell stories that make ideological points.
Pity there’s no one worse for the job. Most of the time, people can’t even figure out what she’s trying to say. She talks in pictures—little images—and when she tries to string too many together, people, sometimes herself included, get lost in the landscape on the periphery of her opus.
The Paul Revere story is just too big. Too many details to foul up or lose sight of amid the predictable carnage of fractured grammar, loosey-goosey syntax and a thought process that could be charitably described as elliptical. She’s okay for quick bursts and great with one-line zingers. But when Sarah goes out long she just can’t run the pattern.
After the Vice Presidential Debate, Kelly Nuxoll wrote on Huffington Post.com that Palin’s communications style leaves you with the impression that a) she doesn't know; b) she doesn't want to say; or c) she simply doesn't think in terms of cause and effect.
Nuxoll cites this comment to Joe Biden:
I do take issue with some of the principle there with that redistribution of wealth principle that seems to be espoused by you.
Nuxoll says, "I think we can intuit her meaning ... but the words are tossed and jumbled like a salad. It can't be because Sarah Palin is afraid to take a swing--it seems just to take her a long time to figure out who is actually responsible... A cause-and-effect thinker would likely put [the last word] first."
The simpler explanation could be that Palin—still—simply isn’t comfortable with the more formal extemporaneous exchanges politicians are expected to routinely engage in and handle well. And probably never will be. Many observers and reporters on the political scene use that ability as a metric for evaluating how clearly a political figure thinks. Which is probably wrong-headed and unfair. Somewhere in that practice and its attendant implications can probably be found the origins of the phrase, “You gotta be bullshittin’ me.”
Watching her struggle through the Revere diatribe, her discomfort is palpably clear, as is the moment when the rising inflection in her voice suggests a) she’s beginning to get lost in her words and b) has probably lost all interest anyway.
That doesn’t make her dumb or ignorant, nor does it disqualify her from running for President. George W. Bush was President for eight years, and he couldn’t talk either. (One thing about those Democrats, oh they’re glib, except for John Kerry, of course).
Anybody who can turn a profit like Sarah Palin has in the last two years, just by staying relevant, is no dumb bunny. Not to mention what she did in Alaska, which was more impressive than her critics like to admit. Compare her recent accomplishments to Obama’s. He may have steadied the U.S. economy, but she got filthy rich. By making you think she was running for President. Which she never was. If she had been, she would have been out of a job on Fox last spring, just like Gingrich and Santorum were.
Now the game is nearly up. We’re all going to miss you, Sarah. More than we know. Not as much as the press, of course. Two weeks of headlines from one innocent Paul Revere/cold, dead fingers rant? Damn. Michele Bachmann can’t do that. She doesn’t have the legs.
6/19/11 -- Presidential Sweepstakes: Paul in a landslide at RLC Straw Poll; Huntsman takes second.
Republican Leadership Conference, New Orleans, LA, June 16-18
Cain (form. talk show host)
form. House Speaker Newt
Huntsman (form. Ambassador to China)
form. Gov. Gary
form. Gov. Sarah
form. Gov. Tim
form. Gov. Buddy
form. Gov. Mitt
form. Sen. Rick
Ron Paul captured the Republican Leadership Conference Presidential Straw Poll in New Orleans, easily besting his nearest competitor, Jon Huntsman. Huntsman was slated to speak to the conference, but backed out, citing a cold. That the little-known and pragmatic Huntsman would finish between Paul and Bachmann—each of whom enjoys a passionate following among more ideological activists—is surprising. Rumors circulated here that the Huntsman campaign had paid for supporters to attend the conference, and a spokesman for the candidate, Tim Miller, didn't deny that they had. GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney narrowly defeated Paul here last year. Romney didn't attend this year's conference; neither did Tim Pawlenty.
5/29/11 -- Is the Tea Party Over?
The Tea Party stormed Washington in the '10 election, with sturm und drang und the vaunted purpose of absolutely transforming the place. Or even tearing it down, depending on whom you listen to. Did they run into reality, or are they still a force majeur?
To some, they were always just a bunch of crazies. And a recent CNN poll just put the Tea Party’s favorability rating at an all-time low — 32%, with 47% of respondents viewing Tea Partiers negatively.
But "Slate," an online news magazine not widely renowned for its right-leaning views, says otherwise. David Weigel suggests the Tea Party is not merely still alive but kicking with good effect. Slate's continuing feature, the "Don't-Tread-on-Meter," credits the Republican House of Representatives, and the Republican conference in the Senate, with being "halfway there" in fulfilling the promises they made to Tea Party activists.
That may be a stretch or at the very least generous scoring. (The Tea Party folks weren't looking for just a good-faith effort that would wither on the vine.) Still, we'll keep an eye on this meter for a while. Why? Weigel puts it this way: "The Tea Party is still telling Washington what it's supposed to be working on every day."
Truth is, Tea Party enthusiasts were never alone in their alarm over federal deficits. It was a complaint critics of the Bush White House raised regularly even before the recession. The Obama administration, to its credit, was talking about deficits, and making promises, as far back as early '09, stimulus and TARP notwithstanding.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed that the administration pegs the current deficit at $1.3 trillion, or 9.2% of the overall economy, and projects that in four years the deficit will be down to $533 billion, or 3% of the economy as measured by the gross domestic product. -- USA Today, 2/23/09
It's still a ways to 2013, but one could argue that's one promise Obama hasn't made much progress on (although federal spending did shrink, marginally, from '09 to '10, something you'd never hear any card-carrying Republican admit). But, for all the fevered concern, no one else has made much progress on the matter either. FY11 spending is expected to increase over the previous year by some $300 billion.
But, hey, there's still almost two years to go, for both sides, and everybody knows that nobody does anything in Washington anymore until the last minute. Will we live or die? Guess we'll all just have to wait and see. Whatever good happens, surely both sides will take credit. And if we die? Then each side, with its dying gasp, will surely blame the other. The real game in Washington doesn't change all that much no matter who's in there pitching.
4/24/11 -- Fix It Yourself
It looks like those empty suits in our Nation's Capital really do not know how to wrangle the federal checkbook. It will never be fixed until someone who's actually balanced a budget somewhere along the line—which leaves out everyone in Washington—steps up and takes control. Someone’s got to do it, and it may just as well be you.
Remember the Little Red Hen? Here's your chance. There's really nothing to it. Just start cutting on the worksheet to your right, and keep cutting until you've zeroed out the deficit at the bottom. (Enter a % cut, click just about anywhere and it recalculates.)
This isn't some pie-in-the-sky projection with make-believe numbers. The left-hand column reflects actual FY'10 federal spending. Just fix it, one entry at a time to reflect the way you would have done it last year if you'd been in charge.
Once they see what's supposed to happen, Congress should be able to apply your received wisdom to their FY'12 efforts. And then we can stop all this fight and get down to the real business of the people.
A few precautions. You can't touch Social Security. Not because it's the third rail of American politics but because it is funded through its own payroll tax. You cut the benefit and you have to cut the tax, and that's what we call a zero-sum game. There may be very few people, as recent polls attest, who are happy with politicians messing with entitlements. But surely there's nobody who is going to continue to pay for a benefit they're no longer going to get. That would be a tax hike even to a Democrat. Just leave that one alone for now and we'll deal with it later. Just like President Obama and Congressman Ryan. Are you any smarter than they are? Come to think of it, maybe you are: you're about to balance the budget.
You can't mess with interest payments either. You certainly can't reduce them. And you're getting a break leaving them alone. You don't know anything about Undistributed Offsets, so leave that alone, too. And finally, leave Commerce and Housing Credit alone. It wasn't always, but the last couple of years it's been TARP, and you KNOW you've got no control over that. It's mostly over anyway. And besides, both those two are negative numbers and are helping your effort. They won't look like that next year, but we're going to fix last year first. Remember, this is an object lesson for your elected officials in Congress, who have lost their way.
If you feel you've done a particularly good job, email websitesammy a screen grab of your work, and copies will go to The White House, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But first we'll publish it here, and get the feedback and the approval of your fellow readers. See, unlike Congress, we know how to work together towards a common goal.
(Easiest way: position the worksheet on the screen so that all rows show. Don't worry about the headings. Don't copy. First open a new blank document in Microsoft Word (or your word processer of choice), then press the "Prt Scr" button, and then hit copy into the open Word Document. Save the document and attach it to your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
So take your best shot. (Practice a little first.) You could get famous. Maybe even take a fling at running for public office. The race for Republican Presidential nominee is still wide open. And none of those guys seem to know how to balance a budget.
The federal budget is big and complex. Spending categories can encompass multiple cabinet functions and include both mandatory and discretionary expenses.
Retirement insurance and disability insurance programs funded in whole or in part through payroll taxes. 95 percent of retirement payments go to people age 62 or older. Disability outlays have more than doubled over the past decade. This year the retirement portion paid out more than it took in.
The military activities of the Department of Defense and the atomic energy activities of the Department of Energy constitute most of the spending. Iraq and Afghanistan combined average about $160 billion annually.
Cash or in-kind benefits such as Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the earned income tax credit, are means-tested; Others, including unemployment compensation and civil service retirement and disability payments, are not.
Multipart federal health insurance program for the elderly and people with disabilities. Partly funded through payroll taxes and premiums. Spending has significantly outpaced inflation in recent years. Enrollment and costs will expand even more as more baby-boomer draw benefits.
Health care services are almost 90 percent of spending. Medicaid funds health services for low-income women, children, and elderly people and people with disabilities. Medicaid costs are shared with the states. Also pays for health care for children in low-income families and for federal civilian or military retirees.
International Affairs; General Science, Space, and Technology; Administration of Justice; and General Government.
Education and Training:
Programs of the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services provide or assist states and localities in providing developmental services for children in low-income families, programs for school students, grants and loans for postsecondary students, and general job-training and employment services. Also included is mandatory spending for higher-education loan subsidies.
Energy research, production, conservation and regulation. Includes Department of Energy program such as energy-related research and development, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, environmental cleanup of federal sites used for civilian energy research and production and energy conservation grants to states. Costs of regulating energy production and distribution also are included, but those are offset almost entirely by fees charged to the regulated entities.
Veterans’ Benefit Services:
Include health care, disability compensation, pensions, life insurance, housing loans, education, training, and vocational rehabilitation. In recent years, lawmakers have expanded health and education benefits for veterans. Medical care outlays are subject to appropriation. Spending for education, training, and vocational rehabilitation benefits is mandatory as is disability compensation
The interstate highway system, public transportation projects, aviation, railroads, and water transportation. Mostly the Department of Transportation, which distributes grants to state and local governments. Also air traffic control, the Coast Guard and aeronautics research. Spending has almost doubled since the early '90s.
National Resources & Environment:
Programs of the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Also funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Farm income support agricultural research and the promotion of enhanced marketing opportunities for farmers. Mandatory revenue support programs account for most of the spending.
Community and Regional Development:
Programs that promote the economic viability of communities, rural development, and disaster preparedness and response. Includes flood insurance, disaster relief and homeland security grants for state and local governments' first responders. Federal spending has risen substantially since September 11.
Commerce & Housing Credit:
includes the Small Business Administration, the Federal Housing Administration, the Postal Service, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Department of Commerce. The Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission, and the Patent and Trademark Office, also included. TARP money flowed through here.
The Awakening Conference at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, Apr 8-9
former House Speaker Newt
former Gov. Mike
former Gov. Sarah
former Gov. Tim
former Gov. Mitt
former Sen. Rick
The two-day gathering of evangelicals at the Christian college addressed a range of issues, including "abortion, the economy, religious liberty, marriage and homosexuality, [and] Sharia Law," according the school's website. Though she was scheduled to address attendees, Bachmann sent a video message instead while she remained in Washington because of the potential government shutdown. Gingrich spoke at a conference luncheon. More people chose “other” than voted for Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney or Haley Barbour. The poll was conducted by ccAdvertising using a telephone call-in option.
(CNN, Politico, hometownsource.com, Liberty University)
4/9/11 -- Presidential Sweepstakes: Santorum takes South Carolina Straw Poll
Greenville County Republican Party convention, Greenville, SC, Apr. 9
Cain (former talk show host)
fromer House Speaker Newt
fromer Gov. Mike
Huntsman (U.S. Ambassador to China)
former Gov. Sarah
former Gov. Tim
former Gov. Mitt
Former Sen. Rick
Trump (reality TV star)
[Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick] Santorum was one of three potential candidates to address Saturday’s convention. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also spoke. Vote-rich and conservative, Greenville County plays a pivotal role in the South Carolina presidential primary, traditionally one of the first states to cast ballots in the presidential nomination process. Sen. Jim DeMint (SC), Rep. Mike Pence (IN)and community activist Al Sharpton won write-in votes. 431 votes cast.
(CNN Political Reporter Peter Hamby)
4/6/11 -- Taxpayer’s Lament
The point made serially in some (well-appointed) quarters of the kingdom, and with varying degrees of indignation (actually something more between heartache and angst), is that more than 75% of income taxes are paid by less than 25% of Americans. And as a factual matter the point is a valid one. Is it fair?
Are we becoming a bipartite society with a thin, diligent, hard-working slice of the populace called on to support the American way of life for a growing horde of indolent, unproductive, undeserving and ungrateful freeloaders?
Another way of asking that might be, does most of the money in this country go to a very small group of Americans? And that would be true, too. And it may be unfair, but that’s another subject. The subject here is just taxes, nothing having anything to do with fairness, as anyone who's ever been audited knows.
Catherine Rampell is a recent ex-Princetonian now writing a column on economics and finance matters (“Economix”) for The New York Times, and she’s worth a read. She makes me wish I were a) smarter, b) better educated and c) younger. No, I don’t want to be her; I just think that would improve my chances of getting a date with people of her ilk.
Recently she shed some light on the twin subjects of who pays the taxes in this country and, not a little correlatively, who makes the money. Basically she was pulling from a Congressional Budget Office report. Anybody could have done it. Only she did. I repaired to it forthwith. (You can too: Click here.) Some of the observations she reported included the following (with added graphs: thanks NYT), based on historical numbers.
“The overall effective federal tax rate (the ratio of federal taxes to household income) was 20.7 percent in 2006, with the highest quintile of American households paying 25.8 percent of their income in federal taxes.
“Because higher-income groups earn a disproportionate share of pretax income and because tax rates rise with income, higher-income groups pay a disproportionate share of federal taxes. In 2006, the top quintile of households earned 55.7 percent of pretax income and paid 69.3 percent of federal taxes, while the top 1 percent of households earned 18.8 percent of income and paid 28.3 percent.“
Economic disparity first surfaced as a social issue about five minutes after economics was invented, and folks have wrestled with it ever since, sometimes quite literally. People in some numbers have died over it, and still, after all these years, nobody’s come up with much of a satisfactory answer to the problem.
This country hasn’t done that bad a job, all things considered. No whole generation of nobles got itself trotted off to the executioner' axe after our revolution, and a lot of the wealthy down the ensuing centuries have done a good deal better than just hanging onto their heads.
The poor in this country have made notable strides along the way as well. We may no longer have the world’s highest standard of living, but it’s right up there. A big middle class, relatively speaking. And the opportunities for vertical advancement here remain unparalleled. Lots of people still yearn to come to America, and most Americans wouldn’t trade places with anyone on earth.
It seems like it's always a good time to be anybody in America and now is an especially good time to be rich. One suspects, as do they, that the tax burden is not going to do them in, not now and not any time in the foreseeable future. In fact, their actual tax burden is lower than it has been in a generation.
There is the troublesome fact of a widening split between haves and have-nots, but it augurs ill not so much for the rich as for the not-so-rich. Over the past 15 years even the middle class has taken quite a hit. The recent financial stampede may have started in the executive suites on Wall Street, but its occupants were not the ones who got trampled nearly to death.
Still, a certain amount of unfairness is an integral part of life on earth. Religion and philosophy are there to help us deal with that unfortunate reality. The meek get to inherit the earth some day, and in the meantime, it’s the rich that pay the taxes. As annoying as the well-heeled may find that division of labor, the opposite makes no sense at all. Who should pay the lion’s share of taxes? The poor? They don’t have any money. That’s how they got poor in the first place.
In a scene from the movie League of their Own, after the women’s baseball league has finally taken off, team owner and candy bar magnate Walter Harvey (Gary Marshall) is sitting in the packed stands talking with league commissioner Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) about how pleased he is, even though with the war ending he won’t need the girls’ league much longer. The boys will soon be coming back to play baseball.
Ira reacts a little bitterly. “This is what it's going to be like in the factories, too, I suppose, isn't it? ‘The men are back, Rosie, turn in your rivets.’ We told them it was their patriotic duty to get out of the kitchen and go to work; and now, when the men come back, we'll send them back to the kitchen.“
At which point an aggravated Harvey asks him, in the Bronx accent he has never lost, “What should we do—send the boys returning from WOAH back to the kitchen?
Not totally analogous, but a similar enough case study in simple common sense. And a good story and a great scene. If Gary Marshall hadn’t been a great producer and a more than adequate actor, surely he could have made an excellent candy bar magnate.
As the CBO report said, the well-off pay the overwhelming bulk of the taxes because they earn the overwhelming bulk of the money. That’s why it’s called a progressive tax system.
The question should be, is the burden the well-off are being asked to shoulder too large under this progressive system? This is not something measured by the percentage of overall taxes they pay. One would need to look elsewhere for the answer, maybe at what’s left in their pockets after the IRS “dry cleans” them, as it were. A fair amount, as it turns out.
Fitzgerald: “The very rich are different from you and me.”
Hemingway: “Yes, they have more money.”
The average American in the top quintile of income earners had about $67,000 of the year's earnings left in his or her family (or unit) coffers at year-end 2009 (according to the CBO) after paying for not just all taxes but all ordinary annual living expenses as well. How’d you do last year? About like that? Better? Worse? And you’re not even poor. Yet.
A reflective rich woman once famously said, “If the poor found out how the rich live, they’d rise up and kill us.” But the truth is, not too many of us have anything against the rich. Most of us would dearly love to get rich ourselves. It’s a really nice way to live. You can buy just about anything you want, even after you’ve paid all your taxes.
3/31/11 -- 1,000 Words: State Tax Revenue: Coming Around?
Wall Street Journal front page, 3/30/2011. Census Bureau report here
3/6/11 -- The Winner and Still Champ -- for a Little Longer Anyway
On ABC’s Sunday morning talk show, This Week, Christiane Amanpour, an import, was bemoaning the state of US manufacturing and what to do about it.
Memo to Christiane: The world leader in manufac-turing in 2010, meeting an astounding 20% of all global manufacturing demand, was—drum roll, please—the United States. That’s right. Not China, not Japan, not Germany, not Korea, but the good old USA.
The leader in producing manufacturing jobs? Not so much.
In 1950, nearly 31% of nonfarm workers in the US were engaged in manufacturing. Since then, the share has dropped steadily. Overall manufacturing employment has actually stayed fairly stable. The U.S employed about as many workers in manufacturing in 2006 as in 1950: just over 14 million.
The economy has mushroomed since the ‘50s. Back then, manufacturing represented 30% of GDP; today it’s about 12%. Employment in other areas of the economy has grown at an average pace of 1.9% per year (at least until recently). The role of manufacturing as an employer, like farming before it, was bound to shrink as the economy evolved.
Plus, US manufacturing output in 2007 was over 600% higher than it was in 1950. So forget what you’ve heard. Manufacturing is alive and well and prospering in America. The thing is, they just figured out how to do it without people.
In the more lunatic (or just talking-point driven) quarters of the body politic, this state of affairs is loudly lamented as a bad thing, but that’s merely one more urban myth. Just like all new jobs are created by small businesses, or the deficit is the result of an executive spending binge, or Obama is really a citizen of Mars. People who dwell in the more mundane business sectors of life more properly refer to this situation as “increases in productivity.”
The US has been the world leader in manufacturing since World War II; its output has more than doubled just since 1975, according to Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Mark J. Perry. professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus, reported in an online blog in February 2010 that the productivity of America's factory workers has doubled in less than two decades.
Employment in the manufacturing sector has declined by just about any metric you choose. That, of course, is a trend evident elsewhere in US business. Everyone is doing more with fewer people.
They have to. The US labor force is one of the most expensive on earth.
Companies don’t want you as an employee anymore; they want you as a customer. There’s an inherent contradiction in that line of thinking, but that discussion can be left for another time. Especially since there is no good solution readily at hand just at this moment.
Bureau of Labor Statistics
How long can the US hold on to its manufacturing lead? Most likely not much longer. China’s is a huge economic engine just waking up. With a billion people and abundant resources and the money to buy what it lacks. Its potential for growth far outstrips that of the more mature US economy or that of anyone else for that matter. China is still an emerging economy. When the UN tracks industrialized nations, it doesn’t even include China in the pack yet.
But important to note is that China’s growing manufacturing might has not exactly come at the expense of America's, whose manufacturing sector has also been growing, as noted, over the last 20 years at a most impressive rate. China’s just happens to be growing faster.
And even that’s not all bad for this country. We may buy a lot of stuff from China, but they are now in a better position to buy stuff from us than ever before. China has risen from 18th among US export markets in 1990 to 3rd in 2010 according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s right, their growth builds our export markets.
And it’s not likely they’re going to knock the US out of any of the manufacturing markets where this country is preeminent. They can’t get the paint right on children’s toys. They’re not taking over top market share in fields like ventricular fibrillation or robotic micro-surgery systems anytime soon. Or even, it appears, high-quality steel production.
The fact is, this is probably as good a time as any in history to own a factory in America. It’s just not a very good time to be trying to find a job in one.
Unattributed statistics from William A. Strauss, Senior Economist and Economic Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Is U.S. Manufacturing Disappearing? August 19, 2010.
2/27/11 -- Presidential Sweepstakes: And the Beat Goes On.
Tea Party Presidential Live Straw Poll, Phoenix, AZ, Feb. 25-27
Cain (former talk show host)
former Gov. Sarah
former Gov. Tim
former Gov. Mitt
Cain won nearly 22 percent of the nearly 1,600 votes cast. Paul won nearly half the votes cast by more than 2,300 online registered attendees. Cain, Paul and Pawlenty's wins were likely helped by their speaking appearances at the event. No other potential candidates attended, citing prior commitments.
Voting by some 11,000 eligible attendees; write-ins allowed.
Last year's winner: Ron. Paul, 31%;
second place: Mit Romney (who'd won previous three CPAC straw polls), 22%.
2/2/11 -- Feeling Taxed to Death? Consider Moving!
The state with the highest tax collections per capita is Alaska. That's just the sort of factoid that's calculated to drive Sarah Palin, Alaska's erstwhile governor and current guardian angel now that Ted Stevens has been recalled, into full tweet mode.
It's a true statement, as far as it goes, but it ignores the fact that most of Alaska's tax revenue comes from corporate contributors, specifically oil and gas. The tax bite on the average citizen is the lowest in the nation. That's the trouble with facts. They can get in the way of the truth. There's a lot of that with taxes.
A certain noisy faction of the US populace has been vociferously complaining about being taxed to death, but at 15% of GDP, federal tax collections in 2009 were at their lowest level of the past 50 years. So why the long face?
Well, for one thing they're not exactly wrong. We get taxed a lot in this country and in a lot of different ways. The much-excoriated federal personal income tax accounted for only 43% of the $2.1 trillion Uncle Sam took out of our pockets in 2009. Social security and Medicare accounted for another 42% and corporate taxes another 7%. Then there's excise taxes, estate taxes, gift taxes, unemployment taxes, transfer taxes and God knows what else.
There's also state and local taxes. No matter what you do in life somebody in the public sector thinks you should be paying them for the privilege.
Federal taxes actually stay pretty steady over time. (Revenues have averaged approximately 18.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) over the past 40 years, plus or minus 2%.) On average, we pay about 20% of our income in federal taxes.
In 2008 state and local taxing authorities loaded an additional 9.7% onto the average American's tax burden. But the bite is uneven. If you're in Alaska, you're feeling pretty good about state and local taxes. In New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Ohio, not so much. And if you live in New Jersey and work in New York, you're pretty fed up with the growing tendency states have of building up their coffers by taxing out of state residents.
The good news is, only 10 states have increased their aggregate tax levies over the last 20 years, and those that did raised them just 1.7% (Ohio) or less. The bad news is, states may not be able to sustain such restraint much longer. On Jan. 13 Illinois raised its personal income tax rate by 66% for the next four years. In case it's escaped your notice, your state is probably broke, too.
The very first victim of recession, whether at the federal, state or local level, is tax revenues. Adjusted for inflation, state tax collections are running 12% per year below pre-recession levels, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Shortfalls are expected to persist in each of the next few years.
States do not possess the financial flexibility of a federal government. They can't manipulate interest rates or the money supply, they can't borrow too heavily, and they generally can't engage in deficit spending.
It is probably worth pointing out that states already possess a combined debt load in the $3 trillion range. That could be another fact getting in the way of the truth. On a per-state basis, with some troubling outliers, state debt averages only about 7.5% of Gross State Product (the state equivalent of GDP or economic output), which isn't much higher than it was in 1992.
Many financial experts will tell you that's well within their comfort zone. Of course, these are the same experts who were comfortable with savings and loan lending, dot.com valuations, real estate prices in the '90s and derivatives trading. Moreover, the debt levels of municipal, county and other local entities routinely double the total indebtedness figure of most states.
Possibly more troubling is the growing pile of unfunded liabilities, in pension, health and other retirement obligations, which many states have been steadily amassing. Robert Rubin was concerned about this at The Economist's" recent Buttonwood Conference in New York. And it's enough of a concern to rating agencies that Moody's has announced it will start factoring unfunded liabilities into its state ratings in the near future.
Forbes magazine speculated in January 2010 that states' total unfunded liabilities could range somewhere between $2 and $3 trillion. Illinois and Kansas currently have reserves set aside to cover less than 40% of their total projected liabilities. You think you had a few bad years in the market?
That money will have to come from somewhere, but we don't have to worry about it right now. That can be the subject of some future websitesammy posting somewhere down the road.
Most states are required to balance their budget each year, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Their only real options in dealing with their financial plights are to scale back services, which irritates die-hard Democrats, or collect more taxes, which irritates die-hard Republicans. Normal people are generally irritated by both.
How does your state -- or the one you're threatening to move to -- stack up?
Find out with this handy comparison tool, before you do anything rash. Get a birds-eye view of any state's current and historical income and outgo, per capita figures, even GSP (gross state product). Just about everything but the weather.
Discerning eyes will observe, in viewing the state-by-state figures in the box above, that spending and revenue numbers are a bit out of whack. So how are states balancing their budgets? Well, with federal money mostly.
Remember the stimulus package, so broadly castigated as a waste? Funds from that plus interest-free loans from the federal government (unemployment, health care) have pretty much been a lifeline to the states over the last three years. Now the well is about to run dry. The prognosis? As much as $140 billion more in red ink for 2012 that states will have to mop up, this time without federal help.
Conventional wisdom says it takes state governments longer to recover from recessions than the federal government or big business. And even longer this time because it was such a bad recession.
There are some encouraging signs, like the stock market, gdp, consumer spending and even employment. Positive performances in these areas could portend an uptick in state tax revenues sooner rather than later. But the smart money is betting it will take most states as long as five years before revenues return to pre-recession levels.
Maybe your state could do better than that. Or maybe not. If you read The Wall Street Journal, you already know that some thoughtful types are thinking the stock market is way oversold and could be due for a pull back. And that the surge in corporate earnings could run out of steam. And that the glimmer of hope in the employment numbers could do a disappearing act. And, of course, residential real estate has no plans to recover any time soon.
North Dakota is the one state that had no budget shortfall in 2009, 2010 or 2011. The only drawback with that state is, it's in North Dakota. Or maybe you live in a state like Alaska, New Mexico or Montana. States with a little nest egg buried in the ground in the form of oil, gas or mineral deposits, on which they collect extraction fees. Alaska collects so much (severance taxes) that it was able to set up a trust fund and actually sends a check to citizens each year rather than taxing them. So they should be fine, at least until the oil runs out.
But if you're anywhere else, keep in mind what Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is often misquoted as saying in All About Eve: Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
-State revenue and spending figures from usgovernmentspending.com and usgovernmentrevenue respectively, which rely on US Census Bureau data. www.usgovernmentspending.com
-FY11 budget shortfall information from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which relies on Rocefeller Institute, US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data. www.cbpp.org
-State tax rate statistics, '08 per capita state income and rankings from The Tax Foundation's Aug. '08 report on state and local tax burdens. www.taxfoundation.org
-'92 per capita state income from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). www.bea.gov