Too many questions and not enough answers

While I should be upbeat about the 105th consecutive month of economic growth in the US, the still very high stock values in the market on an uptick since January 2009 and the historically low unemployment rate, I know that too many folks are not feeling the love from this growth. But, I want to set this issue aside for now and just ask some “why” questions as I am beyond frustrated with our failure to address too many issues.

Why can’t our so-called leaders address our never ending gun violence in the US? Yesterday’s tragedy will happen again, just like what was predicted following the last one a few weeks ago. Our so-called leaders are too busy trying to keep their job and need to do their job. It is more than a gun issue, but we need to do something about various causes. Our GOP friends like to say it is a mental health issue, but then try to repeal the ACA and not encourage the expansion of Medicaid. And, Congress permitted last year folks on Social Security disability for mental health reasons to be added back to eligible gun buying rolls.

However, it is a gun access issue as well and the majority of Americans support background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. I would do more, but these are “no-brainers.” Yet our spineless Congress and President will not act. Part of my thoughts and prayers are for our leaders to grow a backbone and do something. We need not worry about foreign terrorists as our domestic terrorists do just fine without them in killing innocent Americans.

Why do we fail to act on Russia interfering with our democracy? The leaders of our intelligence agencies testified under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee that not only did the Russians influence our 2016 election, they are continuing to sow seeds of discord driving Americans apart, and will influence the 2018 election. Yet, the President does not want to talk about it and did not extend the Congress approved sanctions on Russia two weeks ago. I would add that Congressman Nunes who is the head of the House Intelligence Committee and author of a memo that has been criticized by the FBI as inaccurate is refusing to call for a similar briefing under oath. It is surmised he is fearful of the same leaders disparaging the veracity of his memo. Is it not the job of the committee to get a briefing or should we just ask Sean Hannity to do it?

Why does are debt problem not elicit more reaction from the public? My former GOP party seemingly no longer cares about the deficit and debt since we have a Republican President. We have made our massive debt problem worse with the last two major pieces of legislation, but it does not seem to matter to the public or these so-called leaders. Both parties are to blame, but taxpayers will be left holding the bag as we have further mortgaged our future to heat up a good economy. It makes no sense, unless you look at this through a donor’s lens, which is the real reason for the tax cuts.

Why do we allow EPA DIrector Scott Pruitt to lie so much about climate change without repercussion, echoing the lines of his boss? Like the debt, our so-called leaders are ignoring a growing problem. It would be nice if they helped, but Pruitt and Trump are being left at the kids’ table, while the grown-ups move forward. Fortunately, the cities, states, universities and companies are moving forward with renewable energy and conservation measures. The renewable cost is more comparable to fossil fuel cost and they do not leave a negative footprint. Plus, when the present value costs of environmental degradation, clean-up and risk are factored in, renewables are cheaper. We could do so more with federal leverage, but at least the President has galvanized other to act since he won’t.

These issues are four of several that need to be addressed, but are not. Our democracy and planet our under attack. These should not be partisan issues. I am independent former Republican voter and these are representative of the issues I am trying to increase awareness of. Ask your legislators what they plan to do about them. If they do not respond or respond to another question, find out who is running against them. A good thing created by this President is very qualified people will be running for more offices.These are real issues. Let’s work on addressing them.

 

 

Tick, tick, tick – young folks please raise some holy hell on this

Tick, tick tick…the US debt of $20.7 trillion is expected to increase by $10 trillion by 2027 even before the December Tax Bill and last night’s Budget Bill were passed.

Tick, tick, tick…per the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Tax Bill is projected to increase the US debt by $1.5 trillion or so by 2027.

Tick, tick, tick…last night’s Budget Bill which has now been signed into law is expected to increase the debt by $400 billion over the next two years.

Tick, tick, tick…unless something is done about it, the debt will be close to $33 trillion in 2027. The scarier thought is that might be low.

Tick, tick, tick…the added dilemma we are facing is the interest rates are increasing, since we may have overheated a good economy. That will add further to the annual interest cost on the debt.

If I were in my twenties, I would be raising holy hell about this. I just called several members of the Freedom Caucus, telling them I am an Independent and former Republican voter. While they were right to raise issue with the $400 billion, I said it was hypocritical to vote for a Tax Bill that increases the debt by $1.5 trillion.

Invariably when I called I spoke with a nice young staffer in their twenties, because I asked them if they were. During our conversations I asked them “you do realize we are leaving this problem for you?”

In December, 2010, the US debt was over $13 trillion. The reason this date is important is the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee presented their findings and recommendations in that month. In essence, they recommended a series of changes that followed a ratio of $2 of spending cuts to every $1 of revenue increases. Since Democrats did not like the former and Republicans the latter, the Committee’s good work was shelved.

Fast forward to today and not only have we not done much about it, we have made the problem worse with these two bills. In Congress, it is both parties’ fault. It is President Obama’s fault for shelving the Simpson-Bowles study and it is President Trump’s fault for not making this an issue and promoting tax cuts. It is President Bush’s fault for passing tax cuts against the advice of his Secretary of the Treasury after being handed the baton on a balanced budget.

Our deficit was $666 billion in the last fiscal year. It will be over $1 trillion at the end of this one. This is not good. Please let your Congressional representatives, Senators and the President know we need to do something about this. We need revenue increases and spending cuts. The math will not work otherwise. Please check out the websites for the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Fix the Debt and The Concord Coalition for more information.

 

 

Headwinds and Tailwinds to the Economy

Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy. They can provide headwinds and tailwinds, but global market forces tend to control what happens. By headwinds, I mean the wind is against the economic growth, with tailwinds aiding economic growth.

In the US, we are under the third longest economic growth period in our measured history with 103 consecutive months of growth. We have also had seven consecutive years of 2 million plus jobs created. And, the stock market more than doubled under Obama and continues its rise under Trump. These are great numbers. But, before we pat ourselves on the back too much, not everyone has benefitted and wealth disparity among economic classes has been widening for the past thirty-five years.

Economists I have watched project the good news to continue for the year, but several have cautioned about the future and if we don’t address the inequity, we will have major problems on top of other concerns.

On the tailwinds ledger, the global economy continues to grow and the World Economic Forum projects a 3.9% increase for the year. In the US, the cut back on regulations, plus the reduction in new ones over the rates of the past, have given more confidence to businesses (more on this later). Plus, the reduction in corporate tax rates will help fuel some growth, provided these companies who are sitting on cash, choose to invest it in their people and business. And, with more money in many people’s pockets, this will add some fuel.

On the headwinds ledger, several economists have noted we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, leveraging our future with even more debt. Not only did we not address the expected increase in debt taking it from $20 trillion to $30 trillion in 2027, the tax law will increase it by $1.5 trillion. The interest cost thereon will take a greater bite out of our budget. But, other headwinds are of concern. Retrenching from global markets and trade agreements replacing them with binary ones, will be dilutive to growth. Not investing as much in science and innovation is a major concern to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics.

This will be heightened if we restrict immigration. What seems to get lost in the argument where some have become too cold-hearted in my view, is immigration is accretive to the US economy. Plus, the people immigrating tend to be more entrepreneurial and better educated, in many cases. These sh**hole countries that someone demeaned are sending us more educated people than reside here in the states, on average.

We should not fail to remember that “innovation is portable” so says David Smick, an economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Jack Kemp, one of the smartest Congresspersons who considered a run for President. If we do not provide an inviting place, innovation may be hindered. I should note that Steve Jobs was born to Syrian immigrants to the US. What if they had been denied entry? Apple might not have ever come to fruition.

Finally, not all regulations are bad, so restricting regulations may cause headwinds down the road especially with more freedoms given to pollute the environment and take advantage of customers. This is a developers mindset. Remove obstacles to build, but leave the clean up for others. Unfortunately, we taxpayers are the others. We citizens, that must drink and breathe more polluted waters and air and realize the impact of climate change, are the others. As coal ash deposits have taught us, there is a cost to environmental degradation.

So, we need to be mindful of what we are facing. I have communicated with numerous Congresspersons, Senators and the President, that we are avoiding some elephants in the room – debt, climate change, water crisis and income inequity. In my view as an Independent voter, passing a tax law that increases the debt was extremely poor stewardship, as we cannot cut our way out of this problem. The math won’t work.

 

Wednesday wonderings

Happy Hump Day to all! Please permit me some alliterative license to wonder this Wednesday about a few events in the US and around the world.

I wonder what folks in Russia are thinking when their leader sanctions state sponsored cheating to win the medal count in the Olympics? To be kicked out of the Olympics was a surprise, but necessary result.

I wonder what folks in America, who do not believe the Russians influenced and are still influencing our elections and civil discourse, think after seeing the Russians banned from the Olympics. Let me say it plainly, if Putin is willing to cheat over Olympic competition, don’t you think he would cheat in influencing elections that would be in his favor in other countries?

I wonder what Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was thinking when he was quoted in the Des Moines Register to support the Tax Bill favoring wealthy Americans, “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing. As opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” This quote is highly offensive and betrays a line of thinking that is too often felt by those who “have.” No, Mr. Grassley, most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck to buy groceries, medicines, day care services and to pay rent (or mortgages),utilities and bills. I called his office to share my concern over the Tax Bill and to register that this quote is in extremely poor form.

I wonder what the US President is attempting to accomplish with citing Jerusalem as the capitol city in Israel? This move is being condemned by almost every nation as unnecessary and inflammatory. Is it to appease an evangelical base in the US or is it part of some master peace plan? If the latter, many experts I have listened to note that this will likely derail any peace process. Even the ones who have not been totally against it, say if it is to be helpful, then there are very subtle and delicate words that must be used. I am not confident that this President is up to that task, as it is not in his nature. Even beyond his prepared words he will use today, he has shown a bent to unwind progress with his inability to leave it alone.

I wonder why some people are having a hard time believing that Senate candidate Roy Moore sexual assaulted and harassed teen girls. It was not a secret that the man trolled malls looking for pretty teens to exploit. And, he cannot defend himself as his words get in the way. Mr. Moore, did you know these girls or not? When you have trouble answering the question, it means two things to me. Either you are lying or there are so many you cannot possibly remember them. One thing is for certain, they remember you.

I wonder why GOP Congressional leadership are using robocalls and commercials to sell me on their Tax Bills. Only 29% of Americans support the bills and 64% of Americans think the bills favor the wealthy. As a I said in emails, voicemails and conversations with staff of these politicians, we cannot increase the debt as these tax bills do (and should be reducing it) and please do not tell me how much they favor the middle class, when it is obvious who greatly benefits from them. Our friend Gronda refers to them as the “Donor Relief Fund.” Please let them know of your concerns.

I wonder.

 

A few financial retorts

In an effort to pass a Tax Bill in the US that heavily favors the wealthy and increases the US debt, I have heard several platitudes that are no truer today than when they were first uttered years ago. Here are just a few odds and ends to sink your teeth into.

When a politician tells you a tax cut will pay for itself, the follow-up question is  why don’t we do away with all taxes then? The current tax bill has been projected to fuel only 1/3 of the cost of the tax reduction, which is a little higher than average tax cuts yields.

Most CEOs have said they will use the tax break to buy back shares, pay higher dividends and retain key executives with better incentives. The answer we were promised by legislators is they would spend it on their business investments. These folks are sitting on cash already, so if they are not investing now, when?

By the way, when a company says it is going to buy back shares, more often than not, that is a sign of weakness. In essence, management cannot figure out how to grow the numerator (earnings), so they lessen the denominator (outstanding shares). This is a less risky way to prop up EPS growth and gain a greater incentive payment.

I have talked ad nauseum about the US debt which is being ignored. As we see it grow by more than $10 trillion over the next ten years, at some point there will be a huge day of reckoning and all previous politicians will and should be held accountable. We will see some deck chair moving on our Titanic, but we are well past ignoring this problem. If a Republican tells you they are a deficit hawk, tell them that does not appear to be true.

Finally, the last major Tax Reform was in the mid-1980s. It was a bipartisan effort that took about four years to do, led by some of the smartest tax folks in the Senate and House. These Tax Bills are not bipartisan, have been rushed through without hearings, are not popular and are not authored by folks of the same caliber as before. This speaks volumes.

But, no one is listening to the push back. Talk is cheap. We are about to pass an unpopular Tax Bill that largely benefits corporations and the wealthy and adds to our building debt problem. And, the folks who will bear the brunt of this are the people in poverty and middle class. Please speak with your Senators and Congresspeople. Ask them not to pass any Tax Bill that will increase the debt. And, remember it is easy to pass a tax cut; the opposite is where it gets hard.

 

 

A few painful truths

We are overlooking some very painful truths primarily for short term gain. As I chatted with staff members for several US Senators, I found myself saying “you sound like a young person; you do realize we are leaving this problem for you?” I hope they start thinking more about what I said because of what we are ignoring.

The reason for my question is Congress has passed one Tax bill and is debating another that will increase our $20.5 trillion debt by at least $1.5 trillion. Yet, not only are we ignoring the $20.5 trillion debt, we are ignoring that the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to grow by $10 trillion without the Tax bill impact. So, in 2027, the debt could be $32 trillion if the Tax bill is signed into law. This is beyond poor stewardship – it is malfeasance. We would be screwing those young staffers I spoke with.

Unfortunately, there is more. Our leadership has decided to make the US the only country in the world to not support the Paris Climate Change Accord. Not only are we denying hard truths and overwhelming scientific evidence, we are shooting ourselves and planet in the foot. Renewable energy is passed the tipping point and we risk getting left behind as other nations invest in Innovation for the new economy. Fortunately, cities, states and businesses are carrying the banner dropped by our leadership, who is being relegated to the kids table at Thanksgiving. At the next post-Paris event, the US may not be invited at all. If we don’t deal more decisively with climate change, we will be screwing those young staffers and their children.

A final issue to mention, but not the final problem we are ignoring, is the US is retrenching from our global leadership role to the delight of China and Russia and chagrin of our western allies. The President gave a speech in Vietnam this month similar to the one made in Davos earlier in the year. America will retrench to a nationalistic country seeking bilateral agreements. On each occasion, his speech was followed by Xi Jingping who gave the global leadership speech the US normally gives. What our President fails to understand is globalization lifts all boats and our economy benefits more than if we look to maximize only our share. This concept has been called the “Nash Equilibrium” in honor of the Nobel Economics prize winner who developed it, John Nash. If we retrench, we will be harming our future growth and screwing those young staffers.

As I mention, these are not the only things we are ignoring – poverty, job losses due to technology advances, healthcare costs, environmental degradation, infrastructure, better gun control, etc. Yet, should we not alter our path set by these leaders, this path will be defined in the future as the period when the US gave up its global leadership role. And, the world will be a lesser place because of it. Sadly, I have witnessed these words spoken by more than a few global financial and security experts.

 

 

Increasing the Debt is Malfeasance

If I may be permitted to be crass, let me offer a quote from an unknown source, “any dumb ass can get elected saying they will reduce taxes.” I will let you be the judge at how successful this campaign approach is.

In the United States, we have about $20.5 trillion in debt, which is roughly $63,000 per person and $170,000 per taxpayer. With an annual budget of about $4 trillion, we had a deficit in our most recent fiscal year ending September 30, of roughly $650 billion. The deficit is predicted to only go up, if we do nothing which will in turn increase the debt by an estimated $10 trillion.

With the President’s encouragement, Congress has proposed doing something. But, it is in the wrong direction. The Republican majority has passed a budget that will allow for net tax reductions in the Tax Bill being considered that will increase the debt by an additional $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.

Again, that is on top of an estimated $10 trillion increase. By my math, that puts us at $32 trillion of debt in ten years. There is no other way to say this. This is malfeasance. It certainly is not good stewardship.

The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee completed their findings and recommendations in the fall of 2010. That earnest and diligent effort recommended $2 worth of expense cuts for every $1 of tax increases. We simply cannot cut our way out of the problem. But, this well done report was shelved.

I have heard several members of Congress over the years tout a balanced budget, but that is not enough. We actually need more revenue than expenses. That must include tax increases along with spending cuts. It is that simple. We cannot make the math work otherwise.

If we continue to hide from this problem, like climate change, it will become a major obstacle. We must act now and we certainly do not need to cut taxes and revenue. People will not like this answer, but someone needs to shoot straight with our citizens. We all need to pitch in before it is too late and we leave ourselves, kids and grandkids a mountain of debt.

There are several groups that have been raising this alarm for some time now. “Fix the Debt” and “The Concord Coalition” are just two. Please check them out and let your Congress representative and senators know this is too important a problem to make worse. If they say the taxes will pay for themselves, tell them it does not work that way and they should know that. Let’s fix the debt, not make it worse.

Let’s speak plainly

After watching a few newscasts with politicians using words that sound nice, but lack substance, I am in the need of some plain spoken comments. Here are a few to start the conversation. Please let me hear some of yours.

The US President and Congress are speaking of Tax Reform, but what I am hearing are tax cuts. We have a debt of $20 Trillion and an annual budget deficit. There is no way in hell to reduce either with lower tax revenue. We need spending cuts and tax increases, but no politician has the stomach to do what is needed.

Steve Bannon is the latest White House departure to say the President likes for his direct reports to compete for his attention and favor. People say this is how he likes to run his businesses. Two comments. First, I have witnessed this model as an employee, manager and consultant and it is a highly unproductive model. Second, biographers and financial reporters have all said Trump’s business record is spotty. He is a great salesman, but the word great is rarely used to describe his management style. It shows in the level of chaos and incompetence in the White House. General Kelly has helped, but it is a tall hill to climb.

While I understand the reasons for Brexit, I have been very concerned by the consideration and vote to exit the EU. From the outset, financial experts forewarned of the British leaving the EU. They spoke of EU headquarter movement, less investment, and less collaboration. This is already occurring in plans of the exit. I understand Former PM Tony Blair has an idea to govern immigration better without leaving – my strong suggestion is to hear him out.

Along these lines, those who want to retrench from global markets need to know a truism – it is very hard to shrink to greatness. I understand middle income workers in flourishing economies feel the brunt of globalization, but a large part of that is due to and will continue to result from technology gains. Retraining is a must. Shoring up wages is a must. But, we need to be careful about retrenching from global markets, that also add jobs here.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with these comments? If you do not, let me know why?