Complex Issues in a Twitter World

With the aid of new tools to communicate, the terrible irony is we do less meaningful communication. With Facebook, Twitter, Texting, PINterest, etc. we now resort to very brief nuggets of communication, which can only scratch the surface of an issue. Even with a picture, which is supposedly worth a thousand words, context is sometimes lost, or worse, misconveyed. Even with emails, many people react to the messenger or only read the tops of emails, meaning the first few paragraphs. And, I should add, I am not even counting the oftentimes mindless back and forth that transpires over these media which give people status reports on their day or how they feel about something that just happened.

You may have guessed I am not a Tweeter, but I do text as that is often the best way to communicate with my away-to-college children. So, these media do serve a great purpose. Yet when issues are complex like many of our problems in the world today, if we only rely on this media, much is lost in the translation. Since the briefer media is here to stay, I offer you some Tweets to use as you deem appropriate on a variety of topics, with an attempt to include some context.

Gun Control Tweets

  • OMG, another kid shot his sib! I heard the US leads the civilized world in kid gun deaths by far. That is tragic. Background checks are a must.
  • NRA keeps telling me the answer to our gun problem is more guns. Call me stupid, but that is like saying the answer to obesity is more fatty food.
  • I cant believe Congress cant pass a gun control bill when Americans want one. Even most gun owners want better background checks, including Ted Nugent’s brother.
  • Canada likes its guns too. Yet, US has 3x number of gun deaths. 80 out of 100 gun deaths in the richest 23 nations occur in the US. That seems to be a problem.
  • I cant figure out why someone in the US would want an assault weapon. Honestly would you date a guy or girl who has seven AK47s? I would run for the exit.

Climate Change Tweets

  • You can tell Chris Christie is running for Prez. He is now denouncing climate change to win the GOP nod. This is after his state was crushed by Sandy which was worse due to rising sea levels.
  • NC legislature would not accept a science report saying sea levels would rise 39 inches by 2100. They wanted one that said 8 in, so they got one. Cant hold back the tide with a report.
  • Newt Gingrich made a TV commercial with Nancy Pelosi in 2006 saying he was wrong about climate change. Then, when running for Prez last yr said he was wrong to say he was wrong. Hmmm.
  • 97% of scientists say climate change is here and man-influenced. Only 26% of GOP congressmen say it is. Hmmm. Science issue. Whom should I believe?
  • It seems the fossil fuel industry makes a bucket load of money. I heard they are huge donors to the GOP. You dont think there is any connection with the GOP saying climate change is hoax?
  • Biggest news story to get underplayed recently was scientists saying our carbon levels in the atmosphere have reached a level of great concern. I guess it wasnt scandalous enough. We need to act now.

Deficit Reduction Tweets

  • Some say we should cut taxes and spending to solve our deficit, but I cant see that working. Simpson Bowles said we should cut spending and increase some taxes. Of course I want to pay less, but the math wont work.
  • TEA partiers say we are taxed enough already, but I read the OECD in Paris say we are 32nd out of 34 countries in Tax Revenue per GDP and 10% below average. That does not jive with what the TEA crowd says.
  • Of course, we need to cut spending wisely, but we need to invest more in some areas to create growth and jobs – infrastructure, education, innovation.
  • OMG I just saw our deficit has been greatly reduced lower than when Obama took office. I read it was due to growing economy, higher taxes on wealthy, stopping the 2% payroll tax incentive and decline in war spending.

Healthcare Tweets

  • Help me understand why Obama passes a largely Republican idea as Obamacare and now Repubs dont like it?
  • Call me stupid but it seems to me Repubs dont like Obamacare as they want to prevent it from being successful. They want to beat Obama without much concern for us pawns in their political game.
  • Obamacare is not perfect and is complex, but its going to get more people covered and some good things have already happened with more young adults covered, prexist conditions going away, no lifetime limits…
  • I have heard a lot of GOPers say they dont want Obamacare, but I have not heard any ideas on how they want to cover the uninsured if it is repealed. I guess we just get screwed as before.

Scandal Tweets

  • Why is there still a fuss about Benghazi? Why havent the Repubs invited Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullens in to testify? They did the report back in Dec and seemed to put it to bed.
  • Now that Obama has provided his emails, it has gotten real quiet in the Benghazi Committee. Call me stupid, but I think they want to let it die with open questions rather than let them be answered.
  • This IRS thing is weird. It seems like overworked bureaucrats were trying to have the same folks review like kinds of filings and didnt realize this could look funny to others. Sounds like theyre more naive than criminal, but I need more info.
  • The one that bothers me most is the AP scandal. I am not sure I like the Justice dept getting my phone records so easily for national security. I would like some more due process.

I could go on, but I think I have covered enough topics for now. All of these issues are complex and unbiased data points are key. There are too many issues controlled by special interest groups. The IRS issue is complex and we need to wait for the completion of the investigations to render judgment. People calling for heads before the issues are known are making political statements.

Please feel free to use as you see fit. or create your own better grounded tweets. Yet, in any event, quoting my old boss – “My daddy used to say, believe half of what you read and nothing of what you hear.” Be an honest skeptic on what you read and seek the truth in everything.

This portion of the GOP is not reading the tea leaves

There has been attention given to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)which was underway this week in Oxon Hill, MD. For those without a scorecard, the CPAC is the very conservative wing of the GOP and includes Tea Partiers, Libertarians, etc. They don’t speak for the entire party, but the GOP leadership does not throw water on what they are doing either. So, the news agencies report on what occurs. The fact that one of the more obvious choices for a GOP presidential nominations – Gov. Chris Christie – was not invited and Former VP candidate Sarah Palin was, should give you a strong indication of what this group is all about.

Christie was not invited as he had the gall in the eyes of the CPAC to publicly thank the President for going out of his way to help New Jersey Hurricane Sandy victims and chastised Congress for their ineptitude and callousness for not passing hurricane relief. Hurricane help is a tremendous metaphor for the differences in the two major parties, as many have said of all of President Bush’s failures in the White House, his inability to help the Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans may be his greatest failure.

With all of this said, as an Independent voter, I was optimistic about some self-reflection from the CPAC and the recognition of the need to change. However, watching conservative columnist David Brooks with Mark Shields on the Shields-Brooks portion of the PBSNewshour last night, he summed up best the disappointment in the CPAC efforts. Brooks lamented that Senator Marco Rubio, one of the darlings of the GOP, said something akin to “we don’t need new ideas, we are America and America is our idea.”

“In a nutshell, this is the problem with the GOP,” said Brooks. “They need new ideas.” He contrasted their dilemma with the selection of an outward thinking Pope Francis. He said when an organization is in trouble and being attacked, you do not turn inward. You reach out and it is a promising sign that the Pope will do that. The GOP needs to do this, as well.

I have written four specific posts out of several about the need for the GOP to change. Their demise was predicted back in 2009, when an unnamed leader said the GOP will have success in the 2010 mid-term elections, but it will mask the underlying problems of the party. We are seeing this today, as Speaker John Boehner has had to call for three important votes where his party did not favor the outcome, but enough did to join with the Democratic caucus. Going backwards in time, please check out the following posts:

“Memo to GOP Leadership – Please do your homework to become more relevant” written on November 23, 2012

“The GOP Needs to Find Its Way Out of the Abyss” written on September 26, 2012

“The Big Hairy Audacious Lies” written on July 22, 2012

“What Kind of Tea is the Tea Party Drinking” written on May 19, 2012.

As a former Republican, I want the party to return to reasonable governance. Our country and states need this. As disappointed as I am with Congress, I am totally disappointed and disillusioned by the State of North Carolina GOP led legislature who is rolling out the mission of the fossil fuel industry before our very eyes. It is highly discouraging to see a state who is innovative and leading on alternative energy see threats to the enabling laws and mind-boggling legislation around moving forward with fracking consideration, cutting down trees for electronic billboards and to dismiss a scientific report on rising sea levels similar to what as adopted in other states. It is highly disappointing to see a state refuse to accept the Medicaid expansion to help 550,000 needy residents without healthcare because they want to make a statement against Obamacare, ironically, a largely Republican idea.

What is happening in NC shows the stripes of the party which seems to care less about people and the environment. We must expand healthcare coverage to help those without it. And, we must address man-influenced global warming. These were two keys of my post on The Big Hairy Audacious Lies. One of the other keys related to the unbelievable support for the gun lobbyists and industry. To me, it is quite hypocritical to say you support kids and then tolerate the means to have more of them killed. This is not a mass shooting issue, it is an every day 16-year-old killing a 13-year-old kind of issue. This blind support for guns without reasonable restrictions is almost criminal, in my mind.

Yet, I wanted to close with a final key which is fiscal responsibility. The post I wrote in May about the Tea Party is telling. You cannot be the party of fiscal responsibility when you take a key lever off the table to solve the problem, citing an ideology based on fallacious arguments. We cannot solve our budget deficit and debt crisis problems without increasing taxes as well as cutting expenses. We have to do both and that was the conclusion of the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission.

I cited a study of “Taxes as a percent of GDP” conducted by the Paris based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is a well-respected organization including 34 countries. The numbers I cited have been updated for 2010. The  numbers show the US Taxes/ GDP ratio in 2010 to be 24.8% which compares to the unweighted average of all 34 countries of 33.8%. The US is 9% less than the average and remains near the bottom of the 34 countries. When we were last balanced in 2001(before the Bush Tax cuts), the US ratio was 28.8% and the unweighted average of 34 countries was 35.5%. A conclusion that can be drawn from this is we do have room and the need to increase tax revenue to help us pay for things. So, to say we are taxed enough already does not seem to be a fair statement.

The party needs to talk with those outside the party to understand why their message is off mark. The CPAC meeting is prima facie evidence that at least this portion of the party is not prepared to do that. I did not address the social issues, as they could take up their own post, but many find this party to not be on the side of the Angels on many issues. GOP Senator Rob Portman’s announcement in favor of gay marriage yesterday actually stole some of the CPAC thunder. Based on the CPAC posturing, it was more newsworthy. Getting back to my November post, if the GOP wants to be relevant again, they need to do their homework. And, that homework should start with those who left the party. It apparently cannot begin with the CPAC, who won’t read the tea leaves. Plus, you might want to align yourself with your better candidate – he was not in the room at the CPAC. He was the guy in New Jersey trying to solve real problems.

Blowing in the Wind

According to one of our great songwriters, Bob Dylan, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.” His song was immortalized by Peter, Paul and Mary the day Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. I do not want to take anything away from what those words mean and one of America’s greatest historical moments. However, I do want to build on Dylan’s legacy, by using his wonderful title and chorus, to answer another series of important questions.

– What is one of the most cost-effective renewable energy sources in the world?

– What renewable energy source industry has 75,000 workers in the US and could have 500,000 by the year 2030?

– What renewable energy source industry had only 30 facilities in the US  in 2004, but now has 472 in 2012?

– What energy source contributed to 44% of all new electic generating capability in the US in 2012 leading natural gas at 30%?

– What is the fastest growing source of energy in the world according to the US Department of Energy?

– What energy source could grow to providing 20% of all US energy by 2030 according to the Department of Energy?

The answer to all of these questions is truly “blowing in the wind.” Wind energy, along with solar energy, will be the two building blocks of an alternative energy future. Germany is abandoning nuclear energy and fossil fuels and moving strongly into wind and solar. Siemens is leading the way, but they are not the only company pushing forward. Siemens has built the state of the art offshore wind turbine called Siemens 6.0 MW. It has fewer movable parts and will have a longer duration as a result. Even with that said, the first offshore wind farm which was built with 11 wind turbines off the coast of Denmark in 1991 is still alive and well over 21 years later. And, as Bill Maher likes to say, “Do you know what happens when an offshore wind farm collapses (as opposed to an offshore drilling facility)? A splash.”

Yet, General Electric is into the wind turbine industry in a heavy way. They are making double-digit inroads in Siemens’ market share in Germany, which is the fastest growing alternative energy market. GE has produced a low wind velocity onshore wind turbine that is gaining a lot of market share in Siemens’ backyard. Warren Buffett seems to like what GE is doing as he has invested heavily in them. And, they are not just making inroads in Germany. They are helping move the US wind energy industry forward as well. Not that they are all made by GE, but 70% of all wind turbines serving those 472 facilities in the US are made here according to AWEA, the American Wind Energy Association.

Just to bring it down to a local level, Duke Energy just completed two more wind farms in South Texas, the Los Vientos I and II projects adding 402 megawatts of electricity. They now have three in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. Los Vientos I will help power homes in San Antonio, while LV II will help power homes in Austin. Duke added 800 megawatts of alternative energy in 2012 bringing their total capacity to 1,700 megawatts, which can power 500,000 homes. Not all of this is wind energy, but it shows where the future is today. I mention Duke often as they are responding to a state of North Carolina mandate that 12.5% of their energy has to come from alternative energy by 2021. They are permitted to trade off by developing power and selling it in other states, just as they buy excess power from local solar and wind projects from the likes of Apple and Google.

I am using Dylan’s song to highlight a key answer to our future energy concerns and address head on the impact of man-influenced global warming. I also want to point out that between Siemens, General Electric, Duke Energy, Nordex and other companies, there are real jobs in alternative energy which will grow in number. One of the benefits of the recent fiscal cliff bill was to extend the Production Tax Credits and Investment Tax Credits for this industry for one more year. This action saved 37,500 wind energy jobs. This is where our subsidies need to be as these industries build to scalability. Solar energy continues to get cheaper, especially with what companies like Semprius are doing as reported a few weeks ago in my post “Here Comes the Sun.”  And, a key answer to our cleaner energy future is truly “Blowing in the Wind.”

Stop Posturing and Try Governing

I think one thing that most Americans can agree on is their frustration over our Congressional leaders. With a lower rating than a bucket of spit, you would think they would be looking for ways to improve on that image. Yet, I continue to see posturing for the sake of political gamesmanship that I find truly annoying. Both political parties deploy these tactics, but I find a much higher percentage of posturing from our more conservative brethren. One reason is the antagonism they feel must be hurled at the President from the opposing party. The Democrats likely had a higher propensity to do this when President Bush was in the White House. But, I find a higher degree from the GOP given the propaganda that is emitted from their news network.

I had noted before that the hatred toward the Affordable Care Act is ironic as it is largely a Republican idea being spawned by the Heritage Foundation and advocated by Senator Bob Dole in the 1990’s as an alternative to Hillary Care, which was a national insurance program. Yet, the posturing I found most amusing even beyond that of Mitt Romney who helped pass a version while Governor of Massachusetts, was that of Senator Jim DeMint, known by many as the leader of the Tea Party. He wrote a letter to President Bush advocating what Massachusetts had done for the whole country and in particular, the individual mandate. Other GOP senators agreed. However, when you scroll forward three years and President Obama gets passed a variation of Romney Care, DeMint and these senators lambasted it as heresy. Senator DeMint, you sent a letter advocating the healthcare act and now you reverse your position because the other guy took your party’s idea and passed it.

We had another example of this kind of posturing this week when Senator Mitch McConnell started deriding the choice of fellow Republican and former Senator Chuck Hagel as the nominee for Secretary of Defense. Senator McConnell, this is the same guy you are on record as raving about four years ago. This former Vietnam veteran has done nothing in the intervening four years that would change your thinking, except for garnering one new advocate. He was nominated by the President of the other party who took your candidate and said I like him. When I see the former Senator’s credentials, I come away very impressed. He is not perfect, but he looks a lot less imperfect than some of the other names mentioned in this post.

In fairness to my conservative friends, let me reiterate my disdain for Senator Harry Reid, who postures with the best (or in this case worst) of them. I think he and McConnell are the poster children for what is wrong with Washington. Yet, I must give credit to McConnell for working with the Vice President to get a bill passed to avoid the fiscal cliff. It was not close to where I wanted them to come out. I wanted more tax increases and some spending cuts. So, I am glad something happened as something needed to happen and the markets reacted favorably, but we did fall short of a better outcome. And, of course we fell short because of the posturing made by Speaker Boehner. He was close to a deal with the President  that would have accomplished more and he did a misdirection with his Plan B. When that failed, McConnell had to pick up the dropped ball. So, I think we ended up with a lesser bill as do others.

As a result, our leaders have set us up for more last-minute haggling that will result in acrimony and, very likely, the downgrading of US debt. I am firmly convinced the posturing will prevent the debt ceiling from being raised and the markets will react very negatively. If these folks had hashed out a better fiscal cliff avoidance deal, we would not be as perilously positioned. In spite of what both sides say, here are a few road map keys from where I sit:

– tax revenue needs to still increase (the data shows the math won’t work otherwise) and we should revamp the tax code per Simpson-Bowles;

– defense spending needs to come down – find the dollars – as there are surplus areas of spending;

– social welfare spending needs to come down as well – we need to become more empowering where we can and use a scalpel on many programs; Americans talk a big game, but when cornered they don’t want cuts to programs that affect them, yet cut them we must; and

– infrastructure spending needs to go up (we must cut and invest) as our bridges, roads, electric rids and gas lines, etc. are in need of upgrading. The stimulus bill worked in many areas, yet all people heard about was where it did not. Senator Richard Burr could not recall an infrastructure investment from the Stimulus Bill, yet I drove over a bridge today on I-85 in NC that is 30 miles from his home which has two large signs that it is funded by the American Recovery Act (aka the Stimulus Bill) – how is that for posturing?

Mr. President, Senators and Congresspeople, we have only two months to make major strides on these complex topics. Do not wait until the last minute as something inferior will be passed. And, if you do nothing, you will have the pleasure of seeing the sequestration cuts hit home and our debt being downgraded again. The President has proposed some very good, but imperfect Secretaries. If you have a real problem with them, then state your argument. If you are just posturing, do not waste people’s time and get busy on the deficit deal. Time is of the essence. Stop posturing and try governing.

A Dearth of Leadership and Customer Service

On this final day of 2012, I thought I would combine two topics which will make more sense as you read on. I do this as each of us must continue to take on more responsibility for what happens to us and should be less inclined to abdicate that role to others. In the US, I sit here convinced that our leaders in Washington will be unable to reach a compromise to avoid a self-created crisis, the fiscal cliff. As the House of Representatives is at the height of dysfunction, they have shifted over to the Senate to try to come up with a deal that will for the most part be window dressing to solving a problem that going over the cliff would actually bring us closer to solving. My blogging friend Barneysday in www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com keeps advocating for us to go over the cliff. He argues, while more abrupt, it actually makes a greater dent and removes the infamous Bush tax cuts that are a huge contributor to our deficit woes. I do not disagree with his long term eyesight. Yet, smarter people than me say falling off the cliff will throw water on our recovery.

Yet, here is where the dearth of leadership comes in. I have long advocated the need for tax revenue increases along with spending cuts. The math will not work otherwise. If the President and other leaders would shoot straight with the American people and say we need more revenue and here are the numbers, then we would see our role in doing what is needed. I am tired of leaders telling us what we want to hear. Of course, people will say don’t raise my taxes, but don’t cut the things we need. I saw a great line in the paper today, where someone said “put armed guards in schools, but don’t raise my taxes.” That seemed to fit the American psyche. We need leaders to show us the problem and discuss resolutions. We need real data and not contrived data. We don’t need Mitch McConnell burying a report that contradicts his party’s support of trickle down economics. That is not leadership – that is cowardice.

We also have a dearth of leadership in our businesses. The 80/20 rule applies to leaders as well. Only 20% of the leaders are worth what they are paid. The other 80% are underperformers to varying degrees. US companies are sitting on cash as they don’t know what to do with it. I like to paraphrase Warren Buffett who said concern over taxes has never stopped me from investing in a good idea. I have seen some small business leaders say the same thing. Yet, when times get tough, most leaders know what to fall back on – cutting jobs. I am not against making smart cuts nor would I advocate denying that lever to a leader. However, there is a fear to invest and possibly make a mistake. That is one reason, I have been investing more in high dividend payers of late. My thought is if you don’t know what to do with your cash, you can at least give it to me and let me manage it.

On the customer service side, we must be the navigators of our own customer service. Whether it is a bank, health insurer, retailer or some other company, you have to own the customer service navigation process. Each of us know the feeling of talking with a customer service representative who obviously cannot help you when you get them off script. You have to know what the company can do for you to help navigate to a solution. I am often complimented on my patience in dealing with customer service people. Part of the reason is I have such low expectations, that I arm myself with information I think I might need and prepare myself for the call. But, I also know to not make things too complicated for the customer service provider – in other words, don’t get them outside of their white lines. The other reason is it is not my nature to be an asshole and, in these situations, you will be better served to not be one.

If you think about it, you are leading the customer service person to a resolution. You need to be prepared to be more in control and take that responsibility. The same goes for the lack of leadership in other settings. In the absence of leadership, people are reaching across business silos and country borders to get things done. For the younger readers starting out, I encourage you to start saving immediately in any company sponsored savings plan. And, also do what it takes to save money for shorter term crises. These will help you weather storms that occur later and they will. You will be taking more control of your own financial life.

Also, on the job, most work is accomplished in teams. Offer your help and be unlike the US leaders and collaborate. The best ideas tend to come from those closest to the action – real leaders know this and perpetuate opportunities for this to occur. But, if you don’t work in such a situation and cannot leave your current job, try your best to work with others. Be a leader on the ground and work with others. I sometimes call these people the dot connectors, but people gravitate to the informal leadership within any organization. They help make things happen, especially when named leaders do not.

Finally, do you best to understand what is going on. I am not saying to be a political junkie, but have a grasp of the issues. Seek out better sources of information and question things. Also, use multiple sources – I read the paper, watch PBS Newshour, the BBC World News America and the local news. Sometimes, I will watch the national news on CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS to mix it up. For American readers, you will note the absence of a national news agency with some more conservative viewers. I would alway question any source which discredits the other sources as part of its mantra. If you do not believe me, then why were primary viewers of that network more surprised with the Presidential election outcome?

By understanding the issues, you can keep these leaders more honest. We need to be the watch dogs and navigate the our own customer service even from our elected leaders. As for our business leaders, please know they have changed the equation. People will rarely work long term with one company – they won’t let you. So, you are perpetual free agent. Develop your career, save your money and work well with others. That kind of networking will pay off and let you find the jobs that will further your career. It may be within that company or elsewhere. You navigate it.

Everyone, I wish you the best in 2013. Take better control as the navigator of your life and the service you get whether it is from leadership or customer service people. It is your responsibility.

A Few Holiday Wishes

It is a wonderful time of the year for reflection and to remember what is important – family and friends are at the top of the list. The tragedies the pair of Sandy’s (Sandy Hook’s shooting tragedy and the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy) caused on people, families, friends and homes will hopefully be the tipping points for action to not let this happen in the future on the same order of magnitude. If I had to focus on a few global and national holiday wishes, two that would be high on the list would be doing something to remember those harmed by these tragedies.

So, let me note a few holiday wishes that may impact all of our families:

– First, I hope we heighten the focus on reasonable gun laws in the US which will let us join the rest of the civilized world on appropriate gun governance. The issue goes beyond Sandy Hook and the mass murders that have occurred over the last few years. We have to address the gun deaths that occur every day, especially with 2,694 children and teen gun deaths in 2010, 100x the number who died at Sandy Hook

– Second, I hope the US will begin formal discussions addressing global warming which is upon us and enabled by our human actions and inactions. The President has done some good things but not nearly enough and we need the other political party to join the conversation and stop listening only to their fossil fuel funders. Hurricane Sandy launching off an elevated coastal sea level is the new normal unless we do something about it. This new normal has been predicted for several years, so it should not be a surprise any more.

– Third, I hope the Taliban’s recent actions targeting a young girl on a bus and killing the Polio vaccine workers and patients, will show the Muslim world who the real enemy is and it is in their midst. Until women and girls are afforded rights in these countries, they will forever be competing economically with only half their population. Plus, it is grossly inhumane and unfair to treat women and girls as property.

– Fourth, I hope the Assad regime will step down soon, so no more innocent people are killed and die of starvation in Syria. The latest tragedy had the government bombing people standing in a bread line who had not eaten in a days. I also hope reasonable heads can intervene as the new government is constructed.

– Fifth, I hope economic trade can occur routinely amongst people whose leaders cannot get along. There is something about free trade that can create an economic vitality that can go beyond borders. When people interact in a positive way, then better outcomes can result. Economic sanctions punish the wrong people – the leaders skim off the top and do fine. The rest of their citizens are the ones who are screwed.

– Sixth, I hope the leaders of our country can start acting like leaders and less like little children. We have real problems that require holistic solutions. The failure to act on the fiscal cliff, which people say would be less optimal if it occurred, is actually worse than the cliff. People see an incompetent and grossly negligent body of leaders. I hope the leaders can prove them wrong in this case and come to an agreement. I heard tonight in a CBS Poll that 2/3 of Americans whose income is over $450,000 support a tax increase. So, do CEOs who came together in October. I would suggest Congress listen to these folks and less to Grover Norquist. And, Democrats you better find some cuts you can live with.

– Seventh, poverty is rampant in America. We have people who work hard at several minimum wage jobs or cannot find work. I wish people who are more fortunate can walk in the shoes of others. There are some that have made judgements painting people in poverty with a broad brush based on the observations of a few they may see in the street. The recent recession has imposed poverty on people who had never dreamed it could happen to them. We all need to help those in need climb a ladder out of poverty.

– Eighth, let me close with a wish for people to pursue civil disagreements rather than arguments and insults. I failed to mention this as one of the reasons we have more gun deaths. People perceive an insult and then access a handy weapon and someone is dead. If we choose not to take offense and have civil discourse, then we can avoid senseless deaths. This goes in combination with greater tolerance of people and our differences. The more we understand each other, the fewer disagreements we may have to begin with.

I have many more global and national wishes, but I will limit them to these eight, plus a final one. I wish for all to have an enjoyable holiday season and a safe and content 2013. Take care all. I have treasured your comments in response to my posts and reading your wonderful posts as well. I look forward to more treasures next year.

 

 

Isn’t it Ironic – the Underlying Fiscal Cliff Issue

I don’t often get the chance to quote an Alanis Morissette song lyric, but from her song “Ironic,” the often repeated lead lyric is “isn’t it ironic?” Since we are in the final countdown toward the fiscal cliff, I would like to add a verse to her song to discuss openly an underlying theme, one which the news agencies seem to ignore. I would also like to give a shout out to Vincent Mudd, Barneysday, and Hugh Curtler who on their respective blogs have provide useful and data driven perspective on the pending fiscal cliff (check them out at respectively at www.vincentmudd.wordpress.com, www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com, and www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com).

The irony is we are talking about extending in some form the Bush Tax cuts which are the primary reason we have the deficit today. As an independent voter, both political parties are misleading the American people and not talking about the shared sacrifice we need to resolve our deficit. Very clearly we need spending cuts. Yet, equally as clear is we need to raise tax revenue otherwise the math won’t work to solve our problem. Who says this? For starters, this is the basis of the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan.  However, I want to set that aside and go to a data point external to the US. I like to look at data which compares the US to the rest of the world as it gives an unbiased, comparative view of our problems and gets away from the politics of my data is better than your data.

I have cited before the well-respected global organization based in Paris called the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Please refer to their website at www.oecd.com for validation of this information. One of the studies of data the OECD does is look at tax revenue relative to gross domestic product (GDP) of each country. Tax revenue includes federal, state and local taxes relative to GDP. At least going back to 1965, the OECD shows the comparative ratios of Taxes/ GDP for 34 countries. I have referenced this before, but let me reiterate data at two key time points.

– In 2009, the US ranked 32nd out of 34 countries in Taxes/ GDP, third from the bottom. Further, the US was just shy of 10% beneath the average ratio of the 34 countries.

– In 2000, the US still ranked low in standing for the 34 countries, yet was around 5% beneath the average of the 34 countries. This is the final year of Bill Clinton’s presidency and we actually had a budget surplus due to the efforts of Clinton, his Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (why is that name so familiar?), and Congress.

The Bush Tax Cuts came in two waves after his inauguration in 2001. The first irony is we did not need the tax cuts then. One of Bush’s tax advisors was forced to resign after he publicly disagreed with Bush over these cuts. Even Warren Buffett was critical of the lowering of the dividend tax rate to 15% from the ordinary income tax rate. Paraphrasing his quote he said at the time you are giving millionaires a tax cut they do not need. And, there are far more knowledgeable people than me on this subject, but I offended some folks back in 2001 when I said we did not need these cuts and at some point we have to step up and pay for something. One of my pet peeves is politicians who cut taxes for political gain, as in my mind, any dumb ass can get elected saying they will cut taxes.

So, here we are over ten years later discussing whether we continue these tax cuts or just continue them on those making less than $250,000. Going back to my two data points from the OECD survey, that 5% differential from 2001 to 2009 in the US Taxes/ GDP ratio versus the 34 country average stands in the way of getting back to fiscal responsibility. This is why I am so strident in my views against the Tea Party (Taxed Enough Already Party) and Lobbyist Grover Norquist. Of course, we need to be smart about what we spend and we should cut spending in numerous areas including Defense. Yet, we have to step up and pay for something. To do this, we need to raise tax revenue. Messrs. Simpson and Bowles (there is that name again) know this which is why they include tax revenue increase (add Boehner and Obama’s proposal together to get close to theirs) along with spending cuts.

Of course, the GOP will tout growing the economy with lower taxes will do the same. First, economists have shown this is a fallacious argument. If you don’t believe me then why did Senator Mitch McConnell bury a report from a non-partisan governmental agency that came to this conclusion in October? Second, why does David Stockman, one of Ronald Reagan’s economic advisors say Trickle Down economics did not work? Third, why does Warren Buffett say the tax rates don’t get in the way of an idea that will make money. Tax rates have been historically higher in the US and we had a lot of investment going on then.

So, part of me agrees with my friend Barney who says let them go over the cliff and pull the scab off. The tax increases will get us closer to where we need to be. Economists have said the abruptness of the change may stall the economy. Coupled with this change is the cessation of extended unemployment benefits and the elimination of the temporary FICA tax roll back of 2% of pay. Even our friend Mr. Bowles says we should phase in the changes. Yet, if we did go over the cliff, we would all share the sacrifice.

That is where both parties are misleading the American people. All of us will have to play a role in reducing the budget. And, guess what – none of us will like it, but that is where our politicians need to shoot straight with the American people. At least the President gets part of this answer, but he does not go far enough. Thanks to Mr. Norquist, except for a few brave souls in the GOP, most have not gotten at least to where the President is.

So, Alanis “isn’t it ironic?” that we are debating over the extension of the key reason we have our deficit. Isn’t it ironic that the author the Bush Tax Cuts is considered by historians as one of the worst presidents in history, some pointing to this reason as he took a surplus budget and made it a deficit budget. I would ask the GOP if he was so great, how come he has not been invited to your last two conventions?

So, President Obama, Speaker Boehner and Senators Reid and McConnell, please shoot straight with the American people and start telling us what we need to hear. I do have a compromise for you, if you want one. Let the Bush Tax cuts expire – all of them – yet continue the FICA tax rollback of 2% of pay for one (or two) more year(s). It was temporary to begin with. Extend the unemployment benefits, but look for strategic cuts in Defense, Medicare and Social Security. Americans won’t like it, but they will understand if you start shooting straight with them and stop listening to lobbyists like Mr. Norquist and all of the defense contractors who don’t want you to cut their budgets.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?