Thoughts for Thursday

Here are a few random thoughts on a rainy Thursday, with more rain to come in the days ahead.

A retired ambassador said recently, the US strength is more than its military, it is its relationships with allies. What concerns me is we are devaluing our allied relationships. This is echoed by the European Union Chairman Dean Tusk. Tusk said the EU must be more united than ever before to deal with what he called Trump’s “capricious assertiveness”. My question is this how we want to be viewed by our friends?

Another retired ambassador to Israel said while he agreed with the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the US administration made two mistakes. It should have been announced in the context of moving toward a two state solution. In essence, the US placed little obligation on Israel for this move. Also, celebrating the opening on the anniversary of Israel is an insult to Palestinians. This date is not viewed favorably, so the celebration rubbed salt in a wound.

Assuming the role of ambassador for the disenfranchised in the US, a huge opportunity missed occurred during the rushed tax bill which hugely favored companies and the wealthy. I favored some relief on the corporate tax rate, but we went way too far and are negatively impacting our huge and growing debt. The additional opportunity missed I am referencing is not imposing a requirement on companies to provide raises. One way of doing this would have been a concurrent increase in the US minimum wage moving it from $7.25 to a living wage of above $10 per hour. Token one-time bonuses are actually the barest minimum of what could be done with an annual tax break – how about a raise instead? More income to people in need is accretive to the economy.

Finally, I have seen footage of conservative news sources highlighting Venezuela’s problems as an indictment of socialism. While I am a capitalist, I also recognize our country is a mixture of both. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and bankruptcy laws are all forms of socialism. We also have other restrictions to prevent unfettered capitalism. Venezuela’s problems are due to corruption and mismanagement that can be traced even back to the popular Chavez. His successor, Maduro, has shown a level of incompetence that is quite visible to all.

That is all for this Thursday. Please share your thoughts.

A few hard truths

In the land where entertainment and sports news get much more attention, a few hard truths need to be communicated. On the first Saturday of the new year, here are a few of those truths.

Our capable intelligence community is convinced with a high degree of certainty that Russian elements influenced the 2016 Presidential election and continue to sow seeds of discord to disrupt the US. This is a continuing attack on the US by a foreign entity that our President and this Congress have largely chosen to ignore. My suggestion is to ask your Congressperson, Senators and President what they plan on doing about it?

The US Tax Plan was passed to a lot of fanfare and chest beating under the guise of stimulating the economy, but it still needs a larger sales job on disbelieving Americans. Giving a lot of money to rich people and corporations is supposed to trickle down, yet do we need to add $1.5 trillion more to an increasing debt? Do we need to further stimulate an economy that has had 103 consecutive months of economic growth dating back to June, 2009? Do we need to stimulate an economy that just posted 2 million added jobs for the seventh year in a row, with a continuing run up of the US stock market? Nonpartisan economist groups have posed the same questions.

Let me get this straight, is the Republican Party for states rights or for federal rights? It seems to differ based on where the power lies. The White House has announced that 95% of coastal areas will be subject to offshore drilling to the dismay of governors who want to foster their tourism and fishing industries. Further, the Attorney General wants to crack down on states who are now selling regulated medical and retail marijuana changing an earlier Obama order to allow states to do this. Both of these decisions are getting heavy nonpartisan pushback from state leaders and it is my understanding the White House was asked not to do this.

Finally, the US continues to declare the cut in funding to countries that do not cooperate with us. This is not necessarily new, but we seem to be bullying others more and to what end? We are not the biggest funders to these places and China, India and Russia are easily picking up more influence as we decrease ours. The Pakistan PM basically said it is not a big deal if they lose US funding. The question to ask as we beat on our chest, is who are we trying to convince, the other country or a base of uninformed voters?

That is all I have for today. Unfortunately , the answers to these points can be summed up in one ugly word, “politics.” Have a great weekend and 2018. One thing is for certain is it will be interesting one.

Side of the Angels

A CFO once said during a meeting I was involved with “at least we are on the side of the Angels.” He was referring to a decision a Committee had made which was a conservative reading of the law. If they were wrong at least they would not be at risk.

I use this example as many decisions are made these days that run counter to what experts using data and analytics might say should be done. A good example is happening as of this writing in the US Congress. A law is being passed which goes against what several nonpartisan economic and budget organizations are saying will happen. It is also being sold as more than it is, which is a windfall for wealthy people and investors. These lawmakers are not on the side of the Angels on this issue.

Earlier this year, the President of the United States decided to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. As a result, our country was not invited to a conference last week to plan ahead. We are the lone country in the world that will not be in the accord. Ironically, the accord permitted flexibility to reshape how we comply, so leaving was merely a political statement. Being a lone wolf on one of the two most important topics in the world does not leave us on the side of the Angels.

We must do our homework and make decisions based on data, analytics and nonpartisan opinions of experts. Making decisions off rhetoric and lobbyists’ wishes   tends not to be on the side of the Angels.

 

 

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.