Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Unveiling

For the past week we have seen a video that is amazing in so many ways, a stunning view of a man that wants to be President of the United States, but lacks the compassion or care to help all the people. It isn’t a pretty sight.

The Mitt Romney video, showing him with a small select group of wealthy donors in May at a palatial home owned by a wealthy donor, unveiled the real Mitt Romney at his most comfortable self. The somewhat blurred grainy film still shows him projecting confidence and ease in front of the one group type Mitt Romney feels completely comfortable with – the very wealthy.

I’ve heard comments about this film that questions whether Mitt, the quintessential chameleon, is truly himself in this film. Are his talking points genuine at a time when finding a genuine Romney is as difficult as solving the Israeli-Arab peace situation? Seeing him poised and confident, his voice steadier than most of his public discourses, I have no doubt this was the real Mitt. A comfortable and confident Mitt has been a rare sighting while he has been selling his “severely conservative” message, but his heart, a cold one at that, was in this one.

So, what can we take away from this political unwrapping? There has been much written about it at great length by more seasoned writers than myself, but I want to condense it to the five most notable conclusions, in reverse order of significance that are the biggest takeaways in my mind.

5. Mitt Romney connects with the wealthy in a way that he can never match with the common voter.

Look at this tape and tell me that he doesn’t look comfortable. When faced with a group of people with political and financial pull, most people would be a tad nervous and have measured responses. Mitt doesn’t. He shows phenomenal poise and speaking ease not shown in any other speaking moment. He speaks almost matter-of-factly as if having a conversation with a family member. The clarity of this is seen when compared to speaking in front of public groups, often groups of their own choosing that act more like paid cheerleaders than a public cross-section, but he still speaks tentatively and in a staccato pace. In front of the public, he couldn’t feel less at ease if he was stripped naked while speaking. In the video, he is with his own kind; fellow CEO's and financiers with like minds and goals. The only thing missing is a soft overstuffed chair and a cigar.

4. In Mitt Romney’s world, there are two kinds of people; there are the makers and the takers.

He made it clear he would never get the vote of the 47% that are dependent on government and feel like they are victims. These are the takers. The makers are all the others that work and pay income taxes, have a sense of fiscal responsibility in their own lives, and must support those that do not. His base is the job creators that propel the economic engine and powers our country.  Baloney.

The countless number of analysts pouring over the 47% that don’t pay income tax have shown how nearly half of that group pay payroll taxes at a rate higher than Mitt Romney paid in income taxes for 2010, his one and only tax form release. By the way, Mitt Romney doesn’t pay any payroll tax because of the manner he earns his income. Also, how about the majority of tax paying workers that work for a business, do you realize that in addition to the 20-25% effective tax rate thy pay, your total federal tax bite is actually 35-40%? Compare that to Romney’s 13% and tell me that is a fair tax structure. Of the remainder that are not working and don’t pay income tax, a large portion are elderly on fixed incomes. These are people that either paid into Social Security during working years are were married to one. Haven’t they paid their dues? Don’t they have a right to it after years and years of support?

Romney’s vision is close to Paul Ryan’s in one regard. Paul Ryan is a huge fan of Ayn Rand’s work, particularly “Atlas Shrugged”, the novel with a stark alternate world where initiative is viewed as a negative and threatens the bulk of the “takers” dependent on government. The white/dark world portrayed is often used to advance the notion that if we diminish the “makers” by redistributing to the “takers”, our future becomes populated by lazy unmotivated slackers and weaken the core of this country. To me, believers of this have the most hopeless cynical misanthropic view of how people really want to be – how most people really want to be productive and purposeful for maximum self-respect. Romney equates government assistance with drug addiction.

3. Mitt’s understanding is that those accepting money from government programs feel like they are victims and that they are entitled to goods and services from the government.

In Romney’s world, the dependency on government is developed because you are given, not earned, the money from the government. All those funds generated by high tax rates for the wealthy is given to those that feel “entitled” to food, housing, and health benefits. It then de-motivates your interest in working at a job because you do just fine without it. I’ve often thought that people take this line of logic, really it is a rationalization, in order to justify their utter reluctance to parting ways with their earnings to those living in tough times and not feel guilty about it. A while back, there was a Missouri representative that came out and said people shouldn’t be given food stamp assistance at all even if it meant going hungry. Why? Because nothing motivates people to find work more effectively than going hungry. There are many in the conservative right that have this “tough love” approach to social assistance, but I can’t believe the majority of this country are that cold and heartless.

In both Republican and Democrat conventions, you didn’t hear many speeches without some kind of story of how the speaker was blessed in being in a nation that gave them a chance from starting in humble beginnings to be where they were that day. Some had direct assistance because they were poor. Some had government education loans. Veterans had the G.I. Bill that provided them an education for work skills. Even in Romney’s case, his father came from Mexico where he was born and had some government assistance during the first years of living in America. Today, Mitt’s father would be one of the “entitled” and exhibit a lack of fiscal responsibility. That would be an interesting father-son conversation if it were possible.

What Romney doesn't understand is that being poor cannot be separated from being fiscally responsible because every penny counts. The poor must make hard decisions every day. Should I buy food or buy gas? How can I get care for my kids while I work? Which of these bills can be left unpaid for the next week? If you have lots of money, then your decisions are a little easier, like, should I put a freight-style elevator in my house to be able to store more cars in my garage? 

Believe it or not, there is a random element to success. Some people are just as smart and just as motivated as the CEO for GM, but they ended up with a modest living because of circumstances beyond their control. 

2. According to Mitt Romney, President Obama has expanded the number of people on government assistance and will continue to escalate the number on government programs.

There is no denying that the number of people needing food stamp assistance, unemployment assistance, and other related social safety net functions is higher, but don’t think for one minute this is due to the policies of the Obama Administration.

Let’s go to the Way-Back Machine and look at nearly four years ago when millions of jobs were being shed by the Bush era economic collapse and near-depression. This gaping hole in our economy had to be filled by getting people hired. The stimulus package was the only fiscal policy plan that got through and even then at great political cost. When future stimulus packages were discussed just after the mid-term elections, the GOP put up a huge roadblock that stopped every meaningful jobs and stimulus related package. Remember, at that time, their No. 1 priority was to make President Obama a one-term president, even if it meant keeping the growth of the economy at a snail’s pace.

All those people out of work and many eventually out of unemployment benefits now needed assistance for the first time in their lives. The numbers kept growing even with gradually lowering unemployment rates because the number getting off unemployment benefits was climbing faster than those getting jobs.

If that isn’t enough to sap assistance programs, the supply and demand curve for the job market made getting good wages difficult. Lots of people out of work means companies are able to hire at lower wage rates. Hence, the number of people living under the poverty line goes up disproportionately to other wage groups.

It is so easy for the GOP to label President Obama as the food stamp president without taking any responsibility for the cause of it in the first place. People have short and convenient memories.

1.  A presidential candidate that shows disdain for half of the electorate cannot possibly be an effective president

To me, this is the big one. If you listened to the tone of Mitt Romney’s statements during this dialogue regarding the 47% that won’t vote for him, it reminded me of a frustrated parent after long term trials of poor behavior by their child, where the parent just throws up there hands and says “I don’t know what to do about him/her!” It was just complete resignation by Mitt on getting these people to view things the way he sees things. 

Mitt’s mental thinking of most Obama supporters goes way beyond believing they have the wrong view of life, it went into not caring or wanting to be their representative as the President of the United States. “I can’t concern myself with those people,” he said. Some believe he was just talking political strategy, but those words don’t match up well with that idea. Think about it. When he referenced the 47% that would vote for Obama no matter what, he could have said as a follow-up remark that “These are the people that disagree with my vision” or “these are the voters that don’t understand my message.” But that wasn’t far enough. He had to insult them! He had to denigrate them because they were WRONG! So Mitt follows with a line that in essence says all of them are dependent on the government and feel entitled to government services. It was more like how “those people” have been poisoned by the lure of government assistance and can’t be helped.

How can a president believe that he can’t help some people and still carry on as an effective president for all people? You can’t. I don’t think he ever intended to be a president of all people, he just wanted to be president for the RIGHT people. The people he feels comfortable with, like the ones in the room with him that day. In this moment of complete candor, here is a man not afraid of saying he can’t be concerned with those on the government dole.

If Mitt makes it to the White House and is faced with setting policy and bills to be signed by Congress, he is going to look at it through a skewed lens of how it helps HIS people, the ones that still have a chance to be helped. He will be focused on the makers and less on the takers.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Medicare Voucher Trap

If you understand parables, the object is to tell a story and be able to learn some useable facts that otherwise would be boring because we all like stories more than lectures. It works for people of all ages, but for some reason they stop being told when one becomes an adult.

This article is about Medicare and whether vouchers would be a good way to “save” Medicare from financial ruin sometime in the future. It does assume Medicare is in trouble if the pace of health care costs continue as they have unabated and if the Obamacare program fails in its promise to reduce costs. Nobody’s crystal ball is perfect on this so you will need to judge this based on the array of misinformation, partial facts, and lots of opinion. Good luck.

But we begin this story in Washington State. For many years, Washington State has been using state liquor stores as the way to sell hard liquor. For nearly just as many years, there have been proponents of getting government out of the liquor business and allow the many fine merchants to sell liquor as a complement to their wine and beer sales. It had been thwarted time and time again.

However, last year, with a concerted effort by many retailers, most notably Costco,  interested parties put together enough signatures to place an initiative on the state ballot to discontinue the state store sales and allow the purchase of hard liquor in larger retail stores. Keeping it out of small stores was, in the words of the proponents, to keep good control of liquor purchases. Apparently, they feel the smaller mom and pop stores and quickie outlets are bastions of illegal sales to minors and other questionable purchasers. My cynical little mind thinks it was more about greater opportunity for the large retailers to make out like bandits.

There were many “fluffy” items in this initiative that provided money to alcohol abuse programs, increase alcohol use awareness, and other saintly aspects to appear as responsible law. The word was the retailers were going to improve efficiencies that would lessen the cost because we all know government does a lousy job of containing costs. There was one more carrot for the state. Because this would impact a substantial hit to the state budget since the state would lose markup revenue, there would be a distribution fee and retailer fee that would equal out the loss of revenue to the state. This was important because in a state like Washington that does not have state income taxes, the loss of revenue could very well bring up the tender subject of state income tax or increase in other taxes.

The media blitzkrieg unleashed upon the public from the pro and con sides would make Mitt Romney’s effort in the Primary days in Iowa pale in comparison. With $35 million poured into both sides, you could not hear or see in any safe direction without some kind of message populating your senses. The pro initiative outspent the opponents by a two to one margin because, I guess, the big retailers have deeper pockets than the state and national distributors do.

The voters went to the polls and sold with the ideals of capitalistic competition and the shear volume of media placement, the I-1183 initiative passed with nearly a 60-40 margin. It just went into effect on June 1st.

So what happened after this anti-government pro-commerce initiative was placed into action? Prices went up on most items. To be fair, the pre-tax prices went down as expected. However, once the taxes were applied at the checkout stand, that is, the portion that goes to the state to make up for the lost state store revenue, most of the prices went up beyond the previous price with tax. Do you know who made out? Any or all liquor stores in the states of Idaho and Oregon that sit within short driving distance of Washington. They are reporting record sales because of the leakage from Washingtonian liquor purchases. 

The contingent against the measure tried to warn us, but we couldn’t hear it among the cacophony of the pro-measure advertising deluge. They did say that there would be price increases just because it is simple math: when you put another set of hands in between the manufacturer and purchaser, their efforts must be compensated. This initiative added an additional middleman and who doesn’t know what middleman do to the price of any goods sold. Prices go up from manufacturer to distributor. Liquor taxes are applied. Prices go up from distributor to retailer. Prices go up from retailer to purchaser. The difference between pre-initiative and post-initiative liquor distribution was that a middleman was added. Prior to I-1183, there was only one price increase between the distributor and purchaser because the state had the one markup for taxes and their needs and that was it.

Now we can turn our attention to the Medicare voucher program the GOP ticket is suggesting. Here is the theory: instead of the full scale payment by the government to providers for Medicare beneficiaries, the voucher program would take the government out of the loop except for a one-time payment per year that can be applied to an insurance policy. Romney and other conservatives say that by allowing each beneficiary to go out and negotiate an insurance policy with a carrier, the free-market efficiencies will improve the costs and allow a better competitive environment. Any future issues between your provider and payment will be done by the insurance company according to the terms in the policy negotiated. Like the liquor in the state of Washington, the government is not part of the transaction.

There are so many problematic avenues to take with this discussion, like the fact that you must convince your insurance company to pay and how the very elderly or sickly are not going to afford a policy, but let’s focus on the nature of transactions in the purchase of the policy. Currently, you don’t purchase a policy unless it is for the Advantage program or purchase a supplemental policy to cover the costs not covered by Medicare. When a doctor or hospital visit is necessary, the beneficiary submits a Medicare card and they get reimbursed by the government according to the payment schedule the care provider agreed to via enrollment. From what I understand, the reimbursement schedule isn’t the most lavish amount to the extent some providers stay away from Medicare because they view it as insufficient.

The voucher program would have the beneficiary purchase their own policy with money from the government. The beneficiary pays for it and hopes the care costs are covered through them. Here is the point; just like the people in Washington hoping the competitive environment keeps liquor costs low, the rest of the Medicare population hopes the voucher pays for enough coverage. The only problem is, we have now handed our money over to a money-making enterprise. They expect a cut to run their business. They have shareholders to satisfy. They pay dividends to reward the shareholders. Where does that money come from? Why, from you, of course!

The voucher program creates a new middleman, the insurance company, and they expect some amount of payment. The government has overhead in the Medicare program that amounts to about 2% of the total cost. Private insurance companies vary, but remember, prior to the passage of Obamacare, they were balking at the prospect of returning anything over 20% of non-care related expenses as the Obamacare program requires. The difference of these two percentages will be the portion that comes out of our pockets. These will be additional dollars paid that have nothing to do with the payment of the actual health care costs.

For the insurance companies, this is quite a boondoggle. Look at all the new business they can get because the government with its restrictive rates and large number of beneficiaries now must fend for themselves in the health care insurance market. Free customers! But for many of us, I'm afraid we will experience the same thing Washington State liquor purchases found out the hard way; the same old goods have new higher prices that we will have to pay.

The free enterprise system is a great tool as long as there is a level playing field and businesses do the responsible actions of honoring their commitments. But we have seen time and time again, the health care insurance field has some predatory vultures that will practice extreme reimbursement avoidance in order to increase profits. We need to examine this issue and make the best possible choice as if our life depended on it. Because, simply enough, one day it will.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why Romney’s Effective Tax Rate Is NOT The Issue

The cry over Mitt Romney releasing his taxes prior to tax year 2010 has been a boon to political pundits of all kinds. Because of Mitt’s reticence, we have all imagined that his prior taxes are hiding a low or no tax rate that would be bad for his standing as a presidential candidate. It could possibly be illegal, or at least enter a grey area that is questionable. It has been interesting to watch, but the Dems have milked this enough.

Actually, I don’t think there is anything in his tax reforms that shows any quirky hanky-panky and I wouldn’t be surprised if he at least paid some level of taxes, maybe on the high side of single digit percentage of his income, but certainly not zero percent. But, there is something there that I don’t think he wants anyone to see and it isn’t his effective tax rate. I’m willing to bet any amount of money that the one thing he doesn’t want media and opponents to paw over is HOW he was able to keep the rates down.

Now, it is important to understand that the “How” is probably legal according to our current tax laws. But we need to remember that people of Romney’s level of wealth have an abundance of tricks up their sleeves that even the typical small business man or well-off professional don't have to reduce their tax level. 

Let’s think about this. If you are a home owner, then one of the biggest tax breaks the home owner receives is the mortgage interest deduction and reduction from property income taxes. Even people with modest homes get to itemize these deductions that possibly save the owner a few thousand dollars of taxation. At one time when houses were a lower portion of a person’s living wage, a home loan typically was 10 or 15 years years at low interest rates. Now, loans have scaled to where many people have $200,000 in home loans over 30 years and adjustable rates. Take a look at what this has done to the amount a home owner pays in interest:

In this example, a current home owner will pay over $230,000 during the thirty years of ownership. The good news is you can deduct this each year. The additional good news is that during the first part of the loan, the amount paid in interest is about $12,000 in the first year. It will decline over succeeding years, thankfully.

On this home owner’s taxes, that $12,000 is an itemized deduction that will save a person with a 20% effective rate about $2400 in taxes. This may be a little different because of the particulars in the itemized deductions and other deductions, but it should be close. Add a few thousand dollars of property taxes and the tax bite just got a whole lot shorter.

Why does this matter as far as Romney and his taxes? One of Romney’s stated goals is to reduce tax rates across the board by eliminating the ever-present “loopholes” that exist in the tax code. He has also stated that these tax rate reductions will be “revenue neutral”, meaning, the total amount of revenue from taxes won’t change and therefore won’t negatively impact the deficit. Oh, by the way, the mortgage interest deduction is clearly a “loophole” even if a goodly number of middle class people use the loophole.

Mitt hasn’t said what loopholes will be eliminated, but given that the mortgage deduction amounts to billions in tax relief for millions of home owners across the country, it will be a nugget that will be hard to ignore. If Romney is elected, I would plan on seeing this one phased out over time. To drop it completely would be a hardship on most and would guarantee a national outcry.

Mitt Romney and the other one-percenters (or .001 percenters like him) will lose this tax benefit also. They aren’t worried about that comparatively small loss of tax relief. While mega-millionaires have more lavish homes costing millions of dollars, this isn’t the loophole they are worried about. So, which loopholes are they worried about? Easy, the loopholes that Mitt Romney has in his taxes that he won’t release!

This may be the big secret. This is the information Romney does not want out. Yes, he has released ONE tax form from 2010 tax year and people have been combing all over it to find out how he has been avoiding tax payments. Ones that exist like the $100 million IRA that is using a portion of the tax code so limited, that one must be in a special situation - like Mitt - to use it. Can you imagine the special little prizes that are in the last five to ten years of tax returns? I would bet my last doughnut there are some real goodies in there. We already knows he put in a mega-million dollar company in a Roth IRA that is supposed to be limited to $5000/yr to allow withdraws tax-free. What else is there?

So Mitt will chase after the meaningful tax loopholes and reduce the rates which will keep the tax revenue about the same. But, do you REALLY think he and his tax cutting buddies in Congress will eliminate the ultra-tax loopholes designed for the very wealthy? Of course not, that would hurt the “job creators” and will not generate jobs (to use their particular parlance). He will be able to do this because unless you are a tax accountant or someone with a high income, you don’t know about these special tax features favoring them. Of course those that do know have no interest in revealing the tricks; they make a living on it after all. And, of course, the public won't see them unless the tax forms are released.

In the end, the tax code may be revenue neutral (possibly), but a lion’s share of the taxes will shift to the middle class. Too many will not realize the loss of their tax loophole will increase the tax burden while giving the wealthy a double benefit. The wealthy get a rate cut AND keep their loopholes.

This is truly a case of Romneyhood; he will take from the poor(er) and give to the rich. Worse, he’ll do it with a slight of hand manner by seemingly reducing tax rates. Get ready for the lie.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When It Comes To The Health Care Act, Those Using Religious Exemption Will Be Paying

Is every trigger point date going to be like this? Today, August 1st, is the beginning of the women’s health mandate requiring employers to cover specific health issues through the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. It covers things like gestational diabetes and HIV screenings, breast-feeding supplies, family violence coverage, plus a few other things, most notably, FDA approved contraceptives. That is a good thing if you are part of a family of child-bearing age but aren’t ready to have a child.

So is this a problem? Evidently it is to the extent that it compares to the 9/11 disaster, at least according to Mike Kelly, congressman from Pennsylvania:

"I know in your mind, you can think of the times America was attacked," he said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "One is Dec. 7, that's Pearl Harbor Day. The other is Sept. 11, and that's the day the terrorists attacked. I want you to remember Aug. 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates."

Gee, Hurricane Katrina didn’t rate? Now, it isn’t necessary to re-hash old arguments on this topic whether the freedom of religion is being trounced by the mandate or even if it applies. I’m certainly not going to bring up that Rick Santorum spoke on this topic during his campaign by blaming contraception on our economic woes, something about contraception is the reason we don’t have enough working people to support Social Security. Oops! I said it. Sorry.

But I think there is a very lost argument on this issue. It has nothing to do freedoms and rights, which are notable and worthy items in this discourse. It has to do with how an organization will end up buying contraception aids whether they want to or not. In the end, they cannot avoid it. How can this be, you may ask. After all, religious organizations, such as Catholic-run hospitals are certainly not going to pay for it, right? You want to bet?

Allow me to present a totally fictitious conversation between a 25 year-old RN and the HR representative at a totally fictitious Catholic-run hospital.

“Well, Ms. Drizzle, we have all your information on your work history and training for the RN-2 position we have here at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart hospital and it appears you have exemplary qualifications. We would be happy to extend an offer to you at this time.”

“Thank you, Ms. Abernathy! This facility seems to be first-rate and the people are very friendly. It would be a pleasure to work here.”

“I don’t mind telling you that finding good available talent is a chore in the medical field. Nurses are in high demand. For your particular grade, we could start you at $78,000 a year.”

“That sounds fair, Ms. Abernathy. How about some of the fringe benefits such as vacation time, savings plans, and health plans?”

“Well, Ms. Drizzle”, said Ms. Abernathy beaming, “we have one of the most competitive plans available in the area. Standard vacation time is accrued at a rate of five weeks a year and our 401k plan matches right away up to 5%.”

“That sounds very good! And the health plan covers everything?”

Ms. Abernathy draws a slight frown and says, “Of course, no plan offers complete coverage of everything. There are co-pays and the first $1000 is covered by 60%, but then everything after that is covered at 100%.”

Ms. Drizzle says brightly, “Oh, that is very reasonable. How about preventive and contraceptive costs, are they covered completely?”

Ms. Abernathy now has a disconcerting look on her face. “All preventive costs are paid for, but since we are a Catholic-run hospital, we don’t believe in paying towards your contraceptive needs. That would be against the Church’s beliefs. You would need to purchase that on your own.”

Now it is Ms. Drizzle’s turn to be concerned. “You know, I’m married, and right now we don’t want to start a family. If I pay for birth control pills outside a medical plan, it’s going to cost me $1000 or more. That is a big expense!”

Ms. Abernathy sympathetically nods, “I know. I wish there was something I could do about it. But you can set aside the money in an HSA so you don’t pay tax on it.”

“How about if I decide I don’t want children any longer? Does the health plan cover the cost?” asked Ms. Drizzle.

Ms. Abernathy solemnly shakes her head. “It’s against the Catholic doctrine to pay for a sterilization procedure.”

Ms. Drizzle begins to ponder. “You know, I got a real good offer from another hospital at a similar wage. I liked this one better because of the staff and facilities, but they were going to pay for all the health care you do and include contraception costs. I think I need to think about taking this position.”

“Maybe we can do something about it,” Ms. Abernathy replies. “With your qualifications, we can bump you to a RN-2 step 2 position which will bump your pay from $78,000 a year to $80,000 a year. That will cover any additional costs you feel that must come out of your pocket. Would that be acceptable?”

“I’m confused,” Ms. Drizzle says. “You won’t pay for my contraceptives through your medical plan that most certainly doesn’t cost the amount I would pay out of pocket, but you are will to increase my pay so I don’t have to eat the cost? Does this make sense?”

“Probably not,” says Ms. Abernathy slyly, “but as long as the Church doesn’t pay for your contraceptives, everything is fine! Besides, that’s what it takes to remain competitive.”

“If you say so!” says Ms. Drizzle.

Eventually, organizations that site religious reasons for not providing coverage on contraceptives will eventually need to compensate accordingly or face hiring only men or women not of child-bearing ages. At that point if becomes an issue that the left hand of the church doesn’t care what the right hand does.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Dear Mr. President"

This was posted on a Facebook entry shared to me. Normally, I can let these little snarky “gotcha” points alone, but this one bugged me. I think it bugged me because too many people in this great country of ours believe they accomplished terrific things without the aid of anyone else, and certainly, without the aid of government. Of all the colossal gall expressed by certain libertarian types is the notion that governments don’t help them whatsoever and everybody is better off depending on themselves.

So the message from this posting is that small businesses would be much better off if there was little or no government to impede their abilities to succeed and do so much more efficiently. Would they really? I think NOT. So here is my reply to the snot-nosed business person that believes in total self-sufficiency:

“Dear Business Owner”

I’m glad you have toiled to create a successful business to provide goods and services to the peoples of our nation. The free enterprise system is a great tool that allows anyone with a good idea to prosper through self-direction and energy. A little luck doesn’t hurt either.

I would like to point out many things that I believe the government had an active and measurable influence on the success of your business. While it is true much of the inspiration came from your own doing, allow me to show you how the government you help support through taxes made it possible for you to succeed.

1) When a customer comes to you, how did they get there? Did they drive on a road built by a private business or was it some form of government? I believe that was some combination of local, state, and federal government projects to help build the best highway system in the world.

2) How did all the materials you need to function get to you and how did you get your product out? Oh, there are those roads again. They come in very handy. And, if I’m not mistaken, many items come from overseas via air delivery (using airports the government builds and provides key safety features) or by boat (using ports our government built).

3) How do you advertise your product and services? Well, there is TV, radio, phonebooks, billboards, all of which were established and continued to be regulated by the government so that entities can have equal access. And, I suppose you still use mailings to send coupons and ads out, so there is that pesky government mail system that has provided an efficient service at a low cost.

4) Maybe you are one of these progressive businesses that use the Internet for most of your day-to-day functions to support your business. Did you know the Internet came from a Dept. of Defense project in the 60’s and continues to be maintained by the government so that the free flowing Internet traffic continues?  Isn’t it funny that the critique you posted, while helped by Facebook, a private company, required a government run Internet backbone?

5) I assume you were educated to help you learn how to start and maintain your business. Unless you are one of the very few, you probably were a product of our government run school systems and universities. Even if you weren’t odds are that the people you hire had the benefit of a cost-free (at least directly) education so they could perform the work you require. If you were privately educated, my guess is that your family was well off enough to have that important education provided privately. If that’s the case, did you really do it all yourself or did you have such a beneficial head start from money and position to make you a success?

6) Hopefully, your business hasn’t suffered from a disruption due to fire or theft, but odds are you have a complete complement of fire and police services that have helped reduce the chances of you facing such problems. If they weren’t there, the chances of these types of calamities occurring would be much higher.

7) How about you? Are you reasonably healthy and safe? The list of government services needed to help keep you and your family in good health is due to the government functions involving food, drugs, water and air sources. Do you have safe water to drink? Are there wide-spread diseases in your area? Is the food you eat safe to eat? Is the air you breathe reasonable healthy or does it look like the air in Beijing, China (on a clear day you can see the hand in front of your face…). Do you need to worry about where the sewage goes from you home and business? And, thanks to Obamacare, can you make use of the tax credits to support health care insurance to you and your employees?

8) Have you ever not been paid for your product or service? Good thing there is a court system and methods of punishment provided by the government to make sure there are consequences should people not compensate you for your work.

9) Does any of your business come from those out of work, can’t work due to disability, those that are elderly, and the few unfortunates that just drew the unlucky card of life? Because there is a safety net to provide basic needs to these people and you might have one of the thousands of businesses that sells to those with subsistence to buy your products.

10) Lastly, but probably most importantly, where you able to succeed without the threat of foreign invasion or attack by another country that might like to have some of the good things we have in this country? Do you have any idea how much energy, time, money, and, most preciously, blood has been spent to preserve the freedoms afforded to you so you can have a steady demand for your business? How can you possibly not remember that a strong (possibly an overly strong) defense has given you the opportunity to succeed?? That is your government building the state of art machines and training the state of art soldiers so they can keep you from wondering if some hoard will end your business.

Unless I am totally mistaken, your success in business was founded in part by a team of thousands upon thousands of people in government functions to service your LIFE from the time you were born to the day you opened up your doors to your business. Sure, you have your own personal sweat and smarts that was part of the success, but because of many government rules, laws, and programs, you were afforded the opportunity to succeed on a grand scale. You owe it to give back and make sure others are afforded the opportunity to succeed as well.

Very truly yours,

"The Government"

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Man Behind The Curtain

As a common man in an uncommon country, I must admit there are times I just don’t get it. It isn’t hard to figure out the two parties and what they stand for, but it is how some of the role players are accepted. This is especially true when some of the role players are supporting only a small fraction of the party.

After all, each party is gunning for the barest of majority votes to when the election seats up for grabs in 2012. In fact, the majority isn’t even necessary for the presidents, what with our screwy electoral voting system handing over all the value of the state electoral count for a simple plurality of votes. The congressmen, however, are on their own with direct votes from the voters.

The truly special role player for the GOP is a person no one elected, no one petitioned, does not have any public office, and isn’t accountable to the public. That person is Grover Norquist. For those that don’t know who he is, Grover founded the “Americans for Tax Reform” and to this day is the head cheese of this organization. To say he founded it might be a misnomer; it was more a case that one sunny day he was sitting on a park bench and decreed that he would start an organization.

It would be possible for any of us to create an organization, such as “The Center for Disposable Diaper Recycling”, and in all likelihood, it would be gone quickly. But through some effective speaking and the backing of those well off that don’t like how the government takes some of their hard-earned money to go to expenses like food stamps, Mr. Norquist has been able to keep ATR on a flourishing trend.

It has been so successful that Grover Norquist created a special tax pledge for all Senators and Representatives to sign. It is a rather simple document, a single page, with spaces for the signer and a witness, and dates. If you haven’t seen it, just click here: I’ve seen more complicated employee bathroom policy agreements.

The impact belies its size. Basically, this hamstrings the signer to NEVER raise taxes, including provisions that ends tax cuts even if the tax cuts were a temporary measure designed to help with a short term funding problems (like flaccid economies and other small matters), no excuses. 

There was a day and a time when two parties battled over legislation, many of which had provisions to provide the public services necessary for the well-being of our nation, provisions that may or may not include tax changes. Since two sides look at such legislation with differing viewpoints, it was necessary to compromise in order to get anything done. Some of those compromises included tax changes. If a budding congressman is dealing with this type of legislation and this budding congressman signed the ATR tax pledge, compromise is surely a ghostly prospect. 

And here is one aspect the typical GOP voter doesn’t really get: Grover Norquist is not one of us. Grover Norquist never had a tough day in his life. As the son of a Polaroid Corporation V.P., Grover never had to scrounge for a meal, worry about having decent clothes, or go to a plain old state university or local college. Grover is a person of privilege. I’m sure he didn’t need to work or carry monstrous school debt to pay for his Harvard College education. His opportunity came to him the first day he took a breath in this difficult world. He can’t fathom what it means to not eat for a day or if he has a serious medical need, worry about how the medical bills get paid or wonder where his next job comes from. He is one of the lucky few that had a great start and wants to keep those like him from having to support the opportunity for others.

Grover Norquist’s one accomplishment is how he has elected officials running scared. People that we have elected to hold office, sworn to uphold the Constitution and represent the constituents that put them in Congress, are now beholding to a man that says you can vote for any legislation as long as there are no additional tax revenues in that piece of legislation no matter how beneficial it is. To do otherwise is to invite certain opposition, guaranteed to be a well-funded, to be faced in the next primary election.

It is one thing to have conservative principles and to legislate honorably by pressing for bills supporting a conservative position, but it is another to reduce those options equated to drawing a line in the sand to appease a person not voted into office by a single person. To do so is to eliminate the democratic principle of representative government by the public to representation by the few. Our nations motto, “E Pluribus Unum” will be changed to “Unum Super Multis” – One Over The Many.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Nuns Whack Paul Ryan's Hand With Ruler

Synopsis: A group of Catholic Sisters are on a nine-state bus tour that will protest the Ryan budget. I have some thoughts on whether this is a case of religion crossing the line into political action.

I can’t stop thinking about this. The visualization of a group of nuns traveling through nine states and making 30-odd stops to spread their view of how the Ryan budget will decimate the poor, just makes me smile. Part of it is that I still picture nuns in their traditional habits as they go about scolding people and politicians in a manner fit for a church school. Not that it is accurate, but the visual image persists. Another is that there is legitimate concern the safety net for the poor and near-poor is at risk of being eliminated in the guise of deficit reduction and somebody is trying to do something about it. Deficits are not good, but to all but eliminate financial aid to the poor is something that should be fought without a good fight. In this light, the Paul Ryan budget raises the white flag. Lastly, is the irony; Paul Ryan and John Boehner are Catholics and they claim this bill falls in line with the ideals of their faith, a notion scoffed at by the good Sisters.

On another level, this road show makes me a little uneasy also. The fact that this trip is going through nine states, many of which are battleground states that could swing the result of the election, it is hard to ignore that this has all the elements of a political rally. This is clearly a religious group and they are spreading a message that has one party happy as the LA Kings winning the Stanley Cup and the other party muttering under their collective breaths.

I was never a fan of the clergy using their pulpit in churches across the USA as a method to spread a particular viewpoint. It seemed to be an unfair use of the influence they had garnered over the years by trusting congregations, only to squander the influence on political muscle designed to get an edge for their religious doctrines. It was usually partisan and self-serving. Fortunately, it had been slowed by threats of removing the church tax-exempt status if their messages strayed too much from the church’s creed.

Can the same be said for the Nuns On The Bus tour? Maybe. First of all, the nun tour is sanctioned by the Network Lobby, an organization championing social justice. There is just enough independence to suggest that other than a connection between Catholics and social justice, it is not a religious organization. Why do I have the feeling it is a hair-splitting detail? 

Second, it is truly a commentary on a particular bill submitted in the Congressional House for consideration. The only facet suggesting this is a political protest against one party or the other is how lopsided the indications are should there be a vote. There will be few crossovers as the GOP vote for it and Democrats vote against it. If it was a bi-partisan bill, would it have been equally political?

Third, it isn’t really a election issue at this point. Yes, Mitt Romney did say that he supports the Ryan bill and Obama has been against it, but there hasn’t been a clash – yet. As long as it is pointed at the bill and why it should be voted down, this tour shouldn’t be considered political election material until one side or the other starts lobbing shots between the two camps. As the election approaches, this will become a livelier political football as talk about the deficit heats up, trying to decide what can be eliminated and what can be saved.

I’m giving a pass to the nuns. It would have been easier to do so if the trip didn’t entail passing through a lot of purple states, but their goal isn’t greater attention to the Catholic faith as much as it is to save many of the poor additional anguish on an already difficult period.

Meanwhile, watch and listen to the nuns-on-wheels. They offer a viewpoint that is worthwhile. On one of the cable news shows, Sister Simone Campbell summed up the problem quite nicely: “We have to take care of our debt situation in our nation, but that is not because of social services, that’s because we went to war and slashed taxes.” You go Girl!