Monday, December 31, 2012

I got it, you take it.

Most negotiations boil down to getting what you feel is important while sacrificing points that are not as critical.  So if two parties walk away thinking they got what they wanted while letting the other side get something, both parties think they won.  Unfortunately, the devil is in the details and while we live in a digital world, negotiations are analog.  In business to business this can be seen in: “Yes we agree that you should be able to raise prices, but we don’t agree with your formula.” Or in sports it often boils down to incentive clauses, but what performance metrics (points, goals, wins, etc.), what point, and is there a sliding scale.  Often these negotiations are initiated when one side floats a Term Sheet or Memo of Understanding, and if both sides see enough common ground here, formal contract negotiations ensue.
In Washington, we see this in the form of floating ideas to gauge the opposition’s response.  The GOP stuck out its chin talking about eliminating certain tax deductions and when pressed to name some they did and got hammered by Democrats, special interests, and pundits.  When the Democrats say they will increase tax rates on the top earners, the Republicans cry about hurting small businesses and job creators.  This also happens on the spending side of the ledger.  Republicans call for spending cuts, Democrats offer up unspecified cuts and the Republicans reply we won’t agree to tax increases until they see the specific spending cuts.  And when Congress cannot decide on specifics, they kick the can down the road like Adam Vinatieri in Super Bowl XXXVI as seen in this sequestration nonsense.
Throw in the media’s penchant to declare winners and losers and assign blame and voila we have no one really negotiating openly and honestly.  What makes it worse is we are in the middle of a very weak economy and potentially tightrope walking over another recession; a situation that calls for continued fiscal stimulus but long term austerity.  And in our constant state of campaigning more votes are based on political (specifically re-election) repercussions and not about national interests.
You see, we have lost the ability to see what the common goal is and have since focused on the tactics and the nuances.  I would love to ask our 535 legislators and President: What is our #1 economic goal?  Is it debt elimination?  Is it full employment?  Is it a balanced budget?  I know there will be differences in tactics between the political parties and across the political spectrum, but I honestly believe that there are differences in the #1 goal, AND that means we will suffer through dysfunctional governance for a long time.
So these sides need to get together and come up with a long term solution. The Republicans need to accept that we need stimulus in the short term and Democrats need to understand that we long term spending constraints. 
By the way, what should be our number one economic goal?  Start with reducing debt to GDP to 25% by 2040.  But that’s just my opinion.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A political recap of 2012 by Diggapedia

This is by no means an expansive review of the 2012 political year.  Nor is it a top ten list, as every cable news station and talk radio show has created their lists and checked them twice.  Instead, here are my thoughts on what was the political year.
Let me start by saying that political tricks and shenanigans are like most movies and television shows: there is very little original material or innovation.  Pick any time in American History  and you will find the same wheeling and dealing, the same attack pieces, the same gamesmanship, the same special interests, and the same political manipulations. 
In 2012 we were worried that the Citizens United decision would cause such an influx of special interests’ money that and that government of the people, by the people, for the people would no longer exist.  Irrespective of Citizens United, our government is unduly influenced by special interests and their lobbyists.  Every industry spends billions of dollars influencing our lawmakers; you and I are amateurs in a rigged game.
The use of the false equivalency tool also seemed to increase in 2012.  Suddenly Benghazi security lapses were on par with 9/11, Obama not having a beer with Mitch McConnell was the same as McConnell declaring his goal was to limit the president to one term, and of course there were the usual comparisons of government intervention into Socialism, Nazism, Communism, etc. 
Sadly, fact checking became a new industry and worse yet, politicians seemed not to care if caught lying.  What used to be ‘taken out of context’ or ‘I misspoke’ is now in essence: so what?  Not only is there no shame in lying, the perpetrator often doubles down with a bigger and bolder lie.
Nate Silver shined light on the fools who claimed to be experts.  Dick Morris claiming a Romney landslide on the eve of the election and Karl Rove’s tantrum on FoxNews calling Ohio for President Obama demonstrated that there is no place for partisan mouthpieces in the news business.  Analysis needs to be based on facts and data, not what one hopes the outcome to become.  We hate ‘homer’ sports announcers but tolerate them on the news.
Thanks in part to gerrymandering, but largely due to the continued polarization of America, 2012 elections  saw over 90% of congressional incumbents getting re-elected, many of whom by margins >20% and some were unopposed.  Washington dysfunction is only mimicking Main St,. dysfunction.  Proof?  How lively are political debates within your own family?
Perhaps the Republicans could have nominated a better candidate if they actually conducted debates that would have focused on issues instead of talking points and how many guns they own or how many kids they have.  Further, the attacks on Romney’s days in Massachusetts or Bain rolled out by his GOP challengers were the foundation for the Obama campaign.
Another troubling aspect in political coverage is this need to declare winners and losers.  Now I believe in true competition winners should be declared and that ‘participation trophies’ can be counterproductive.  But when it comes to the political process, we want our representatives to work together not feel they are in a competition.  Further, when the media declares winners and losers, often without knowing the facts, it sends a signal to lawmakers and other officials think twice about collaboration.  And then when CNN White House correspondent Jessica Yellin challenges the President saying he got ‘rolled’ by Republicans in 2010 lame duck agreements, she not only sends the signal that it’s a competition, but that the mediocre reporter got the score wrong.
Next to winners and losers, the blame game is another increasingly bad trend.  Every mistake needs to be blamed on someone; every miscalculation is someone’s fault, and each defeat must be pinned on someone.  You know what, sometimes shit happens, the other side wins an election, and there is such a thing as shared responsibility.
I will remember the Ineffective 112th Congress that passed fewer bills than any other since such records were kept back in the late 1940’s.  They did manage to name 20 post offices and give themselves a raise.
I leave you with the following for 2012: Etch-a-Sketch, Chick-Fil-A, Bushmaster, Sununu, Trump, Rafalca, 47%, Binders of Women, Sweater vest, Malarkey, Lyin’ Ryan, Witch Hunt, Debt Ceiling, Fiscal Cliff, and four more years.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Top Ten: More Mishegas

1)      Will lactose intolerant people be as indifferent to the milk cliff as nonsmokers are to increased tobacco taxes?
2)      Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud party are seeing its January 22nd election popularity waning at the expense of his former aide Naftali Bennett and the rightist Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party.  The 40 year old son of American immigrants, Bennett has called for unconstrained settlement expansion while opposing the creation of a Palestinian state.  Since Netanyahu will not have a majority, he will have to choose between a hard right wing coalition or the mish mash of center left parties to form a government.  The stakes are high and could set the peace process back 20 years.  Sadly, I see Netanyahu choosing his former aide, putting the Israeli government at odds with its patron in Washington.  What is even more disappointing is the clear shift in the Israeli electorate to the far right.  I just don’t see that being in Israel’s best long term interests.
3)      Congress has perennial favorability ratings between 10 – 20%, yet 90% of incumbents were re-elected in 2012, which by historical accounts is not far off from typical re-election rates.  I guess for most Americans their representative is OK, but it’s the others that are the poor ones.
4)      The 112th Congress is on the verge of becoming the least productive Congress since records were kept in the 1940’s.  Sounds like we have been living through a partial government shutdown for two years.
5)      What is the difference between a cult and a religion, and when does a cult become a movement, and a movement become a religion?
6)      Chicago hit the 500 homicide mark yesterday.  This is a developed society?
7)      Guns and taxes.  Poll results show people want to limit guns but can’t agree on how to do it.  Similar polls show that people agree to limit tax deductions and close loopholes but can’t agree on which ones.
8)      Soon to be former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown gearing up to make a run for the vacated Kerry seat is a self-proclaimed man of the people, a man for all seasons; and apparently a man for all opinions and all sides of every argument.
9)      Suffix world: Every controversy must end in ‘gate’, every disaster in ‘geddon’, and every impasse is now ‘cliff’. 
10)   From the worst idea bin (as reported by NBC): The latest proposal school protection idea comes from Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed America’s toughest sheriff, who wants to station his “posse” of volunteers outside of about 50 schools in Maricopa County. “Everybody else is talking about what their ideas are. They want new laws. This is immediate. I don't need a new law to send out my posse,” he told NBC affiliate, KPNX, on Thursday. “I feel like we should do whatever we can outside of the schools.”  These guys are the equivalent to Militia groups playing National Guard.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Israel at a Crossroads

Last week while in New York, we visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage and its Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park.  One cannot help but be struck by the horror of the Nazis, their collaborators, and those that facilitated and perpetrated the persecution, systematic murder, and decimation of Jews, Romas, and other ‘unwanted people’.  Men, women, children, young, old, doctors, artists, lawyers, craftsmen, etc. It did not matter. 
But there is more to the story than the rise of the Nazis, the concentrations camps, and ultimately the death camps.  The holocaust or Shoah, was but the most recent chapter in thousands of years of persecution and anti-Semitism.  Many love to celebrate the holy crusades, yes these same crusades murdered Jews.  The glory of the Columbus voyage in 1492; financed by the Spanish crown while the same crown systematically rounded up Jews and Muslims and offered the choice of conversion to Christianity or death.
I have had the opportunity to visit Israel on many occasions and when touring Jerusalem I am always struck by the millennia of conquering and reconquering and the subjugation of the Jewish people by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Arabs, Turks, British, etc.  Whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic, and without a homeland, Jews would always be subject to resurgent waves of anti-Semitism.  Even when they identified themselves as German, or French, or Persian, or Polish; even as they tried to assimilate into the local culture, there threat was always there. 
In the late 19th century, French captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully accused, convicted and sentenced to Devil’s Island for treason.  It what became a clear cut case of anti-Semitism, the French military court not only dropped charges against the real culprit, they double downed on the charges against the Jewish Dreyfus.  This became a lightning rod moment for European Jews leading Theodor Herzl to declare:
“Nothing prevents us from being and remaining the exponents of a united humanity, when we have a country of our own. To fulfill this mission we do not have to remain literally planted among the nations who hate and despise us.”

Zionism was born and through a combination of political and military (some might say terrorism) action, Herzl’s dream came to be on May 14, 1948, eight hours before the end of the British Mandate of Palestine.  Jews finally had a homeland and would never again live under the cloud of deportation, would never suffer the humility of the Voyage of the Damned, would never be forced to live in fear of being rounded up, and never never again be the victims of anyone’s final solution.
And yet a two state solution in Palestine, the core of the end of the British Mandate, a Jewish State and an Arab State remains so contentious.  Can Herzl’s dream coexist with a Palestinian State?  Clearly Israel’s 1st Prime Minister Davis Ben-Gurion thought so.  Do today’s Israeli leaders fear a threat that would come to be by creation of the neighboring state?  Would the threat be any worse than what Israel has faced since 1948?  Or is the fear more about the demographics of Israel where the country may become less Jewish due to mass immigration?  What is a Jewish state?  Is a state run by Jewish law any different that an Islamic state or a Christian nation? 
It is these questions that are troubling.  At what point does the self-preservation of the Jewish people, Jewish identity, and Jewish state become the thing it was created to prevent?  I am always troubled by Jewish Americans, many of whom like my parents bought Israel Bonds to fund the nascent state and yet seem to have forgotten what is what like to be a displaced person.  This is not what being Jewish is all about.  It is also what is so confusing.  Through blood, sweat, and tears the Jewish people fought and won a homeland.  Why cannot we see that others have the same dreams and desires? 
I do spend a fair amount of time thinking about this, and the recent visit to the museum only heightened the awareness.  I leave you with this quote from Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who risked his life to save as many Hungarian Jews. 
“I will never be able to go back to Sweden without knowing inside myself that I'd done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.”
Wallenberg would disappear after the Soviets ‘liberated’ Hungary.  But his legacy should be near and dear to every Jew.  Shouldn’t we, especially all that have suffered,  all find a way of preventing persecution and promoting freedom and autonomy?  I understand the political realities and that bilateral actions require a reliable partner, but the sooner there are states at peace, side by side, the sooner Herzl’s dream will be realized.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

22-Dec-2012: Emptying the Mental Inbox

Twenty Questions and Comments for a Holiday Weekend;

1)      Is there a worse mall smell than the offensive odor emanating from an Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Shop?
2)      Are mid-season NCAAM basketball rankings as useless as announcing the starting lineups of  a hockey game?
3)      If the NRA sponsored GOP thinks that it is necessary to arm good guys for protection against bad guys, do they support nuclear-armed Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Bahrain if Iran achieves nuclear capability?
4)      GOP lead House calls for investigations into Fast and the Furious over the death of one Border Agent, but why are they mute on #SandyHook?  (OK that one’s a rhetorical question).
5)      If mental illness is a pre-existing condition, and Obamacare makes sure pre-existing conditions do not prevent people from getting health insurance, and mental illness is the leading cause of gun massacres, why is the GOP opposed to Obamacare?
6)      In North Carolina liquor can be purchased if you are 21 and only from state stores and not on Sunday, then why can you buy a rifle or shotgun from any store without any background check and only need to be 18.
7)      Viewers of Homeland no doubt cheered the death of Abu Nazir, the show’s fictional terrorist leader.  Funny how some of those same people condemned Israel’s killing of terrorist mastermind Ahmad Jabiri in November.
8)       The Sunday talk shows are giving an audience to Grover Norquist, Asa Hutchinson, and Wayne LaPierre.  Haven’t we heard enough from these clowns?
9)      If the GOP is about law and order, why do they kowtow to the NRA when police officers from around the country urge for limits to control weapon availability.
10)   I cringe at the thought of how a President-elect Romney and vice-president elect Ryan would be handling the post Sandy Hook situation.
11)   If we are willing to put armed guards in schools, shouldn’t we be arming the school bus monitors too?
12)   Republicans love to say we don’t have a revenue problem, yet we are $16Trillion in debt.  Debt also known as money we have already spent.
13)   I am going to miss Jake Tapper on ABC as much as I miss a bad case of hemorrhoids.
14)   Media hacks like Jake Tapper challenge POTUS on why he hasn't done more on gun violence while chastising him for issuing executive orders.
15)   I think I would care more about the hubbub about Instagram, if I ever used it.  Or have I used it, and not known it.  How would I know?
16)   Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas claims some lawmakers are trying to politicize Sandy Hook.  You mean like some politicized Fast and the Furious and Benghazi?
17)   I hate bowl game sponsorships as much as I hate the fact that there are too many bowl games.
18)   The pro-NRA crowd that loves to use Israel as an example of an extensive security presence fail to mention that the path to own a gun in Israel is a highly restrictive torturous one.
19)   The GOP opinion on government jobs appears to be: if the job involves a gun it’s OK, all others are a waste.
20)   I think the GOP would love to place the Department of Education under Homeland Security.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mike Huckabee and the Pledge of Allegiance

So Mike Huckabee thinks we need more God in the classroom?

Did you know that the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Socialist Baptist Minister?  The National Education Association requested the pledge be written to demonstrate the unity of our growing diversity in public schools.  A believer in the absolute separation of church and state, it is safe to say that when his ubiquitous pledge was modified in 1954during the Joseph McCarthy led anti-communism, anti-atheism, anti-enlightened histrionics to include the words ‘under God’ he would have been mortified.  It seems that “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” has a history of being quite controversial because the catholic Church opposed it during World War I because it was making American Catholics, more American than Catholic.

You see, it's called public school for a reason and we haven't taken God out of the school as Huckabee cries.  It was never meant to be there in the 1st place; at least not in the form that Huckabee believes. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun controls and the 2nd Amendment living in coexistence

On December 16, 1689 an Act of Parliament created the English Bill of Rights.  Amongst these rights were: Protestant subjects "may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and allowed by law".  100 years later the US Constitution would also include a Bill of Rights, and its 2nd amendment would state: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
There is little debate that our Bill of Rights were strongly based on the English Bill of Rights.  But the English Bill of Rights was as much about righting the wrongs of the monarchy and establishing Parliament’s power while the American counterpart was about protecting citizens from tyrannical government.  Nonetheless, when it came to guns, the English Bill of Rights was specifically addressing the 1671Game Act that forbid Protestants from owning guns.   This new Bill of Rights would allow all citizens regardless of station to religion to own guns.
It just seems to me that we can still have a 2nd Amendment but also address our gun problem.  There are over 300 million guns in America and 60% are purchased without background check.  I believe hunting rifles should be legal, regulated, and the path to ownership torturous.  But I will not accept such easy access handguns and certainly there is no place in a free society for a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle with 'multiple magazines'.   Yes I realize I said a free society with bill of right restrictions.  But when the proposed solution to a society with 300 million guns is to install armed guards to protect ourselves, we have entered Monty Python times.
We are forfeiting some civil liberties for the sake of one specific civil liberty; a civil liberty that has become perverted.  The National Firearm Act of 1934 included testimony from then NRA President Karl Frederick.  During his testimony in front of the Congressional committee, Mr. Frederick said “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. I have when I felt it was desirable to do so for my own protection. I know that applies in most of the instances where guns are used effectively in self-defense or in places of business and in the home. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”
Can you see Wayne LaPierre calling for any form of gun control?
And then there was the December 16th broadcast of ABC’s This Week where George Will thought he was making the case that gun control doesn’t work by citing one off instances in Scotland and Norway.  In 1996, a man went into a gym class in Scotland, killed 16 5- and 6-year-olds and the teacher. A few years ago in Norway, a young -- deranged young man killed, what, 69 people on an island, mostly teenagers. Connecticut has among the toughest gun laws in this country. Didn't help. Scotland and Norway have very tough gun laws. Didn't help.”
Clearly George Will doesn’t think it is worth trying after all here is what he said in July: “The killer in Aurora, Colorado, was very intelligent and farsighted and meticulous. I defy you to write a gun control law that would prevent someone like this with a long time horizon and great planning capability from getting the arms he wants. I just think this is a mistake.”
Then there was Jason Chaffetz on the same December 16, 2012 broadcast blaming everyone but the near unlimited access to guns.  After blaming mental health, the Utah congressman turned his attention to Hollywood:  “… you put violence and death and gore in a movie, you're not going to get an R rating. You do something else, OK. But I've got to tell you, I think the movie ratings are terribly misleading when it comes to violence, death, gore, and glamorizing it.”
So the problem in the U.S. is movie ratings, video games, and mental illness.  But don’t other countries see the same movies?  Play the same video games?  Do we have a monopoly on mental illness?  Seems to me the problem is one of a cultural interaction: take the above issues and thrown in 300 million guns and voila. 
How can any reasonable individual believe that addressing gun prolificacy is not a reasonable approach?
Never has the right been so wrong.  Sometimes righting a wrong can be taken too far.

Friday, December 14, 2012

We are America and we have a gun problem

Everybody is already rationalizing today’s tragedy.  This law would not have stopped it.  Guns are sold illegally everyday on the street.  It’s a mental health issue.  Gun control doesn’t stop crime.  There is no gun show loophole.
We need to stop looking at these shootings and everday gun violence in isolation.  They are indicative of a gun-obsessed, special interest fueled, violent society.  So no one ‘thing’ will solve the latest horror, but that is no reason to ignore the underlying cultural facts.  We are America and we have a gun problem.
I am not an expert, but it’s time to get started.  And for those that claim I am trampling on the 2nd Amendment rights, my response is your rights do not trump mine and my right to a nation encompassed in ‘domestic tranquility’.
1)      Close the gun show loophole.
2)      Make the penalty for selling, carrying, buying, or owning a gun without proper documentation excessive.  Zero tolerance.  Prison time.
3)      Ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
4)      Eliminate the concept of the unlicensed gun seller.
5)      Legal gun sales require a five day waiting period.  If the dealer does not receive background check clearance, the deal is voided.
6)      Possession of a gun during another crime is mandatory prison term.
7)      Private citizen to citizen gun sales shall be illegal.
8)      Decriminalize marijuana and free up prison space…we’re gonna need it
9)      Limit the supply of guns while changing behaviors in such a way that demand of guns drops.
10)   Close straw purchase loophole.
There are others more influential, more powerful, and more knowledgeable than yours truly.  Let’s hope they act.
The time is now.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Meet the 2 Percent

I am part of the 2% and I am not the enemy.  Further, for those on the left that want to use stereotypes that the 2% are not job creators or do not pay their fair share I suggest you pay attention.  Not all of us inherited wealth.  Our wealth comes from hard work.  We are fortunate, but not lucky per se.  And yes many of us understand the need to raise taxes.  Some of us even voted for President Obama.
I was fortunate to have parents that understood the importance of education, even though I may have not at times.  They were proponents of education and hard work, and made sure college education was paid for.  Me and my siblings all had jobs when we were young and we understood the value of money, the need to save, and the concept of staying within one’s means. 
I parlayed that stable loving upbringing with an engineering degree to get my first professional job as an engineer at Eastman Kodak.  In the 27 years hence I have worked my ass off, studied, learned on the job, took risks, received an advanced degree, generated results, worked even harder, took more risks, and placed myself in the right position to capitalize at the right time.  I don’t consider that luck.  It is the American Dream in my eyes:
a great upbringing + education + hard work + risk taking = success
I am a job creator.  I purchase goods and services, invest in businesses, and make sure the company  I work for succeeds and in the process hires more workers here in the U.S.  I do not hide money offshore, I pay my taxes, and have said that the tax rates on the upper brackets need to return to the Clinton era.
What I don’t need are those on the left telling me to pay my fair share.  I am not threatening to move my money offshore or create some other tax evading scheme.  I want a simpler tax code; a code that limits deductions, lowers rates, eradicates loopholes, and instead of insane tax credits, simply gives lower income citizens a check.  And as far as the estate tax goes, it is double taxation and those on the left love to use it as a tool to punish the wealthy. 
But the wealthy also need to get an understanding that those that earn their income from dividends and capital gains need to realize the tax holiday is over.  Further, progressive taxation and progressive principles are not un-American.  The unemployed are not lazy, the 47% are not looking for handouts, and the American Dream is based on social safety nets.  We the People support one another; and those that talk of fair share are spewing garbage.  What is the fair share?
So here I am, a 2%’er in the middle arguing for progressive ideals and telling progressives to back off.  Avoid labels, they’re often misleading and too general.  I pay what I owe, I may bitch about it, but I pay my fair share. 
I owe my mother and my late father for my start and my wife for being there since . Everything else I earned the old fashioned way: hard bloody work.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Israel: The Jewish State

Israel: The Jewish state.  Is it a good thing? Is it necessary?  Of course Israel is a good thing and it is necessary, but should it be a Jewish state?  I do not ask this question flippantly or frivolously.  With My Main Mensch Moshe, say that ten times fast, here in Israel we switch from discussing business to the future of Israel.  Where I am just a casual observer, my man shares with me his thoughts, experiences, opinions, etc. His experiences are first hand and he Obi Wan Kenobi to my Luke Skywalker.
Last March I wrote of being a secular American Jew in Israel which included this excerpt:
Let’s go back to the idea of the Jewish state and the man most often credited with spreading the concept; Theodor Herzl.  Herzl is credited with being the driving force of the Zionist movement, though he did not create the name, following the publication of his 1897 book Der Judenstaat.  The movement promoted the settling of European Jews in the ancient biblical Jewish homeland of Palestine.  Having witnessed Jewish persecution in the late 19th century across all of Europe, Herzl concluded:
“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.”
In its simplest definition: Zionism is a nationalistic movement that supports the establishment and protection of a Jewish State for the Jewish People to preserve the Jewish culture.  The drive to create a homeland where persecution does not exist, where being a Jew is not punishable.
I still believe in the Herzl’s vision, but I am troubled by the potential perversion of Herzl’s dream.  Preserving the Jewish culture at the expense of another culture is not the doings of a  great society.  And yes Israel has faced clear and present dangers throughout its brief history, but there comes a time when self-preservation can become apartheid.  And yes I am aware of the ugly connotation of the word, but when you perform social and economic discrimination based on race, it is what it is. 
To make matters worse, anyone who criticizes Israel is called anti-Semitic and when the New York Times is called anti-Israel we have entered strange times.  But I get the sense that the new right-of-center Israel, the byproduct of the influx and propagation of nationalistic Russian emigrants and the high birthrates of religious conservatives, is willing to preserve the Jewish culture at all costs.  But will it still be Israel? 
Discrimination plays out every day across the globe, but state sponsored discrimination is another dangerous matter.  Right wing politicians have used demagoguery to promote nationalism for centuries and we see varying degrees of this in both developing and developed nations.  It is ugly and it is denies the laws of nature.  Israel is proud of its status as the only true democracy in the region and can point to its neighbors’ atrocities that have become all too familiar.  But shouldn’t we expect more? 
So yes, I believe in the ideal of a Jewish state.  I believe after millennia of anti-Semitism, persecution, and genocide a Jewish state is necessary.  But if in becoming and preserving that Jewish state makes Israel what it has fought against, does it really represent what it was intended to become?
Aren’t all men created equal and born with unalienable rights?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Economists and The Fiscal Cliff

Economists suck at predictions.  Economist Kevin Hassett, and former Romney economic advisor, said in 1999 “Stocks are now, we believe, in the midst of a one-time-only rise to much higher ground—to the neighborhood of 36,000.” Of course there was President Obama’s own Christine Romer who predicted that unemployment would never pass 8% if the stimulus was passed.  We know how that turned out.  How many economists predicted the 2008 economic collapse?  I can only think of one: Nouriel “Dr. Doom” Roubini.  Roubini now warns of a perfect storm recession in 2013:  “Everybody’s kicking the can down the road of too much public and private debt. The can is becoming heavier and heavier, and bigger on debt, and all these problems may come to a head by 2013 at the latest.”   Meanwhile Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman says “So yes, debt matters. But right now, other things matter more. We need more, not less, government spending to get us out of our unemployment trap. And the wrongheaded, ill-informed obsession with debt is standing in the way.”
We have one economist who predicted a Dow at 36,000, another who badly miscalculated the effects of the stimulus on the economy, and two more with opposing opinions on concerns about debt.  If both Roubini and Krugman are considered leaders in the dismal science how can they have decidedly opposite views of debt?  Roubini called the 2008 collapse but he has also missed terribly on oil and gold predictions since 2008.  Is Roubini the blind squirrel who found his nut one time?  Is Krugman the broken clock that’s right twice a day?
I don’t know.  I am not an economist.  But I do know a little about finances, probability, and human behavior:
1)      Chaos Theory.  Many remember Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park as he was criticizing the park’s creator and references the famous quote about how a butterfly batting its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.  The point is the world is dynamic and most predictions are based on a static state; does anyone really believe interest rates will remain at these historically low levels?
2)      Today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow.  Many liberals correctly state Social Security has not contributed to the debt, but with an aging demographic honoring the earned benefit will increase the Treasury’s financial burden.  To ignore it now when we can do something about it is akin to filling sandbags after your house has flooded from a hurricane.
3)      The rational mind is a myth.  Fear is real and fear can throw markets into turmoil and with a 24 hour news cycle people can be overwhelmed by warnings and threats from politicians, pundits, and media whores. 
4)      When you run $1 trillion deficits you have both revenue and spending problems.  As the urban legend goes, bank robber Willie Sutton famously said “because that’s where the money is” in response to the question as to why he robbed banks and that is where we need to go.  Increase receipts to the Treasury through taxes and cut spending in the big ticket items including defense and yes some social spending.
5)      Risk does not equal uncertainty.  The risks of the expiration of Bush tax cuts and spending sequestration can be assessed and quantified.  They are known knowns.  And while I try to avoid sounding like Dom Rumsfeld, uncertainty comes from what we cannot envision, estimate, or predict.  For instance what will be the market’s response to hitting the fiscal cliff?  What will businesses do?  Could the removal of $Billions from the economy lead to irrational and unpredictable behaviors?  Remember rational markets are a myth.
So what am I saying?  Firstly, don’t trust any economist’s predictions.  Secondly, it’s not dollars and cents, it is common sense.  The impacts of the fiscal cliff will be best measured by how regular folks respond.  Thirdly, I believe in reallocating spending and increasing tax revenue over the short term and long term.  Fourthly, we need to invest in long term cost reduction and revenue enhancement  by investing in energy, education, and infrastructure today.  And finally, if we do not solve the large wealth disparity that exists today, our society will not survive.
Oh, I will make one prediction on the topic of the fiscal cliff: 98% of Americans will criticize their party for getting a bad deal.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Morning Mishegas

How about the establishment clause?   Oklahoma judge Mike Norman sentenced 17 year old Tyler Alred to ten years in church in connection to a drunk diving incident that killed the teenager’s friend.  Church?  I am all for a progressive judge trying to find alternative sentencing, but this is bad for justice AND religion.

Nativity plays will need new casts.  Pope Benedict XVI says there were no oxen, donkeys, or any other animals for that matter at the birth of Jesus.  No word yet if the Three Wiseman are in jeopardy of being cut too.

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas?  Pope Benedict XVI also claims that the entire Christian calendar may also be off due to a 6th century monk’s miscalculation regarding the actual birth date of Jesus.

Never too soon to kiss ass.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio visited Iowa soon after the 2012 Presidential election.  Rubio is building his credentials with the evangelical Iowa caucus crowd where he dodged the question about the age of the earth.  Psst Senator Rubio, scientists generally agree that the earth is 4.5 billion years old.

The right decision for the wrong reason.   Conservative mouthpieces Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer immediately after the November 6th presidential results indicated an Obama victory, that they were open to immigration reform.  Really?  Their reasoning had nothing to do with a change in social attitudes, but the realization that the GOP was doomed to future general election failures because Hispanics would continue to vote for Democratic candidates.

Must be the other guy.  Even though approval rating for Congress hovers in the low teens at best, historically 85-90% of House and Senate incumbents are re-elected. 

Welcome to Farmville.  According to the NY Times, there are now more software engineers than farmers.

The Ugly Truth: So far this year there have been 166 active-duty suicides in the army and this does not include servicemen no longer on active duty.

What have you done for me lately?  Auburn fires football coach Gene Chizik two years removed from winning national title.

Not here?:  Imagine a country where everyday 500,000 people lose power for two hours?  Third world right?  Nope, it’s the USA, and I am not talking about Hurricane Sandy type events, I am talking any ordinary day.  But hey, let’s not invest in upgrading our power grid.

But I thought Obama was a big spender?:  The annual federal deficit has fallen faster in the past 3 years than during any period since the 1960’s  As a percentage of GDP, the deficit has fallen from 10.1% to 7%.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

If erring is human, forgiving divine, what is compromising?


With 36 shopping days until the ‘fiscal cliff’ pundits and analysts from both sides are offering their opinions and giving advice to the political combatants.  And as usual, the left is calling for President Obama to not ‘cave in’ like he did in in 2010, he didn’t, and the right is calling for Speaker Boehner to hold fast and not allow a tax increase.  Now that we are passed the election and Black Friday the rhetoric will amp up on cable news, I won’t watch, and the Sunday Talk Shows, won’t be watching those either, to a fever pitch with the zealots on each side looking for unconditional surrender and unanimous victory.  Yes compromise is on the endangered list of political will.

But should this come as a surprise to anyone?  In every aspect of society we feel we have to treat everything  as a competition.  Within hours of the Gaze cease fire, pundits were already trying to declare winners and losers.  Now I am no ‘everybody gets a trophy for participation’ kind of guy.  I believe in competition there needs to be winners and losers and promoting mediocrity is harmful and frankly un-American.  But good governance is not a competition.  Elections yes.  Governance no. 

Now that is not to say that the opposition party should simply roll over and rubber stamp what the party in power wants to do.  There should be opposition and debate because it is only through the democratic process can we hope to advance.  And the process has to include give and take and realizing that the best deal is the deal where both sides feel they have accomplished something.  For the record, the 2010 deal during the lame duck Congress that the professional left likes to vilify the president over, included billions of dollars for extending unemployment benefits, continuation of middle class income tax rate cuts, and a payroll tax cut.  But the left only remembers that tax cuts for the rich were also extended, businesses were granted tax benefits, and the estate tax wasn’t increased.  It seemed the only people who didn’t get what they wanted were the pure deficit hawks who wanted spending cuts and the end of corporate welfare.  Oh and by the way, those that thought President Obama caved apparently forgot he also got a new START Treaty signed, DADT repealed, and was able to continue funding for Race To The Top and alternative energy research.   One could argue that it isn’t compromise if both sides get everything and no true sacrifice is made.  I reacted in such a way when I saw the details of the 2010 deal and thought that the government was simply making sure everybody and every constituency got a gift.

So the latest round of deal making and bargaining is here.  I am not going to get into the pros and cons of lowering rates, eliminating deductions, dividend income versus ordinary income, the benefits of a territorial tax system, or the AMT.  Instead I am reminding everyone that this nation was born out of compromise, survived crises by compromising, met the challenges of a dynamic world through compromise, and evolved to the changes in societal beliefs via compromise.  Across the political spectrum everybody loves the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, too bad they don’t love the need to compromise like our founders. Hell, we wouldn’t even be talking about this today if it weren’t for the Great Compromise that established the idea of a bicameral legislature with two bodies: one based on state population, the other on equal representation.  During those heated testy bitter debates, these men were able to compromise on slave trade (ok more like kick the can down the road), tariffs, and even how the president was to be elected.  (Pardon this digression but the 3/5ths compromise establishing slaves as 3/5ths of a non-slave for determining population and House representation conflicted with the notion that slaves were property and thus had no rights, but hey I guess the white guys in the south wanted to make sure they had as much representation as possible to keep slavery alive). 

Yes in many of the best deals both parties walk away thinking they won.  But in political compromise isn’t more important that the nation wins in the long term?  Yes sometimes the can gets kicked down the road resulting in a potentially bigger problem, but those instances are rare as in the case of abolishing slavery.  Figuring out tax codes, discretionary spending, immigration, and the environment really shouldn’t be this difficult when compared to what happened in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1787 when 55 state delegates hammered out the Constitution. 

It really shouldn’t be this difficult.  But it’s not even the hunger to win that is causing this gridlock, the fear of being perceived as having lost is equally motivating yielding progress crippling intransigence.  Maybe the founders had it easier, there was no 24 hour news cycle and very few pundits.

If erring is human, forgiving divine, what is compromising?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I am thankful for:

History repeating itself, because I fear how we would cope if everything was new.

David Chase making a sociopath the protagonist in the HBO series The Sopranos, and in the aftermath we have been treated to the likes of Vic Mackey, Nucky Thompson, Dexter Morgan,  Al Swearengen, Walter White, Russell Edgington, Don Draper, and Tommy Gavin.

Hindsight because without it we wouldn’t know what we were supposed to do.

Political pledges because anytime you can get a politician to sign anything you have a document and record that becomes useful in mocking said politician

Box cutters because they are the most useful tool to overcome manufacturers and retailers fear of theft and are necessary if you want to open the most basic packaging.  A must if you want to open the package sometime this century

Sports surgeons because isn’t every surgery deemed ‘successful’?  I mean have you ever heard a surgeon say “Well that didn’t go so well”, following an ACL procedure on the team’s running back?

Nate Silver and the idea that math and statistics can be cool….nerd cool, but cool.

The mute button because if CBS is going to keep on having Jim Nantz broadcast Patriots’ games….

Lounging pants…no further explanation should be required

Melatonin.  Not so much for the sleep aid but for the vivid flat screen stealing bear drinking train robbing rednecks and giant snakes I encounter during my dreams.  Gives me something to ponder over my morning oatmeal

Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist who prove if egomaniacs and sycophants can get on national TV there is hope for the rest of us.

Fact checkers who quickly rule on the relative truthfulness of politician’s claims.  The downside is even when called out as Pants On Fire, these pols don’t even feign shame in getting busted.

Movies that are not based on video games, old TV shows, and comic book characters and include scripts written by real writers

The Daily Show and Jon Stewart. 

Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich for showing who pathetic the GOP has become when these clowns actually were considered front runners at one time.

The Tea Party for enabling Democratic control of the Senate and President Obama’s re-election

Independent redistricting commissions such as the one in Arizona that results in a 5-4 Democratic advantage in the state’s House delegation to Washington

Sarcasm and cynicism because without it no one would get me

Gobble Gobble