Sunday, April 28, 2013

Random Thoughts From a Semi Lucid Mind

·         Rating a tams NFL draft before any of the players take the field is like rating your meal  after you order it a restaurant

·         ”Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”   An Obama the tyrant administration statement?  No, that would be Hank Paulson, George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary.

·         Good thing the sequester hasn’t affected the White House Correspondents Dinner.

·         Apparently Mississippi’s Northwest Rankin High School was unaware that the Constitution’s 1st Amendment and the Supreme Court have ruled that school prayer is unconstitutional.  It seems the school held an assembly where a member of Pinelake Baptist Church opened the assembly praising Jesus Christ  and warning students against sex, pornography, and homosexuality.  Perhaps next time the school board should bring in a constitutional lawyer for the administrators.

·         Could we have used the public safety exception to detain Dick Cheney?

·         The starts of Duck Dynasty were invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner along with South Korean one hit wonder pop star psy.  Maybe Tom Brokaw was right after all.

·         Texas’ congressional delegation of Louis Gohmert, Joe Barton, and David Stockman apparently didn’t get the Bobby Jindal “we need to stop being the stupid party” memo.  Or perhaps they can’t read.

·         So the Ricin suspect is an asshole named Dutschke and he comes from Tupelo, MS. Following GOP logic, terrorists come from Mississippi and we should deport all Mississippians?

·         Kelly Ayotte, (R-NH) saw her popularity ratings in New Hampshire drop 15% as she voted against the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment.  Let’s hope, for once, there will be a political price for those that don’t vote in step with their constituents.

·         We tend not to look at polls after presidential elections, but according to latest Gallup polls, President Obama is now at a favorable 52-40 rating while Congress is at an unfavorable 15-79 rating.  Congress is rated lower than Hamas, STD’s, and any show on C-Span.

·         Wilcox County High School in Georgia held its first integrated prom this weekend.  Way to go Wilcox County thanks for joining the 20th century.  Psst we’re already in the 21st.

·         Want to stop radicalization from becoming terrorism?  Build trust with Islamic community leaders.  If they feel comfortable coming forward they will provide the best intelligence on people with bad intentions.  It starts with trust not vilification.

·         After tens of thousands of dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees, suddenly it’s the death of 30 from an apparent Sarin attack that is the game changer?  A political game changer possibly, but until the regional players such as the Arab League, Turkey and Israel plus multiregional entities such as  NATO and the UN Security Council get on the same page, there is little that can be done on the ground. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boston Bombing, the Tsarneavs, and the next steps

As the flood of new reports and interviews on the marathon bombing and the Tsarnaev brothers mounts,  analysis will ensue and every pundit, expert, and host will offer guesses, hypotheses, and theories.  Today Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was in front of the magistrate and a criminal complaint was filed against him that could lead to the death penalty if convicted.  That, of course, is a long ways off.  In the meantime, we have more questions than answers, more opinions than facts, more emotion than logic, and more politics than justice.  And no shortage of stupidity, yes Brian Kilmeade I am talking to you.

The usual calls from Republican lawmakers such as Peter King, Mike McCaul, and Michele Bachmann will center on the growing concern of radicalized domestic Muslims, because, after all,  that is the only source of terror.  So while investigators try to stitch together the timeline, and they will, we will learn why Tamerlan Tsarnaev did what he did and how he convinced his brother Dzhokhar to join him.  We will understand the role of religion in his radicalization and how his ethnicity played a role in his tragic transformation.  But before we start bugging mosques, like Fox’s Brian Kilmeade suggested, I point out what NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told Fareed Zakaria “We follow leads, not communities.” 

The bombing on Marathon Monday and the subsequent manhunt and arrest of the surviving Tsarnaev sandwiched two events in Washington: the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment and the emergence of the Gang of Eight immigration reform compromise.  Both of which are now seen in new light following the events in Boston.  Republican Senators Cornyn, Grassley, Sessions, and others will now use the Tsarnaevs as further reason why we need to restrict immigration.  Sadly, these gentlemen fail to realize that 40% of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or the children of immigrants and one reason why small business growth stalled is the visa restrictions imposed post 9/11.  I am not surprised that these officials would scuttle a badly needed measure.  In light of the background check amendment losing 54-46, perhaps we can wonder why two young men who were not licensed to carry firearms were not only able to procure guns, but also materials to make mass killing bombs.  At least for the moment, violent videogames and movies haven’t been blamed.

On September 16, 1920 a bomb was detonated outside the Wall Street headquarters of  JP Morgan killing 38 and injuring 143 others.  The bombing remains unsolved, but communists, Marxists, unionists, Russians, Jews, Italians, and others were suspected, blamed, harassed, and worse.  It led to excessive civil rights violations the rise of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, and the emergence of the American Civil Liberties Union.  On September 11, 2001 we all know what happened and 45 days later we were rewarded with the Patriot Act and the further infringement of our civil liberties at the expense of security.  Let’s hope our lawmakers do not overreact this time. 

In the coming weeks and months we will learn more.  Americans will get a crash course on Dagestan and Chechnya. We will ask why did the FBI end its surveillance of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and how come no one from the Cambridge Muslim community called the FBI to report his growing radicalization.  Conservatives will mock those calling for protecting 4th amendment rights, and Liberals will continue to ask for stricter gun laws.  Immigration reform will get moved to the breakdown lane and the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams will need to get refresher courses on the Constitution.

If Tsarnaev was not part of al-Qaeda or linked to Chechen Jihadists, does that not make him more like Holmes or Lanza than Mohammed Atta? 

Yes our brief unity will be torn asunder by politics and cynicism.  Those trying to strike a balance between liberty and security will be drowned out by those thinking they know understand freedom. 

Another critical chapter is about to unfold.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What a Week.

What a week.

Marathon bombing, ricin in the mail, Senate vote on background checks, fertilizer plant explosion, and the shoot-out manhunt in Watertown.  If there was ever a week for Kim Jong Un to step away from the brink quietly this would have been the one.  At least, the ridiculous antics and the media created frenzy of the Jodi Arias trial was put on the back burner.  I cannot remember a single week producing such strong and wide ranging emotions; shock, horror, rage, sadness, disappointment, and ultimately satisfaction.  We will continue to mourn the deceased, ask why, wonder how, question who was responsible, say our thanks, pray for the injured, call loved ones, offer a shoulder, pledge support, applaud the brave, assign blame, and hope for the best and plan for the worst.  No wonder so many people felt physically and emotionally drained.

In times of crisis, nobody circles the wagons like Americans.  Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or tragic event we tend to set aside petty differences and put things in perspective.  Of course there will always be exceptions because some people cannot see the big picture as dirty politics, bigotry, and ignorance can never be extinguished.  And like the post 9/11 patriotism, the shock of Tucson, the horror of Aurora, the grief of Newtown, and countless other events, our unity will fade.  Pettiness will resume, the politics of it all will begin to take shape, and our calls for action will fall on deaf ears.  But today, at least for one day, we can be one.

I planned to write about impacts to gun legislation, immigration reform, social media, and the Constitution, but I decided to wait.  My notes and analysis are not going away and I will address those topics in time.  But not now.  Instead my thoughts are still with Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Sean Collier, Jeff Bauman, Morris Bridges, Perry Calvin, Jerry Chapman, Cody Dragoo, Kenny Harris, Jimmy Matus, Joey Pustejovsky, Cyrus Reed, Robert Snokhous, Doug Snokhous, and Buck Optmor, .

I have questions and opinions and I will share them soon enough.  But for now I don’t want to ruin seeing Yankee fans singing Sweet Caroline, watching our President consoling victims, and marveling at Americans set aside differences to help one another.  The aftermath of the worst events brings out the best in many of us.  Wouldn’t it be great if it never faded?

The good times never seemed so good.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The ‘World’s Greatest Deliberative Body’ Looked More Like Puppet Theater.


Today there is anger, disappointment, and shock on the left and glee, gloating, and snark from the right.  Yes, today in the U.S. Senate 54-46 was a losing score; no there isn’t a vote spread, it’s just the American Senate where 60 is the new majority.  Today, an already watered down bipartisan bill, the Manchin-Toomey bill, a bill that would mandate criminal background checks for all gun purchases via the internet or at gun shows was defeated.  The watered down version exempted family member transfers, private party sales, and ‘non-commercial’ sales and yet it was still defeated.  This bill, a far cry from the President’s goal of universal background checks, could not muster the necessary procedural 60 votes. 

Depending what poll you look at, the American public, republicans and democrats, gun owners and otherwise, NRA members and not, universally supported increased background checks.  Why?  Because most intelligent Americans realize that there is a difference between gun regulation and gun registration, and gun regulation can coexist with the 2nd Amendment.  So what happened today?

Each senator has to speak for themselves in why they voted the way they did.  Some, I’m sure voted with their heads and some their hearts, some voted courageously and some voted cowardly, and some voted with Newtown in mind and others with re-election in mind.  But there are two arguments I have heard that warrant further attention:

·         These background checks would not have prevented Sandy Hook.

·         This bill was an assault on the 2nd Amendment

With respect for the first argument, comprehensive gun violence prevention is the cumulative product of a number of individual measures, many of which were outlined by President Obama and several others that will never get to the floor of the Senate.  I could also flip that argument and say that if all high capacity magazines and weapons such as Adam Lanza’s had been banned, Newtown COULD have been avoided.  But this is the NRA talking point, they ignore the culture of the gun in America and attack the individual measures as being ineffective.  I guess gun advocates and their sponsors do not believe the sum of the whole is greater than the parts.

With respect to the 2nd argument, there is simply no foundation to claim that Manchin-Toomey was an infringement of the 2nd Amendment.  These liberty loving Constitutional waving lawmakers seem to think their precious 2nd Amendment is under siege while they all seem to have no problem with trampling the 4th Amendment.

The Patriot Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001, 45 days after the 9/11 attacks, when the country was still shell shocked and blood lust was erupting.  Nonetheless, there was but a whisper when the House voted 357-66 and the Senate 98-1 to give law enforcement the powers to write its own search warrants; something that is clearly unconstitutional.  And these warrants are not served to the person under investigation, they are served to banks, Post Offices, internet service providers, etc. to gain information about an individual and the individual may NEVER know the intrusion took place.

I bring this up because the 4th Amendment is pretty darn straightforward:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

So while hundreds of thousands of people have had their 4th Amendment rights violated in the name of security, the mighty NRA has bought a Congress to make sure that ANY attempt to address the 30,000 gun deaths per year is unconstitutional.

Oh, if I have nothing to hide I shouldn’t be afraid of the Patriot Act?  Well, what in your background check scares you?  The former was the attack from the pro-security crowd that blindly defended the Patriot Act. Hell it was unpatriotic to question the Patriot Act.  But hey keep your legislative hands of our precious endangered 2nd Amendment.  In their minds, not all Amendments were created equal.

It’s too bad the ACLU doesn’t have the NRA’s deep pockets. 

So today was a tough day for many and happy day for others.  But in the end, we all lost.  Common sense was defeated by lies and misrepresentations, special interests defeated public safety, and the ‘world’s greatest deliberative body’ looked more like puppet theater.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jobs, Income, and How We Can All Win

A great deal of data can be mined from the frequent reports issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  In every report there is usually a mixture of good and bad news, but the key is looking at data in different reports, analyze the results, and offer a conclusion.  Now I am not an economist, but the media’s fixation of solely the job creation numbers and the unemployment rate is lazy ‘journalism’. I am not expecting Brian Williams to suddenly become Paul Krugman, but I do expect data, analysis, and hypothesis from someone in the media.

Let’s start with the business side.  One of the most common talking points you will hear is that companies are not investing because the economy is sluggish.  Perhaps the opposite is true.  Richard Katz in the Oriental Economist says Businesses do not invest because the economy is weak; the economy stays weak because businesses do not invest.  The fact that $1.7TRILLION is sitting on the balance sheets of U.S. corporations tells you that there is no appetite for investment or hiring.  Yet according to the January report from the BLS that there are 3.7million unfilled jobs in America and you have to wonder if these jobs are really available.  While I am sure many openings go unfilled due to a lack of unqualified candidates, something is still amiss.

The BLS has also performed additional analysis of where the job growth is coming and it is telling.  The annual BLS Occupational Employment and Wages report was released on March 29th and here are some salient points:

·         Office and administrative support is the largest of the 22 major occupational groups equating to 16% of total U.S. employment, followed by sales and food preparation.

·         7 of the 10 largest private sector occupational groups had annual mean wages below $30,000.

·         5 of the 6 largest public sector occupational groups were education related

·         Correctional officers and jailers is the largest occupation in state government

·         Healthcare and social assistance industry is the largest industry, followed by retail trade.

·         Not surprising, highest annual mean wages were found in finance-related occupations ($98.670) followed by oil/gas extraction and software publishing

·         Equally not surprising, restaurants and food service sector had the lowest mean wage at $21,250

Summarizing the above, we are clearly a service economy where most of the jobs are relatively low paying.  When you combine this with incentive-laden executive compensation, it is easy to see how income disparity has grown.  Stock-based variable compensation has increased the earnings on the top end as the Wall Street recovery has outpaced the Main Street recovery.   This is seen by a recent analysis by David Cay Johnston which noted that the average income for the bottom 90% grew by an average of $59 between 1966-2011 versus $116,071 for the top 10%. 

As for job growth, the headwinds are severe.  As retail sales increase, retail employment lags behind mostly due to the advent of e-commerce.  The likes of Amazon hire ½ as many workers as traditional brick and mortar businesses.  Automation continues to replace workers in office, manufacturing, and clerical occupations.  ATM’s replace bank tellers, robots replace human assemblers, and Management Information Systems’ solutions replace office staff and clerical positions.  And while the increase demand for nurses is good for median wages, many of the healthcare jobs gains have been in the significantly lower occupations.

Which brings us to the Minimum Wage increase debate.  Conservatives are convinced their argument that increasing minimum wages will cost jobs are making several misassumptions.  Firstly, for the immobile occupations where are the jobs going to go?  You cannot outsource a hospital orderly, dishwasher, or any other function needs to be served locally.  Will businesses close?  Absolutely not because labor costs are not always significant drivers in costs of goods (or services) and otherwise, business owners may pass on the prices to customers.  But most importantly, if more people have extra disposable income they will spend it and a growth cycle can ensue.

I am not arguing for socialism here.  I do not believe it is the role of government to set compensation limits for executives, that’s why there are Boards of Directors and shareholders.  Like Lincoln, I do not believe that “you cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage-payer”.  Raising the minimum wage helps both sides as more disposable income means more commerce.

We need to fill these higher paying jobs with increased worker skills.  The technicians who can operate complex equipment, program robots, repair automation systems, write computer code, and install machinery are in short supply.  We can also increase the raw number of jobs by reversing the post 9/11 trend of limiting the number of “H-1B” visas.  As reported in The Economist 40% of the Fortune 500 firms were founded by immigrants or their children according to the Partnership for a New American Economy.  These firms are often high tech firms and it is not just in Silicon Valley, 45% of New Jersey’s high tech companies were founded by immigrants, 42% in Massachusetts.  These immigrants are JOB CREATORS, and we close the door to them and our economy suffers.

A service economy does not have to be an income inequality economy, and our future doesn’t need to be a few haves and millions of have nots.  Fix the tax code, invest in education, reform immigration and all ships will be lifted in the rising tide.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

By The Numbers April 6

2.40: The reduction in the average monthly social security benefit if government switches to chained-CPI (C-CPI) from current CPI.

4: The number of  Democrat Senators: Mary Landrieu, Tim Johnson, Joe Manchin, and Mark Pryor who still oppose same-sex marriage

55: Percent of America’s rivers and streams in “poor condition for aquatic life” according to the EPA.

76: Percent of Americans who want more emphasis on solar power development versus 31% on the production of coal

90: Percentage of Americans that support expanded background checks

131: Number of vacation days President Obama took during his 1st term compared to the 1,060 President Bush took during two terms.

154: Number of bullets fired by Adam Lanza in just 5 minutes

1,000: Cost ($) of the permit for Marine veteran Gregory Schaffer to fly an American flag outside his home in Hypoluco,FL

3,000: Estimated number of unexploded bombs still buried in Berlin

163,170: Number of claims filed against BP for the Deepwater Horizon spill

496,000: Number of discouraged Americans who left the workforce in most recent household survey

585,000: Dollars in performance bonuses that district superintendent Beverly Hall pocketed as part of the Atlanta school system scandal

1,200,000: The estimated number of premature deaths in China due to air pollution in 2010.

3,700,000: Number unfilled jobs in America according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

6,100,000: Number of Texans without health insurance

29,000,000: Alex Rodriguez’s salary ($) compared to $25,000,000 for the entire Houston Astros.  BTW, A-Rod in on the disabled list and expected to miss at least half of the season.

1,270,000,000,000: The size ($) of the Pentagon’s unfunded pension liability.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekly Wrap Up Thoughts, Questions, Opinions, and BS

1)      If 98% of female Catholics use birth control, does that mean thy are bad Catholics or the church hierarchy is wrong?

2)      Is it possible to have a two-state solution when the Palestinians can’t agree on their own state?

3)      Who wins the battle within the GOP: the donors or the base?

4)      Why do Conservatives hope for the worst and plan for the best?

5)      Politically speaking, are guns to Liberals like abortion is to Conservatives?

6)      Was Harry Truman the last president who honestly didn’t give a shit about popularity polls?

7)      How long should it take for democracy to thrive following decades of dictatorship?  A lot longer than we think.

8)      Is there a more underappreciated show on television than FX’s Justified?

9)      Which of the potential bad outcomes does Syria become: Assad stays, prolonged civil war, a Sunni al-Qaeda breeding ground, all of the above?

10)   If Mike Huckabee is a Christian then Rush Limbaugh is a feminist

11)   If Mike Rice’s methods were so great please explain why Rutgers finished 15-16 overall this season and 5-13 in the Big East, which nabbed them 12th place in the conference

12)   Why does it take an Aurora and Sandy Hook massacres to get state governments to enact tough gun regulations?

13)   Why do gangs such as Aryan Nation always end up in the Meth business?  Cliché much?

14)   Are Thom Hartman and Ed Schultz hypocrites for shilling ITM Trading?

15)   I never understood how so many children or grandchildren of immigrants are so opposed to immigration reform.

16)   There is nothing wrong with complementing someone on their looks.  To do it publicly in a large forum is best served at an awards show; when you’re the boss, you do it privately.

17)   According to the CBO: Social Security and Healthcare spending in 2013 will total $1,695B and in 2023 it will reach $3,268B (proj). Where does the money come from to afford this? We can't tax nor cut our way there.

18)   Not only was Mike Rice, Rutgers University Basketball Coach, wrong in how he treated his players, his results were awful.  Bad methods + no wins = Fired

19)   When does the weekend start?  In order to show strong opening weekend box office results, movie studios are releasing movies on Tuesday and calling the 1st week tally as ‘opening weekend’.  Pssst I’m talking about you GI Joe.

20)   If slow the growth rate of something is it still a cut?  After all it’s still growing.