Category Archives: Politics

The President thinks we should all be safe, educated, and successful. Duh.

RandomSpotter is somewhat amused by the President’s State of the Union address this evening.  Perhaps amused is the wrong word.  It’s more like I am like a child who knows a secret and finds it comical to be in the presence of those who don’t know it.  What is this secret?  I’m afraid it’s only a secret to those who choose emotion over intellect, and by now you should know that I make every effort to NOT do that.

Here it is:  When someone makes emotional appeals for anything from quality, early childhood education, to revitalization of cities hit hard by manufacturing movement offshore, to not hurting those who need federal entitlement programs, there is no real opposition to the statements.  All of these were made tonight by Mr. Obama.  It’s like saying America should be the home of the free and the brave.  Only a fool would take an opposing position to statements that espouse positive values and human prosperity.  And, if you’ll forgive some honesty here, there is no courage in these statements.

Courage is found in those who don’t just form attractive ideas in their mouths but who actually do the difficult work of identifying the painful sacrifices that must be made.  At a time like this, with another sequester threat looming, the President chose to continue to present mostly hollow, emotional pleas, as usual.  We again heard that Mr. Obama has many big ideas that will solve all of our problems.  But those of us who need a little more meat with our potatoes can’t just agree robotically and sing Yankee Doodle.  First of all, as offensive as the logic of this statement may be to the weak thinkers among us, Mr. Obama had four years to create the harmony that he promises will soon be upon us.  However, I give his first four years failing grades, and the logical conclusion – again, our emotion-driven counterparts will object – is that we will get plenty more of the same in this next term.  Secondly, if he is to be an activist President, I would expect to hear a deeper commitment to compromise and even a little bit of acceptance of responsibility for certain failings from Mr. Obama.  A strong sense of mission and humanity can spur great admiration in a people.  Instead, we got the same threats that, if we don’t do what he wants us to do, he’ll continue to issue Executive Orders to get his way.

So, Mr. President, I say that you were a coward this evening.  Not the kind that runs from a fight, but a coward, nonetheless.  Tonight you elected to expound cheaply and to lead weakly.  No collaborative cost-reduction strategies that could accomplish real economic change.  Instead, you dug in your heels and said that any cuts would be unacceptable and that flat spending is good enough.  Where’s the brilliance, sacrifice or leadership in that?   But, I’m still grinning.  Unlike so many who fall victim to the empty poetry of your emotional appeals, I can see right through you.

Charitable Giving: Taxes and philanthropy go hand in hand, but not the way you think

RandomSpotter had the opportunity to participate in a charitable event yesterday.  A community church held a three-peat drive for 3 different organizations that distribute supplies to the needy.  This got me thinking about charitable giving in the US, especially in light of what I view as forced giving through government entitlements.  I wanted to answer for myself whether it doesn’t make more sense for Americans to just increase charitable giving to save the significant taxes that will continue to be funneled to government “causes.”

One report from Sparxoo indicates that 65% of American households give to charity, with an average household contribution of $2,213 (2008-2011).  Of those who give, the top-earning ten percent contribute over 25% of the funds donated, and 98% of high income individuals contribute to charities.  75% of the estimated $300 billion donated each year comes from individuals, 13% from foundations, 8% from bequests, and 4% from corporations.  The US has the highest rate of giving among all countries, donating 1.65% of GDP to charitable causes (Forbes).  Let that all sink in and you see that we are a giving nation already, even if we could and should grow the number of Americans who give.

Observing the above, it’s puzzling that a country with the third highest government revenues from personal income taxes (38%) and relatively high effective corporate tax rates (around 13%) should need to continue to push ever-harder for government programs to solve social problems.  It seems to me that a fallacy we’ve embraced is the belief that government should solve every major problem of our citizens.  One undeniable fact of life is that it comes with hardship.  Government can’t make us happy any more than it can make us pain-free or healthy.  There is an ocean of evidence to prove that government programs are wasteful and inefficient in comparison with not-for-profit organizations serving the same goals.  To burden our government and tax structure with a philanthropic mission is lunacy.  Although I’ve not seen them, I’m sure there are studies that indicate an inverse relationship between growth in charitable giving and growth in government social programs.  That’s got to be the most reasonable answer.  Of course, volunteerism goes hand in hand with giving.  It costs relatively little in comparison to donations, is available to most everyone, and is a tool that expands the value of charitable contributions exponentially.

Therefore, it would fall upon us, individually and collectively, outside of government to do the heavy lifting of philanthropy and charitable support.  And doesn’t it make a lot more sense for each of us to decide who gets the benefit of our time and dollars?  It does to me.

Taxes, spending cuts, and denial: Politics as usual

Unless you’ve been in a coma for more than 12 months, you know the Administration has proposed a plan that is heavy on tax increases for households making $250,000 or more per year.  Republicans want to see deep spending cuts before they even consider taxing the rich.  We may never see anything that pleases them enough to agree to the tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans, but there’s no current danger of anyone testing that theory.  In spite of Republicans digging their heels in on the tax hikes issue, the other side of their arguments makes the most sense. Spending is the driver of debt and deficits, not tax credits.  They’re not even in the same universe.  Spending has exceeded revenues for over a decade, and the ever-increasing pace of deficit spending continues to threaten the future of the country.  The threats are not philosophical or reputational, they’re fundamental.

If there is still no painfully realistic plan for balancing the budget barely a month before the sequestration deadline, it can only mean that politicians aren’t serious.  The messaging signals another short-term deal that will push consequences out to 2015.  And, you know what?  That pisses me off.  I’m sick of a broken system that safeguards long and lucrative careers to so many liars who consistently spend on our credit card and leave us holding the bill for generations.

My plan is simple, Washington.  Cut.  Cut it all.  Cut it all equally.  Cut MY benefits wherever necessary.  I’m willing to live with benefit reductions to programs to which I’ve contributed over the years.  Slimmer Medicare benefits and smaller Social Security checks?  We can deal with it.  Keep pandering and you’ll keep dividing us.  Treat Americans respectfully, and you’ll get legitimate agreement to take the pain now rather than the giant mushroom cloud later.  Will it hurt?  Hell, yes.  If we do it equitably, the pain will be dispersed, and there’s some comfort in that.

But, don’t you dare look into the camera and tell us about sacrifice when you can’t muster up enough courage in D.C. to stop the entitlements and special interests merry-go-round that passes for government.



The rich need to pay their fair share. So make them pay .00023!

In an October report, Adam Looney of The Tax Policy Center helped clarify some of the major debate issues in the fiscal cliff discussion.  In contradiction to common perceptions, the Administration’s current proposals would continue to extend certain tax cuts to the top 2% of US taxpayers, but at a rate of about 30% of the cost of extending cuts in their current form.  In the top 1% of taxpayers, there are essentially 3 tiers of revised tax cuts in the President’s proposal, and these differ significantly in tax break percentage.

The dollar impact?  From the TPC’s analysis, “the heated debate over whether to extend all of the tax cuts or whether to extend merely the vast majority largely concerns whether to extend an extra $310,000 in tax relief to the wealthiest 120,000 taxpayers or whether we should instead make a relatively small down payment toward fiscal sustainability.”  That’s right.  The math works out like this:  $310,000 x 120,000 highest income taxpayers = $37.2 billion dollars a year.   That’s an impact to the federal deficit of a whopping 2.3 100ths of 1%.  Tough to imagine?  Picture 16,250 balls in a pool.  Now, remove 4.  Ta-dah!  But, surely it must impact annual government spending in a profound way.  A whopping 1%, and that’s a bit over 3 days’ expenses for Uncle Sam.

Am I a protector of 1 percenters?  No.  I’m not a single agenda person.  I try to share verifiable information that clarifies issues in ways that rhetoric can’t.  And, I smell a Hawaiian rat.  If the goal is debt and deficit reduction why is the message always “the rich need to pay their fair share”?  It turns out the Administration’s idea of that is a pimple on the…well, you get the idea.  On the other hand, the President’s political foes reject tax-based proposals and push for tougher spending cuts that have the potential to advance short and long term fiscal responsibility.  This round goes to the opposition.

I won the election for Barack Obama!

LEGOheadThe ballot numbers aren’t even cold yet, and we’ve already heard from so-called researchers about the impact of certain voting blocks on the election.  Before anybody gets too giddy about their pet group’s contribution to election results, a review of the results for certain key segments is in order:

* Blacks, representing more or less 10% of the electorate, voted 93% for Obama (vs. about 96% in 2008 according to HuffPost).

* Latinos, making up just over 10% of the electorate, voted about 69% for Obama (vs. about 71% in 2008 according to Pew Research)

* Whites, which made up 72% of the electorate, voted 39% for Obama (compared to 43% in 2008 according to the Washington Post)

* Millennials, often cited as a separate segment but with overlap in the racial/ethnic segments, voted about 60% for Obama (compared to about 66% in 2008 according to Pew Research)

*Women, also forming part of the racial/ethnic segments, voted 55% for Obama (compared to 56% in 2008 according to Newsweek)

I’m actually impressed with what these results DON’T show.  That is, there was no major change in any of the major voting segments in comparison to the numbers that won Obama the Presidency in 2008.  This can only mean one of two things:

  1. The Obama campaign machine was highly effective at retaining support that would have otherwise been eroded by the Romney message.  I find this interpretation highly suspect since there were few meaningful Obama successes to cite, and the US economic recovery has been anemic.  Additionally, ALL of his voting blocks remained so consistent in their support, with minor declines so equally dispersed, that it would be highly unlikely that such uniformity was a well-coordinated outcome.  This would not imply that the President’s field teams and voter contact efforts had no impact, only that the larger victory resulted from something else.
  2. Romney’s campaign efforts were wholly ineffective, and Obama could have spent the last year sitting on his couch.  Not to make light of this failure, but it appears that the messages of the Republican Party and its candidate simply did not resonate with voters.

In light of this, any analysis about “who won it for Obama” would seem moot, not praiseworthy.  Minority population shifts aside, the historically Democratic base remained so, and likewise for the Republican base.  When we behave as expected, I call that uneventful.  In fact, this election’s near duplication of 2008 results seems to have demonstrated that voters are now far less likely to change their loyalties than before, no matter how difficult the current conditions or the power of political promises made.  Campaign strategy should look very different in 2016.