Friday, February 27, 2009

Please, Senator, don't sit on my Stimulus Package

Judd Gregg made it clear this morning that he has no intention of "carrying water" for the Obama administration any time soon. I guess the grass on the White House lawn wasn't quite as green as he had only a few weeks ago when he submitted his resume to the "Yes We Can!" crowd. Now that Bobby (Cindy, Greg, whatever) Jindal is out of the picture, Senetor Gregg seems like he has his eyes on 2012 and is looking to make a name for himself.

Silly man. Doesn't he know he's a pencil-necked geek spewing the tired rhetoric of a failed economic philosopy?

Mr. Gregg took aim and fired at the administration's plan to pull the plug on a Bush-era tax cut. That tax cut allowed Americans lucky enough to earn more than a quarter of a million dollars to stuff even more of that cash in their piggy banks after April 15.

Only 1.5% of Americans reaped this rich reward but Gregg made it sound like they were the other 98.5% of the nation when he defended their right to avoid taxation.

Bored of numbers? Senetor Gregg hopes you are because the numbers hide a dirty little secret. Sure, that tiny elite of Americans who collected those big fat checks DO pay a lot of taxes but they don't pay their fair share. They get off light and they should pay more.

It's simple. Those guys at the top earn over a third of all the income in the United States. Yet, that same group only pays about a quarter of the tax burden.

If they control a third of the money, they should pay a third of the taxes. That's fair.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Senator Judd went on to criticize the Obama budget for it's reliance on deficit spending to revive the flagging economy. He whined that it was an irresponsible burden on the youth of our nation and that they would simply be unable to repay the debt.


Judd should look at his history or, at least, the line graph gracing front page of today's New York Times. This nifty little piece of graphic wizardry clearly demonstrates that the proposed spending we are now debating is downright puny when compared to the whopping debts this country ran up during World War II.

That spending slammed the door on the Great Depression and Americans (literally and figuratively) got buzy after the war. Literally, Americans wasted no time in paying down that debt and figuratively, just look at the Baby Boom.

Come on, Senator Judd, you almost said it a few weeks ago until you chickened out. Say it now, "Yes, we can!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

He's getting milked!

I went up the road this afternoon to the farmer's house. It's looking pretty shabby up there. It's not really a place I go to hear good news. Unfortunately, this farm is probably the rule rather than the exception in these parts. Two years ago, his wife left him and so too, it appears, any motivation to keep up appearances. The window in the gable end has been broken for three years, now, and the "Dairy of Distinction" sign now twirls in hopeless circles from the lone chain that still holds it.

The days are getting longer, he says, as we squish our way, he, Marcus and I, across the muddy drive. That was it for the good news.

We rent our land to this guy. He farms it just as his father did and he gets paid less for a 100 pounds of milk than his father got in 1976. Guess what he gets. Guess. Go on...
Nope, it's less than that.

It's NINE dollars for a hundred pounds of milk. His father got ten for the same milk from the same kind of cows thirty years ago. And the cost of farming hasn't done anything but climb steadily in that time.

He's losing money, fast. After he paid his mortgage, he said, he had a hundred dollars left over and a $2500 utility bill for the month.

I guess the utilities will have to wait, he said matter-of-factly.

Most of us, I know, don't buy milk by the pound so I will try and put his situation in perspective.
You buy milk by the gallon so he's getting nine bucks for about twelve gallons of milk. Each gallon gets him about 75 cents.

What did you pay for your last gallon of milk? My bet is that it is somewhere between $2.50 and $4.

So where does all that money go?

I only know where it doesn't go.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why is David Brooks Such a Fraidy Cat?

Check out David Brooks' latest Op Ed, The Big Test.

How many times did he say he was scared or worried? How did he go from being a self-confessed young liberal college student to such a pasty wuss? What happened? Did he fall in love with some like-minded hottie way back in the day? Did she dump him hard and break his heart? That might explain his, "I'll never get hurt again" approach to life.



Mr. Brooks should check out Michelle Obama's speech back in the summer of '07 in which she said, "I am tired of being afraid" and questioned the place of fear in making decisions.

A mother, a wife, an Obama about to watch her husband run for the highest office in the land, with all the things she had to fear, she refused to let her worries get the best of her.

Mr. Brooks can have his fear and allow his moldering worry to danken his days. But it is courage that clears that allows us to go out and try.

According to Mr. Brooks, there were too many initiatives at once. Too many tasks for the administration to have any hope of accomplishing any one thing. I think this is not a choice that Mr. Obama has made. As he said in his speech, "Difficult decisions were put off for some other time."

That was inaction in action. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush again. It's not like any of them had the courage to do anything about oil dependence, for instance.

The time is now because nobody did anything for so long.

Mr. Brooks stated that history is littered with the charred remains of government initiatives that have crashed and burned but he fails to notice the triumphs of desegregation, the New Deal and public education.

No, they aren't perfect but we shouldn't call them failures.

Go slow?

Dr. King wrote a letter while locked in a Birmingham jail in which he called out those who urged caution when it came to integration. He wrote that time itself does not make change, people, he wrote, make change. People who wait, don't make anything.

Do I need to mention that there is nothing to fear but...

The time is now.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Return of the Welfare Mother

Remember the "Welfare Mother?" I was pretty young when she lived. She had babies, lots of babies, a never-ending string of babies, just so she could collect welfare checks and blow all that taxpayer money on Twinkies and lottery tickets and then wash it all down with a tall boy of Olde English.

And, of course, she was black.

Man, we HATED her.

And she didn't even exist. No, she was cooked up by those among us who wanted the American public to believe that their hard-earned money was wasted on folks like her even though the vast majority of welfare dollars went to a white male who hated taking even one penny.

I'm happy those days are gone and we no longer believe in mythical creations from the paranoid minds of conservative America that fill our hearts with hate.

But I spoke too soon. A new Chimera has soared into the American consciousness and this beast also is intent on robbing hard-working Americans of their money in an elaborate ruse involving the Stimulus Package.

I can't tell you how many people, friends of mine, are convinced that the government has been handing out checks to people who bought homes they couldn't afford. Really, even though not one cent has gone anywhere but into the coffers of big banks, people think that the government is handing out checks to a new breed of layabouts, the new Welfare Mothers.

Where do they get this stuff?

Folks, it hasn't happened.

Those momentary homeowners are now renters. They have walked away from those houses, already, never to return. They took their Little Tykes picnic tables and found a rental downtown leaving a trail of foreclosure notices fluttering in their wake.

Sure, there are people who are still making payments on their homes but the idea that there are all these paupers who bought homes on the Malibu coast and are now going to stay there thanks to the Government is ridiculous.

But, still my freinds go on about "personal responsibility" and how "these people" should have known they couldn't afford this house or that house and "what were they thinking, anyway?"

I don't want to let anyone off the hook but, actually, let's talk about the hook. Sure, the guy who signed the paperwork on the house and agreed to the terms of the loan screwed up. So what? The most he can do now is say, "My bad." He hasn't got any money. He's out of work, now, or close to it.

What can he do?

He walks away.

"My bad."

Now what? In the old days, the bank took the house and sold it, licketty split, and broke even on the deal.

But that was the old days and the property isn't worth nearly what the assessed value was and now the bank is "upside-down" on the house.

So, we hate that guy, that irresponsible guy, who walked away from the house.

But who's fault is it, anyway. Would you have loaned him the money? And if the bank is stuck with the house that isn't worth what the very same bank said it was worth in the first place, it question is moot. Even if it were entirely the buyer's fault, he doesn't have to deal with it. He can walk away. The bank can't. The assumption that the mortgage could be sold up the chain to Wall Street was as false as the Welfare Mother.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Got 'Roids? Please...

So, A-Rod confessed to being young and stupid.

Poor guy.

He still doesn't have a clue that he is young and stupid. That was mean. Sorry. No, really, I am sorry.

And, despite Frank Deford's urging to the contrary on Morning Edition, the Yankee camp is once again the buzzing hive of conjecture in the galaxy of conjecture that is spring training. Will they become distracted? What does Sir Jeter think? How about Joe Torre? What would HE do? And on and on...

But, here is a shocker. I did steroids, too.

Yup. Li'l ol' me. I, too, was young and astronomically stupid. And while I am far from young, now, I am still able to manage flashes of blinding idiocy that most forty-year-olds can only dream of.

Yes, well, actually, no...sorry, I did NOT take steroids. Nope. Even though it would make a far better blog to say I had, those ripped biceps and stallionesque quads of my youth were as natural and pure (and as boring) as Kathy Lee.

Those of you who knew me twenty years ago may have worried from time to time about my obsession with rowing. If you didn't, you obviously didn't really love me because I was a sick, sick young man and I spent far too much time on little rowing machines practicing for a race in which you never see the finish line until its over.

But, in all those years, my crew was always two seconds slower. High-school: two seconds slower than Belmont Hill. College: two seconds slower than Georgetown.

Two measly seconds.

Of course, in an eight-oared shell, two seconds is quite a hefty margin but whenever I talk crew, the room tends to empty.

I wouldn't have cared if I got a strange craving for cud or began to whinny like a lippizaner mare, if someone had offered me something to make me stronger, to give me and the rest of the crew a little extra, I would have leapt at the chance. The guy wearing the "Got Steroids" shirt, that would have been me if I had only thought of it. Give me two seconds on the other guys and I would have taken that needle in and pushed the plunger. No problem. I would have done it.

So, how many of those boys of summer would do it, too? Did it, too. In a way, I can't figure out why someone wouldn't do it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not One of Oprah's Favorite Things

Now that the Obama administration has pretty much ruled out torture and thrown the use of that faux torture, waterboarding, what should we do if we ever capture Osama bin Laden?

The fact is that the United States' ham-fisted approach to the War on Terror (TWoT) and the inherent goal of capturing bin Laden (equally porcine in its execution) has helped Al Qaida at least as much as it has hurt it.

We need a new approach.

One that will punish bin Laden rather than reward him with celebrity status. One that will deter young Jihadis instead of deifying them.

I propose a solution to this question that is uniquely American: put bin Laden on the talk show circuit. Make him go on Oprah and answer those audience questions. Then, it's off to Dr. Phil but let's not forget Larry King and The View. Maybe, just maybe, he could host SNL and have to participate in a rap (a la Sarah Palin) complete with a camel and a posse of women in purdah...

Now, that's a punishment.

Monday, February 16, 2009

He wrote back!

He thinks I make sense! Whoopee! He thinks I make sense!

Well, that's one person fooled.

Much to my surprise, Professor Khurana wrote back and, instead of cursing me and all my blogger ilk he was very gracious. Now I will save his email forever!

He suggested that it was time to introduce a king of Hippocratic Oath for MBA students to help instill a sense of duty and begin to rebuild some of the trust between the American people and the Wall Street types that has been lost in the last two decades.

For more information on Professor Khurana's ideas, check out this article the October issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Speculation, Investment and Capital Gains

I just fired off an email to Rakesh Khurana! Oh, you did, too? I guess we were both struck by the clarity and insight he gave to the issue of corporate compensation during his interview with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition.

If you missed it, Scott Simon led off the piece with the revelation that over 700 Merrill Lynch suits stuffed over a million bucks into their Prada wallets last year while their company's red ink was running like bull's blood in the gutters of Wall Street.

OK, even if they had taken a pass on the payout, their beloved Bull would have ended the year as a patty on a bun. But sometimes you have to do something just to say you did something and taking a check with all those zeroes just stinks like a honeywagon.

Anyway, Professor (Harvard B-school) Khurana accused Wall Street firms of being a kind of ATM for executives and proposed a shift from the Wall Street "I'm a financial A-rod and I should get paid like him" mentality to one in which the Bergdorf Goodman crowd are willing to forgo quarterly profits and huge rewards in favor of the long-term health of the company. To continue the baseball analogy, an exec. should be willing to take an out if it advances the runner.

But there's no reward in that. In the same way that baseball Knights of the Realm James and Beane re-examned the conventional wisdom of player values, the same analysis needs to take place on The Street.

I have a modest proposal. Call me crazy (I have heard a lot worse) but I will bet you a cold one that this might work.

Take the capital gains tax (yes, the one that inexplicably 20% lower than the income tax rate) and put it on a sliding scale to reward longer holding period. Keep a stock for five years and the IRS leaves a mint on your pillow in April. Hold onto it for ten years and Uncle Sam gives you a big, sloppy one. But flip that stock after a quick gain and the he wears a leather suit and goes medieval on your ass.

In an era when the average stock is owned for less than ten months, a change in the tax code could encourage long term investment and discourage speculation. This, in turn, should encourage the CEOs of publicly traded firms to take the long view rather than panic when quarterly profits are down. Maybe then we will have a corporate pay profile that resembles Honda and Toyota where the top executive still have yet to crack a million dollars. Compare to this side of the Pacific where Home Depot's Bob Nardelli forgot to measure twice and cut once and the board still said, "Nice job! Here's $210...and don't let the door hit you in the ass!"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hoooray, the Evil Empire is back!

It must be the chickadees singing in the late afternoon sun but I feel like talking baseball. Red Sox. Yankees. Baseball, my friends.

First, I would like to welcome the Yankees back. They are the team I love to hate once more. I have to admit that there was something ominously lackluster about the pinstripes schlepping their sorry asses into Fenway for yet another meaningless and, I should add, embarrassing 'contest.' Sure, we had A-fraud to make fun of but I actually felt sorry for the poor guy, incomplete as he was, struggling to do the one thing he always could do and failing, no, flailing to do so.

Well, they are back and I am glad.

And so are the Red Sox fans of old preaching doom and gloom. I don't miss them but here they are settling in the rafters of Fenway to watch grumpily like Statler and Waldorf as the Yanks walk away with another AL East Pennant.

Not so fast.

Look at what has happened over the offseason. Sure, Steinbrenner Lite has added a few arms and that is good but the fact is that there will be no Moose who quietly won 20 games last season. So that's a wash for either Sebathia or Burnett, neither of whom, I might add, won 20 last year. Consider that for a second. Sure, both pitchers are great. There's no question that they were quality acquisitions but what is the likelihood that they both will perform like last year? Prior to 2008, Burnett was a 10-game winner twice and finished the season at .500 the year before. Why all the fuss? He's a solid number two in the rotation.


"Welcome to Moe's!"

Anyone put that guy on a scale yet? He's not missing too many meals and the chances he puts in a start-to-finish effort this year are slim. In the post steroid era, there's no way that gordita's going to make it to September without losing a few beans along the way. But don't bet on CC making a pitch for SlimFast any time soon. He's got a fat contract to match his waistline and there are no shortages of restaurants in New York in case anybody hasn't noticed. Remember El Guapo?

The (oh no, I couldn't possible have another bite Sox) however, stay largely the same with a Beckett that is likely to fight like hell for that number one spot with the young Mr. Lester. Neither pitcher is fat, obviously, and both have something to prove this season. Go down that rotation and you get the impression that the Sox have a lot of good arms to throw at the 162 games that seasons tend to comprise. Matsuzaka, always an adventure, will win more than he loses but seldom get out of the 5th inning on anything less than 125 pitches. Wakefield might not make the entire season but there's Smoltz to consider as a legitimate devourer of innings (not enchiladas).

And then there's that all-important last third of the game when Matsuzaka comes out and Delcarmen, Okajima, Lopez or Masterson step in before Papelbon turns out the light and shuts the door.

Can you say that about the Yankees? From the middle of the game on its a roll of the dice and then there's always the big question of when the Sandman turns to dust and the Yankees are left with something like an ellipsis at the end of their games instead of that resounding period that is/was Mariano Rivera (period).

Talk lineups? OK. Will Big Papi come up big or will he be unable to handle that inside pitch? You know, the one he used to deposit in the right field stands one out of every eleven at-bats? What about the hole where Manny used to be? Good questions, I agree. But consider last year's results. A decidedly off year for many Sox batters (Pedroia excepted). Veritek, for one, can't have a worse season at the plate.

Then, of course, there will be a fire sale in Philly come July...

I think it's going to be a very good year for the Sox, folks. The Yankees will take a while to come together but it will be too late again. Red Sox will grab first, the Yankees, in a dog fight, will grab second and Tampa will finish an injury-plagued third.

Minnesota will get the Wild Card.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why Mongolia?

Did you know that I am going to Mongolia? The answer is probably 'yes' because I have been telling everyone that will listen, "Hey, I'm going to Mongolia." But the reality is beginning to sink in that this shit just got real and there's an e-ticket in my hand.

I thought I would post this blog for the trip to give some hapless folks back home an insider's view on an international incident in the making. Keep in mind, Mongolians expect their guests to sing. They sing for you, you should sing for them, right. Well, the last two teachers to go to Mongolia were woefully silent on the singing front and, while I am no golden throat, I do intend to make up for their lack of volume by bellowing loudly whenever possible.

Some things you might like to know about Mongolia...

Well, for instance, Ulanbator (Ulanbataar) is called U-B by all Mongolian hipsters so, I, wanting to blend in with the locals, will refer to it as U-B as well. U-B is home to one million people so, it's an honest-to-god big city. I don't know who told me there was one traffic light in U-B but I am pretty sure that person was wrong.

Mongolians are ethnically distinct from Chinese and the Siberians to the north. They are unique. Their language also is distinct from all other languages. Perhaps the Turkic language is its only relative on this planet. If you want to make a Mongolian laugh till he wets his pants, try speaking Mongolian. I think in order to pronounce some of the words, I would have done better to just stick an egg beater down my throat and turn the handle at medium speed.

Mongolians have managed to bend the Cyrillic alphabet to their will. Thus, written Mongolian looks like Greek or Russian.

Mongolian herders graze Kashmir goats and live in Gers. Californians and other wanna-bes call them Yurts but all the coolest people say Ger (rhymes with scare).

When you visit a Ger you yell, "Hold the dogs! Hold the dogs!" This serves as both a greeting and will reduce of your chances of being bitten by said dogs. Even though an urban Mongolian may be visiting a dogless friend in a modern aparment building, he will still yell, "Hold the dogs!" in greeting.

Mongolians drink Vodka. There is a drink that is made from the fermented milk of a mare but, sadly, that will be out of season when I am there. I will be drinking Vodka.

Mongolians like meat and avoid vegetables. Salad is out of the question.

A traditional meal consists of a beheaded sheep skinned and gutted and dumped whole into a pot. Smooth rocks, heated to a high temperature are then dropped into the pot to cook the beast. After several hours of cooking, the steaming innards and meat are separated and placed on large trays for consumption. The same sheep's head often watches from some vantage point inside the Ger.

Mongolia is where horses come from. The stocky ancestors to our long-legged thoroughbreds still scamper and whinny on grassy hillsides deep in Mongolia's interior. They resemble modern horses as our early ancestors resemble Giselle Bundchen. It was the horse that enabled the Mongols to conquer most of Asia and the Middle East.

Mongolia is a democracy although it is very young. Like so many former Soviet Republics and Satellites, it emerged from the fall of the Soviet Union into a world of economic and political choices. It became a democracy in 1992 and has, with the expected bumps and bruises, emerged into a stable democracy with a bright economic future based on mineral wealth, tourism and the export of cashmere wool.

The point of my visit is to bring civic education to Mongolian teachers, students and administrators. I am expected, along with my co-teacher, Tracey, expected to deliver several lessons on civics and political identity to Mongolian students and teachers.

I will update this blog when I am able and when there is something worth putting in. Pictures and video are soon to follow.

Why are we still listening to them?

And conservative lawmakers are grumbling about being "shut out" of the shaping of the stimulus package when overnight money set aside to fix crumbling schools and designed to give middle-class Americans a fighting chance against stagnant earnings for the last decade disappeared overnight.

I don't call that being shut out at all.

I call that wielding extraordinary power.

There is no debate to be had. It's over. The post-mortem has been performed and as the toxicology reports dribble to reveal that our economy has been sick for a long, long time. It was just a matter of time. Just a small matter of time before the drumbeat of tax cuts for the rich, tax cuts for the rich, tax cuts, tax cuts would pount this economy into into recession.

And the stimulus package comes out and they complain. Those who earmarked their way to secure seats in our Nation's heartland throwing chump change to their constituents while doling out the real money to agri-business, big oil, pharmaceuticals, and wall street.

So why do we still listen to them? They got us into this mess. True believers in their version of the free market, they still believe in their version of truth. They still believe that the economy will turn around on its own. They still believe that it was all a bad dream and things will pick up again if we just do nothing.

Well, they were wrong about that trickle-down economics thing. Dead wrong. Give tax breaks to the wealthiest five percent and they become wealthier while the middle class uses credit to fill the void where reasonable income growth should have been.

Don't do it. Don't listen to the supply-siders. They are wrong.

Spend, Baby, Spend!