Posted by: SWL | August 14, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Social Security!

The bill establishing the Social Security Administration was signed 80 years ago today. Social Security benefits have been a lifeline for many senior Americans and the disabled. But the program will not be around another 80 years unless substantial changes are made. So far Congress has refused to make even small adjustments for fear of the wrath of senior voters.

Senior Americans need to be pragmatic. No one has proposed any changes for those already receiving benefits. In fact, the few politicians who talk about it always make that clear multiple times during their remarks. If something is not done to increase funds deposited into the Trust Fund and slow the payouts, money for retirees will run out in 2035. Some current beneficiaries would be left with nothing, so they really should be backing reform plans.

Worse yet, the SS disability fund (established in 1956) will run dry in just over a year. Democrats in Congress want to redirect some of the 85% of the payroll tax which funds retirement benefits to the disability fund. That was also done in 1994. That proposal would have both funds down to nothing in 2034. Republicans have expressed that they would like to use this opportunity to make some changes in disability benefits to eliminate fraud and waste to provide funds for a longer time.

How did the US get in this mess? There’s no one answer, but some trends and actions have contributed in ways not always obvious.

* Four decades of birth control and abortion have reduced the number of younger workers paying into the system. The US has an aging population whose benefits cannot be totally funded at current levels by the payroll taxes of those earning wages.

* During the worst of the recent recession, a payroll tax “holiday” cut 2% from the rate that workers pay into Social Security. In 2011 alone, the Social Security Trust Fund was shorted $112 billion. The government is supposed to pay that back into the Trust Fund from the general tax fund. The payroll tax holiday ended January 1, 2013, although some short-sighted politicians suggested making it permanent.

* Fewer people are employed. The past six or seven years have been especially bad for jobs. And the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) mandates have made things worse. The requirement that any business with over 50 full-time employees must provide health benefits has caused some companies to lay-off workers to stay below the limit. And redefining full-time as 30 hours a week has caused some employers to cut employee hours.

But the employment situation has been trending downward in some areas for decades. As products became cheaper to import from Japan or China than manufacture in the US, factories closed. We have become a service economy. Many service jobs require fewer special skills and pay less. Since the payroll tax is a percentage of total earnings, that’s less money for Social Security.

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan executive order will be another blow to industrial America, at least in the short-term. The plan requires states and utilities to transition from coal-fired power generation to greener alternatives in next 17 years. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates over 200,000 jobs will be lost. New jobs will be created in the solar and wind energy sectors, but I wonder about the longevity of those jobs given the history of green energy companies going bankrupt.

A trendy proposal to fix Social Security is allowing new workers to manage payroll tax money themselves, kind of a government IRA or 401K type plan. I’m all for people having more control over what is their money in the first place. But that plan would harm Social Security because it would decrease the amount flowing into the Trust Fund.

The reform least likely to disrupt the system or retirees is gradually increasing the age when people qualify for Social Security. That age was based on life expectancy years ago. We live longer now, so retirement age should go up as well. I’d also suggest getting rid of various options to retire early with lower monthly benefits. More public service announcements or notices on each paystub should educate workers that Social Security was intended as a safety net, not a retirement plan. Few retirees can live on current benefits alone, and current workers need to be encouraged to save for retirement.

Along with raising the retirement age, there should be a gradual increase in the payroll tax. I don’t know if 0.10% per year for 20 years would be enough to keep the Trust Fund solvent, but the increase would need to be something gradual like that. Hopefully, workers would receive at least a cost-of-living raise each year that would be more than the tax increase, thus limiting the pain.

Social Security will celebrate many more anniversaries if Congress has the courage to update the system to reflect the new worker-retiree ratio and increasing lifespan.

Posted by: SWL | August 10, 2015

Give Trump a Pass on Megyn Kelly Comments

Enough about Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly! The news media is allowing that to overshadow real news. This morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, the anchors and guests discussed this non-controversy for the first half hour of the show, and came back to it later besides. I heard very little from them about the outbreak of violence in Ferguson, MO on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. CNN did a bit better, putting the Trump nonsense after a short report about Ferguson.

I am willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt this time. His explanation was that he started to expand on his initial “blood coming out of her eyes” comment, then decided to just move on to something else, so added the “whatever” to end that comment.

Given how much Trump talks, and how he bounces from one thing to another, this at least sounds reasonable. Personally, I’d like to see the media ignore much of what Trump says.

As for the question in the GOP debate that brought this on, Trump seems somewhat correct. I did not observe that Kelly was angry, but she had a hard edge to her voice when posing the question concerning Trump’s comments about women. All evening she looked and sounded as if she were trying to get the better of the candidates, especially Trump.

It was a bad call by FOX News to have Kelly ask that question. It would have looked better – more sensitive? – if one of the male moderators had asked it. Kelly just looked like a woman upset with Trump for insulting her gender.

The entire incident would have been avoided if the debate questions had been less personal and more connected to the important issues facing the US heading into next year’s election.

I cannot believe we’ve had a presidential election debate over a year before the election! 2016 election “news” has been pushing important real news stories (other nations’ response to the Iran nuke deal, progress [or lack of] in the fight against ISIS) out of the spotlight for weeks.

These debates can be useful. But the election is so far away that voters may become tired of the entire process. Or major national or world events may change the political landscape. In the 15 months before the election President Obama may get us into World War III over the Iran nuclear deal and the type of president voters want to elect could change dramatically.

Well, the debates will go on whether I like them or not. So, that said, here are my thoughts on the evening’s festivities.

First, the primetime debate was boring! Except for the first two questions, not all candidates were allowed to answer on each subject. If only Donald Trump is asked directly about healthcare, and 3-4 others questioned about the Iran nuclear weapons deal, and two queried concerning what they would do to save Social Security, voters do not get a clear picture of which candidate matches their views. I learned very little new about each man on the stage.

FOX News should not have tried to include every possible subject. After all, there will be more debates. It would have made more sense to ask questions about key voter interests (economy, foreign affairs, entitlements) OR limit questions to current events (Iran deal/foreign affairs, Supreme Court gay marriage ruling, Planned Parenthood video controversy). Mixing up the sequence of the respondents would be good, but each man should be allowed to speak on each subject.

Actually, now that I think on it more, why have specific – and often biased – questions? Why not just state the subject and let each respondent say what they wish on the topic?

Trump behaved better than I had expected, probably in part because of the tight control the FOX team kept on questions and responses. He’s probably correct that no one would be talking much about illegal immigration if he hadn’t brought up the subject. I understand why as a businessman, Trump has used US laws to benefit his businesses, and contributed to a wide range of political candidates to extend his influence. While business strategies could help the federal government in the fiscal arena, the presidency is more about politics than business. Trump just doesn’t have the personality/temperament to be the US president.

Jeb Bush has a good record as a former governor of Florida, but has views with which I disagree, mainly Common Core in education and parts of his immigration plan. He was the master at the debate in giving his view within the allowed response time. Although I would like to see a very conservative candidate become US president, someone closer to the center might be able to break the DC gridlock and actually accomplish significant things for the country. Bush would be a better consensus builder than Trump or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. But I fear the family name would make it difficult for Jeb to win the election.

I thought I would like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker more than I did at the end of the debate. He’s done great things in his state, but seems a bit blah. But that might have been due to lack of opportunities to speak with this debate format.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is a likeable guy. He’s funny and has a good grasp on the influence of social issues on the country. I agree with his general views, but think many of his specific plans have long-term bad consequences that have not been explored. His insistence that the Social Security system be left alone is foolhardy, even if the US adopted his proposed consumption tax. The SS system is too far gone to recover without reform.

Dr. Ben Carson is likely more intelligent than the other 16 put together. Well, maybe not, but the man cannot be faulted for his intellectual prowess. Although he is still learning about some national political issues, I have no doubt he could absorb all he needs to know before the first day in office if elected. He brings thoughtful comments to divisive issues that may get knee-jerk reactions from others that often have to be “walked back”.

I agree with Sen. Ted Cruz on most issues, but he has been pushing the boundaries of political civility recently (calling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar) in a bid to stay in the news. He used the phrase “speak the truth” often during the debate.

Although I am a person who doesn’t like change in my personal life, I find Sen. Marco Rubio’s emphasis on the changing needs of the US economy refreshing. While others pointed out that our economy is not doing well, Rubio pointed out that the economy has changed greatly in the last five years and suggested Congress must make significant reforms to deal with reality. I think Rubio has the best chance to win younger voters.

Sen. Rand Paul: good ideas, interesting way of looking at issues (which should make voters consider more than sound bites), a bit too antagonistic.

Gov. Christie: give him credit for winning re-election as a Republican in a Democratic state, solid Social Security reform plan, wants to rebuild the military; also too antagonistic. (There’s a fine line between speaking your mind and insulting people.)

Ohio Governor John Kasich: have heard in other forums that he’s made economic progress in Ohio, know very little else about him – and this debate did not let me hear much from him.

I am hoping that now presidential election hysteria will die down for while and we can concentrate on some of the serious issues facing our nation and the world. Everything else does not come to a halt, waiting to see who the next US president will be.

Today the US Supreme Court issued their ruling in the multi-state challenge to federal subsidies for health care insurance. The majority of the court ruled that individuals will continue to receive assistance with their premiums from taxpayer funds, whether they purchase insurance through a state-run exchange or the federal exchange.

Apparently, the majority of the court did not want to turn the insurance industry upside down (even though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) turned it upside down initially).

In his remarks on the ruling, President Obama said the ACA “is here to stay”. That’s correct. Even if Republicans keep control of Congress and win the presidency in 2016, it will be almost impossible to undo ACA. The plan was rolled out slowly because it covered so many aspects of health care and changed most of them radically. The mandate that everyone purchase insurance is woven in with subsidies to individuals/families and payments to insurance companies that lose money. That makes it difficult to change any one element, which was likely the unstated aim of the plan.

Mr. Obama also said ACA is working as it was designed to. If you assume good intentions by those who promoted ACA, then it is hard to see how the President’s statement can be true. From the federal exchange computer network becoming bogged down, to parents not being able to add newborn babies to policies, to premiums skyrocketing, there have been (and continue to be) problems with the mechanics of the system.

If you want to believe the conspiracy theories, then the statement might be true. Many ACA opponents have contended that there are people who want to collapse our healthcare system so that socialized medicine can be implemented. In that case, ACA would be working as designed. If some changes are not made, ACA will cost more than our economy can handle.

In the wake of the murder of 9 people at historic Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Obama gave a statement to the press. In situations such as this, that is appropriate. But Mr. Obama should have controlled himself and left the gun control issue unspoken. Now is not the time, and it served no purpose.

If one is going to speak, one should also be correct – and the President was not.

First, the President talked about illegally obtained guns. Reports are that this young man used a gun legally purchased by his mother or a gun legally purchased by his father and given to him as a gift.

Second, Mr. Obama said the US must acknowledge this type of mass violence does not occur in other “advanced countries”. Apparently, his memory is very short. What about the shooting at a French magazine’s offices** or the massacre in Norway that killed a number of children?

Besides the mistakes, the idea that greater gun control will stop mass killings is a fantasy. If guns were totally outlawed, those who want to do harm could use explosive devices. Instructions are readily available on the Internet, and it is easier to purchase the supplies than to purchase a gun. (e.g. Oklahoma City Federal Building)

We need to address the societal conditions that lead to people feeling they must kill. We need to better address mental health problems. We need to teach ethical behavior to our children, not situational ethics (which teaches that an action can be wrong in one situation, but not in others).

My prayers go up to heaven for the survivors and the families of the victims in Charleston. They need our love and encouragement right now. Arguments over gun control will just cause strife and stress that will bring more pain. Mr. Obama, please stop worrying about your agenda for a just few minutes.

.

* Mr. Obama’s use of “advanced countries” is insulting. So-called “third world” or “developing” countries have many “advanced” citizens, intelligent people with great ideas for their nations. What is missing in these countries is the science and technology infrastructure to bring these ideas to fruition.

** The shooting in Paris was clearly Islamic extremist terrorism, but the evil/crime was committed with guns.

.

Donald Trump announced today that he will seek the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election.

Given that Trump toyed with the 2012 nomination for months (ultimately deciding against a bid because of his television show), and his very gregarious persona, it is tempting to dismiss him. But if you look at the issues he raises, you can see that he is seriously concerned for the US. And he brings some innovative proposals to solve the problems.

In his announcement speech, Trump said he has enough money to fund his campaign himself. That makes him the only candidate from either party that doesn’t need to craft his rhetoric to please the donor base. But he does need to remove the direct insults to other candidates from his rhetoric so he doesn’t turn off voters.

The public has a certain stereotype in mind for presidential candidates, and since Trump does not remotely fit the mold, he would never get the GOP nomination, let alone be elected president.

There are a few others seeking the nomination who have little chance of gaining it. No one is calling on them to drop out, so no one should say Trump cannot or should not try.

A Trump bid has advantages, mainly to focus on the more controversial issues facing the US and force other candidates to talk about them in greater detail than they might without Trump stirring the waters. More information about where the candidates stand all the issues has to benefit voters.

Posted by: SWL | June 15, 2015

Jeb Officially Enters 2016 Presidential Race

Today John Ellis Bush, aka Jeb, made the official announcement of his intention to run for president of the US.

(Finally! Is anyone else tired of unofficial candidates campaigning while telling everyone they will make an “announcement” at a later date?)

With so many Republican candidates – official and unofficial – in the race, it’s impossible to predict who will receive the nomination. But there can be a lot of interesting comparisons made over the next several months.

On the positive side for Bush, he has great experience as a former governor of Florida. Currently he is one of four governors in the race, with two more “exploring” the possibility. Bush has name recognition and some good principles and ideas.

His name recognition is also a negative factor. For me, if he is the best candidate, I do not have a problem with Jeb being related to two former presidents. But I think it could be a turn-off to some voters. (Although that would be cancelled out if if his opponent were Hillary Clinton, wife of a former president.)

Personally, I disagree with Bush on the Common Core education standards and some aspects of immigration reform. But a more moderate Republican might have a better chance of winning the presidency than a conservative. Certainly, Jeb could siphon some Latino votes from the Democrats.

Stay tuned to the news – there are more Republican announcements to come.

Posted by: SWL | May 22, 2015

Police Lives Matter

Kerrie Orozco had a baby in February. The little girl was born prematurely and was going to be released from the hospital Thursday. Kerrie died on Wednesday.

Kerrie was a police officer in Omaha. She was killed by a suspect while she and fellow officers were trying to serve an arrest warrant.

Kerrie was white, the suspect was not. Will all the people who protested in Ferguson and Baltimore lament the number of violent criminals in our cities? Will they hold vigils for Kerrie? Will they provide support for the poor little girl who will never know a mother?

ALL LIVES MATTER! The victim’s race is not important. When will we become a color-blind society and judge people, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. hoped, by the content of their character?

Hillary Clinton said today that the American middle class is struggling and, if elected president, she will reshuffle the deck. Who is she trying to fool?

(Actually, she is trying to fool the middle class into voting for her. Neither President Obama or Mrs. Clinton mention the poor any more. The poor need more help than other Americans, but the Democrats take their vote for granted, assuming the poor will vote for the politicians that continue to increase their federal benefits.)

Back to candidate Clinton’s statement:
* She has no idea what the middle class really needs. When she was First Lady, her family’s meals were paid for by taxpayers and prepared by a professional chef. Currently she receives $200,000 or more for making a speech, more than my family earns in a year. She cannot possibly understand how I feel when I am at a store and see that the price of something I use regularly has risen for the second or third time this year.
* Government can “reshuffle the deck”, but not in any ways that will raise the quality of life for the middle class long-term. All government can do is tax the wealthiest Americans and create programs to distribute the money to the middle class. That will put the middle class in the same bind as the poor: stay where you are economically to retain benefits, or try to make more of yourself, earn more and lose benefits – thereby remaining at the same overall income level.
* Redistribution of wealth by government does not work. During the decades when Russia and countries they had conquered were the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, everyone but the ruling elite lived in poverty in an economy that continually struggled to provide for the needs of the population. Both Russia and Communist China now rely heavily on capitalist business principles.
* Few believe Clinton will actually confiscate much of the earnings of the wealthiest Americans. She is supported by many wealthy citizens, including most of Hollywood. If they truly believed Clinton was going to take most of their money, they would not support her. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t think anyone will support a candidate whose policies will hurt them deeply.

Right now, Clinton is big on slogans, short on detailed plans. Don’t be fooled! Analyze the proposals of all candidates before making a decision about who to support.

Posted by: SWL | April 22, 2015

Obama Environmental Hypocrisy on Earth Day

To mark Earth Day, President Obama flew to Florida on Air Force One to talk about the effect of climate change – which he says is human-caused – on the Everglades.

If Mr. Obama truly believes humans are damaging the earth with emissions caused by burning fossil fuels, why would he fly that distance on a jet for a visit of less than a day? Air Force One emits over 20,000 pounds of CO2 per hour.  (When a president travels, a second decoy and/or emergency jet goes along, doubling the emissions for any trip.)

There are only two answers to that question:
* The President doesn’t really believe (or believes but doesn’t care), but keeps up the show for his environmentalist supporters.
* He believes, but think he’s so special that he is exempt from acting responsibly. We, his subjects, can pay higher prices for fuel and goods, and higher taxes to somehow balance out the CO2 emissions caused by the President and other politicians traveling unnecessarily.

President Obama could have easily given a speech at the White House that was broadcast live to an audience at the Everglades National Park visitors’ center (or multiple locations across the US). Besides being a self-proclaimed advocate for the environment, Mr. Obama also touts technology as an answer to many problems. He should “walk the talk” in both areas.

Posted by: SWL | April 22, 2015

49ers Release 2015 Game Schedule

It seems a bit early in the year to write about football, but yesterday San Francisco announced its schedule for this autumn’s games.

At my house, the early season game that will draw the most interest will be the October 4 match-up with the Green Bay Packers – my spouses’ favorite team. It’s always fun to have a little in-house rivalry!

In her first event since officially announcing her bid for the presidency, Hillary Clinton spoke Tuesday to a small group at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa.

She outlined four concerns she would focus on during her campaign:
*building “the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday”
*strengthening families
*national security
*getting unaccountable money out of election campaigns

In Marco Rubio’s Monday speech announcing his intention to run for president, he mentioned those first three points. It was interesting that none of the news outlets covering Mrs. Clinton’s event mentioned that she was echoing Rubio.

Posted by: SWL | April 13, 2015

Marco Rubio Makes Presidential Run Official

Less than an hour ago, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave a speech announcing his intention to seek the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election.

All the possible GOP candidates have positions on some of the issues with which I agree.  But Rubio’s speech positively touched on all issues that are important to me, and a few others.  As the details of his positions are revealed, I will find out if Rubio is the best GOP candidate.  But he’s looking strong right now.

I believe the wisdom that comes from age and experience is an important asset for the president of the world’s most powerful country.  Rubio is a bit young, as are the other announced GOP candidates,Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.  But the fact that Rubio is a first-generation American keeps him mindful of the strength classic immigration brings to America.  (Cruz is also the son of Cuban immigrants, but I haven’t been able to warm up to him.)  Whereas many of us whose families have been in the country for longer often take our freedoms for granted, Rubio (and Cruz) is still keenly appreciative of them.  But he is also in touch with the issues facing the country in the current world economy.  It seems like a good mix.

Right now I’m a Rubio fan.

Posted by: SWL | April 1, 2015

Sen. Reid Won’t Seek Re-election

Great news! Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced he will not seek another term in the Senate. He has been an obstruction to bipartisan legislation in Washington for the past 6 years. The end of his term cannot come too soon.

The world is full of terrible contradictions.

I just read a story about a dog named Derby, who was born with deformed front legs. He was not euthanized, but loved and cared for. Recently he received a set of prosthetic legs made with a 3D printer. A video accompanying the story showed this dog happily running with its adopted owner.

Then I saw a story about a woman in Indiana who died last month and, in her will, requested that her German Shepherd, Bella, be euthanized and Bella’s ashes buried in the same plot with her. Connie Ley’s attorney, Doug Denmure, said no one can change the situation except possibly the executor of the will. (An earlier story also mentioned the option to send Bella to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in southern Utah, but that option seems out of favor.)

While I do not want government interfering in my affairs, there are times when intervention is warranted. I’ve heard of child services workers putting parents under supervision or even removing children from homes for silly reasons such as children (6-8 years old) being allowed to play on the sidewalk near their home with supervision or in a fenced yard when the parent was blind. Animals being neglected are routinely removed from owners’ homes. Surely a life and death situation – even if it is an animal – deserves review by the proper authorities. Carrying out this woman’s wishes should be considered animal cruelty.

Mr. Denmure has been justifying euthanasia by asserting that the deceased woman thought Bella potentially dangerous. Why would she keep the dog, if Bella was a danger to her? Denmure also said it was difficult to get into the home when Ms. Ley died. Shepherds are known to be protective, so should that be a surprise? At a minimum, the dog should be evaluated before declared a danger.

If you want to follow Bella’s situation or contact people involved, the Washington Post article linked above has several links to articles, a Twitter campaign to save the dog (#SaveBella) and the shelter where Bella is currently staying. Maybe continued bad publicity for the attorney will encourage a good resolution for Bella.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers