Posted by: SWL | November 11, 2015

Honor Our Veterans Today

I want to send out a big thank-you to all living veterans of the US military for your service to our country. The time you spent in the armed forces is time you will never get back. But that sacrifice has kept our country free from foreign invasion, a blessing few countries in the world have known.

I also want to thank families that have lived for years or decades without a loved one who died in the line of duty. And last, but not least, I thank – and pray for – families who are caring for a veteran injured while in the service. These people are sacrificing and serving every day. May God bless your families!

Sunday the San Francisco 49ers squeaked out a one point win over the Atlanta Falcons with Blaine Gabbert as starting QB. After almost every Niners’ play, FOX commentators talked about how Gabbert did better than QB Colin Kaepernick has done so far this season. As a Kaepernick fan, I’m biased, but sports commentators and writers are getting a bit too excited – it was only a one point win.

Kap has not been playing well this season. Since he’s not the type to speak badly of the team or coaches, it’s been difficult to say just what the problem is. But many northern Nevada sportscasters and writers, who know Kap better than the national media after following his University of Nevada-Reno career, are saying that they think Kaepernick is being made the scapegoat for all the team’s problems.

I have to question the judgement of those making roster choices. Besides benching Kaepernick, they traded Vernon Davis for 6th and 7th round draft picks. Practically giving away an asset like Davis seems like a stupid move. Maybe money was the issue, with Davis near the end of his contract. But if financial considerations drive roster decisions, the 49ers are doomed to have losing seasons.

I think the sports media needs to hold off a few more weeks before saying Kaepernick is washed up. Gabbert has not proven himself in one game.

In last night’s GOP debate, Carly Fiorina spoke twice about companies merging to have more clout with the government. This morning CNBC was reporting that drug manufacturers Pfizer and Allergan are in friendly merger talks. If this deal comes to pass, the combined company would be the world’s largest pharmaceutical company.

With the recent focus on drug costs, this move makes sense. With increased complaints about the consumer costs of medicines, the federal government will likely seek more control over drug manufacturers. The larger the drug company, the more power they could have to influence the legislative process in their favor. This is exactly what Fiorina meant when she talked about crony capitalism in government.

You can’t blame businesses for doing what is best for their bottom line. They are in business to make money for their owners/shareholders. But they wouldn’t need to look for protective strategies like mergers if the government did not continually look for ways to regulate (i.e. interfere with) business practices.

What was the Republican House of Representatives thinking???!!! They passed a spending bill that included approval of unlimited increases in the US debt ceiling until March 2017 (two months after the next president is inaugurated). Congress is the branch of US government tasked with approving federal spending – this bill removes the oversight power Congress has over the executive branch. The administration has been given a blank check.

Governing is a compromise between various needs, various political interests. But compromise means both (or multiple) factions receive something in return for giving up something. This deal gives the administration/Democrats basically everything they want (or will decide they want in the next year) while giving almost nothing in return.

The measure still needs Senate approval. The Republicans have a smaller majority in the Senate, so passage is virtually assured. Sen. Rand Paul says he will filibuster, i.e. spend lots of time talking against the bill, threatening to push the vote until the early hours of the morning. It’s good to see someone with the courage to stand (literally) for what they believe, even if there is little chance of winning anyone over to their point of view.

A filibuster also gives constituents time to make their opinions known. If you think unlimited debt increases are a danger to the country, please contact your Senator immediately!

Posted by: SWL | October 4, 2015

NFL 2015-16: Family Rivalry Weekend at My House

Packers vs 49ers

Love can survive football rivalry

Today was the game of the season I look forward to but also dread: the family rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. My 49ers have come out on top in the last few meetings, but the way they’ve been playing this season, I was pretty sure my spouse would be the happy one at the end of today’s game. And SF lived down to my expectations, leaving me as the one to be the butt of jokes until next season.

Things didn’t go too badly in the first half. I was impressed by the Niners’ defensive performance against Aaron Rodgers and the Packer offense. The defense looked so much stronger than they had in last week’s loss to the AZ Cardinals. But, although looking better than last week, SF QB Colin Kaepernick still struggled. While both the offense and defense could share the blame last Sunday, today the problems rested squarely in the offense.

The second half was even worse. I quit counting after Kaepernick was sacked for the sixth time. I suppose that was better than 4 interceptions at AZ, but that’s just comparing negatives.

Kaepernick just doesn’t look himself this season. I would have thought off-season work with the legendary Kurt Warner could only improve Kap’s game, but maybe he’s trying too hard to change some aspect of his style. Could it be the change in head coach? Maybe Kap has had difficulty adapting to the changes in the offensive starting line-up this year, or maybe the strength in offense last year hid some of Kap’s flaws. I hope Colin can work through whatever is hindering him – not just so the Niners can win some games, but for the sake of his career.

Sun-DevilArizona State coach Todd Graham did a phenomenal job of improving his team’s performance during the past week and pumping them up for last night’s game against UCLA. The difference between this game and the previous one against USC was so stunning that it seemed like a sci-fi movie where the Sun Devil players were possessed by football playing aliens!

ASU QB Mike Bercovici had a great night, including a beautiful 34-yard TD run.

For me, the highlight of the game came near the end, when Kalen Ballage refused to let UCLA defenders take him down, carrying them (and a few fellow Devils pushing from behind) about 20 yards into the endzone. Quite a feat of strength!

Last week I said it would be a gargantuan effort to turn the ASU team around. Graham did it in a week. I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

Also, congrats to my daughter’s alma mater, the University of Florida, for their upset of no. 3 Ole Miss!

I understand President Obama’s frustration over another senseless mass shooting, this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Terrible . . horrific . . tragic . . . no words can really describe the deep sadness over the loss of life, over a person hurting enough to commit this crime.

But Mr. Obama should not politicize the event by calling for more gun control. Why not? Because it won’t work.

The president, in his news conference a few hours after the Oregon shooting, said the US has more of these crimes than any other developed nation. That depends on how you skew the statistics. I haven’t done the math, but since we have a larger population than almost all the countries he compares us to, we are going to have more total crimes. But we may not have the highest rate as a percentage of population.

Mr. Obama called for “common sense gun laws”. We already have those, so more laws would have to be restrictions/prohibition on the ownership of guns for some or all citizens.

There are many ways to kill and many ways to obtain a gun even if one cannot purchase the weapon legally. The Newtown, Connecticut shooter used his mother’s guns. In Reno a decade or more ago, a woman was convicted of deliberately mowing down people on a downtown sidewalk with her car. The Boston Marathon massacre was committed with homemade bombs. People bent on revenge or with mental illness can be amazingly creative, although that isn’t even necessary. Television crime show plots have more and more bizarre methods of committing murders. The internet has instructions for making bombs.

None the less, I would listen to President Obama’s arguments if he could give a rational explanation as to why the city of Chicago (with extremely strict gun laws) has the 13th highest murder/manslaughter rate of cities over 100,000 population — and more importantly, why he thinks similar laws would work any better nationally.

I was already feeling down from my alma mater’s loss Saturday night. Today as I put on my vintage Snoopy Joe Cool 49ers jersey, I was hoping for some snappy passes from QB Colin Kaepernick as San Francisco visited the Arizona Cardinals.

Is there something in the air in the Valley of the Sun this weekend??!!! This game looked like a repeat of last night’s Arizona State loss to USC, only this time the visitors lost. I thought it was a bit eerie: the same rash of interceptions and a defense that looked like it came straight from high school!

Since this 49ers game looked a lot like last week’s, I’m afraid the NFL season will be as depressing for me as the college season.

ASU & Arizona joined the PAC-10 in 1978

ASU & Arizona joined the PAC-10 in 1978

I’ve been following Arizona State football since the 1970s. Rarely have I seen a Sun Devil performance as poor as last night’s against USC. (It was certainly nothing like the 1978, 20-7 win over the Trojans during ASU’s first season in the then PAC-10.)

I would not have wanted to be on the field where the temperature was 99 degrees at 7:30 in the evening. But the Sun Devils practice in those conditions every day. By the way, the game wasn’t scheduled for that late just to get TV coverage – ASU normally plays all their home games at that time. It’s always more exciting to watch a game in person, but I prefer my livingroom to the intense heat radiating off the bleachers in Sun Devil Stadium, which is more enclosed (and oven-like) now then in my days as a student.

Maybe the USC Trojans liked the dry heat in Arizona, because they had little trouble scoring points. Not that they were perfect. Late in the first half, one of the television commentators asked the other if he thought ASU was really so bad or if USU was just really good. His partner answered with the conclusion I had already come to: ASU was causing their own problems. On offense, there were numerous interceptions and an inability to score even within 10 yards of the goal. And the defense didn’t seem to know how to tackle, allowing Trojan players to get past them throughout the game.

Sparky's pitchfork

Not much to fear from the fork this season

The mistakes were in multiple areas and repeated over and over and over . . . So this was not just a bad night. Nothing is impossible with hard work. but it looks like it will take a gargantuan effort for Todd Graham and his team to come up with a winning season.

Posted by: SWL | September 17, 2015

Cowardly Federal Reserve Does Not Raise Interest Rates

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the Federal Reserve Board did not raise interest rates at their meeting today.

Rates have been at this level (near 0%) for nine years now; it’s time to begin a gradual increase. Bond rates, 401Ks and savings accounts are all suffering, which impacts small investors, retirees and families far more than an increase would hurt big business and banks.

The low interest rates were touted to help businesses borrow money to expand during the “Great Recession”, but banks kept a tight hold on their money, preferring to hoard and/or invest themselves. And businesses generally didn’t feel they could afford to borrow money even at low interest. The low prime rate set by the Fed gave banks an excuse to lower the interest rates paid to savings accounts, even for those who in the past were considered premium customers.

My opinion is that Fed members are afraid of the political fallout if they raise rates. It wouldn’t surprise me if the current administration is putting pressure on them to keep rates low. After all, if rates increase, the interest the federal government pays on the national debt will rise. That would put a strain on the federal budget, and increase calls for decreased spending and a balanced budget – two things the Obama administration has been adamantly against.

The government should stop meddling in the national economy. Market factors might be a bit volatile in the short term as necessary corrections naturally occur. But in the long-term, the economy will settle where it belongs and growth can begin again.

Posted by: SWL | September 15, 2015

NFL 2015-16: SF 49ers Win Opener, But Look Sluggish

I was looking forward to San Francisco’s season opener. Preseason games are pretty dull since star players see little playing time to avoid injuries. And our rural cable TV system had outages during 2 of the 3 Niners’ preseason match-ups.

The 49ers-Vikings contest was the second part of a Monday night double-header. I thought the SF offense looked pretty good, but the defense needs to improve if they want to get to the play-offs. Minnesota’s offense was able to move downfield with little opposition on the first three downs of most series. The SF defense does deserve credit for stepping up when it counted, and keeping the Vikings from scoring – although I wouldn’t have been surprised if Minnesota had put points on the board a few times.

ESPN game commentators mentioned that SF QB Colin Kaepernick (a local favorite since he graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno) had worked on his skills over the summer. I could see the difference this made several times when he couldn’t find a receiver and I expected him to run, but he waited a bit longer and then threw the ball. Certainly that strategy will keep him safer, which is especially good without a reliable back-up QB. I just hope this training hasn’t taken away Kap’s natural instincts, which made him such a stand-out in the first place.

“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” Those were the words of Donald Trump to an interviewer from Rolling Stone concerning fellow GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.

The next day Trump said he was talking about Fiorina’s persona, not her looks. Given Trump’s lack of tact when speaking, I might have accepted his explanation, except for the next part of the quote : “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Clearly he was speaking about Fiorina’s appearance.

Aside from his other faults, this points out a fatal flaw in Trump as a presidential candidate. Either he cannot control himself long enough to think about the words he chooses or he really means the insulting things he says about people. That would definitely be a problem in diplomatic situations for a president. Trump might be able to back-pedal on comments made about other candidates, but in choosing words describing other world leaders, he would not get a do-over. And even worse would be a president who spoke aloud every negative thought about our allies.

I hope the other Republican candidates hang on until the first few primaries and caucuses. Trump may have a following, but the rank and file GOP voters who do not attend campaign rallies will likely vote for other candidates. Trump has the money to keep putting himself in the spotlight, but that does not guarantee the party nomination. I have faith in the voters. I have to – the idea of a president Trump turning all the nations of the world against the US is just too horrible to contemplate.

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.

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