Thursday, October 25, 2012

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

We often refer to the federal government as the "nanny state" because it is so intrusive into many areas of our lives. This is especially true when it comes to business in this country. According to government data compiled by the National Federation of Independent Business, there are over 4,000 regulations that are in the pipeline that will affect business of all sizes. Just the 13 largest or most impactful regulations that are set to be implemented will cost businesses $515 billion over 4 years. All of these regulations are on hold during the campaign, but one can be certain that if Obama is re-elected, they will be implemented. Among the regulations that are ready to implemented are new smog compliance rules that will put most electric utilities out of compliance. The estimated cost of those new regulations are $90 billion per year. The FDA has crafted new food safety rules, and while they are hesitant to put a price tag on the cost of implementation, they have said they will "be significant". And there are a multitude of pending regulations waiting to be instituted. Guess who will bear the cost of all those new regulations? That's right, it will be you and me. And the impact on business will be to continue to extend the hiring freeze that most companies have implemented in the face of regulatory and economic uncertainty. If we are going to get our economy going and companies hiring, a good first step would be to remove some of the unnecessary regulatory burden and uncertainty that businesses face.

Forget beauty sleep. I want skinny sleep.

We now have more people on welfare than we ever have in the history of the country. Part of that is due to the poor economy. Part of it is that is that under the Obama administration gutted the work requirement to receive welfare aid. During the Clinton presidency, welfare was reformed to require a work or education component. The old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was replaced with a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and one of the central tenets of TANF was that able bodied adults should be required to work or prepare to work by engaging in educational programs in order to receive aid. The program has been wildly successful, moving 2.8 million families off welfare and into jobs to provide for themselves. The Obama administration gutted those work requirements this summer, and you know what has happened. Welfare rolls have burgeoned. Welfare spending has grown over the past two decades more rapidly than spending on Social Security, education, Medicare, and defense. Removing work requirements to receive aid has rapidly increased the rate of growth for welfare spending. What is the logic of making more people dependent on the federal government. If you are cynical like me, you will say it is to buy votes and increase dependency. The fact is that we cannot continue to spend on social programs that have runaway growth and ever get our economy healthy. It doesn't matter who is in the White House or who controls Congress, the need to control spending on social programs is a pressing problem that must be addressed.

Intelligence is like underwear. It's important to have it, but there is no need to show it off.

This election is about direction. The direction that our country will move over the next four years and beyond. As the last two items point out, our government has grown to Brobdingnagian proportions, sucking more people into a vortex of dependency and onerous regulations. Make no mistake, turning around the direction of our country is like turning a battleship. It doesn't happen easily, and it takes time. But that is what we as a nation are deciding in this election. We can chose more of the same: more government regulation; more intrusiveness; and more of our tax dollars siphoned off in massive wealth transfer programs. Or we can begin to make a philosophical turn toward less regulation and more freedom, more independence, and a more responsive government. The choice is ours. The move to a more responsible government rests with us, and we have to be engaged long after this election and no matter who wins the White House. If we are going to return to a path of fiscal stability and limited government, we must hold our elected officials accountable. We must be involved long after the election. Our current path is unsustainable. Correcting it will be painful. And the responsibility rests with us.

I want my children to be independent and strong willed people. Just not while I am raising them.

And that, my friends, is my view.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Stewards Struggle, The Game Suffers

Fans of hockey talk reverently about "the game". The game is its history, the storied venues, and the players past and present that display their athleticism and skill on the ice. It is a father that instills the love of the home team to his child. The game is a team that unites a city behind their quest for a Cup.

The game ignites passions rarely seen in sports. It takes participants and fans to the pinnacle of joy and the depths of heartbreak.

To say the game is special is an understatement.

It is sacred.

For the game to grow and to thrive, it needs good stewardship. That is leadership that looks to the good of the game as a whole, not just a particular team. It is visionary, examining where the game is today and optimizing the potential to make it better, both on and off the ice.

The stewards of the game are the owners and the players. The financial wherewithal of the owner is the foundation of the individual franchise, and their investment makes the game possible in their market. The players and their effort on the ice are the draw, the attraction for the fan.

Ask the 30 owners (or ownership groups) and the players what their vision is for the game. What do you think would be the response from most? I think most would say something like maximizing profitability for their team or making the most money during their playing days.

And therein lies a fundamental problem with the the NHL and the game.

It is the "I have to get mine" mentality.

For the NHL to be successful, all its teams have to be financially viable and on sound footing. Yes, there are differences in markets due to size and other entertainment options. There are differences with respect to the longevity of the sport. Revenues in Toronto, for example, will be different than they are in most markets.

But if Toronto is only worried about the financial health of their team and not the rest of the markets, the League and the game suffers.

There is nothing wrong with the profit motive, but if owners view profitability primarily through the lens of their team, then the game is in trouble.

This singular focus on their team has led to the owners operating in the vacuum of their own self interest and sets up the conflict with the players that the League and its fans endures on an all too frequent basis.

And the players are as guilty as the owners with the "I have to get mine" line of thought.

Unlike players in the other professional leagues, NHL players have other options if they are locked out in a labor dispute with the owners. We saw many players leave for teams in Europe and Russia in the last lockout, and we are seeing it again in this labor dispute. Because there are other options for playing and drawing a paycheck, one has to wonder if there is the sense of urgency on the part of the players to resolve this dispute.

Players have limited time to maximize their income from their playing days, and it is understandable that they want as much money from the owners as possible.

There is no problem with that thinking, but when it becomes centered solely on what is good for the players, the confrontation with the owners becomes inevitable.

And the game suffers.

The problem that the NHL faces is that the stewards of the game are fighting over who gets the most of the revenue pie rather than growing revenue as much as possible. The thinking is about what is good for me rather than what is good for the game.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has said that even if there is a lockout, the fans will come back. That may be true, but that comment alone is indicative of the the narrow thinking that has lead to a lockout to begin with. Where other sports leagues worry about the impact of a labor dispute on the fans, the NHL treats them as an afterthought.

Hardly what I would call visionary thinking.

There is no doubt that there are serious issues to be resolved in this CBA negotiation. Revenue sharing, length of contracts, and defining hockey related revenues are just some of the significant items to be negotiated.

But with both sides intractably dug in, defending their position, resolution seems a long way off.

And the game suffers.

Friday, October 19, 2012

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

The political season is a time of claims and counter-claims and positioning by the candidates. Accomplishments are touted and refuted, and we as voters are left to sort out the truth from all the noise an political spin. Well, here is some truth, and it is pretty grim. According to the Congressional Research Service, spending on social welfare programs is approaching the $1 TRILLION mark. Stunningly, nearly one-third of the U.S. population- 100 million people- receive some form of aid from a means tested welfare program each month. Under the Obama administration, federal welfare spending has increased more than a third. CAUTION: do not read this next sentence if you have a weak heart or are prone to high blood pressure. There are over 80 federal welfare programs that provide assistance for food, housing, medical care, etc. and only two- TWO- of those had any kind of a requirement that the recipient work or look for work. Now before you say that I am just a hard hearted conservative that doesn't care if people starve, let me be clear that I believe there is a place for these programs that assist those individuals and families that are genuinely in need. Welfare spending as constituted today has gone far beyond all of that and has become a massive entitlement game that is transferring the wealth of the productive to those that are not. Now that statement may sound harsh, but consider this: if we converted all the welfare programs to cash and distributed it to the recipients, it is more than FIVE times the amount of cash needed to eliminate all poverty in the United States. Let that sink in for a moment.  Here is the reality we face- spending on social programs has exploded because it gives those in Washington the power to collect votes and control people. This has to be changed, not only for the betterment of all our citizens but because economically, our nation cannot continue on this course.

Would you call an eye doctor in Alaska an "optical Aleutian"?

We all know how liberals love to characterize themselves as tolerant and accepting. Take a look at the following sample of tweets off the social media site Twitter:

Sorry for the unfiltered language, but you can see the level of venom and vitriol from the so-called tolerant left. And make no mistake, I am certain that you can find similar remarks about Obama from those on the right. So what is the point? Simply this: until we learn to talk to one another again and thoughtfully engage competing ideas, we will further fragment as a nation. And in so doing, we make it more difficult to make the hard decisions about what is right for our country rather than for a narrow self interest group.

Women love men with confidence. At least, I think they do.

One of the objectives of the Obama administration was to move the country toward "green energy", and there is nothing wrong with that. Except when the government is picking the winners and losers- mostly losers- in this area. Since Obama became President, the federal government, primarily through the Department of Energy, has been picking companies in the green energy market to receive government grants and loans. So far, 36 companies that have received taxpayer dollars have either filed bankruptcy or have laid off most of their work force as they head toward bankruptcy. And this has cost you and me billions of dollars. Oh, yeah, most of these companies are donors to the Obama campaign and Democratic causes. The latest bankruptcy filing came from automobile battery maker A123 Systems, whose President David Vieau has received 5 invitations to White House functions with President Obama and is a notable contributor to his campaign. These green energy fiascoes demonstrate that the government shouldn't be picking winners and losers in any industry, and when they do, the potential for corruption is incredibly high.

If you drink, don't drive. Don't even putt.

And that, my friends, is my view.

Friday, October 12, 2012

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

During this silly season leading up to the Presidential election, you will hear a number of claims and counter-claims about a variety of political issues. A hot button, sound bite issue for those on the Left is to have the rich pay their "fair share" in taxes. Beyond the disquieting notion of having those in Washington determine what is a "fair share", one must ask the fundamental question of who is actually paying the taxes in this country. According to the Tax Foundation, the richest 10% of all households in this country pay 45% of all the taxes collected. Let that sink in for a moment... the richest 10% of all households pay 45% of all the taxes. Despite being demonized by those on the Left and their mouthpieces in the mainstream press, the reality is that the "rich" are paying more than their fair share. Way more. By the way, the average tax burden for the richest 10% in the world's developed nations is 32%. It is time to look past the class warfare rhetoric of the Left and understand that taking more of the wealth of the "rich" and re-distributing it through the bureaucracy of Washington is not a formula for growth or long term economic health.

I still have my looks, I just can't find them.

Lots...LOTS of focus on the fact that the unemployment rate was reported earlier this week to have fallen under 8% to 7.8%. This was seen as a sign that companies have started hiring and that finally we were seeing a turn in job creation. Not so fast, my friends. Seems that a rather large state *cough* California *cough* didn't report all their unemployment claims, skewing the number. Oh yes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) economists that compiled the data- Obama supporters and contributors to his campaign. Here are the two salient points about this: REAL unemployment as measured by the U-6 measurement compiled by BLS is 15%. This includes individuals that have stopped looking for work; that have stopped collecting unemployment or are under-employed. That number hasn't changed significantly over the past 18 months and is more accurately indicative of the condition of our work force. The other point to keep in mind is that government data is now being skewed to achieve a political end. Perceptive people know that the mainstream media is in the tank for the Democrats and liberal causes. They are past the point of trying to hide their support of those candidates and causes. Now government information is being manipulated to support a political viewpoint. Why? The only sector of the economy that has been growing over the term of the Obama presidency? You guessed it. Government employees. Readers of this blog know that I exhort you to always follow the money, and for government employees, supporting a candidate  in any way possible that wants to grow government is in their interest. Take the data from various government departments with a grain of salt. Just like you do with any news item in the mainstream press.

Love is grand. Divorce is at least a hundred grand.

As we watch the debates and listen to the campaign rhetoric, we are going to hear the candidates make their case for the Presidency. Part of what we hear is playing to the audience, part political theater. We have gotten to the point now that we have fact checkers validating or disproving the sometimes outlandish statements by the candidates. many individuals just tune out this noise. But here is a suggestion: listen to which candidate and which party is addressing the fundamental issues that must be addressed for the betterment of our country. I believe there are six issues that we as a nation have to address to improve and continue our way of life. Which candidate offers a vision, a plan to deal with the looming fiscal crisis; the explosive growth of government; the culture of dependency on government handouts; the failure of our public education system; the antipathy toward work and companies that create jobs; and the forces that are destroying our families? That candidate that can address those issues with clarity is the type of leader that this nation needs. And we desperately need leadership.

You should always follow your dreams. Except that one where you are naked at work.

And that, my friends, is my view.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

Are you familiar with the WARN Act? The Worker Adjustment and Re-training Notification Act is a law passed by Congress in 1988 that requires companies that have more than 100 employees to give those employees at least 60 days notice if the company is planning to conduct layoffs. This is to give the affected employees time to adjust financially and begin the process of looking for other employment. Why mention this? Several large U.S. manufacturers, lead by Lockheed Corporation, were preparing to send out WARN notifications to their employees because Congress has failed to act on renewing the current tax rates or coming to an agreement on a new tax structure. Failing to do so would mean that a significant portion of the Department of Defense budget would be sequestered and unavailable for spending beginning January 1, 2013, along with curtailment of social spending. And who is one of the largest defense contractors? You guessed it. Lockheed. CEO Bob Stevens was prepared to send out notices to 123,000 employees in compliance with the WARN Act, but the Obama administration urged the company not to do so. You and I both know why. Those notices would have gone out November 2nd, four days before the election. You know how that would look to voters. Oh yeah... not only has the Obama administration asked Lockheed to break the law, the White House has said that if the company was fined for breaking the law, the administration would pay those fines and the cost of employee terminations. Folks, that is you and me as taxpayers paying those fines and termination costs so that the negative impact will not affect the election chances of the incumbent. The audacity and outrageousness of this action is beyond words. Well, I can think of one: corrupt. I guess you can take the politician out of Chicago, but you can't Chicago out of the politician.

If my memory gets any worse, I am going to be able to plan my own surprise party.

Earlier this week, Government Motors announced that their electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, had  a record number of sales. I have written in previous blogs that there would be no sales of this vehicle if it was not heavily subsidized by you and me as the tax payer. Now the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has weighed in and confirmed the fact that the cars would not sell if it was not for significant government subsidies. According to the CBO, in an audit of the Federal Financing Bank, a government entity that is providing loans to automakers for electric automobile development, "Given current prices for vehicles and fuel, in most cases the existing tax credits do not fully offset the higher lifetime costs of and electric vehicle compared with those of an equivalent conventional vehicle or traditional hybrid. The tax credits would still need to be about 50% higher than they are now to fully offset the higher lifetime costs of an electric vehicle." (emphasis mine). So the cars are not efficient to operate with gasoline prices at current levels, but smart people that you are, will say that if gas prices rises, then these cars make sense. And you are right. Where does the price of gas have to rise before the operating costs of an electric vehicle get to a break even point? Again, according to the CBO, at $10 per gallon. Why mention this at all? Electric vehicles are a consumer choice and you, Mr. The View, are all for choice, aren't you? Yep. As long as those choices are not supported or subsidized with our tax dollars. You see, those incentives and subsidized costs are paid by you and me, the taxpayer. And that is only going to increase, as the federal government is prepared to continue to provide subsidies for the purchase of these vehicles. And those subsidies will continue indefinitely. And that is your money and mine supporting a product that is inefficient and will not stand on its own merits.

Does it concern you that when scientists search for "intelligent life", they leave the earth?

As you can see from the item above, when government intervenes in the market place, there is a displacement of resources and a skewing of results. If Government Motors or any car company had to develop and sell an electric vehicle WITHOUT the government subsidizing the price, the product would either be developed and brought to market in a cost efficient manner or it would eventually be scrubbed. However, because the government has intervened, a costly and inefficient product is still being produced and sold. Think those resources that GM is using for the Volt could be better used elsewhere in the company? What happens in this specific situation is what happens when government intrudes into different sectors of the economy. Resources get mis-allocated and used inefficiently. Do you honestly think health care would cost as much as it does or be as burdensome as it is for all of us if we did not have such heavy government intervention? (I know there are arguments about safety nets and other complicated matters, but I am speaking of the general health care product/delivery system). The conceit of those in power is that they believe they can control best the levers of the economy. They cannot. And one of the choices we are making in this upcoming election is how much control we want to give those in Washington.

I get enough exercise pushing my luck.

And that, my friends, is my view.