AND THE STATE OF THE UNION IS……

Depends on your point of view. Mr. Obama claims everything is just fine. The economy is improving. Jobs are being created (6,000,000 by his count since he took office, but only 1.200,000 acording to Lou Dobbs in whom I have more confidence ). Obamacare is in place and ready to go. So what if health care costs have increased considerably with further increases to come. So what if unemplyment has risen since he took office and remains stubbornly over 7.5%. So what if household income is declining. So what if gas prices at the pump have doubled since he took office. So what if the debt is approaching $17 trillion. So what if the US is viewed around the world as weak and indecisive – four diplomats slain in Libya, North Korea testing nuclear bombs with impunity, Iran racing to develop its own nuclear capability, and Israel wondering if the US will really, really be there for it in a pinch. None of that matters. Mr. Obama and the Dems say we are on the right track. Don’t worry. This is all merely a hangover from the Bush presidency. His policies just need more time to work. This reminds me of that old Groucho Marx joke: “Are you going to believe what I tell you or what you see with your eyes?”

Mr. Obama suggested some proposals that sound good, such as raising the minimum wage to $9.00/hour, providing a quality pre-school education to every child and creating more jobs. However, historically it has been demonstrated repeatedly that raising the minimum wage does not increase jobs. If anything, it reduces jobs as employers who can’t afford to pay the higher wage reduce employees’ hours or terminate some of them, or even worse, go out of business. So, the unintended consequences of this proposal would likely adversely affect the very constituency that it is intended to help. Once again, I wonder if Mr. Obama took any history or economics courses at Harvard. Free pre-school education for every child sounds good, but we have no money to pay for it. Job creation is best left to the private sector, not the government. Over the past four years, many of Mr. Obama’s policies, such as Obamacare and raising taxes on small businesses, have served to hurt job creation rather than help it.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

In short, Mr. Obama’s view of the country, where it is and where it is going, fly in the face of the facts. It sounds illogical until one realizes that his primary objective is not to improve the economy per se, but, rather, to redistribute wealth and income. Take from the rich and give to the poor a la Robin Hood. He has no serious intention of reducing our massive debt. If, as a corollary consequence, the economy is aided, okay; if not, that is okay too. When one views his policies through that spectrum, they make perfect sense.

The State of the Union speech made it clear that we can expect more of the same over the next four years. Before criticizing Mr. Obama too harshly, remember, his actions have been consistent with his resume. He said what he was going to do if elected, and we, the people elected him…twice.

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CALIFORNIA VS. TEXAS

Recently, the States of California and Texas have been squabbling over an interesting situation. The State of Texas has been advertising in California denoting its business-friendly climate vis a vis California in an attempt to entice business enterprises to relocate to Texas. California has strongly objected to the tone of the advertisements and accused Texas of poaching. Both governors have been vociferously defending their respective states in the press.

On one level, one might find this situation to be amusing, akin to a family squabble, however, I think it has the potential to become quite serious. California and Texas have very little in common other than the fact that they are large states (numbers 1 and 2 in terms of population). Politically they are almost polar opposites. California is very liberal, has a big government philosophy and spends among the highest percentage of income of any state on government and social services. Texas is conservative, embraces small government and has no state income tax. I view the two states as an allegory for the national debate of nanny state and entitlements (Let the government do as much as possible.), versus capitalism, free enterprise, and risk-taking (Keep the government small and unobtrusive.).

Like many states, California is bankrupt, only they don’t know it and don’t act like it. The state continues to operate with its big government philosophy. For example, it imposes high taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals; it has the 4th highest cost of living, the 3rd highest income inequality gap, ranks 3rd to last in percentage of high school graduates and has a debilitating pension liability to public employees. In addition, due to Medi-Cal’s (state-sponsored health care provider) low reimbursement rate to doctors, one-half of them now refuse to treat Medi-Cal patients. This is indeed a formula for driving businesses and wealthy individuals out of the state.

On the other hand, Texas has a business-friendly climate, no state income tax, cheaper prices (so the lower salaries actually go further), lower unemployment, and a higher high school graduation rate. To be sure, California has great natural beauty, fantastic weather and the allure of the entertainment industry and celebrities. However, all this makes it a great place to visit, not necessarily to live in.

PREDICTION AND CONCLUSION

I believe it is simplistic to view this as merely a dispute between Califirnia and Texas. I view it as symbolic of the great divide in this country between two economic and social pholosophies – big government and entitlements versus small government, capitalism, free enterprise and reward for risk-taking. One can make political and philosophical arguments in favor of either, however, economically there is no contest. Texas is thriving, and California is bankrupt. Supporters of California who criticize Texas are missing the point. It is human nature to act in one’s own self-interest. If California-based businesses and wealthy individuals feel they will be better off economically in another state and they have the means to relocate, they will do so. If not to Texas, than it will be to another state with similar advantages. My prediction is that the country will experience a accelerated move of businesses and wealthy, mobile individuals from high-tax, big government states to low tax, small government states prospectively.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE LEADERS GONE?

Virtually everyone I talk to is dissatisfied with the Federal government. Politics aside, in my opinion the primary problem is lack of leadership, including the President and the Congress. Any successful enterprise, business, sports teams or government requires strong, effective leadership to be successful. So, with apologoies, to “Peter, Paul and Mary,” “where have all the leaders gone?”

According to Real Clear Politics, President Obama’s average approval rating is 52%, not bad, but not great either. On the other hand, Congress’ approval rating stands at 14%. This is its lowest approval rating ever, and, if you want a laugh, it is lower than either Genghis Kahn or cockroaches. I believe these poor approval ratings can be traced, in large part, to a lack of leadership.

The position of Senate majority and minority leader is not mentioned in the Constitution. The respective roles developed gradually in the early 20th century and were officially promulgated in the 1920s. The House has elected majority and minority leaders since the 19th century. These individuals are elected by their peers at the beginning of each Congress. These leaders have significant power. For example, they schedule legislation, plan the daily agendas and serve as their respective parties’ primary spokespersons. They can also influence committee assignments. As a result, if another congressman wants to pass a bill or add an amendment, they are in a position to support it or block it, sometimes unilaterally.

With these extensive powers, one would think that these leaders could reign in the fringe elements of their respective parties and, therefore, enable Congress to operate effectively and efficiently. After all they could “persuade” a recalcitrant congressman by reminding him that they could bury his favorite bill in committee or re-assign him to a committee counting pencils. Some of the essential attributes of a leader, in any business, are the ability to accommodate, persuade and compromise. One has to convince everyone that they may not get everything they want in a bill, but they should be satisfied with what they do get.

These leaders have to not only control their own party, but also work with the leadership of the other party as well as the President, who may or may not be a political ally. That is the art of diplomacy. Spirited debate is healthy, even desirable. That is what democracy is all about, but, at the end of the day, the idea is to temper your political differences and accomplish something. That is your job. That is why you were elected. Lyndon Johnson once said that the greatest power of the Senate Majority Leader was “the power of persuasion.” Unfortunately, our modern-day leaders have been incapable of that.

Think of some of the great congressional leaders of the recent past – Robert Dole, Barry Goldwater, Everett Dirksen, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Byrd, Tip O’Neill, Ted Kennedy, Hubert Numprey – to name a few. Compare them to the most recent and current leadership – Tom Delay, Nancy Pelosi, Stony Hoyer, John Behner, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid. Enough said.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

The fringe elements are threatening to splinter the major political parties. Everyone is focusing on the GOP, because they lost the last Presidential election, but the Dems have their factions too. We need better leaders in the Congress. We also need better leadership from the Chief Executive. He has to realize that he is the President of ALL the people.

2013 will be a crucial year with many important issues to be decided – immigration reform, the economy, entitlements, the fiscal cliff to name a few. My sad prediction from the Federal government is more of the same. I say, surprise me. Accomplish something.

“HOW’M I DOING??!!”

Ed Koch was the quintessential New Yorker. Opinionated, brash, out-spoken, bombastic, fast-talking, outspoken and, yes, sometimes even rude. He would tell you exactly what he thought. If you were offended, too bad. I always pictured Ed Koch as a waiter at the Carnegie Deli, lecturing a patron on the inappropriateness of her lunch order: “Lady, one does not eat pastrami on white bread with butter. If you want it that way, go home to Nebraska.” As mayor, Koch would often walk the streets of NY and bellow to anyone in earshot: “How’m I doing?!” Most of the time, the answer was, “just fine.”

Ed Koch passed away today at 2:00 am of congestive heart failure at the age of 88, and we are all diminished by his passing. Koch was born in The Bronx on December 12, 1924 but raised in Newark. After high school he served in the Army in Europe during WW II where he won two Battle Stars. Then, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree at CCNY and a law degree at NYU Law School. After a 15 year career practicing law, he entered politics. In a portent of his career, he took on the powerful Tammany Hall politico, Carmine DeSapio – and won, becoming the Democratic party leader of Greenwich Village, where he lived. He then served on the City Council and in the House of Representatives before becoming mayor in 1977.

He served three terms as mayor. It was a tumultuous time. The City was just emerging from serious financial problems. Who can forget the famous Daily News backpage headline after President Gerald Ford refused to support financial assistance to the City: “Ford to NY. Drop dead.” But, Koch rallied the people with his tough love fiscal policies, budget cuts, and forthright style. During the 1980 transit strike he urged people to cope by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to work, and he led the march. The people loved him enough to elect him to three terms. In 1981 and 1985 he was re-elected with 75% of the vote. The media loved him because he was always good for a funny story or a snappy quote. In a city with a heavy Jewish influence, his strong, unwavering support of Israel was much appreciated. The Queensboro Bridge was renamed after him.

With his in-your-face style, Koch was Chris Christie before Chris Christie. He supported G. W. Bush over Gore in 2004, endorsed Mayor Bloomberg’s re-election bid, and had the temerity to criticize President Obama over what he (Koch) viewed as tepid support of Israel.

Koch was such a staunch New Yorker that he refused to allow the NY Giants to parade down the “Canyon of Heroes” after their Super Bowl win in 1987, saying “Let them parade in front of the oil drums in Moonachie [NJ].” In addition, he once quipped that he could “always get a better job, but New Yorkers would never get a better mayor.”

Yes, Ed Koch was one of a kind. Rest in peace Ed. We will miss you.