AND THE STATE OF THE UNION IS……

… not so good.

On the occasion of the President’s annual State of the Union address, it is an appropriate time to ask yourself the standard question: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago,” (or in this case five years ago)? Chances are the answer is “no.” The economy, though in recovery by some measurements, is still dismal; the national debt is growing at an unacceptable and unsustainable rate; median income, a good measurement of the economic health of the middle class, is stagnant; domestic and international terrorism and violence are on the rise, and Americans’ opinion of the President and the Congress are at or near historic lows.

Lets examine these points one by one.

1. The Economy

On the surface, it appears that the economy is recovering from the Great Recession. The stock market is up year over year. The unemployment rate is down. But, lets look below the surface.

The DJIA, which was 7,000 in February 2009, when President Obama took office, is now over 15,000. It has more than doubled. It is up 14% from January 2013. This is positive for the country’s economic health, right? Not necessarily. This has primarily benefitted the wealthy; they are the ones who own the lion’s share of stocks. The middle class and working poor have derived very little benefit from the DJIA’s rally, particularly since not much of this paper wealth has been used to create jobs. This is one of the ironies of President Obama’s tenure. The primary beneficiaries of his economic policies have been the wealthy.

Unemployment has decreased from near 8% when President Obama took office to about 6.5% currently. Good news, right? Wrong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics we are becoming a nation of part time workers. In 2013 3/4 of the new jobs created were part time. From December 2007 through the third quarter of 2013, the latest statistics available, full time jobs actually decreased from 121 million to 118 million, while part time jobs increased from 25 million to 27 million. There are various reasons for this, but my opinion is that employers are creating part time jobs to avoid paying workers’ benefits, especially healthcare. Since healthcare is becoming more expensive, this trend is likely to accelerate.

Median household income, which many economists consider to be one of the most reliable measurements of economic health, especially for the middle class, has been stagnant. According to US Census Bureau statistics, it was $49,777 in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession, and it only rose to $51,017 in 2013. Not significant progress.

Then, we come to the national debt. According to the US Treasury it is over $17 trillion compared to $10 trillion when President Obama took office. To be sure, there are many reasons for this, but the fact is that any economist will tell you that this level of debt is way too high and the percentage of year-over-year increase is unsustainable for a healthy economy. It also has had negative geopolitical consequences.

2. Terrorism and violence

Terrorism and violence are increasing at an alarming rate. Rather than “being on the run” as the Administration has asserted, Al Quaeda has morphed into various splinter groups and is as active as it has ever been. There has been major unrest in Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Syria, Libya and Eqypt, among others. In addition, we have had to deal with two very dangerous, rogue states in North Korea and Iran, both of which either possess or will soon possess nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them. Furthermore, there is the very real danger of a terrorist event at the Olympics next month. Domestically, there were the bombings at the Boston Marathon, as well as many other threats. Finally, the US’s level of respect, both among our allies and our enemies, is as low as I can remember. Do you feel safer today than you did five years ago?

3. Americans’ Opinion of Government

A President’s approval ratings always decline in his second term, especially in the last two years when the President is normally perceived as a “lame duck.” According to Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating is currently 43%. That is not good, but it is better than Congress’, which is about 14%. According to Gallup, that is the lowest it has ever recorded. Clearly, most voters are dissatisfied with all the back- biting and failure to cooperate on the part of both parties. The end result is nothing gets done, and the level of frustration is as high as it’s ever been.

Historically, voters’ dissatisfaction has fallen mostly on the party currently in office. This does not bode well for the 36 Democratic senators who are up for re-election. Many of them, such as Mark Begich (Alabama), Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Mark Udall (Utah), and Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), are trying to distance themselves from President Obama, politically. For example, they have signaled that they don’t want him to help in their respective campaigns. The Dems are in real danger of losing the Senate.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

For all of the reasons cited above, the state of the union is as dire as at any time I can recall, and the immediate prognosis is also poor. Few people are better off than they were five years ago. If you are one of the few, “mazel tov.”

The 2014 mid-term elections will be critical for the future of the country and will be a precursor for the 2016 Presidential Election. In my opinion, there is a strong likelihood that the GOP will recapture the majority in the Senate and also do well in the governors’ races. If so, this will give them a boost for 2016.

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POVERTY IN AMERICA

In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson, as part of his “Great Society” program, declared a “War on Poverty,” in America. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this war. So, where do we stand? Have we succeeded or failed, and why? I will present the facts, and you decide.

1. In 1964 approximately 17% of Americans were living in poverty. Today, the figure is 15%. That’s over 46 million people, folks. (In 2010, the official poverty income line was $22,113 for a family of 4.)

2. It is estimated that over 51% of Americans will live in poverty at some point in their lives before the age of 65.

3. The marginal improvement in the poverty rate has been achieved after we have spent $21 trillion in various anti-poverty programs in 50 years, according to the Heritage Foundation.

4. According the Wall Street Journal, in 2012 the Federal government spent $916 billion on approximately 80 welfare programs. One hundred million Americans received aid from at least one of these programs. This does NOT include medicare and social security.
These statistics demonstrate that throwing money at the situation has not worked. Why? To a large extent poverty is driven by personal behavior.

5. It is true that some children start life with certain disadvantages. Statistics show that a person born into a single parent home, who is poorly educated is more likely to live in poverty. A Heritage Foundation study has concluded that single parent homes are four times more likely to be living in poverty. Moreover, children that have been raised by a single parent are three times more likely to end up in prison and 50% more likely to be poor as adults. But, these circumstances can be overcome with hard work, a stable home environment and a good education, among other things. After all, many wealthy, successful people were born into poverty and/or modest circumstances.

6. Poverty and wealth are not static. Most people move up or down the ladder throughout their lifetimes based on various factors and circumstances. For example, the Institute for Humane Studies has found that between 1986 and 1997 42% of people moved up or down at least one income quintile.

7. In 1963 6% of babies were born out of wedlock. In 2013 the figure was 41%, a whopping 72% for African Americans. Regardless of the reasons (single women now better able to support themselves and deciding to have children without a husband, sexual promisquity, or other reasons), the end result is the same – more babies born into single parent homes, with all of the economic and social consequences discussed above.

$21 trillion over 50 years with marginal improvement. Did we get sufficient “bang for our bucks?” I think not. The reason is pretty clear. Throwing money at this problem does not solve it, at least not by itself.

President Obama has talked a good game. He has espoused a strong desire to eliminate poverty. It is related to his goal of achieving “income equality.” It sounds good; it is a worthwhile objective, and many people have “bought into it.” However, his methodology is flawed. Transferring wealth from the rich to the poor does not solve the poverty problem. That is socialism or, in its extreme, communism. We have seen empirically in other countries that neither system works in the long run.

The government cannot create wealth; only individuals can through capital investing and other entrepreneurial activities. Capitalism and free enterprise expand the money supply and create wealth. Don’t fixate on the income and wealth gap between the rich and poor. There will always be a substantial gap, because smart, ambitious and creative people will always find a way to succeed, even in adverse economic times. The have-nots should not be envious of the haves; their mindset should not be “I want to be given some of what he has; I’m entitled to it.” Rather, it should be “I aspire to earn what he has, and I will strive to do so.” Wealthy people are the ones who provide investment capital, thus creating wealth and ultimately jobs for the middle and working class. President Kennedy was correct when he asserted “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

The past 50 years has shown that money and government programs are only part of the answer. If we really want to eliminate poverty we have to supplement these safety net programs with other approaches. Some of these might be:

1. Focus more on education, which is still the greatest single factor in future economic success. One cannot change the circumstances of one’s birth, but one can become educated.

2. Instill greater social responsibility, i.e. discourage out of wedlock births, more involved parenting; discourage addictive behavior among children (drugs, alcohol).

3. Recognize that many of these government programs discourage individual initiative and work ethic, encourage laziness and foster a permanent sense of dependency and entitlement. We should seek to limit them to the truly needy.

4. Reign in the “race hustlers” (We know who they are.), who do more harm than good.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

My conclusion is that the War on Poverty, though a good idea and well-intentioned, has not been a success when you consider the substantial resources expended. That does not mean we should eliminate our various economic and social safety nets. They are necessary for the truly needy. Rather, we should administer them better and supplement them with other resolutions as discussed above.

This will not be easy. It will be a very controversial process. It will require reversing, or at least arresting, certain economic and social trends which have become engrained in our culture. There will be much political and social resistance. I am not optimistic.

SUPER QUIZ

That’s right. Another quiz. The topic for this one is the Super Bowl (what else at this time of the year). This one may be too difficult for non-football fans, but I have to challenge the hard core football fans. You know who you are.

Remember, no peeking.

1. The first Super Bowl was played in what year?

a. 1966
b. 1967
c. 1968
d. 1969

2. The losing team in he first SB was:

a. Cowboys
b. Raiders
c. Giants
d. Chiefs

3. How many different cities have hosted a Super Bowl?

a. 10
b. 12
c. 15
d. 17

4. Which city has hosted the most games?

a. Miami
b. Dallas
c. Los Angeles
d. New Orleans

5. Next year’s game will be in:

a. Los Angeles
b. Glendale
c. Dallas
d. New Orleans

6. Which franchise has won the most SBs?

a. Dallas
b. San Francisco
c. Pittsburg
d. New England

7. Each of the following teams are undefeated in SBs except:

a. Jets
b. Ravens
c. Bucs
d. Green Bay

8. The name “Super Bowl” was derived from:

a. College “bowl” games
b. Fan vote
c. Media feedback
d. Child’s toy

9. Who has won the most SB MVPs?

a. Bart Starr
b. Tom Brady
c. Eli Manning
d. Joe Montana

10. Who was the only MVP from the losing team?

a. Chuck Howley
b. Len Dawson
c. Bruce Smith
d. Icky Woods

11. How many defensive players have been MVP of a SB?

a. Two
b. Five
c. Eight
d. Ten

12. Which of the below franchises has had the most SB appearances?
a. Green Bay
b. San Francisco
c. New England
d. Pittsburg

13. Who performed at halftime last year?

a. Beyoncé
b. Bruce Springsteen
c. Usher
d. Lady Gaga

14. Each of the following has not appeared in a SB, except:

a. Browns
b. Bengals
c. Lions
d. Jaguars

15. The approximate cost of a 30 second commercial is:

a. $1 million
b. $2 million
c. $3 million
d. $4 million

16. How many times has a team played the SB in its home stadium?

a. 0
b. 1
c. 2
d. 3

17. Which coach has the most SB appearances?

a. Vince Lombardi
b. Tom Landry
c. Don Shula
d. Bud Grant

18. The coldest temperature for a SB held outdoors was 39 degrees in which city?

a. Houston
b. New Orleans
c. Stanford
d. Cleveland

19. Which of the following coaches has taken more than one team to a SB?

a. Don Shula
b. Tom Landry
c. Bill Belichek
d. Vince Lombardi

20. Which coach has the most SB wins?

a. Don Shula
b. Bill Belichek
c. Mike Shanahan
d. Chuck Noll

21. Which of the following players has the most appearances in a SB?

a. Bruce Smith
b. Adam Vinatieri
c. Charles Haley
d. Joe Green

22. After whom is the SB trophy named?

a. Pete Rozelle
b. Paul Brown
c. Al Davis
d. Vince Lombardi

23. Which player has won the most SB rings?

a. Adam Vinatieri
b. Charles Haley
c. Terry Bradshaw
d. Bob Lilly

24. Which half-time entertainer became (in)famous for a “wardrobe malfunction?”

a. Beyoncé
b. Janet Jackson
c. Madonna
d. Lady Gaga

25. What marginal player became famous for the “helmet catch” in SBXLII (Giants vs. Pats)?

a. Plaxico Burris
b. Randy Moss
c. David Tyree
d. Bob Schnelker

ANSWERS: 1. b; 2. d; 3. c; 4. a (10); 5. b; 6. c; 7. d; 8. d; 9. d(3); 10. a (SB V); 11.c; 12. d (Tied with Dallas – 8); 13. a 14. b; 15. d; 16. a; 17. c (6); 18. b; 19. a; 20. d(4); 21. b(tied with Mike Lodish & Don Beebe @ 6); 22. d; 23. b(5); 24. b; 25. c

A GREAT WARRIOR DEPARTS

Jews all over the world are saddened by the passing of Ariel Sharon on January 11. Loved by his friends and supporters, hated by his enemies, always controversial, Mr. Sharon was a central figure in the history of Israel from its founding in 1948 until his death. He epitomized the warrior image of Israel – tough, aggressive, no nonsense.

Mr. Sharon was born Ariel Scheinermann on February 26, 1928 in an agricultural village in British-ruled Palestine called Kfar Milal. As an adult, he was dubbed “Sharon” by none other than David Ben Gurion, perhaps the most iconic individual in Israeli history. As a teenager, like many young men and women at the time, he joined the Haganah, which led the fight for Israeli nationhood. He fought against first the British, and then the Arabs. Mr. Sharon fought in and/or commanded troops in every war from 1948 – 1974 – the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Six Days War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. His tenure in the Haganah and later the Israeli Defense Forces was from 1948 – 1974. Bold and daring, some would say reckless, he was generally considered to be the greatest field commander in Israeli history and a superb military strategist. Perhaps, his signature moment came during the Yom Kippur War when he led his unit on a daring maneuver through the Sinai to the cusp of the Suez Canal. This maneuver not only encircled the 3rd Egyptian Army, but it also threatened the Canal, itself. It is generally credited with bringing about a cease fire that ended the War in Israel’s favor.

Later, he entered politics. He joined the Likud Party. When Likud was in power he held various ministerial posts, and eventually he became Prime Minister. He served as PM from 2001 – 2006. His tenure was not without controversy. He strongly advocated developing settlements in Gaza and along the West Bank. This action, while applauded by his supporters, incurred the ire of Palestinians and much of the rest of the world who saw it as exacerbating an already delicate situation in the region. He attempted to forge a controversial political alliance with India, becoming the first PM to visit the country. Also, when anti-Semitism became problematic in France he encouraged French Jews to emigrate to Israel, which incurred the ire of the French. Eventually, he came under fire for alleged fund raising irregularities. His term as PM ended when he was felled by a stroke in 2006. He had been in a vegetative state until his death.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

In many ways, Mr. Sharon was a larger than life figure. Depending on one’s political preference, he was either a hero or a war criminal. Love him or hate him, one could not deny that he was a controversial, larger then life figure. The moniker, “warrior,” fit him to a tee. He will be missed.

A LESSON IN LEADERSHIP

By now, all of you have heard about and read about the artificial traffic jams on the GWB that were orchestrated by members of Governor Chris Christie’s staff. The purpose of this blog is not to defend, justify, or minimize those actions. In my opinion, there is no excuse or defense for what was done. Those responsible should be punished, and, to all appearances, they have been. The purpose of this blog is to comment on the actions of Mr. Christie and the press in the aftermath.

First, let’s analyze Mr. Christie’s actions.

1. He immediately convened a series of staff meetings at which he forcefully and decisively ascertained the identity of those responsible.

2. He fired or severed business relationships with those responsible, including, among others, his Deputy Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager.

3. He called a press conference at which he:

a. Gave a full and complete apology,
b. accepted full responsibility, even though he had no knowledge of the matter (invoking Harry Truman’s famous line “The buck stops here.”), and
c. answered every question.

Did he do enough? Perhaps; perhaps not.

The press’ actions have been predictable. They have been all over this incident as they should be. I’m all for an independent and vigorous press, but where have they been the last five years with respect to the scandals perpetrated by the Administration – the Black Panthers’ intimidation tactics during elections, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, Obamacare rollout, politically-motivated IRS audits, and NSC spying scandals, to name the major ones? The contrast is stark and a clear example of the press’ liberal bias.

In addition, contrast Mr. Christie’s actions with those of President Obama. Mr. Christie demonstrated strong and decisive leadership. He did not try to hide or blame others. He stated that, as the boss, he was ultimately responsible for the actions of his subordinates. On the other hand, Mr. Obama chose to dodge and obfuscate. In every case Mr. Obama first claimed that he did not know anything about the particular scandal. It was perpetrated by subordinates who hid it from him. (It was almost like that famous cartoon: “I know nothing; I see nothing; I hear nothing.”) Then, he pledged to “investigate” and “get to the bottom of it.” Some of these scandals are two years old. The American public has not received an adequate explanation of any of them. Furthermore, no culprit has been identified, and no one has been fired (retired, transferred and/or pensioned off, yes, but not fired).

We all know that anybody can make a mistake. Most of us will forgive the person who made a mistake if they admit it, apologize, and take action to prevent a recurrence. Mr. Christie has owned up to this mistake and taken prompt corrective action. That, my friends, is leadership. Mr. Obama has not owned up to any of his Administration’s mistakes and not taken corrective action with respect to any of them. Could the contrast in leadership be any clearer?

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Mr. Christie has many political enemies in both political parties. Everyone knows that he is an undeclared candidate for the Presidency in 2016, and at this point he and Hilary Clinton are the leading candidates for their respective parties. His political enemies will attempt to use this incident to discredit him. For his sake, there better not be any further revelations.

Whereas supporters laud his strong decisive leadership, many Dems view those same traits as evidence of a bully. Indeed, in the aftermath of this incident, some newspapers have labeled him as such. It is a catchy label, and if it sticks it will be problematic for him prospectively.

Some of his opponents in the GOP have not yet forgiven him for cozying up to President Obama during the 2012 Presidential Campaign in order to obtain relief from Super Storm Sandy. The Romney people are still particularly bitter about that. Some of them go so far as to blame Romney’s loss directly on that, although there were other factors as well. The conservative wing of the party views him as not conservative enough, just another northeast moderate in the Nelson Rockefeller/Jacob Javits/Mitt Romney model. The Tea Partiers resent his attacks on them. Still others favor other candidates, such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or Marco Rubio. Under the best of circumstances Mr. Christie figured to have as much trouble securing the GOP’s nomination as he would winning the subsequent election. How he deals with this matter prospectively will be significant.

That said, it is important to realize that there are over two years to go before Election Day 2016. That is a lifetime in politics. History tells us that anything can happen. If Mr. Christie intends to run, he should view this as a precursor to the treatment he can expect from both his political opponents and the press.

NEW YEARS QUIZ

Happy New Year everybody! New Year’s is probably the most widely celebrated public holiday in the world. Virtually every country celebrates the New Year in some way.

Some people love New Year’s and the attendant partying and celebrating that goes along with it. Others, hate it. Ed McMahon, a noted partier, preferred to celebrate it quietly. He called New Year’s Eve “amateur night,” meaning many people who normally did not go out, felt compelled to drink, party and drive.

Below please find a New Year’s quiz. Most of the questions are obscure, so treat it as a learning exercise.

1. It is generally believed that N Y celebrations began with the:

a. Romans circa 50 BC
b. Babylonians circa 4000 BC
c. Greeks circa 4000 BC
d. Persians circa 5000 BC

2. The original N Y date was in what month?

a. January
b. February
c. March
d. December

3. Which of the following foods is considered lucky to eat on N Y?

a. Corn on the cob
b. Steak
c. Bananas
d. Cabbage

4. One N Y tradition holds that you will have good luck all year if the first person to walk through the door of your home is a tall, dark-haired stranger. This is called:

a. First Footer
b. Early Bird
c. Lucky Stranger
d. Dark One

5. The Chinese New Year is normally celebrated:

a. January 1
b. July 1
c. Between December 15 and December 31
d. Between January 20 and February 20

6. N Y is celebrated by “Polar Bear” Clubs in each of the following countries except:

a. US
b. UK
c. Canada
d. Switzerland

7. The “Junkanoo Parade” takes place in:

a. Jamaica
b. Bahamas
c. Hawaii
d. Malaysia

8. “Basil’s Pie” is eaten in:

a. UK
b. Poland
c. Greece
d. Ireland

9. In what country do the people celebrate by eating 12 grapes?

a. France
b. Greece
c. Italy
d. Spain

10. The first people to incorporate resolutions into the holiday were:

a. Babylonians
b. Persians
c. Romans
d. Greeks

11. The origins of “Auld Lang Syne” are obscure. But, it was first published in the 1700s, and it is derived from a folk song of what country?

a. Ireland
b. England
c. Scotland
d. Canada

12. “Auld Lang Syne,” loosely translated into English, means:

a. Happy New Year
b. Don’t forget me
c. The good old days.
d. Drink up

13. It was published by:

a. Emily Dickinson
b. Robert Byrnes
c. Shakespeare
d. John Dunne

14. The first year NYC dropped its famous ball was:

a. 1905
b. 1907
c. 1910
d. 1950

15. One other city with a “dropping” tradition is:

a. Dillsburg Pa (pickles)
b. Philadelphia, Pa. (cheesesteaks)
c. Miami, FL. (oranges)
d. Buffalo, NY (snowballs)

16. The oldest N Y college bowl game is:

a. Rose Bowl
b. Fiesta Bowl
c. Orange Bowl
d. Sugar Bowl

17. The first Orange Bowl was won by:

a. Ohio State
b. Army
c. Notre Dame
d. Bucknell

18. The total number of college bowl games is:

a. 5
b. 35
c. 50
d. 55

19. Which of these cities celebrates N Y first?

a. Sydney
b. Hong Kong
c. Tokyo
d. New York

20. Which of these cities celebrates N Y last?

a. London
b. Moscow
c. Manila
d. Singapore

ANSWERS: 1. b; 2. c; 3. d; 4. a; 5. d; 6. d; 7. b; 8. c; 9. d; 10. a; 11.c; 12. c; 13. b; 14. b; 15. a; 16. a; 17. d; 18. b; 19. a ; 20. a

CONCLUSION

It is January 2. Have you broken your New Year’s resolutions yet?