Friday, June 30, 2017

The Late, Not So Great, State of Illinois

Illinois is about to become the first state with a junk bond credit rating.

If it was not illegal to file for bankruptcy under federal law it would probably soon be filing.

Today is the deadline for Illinois to pass a constitutionally-required balance budget. Never mind the balanced part, Illinois has not even passed a simple budget plan the last two years.

It is doubtful that the third time will be the charm in Springfield.

Why is Illinois in such dire straits?

The biggest reason is that the politicians in Illinois gave the state away to the public sector employees. They promised generous pay and retirement benefits but failed to back up the promises with the necessary funding.

This is how CNN Money explains it.

While the budget impasse is throwing a spotlight on Illinois's dire financial situation today, the fiscal problems go back at least to the 1980s and involve politicians from both parties. 
The most glaring evidence is the enormous pension crisis. Rather than dealing with the problem, Illinois continued to reward the state's powerful unions with more generous benefits.
The problem festered for so long that Moody's estimates Illinois has unfunded pension liabilities totaling $251 billion. To put that into context, that's more than the combined market value of four major Illinois companies: Boeing (BA), Caterpillar (CAT), United Continental (UAL) and Allstate (ALL).

Who have those politicians been for the last 20 years while the problem expanded and exploded? The first line is the Governor's office, the second is the Senate and the third is the House.


Note that the Democrats totally controlled everything in Illinois for over a decade. Republican businessman Bruce Rauner was elected in November, 2014 principally because he vowed to fix the mess. He has found, like Donald Trump, that it is not easy to get politicians to fix things. They are more adept at breaking things.

I wrote about all of this over three years ago and predicted that Bruce Rauner very well might win the Illinois governorship because of the fiscal problems in Illinois.

However, I also cautioned that Democrats were the only ones who could realistically fix the problem.

How true that appears to be today.

If you want a more in-depth look at the fiscal problems in Illinois I recommend this article by Illinois Policy.

However, this chart pretty well sums up what has happened in Illinois.

What I wrote over three years ago bears reading again.

The late, not so great, State of Illinois.

Public Sector Unions, Politicians and the Public Interest
(originally published March 23, 2014)

If you want to see a simple graphical image of the influence of public sector unions, and their significant impact on state and local government spending (and the taxes you pay), cast your eyes (if you can bear to look) on the chart below.

I came across this data in a recent issue of Employee Benefit News which was comparing the hourly cost of various employee benefit programs.

Several observations from the data.

Total compensation for the public sector is 36% higher than in the private sector.

Health insurance costs for the public sector are 87% higher than in the private sector.

Retirement costs for the public sector are 159% higher than in the private sector.

Cash compensation for the public sector is is 23% higher than in the private sector. This runs counter to the argument that we often hear that public sector employee benefits are better than the private sector benefits to compensate for lower salaries and hourly wages.

It is simply not sustainable to have public sector employees receive this much more in wages and benefits than the private sector workers who pay the taxes who foot the bill for these government workers.

We saw an extreme case of what happens when all balance is lost in the case of the city of Detroit. The public sector can never seem to adjust to circumstances as it needs to. However, it becomes almost impossible in any local or state government controlled by Democrats who are beholden to public sector unions due to the political contributions they receive from those union dues.

If we are going to restore fiscal sanity in this country the huge disparity between private and public sector benefits programs is going to have to be at the top of the list. The immense power that the public unions hold will not be easily reversed.  However, it must occur if there is any hope for many city, county and state budgets.

Democrats are in the best position to effect this reform since they control most of the political offices in the big cities and states (Illinois, California, etc) that have the biggest budget problems (that is surely just a coincidence!).

It is important to remember that there is no real legal or economic reason for the very existence of a public sector union in the first place. In fact, liberal luminaries in the 1930's such as Franklin D.Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia were opposed to public sector unionism for the simple reason that it threatened the broad needs of the citizenry. That is why it was illegal for most government employees to unionize until well into the 1970's.

The historical basis for unions in the private sector is based on insuring a balance of power to insure that workers receive a reasonable share of profits and work in safe and sanitary conditions. Governments don't make profits to share. They only levy taxes. In addition, has anyone ever heard of a government worker working in a sweat shop? They also work in a monopoly situation meaning that if they provide poor service, no service, or they strike, there is no corresponding power by the consumer to go elsewhere as there is with a private sector business that is unionized.

In addition, in the private sector, unions are balanced against managers who have a natural incentive to push back on union demands. In the public sector no such tensions exists. More often than not the elected officials on the other side of the bargaining table are incentivized to give in to the unions for their own political survival. Those politicians often know that they would not have been elected (nor will they be reelected) without that public sector union money flowing into their campaign coffers.

Why did the Democrats change their views about public sector unions? In a word. MONEY.

Beginning in the early 1960's the Democrats decided that the political advantage of having the political and fundraising power of these unions behind them outweighed any concerns about taxpayers and the broader citizenry.

Since the Democrats got us into this mess they are in the best position to get us out of it. Much like it was easier for Nixon to open up relations with China, Reagan to begin nuclear disarmament talks with the Russians or Clinton to sign welfare reform legislation.

However, if the Democrats are unwilling or unable to do initiate the change, the voters may increasingly look to the Republicans to do it. We have already seen this in Wisconsin, Indiana and some other states.

An interesting test of this idea looks to be coming up in Illinois this Fall where wealthy, former private equity executive Bruce Rauner won the Republican nomination for Governor.

The centerpiece of Rauner's campaign was a vow to take on the "government union bosses".  Labor groups spent heavily against him during the primary and will be going after him with millions more in the Fall. There is no state in the union where the public sector unions hold more sway than in Illinois.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I don't know how the needed balance will be restored to the system.  All I know is that it will occur. A system in which the takers end up with more than the makers will eventually fail. We can control the consequences or we can face the chaos when it crumbles. The choice is ours.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

India and Beyond

Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins focuses her annual Trends report on the internet but she often highlights additional topics in her charts and graphs. She has extensive material on both China and India. I found the India data most interesting.

A few slides of interesting information about India and beyond from the Meeker report.

The first shows just how much data our internet world is producing and the increasing volume of information that is structured or tagged.

 In 2005, there was 0.1 zetabytes (ZB) of information created worldwide. By 2015, 12ZB of information was created of which 9% was structured or tagged. By 2025, it is expected that 163ZB will be created and 36% will be structured.

Meeker has a lot of information on India which now has over 355 million internet users. To give you better perspective on the mass of people in India that represents a mere 27% of the population. However, the 355 million on the internet is still more than the entire population of the United States.

A lot of the population of India is young. You better understand that when you consider that India has the largest K-12 school enrollment in the world---250 million students! That is 5 times more than in the United States. It is 40% more than school enrollment in China. (The one child policy really did have an effect).

That means a lot of competition in the classroom for very few higher education opportunities. That probably explains why 37% of secondary students in India are supplementing their education with private after-school education coaching.

This also goes a long way to explaining the culture that is behind the success of students of Indian heritage being behind the winner of the last 10 U.S. Spelling Bee championships. 

To put this in further context, there are more people in India under the age of 14 than the entire population of the United States of America.

There is also a lot of talk in the United States these days about the best way to provide health insurance to the American people.

Health insurance is almost unknown in India. Fewer than 20% have coverage. For that reason 89% of all health care expenses are paid out-of-pocket by individuals. The comparable number in the United States today---21%.

What is even more interesting is that the amount of out-of-pocket spending on health care is higher in Communist China (70%+) than in the United States as well as in European countries that have socialized medicine like France (30%), Germany (57%) and the U.K. (58%).

The reality is that all of these countries have a stronger market-based and consumer health care model than does the United States. However, we constantly hear from liberals that the answer to our health care needs is to go to a single-payer socialized system?

India's most significant challenge over the next 35 years will be to create an economy that can sustain the massive numbers of young people who will come of employment age in the coming years. India only has jobs today to support 55% of the working age population. As the working-age population increases there will be the need to create hundreds of millions of jobs.

India needs to creates 280 million jobs in the next 35 years to accommodate the surge in working age population. To put that in context, consider that the United States economy today only supports 124 million jobs in the private sector. Looked at another way, India needs to create twice as many jobs as the United States currently has over the next 35 years to fully employ their future working age population!

The challenge in the United States over next couple of decades will be to get control over its out of control entitlement spending.

Almost 2/3 of federal spending is currently devoted to entitlement spending.

Entitlement spending has grown by $1.8 trillion since 1991.

Total entitlement spending is equal to 32% of average annual household income. Therefore, to pay the nation's entitlement costs, the average family today is effectively spending 1/3 of their labor supporting someone else. It is a shocking total no matter how you look at it.

It is simply not sustainable.

Do we have the political will to do something about it? What will it take?

When will it happen? If it does not happen, what will the costs be for our children and grandchildren?

Will they all be working for someone from India or China?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Internet Trends 2017

Mary Meeker and her team at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has released their 2017 Internet Trends Report. The 355 slides contain a wealth of information, data and trends about the world of technology and beyond.

A sampling of some slides from the report that I found interesting.

There are now 3.4 billion global internet users. That is about one-half of the people on our planet.

1.5 billion smartphones were shipped in 2106. However, that was only 3% higher than in 2015. In 2010, 2011 and 2012 shipments rose over 50% each year. It appears we have reached a point in which most people who want and can afford a smartphone have one.

Online advertising is now a $73 billion business and for the first time there was more advertising done on mobile devices than on desktops.

When you consider that Google and Facebook alone captured 85% of total online ad growth over the last year you begin to understand how truly powerful these companies are in the internet world.

How long will it be before Google, Facebook and Amazon begin to get a lot more scrutiny on anti-trust and other grounds from Washington, D.C.?

During 2017, global advertising spend on the internet will overtake tv advertising for the first time.

You can see how big e-retailing has become by looking at parcel volume in the United States. 10 billion parcels delivered in 2016 and parcel growth is accelerating---+9% in the last year.

All of those packages are causing problems for apartment managers in urban areas as they scramble to find bigger package rooms for the parcels delivered for their tenants.

While packages are surging the music business is suffering. Recorded music revenues down 50% from the 1999-2000 highs. In the meantime, physical recordings are almost extinct.

Television is also changing. Who would have thought five years ago that Netflix would be delivering more television programming minutes today than CBS?

Incredibly, Netflix now has almost 100 million subscribers. That is up from 5 million just 10 years ago. Netflix is also now capturing more than 30% of all home entertainment revenue.

If you still don't think much has changed over the last decade, view the entire Meeker slide show.

I will highlight some additional slides in my next blog post. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Friday Favorites- "Why Work?"

Two news items are getting a lot of attention right now from the media.

The Senate has released its proposed bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

One of the key provisions in the bill is a proposal to scale back the expansion of Medicaid in Obamacare. An additional 14 million Americans have been added to the Medicaid rolls since 2014. The CBO projects that another 15 million may become eligible over the next 10 years.  Of course, this cost is paid by the taxpayers who have to pay their own healthcare bills.

In addition, President Trump stated in a speech in Iowa on Wednesday night that “those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years.”

Political pundits were quick to point out that there is already a law that essentially prohibits this and derided Trump. However, I would point out that there are also laws already on the books that prohibit immigrants from entering the United States illegally and we know how that has worked out.

It will be interesting to see what changes Trump is considering in the legislation.

Speaking of Medicaid and welfare benefits, I thought it was a good time to revisit a blog post in 2012 entitled "Why Work?" in this Friday Favorites segment.

It is often forgotten that Medicaid, housing assistance, food stamps and other welfare benefits are provided tax-free to the recipients. This makes the value of these benefits extraordinarily high compared to working wages. As a result, receiving these benefits can be a substantial deterrent for someone who might otherwise consider working.

We often hear that Americans just won't do a lot of the jobs that need to be done in this country. Why is that? A large part has to do with the substantial social safety net. For many, it just does not pay to work.

I do not blame the welfare recipient. Human are inherently creatures of self-interest. We will take the path that provides us the greatest benefit. It is the system that is at fault. We should not be perpetuating a system that devalues work.

Read all about "the welfare cliff". In addition, also consider the fact that many, many more people are receiving tax-free Medicaid health benefits today than when I originally wrote this blog post in 2012. There are even more reasons to not work today.

Why Work?
(originally published December 7, 2012)

There is a lot of debate and discussion about the fiscal cliff in Washington right now.  However, we never hear anything about the welfare cliff.

What is the welfare cliff?

It is the point in which it makes more sense to sit at home and do nothing, and collect welfare benefits, than to work for wages.

Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge writes about the welfare cliff in "When Work Is Punished: The Tragedy Of America's Welfare State".  He cites a recent presentation by Gary Alexander, Secretary of Public Welfare, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in making his key points.

To illustrate the welfare cliff consider this fact about a single mother in Pennsylvania with two children.

The single mom is better off earning $29,000 with gross income from working combined with welfare assistance that provides $57,327 in net income and benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 solely from working that nets out to income and benefits of $57,045.

In other words, earning more than $29,000 from work actually starts to reduce the single mom's household income. There is no incentive to earn more. It is more profitable to stay home and collect welfare.

The two charts below are from Alexander's presentation which is worth looking at to also see the massive growth in welfare and Medicaid over the years.

What is also sobering is what the welfare burden has become on working taxpayers.  For every one person receiving welfare assistance nationally, there are only 1.65 employed persons in the private sector.

For every one person who is either receiving welfare or works for the government, there are only 1.25 persons working in the private sector.  After all, taxes are needed from the private sector to support these payments whether as a welfare payment or a government paycheck.  Ouch!

One big factor in why the welfare recipient makes out so well is the tax-free nature of welfare benefits and the refundable tax credits that are built into the Internal Revenue Code.  Tax loopholes are not just for the rich any more.

Providing housing assistance, food stamps (EBT), welfare, Medicaid, child care assistance and Obamaphones in after-tax dollars provides a significant income advantage to the welfare recipient compared to a middle-class worker.

Consider a cell phone.  If a private sector worker and taxpayer wants a $50 monthly cell phone plan they need to earn about $65 to pay for the cell phone.  They need to pay income taxes (15%), FICA (7.65%) and state taxes before they have the money to spend on the cell phone.  People on welfare are just given the cell phone.

I am all for helping people who need a helping hand. However, this is clearly not a sustainable path. It also clearly shows that the incentives in the system are not properly aligned to get us the results we should be getting.

Our goal should be to get as many people in productive roles in our society as we can.  Our welfare programs are clearly not doing that.  We should also have policies that foster as much alignment between people in our country as possible.  The disconnect between the people working and paying the bills and those receiving government benefits will do nothing but create greater discord in society if we don't fix this.

If we get past the fiscal cliff I certainly hope that we will soon start looking at the welfare cliff.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Lies of Obamacare

We have heard the lies about Obamacare since Barack Obama first uttered these infamous words during his 2008 campaign for President.

"We're going to lower your premiums by up to $2500 per family per year."

The actual fact is that premiums have gone up substantially for most Americans in every year since Obamacare was enacted.

Interestingly, health care cost expenditures in the United States were relatively stable in the six years immediately before Obamacare took effect on January 1, 2014. Was it just a coincidence that health care starting taking a bigger share of personal expenditures beginning in 2014?

Medical care now consumes 17.2% of all personal expenditures in the United States.

That original lie was followed by many more.

"If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan."

Millions of people have had their healthcare plans cancelled. Hundreds of thousands of other individuals were lured into selecting health care from newly formed non-profit co-op health plans under Obamacare with promises of low-cost coverage. Thus far, 20 out of the 24 Obamacare co-ops have failed. $2.2 billion of taxpayer funds that were used to capitalize these co-ops has been lost.

"If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor."

Another lie. Many plans have resorted to tighter and stricter physician networks. Millions have lost the ability to see the doctor they know and trust.

"I will not sign a bill that adds one dime to our deficits, now or in the future."

Barack Obama said it.  It just was not true. You can see this clearly by the Congressional Budget Office scoring of the House repeal and replace bill that projects $119 billion in savings over the next 10 years by enacting The American Health Care Act.

It is this budget savings that actually allows the Senate to take up the bill in reconciliation thereby allowing a 51 vote majority for passage than requiring the 60 vote cloture vote. A simple majority  is all that is required in a budget reconciliation vote that reduces spending.

Of course, who knows what to believe from the CBO?  It does not actually have the best record in its projections regarding Obamacare.

For example, look at how poorly the CBO did in projecting Medicaid enrollment. When the bill passed, the CBO projected 9 million new Medicaid enrollees in 2017. The actual number is over 50% higher.

Similarly, the CBO projected in 2010 that 21 million people would enroll in the exchanges in 2016. The actual number---10 million.

You can see in this graph far the CBO has been off in its exchange enrollment projections.  Notice that despite any evidence that anything will change to make the Obamacare exchanges more attractive to health care purchasers, the CBO is predicting that enrollment in the exchanges will increase to 18 million next year (from 10 million today).

Those are not outright lies. It is just terrible forecasting.

I would not be so kind to the CBO in describing its analysis of the House bill in which it claims that 23 million Americans would lose coverage by 2026 if Obamacare is repealed.

Of course, the media latched on to that number and it has been driving a lot of debate on the bill.

How can Republicans be so mean to eliminate health care coverage for 23 million people?

Let's look at that number in more detail and you tell me if that is fact, fake news or another Obamacare lie?

How did the CBO get that number?

First, they are using that 18 million number in future projected enrollment although only 10 million currently have coverage through the exchanges today.

Therefore, reduce the 23 million number by 8 million. We are now down to 15 million actually "losing" coverage.

Second, the CBO is assuming that an additional 15 million Americans will become eligible for Medicaid over the next 10 years. However, 5 million of this number is assumed to be new enrollees in the 19 states that have not even expanded their Medicaid eligibility. Given that these states have given no indication that they will extend Medicaid under current law why is it a sound assumption to consider these individuals to be "losing' coverage they don't have today?

Add it all up and the argument can be made that on a net basis no one will lose coverage compared to today under the House Republican bill. It is all based on assumptions of future eligibility and greater numbers of future people qualifying for Medicaid in the future. It does not assume a better economy or anything else. It actually assumes more poverty and more people qualifying for Medicaid  than today.

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the CBO on that assumption, how can it magically assume that 19 states are going to expand their Medicaid when we are nearly five years into Obamacare and not one has done so to this point?

Worse case, the CBO number of people "losing" coverage should not be more than 10 million and a good argument could be made that it is zero. That is a long way from 23 million.

We have grown accustomed to those in Washington claiming budget cuts when all they are really doing is reducing future increases in spending.

They are now claiming people losing health coverage that don't even have it today.

The lies of Obamacare continue.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Was Obama Ever President of the United States?

It seemed that for almost the entirely of Barack Obama's eight years in The White House, every problem or shortcoming was the fault of George W. Bush. Barack Obama could do no wrong.

Now that Donald Trump has been President for five months, to hear it from the Democrats and the media, there is not one problem that Trump has inherited from Barack Obama.

Every problem and every issue in America today is the sole fault of Donald J. Trump.

It is almost as if Barack Obama never set foot in the Oval Office. You have to wonder what he was doing for eight years.

The media portrays Trump as the most unpopular President of all time.

However, the truth is that Trump actually has a higher approval rating at this point in his Presidency than Barack Obama did in his second term according to the Rasmussen Daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

Have you seen this reported anywhere on the evening news?

Of course not.

The media seems to see its job to be to amplify anything and everything to advance their anti-Trump agenda. Therefore, anything that does not fit that narrative is simply not reported.

On the other hand, the media went out its way to turn down the volume on anything and everything that could have depicted Obama in a negative light.

That is why real scandals like Benghazi, Fast and Furious, NSA spying and the IRS intimidation of conservative groups died on the vine while we now are spending millions of dollars on a special counsel when there is absolutely no evidence that any crime has been committed.

How can I say that when potential crimes are supposedly being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

Based on the simple fact that collusion (if there were any) is not a crime under federal statutes. Gregg Jarrett, the former Court TV anchor, explains.

Robert Mueller is tasked with finding a crime that does not exist in the law.  It is a legal impossibility. 
As special counsel, Mueller can engage in all manner of spectacular jurisprudential gymnastics.  However, it will not change the fact that colluding with Russia is not, under America’s criminal codes, a crime.  It’s just not there. 
Maybe it should be.  Perhaps someday Congress will pass a law criminalizing such conduct in political campaigns.  But for now, there is not a single statute outlawing collaboration with a foreign government in a U.S. presidential election.  Or any election, for that matter. 
Why, then, are so many people who are following the Trump-Russia saga under the mistaken impression that collusion is a crime?  Principally, because it is a loaded word with an historic criminal connotation.
“Collusion” became a prominent part of the legal lexicon when Benjamin Harrison occupied the White House and Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890 outlawing collusion in some business practices.  Specifically, price fixing and other anticompetitive activities became a criminal offense under Section 1 of the Act.  Almost overnight, the wor
d “collusion” was converted into a legal pejorative.
But collusion is only criminal in an antitrust setting.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with elections.  

Have you seen this reported anywhere on the evening news?

I mentioned this fact to a liberal friend of mine who responded, "Well, that may be but we need to know."

However, there were a lot of things that I wanted to know when Barack Obama was President that I never got an answer to.

I wanted to know what he was doing on the night of the Benghazi attack that was more important than monitoring what was going on as Americans were being killed in a terrorist attack.

I wanted to know why they made up the story about a video being the cause of the Benghazi attack?

I wanted to know what Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton were really talking about on that airplane on the tarmac in Phoenix?

I wanted to know why the IRS targeted conservative groups but left the left wing groups alone?

I wanted to know why a Justice Department official pled the Fifth Amendment in the Fast and Furious investigation?

I wanted to know why they used NSA resources to target American journalists (and possibly Trump himself)?

I wanted to see Barack Obama's college records to see if he was ever registered as a foreign student?

Unlike Russian collusion, knowledge of the answers to some of these questions might actually show violation of federal criminal statutes.

We know Donald J. Trump is President of the United States. The media and the liberal left become more unhinged by the day in complaining about it.

A big reason for their anger is that the Obama agenda is being erased day by day. Executive order by executive order. The Paris Accord. Cuba. Coal regulations. Immigration enforcement.

The media narrative is also that the Trump administration and the GOP are inept and that no legislation is getting done. That is true thus far on the big issues of healthcare and tax reform.

However, the fact is that Trump actually signed twice as many bills into law than Obama did in his first 100 days. Trump and the GOP Congress have actually also done more than the Bush 43 and Clinton administrations did in their first 100 days.

Those laws also are a lot less bulky than what was passed in the Obama years.


It takes fewer words to roll back or repeal government programs and regulations than it does to implement them.

Obama's failures were ignored and his "successes" are now being unwound.

Was Barack Obama ever President of the United States?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Comey, The Media and Shakespeare

There are many things that the mainstream media does these days that could very well fit the title of a Shakespeare play. It was all on stage at the Comey hearing yesterday.

Right now the media is desperately trying to create a Tempest involving Donald Trump in any way they can. I have never seen anything remotely like it. There is not even an attempt to hide the bias in their reporting.

It seems that they are not happy that Trump won the election by defeating Hillary Clinton. However, they were quite happy that Obama won in 2008 by Taming the Shrew. That was fine. Trump doing the same is clearly not fine.

Thus far, all of their attempts to make some type of case involving Trump and Russian collusion in the election has been Much Ado About Nothing. This was reinforced today in the Comey hearings where the former FBI Director admitted under oath that he had, in fact, told Trump on three separate occasions that he was not a subject of any investigation.

That statement totally undermined a CNN report before the hearing where it reported that Comey would contradict Trump on this point. This is how reported it.

CNN has corrected a Tuesday report after the release of former FBI Director James Comey's opening statement for his Thursday testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee contradicted the report's sources.
The CNN report said Comey was expected to dispute President Trump's claims that Comey said he was not under investigation on multiple occasions. 

Adding to the embarrassment of the media was another exchange where Comey was asked about the accuracy of a New York Times story in February that claimed that 'Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian Intelligence".

Senator James Risch of Idaho asked Comey if that story was true. Here is how Comey responded according to a report in The Washington Times.

“In the main, it was not true.”
 “The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters — about writing stories about classified information is that people talking about it often don’t really know what is going on. And those of us who actually know what’s going on aren’t talking about it. And we don’t call the press to say, hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic. We just have to leave it there.”

How is that for a Comedy of Errors by what is supposed to be the the trusted media?

Comey also testified that he had never been told by Trump (or anyone else) to stop the Russian investigation. Trump's primary interest seemed to be to have Comey publicly state that Trump was not being investigated in the Russian probe. He secondarily had asked Comey that he hoped that the FBI would go easy on Michael Flynn because he was "a good guy" to which Comey agreed that he was.

Contrast that with Comey's testimony involving Hillary Clinton's emails where he stated that Attorney General Loretta Lynch specifically told Comey to refer to the investigation as a "matter" rather than what it really was.

Measure for Measure wouldn't you agree that what Lynch did was more of a directive to Comey than anything Trump did in his conversations with the FBI Director? This also doesn't even take into account Lynch's meeting on the tarmac with Bill Clinton at the Phoenix airport last July.

Of course, the biggest revelation of the day's testimony was that the FBI Director himself had leaked information to the New York Times through a friend of his in New York City. Comey said he leaked a memo to the file he had written after meeting with Trump because he wanted a special counsel appointed after he was fired.

This is indeed ironic as one of the issues Trump pushed Comey on in their meetings was for the FBI to be more aggressive in its investigation of leakers.

There are those that think that this admission by Comey may be the only indictable offense to come out of all of the reporting of the hearing today as those memos were arguably FBI government documents which are illegal to convey to an outside party.

It is my Midsummer's Night Dream that all of this nastiness will soon end. After all, there are a lot of problems in this country and it would help if the media spent more attention on those issues rather than worrying about how many scoops of ice cream Trump gets. However, I am sure the media is intent on making this a Winter's Tale if they can. I don't expect it to end soon.

My advice for President Trump is to ignore the noise and nastiness of the media and focus on the big problems that got him elected. Get results and everything else will take care of itself. That is the way to deal with the media.

Trump's best revenge with the media is to find ways to win. This strategy will be As You Like It as well if you are a Trump supporter.

Reagan did not have the media on his side but he won anyway. Trump needs to do the same. He also needs to play more offense and be less defensive. However, when he plays offense he needs to avoid being offensive in the process.

Staying off Twitter today was a start.

He also needs to keep this in mind.

All's Well That End's Well. 

History is written by the winners.

The 18 plays generally classified as comedy are as follows:

All's Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Love's Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merchant of Venice
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Two Noble Kinsmen
The Winter's Tale


Monday, June 5, 2017

Spelling It Out

Do you recognize any of these names?

Ananya Vinay
Rohan Rajeev
Mira Dedhia
Shourav Dasari
Raksheet Kota
Tejas Muthusamy

Do you have a guess at what ties them all together?

These are not typical names you hear in the United States of America.

However, all of these people live in the United States. In fact, they all are going to school in the United States.

These are the names of the six finalists in the recently concluded 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

They are all immigrants or children of immigrants.

English was likely not the native language of their parents. However, these are the six best spellers of English words in American schools.

It goes beyond the top six as well. Here are the names and pictures of the 15 finalists.

Ananya Vinay, the 2017 winner, is of Indian heritage as are the winners from the last ten years.

We hear people throw around the term "white privilege" and statements like the "deck is stacked" against minorities and immigrants in this country. We hear that the color of your skin defines you and makes it hard to succeed in America.

These students did not listen. They dedicated themselves and worked hard. They did not allow anything to define them other than their results.

I would guess that they also had supportive parents who encouraged their hard work. They did not tell them that the system was stacked against them. They told them that in America you could achieve anything you set your mind to.

The reality of America is that a great deal of success has resulted from those who had something to prove. Often times it was those of ethic, religious or national origins who were considered on the fringes or were discriminated against. These people believed they had something to prove, to themselves and others. Often times these were the children of immigrants who pushed their children to realize the American Dream.

Take a look at this graphic that shows the composition of the U.S. Math and Physics Olympiad teams and the College Putnam Math winners over time. The mix of who are the high achievers has changed over the years. A couple of groups have dominated relative to their share of the population.

It used to be that these awards were dominated by Jewish students. My guess is that many of these students were also children of recent immigrants.

Today these awards are dominated by Asian students, much like the Spelling Bee is, although Asian-Americans only make up about 5% of the U.S. population.

Consider the most recent numbers this decade. Asian-American students have made up 81% of the Physics and 72% of the Math Olympiad Teams for the U.S. 50% of College Putnam Math winners are Asian-American.

These results and The National Spelling Bee finalists shows that preparation, practice, perseverance and parents can make a huge difference in achieving success.

The finalists in the National Spelling Bee should be an inspiration to us all that the American Dream is still alive for those who want to work for it.

It can't be spelled out any better than that.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Politics is Profitable

Politics is profitable.

How do I know? Look no further than a couple of stories in the news this week.

The first example is the story of Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner renewing their lease on their apartment on Manhattan's Union Square.

This is how the rental listing described the apartment.

The luxury three-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot pad at 1 Irving Place features an “expansive, panoramic view of Union Square Park and the midtown skyline."

The monthly rental for that 1,500 square feet apartment?

$11,900 per month!  That works out to $142,800 per year.

To put that in context, median household income in the U.S in 2015 (the most recent data) was $68,260 per year. In other words, the rent on the Abedin/Weinder apartment is more than twice what the median household is earning.

Abedin/Weiner apartment building in Manhattan
Credit: New York Post

How does a unemployed sex offender and unemployed political staffer afford that chunk of change every month?

Politics is obviously profitable.

Speaking of Abedin and Weiner, it seems that the renewal of their apartment lease is an indication that Huma is not following through on the announced plans to file for divorce from Weiner.

The New York Post reports that Abedin has invited Weiner back into their home and has not filed the divorce papers.

The sext-crazed pol, who had been sleeping on his mother’s couch in Park Slope, was to move out Tuesday, a source said.
“He was supposed to move,” the building source explained. “But they just signed for another year.”
Another source said, “She still hasn’t served him with the divorce papers.”

It doesn't make sense. However, there are many things that don't makes sense concerning Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner.

For example, how does a Muslim woman like Abedin come to even marry a Jewish man?

It makes even less sense when you consider the reports of the close relationship her parents had to factions of the Muslim Brotherhood and her father's emphatic support for Sharia law. 

The second example is the report that former President Obama has decided to purchase the home they were renting in the Kalorama section of Washington, DC for $8.1 million.

The Obama Home--Washington, DC

They were previously renting the 8,200 sf house which estimated should rent for approximately $22,000 per month. That would appear to be a bargain compared to what Abedin and Weiner are paying.

The reason that the Obama's have decided to buy?

Obama's spokesman explained it had to do with allowing their daughter Sasha (who will a Junior in high school in the Fall) to finish school in Washington.

"Given that President and Mrs. Obama will be in Washington for at least another two and a half years, it made sense for them to buy a home rather than continuing to rent the property."

However, didn't they know that Sasha would be completing high school in D.C. when they moved out of The White House?

And don't they know how real estate transaction costs eat you up if you are not planning to stay in the residence for some time.

A 6% commission to sell an $8 million house is almost $500,000. That is about the same amount as it would cost to rent the house for two years.  It doesn't sound like that makes good sense to me if this home is only to allow you to get your daughter through high school.

Then again, what is $500,000 to Barack Obama these days. He can earn that with one speech to Goldman Sachs.

As I said, politics is profitable.

About the only one who is not making a profit out of it is our current President. That time may come. However, he is currently paying a heavy price by venturing into the swamp. When you see the money that oozes out of it, is it any wonder that they don't want an outsider like him getting too close to their money game?