Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dear Pope Francis, Please Shut Up....

It is bad enough living in a nation with an economically-illiterate president constantly espousing nonsensical economic theories, or worse, making his theories the basis for law.
Now I have to read in today's paper that Pope Francis, the leader of over a billion Catholics worldwide, has gotten into the act of saying economically moronic things.
In a recent speech decrying what he sees as growing economic injustice around the world, Pope Francis said:
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.  This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.  Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
This might be among the most absurd paragraphs in economic history.
If Pope Francis wrote this economic garbage on one of my final exam questions he would receive zero points and I would probably use up a box of red pens correcting the absurdity of his "logic."
Here are the facts. 
First, there is plenty of evidence that so called "trickle-down" economics - the idea that reducing tax and regulatory burdens leads to growth and opportunity from the top down - works beautifully.
I would encourage any and all of you (especially you, Russ Kessler) to go back and look at the Mellon tax cuts of the 1920s, the Kennedy tax cuts of the 1960s, Reagan's 1981 and 1986 tax cuts, the Clinton tax cuts of the late 1990s and evidence from Chile, Sweden, Ireland, China, Germany, Canada, and other nations that have adopted the mantra that letting people keep more of their money will boost all income groups, not just the rich.
The data on upward mobility of the poor and middle class, productivity gains, the unemployment rate, the rate of infation (which robs the poor more than anything), GDP data and tax collections all proves that when it comes down to the question of where your next dollar should go - in your wallet or to the government - if economic growth, justice and inclusiveness is desired, the best way to go about it is to free those dollars from taxation to begin with.
During the 1980s, for example, Reagan reduced the number of tax brackets from fourteen to two and the top rate fell from 70 to 28%.  The result (go get the data, it is free of charge on the Internet) was that all income groups saw a gain in net income and wealth.  Yes, the rich gained at a faster rate than everyone else, but that is called mathematics.  If everyone receives a 30% tax cut, someone making $1 million per year is going to naturally gain more than someone making $20,000 per year.
Pope Francis should look at what goes on in nations that do the opposite - like France, Venezuela, most of Western Europe and in recent times, the United States.  Nations that adopt a "trickle-up" philosophy that argues for an expanded welfare state and higher taxes see sluggish to negative economic growth, a growing number of poor people and a shrinking middle class.  This is simple to understand.  If we tax those who are producing the most for our economy, the incentives to shelter income increases and the desire to expand is diminished.  This inevitably impacts people in the middle and the bottom of the economic spectrum more in the form of fewer jobs and lower incomes.  President Obama has never understood this.  That is why FIVE years into his disastrous experiment with "Hope and Change" the only thing we see is declining hope and less change in our pockets.
Pope Francis should go talk to a buddy of mine in Chicago who happens to be a rich Catholic. 
I met this guy in 1995 when he was in his late 20s.  He grew up in a lower middle income household without his father being around for much of his life.   That would seem to point towards a life where he becomes a victim of society, bad luck and a free market that rewards only those of us who grow up with silver spoons dangling from our mouths.
This guy lived in a tiny apartment, worked at a long-hours, low-paying job but kept digging in, working like a man on a mission, moving from city to city, job to job until he finally landed a job, and a career selling high-end medical technology to surgeons.
Today he lives in a house that is so big you better have GPS when you wander around in it and is married with two kids living a very upper-middle class or even lower wealthy class life.
I wonder what he might think about the Pope's views on what he should have to pay in taxes?  This guy puts in unreal hours starting at the crack of dawn and his Pope thinks more of his money should be stolen so late-sleeping, lazy crackheads in Chicago can have more food stamp funds.
Is that justice?  Is that equity?
Since when did our concern for the poor become no concern for the working stiffs who keep the poor alive?  Since when did it become a good thing to COVET AND STEAL? 
This is what Pope Francis wants.  He wants 20% of the Ten Commandments to be violated in the name of his warped, illiterate view of economic justice.
I would suggest that instead of pretending to be some sort of armchair economic expert, the Pope spend more of his time on the other issues that have surfaced in the Catholic Church over the past several years.  If he really cares about justice and the rights of human beings, there is plenty going on in his church to keep him busy without giving us his half-baked socialistic theories that have never helped the poor achieve any measure of progress.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Barack Obama could learn from John F. Kennedy

Everyone knows that John F. Kennedy was a Democrat.  Everyone knows he is one of the all-time heroes of the Baby-Boomer generation and of liberals in general.
What few people know is that in December of 1962 he gave this speech.
If you have to, watch it again and really focus on his words.  Notice the sharp contrast between his statements and his philosophical beliefs to that of our current President.  Notice whether he makes a contrast between rich and poor, small businesses and corporations or whether he discusses the distribution of income, "the top 1%" or anything else that comes even remotely close to the beliefs of Barack Obama.
Before there was Reagan and his view of income taxes, there was John F. Kennedy.  A true statesman and economically literate human being.
If you are a Democrat, here is your hero.  It is possible to remain a Democrat, but be an economically intelligent one. 
Kennedy was.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why the NFL may not exist 50 years from now

This evening I watched a two hour special on Frontline (you can watch the show here) that investigated the National Football League and its two-decade battle against various members of the medical community over the issue of head injuries.
The program was especially disturbing inasmuch as both of my sons, ages 14 and 13 are football players, along with several of their friends whose families I essentially talked into playing this sport.
I do not consider myself to be one of these hysterical parents who wants to save his kids from all of life's dangers.  I played football, had concussions and other injuries and still play pretty rough backyards games to this day.
However, it seems we are just at the tip of the iceberg in the question of whether football causes CTE - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathty.  According to one doctor who has investigated the brain tissue of 46 former NFL players, 45 of them had CTE.  The program also pointed out dead former college and even high school players who had this degenerative disease.
Of course, as other doctors pointed out, there are thousands of former NFL players walking around that are not showing signs of depression, rage, memory loss and suicidal thoughts, but nevertheless, the NFL is in trouble.  Big trouble.
Starting with the $765 million settlement with former players who sued the NFL, claiming the league had known all along about the effects of concussions on long-run health, the NFL is now facing an even bigger threat than lawyers.
Already we are seeing more and more parents of talented athletes picking soccer or basketball or other less violent sports.
All it is going to take is enough parents who are legitimately scared for their son's well-being to pull the plug on football, to cause the pipeline of college talent to the NFL to dry up over time.
Over the next several decades I think we can expect to see fewer and fewer players from better educated families showing up on football fields.  Increasingly, the NFL is going to be filled with players from lower income, less-educated, less concerned families (not that all three of these are connected).  But this may still not be enough of a supply to keep the NFL vibrant over time.
Fifty years from now the NFL may be a fringe sport with MMA/Roman gladiator-type participants, with television audiences that are much smaller and much more in love with the gore and brutality that the sport would continue to bring.
Unless the NFL changes.
Those changes are going to have to center around rule changes, and, if possible, technological changes that have helmet sensors that measure impacts so that players who need to come out of a game can do so without being knocked out cold.
In the meantime, I am going to have my sons watch the Frontline show and listen to them explain what they want to do going forward.  If I just tell them, "Until more evidence comes in, you are not playing", I may be robbing them of their dreams in an irrational manner.
If a former player and huge NFL fan like me is having these thoughts, I can only imagine what other moms and dads are thinking.
The NFL better take notice. 
Or else.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Saying Goodbye to the Losers that are the Miami Dolphins

Last night I had the painful duty of explaining to my oldest son, and fellow fan of the Miami Dolphins, that I will no longer support, or cheer for, or watch, or wear the clothing of our team. 
This seemingly trivial moment in my relationship with this 14-year old was actually an important moment to teach him a lesson about character, honor and civility.
In case you missed it, the Miami Dolphins are in big trouble as an organization - and it has nothing to do with the fact that it has not won a Super Bowl in 40 years and once again sports a losing record.
No, it is all because they have losers who are on record engaging in some of the most disgusting abuse of a fellow teammate you will ever read about.
Sparing you the gory details, which you can read about anywhere, the Dolphins coaches and players - led by a member of the teams Leadership Council decided to make second-year player, Jonathan Martin the target of racist rants, monetary extortion and threats to his life and the well-being of his mother.
The coaches, according to the November 6th edition of The Orlando Sentinel, encouraged offensive guard Richie Incognito to "toughen up" Martin last spring.
It seems that Incognito - who has often been named by other NFL players as the dirtiest player in the league - took this charge as an opportunity to render Mr. Martin incapable of continuing to work as a player for the Dolphins. 
Martin is now gone, Incognito has been suspended by the Dolphins (who are now in panic-mode as the NFL investigates) and shockingly, Dolphins players are coming to the defense of Incognito as being some sort of enforcer of the code of manliness required of NFL players.
You can read the quotes by team stars like Cameron Wake and Mike Wallace for yourself. 
You can also read how Dolphins players routinely force younger players to pay for lavish parties and engage in other humiliating endeavors, all for the "rite of passage" the veterans believe should be imposed upon them.
As a former football player and sports agent with the National Football League Players Association, I have heard about, and know about, the culture of football lockerrooms. 
It is normal for older players to jokingly pick on younger ones for a little while.  Making the rookies sing their school song during lunch, or carry the bags of veterans is pretty common.
Threatening to kill a teammate while calling him a "half-n........" is not common.   Endorsing this behavior is also not common - unless you are lacking in character and virtue, which the Dolphins - from ownership down to the players - seemingly are.
In 1975 I picked the Miami Dolphins as my favorite team.  For exactly 38 1/2 seasons I have watched the Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and Dan Marino teams play with class.  After Marino left in 2000 I spent the next 11 years watching teams led by players like Jay Fiedler and Chad Pennington lose many more games than they won, but always with no sign that the team was filled with characterless losers.
Last year I spent part of August watching HBO's "Hard Knocks" - a documentary about the 2012 Dolphins.  Every night I came in angry, telling my wife and kids that it seemed like the Dolphins had a bunch of undisciplined losers in their ranks, with coaches who did not seem to care about the character of the players.  But still I watched my team through another losing season.
In December of last year I had a chance to go to Miami and meet many members of  the 1972 Dolphins.  I also met and talked with the current owner of the team, Stephen Ross.  When I mentioned to him that the Dolphins seemed to not have the same character and leadership of the old Dolphins he said, "Well, winning takes care of a lot of things."   Wrong, Mr. Ross.  Winning games while losing your virtue means nothing.
Eight games into this season my instincts have been proven to be correct.  The 2013 Miami Dolphins are losers.  Real losers. 
It does not matter than their record is 4-4.  The teams record as men is 0-8. 
I told my son that as long as the Dolphins are owned by, coached by and represented by the current group of dishonorable men I will not watch them for one second.
I hope he understands that, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, "The one indispensable requisite of an individual, and a nation, is character."
As long as the Miami Dolphins have none, they will receive no hypocritical support in my home.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What if we lost 17% of the Private Sector?

What follows is my Op-Ed in the November 1, 2013 Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy!
Lost in the recent debate over the impact of our partial government shutdown has been perhaps a more important question concerning the role of government in our lives in comparison to the for-profit private sector.

During the recent debacle pitting Tea-Party Republicans against Democrats and the more moderate wing of the Republican party, we all were given a “sky is falling” narrative on how a prolonged shutdown of nonessential government services, combined with a rapidly approaching default date on our national debt obligations, would cause another recession rivaling the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009.

So, with only seventeen percent of the government out of service, we all managed to wake up each day, go to work, pay our bills, find food and gas where it is normally sold and get our television programs delivered each evening.

What, on the other hand, would happen if instead of 17 percent of the federal government closing up shop for a couple of weeks or so, we instead saw the same percentage of the private sector close its doors?

Consider this.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, last year, out of the nearly $16 trillion Gross Domestic Product, $395 billion (2.46%) was money spent on cars and car parts.  3.48 % ($558 billion) was spent on computers and software while $828 billion (5.18%) was allocated to food and drink from stores.

That is only 11% of the GDP, but one can only imagine what life would be life if for 16 days (the length of this year’s government closure) we all had to go without food and drink from stores, computer services and batteries for our cars – to name a few.

What if we lost – for only 16 days – the $434 billion (2.71 %) of our spending on gasoline?  Like you, I survived the closing of Yellowstone National Park.  I am not sure I would survive pushing my car to work.

Losing the $709 billion (4.43%) restaurant business might not sound like a big deal, but one look at the waistline of our fellow Americans would suggest that a 16-day closure of fast-food establishments might create a riot that our $1.8 trillion health care industry would not be able to handle.

Speaking of health care, which is the largest component of our GDP, how many of us would like to see no drug stores, no surgeries, no emergency rooms or new bandage shipments for more than two weeks?

The point of all this is to shed some serious light on the fact that of the two entities – government and the private sector – the latter is much more vital to our day-to- day survival, convenience and happiness.

There is no way we could live without those who do things for profit.  We need men and women to unlock the doors of their businesses each and every day so we can make it through that day.

We have seen that government – the only institution allowed to acquire money by force – tends to supply us with many things that are not essential to our well-being but are punitive to our wallets.  NBC Nightly News also showed how, in the absence of government, many examples of neighbors helping neighbors by delivering food and other household items to families impacted by the shutdown.

Our national debt only 20 years ago did not top $5 trillion.  It is three-times that figure today.  What we have received for that debt – expensive wars, a bloated and liberty-eroding Department of Homeland Security, skyrocketing welfare rolls and failing services in education, health and our basic infrastructure should be ample proof to every American that losing the federal government from time to time is not only not a big deal, but losing more of it, for longer periods of time, but just be the ticket to a more prosperous and productive America.

The same cannot be said if our entrepreneurs don’t show up for work.  They would be sorely missed, and the rest of us would be in big trouble figuring out how to grow our own food and dig for crude oil in our backyards.