January 16, 2009
SEN. John McCain might regret choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, but an even worse decision will deprive his fellow Americans of what would have been the best season of "Dancing With the Stars" ever. Our impeccably placed source says, "Just before Thanksgiving, Cindy McCain (above) started talks with producers to appear as a dancer on the show. She wanted to do it very badly." But this week, Sen. McCain "put the kibosh on it." Reps for the show and McCain didn't return calls.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Thursday, January 15, 2009
By BRIAN HAMILTON | Posted Monday, January 05, 2009 4:20 PM PT
There is probably something in every generation that makes us think the problems we face are uniquely difficult.
Much has been written about the economy and, if you accept certain assumptions from what you read, you might think that we are in the midst of a global depression.
Yet it is important to put the current economy in perspective. We might even try reviewing and analyzing some objective data.
In the most recently reported quarter, the third quarter of 2008, GDP fell at a rate of 0.5%, which means that the total value of goods and services produced in the U.S. fell by a half of one percentage point from the previous quarter.
For the first two quarters of last year, GDP grew by 0.9% and 2.8%, indicating that economic growth was relatively flat last year, but that it is not falling off a cliff.
This isn't the first time GDP has fallen, and it won't be the last. The last decrease in GDP was in the fourth quarter of 2007 and before that was in 2001. A decrease in GDP after almost six years of increases is not positive, but almost predictable. No economy grows indefinitely and consistently; there are always temporary lapses.
In fact, if you consider the media coverage of the economy over the past year and the consequent way people have been scared, it's remarkable that anyone is buying anything.
But we can't just look at GDP, some would say. So let's look at other factors.
Interest rates remain at historically low levels. This means that if you want to borrow money, you can borrow money inexpensively as a business or as a person.
Loan volume in the country, according to the FDIC and contrary to what you read about the credit crisis, actually increased last quarter compared to the same quarter a year earlier. Someone is getting loans, and they are not paying excessive interest rates for them.
How about employment? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment sits at 6.7%. At this time last year, unemployment was 4.7%. The decrease in employment is not favorable, but historically an unemployment rate of 6.7% is not close to devastating. The 50-year historical rate of unemployment is 5.97%.
Most economists agree that the natural rate of unemployment, which is the lowest rate due to the fact that people change jobs or are between jobs, is around 4%. So, today we sit at 2.7% above that rate. Once again, the very recent trend is not good but it is certainly not horrifying.
I have noticed many recent media references to the Great Depression (the period between late 1929 and 1938 or so, depending upon the definitions used and personal inclinations). It might be illuminating to note that by 1933, during the height of the Depression, the unemployment rate was 24.9%. During that same period, GDP was falling dramatically, which created a devastating impact on the country.
Americans have good hearts and empathize with those who are unemployed. Yet it would be easy to go too far in assuming how the working population is currently affected in aggregate. If 6% of the people are unemployed, 94% of the people are working.
We should always shoot for full employment, but why would we view our efforts as poor when we don't quite make that mark? A good student might try to get straight "A's," but getting an occasional "B" or "C" won't end the world.
Look at personal income, or that received by individuals from all sources, including employers and the government. It was up last quarter compared with a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Compared with five years ago, personal income has risen by 32.1%. Even considering that inflation was 18.13% over this period, people are generally making more money than they used to.
This is another one of those statistics that can easily get bent to fit a story. You often hear things like "personal income fell last month by 23%," but writers tend to leave larger and more important statistics out. In this case, would you be more interested in trends over a quarter or a year? Using isolated statistics to fit your view is something that has become accepted.
Then there's inflation. The inflation rate measures the strength of the dollar you hold today as compared to a year ago. It is currently 3.66%. Over the past 50 years, the inflation rate has averaged about 4.2%. Inflation remains well within control. Yet, would you be surprised to read a story next month citing an X% jump in inflation over the last month? I wouldn't be.
Skeptics reading this will point to other (and, I believe, far lesser) statistics that validate their gloomy view of the economy and the direction of the country. But if people are employed, are making good wages, can borrow inexpensively, hold a dollar that is worth largely what it was worth a year or five years ago, and live in a country where the value of goods and services is rising, tell me exactly where the crisis is?
No doubt the economy has slowed, but slowness does not equal death. It's true that the financial markets are a mess (and the depreciation of equities is both scary and bad). But analysts typically go too far in ascribing the fall of the financial markets to the fall of a whole economy.
The markets are an important component of the economy, but they are not the totality of the economy. No one can say if conditions will worsen in the future. However, we've learned that the American economy has been tremendously resilient over the past 200 years and will probably remain so, as long as the structural philosophies that it has been built upon are left intact.
Hamilton is CEO of Sageworks Inc., a Raleigh, N.C.-based developer of financial analysis applications and a leading information source on privately held companies.
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 1/15/2009 04:29:00 PM
August 29, 2008
One of my friends just brought an interesting article to my attention. It’s a Wall Street Journal opinion piece written by Ari Fleischer (former White House Press Secretary) entitled “The Taxpaying Minority.” From the title you can guess he states the usual stats: top 40% of the population pays 99% of taxes, top 10% pay 71%, and the bottom 40% pay…NOTHING!
With the Earned Income Tax Credit many of these patriots even receive handouts by the federal government, taken from the rest of the chumps who pay taxes. When a large percentage of the population has no vested interest in the fiscal solvency of the state, they are prone to demand increasingly irresponsible programs until a crisis forces change. The Romans called the crisis ”civil war” after which a dictatorship was established.
“If, as now happens, 60% of the people in our democracy can force 40% to pay the bills, what’s to stop 65% from making 35% pay it all? Since no one wants to pay taxes, what’s to stop 90% of people in a democracy from making 10% pay it all? Or why not let 99% of the country off the hook, as long as the remaining 1% picks up the tab?”
This is the inevitable consequence of inadequately constrained democracy, as illustrated by the British historian, Alexander Tyler, in his lifecycle of civilizations. ”A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”
It’s a tried and true axiom of reality/economics that when something is free it loses value, i.e. if you get free healthcare you are less circumspect in your consumption of those resources. My friend’s father runs a manufacturing plant that had an odd thing happen…when the company decided to give free healthcare to its employees, there was a sharp increase in people taking sick days and heading to the doctor. Crazy, right? Can you guess the solution? Not many people liked him, but when my friend’s father introduced a nominal co-pay there was a drastic reduction in the number of people getting sick. If only all diseases could be so easily cured!
When a large percentage of the country’s citizens get away without contributing anything to funding our government, they have little stake in how it is run. They care only for what they can get out of the system, without any thought to the consequences of how these free goodies are delivered. You can see the apathy everywhere! Voting is a joke. How can you take a system seriously when something as preposterous as our current income tax system is so entrenched that far superior alternatives like the Fair Tax are considered impossible to enact?
I hope America can get its act together and fix one of the only safeguards to ensuring our Democracy doesn’t devolve into apathetic, dependent, serfdom. The rich should pay more taxes since they derive greater benefit from government, but the middle class and poor also derive benefits for which they must pay their proportionate share. Pandering to these majority voting blocks by promising to stick it to the rich even more sounds great from a podium, but has only one inevitable outcome.
About the author: Rob Viglione is a writer, hedge fund manager, real estate broker, and Humanist. He is General Partner and managing director of Viglione & Partners Assurance Group, L.P., a derivatives trading firm, and is President of SoCal Real Estate Advisors, Inc. Rob founded The Freedom Factory and www.learnobamanomics.com, on which you can find his recent book "Obamanomics: A Guide to Investing Over the Next Administration". He wholeheartedly believes that people must take responsibility for their own lives, better their own conditions and the world around them. In this spirit, he co-founded the Viglow Scholarship Foundation in 2004.
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 1/15/2009 10:31:00 AM
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12th, 2009
This is a must-see video.
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 1/13/2009 12:38:00 PM
November 25, 2008
There is a legal discussion going around as to whether or not Senator Clinton is disqualified from being Secretary of State in line with the Article I, Section 6 Emoluments (Salary) Clause:
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time ….
The more difficult question is whether Senator Clinton’s ineligibility for appointment may be cured legislatively through the “Saxbe Fix,” where Congress reduces the Secretary of State’s salary to a level at or below where it was when Senator Clinton’s current term began in 2007. The Saxbe Fix got its name because the Nixon administration sought to eliminate Senator William Saxbe’s ineligibility for appointment as Attorney General by reducing the salary of that office to the level that existed before Senator Saxbe’s appointment. Although there was some opposition on constitutional grounds (most interestingly by Senator Robert Byrd and then-Harvard Professor Stephen G. Breyer), the legislation passed and Saxbe was confirmed. Later, Lloyd Bentsen served as Treasury Secretary after “Saxbe Fix” legislation reduced the salary of that office to its level immediately before Senator Bentsen’s Senate term had begun.
Professor Volokh discusses this on his blog. It appears that the salary for secretary of state was raised in January 2008 which brings the Emoluments clause into play. Professor Volokh asked John O’Connor, who wrote on the subject and this is what O’Connor replied:
It seems to me that there are two questions regarding whether the Emoluments Clause to the U.S. Constitution (Art. I, § 6, cl. 2) renders Senator Hillary Clinton constitutionally ineligible for appointment as Secretary of State: (1) whether Senator Clinton is now ineligible for appointment; and (2) if Senator Clinton is ineligible for appointment, whether that ineligibility may be cured by the so-called “Saxbe Fix,” whereby the Secretary of State’s salary is reduced to the salary in effect before Senator Clinton’s current Senate term began.
I think it is beyond dispute that Senator Clinton is currently ineligible for appointment as secretary of State. I also believe that the better construction of the Emoluments Clause is that the “Saxbe Fix” does not remove this ineligibility.
The Emoluments Clause provides that “[n]o Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time.” As I understand it, 5 U.S.C. § 5303 provides for an automatic annual increase in certain federal salaries, including the salary of the Secretary of State, unless the President certifies that an increase in salaries is inappropriate. The salary of the Secretary of State has increased during Senator Clinton’s current Senate term, which does not end until 2012. Therefore, under a straightforward application of the Emoluments Clause, Senator Clinton is ineligible for appointment as Secretary of State because the emoluments of that office “have been encreased” during Senator Clinton’s current Senate term, and this disability continues until the end of “the time for which [she] was elected, or until January 2013.
I do not believe it affects the analysis that the salary increase occurred as a result of an Executive Order or that the statute creating these quasi-automatic salary increases was enacted prior to Senator Clinton’s current term. By its plain language, the Emoluments Clause applies when the office’s salary “shall have been encreased,” without regard to exactly how it was increased. Indeed, an early proposed draft of the clause included language limiting it to an increase of emoluments “by the legislature of the U[nited] States,” and was later revised to encompass any increase in emoluments. It is worth noting that several Framers thought, without much explication, that the clause was too lax as initially drafted. The clause also does not require that a Senator or Representative have voted for the increase.
Professor Volokh, however, disagrees with the interpretation:
Here’s my very tentative thinking: I think the phrase “the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time” is ambiguous. It could mean “shall have been increased at least once,” or it could mean “shall have been increased on net.” If you’re thinking about buying a computer, for instance, and you ask “Has the price of this computer been increased during the last year?,” it seems to me quite possible that you would mean “Has it been increased so that it now costs more than it cost a year ago?,” rather than “Has it been increased at all, even if the price hike was entirely rolled back a month later?” In fact, the “on net” reading strikes me as more plausible than the rival reading. If that’s so, then the question is how you resolve the ambiguity, in light of
- the purpose of the Clause,
- the adjustment’s being a cost-of-living adjustment that in practice prevents a real-world decrease in pay rather than being a real-world increase (irrelevant to the purely textual analysis that would apply if the text were clear but possibly relevant if the text is ambiguous and we have to resort to determining the purpose of the Clause), and
the Saxbe fix precedent, which dates back to then-President William Howard Taft and Secretary of State Philander C. Knox and has been reinforced by President Nixon and Saxbe, President Carter and Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, and President Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen, though it has been dissented from during the Reagan Administration, when the Administration’s conclusion that the Saxbe fix was unconstitutional apparently helped lead to the selection of Robert Bork (and then Douglas Ginsburg and finally Anthony Kennedy) in place of Senator Orrin Hatch.
I have no recollection from law school regarding any discussion of the Emoluments Clause. It has been several years, but most of my law school discussions about Con Law centered around VAWA and federalism in modern jurisprudence. I will definitely be doing more reading on the subject. More than a question on whether or not Senator Clinton should be Secretary of State it is an interesting topic of Constitutional law.
If anyone has a take on the subject, I’d love to hear it.
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 1/13/2009 09:00:00 AM
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached Friday by Illinois lawmakers who are both furious that he turned state government into "a freak show" and eager to separate themselves from his political troubles, setting the stage for a state Senate trial that could end with his ouster.
The action culminated a process that one northwest Illinois lawmaker said "seemed like an eternity."
The 114-1 vote was a stinging rebuke against the governor, arrested Dec. 9 on charges that include trying to auction off President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.
The Democrat becomes the first governor impeached in the long, ugly history of Illinois politics, a reflection of his poor relationship with lawmakers, their desire to keep a political distance and genuine disgust with his behavior.
Blagojevich dismissed the impeachment as a foregone conclusion from a House that has resisted his efforts to help real people instead of "special interests and lobbyists."
Illinois state Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, who sat on the 21-member committee that unanimously recommended impeachment, said he is satisfied with the House vote.
While the process might have seemed to onlookers to move quickly, Sacia said the three weeks the committee spent delving into records and interviewing subjects "seemed like an eternity."
Watching Blagojevich on television Friday vowing to "fight to the end," Sacia said the governor's reaction shows how "people sometimes lose touch" with reality.
"If he honestly believes the Senate will exonerate him, he's smoking something much better than I am," Sacia quipped.
If Elvis Presley were alive, he'd be turning 74 today, probably taking calls from his grandkids and eating a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich against doctor's orders.
Maybe he'd be squeezing into a rhinestone jumpsuit or sitting down to a Barbara Walters interview.
But this we know. His loyal fans never have forgotten the polite teenager who lived in public housing in Memphis, Tenn., worked as a movie usher and sang rockabilly tunes that blended black and white singing styles before hitting it big as the king of rock 'n' roll.
While many fans of the King gather in Memphis, watching his ex-wife Priscilla cut a cake on Elvis Presley Day, several Tri-Staters will be remembering him in their own way:
n Today in Indianapolis, Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, plans to deliver another Elvis birthday cake to Gov. Mitch Daniels, just as he did last year.
Borders, an Elvis impersonator since high school in 1975, still wears the porkchop sideburns while belting out "Jailhouse Rock" or performing the patriotic "American Trilogy."
"I have an Elvis tribute show Saturday and another the following weekend in Terre Haute," he said Wednesday from Indianapolis where the Indiana Legislature was convening. "I do 70 to 80 shows a year."
On his late-night show, David Letterman once introduced the former mayor of Jasonville this way: "Ladies and gentlemen, whenever I go to the polls to vote for a mayor, I always ask myself what is his economic policy, how does he stand on the environment, and can he sing 'Love Me Tender.'"
n On Oct. 24, 1976, Frank Gulledge was an Evansville Police Department sergeant assigned to escort Presley from Tri-State Aero, where Presley's jet had landed, to Roberts Stadium for a concert before 13,000 screaming fans who paid $7.50 to $12.50 for tickets.
They drove in an unmarked police car, with Elvis' girlfriend and his manager also in the back seat.
Gulledge recalls some box lunches (one with a silver tray) being delivered to the jet before Presley disembarked and that Elvis waved to about 200 fans lining the fence.
The singer looked puffy and tired before he walked down the stadium tunnel and stood at the curtain, waiting for his band to prompt Elvis' stage entrance with music from "2001: A Space Odyssey."
"He started bouncing on his heels and toes, like he was getting his motor going," recalls Gulledge. "The place went wild! He put on a heckuva show (65 minutes for $140,000) and then we took him back to the airport where we shook hands and he said, 'Thank you very much.'"
n Sue Everly of Tell City, Ind., sat outside Roberts Stadium for more than 18 hours to get tickets to see the Evansville concert.
Her 14-year-old son, Joe, had staked their spot at the front of the line, then when Everly got off work at Tell City Chair Co., she and others joined him and camped out overnight.
"When the ticket windows opened the next day, people went crazy," says Everly. "We got our front-row tickets, but the crowd wouldn't let us out. We had to push our way through using the lawn chairs."
The next summer she and her husband attended Elvis' final two concerts, in Cincinnati and Indianapolis, but the Evansville show remains special: "We were so close to him (in Evansville). He would put a scarf around his neck during a song, come toward the edge of the stage and let it slide off."
Everly caught a light blue scarf, cutting it in half and sharing it with a friend who also idolized Elvis.
"You can't explain to people the feelings you have for him," she said. "His songs just get to you. I've got grandchildren who even like him."
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