Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Where We Are Heading?

You don't usually expect to find hard-hitting news in one of those Sunday magazine inserts, but Parade had an interesting item on national debt. The US national debt was 53% of the gross domestic product last year. That sounds horrible--owing more than half of what we make annually--but we are still far behind some of our fellow economic powers.

According to the report, Japan's ratio is 192%. That means they would have to commit their entire GDP to debt for two whole years just to get back in the black. France is at 80%, Canada is at 72% and the United Kingdom is at 69%.

I want you to step back from the numbers for a moment and consider what these debt-laden countries have in common. Let's start with nationalized health care. Japan has a single-payer system--with the national government providing universal health insurance--and a federal comittee that sets fees. France too has universal health care--with the government picking up about 75-percent of the total cost of all spending. I think we've heard ad nauseum how perfect the Canadian system is--picking up 70% of total cost. The UK has the National Health Service which covers everyone and pays just about everything.

Another similarity: high speed trains. Japan, France and Britain all have federally-subsidized high speed rail lines. Japan's system loses 20-billion dollars a year. Britain subsidizes a now-private system with about 8-billion bucks annually--while French taxpayers pick up about 10-billion dollars worth of rail line debt every year. These numbers do not include the billions that were spent in development and construction of the original high-speed rail lines. To their credit, Canadians have not wasted money on any high speed rail systems.

And finally, our major debt partners all have much higher tax rates than we do. Japan requires all people to pay income tax--regardless of income--ranging from five to forty percent. That does not include local income taxes, the 25% withholding for their version of Social Security and a 20% tax on interest and capital gains income. Their corporations also pay 30% tax on all profits as well. The French pay up to 50-percent of their income in taxes--before you factor in the 45% payroll tax (which reduces income) and sales tax rates that can rise to 19% for some purchases. Canada's rates are similar to ours--up to 29-percent--but they also have the General Sales Tax of five percent--on top of provincial sales taxes up to ten percent. And the UK taxes up to 40-percent on income and it has a 24% national health care payroll tax--not to mention a 15% sales tax.

So now ask yourself: is that where I want the US to be in a generation? Taxing the hell out of its people--and not coming close to making ends meet? Here's one more number for you: The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the US national debt would equal 100-percent of GDP by the year 2020--and that was before Obamacare was approved.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The New Voice of a Generation

I'm sure that when Sharon Billings signed up to testify before a Legislative committee in Madison yesterday she didn't think that she would become the new voice of a generation. But her comments truly epitomize the attitude so many have today when it comes to what they think the government "owes" them.

Billings testified on the Wisconsin Covenant Program--an idea put forth by Governor Doyle where kids entering high school sign a pledge (co-signed by the Friendly Uncle Jim) that if they do well enough in school the state will guarantee them a spot in a UW system or Tech system college and put together a finacial aid package that "fully covers their tuition".

I can still remember the State of the State address in 2006 where Governor Doyle rolled out the Covenant. As Democrats rose as one in the Assembly chamber to give the Governor a standing ovation in appreciation for his "commitment to education", Republicans (who stayed in their seats) looked at each other and said "How the hell are we going to pay for that?" But Governor Doyle didn't care about that. It was a tough re-election year--Mark Green was making great points about continued overspending in Madison--so the Governor needed to make a big promise that would make a whole lot of people want to vote for him.

And now that the chickens are coming home to roost--with the first of the Covenant kids applying for college. And BIG SURPRISE the state has no money to pay them off--forcing the Governor to promise grants of 250-dollars up to 25-hundred.

Enter Sharon Billings--who ironically enough runs a service that helps parents plan for their kids higher education--to voice the opinions of many parents whose children signed the covenant. Billilngs says the Governor's proposal is "insulting" and is "not enough to buy a few books".

"I think it's a travesty of justice for sudents who have done their part. I don't think it's fair to them. If we promise something, then we should follow through.

Covenant director Shannon Loredo also told the committee yesterday that she had heard from hundreds of parents who were under the impression that the state was promising a "free ride" for all kids. Didn't any of these people ever stop to think how the state would pay for free tuition for all students? I'm sure that as soon as little Johnny or Jenny brought home that Covenant document their attitude became "Alright! I don't have to save for the kids education anymore! The government is going to take care of that for me!! Let's plan a family trip to Florida to celebrate!!"

So 25-hundred of your tax dollars is an "insult"--and parents and students having to pay some of their own tuition is a "travesty of justice". Thank you, Sharon Billings for so perfectly summing up the new attitude of "hope and change" sweeping the nation. You are true (modern) American.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Words To Live By

There was a quotation going around the internet during the whole "health care reform debate" attributed to former Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev:

"We cannot expect Americans to jump from capitalism to Communism, but we can assist their elected leaders in giving Americans small doses of socialism until they suddenly awake to find they have Communism."

Sounds like a scary prediction that seemed to be coming true this weekend--making Krushchev look like some kind of visionary. Only problem is, Krushchev likely never said it. The quote "appeared" during the Cold War era of the late 50's and early 60's--and no one has been able to verify it since.

So let's turn to Thomas Jefferson--one of the founding fathers--for some insight into where we are a country now:

"A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."

And you know, Jefferson is often called the first "Democratic" President. I wonder what he would think about the so-called "Tea Party Movement"?

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere."

Hmmm, that's an interesting way to look at things--for a guy who stuck his own neck out to make sure that we enjoy the very freedoms we take for granted (and are so willing to hand over meekly) today.

The one viewpoint on being an "American" that I'm really holding onto right now comes from "My Creed" by Dean Alfange--ironically enough, the founder of the Liberal Party of New York in the 1920's:

" I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon. I seek to develop whatever talents God gave me—not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any earthly master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say – ‘This, I have done.’ All this is what it means to be an American."

I realize you can't fit that one on a bumper sticker and still have room for an "O" with a flag coming out of it--but consider that what I believe in.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Remember This Feeling

I know how you feel today: hurt, angry, frustrated, disgusted. You feel like you have been ignored, betrayed, stabbed in the chest while the perpetrator looked you in the eye and smiled--telling you it's for your own good. Well, I want you remember this feeling.

One of the great things about playing sports (that actually keep score and determine winners and losers) is that you learn what motivates you. For some, it's fear of failure. For others, it's the hatred of losing. Still others are motivated by the love of winning--and the glory that comes with it. It's why they begin their off-season training regiment the day after that final game. It's why they practice until their lungs are about to explode or their legs completely lose all their strength. It's why they practice their swings or releases until their hands bleed from the blisters.
Today, I want you to find that motivation. Today, I want you to promise yourself that you will not allow this to happen again. That you will listen carefully to what every candidate has to say in every election. That you will research the positions of every candidate in every election. That you won't vote "change for change's sake".

Make this the day that you resolve to bring about change you really want. Run for the local office that affects your life the most--or volunteer to help the candidates in larger races that stand for the same things you believe in. I'd ask you to contribute money to those campaigns--but you are going to need every last penny you can hang on to now.

Don't let the fire inside of you rage and boil over now--nothing can really be accomplished now. Instead, let it burn slowly within you providing a constant heat that will power your actions in September...and November....and next April and then in 2012. Remember the way you feel this day every time you step into the voting booth for the rest of your life. We let this happen--but we won't let it happen again.

As for me, I'll be following Nancy Pelosi's advice--giving up my job to follow my dream of becoming a professional golfer. Sure, I'm a 14-handicap and I have no chance of making any tour--but it's my dream--and now you all get to pay for it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bracket Busting

I love looking at my NCAA Tournament Bracket on this Thursday morning. Like spring itself, the bracket is a symbol of hope at this point--no check marks for games picked wrong--no lines through teams that have been eliminated and can no longer make it to the Final Four for me. It is perfect--for now.

As for the picks themselves, I've got my beloved Badgers winning their first two games. Wofford shouldn't be too tough--but that Temple game on Sunday could be a war of attrition, as two of the best defensive teams in the country clash. First one to 40 might win that one. I've got Wisconsin bowing out in a thrilling overtime loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.

I'm not as optimistic about Marquette. They should get by Washington from the pathetic Pac-10--but New Mexico gets them in the second round. I'm not a big fan of teams that rely almost solely on the 3-point shot to win games.

As I have the last couple of years, I hate the rest of my picks in the tournament. There is no team (outside of Wisconsin) that I really want to do well. And there is no real "Cinderella" team that could come out of nowhere. My sleeper team is the Baylor Bears coming out of the weak South Region to make the Final Four. The Baylor program was nearly given the "death penalty" a few years ago--as one player was found guilty of killing a teammate and the coach was investigated for telling his kids to lie to the cops about what they knew and to badmouth the player that was killed. They have a slumping Villanova as a number 2 in their region--while the vastly overrated Duke is number 1. I have them losing to Louisville in the second round.

One upset you can take to the bank: 12-seed Siena over 5-seed Purdue. The Boilermakers have looked pathetic since losing leading-scorer Robbie Hummel to injury a week ago. I think UTEP beats an overrated five seed Butler as well.

As for the rest of my Final Four, I've got Ohio State beating Kansas in the Midwest, West Virginia beating Kentucky to get out of the East and Pittsburgh to beat Syracuse in the West. Ohio State beats Pitt and West Virginia beats Baylor in the Semis--with THE Ohio State University cutting down the nets on April 5th. Evan Turner proves that he is the best player in College Basketball--getting just enough from his solid supporting crew to capture the National Championship.

Let the Madness begin........

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

NASCAR Is Dead Wrong

I am stunned that NASCAR has decided not to penalize Carl Edwards for his deliberate crashing of Brad Kesolowski during Sunday's race in Atlanta. I understand the two have a long running feud--and that perhaps Edwards "owed" Kesolowski one--but to intentionally drive into an opponent--sending him airborne into a fence in front of the grandstands is far beyond the bounds of acceptable sporting behavior.

But, it appears NASCAR disagrees. They have put Edwards on "probation" for three races--meaning if he does anything more wrong THEN he will be punished. As far as I'm concerned, Edwards should be sitting out the next three races--and then spending the rest of the season on probation.

If you have seen the video, you know that the cars were in the fastest part of the track when Edwards turned to clip Kesolowski's back bumper--sending him into the spin that resulted in his car flying into the air. What if Kesolowski's car had gone through the chain-link fence and into the grandstands? Edwards' "act of revenge" or "sending a message" would have killed or injured a lot of spectators--and would have forever alienated millions of fans. Would you want to attend a race knowing that the guys on the track couldn't care less about the safety of their fellow competitors or you?

I grew up a huge Dale Earnhardt (Sr) fan--and I will be the first to admit that he bumped more than a few competitors on the track. But that was almost always during fights for position--never to intentionally put someone into the wall--and never on any of the high speed tracks. And while they may have hated the aggression, his fellow competitors respected Earnhardt for never really putting them in major danger.

What Carl Edwards did on Sunday was blatant disregard for human life--which would have resulted in criminal charges outside the track--and should be punished harshly...not with the wink and a nod that NASCAR is giving it. If that is going to be part of the sports' effort to raise ticket sales and TV rating--then I want no part of it. And I'm guessing the AFLAC Duck--along with many other sponsors--will want nothing to do with it either.