Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Years Means New Changes for Us and You

Just like many Americans, we all have areas we need to improve on, and many will be making New Year's Resolutions to improve things.

For Plinking Reality, we will be changing the format from Quick Hits to single stories on topics, and expanding topic areas to more aspects of life. We will be covering things from News and Politics, as we have, to more on Personal Finance, Relationships, Health, Business, and more.

We will also be working on blogging almost every single day, though some days may get missed, we intend to shoot for articles every single day. That way you will have reason to check in on us daily.

While we will still be taking the pot shots at the world, we also plan to make it more constructive by creating more helpful comments for everything from advocacy to things to help you in your own life.

That trend starts now, as we give you a link to an article I found helpful for people who will be working on making their own New Year's Resolutions.

So make your New Year's resolutions, make them clear, make them specific, make them doable, and then take action to get them done. We will see you on January 1st, 2010 as we enter a new decade.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

GOP Hypocrisy on Health Care Exposed, Progressive Reality Check, Economy hurting poor health care, and Kids are going Hungry, help them

Quick Hits for December 13, 2009

* I have heard grumblings from progressives on the left with President Obama's administration not being left enough. Such people need to come from the utopian left to the pragmatics of politics. Unless you have 60 far left Democrats in the Senate, you have no chance of getting to a utopian left policy without gradual steps. Currently, President Obama is having to be very centrist in order to get things through the Senate and deal with so many Blue Dog Democrats in office. Additionally, it took President Bush eight years to do the damage he did, it can't be undone in 11 months and anyone who expects it to be is foolish and has little to no grasp of politics. President Obama has done pretty well for his first year, given the circumstances, especially if he gets health care done before January 20th. I may not agree with it all, but it is a pretty good first year for any President to get this much done in this set of circumstances.

* In this economy, we are seeing the cracks in the health care system as poor women have overwhelmed the free clinics for cancer screenings. In the best of economic times, about 1 in 6 doesn't have health insurance, but in the worst, the numbers are going to be worst as people lose their jobs and the benefits that go with it. More needs to be done.

* The Washington Post reports that we now have about 17 million children who are underfed or going hungry nightly. The Obama Administration is brainstorming to find solutions, and the problem is sad. But part of the answer is us. You heard me, you and me. If you know some of these people who have these kids, quietly drop them off some food, or a gift card for say Wal-mart or Target without even letting them know who it came from. Part of the problem is the stigma and the ego where we don't want to let anyone know that we are in trouble at home. Part of the solution is to let them off the hook. The government can't necessarily, but if you are friends of someone that you know needs help, you can give it without any credit and any payback except for that which Karma brings you and the good feelings you get from helping others. We are a community of people, we need each other, and we don't have to wait for a government answer to help.

* Republicans Hypocrisy on health care is exposed when we look at the 2003 Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage bill which cost almost 50% more than the Senate health care bill and was passed by Republicans, grew the debt, and was far less efficient a bill. The Senate bill costs $848 billion over 10 years vs. the 2003 Republican Congress bill which ran $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Maybe it is time for the GOP to stand up and pass health care for people, not just kick backs for pharmacutical companies.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Time to Understand Taxes, the Generation Gap, Waiting for Health Care Reform, and Sexism is Alive in America

Quick Hits on December 9, 2009

* Adam Geller of the Huffington Post wrote a good article about how the decade has been bad for Americans generally, leaving most Americans worse off than they were in 2000. Unemployment rose dramatically from beginning to end of the decade, but also the Median Family income dropped by about $1,500. Republicans have long believed that the answers have always been tax cuts, but don't actually appear to think through the implications of taxation in its various forms.

1. Traditionally, they have focused on income taxes proclaiming the famous trickle down theory, the idea that if the rich have money, they will start businesses and employ us all. The problem with that is that the rich have no reason to take such risks. Those that start small businesses are often people at middle to lower levels of income who take risks because they need to. If there is no need to take a risk, they don't. Thus, the key would actually be people in the lower brackets, not the higher brackets because the higher brackets are trying to protect their money, not trying to risk it.

Additionally, people at lower income levels are more likely to spend their money out of necessity than those at higher income levels, which means they are more likely to keep the economy turning instead of stashing it away in a bank, which means more jobs, etc.

There also seems to be a mistaken assumption that higher taxes on the top brackets means the same higher percentage of tax on all income. We live in an era of what is called "marginal rates." That means that everyone pays the same taxes on the same brackets. So if the rate up to $15,000 is 0%, then even the richest pay 0% on that 15,000, whether they make it in one day or one year.

2. The thought from the right and the middle has been that capital gains taxes should be reduced. They explain that unless people are allowed to keep these gains, they will not take the risks to invest. Except that fundamentally ignores the culture of American society whereby people invest for the future in their 401k, in their buying and selling of homes to move up in status and wealth, and so on all the time. It is part of our culture, not simply an economic numbers game. Sure, if there was no money to be made, they would not do so, but there is a difference between a reasonable tax and no tax or a 100% tax in their effects. By having a capital gains tax of say the rate of the Clinton years, there is incentive to avoid paying that tax, but also incentive to make that money. That means people will seek profits, but they will also seek to re-invest that profit to avoid the tax. It is that very re-investment that keeps the economy going, instead of the siphoning off of profits in the last decade. It is why the rich-poor gap grew under President Bush, where Median Family Incomes fell but millionaires increased. And it is one reason why the economy stalled: people didn't re-invest.

3. Dividends taxes hold a similar argument as capital gains, that people won't invest in the stock market when dividends are taxed too high. The problem with that is it just isn't true, people traded in the 90s looking to make money off of price gains instead of dividends and the market grew. However, more importantly, like capital gains, it means corporations paid out higher dividends instead of re-investing in the future. Sure, some companies still re-invested, but there was record profit taking which would have normally been re-invested which means pay raises that didn't come, investment in future technologies that would have kept some of the jobs in America, and development of future lines of technology which has seen us start to slip behind the world in many areas other than defense.

None of this should be read as a return to the 90% tax brackets, or some obnoxiously high rates, but it should be cause to re-think the "tax cuts are always good" theory because even Reagan's economist who pushed tax cuts admitted that not all tax cuts were good but rather that there was a point where tax rates were most effective and it was lower than the rates they inherited. Think through your tax arguments, don't simply spout a line.

* Some have suggested that Japan's stagnant decade may be headed to America's economy. That may very well be true, but for totally different reasons. America is facing a population problem: We have the Baby Boomers being a huge generation but aging, and the Echo Boomers who are a larger generation but still in high school and college, but in between is Generation X whose numbers just aren't big enough to replace the spending of the Baby Boomers as they leave peak consumer spending years and go off into retirement. That means we may well have a relatively stagnant decade UNLESS America can increase its exports or import a whole lot of consumers, which isn't likely because of the income disparity of immigrants compared to the consumers they would be replacing.

We know certain things about demographics. We know that at age 44, Americans have peaked in their home buying and may buy down but generally are trying to pay off their home to retire in their 60s. We know that Baby Boomers peaked in 1961, which means in 2005, we knew the housing market would decline significantly because home buyers would decline significantly. And it did. We know that at age 49, people leave their peak consumer years because they start worrying about retirement and put more into their 401k, into paying off their homes, and so on. Thus, in 2010, normally, we could have expected a recession. However, the housing market collapse rippled through the economy, and hit the stock market and their retirement funds, causing an early reaction where they stopped consumer spending early.

Normally, those trends would be replaced with other consumers but the gap in ages means that the Echo Boomers are not in place to contribute to the economy in prime consumer years of 30 to 49. Instead, they are preparing to contribute in high school and college. The result means that we may well have to wait a decade before they are ready to take over in the economy to replace the Baby Boomers.

The departure of the Baby Boomers may well cause hyperinflation due to lacking enough workers in the economy in the next decade, but the growth of GDP won't be as significant as one would expect for that kind of inflation. This gap in population will create significant economic problems, and will be responsible for problems with Medicare and Social Security, but it also helps to explain the current situation and to understand the future problems we face.

* I have to admit to be perplexed by the recent compromise by Senate Democrats, partially because I don't think any of us fully knows what it is. One problem with these kind of dealings, which is natural, is that we don't know the details for a few days because they are busy being written up so the details can be viewed as a whole with the general framework. However, if the compromise does not bring significant option changes for Americans from 20 to 50 that worked incredibly hard to elect President Obama, the Democrats risk losing a lot of votes and a generation of voters that they appeared to have gained in the last election. The consequences go beyond this single election for them. They need to show significant change for people under 40 in health care options.

We will have to wait for the details before evaluating them, but what is funny is how critical Republicans are of something that they don't even know what it does. All they know is Democrats proposed it. It clearly illustrates it is the Party of No instead of the party of working to find solutions, and clearly indicates the blame for lack of bipartisanship doesn't belong with President Obama but instead it rests with Republicans who refuse to even look at ideas before opposing them.

* Sexism is alive and well in our society where Viagra is still covered under government health care, but the GOP and some Democrats insist on elimination of womens' health coverage for things like Birth Control pills, and pelvic exams, not counting the refusal to cover the constitutional right to abortion for women. Apparently, it is more important for a man to get an erection than it is for women to have the ability to be properly taken care of and to have their rights.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Social Media and Representatives, AARP vs John Cornyn, Eric Burns on Pundits, Reid's Compromise, WSJ Plagiarism, Alcohol Pills, & Public Option Polls

Quick Hits for December 4, 2009

* I have found new enjoyment that I invite you to join in. Whether you support or oppose your representatives, you MUST find their Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as other social media you are linked to. Then follow or friend them and start to engage them in conversation. I realize it may well be their representative or PR person instead of them, but it may not. It may also impact their image, sway some voters, and just help you get heard. Engaging in good discussion and debate with their supporters on their Facebook or on Twitter where everyone following them can see it is a good way to have input and influence with them. Try it. If nothing else, it is a cheap stress reliever.

* I found it interesting that on Twitter, @JohnCornyn (my Senator) actually told me that the AARP was NOT a good source on the effect of Health Care Reform on Medicare because they had a conflict of interest. Maybe it is me, but if anyone was going to focus on preventing harm from coming to Medicare, one of the most significant issues for people over sixty, it would be the AARP. It may have been one of the worst responses ever because their conflict would have been on his side if health care reform was going to be worse for the elderly considering they have spent decades building a reputation as the MOST TRUSTED group for the elderly. Someone needs to get a better PR person or think through their answers better.

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to be careful about what compromises he makes to get Senators Lincoln, Snow, and Landreau on board. One concession they want is to allow national insurance plans to be sold from other states, which makes sense. But to do so, they want language where the insurance company does not have to adjust to state regulations but rather to maintain the regulations of the state where they are based. So if an insurance company based in Utah, which has very lax regulations, sells insurance in California, New York, or other state with tougher regulations, then the company sells based on Utah regulations. It works to undermine states' rights that the GOP so strongly protests about to do the business for insurance companies.

Allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines is a common sense idea that the GOP should have championed over the 6 years they controlled everything but didn't. But doing it in a way that undermines regulations that states have established for their own insurance companies both undermines the states' economy by begging companies to all move to Utah, and creates competitive disadvantages for locally grown small business in favor of large corporations, as well as lowering the standards of care for a states' citizens.

* The Wall Street Journal has started its move from respectable publication to Fox News or the Washington Times under Rupert Murdoch's tenure as its owner. In a piece that blamed President Obama and policies for undermining higher quality jobs, the paper did not check the validity of the sources, nor did it realize the article was plagiarized by the author from a few other sources, while changing the name of the interviewees to fictional names. It does raise the question of whether or not a high quality publication like the WSJ has removed its fact checkers like the Washington Times did. Will conservatives get up in arms like they did over the New York Times? Doubt it.

* A new poll shows sustained support for a public option with 60% supporting the public option. That isn't surprising, but the 40% yells pretty loud.

* A Russian professor invented an alcohol pill so that people can get intoxicated without drinking. Given the need for so many things in the world, it seems like an utter waste of time, energy, and funding. Part of the point of getting drunk is the socialization of drinking, making it essentially useless. But more to the point: the time, energy, and funding to make this took away from some other worthy cause that could have saved a life or two instead of focusing on another way to hide date rape.

* Fox's former host of Fox News Watch, Eric Burns, shared one of the most telling statements about the state of today's media pundits, including the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly, to go along with Campbell Brown and Keith Olbermann. Normally, I would give you the link and my take on it, but I thought it was particularly well written. Please take a look at the original source and article. It is worth the read and gained my respect.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tiger, Bernanke vs Sanders, Obama and Afghanistan, AARP Backs HCR, GOP Strategy to stall HCR, TARP funds repaid, and the NJ Nets

Quick Hits for December 3, 2009

* At 0-18, I feel for New Jersey Nets fans as their team is now labeled as one of the worst ever. Fortunately, I have never had to feel that kind of pain.

* It is good to know that Bank of America is now healthy enough to repay all of the $45 billion in TARP funds they borrowed. Apparently, the bailout system of loans seems to be working. It is one thing that President Bush appears to have gotten right, one of the very, very few things. Right or wrong, our banking system has long been central to our economic health.

* Democrats need to stand up to Republicans and start treating them as the "opposition" instead of the "minority." The GOP chose the label "opposition" and now they are talking about using every procedural trick possible to delay health care for Americans. Their leadership even issued a letter instructing them to force closure votes on just about everything.

Democrats need to understand that Republicans have viewed this as a "war" since the Bork hearings, not simply politics. They view any and all tactics as "acceptable" and assume Democrats will always back down from a fight. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to keep the Senate in session through Christmas to pass health care. Let's see if he has the intestinal fortitude to do it. I hope so. Contact your Senators daily at the least to make sure they hear your voice at 202-224-3121. Americans deserve better than 46 million without health care, demand a public option!

* In a potentially important moment in the health care debate, the AARP has endorsed the Senate Democratic Health Care Reform proposal. The AARP endorsement was a major turning point for President Bush in passing his prescription drug coverage bill because its members tend to vote disproportionally high and the organization is so heavily trusted by seniors. So when the AARP tells seniors that Health Care Reform does NOT hurt their guaranteed Medicare benefits, it influences seniors more than those GOP scare tactics. The Democrats must use it to push forward and pass this now.

* President Obama's critics on the right can find something to criticize the President on no matter what he says. In his speech on Afghanistan, they found reasons to criticize from naming a tentative withdrawal date in an exit strategy, to failing to say the word "win" in the speech, as if it somehow means he intends to lose. Their responses are silly to say the least.

First, if you don't have an exit strategy, you end up with Vietnam, where you have no goals, no aims, just an ambiguous "we must win" which leads to a quagmire that you have no hope of winning because you don't know what winning means. Or worse, you have an absurd goal like President Bush in Iraq, where all terrorists would be sucked in and killed there, as if every single terrorist in the world was an immortal, drawn to a central spot, where in the end, there must be only one, and they all fight it out with swords to cut off each others' heads, indicating the President may have watched Highlander a few too many times, and missed a few too many briefings.

Second, the notion that a withdrawal date is somehow a magical victory for the enemy is laughable at best. To say "we leave when the conditions on the ground merit" is just as flawed. Has anyone ever noticed that a 10 year old can figure out "you can when you are good" only to watch them terrorize others the second you let them off of timeout? Whether time or a conditional statement, the impact is the same. You either got them or you didn't, and you won't know until you leave. Setting a date doesn't change anything. And after 8 years in Afghanistan, if we don't know who the terrorists are by name and picture yet, do you really think another five years instead of two will identify them? Probably not, but it may inspire some more people to join them.

Finally, leaving the nation is a smart move for a few reasons. First, it takes away the number one terrorist argument to join, you have ended the occupation and they can't shout "America is the oppressor and occupier, not a liberator." Second, it sends the clear message to Afghanistan, "this nation is yours not ours, take control of it and make it what you want." That means we won't hold up a corrupt President, the people can take them down. Third, it allows for terrorists to operate more openly. I know, that sounds strange, but keep in mind, those we can't find are because they are well hidden. Bringing them out in the open means they are easier to hit. Taking our forces home does not mean they stay home, we do have special forces and President Obama has shown he isn't afraid to use them. Don't be surprised if more terrorists quietly disappear or die after we leave. Obama isn't a pacifist, he just isn't an arrogant idiot either who shouts "bring it on."

* 111 Republicans opposed a bill to ban importing nuclear waste materials for disposal in America. It might be one thing if it was former Soviet Union bomb making material or something, but it was dealing with energy waste from Italy, Brazil, and Mexico. Why in the world would you want to import nuclear waste to be buried in America? This one makes no sense whatsoever and appears to want to turn America into a third world country where everyone can bury their waste to poison our ground and water.

* Tiger, what were you thinking? I have to say there are far more important things going on today that will impact our lives for the next generation than Tiger Woods' sex life, so I can't wait for this to go away, but I just don't understand what he was thinking. Then again, it is his private life, it isn't for my pleasure. Maybe if we focused on fixing our own lives and our world around us, we wouldn't be so obsessed with the train wrecks of lives that some other people have and that clutters the check stands of grocery stores and gas stations.

* Finally, the nomination of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke may be in for a big fight as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders put in a formal "hold" on the nomination. While I disagree with Senator Sanders' notion that Bernanke could have averted the recession since he became chairman in 2006 (it was demographically created, and made worse through political regulation, and banking greed put in place before he took over), Bernanke has done a horrible job of communicating in a way that builds the confidence of Americans that he actually knows what is going on in the economy. Whether you believe in Alan Greenspan's tenure as Fed Chair or not, you can't say Greenspan was bad at communicating as most Americans trusted his every word about what was going to happen in the economy. The Fed needs a change of its Chair, but not because Bernanke was horrible as the Chair, but rather because he simply does not promote confidence in the system due to his communication problems.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

GOP and Govt Powers, Misquote it Baby, Stimulus Thoughts, Transparency or Obstructionism, and Pacifism Problems

Quick Hits for December 1, 2009

Ok, November was a slow month for various reasons, but the pace has been furious on our Twitter. Time to have a busy December:

* I am hearing pacifists on the left calling for extreme views of pulling out of Afghanistan, all foreign military bases, nationalizing the defense industries, and closing most domestic bases. All I can tell them is that they hurt the cause of the left just as much as the "birthers" hurt the cause of the right with these utopian pacifist views that have zero grounding in any pragmatic view of reality. I would love nothing more than to wish for "world peace" and have it happen, but that just isn't reality.

America needs a strong military, but that should not justify excursions like Iraq that were wrong from the start, or having a military presence in almost 200 countries, or covertly overthrowing governments around the globe, or numerous other acts. However, we do need our military, we must not forget that, though its budget is currently little more than a Neocon Welfare Program and Kickback Fund. Over $640 billion a year is way past any sensible defense budget.

* I have to admit I find it curious to see Senators like John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) talk about being worried about health care powers of government, but they also pushed some of the Patriot Act powers into DHS which essentially put in place the "camps" that the right is so worried about (yeah, it is a GOP power put in place, Democrats have no intentions of using them that I have ever read, but it makes you wonder why the GOP put it in place in the first place, doesn't it?). Maybe Senator Cornyn should worry about Presidential powers under Republican Presidents more instead of advocating a strong presidency under GW, and a weak presidency under a Democrat. Make up your mind Senator.

* Will the right ever fully get that they are shooting themselves in the foot with their credibility issues far more than their "philosophy" (I use the term loosely here because Reagan, George Will, etc. conservatives absolutely had one, but today's conservatives seem focused on power at all costs not some philosophy on how to run a nation). While Ann Coulter's books are often mocked for misquoting sources whenever you backtrack her footnotes (yes, I have done it on Lexis, would be amusing if it wasn't so pathetic), apparently Sarah Palin is setting a new standard of misquoting as the Huffington Post pointed out. Apparently, Palin attempted to quote UCLA basketball coach John Wooden to justify drilling for oil but instead altered the context and the quote of Native American activist John Wooden Legs, but neither ever advocated "Drill Baby Drill" as a philosophy and both probably rejected such a view. Apparently, her fact checkers never caught her gross misquote and distortion of context. Yeah, yeah, that is exactly what I want in a President . John McCain's saddest part of his legacy: Introduced the U.S. to Sarah Palin.

* It is interesting to listen to Republicans bash the stimulus package as a failure, but there are a few things that should be considered:

1. Some Republican Governors refused stimulus funds causing them to not be spent, limiting their impact. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy, refuse the funds and then shout about the failure of the funds that they refused. It sounds like the friend you offer money to, they insist they couldn't take it, then blame you for not giving them money to all of your friends as a sign of how bad you are. Sound familiar?

2. Most of the stimulus funds have not been spent so far. The Congressional Budget Office indicates only about $100 billion of the $787 billion have actually been spent so far (further indicating that this years deficit was almost exclusively GW's!), creating between 600,000 and 1.6 million jobs (which doesn't account for jobs that would have been lost). That means almost $700 billion has yet to be spent and have an impact.

3. Some Republican states would be in dire straits for their budgets if it was not for the federal stimulus dollars, like Texas who would have exhausted their reserves and have no budget answers for shortfalls other than raising taxes or cutting their already limited services. Remember, the GOP voted against it, and Rick Perry still insists they rejected the money that they took to stave off raising taxes.

* Apparently, all the GOP calls for "transparency" that are unprecedented, turning this Democratic Congressional and White House leadership into the most transparent in U.S. history, the GOP has decided that transparency isn't a big deal after all when the standard was flipped to have them post all of their amendments to bills online. Apparently, it was all about obstructionism and preventing Americans from getting health care, not really any concern about transparency. Who would have guessed?