Monday, January 21, 2019The International Monetary Fund pared back its world economic growth forecasts for 2019 and 2020 due to sustained economic weakness in Europe and some emerging markets. They also said looming trade tensions and the longer-term ramifications of the U.S. government shutdown could further destabilize a slowing global economy.

“After two years of solid expansion, the world economy is growing more slowly than expected and risks are rising,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said.

In addition to other forces, IMF economists pointed to: (a) challenges to German auto manufacturers due to new fuel emission standards; (b) uncertainty in Italy where a newly elected coalition government has clashed with EU leadership over a budget proposal which would dangerously increase the Italian sovereign deficit, combined with limp domestic demand; and (c) the uncertainty of fallout from a less-than-smooth exit from the European Union by the U.K. a.k.a. ‘a no-deal Brexit’.

Fears of a global slowdown began to jinx financial markets in early November 2018 as investors began to worry about increasingly weak signs in China.

The ripple effect of Sino-U.S. trade frictions over the past year apparently has exacerbated the slowing of China’s official growth rate to its weakest level since 1990, attributed to a combination of diminishing domestic demand and damaging U.S. tariffs.

Each of these issues is important, and they generally share a common theme:  bad policy decisions made by incompetent and/or uninformed people, some of whom are voters; some private-sector executives; and some unconstrained elected officials.

On Day 30 of the 2018-19 U.S Shutdown:  It is becoming increasingly evident that this partial federal government shutdown is taking an increasingly negative short-term toll on consumer and business confidence, and by extension, the overall US economy.  The White House’s Council of Economic Advisors recently updated their estimate that the shutdown will reduce current economic growth by 0.13% for every week that it lasts.  Doesn’t sound like much, you say?

We can look back to the “Ted Cruz Green Eggs & Ham” shutdown of 2013 – a mere 16 days – to see estimates of negative economic impact:

  • $24 billion in lost domestic economic output;
  • $2.1 billion in non-productive government costs (primarily the cost of paying furloughed workers for hours they didn’t actually work);
  • $2.4 billion in lost travel spending (based on a combination of estimated reductions in business travel for federal contractors and federal employees, plus cancellations of discretionary travel by tourists);
  • $7.2 Million in lost revenue at National Parks (based on an average collection of $450,000 per day);
  • Most alarming? While we can estimate current economic effects, there really is no valid means to estimate long-term economic – and societal – effects of an extended shutdown.

The message?  Political decisions made by unqualified and/or inexperienced individuals can and do have long term negative consequences. A comprehensive system of checks and balances is a critical ingredient in the long-term viability of any institution. In the public sector, a key ingredient seems to be the involved and active participation by a well-educated and well-informed body of citizens who are able and willing to vote.

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What is there about the simple concept of separating day-to-day operations from long-term planning that our elected federal officials seem unwilling or unable to comprehend?

Our current federal budgetary process was set into law by the 1974 Budget Control Act, based on a federal fiscal year which runs from October 1st to September 30th.  Thus our current Federal Fiscal Year — known as FY 2019 — runs from October 1, 2018 until September 30, 2019.

In February 2018, President Trump – through the Office of Management and Budget – submitted a proposed budget to Congress for FY 2019. The operating budget for FY 2019 was discussed, deliberated and adopted, and it needs to be funded.

There just isn’t any room in the process for the President – or any other elected official — to demand modifications to the current FY budget prior to approving ongoing funding for current government operations.

While it is unfortunately true that Congress doesn’t always follow the schedule as proscribed in the 1974 Budget Control Act, the proper time for the President to present new spending initiatives to Congress is during the annual federal budget deliberations process which typically begins in January when the OMB presents a proposed FY budget to the President.

President Trump’s current demands are only legitimately appropriate as a component of a proposed FY 2020 federal budget proposal.

PLEASE:  Let’s get the federal government back into its day-to-day operation by providing necessary current funding, and bring the debate over additional border funding where it belongs – in the discussions and deliberation toward a FY 2020 federal budget.

Where’s Mitch McConnell?

January 17, 2019

Where’s Mitch is a question many people are asking.

There are 800,000 federal workers and their families who are going without pay right now – including thousands of Kentuckians.

Here in Florida, we have about 5,000 Coast Guard members doing their jobs to protect our 1,350 miles of Gulf and Atlantic coastline, and they are not currently being paid.

The new Democratic House, on its first day in office, passed two bills funding and reopening the government.

McConnell has refused to allow a vote on any of those bills in the Senate. He’s even twice blocked a bill reopening the government from coming to the floor that he himself voted for back in December.

Despite the fact that Majority Leader McConnell has the ability to end this shutdown right now, Mitch is seemingly nowhere to be found.

I’m angry that this one man who has the power to stop this absurd drama has refused to do his job.

If you are nearly as angry as I am, perhaps you will consider donating $15 – or what you can afford – to the Ditch Mitch movement.  Let’s shine a bright light on McConnell’s irresponsible behavior.

http://ditchmit.ch/

 

I have reviewed some of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial decisions; I’ve read some of his legal opinions; and I listened to some of the testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in early September.

My limited research led me to conclude that Judge Kavanaugh supports highly subjective views on the 2nd Amendment; on women’s reproductive rights; and on the executive power of the presidency.

Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee shed new light on his published positions, as well on his devotion to President Trump and Trump’s political agenda.

Judge Kavanaugh is quite personable and well-spoken, yet I believe his positions are not in keeping with the mores of American society.  His responses to many of the difficult but seemingly fair questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were evasive and ambiguous.

Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump in July 2018, drawn from a carefully vetted list of conservative jurists compiled by the Federalist Society, following Trump’s campaign promise that his judicial nominees would all be picked by the Federalist Society, an ultra-conservative legal organization.

Our nation is currently at a crossroads, possibly at or near a similar state which preceded the Civil War.

It is not slavery that divides us today.  What divides us today is petty political divisiveness, exacerbated by special interest groups which operate behind the curtain, seeking to gain economic and political power over their opponents.

Our next Supreme Court Justice ought not to be an ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative individual.  People who lean heavily left or right might attempt to institute abrupt changes to our legal order.

Abrupt change is both dangerous and disruptive, and has the potential to create political paralysis, or worse.

We recently began to hear talk of the ‘Deep State’ – an invisible but powerful alliance of career bureaucrats; officials who sit in powerful positions; and who serve through multiple presidential administrations.

Candidates for elected positions in the U.S. seem to often campaign on the abrupt and transformational changes they will institute on “Day One.”

Conspiracy theorists whisper innuendo accusing career public servants of creating obstacles to enact abrupt change, turning career public servants into natural enemies of those officials who are elected on their “Day One” promises.

Conspiracy theorists whisper innuendo accusing these career public servants of creating obstacles to enact abrupt change.

Career public servants often advocate for research and planning; for using historic data and experience to predict future outcomes; for upgrades to systems and infrastructure to improve data security and data integrity.

In the end, Presidents come and go, every 4 years, or so.  Supreme Court justices serve a lifetime appointment.

Supreme Court justices should be politically neutral, above the fray of partisan politics.  The future of our nation is at stake.

Change is both necessary and inevitable.  Abrupt and unplanned change could result in a good outcome; history tells us that it is much more likely to result in catastrophic result.

“We Fed an Island”

September 15, 2018

While U.S. President Trump continues to blame the people of Puerto Rico and their elected local leadership for delays, inefficiencies and various failures in the response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (2017), Trump is lavish with praise for the wonderful response by his administration.

“I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” Mr. Trump said.  “I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

Meanwhile, other sources do not agree with President Trump’s assessment.

One of the true unsung heroes involved in the Island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria is José Andrés, a chef and restaurateur who helped organize others from the food industry to form a veritable army comprised of both professionals and volunteers to feed residents, medical professionals and other disaster response workers.

A year after the initial response to Maria began, José Andrés has released a book reflecting on his experiences and lessons learned from the disaster response.

This article from the Washington Post describes his passion and introduces the book in a manner I wish I was able:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/jose-andress-riveting-we-fed-an-island-calls-for-a-revolution-in-disaster-relief/2018/09/05/b126d766-ad70-11e8-b1da-ff7faa680710_story.html?utm_term=.df529f66adc0

Today, I watched and listened to a significant portion of the Congressional hearing involving FBI agent Peter Strzok.

I believe this Spanish Inquisition model was perfected by Rep. Trey Gowdy during his multi-year ‘Joseph McCarthy-inspired’ Benghazi investigation.

I also believe that the needs and rights of the American people are being completely ignored by members of Congress who follow this Model, seemingly fully deaf and blind to the needs and rights of the American people.

Trey Gowdy gained a national stage when he took charge of the Benghazi committee in the spring of 2014, prior to which there had already been seven (7) previous House and Senate investigations (plus an internal review by the State Department) into the conditions surrounding the terrible attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia.

The Benghazi incident took place in September 2012 when attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and 3 other Americans.

Gowdy’s Select Committee on Benghazi consumed significant amounts of American resources, yet it yielded nothing that was not already known.

Today’s performances by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (backed up by Rep. Trey Gowdy) would be worthy of Tony Award nominations had they taken place within a Broadway show.

Although they were not performing on Broadway, they did help to inspire a vicious and highly partisan attack on Mr. Strzok, both professionally and personally.

I am an American citizen, property owner and voter who has become completely disillusioned by the increasingly malignant infestation of our legislative bodies by individuals who seem to be motivated by evil intent, and who further seem to be unwilling and unable to adhere to the commonly acknowledged rules of decorum.

This charade — publicly attacking Peter Strzok, a man who has an exemplary 20+ year history of service protecting and supporting the U.S. Constitution — is completely out of context.

If Strzok is a traitor or is guilty of some heinous crime, that should be determined behind the scenes, perhaps by a Grand Jury.

There is no excuse for a committee of the Congress to attempt to publicly eviscerate and excoriate a sworn federal agent who has proven his willingness and ability to protect the best interests of American citizens while upholding the U.S. Constitution.

As the calendar moves forward toward an expected announcement from current NJ Governor Chris Christie on his candidacy as the potential GOP nominee for president in the 2016 election, stories about – and soundbites from – Christie abound.

With the radio tuned to news in the background, I listened to some of these stories and soundbites today.

I’m left feeling that Chris Christie has no moral compass. Christie is apparently willing and able to lie about almost anything and everything.

Here’s a soundbite from Christie’s appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, June 7, responding to recent comments from Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton who called out for significant expansion in voter access, calling out several prominent GOP leaders – including Christie – accusing them of purposefully limiting voter access in their states through policies such as voter identification requirements and limited early voting.

Said Christie: “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. In New Jersey, we have early voting available to people. I don’t want to expand it and increase the opportunities for fraud. Maybe that’s what Mrs. Clinton wants to do. I don’t know.”

Christie continued, “But the fact is: folks in New Jersey have plenty of an opportunity to vote. And maybe if she took some questions some places and learned some things, maybe she wouldn’t make such ridiculous statements,” he said.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/chris-christie-hillary-clinton-is-clueless-on-voter-fraud/

What Christie failed to note in his response is that it is more common in New Jersey (and many other states) for elected and appointed public officials to commit fraud then it is for a voter to commit fraud.

And, more alarming: Just 31% of eligible voters in New Jersey exercised their voting rights in the 2014 election. [http://www.electproject.org/2014g]. Seems to me that the real opportunity here is to address and/or eliminate existing obstacles or impediments to help increase voter participation, not creating more obstacles which have the probability of discouraging potential voters.

Chris Christie: You are both a phony and an opportunist, and it’s very sad that you were elected to a position of trust (Governor of New Jersey) and as such, (a) you have tremendous power over the infrastructure and inner workings of our 11th largest state, and (b) you have tremendous influence over the functionality and decisions of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public authority which builds, operates, and maintains critical transportation and trade assets in the NY Metro area.

PANYNJ controls a network of aviation, rail, surface transportation and seaport facilities which annually move millions of people and transport cargo throughout the New York/New Jersey region.

We can only hope that the ongoing ‘Bridgegate’ investigation will soon expose your culpability in the ensuing mess that (at best) inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of bridge users on those days where access to the bridge was restricted; and (at worst) exacerbated economic losses well into the 100’s of millions of dollars through a ripple effect to commercial entities in the Tri-State region, and throughout the U.S.

I, for one, would be delighted to see you spend the next 8 years, or so, in the Big House, not any other house.

The Walrus recently learned that former Town of Somers Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy was appointed as executive director of the Westchester County Tax Commission by County Executive Rob Astorino, a fellow Republican. The job, which enjoys a six-year term, pays $132,155 a year.

Ms. Murphy told a local media outlet that she was “…very grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of Westchester, I was supervisor for 16 years, and I certainly dealt with tax issues during my tenure there. It brought exposure to multiple levels of government. “

The Westchester County Tax Commission ostensibly serves as the repository for the assessment rolls from the county’s multiple taxing jurisdictions; is tasked to provide advisory services to municipalities concerning assessments and assessment procedures; and produces an annual report to the county Board of Legislators.

Off hand, I’m thinking this person is absolutely unqualified and not fit to serve in this position. But, that is the nature of a system where officials are often elected to office based on a ‘beauty contest’ enhanced by a campaign war chest of dubious origin; then those ‘elected officials’ are free to appoint political hacks into positions which can have dramatic impact on society.

This pretty much says it all, another quote attributed to Ms. Murphy from her tenure as Supervisor in the Town of Somers: “We have a good way of reporting our tax bills, and did not see a desire for it by the constituency. The town has a very good reputation for its tax rate.”

According to what source? And on what standing?

The old “Home Rule” defense rears it’s head again. And, it was a great idea in pre-revolutionary war days. Sometime after the Civil War, Home Rule became obsolete, yet we still follow that logic in 21st century New York State?

Wondering why Westchester County has won the prize to become the highest property tax location in the U.S.? It’s entirely due to Home Rule and the incredible waste and duplication of services which result.

Most egregious? The folks in the wealthy white suburbs who are willing to pay through the nose to fund their quasi-private public schools, town and village police, etc. but who balk at the idea of providing any support at all to County taxes which in turn support social safety net services for their less fortunate neighbors.

Walrus Feeling Guilty

October 4, 2013

With all of the attention on the shenanigans in Washington and the in-depth moment by moment reporting, I thought the Walrus might sit this one out, but various forces have caused guilt.

Congress certainly has the authority to challenge the Affordable Care Act. Why don’t they just challenge the ACA in Court? Why are they messing with the greatest economy in the World?

Oh, wait. They did challenge it in court. In the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land. On June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding the constitutionality of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” finding that the federal government can require people to purchase affordable health care insurance coverage or face an income tax penalty.

So, we have a law which was approved by the House of Representatives, approved by the U.S. Senate, approved by the President of the U.S. and affirmed by the Supreme Court.

But, wait! We also have a splinter group of dubiously elected officials (i.e. the Ayatollah John Boehner, Cruz Control, Private Ryan, Eric “T.P.” Cantor – and others who shall remain anonymous for now).

These creatures have determined (in September 2013) that the only appropriate way for the Congress to arrive at a Continuing Budget Resolution which would keep our federal government running is to open a debate on a law which was enacted in 2010?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many times I wish that I could just put all of the clocks and calendars around the world on pause. Just give me a few days to catch up on all of the loose ends, and then I would restart the clocks and calendars as though those few days I had to myself were invisible and inconsequential. Sort of like a short “working vacation” in the Twilight Zone.

Boehner and his Band of Merry Men apparently have gone beyond the Twilight Zone and have jumped all the way down the rabbit hole, desperately trying to drag the rest of the country with them.

I have to wonder – how does the Supreme Court feel about this behavior?

I spotted this headline, and couldn’t resist clicking on it. The intro says,

“Two studies released last week {August 2013} confirmed what most of us already knew: the ultra-wealthy tend to be narcissistic and have a greater sense of entitlement than the rest of us, and Congress only pays attention to their interests. Both studies are consistent with earlier research….”

This does seem to ring true for the most part. I think there are those rare individuals who were raised in privilege — maybe 3rd generation blue bloods? — who have minimal affectations and are really decent people.

As I’ve heard said, ‘they were raised right.’

The truly self-centered seem to be the pirates who rose from a proletariat family to economic aristocracy on their own – hell-bent on becoming rich and powerful – no holds barred.

My poster child for this syndrome is Joseph Cassano, who grew up in Brooklyn, where his father was a policeman. He earned a political science degree from Brooklyn College in 1977. No blue blood here!

In 1987, American International Group (AIG) hired Cassano as Chief Financial Officer for their Financial Products group.

By 2000, Cassano had risen to the position of CEO of the AIG Financial Products group, which had developed a very lucrative business selling Credit Default Swaps to various Investment Banks as protection against their potential losses on mortgage-backed securities.

Some said that Cassano was at the very center of the Great Recession due to his leadership of this lightly-regulated AIG subsidiary which seemed capable of writing its own rules on how it assessed risk; on how it priced risk; and how it compensated executives.

It has been reported that between 2000 and 2008 — the year he left the company — Joseph Cassano’s compensation from AIG was more than $300 Million.

Cassano walked away free, absolved of any improprieties by federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers injected $182 Billion into AIG to prevent it from destroying our American financial system.

What a fabulous inspiration for young people on how to achieve the American Dream!