The Trump Trifecta

October 26, 2018

Since taking office in January 2017, Donald Trump has stood with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to proclaim various ‘victories’ for the American people.  Here are what seem to be the top three, A.K.A. “The Trifecta”:

  1. Complicit with Russia, Saudi Arabia and several other suspect regimes. Trump has continued to send public messages which downplay and/or absolve bad actors from behaviors which are contrary to existing international standards.

One clear reason:  Trump — and his close advisor Jared Kushner —  is involved in highly leveraged real estate development.  Neither Trump nor Kushner have the liquidity or availability of traditional financing sources to invest their own money.  Instead, they are forced to chase shady money from around the world, including huge sums of money sourced from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, etc.

Essentially, Trump (along with the Kushner Companies) is beholden to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Vladimir Putin; various Chinese investors; along with ‘dark money’ sources in Cyprus, Panama and the Cayman Islands, among others.

2. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA) was passed in late 2017 incorporating some modest temporary individual and small business tax cuts while focusing in on very substantial big business and corporate tax cuts.

Traditional economic models, developed and refined over countless economic cycles, encourage tax cuts and deficit spending during economic downturns as a means to stimulate economic growth.  During times of economic expansion, increased government revenue from tax collections is then used to pay down public debt and help stabilize the economy.

N.B.  There was a strong case to be made for a modest corporate tax cut as the U.S. economy began to improve post 2012; there was zero legitimate case to be made for the magnitude of the corporate tax cut which was a cornerstone of the 2017 TCJA.

The foundation of the TCJA was a promise that slashing corporate taxes from a maximum 35% rate to a 21% cap would result in dramatic increases in capital investment, resulting in job creation and wage growth.  Americans for Tax Reform, a vocal advocate for the plan, generated promises of employee bonuses, increased wages, increased retirement contributions and/or expanded business operations as a result of the TCJA.

Actual outcomes of the Tax Cuts?  Record stock buybacks; extraordinary executive compensation; flat employee compensation; and continued failure of venerable American corporations.

Definitive proof of the foolishness of cutting taxes in a time of economic expansion?  A rapidly expanding federal budget deficit.  According to the final monthly Treasury Statement for Fiscal Year 2018 (the year that ended on 9/30/2018), the deficit was $779 Billion — a $113 Billion (17%) increase over the$666 Billion deficit recorded from FY 2017.

Perhaps most egregious to the American people?  Mitch McConnell is blaming self-funded safety net programs [Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid] as the root cause of our rising federal deficit.  Visualize McConnell as he does a little smile; looks straight into the camera; and then blatantly lies to the American people.  Was he also lying when he took the Oath of Office?

3.  Incendiary, Irrational and Emotionally-Inspired Immigration Policy:

Right or wrong, the U.S. economy depends on immigrant workers – documented or undocumented. Industry sectors which rely on immigrants for between 1/4 and 1/2 of their employment needs include: agriculture; hospitality; construction; textile, apparel and leather manufacturing; food manufacturing; and private households.

Through a series of small moves that add up to dramatic change, the Trump administration has bypassed Congress to create new process and procedures which could have lasting effects on how the US welcomes and evaluates immigrants.

In his election campaign in June 2015, Trump told us, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”

By painting virtually all immigrants with a broad brush as criminals; as a national security threat to the U.S.; as bad people; as people who steal jobs from Americans;  he has created a hostile environment on the world stage, offering fear and fallacies with no attempt to find viable and sustainable solutions.

In late October 2018, facing a ‘caravan of migrants’ moving north from Central America toward the U.S. Southern border, Trump has proclaimed that there are ‘criminals and people of Middle Eastern descent among the migrants within the caravan’ and has pointed to it as evidence that the U.S. has weak immigration laws. He has also threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries in response to the caravan.

An internal report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown at the border in early 2018 was troubled from the outset by planning shortfalls, widespread communication failures and administrative indifference to the separation of small children from their parents.

It has been said that the Trump Child Separation Policy is related to the worst abuses of humanity in history.  Child separation is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery, and which dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families.

What’s the point?

The point is that differences of opinion are a cornerstone of society, and a critical ingredient of humanity.

The very essence of Debate relies on formal discussion on a particular topic.

In an honest debate, opposing arguments are put forward to argue for opposite  viewpoints. Genuine and honest debate can occur in public meetings, academic institutions, and in legislative assemblies.

A genuine debate requires some ground rules, particularly in the areas of logical consistency and factual accuracy, yet it also allows some degree of emotional appeal to the audience.

Sadly, today’s discussions on topics of importance to the American People seem to lack any rules about civility, logic or even factual accuracy.

Turn on the television and we find absolutism, tribalism and a “win at any cost” approach to delicate yet important societal issues. Dialogue has effectively been replaced by diatribe.

Worse, people can select news sources which support and reinforce their biases, finding comfort in “being right” by selective listening or watching. No time or need to consider other options when the platform has been fully developed to mirror your comfort zone.

Add to this dilemma the continuing disenfranchisement of American adults from the political process.

More adult males in America today are able to recite NFL statistics than are able explain issues facing American society, and women are not far behind.

Voter turnout in the United States fluctuates in national elections. In recent elections, about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections. Turnout is lower for odd year, primary and local elections.

If we compare national voter participation in the 2016 presidential election to viewership of the 2016 Superbowl, we find a dead heat at around 112 Million.

Not necessarily the same people, but it does strike me that we have a real disconnect between the American public and our governance model, perhaps helping to explain why our system seems to be in need of some serious adjustments at this point in time.

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Since Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015, there have been many commentaries on his financial history — particularly because he has refused to release his tax returns.

In 2016, David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner of The New York Times obtained Trump’s 1995 tax returns, and for their article published on the front page of The New York Times on October 3, 2018, they worked together for over a year to investigate the wealth that the president inherited from his father.

The narrative in the NY Times investigative piece is compelling.

Like most rules and regulations, U.S. tax law assumes that people will voluntarily comply in the interest of equity and fairness across the board.  If the laws are not fair, they should be amended, not circumvented.

Having worked in the real estate and financial services industry for many years, I am familiar with many of the strategies exposed in the article, particularly the rather arbitrary and capricious use of independent appraisals to determine market value at a point in time.

Where many — if not most — wealthy families and individuals pay their fair share of taxes (perhaps grudgingly), the Trump family has notoriously and conspicuously fought against taxing authorities, continually challenging assessments and levies as a part of their overall family business plan.

Note a recent kerfuffle in Westchester County, NY where a Trump National Golf Club is located.

With a 65,000 square foot club house, private gourmet restaurant, swimming pool, tennis pavilion and courts, the 18-hole, 7,261 yard Jim Fazio designed course is situated on 140+ acres of prime real estate in the Town of Ossining, NY.

This ultra-exclusive private club demands a hefty 5-figure initiation fee from new members, with minimum annual dues of $19,400.

In his 2017 Executive Branch Personal Financial Disclosure Report (filed 6/14/2017), Donald Trump revealed the value of his ownership interest in Trump National Golf Club – Westchester at ‘over $50,000,000.’ with annual personal income attributable to the Club of $9,771,428.

Yet, in 2015, the Trump Organization sued the town of Ossining to lower its assessment from the 2014 value of $13.5 Million to $1.4 Million in order to reduce property and school taxes.

After the feud with Ossining became public, Trump’s lawyers raised the dollar value of the golf course, but it was still nowhere near the official 2015 assessment of $14.3 million and 2016 assessed value of $15.1 million.

The moves are consistent with repeated efforts by the Trump Organization to challenge property valuations in an effort to win massive local property tax reductions, not to mention the potentially illicit impacts on federal, state and local income tax obligations which in many cases are directly linked to these local assessments (valuations).

Over the past several years, Trump has lauded himself as “one of the most successful businessmen in the world,” who paid “no more tax than legally required.”

“I have brilliantly used [the U.S. tax] laws,” Trump said at a campaign event in October 2016. “I was able to use the tax laws of this country, and my business acumen, to dig out of the real estate mess — you would call it a depression — when few others were able to do what I did.”

It was a reported $916 Million net operating loss in 1995 which gave Trump the ability to avoid paying taxes on more than $50 Million in annual taxable income over the following 18 years.

Make America Great Again? Only if others are willing to cough up the tax revenues needed to pay the freight.

Labor Day Reflections

September 2, 2018

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is an outcome of the U.S. Labor Movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It is an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.  It didn’t take long for the federal government to recognize it (1885), and it became a national holiday in 1894.

The inspiration of Labor Day is closely tied to both the roots of Capitalism and the emergence of Labor Unions in the U.S.

In 1983, the first year for which union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.

By 2017, the union membership rate had declined to 10.7 percent, and – most alarmingly – union representation of public-sector workers (34.4 percent) had become more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.5 percent).

The origin of Capitalism as economic system assumed that private individuals or families who directly invested in (and directly took on the risks of loss) would own the means of production, distribution, and thus ensure a free and fair market for goods and services: They had real skin in the game.

Relying on the theories that: (1) people (consumers) are rational and will seek maximum utility from their economic actions; (2) information is transparently available to all who participate in the economy; and (3) markets are self-correcting; the concepts of Capitalism are compelling to most people when contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

Worker exploitation was one of the early criticisms of the Capitalism model. The Labor Movement in the U.S. was instrumental in creating a buffer (safeguard) to help ensure a safer workplace, fair wages and reasonable hours and benefits.  The Labor Movement was enabled by Labor Unions.

Today’s version of Capitalism has morphed into ownership of corporations by passive investors (mutual funds, pension funds, venture funds, etc.) which seek maximum current ROI with little or no regard to sustainability or externalities.

The executives who are charged with achieving the expectation of the passive investors are “hired guns” who begin with no skin in the game, yet who often are rewarded with stock options when short-term outcomes are positive.

In 1978, the average CEO earned about 30 times as much as the average worker.  U.S. Census data tells us that the average income for U.S. households was $17,730, pegging average CEO income at $531,900.

In just 40 years, statistics from 2017 indicate that CEOs in the 350 largest companies in the U.S. are earning over 300 times as much as the average worker (actually, 312:1).

A recent survey by Glassdoor found that the median salary for U.S. employees is $51,272, implying median CEO compensation at nearly $16 Million.

There is no rational explanation for the explosion of the CEO to Worker compensation ratio.  It seems to reflect a total lack of oversight by those individuals who have been elected to represent the interests of the American people.

Current economic conditions ought to raise a red flag to our elected officials that our nation has navigated very close to a Feudalistic System which is on track to implode and to destroy the very notion of what is described in the Declaration of Independence.

Labor Day seems like an appropriate time to pause and reflect on what seems to be an egregious obstacle to the healthy future of our American society.

Our system of governance in the U.S. is highly dependent on the willingness and ability of citizens to elect leaders who will solve the problems and challenges of the current environment, and who will promote institutional adaptations in the long-term public interest.

Most of us will identify with the basic attributes scholars often point to as the foundation for effective public leaders: (1) Honesty; (2) Basic and Common roots; and (3) A reputation of high integrity and personal principles.

As I searched for the “secret sauce” of public sector leadership, I found a few terrific recipes.

My favorite might be, “If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know.”

Some contenders include,

“Good leaders motivate and encourage others.” Continued emphasis on controlling and/or reducing costs in the public sector puts extreme pressure on public sector employees.  Good leaders create supportive atmospheres and encourage initiative. They invest in their people and foster skill growth. And when employees are satisfied in a healthy environment, great results likely will follow.

“Good leaders communicate clearly and listen attentively.” When good leaders sincerely listen to the needs and challenges of their constituents, they can respond effectively and bring about the greatest positive change.

“Good leaders are trustworthy.” Trustworthiness is built upon integrity and character. When people trust leaders and value their integrity, they tend to be more open to new ideas and exude a willingness to try.

“Good leaders think critically and act collaboratively.” Effective decision makers employ careful consideration and analysis of the evidence before formulating a decision. Public sector decisions can have multi-generational impact, so using a team approach incorporating strong analytical, problem solving and critical thinking skills is essential to the job.

“Good leaders are resilient.” In the world of public policy and governance, the only constant is change. Uncontrollable external variables will create unexpected challenges. Good leaders remain positive; they develop alternative solutions; and they encourage confidence in their employees to help ensure they will remain effective at the most crucial times.

My greatest hope is that other fellow citizens of the U.S. will take a few minutes to step back and think about the strategic implications of leadership.

The headline comes directly from Steven Mnuchin, our U.S. Treasury Secretary, who recently penned an op-ed piece which appeared in print in the Tampa Bay Times (July 3, 2018).  https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/trump-tax-cuts-strengthened-u-s-economy/

Mnuchin’s opinion piece seems to consist primarily of fluffed-up puffery related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017.

Mr. Mnuchin omitted several critical issues which most economists agree must be included in any analysis of the U.S. economy.

First is the ‘business (economic) cycle’.  The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has been tracking the U.S. economy for 160+ years.  NBER defines one business cycle as: A period of economic expansion; followed by a contraction (recession); ending at the next point of recovery.

NBER’s 160+ years of records reflect that (over that time) the U.S. economy experienced 66 business cycles. Since 1945, we have experienced 11 business cycles with an average length of expansions of 5 years, followed by an average length of recessions of 1 year.

We can’t forget that the U.S. economy almost collapsed in early 2008 following a period of ebullience and expansion apparently accompanied by loose regulatory oversight of the financial sector.

Quick intervention in 2008 by our federal government saved the U.S. economy from the deepest and longest downturn since the Great Depression.  NBER data reflects the point of recovery (beginning of expansion) of the U.S. economy occurred in June 2009, and has now entered its 10th year (109th month) of growth.

Our current economic expansion is now the second-longest expansion on record, exceeded only by the expansion from March 1991 to March 2001, which lasted a full 10 years.

History tells us we are very close to the point of contraction (recession) of the U.S. economy.

Second is the ‘Skills Gap’.  When Mr. Mnuchin tells us that “…there are enough job openings in America for every unemployed person in the country” he fails to explain that the majority of open jobs require skills which the majority of unemployed people lack. In other cases, the unfilled jobs are located hundreds – maybe thousands – of miles away from the location of potential job seekers.

One solution to filling the open jobs is to encourage migration – or immigration — of skilled workers.

Another solution is to recruit, educate and train currently underemployed or unemployed U.S. residents who live in near proximity to the open jobs.

Third involves a dangerous combination of tax cuts and deficit spending to finance those tax cuts.

Mr. Mnuchin touts benefits to U.S. workers as a result of repatriation of hundreds of billions of dollars from off-shore corporate subsidiaries to the U.S.  In fact, companies thus far have paid out dividends and other withdrawals of $305.6 billion from foreign receipts which far outstripped the amount of this cash which was reinvested domestically.  By some estimates, corporations have spent 72 times as much on share buybacks as they have spent on one-time worker bonuses and raises.

The U.S. ‘current account deficit’, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country, widened by $8.0 billion to $124.1 billion, or 2.5 percent of national economic output in the first 3 months of 2018, virtually all of which seems to be attributable to the repatriation tax holiday.

To make up for the loss of tax revenue, the Trump administration is relying on a combination of debt financing and mystical economic growth which they expect to occur at the end of an extended business cycle.

Mnuchin tells us that U.S. economic growth is on steroids.

Some observers have noted that the appearance of economic growth is highly influenced by the infusion of repatriated cash – somewhat similar to feeding 2nd graders sugar before sending them out onto the playground.

The energy is intense, but it won’t last very long, and it is just not sustainable.

A recent report (6/21/2108) from the U.S. Office of Government Accountability (GAO) warns that responsible action is needed on the nation’s growing federal deficit, which grew to $666 Billion in FY 2017 (10/01/16 to 9/30/17) and is projected to surpass $1 Trillion by 2020.

According to the GAO’s 2017 financial report, the federal deficit in FY 2017 increased by 13.5% from $587 Billion in FY 2016 and $439 Billion in FY 2015. Federal receipts in FY 2017 increased by $48 billion, but that was outweighed by a $127 billion increase in spending.  (Note that Deficit is an annual measure; National Debt is aggregate, an accumulation of annual shortfalls.)

The aggregate (gross) amount that the U.S. Treasury can borrow is limited by the U.S. debt ceiling. As of April 30, 2018, our National Debt was $21 Trillion, about 78% of GDP.

Since its passage in December 2017, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has warned that TCJA will add $1.84 Trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, which they estimate will push the National Debt to an unprecedented 152 percent of GDP by 2028, significantly increasing the odds of a new financial crisis.

Interest rates are rising, and National Debt is increasing, thus interest on National Debt will consume an ever-increasing amount of future federal budgets.

And, of great concern is the flattening of the ‘yield curve’.  Traditionally, interest rates on short-term debt are lower than rates paid on long-term obligations.

The spread between the yields of the 2-year Treasury note (2.55 percent) and 10-year Treasury note (2.89 percent) was 34 basis points on June 23. That’s less than half of what it was in early February and the narrowest it’s been since August 2007.

An inversion of the yield curve — when long-term rates fall below short-term rates — traditionally predicts a looming recession.

—————————————————————————-

It’s not clear why Mr. Mnuchin – a seasoned financial services sector professional with a clear expertise in fixed income securities – would omit such important information in his assessment of the U.S. economy.

I am drawn to conclude Mr. Mnuchin is using his position as a high-ranking federal official to ‘butter his own toast’, likely through complex – and undisclosed — derivative positions.

We’ll have to see if the Walrus is correct…..

It seems wherever we look, Donald Trump’s appalling behavior sets a new and very low standard upon which to measure the 21st Century version of The Ugly American.

His most recent tweets about Canadian PM Trudeau which followed Trump’s rude early departure from the G-7 meeting are deplorable.

Then, he sent his thugs Kudlow and Navarro off to reinforce the message in harsh, scorched-earth fashion.

Said Navarro on Sunday, June 10, 2018: “All Justin Trudeau had to do was take the win. President Trump did the courtesy to Justin Trudeau to travel up to Quebec for that summit. He had other things, bigger things on his plate in Singapore.  And what did Trudeau do? As soon as the plane took off from Canadian airspace, Trudeau stuck our president in the back. That will not stand.”

Trump did a courtesy? Hello? Red meat to the Trump base; An insult to everyone else who lives on Planet Earth.

Donald Trump said what Canada has “done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace. It’s a disgrace. And our farmers in Wisconsin and New York State are being put out of business, our dairy farmers.”

Trump has gone on to tell us that “Canada charges the U.S. a 270% tariff on Dairy Products! They didn’t tell you that, did they? Not fair to our farmers!”

No, they didn’t because it’s just not true.  There is one specific dairy product which has ignited this Tempest in a Teapot, a product which exists in surplus due to overcapacity in the U.S. dairy industry.

The product at the center of the dispute is ultra-filtered milk, which is used to make cheese and yogurt.

It is not governed by any tariffs under NAFTA, because it essentially did not exist when NAFTA was originally negotiated. The U.S. dairy industry has been selling surplus ultra-filtered milk — duty-free — to Canadian processors. And that is part of the root problem for Canadian dairy farmers.

Never heard of ultra-filtered milk?  Neither had I.

Ultra-filtered milk (sometimes called diafiltered milk) is generally a byproduct of butter production after the milk fat has been removed to provide the basic ingredient for butter.

It is a sub-classification of milk protein concentrate which is created by passing the remaining low- or no-fat milk under pressure through a thin, porous membrane to separate the components of milk according to their size. Ultra-filtration allows the smaller lactose, water, mineral, and vitamin molecules to pass through the membrane, while the larger protein molecules are retained and concentrated. The removal of water and lactose reduces the volume of milk, significantly lowering storage and transportation costs.

In 2016, the U.S. dairy industry sold about $133 Million of ultra-filtered milk to dairy product producers in Canada, a rounding error on the total trade transactions between the U.S. and Canada.

The federal U.S. Trade Representative reported a U.S. $12.5 Billion trade surplus for goods and services with Canada in 2016, exporting $320.1 Billion and importing $307.6 Billion. (The reported U.S. surplus was $8.4 Billion in 2017).

Meanwhile, the man who affirmed that he would faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and would — to the best of his ability — preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States has given us clear and irrefutable evidence that his abilities are deficient, inadequate, unacceptable, inferior and dreadful.  Or, perhaps he is an untruthful traitor.

Either way, he has put our entire world in danger of a real world war.

Martha Stewart served prison time for a conviction on insider trading.

There is a cadre of Trump Insiders who are privy to Mr. Trump’s rants which roil the financial markets, some of whom are getting rich off of their advance information of what he will say or do.

Donald Trump’s frequently irrational, generally unpredictable — and often arbitrary and capricious — tweets, pronouncements and actions have proven to significantly move financial markets, often creating a whipsaw effect.

Today – May 31, 2018 – Mr. Trump allowed tariffs to be enacted on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the E.U. on the grounds that such materials are being imported into the United States “in such quantities and under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security of the United States.”

There is no credible evidence that steel and/or aluminum imported into the U.S. from Canada, Mexico and/or the E.U. pose any threat to the national security of the U.S.  In fact, there is no credible evidence that such imports pose any threat to the U.S. domestic economy.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s action today to impose tariffs on imports from our closest allies was apparently not expected in the financial markets, leading to a 1% drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

We now have several data points relating to financial market response to irrational actions by President Trump which clearly represent huge arbitrage opportunities for Trump insiders.

The ‘out-of-right-field’ announcement in early March 2018 by Mr. Trump that the U.S. would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports precipitated an almost immediate 500 point drop in the DJI.

 

It’s bad enough that Trump’s actions pose a tremendous risk to the entire U.S. society and our economy.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) needs to reign in this illegal behavior by Mr. Trump, and to charge those insiders who are illegally profiting in the financial markets from advance knowledge of what sort of disruptive, arbitrary and capricious pronouncements President Trump will make in the near term.

America’s Teachers

April 12, 2018

America’s teachers have notoriously been underpaid relative to their peer group. The excuses include, (a) Flexibility; (b) Summers off; (c) a profession dominated by women (and we all know that women earn about 80% of what men earn for comparable experience in similar jobs).

If I were a young person approaching college graduation, I might look at starting salary, and projections for advancement over the course of my career.

If I did that, teaching would not likely be on my list of job choices.

According to a study published by US News and World Report looking at the best jobs for 2018 college graduates, there are dozens of opportunities which absolutely blow away starting salaries for teachers, which seem to be in the $38k range.

One random example is an entry level Financial Analyst in the area of investment banking, private banking and the securities industry. The highest paid in the financial analyst profession work in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, New York City, and San Luis Obispo, California. The Stamford /Bridgeport, CT area also pays well, as does the city of Salem, Oregon.

San Francisco      $141,840
New York City     $133,130
San Luis Obispo, CA  $120,750
Bridgeport (Stamford), CT   $120,520
Salem, Oregon            $120,150

These are median starting salaries for newly minted graduates.  What’s most egregious about this?

On a really good day, financial analysts provide zero economic value-added to our overall economy and society; on a bad day, they can cause catastrophic damage. Financial analysts produce no tangible outputs; they endeavor to discover and exploit financial opportunities to benefit their firm and its clients at the expense of other individuals.

Teachers bring value every day, yet they are generally under-respected and certainly, under-compensated. Teachers are the mechanism by which we build future intellectual capital to benefit future generations in and across the U.S.

Some may argue that this example attempts to pit Capitalism against Socialism:  Nice try on that one!

Pure capitalism relies on the premise that private capital, invested strategically, adds value to the overall economy and society, while providing a fair and reasonable profit to the capitalist(s).

Pure socialism requires a government controlled population of workers to both plan and operate the system; true socialism requires government control of all economic as well as political and public affairs.

By levying fair and reasonable income taxes on excess or suspicious profits, a nation is able to re-invest those taxes into strategic and forward-focused programs and initiatives, such things as: bridges; tunnels; airports; rail rapid transit; healthcare research and innovations; and public education – including teacher quality and teacher compensation.

Teachers need to re-focus their compensation and resource allocation argument toward pure economics.

It strikes me that the message needs to be:  “High quality, well-compensated teachers who are provided with appropriate and needed classroom resources help to shape and create the next generation of high-performance, highly motivated and productive citizens our nation will need to ensure future economic and political success.
There is no substitute for a ready and reliable supply of intellectual capital waiting in the wings to take charge in the coming decades.”

Dear Governor Rick Scott

February 21, 2018

I’ve been calling Florida my second home for 40 years, and I was finally able to move here permanently in January 2017. Florida has some fabulous positive attributes. Firearm regulations are not on that list. It is my belief that Florida currently has some very weak controls over gun acquisition, gun possession, gun ownership and the sale of ammunition and accessories.

Florida’s gun control regulations absolutely made sense in 1960 when the total population was about 5 Million, and the state was highly rural and agrarian.

Today, we have some 21 Million residents, highly concentrated in high density urban MSAs, with an economy highly dependent on tourism.

A number of academic studies have forecast a very high correlation between tourism and perceived public safety risks.  Areas with a reputation for a high risk of crime or violence against residents and visitors are shunned by visitors.

I’m a dues paying member of the NRA and a gun owner; I think the 2nd Amendment is a good thing, and I’ve read it dozens of times. I’m not sure exactly what the folks who wrote it were trying to say, and they are all now deceased so we can’t ask them in person.

Florida has been the location of several recent massacres involving young people wielding AR-15 weapons.

A massacre in Orlando in June 2016 involving a demented 29 year-old man wielding an AR-15 resulted in the death of 50 people (including the shooter) and physical and mental wounding of many others.

Nothing was done at the state or federal level following that atrocity because, as some said, “the Second Amendment didn’t kill anybody.”

On February 14, 2018 a young man named “Cruz” stormed a high school in Parkland, FL with an AR-15 rifle. He killed 17 and wounded many more.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer following the Parkland massacre, you said, “Everything’s on the table, all right? I’m going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.”

Some political operatives have focused their diversions on mental health issues, yet Federal law already bars people who have been adjudicated mentally ill or committed to institutions from buying firearms.

Until the State of Florida takes action to update our gun control regulations to recognize we are no longer a rural and agrarian state, and that we are now economically focused on tourism – both domestically and internationally – we as residents are at physical risk from demented individuals wielding assault weapons, and we as taxpayers are at economic risk for dramatic revenue losses from tourists who make decisions to avoid Florida due to perceived public safety risks.

It is incumbent on you and the elected members of the Florida legislature to enact legislation which will make sure that powerful assault weapons, high capacity magazines, bump stocks, suppressors, armor piercing bullets and other military grade accessories can’t be sold, owned or used by any civilians – including teenagers – who wish to live in our 21st Century Florida civil society.

There seems to be little argument that one primary outcome from the Citizens United decision was the opening of our campaign finance system to a deluge of anonymous money.

It’s been reported that special interest groups spent more than $1 Billion in elections across the country in the last election cycle, and there is virtually no transparency or accountability.

The very essence of “one man, one vote” is on the chopping block.

Throughout recorded history, we can see multiple examples of societies which inadvertently allowed a very small group of people to slowly and carefully seize extraordinary power from the masses.

Looking back to late 19th century America, we can observe the activities of a very elite group of industrialist-capitalists known commonly as the “Robber Barons.”

Some of the 19th century names include: Andrew Carnegie; Jay Gould; Andrew Mellon; J.P. Morgan; John Rockefeller; and a dozen more.

None of these folks were ever indicted or found guilty of illegal activities, and history tells us that they produced some positive outcomes over the long term. They built steel mills; they built and operated railroads; they made oil and gasoline widely available.

Yet, our elected representatives at the time were so concerned about the potential for future abuse should large sectors of our economy get consolidated into monopolies or oligarchies, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act almost unanimously in 1890, and it remains the core of U.S. antitrust policy.

The Act makes it illegal to try to restrain trade or to form a monopoly. It takes its name from Senator John Sherman who said, “If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life”.

We can learn from history and halt the ability of a very small group of people to seize political and economic power from the American people, and we need to start right now.

Many of us who watch this issue (myself included) focus in on the Koch Brothers and their well-documented, ultra-conservative positions – including the activities of their Super PAC, Americans for Prosperity.

We should continue to carefully watch what AFP is up to – they have very deep pockets and a singular agenda which seems to be very self-serving.

Super PACs and anonymous money strategically use private economic power to create ‘reasonable doubt’ across a group of voters regarding an issue or a candidate.

In the past 5 years, we’ve witnessed a number of successful multi-media campaigns fueled by anonymous deep-pocket donors which were based on dubious ‘facts’ and which may not be in the best, long-term interests of the majority of our citizens.

One recent example which reflects the incredible power of anonymous money is that of Ted Cruz, a relatively unknown lawyer from Houston, Texas who leaped into the national spotlight after winning a landslide upset election to U.S. Senate in the 2012 election cycle. Cruz and his campaign committee spent some $14 Million, raised in a relatively short time, making it one of the top-performing Senate campaign committees for candidates running for open seats.

In contrast, Paul Sadler who opposed Cruz on the Democratic line raised about $700 K, just 5% of the Cruz total.

However, that $14 Million was just direct spending by the Cruz campaign.

The extra power of unlimited Super PAC spending on behalf of political position advertising favoring Ted Cruz (and/or opposing his opponent) enables behind the scene power brokers the opportunity to influence with impunity.

Does the Citizens United decision violate our U.S. Antitrust regulations?

Not in fact, because the framers of antitrust regulations had no way to imagine the potential abusive power of a Super PAC on our free enterprise system.

I argue that the Citizens United decision infringes on the intent of several prior Supreme Court decisions supporting the “one man, one vote” doctrine, and further is in violation of the intent of our Constitution and of our antitrust regulations.

It is incumbent upon our elected officials to reform existing U.S. antitrust policy and regulations to encompass political activities in such a way that clearly and unequivocally prohibit unlimited and/or anonymous donations to enable spending on political and/or ideological positions.

I hope others will join me in helping us return to a ‘one man, one vote republic’, in fact and in practice.