Friday, January 23, 2009

Tough Sledding for the Obama Team

It looks like President Obama got two bionic tongues for the price of one as his greatest liability, VP Joe Biden, and his wife were both able to disconnect their mouths from their brains on the day before and day after the Obama inauguration. First came Jill Biden the day before Obama was sworn in as President when she was on Oprah and said Joe had been offered his choice of vice president or secretary of state, a slap in the face to Hillary Clinton who was not offered vice president and was given secretary of state. She got the job because Joe didn't want it? Try as they might to cover up the release of inside information it didn't work.

The day after the swearing in Joe was at a White House news conference when Obama told him to give the oath of office to the new staff and Biden quipped I don't have as good a memory as the Chief Justice. Of course this was a cheap insult tossed at the Chief Justice when he flubbed the lines during the Obama oath the day earlier. The president could be seen frowning and shaking his head at the cheap shot by his vp.

Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner has had a rather tough time in hearings when he denied knowing his housekeeper was an illegal alien, he said he didn't know he was supposed to pay $34,000 more in taxes and then he caused an international uproar when he said China was manipulating their currency. The first was dumb, the second was dumber and the third was the kind of thing you never say in front of the media but to the representatives of China first.

How is it he didn't know he owed taxes for four years when his employer sent him numerous reminders every year. He was an independent contractor to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Even Joe the plumber, also an independent contractor, knows he has to pay social security and federal taxes and Joe is not going to be the next Secretary of Treasury. Since Timothy was audited by IRS and they required he only pay for the last two years because the first two years were beyond the statute of limitations, he only paid the last two years. It was only after he was nominated for Treasurer that he decided to clean up the earlier mess.

However, if he never filed a return, which he clearly didn't because he said he didn't realize he was supposed to pay taxes, and IRS had to audit him, then there is no three year statute of limitations. The three year statute only applies when the return is filed and is found to be inaccurate or fraudulent. There is a ten year statute and he should have paid interest and penalties on the entire four year amount. I think he was given kid glove treatment by IRS because he was the Federal Reserve President in NYC. Do you think IRS would let you get by without paying nearly $100,000 in taxes over four years, and then say you just owed $34,000? Fat chance. He should have said he didn't pay for the first two years because he was trying to beat the government out of their money. It would have been honest.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Obama's Sorry State of the State

Now that the new president is almost the president we should take a look at the state of the state he will be inheriting before we get too caught up in the euphoria of the historic moment. Make no mistake, the challenges facing Obama are among the most difficult ever faced by an incoming president. If he succeeds he will have earned his place among the greatest presidents in our history.

While Obama gets a lot of mileage out of his humble beginnings and life, the fact he went to Columbia and Harvard and his wife went to Princeton belies some of the impact. These Ivy League schools are among the best and most expensive schools in the USA and world. Let us hope he didn't lose his ability to stay humble while rubbing shoulders with the aristocrats. He certainly did acquire the ivy league taste for the good life starting with his home of well over a million dollars.

As a candidate for president Obama spent three times more than any previous candidate in history, about three quarters of a billion dollars to win 53.5% of the vote. His speech the night of the Democratic convention cost $8 million, just one speech mind you. This inauguration will cost more than $150 million, three times more expensive than any in history. Add to that the economic bailouts he already has supported to the tune of over a trillion dollars, and he isn't even president yet, and we have ourselves one very high maintenance newcomer on the political scene.

Then we get to the problems he faces. There is the economy. Big money, big banks and big fat investors are lined up waiting for the new president to bail them out of the trillions and trillions of our dollars they lost, squandered or stole the past couple of years. Seems funny that if you rob a bank you go to jail but if you steal all the money from inside the bank the government bails you out.

Why is it the financial experts guiding us out of this mess are the same financial experts who got us into the mess in the first place? If we put into jail all the people who masterminded the bankruptcy of America and the takeover of the US Treasury New York City and Washington, DC would be ghost towns, Wall Street and Capitol Hill would be surplus property, the Money God would not have a blank check on our tax dollars and unemployment would be greatly reduced because the bad guys would be locked up.

Today 1 out of every 54 mortgages in America is facing imminent foreclosure and everyone in Congress is scrambling to find ways to save the poor citizens. Now if you listen to the politicians, media and Wall Street you would think that means every other house in America is in foreclosure. The truth is less than 2% of the homes with mortgages are in foreclosure, about 2 million out of over 100 million mortgages.

If you look a little deeper at the sub-prime mortgage mess that brought down our economy, a program of waiving the normal mortgage requirements so anyone could buy a home in the mid-2000s that was the brainchild of Barney Franks and other Democratic leaders, things get more interesting. There are over 7.5 million sub-prime mortgages, mortgages in which minimum down payments were accepted, excessive fees were paid, credit fraud was tolerated, balloon interest payments were built in and inflated home values were inherent.

About 25% of the sub-prime loans are in foreclosure meaning nearly 100% of the foreclosures were not the typical citizen buying a home but the people taking advantage of the sub-prime scam and now that they are defaulting on the loans the government is now trying to figure out how to use taxpayers dollars to save them. In short, we are all going to pay for the fraud. It was these loans that were packaged by Wall Street greed mongers and sold through stock offerings that brought the banks, mortgage and financial institutions down and triggered our current recession. Trillions of dollars have been lost by investors to the very institutions claiming responsibly for managing our wealth, pensions funds, savings and so on.

Many other aspects of the economy from AIG and bank bailouts to oil price increases, the futures markets, swaps, derivatives and others were created for the purpose of getting away with what should have been illegal. Is it so important we spend trillions of government dollars to save the very people who created the scams in the first place?

In other areas there is the latest threat from Osama Bin Laden to continue his terrorist actions against the USA while wars continue in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pakistan is ready to fall to insurgents waiting to deliver it to the Taliban. India is being attacked by Pakistan. Did I mention that Pakistan, home to Bin Laden and headquarters for many terrorist groups, really has nuclear weapons unlike Iraq. Russia is testing it's strength against the Ukraine and Europe. Israel is battling the Palestinians, killing them at a rate of 71 dead for every Israeli killed. You get the international picture, just add to the violence the reality of worldwide recession and many more nations could get desperate.

Now beyond the economy, wars and international affairs there remains a health care system that is the most expensive in the world and 56 million people with no health coverage. Schools that don't teach. States that are going broke. Auto and other industries that can't efficiently produce or sell. Energy policy that leaves us subject to the pricing and manipulation of others. Immigration issues with Mexico and the threat of drug cartel warfare in Mexico crossing the border into the USA not to mention the corruption of our southern neighbor.

Wow, come to think of it do you think Obama would have become the greatest spender in campaign politics history if he knew what he was getting into once he won the election? At least we will find out real soon if that Harvard education was all it is supposed to be. If he can solve the mountain of problems and issues he inherits he should be entitled to every award like the Nobel Prize offered.

Lastly, let us not forget the other thorny issue Barack has already raised that may prove more difficult than many I listed. Our new president has already signaled the NCAA that he wants to push for a National College Football playoff and championship, something long overdue. Good luck Mr. President.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thank you for another good year...

As President-elect Obama prepares to take office next Tuesday the Coltons Point Times now has 25,877 readers according to the tracking services which means our readers total 74 times the total population of Coltons Point. That does not include the circulation of articles by many of our dedicated readers like Cathe who distributes it to about 2,328 of her closest friends and family members. We appreciate your interest in our view of the world and hope you will encourage your friends to check us out. As always we encourage letters to the editor (everyone is entitled to their silly opinions) and welcome story ideas.

The Truth - Manufacturing in America

As part of our commitment to set the record straight we want to address a topic very much in the news which is the loss of manufacturing jobs in America. If you believed the media just about all the jobs have moved to China except the auto workers.

For the record there are 154.4 million Americans in the work force and 143.3 million employed as of the end of December, 2008. Manufacturing in America peaked in 1979 with 19.5 million jobs. Today, after the devastating impact of the global recession manufacturing jobs total about 13 million. However, the loss of jobs started long before the China factor as there were 16.8 million jobs when Congress passed and Clinton signed the NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) on December 8, 1993, nearly 3 million less than in 1979.

That was the Free Trade Agreement Ross Perot opposed but Clinton and Gore slammed through Congress. I should know because I worked with Perot at the time including the fateful debate between Gore and Perot on the Larry King Show. More on Ross later. He warned us of the long term impact of NAFTA and his warning rings true today as the new Administration is studying ways to limit the scope of the original agreement.

From 2000 to 2008 we lost 4 million more manufacturing jobs yet at the same time we had an increase in worker productivity of eleven times meaning the 13 million remaining workers in 2008 were able to produce far more product (11 times as much) than the 17 million in 2000.

Contrary to media myth, China did not take all our jobs as Asia provides far less goods to America today than ten years ago. In fact most technology related jobs went to India while the Japanese were moving manufacturing facilities to the USA. Even Mexico, who benefited greatly after NAFTA, has lost jobs in the past few years because of growth around the world.

As for the Chinese goods that have been subject to many recalls, don't forget that the Chinese were building to the specs provided by the American corporations ordering the goods, corporations who thought they could lower costs with cheap labor overseas. It was the responsibility of the American companies to provide detailed specifications and to assure quality control and they seemed to have failed in both tasks.

Meanwhile with all the disproportionate attention on China India quietly took over the high tech computer jobs including the service, technical and customer support positions. Both India and China have been hurt bad by the global recession and the reduced spending by Americans.

We lost 791,000 manufacturing jobs in 2008 which was probably quite remarkable considering the economic catastrophe we faced but we still have over 13 million jobs in that sector. When we come out of the recession we should be in the best manufacturing position since 1979. Made in America will always stand for superior quality. As consumers, make sure you look for products that support our jobs as well as insure the highest quality.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who Controls Congress?

For those of you who still hold out hope that Congress is OUR elected representatives and they are dedicated solely to the purpose of helping the public we have a simple response, fat chance! Once upon a time that might have been the case but once upon a time is the stuff of fairy tales not reality.

If nothing else, Congress is the old boy network updated, meaning I guess it is now the old girl and boy network or woman and man depending on how you rate the maturity of the players. It remains an institution dedicated to the preservation first and foremost to the re-election of the members, second to adherence to the spoils of seniority and third to the inevitable padding of the pockets of the campaign and personal funds of the elected officials and their staff.

I've been there, seen it, and marveled at how it continues to survive scandal after scandal, conflict of interest after conflict of interest, and a general malaise of greed as one of the most dominating virtues of members. Now that does not mean there are not good people there, but most of the good people came and went after getting hit in the side of the head by reality.

So the Congressional leadership control Congress, those with the most savvy to continuously win elections while getting their party in control, and those successful in taking over all the Congressional Committees. Right now the leaders are Harry Reid the Majority Leader in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House, and Steny Hoyer as House Majority Leader. Because of the dominance of the economy in world events I also include Barney Frank the Majority Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

President Obama will get nothing done to save the economy or make good on all his promises without the help from these four players. So who are they and what can we expect? Well combined they have been elected to Congress a total of 104 years with Hoyer and Frank 28 years each, Reid 26 years and Pelosi 22 years. Pelosi is second in line to be president if something should prevent Obama from serving his full term.

One interesting fact about the Democratic leadership and Obama is their religious diversity as every one of the five is from a different religion, something unusual in politics and indicative of the religious diversity of the American public. Obama is Protestant, Reid Mormon, Pelosi Roman Catholic, Hoyer Baptist and Frank Jewish. Another interesting fact is the ages in that Pelosi and Frank will be 69 this year, Hoyer and Reid will be 70, while Obama will be just 48.

Harry Reid, Senator from Nevada, has a personal worth of about $6 million and though he was not up for re-election this past year he still raised $11.6 million in campaign funds and has $2.75 million cash on hand after the election. Of the money raised 69% came from individuals and 29% from Special Interest groups. Of course many of the individual contributions could be from individuals in special interest groups.

Nancy Pelosi, a Maryland native now in California raised $2.8 million in 2008 and has over $405,813 cash on hand. Of the total 47% came from individuals and 53% from special interest groups. Her opponent spent $720,000 and Pelosi won 71% of the vote.

Steny Hoyer, powerful Maryland House leader raised $3.67 million and has over $800,000 cash on hand with 33% of his money coming from individuals and 65% from special interest groups. His number one contributor was J P Morgan banking. Hoyer's opponent raised just $22,570, being outspent more than 10 to 1 and Hoyer won 74% of the vote.

Barney Frank raised $2.2 million and spent $2.7 million and he still shows a cash balance of $326,694 which seems to be rather unusual accounting but those are the federal reports. Of his total 51% came from individuals and 44% from special interest groups. His opponent only raised $39,000 and Frank won 74% of the vote.

What is the 7th District?

For those of you not familiar with the 7th District in Southern Maryland I thought I would offer a little primer in the highly unlikely event you ever fall off the edge of the world and find yourself in the 7th District. First of all it is one of the oldest landing points for the colonization of the original thirteen colonies way back in the early 1600's. St. Clements Island, the actual place where the English pilgrims landed, is just off Coltons Point where the pilgrims first saw the Indians and set foot in Maryland. These are the last two places on the map in the 7th District at the Potomac River.

Now I am not a pilgrim nor related to pilgrims but an awful lot of people here are and it seems that the older the family the more likely they inter-married with other families that have been around about 375 years, since 1634 and this is the anniversary year. That means when you meet a Dorsey, Bailey, Combs, McKay, and all the other names you see on signs down here you might just be meeting the relatives of all the prominent and aristocratic families.

The 7th District folks came here for religious and other freedom and for the last 300 years have been fighting anyone who tried to tame them. Long before the existence of New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, DC these folks had established rights to the 7th District. The early settlers were a combination of watermen, farmers and tobacco farmers and starting in 1639 other people started trying to take this place away from them.

The local Native Americans never tried, I suspect they knew better, and this was about the only place in America where the settlers and Native Americans lived in harmony which tells you a lot about the people who settled as they respected the rights of the Natives. Since it was the only place in the New World that promised religious freedom a lot of other people wanted to stop them. The Puritans and a few other groups seemed to think they had the only connection to God.

So the locals fought off the other white men for about a hundred years before they joined the fight against the Brits as the concept of freedom just kept spreading. In a couple of wars the British actually attacked this area which goes to show military intelligence hasn't much changed after all these years. The 7th District eventually became the last frontier in Maryland which it remains to this day.

So along the way the Civil War was fought and being we were well south of the Mason Dixon line but still in Union controlled territory the 7th District became one of the primary smuggling points for getting supplies and arms to the Confederates since the Union had blockaded all the southern ports. One Union officer said at night the Potomac River was filled with black painted boats sailing supplies across the river to the Confederates in Virginia.

Upcoming scandals we will be reporting on include the English and French support for the Confederate army that was channeled through this area and the fact the English backed John Wilkes Booth and was to pick him up here after the killing of President Lincoln. Of course there is also the disappearance of Booth for almost a week during the manhunt in the area of the 7th District.

Eventually the rest of Maryland got civilized and soon the election of governor in the state always seemed to be tied between the Baltimore Democrats and the Washington DC area Republicans and it was the band of outcasts down in the 7th District that decided many an election throughout the 20th century. I suspect this was the way the folks of the 7th District got even with the politicians. Many a person can recall seeing a candidate for governor from up north sneak into the District, spend a weekend sharing some moonshine with the old boys, and going home to win the election. In the 7th District the vote could be controlled as about everyone was a Catholic Democrat and they knew statewide elections were dependent on them for success.

We had our share of celebrities as well but they always seemed to live just across the water from the 7th District. From Coltons Point you could see where George Washington was born and where Robert E. Lee was born on the Virginia shore.

There is no local government nor local police in the entire 7th District as the people could never see the need for the bureaucrats. Most justice was handed out locally including disposal without the expense of trial or jail for anyone terrorizing the people. No crime wave lasted long.

Of course to this day there are no governments, street lights, stop lights, sidewalks, sewers, water pipes, gas lines or anything else found in most civilizations. The fire and emergency personnel are volunteers. About half of the roads planned for Coltons Point have never been built and you better check the goods in the local store for expiration dates before you buy anything.

People here still eat fish, oysters, crab and clams harvested from the river although the politicians up north have done about everything possible to destroy the environment. More than nine Bald Eagles share year round residence in the Point along with many a strange specimen that can be seen wandering out of the swamps and wetlands on dark and foggy nights.

There is a distinct social structure that has evolved over the years including the Ancients, Aboriginals, Watermen, Yuppies, Yippies, Yappies, Come Downers and Come Backers. The Ancients are the descendents of the original boat people from 1634 on. Since there are no Native Americans left the Aboriginals are the hillbillies, moon shiners, deinstitutionalized head cases, religious zealots, and of course Confederates who run around singing "Don't give a damn what the Yankees say the South's gonna rise again" in a strange pig Latin tongue.

The Watermen are the raucous survivors of the original fisher men, crab men, oyster men, clam men, eel men, (yes I said eels as in scary slithering things on the river bottom) and the people who supported them like the marinas, crab shacks, oyster and clam processing joints etc. There aren't many left and that is one of the enduring tragedies of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The Yuppies are the new rich who move here to get away from what they spent their lives working to get. Yippies are the younger generation now beyond youth but still trying to find their way through life with a soft spot for environmental issues, nature, birds and privacy. Yappies are Yuppies and Yippies with a big mouth who show up expecting to find all the laws of more civilized places like dog catchers, police and all the other conveniences of modern society.

Down here the Postmaster knows everyone on a first name basis. The local bar doesn't want any more customers as that might put them in a higher tax bracket. There is no fast food, no place to eat period without driving about 10-20 miles, and little need to put on airs. It don't matter whether you are rich or poor, you all eat crabs, oysters and clams the same.

The Come Downers are the city folk who discovered the quaint place along the river and made their way here to escape where they are from or to exploit the area for material gain which never seems to happen. Finally the Come Backers are the kids of the Ancient families who escaped long ago only to discover the rest of the world will never replace what they had here in the first place and eventually they find their way back home.

Now that is a little of what you find down here in the 7th District of Southern Maryland, ferocious defenders of individual freedom a lot of character from a lot of characters, a place steeped deep in history, a keen sense of fair play, a desire to help your neighbors no matter what their social status might be, a bit cynical when it comes to the promises of the government or elected officials, but people who will never turn their backs on people in need, unless, of course they deserve it.

No Hillbilly Joe this is not acceptable art!

In response to the request from Hillbilly Joe to have this sculpture of a human placed on the St. Clements Museum porch, the answer is absolutely not! The people of Coltons Point don't want to literally see through people. Think of something else to endow to the people.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Election Wrap up - Democrats - What Now?

Suppose you made a wish list last New Years and you got everything you could ever dream for all in one year. Well that was the fate of the Democrats as they swept the presidency while taking much stronger control of the House and Senate, a politicians delight. But remember the caution, be careful when you wish as you may get what you want. Add to that be specific as well.

The Democrats got control of the government, filling Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barney Frank's stockings to the top. Unfortunately, they were not clear enough in their request and they forgot to say no recession, Wall Street collapse, credit crisis, auto collapse, war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, violence in the Middle East and overall pretty bleak domestic and world economic, political and military situations.

The new president will inherit all these and untold more situations that have been kept hidden from the public for good reason. Had we known about the crooks on Wall Street and Washington, D.C. earlier in the year, not to mention throughout the nation and the world, most of our incumbent politicians who got elected would have been taken to the woodshed and lashed.

In addition there were all those many campaign promises, health coverage for all, tax reductions for 95% of the people, clean green cars, more unions, more social programs, more abortions, mortgage forgiveness and restructuring, more genetic engineering, well, more promises than I have room to spell them out, still what will happened to all those promises? The last time a Democrat made such promises was when Pelosi said we would be out of Iraq in a couple of weeks and a laundry list of other promises back in 2004 if we gave Democrats control of Congress and they got it but we didn't. So I guess this is déjà vu all over again.

Did anyone hear the victorious Democrats say they would pursue prosecutions against all the Wall Street crooks who caused the economic collapse or did they all take too much campaign money from them to get serious? Any word about how we will get meaningful campaign reform or was that also buried under the avalanche of special interest campaign contributions? Why are they going to extend health care to everyone when our medical system is broken down already? Shouldn't it be fixed first?

How can we believe Barney Frank and the Democrats that they are going to fix the mess when they were the ones that caused the mess in the first place? How many politicians will be leading the nation who stood by and watched the economy go up in flames in recent years? And how many staff and elected officials were personally involved in many of the crooked deals but remain in power?

We are just at the beginning of the reform promised by Obama. First he had to get elected. Now he has to drive out the demons of government and Wall Street and that will be a much more difficult task. I believe all those liberal groups and hardcore Democrats will be in for a shock when the Obama program is finally disclosed and it will not be fully disclosed until 2010 when the next round of Congressional elections takes place. That will be the first chance he gets to go after the patron saints of corruption still leading Congress.

You can always count on a rambunctious time when the Democrats take control of the government and I expect we will see more of the same. Still, something tells me Obama is a lot more than a politician but someone really committed to changing the nation for the better knowing full well the amount of pain that will cause in the short term. My prediction is a very short honeymoon for the new president as it will not take long for the crooks in Congress to realize they are the targets of the new Administration and when they see the truth they will fight Obama every step of the way against reform. Let's hope they are so drunk with greed they miss the warning signs.

Pictured in the article are Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barney Frank and Pelosi with Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader. These are the people we have entrusted with our government and our future. Yes, Pelosi and Hoyer are from Maryland though Pelosi long ago moved to California.
For those interested in history, the Democratic office holders in line to become president are 1. Joe Biden, Vice President, 2. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and 3. Robert Carlyle Byrd, President Pro Tem of the Senate (at 92 years old this year he would be the oldest president in history).