Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book Report: "Back to Work" by Bill Clinton Part II

Bill Clinton’s “Back to Work” Part II
Section 2: What we can do…
President Clinton outlines at least 46 solutions which would help America get on the road to recovery, many of which are related to “green energy”, a field I too feel America is not doing enough in.  From wind and solar to biofuels and geothermal President Clinton devotes significant time to each in the book.  All of the solutions which President Clinton lays out are worthy of debate and consideration, I again strongly suggest you pick a copy of this book for yourself and dive in.  America now more than ever needs an informed electorate; an electorate who knows what challenges we are facing and some genuine solutions of how to fix them.  For the sake of time I’ll just give you five solutions which I took away from the book. 

1.       First, end the mortgage mess as quickly as possible.
-          Why tackle the housing issue first?  It would clean up bank balance sheets, allowing them to lend more capital to businesses so they can expand or hire.  Banks lack of lending is a big problem for many small businesses which are trying to grow and expand but can not get the money to do so.
-          Bringing an end to the housing market crisis would also reduce the economic stress that is on consumers allowing them to spend more in other areas; this will generate more demand and help the economy.  This can be done in multiple different ways: Allowing homeowners that have upside down mortgages to refinance, or give borrowers who can’t make payments an option to exchange the deed for a multiyear lease with payments they can make.   Increased demand helps business, which creates jobs.

2.       Let corporations repatriate cash now with no tax liability IF it’s used to create NEW jobs in America. 
-          Unlike in 2004 when a tax rate of 5.25% was put on repatriated money, many economist considered the 2004 tax rate a bust because the money was not put into creating jobs thus growing the economy, its was put in dividends, derivatives,  used in buy back of stocks, or executive pay, THIS time the repatriated money would be completely tax free IF companies can prove the money was spent to create new jobs in the United States.  If not, if they just want more executive pay or inflated stock prices,  any repatriated funds would be subject to a 15% rate like capital gains. 

3.       Launch an aggressive 50 state building energy retrofit initiative. 
-          Start with buildings that we know aren’t going to change ownership, government facilities (Federal, State, local), schools public and private, colleges, hospitals, large commercial buildings.  This initiative will create thousands if not millions of jobs for the retrofitting, lower energy consumption, and saving people/business money which will allow them to grow and hire more people again creating jobs.  How can you pay for this, one might ask?  You can pay for this program by providing loans with government guarantees to assure the banks are paid back, this should increase banks willingness to lend.  Also, since many financial balance sheets are tight and people/businesses may not be able to take on another payment, we should follow the example of New York’s new law which creates a payment structure that is an “on bill” line item (  Basically you continue to pay a set rate on your utilities after your facility energy retrofit is complete.  Your energy cost goes down and the savings you gain become your payment for the loan until the loan is repaid. Once your loan is repaid your bill drops and your savings are yours. What's not to like about that?

4.       Develop our natural gas resources. 
-          President Clinton sends a clear message that he supports expanded natural gas consumption over other fossil fuels. 

“It’s the cleanest fossil fuel, more than 50 percent cleaner than coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, 25 percent cleaner than oil when used in transportation, only one-fourth as expensive. “

-         President Clinton does acknowledge the environmental stigma which has surrounded “fracking” however with proper regulation and some transparency from the gas companies regarding the type of chemicals used in the process, he believes much of the controversy can be defused.  An expansion of natural gas production could have a huge impact in the transportation sector, and if we were to adopt a plan similar to that which is laid out by T. Boone Pickens ( the amount of crude oil we import from the Middle East could be all but eliminated.  The Pickens Plan in part calls for 18 wheeler trucks  to be converted to run on natural gas, but T. Boone Pickens doesn't stop at only heavy trucks.  Public transportation and school buses, taxis, utility vehicles such garbage trucks and tow trucks, delivery truck (FedEx, UPS, US Postal Service), all should be converted.   This conversion to NGV's (natural gas vehicles) would lower dependence on foreign oil, potentially create millions of new jobs in America, boost the American economy, and be better for the environment than fueling these vehicles with crude oil.  There shouldn't be much disagreement here. 

5.       Negotiate long-term contracts to sell food to China, Saudi Arabia, and other nations facing food shortages.
-          In the case of rapidly developing nations and nations with limited agricultural possibilities, the ability to feed its citizens is sometimes difficult. Economically this creates a good opportunity for the United States, which is the world’s largest exporter or grain.  First, long term food agreements would help America farmers who may be adversely affect by congress’s decision to end the corn ethanol subsidy. Secondly, it also improves our negotiating positions with China, a country who holds much of our national debt, and Saudi Arabia to keep an affordable and steady supply of oil. This would be a win for everybody. 

There is so much more I could unpack from the book whether it is about infrastructure, partisanship, regulation, taxes, debt, or green energies I could go on and on, but I feel I have given you a good preview of what you can expect from the book.  President Clinton’s “Back to Work” provides insights and solutions from someone who has been there and done that, a perspective from someone who has already succeeded in doing what America needs to do again…get the economy growing and get Americans back to work.
“I don’t know how this will turn out.  I just know that for more than two hundred years, everyone who’s bet against the United States has lost.  A lot of people are betting against us today.  I’m betting that once again, in a very different world, we’ll find our way to a “more perfect Union.” Let’s get the show on the road.”        
-Final words of President Clinton’s “Back to work” 

Will you pick up a copy of "Back to work" by Bill Clinton? What do you think of the few solutions I outlined above?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Report: "Back to Work" by Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton’s “Back to Work” Part I

First of all, I absolutely loved this book.  I simply could not put it down, I was underlining, writing notes in the margins, referencing previous chapters, I was all over the place.  Normally I can only say that about the latest novel by Dan Brown, however President Clinton’s intelligence, experience, and passion for the subject matter leaps off the page.  President Clinton lays out a powerfully compelling argument for smart government and a relationship between that government and the private sector through cooperation.  

President Clinton makes no apologies for his disagreement with those in the Republican Party and the Tea Party, who he addresses in the book as the “antigovernment movement”, and really takes their policies to task with how they impacted our nation. From the beginnings of true deficit spending under President Reagan to current Tea Party Republicans who want to eliminate the EPA despite scientific evidence of climate change. President Clinton makes the case for why strong government is needed now more than ever.  I have to tell you now there is so much good content smashed into this book, that my little book review can’t possibly do it justice. But  there were some areas which stood out and I found especially compelling.  

Section 1: Where we are…

President Clinton provides a brief synopsis of the financial meltdown, I say brief because others have written entire books only discussing the causes which went into the 2008 collapse.  However a significant factor which contributed to the 2008 financial collapse, which President Clinton addresses, was banks were simply overleveraged.  In some cases overleveraged to the rate of $40 to $1. What does that mean?  For every $1 of capital they had on hand, these overleveraged banks had $40 in investments.  These banks simply didn’t have near the capital required to cover the massive loses that they took from risky investments, subprime lending, and the derivatives.  How did banks become so overleveraged?  The book doesn’t go it that however through some independent research I found that in 2004, under President George W. Bush's administration, the SEC allowed 5 firms (Lehman Brother, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) to more than double their allowed leverage maximum.  The maximum leverage ratio was raised from approximately $12:$1 all the way up to, in the case of Merrill Lynch, leveraging at a $40:$1 ratio.    

President Clinton also combats the idea that the Stimulus was a “failure”.  A majority of economist agree that the stimulus stopped the recession from becoming another great depression, and held the unemployment rate down 1.5% -2.0% lower than it otherwise would have been without the stimulus. So, why does the Republican charge that the stimulus was a failure go mostly unchallenged?  Because Republicans are referring the standard set by the Obama administration, who stated if the stimulus was passed that the unemployment rate would not rise above 8.0%.  Well as it turns out, the recession was much worse than most economist predicted and unemployment rose to over 9.0%, so by the standard which the current Obama administration set for the program it has failed in that aspect.  Despite the republican claim of failure, the stimulus did save millions of jobs and as President Clinton says in the book it “put a floor under the recession” ensuring it did not turn into a depression and that truely was a success for America. 

President Clinton spends a great deal of time in the book talking about “the debt”, and as anyone who has followed the political debate regarding the debt knows there are three ways in which you can reduce the debt: cut spending, cut spending or cut spending…..wait no that is the Republican Tea Party approach. In reality you have THREE tools: cut spending, increase revenues, and grow the economy faster.   President Clinton is under no illusions of where the money goes and what are the biggest drivers of our deficit: Defense, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt.  Those are biggest drivers, and President Clinton has ideas to implement in each area (except interest on the debt), which are not normally discussed, that would save money thus lower the deficit.  Nothing can really be done about the the interest on the debt.  Interest on the debt can only be affected by reducing our debt as a percentage of national income.  However here are a few examples of ideas and solutions in those other areas. 

Defense – Switch Tricare (a healthcare plan available to all veterans) to a sliding scale based on income as long as we can do it without putting more of a burden on returning veterans who already face higher unemployment rate than civilians. 

Allow current non-compete government contracts to be opened to competitive bidding.  This could save billions of dollars in the defense budget.   

Social Security – President Clinton provides black and white numbers, breaking down the ratios for number of retirees (Baby Boomers) who will be recipients of benefits to the number of American workers who are paying into the system.  Right now the ratios are not looking good because of how large the baby boomer generation is, thankfully there is a light at the end of the tunnel which is the generation called “Millennials” a generation even larger than the baby boomers.  

To help keep Social Security solvent President Clinton suggests altering the “cap”.  There is a collection cap on Social Security taxes of $106,800 (did you know that?).  The Simpson-Bowles Commission suggested raising that cap to $190,000 in 2020.  Others have suggested removing the cap altogether for employers, or raising that cap to $190,000 sooner than 2020.   

Another suggestion is allowing seniors who currently receive Social Security benefits to reenter the workforce without it affecting there Social Security benefits.  

Medicare &Medicaid – President Clinton acknowledges the exploding cost of healthcare but dismisses Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare and Medicaid into voucher systems.  One of the solutions presented in the book is adoption of the VA sterilization practices nationally, this uniform sterilization practice has shown dramatic reductions in hospital-acquired infection. This lowers costs and increases hospital efficiency. 

Additional follow an example put forth by the Mayo Clinic to reduce incentives for providers to run unnecessary test, all doctors are paid on salary.  Their income is not affected by how many test they run.   

President Clinton does praise Obamacare in one section in particular, the section of Obamacare which requires insurance companies to use at least 85% of premiums to pay for health care services, not profits or marketing. This item is noted especially because in 2009 during the heart of the recession insurance companies sharply raised rates on customers thus increasing profits 56%.   

Lastly President Clinton, who has recently had health concerns of his own, suggests to improve lifestyles and stay healthier, referencing the huge amount of money spent on preventable obesity related illnesses.  

Stay tuned for Bill Clinton's "Back to Work" Part II...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Super Congress Activate!

Super Congress Activate!
Well last week all appointed members for the first ever “Super Congress” were revealed and here they are in no particular order.
The Democrats -
·         Senator John Kerry
o   Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator for over 20 years, and former Presidential Nominee
·         Senator Max Baucus
o   Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance been a Senator since 1978 one of the longest tenured Congressman in Washington D.C.
·         Senator Patty Murray
o   Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Committee of Veteran Affairs, serving in Congress since 1992.
·         Representative Chris Van Hollen
o   Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee and Congressmen since 2003.
·         Representative Xavier Becerra
o   Vice Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and member and of the Ways and Means Committee , has been a congressman since 2003
·         Representative James Clyburn
o   Former House Majority Whip, currently Assistant Democratic Leader in the House Representatives and Congressman since 1993.
The Republicans -
·         Senator Pat Toomey
o   Former House of Representatives Congressman and current Junior Senator from Pennsylvania , has served in Congress 1999-2005 and 2010 to present
·         Senator Jon Kyl
o   Senate Minority Whip, Former Ranking Member in the Finance Committee, Former House of Representative Congressman and served in Congress since 1987. 
·         Senator Rob Portman
o   Former House of Representative Congressman, Former Cabinet member for George W. Bush (U.S. Trade Representative and Director of the Management and Budget office) and current Junior Senator from Ohio.  Has served in Congress or cabinet position since 1993
·         Representative Jeb Hensarling
o   Vice Chair on the House of Representative Financial Services Committee and served in Congress since 2003
·          Representative Fred Upton
o   Chairman for the Energy and Commerce Committee and has served in Congress since 1987
·         Representative Dave Camp
o   Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and has served in Congress since 1991

Now I know that was very dry and boring but I feel it is important to note a few things regarding the “super congress” appointments:
1.       No member of the “gang of six” was appointed. This could be a positive, in that; everyone will have a fresh start and not coming in with prearranged deals.  However more likely this is going to be a negative, since there is such a small window to get a very large deal done, starting with an already known idea would have provided a great framework to start negotiations.   
2.       All the Republican members of the “super congress” have signed Grover Norquist’s tax pledge stating they will not raise taxes.  This could spell trouble just as it did in reaching our first debt deal and warrants us keeping watch. 
3.       No freshman congressman were appointed on either side, Only experienced, more tenured congressman who understand the importance of this deal were appointed and this should give us all optimism that both sides want a deal to get done.
What do you see in the appointments of the “super congress"?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

USA’s Historic Downgrade

USA’s Historic Downgrade

For the first time since 1917 America has had its credit rating downgraded by a significant rating agency, Standard and Poor’s.  This credit downgrade is likely to affect many aspects of the American economy from adjustable home mortgages to student loans, car loans, and credit card rates.  Standard and Poor’s has officially downgraded the United States from its highest rating AAA to its second highest rating AA+.  However like everything else in this debt crisis, even Standard and Poor’s downgrade is not without a bit of controversy.  White House officials have claimed that Standard and Poor’s medium and long term economic projections of America’s debt are “way off”, claiming a 2 trillion dollar error.  In an interview on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360o Standard and Poor’s head of sovereign ratings John Chambers said the 2 trillion dollar error did not matter because it doesn’t change the debt-GDP ratio which will continue to rise over the next decade. 

Let’s take a look at that interview conducted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper with Standard and Poor’s head of sovereign ratings John Chambers.

John Chambers : “The political brinksmanship we saw over the debt ceiling was something really beyond our expectations; the US government getting the to the last day before they have cash management problems.  There are very few governments which separate the budget process from the debt authorization process.”

The inability of congress to put political ideology aside and compromise to reach a significant debt reduction plan WAS factored into this credit downgrade because it showed a fundamental failure of congress to compromise and govern as a divided legislative body. 

Cooper: Do you blame one political party more than the other?
Chambers: “No I believe there is plenty of blame to go around.  This is a problem that has been a long time in the making, well over this administration and the prior administration.  It’s a matter of the MEDIUM and LONG term budget position of the United States which needs to brought under control NOT THE IMMEDIATE fiscal position.  It’s one that centers on entitlements and its entitlement reform or having matching revenues to pay for those entitlements.”

So straight from the “horse’s mouth” we DO NOT have an immediate budget problem however for the United States entitlement reform and/or increased revenue is needed to fix our MEDIUM and LONG term budget problems.  Since we have divided government and one party cannot get EVERTHING they want (thats you House Republicans) everyone needs to compromise. 

When speaking to how the United States could have avoid this downgrade. 
Chambers: “It could have come up with a fiscal plan similar to something like Bowles/Simpson commission, which was bipartisan…and came up with sensible recommendations. “

President Obama and Speaker Boehner were getting close to a “grand bargain along the same lines as Simpson/Bowles and the “Gang of six”,  However media reports state that House “Tea Party” Republicans refused to compromise which forced Boehner to withdrawal from those negotiations.  President Obama pushed for a $4 Trillion bipartisan deal which would have put America’s credit rating safe from this downgrade.

Chambers: “I think a key debate coming up regarding the extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, because if you did let them lapse for the high income earners that could give you another $950 Billion.  I think the question there is:  A. will that be an top of what we have already achieved with the $2.1 Trillion or if that was agreeable you could in vision that being counted toward the 1.5 that the committee is hoping to achieve.”  

Chambers is providing an obvious suggestion to let the tax rates for “wealth/job creators” expire and use that money towards debt reduction.  Who else suggested that?  Right President Obama! It seems clear from this interview that President Obama was completely aware of the standards which this credit agency had laid out for America’s debt reduction agreement.  President Obama was fighting for a debt deal very similar to what is outlined here in this interview.  However Congress (House Republicans) was not willing to compromise and not willing to do what was necessary to avoid this credit downgrade. Now since the “grand bargain” was never achieved we cannot know whether President Obama would have actually been able to get the votes needed to pass entitlement reform but unfortunately we never got that far because of partisan politics in Congress.

This credit downgrade was predictable and avoidable however Congressional politics obstructed policy and once again the American people are left paying for it.  Ideological views stood in the way of practical solutions and on August 5, 2011 we saw historic consequences in the down grade of America’s credit rating. Will this serve as a wake up call for Congressional members?  I won’t hold my breath.  This down grade will likely lead to more of the “blame game” and finger pointing... (Sigh)

UPDATED: 8/8/2011

Markets responded to the S&P downgrade on Monday with even more massive sell offs, leading to a single day stock market drop of 632 points.  In the last two weeks markets have hit lows not seen since the economic collape in 2008. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Its a deal!

It’s a deal…..
It’s a bad deal, but a deal none the less.  Here is a quick breakdown of what is in the bill. 

·         Debt Ceiling is raised through 2013
·         Over $900 Billion in cuts over the next 10 years
·         Only $22 Billion in cuts before 2013
·         $350 Billion of the $900 Billion in cuts come from Defense over the next 10 years
·         Zero cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security
·         Establishes “Super Congress” to find additional $1.5 Trillion in deficit reduction
o   “Super Congress” will consist of 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats
o   Increased revenues and entitlement reform ARE an option for deficit reduction
o   Congress MUST vote on recommendations of “Super Congress”
o   If the “Super Congress” can not agree to deficit reduction or congress does not pass the “Super Congress” recommendations “triggers” are in place to automatically kick in.
§  “Triggers” are automatic pre-agreed spending cuts which are designed to encourage a deal
·         “Triggers” are an automatic $1.2 Trillion in spending cuts
o   50% of 1.2 Trillion will cut Defense spending
o   50% of 1.2 Trillion will cut Domestic spending (Social Security, Unemployment, Medicare, Medicaid protected from cuts)
Well that’s the down and dirty of the debt deal. Unfortunately this agreement did not and will not really accomplish anything in long run.  Republicans kicked and screamed that they would only raise the debt ceiling if they got an equal/greater amount in spending cuts.  Well they got their spending cuts, but it’s over 10 years and the debt ceiling is only raised through 2013, so was that really worth all the drama?  Did the deficit get any significant reduction? No, and this is why no one is claiming victory in the debt deal; both sides understand that this deal stinks.  Congress didn’t really accomplish anything; they did the bare minimum to squeak by….as always.
Look it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no its…“Super Congress”….
This “Super Congress”, which reportedly will include 6 Republicans (3 from each House of Congress) and 6 Democrats (3 from each House of Congress) has ZERO chance of successfully reaching a bipartisan agreement for a few reasons.  One reason being, we have done this before with no results.  Remember the President has already appointed his debt commission, and what happened? Both parties ignored their findings and recommendations.  Then there was the “gang of six” a bipartisan group of congressman who put forth a deal which again failed; however this time the “gang of six” proposal was embraced by the White House but failed to get any traction with Republicans because of their RIDICULOUS tax pledge.  Which is another reason why the “Super Congress” is doomed to fail; unless Republicans are willing to increase revenues, and democrats are willing to alter entitlements, serious deficit reduction will remain out of reach.  However if you still need further proof of the inevitable failure of the “Super Congress”, keep watch of who gets appointed to serve on this committee.  Will members of the “gang of six”, who have already agreed to a compromise, have an outlined bipartisan plan and could really put the “Super Congress” down the right path, be appointed or will more partisan hard line members be selected? Do you think John Boehner will appoint House Republicans who are willing to compromise on taxes? Will Harry Reid appoint Senate Democrats that are willing to put entitlements on the table?  The appointments of who will be on this “Super Congress” will signal to the American people whether our political leadership is serious about finding a solution or if they just want to play politics till the 2012 elections. 

UPDATED: 8/5/2011

If you needed more proof that the debt deal was a bad one, the stock market took a nose dive losing 512 in one day, this was the 9th day in a row of falling stock market numbers.  The 512 point loss on Thursday in the markets wipes out all gains made in 2011.  It appears that the only numbers on the rise is Congress's DISAPPROVAL ratings.   

CNN/Opinion Research

UPDATED: 8/8/2011

Markets responded to the S&P downgrade on Monday with even more massive sell offs, leading to a single day stock market drop of 632 points.  In the last two weeks markets have hit lows not seen since the economic collape in 2008. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baseball’s “Human Element” - What a crock!

Baseball’s “Human Element” - What a crock!

The NFL has embraced it and the NBA has begun to see its benefits but Major League Baseball has resisted the implementation of instant reply at every turn. Arguments against instant reply, made by the “old guard” are weak and unfounded which I will address later.  Baseball’s current rule regarding instant reply is it can only be used in case of home run calls.
·         To assess if a home run was fair or foul
·         To assess whether a home run ball actually made it over the fence
·         To assess whether a home run was subject to any fan interference
The history books and standings have already been affected by MLB’s unwillingness to use this instant replay technology, technology that is available and ready to use. On June 3rd, 2010 Detroit Tiger's pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from a “perfect game”.
A perfect game is defined by Major League Baseball as a game in which a pitcher pitches a victory that lasts a minimum of nine innings and in which no opposing player reaches base. Thus, the pitcher cannot allow any hits, walks, hit batsmen, or any opposing player to reach base safely for any other reason—in short, "27 up, 27 down".
This achievement has only occurred 20 times in the history of major league baseball, 18 times since the modern era began in 1900…so pretty rare! However on June 3rd 2010, Armando Galaragga was robbed of perfect game by a terrible call at first base which permitted a base runner and ended his bid for a perfect game. 
(explicit  language)

As you just heard even in a case when the umpire himself has said he missed the call, baseball has no way of correcting such an error because they do not allow a simple 10 second review of the footage.  Don’t you think Jim Joyce (the umpire) would have wanted to be saved from the embarrassment and legacy of getting that call, in that game, wrong? Please don't misunderstand me, these umpires make 95% of calls correctly, I am not taking the umpires to task here, they can't be perfect.  Why not help them out by having instant replay available to them? 
More recently in a game which lasted 19 innings, between the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates; the game winning run was called safe at home in possibly the worst call to date in baseball.  The ball got to home plate far ahead of the runner, and the runner during his slide never actually got to the plate… however in spite of that, somehow the umpire called the runner safe and the Pittsburgh Pirates are forced to take a loss which dropped them to 3rd place in the NL Central standings. 

So doesn’t Major League Baseball want to avoid these miscarriages of sports justice? Well not if you are a “baseball purest.” Baseball purest do not want the game to be altered. They tout the history of the game and they like how the “human element” of the game still exists. Let me tell you, modern fans and younger fans don’t care about the “human element” they want to get the calls right.  Do you think fans left the stadium after the should-be perfect game or the 19 inning debacle saying “gee I sure love that human element”, no of course not. It's the last thing a fan wants, for their team to lose a game because of poor umpiring. 
So besides the “human element” what other reasons do opponents of instant replay reference?
Speed of the game:  Many baseball purest argue that if you allow instant replay it will interfere with the speed of the game.  They say that baseball is already a long game and instant replay will slow down the pace of the game down even further.  This argument is not valid because any time that a call is controversial the manager comes out to argue the call with the umpire, they yell and kick dirt.  While these managers may be humorous to watch it would be much faster to just have the umpire review the call, get it right and move on.  Watch how much time is wasted by then Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella.   Also keep in mind this a relatively tame rant for "Sweet Lou". 

Slippery slope: Purest argue that if you allow instant replay to expand to on the field calls there could no stopping the eventual push for instant replay to review every pitch of balls and strikes.  This fear is not founded in any sense of reality.  How about we cross that bridge if we get there? Not allowing a solution to fix a glaring problem for Major League Baseball because you are afraid of a hypothetical situation that doesn’t actually exist is ridiculous. 

The ability of instant replay to get the call right isn’t absolute and sometimes even with HD cameras and super-slow motion there will be times that instant replay wont have the right angle or someone maybe blocking the camera, but to simply not choose a solution that would improve the accuracy and precision of umpiring a baseball game is unacceptable.  Fans want it…umpires want it…come on baseball join us in the 21st Century. 

What do you think? Are you fan of the "human element" in baseball, or do you want them to get the call right?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What is Middle America? (Part I)

What is America’s political center? People on the far right and far left are easy to point out however there seems to be more difficulty in indentifying what is America’s center politicaly.  Well using poll data I hope to layout what Americas political middle might be. Now for this very antidotal blog post I will be using one source of polling data, Gallup poll numbers.  Now some may same, by choosing one set of poll numbers you are not truly finding the center you are only find the center of Gallup Poll numbers, which you would be correct in saying. However I am not publishing these finding for scientific research or claiming victory to be the first to find the center of political America, plus different polling sources conduct business in different ways, tallies group of individuals differently, it just brings far too many variables in the equation than I am willing to deal with. So with that caveat out of the way… let’s go.

Abortion: Well, this should be quick and easy...yeah right! Through reading a very thorough break down of poll numbers it seems a majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal but only in a few circumstances most of which pertain to medical issues while such issues as lifestyle choices and elective decisions are not generally supported.
Average rate of support for legal abortion across multiple survey organizations since 1996.
Life of the woman
Physical health of woman
Rape or incest
Mental health of the woman
Baby would be mental impaired
Baby would be physically impaired
Would force teenager to drop out of school
Woman/family can’t afford the baby
Woman/family don’t want anymore children
Couple does not want to marry
Fertility selection (when fertility process creates multiple embryos)
Would interfere with woman’s career

While the debate over abortion has center around two main camps “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice” the polling data actually shows three distinct groups of people. The three groups break down as follows, 26% of Americans believe abortions should be LEGAL in all cases, 56% of Americans say abortion should be LEGAL ONLY FOR CERTAIN CASES, and 17% of Americans believe abortions should NEVER BE LEGAL. If you would like to see other break downs in support or disapproval feel free to check out All kinds of other breakdown are available.
AMERICA’S MIDDLE ON ABORTION:  Legal but only for a few limited circumstances
Moving along alphabetically….
Budget & Spending: No hot issue here either…whew! Recent Gallup polling shows America divided on whose budget they support but maybe an edge on how to deal with the deficit.   Let’s start with something America seems to be getting closer to agreeing on. How to deal with the deficit? When given five choices on how to deal with the deficit America seems to be gathering behind spending cuts.
How would YOU want to cut the deficit?
Only with spending cuts
Mostly with spending cuts
Equally with spending cut/tax increases
Most tax increases
Only tax increases

So with 85% of Americans supporting some form of spending cuts you would think it would be easy to get things done, however politicians have different priorities and what programs should be cut and what should be kept. But what about the overall budget? (R) Paul Ryan has a plan and so does (D) President Obama each with its own financial theories on which will get the economy back on track with that America seems to be completely split. Recent Gallup polling shows a dead heat between the two budget proposal with a significant number left undecided.

Republican/Paul Ryan Plan
Democratic/President Obama Plan
No Opinion
National Adults

With numbers this tight you can bet that a difficult road lies ahead and aggressive campaigning will no doubt be in all of our futures.
AMERICA’S MIDDLE ON THE BUDGET AND SPENDING: Cut spending to balance our budget but no consensus can be met on which economic plan America would support more.

After seeing some of these numbers I am beginning to understand why politicians choose to “kick the can down the road” sometimes it doesn’t pay to take a stand when you are up for reelection.  However we must press on…

Civil Rights: Now post 9/11, our civil rights are not what they used to be and some would argue that forfeiting of certain civil liberties is necessary to ensure our safety but where would “middle America” stand on that issue?  Shortly after 9/11 the Bush Administration enacted “The Patriot Act,” a sweeping and comprehensive piece of legislation that altered many aspects of America’s privacy.  I will only pull out a few of the more well known practices that have been authorized by The Patriot Act but I encourage you all to read the entire link below.  
Regarding Enhanced interrogation techniques do you believe the CIA should have to abide by the same Geneva Convention standards that apply to the US Military?
Abide by Geneva Convention Standards
Should be able to use more forceful techniques
No Opinion

One provision of The Patriot Act allows federal agents to secretly search a U.S. citizen’s home without informing the person of the search for an unspecified period of time. Do you approve or disapprove?
No Opinion

Which comes closer to your view: The government should take all steps necessary to prevent additional acts of terrorism in the U.S. even if it means your basic civil liberties would be violated, (or) the government should take steps to prevent additional acts of terrorism but not if those steps would violate your basic civil liberties
Take steps even if civil liberties are violated
Take steps but do not violate civil liberties
No Opinion

One other part to evaluate with this particle topic is how time has affected these numbers, while support was more evenly split in the time closely following 9/11 support of pro-civil liberties enforcement has increased and then leveled off.

MIDDLE AMERICA ON CIVIL RIGHTS:  These numbers have been difficult to evaluate, when America has been attacked support for an “any means necessary” approach understandably rises and Americans are willing to forgo certain rights to prevent future attacks, however support falls over time as Americans feel more secure.

Corporations/Regulation: Big business vs. big government both have been demonized by politicians and created hardened opponents on each side. But does Middle America support one or the other?
When ask whether you think it has too much power, about the right amount of power, or not enough power. This is how America responded about the following groups.

Too Much
About right
Not enough
No Opinion
Major Corporations
Banks and financial institutions
Federal government in Washington
Government in your state
Local government

When asked: Would you like see major corporations have more influence, less influence, or keep their influence the same as it is now?
Totally Satisfied
Dissatisfied want more
Dissatisfied want less
Dissatisfied keep as now
No Opinion

When asked: Do you think there is too much, too little or the right amount of government regulation of business and Industry?
Too Much
Right amount
Too little
No Opinion

When asked: Which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future – big business, big labor or big government?
Big Business
Big Labor
Big Government
No Opinion

MIDDLE AMERICA ON CORPORATIONS/REGULATION:  American wants government to govern and corporations to conduct business however America does not seem to like crossover.  America does not support a lot of government regulation in the private sector or corporate influence on Capital Hill. America would like separation between CEO’s and politicians

Crime & Punishment: Most notably here is the death penalty, do you support or oppose. No charts or pretty graphs needed here. 64% of Americans support the death penalty while only 30% oppose it. 


Drug Policy: Unfortunately this seems to be an area where Gallup polling doesn’t have anything more recent than 2008 so I will resist go and find other polling numbers and update this post at a later time when newer polls become available.  However polling numbers show growing support for legalizing marijuana in particular.

Support legalization
Oppose legalization

MIDDLE AMERICA ON DRUG POLICY: Americans are slow relaxing their position on some regulation of drugs, only time will tell on this one. 

Education: So does Middle America want the government involved in a kid’s education?
When asked: Do you think the federal government should be more involved, less involved or keep the current level of involvement?
More involved
Keep the same
Less involved
No Opinion

The push for government involvement in education is not likely to go away either with more support among younger Americans than older.

55 and older
Federal government should be more involved
Federal government role kept the same
Federal government should be less involved

MIDDLE AMERICA ON EDUCATION: A combined 63% of America wants to keep the same level of involvement or increase involvement from the government.

Energy Policy/Environment: Does middle America support “green” energy over fossil fuels? Does middle America wanting more drilling? Do American’s prioritize the environment over energy production?
When asked: Which of the following approaches to solving the nation’s energy problems do you think America should follow right now?

Emphasize the development of alternative energy such as wind and solar
Emphasize the production of oil, gas and coil supplies
Both equally
No Opinion

MIDDLE AMERICA ON ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT: Additional the number of Americans who support conservation efforts vs. expanding production of fossil fuels has evened from 64%-24% in 2007 to 48%-41%, so what do all these numbers mean.  Middle America is feeling the pitch of rising oil prices and Middle America wants ALL types of fuel resources, green energy and increased production of fossil fuels.  America wants cheaper fuel from either green energy or fossil fuels.

Foreign Policy: Unfortunately I was not able to find a poll or polls that I felt would accurately rate how middle America feels about foreign policy because it is so expansive and broad a topic to try and cover. 

Gun Control:  This one is pretty simple; does Middle America want more gun control or less?
When asked: Do you feel the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or remain the same.
More strict gun control
Less strict/keep the same gun control

Middle America on Gun Control: Even in the wake of shootings Middle America likes its guns.  Americans are NOT in support of making it harder to acquire firearms.

Health Care: You can’t discuss health care now without The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Aka Obamacare) coming up, so that is where our focus will be. Does Middle America oppose or support Obamacare? Does Middle America believe it will help or hurt our health care system?
When asked: A year ago, Congress passed a law that restructures the nations healthcare system. All in all, do you it was a good thing or a bad thing that Congress passed this law?
Good thing
Bad thing
No Opinion

When asked:  Do you think the healthcare reform bill will improve, not change, or worsen medical care in the US?
Not change
No Opinion

When asked:  Do you think the healthcare reform bill will improve, not change, or worsen your own medical care?
Not change
No Opinion

MIDDLE AMERICA ON HEALTH CARE: Middle America is divided on Obamacare, some support and some appose, however with 56% of America believing it will either not change or actually worsen health care in the US; and 70% believing it will either not change or worsen their own medical care, Middle America is not ready to accept that Obamacare will improve their experiences when ill.

Middle America Part I Conclusion: So what does all this boil down to? Middle America isn’t apposed to abortion in a few limited circumstances, wants to cut government spending, is willing to give up a few civil rights for a short time in the name of safety from terrorism, is not a fan of big government or big business, supports the death penalty, is softening on legalization of marijuana, wants federal support in schools, takes an “all hands on deck” approach to energy sources, doesn’t want it to be harder to get a gun than it already is, and doesn’t believe that Obamacare will help create a better healthcare system. 

Is "Middle America" where you thought it was…more conservative or liberal?   

Where are you in relation to "Middle America"?