Saturday, December 29, 2012

By All Means, Let's Go Over the Fiscal Cliff

The so-called federal fiscal cliff is the combination of the expiration of the Bush-era temporary tax cuts, the temporary cuts to the Medicare and Social Security taxes, and a set of previously-enacted "automatic" spending cuts.  The conventional wisdom is that this will all be bad for the economy, and that that US should continue to borrow money from foreigners like to Chinese to spend on ourselves.

Only academics could buy that manure -- that the way to fight the effects of massive, long term overspending, much of it via borrowed money, is to borrow much more to spend more.  They argue that less federal spending will cause people to worry about the economy and, with less money in their pockets via higher taxes, they will spend less and therefore "hurt" the economy.

The US is functionally bankrupt and must cease going into deeper debt to spend on ourselves now.  Plain and simple.  And one reason the bad economy didn't hurt Obama as much as Republicans hoped for is that a huge proportion of the electorate has been shielded from the Obama spending binge because Republicans, those of the Stupid Party, pressured, or were duped into pressuring, Obama to go along with extending the Bush cuts a few years ago.  So taxes stayed lower while spending skyrocketed.

Enough.  Enough.  Although I don't want to pay higher taxes, especially to fund a Democratic party spending binge that primarily serves to increase dependency on big government (the prime Democrat strategy), people have voted for big government and now everyone must pay up.  When voters are fully paying for bigger government maybe then more voters will think twice about voting for it.

Avik Roy and Marc Thiessen agree (link).

John M Greco

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bears Win First de facto NFL Championship Game Indoors -- 80 Years Ago Today

The University of Chicago's "C" Logo
It was 1932 and at the end of the NFL season the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans finished tied for first place.  A play-off game was scheduled, the first ever NFL post-season de facto Championship Game, in Chicago.  Unfortunately, when the day came a blizzard dropped in and organizers scrambled.  The solution – move the game from outdoors in Wrigley Field to indoors at the Chicago Stadium. 

Yes, the first NFL post-season game was played indoors (link), on a field only 80 yards long.  The local team prevailed, as the Chicago Bears, the second oldest NFL franchise and the long-term, ahem, borrowers of the University of Chicago nickname Monsters of the Midway and football-shaped “C” logo (pictured; link), defeated the Portsmouth Spartans (now the Detroit Lions) 9-0 – 80 years ago today.
 
No doubt sensing a good thing when it saw it, the NFL honchos instituted an official post-season Championship Game thereafter.  The following year the first official one was played, once again in Chicago, and this time at Wrigley Field.  And once again the Bears prevailed, with a game-ending designed trick play (link), this time over the New York Giants.   

But times change.  The Bears have won only one championship in the past almost 50 years – the 1985 Super Bowl Shuffle Bears under former Bear player and Coach Mike Ditka.  They could use a trick play or two now. 

R. Balsamo

Want More Federal Tax Revenue -- Eliminate Deductibility for State & Local Taxes and Stop Subsidy of High Tax Democrat States

In all the "fiscal cliff" talk about how to raise more revenue for the federal government, one sure-fire way is conspicuously absent from the headlines -- removing or at least limiting the deduction for state and local taxes.  The reason for the non-coverge is a combination of Democrat obfuscation and Republican incompetence.  Obama wants more federal money -- OK, let's eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, worth a cool quarter of a trillion dollars a year to the feds. 

But this will never happen because this "fiscal cliff" kabuki theater is not about tax fairness -- if it was the deduction would already be gone.  For Obama, it's about protecting Democrats by preserving an incredibly unfair aspect of the tax code.  Allowing taxpayers to deduct their state and local taxes from their federal income tax means they pay a lot less, for a given level of income, than taxpayers in states with low state and local taxes.  Deductibility results in a subsidy from low tax states (read -- Republican controlled) to high tax states (read -- Democrat controlled).

From the Wall Street Journal editorial of 12/17/2012 (link): 

·       One post-election budget surprise has been President Obama's resistance to John Boehner's proposal to get $800 billion in new revenue by closing tax loopholes. Here's one likely reason: the high tax rates of his blue-state Democratic brethren.... 

·       One of Mr. Boehner's ideas, taking a cue from Mitt Romney, would impose a limit on annual deductions....  

·       But suddenly liberals are having second thoughts, and our guess is that this is because residents of high-tax Democratic-run states are about twice as likely to take advantage of tax loopholes as taxpayers in low-tax states....  

·       One tax writeoff in particular illustrates the point: the deduction for state and local income taxes.... Because the highest federal tax rate is 35%, the value of the state and local deduction is enormous for high-tax states....   

·       One pernicious effect, however, is to favor high-tax states at the expense of the nine states with no income tax and those with low rates. That's clear from looking at the IRS tax return data for the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  In 2010, the deduction for state and local income taxes for all states amounted to $249.7 billion....  

·       But here's the blue-state kicker: $51 billion of those writeoffs were claimed by residents of one state, California. And five liberal states—California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts—accounted for about $121.8 billion.  A mere five states accounted for nearly half the federal revenue lost from this tax deduction.... 

·       All of which helps to explain what appears to be the ebbing liberal support for a tax reform that reduces rates in return for fewer deductions.  Democrats in Congress once supported that kind of reform. But these days they tend to represent states with ever-higher tax rates that prop up state and local governments dominated by public unions that demand ever-higher pay and benefits. The resulting state tax burden would be intolerable if much of it weren't passed off on Uncle Sam.... 

·       Mr. Obama wants to raise tax rates, rather than eliminate deductions, so his fellow Democrats can keep raising state and local taxes without bearing the full economic and political cost....  

I would add to the last clip from the WSJ:  “Mr. Obama wants to raise tax rates, rather than eliminate deductions, so his fellow Democrats can keep raising state and local taxes without bearing the full economic and political cost....” and thus continue to play the taxpayers of Republican-dominated low tax states for suckers.
 
John M Greco

Friday, December 14, 2012

When the Going Gets Tough, the Republicans ....

From my somewhat desultory post-election reading, when I can rouse myself out of some eerie combination of disgust and dread, Republicans seem to be losing the public relations battle to the Democrats over the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations.  Just one more in a series of issues or sequence of events that should have strengthened the Party, but instead went essentially nowhere.  Despite the innumerable Democrat scandals, mendacity, and repulsive, corrosive behavior, Obama won anyway, narrow as it was, but it would have been a Republican blow out with the electorate of 1980, 1990, or, I think, even of 2000.  Times have changed, and the Democrat leftist/Alinsky strategy of in-you-face viciousness and win-at-any-cost tactics has, unfortunately and disappointingly, paid off, combined with the successful Dependency Agenda, to turn the masses into wards of the state and supporters of the Party of the State -- the Democrats.

The incomparable Michael Walsh sums up the current state of the Republican party today at National Review Online (link), essentially arguing, as he has for some time, that in general Republican Party leaders still have not recognized what they're up against, what the modern Democrat Party has become:
Fortune favors the bold, as the saying goes. The Romney fiasco should be the death knell of the Washington Generals approach to competing against the Democrats, and the whole lot of the Old Guard — starting with weepy John Boehner — should be tossed out and replaced with those who can distinguish between strategy and tactics and who understand that the only acceptable strategic outcome should be total victory over the modern Left and its alien, imported ideology. After all — that’s certainly the other side’s goal.
Of course, that depends on whether you see the current conflict as simply politics-as-usual, in which both sides share the same basic values and aspirations, and differ only in methods (the Boehner approach); or as a struggle between individualism and collectivism, which has been going on in Europe since Rousseau and his evil love child, Karl Marx, but is still relatively new to these shores. But extending the olive branch toward an opponent who’s not prepared to extend to you the slightest shred of moral or political legitimacy is suicidal. Unless, of course, you think it’s all a big game, a racket in which both sides have pretended to fight in order to divvy up the near-boundless swag of the federal treasury and keep the suckers back home happy come election time with a little kabuki and pantomime.
Accordingly, over the past two decades, the establishment Republicans — who knew the Rockefeller wing had such tenacity? — have nominated a string of reach-across-the-aisle types, and where has that gotten them? In the aftermath of 9/11, the author of the No Child Left Behind act was pilloried as a warmongering beast, McCain was savaged by his former “buddies” in the media as the walking dead, and Romney stood by mildly as he was accused by the Democrats of murder and Obama cried for revenge.
You can’t win a fight unless you’re prepared to credit your enemy with the will and the capacity to achieve his stated objectives, and as long as the Republicans continue to treat the Democrats as just a slightly more extreme version of themselves, they’ll continue to lose. On November 6, conservatives received a valuable object lesson in living inside their own bubble, slurping up what Fox News told them and believing that the ghost of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 electorate would once again show up at the polls, like the phantom army in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. Meanwhile, in the 40 years since they seized control of the Democratic party, leftist radicals have honed their divisive message and perfected their blunt-force tactics — all in the service of a strategy, as the actions of President Obama make abundantly clear.
Yes, there are 30 Republican governors and the Party hasn't been stronger at the state level for generations, and there are reasons for that strength that should be translatable to the national scene.  But it still is hard not to despair for a culture and politic predicated on promoting and protecting individual liberty, self-reliance, free-enterprise, and the rule of law.

John M Greco

Monday, November 26, 2012

Steve Cortes on the Investing Landscape and Strategies for Right Now


Fellow Chicagoan Steve Cortes, a market maven frequently seen on CNBC, has a valuable new book out on the current investment landscape and the investing strategies best suited to it.  His book is titled Against the Herd: 6 Contrarian Investment Strategies You Should Follow.  He supports each of his theses with a fair amount of facts, figures, and analysis.  The book is well-written and easy to follow, and I find his arguments well-presented.

Cortes thinks that China has peaked and is on the decline: an aging population, a consumer market that has crested, unsustainable fake, “crony” capitalism, and a profound lack of financial transparency in its business and economic data.  So avoid China and those whose fortunes depend on it such as Australia, a major supplier to China of basic resources, and US exporting firms such as Caterpillar, GM, UTX, and Union Pacific.  Japan is going nowhere but down, caught in population and sovereign-bond death spirals.  Cortes is anything but a gold bug; he feels if one believes in significant inflation soon to come one should buy the stock of big multi-national companies with most earnings outside the US (but not primarily China or Japan, or course).  However, Cortes believes that the US faces a more serious threat of deflation than of inflation, and he feels housing will not recover any time soon.   

Cortes makes a good argument, one to which I already subscribe, that most individual investors should avoid, or at least minimize, stocks.  I wish he could pound that into the heads of directors of most 401k plans, which offer for retirement investments mostly stock funds to the exclusion of much access to bonds, bank loans, preferreds, MLPs, and equity REITS.  Cortes says that “In the last 25 or so years, the cult of equities became an easy sell, because three massive macro forces merged into a powerful foundation for a secular rally....  The [current] macro investor, willing to ascertain trends for what they are, not what we might wish, will regretfully conclude that macro forces present in the equity boom that commenced in the 1980s are not only missing now but are very unlikely to reappear in the coming years.” 

Cortes is bullish on the USA and foresees a multi-year rally for the US dollar, catching global capital too exposed to emerging markets and not enough in the USA – “In a world awash with risk, beset by inflationary pressures, and far too pessimistic on America’s prospects, the US dollar represents a woefully under-owned and under-appreciated asset.  I see decades of dollar strength ahead as the emerging market dream becomes closer to a nightmare.” 

Cortes argues that “solid interest earnings represent the best long-term capital growth strategy – a mix of treasuries, corporate bonds, and some municipals makes sense for most investors....  Analysts who cite low annual returns for bonds compare apples to oranges in making analytical mistakes....  In a world of deleveraging and benign pricing, treasuries will shine.” 

Cortes thinks that “treasuries, with no risk, and corporate bonds, with acceptable risks, should make up nearly all the portfolio for nearly every investor.”  As evident from my previous posts, most of my allocation is to debt securities (although not treasuries given their low yield), particularly at this time via a leveraged closed-end fund vehicle.  “Regular” equities, essentially all via funds, make up less than 5% of my portfolio, but midstream energy-related firms, mostly MLPs (via CEFs) plus the Kinder entities KMR and KMI, make up almost 20%.    

I recommend Cortes’s new book – well-written, arguments well-supported, and thought-provoking.  It’s helped my thinking about investing for right now and, no doubt, for the years to come. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Microcosm of a Romney Loss – Obama Won In Republican Chicago-suburban DuPage County, & Abortion Looms Large

DuPage County sits west of Chicago’s Cook, and is historically Republican with mostly middle to upper middle class suburbs.  It is often the Illinois county with the highest Republican raw vote totals in the state.  And in November 2012 Obama won there in what should have been Romney territory.  Yes, Romney’s national vote was almost that of Obama’s, but his weakness in a typically Republican suburb of a large northern city serves as a microcosm of why he lost.

DuPage County voters historically have been fiscally conservative and socially liberal.  And, like the rest of America, has changing demographics – Democrat-voting emigrants from Chicago and Cook County are moving in,  attracted by the more successful Republican-run communities (yet after they arrive they continue to vote for the same Democrat party responsible for the mess from which they’ve fled (link) – go figure that one.

In Illinois in 2012, a weak, liberal Democrat incumbent governor was challenged by a fiscally conservative Republican, a state senator and an experienced campaigner with a warm persona.  He was, though, pro-life.  Then, as now, Illinois was a financial mess, and voters in DuPage County strongly backed the two Republican candidates running for the state financial control offices – controller and treasurer.  The Republican candidate for controller, Judy Barr Topinka, was a well-known politician strongly liberal on social issues.  She pulled the highest Republican vote total in DuPage County and won the state election.  But Republicans in DuPage County split their vote.  The pro-life Republican candidate for governor, Bill Brady, received about 25,000 votes less than Topinka in the county, but lost statewide by only about 19,000 votes (link).  Had Republican voters in DuPage County given Brady as much support as they gave Topinka, Brady would have been elected.  One big difference between Brady and Topinka – abortion, an issue neither would be able to significantly impact in the positions they were running for.

And there have been downstream results.  With control of both state legislative chambers and the governorship, Democrats redrew the state Congressional map to strongly favor their side.  Under the new map, four incumbent Illinois Republican Congressmen just lost (Biggert, Schilling, Dold, and Walsh).  

The national economy is a mess, and Romney ran almost entirely on that issue.  It wasn’t enough.  Obama countered with a scare campaign about abortion and birth control pills.  Enough people must still blame Bush for the economy and must fear Republicans on social issues – even in DuPage County.

For years Illinois Republicans have been ravaged by an internecine war over abortion and social issues.  Some Illinois Republicans have savaged moderately pro-choice Republican candidates, only to repeatedly hand victory to  Democrats who are radical on the issue.  Republican anti-abortion zealots have compromised their party’s electoral success, ceding political dominance in the state to the Illinois Democrat party which supports and protects late term abortions, partial birth abortions, and infanticide after live birth botched abortions (link).  Rigid anti-abortion Illinois social conservatives have fought fiscal conservatives over the morning-after pill and have gotten legal infanticide instead.  Time for them to wake up to reality of what they have sown, form a coalition with fiscal, non-social conservatives, and win some elections.    

John M Greco

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The 2012 Elections = Thoughts on the Big Night for Obama & the Democrats, and the Implications for Republicans


This election should not have been close given the results after four years of Obama and the Democrats, but not only did Obama win reelection Democrats gained seats in the Senate.  The 2010 Republican resurgence did not last.  How could this happen?  

·         Changing demographics = The American electorate is very different than the one that elected Ronald Reagan and even George W. Bush – ever less religious, ever fewer whites, ever more Hispanics, ever more single women, ever more food stamp recipients, ever more who work for government.   

·         The successful 50-year Democrat Dependency Agenda strategy is working well – to relentlessly increase the percentage of voters who are supported by government, either via a government job or a welfare check.  Add to that the single adult women, who now (I hear) outnumber married women and who look to big government as a surrogate husband, and the Democrats have a growing and reliable voter base.   

·         Romney ran on primarily one issue – the economy.  Apparently, that wasn’t enough.  Romney avoided or went light on most of the Obama scandals, including Fast and Furious, Obamacare and particularly the HHS mandates on abortion and birth control pills, and, surprisingly, Benghazi.  Enough voters seem to still buy the line that the bad economy is primarily Bush’s fault.  Also, after the first debate, Romney seemed to coast on the economy issue and went easy on Obama on all the others.  

·         Obama’s campaign attacked and smeared Romney as a person (rich, out-of-touch white guy who doesn't care for ordinary Americans and probably is a felon who gives people cancer), while Romney attacked Obama’s record on the economy.  As much as I hate to admit it, the Obama smear campaign seemed to have some effect.  Republicans can’t completely play by gentlemanly rules while the Democrats are in the gutter making inroads with low information, easily pliable voters.  

·         The power of the media’s relentless liberal bias is hard to counter, but Romney surrendered and accepted the premise by agreeing to four liberal debate moderators.  Sure, he and Ryan did well enough, but how much better would the results have been with neutral moderators?  Republicans need to aggressively challenge the premise – consistently liberal debate moderators, election after election, are symbolic of Republican self-defeating passivity.  

·         On the whole, social issues hurt Republicans, particularly abortion.  Most voters seem to be pro-choice, at least in the first trimester and after rape and incest.  Romney avoided the issue but the Democrats tried hard to make it a big one, and were significantly aided by the idiotic comments of Akin in Missouri and the misguided comments of Mourdock in Indiana, both Republicans once favored in Senate races but who lost tonight after stupidly falling for a Democrat Rope-a-Dope tactic which got them talking enough about abortion to eventually say something stupid. 

·         The Tea Party movement has brought much energy to the Republican party, but has been dysfunctional sometimes in ousting admittedly squishy Republicans but with good election prospects for more consistently principled conservatives who turn out to be bad candidates who lose elections (O’Donnell in Delaware, Angle in Nevada, and Mourdock in Indiana come to mind).        

·         Obama and many leading Democrats are exceptionally hostile to fossil fuels, yet coal-laden West Virginia and oil and gas-rich North Dakota and Montana today elect Democrats to the Senate.  Figure that out.     

The growing segments of the electorate and the Dependency Agenda voters are generally not sympathetic to the traditional American and Republican principles of limited government, individual liberty and self-sufficiency, and free enterprise.  Republicans who insist this is a center-right country delude themselves.  Some significant soul-searching and new strategies are needed, as well as candidates who will aggressively take issues to opponents.  

Obama may well feel emboldened for these next four years, but determined Republicans in Congress will have their say, to be sure, and will pursue the Obama scandals such as Benghazi, Fast & Furious, and Solyndra-like financial corruption that have been so well suppressed so far by the liberal press.  

Overall, as distressed and despondent as I am about having Obama for four more years, a free America can survive that – maybe not well, but survive it.  But whether a free America can long survive the evolving electorate that decided to double down on Obama's character and agenda worries me much, much more. 
 

John M Greco

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Folkie Tom Paxton at 75


Some of the warmest memories I have of the early days with my firstborn is singing with him, mostly singing to him, softly, on our glider late in evenings after a long day at work.  We had a small repertory of songs he liked, some standards like Old McDonald and many tunes familiar from Raffi.  But there was one old personal favorite of mine that I sang a lot.  No doubt the appeal was the father-to-son-to son theme, spiced up by bursts of onomatopoeia amusing to both son and father.
 
That song is The Marvelous Toy, profound I think in its deceivingly superficially simple and silly way.  It was composed by a young man – in the Army, somewhat incongruously, at the time.  He went on to a memorable career as a singer-songwriter in the “folk” genre, starting off as part of the Greenwich Village scene.  I saw him perform once in the mid-80s or so in Chicago – at The Quiet Night on the north side, I think.  His songs are many – my particular favorite is The Last Thing on My Mind, and a version of his powerful Jimmy Newman by the late Chicago folkie Fred Holstein deserves special mention.   

He’s done a lot of satirical, topical political stuff from the usual simplistic, child-like leftist point of view, and I wonder how his antipathy to warmongering and allegedly corporatist presidents is holding up against such disorienting developments as Obama’s personally directing ongoing drone murders (no due process!) of scores of people all over the Middle East and Obama’s sinking billions of taxpayer money into Solyndra and other failing companies controlled by his political pals and sponsors.  Mature, three-dimensional intellectual thought has never been a strong suit of tres chic lefties, and I suppose we cannot expect any more of this man.  We take him and his music for what they are as they come.   
 
Born in Chicago 75 years ago today – Tom Paxton.   

 
Richard Balsamo

Monday, October 29, 2012

Floating Rate Senior Bank Loan Closed End Funds – Still Have a Place?

Readers of this series (link) of posts know that my investing strategy has for a while focused a great deal on leveraged closed end funds (CEFs), which borrow at short-term interest rates and invest the extra dollars in more securities to generate higher returns.  As I have written before, that leverage seems modest by “financial wheeler-dealer” standards – at most, one borrowed dollar for every one of investor equity.

Of ongoing special interest are those CEFs that primarily hold floating rate bank loans, which are usually senior in the capital structure, are secured by specific assets, and are often amortized so that a little of the principal is paid back all along the life of the loan (avoiding a surprise at the end of the term).   

Bank loans are made by banks to businesses for a variety of reasons and are typically aggregated into larger pools which are then sold to funds and other institutional investors.  Typically the interest rate on such loans is tied to the 3-month Libor interest rate and resets frequently, so that as short-term interest rates rise, so does the interest rate on such loans.  Bank loans are commonly below investment grade, but since they are typically are senior and secured (hence the acronym SSBLs) the recovery on a default is high, and defaults have been unusually low for a while, perhaps reflecting the stronger balance sheets of companies that have survived the Great Recession.

A unleveraged bank loan ETF, BKLN, currently yields almost 5%.  But for every dollar of equity in such a fund, why not borrow say 35 cents at less than 1% interest and invest that into more bank loans yielding 5%?  Both your leverage and your principal are floating to the same reference index, so the spread shouldn’t change.  With such leverage one takes on more credit risk but not more interest rate risk.  Add to that professional management, which has the ability, if so desired, to add some credit default insurance, and you have a Bank Loan CEF. 

Many bank loans today have interest rate floors, so they are yielding much more than the 3-month Libor.  Now, if interest rates wind up staying low for many years, as the fed has indicated and as the market currently believes, then these loans may not be the best investment at the current time for either current yield or total return.  But to hedge my bets in case short term interest rates rise sooner than expected, these SSBL CEFs have a reasonably good-sized place in my portfolio.  I find the credit risk reasonable and the interest rate risk negligible, and I find for all that I’m getting attractive annualized yields at roughly 6.0 to 7.5%.  Not bad.

As with all debt CEFs, among other things I look for net investment income (NII) to exceed the distributions, positive undistributed net investment income (UNII), a positive or at least stable quarterly NII trend, and a low level of the riskier level 3 assets.  I also like to see a positive, acceptable, and competitive total return on net asset value in recent time periods.  Ideally I like to buy when the market price is at a discount to the fund’s net asset value, but I will buy at a modest premium if I think market conditions suggest the NAV will be stable or rise. 

Senior secured bank loan CEFs have run up in price lately, and bank loans have risen and are now trading roughly almost at par, so they are no longer real bargains.  Nevertheless, I like them as a portfolio hedge against rates rising earlier than expected and with acceptable distributions for that hedge.

My major SSBL CEF holdings right now are TLI (6.7%), JFR (7.2%), JRO (7.5%), PHD (6.6%), and EFT (6.3%), with the current annualized distribution yields noted.  I like to diversity across sponsors whenever possible, and these five funds come from four different sponsors.  At the moment all these CEFs are trading at single-digit premiums -- their attractiveness as buys to some investors may vary with the degree of discount or premium, which varies day-to-day. 

Mike Parenti
 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis at 50

A Russian Missile
For two weeks Kennedy and Khrushchev and their surrogates and supporters stared down each other while across the States lots of kids (such as I) were led in daily disaster drills to sit on the floor with our heads at our knees and our arms over our heads.  Like that would do much good if the Reds dropped a big one on top of us.  Some neighbors, more cautious or more pessimistic or more foolish or more sensible, built bomb shelters in their back yards. 

In a few short years, “missile gap”, “mutual assured destruction”, “ICBM”, and “U-2” popped into the common lexicon.  Sputnik had scared us and Khrushchev (and his shoe) had alarmed us, and then suddenly we discovered Russian missiles being positioned in Cuba – pointed our way.  They say now Kennedy’s earlier diffidence at the Bay of Pigs led the Ruskies to be bolder – apparently weakness is provocative to one’s enemies (hasn’t that just come up again recently?).  The blockade ensued and suddenly I found myself curled up under a desk for what seemed like hours on end.  It was, in retrospect, they say, the closest the Cold War ever came to becoming a hot one.  Then as suddenly as it began it was over.   

The two week Cuban Missile Crisis ended 50 years ago today.
 

John M Greco

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

El Alamein at 70 -- "The End of the Beginning"

Memorial to the Australian 9th Division
at the El Alamein Cemetery
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the WWII Battle of El Alamein in the western Egyptian desert.  It was the first great successful Western Allied offensive of the war, and marked the turning point in Allied morale.  It placed Rommel’s famed German Afrika Corp on the run – for good.  It marked the first appearance in battle of the newest American tank, the Sherman, which would finally give the Allied troops a tank with which to counter those of the Germans.  The victorious British Eighth Army Commander Montgomery became "Viscount Montgomery of Alamein" when he was knighted after the war.   

Some years ago, eight to ten perhaps, on a long late evening flight from Los Angeles to Chicago I found myself sitting next to a small, quiet man who sat peacefully in his seat.  Somehow we struck up a conversation, unusual for me on such flights, where I preferred to rest or read.  We spoke quietly so as to not to disturb (much) our fellow passengers.  I discovered he was an Australian from Tasmania off to visit his son in Rhode Island, and was an avid sailor (like his son if I recall correctly).  Turned out he had been in the Eighth Army and served at El Alamein and later Italy, a courier or messenger as I vaguely recall.  His stories were remarkable, and I wish now I had a tape recorder with me.  We talked and talked and suddenly four hours later the plane was landing at O’Hare.  One of those remarkable little, memorable life experiences, so unplanned and so unexpected.   

Veterans of the battle, the few left, and others gathered at the British war cemetery in Egypt to commemorate the battle (link; link).  I can only wonder if my plane-ride acquaintance made it.   

About two weeks after the start of the battle a large American and British force would land in western North Africa and ultimately trap the Germans between the two advancing Allied armies.  Then on to Sicily and Italy and points beyond.  But it was about this protracted, bitterly fought, but ultimately successful battle, when all had been looking so grim for the Allies, that Winston Churchill famously said: "This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."    

R Balsamo

Obama the Infanticide President

A friend writes and mentions that some liberal acquaintances of hers are in denial over Obama’s advocacy for infanticide – the deliberate killing of infants.  With the “mainstream” liberal media shielding Obama from this disgrace, and from many others, only political conservatives who get their news and information from non-liberal sources know the truth.

Obama played a leading role, when he was in the Illinois legislature, in blocking adoption of an Illinois law that would require doctors and nurses to try to save infants born alive after a failed abortion attempt, as they would try to save any other infants who required medical care.  Obama led the fight to preserve the practice of denying infants born alive after failed abortion attempts any medical care and simply putting them in a closet without food and water and medicines to die – in short, he fought to preserve infanticide.  Readers up on this subject are familiar with the stories of Jill Stanek, the nurse at Christ Hospital (of all names) in suburban Chicago who cradled and comforted in their final hours living infants left to die by Christ Hospital doctors in utility closets after being born alive.  Obama and his Democrat confederates, which included many Irish and nominally-Catholic politicians from Chicago, successfully beat back every attempt to outlaw this despicable and barbaric practice. 

Obama the radical abortionist won – a man so radical in his support for abortion, and so fearful that any restriction would threaten it, that he took a leadership role with fellow Democrats in the Illinois legislature to defeat a bill that would have outlawed the killing of living babies.   

As I have previously referenced on this site, here is Peter Kirsanow writing at The Corner blog at National Review Online in a series of posts from 2008: 

Obama's 2002 vote against the Induced Birth Infant Liability Act ("IBILA") [occurred] while he was in the Illinois state legislature.  IBILA would have extended the same medical care to babies born after surviving an abortion attempt as is enjoyed by all babies born alive. When a similar measure, the Born Alive Infant Protection Act ("BAIPA") was introduced in the U.S. senate not one senator voted against it. Even NARAL didn't oppose it…. 

Obama sits through testimony that babies born alive after an unsuccessful abortion are left to die alone in a utility closet. The babies are provided neither comfort, care, nor sustenance during their brief lives. When this practice was brought to public attention horrified citizens petitioned their legislators to address the matter. Proposed legislation is drafted, [but Obama votes against it]…. 

Obama supposedly questioned the constitutionality of IBILA…  Obama's rationale for voting against IBILA is questionable at best. What isn't questionable is that Obama, the constitutional law lecturer at U. of Chicago Law School, offered no amendments to cure IBILA's purported defect….  Rather, after voting against IBILA, the bill was referred to a committee he chaired where he killed it by never bringing it up again for a vote. (It's also worth noting that while Obama voted "present" 100+ times in the Illinois state legislature, in this particular case he bestirred himself to vote "no".)  

Another revealing aspect of the issue is Obama's mendacity in claiming that his vote reflected the purported absence of "neutrality language" in the Illinois state version of the Born Alive Act. It's been six years since his vote, there's irrefutable evidence that the state version was the same as the federal version, yet Obama persists in peddling his false explanation. He's probably judged correctly that the media won't call him on it….  Obama insists on calling living, breathing babies no longer in the womb fetuses; he refuses to call them persons.

I think it is possible for moral people to view abortion early in pregnancy as not immoral.  However, abortion late in pregnancy is another thing, especially when the fetus would be viable outside the womb.  And as for so-called partial-birth abortions, where babies are killed while partially outside the mother’s body, and as for infants who survive the “botched” abortion attempt and are born alive but left to die in utility closets beside dirty laundry – these practices are barbaric and disgraceful.  No moral person, either “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” could countenance such despicable acts.  But Obama does.  And the liberal media hides all of this.

John M Greco

Related Post here:
http://criticalthoughtsblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/notre-dame-betrays-its-principles-in.html

Related Links:
Life Lies – Barack Obama and Born-Alive (link)
Fathering More Lies – Obama's latest spin on Born-Alive (link)
When Obama Voted For Infanticide (link)
Obama’s Abortion Extremism (link)
Obama and Infanticide (link)
Clarifying Obama’s Vote On Born-Alive (link)
Why Obama Really Voted For Infanticide (link)
Obama’s Infanticide Votes (link)
Sean Hannity Interview of Nurse Jill Stanek (link)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Liberalism as Bossism, & the Obamacare Medical Care Rationing Board

I have long believed that the liberal/left/socialist assertion that equality -- numeric equality in economic, racial, gender, and sexual orientation outcomes -- is just a ruse to hide from the rubes the real driving force of the left's intellectual vanguard -- the insatiable desire for control.  Control over everything about you and me, control over us because the controllers believe that the rest of us are too stupid to make our own decisions properly, and they're smart enough to do it for us.  In fact, they convince themselves that it's a moral imperative that they make the "correct" decisions for us.  Their proof -- some people don't vote for them and so prove that these people don't know what's good for them.  All these elites want control, and they're content sometimes to publicly live modestly while expecting to have their private luxurious villas out of sight in the countryside.  Their bargain:  give us control over your life and we'll ensure radical equality for everyone like you, while taking our well-deserved cut to live extra specially.

A great example of this liberal/left belief in control by elites is the provision in Obamacare that creates an unelected "board" of bosses to ration medical care.  It's pitched under the ruse that it's there to identify and promote only that medical care that is really effective.  It's a lie.  The board is there to ration care so to limit spending on medical care and to ensure that money isn't spent on care for people who have outlived their usefulness, in the eyes of the liberal elite.  Turn 65 and need a hip replacement -- fuhgettaboutit.  Hit 70 and need cataract surgery to see -- tough luck.  Need life-saving heart surgery as a health 90 year old -- sorry, too expensive for someone your age.  Want to spend your own money to get that care even if Medicare won't pay for it -- Hahahaha -- think the controllers, the bosses, will let people with money escape their grip and let you get medical care they're denying for a person without money?  Not a chance.  Death Panel indeed.

From Elizabeth Price Foley posting today at Instupundit (link) about that Obamacare rationing board, which goes by the wonky and innocuous-sounding "Independent Payment Advisory Commission (IPAB)" and will probably have an office right next door to the "Ministry of Truth":
....[T]wo extremely bizarre aspects of IPAB that get far too little attention:
(1) The IPAB itself can be disbanded only by a 3/5 supermajority of both houses of Congress, AND
(2) only if the resolution to disband is introduced between Jan. 1- Feb. 1, 2017, and approved (by 3/5) before Aug. 15, 2017. That is a maximum 8.5 month window. After this time period, any attempt at disbandment is not allowed under the statute.
....[A]side from [the constitutionality of these provisions in Obamacare], the salient point is this: Progressives adore “expert” panels like the IPAB because they believe they are better able to make tough decisions about how to cut Medicare spending than our elected representatives. And they love these unaccountable expert panels so much that they attempt desperate measures like “entrenching” them statutorily, writing language that purports to make these boards hard to repeal–and impossible after a very narrow window. This isn’t very “progressive” at all, because such entrenchment presumes that future generations can’t govern/decide for themselves, and nothing can ever be altered or improved. Typical hypocritical, control-freak progressivism.

John M Greco

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Obama -- "Piss Christ" OK But Don't Piss on the Prophet of Islam


Ultraliberal and one-time Muslim Barack Obama recently (link):
"The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.”
Jesus Christ is just Jesus Christ, but Muhammad is "the prophet of Islam".

So how about this award-winning "artistic" creation of an ultraliberal artist supported by United States government funds, which came from United States taxpayers courtesy of liberal Democrat lawmakers: "Piss Christ" (link; link)?  It's about to open for display at a NYC gallery.  Wikipedia states that "[t]he piece was a winner of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art's "Awards in the Visual Arts" competition,[1] which was sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a United States Government agency that offers support and funding for artistic projects."

"Obama Silent Over Calls to Denounce 'Piss Christ' Artwork":
Religious groups are blasting President Obama for not condemning an  anti-Christian art display set to appear in New York City and one Republican lawmaker said he is “fed up with the administration’s religious hypocrisy.  “Piss Christ,” once branded as a “deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity,” will be displayed ... in Manhattan.... The artwork features a “photograph of the crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine.”  Religious groups and some lawmakers have already started sounding off – and making comparisons to the controversy over a recent anti-Muslim film. The low budget movie “Innocence of Muslims” sparked violent and deadly clashes across the globe.  It also brought strong rebukes, condemnations and apologies from President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a host of administration officials.
The Obama Administration last week arrested the maker of the allegedly anti-Muslim film in Los Angeles on trumped up charges unrelated to the film, no doubt to appease the global Muslim community, American principles of free speech be damned, and not a peep out of American liberals.  Meanwhile, the US government-funded "Piss Christ" is on display in New York, and the "artist" is still at large.  Think we'll see a "Piss Muhammad" anytime soon, funded by the United States government, no less, and winning awards from culturally self-loathing liberals?  Me neither.  If Christians and Jews would lop off a few heads now and then, as Muslims do, then they would be feared and thus respected by the hateful and godless ultraliberal American elites.

John M Greco

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lyric Opera at Millennium Park


Lyric Opera at Millennium Park in Chicago on September 8, 2012.  Performers included Susanna Phillips, seen as Lucia last fall at the Lyric, and the Lyric Orchestra and Chorus.  A beautiful evening under the stars, and the rain waited until the concert was over.  Lots of Verdi – the rousing “Va pensiero”, Act One of La Traviata, and a selection from Don Carlo.  Also selections from Cavalleria Rusticana and Act Four of Carmen, and something from that German fellow with all the long operas.    

Cordiali saluti.  R. Balsamo

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why Do Some Voters Like Socialist Politicians?

Jem From the Web = Jay Nordlinger at "The Corner" at National Review Online:
How do you explain the success of socialist politicians against free-market politicians in democracies all over the world, despite the manifest failure of socialism, and the manifest success of a free economy? 
I remember an answer that Jeane Kirkpatrick once gave.  Their rhetoric is better than ours, she said.  More appealing. They talk of “fairness,” “community,” “solidarity” — “We’re all in it together!”  They also promise to solve your problems by demanding more of others, namely the “rich.” (But the problem with socialism, as Margaret Thatcher noted, is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.)
Free-market types, by contrast, talk about “self-reliance,” “entrepreneurship,” “independence” — which, frankly, are words and concepts that scare the hell out of a lot of people.
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/316089/matter-rhetoric-jay-nordlinger
Free stuff that other people pay for -- what's not to like?  And you need malleable, sheep-like voters -- Sheeple.

JM Greco

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Income Taxes & Fair Shares


Years ago I was driving to the airport in LA and was listening to a talk radio show in which the host played a tape of street interviews with random passers-by, asking each what percent of all federal income tax was paid by the filers with the top 10% of income – i.e., the top 10 percenters.  The results were astounding.  Most people thought well below 10%, and many were in the 1-2% neighborhood.  That is, most people thought that the top 10% of earners paid far less than 10% of all taxes – that they paid far less than their fair share.

Well, according to the 2008 IRS data using adjusted gross income, the top 10% of filers had almost 46% of all income, but paid, not 1-2%, or even 20 or 30% of all income taxes.  With 46% of the income, they paid 70% of the taxes.  The top 1% of earners has 20% of the income but pays 38% of all taxes. 

Now, let’s say 100 people need a road and they build it for $10,000.  Each uses it equally.  Should each contribute equally and pay $100 each?  Would that be fair?  But let’s say these 100 people have different incomes.  So, what if we require each to contribute a fixed percentage of income, so that the higher the income the greater the contribution to the cost of the road.  What if a tax of 10% on everyone’s income paid for the road, with some people paying very little and one person paying 20% of the entire cost.  Would that be fair to everyone?

Let’s take one more step.  What if some people insist that those with higher incomes pay even more than a flat 10% rate for all, which already would have higher earners paying more than their equal share of the road.  Let’s say these critics say that as a person’s income goes up, the percent of income he or she pays for the road should go up progressively, so that the top earner has 20% of the total earnings but should pay 38% of the entire cost of the road, while almost half of the people, who, remember, use the road equally, pay almost nothing.  Now, would that be “fair”?       

Would it be fair if, of all people equally using the road, one person, through his or her hard work and thrift, has 20% of all earnings but foots 38% of the cost of the road?  Finally, what if in fact that was the case, but that one day those paying little to nothing demanded that that the one high earner pay even more than 38% of the cost of the road?  Boy, would that be “fair”?  What if the 55 lowest earners, with 55 votes of the 100 total, voted to make the top 5 earners pay the entire cost of the road?  Would that be fair?  What would be a fair percentage of the road that the top 5 earners should pay for?

Once we move past an equal dollar share paid by all who use the road equally it get a little cloudy.  Once we move past an equal percent of income share paid by all, it gets very murky.  Is “fair” whatever a majority decides?  Is there any limit to how much of the road the top 5 or 10 earners should be made to pay for?

What if at some point the top 10 earners stopped using the road and moved elsewhere.  Would that be fair to those who remained?   
 
 
 
John M Greco

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mean & Vicious Democrats on Convention Display

At the Democratic Party convention this week, which is not even over yet, among other inanities we've seen:  multiple episodes of Dems analogizing Republicans to Nazis (while decrying the lack of civility (link) in politics, no doubt); one Dem delegate publicly saying (link) she'd like to "kill" Mitt Romney; a Dem county chair from Florida, a Jewish man, saying (link; link) that Christians want Jews slaughtered; an ode to the late Sen Ted Kennedy on Women's night (the only politician with a confirmed kill in the War on Women, as the quip goes); campaign buttons which proclaim "Once you vote black, you never go back -- Obama 2012" (link) (boy that sounds racist); the Dem party national chairwoman Congresswoman DWS caught lying (link; link) about what the Israeli Ambassador said about Republicans (and smearing Republicans in the process); and a night-long joyful celebration of abortion.

And then there's been the stunning fiasco (link) about getting caught taking reference to God and Jerusalem out of the party platform, multiple Dem leaders lying about whether it was true at all and then about how and why it happened, and then the crowning event, the haphazard convention floor voice vote, taken three times, in which clearly the required 2/3 vote was not obtained to reinsert the language but where the convention chair declared the vote successful anyway.

And remember that just a couple of weeks ago Vice President Joseph Biden told a mostly black audience in Virginia, once a slave state, that the Republicans want to "put ya'll back in chains".

They're mean, angry, and vicious.  Not your father's Democrat Party.  Not by a long shot.  What has happened to them?  What have they become?

John M Greco

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

More on Ryan versus Obama on Plans for Medicare

A response to John M Greco’s recent post:  Romney-Ryan versus Obama on Saving Medicare (link):

The economic solutions to Medicare are complicated.  Neither side has something easy to understand for the average person without serious study and probably education in economics and public policy.  I doubt that the question of whether Obama’s plan or Ryan’s plan would take more from the system is very relevant to them.  What is maybe relevant is that Obama's reductions would not be very directly visible to the end user.

People recall George Bush's desire to privatize social security just prior to the collapse of the stock market.  Some people also don't listen well and don't spend a lot of time trying to understand things they are confused by, but they may very well recall an impression they had that someone wanted to reduce their security, while perhaps orchestrating an enormous, unprecedented “giveaway” of their money from government to the wall street private sector.  Ryan’s plan may, rightly or wrongly, bring back such thoughts.

Some people can be greedy.  I heard an interview recently with some Medicare people reveling in the fact that they got hundreds of thousands of dollars health care though Medicare but didn't have to pay anything for it.  They didn't see this as generous or lucky, but rather as well -deserved and not to be disturbed for themselves or their children. They don't want to pay more for it.  Some said they were Democrats, but some also said they were Republicans.

The elderly, people on Medicare, constitute an enormous, motivated voting block with a lot of time of their hands.

So, I think lots of people on Medicare who get out to vote will not vote for Romney/Ryan because they think Republicans want to do away with their current security, even if they could save the system for someone else after they are dead.  It won't take much of a shift for this kind of thinking to influence the election results.  People may be disgusted with Obama, be tired of him and disappointed, but they have little real reason to trust the other side with their security.  The Democrats are bent on giving away government (my) money like drunken sailors, but many elderly suspect the Republicans will too, just to different people. 

The Good Doctor

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NBC News Airbrushes Out Black Republicans & Other Ongoing Liberal Racism

The ultraliberal media continues to smear Republicans with the race card, which apparently is just about all they can think of to do at this point -- their policies in the Obama years have utterly failed and they have no new ideas.  Their basic pitch -- soak the rich, give people like us more control, and all Republicans are rapacious racist, sexist, violent homophobes.  Since ideology is everything to them, their further corrosion of what little standard of decency remains is of no matter to them -- they've already shredded it down to gauze.  And oh yes, I know they'll say both sides do it, but when one side is responsible for 98.6% of the gross incivility, the canard becomes just an evasion and a character-revealing quarter-truth.

From the liberal website Politico (link):
Yahoo News has fired Washington bureau chief David Chalian [JMG: formerly of ABC News] after he was caught on a hot-mic during an online video broadcast saying that Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, had no problem with African Americans suffering as a result of Hurricane Isaac....  "They're not concerned at all. They're happy to have a party with black people drowning," Chalian said over a break during the ABC News/Yahoo News webcast, in reference to the fact that the GOP convention in Tampa is taking place as Hurricane Isaac makes landfall on the north Gulf coast.
Think Chalian is some minor hack?  Think again.  He defines the mainstream liberal media.  He is on the faculty of the Georgetown U. School of Continuing Studies Journalism Program (link); his bio there states: "He previously served as the political editor for PBS NewsHour, managing the editorial content from the NewsHour's congressional, White House, and Supreme Court beats...   Prior to [that], Chalian was the political director for ABC News. In this role, he helped oversee the editorial content of all political news...."  Think any of his vicious views biased any of his work?

One reader commenting at National Review Online:  "Yahoo hired Chalian after he produced the Charlie Gibson interview of Palin. How does his comment about the Romneys deviate in any way from his work there?".  Yahoo may have fired him just for being stupid enough to get caught on an open mic.

Meanwhile, NBC News is airbrushing any coverage of the two black politicians who spoke yesterday at the Republican National Convention.  From National Review Online (link):
The NBC News page for “Tuesday Night’s RNC Speeches” does not include Mia Love or Artur Davis. Apparently remarks by a former Democratic congressman who seconded Barack Obama’s nomination at the 2008 Democratic Convention is not among the “notable” speeches from last night. It’s enough to make Glenn Reynolds ask: “Is NBC racist? Looks that way. I mean, they’re airbrushing out the black people!”  Then again, MSNBC didn’t air the Love or Davis speeches either, nor that of Senate candidate Ted Cruz [JMG: who is Hispanic].
The ultraliberal and deceptive NBC News is desperate to preserve the media lie that there are no "genuine" blacks and Hispanics in the Republican Party.  And when they show up quite publicly, and quite inconveniently for NBC, they must be airbrushed away, just as Stalin would airbrush out of old photos people with whom he fell out.  For NBC News, it's as if they never existed, and all that's left is the lie.

John M Greco

Monday, August 27, 2012

Obama is Narcissist-in-Chief

Is there any limit to this man's narcissism?

From Drudge Today:


Here's the picture of Obama as the Obama tribute (link) to Neil Armstrong; the Daily Caller asserts that "This is not a Photoshop. This was actually posted on Obama’s official Tumblr page:"