Thank You, John McCain

“Let’s return to regular order,” Mr. McCain said on the floor of the Senate.

Diana Bauer and I mused about accomplishments this morning. “Everybody is yapping,” she said, “but we aren’t accomplishing much.”

“Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we’d all agree they haven’t been overburdened by greatness lately. And right now they aren’t producing much for the American people…

We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side…”

Mr. McCain has certainly noticed the same problem.

“You write op-ed every week,” Ms. Bauer said. “Do you think you’ve changed any minds?”

It’s a good question and shows that this writing stuff is the very antithesis of a good engineering job.

“We’re getting nothing done. All we’ve really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Our healthcare insurance system is a mess. We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it. Something has to be done. We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven’t found it yet, and I’m not sure we will. All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it.”

The Neil Gorsuch appointment shows how a job used to work:

Fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
List the best candidates for the job.
Nominate Mr. Gorsuch.
Hold hearings in the U.S. Senate.
Confirm the appointment.
Make good:
Mr. Gorsuch is sworn in.

Back in about 1980, I honchoed the design of an industrial machine that accepted a flow of books or magazines and stacked them in an even pile so the “extra” paper around the edges could be trimmed off. It worked a treat; we installed them around the U.S. and Europe in printing plants to produce everything from Playboy to Reader’s Digest with a stop at TV Guide.

ChecklistIn order to get those magazines into your hands, I looked at the existing stackers on the market and found that they couldn’t keep up with the throughput particularly of the thin, fast moving magazines like the two-up Digest or TVGuide. That defined the problem. A number of people on my team and over in the sales offices researched what the market needed and how many we might sell because there was no way we’d spend a gazillion dollars of design time and tool up for a machine that sold three copies. The requirements came out of that research. We dreamed up and discarded a lot of solutions and homed in on the best. One of my designers at the time was arguably the best, most creative machine guy I’ve met anywhere; he did the layout. The guys in the model shop downstairs built a prototype and we tested it right there in our own plant. I installed the first one in, I think, Offenburg Germany.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The Pilemaker went from defining the problem to making good on the solution — you reading a magazine. Or at least gazing at the foldout.

That’s the way writing op-ed and governing are supposed to work, too.

I want my columns to change the way you think or, better, to get you to take action. That’s my goal. The make good is when you do volunteer for a community group or throw the bums out of Washington.

We want the legislature to complete the tasks we set for them. That’s our goal; it should be every Congress Critters’ goal as well. The make good is when we see a bridge built across the Rock River or a health care system that works.

I have no way other than persuasion to strong arm you into completing my goal but we can force Congress to do so.

We can elect new ones.

Give them a check list.

Remind them that they lose their jobs when they don’t make good.

And then follow through.

Thank you, John McCain. You got us part way there.


Facing Down the T00b, II

Face the Nation was all about the Comey testimony Sunday.

I didn’t get to watch Sunday’s episode. Thank goodness for a written transcript.

When all is said and done, Mr. Comey went on record with what Mr. Trump had said all along: Mr. Comey admitted that he told Trump he’s not under investigation. Mr. Comey conceded that the nine one-on-one encounters with Mr. Trump were “uncomfortable, but not impactful.” Mr. Comey also made it very clear several times that Mr. Trump never asked him to stop the Russia investigation. Period. And Mr. Comey acknowledged that Mr. Trump only once said, “I wish you would let this go” about the Flynn investigation.

The investigations continued unimpeded. The conversations were no doubt unusual and likely inappropriate to a politician used to dealing in nuance and undertone and spin and politics as usual but not illegal. As I recall, the current President was elected to run Politics as Usual right out of town.

And how are the Democrats responding?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told John Dickerson, “The cloud hanging over this administration has just gotten a whole lot darker.”

Uh huh.

Sen. Lindsey “Is this Watergate or Peyton Place” Graham (R-SC) actually talked pretty straight when on Face the Nation he told Donald Trump, “you may be the first president in history to go down because you can’t stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you just were quiet, would clear you.”

And Mr. Graham had the line of the week:

Donald Trump “can’t [even] collude with his own government. Why do you think he is colluding with the Russians?”

Speaking of Mr. Schumer, he surely loves spin. “To have this issue, which affects a sixth of our economy, tens of millions of people’s coverage — millions would lose coverage, lose preexisting conditions, hurting the elderly, hurting women, to do this in private, without hearings, without amendments, it would be one of the most outrageous examples of legislative malpractice in decades.”

Taz, SpinningI guess he doesn’t remember “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it…”

I guess he doesn’t remember that the House passed the original Obamacare bill on November 7, 2009, on a 220-215 vote. Nobody knew what was in that bill. I guess he doesn’t remember that he and 59 other Senators rushed to pass a similar, although not identical Obamacare bill on Christmas Eve 2009 in a 60-39 vote. Nobody knew what was in that bill, either. I guess he doesn’t remember that when Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts special election, it left Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Obama in a dilemma. They had to have the House pass the Senate bill before Mr. Brown was sworn in because he would upset the Democrat’s supermajority. The House did that and Mr. Obama signed the Un-American Care Act, a law that was passed with not one Republican vote, two days later on March 23.

This turns out to be a story not of “he said, he said,” but of who can spin faster. Mr. Schumer may be ahead on points in a contest only a Tasmanian devil should want to win.

CBS News contributor Ed O’Keefe has it figured out. “Every week there’s probably going to be something like this, some public forum where it gets raised again and attention is put on it. Committee rooms and closed door meetings will be the centers of the drama on The Hill in the next few weeks.” Or months. Or years.

Congress is supposed to be building a budget, changing ObamaDon’tCare into actual health care, punishing Iran and Russia, passing the odd law or two, paying off the National Debt, and all its other duties but instead it chooses to pretend that political oneupsmanship is more important than statesmanship.

Margaret Chase Smith was the junior Senator from Maine in 1950 when she delivered a fifteen-minute speech known as the “Declaration of Conscience” on the Senate floor. She denounced “the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from this side of the aisle.” She said McCarthyism had “debased” the Senate to “the level of a forum of hate and character assassination.”

I think she must have seen Face the Nation on Sunday because she was really talking about Congress today.


we’ve really stepped in it this time

“Deja vu all over again.”

We all noted, back in 2009, that we’d really stepped in it this time.

Pundits have said that the new Administration’s need to stack accomplishments during the first 100 days is the reason for the rush to pass a health care bill. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nicky Shaw and I talked about the two big issues in Washington before the 115th Congress left for their 97th vacation so far this year. “This Congress has been very busy,” she said.

Yeppers. They codified the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, passed a GAO access act, disapproved of an SEC rule, authorized the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women (I guess women weren’t allowed to be NSF entrepreneurs before that?), and passed a joint resolution to appoint a citizen regent for the Smithsonian Institution.

Oh, yeah. And they repealed ObamaDon’tCare and are about to cut the corporate tax rate.

“I’m all for dumping the Unaffordable Care Act,” Ms. Shaw said. “I know it’s politicspeak to say this, but it is unsustainable.”

We’ve covered that taxpayer-financed insurance bailout for seven years. She’s right. And that pullquote up there about the rush to pass? That’s from 2009.

I’m also all for dropping the corporate tax rate (I’m all for any drop in tax rates) particularly since corporate earnings are double taxed, once when earned and again by the shareholders when received as dividends (corporations may not legally deduct their dividend payments). Here’s some background on business taxes

In 2014 the United States had the third highest general top marginal corporate income tax rate in the world at 39.1% (consisting of the 35% federal rate plus a combined state rate), exceeded only by Chad and the United Arab Emirates. Shareholders of most corporations are not taxed directly on corporate income, but must pay tax on dividends paid by the corporation. However, shareholders of S corporations and mutual funds are taxed currently on corporate income, and do not pay tax on dividends.

Despite what the tax-and-spend crowd tells you, it’s not the just the Kochs and the Soroses who get those dividends; retired geezers and all the still-working-soon-to-be geezers get the dividends on more than $25 trillion in retirement funds alone. “Trillion” with a “T.”

Hmm, if corporations are people (viz. Citizens United) then they are taxed without representation. I’m thinking corporate income tax is unconstitutional if they are taxed without representation and we shareholders should revolt. And, bonus, we can blame the Democrats for the income tax! See, the Democrats first called for income taxes back when the whole idea of it was still unconstitutional.

During the two decades following the expiration of the Civil War income tax, the Greenback movement, the Labor Reform Party, the Populist Party, the Democratic Party and many others called for a graduated income tax. The Socialist Labor Party advocated a graduated income tax in 1887. The Populist Party “demand[ed] a graduated income tax” in its 1892 platform. The Democratic Party, led by William Jennings Bryan, advocated the income tax law passed in 1894, and proposed an income tax in its 1908 platform.
In 1894, Democrats in Congress passed the Wilson-Gorman tariff, which imposed the first peacetime income tax. In 1895 the United States Supreme Court, in its ruling in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., held a tax based on receipts from the use of property to be unconstitutional.

Do ya feel as if we’ve been here before?

Do ya remember electing a President who promised “change”?

Same Old Stuff, Different Day
No matter how you dress up the typeface, the “UnAmerican Health Care Act” is just the “Unaffordable Care Act” in a new TV costume. No health care reform there. No matter how you dress up the characters, the “Tax Cut” is just the 4,037 or 70,000 page tax code in a new TV costume. No tax reform there.

And the only actor who has changed in this play is the guy at the top.

Passing a health care bill in the first 100 days. Why was it critical in 2009 and critical in 2017? Back then I thought even Congress would rebel if they actually read the bills. Turns out that was wrong this year, too.

Passing a tax cut in the first months. I had hopes for tax reform. This year, it looks like that was wrong, too.

“Maybe We the People should revolt instead,” Ms. Shaw said.

And there you have it. Since corporations are people and they buy their representation, that means We the Overtaxed People are no longer represented and that’s the hook to use.


Taxed. Again and Again and Again.

We the Overtaxed People dread most April fifteenths but that terrible day has been delayed to April 18 again this year.

“Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow
You’re always a day away …”

Form 1040Emancipation Day, a little-known holiday beyond the Beltway, is the primary reason the tax deadline changed this year. Slavery was formally abolished in the United States December 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was ratified, but it occurred much earlier in the District of Columbia: President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862, freeing the thousands of slaves who lived in the district. Now a legal holiday in Washington, government offices and other public services do not operate on Emancipation Day, usually celebrated April 16. Emancipation Day falls back to April 15 or ahead to April 17 when it falls on a weekend because we couldn’t deprive civil servants in that city of a holiday.

This is the second year in a row.

In other tax news, tax-refund fraud continues to soar this tax season. It will top $21 billion this year, up from “just” $6.5 billion three years ago, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS’ own “Dirty Dozen” lists the common scams that peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or hire someone to help with their taxes. Half are crimes against us including phishing, phone scams, and identity theft.

Elian Matlovsky of Staten Island was found guilty in what the prosecutor described as “one of the nation’s largest and longest running stolen identity tax refund fraud schemes.”

Here’s how it worked. Ms. Matlovsky and the other defendants were found to have filed more than 8,000 fraudulent federal income tax returns for more than $65 million in tax refunds. They did it by stealing Social Security numbers and dates of birth and using that information to file the false returns claiming refunds.

My liberal friends like to make hay on the fact that the rich don’t pay taxes but my liberal friends are wrong.

I ran a quick guestimate for the fabled “one percenter” with a gross annual income of $1,260,508, a $10,000 retirement plan contribution, $26,690 in itemized deductions, and two kids. That taxpayer has $1,152,975 in taxable income and will pay about $411,339 in taxes. The effective tax rate is 32.6% and the marginal tax rate is 39.6%. (That gross annual income is the least that qualifies for “one percent” status.)

Now look at a “ten percenter,” a married engineer earning $133,445 in salary with no investment income, a $5,000 retirement plan contribution, $13,345 in itemized deductions, and two kids. That taxpayer has $107,000 in taxable income and will pay about $17,465 in taxes tomorrow. The effective tax rate is 13.1% and the marginal tax rate is 25.0%. (That gross annual income is the least that qualifies for “ten percent” status.)

“The tax code is about 2-1/2 times the length of Stephen King’s It–except you replace ‘scary clown’ with ‘accounting methods’.”

Finally, consider the married person who earned $40,190 in wages with no other income, no retirement plan contribution, taking the standard deduction, and two kids. That taxpayer has $19,490 in taxable income and will pay about $0 in taxes tomorrow. The effective tax rate is 0.0% although the marginal tax rate is still 15.0%. (That gross annual income is about the most a family of four can make before paying $12 in income tax for the year.)

Want to tell me again who pays the least taxes?

There are now more than a thousand pages of tax forms.

Slate, apologizing again for Big Government, would have us believe the tax code wasn’t 70,000 pages long in 2013. It was “only” 4,037 pages then. Oh, goody.

Want to tell me again why this is fair.

Just remember, the very same people who want nationalized, government-run, single-payer health care (“Medicare for All”) oppose the simple, fair flat tax. I’m pretty sure there is a moral in there somewhere.

SCOTUS Upholds Obamacare: It's a tax
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
your bottom dollar will be gone!


Random Inflation

I live in the middle of the Florida Keys where I have flood insurance and windstorm insurance as separate policies from my “traditional” homeowner’s insurance.

The premiums went up this year.


A lot.

FEMA runs the National Flood Insurance Program which “aims to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures. It does so by providing affordable insurance to property owners…” They have lousy aim.
The state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp provides windstorm insurance protection to Florida policyholders. The “financial responsibilities [imposed by the Florida law] drive Citizens’ commitment to quality customer service and rigorously sound financial management.” Their aim is much better since premiums have skyrocketed. They have 459,797 windstorm policies in Florida overall and 17,264 of the 22,663 wind policies here in the Keys.

When I realized how much my premiums went up and how much my Social Security didn’t, I got to wondering why. After all, these are all government programs, driven to customer service and affordability. And we know the government ties everything to the Consumer Price Index, right?

Inflation and its Effect on Premiums

The Bureau of Labor Statistics “is the principal Federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy.” They collect and analyze that data and then tell us about it. We the Overtaxed People as well as the U.S. Congress, other Federal agencies, and State and local governments depend on BLS data every day. The Consumer Price Index may be their best known number among older Americans. Current Employment Statistics may be the most quoted in the press. They have more.

The official BLS inflation calculator shows there has been 14% change in the CPI since 2009.

The official Cost Of Living Adjustment (based on the CPI) increased 0.0% in 2009, 0.0% in 2010, 3.6% in 2011, 1.7% in 2012, 1.5% in 2013, 1.7% in 2014, 0.0% in 2015, and 0.3% in 2016. Because “inflation has been very low in recent years,” Social Security recipients did not get a COLA increase in 2010 or 2011. SWMBO, who received about the average monthly Social Security through that entire period, has seen her check increase 7.7% from 2009 through 2017. Recipients did (sort of) receive a cost of living adjustment this January but most saw no increase in their monthly check because the government’s own Medicare Part B insurance premium went up more than the COLA.

Meanwhile, my FEMA-run flood insurance has risen 75% from $1,173 in 2009 to $2,051 today. Citizens more than doubled my windstorm premium, a 224% hike, from $2,149 in 2009 to $4,816 last year. It will be even more this year.

The liberal ideal is “Medicare for all” because they say it will drive costs down, but if FEMA and Citizens are examples of efficient, affordable government programs, we should be very, very afraid of all of these “ideal” liberal programs.