Monday, September 03, 2012

Some Housing Perspective

If a person took out their mortgage loan between 2004 and 2008, when prices came from fantasy land or if a person took out equity loans or lines of credit during that time period based on the fantasy values it would certainly be likely that they would be "underwater" today. Generally speaking, home prices doubled or even tripled between 1999 and 2006 in many high volumes areas and of course this was pure insanity!

Historically, home prices (values) since the early 1950's (with the exception of the fantasy years mentioned above) have risen about 4% on average. There was no fundamental logic to justify the national insanity displayed in the past decade. The fact is that EVERYONE drank the kool aid, meaning the consumers, the banks, the government lending and taxing agencies at all levels, the home building industry and on and on with little thought that it couldn't last or that something was fundamentally wrong.

My Mother's house in Los Angeles, Ca. was valued at about $80,000 in 1975 and had risen to about $190,000 by 1999, reflective of the 4% guideline. When the "value" jumped to $240,000 by 2001 and then to the insane level of $900,000 by 2006 (the high point) all rational analysis was out the window. Even today, her house is "valued" at about $635,000 which is still too high (it should be about $370,000 at most). Do the math for your house or area pre insanity years compared to now and you may get a better indication of actual value. My Las Vegas home went from a 1998 purchase price of $146,000 (in 1998) to a sale price of $172,000 (in 2002) and then DOUBLED to $340,000 by 2006! Oh come on! The current "value" estimates average about $144,000 which is more realistic (although my city has been hit much harder than most).

For those caught in the trap of the insanity years things have been difficult to be sure. For those who borrowed above there means gambling that the rocket would just keep going up well it should be a sobering lesson. The main point now is for all of us to avoid letting ourselves get sucked into a repeat performance. The pain of these past few years and of the next 4 to 5 years coming up is the collective price that must be paid but perhaps we can return to a more reasonable approach to home ownership and our overall expectations. Housing prices have begun to stabilize in recent months and even increase in many markets as the available inventory lessons, but before anyone can make realistic decisions about buying or selling, the Banks and lenders and government entities need to process virtually all of the distressed mortgages and clear the books so the whole housing market projections are more clear than they are now. Hopefully, homeowners that are "underwater" by 10 to 25% will see their home values increase to at least get them to the break even point within the next 3 to 5 years. If these homeowners bought with the intention of living and raising a family in the home and they are fortunate enough to have the funds to meet the payment obligations, being underwater now should not be a crisis. An important question still is; "Will the players in the housing game try to do it all again?"

As a final and what should be an optimistic note for the housing market, the current 30 year fixed mortgage interest rates at  their LOWEST level since October of 1955 when the rate was 3.5%!! That was 57 years ago!!

Where we are and where we were

                    First, the big error that this Administration made was misjudging the enormity of our economic situation during the final months of 2008 and into the spring and summer of 2009. Of course not many actually did realize it or acknowledge the fundamental collapse that began in the early months of 2008. Most candidates and newly elected officials fall prey to being over optimistic with "recovery" projections. A key thing to remember as we "grade" the past 3 1/2 years is that the American economy DID NOT begin on January 20,2009! The status of our economy at any given time is only an extension of the years and decades that came before.

    Having said that, some facts are; Unemployment in January, 2008 was 4.9%. 13 months later at the end of February, 2009 it was 8.5%, a 73% INCREASE. Unemployment now (end August, 2012) we are at 8.3%, a slight decline. Those who bring in the "real unemployment", projections of 23 million unemployed and portray it as though all the "under employed" were non existent before January, 2009 are simply ignoring the facts. There were millions in that category for years and the business practice of having employees work less than the traditional 40 hours per week has been a growing practice for almost 20 years. Statistically, we are about 2.1% above our 60 years average unemployment, so the immediate goal should be to get down to our long time average %.

    The Dow Jones average at the end of February, 2009 was 6,594, which was a 50% decline from the end of 2007 (12,274). The average as of August 31, 2012 was 13,090 or a 98% INCREASE from February, 2009 and 800 points higher than the end of 2007. In my opinion, we are approaching averages that are actually too high relative to our overall economy, so beware.

    Domestic energy production is currently at the highest levels during the past 8 to 10 years. We have more oil and gas rigs (1272) than the rest of the world. In 2005, 60% of U.S. consumptions of oil was from foreign sources. At the end of 2011, only 45% (a drop of 33%) of U.S. oil consumption was from foreign sources.

    There have been 18 small business tax CUTS signed into law since January of 2009. Americans are currently paying LESS (relative) taxes than at any time since the 1950's. There are currently LESS "government" employees than there were in the mid 1980's under President Reagan,

    As of July, 2012, 1.4 MILLION illegal immigrants had been deported since January, 2009 which is 1 1/2 times the monthly deportation rate for the 8 years of the President Bush administration. There are twice as many border agents in the field now as there were in 2008.

    The housing market collapse that began in 2008 as a result of the collective greed of everyone involved and has been among the key reasons for the level of our financial stress appears, after 4 years to at least be leveling off and in many regions, home prices have begun to rise. Home prices between 2002 and 2009 were just a myth, as most "values" doubled or even tripled in the span of just a few years versus a 60 year average value increase of about 4%. The last thing we should want now is for a quick return to those false levels. Sanity in the housing market will now take several more years to attain and yes, there will be pain, but we need to adjust overall values to be in line with our historical 4% per year increase model. Anything else and we're just asking for another crisis. A final note on housing; mortgage interest rates are currently available at 3.5% which is the LOWEST since 1955 (57 years ago)!

    Our total national debt is too high for sure. Our current national debt or many of the structural reasons for it certainly did not begin on January 20, 2009. This has been decades in the making and is the responsibility of BOTH major political parties.
 "We" owe just under 10 trillion of the 16 trillion to ourselves, meaning about 2.6 TRILLION to the Social Security Trust Fund (16%), about 800 billion to the long term civil service retirement and disability fund (5%), another 381 billion to the Department of Defense Military retirement fund (2.4%), and an additional 1 trillion dollars to many and varied trust funds or insurance funds in the name of Americans or American entities. All of this "debt" (4.77 TRILLION) is noted under the category of Intragovernmental Holdings and is long term "debt" that does not need to be paid immediately. About 5.5 trillion of our total is owed (and held) by foreign nations, with about 1.2 trillion to China and 1.1 trillion to Japan (mostly in the form of Treasury and other bond issues). The remainder of the debt is virtually all in the form of treasury bills, notes and bonds held by the public (citizens and businesses) and is due only on maturity and demand. The point is that the VAST majority of our reported National debt (although very high) is not due and payable now or anytime in the near future,

The "real" debt figures that should be part of the daily conversation are, the interest payments as they become due, any direct loans made to the Federal government, and any amounts due to maturing treasury notes, bills or bonds where the holder wishes to cash out. It is preferable to reduce the foreign debt totals and to repay the huge social security trust fund debt as well as other trust fund and insurance fund debt, but the public discussion of national debt should probably involve only about 3 or 4 trillion dollars. The idea of "projecting" national debt out to a distant horizon has no practical purpose other than the shock value politically. We could project out to a 75 trillion dollar debt but it would be meaningless in the short term

    The "war" in Iraq is OVER. Gaddafi is GONE from Libya. Musharraf is GONE from Egypt. Osama Bin Laden is GONE from the earth. The current administration has continued the streak of protecting America from attack since 2001. A large portion of the Al Quida network has been destroyed or forced into hiding during the past 4 years.

Millions of Americans now have access to health care and health insurance coverage than at any time in the past. The Affordable Care Act is NOT a Government "takeover" of the health care industry! There will be costs but the overall effect should be very beneficial to the millions who have been living on the edges of what should be (at least in America) a fundamental right and privilege bestowed by the greatest nation in history. There is still much to be done with respect to the costs of health services and the cost of insurance but at least the rate of increase as slowed to 4-5% the past two years versus the 7-10% we have endured for most of the past 15 years. 

    In the end, our country still has many areas that need improvement and most areas are trending in the positive direction. The collapse of 2008 was simply too great to overcome in only a 4 year period. The choice now is whether to allow our economy to recover further by maintaining the current path or to start all over again.

Friday, July 27, 2012

   Necessary Steps                            October - 2013

The situation will not even begin to improve until;

        1) ALL the marginal income tax rates revert to at least the levels of 2000 for a minimum of 5 years. Federal revenues must increase as part of the solution.

        2) Capital Gains on investment and real property income needs to be set at no less than 80% of a persons individual income tax rate based on the amount realized.

        3) Estate taxes need to be abolished altogether as it is simply a punitive tax. At the very least, immediate family members should be exempt from any inheritance taxes.

        4) The Alternative Minimum Tax needs to be abolished. Enacted in 1969, to in theory, create an additional tax on the highest income levels. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 made modifications with respect to tax rates and qualifications, but the ATM tax rates have risen steadily since then while the income levels have not risen to keep pace with only the highest income levels. the result has been that if not abolished, the AMT, will affect about 34 million taxpayers in 2012, compared with only about 200 in 1970. The estimated "revenue loss", if abolished, would need to be offset by item 1 above, a return of ALL marginal tax rates for individuals and business to at least the 2000 levels plus reduction or elimination of other deductions currently in the tax code.

        4a) A complete review of individual and corporate tax deductions and other credits needs to take place.

        5) Property tax rates need to be based on the initial purchase price with increases based on actual sales figures, rather than the "estimated value" system now in place, but with a maximum 5% increase cap per year. Although this is a State issue it still affects the economy in a big way.

        6) The medicare tax for workers needs to increase as does the monthly premium for those in the Medicare Part B or Part C or D programs. This is just a necessary reality to keep the system solvent.

        7) The Medicare program must be allowed to negotiate quantity pricing for drugs provided to Medicare recipients the same as the Dept. of Veterans Affairs does now.

        8) Current programs that provide Federal money for Grants or Loans for students or educational institutions need to be phased out over a five year period. This should be private business between the individual, the educational institution and the individual States.

        9) Current programs that provide Federal money to subsidize or guarantee home or commercial mortgages need to be phased out over a five year period. The ownership of property should be private business between the individual and the bank or mortgage firm or the owner of the property.

        10) Federal spending for the construction or repair or upgrading of public roads, bridges, dams, and energy grids needs to increase for the safety and welfare of all citizens.

        11) Federal spending in the categories of Health Care, Welfare, and economic foreign aid needs to be reduced by 5% per year over a five year period.

        12) Federal spending in the category of Defense (which includes direct military spending, military foreign aid, Veteran Affairs and R&D) needs to be reduced by 5% per year over a five year period. Special attention needs to be placed on the current policy of outsourcing functions through independent contractors which has helped to explode the overall budget.

        13) Term limits need to be established for members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The approval to establish term limits should be determined by a popular vote of the people rather than from the Congress.

        14) The process of presenting Federal revenue and spending projections (begun in 1996) to a 10 year horizon needs to be abandoned as it serves no purpose and misleads the near term facts.

        15) The funds being put into or taken out of the Social Security Trust Fund need to be excluded when presenting projections of Federal revenues and spending per Federal statutes of 1992-93.

        16) Federal laws that are currently in effect relating to immigration policy need to either be enforced or removed and adequate funding must be provided for enforcement.

        17) Legislation needs to be passed to once again separate the activities of commercial banks from the activities of investment banks.

        18) A transparent review is needed to address the subject of Government regulation. Rather than simply be for or against all regulations, specific objections to specific regulations need to be publicly listed and justified by opponents or defended by proponents in an actual effort to solve this problem.

       19) A transparent review needs to take place with respect to actual spending by all Federal Departments in an effort to save money if possible and practical.



       There are, of course, many more areas that need attention but if we don't achieve a balance of revenue increases and spending decreases through the process of compromise and objective planning, we will realize few solutions to our current economic status.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

                             Estate and Inheritance Taxes

Our estate and inheritance taxing policy reaches back to 1797 when a Stamp Act was created to fund the War with France. Widows, children and grandchildren were exempt. A key point is that we did NOT actually go to War with France! The Act was repealed in 1802.

The 1862 Revenue Act included a tax on inheritance, again to help finance a war (Civil War). Spouses were exempt and children and siblings taxed at a rate of 3/4 of one percent. It was repealed in 1870.

The War Revenue Tax of 1898 (for funding of the Spanish American War) created another estate tax. It was repealed in 1902.

ALL three estate or inheritance taxes mentioned above were imposed (at least in theory) to finance American wars and more importantly, were repealed afterward.

The Revenue Act of 1916 once again created a Federal Estate Tax and once again it was justified by the need for funds to finance a was; this time World War I.

The difference that time was that taxes on estates (inheritance) was not repealed and we have endured this punitive tax in some form for the past 96 years! All of the modifications that have taken place during the decades since 1916 have simply been tweaks to the basic estate tax laws.

As the political debate heats up once again, it is important to note that Federal Estate tax revenues currently account for between 1 and 1 1/2 percent of total Federal revenues. 

Once again, there will be posturing by both sides of the aisle, but in the end, there will be agreements made as to the exemption amounts and other aspects that will make this tax a mute point for virtually all citizens.

My point in making this post is that there should not be an estate or inheritance tax structure that would apply to spouses, children or grandchildren or siblings AT ALL!!. Even further, if property, or business interests, or investments are set to transfer to non-relatives, there should not be an estate or inheritance tax structure as exists now but at most a simple ownership transfer fee (tax). In fact, there should be no Federal Tax policy on this subject at all, but it is doubtful that the "leaders" would be willing to agree on complete revocation.

I find it interesting that in the years after WWI the estate tax was not repealed, as had been the pattern up to that point. Nor was it repealed throughout the next 96 years, even after the WWII years, Korean War years, Vietnam years. Perhaps, our thinking was to just keep this tax in place because war funding was certainly going to be a continuing part of our national experience and certainly has been.

It would appear that once again we have an opportunity for compromise (and possible elimination) with respect to this unwarranted tax, as the tax debate unfolds later this year.

It is Time To Think Again!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Immigration American Style

 Immigration American Style

I begin this post by indicating that I am a 12th generation white American
with traceable roots back to John Alden and Pricilla Mullins who were among the 102 passengers plus a crew of 25 to 30 that departed from Plymouth, England on September 6th, 1620 on a ship called the Mayflower. I will document more of the story in a future post entitled, "An American Story" at a later date.

Members of my family (both maternal and paternal) were part of the settling of America from that first landing in late November, 1620 thru the beginnings of settlements on the east coast, Plymouth, Braintree, MA. where a Grandmother, Ruth Bass had a sister named Hannah Bass who was the Grandmother of John Adams our second President (my distant cousin) and great grandmother to John Quincy Adams, our 6th President (also my distant cousin, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia to Michigan and Indiana and beyond during the 1600's, 1700's, 1800's, 1900's and into the current century. They were explorers, farmers, merchants, salesmen, business owners, politicians, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons and soldiers who fought and lived or fought and died in many of our nation's wars including the French and Indian War in the 1750's, the Revolutionary War for Independence, the Civil War, both World Wars and Korea. I write the following from a family history that spans the life of America.

 I also write it with a goal of being as objective as I can with respect to the subject of immigration policy in America. This post is not meant to disparage America or her people but rather to look back into history's mirror at some stark truths and with the hope of providing a perspective to encourage this and future generations who might review and renew the ideals expressed at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence and perhaps even spur a reduction in the hate and bitterness that currently resides in the hearts and minds of too many fellow Americans.

It is June 26th, 2012 and many American citizens and non-citizens are asking the proverbial question; "What next?". The Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 3 vote to strike down key provisions of the Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070, while leaving in place another key provision that authorizes Arizona law enforcement officers to question anyone they stop for other alleged violations with respect to their immigration status. It appears that the court's ruling, favoring the overall Federal authority over individual State authority with respect to immigration policies and enforcement while still leaving the status question in play to be tested after the law officially takes effect. The decision, of course, provided room for both sides of this issue to claim at least a partial victory (that's the politics of today). The ruling, while a blow to those who promote the basic concept that looking "different" or being "different" (from the white model) is inherently suspicious, may at least slow down the frenzy of legislation activity taking place in several States in recent years.

Yesterday's decision by the Supreme Court affects the letter of the law but not the attitude that created the law, which appeared to be part frustration and part a deep discrimination that resides in the hearts of far too many people. No law has the ability to change hearts and minds.

So what next?

On one level, the Supreme Court decision could certainly be considered a blow to States Rights advocates who continue to mistakenly misread the U. S. Constitution and a validation of the authority granted to the Federal Government in a document known as the United States Constitution (which by the way was created precisely to establish a central authority over many laws and activities that affect all Americans). Contrary to the claims of many regarding the Constitution about the motives for and powers granted within it, the Constitution was created after 7 years of operational failure under the Articles of Confederation which basically allowed individual States to function as almost separate nations and not as a truly "United" States of America. Article 1, Section 8 gave Congress (and Congress alone) the power "to establish an uniform rule of naturalization". It is the only place in the original text that deals with the subject.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 (just a year after the new Constitution was ratified) granted naturalized citizenship ONLY to "free white persons" of "good moral character". The very FIRST Federal legislation EXCLUDED American Indians, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks and later Asians. Citizenship was inherited exclusively through the Father, and a person was not recognized as a citizen if the Father had never been a resident in the U.S. even if the mother had been. The "good moral character" clause, of course, created the foundation for a subjective review based on beliefs in place at any given time.

The 1790 Law remained pretty unchanged (except for an extension of the residency requirement to 5 years and later 14 years) for almost 75 years until passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 (following the Civil War) that granted citizenship to people born in the United States, regardless of their parents race, citizenship or place of birth, but it excluded untaxed Indians. The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended the citizenship ban to exclude "aliens of African Nativity and to persons of African descent" which muted a perceived promise that gaining freedom after the civil war seemed to offer. It was an additional 28 years before in 1898 a Supreme Court decision granted citizenship to American children born of Chinese parents. Were all "Asian" children considered Chinese at that time? It took until 1924 to finally include all Native Americans (regardless of their tax status or whether or not they belonged to a federally recognized tribe). A further Naturalization Act (28 years later) in 1952 prohibited (at least on paper) racial and gender discrimination in the naturalization process.

Some naturalization Acts passed into law by the Federal Government appeared to have been politically motivated as well as discriminatory. The Naturalization Act of 1798 increased the residency requirement from 5 to 14 years and was seen as an attempt to reduce the number of potential voters opposed to the Federalist political Party (which included John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and by proxy, George Washington among the esteemed "Founding Fathers"). During this period, most immigrants, specifically Irish and French, supported Thomas Jefferson (anti-Federalist) and among the budding Democratic-Republican Party that also included James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. Apparently the Irish and the French were not considered "white" enough.

After the 14th Amendment passage and the Act of 1870, the next example of discrimination came with the Page Act of 1875, and was the first Federal Immigration law. It prohibited the entry of immigrants considered "undesirable". The law classified "undesirable" as any individual from Asia who was coming to America to be a contract laborer, and Asian women who would engage in prostitution, and people considered convicts in their home country. How a determination was made about an Asian woman being a prostitute before she actually was one remains an open question. The Act was introduced to "end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women". The law was essentially racist and passed as a protection to whites who certainly also provided cheap labor and white women, some of whom were certainly prostitutes right along with other nationalities.

In 1882, Congress went even further and passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which suspended all Chinese immigration. The ban was intended to be in effect for 10 years, but stayed in effect for 61 years! Then in 1943 (when China was recognized as an allied nation to the U.S. during World War II) the Magnuson Act that allowed Chinese immigration and allowed some Chinese immigrants already living in the U.S. to become naturalized citizens. The real motivation may have been motivated by the need for military support and the need for more workers during the war. Even this Act contained restrictions as it kept in place the ban against ownership of property and businesses by ethnic Chinese. In many States, Chinese Americans (including U.S. citizens) were denied property ownership rights until the Magnuson Act was fully repealed in 1965. The Act also established a very low quota level for Chinese immigrants allowed into the country each year.

The "National Origins Formula" (part of the Immigration Act of 1924) and the other immigration laws passed during the first 176 years of U.S. history, including the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 were based, at least in part, on a core discrimination directed at various ethnic groups that were, and are, NOT WHITE. Depending on our economic and political situation at any given time, the United States Congress (at the Federal level) has passed and enacted legislation that has targeted and impacted most ethnic groups from all parts of the globe.

The main target (if we're being honest) of the most recent examples of immigration laws (among individual States) has been people of Hispanic/Latino heritage, but it is not the first time. The Bracero program initiated in 1942 was a series of laws and agreements between the U.S. and Mexico for the importation of temporary contract laborers, mainly to provide workers during World War II, but it continued after the war in the agriculture industry until the formal end in 1964. Prior to the Bracero programs, more than 500,000 Mexican Americans were deported or pressured to leave during the Great Depression in the 1930's.

In the 1950's, before the end of the Bracero program, the issue of too many Mexican immigrants reached a tipping point. In 1954, Operation Wetback took effect. The purpose was to remove illegal immigrants, specifically those of Mexican descent. More than 1,000 border agents, along with State and local police from all the southern border States were deployed in the operation. Some of the tactics included going house to house in Mexican American neighborhoods and citizenship checks during standard traffic stops! Sound familiar?

History does repeat itself.

In all, 1,075,168 Mexicans or undocumented people were deported in 1954, at a time when the "guest worker system" under the Bracero program was in full swing. It must have been a very confusing time for those immigrants.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the National Origins Formula that was in effect for more than 40 years, which based quotas on a small % (3) of the current level of residents already in the country. The 1965 Act created a performance system that focused on immigrant skills and family relationships with citizens or U.S. residents. There were still numerical quotas, and per country of origin quotas. The law as it stood then excluded Asians and Africans and preferred northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern ones. It was an embarrassment and yet another display of core discrimination written into many of our Federal statutes. By opening the immigration pool, the 1965 Act allowed for a major change in the ethnic makeup of America. Prior to the 1965 Act, our population growth was only about 10% driven by legal immigration. By the 1990's, the growth was more than one third immigration driven and by 2000, 30% of the U.S. population were ethnic and racial minorities, with 11.1% foreign born versus only 4.7$ in 1970. I'm sure a stunning and upsetting development to the ardent supporters of a "white" America.

The next great Federal action was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which had the following key provisions;
         1) required employers to attest to their employees immigration status
         2) made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit indocumented immigrants.
         3) granted amnesty to certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants.
         4) granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before January 1, 1982 and have resided in the U.S. since.

The flaws of the 1986 Act have become apparent during the past 26 years. The requirement for employee verification has never been an efficient system as most employers either balked at the added expense or had no fast and reliable method of verification or simply ignored it. Worse, funding has not been made available to provide agents to monitor employers for compliance. The clause about it being illegal for an employer to knowingly higher or recruit unauthorized immigrants was basically just words on the paper because employers can easily assert that they "didn't know" or many turned to using contract workers to rid themselves of the direct requirement. Don't ask, don't tell is very much alive in American business. The amnesty provisions just basically cleared the rolls at that time but without consistent funding and manpower to enforce the key enforcement provisions of the Act, it was a virtual certainty that the issue of illegal immigrants would surface again and again and it certainly has done that.

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the number of legal immigrants allowed each year. It also created a lottery program for assigning a number of random visas (why the gimmick?). This Act also allowed exceptions to the English testing process required for naturalization specified in the Immigration Act of 1906. The English provision had been in effect for 84 years! The 1990 Act increased the number of legal immigrants to 700,000 per year from 500,000. An ongoing problem was and continues to be funding for personnel to process the continual backlog of applications which has caused an unbearable time period for gaining legal entry and has contributed, in part, to the number of people desperate enough to violate our laws by entering the country without proper approval.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 changed the penalty sections for illegals that are caught. The time period illegals are to remain out of the U.S. (if caught) after deportation increased to between 3 and 10 years. The Act lowered standards for immediate deportation. Section 287(g) of the Act created a program that permits the U.S. Attorney General to enter into agreements with State and local law enforcement agencies that allowed designated officers (under the direction of Federal immigration officials) to perform certain law enforcement functions related to immigration statute and policies currently in effect. By the end of 2006, only 5 States (California, Arizona, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina) had become part of the program.

This program is and has been in effect in Arizona (scene of the latest immigration firestorm) for some years now. Are the complaints about the lack of Federal assistance valid or just politics? Are there enough Federal agents in place and has the funding been provided by Congress? A key provision of the Arizona SB1070 law does not seem to appear in the current Federal Immigration laws and since the only authorized involvement by State and local law enforcement is to be under the direction of the Federal authorities it certainly appears that Arizona and others States have over stepped their authority. Individual States do not have the authority under the Constitution to randomly enact legislation that is in conflict with Federal law. The other question is if illegal immigration is a critical national program why aren't more States (especially New Mexico and Texas) part of this program. Of course, politics and posturing has entered this program now. Just in the past few days, President Obama has apparently ordered at least a suspension of the 287(g) program. It appears this was done to counter any assertion by Arizona (or other State) law enforcement that any actions they now engage in with respect to immigration are not authorized and it appears to be an attempt to prevent Arizona from claiming that their actions are part of the Federal/State program. This is a mistake. The President may envision a legal gain or even a political one, but at the same time has opened himself up to attacks for lessening the enforcement ability relating to illegal immigrants and of course he will be attacked for not reviewing the matter with Congress even though he is not technically required to do so and involvement in the 287(g) program is not required and is technically at the discretion of the U.S. Attorney General. Will Federal immigration officials assigned to Arizona or anywhere else now simply ignore calls from State or Local agencies that would inform them of a suspected illegal immigrant in their custody? I hope not because it would do nothing but make the situation even worse than it is now.

The Real ID Act, enacted May 11th, 2005, modified U.S. Federal Law pertaining to security, authentication and issuance standards for State driver's licenses and ID cards. As of April, 2008, ALL 50 States had either applied for extensions or gotten them without request. By October, 2009, 25 States had approved resolutions NOT to participate in the program.


In March, 2007, it was announced that enforcement of the Act would be postponed for 2 years and would not go into effect until December, 2009 (4 years after the initial passege of the Act). On January 11, 2008, the deadline for compliance was extended again until 2011. Was the original passage in 2005 simply a pacifying measure to quiet critics of the Federal response to the issue of identification? Questions about Federal authority to control ID policies in the individual States are ongoing. A read of the provisions of the Act appears to address key concerns the advocates for illegal immigration control have demanded yet Congress and most, if not all, of the individual States have been stonewalling or delaying actual implementation for more than 7 years! Opponents of the Real ID Act include unlikely allies like the ACLU, the Gun Owners of America, Christian Advocacy groups like the ACLJ, and the AFL-CIO. Passage of the bill was only possible because it was attached as a rider to H.R. 1268 which dealt with emergency funding for the Iraq conflict and Tsunami relief. This was (and is) a common practice to force pieces of legislation through Congress that wouldn't otherwise be enacted.

It appears that the implementation and enforcement of the Real ID Act could go a long way toward solving some of the States concerns (through a Federal Act) regarding proper and legal ID. The ID's could also be used to resolve some of the Voter ID issues that have been manufactured in some States recently. The REAL ID Act does not specifically "mandate" that everyone obtain an approved Real ID (we wouldn't want a mandate to possibly solve a big part of the immigrant ID issue would we?), nor does the Act specifically address the cost or funding for implementation or enforcement. This is yet another example of the Federal Government (Congress) attempting to resolve a national problem (while the individual States would still maintain control over the actual issuance process and maintenance of their data bases) and yet the States (many of whom continue to complain about the lack of Federal action) are using all possible measure to resist and reject it. This makes no sense except to conclude that the "game" isn't really about the solution but rather about keeping the issue alive as a political football because it is a powerful fund raising tool for the major political parties.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for the building of 700 miles of physical barriers along the Mexico-United States border. The law also authorized more vehicle barriers, checkpoints, and lighting as well as authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to increase the use of advanced technology such as cameras, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

It appeared that this Act was a solid attempt at addressing a cornerstone issue necessary before any meaningful success can be realized with respect to controlling the flow of immigrants and satisfy the ongoing complaints about the lack of effective border security.
Except, like so many other programs, it became about the money (isn't everything) and the politics (always the politics). Congress approved a meager 1.2 billion to fund the construction of the fence, which was only about 20% of the amount critics believed would be required. Of course, the lack of proper funding has severely hindered completion. In January, 2008, a measure was introduced in Congress, the Reinstatement of the Secure Fence Act of 2008 which called for an additional 700 miles of fencing. That Bill died in committee and never even got a vote! A May, 2010 attempt by Senator Jim DeMint with a "Finish the Fence" Amendment also failed to pass.

We either want a solution or we don't! Critics or States or members of Congress cannot continue to complain (and use the lack of progress as a campaign issue) while at the same time fail to approve the necessary funding!

There have been at least 8 pieces of legislation that have been proposed in Congress since the Secure Fence Act of 2006 related to various immigration issues (all sponsored by Democrat legislators). 5 have died in committee and 3 from 2011 have been referred to committee with no indication of any pending action or success.

Given the extreme partisanship of our current Congress, it is highly unlike that ANY legislation proposed by either Party with respect to immigration issues (or any other issue) will have a chance of passage or even reach a floor vote. Actual funding for laws already in effect appear destined for the same fate. THIS should be unacceptable to all of us.

Since the creation of our United States Constitution in 1787, which itself formed some basis for discrimination by basically recognizing only "free white men" to the exclusion of whites that were not "free" or any other race and of course slaves (who were considered only 3/5ths of an actual person for Congressional representation purposes). Only white property or business owners could vote in the early years under the "new and improved" Constitution. There have been no less than 23 Acts of Congress passed since the inception of the current Constitution (only the 14th Amendment in 1868 directly altered the Constitution). After reviewing the list of laws and rules put in place during the past 222 years since 1790, it has become very clear (at least to this writer) that virtually all the Congressional actions that have been made have been at their core a persistent expression of the ideology subtlety put forth by our esteemed Founding Fathers and writers of the documents used to bind this nation, and that was (and still is to some degree) that White Men are the privileged ethnic group and somehow entitled to the exclusion of all others to be placed at the top of mountain and that all others were (and in the minds of many still) simply "less than". It is not difficult to envision the lofty group of landowners, businessmen, lawyers and scholars (all white men) that gathered to create the foundations of this budding nation that the assumption of white superiority was absolute and not in the least offensive to most of those in attendance. It seemed the natural order of things. This philosophy gained a solid foundation in both Government and everyday life and sadly, is still a sentiment that has continuing support. The proof of this is contained is the series of Acts noted previously as it took centuries for our laws to come close to finally including most peoples into a position of acceptance. Our history is filled with examples of deep discrimination that has been grudgingly relinquished due to the massive change in domestic population and the realities of the nation and the world in the 21st century.

Also a very important factor in play with a good many of the 23 different immigration laws that have been enacted since 1790 has been the protection and furtherance of business interests or political interests, which can be shown along with a few changes motivated by times of war or other conflicts. Politics, money and pure discrimination have been at the forefront as opposed to any real attempt to live up to the lofty words contained at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence which says; "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". These words were not, of course, in the text of either the Articles of Confederation or our current United States Constitution so strict Constitutionalists can assert that there are equality provisions actually contained in the original document. The core document does not address requirements for citizenship or voting privileges and the only mention in the main text is contained in Article 1, Section 8 that gives Congress the power to "Establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization throughout the United States". Even the Bill of Rights (only added to the main Constitution that had been submitted to the States for ratification without them, brought dissent from a few States that threatened the ratification success chances) did not contain specific rights or protections covering non-white "citizens". The reference in the Bill of Rights to "people" can easily be presumed to refer to (as emboldened in the main text and with policies adopted after it took effect) only the worthy white folks as opposed to referencing any and all human inhabitants regardless of their ethnicity. The accomplishments of our early leaders should not be dismissed as they were truly epic and the United States has grown and remained largely functional for more than two centuries which when viewed through history's prism has been remarkable in spite of the unfulfilled promises of equality evident in our immigration policy legacy.

In summary, I would suggest that the current rash of legislative actions by many individual States to independently control immigration within their State borders (which is clearly not within the authority granted to them in our Constitution) is a continuing attempt to reject the ultimate authority of our Federal Government as part of the struggle for States rights that has persisted for centuries. Certain specific authorities were allocated to the Federal Government and ratified by the States back in 1789. AND (if we are being honest) is also yet another attack (although not specifically named in our more modern forms of legislation) on the minority group that happens to be of Hispanic descent. When compared to many of the more specific and blatantly discriminatory Immigration Acts enacted during our nation's history, the current wave could actually be considered somewhat benign. This is not to suggest that recent efforts are at all inline with our "perceived ideals" or aren't discriminatory in their own right because those realities are true. Our modern legislators have become more subtle in that individual  ethnic groups are not singled out now, as the very first Naturalization Act of 1790 did, or the Page Act of 1875 did, or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 did or the Immigration Act of 1917 did, which added to the of undesirables banned from entering the country to include "homosexuals", "idiots", "feeble minded persons", "criminals", "epileptics", "alcoholics", "professional beggars", "polygamists" and "anarchists". That Act also banned all immigrants over the age of 16 who were illiterate and added a ban on all immigrants from much of eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Yes, we have a very checkered and frankly, a fairly shameful history of attempting to control the national gene pool at the Federal level, throughout the history and development of the United States. The motives, whether influenced by economic or political pressure or just pure discrimination by the white elite, are footnotes to the actual results. The facts are what they are and we (as a nation) must all bear some level of responsibility for the decisions and results brought about by the actions of our Government as stated in the opening sentence of our Constitution which states; "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America". We need a new commitment to those ideals.

Since the original Founders and leaders that followed could not possibly have anticipated or possessed the knowledge or even imagination to envision the complexities that this nation and the world have revealed more than two centuries into the future, they could be relieved of some level of omission, but they should have, with all due respect, displayed a much more enlightened approach to acceptance of all peoples into the grand experiment that was, and still is, the United States of America.

Again, What next?

At some point, our partisan leaders are going to have to put the politics and quest for power and control aside long enough to actually come up with a workable plan to correct any ills contained in our current immigration policies. Funding must be made available to improve the administrative process and finish physical security measures. A real plan must include a method of handling the undocumented people currently in country that doesn't involve a mass swat team style invasion into millions of homes across America in an attempt to physically remove people. A real plan must provide a system of relief to those people brought into the country by their parents as children, then raised and educated here, who know no other home but America. Our ideals as a nation demand it and the population diversity expansion in the United States also demands it. This is no longer a sparsely populated "white" nation and that must be accepted by those still clinging to that concept. Actual change to the hearts and minds of many is still an elusive task, but America should be the beacon of freedom and fairness and a safe haven for the oppressed that was originally conceived but has been fading and we, in the here and now (as well as future generations) have the ability to be that Nation that is truly worthy of admiration and respect.

It is "Time to Think Again!!"   

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Government as an excuse

For those of you who have or will take the time to listen to our current politicians and Presidential wannabees ramble on about the ills of Government or the plight of American and her citizens, here are some questions for you. "Is Government actually the cause of all our "problems" or are these folks "using" and many of the rest of us "using" Government as an excuse?"

IF (as many in the GOP appear to promote) we simply had no Government at all, would you all suddenly be able to get a job, pay your bills, feel safe eating foods that require no inspection or quality standards, or feel confident that you and your families are safe without Government protections of any kind? The Democrats continue to try and subtly convince us that Government can and should assist all in need without limits and in doing that they push things too far in the opposite direction of most Republicans but their agenda can and is also a destructive path.

Do the GOP voices out there who constantly bash Government as the source of all our ills actually believe their own words or do they really mean they only want a Government run by them with their rules in place as opposed to any opposition? Do the Democrat voices out there truly believe that assistance programs are the ultimate answer?

Sadly, we Americans continue to try and place blame and responsibility for our own greed and poor decisions on anything or anyone other than ourselves. The Government, whether Federal or State or Local has never been the problem or the solution for our lives and we fool ourselves by giving credibility to that premise.

Start asking the correct questions and demanding clear answers!! We allow potential leaders to go around complaining about whatever policy currently in place without demanding from them a clear and concise solution. It is easy to say that everything is bad and hopeless but it is far more difficult to execute actual solutions.

Do we actually want to dissolve the EPA and have NO restrictions, regulations or controls on the type or volume of chemical waste and toxins that are spread into the air or into our water sources? Really?

Do we really want to dissolve the FDA and have no method of inspecting anything that we eat or drink or that our children eat or drink? Really?

Do we really want to dissolve the Departments of Education, Transportation, Health, Labor and most others? Really?

Should we simply eliminate Federal or State law enforcement and return to local volunteer forces to protect us? Really?

Think carefully about the words being spoken and the changes being proposed and decide if they are sincere or if they they simply being said as part of a program of spreading fear among us.

Perhaps it is best to just eliminate all Government and rules and move us into a free for all where only those with the most bullets will survive. Why not? A system of laws certainly has been a disaster for the past 235 years, right? Our political leaders are only leading us into a nation of chaos and panic and it appears that this has been the plan for quite some time. All the negative talk has weakened the confidence of Americans and that may be the most important loss of all.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

The TRUTH is still missing

So, here we are on the evening of July 30th, 2011 and the Federal Government of the United States of America is poised to enter into the twilight zone of fiscal default, which is something it has never officially done in our 234 year history. The reasons we have arrived at this critical point are many and "blame" can reasonably be shared across our political arena. A key factor that is still missing, however, is the TRUTH. 

There is no question that our collective debt has expanded to levels that are not tolerable. But, when our politicians speak of a 14.5 trillion dollar debt it is somewhat misleading because over 5 trillion of the total is owed to ourselves. That doesn't mean that the 5 trillion doesn't need to be repaid at some point but we have been given the impression that we have a 14.5 trillion bill from some foreign nation that "must" be paid immediately. Simply not the truth. As you listen to both sides go back and forth about the National Debt and who should get the most "blame" for it, note these numbers and consider the Presidents and Congressional Party makeup and events that have happened during the past 40 plus years. In 1970 our National Debt was 370.9 Billion dollars. In 1980 our National Debt was 907.7 Billion dollars. In 1990 our National Debt was 3.23 Trillion dollars. In 2000 our National Debt was 5.67 Trillion dollars. In 2010 our National Debt was 13.56 Trillion dollars which was more than 36 times the 1970 level! Obviously, there is a systematic issue that has created the explosion in our total debt and the political affiliation of the President or members of Congress has, in the overall, had little or no impact on the growth of the debt.

For those who listen to or support all the talk about a Constitutional Amendment that would mandate an annual "balanced" budget either do not understand the process or do not know how to do the math. But, then again, our whole method of estimating annual budgets and extending fiscal estimates out 10 or more years is nothing more than a political and financial way to tricking us all into believing that our situation is better or worse than it actually is. I seriously doubt that ANY budget that has ever been submitted, voted on, and approved has ever contained numbers that actually lasted the length of time proposed or yielded the proposed results. 10 years? Really? How many of you as individuals or as a small or large business has EVER written out a 10 year budget plan or ever had your situation remain stable enough to not have to change things for 10 years? The truthful answer should be; ZERO. Even the numerous States that have balanced budget mandates contained in their State Constitutions seldom, if ever, go through a single year where revenues exceed expenses. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but our State legislators play the same games and extend things, defer things, over or under estimate revenues or expenses mainly to make us all feel better about voting them back into office in the next election cycle. The Federal Government can and does create any series of numbers it chooses to mask the truth.

IF, and it is a huge if, those that appear so outraged about the amount of "debt" our Federal Government has are truly serious, why have they not demanded that the Federal Government PAY back the 3 plus TRILLION dollars that Congress has allowed to be "borrowed" (more like stolen) from what was supposed to be a sacred Social Security Trust Fund? Where is the grassroots "tea party" outrage at that? WHY are Social Security funds (either the money coming into the trust fund or going out) even a part of the annual Federal Budget at all? When or how was that allowed? The impression has been sold to far too many of our citizens that Social Security Benefits are an "entitlement". Really? The word infers (in the context being used by the opponents of the program) that social security benefits are somehow a gift from U.S. taxpayers, or welfare just being given away to the elderly or disabled. Really? Most American workers have spent their working lives contributing real money to their Social Security fund. Business also contributes real money for each employee. THIS IS OUR MONEY!! Money in the Trust Fund should never be used for any other purpose than to provide a benefit to individuals who have paid into their entire working lives. If the system can't sustain benefit payments because people are living longer then RAISE the retirement age for workers currently under 40 years old and raise the % of contribution for all current workers/ businesses AND provide in all the budget plans and debt reduction plans a real plan to repay the trillions that have been stolen from the trust fund for general use and certainly remove the Social Security program from any further Federal Budgets or discussions. It is (or should be) a completely separate discussion. The merits of even having a social security program at all can certainly be discussed but that too, is a separate matter. For now, we have a program and the obligations that it contains and as with our other obligations, we cannot default on them at any point. Both sides need to face the TRUTH about Social Security and stop using it as a bargaining chip or scare tactic for purely political reasons.

Our entire health system is yet another area where the TRUTH has been long forgotten. I won't go into just how bad it is in this post except to raise a few key questions for the reader to consider. WHY has there been nothing included in any legislation or discussion by either political party of actually investigating and forcing a cost justification from Hospitals, Doctors, Insurance firms, Drug firms, and other medical service providers?  The major reason that Federal or State programs like Medicare or Medicaid appear to be in such financial trouble is that costs have been allowed to expand far in excess of the amount of funding provided to the programs over the past 20 plus years. This situation did not begin with the current administration. Those who try and convince you that our entire health care system was just fine until 2009 are simply not telling you the TRUTH. The legislation passed in 2009 actually does very little to address exploding costs but is also does very little to make our health care system worse than it was or worse than it would have been anyway. The TRUTH is the TRUTH. It is much easier for the GOP to "blame" the current administration for decades of failure to control health care costs instead of actually attempting to fix the problem. The attitude is actually similar to the approach many have about our public education system. For many, it is easier to simply abandon ship and tell the masses that they wish they could help but, well, we're on our own. WHY, if there is so much "waste, fraud and abuse" in the health care system has there not been a cry and demand to provide funding and manpower necessary to investigate and actually rid the system of this problem? We have a long history of creating programs and then neglecting the oversight part of the program so that patients, vendors, insurance firms, hospitals and doctors abuse these programs and destroy them for those that are truly in need. TRUTH.

Back to our current debt and budget mess. For those "demanding" that a Constitutional Amendment for a balanced budget be a condition to allow a debt limit increase to pay the obligations (money already committed) are simply placing a nearly impossible wedge in the process. IF (and I strongly caution that care be taken before actually pushing for such an Amendment) there is a sincere goal of actually getting a Constitutional Amendment is should be a stand alone proposal. We're talking about amending the United States Constitution!! The last Amendment was ratified in 1992 after 203 years of "consideration". The 27th Amendment related to compensation of the Congress itself. The 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971 (during the military crisis of the Vietnam debacle) and lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, mostly as a reaction to the fact that young men could be drafted into the military and give their lives for our country but were, at the same time, unable to vote. The 27th was a modification of Section 2 of the 14th Amendment. The point is that the process of amending the United States Constitution is and should be a serious matter and should receive consideration and certainly NOT used as a leverage tactic concerning current debt matters for purely political advantage.

I mentioned above that care should be taken before actually pushing for a Constitutional Amendment mandating a balanced budget. Here's the problem. The vast majority of those pushing for a balanced budget Amendment are also on record as being absolutely opposed to ANY legislation that would raise the revenue side of the Federal Budget (i.e. tax increases). they are also firmly opposed to ANY real decreases in our Defense budget which currently account for more than ONE THIRD of our Federal revenues. So, to be clear, these folks want a Constitutional Amendment mandating a "balanced" Budget but with the caveat that taxes cannot be increased at any point and a third or more of the current revenues are "untouchable".  Hmmm.... I would challenge these folks to specifically show just how a truly balanced budget could be produced next year or in any year given their public positions. As long as the folks who stand up and rant about balancing budgets and reducing debt continue exempt tax revenue increases or cuts to the largest spending area we currently have and continue to exploit the Social Security Trust fund by leaving it in as part of our Federal Budget, all their talk is nothing more than just empty words without a grain of TRUTH demonstrating real commitment to fixing the problem. For those who continue to insist that the Federal Government (U.S. taxpayers) should continue to subsidize home mortgages by covering for the poor decisions made by the banking industry and home buyers alike, or continue to insist that  the Federal Government (U.S. taxpayers) should continue to subsidize higher education student loans and again protect the banking industry from their lending risks, or continue to insist that providing U.S. taxpayer dollars for goods and services to individuals who have no legal status in this country or continue to allow your federal government to "borrow" enormous amounts of money from our Social Security Trust fund, with no plan to repay it, or continue to support welfare programs for the needy without any real oversight to prevent abuse of those programs are ALSO not recognizing the TRUTH. The process and decisions involved with buying a home or pursuing higher education are decisions and commitments between individuals and the vendors themselves and the Federal or State Governments should not commit general taxpayer funds to provide the money or to protect the risk to lenders or schools. I am all for people getting higher education or other training and I am all for people setting personal goals such as home ownership but the general public should not become responsible for the financial obligations and risks undertaken by the parties involved. Our entire system of tax deductions and credits needs a serious review and a large amount of them need to be modified or eliminated altogether. Tax rates become fairly meaningless when our tax system allows the means to reduce or even eliminate the intended revenue. In addition, major areas of our Federal and State tax structure need a fair and just review and restructuring. We have far too many types of taxes or taxes disguised as fees (mainly applies to the State systems). Both parties continue to sell out this country for their own special interests in the pursuit of power and the almighty vote, but none of that is in the best interest of America or her citizens. That too, is the TRUTH.

In the end, our nation and our relative prosperity will fall because of some senseless ideology on either side of the aisle that was never the TRUTH from the start. We are all victims of this system that only benefits those with the money to make it continue. 

If there was ever a "Time To Think Again", it is now!