Monthly Archives: September 2011

Andy Rooney: Celebrating Writing

I don’t watch “60 Minutes” much these days. And I’m not quite sure why. It’s still among the best of the TV news and information shows. Maybe it’s because Mike Wallace is no longer turning the Captains of Industry into quivering asshats with his in-your-face style of journalism. But I’m going to watch Sunday as Andy Rooney — who has been a regular on the program since 1978 — gives what might well be his final commentary at the end of the program.

I like Rooney because he is a world-class curmudgeon who is not afraid to be politically incorrect.

But I admire Rooney because he is a great writer. In a world of Tweets and e-mails, in the long run we’re going to miss people who can write. Trust me on this one.

Here’s an online article about Rooney in Forbes, “On Sunday: a few final moments with Andy Rooney:”

On the broadcast they call it “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney.”

They might better have called it “A Few Choice Words From Andy Rooney.”

Rooney, despite his decades as a “60 Minutes” fixture, is a writer, not a talking head. Words, not vamping for the camera, have been his stock-in-trade since his first “60 Minutes” essay in 1978, just as words were for more than 30 years before that.

But on Sunday’s edition of “60 Minutes,” Rooney will have a few last words. The broadcast will mark his final commentary in his longtime role as weekly pundit. CBS says it will be his 1097th for the program. Tick, tick, tick, tick ….

News that he is stepping down was released abruptly earlier this week. Even so, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Rooney is 92 and surely recognizes this truth: Words may last forever, but not the person who crafts them.

Rooney has been a champion of words on TV ever since he joined CBS in 1949 as a writer for the red-hot “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” Within a few years he was also writing for CBS News public-affairs shows such as “The Twentieth Century” and “Calendar.”

A World War II veteran who reported for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, he came from an ink-on-dead-trees brand of journalism that he never renounced. (During his CBS career, he had a syndicated newspaper column and published 16 books.)

So it was logical that he would join “60 Minutes” with its inception in 1968. After all, the legendary creator of “60 Minutes,” Don Hewitt, is well remembered for insisting that, even on the visual medium of TV, the words should come first and the pictures follow. A decade later, Rooney was 59. At an age when many people might be pondering retirement, he took his seat before the camera to deliver his first “60 Minutes” essay.

Beetle-browed and rumpled, he wasn’t telegenic by traditional standards. Nobody minded, or even noticed. Viewers listened to his words and he caught on.

In one of his 16 books, Rooney opined about the craft of writing. He wrote — and I’m paraphrasing here since I gave the book away several years ago — that writers should wear T-Shirts that proclaimed Writer across the front in bold letters. The point: writers should take pride in what they do because it isn’t easy. Even though others believe it is.

So Sunday let’s celebrate the long and distinguished career of a writer.

And while we’re at it, it might be helpful to take some of his advice about writing: Keep in mind that you’re more interested in what you have to say than anyone else.

I’ll try to remember that.

Have a great weekend.

 

 

Baseball and Roger Maris: Still Special

OK. I’ll admit it. I enjoy watching baseball, especially as the teams advance to the playoffs and World Series. What I like about baseball — and what is missing from pro football even during the Super Bowl — is the drama that comes from meeting opponents over the course of a long season in games that really matter day after day.

Last night the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves completed their historic meltdowns in September as they failed to reach the playoffs despite entering the month with large leads for the wild card berths in both leagues.

Great drama. And great sporting events that engage fans and communities in something more than a once-a-week tailgating and food and drink orgy.

Here’s from the NYT, “One Out Away, Red Sox Lose to Cap September Meltdown“:

There has been great cruelty and suffering for the Boston Red Sox and their famed nation across the decades. But seldom has a bizarre set of circumstances ever occurred that left them with the sick and sinking feeling they had shortly after the clock struck midnight Wednesday night at Camden Yards.

Taking a one-run lead into the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles, one out away from a 3-2 victory and an extension of their season, closer Jonathan Papelbon surrendered three straight hits as the Red Sox dropped a 4-3 decision to put their postseason fate into the hands of the Yankees in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Moments later, Evan Longoria homered to give the Tampa Bay Rays an 8-7 victory in 12 innings and the American League wild-card berth, finishing off a historic collapse by the Red Sox, who led the Rays by nine games on Sept. 4.

Ouch.

And the Atlanta Braves finished much the same way and will now have the opportunity to watch the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.

My fondness for baseball goes back to my days as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh during the ’50s when baseball was still the national pastime and radio still ruled the media.

And I remember listening to Bob Prince and Jim Woods call the Pittsburgh Pirates games on KDKA during the summer of 1961 when Roger Maris shattered the record that no one believed would ever be broken: Babe Ruth’s amazing 60 home runs in a season.

Maris broke that record 50 years ago this weekend on October 1, 1961, and Maris, who died in 1985,  is finally getting the recognition that he deserves. Here’s from the NYT, “Maris Honored at Yankee Stadium“:

It was a scene Roger Maris himself would not have imagined back in 1961 when he deposited a home run over the short porch in right field to etch his name in history: his wife, Pat, and six children standing on the infield grass at Yankee Stadium, receiving a thunderous ovation from the crowd in recognition of his record-breaking feat.

Maris’s 61st home run on the last day of the regular season meant there was a new long-ball king; a shy right fielder from Fargo, N.D., supplanting the transcendent Babe Ruth. During his chase and in its aftermath, critics, fueled by the news media, were quick to defend Ruth’s record of 60 and argued that the new mark was not legitimate because of the 162-game schedule — eight games longer than Ruth’s. Among them was the baseball commissioner at the time, Ford Frick, who separated the two records in the league’s official record book. The distinctions were kept until 1991.

But half a century later, with his family representing him, Maris was honored for the feat before Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees paid tribute to Maris, who succumbed to lymphoma in 1985 at the age of 51, with a video presentation and invited some of his teammates, including Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Bobby Cerv; the man who caught the baseball, Sal Durante; and Mickey Mantle’s two sons, David and Danny.

“As time went on I think people started appreciating more what he did in that time,” said Roger Jr., who threw the ceremonial first pitch. “I think for him, he was proud he did what he did. He wasn’t seeking any recognition, but I think he felt he could’ve gotten more recognition instead of some of the bad press he got.”

The delayed acceptance of Maris’s feat is recognized — his plaque in Monument Park, which was erected one year before his death, goes as far as to say it was presented in “belated recognition” of the achievement. On Saturday, his sons Roger Jr. and Randy said their father felt the pressure and criticism while setting the record.

“I think that’s a thing with the old regime the Yankees had,” Randy Maris said, referring to Yankees ownership at the time. “They didn’t really protect him too much during that season from the press, and the press turned a lot of fans against him. He sort of resented that a little bit.”

Maris went on to hit only 275 career home runs and batted only .260 for his career, but Randy and Roger Jr. maintained that their father belonged in the Hall of Fame, citing his dominance over a brief period (he is one of 12 players in history to win the Most Valuable Player award in consecutive seasons), his winning (he played in seven World Series in the 1960s, winning three), his fielding, and injuries diminishing his production and longevity (he played 12 seasons and battled injuries during those years).

Maris, of course, eclipsed the Babe long before baseball’s big hitters began taking the drugs that turned their biceps into basketballs and their testicles into peanuts.

So in my book Roger Maris still stands for something special — and his accomplishments speak to an era in this country when baseball was still the national pastime.

 

Hallmark Cards: Congrats! You’re Fired

I guess you have to give Hallmark credit. The greeting card giant has developed a product aimed at one of the few growing segments of our economy: the unemployed. If you know someone who has been kicked to the curb by his or her employer, you can now buy and send a card to express your sympathy.

Woot. And I’ll admit that beyond Mother’s Day I didn’t know anyone actually sent greetings cards these days. I bought a small number of holiday cards (proud of myself that I didn’t write the politically incorrect Christmas) a decade ago, and I still have most of them taking up valuable closet space. I digress.

Anyway, here’s from Jon Bershad at Mediaiate, “Hallmark Now Selling Sympathy Cards For Unemployed People“:

Despite the best attempts from greeting card companies around the world, there are still like 50 days out of the year that haven’t been classified as holidays. So, in an attempt to boost sales, someone at Hallmark has come up a new demographic that, in America, is second only in size to “People Who Have Birthdays.” That’s right, they’re now releasing sympathy cards designed for those who have recently been laid off.

Yes, because there’s nothing unemployed people like more than knowing their friends still have enough money to spend $5.99 on a piece of paper.

From WLBZ:

“Hallmark recently rolled out a new line of layoff greeting cards.

Stores have a specific section for job loss and recession humor, offering words of support and encouragement.

With the unemployment rate at nine percent, the company says customers called-in the need.

One card reads ‘Don’t think of it as losing your job. Think of it as a time out between stupid bosses.’”

Bah ha ha ha! Man, if only unemployed people could spend food stamps on Dilbert books, they could really get over not having a job! Bosses are so stupid, am I right? Especially when they fire you and make it so you can’t feed your family and with each day you spend unemployed you get less and less hirable and why do I even need to get out bed today I mean it’s not like anyone expects me anywhere as I have absolutely nowhere to be and I could just die and no one would notice and I still have student loans.

Seriously though, funny, funny stuff. And apparently they’re selling well!

So, question to the unemployed amongst you, if someone showed up at your door right now with a brightly colored piece of paper featuring a cartoon dog, a pun, and a poorly recorded version of a 90s one-hit-wonder’s chorus as conciliation, how likely is the chance you’d punch them in the face? Just curious.

Sure. Most would punch them in the face. But I imagine that would be politically incorrect.

I report. You decide.

And talking about lots of yucks, does anyone think it is ironic that Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar were leading a discussion on The View that suggests that perhaps Chris Christie is too fat to be a credible presidential candidate?

LOL

Please Raise My Taxes: Barf

Wow. We’re a long way from the presidential election in November 2012, but there sure is some great political reality TV available already. Yesterday the Prez was campaigning in Silicon Valley, and he took a question from a guy in the audience who said he was “unemployed by choice” after cashing out from a job at Google. He asked the Prez:”…would you please raise my taxes?”

Barf.

OK. I understand that this is good election politics. It’s a populist wet dream come true to tax the millionaires and billionaires. But is it really sound economic policy — something that will really make a difference in solving the big problems we face involving jobs, government spending and our national debt?

Nah.

Here’s another billionaire, Mike Bloomberg, who opines that the so-called Buffett Rule is just “theatrics.” Here’s from Mediaite.com:

On the whole actually, Bloomberg wasn’t too negative towards the President. In fact, his comments that Obama had “tried some things he liked and some things he didn’t” for the economy weren’t too different from his comments on Christie. However, the Mayor made it clear that one of the things he didn’t like was raising taxes on the rich.

“I think it’s not fair to say that wealthy people don’t pay their fair share. They pay a much higher percentage of their income, they have a higher rate than people who make less. The Buffett thing is just theatrics. If Warren Buffett made his money from ordinary income rather than capital gains, his tax rate would be a lot higher than his secretary’s.”

Wonder if the asshat who asked the Prez yesterday to please raise his taxes paid taxes on ordinary income or on the appreciation on stock options from Goggle? I digress.

I also heard on TV while chasing the treadmill this early a.m. that it is possible just to send a check — a voluntary contribution — to the IRS. Apparently not that many millionaires feel that guilty about their current taxes to make a voluntary contribution. At least I can’t find out via a Google search how to do it. Hey, the guy who wants his taxes raised. He was a Google exec. Maybe he can find it. Oops. I digress again.

And I reprinted info from an AP story last week that shows that the Buffett Rule doesn’t really add up to much — beyond politics.

Anyway, if you are interested in more on this LOL story, check out Michelle Malkin’s blog. She has plenty of commentary and links to other information.

And I didn’t check but she may even have a link to where we can get discount barf bags. With the national campaign just starting, we may need them.

Counting Jobs: Green or Not?

OK. I hate to spoil the weekend, but it looks like we are heading for a so-called double-dip recession in the USA and in many countries around the world. And for most people other than those Inside the Beltway or on Wall Street, the Great Recession never really ended.

We need to create jobs. But that sure looks shaky right now — as all the Prez can do is plead with a gridlocked Congress to do something and as consumer, investor and business confidence continues to erode.

Next thing you know, Boston and Atlanta will fold and fail to make the MLB playoffs. I digress.

Anyway, I’m not sure that anyone has the answer right now to creating jobs and improving the economy.

For instance, does anyone really know what a green job is? Investing in new technologies and green jobs became a centerpiece of Stimulus One — but now that Solyndra has gone belly up with some $500 million of our tax dollars heading down a rat hole, members of Congress and the administration can’t even agree on what a green job is.

Here’s a classic exchange, as reported by the NYT, during a House committee hearing yesterday:

The title of the hearing was, “How Obama’s Green Energy Agenda is Killing Jobs,” a title that one Democratic member, Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois, complained was a “raw partisan assertion that presupposes the answer.”

But in between rounds of jousting, the hearing sometimes touched on some of the difficulties of defining and measuring green jobs. Keith Hall, the director of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which got money last year to start counting green jobs, testified that companies that produce both “green and nongreen outputs” had problems counting the green jobs.

Republican members of the committee and the Democratic witnesses, including Hilda L. Solis, the Secretary of Labor, tangled on whether, for example, a worker who was trained to drive a hybrid bus qualified as holding a green job.

“What makes driving a hybrid bus a green job and driving another bus that’s not a hybrid bus not a green job?” asked Connie Mack, Republican of Florida. “Driving a bus is driving a bus, right?”

Ms. Solis replied, “the vehicles that are built there are green buses, they are fuel efficient.”

Mr. Mack replied, “but this is the bus driver. If I’m sitting in a chair that was made out of green material, does that make my job green?”

But further discussion clarified that the driver of the ordinary bus also had a “green job,” because all mass-transit workers fit the definition of a green job as they provided “services that benefit the environment.”

Sigh.

Anyway, immediately following the launch of Stimulus One I attended a briefing Inside the Beltway — and no, I wasn’t offered any $16 muffins — where a high-level administration official opined about how the spending would spur new job creation in the millions, if not more.  And many of those would be green jobs.

Oh well.

Better to keep an eye on the Red Sox and the Braves. At least in baseball you can actually count the wins and losses.

And as we slide into the weekend, good luck to everyone running in the Akron Marathon and related races. It’s a great event for the city and for the thousands of runners who will take to the streets.

BFGoodrich Company: RIP

Well, the BFGoodrich Company, formerly headquartered in Akron where its founder, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich, launched the rubber industry in 1870, sleeps with the fishes this morning. Or, I guess more accurately and less dramatically, Goodrich Corp. is now part of United Technologies.

I’m sure that few in Akron — and fewer still who read this blog — care about this one way or the other. And honestly, I’m not so sure that I care either. But I figured I was obligated to mention it, since I spent 29 years of my life working at that company when it was known mostly — and in later years incorrectly — as a manufacturer of tires and rubber products.

Interesting, at least to me, is how the story of this United Technologies acquisition didn’t cause a ripple of comment in the Akron Beacon Journal. I read about it early this a.m. in the New York Times and Charlotte Observer. And that’s how it should be, since Goodrich is headquartered in Charlotte these days.

Still, there is a story in the dead tree edition of the Akron Beacon Journal and online this morning about the growing poverty in Akron and surrounding communities. This isn’t unique to Northeast Ohio. The number of individuals and families living in poverty is expanding throughout the nation — as more and more find themselves either without jobs or as part of the working poor.

Wonder if that is because there aren’t all that many companies like the old BFGoodrich these days? You know. Companies that made things and hired plenty of people who could make decent livings, raise their families in a comfortable lifestyle, contribute to their schools and communities, and purchase goods and services that contributed to economic growth.

Take away the manufacturing and many of the white collar jobs from companies like Goodrich, Firestone, Goodyear and General Tire and  a city like Akron takes on a totally different employment base and economic outlook.

And for those trying to understand why more people are falling into poverty — even those with jobs — maybe there is an answer here.

 

A $16 Muffin: Would Buffett Give His Secretary One?

Since Warren Buffett has emerged as the populist champion for higher taxes and increased government spending,  I wonder what he would say to his secretary about the $16 muffins that government employees are gobbling down at Department of Justice conferences? And I wonder if it would bother him that his secretary’s tax dollars are being used to pick up the tab?

Here’s the story, as reported by many online and dead tree media outlets this morning, including Politico: “Audit: DOL’s costly dining“:

Someone’s not clipping coupons.

The Department of Justice spent about $490,000 on food at 10 conferences held between Oct. 2007 and Sept. 2009, according to a DoJ inspector general audit, Bloomberg reported.

On the menu: $65 dinners, $76 lunches, $41 breakfasts, $16 muffins, $32 per person snacks at a single break and beef Wellington appetizers that cost $7.32 per serving. For a beverage break at one conference, attendees sipped on coffee and tea that went for up to $1.03 per ounce, making an 8-ounce drink $8.24.

“Some conferences featured costly meals, refreshments, and themed breaks that we believe were indicative of wasteful or extravagant spending,” the report on Tuesday said.

The review found that the DoJ spent about $120 million on 1,832 conferences in 2008 and 2009. In 2009, the DoJ spent $73.3 million on conferences compared to $47.8 million in 2008. At the ten conferences reviewed in the audit, the department shelled out $4.4 million.

Those attending an August 2009 Executive Office for Immigration Review conference gobbled up the $16 muffins and had the chance to sample $10 cookies and brownies as well. Guests at a March 2009 conference of the Office on Violence Against Women ate Cracker Jacks, popcorn and candy bars at a single break that cost $32 per person. The $7.32 beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres were eaten by attendees of the February 2008 Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys conference.

The report followed up one from 2007 that showed the DoJ did not have proper policies and procedures in place to limit conference spending. One example featured in that audit was $5 Swedish meatballs. In response, the DoJ issued policies to control spending in 2008.

Wonder who got to keep the little gift prizes in the Cracker Jack? Woot. I digress.

Does government in total operate with this kind of complete disregard for fiscal responsibility and spending taxpayer money in the best interests of, ah, well, taxpayers? No. But it reinforces the perception that tax money goes directly from our wallets and purses into a rat hole never to be seen or heard of again.

We’re dealing a lot in perception these days. And this gets us back to the Oracle of Omaha and the so-called “Buffett Rule” — the notion that this country will thrive only to the extent that high-income wage earners hand over more and more of their cash to the government.

An AP story yesterday based on info from nonpartisan policy wonk organizations and the IRS kind of shoots down the idea the millionaires are paying a lower tax rate than secretaries and others who pay some tax beyond Social Security. Here’s from the AP story “FACT CHECK: Are rich taxed less than secretaries?“:

President Barack Obama says he wants to make sure millionaires are taxed at higher rates than their secretaries. The data say they already are.

“Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There is no justification for it,” Obama said as he announced his deficit-reduction plan this week. “It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.”

On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more taxes than the middle class or the poor, according to private and government data. They pay at a higher rate, and as a group, they contribute a much larger share of the overall taxes collected by the federal government.

The 10 percent of households with the highest incomes pay more than half of all federal taxes. They pay more than 70 percent of federal income taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In his White House address on Monday, Obama called on Congress to increase taxes by $1.5 trillion as part of a 10-year deficit reduction package totaling more than $3 trillion. He proposed that Congress overhaul the tax code and impose what he called the “Buffett rule,” named for the billionaire investor.

The rule says, “People making more than $1 million a year should not pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay.” Buffett wrote in a recent piece for The New York Times that the tax rate he paid last year was lower than that paid by any of the other 20 people in his office.

“Middle-class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires,” Obama said. “That’s pretty straightforward. It’s hard to argue against that.”

There may be individual millionaires who pay taxes at rates lower than middle-income workers. In 2009, 1,470 households filed tax returns with incomes above $1 million yet paid no federal income tax, according to the Internal Revenue Service. But that’s less than 1 percent of the nearly 237,000 returns with incomes above $1 million.

This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes, payroll taxes and other taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay an average of 15 percent of their income in federal taxes.

Lower-income households will pay less. For example, households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will pay an average of 12.5 percent of their income in federal taxes. Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will pay 5.7 percent.

The latest IRS figures are a few years older — and limited to federal income taxes — but show much the same thing. In 2009, taxpayers who made $1 million or more paid on average 24.4 percent of their income in federal income taxes, according to the IRS.

Those making $100,000 to $125,000 paid on average 9.9 percent in federal income taxes. Those making $50,000 to $60,000 paid an average of 6.3 percent.

Obama’s claim hinges on the fact that, for high-income families and individuals, investment income is often taxed at a lower rate than wages. The top tax rate for dividends and capital gains is 15 percent. The top marginal tax rate for wages is 35 percent, though that is reserved for taxable income above $379,150.

I’m all for fair and equitable taxation. But I’m becoming more and more convinced that we have a government spending problem and not a revenue problem. (And yes that involves me as I inch my way toward Medicare.) And the notion — the perception really — that higher-income wage earners are somehow escaping without paying a fair share of taxes just doesn’t cut it.

Muffin anyone?

 

Cutting Government Deficit, Increasing Jobs — Or Nothing?

Let’s see if I can get this straight. Are we trying to cut federal government spending and reduce the deficit? Increase jobs? Engage the masses in class warfare? Note to self: Where’s my pitchfork? And what side am I supposed to be on? Dismantle entitlement programs? Strengthen and enhance entitlement programs? All or none of the above.

Sheesh.

For a Congress and President that accomplishes very little beyond giving speeches and making appearances with the Inside the Beltway Chattering Classes on the Sunday TV talk shows it sure seems like there are a lot of fish in the skillet these days.

And why does it appear to this pajama-clad citizen journalist that all the proposals currently clogging the nation’s collective attention span will amount to nothing more than peeing in a sleeping bag on a cold morning? Sure. It gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. But doesn’t accomplish much in the long run.

I could, of course, take the time to construct a solid case for all of this. But instead I’ll defer to David Brooks, the token conservative on the NYT op-ed page. Here’s from his article “Obama Rejects Obamaism“:

I liked Obama’s payroll tax cut ideas and urged Republicans to play along. But of course I’m a sap. When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill.

It recycles ideas that couldn’t get passed even when Democrats controlled Congress. In his remarks Monday the president didn’t try to win Republicans to even some parts of his measures. He repeated the populist cries that fire up liberals but are designed to enrage moderates and conservatives.

He claimed we can afford future Medicare costs if we raise taxes on the rich. He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. (In reality, the top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes, according to the I.R.S. People in the richest 1 percent pay 31 percent of their income to the federal government while the average worker pays less than 14 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)

This wasn’t a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I’m a sap for thinking it was possible.

Well, maybe Brooks just got up on the wrong side of the sleeping bag. Let’s see how Dana Milbank views things these days since he is generally swinging from the left side of the plate. Here’s from his article in WaPo “Obama launches a revolution“:

Let us begin by stipulating that President Obama’s new budget plan is unrealistic, highly partisan and a non-starter on Capitol Hill.

That’s what’s so good about it.

At last, the president hasn’t conceded the race before the starter’s gun, hasn’t opened the bidding with his bottom line, hasn’t begun a game of strip poker in his boxer shorts. Whichever metaphor you choose, it was refreshing to see the president in the Rose Garden on Monday morning delivering a speech that, for once, appealed to the heart rather than the cerebrum.

“It is wrong that in the United States of America a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million,” the newly populist Obama declared.

Obama squinted into the morning sunlight and chopped the autumn air with his left hand. He got sputtering mad — literally — when he said his opponents would have us “settle for second-rate roads and second-rate bridges and second-rate airports and — and — and — schools that are crumbling.”

Then came that rarest of Obama moves: an ultimatum. “I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share.”

Republican howls of complaints began even before the speech.

“Class warfare,” protested Paul Ryan.

“Class warfare,” complained Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

“Class warfare,” judged House Speaker John Boehner.

The president welcomed the charge. “I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or teacher is class warfare,” he told the Rose Garden crowd of 200. “I think it’s just the right thing to do.”

A moment later, the class warrior added: “Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. . . . Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both. This is not class warfare. It’s math.”

The audience — a quickly assembled collection of students, retirees and federal bureaucrats — chuckled at this line. Obama didn’t crack a smile.

OK. Like most people I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about the debacle unfolding Inside the Beltway.

But if you are looking for a laugh, look no further than the so-called Buffett Rule. Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor and stock picker, wants to pay his fair share of taxes and argues that his tax rate should not be lower than that of his secretary. Hard not to raise your pitchfork in favor of that notion.

But here’s the rub, as Roger Simon points out in Politico, “Eat the Rich“:

“This is not class warfare,” the president promised. “It’s math.”

Well, sort of. Though the rich do benefit enormously, the poor and middle class benefit from the current Tax Code, too. About half the households in America pay no income taxes at all, because the Tax Code says they don’t make enough. And middle-class taxpayers get a large break by being able to deduct their home mortgage interest. (Want a true third-rail in American politics? Try suggesting the elimination of that last one. Obama didn’t on Monday.)

In truth, the Tax Code gives too many breaks to too many people.

“All told, federal taxpayers last year received $1.08 trillion in credits, deductions and other perks while paying $1.09 trillion in income taxes, according to government estimates,” wrote Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post on Sunday. “Only about 8 percent of those benefits went to corporations. … The bulk went to private households, primarily upper middle-class families that Obama has vowed to protect from new taxes.”

And call me cynical (or an asshat) but as soon as the Prez reveals some specifics about the Buffett Rule, you can be sure the Oracle of Omaha’s tax advisers will be hard at work figuring out a way to avoid the tax.

Wonder if Mr. Buffett sleeps in a sleeping bag?

 

 

College Football: Pay to Play?

Well, I managed to stay awake late enough Saturday night to see some of the Ohio State-Miami football game on ESPN. Kind of a ho-hum game, especially now that OSU has at least for now dropped out of the top tier of professional college teams. But also kind of ironic that the two universities that currently share top Hall of Shame honors for unethical and most likely illegal conduct involving their football programs still get their time in the national media spotlight.

So it goes. And I know. I could have watched the Weather Channel. But shucks.

I also recognize that nothing really is going to change when it comes to big time and big ticket college sporting events. Way too much money, student marketing opportunities and alumni giving involved.

Still, there is an extremely interesting and informative article in The Atlantic that really examines the hypocrisy that many college administrators, faculty and staff and boosters display toward college sports by advancing the notion of “student amateur athletes.” The only amateurs are the athletes; everyone else is extremely well paid. Time to change that?

Here’s from the article by Taylor Branch, “The Shame of College Sports“:

The United States is the only country in the world that hosts big-time sports at institutions of higher learning. This should not, in and of itself, be controversial. College athletics are rooted in the classical ideal of Mens sana in corpore sano—a sound mind in a sound body—and who would argue with that? College sports are deeply inscribed in the culture of our nation. Half a million young men and women play competitive intercollegiate sports each year. Millions of spectators flock into football stadiums each Saturday in the fall, and tens of millions more watch on television. The March Madness basketball tournament each spring has become a major national event, with upwards of 80 million watching it on television and talking about the games around the office water cooler. ESPN has spawned ESPNU, a channel dedicated to college sports, and Fox Sports and other cable outlets are developing channels exclusively to cover sports from specific regions or divisions.

With so many people paying for tickets and watching on television, college sports has become Very Big Business. According to various reports, the football teams at Texas, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and Penn State—to name just a few big-revenue football schools—each earn between $40 million and $80 million in profits a year, even after paying coaches multimillion-dollar salaries. When you combine so much money with such high, almost tribal, stakes—football boosters are famously rabid in their zeal to have their alma mater win—corruption is likely to follow.

Scandal after scandal has rocked college sports. In 2010, the NCAA sanctioned the University of Southern California after determining that star running back Reggie Bush and his family had received “improper benefits” while he played for the Trojans. (Among other charges, Bush and members of his family were alleged to have received free airfare and limousine rides, a car, and a rent-free home in San Diego, from sports agents who wanted Bush as a client.) The Bowl Championship Series stripped USC of its 2004 national title, and Bush returned the Heisman Trophy he had won in 2005. Last fall, as Auburn University football stormed its way to an undefeated season and a national championship, the team’s star quarterback, Cam Newton, was dogged by allegations that his father had used a recruiter to solicit up to $180,000 from Mississippi State in exchange for his son’s matriculation there after junior college in 2010. Jim Tressel, the highly successful head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, resigned last spring after the NCAA alleged he had feigned ignorance of rules violations by players on his team. At least 28 players over the course of the previous nine seasons, according to Sports Illustrated, had traded autographs, jerseys, and other team memorabilia in exchange for tattoos or cash at a tattoo parlor in Columbus, in violation of NCAA rules. Late this summer, Yahoo Sports reported that the NCAA was investigating allegations that a University of Miami booster had given millions of dollars in illicit cash and services to more than 70 Hurricanes football players over eight years.

The list of scandals goes on. With each revelation, there is much wringing of hands. Critics scold schools for breaking faith with their educational mission, and for failing to enforce the sanctity of “amateurism.” Sportswriters denounce the NCAA for both tyranny and impotence in its quest to “clean up” college sports. Observers on all sides express jumbled emotions about youth and innocence, venting against professional mores or greedy amateurs.

For all the outrage, the real scandal is not that students are getting illegally paid or recruited, it’s that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—“amateurism” and the “student-athlete”—are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.

Pay to play? Won’t happen. But it’s an interesting idea to kick around while watching the football factories compete against each other.

Medal of Honor: Thanks to Those Who Serve

I know we’re kind of focused these days on jobs, the economy, Congressional gridlock, housing and other such important matters. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are still fighting two wars — and there are plenty of courageous and patriotic men and women who have volunteered to do the heavy lifting in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Thanks to them and their families. As a nation, we don’t say that often enough or loud enough.

So I was struck by the story yesterday about Dakota Meyer who received the Medal of Honor for saving 36 lives during a battle in Afghanistan. He appears to be typical of many in the military — ordinary men and women capable of extraordinary acts.

Here’s the story about Meyer from USA Today: “Obama awards Medal of Honor to Marine who saved 36 lives.”

President Obama presented the Medal of Honor today to a Marine who saved 36 lives after an ambush in Afghanistan two years ago.

In awarding Dakota Meyer the military’s highest honor at a White House ceremony, Obama said: “Today, we pay tribute to an American who placed himself in the thick of the fight — again and again and again.”

The military said a wounded Meyer — a 21-year-old manning a gun turret on a Humvee — provided cover for troops during a six-hour firefight with the Taliban on Sept. 8. 2009.

Meyer and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, driving the Humvee, went into the “killing zone” five times, Obama said, picking up wounded men and dead bodies; they saved the lives of 13 U.S. Marines and Army soldiers, as well as 23 Afghan soldiers.

Meyer killed at least eight Taliban insurgents despite shrapnel wounds to his arm.

The White House says Meyer, of Columbia, Ky., is the third living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the first Marine so honored.

In his remarks, Obama noted Meyer accepted the medal in honor of four comrades who did not survive the attack.

Meyer has “grappled” with memories of those deaths, Obama said, and sometimes regards his efforts as a “failure” because of the deaths of those four brothers — but the truth is just the opposite.

“You did your duty, above and beyond, and you kept the faith with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps that you love,” Obama said. “Because of your honor, 36 men are alive today.”

“Because of your courage, four fallen American heroes came home,” Obama added, and their families were able to “lay their sons to rest with dignity.”

Citing Meyer’s comment that every member of the team is important, Obama said: “That’s a lesson that we all have to remember — as citizens, and as a nation — as we meet the tests of our time, here at home and around the world. To our Marines, to all our men and women in uniform, to our fellow Americans, let us always be faithful.”

Meyer — now a civilian — is also “one of the most down-to-Earth guys that you will ever meet,” Obama told the audience.

When a White House staffer called to arrange a phone conversation with the president about the Medal of Honor, Meyer said he couldn’t talk at at the time because he was at work.

“He said, ‘if I don’t work, I don’t get paid,’ ” Obama said. “So we arranged to make sure he got the call during his lunch break. I told him the news, and then he went right back to work. “

The president joked: “I do appreciate, Dakota, you taking my call.”

During that call, Meyer asked if he could have a beer with the president — which they did on Wednesday, as we reported this morning.

So let’s end the week with a big thank you to Dakota Meyer — and all the men and women in the military and their families. And I know we have big issues facing us as a nation, but when I read stories about people like Meyer and know that there are many more like him, something tells me that this country has a fundamental strength of character that in the long run will trump our current problems.