Category Archives: Money

The bad news: Our $206 Trillion Fiscal Gap

Laurence Kotlikoff, Joseph Von Nessen and Doug Woodward.

Laurence Kotlikoff, Joseph Von Nessen and Doug Woodward.

There was good news and bad news today at USC’s 36th Annual Economic Conference.

To be more specific, there was mildly, moderately good news, and really Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad news.

I’ll start with the good, which is on the local level. USC economists Doug Woodward and Joseph Von Nessen said that while growth has sort of leveled off in South Carolina, we’re in for a fairly good 2017. Advanced manufacturing remains strong, and things are going really well in construction — particularly along the coast — and retail. Merchants should have a good Christmas. If there’s a concern, it’s that employers are now having trouble finding qualified employees, particularly ones who are up to the challenges of automation — humans who can work with robots, basically.

On the other hand, we’re basically doomed.

That’s the message I got from the conference’s keynote speaker, Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University, who started out noting that few Americans seem to have a clue what a fiscal hole we’re really in. Political leaders don’t speak of it, he said, pausing to complain about the “content-free election season” we just experienced. (Of course, you’d expect him to be dissatisfied with that, since he actually ran for president — unsuccessfully, he added dryly.) Oh, sure, they might speak of the $20 trillion national debt — which he noted isn’t really that, since the Fed has bought back $5 or 6 trillion of it — but they ignore the bigger problem.

That’s the true Fiscal Gap, as he calls it, which includes the liabilities that have been kept off the books. You know, Social Security, Medicare and the like — liabilities that aren’t acknowledged in the federal budget, but which are obligations every bit as binding as if the future recipients held Treasury bonds.

That adds up to $206 trillion.

There’s more bad news.

If we think in terms of what it would take for the nation to deal with that liability, our government is currently 53 percent underfinanced. That means that to meet these obligations, we’d have to have 53 percent across-the-board tax increases.

It gets worse.

If we don’t raise taxes by 53 percent now (or make drastic cuts to current and future spending that might somewhat reduce that need), then they’ll have to be raised a lot more on our children and grandchildren.

Dr. Kotlikoff has been raising the alarm about this for years. Here’s an oped piece he wrote for The New York Times in 2014. As he concluded that piece:

What we confront is not just an economics problem. It’s a moral issue. Will we continue to hide most of the bills we are bequeathing our children? Or will we, at long last, systematically measure all the bills and set about reducing them?

For now, we blithely sail on. But prospects aren’t good. None of the three economists, who spoke at a press conference before the event, had anything good to say about incoming political leadership on the national level. In fact, quite a bit of concern was expressed about 3 a.m. Tweets, any one of which could trigger a trade war with China before the day is out.

I came away feeling a bit like Damocles — or rather, like the nation is Damocles, since the sword fell on my head sometime back. And we just elected a guy who thinks he’s a national hero because he interfered with one business that was going to send some jobs out of the country (an interference in the market that none of the economists think was a good idea).

I’m not holding my breath for any leadership on closing the Fiscal Gap. (Nor would I be had the Democrats swept the elections.) Are you?

"What's THAT hanging up there?" "Oh, that? I call it the Fiscal Gap..."

“What’s THAT hanging up there?” “Oh, that? I call it the Fiscal Gap…”

An invitation to sign a petition for safer roads

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There’s this petition website I receive frequent invitations from called change.org. You may have encountered it. I think I may have signed one of their petitions for something one of my daughters was pressing for, so I keep getting the pleas to throw in with this or that cause, most of which I delete.

I thought I’d share this one since it has such a strong South Carolina angle.

The petition, by Emily Rabon, is addressed to Robby Robbins, Mike Wooten, Mark Sanford, Jenny Horne, Christopher Murphy, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott.

But in any case, here’s her plea:

South Carolina roads are literally killing people. No more meetings, audits, reports, or studies—it’s time to take action. No matter where you live, will you please join us in our fight for justice and safety for all?

A quick visit to the official South Carolina Tourism website paints a picture perfect image of South Carolina. The simple slogan, “South Carolina—Just Right” is displayed prominently in the upper left hand corner of the website for all visitors to clearly see. What isn’t “Just Right” about South Carolina, however, is the condition of many  roads across the state.

On December 23, 2015, Glenn Forrest Rabon, Jr., better known as Tripp, was killed suddenly in a car accident ultimately caused by a flooded roadway on Highway 64 (SR 64) in Colleton County. The condition of the road was known and reported on multiple occasions, yet neglected countless times by the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT). Tripp was a senior in high school. He was an honor student and athlete with plans to attend Clemson University in the fall of 2016; but above all, he was a beloved son, brother, and a friend to all he encountered. His time on Earth was cut short due to no fault of his own—only the hazardous conditions of the South Carolina roads were to blame.

Sadly, South Carolina is among the top 5 states in the nation for car crash fatalities due to unsafe conditions on the road. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released a report (July 2016) illustrating that traffic deaths in 2015 were at an all-time high—a shocking 7.7 percent nationwide. Furthermore, there were 154 more fatal car crashes in 2015 than there were in 2014; that’s 977 fatalities total. Let that sink in for a moment—977 car crash fatalities in 2015. That’s an increase of 16 percent, or in other words, a fact that shows driving has proved to be almost twice as deadly for South Carolina drivers as opposed to drivers throughout the rest of the country.

Interestingly, SCDOT is currently advertising and advocating for “a vision to zero traffic fatalities”, echoing the idea that “the road to zero starts with you [the driver]”. While safe driving is a responsibility that should be respected and practiced by all participants, the “Target Zero” safety initiative fails to address what the driver cannot control—the physical condition of the road itself. But together, as one voice, we can change this unsettling fact.

Fatal traffic accidents, like the one that took Tripp’s precious life, can realistically be avoided. The goal of this movement is to enact legislation to implement a way to prioritize projects that promote transportation safety across the state. It is notable that only months ago (September 2016), the SCDOT Commissioners approved $23,000,000 to be used for beautification projects across the state instead of allotting the money to roadways in dire need of repair. It is the hope of Tripp’s family and friends that passing TRIPP’s Law will ultimately make South Carolina safer, and thus, save the lives of others before it is too late. TRIPP’s Law will require SCDOT to make use of advanced technology to create an online, up-to-the-minute-report, which will utilize both public and government input of reported, unsafe road conditions. The law will require a prioritized repair report called, TRIPP’s Report, which similarly will use past and present road conditions. It will likewise include recent repairs (completed or pending) and show statistics (such as accidents, fatalities, 911 calls, public repair requests, etc.) in real time.

Anyone that knew Tripp would say, without a shadow of a doubt, Tripp was put on this Earth to make the lives of others better. Please help us continue to promote Tripp’s legacy of kindness and his willingness to help others by both signing and sharing this petition to protect and inform drivers who travel in South Carolina about crash and repair reports for SC roadways. Together, we can come together to advocate for safer South Carolina roadways so we can save lives!

Anyone who is willing and feels he or she would be of substantial help to the cause, TRIPP’s Law, is encouraged to contact Tripp’s sister, Emily, at TrippRabonsLaw@gmail.com

I certainly feel for Ms. Rabon’s loss, and Lord knows our roads are underfunded, but I would need to know more before signing the petition. I’m not entirely clear on how the law would help, since it seems focused on new reporting requirements, rather than changing priorities or finding new funding sources. She says “No more meetings, audits, reports, or studies,” but this does seem to be about reports.

It might help if I could see the bill.

Changing the subject slightly, my greatest hope for safer roads is that Gov. Henry McMaster will show some actual leadership on the issue, abandoning Nikki Haley’s opposition to raising the gas tax without cutting another tax by a larger amount, which frankly is one of the craziest ideas to emerge on the state scene in the last several years.

The State wrote on that subject today, by the way. There’s still no indication which way Henry will go. But putting forward a rational road-funding plan would be a great start toward being a better governor than his predecessor…

Do you have questions about the penny tax?

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I know some of you do, to say the least.

Maybe you’d like to go to this:

For Immediate Release

September 8, 2016

**MEDIA ALERT**

     WHERE DOES YOUR MONEY GO?  

Educational Forum Planned for Richland County Penny Tax

WHAT:    “Pennies Impacting People” Educational Forum

WHEN:    6:30 – 7:30 p.m., Thursday, September 15

WHERE:   Richland Library Main, Third Level Programming Space
1431 Assembly St.
Columbia, SC 29201

WHO:      Free & open to the public

Are you curious about how the Richland County Penny Tax works? Members of the community will have an opportunity to learn about specific projects that impact local transportation – including roads, sidewalks and greenway infrastructure. WIS News 10 Anchor Judi Gatson will lead a discussion with representatives from:

  • Richland County Council
  • Richland County Transportation
  • Richland Penny Program Development Team
  • The Comet transit system
  • Citizens for a Greater Midlands

A question-and-answer session will follow.

For questions, please contact Emily Stoll at 803-587-3637 or email estoll@richlandlibrary.com.

If I go, I might ask them to please stop using “impact” as a verb. We all have our priorities…

Samuelson tries to inject some reason into ‘gender pay gap’

From Robert Samuelson at The Washington Post:

Samuelson

Robert Samuelson

The gender pay gap is back in the news — and it may become a major issue in the presidential campaign. It seems an open-and-shut case of job discrimination. Women earn only 79 percent of men’s average hourly wages. Who could favor that? Actually, the comparison is bogus. A more accurate ratio, after adjusting for differences in gender employment patterns, is closer to 92 percent. Even the remaining gap of 8 percentage points may not stem fully from discrimination….

… if women were paid a fifth less for doing the same work as men, there would be pervasive discrimination. That’s how the pay gap is interpreted by many. They demand “equal pay for equal work.” But that’s not what the pay gap shows. It’s simply the ratio of women’s average hourly pay to men’s average hourly pay. The jobs in the comparison are not the same, and when these differences are taken into account, the ratio of women’s pay to men’s rises to almost 92 percent from 79 percent, say Blau and Kahn….

After all the adjustments, the remaining 8-percentage-point unexplained gender gap could reflect discrimination….

But the persisting gap could have other causes….

Go read the whole thing. I’ve given you about as much as I can under Fair Use rules. (I think. Fair Use is open to interpretation.)

In any case, don’t expect the study Samuelson is writing about or anything else to modify the way Democrats speak about this. That 79 percent, and the assumption that it’s all about discrimination, is far too important to their whole “War on Women” meme to allow it to be sullied by considerations of reality.

Both parties like to trump up issues to generate outrage among their respective bases. This is a favorite among the Democrats.

Tubman to replace Old Hickory; Hamilton to stay on sawbuck (Yay!)

Here’s some mighty fine news:

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department will announce on Wednesday afternoon that Harriet Tubman, an African­American who ferried hundreds of slaves to freedom, will replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 note, according to a Treasury official, while newly popular Alexander Hamilton will remain on the face of the $10 bill….

And the best part to me — with all due respect to Ms. Tubman and the noble role she plays in our history — is that Alexander Hamilton will stay on the sawbuck. As I’ve said before, if anyone needed to go, it was Old Hickory.

I celebrated that part of the news on Twitter the other day:

But I neglected to mention it on the blog, so I’m glad to have this opportunity to make up for that.Tubman mug

Jackson is one of my less favorite major American historical figures, despite his triumph at New Orleans. I consider his defeat of John Quincy Adams — possibly the best-qualified president in our history — in their second contest to be one of our nation’s low points.

And I feel something of a personal connection to Ms. Tubman — when my wife and youngest daughter moved up to Pennsylvania for a year so my daughter could study ballet there, they lived in part of a house that had been part of the Underground Railroad. Or, at least, its cellar had been.

So I’m quite pleased…

Want Good Government? Set a good example: Disclose.

good government

This is a small matter, but I felt that someone should point out what should be obvious…

I got this email from a group calling itself SC Good Government Committee… No, excuse me, “sc good government committee,” e.e. cummings-style.

The release basically attacked Sen. Lee Bright’s Bathroom Bill for distracting from important issues in our state.

So I immediately thought, as any journalist would, “Who’s the sc good government committee?” Scanning through the email release partially satisfied my curiosity, at least by implication: It is apparently connected somehow to the state Chamber of Commerce. Ted Pitts — my former representative, Nikki Haley’s former chief of staff, and now president of the state Chamber — has a statement that is featured prominently in the release:

“South Carolina businesses don’t need the government telling them how to run their business. The governor has called the bill unnecessary and the State Chamber strongly agrees. South Carolina businesses already understand the importance of treating people with respect. Senator Bright is trying to create a political crisis that doesn’t exist to save his political career. Meanwhile our state has real issues we need to address including crumbling roads and a skills gap. We’ll be working on electing serious Senators next year who will be focused on addressing the states infrastructure and workforce needs and limiting government’s role in our lives.”

But when I clicked on the logo in the email and went to the group’s website in search of further info, I was stymied. The first and most obvious question — Who are the members of this committee? — is never answered. The About page says:

The South Carolina Good Government Committee (PAC) promotes good government in the Palmetto State by supporting free market policies in an effort to create economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians.

The Good Government Committee is authorized to financially support selected elective measures and candidates. This PAC is organized and operated on a voluntary, non-partisan basis.

GOALS

To further the democratic process of the free enterprise system
To advance business, industry and private sector job creation in South Carolina

ACTIONS

The Good Government Committee achieves its goals by:

Financially supporting efforts to educate South Carolinians on issues that are important to her citizens

Participating in the nomination or election of selected candidates for nomination to elective state office and who are believed to be in general agreement with the committee

… to which I say, “What Committee?”

Beyond that, the site’s blog and Latest News pages let us know that this PAC is interested in electing certain people to the Legislature. The blog promises, “The Good Government Committee will endorse candidates in the coming weeks.” So far, the group has taken an interest in the special Senate District 4 election that elected Rep. Mike Gambrell (that is, he won the GOP runoff and is unopposed in the general). The group’s Facebook page congratulated him for winning his runoff.

And that’s all I know.

I’m not alleging ill will here or anything because this kind of “mystery committee” thing is all too common to read much into it. But I will say this:

If your goal is good government, then you will certainly be advocating for greater transparency in government.

The least you could do is set a good example by telling us, clearly and frankly, who you are…

What Bill Gates would want on a desert island

I daydream about having some small portion of Bill Gates’ fortune (say, a billion after taxes): I think about what I would do first with the money, how I would apportion the lion’s share of it among my kids and grandkids immediately so that they were provided for, how I would arrange for people to handle the remainder so that I would never have to think about the money again (which to me would be the point of having a lot of money — I hate thinking about the stuff — which is why I’m not the kind of guy to MAKE a lot of money), and so forth.

Here’s what Bill Gates daydreams about:

I generally think of people like the slackers at Championship Vinyl spending time musing about their Top Five Desert Island tracks, so it’s interesting to see what comes up when an overachiever like Gates does the same. Particularly since it involves speculating about a situation in which his money would do him no good. Think about it: Did it help Mr. Howell?

Obviously, he’s a guy who doesn’t approach music quite the way we do. We like a song, we listen to it on YouTube, create a Pandora station around it, download it, or if we’re really retro, buy a CD (or if we’re audio snobs, vinyl). Bill Gates does this:

Music also played a special role in Melinda’s and my wedding. She is a big Willie Nelson fan, and I surprised her by hiring him to play after our rehearsal dinner. I’ll never forget dancing with her as he played “Blue Skies”—it was magical….

That Tweet was a bit of a bait-and-switch. I went to the link, and found that I would have to go listen to the whole BBC show (the one that inspired all those lists in “High Fidelity”) to learn what his picks were. Fortunately, the Financial Times saved me the trouble:

  • David Bowie & Queen, “Under Pressure”
  • Willie Nelson, “Blue Skies”
  • Ed Sheeran, “Sing”
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Are You Experienced?”
  • U2, “One”
  • The Beatles, “Two of Us”
  • Rodgers & Hammerstein, “How Can Love Survive?” (from “The Sound of Music”)
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway cast of Hamilton, “My Shot”

Not what I would have picked. But then, if I were stranded on a desert island, picking a soundtrack would be sort of low on my hierarchy of concerns…

 

 

$5.3 million for Confederate flag? An outrage on every level

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Artist’s conception of the shrine to a nylon fake. Another reason to oppose the proposal: Apparently, people who view it turn into shadows of themselves…

Sorry not to have gotten to this one sooner.

It’s been proposed — not by any elected official, thank God, but by a private consultant — that $5.3 million be spent to display the fake Confederate flag that flew on the north lawn of the State House until the wonderful moment back in the summer when we removed it.

Let’s examine a few of the ways in which this is an appalling, outrageous idea:

  • The waste of money. Our state has so many unmet, actual needs. On that basis alone, this would be a sinful waste. We have many millions worth of infrastructure needs after October’s floods. This amount would at least allow us to fix a dam or a bridge or two. The State reported today that it would cost $55 million to fix 32 structurally deficient bridges damaged in the flooding. So rather than waste the money on this flag absurdity, we could fix three bridges. Meanwhile, DSS needs $32 million to hire 157 more people to protect children. With $5.3 million, we could hire 26 of them. And so forth, all through the litany of real needs in South Carolina.
  • This flag in no way represents the men who served in the Confederate army. It is a cheesy fake made of nylon. NYLON! It never went into battle with a soldier in the service of any cause, good or bad. No Confederate soldier ever even beheld such a thing — their flags were made of heavy cotton. An authentic flag that flew on the State House grounds was replaced with this tacky fake at the behest of then-Sen. Glenn McConnell, who wanted a flag that didn’t fade in the sun and rain — and which, incidentally, would flap in the breeze much more readily than an authentic one, being lighter. So basically, what this flag represents is the reprehensible motivation that one portion of our state’s population had to rub its dominance into the faces of another portion of our state’s population. As I wrote in The State back during the summer: It was “a way white South Carolinians — some of us, anyway — have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement: We can do this. We don’t care about you or how you feel about it. It was a way of telling the world whose state this is.”
  • The lion’s share of the cost of this proposal would be to expand the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum by a third, onto the second story of the building in which it is situated. So… we’d be saying that this nylon, fake battle flag is worth a third of all of the real sacrifices made by real soldiers throughout our history, starting with the Revolutionary War. How gross can you get?
  • The $5.3 million price tag apparently doesn’t even include the $416,000 in rent that would have to be paid each year for the new, additional space.

I could go on, but I’ll end my litany there, and let y’all add any other outrages that occur to you.Patrick Henry Bradley

I’ll close with a personal anecdote and a proposal. It relates to one of my great-great-grandfathers, Patrick Henry Bradley, for which the tiny community of Bradley, S.C., is named.

In family lore he is known as “General Bradley,” because he was elected to that rank (brigadier, I think) in the South Carolina Militia. But in the Civil War, he served as a captain. And he obtained that rank by raising his own company from the countryside around his home.

He left behind his unit’s battle flag, which eventually came into the possession of my grandmother, his granddaughter. Long ago, she donated the flag to the Relic Room. Much later, in the 1980s, she went to the Relic Room hoping to view it. It wasn’t on display, which is not surprising — the museum has lots of relics that are in storage. That wasn’t the bad part, although it did disappoint my grandmother.

The bad part was that they couldn’t find the flag.

Museum director Allen Roberson — a good guy I happen to know from Rotary, whom I do not blame for this travesty unless I see evidence to the contrary — said that part of this ridiculous addition would be devoted to some authentic “garrison flags that have never been seen.” Who knows? Maybe my ancestor’s is among them.

Here’s my proposal: Take one of those flags and put it into a nice, plain wooden display case with a glass front, and find a corner of the existing museum space to place it in. Budget no more than $100 for this project, and I’ll raise the money from private sources.

Then you can take that embarrassing nylon thing, which is already conveniently folded up in a tight triangle, and put it where my ancestor’s real flag was.

Any heritage advocate who has a problem with that is lying about what motivates him.

But wait — the reports I’m seeing say that the bill that removed the flag required that it be “displayed.” OK, fine — put that in the $100 box, if there’s no way around the provision.

And then, let’s move on.

 

 

 

I get why he LIKED it; I don’t get why he BOUGHT it

No, this is not Fitsnews. The nekkid woman at right is a work of art — a very valuable work of art.

An ex-cab driver who is now a billionaire in China bought the above Modigiliani, titled “Nu Couché,” for — maybe you should sit down first — $170,405,000.modigliani

Unlike with some extremely expensive works of art, I totally get why he liked it. It’s appeal is rather straightforward and visceral. But so is the kind of picture that will no longer appear in Playboy. I would not pay $1.70 for a picture in Playboy (which is why Playboy is struggling), much less $170 million for any picture that has ever been put on the market. If I had $170 billion, I wouldn’t spend that much for a picture. I wouldn’t want to be such a sap for one thing, and there are far better ways to spend the money.

Besides, to see that very same picture, all I had to do was Google it. I don’t care how nice the brushstrokes are, a picture is a picture.

Which means that even if I were a billionaire, you probably wouldn’t find me at Christie’s. Although I did have a pint in a pub across the street from Christie’s when I was in London. In the pub were a number of guys who apparently worked there, but I didn’t talk to them while enjoying my bitter.

However, I’m not entirely lacking in the sensibilities necessary to see marketability in art. Check out this interactive feature from The New York Times, which asks you which works of art brought the highest price. I got the first three right and thought I was really savvy, but I missed on the rest of them.

Another good reason for me not to spend millions on a painting even if I had billions. I’d be a lousy judge of resale value.

But I thought you might have fun taking the quiz, too…

art quiz

 

Steve Spurrier’s just like me, except for all that money

I found this item today interesting:

Steve Spurrier has been to Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., since resigning as South Carolina’s head coach, but he won’t be at Williams-Brice Stadium this weekend or any weekend the rest of this season.

“I don’t think that’s my place,” Spurrier told The State on Monday….

Hey, what a coincidence — I don’t feel like it’s my place, either, so I won’t be going to the game. Either.

Increasingly, Steve Spurrier is just like me — except that he’s paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to ignore the Gamecocks, whereas I do it faithfully, year after year, for free.

Now I ask you, is that fair?

Spurrier to get paid $900,000 ‘to empty his office?’

Just thought I’d take notice of this item from over the weekend:

The University of South Carolina will pay former football coach Steve Spurrier, who resigned Monday, through the end of 2015, Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner said Friday.

That means Spurrier will receive his full $4 million pay for the year. Based on his annual pay, the former Gamecocks coach is scheduled to collect more than $900,000 through the end of the year….

Spurrier, who left after the Gamecocks started the season with a 2-4 record, has said he plans to stay in the Columbia area. He said he would take the rest of the season to empty his office at Williams-Brice Stadium…

So basically, he’s going to make more money than I’m likely to make in the rest of my working life for cleaning out his office? What’s he going to do, take home one knickknack from his desk each day? Let’s see… with 54 weekdays left in the year, that’s $16,666.67 per knickknack.

OK, yeah, I know — USC probably didn’t have any choice in this. It’s not all that unusual with big-time college coaches to receive the rest of their contract when they leave, and so forth and so on.

I’m not saying any particular individual or institution should have done anything differently than they did in this case. I blame no one. I blame society and its values.

A country where this is normal is a country with its priorities seriously out of whack.

Alexandra nails it: Old Hickory should go, not Hamilton

Alexandra P

Alexandra Petri, making Hamilton’s case with sweet reason, plus an appropriate dollop of moral indignation. Harrumph.

I’ve become something of an Alexandra Petri fan, but just over the last couple of months. Which means I missed her excellent piece back in June about why it is so very wrong to replace Alexander Hamilton on the sawbuck, and not Andrew Jackson on the twenty.

She totally nailed it, as usual:

Word leaked Wednesday night that, yes, by 2020, there will be a woman on our currency. But not, as the campaign Women on 20s suggested, on the $20. On the $10 bill — in place of Alexander Hamilton.

This is horrible.

This had better be a stealth campaign by the U.S. Treasury to gain support for removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 and replacing him with a woman. Otherwise, it’s unforgivable.

This is change I do not believe in.

What cretin decided to make Hamilton go and let Andrew Jackson stay? Andrew “Indian Removal Act” Jackson? Andrew “Literally Murdered A Guy” Jackson? Andrew “Who cares what the Supreme Court rules” Jackson? Andrew “The Coolest Thing I Did As President Was Throw A Giant Cheese-Themed Houseparty” Jackson? He gets to stay? Look, I’ve thrown giant cheese-themed parties. I don’t belong on any currency. And, unlike Jackson, I had no responsibility for the Trail of Tears….

She nails it so well, I’m going to risk the wrath of The Washington Post‘s lawyers and go to the edge of the Fair Use envelope and jes’ stretch it a might, the way ol’ Yeager used to do out there over the high desert (as they haul me off, I’ll be screaming, “Call E.J. Dionne! He’s a friend of mine! And I know Kathleen Parker! And her husband, Woody! Do you know who I AM? I once had lunch with George Will!”), because I’ve just gotta give her reasoning for why Alexander Hamilton is so deserving:

Never Hamilton! Hamilton is a hero. Hamilton built this country with his bare hands, strong nose, and winning smile. He was the illegitimate son of a British officer who immigrated from the West Indies, buoyed by sheer force of intellect, and rose to shape our entire nation. His rags-to-riches story was so compelling that if he hadn’t existed, Horatio Alger would have had to make him up. Hamilton gave us federalism and central banking and the Coast Guard! He served as our first Secretary of the Treasury. He fought in the Revolutionary War. He started a newspaper. He weathered a sex scandal! He saved us from President Aaron Burr. He successfully imagined our country as the federal, industrial democracy we have today and served as an invaluable counterweight to Thomas Jefferson’s utopian visions of a yeoman farmers’ paradise. He founded the Bank of New York! He was so good at what he did that the Coast Guard was still using a communications guidebook he had written — in 1962! He was a redhead! He should be on more currency, not less. He should be on all the currency!…

Amen to all of that.

Had I lived back in those days, I’d have been a Federalist, so it’s good to see someone sticking up for our guy. (Although, as Federalists go, I prefer John Adams.)

Since I’m so late acknowledging this fine piece, here’s a video in which she reiterates her points (and which is on the Post’s website today):

Do college football coaches deserve their pay?

Does Steve Spurrier actually earn, in any moral sense, the more than $4 million he is paid as an ostensible public employee? Or is the $7.2 million that Alabama coach Nick Saban pulls down justified?

Mr. Saban’s biographer, Monte Burke, says yes in The Wall Street Journal. A portion of his argument:

Former Alabama President Robert Witt (now the chancellor of the Alabama university system), once told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that Mr. Saban was “the best financial investment this university has ever made.” He has a point.NickSaban_LSU-AL-07t

Mr. Saban had an immediate financial impact on Alabama. In 2007 the school was closing a $50 million capital campaign for its athletic department. After Mr. Saban arrived, the campaign exceeded its goal by $52 million. Alabama’s athletic-department revenue the year before Coach Saban showed up was $68 million. By 2013-14 it had risen to $153 million, a gain of 125%. (The athletic department kicked $9 million of that to the university.) Mr. Saban’s football program accounted for $95 million of that figure, and posted a profit of $53 million.

Mr. Witt said Mr. Saban also played a big role in the success of a $500 million capital campaign for the university (not merely the athletic department) that took place around the time the football coach was hired. Mr. Witt also credited his coach with helping grow Alabama’s enrollment—which stands at more than 36,000, an increase of 14,000 students since 2007. The university managed the neat trick of actually becoming more selective during that time. The year before Mr. Saban arrived, Alabama accepted 77% of its applicants. It now admits a little more than 50%. Mr. Saban’s three national titles at Alabama have helped the university create a winning brand….

Of course such an argument can be mounted for anyone whose hand rests on the money tap that is college football.

But in a larger sense, it’s completely absurd to say that anyone earns that much money supervising a bunch of ostensible students in doing something that has nothing to do with their studies — playing a game. When I say “larger sense,” I mean the view from 30,000 feet — the distance I try (unsuccessfully) to maintain from anything having to do with college football.

But hey, let’s keep it on a simple dollars-and-cents level (as if anyone counts cents any more): Who earns that money that flows into the program’s coffers? The coach or the players? In the NFL, top players make more than the coaches — which makes sense, when you consider who is actually out there courting brain damage and other forms of permanent injury. But am I arguing, as many do, that college players should be paid in accord with the profits they bring in?

No, I’m not. College kids getting paid millions to play a game is more or less as absurd as the coaches getting paid that much. In fact, I have no suggestions, because the problem is far too pervasive, complex and systemic to lend itself to any workable solution.

The problem isn’t that colleges are wasteful in paying coaches this much. The problem is that football brings in this much money. In other words, the problem is that we live in a society in which people value college football to a degree that is far beyond the power of the word “absurd.” And the result is, as the headline I reTweeted a week ago says:

Who is to blame? Pretty much everybody I see when I look around me, a fact borne in upon me at this time of year with all the subtlety of that trash compactor in the Death Star, its walls moving in to impartially crush Luke, Leia and Han.

Which reminds me. You know how much Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford are being paid to reprise their roles? Well, neither do I, but … Oh, never mind…

‘They panickin’ out there; I can feel it…’

600 points

So this morning, my financial adviser called to see if I was doing OK.

Well, I had thought I was doing OK, but when you get a call like that…

But seriously, he was just checking to see whether I felt like I needed to do anything in light of what was happening in global markets. (He wasn’t urging me to do anything; he was just basically doing a pulse check with clients in light of all the alarming news out there.)

No, I didn’t. Want to do anything, I mean. This, of course, isn’t about me having nerves of steel. This is about me not thinking about money stuff at all, and not wanting to think about it. And to do something, you’d have to think about it, right? Most of the time, I forget that I have investments, because it’s money I’ve never seen — it was taken out of my paychecks before I ever had it — and which I won’t see for years to come.

Nevertheless, I did think about it a little, and the way I thought of it is this: So suppose some small portion of my retirement money is “exposed” in a class of stocks that is particularly hard-hit in the current situation. Well, I am the very opposite of a financial whiz, but it seems to me that that would be the very LAST situation in which you’d want to unload those stocks. I mean, why wouldn’t you wait until everybody was celebrating how awesome that sort of stock was, and clamoring for it, and then sell? (In fact, if I had any cash, which I don’t, I might want to buy a little more of it…)

That’s what I think anyway, when I think about it. I’m going to stop thinking about it now.

You?

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Barack Obama turns 54 today. A mere pup.

This was brought to my attention by Nancy Pelosi, who wanted me to celebrate by participating in one of the DCCC’s cheesy fund-raising schemes.

I prefer to just share the above video, which says “Happy Birthday” far better than I could.

FYI, for you young folks, the person doing the singing self-identified as a woman, and everyone agreed with her.

That Policy Council debate from last month

The SC Policy Council now has the debate I participated in last month up on YouTube, in two parts, above and below.

So watch if you’re interested in whether those who spend to influence elections should have to disclose their sources of income. Which is what it was about — not, as the Policy Council would have it, “free speech.”

Lynn Teague was with me on the side of all that is right and true, Policy Council director Ashley Landess and Rep. Rick Quinn were our respected interlocutors on the other side.

Now that the video is available and I can share with you, I need to disclose a source of income myself.

When we arrived for the debate, there was at each of our places a little gift bag. I could see that the cellophane package contained a bag of Adluh grits, a tea towel with a Palmetto tree on it, and some black tissue paper. As I was leaving with mine — yes, I’m back on a paleo diet, but someone in the family could eat the grits, right? — the Policy Council’s Barton Swaim said to be careful with it, as there was “a card” inside. I said thanks, and to let me know any time they need me for something similar.

I thought he meant a thank-you card or something.

When I got it home and unwrapped the package, I unfolded the tissue paper to find what looked at first like a gift card. In fact, it said “gift card.” So I was thinking, “Oh, 10 bucks at Starbucks would be nice.”

scan0001Then I looked more closely, saw that it was a debit card with $100 on it, and immediately exclaimed, “I can’t keep this!” To which my wife replied, “And my wife said, “Why not? You don’t work for the newspaper any more.”

All those years working for newspapers, I could not have accepted any sort of stipend, and I gave up any honoraria — such as that $3,400 Presbyterian College wanted me to have for serving on a panel one evening — without a second thought. I would tell them to keep it, and if they wouldn’t, I’d turn and give it to charity.

But this time I kept it, after calculating in my head the number of hours I had spent on the debate (at least four), which actually made it seem less like a gift.

But I haven’t spent it yet. Have to activate it first. And before that, I wanted to disclose. Which I just did.

Oh, and I still disagree with the Policy Council on the same things I did before, and just as vehemently. I thought I’d say that for my readers who think money buys agreement.

Also, I did receive a thank-you card signed by everybody from the Policy Council, which was nice of them.

Come see me make a fool of myself tonight

Repeating what I said in a comment a few days ago:

By the way, y’all…

Next week at Capstone, we’ll have a debate on issues related to my Brookings piece, sponsored by the Policy Council. I’m on the panel along with our own Lynn Teague, Rick Quinn and Ashley Landess. Charles Bierbauer will moderate.

I was invited to this by Barton Swaim, thusly:

Did you happen to see Ashley’s op-ed in the WSJ on Saturday? If not, here it is: http://on.wsj.com/1DDDHDS

I’m hoping you vehemently disagree with it, because we’re holding a public debate on the topic of whether 501c3 groups like ours should have to disclose their donors and I’m looking for something to take the YES ABSOLUTELY position. You’re the first person I’ve asked, because you take contrary positions on just about everything!

It’s moderated by Charles Bierbauer, and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

I hope some of y’all can come…

Here’s the Eventbrite info on it.

Actually, it turns out that Charles Bierbauer will not be moderating. Bill Rogers of the SC Press Association will take his place.

I agreed to do this even though I don’t have strong opinions on campaign finance law in general. But I do not believe, as the Policy Council appears to do, that spending equals speech. I do not believe that, as Ashley Landess says, it is “burdensome” for an advocacy group to have to disclose where its money comes from if it hopes to affect elections or policy.

And with me, that’s about as far as it goes. I’ve devoted basically no time to studying individual bills addressing the subject, or court cases on related issues. Because, you know, it’s all about money, and you know how money bores me.

But fortunately, I’ll have our own Lynn Teague on my team. The other “side” will be represented by Ms. Landess and Rep. Rick Quinn.

I’m assuming that all three of them know far more about this than I do (I know Lynn does), and will do the heavy lifting when it comes to filling those two hours.

Lynn and I talked the debate over at breakfast this morning. That’s the extent of my preparation, aside from a few emails back and forth with Barton Swaim, who got me into this.

So if you’re interested, come on out, because I’m sure the other three will have interesting things to say. And if I see the opportunity to make one of my 30,000-foot-view points, I will. Of course, I’m likely to misspeak in my ignorance of the minutiae on this issue. Which you might find entertaining, but I won’t…

Gender aside, who would YOU rather see on the $20 bill?

After reading this piece by the wonderfully named Feminista Jones, arguing that putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill would actually undermine her legacy, I got to thinking: Who would I rather see on the double sawbuck in place of Andrew Jackson?

I mean, you know, demographics aside. Me not being all that big on identity politics and all.

The simple answer is “just about anybody,” including Harriet Tubman and whoever the also-rans were behind her in the Women on 20s contest.

Jackson’s not my fave president. I’ve always sort of seen his electoral victory over the vastly more qualified John Quincy Adams as a moment, if not the moment, when American politics went off the rails. I mean, good one on the Battle of New Orleans (even though the war was over), but just not one of the greats, to my way of thinking. Also, Davy Crockett was my hero when I was a pre-schooler, and Davy (who split with Jackson over the Trail of Tears), if anything, thought less of him than I do.

So whom would I pick to replace him? This is an occasion for another Top Five List:

  1. John Adams — My favorite Founding Father. I have long believed that history gave him short shrift. Everybody remembers Jefferson for writing the Declaration of Independence. But there would have been no declaration without Adams. He’s the guy who tirelessly rammed it through the Continental Congress, while Jefferson sat there like a bump on a log. In fact, it’s likely that it was Adams’ decision to have Jefferson draft the actual document, because he knew the Virginian had a way with words. But Adams was far more the author of our liberty than Jefferson. You say Washington is the Father of our Country? Well, Adams was the one who set him up to become that, by pushing him as the guy to lead our army. For that matter, Adams was the one who proposed that there be a Continental Army to begin with. Then there were his significant contributions as a diplomat in Paris and London during and after the war, which did a lot to make our victory possible. Sure, his presidency wasn’t anything to brag on, but you don’t even have to have been a president to be on a bill. Ask Franklin and Hamilton.
  2. Franklin D. Roosevelt — Led us through the greatest crises in our history, outside of the Civil War — and Lincoln’s already on the five. And he did it with such elan. Who else in our history could have bucked us up and kept us going through the ’30s and early ’40s? No one. And yeah, he’s already on the dime, but he still comes in second — or even first, making Adams second — on my list.
  3. Martin Luther King — After you mention Lincoln and Roosevelt, whose spoken words stirred the American spirit with more power? He inspired us to be the kind of country we always meant to be. We’re still working on that, and he still inspires us.
  4. Harriet Tubman — For all the reasons she won the recent competition to come up with a woman to put on the list. And not just because she’s a twofer — y’all know I don’t go in for such things. Did I ever tell you that when my wife spent a year up in Pennsylvania with our youngest daughter, while the daughter was training at a ballet school, they lived in an antebellum house that had been part of the Underground Railroad? True story. So I must confess to that personal connection.
  5. John Glenn — I’ve always found the first American to orbit the Earth one of the more admirable people of my lifetime. Also, I wanted to have at least one surprise nominee in my five, and Bryan got me to thinking again today about how much I love “The Right Stuff.” And while he’s a nonpresidential nominee, he was my favorite candidate in 1984, even though he didn’t make it. Godspeed, John Glenn.

Whom would you choose?

 

A big weekend for SC Policy Council in the WSJ

I just received an email that reminded me of something…

This past weekend, there were not one, but two opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal written by folks affiliated with the S.C. Policy Council.

The first wasn’t at all surprising, as it was written by Communications Director Barton Swaim, who is a regular contributor to the Journal, as well as to the Weekly Standard and other such publications. Barton is an erudite young man and a fine writer. His piece over the weekend put forth a modest proposal for a partial acceptance of the excessive use of the random “like” in common speech. All who love the language should read it, assuming they can get past the pay wall: “Managing the Decline of, Like, a Great Language.”

The second piece was by Policy Council President Ashley Landess, and it had this attention-grabbing headline: “The South Carolina Way of Incumbency Protection.”

You’d pretty much have to think exactly like Ashley to figure out what the piece was about based on that hed. For most people, that would be a leap. Basically, she argued against legislation making its way through our Legislature that would require groups that spend money to affect elections to disclose their donors, claiming ominously that this was some sort of plot by incumbents to silence political criticism.

Which, as I say, is something of a stretch. But a stretch you are motivated to attempt if you are the head of the Policy Council. And a message that would appeal to the editors of the Journal.

Anyway, I was reminded of both these pieces by an email from Barton this morning saying:

Did you happen to see Ashley’s op-ed in the WSJ on Saturday? If not, here it is: http://on.wsj.com/1DDDHDS

I’m hoping you vehemently disagree with it, because we’re holding a public debate on the topic of whether 501c3 groups like ours should have to disclose their donors and I’m looking for something to take the YES ABSOLUTELY position. You’re the first person I’ve asked, because you take contrary positions on just about everything!

It’s moderated by Charles Bierbauer, and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Think about it?

Barton

  1. Thanks for tweeting my eccentric little op-ed. I appreciated you calling me “our own.”

So I had to stop and actually read Ashley’s piece, and decide what I think of it…

Well, “vehemently” is a bit strong. But no, I don’t agree with her.

First, campaign finance has never been a thing I’m that passionate about (it’s about, shudder, money, which bores me, which is probably why I don’t have any). But when forced to think about it, I have tended to say “no” to spending limits, “yes” to disclosure.

The Constitution protects our right to stand up and speak out, not our right to secretly pay other people to speak for us. And a group that pushes transparency as the Policy Council does sets a bad example by wanting to be secretive. Ashley’s piece sort of rings hollow as I read it.

I’m slightly ambivalent about this. For instance, up to a point, I allow people to comment anonymously on my blog. But I restrict what they say more than I do people who are open about their identities. I don’t let them, for instance, criticize others anonymously.

So, given all that, I suppose I could be on a panel. But I’m not nearly as passionate or committed on this as Ashley.

I’ve asked for a few more details…