Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Buffett: Tax me! Tax me!

This commentary also appeared in the Bargain Hunter's Tuscarawas County edition.

Americans’ anti-tax fervor apparently has limits.
Last Monday, Warren Buffett, the world’s third richest person with a net worth of about $50 billion,authored an op-ed piece in the New York Times. He said the government should stop coddling the super-rich and increase the tax rate on their earnings, including his.

Buffett said he pays 17.4 percent in taxes on his salary, while others in his office average 36 percent. It’s not fair, he said.

MSNBC conducted a poll in the aftermath of Buffet’s piece, and the results were somewhat surprising, at least to me.

In a little more than an hour, MSNBC reported, 20,000 people weighed in on the question of whether the super-rich should be taxed more. Ninety-five percent said they should.

One political party in particular is staunchly against increasing anyone’s taxes, including the super-rich (apparently), arguing that the government shouldn’t increase anyone’s taxes in a recession. I guess there’s some truth in that argument.

If the super-rich have to pay more taxes, does that mean they put off super-rich-type purchases of such things like private jets and yachts? Who do you think makes private jets and yachts?

Well, members of the middle class assemble and build jets and yachts. See how this tax thing works?

But no matter – members of the middle class always seem to get the shaft no matter what Congress or, for that matter, rich people, do or don’t do. (Remember George H.W. Bush’s tax on super yachts? The rich quit buying them, throwing middle class people out of work.)

Buffett doesn’t need to pay more taxes. He needs to buy more stuff. I think that’s called Keynesian economics.


My colleague, Kyle Kondik, who escaped the daily newspaper business in the nick of time, now does analysis for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

In his latest offering, he recalls George Will’s prediction of just a few months ago:

“I think we know with reasonable certainty that standing up there on the west front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2013, will be one of three people: (Barack) Obama, (Tim) Pawlenty and (Mitch) Daniels. I think that’s it.”

Will made that prediction on ABC’s “This Week” program on May 15. Three months later, we can say for near certainty that Will’s prediction is at least two-thirds wrong.

During the height of the last presidential campaign, yours truly predicted Democrat Hillary Clinton would face off against Republican Rudy Giuliani in the November presidential election. You think pundits would learn their lesson and just shy away from early presidential predictions.
Kondik seems to have learned well. But has he really? He ends his analysis of the recent Iowa goings-on with this:
“So as tempting as it is to say that, come Jan. 20, 2013, one of three men – Obama, (Mitt) Romney or (Rick) Perry – will be sworn in at the western front of the Capitol, it might be wise to hold off on that prediction just yet.”
Looks like a prediction, smells like a prediction…
If you read my commentary last week at tuscbargainhunter.com or gpubs.com, you would have been treated to a friendly follow-up exchange between me and former Times-Reporter publisher Jim Shrader. I enjoy such “debates” as long as I know the other party.

So much of the online (and telephone call-in) debate these days is nasty and mean-spirited. Teachers and schools seem to be an easy mark. (“What part of ‘no’ doesn’t the school board understand!” is a familiar refrain.)

One community leader said she believed people would be hard-pressed to move to our community if their only exposure was the online vitriol that seems to have overtaken the actual news report and thoughtful opinion.

Fortunately, the Bargain Hunter’s website appears to be free of such hatefulness and negativity. If you’re looking for a kinder, gentler forum, check it out.

Dick Farrell is a contributor to the Bargain Hunter. You can access this column at www.gpubs.com. You can read his blog at http://dickfarrell.blogspot.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Can anyone out there bring us together?

This commentary also appeared in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

Last week’s commentary on the debt ceiling debacle along with Social Security and Medicare – keeping it intact for guys like me – brought a range of opinions from readers.

And then there was the downgrading of the country’s credit rating from AAA to AA plus.

Some blamed the Tea Party. Others blamed the spenders in Congress from both parties. A liberal blamed conservatives. A conservative blamed liberals.

So, that’s pretty much where we’re at in this country. None of us, it seems, are on the same page. I remember this feeling back in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Older readers will remember the sign an Ohio girl supposedly held up during a Richard Nixon rally in 1968.

“Bring Us Together Again,” it urged Nixon. He couldn’t (although props to Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter for trying) and arguably an era of good will didn’t return to the country until after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

It seems we’re at a similar point. We need someone to bring us together. I just don’t know who can do it at this point.

I was watching a CNN report on the downed helicopter in Afghanistan that took the lives of 30 American soldiers. The anchor was interviewing a grieving wife and mother of two, who obviously was distraught.

“How are the kids doing?” the anchor asked.

For goodness sakes, why do news producers allow their minions to ask such dumb questions?

How are the kids doing?

What possible light can one shed on a story by interviewing someone who’s just lost a loved one? Is anyone enriched by listening to such an interview?

I’m not. Click.

According to the Springdale Morning News in northwest Arkansas, a 34-year-old woman was charged with theft after stealing 185 copies of the newspaper outside a grocery store.

Her attorney said she “was just trying to save some money.”

The woman said she is a member of a coupon club and a fan of the “Extreme Couponing” show on television.

The Springdale newspaper is not alone. Other papers across the country are reporting an increase in the theft rate, attributing it to the couponing craze.

As the editor of a daily newspaper, I cringed years ago when I got the first order from a publisher to put an “ear” on the front page of Sunday’s paper, informing readers of the total worth of that particular edition’s coupons. Not only did I think it cheapened the product, but I also thought that the dollar amount was generally misleading because the poor girl who counted up all the coupons included such deals like $250 off a new garage.

(I put the coupon “ear” in the same category as the little folksy greeting on the bottom of the page that thanks a particular reader for subscribing, which is nice as long as that particular subscriber is still alive. Don’t laugh.)

OK, I’ve used coupons. But there are only so many bottles of shampoo that I need in the course of a year. And from what I’ve seen, a lot of manufacturers’ coupons are for new products, which I did very well without before they were launched. So, I think the coupons in the Sunday paper are a nice thing, but I don’t think they trump honest-to-goodness news, opinion and sports as the primary reasons to buy it.

And they’re certainly not worth going to jail for.

You also can access this column at www.gpubs.com. You can read his blog at http://dickfarrell.blogspot.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Friday, August 5, 2011

From those wonderful folks...

Bulletin: Standard & Poor's lowered the country's credit rating from AAA to AA. Thanks, Congress.

This blog post also appeared in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

Most people really celebrate birthdays that have a zero at the end of them. But the mileposts in our American lives have a lot more crooked numbers.

Sixteen is a big birthday – time to get that driver’s license. Eighteen used to be a bigger one than it is today because 3.2 percent beer is now extinct. Twenty-one remains at the top of the birthday envy heap because alcoholic beverages can be legally, if not intelligently, consumed.

For us baby boomers, 62 is the new 21 because that’s when we can tap into the retirement fund to which we and our employers have been contributing since before the age of 21.

And age 65 is pretty special, too. That’s Medicare time.

So, here’s a message to the wonderful folks who make up the 112th Congress, including those who consider themselves Tea Party members: Don’t be messing with my Social Security or Medicare unless you’re going to make it better.

(A lot of Tea Party members say they don’t care about getting re-elected. Is that a good thing? I’m not sure. Scary.)

I’m tired of hearing every time I turn on the news that Social Security is going to bankrupt the country. I don’t want to hear it. And Medicare? I’m going to need it, hopefully, if I can stay on the vertical side of things for another five or so years.

Here’s what I don’t get.

Congress approves all federal spending, and by law it has to expand its own line of credit – increase the debt ceiling – which it has done routinely for eons. All of sudden, this routine little exercise has turned into panic-inducing disaster because certain members of Congress, along with the president of the United States, want to make the debt ceiling about everything else.

Even the Columbus Dispatch jumped on the debt ceiling debate, calling for massive changes in Social Security and Medicare in an editorial (probably written by a young whippersnapper) published just a few days before the debt ceiling crisis deadline.

Fortunately, Joanne Limbach of New Philadelphia, who is president of the Ohio chapter of AARP, responded quickly with a letter to the editor.
“AARP wants Congress to strengthen Social Security for today’s seniors and future generations, not slash it as part of a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling,” she wrote.

“Social Security deserves a separate debate on the many options open to ensure its solvency for those who count on it today and will need it tomorrow.

“Medicare, too, deserves a bigger debate, one that opens discussion about bringing down the cost of health care for all, not just those who rely on Medicare or Medicaid for their health care. The current debate over raising the debt ceiling is no place to make decisions about the future of Social Security and Medicare.”

One of the talking heads on CNN said she knew how to settle the debt ceiling debate and then recited a half-dozen bullet points that she thought all the sides could agree on, although none of the points actually had anything to do with the debt ceiling.

“Amazing,” I thought. “How did she remember all that? How does she know what she’s talking about?”

As of this writing, we’re still waiting on a vote. Word on the street is that there were enough votes to get it done, avoiding an economic Armageddon. (Cue the music from “Jaws.”)

The deal crafted by your 112th Congress calls for raising the debt ceiling in two installments “sufficient tos erve the nation’s needs into 2013,” said Bloomberg News.

“The framework, as detailed by officials in both parties, would cut $917 billion in spending over a decade, raise the debt limit initially by $900 billion and assign a special congressional committee to find another $1.5 trillion in deficit savings by late November, to be enacted by Christmas.”

OK, here’s a warning to Congress: If you substantially mess with my Social Security and Medicare, I’m coming after you. And by the way, I believe in a strong national defense. So, don’t cut there either.

I don’t care about getting re-elected either.

Dick Farrell is a contributor to the Bargain Hunter. You can access this column at www.gpubs.com. You can read his blog at http://dickfarrell.blogspot.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).