The tax discussion is just a way of avoiding real change.

Why do politicians think that all the revenue collected by a small business is taken as Salary?

A small business has many choices available for how to account for the profit generated from their business. It so happens that with the historically low federal income tax rates available currently, the most advantageous model is often to take everything as salary.

But that is not the best way for the economy and jobs. Surely we would be better off as a country if it was more advantageous for a business to re-invest it’s profits into growing the business, hiring new employees and building new things as opposed to taking everything as personal income immediately.

And remember the term “small business” is not just used for what you and I would consider small businesses.

Having said all that depending on where you live, $250,000 of personal income is not rich anymore, and the breakpoint for taxes should be much higher, I’d suggest $500,000 or $1,000,000 would make more sense.

Of course adding more taxes on the salaried income on the richest makes very little financial difference to the total collected by the feds, but it will change how they account for profit on revenue. But all the ways that income can be made outside of salary are worthy of consideration (tax on capital gains, a tax on stock trades, foreign investments, tax on multiple properties etc).

In some countries great schemes exist for alleviating taxes for actions that support the countries economic or social goals. For example in Germany you don’t pay taxes on a mortgage if the property is well maintained and rented at reasonable rates. This encourages investment and helps everyone live in nicer houses.

In other places businesses get a huge tax break for creating products locally. Locally designed, locally sourced raw materials, locally sourced production, but not for local final stage production. This encourages the use of the countries full range of industry and doesn’t reward the old technique of making everything in China and brining it all together for local final assembly just to avoid taxes.

There are a million techniques to use taxation to drive up the economy, and still allow business owners to be just as rich as they are today (or even richer).

In a perfect world the amount of people working would be as high as possible, and all of them earning enough to pay taxes. And the rich would be encouraged by the tax code to grow their businesses in ways that grow the economy.

Personal taxes are just an avoidable inconvenience for the richest, and any change to federal tax rates will have minimal impact on them! Why is it an issue being discussed? Well if we were not discussing this we would be thinking about the deeper issues.

Personal taxes on the rich are just a distraction technique.
A fight that really doesn’t matter, but allows politicians to scream and shout and excite their bases without really changing anything that truly matters.

I dream of a world where politicians all work together for the benefit of the country they serve, and not fight each other for personal gain at the detriment of all the rest of us.

(642)

The counter balance

What is worse, a business that pays people so poorly that they cannot afford to live without support from the government or a union that places such restrictive rules on a business that it cannot change to keep healthy?

Obviously this question is a trap. But it is a trap that can and should be avoidable, (and generally is avoided).

When employees of a business feel well treated they tend not to need the power of unionization. And when companies consider themselves the sum of all their employees, investors and customers then the company treats everyone well and doesn’t need to fear that unions will limit their ability to thrive.

When a business finds ways to consider it’s employees in different “classes” there is always the risk that the disparity between the classes will grow in ways that are not reasonable.

Everyone loves to be treated as an individual, and want’s to be rewarded for his or her unique skills. When a cake decorator becomes a master at his/her profession they would like to be rewarded for their excellence. If they get the same pay as someone else who is not as skilled at piping, they have less incentive to hone that skill.

When someone founds a business and spend decades nurturing and growing that business they obviously deserve the rewards that come with that level of dedication.

And when an employee is hired to perform a function for that business they don’t expect to get the riches associated with being the business owner.

There are well documented corruptions of the worker – business relationship, where workers were coerced to either take on highly risky behaviors or were placed in positions of financial subservience where they could not afford to lose their job yet were not paid enough to live. The Spector of these relationships can be seen in many large organizations today.

When unions negotiated benefits as an offset for lower wages, this was a way of a business delaying these payments to their workers. But often the long term costs of these benefits are now causing these very businesses to try and renegotiate. Some of these negotiations see pensions being reduced, while other are through the courts with companies asking for their previous agreements to be swept aside as part of pre-bankruptcy considerations.

I always thought that unions accepting lower pay in exchange for amazing retirement plans was naïve, as there is always the risk that companies can change the rules later.

Companies that treat every employee as a unique individual, providing healthy profit sharing between all levels of employees, investors and customers and not creating barriers between any levels of employees are most likely to not suffer the excesses of union mandates.

But the pressure to reduce costs and increase profits is always going to make this very hard.

(633)

A Global Economic Holiday Story – A story often told

This story is fictional or maybe it’s better to say it may be fictional…

I owned a bakery, we had been in business for thirty years, proudly providing baked products to our community. We make excellent bread! Over the last few years there has been a significant change in our business, and it all started out really well. A new ultra large retailer started to carry our produce in their stores. This was great for us.

After about a year of carrying our product locally, we had a meeting with the local product manager and they asked to double the amount of product they were buying from us every week. We were so excited, this was just the break we needed, and we hired more staff and were doing very well.

About a year later the same product manager came to us and again asked to double the amount of product they were buying from us every week. Wow, we were so excited, this was a massive deal for us. After visiting the local bank to get a loan we doubled the size of our bakery, hiring loads of new people and moved ahead feeling wonderful about the future.

About a year later the same product manager came to us again and asked to double the amount of product they were buying from us. And again after visiting the bank, with our business plan we built a new bakery, hired more staff and met this exciting business challenge.

I was able to buy a bigger house, my two kids were able to go to the best universities, and the Christmas bonuses and raises to all of the staff made everyone very happy. Business was great

About a year later the same product manager came to us again, and expressed how pleased he was with out product, and that he wanted to again double the order, but this time he would only do this if we dropped out prices by 25%. He also added that if we didn’t drop our prices, he would cancel the whole order and take his business elsewhere.

What were we to do, this one customer now accounted for over 90% of our business, and without their order we would go bankrupt within weeks, not being able to pay the staff or the bank. So we reluctantly took the deal.

The price we were being paid for our product was now below our costs. So we had to cut costs. I fired 10% of the staff, reduced the salaries and benefits of those left and renegotiated the loans we had with the bank. We were now able to keep in business, but our profit margins were very slim, that any further reduction in price would destroy us.

About a year later the same product manager came to us again, and expressed how pleased he was with out product, and that he wanted to again double the order, but this time he would only do this if we dropped out prices by a further 15%. He also added that if we didn’t drop our prices, he would cancel the whole order and take his business elsewhere.

I was distraught; this was going to kill our company. But the product manager was unmoved. I had no choice, and took the deal.

Now I had to cut costs even more dramatically. To fulfill the new increased order at this lower overall price, I had to get draconian on our business model. Instead of buying my ingredients locally, I had to instead but bulk product directly from south America and Asia. The quality control wasn’t as good but the price was all I could afford. I had to fire another 20% of the staff, and move many of the other staff to lower hours, so as to stop having to pay them benefits. But we were still in business.

I started to have health problems due to the stress, and many of my best staff resigned. But what choice did I have.

About a year later the same product manager came to us again, and expressed how displeased he was with out product, the quality had gone down, and unless things got better he would cancel the deal.

My business has just gone through liquidation. We lost everything to the bank. A few of my former employees were able to get jobs at the large retailer that was our former customer. They pay and benefits are terrible, but they are now making their own baked products and they are the only one left in the area that does.

(475)

Hewlett Packard – From There to Here is only part of the story

I started my professional career at Hewlett Packard. I joined at a time when the founders (Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett) were still alive, very old but still very much an influence on the day-to-day culture of Hewlett Packard.
It may seem quaint nowadays, but when a company, successful in so many ways (such as HP) still has the founders around, there is a lot of pressure to run the business in their image.

I used to work in a major site in Europe, the site contained a development and manufacturing operation, as well as an arm of HP labs, a pure research facility full of PhD’s with foreheads significantly larger than can be comfortably considered normal. Because it was a major site, company board meetings and visits from the highest echelons of the company’s management team were quite frequent. Even though I was a neophyte in the company I was able to attend all-hands meetings and hear the views of these leaders over the years. And it was normal for executives visiting a site to offer to meet one on one with anyone who would care to make an appointment.

The idea of management by wandering around and of being open with all employees was so engrained in the culture that whenever a dignitary was visiting there was a signup process to arrange for a one-on-one meeting. I made a point of always putting my name down on the list. And so it was that I got to meet both Bill and Dave among others.
Bill Hewlett was quite infirm when I got to meet him, actually travelling around the inside of buildings in a golf cart, waving at everyone and saying “you’re all doing very well” in a rather frail voice (I did notice the similarity at the time to young Mr. Grace, from the UK TV show “are you being served”). But his thoughts were still an amazing thing for a young engineer to be exposed to.

Young Mr. Grace – Are you Being Served
Catch phrase “You’re all doing very well, carry on”

When I spoke with Dave Packard I remember him telling me a story about how HP drove innovation. He said that the model was quite simple, every year they would undertake a dozen game changing projects, knowing full well that most of them would not turn into strong businesses directly. But the ones that did succeed would be the future of the company, and would more than pay for the ones that had failed. But just as importantly the people who had worked on the failed projects has the experience to become the company’s success in the next round. It was just as much about gaining the positive experiences of failure as it was about the positive experiences of success.

This was a lesson I’ve taken with me through my career and life. The fact that Hewlett and Packard created a culture of respect for people was much more about creating a good long-term business strategy than it was about creating a good ethical playing field.

When Bill and Dave left their executive positions at Hewlett Packard, they still were very much involved in the running of the company until pretty much the days that they died.

John Young was the CEO when I joined Hewlett Packard, and I believe Bill Hewlett was the Chairman of the board. I remember quite clearly the time when the annual revenue of the company passed the $40 billion mark. As companies grow the levels of management between the CEO and the workers has to grow as well. And I remember that all of the management team of the company was trained on how to deal with the growth the company was going through. There was a paper from Harvard that analytically explained the pains company’s need to go through to be able to keep innovating. Hewlett Packard addressed this by refocusing on the founding principles of the company, and created an internal campaign called “the rules of the garage”. This is well documented and I’m sure you can find a copy on the HP site or around the web. But the rules were a practical set of cultural definitions, the core values of the company.

As time moved on John Young was replaced by Lew Platt. I remember some of the fundamental changes we started to see around the company. Where before decision-making was quite a public affair, we started to see a change. Information about the business was scarcer to the average employee, and the pressure was on to grow the business beyond purely new products. The company started to grow into markets such as printing and PC’s, areas where partnerships with original equipment manufacturers (canon, intel etc) drove amazing market-share growth. But where previously the leadership used to take a holistic view of the business, large fiefdoms started to form. I remember a time when laser printers, inkjet printers and consumables were all different fiefdoms. The heads of laser printing and Ink printing (Doug Carnahan and Rick Belluzo) were very different personalities and didn’t seem to see eye-to-eye on many things. Both I remember were amazing inspirational leaders.

It was very clear to the sales and marketing teams that the money was in toner and ink, and the way to sell more toner and ink was to get as many printers in use as possible, whatever that took. It took another decade for the company to agree on a way to link the consumables and printers together in a way that would maximize printer unit placements, and of course by that time, the competition had grown and had taken a significant share of the market that previously Hewlett Packard had been primed to dominate in-perpetuity. HP’s did create some amazing software to make their printers better than the competition in the form of printer drivers and logic boards, which were considered the best in the industry. But when everyone on the planet seemed to by buying printer it was easier to lose market share than to gain it.

This was the power of the fiefdoms, and it has had a continually detrimental effect on the business (in the view of this author).

Lew did have the respect of his dukes (the business group heads of the fiefdoms). But this loyalty was not automatically passed to him replacement.

I had the pleasure of being at HP when Carly Fiorina became the CEO. I found her to be an incredibly smart woman. But I saw quite quickly how the Dukes listened to her direction and then did whatever they thought was preferable for their individual fiefdoms. Carly drove HP to become larger by acquisition, the most obvious being Compaq (who had at the time only recently absorbed DEC). Many of the leadership were replaced by incoming Compaq executives, much of the culture of the company at this time moved from one of innovation in R&D to innovation in acquisition and just-in-time manufacturing processes. Ms. Fiorina tried to address the new risk-averse nature of the management team by trying to refocus HP on innovation and invention, hence the new company tag line “HP invent”. But I suspect too much time had passed from the passing of the founders and their passion for their culture, and the latest management team was not effective in trying to reinvigorate the culture of “huge corporate entrepreneurialism”.

The amazing thing to me was that all through these decades of change, HP was still able to bring out such amazing products. There technology is still preeminent in so many categories. And I know that HP still has some of the best engineering and field staff in the world. A lot had changed but it’s hard to un-teach greatness from engineers, however hard you try.
During the time of Carly, I left HP for an exciting new opportunity, but still continued to follow the company closely.
After Carly (whose end as CEO was quite shocking), eventually the HP board found a new CEO in the form of Mark Hurd. I have never met Mark personally, but many of my friends at HP at the time described him as “cut throat” and were dismayed at the deep cost cutting exercises he continually delivered. I can only imagine the pressure he was under to right the ship, and a combination of cuts in many areas along with massive acquisitions in others were made. Frankly the strategy (while hard) did seem to hold a lot of business sense. Unfortunately another very public falling out with the board along with some salacious stories that were never fully substantiated (in my opinion) had Mark leave the company well before his strategy could reach a point of ROI.

Again the board took some time to find a new CEO, and this time it was the ex-ceo of SAP, Leo Apotheker. Leo then started a new round of trying to right the ship, and again it seems (to me) that he didn’t really grab hold of the dukes of the fiefdoms in such a way that they truly followed his lead. I have no inside knowledge here, but it seems that his views on the direction of the company were not widely supported by those that worked one or two levels down in the business. His public plans to divest of the PC business, and move the company to be in high value, lower volume enterprise markets such as enterprise software, while entering new markets such as tablets didn’t seem congruent. Again it may just be that his time at the company was too short to be able to show the world the full value of the plan.

Leo was then replaced by the current CEO Meg Whitman, and boy does she have her hands full. This week we heard from HP about their analysis of the purchase of Autonomy. From my experience of enterprise software company’s, I’m not that surprised. Enterprise software in inherently a relationship business, and I suspect every software company holds themselves in incredibly high esteem, combine this with the track record of acquired software companies and it seems par for the course.
It was very impressive that Ms. Whitman was so open about their analysis, and being able to draw a line under the politics of the situation speaks very well for her ability to drive change.

Again below all of the complexities of the last thirty years, HP still creates amazing products, and I suspect their new CEO may be just the right person to fix some of the gaps in their thinking culturally and strategically.

HP’s strength started by valuing people, especially those that had learned the lessons taught through failure. I suspect the people there today have been battle hardened and when the ship is again pointing in a single direction they will dominate the markets they serve.

(1159)

Living within our means.

We all run households, and we know that the first rule is to make sure that the money you spend each month is no more than the money you bring in each month.

There are of course times when all of us use credit cards, and there may be a few times when you don’t pay the full balance off at the end of the month. But if you find yourself using the credit card continually to run up debts that you have no way of paying you know you have an issue that must be solved.

So there are two very simple rules when running a household:

1. First do whenever you need to do to make sure that your bills are no more than your income (eg. noodles for dinner, drink water and not the fizzy stuff, hold off on the new telly or holiday, and cancel the cleaner and the gardener if you have to).

2. Don’t run up credit, and if you have due to a tough time, stop running up any new debt and work out how to pay of the credit card bills as soon as possible (never just pay the minimum balance, put the cards away and don’t use them if you can’t afford to pay for them)

We all know these ideas. It’s quite basic. So how come businesess and (even worse) the government don’t seem to be able to grasp these rules.

Were hearing a huge amount about reducing the deficit, and were hearing all kinds of stories about fiscal cliffs, but I’m not hearing anything that makes much sense.

There are a million great ways to reduce the amount of money being spent to do the critical things without actually cutting those critical things, but of course if you spend less on stuff then some businesses will get less income (or government departments will lose employees). So there are continual fights between factions over which bits to cut, and it comes down not to the most practical solutions, but which businesses fight best for their corner of the pot of government cash.

We hear a lot about funding for education (for example), but instead of getting the bureaucrats out of education, government comes up with even more regulation continually, and ideas such as “for-profit” education.

For-profit education doesn’t hire better teachers, actually most for-profit systems pay teachers less, and require less professional teacher training. So the end result will always be poorer.

Teachers get paid crap to be teachers, they do it because they really want to.

So how about this for an idea, keep schools not-for-profit and let the teachers teach, remove 90% of the regulation and the overhead that goes with it.

This will reduce costs and maximize the quality of education for the kids, and surely that’s the goal.

Across every government run or supported function there are simple, practical ways to reduce waste and at the same time increase value.

And there are some government functions that are no longer needed. Do you know that the US government still funds a department of rural electrification. 100% of the US has electricity, but there is still money put aside every year to do more.

There are ways of managing the budget, so that the cost does not exceed the income. Doing these things can balance the books.

And there are things that can be done to encourage companies to invest in America. Tax is a great way to incentivize businesses and people to do the right thing. If jobs are brought back to America and businesses actively invest their profits in creating new business, there can be reductions in tax to reward this behavior, and conversely when companies and people choose not to invest their profit in things that increase the economy then they can be made to feel a greater tax burden.

Taxation that is aligned to the strategic goals of job creation and capital investment can go a long way to improving the economy.

So firstly balance the books and stop borrowing money, and then secondly drive up the economy to increase the overall revenue (and hence the collected taxes) to pay down on the debt.

There are no easy options, but you will notice I haven’t mentioned massive tax cuts as a way of driving up the economy. Taxation needs to encourage the right behavior.

If people do the right things, create new businesses in their home country and actively reinvest wealth in innovation, manufacturing and distribution, then the economy will grow. Reward the right actions and punish the wrong actions, that’s when taxation works best.

This is not a partisan issue, everyone knows the rules, so government (all of you) wise up and act like sane members of the human household.

(881)

Machiavelli is alive and well.

Niccolo Machiavelli was a fifteenth century politician who practiced a form of politics designed to drive people towards his desired goals. The art was in telling people what they needed to hear to act in ways that may have seemed contrary to the eventual aims, but would cause the sum of the parts to meet that goal.

He described the complexities of politics in a way that at the time was amazing, and he countered the concerns many at the time would have had with a lot of discussion on ethics.

Since the fifteenth century, Machiavelli’s writings have been core to the teaching of politics around the world.
In the last couple of decades the Machiavellian skills of business executives and politicians have greatly improved, to the point that today’s world leaders far surpass the teachings of the middle-age expert whose name has been used to mean all the worst aspects of the art of politics.

Machiavelli did try and keep his goals in mind when he implemented devious tactics to deliver his strategies. And the same can be seen today. The huge difference is that the goals of politicians and business executives are now all too often focused purely on their personal wealth and not on more noble and longer-term goals.

Business leaders who focus on meeting short-term sales targets at the expense of the long-term health of a company are far too common. At the extreme end of this we see despicable people like Bernie Madoff, who created an entirely fraudulent business to allow him to prosper at the cost of thousands of others.

But many companies of all shapes and sizes are driven to make choices, which hurt their long-term viability just to meet Wall Street expectations that are linked to large bonus payouts, but at the cost of the future.

A very common technique is to encourage customers who lease products or pay for an ongoing service agreement to renew that agreement earlier than they need to, in exchange for a large discount. This in effect allows the balance sheet to reflect the right numbers for right now, but leads to the volume of revenue over the years to decline. This technique is incredibly common. The customers who get these discounts then find the quality of products and services decline months or years later because the vendor had to lower their costs to keep up future months profitability. In the end of this cycle (nearly) everyone loses.

Now add to this the really creative accounting models of the finance industry, including banks, insurance companies and venture capital companies. This whole industry is designed to move capital from the production to the pockets of financial institutions.

Politicians then get paid by the Machiavellian elements of business to change their policies to further enhance the wealth of themselves and their funders.

What we have today is a Machiavellian form of capitalism, that isn’t about innovating, creating and distributing, but is instead focused on today and not tomorrow.

Luckily not every business follows the concept of Machiavellian Capitalism, but I am at a loss to find a single politician that doesn’t.

Every time I hear about a political decision that sounds nuts, it always turns out that many people have been feeding at the trough of the people who are happy with the outcome. It happens on every side of a political argument and everywhere in the world.

If Machiavelli’s memory were to find out about how his ideas are being used, it would be turning over in his grave.

(1372)

Bourbon: The Elusive Spirit – The Search Continues!

Bourbon.  The quintessential American spirit.  Made by hand and barrel-aged only in new flame-charred oak barrels in old Kentucky.  75+ bourbon brands and over a billion $ in yearly bourbon sales… yet some places and people are clearly confused.

When I order “bourbon” I expect to get bourbon.  Not scotch, not Canadian blended whiskey and certainly not Tennessee whiskey from Jack Daniels.  Not too difficult, right?  Yet, what did I spy the bartender pouring for me from the corner of my eye this week?  Jack Daniels.  Last month at an industry event?  Scotch. (not even bourbon’s fine tasting cousin, single malt scotch mind you – crappy, blended rail scotch).  I even got a Seagram’s 7 one time last year… I didn’t know you could still get Seagram’s 7 in the U.S.  Am I wrong to think this shouldn’t be that difficult for them?  I don’t think so.

Quick tip for all you bartenders:  If it doesn’t say the word “Bourbon” on the label… IT”S NOT BOURBON!

Bourbon (says so right on the label)

And shame on Madison Square Garden and other venues that purport to have a full bar yet don’t have any bourbon.  25 kinds of fancy imported vodka but no bourbon?  Come on people!

Oh, and one last thing bartenders… no limes please.  Bourbon and Coke may visually resemble a Cuba Libre (aka rum and Coke for the average angry unwashed), but it most certainly is different and should never, ever be served with lime, lemon, orange, kumquat or any other citrus fruit. Thank you for your attention.  Next up… eliminating those annoying little red straws in our drinks.

UPDATE:  I have now attended 3 additional bourbon-less events this Fall and I’m not pleased.  To add insult to injury my local liquor stores are all “out” of my holiday favorite, Van Winkle bourbon.  This is bad news for me and for friends and relatives who would get it during our gatherings or possibly as a holiday gift (if they were particularly good this year)!  Now that is something to be angry about!

Has the liquor selling world gone to sleep for 20 years?

 

(661)

“Gate”-gate: A Travesty Analyzed – Breaking News

I think there is an emerging scandal that needs attention.  The “Gate-ing” of non-“Gate”-worthy scandals is a growing epidemic and it’s making me angry.  It is an insult to former President Richard Milhous Nixon, G. Gordon Liddy, and the rest of the Watergate gang to try to “-Gate” these minor scandals/dust-ups and put them on the level of the the G-Men’s “work” back in the 70s.  It’s the 40th Anniversary of the original “Gate” for crying out loud, so it’s time to act… and I intend to!

The one and only original “gate”

So which scandals qualify for “-Gate” status?  Let’s evaluate a small sampling (10), of the “best” of the many contenders:

Travelgate at the White House began in May 1993 and really got the “-Gate” business going when seven employees of the White House Travel Office were fired and replaced with friends of the Clintons.  During multiple investigations the discovery of reportedly false statements made by the first lady drove the Clintons to reinstate most of the employees and remove the Clinton associates from the travel office.  A 7-year+ investigation involving the White House, FBI, multiple Special Counsels, and the Attorney General = YES, it’s “-Gate”-worthy.

Bill & Hillary Clinton were at the center of the new “-Gating” craze

Troopergate began with the allegations by two Arkansas state troopers that they arranged sexual liaisons for then-governor Bill Clinton and the scandal escalated to include salacious and serious accusations regarding Paula Jones (who was paid $850K by the President), Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick, and White House intern Monica Lewinsky (leading to his impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1998.  YES

Spygate was born when with the New England Patriots were found to be secretly taping NY Jets (and likely other teams), signals to gain an unfair advantage.  I would have originally voted NO to “-Gate” status for this but upon further review the facts do show an amazing pattern: 3-0 in Super Bowls while spying and cheating, 0-2 in Super Bowls since caught cheating.  That’s a YES.

Bagelgate occurred at a Fortune 500 company’s Annual Meeting in New York when the regular practice of serving breakfast at the stockholder meeting was changed by the incoming CEO, angering long-time stockholders who typically would make a day of it by eating at the meeting, voting their shares (or single share of stock in some cases), and catching a matinee at the theater.  The Q&A was dominated by elderly stockholders asking the new CEO why there were no bagels or other breakfast items provided for them at this year’s meeting.  Hilarious, but not a “-Gate” – NO

Nipplegate – Singer Justin Timberlake revealed Janet Jackson’s right breast to 89.8 million viewers in a staged “wardrobe malfunction” during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII causing an uproar and national debate about decency in modern culture as well as FCC fines for CBS.  The most viewed breast and nipple in recorded history = YES

Editgate – NBC TV edited a 911 recording in a way that made the motivation for the shooting of Trayvon Martin appear racial.  Powerful case but not “-Gate-worthy”-NO

Nannygate – A 1993 political controversy over nomination of Zoë Baird and near-nomination of Kimba Wood for U.S. Attorney General were withdrawn due to their hiring of illegal aliens as nannies or the failure to pay taxes for them. The soon-to-be chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. government and head of the United States Department of Justice breaking the law?… YES

Paterno/Spanier-gate at Penn State (hey, that rhymes!) – too soon to say but the coverup to hide the actions of a pedophile coach looks extensive and linked to the highest levels of power.  TBD

Camillagate was a Royal affair

Camillagate – Scandal which resulted from a tape of a telephone conversation between the married Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles in 1993; the tabloids leaked the details of an intimate recording in which Prince Charles told Camilla that he longed to be her tampon.  I’m still speechless about the content but not quite a “-Gate” – NO

Weinergate – U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account linked to a picture of a bulging penis (in underwear).  Weiner said his account had been hacked, but later admitted he sent the tweet; numerous other lewd photographs from the married congressman were later “revealed.”  All-time great NY Post tabloid headline (“HIDE THE WEINER”), but not a “-Gate” –so… NO

OK, so our analysis of these 10 media-anointed “-Gate” scandals shows that only half of them met the standard set by “all the President’s men.”  And these are only a handful of the dozens and dozens that people dare to bestow with the vaunted “-Gate” suffix.  This is Watergate we’re talking here… the biggest coverup in american government history; to besmirch it with Weinergates and other inferiors is tantamount to insulting the constitution itself.  It’s not right.   It will not stand.  Why?  I’ll tell you why… Because I’m here, I’m angry and I’m not gonna take it anymore!

“Gate”-ing is only for the worthy.

UPDATE: Since the publishing of this entry several new unworthy “gates” have emerged (which I won’t detail here), and a new “one-to watch” – namely, “Deflate-gate.”  It seems a ballboy at the mighty USC Trojans football program deflated half the footballs (the ones USC QB Matt Barkley would throw), for the recent USC-Oregon football game.  You see, a football slightly deflated below official specs is easier to grip, throw and catch than a typical new game ball.  Results?  Already considered a top QB prospect USC’s Barkley exploded for 303 passing yards and 3 TD passes… in the 1st half!  At half-time, officials discovered the cheating and the seeds of “Deflate-gate” were born.  USC coach Lane Kiffin and everyone else with the program claim the ballboy was a “lone pin-man” who inserted that pin and masterminded the deflatement.  We should all follow this carefully to see if this one becomes worthy of the “Gate” suffix.

USC’s Coach Lane Kiffin: Innocent preppy leader or Nixon 2?

 

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Why the afterlife doesn’t matter.

It can be very comforting to think about an afterlife, a place where the people we have loved go when their life on this earth is over. A place where we will go when we die, and where we will meet all those we have loved. As a way of dealing with the terrible loss we all feel when those we care most deeply for are no longer with us, the idea of an afterlife can be very helpful.

And as a way of helping those in the despair of grief, this concept can be been seen to be helpful. And those who postulate these ideas do perform a very helpful function for most people at those times of sorrow.

And it can be very helpful to surround those moments with rituals, that can be focused on as a way of creating a shared meditation. We are social creatures and having others sharing in a complex and beautiful ritual alongside us does have a comforting effect.

But we have absolutely no evidence of an afterlife. And without evidence I cannot honestly use this idea, as it gives me no comfort. That is not to say I don’t want there to be an afterlife, I just see it as very unlikely, and so I need a different philosophy to bring me comfort.

The more I learn about the physics of the universe which we are all part of, the more I come to understand the strange nature of time. Time seems to be a dimension that may not truly exist, but is instead a mind-made concept. All of our understanding of the universe is grounded by a reference to time. The speed of light, movement of planets, acceleration, chemical reactions, quantum physics, electricity, the cycle of life all require observations to happen at different points.

Everything we do can be tracked chronologically. But as a dimension it is lacking in its ability to be bidirectional. Every now and again mathematically smart people work out a model that shows how (at miniscule levels) actions in the future can impact actions now or in the past. And the weirdness of the universe is exposed ever so slightly more.

Experimentally sub atomic properties (the spin of paired subatomic particles), have been shown to be linked in ways that defy the speed of light and therefore time.

These little teasers show the edge of a shadow that may one day expose a new way of thinking about everything.

And maybe these ideas will show us another level of the beauty of everything.

These ideas bring me immense comfort, and allow be to think fondly about the amazing nature of life, the universe and everything.

I don’t preclude the idea of an afterlife; I just see it as highly improbable, and not worth wasting my time alive worrying about.

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Mr. President, A Budget Tip

November 6, 2012, 3:30pm ET   

President Obamney (I’m not sure who won yet), I feel that if the rest of us have to balance our checkbooks each month (and year), our country should too.

Voters have to balance their checkbooks, right?

Call me crazy but I believe that the USA can find a way to survive on a meager $2.5 trillion/year (or whatever the expected revenue is next year).  Go through every line item the way we workers do with our own budgets and make adult decisions about what you absolutely have to pay for and what is a “nice to have” that will have to wait until you get a raise in revenue or an unexpected bonus.  If you and the leaders of the House and Senate can honestly say that every line item in that proposed budget is 100% required this year, then I’ll personally bet you everything I own that you’re full of crap.  The size of the debt itself is the next economy and retirement-crushing disaster-in-waiting and you and the House and Senate were elected to address just this kind of tough problem.

Line-item veto? OK

Please don’t violate the “No Asshole Rule” and put politics ahead of doing the job right.  I don’t care how you do it or who gets the credit and neither should you.  If a “line item veto” is how it will get done, then I’ll support the President (and Speaker and Senate Majority Leader if needed) getting that power and I don’t care which party any of them are from.

This isn’t rocket science or difficult to understand and you all know it.  Once the budget is balanced for the year, THEN consider options for tackling the existing debt.  Increasing taxes and adding those additional short-term $ to the budget kitty will only increase spending, not decrease the debt in my opinion and isn’t that the point, to eliminate the debt itself?

It’s a balanced budget, not the quest for the Grail

Find a way to spend within your current means and then I’ll support really reviewing all options (including new and higher taxes and fees), to raise revenue for the specific purpose of eliminating the national debt itself.

Who’s with me?

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