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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Is Cowboyin' dead?

If you’re a lover, a rider, and a wild bull fighter—can you wear an Obama mask?  Remember the guy in the Missouri state fair rodeo 2010 who did that?  He got suspended and nearly lost his occupation and had to beg and plead with all the politicians and the sponsors who want all the benefits of sponsorship without any of the controversy.  It made me sick. 

Indeed the guy who was the rodeo clown didn’t even do much of a lampoon by just wearing a mask.   A better lampoon would have been to carry a golf club as well. There is a longstanding cowboy tradition of making fun of everybody including yourself. If someone is such a egotist that they can dish it out but they can’t take it, that’s more than just a character flaw.  Indeed we all have character flaws.  It’s more like a moral flaw.  Among country folk who fight weather, diseases in the herd and markets, humility is an imperative of spiritual health.  No humility-- people question whether you have any faith in God. Cowboys and farmers laugh at everybody.  At least that’s how it used to be a century ago when 40% of the people lived off the land.  Now it’s 1%.

The objectors on the left said it was racism, which is what they label everything this side of not being able to find a parking space. The rodeo clown had no thought of racism.  In fact, as a rodeo attendee, I have seen my share of Nixon masks and Reagan masks and had a good hoot over the shenanigans.  And there are clowns with African heritage.  Did anybody call them racist?  I think not.

When Obama came on the scene, I read Ed Klein’s The Amateur which details how Obama is a narcissist.  He painstakingly proved the point.  Obama won’t invite union leaders back to the White House if they object to anything he wants.  He stops listening and calling on cabinet members who voice warnings.  He requires yes men in all bureaucracies. He thinks he is the smartest person in the room no matter which room he is in.  A narcissist thinks the sun rises and sets on himself. This is a prescription for fiddling while Rome burns. But the media portrayed his early days as being victory after victory for the liberal cause.  Obamacare and Stimulus were rammed down throats gleefully because they had power to do it.  But I wondered if Obama weren’t in fact, a hardcore ideologue, unwilling to bend.  I got in a discussion of the economy with my financial planner and he noted that stagnant economies like Japan cannot fight recessions with cheap interest.  Spending does little but is the only tool.  Suddenly a light bulb went on in my head and I asked what do you invest in when that happens, because Obama will stimulate forever.  Own Wall Street all the way, he told me.  That’s what I did and made a killing in the midst of a terrible recovery.   

So here we are at the nadir of another summer rodeo season, another presidential season. The bull riders are all wearing elbow braces and have wrapped wrists.   Is it okay to have a clown with an Obama mask now that he has served two terms, or is the Left still insecure and can’t laugh?  OR, should we just declare the demise of the American Cowboy?     

Monday, August 22, 2016

Perplexing things

At sundry times I have not been able to figure out why people think like they do.  The latest is this Lochte controversy. I admit I don’t know all that went on, nonetheless, I can’t figure out why no one holds Brazil responsible.   Suppose I was still in business and I ran a gas station.  You came into my gas station, blasted out of your mind, causing trouble, tearing stuff up—worse than anyone alleges in the Lochte incident.  But if I pulled a gun on you, do you think the police would lock me up or you? Brandishing a gun can still be a felony charge in most states.  Apparently not in Brazil.  Moreover, the Brazilian government now wants Lochte to pay $47,000 to avoid charges??? Isn’t it time someone told Rio to go to hell?  And take all those Tijuana operators with them.

            Nobody was more clever about feeling our pain that Bill Clinton.  When disaster happens, it is up to the state to clean up.  We never see federal regular Army troops taking charge.  FEMA is only a loan/payment agency.  Governors used to routinely ask Presidents to not come to a disaster area immediately because it causes too much disruption of responders.  That’s why W. just flew over Katrina in a plane.  But Slick Willie transposed the governor’s function of showing up at a disaster into the Presidency and won huge acclaim for it.  So Trump went to Louisiana and scored a big Clinton-like win.  Obama is taking the guff for golfing.  But given that Bill is married to Hill, why does no one ask where she was?  Where was Slick’s wife?

            We have two candidates who are 69 and 70 years old.  Only half of all Americans live to age 65. Avg. age at death is 78. Reagan was 69 and everybody was concerned about his health, which turned out to be robust with an active lifestyle and proper eating. Still, he had Alzheimers within 4 years of serving.  8 of 44 Presidents have served because of death of the former guy. Why does no one ask about Trump or Hillary Health? And then KFC announced they are making sunscreen that smells like fried chicken.  Where can I get this?  If you’ve ever tried to walk houses campaigning and met vicious dogs you might come to realize that if you eat a nice greasy burger, they tend to start wagging tails and licking hands.  I want to find that KFC sunscreen!

            Why is everybody, and I mean everybody, making bacon cheeseburgers with jalapenos?  Don’t get me wrong.  I love bacon.  But the strong flavor overwhelms the sandwich.  Add jalapenos and you can’t taste beef anymore.  Is this what passes for gourmet?  Whatever happened to charbroiling, mushroom-swiss, bleu cheese, and carmelized onions?  Is every taste a desire for bacon and peppers?  But then I was also the guy who wondered why the burger joints didn’t offer alternatives to French fries like Wendy’s.  Don’t tell me nobody is interested.

            Given that the research of the last 15 years points to the rarity of an earth-like planet nearby, why does everyone explain anything they can’t understand as caused by aliens.  If something in history is a mystery, it must have been intervention by mysterious aliens.  If a mystery in science, maybe it’s aliens.  Somebody figured-out something new, maybe he was helped by aliens.  Isn’t this the same baloney that people used to think about leprechauns, ogres, trolls and fairies?  By golly, I think the pyramids were built by fairies.  With tin-foil hats.

            Given that ISIS and all sorts of Islamists would love to cripple USA and that hundreds of thousands of illegals have crossed our borders in the last ten years, why aren’t we worried about terrorism cells?  Why doesn’t some pop-culture saavy network adopt this as a theme—how to protect yourself in time of terror emergency?  If one of those mideastern countries had an atomic weapon and medium range missle launcher and didn’t want to get caught, they would park a ship offshore, launch the missle at the center of our country, detonate in the atmosphere (doesn’t take any guidance system) and cause an EMP explosion that would destroy virtually every computer network in America—cars couldn’t operate, electrical grid would go down, no internet or phones.  The same effect would happen if a large solar flare were to erupt.  One does every hundred years.  Why does no one plan for this?

            My conclusion therefore is that people don’t like to think about bad things.  They love the familiar and status quo.  You can’t control Brazil or a solar flare. They just don’t want to think about anything that challenges their notions.     

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Oklahoma towns

I read on the internet what they thought were the strangest town names in the world.  Why, Arizona makes it.  So does Dull, Scotland.  Well, Hello!  Have you been to Oklahoma?  We have paired towns like Dinger and Binger. Ringling and Ringwood and Bowring. Bokhoma, Dacoma and Lahoma. Wakita and Vinita  Boggy Depot and Bug Tussle. Bessie and Gerty.  Go down I-35 and find a sign south of Oklahoma City that says Wayne/Payne.  They aren’t far apart either.  Liberty, New Liberty and Freedom. Slapout is a ways from Dibble and Tuttle.

Then there’s my favorite, Nowhere.  Nowhere is between Turpin and Gray along US 83 out in the panhandle. There’s actually a bit of history and politics about this name.  US 83  was known as the highway to nowhere when it was built in 1935 because the eastern press disdained the project as a government boondoggle.  It went from Williston, ND to Dalhart, TX never intersecting a city with more than 15,000 people.  Why build the highway?  Because FDR was trying to retain the farm vote and show confidence in the progress of the Dust Bowl area after committing the gaffe that he thought the whole area should be made a national park and the farmers removed.  So they built the highway to nowhere, and the urban newspapers lampooned it, even though it turned out to be a good truck route.  Since the Democrat party was turning decidedly urban, the controversy only stirred up animosity with the rural folks. 3 different country music songs were written about the “highway to nowhere.” “I’m travellin’ this highway to nowhere / since I can’t find the way to your heart.” And somebody in Oklahoma had the inspiration to put up a sign near a rural elevator, Nowhere, OK.    Eat your heart out, Wappanucka. 

Another favorite is Enid.  (Between Fairmont and Fairview) Sounds common enough.  A woman’s name, right?  Nope.  Originally a small eating joint was located along the Chisholm trail, later US 81.  They put up a big cutout sign that said, DINE, but most people approached it from the other direction where it looked like ENID.  The town was born. 

We also have city names around here just to trap and label you as a foreigner.  Miami is prounounced My am uh.  Prague, a town of Czech settlers, is mysteriously pronounced Pray-g. How about Gotebo? (Goaty Bow) If that doesn’t trip a stranger up, try pronouncing Ochelata or Nelagony which are only 15 miles apart.

Just remember Happyland isn’t far from Oil Center.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hillary: Charles IX or Phillip II?

I catch myself wondering what kind of President Hillary would be in a foreign policy crisis?  Are there any precedents in history?  Apparently the Benghazi incident occurred the day Obama announced he was going to bed because he had a fundraiser to speak at and needed rest.  He also has little stomach for war decisions, so he left the Libya situation in the hands of Hill and Leon the Congressman Forever.  As they watched the 7 hour horror unfold, Indecisive Hill and Leon the Peon couldn’t decide to wake the Emperor from his beauty rest. (only a Prez can order troop actions.)  Either they thought it would end or, more likely, Hill who had been the strong advocate of getting rid of Qaddafi, thought the “rebel” attackers would surely be our friends.  Hence she clutched.    

            Charles IX was king of France during a time of extreme partisanship. Catholics conspired to murder Protestants and vice versa. Chuck’s mother, Catherine de Medici, had been regent in his youth and was still chief advisor when he was 23 in 1572. France was 90% Catholic and 10% Huguenot Calvinist Protestant who were on the rise in government.  In particular, Coligny, admiral of the French Navy had the ear of her son.  Catherine was jealous.  She and the widow of the Duke of Anjou blamed Coligny for the good Duke’s murder and conspired to have Coligny assassinated in revenge.  In August 1572, rumors of a Huguenot revolt ran through Paris and in the middle of the night, the young king was awakened by his panicked mother, fearing that a Huguenot takeover would mean doom for herself.  She and a gang of staunch Catholics told the king that he must execute 6 noted Huguenots or risk his mother’s life.  But Chas protested that they should be tried.  Too late for that, he was told.  They must act fast.  Still Chas argued until finally at his wit’s end, he blurted out blasphemies and said, “By the death of God, since you choose to kill the Admiral, I consent! But then you will have to kill all the Huguenots in France!” Slammed the door and went to his room.  And so the highly partisan Catholics gave orders to literally massacre most Protestants in France.  The following day, August 24, 1572 is known as St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre when 30,000+ Protestants were unsuspectingly drug from their homes and killed execution style. Charles IX tried to stop the holocaust twice but was told it was too far along. Having lost the better part of his government, he grew despondent and was tortured by his conscience. As for the partisan Catholics, they rationalized the massacre as an explosion of resentment and revenge against the heretics. Charles grew recluse and thin and the next year contracted tuberculosis.  By 1574 he was spitting blood and called for Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot duke and cousin.  He named him heir on his dying bed.  Henry, assessing the situation and realizing he was not too personally religious, agreed to convert to Catholicism as an expedient to ruling the kingdom, and as a first act as Henry IV, amnestied Protestants. But the Massacre haunted France.  Playwrights and philosophers began to question Divine Right of the King, as a precursor to the French Revolution two centuries early.  The loss of the Huguenot bourgeois plagued France for a hundred years. Morality declined and ultimately led to ruin.

            Here’s the deal with a weak decision-maker in the presence of strong partisanship.  The worst atrocities are committed when the ruler doesn’t stand up for right and wrong and common sense, then gives in to one of two sides.  Often the consequences are worse than the atrocity.  France, with its weak morals, in 1789 guillotined ¼ of the clergy, ¼ declared atheism, and the other half left the country.  Since Napoleon, France has been a weak state in war, a creative and innovative land but with poor economic performance.  Is this called missing the discipline of morals?
             If Hillary is checked by a Republican Congress,they will fight for 4 years.

            But what if Hillary gets a Democrat Congress?  “Then we are Italy,” a friend of mine said.  Well, actually, Phillip II of Spain comes to mind.  Spain was a proud country that defeated the last Moorish kingdom, Grenada, in 1492 and discovered the new world that same year.  In the years after this, the gold and silver from Mexico and Peru enriched Spain phenomenally.  The Hapsburgs married-in. Finally Phillip II rose to the throne in 1555 and then inherited the throne of Portugal when it went heirless.  Fanatic and conscientious about his Christianity, the people loved Phillip and still do to this day. They denied him nothing.  With their blessing, he began the purges. He exiled all Jews and then most Muslim Moriscos.  The Jews were the bankers and merchants.  The Muslims worked the farms for the Spanish.  The Spanish who remained didn’t want to work farms or trade.  They wanted to strum flamenco guitars, fight bulls and other proud occupations worthy of conquerors.  Phillip lost his internal economy and never understood why. He hated war and belatedly agreed to invade England.  When Spain lost the Netherlands to revolt and the Armada in 1586, the country went into steep decline.  His son Phillip III completed the banishment of Moriscos.  The people loved it and scooped up property at steep discount.  But Spain lost 400,000 of its most productive people out of a population of 7 million.
              The worst decisions with long repercusions  are made when one side wins everything.  "If only one idea is allowed, even if it is the correct idea, that is tyranny." --James Madison, Federalist Papers. 

            So what happens if the Democrats inherit the kingdom and our economy, already immune to stimulus from too much government regulation and taxation, is regulated/taxed even more?  That’s an economy which has experienced one of the worst recoveries (1.8% growth) in US history, has for the first time in 400 years of America, produced fewer new business start-ups than closures, has produced 10.5M new jobs when 21.5M were needed to keep up with population growth.   But would Hillary do damage or rectify things?  Well, she wants a massive new Islamic refugee program, wants to move Obamacare closer to single payer, desires more protectionism than Trump, and wants the coal industry dead. Taxes?  I listened to the debate between her and Bernie where she was advocating 45% max income tax and he trumped her at 54%.  She said she would do 54% if only Congress would pass it.  Think that will create new jobs???

            Trouble is, once you create a large, permanent dependent class, like Juan Peron did in Argentina, they are always there to out-vote and demand the taxpayers and producers spend an increasing share on free stuff from the government.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What went wrong with state pensions

With all the tiring drivel about Presidential politics, let’s look at something closer to home.  How is it that the public worker and teacher pensions are going so far set?  A recent economic paper by Andonov, Bauer and Cremers shows the problem is when unaccountable public pension managers meet federal rules they do dumb things, game the system.  We the taxpayers and the retirees pay.

            A pension fund is a promise to pay out an income stream in the future—debt, if you will.  That’s how it works with your annuities or a private pension.  Corporate bond yields or some other conservative measure is used to discount future liabilities.  As your annuity or a pension fund matures and more people are at or near retirement, it should be invested even more conservatively.  You don’t want your money to evaporate at age 70 when you can’t make it back. 

            But public pensions are allowed by the Government Accounting Standards Board to discount their liabilities by the expected return on their assets.  That means that the liabilities look lower/better if expected earnings are guessed high.  Guess/project 10% rather than 5% return and you only have to put in half as much.  Now with public funds there are only 2 sources of funding—ask employees to contribute more or soak the taxpayers.  The first is like going to war with the best funded unions on earth.  The second is politically unpopular.  So what to do?  The public fund managers choose to project in-your-dreams returns, thus making the liabilities look small and the fund more solvent. 

            And what happens when government bureaucrats invest aggressively to justify those projections?  They underperform private pension investing by half a percent a year.  Thus, many states have pension funds with pitiful public pension projections.  This is why Illinois and California are such basket cases in state finances.  Oklahoma had 90 years of Democrats who had the attitude of “Oh, we’ll just go raise taxes in the future.”  The state still has $10 billion unfunded liabilities for teachers and public workers.  But that’s down from $16B because COLAs have been forgone and other funding has been found.  (And new teachers must live with defined contribution plans.)  But the easy part is over.  Either taxpayers will cough up or taxpayers will tell retirees to live with less (about one-fourth less).  None of this is pleasant.  And it could have been avoided if GASB had not had special rules for public pensions.  That needs to change in the future.