US Deficit Reduction: Stating The Obvious?

Posted by on Jul 12, 2011 in Blog

On occasions the behaviour of US politicians while they attempt to raise the debt ceiling and implement deficit reduction seems to verge on the theatrical. We’ve seen people storming out of meetings while press conferences are called and “off the record-but on the record” briefings take place. As a recent immigrant I find it incredibly fascinating to see how the checks and balances of the American political system plays out. This is a great country, but I can appreciate why so many on Main Street get so frustrated with Washington.

I have to say, I’m somewhat confused about the stance of some Republicans at the moment. I come from a country that has tackled deficit reduction. Following the view of most economists and budget analysts that a comprehensive mix of spending cuts and tax increases is essential to any viable deficit reduction plan, the UK has done both, with the emphasis on cuts – 25-40% across all but two government departments over 4 years.

Yet some Republicans will not countenance any form of tax hike. This is despite the fact that according to recent polls, 1 in 5 Americans do not think the debt can be tackled by cuts alone. That 66% of Americans believe that as part of a deficit reduction package taxes should be raised on those earning more than $250,000 a year.

Certain members of the GOP say that raising revenues will kill the economy. But history defies this claim – America’s most robust eras of recent growth came after the first President Bush and President Clinton’s reasonable tax increases. Reagan raised taxes 11 times. Dick Cheney famously said that in regards to tax cuts, deficits don’t matter – but they do matter. And lest us not forget, the second Bush’s tax cuts were followed by mediocre growth.

Of course spending must be cut in the US – it is at an all time high, close to 25% of US GDP on the federal government. But revenues are at an almost all time low of about 15% of GDP. The figures simply don’t add up.

A way has to be found to sensibly raise income – 4 out of 5 Americans accept this. None of this is easy. The darling of the right, Chris Christie, talks of “shared sacrifice”. He’s absolutely right. In the case of deficit reduction everyone is going to be affected in some way. 1 in 7 Americans now live in poverty – they will be severely hit in the reduction of entitlement programmes. The number of millionaires in the US increased by 8% last year. Is it too much to ask that they pay a little bit more, when marginal tax rates for the middle class and wealthy are lower than they were during Reagan’s second term?

The GOP needs to be careful here. The politician who wins the Presidency in 2012 will be the one who wins the middle ground. America is more moderate than many Democrats and Republicans would have us believe – let us recall how last year 215,000 turned up for the “Restore Sanity” rally of Stewart and Colbert, dwarfing Beck’s 80,000 or so. Elections are decided by independents.

The poll that struck me most before the mid-terms was that 80% of Americans wanted Republicans and Democrats to compromise, to work together. Obama is currently owning this rhetoric, casting himself as the centrist, declaring that he is willing to upset members of his own party to get to grips with the deficit issue. He is also listening to the majority of economists and the 4 out of 5 Americans who believe that deficit reduction cannot be tackled by spending cuts alone. Not to mention the 66% of Americans who believe that those who make more need to pay that little bit more right now.

It would be a shame if the GOP continues on this belligerent path, refusing to accept what is obvious to the majority of experts and Americans, something carried out by a Conservative led Coalition government in the UK… and the great President Ronald Reagan himself. They are better than this. Time to accept the obvious and get the job done.

America Live

Posted by on Jul 1, 2011 in Blog

I was on Fox News’ America Live earlier and the topic of “fake babies” came up. I suggested these mothers might want to think about sponsoring real ones rather than spending up to $12,000 on virtual toys.

The link to Save The Children to sponsor either a child in a developing nation or here in the US is:

http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.6146367/k.8EA1/Sponsor_A_Child.htm?msource=wexgpspn1010&gclid=COu5sOSx4KkCFcWA5QodqhVGYQ

All Greek To Them

Posted by on Jun 29, 2011 in Blog

I have always been a sceptic of the Euro: how could a region so disparate, that contains countries so economically and culturally diverse as Germany and Greece, sustain the “one size fits all” policy?

A recent editorial stated that “the Euro was a catastrophe waiting to happen, as constricting for strong economies as it would eventually be crippling for the weak”. For both Greece and Ireland their problems have been made far more acute by being members of the euro, and thus unable to print their own money as a way of resolving the situation. Where would Bernanke be without his ability to push the button on those presses?

 

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, recently came out and said it was time to let the Greeks exit the Euro and default. The modern state of Greece has spent half of its 160 year history in default on its debt – so this is not a new idea for Greek politicians.

Yet Greece’s politicians have just voted through a five year austerity package. That’s all very well and good, but it’s easy to legislate – the problem for them is to enforce the legislation.

The Greek culture is just not the same as that of Germany or the UK – or the USA. In the latter countries there is sufficient fear of the tax authorities that tax is actually collected. In Greece on the other hand, the black market survives and thrives – amongst the people and their politicians alike. Latest data indicates that every sixth Greek pays bribes of  €1,500 per household, or €1 billion nationally, a year. As for their politicians, the Athenians have a saying: ”there are as many ways to pillage the state coffers as there are islands in the Aegean.”

Greeks may be rioting that their entitlement programmes are being cut – but they are also demonstrating against their government, which has recently been described as a: “monument to dynastic political corruption.” Children may have been inheriting their dead parents’ pensions but bonuses have been paid to civil servants for washing their hands. Political parties owe vast sums to utility companies – and they are the ones telling the 40% of small consumers who are also not paying their bills that they should. Little wonder 9 out of 10 Greeks think their politicians are corrupt and 80% say that their Parliament has lost credibility.

Greece accounts for about 1.5% of Eurozone GDP. It did not even meet the entry criteria for the Euro on its own suspect official data and had no place being part of it. Surely it is now time for Greece to depart it and to have a debt rescheduling — a partial default.

No one’s interests will be served by Greece remaining in the Euro for the long term. Portugal may also have to leave. For the currency to survive, any aspiring members must meet all criteria – and stick to them.

Of course, in this time of global contagion it would undoubtedly be a problem if Athens defaulted, especially for France, whose banks hold $14 billion of Greek government debt – it’s why the French have been fighting so hard for Greece to remain in the Eurozone.

Time will tell if contagion means that a Greek tragedy will all too soon become a world one. But throwing money at the problem is now, surely, just prolonging the agony?

The Universal Ability To Marry

Posted by on Jun 25, 2011 in Blog

New York’s lawmakers last night voted to legalise same sex marriage, making it the sixth and largest state in America to do so. The image of the Empire State Building, illuminated in rainbow colours to celebrate the fortuitously timed Gay Pride this weekend, went viral.

I got a lot of hate mail this week after I was asked to appear on Fox News and debate the topic of Michele Bachmann and her anti-gay stance. I said that I was taught intolerance equals ignorance and that the GOP, the US and the free world as a whole, deserves a Republican Presidential candidate who was intelligent. Bachmann, I argued, was obviously not that.

The vitriolic reaction I got shows that the US national gay-rights movement still has a long way to go, although as the New York Times pointed out today it has been given “new momentum from the state where it was born”. The eloquence with which Mayor Bloomberg has spoken on the topic and the way Governor Cuomo and Governor Paterson have led on the issue, is to be admired.

We learned last weekend that Obama, previously against same sex marriage (although far more “gay friendly” than Bachmann et al – let us recall what he did for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) had views that were “evolving” on this specific issue. There can be no doubt he had an eye on New York with this news, but it would seem that his stance is very much reflected by America as a whole. Latest research indicates that 53% of Americans support same sex marriage and that the number is ever increasing.

Most candidates for the GOP nomination for 2012, including of course our Ms Bachmann, are against it. They are behind the times. The marriage issue is likely to grow, not diminish, as a national talking point, whether conservatives like it or not.

For me, on this issue – and don’t get me wrong, there are other topics where of course many Republicans have a valid point, it comes down to this old saying:

“A Conservative is a politician who wants to keep what the liberals fought for a generation ago”.

There will be a time, where in America, there will be the universal ability to marry for consenting adults. I hope that it is sooner in my lifetime than later.

Now, isn’t it about time, Saudi Arabia, to allow women to drive?

Imus This Morning

Posted by on Jun 23, 2011 in Blog

Morning fun “debating the issues” with Bernard on Imus today.

Variety of topics including Huntsman and Al Gore giving Obama a hard time in Rolling Stone:

http://video.foxbusiness.com/#/v/1016666132001/florida-looks-to-drug-test-welfare-recipients/?playlist_id=87057

Afghanistan:

http://video.foxbusiness.com/#/v/1016685782001/casey-anthony-audience-grows/?playlist_id=87057

The Universal Right to Marry… And Drive

Posted by on Jun 17, 2011 in Blog

Two big debates are hitting the headlines today. Debates which, quite frankly, are extraordinary to even be having in this day and age.

The first is that New York is on the verge of becoming the sixth state in the union to legalise gay marriage. It is patently obvious that this is the right thing to do. The most secure marriages I know are same sex ones. It is not an easy path to choose and those that take it have thought through the journey with utmost care.

(In an aside, Michele Bachmann’s stance on gay marriage is one of the main reasons I cannot comprehend how she can ever be taken seriously for the GOP nomination for President. Where I come from, intolerance equals ignorance. And the President of the USA cannot be ignorant – America and the Free World deserve better than that.)

The other story hitting the headlines is the campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving, with today being the climax of a two month online campaign. Some brave women activists who have driving licenses obtained abroad, have been getting behind the wheel in the country.

This is what the Arab Spring is. Peoples wanting for themselves liberty, equality and freedom for all. Human rights embraced not as Western ideas but as global ideals that belong to everyone.

If we in the West stick to our core democratic values at all times and do not stoop to the hypocritical behaviour that we have done in the past – from “enhanced interrogation” to propping up dictatorships – we defeat radical Islam.

There is no need for us to hand radical Islam the anti-imperialist, anti-Western PR card. For in the world of modern communication, those who quash human rights are losing control of their populations armed only with cellphone cameras and access to Facebook and YouTube.

We live in a time where thanks to technology we now are aware of universal rights. And they include the right to marry – and drive.

The American “Healthcare” System: the definition of “un-American”

Posted by on Jun 14, 2011 in Blog

The American healthcare system is quite extraordinary. For Americans do not have healthcare, they have health insurance. And 50 million Americans do not have that.

For the poorest, there is Medicaid. For the richest – access to the best doctors in the world. And for most Americans? A living nightmare of rules, regulations and monopolies.

America is all about standing on your own two feet, personal responsibility. About the free market. Its system of health insurance is everything that is opposite to that.

For example, I’m in NYC and having problems standing on my own two feet – achilles tendonitis. So off I trotted (limped) to the pharmacy to buy some anti-inflammatory gel as I’m not too keen on what the pills do to my stomach. This is hardly dangerous self-medicating. This is just taking some sensible primary care into my own hands. Why bother anyone else with it?

According to the pharmacist, to get the gel, you need a prescription – i.e. you have to PAY for a doctor to write you one. Completely and utterly ridiculous – a waste of time and money. You are just feeding into the great American healthcare conspiracy.

The cost to hard-working Americans of healthcare is extraordinary. In the UK, the most expensive private health insurance I know of (for the best care, with pre-existing conditions) is around $5000 a year. That is because there is COMPETITION in the UK, in the form of the NHS – the public healthcare option. In the US, to get average healthcare, it can cost around $12,000 a year. Average healthcare. And if you have a pre-existing condition? They’re changing the rules, but at one point you may not have been able to get insurance at all. All because there are monopolies and special interest groups, all fighting their corner to keep squeezing the average American – and small businesses – into the ground.

It is an absolute disgrace. I’m inflamed on their behalf. To fix it, root and branch reform is required – from everything to the education of Doctors so more can afford to remain in primary care to the way in which health insurance companies operate.

However the virtue and the albatross of the American political system’s nature is compromise. “Obamacare” was fudged. But until real crisis and although it’s bad, rock bottom has not yet been hit, every solution will be fudged.

And until that point, the American healthcare system will remain contrary to America’s core values.

Why was Hillary Clinton Photoshopped from history?

Posted by on May 10, 2011 in Blog

Fascinating piece on religious extremists wanting women out of the picture by Michelle Goldberg:

http://bit.ly/lmMWqv

What Are We Doing To Our Daughters?

Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Blog

The latest publishing phenomenon is the return of Sweet Valley High. For a whole generation of young teenage girls, Francine Pascal’s series about Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, the gorgeous California all-American twins, got them reading. Indeed they were key for libraries in luring readers through their doors. 150 million copies were sold worldwide.

Now Pascal has written a book, Sweet Valley Confidential, about the twins’ exploits 10 years on. It has garnered such attention that it was on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times a few weeks ago. It had sold out when I tried to buy it.

Eventually I did read it, in a sitting – as I always did with the SVH books. And it has compelled me to get off my backside and say something and I fully intend to figure out a way I can actually do something.

Back in the day, Jessica and Elizabeth were physically perfect. At a “size 6″ – a UK size 10. Perfection now – whether it be a Cheryl Cole or almost every Hollywood actress, is usually portrayed as a “size 2″, sometimes a “size 0″ – sizes 6 and 4 respectively in the UK.

When you examine what I had to look at growing up – for instance the girls in Beverly Hills 90210 – and compare them to the girls in the new 90210 – they were a good 2 sizes bigger.

The mass media in all their airbrushing of models are bombarding young girls with images of “perfection” that are far from that. This is physically and emotionally damaging enough, but then there is the dark side of the Internet revolution that is truly terrifying.

Access to “naughty pictures” for teenage boys used to be about trying to get hold of a copy of National Geographic or perhaps a dog-eared Playboy. Because of the world-wide-web, boys are learning about sex through hardcore video porn – and that has got to have a direct impact on their relationships. The instances of girls sending naked pictures to their boyfriends who then send them to their friends and consequently worldwide continue on an exponential basis. The advent of Social Networking has led to the rise of “cyber bullying” on a massive scale.

I don’t know how we help young women today, but they need our assistance – they are tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s mothers. Society needs to have a serious think of what we can do to support them.