Thursday, February 22, 2018

Rev. Billy Graham, R.I.P.

The man known as America's Pastor, who has been a
faith confidante to several presidents, held rallies for
Christ throughout the United States and the world,
and made a tremendous difference in the lives of
millions of people the world over, Rev. Billy Graham,
went to his heavenly reward this week at the grand age
of 99.

Not only did Rev. Graham reach out to Christians, he
reached out to many people of many faiths, making
an indelible mark on them with his humble yet forth-
right and unapologetic preaching of the gospel. Graham
paid no mind to political correctness, nor to whatever
the times proclaimed to be socially acceptable, necessary,
or taboo; he chose to obey God rather than man, as the
Family Research Council said in a tribute to Graham.
Having had a humble and simple upbringing, he
accomplished much with his worldwide ministry,
having dedicated himself as an instrument of God.

To have attended one of his famous rallies was to have
experienced something that was unique and transformational;
many who have had the good fortune to have done so
commented that they were never the same since, and were
grateful for it. Your faithful Peasant attests to this, having
attended a 1996 rally in Minneapolis. Rev. Graham was a
stately and riveting sight, so dignified in appearance in a
bright-colored but appropriate suit and his silver hair
immaculate, his face beaming in the main lights as if
he were Moses having returned from the mountain where
he communicated with God. It was a sight I shall never forget,
even if I live for as long as the good reverend himself.
And I felt lighter of body as well as spirit besides, whatever
my challenges at that point in my life having withered in the
presence of this heavenly ambassador.

Rev. Graham ministered to the famous and the common;
the rich and the poor; the young and the old; all races,
all colors, all whatever category you can think of. Although
having received fundamentalist Christian training at
Bob Jones University, Rev. Graham crafted his sermons,
his lectures, and his books to appeal to a wide and varied
section of humanity. Over the course of his long and amazing
life and career, Rev. Graham made many more friends than
enemies without ever diluting his teaching, without compro-
mising on the tenets of his message. A rare talent, especially
in this present age.

Thank you, Rev, Graham, for making our country and our
world all the better for your having been here. You leave
us a most magnificent legacy, one that will likely never
be matched, much less surpassed. Godspeed and
God bless.


MEM

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Victory for an Unfettered Internet

Toward the end of 2017 the Federal Communications Commission
voted 3-2 in favor of approving Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to
repeal the President Obama's "net neutrality" rules which
reclassified internet service providers as common carriers
under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
This act prohibits "any unjust or unreasonable discrimination
in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities,
or services." Then-FCC Chairman and Obama ally Tom
Wheeler greased the wheels to ensure net neutrality's
establishment and implementation, which gave the FCC
the position and powers of political gatekeeper, as this
regulation prohibited broadband providers from blocking,
throttling and favoring content. This Mr. Wheeler craftily
intended to help large content providers like Google, Yahoo,
and Netflix gain leverage and undue advantage against cable
companies, with application and enforcement of the rules
depending on politics (whose side a content provider would
be on would greatly determine how it would thus be treated).

Bans on throttling content may be popular in some circles,
but the regulations have not made at all clear what the FCC
would or would not allow, thus throttling investment.
Investors are, of course, uncomfortable with uncertainty
regarding an investment opportunity. The new rules as
presented by Mr. Pai would require that broadband providers
must disclose discriminatory practices, obliging cable
companies to be transparent if they throttle content when
their users reach a data cap or speed up live programming.
Consumers can then choose broadband providers and their
plans with this information, with the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) having the authority to play cop, being on the lookout
for predatory and monopolistic behavior, just as it had
before the Obama-Wheeler power gambit.

Furthermore, Rolling back net neutrality will aid growth in content,
as producers and consumers of content will reap the benefits of
increased investment in improved wireless and fiber technology;
they will be able to affordably acquire more speed and efficiency.
In addition, consumers will also benefit from the breakup of the
cable monopoly through customizing "bundles" like Hulu
which would cost less to stream broadcasts, as well as from new
distribution options, which could have been barred by so-called
net neutrality.

Getting back to Google, they have been beating the drum for net
neutrality without actually practicing it; while Google claims to
remain "committed to the net neutrality policies" the firm utilizes
certain algorithms to prioritize and discriminate against content,
undercutting some of their competitors as they go. Where, pray tell,
is Google's transparency regarding its policies and practices?
Once again we see the old ploy of one or more large corporate
entities supporting regulation which would at worst cause very
minor inconvenience for these big boys while greatly hampering
their smaller competitors who do not have the economic wherewithal
to deal with the aforementioned red tape.

Chairman Ajit Pai and the FCC has taken a truly neutral position
on that vast online marketplace that is the internet, guaranteeing its
freedom for buyers and sellers to come together to meet their respective
needs without unnecessary meddling by the federal government.
Mr. Pai and his agency have faith and trust in the people, unlike the
liberals who supported this Obama era sham that has now thankfully
been replaced.


MEM


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sixty Very Good Years!

Last week your seasoned citizen Peasant celebrated
60 years of life, gathering with friends in food, drink
and song. While it was great to share my Emerald Jubilee
with them, I took time to reflect on where I am and how far
I came to get here. As we all get older, it is natural to do
some reflection and retrospect on our lives.

While I had my share of misses, as do we all, I also had my
share of hits, and there were times when I hit one out of the
park. Among these blasts were traveling around our great and
beautiful country (I've visited 15 states, and have resided in
three of them; I am chomping at the bit to see the remaining 35),
visiting ten countries -- Mexico, Canada, and eight European
countries; having worked in the exciting and challenging world
of finance (sadly I never made the really big money, but I learned
much and had fun doing it!); started and manage my own business
(I am a handyman for hire, and call my little biz Friendship House
& Yard Service); involved myself in politics (that's how I came to
establish this blog and to visit with you, my great and wonderful
readers every week!), along the way having worked on Ronald
Reagan's 1980 and 1984 presidential campaigns and having met
many elected representatives at all levels of government, including
U.S. representatives, senators (U.S. and state), mayors, governors,
and a vice president (don't get overly excited, it was Walter Mondale.
Oh, well, he was quite friendly and personable). Best of all, I met my
hero, and the man who has influenced my politics more than
anyone and who was my inspiration to publish this blog,
William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review magazine
and the driving force behind the conservative movement; I even
had my picture taken with him!

I drove a Dodge Ram pickup truck (for a job; quite an experience,
as they are very large pickup trucks!), learned to ride a horse, drove a
go-kart (yes, one with an engine), had a few lessons in judo as a boy (I'd
have had more, but my instructor was dying of leukemia and I never
got back to it after his death), wrestled, boxed (I learned boxing for a
comedy sketch in a high school show), dated some grand ladies
who drew double- and triple-takes from guys, especially when they
were with me ("What does that guy have that I don't? Money?
Connections? What?", I'm sure they asked themselves), met famous
entertainers, especially after having become one myself (I've referred
in this blog to my Chuck Ward Celtic Song Circle), including
not only singers and musicians but actors, folks you've seen in
movies and on TV shows. Heck, I'm even related to a few of these
entertainers!

Most of my family have accepted Our Lord's invitation to partake of
his heavenly hospitality, but I have cousins from San Francisco to
Ireland and have met and stayed in contact with many of them. As an
animal lover, I have had many amazing pets since childhood, the latest
being my dear departed cat Kevin, who is with my other relations
who have gone up yonder and is waiting with them for me to show up
(which, I trust, will not be for at least a bit more! I have many things
to do and many places to visit before I see the Place of Places, and
your busy and intrepid Peasant shall endeavor to do and see as much
as I can!).

There have been a few regrets along the way, but there have also been
triumphs which I savor and give thanks for. I have made friends with
the right people to have for friends, have made enemies with those
with whom it would have been foolish and even dangerous to attempt
friendship with, and have loved and been loved by some special people
in my life, including family and some incredible ladies (some of them,
even though they went on to marry other fellows, are dear friends to
this day!). I have had, and currently have some health challenges, but
with two terrific doctors, helpful medicine, and health maintenance
diet books to study and refer to I have the upper hand on them.

And of course, I have you, my dear readers and friends. My cup run-
neth over; I have more blessings than I can possibly count! I say
prayers of gratitude every day for all that I have, for all that I've been
blessed with, which certainly includes living in our great, wonderful,
prosperous, beautiful, free and magnificent country.


To quote a Frank Sinatra song, "Now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs/from the brim to the dregs/it pours sweet and clear/
it was a very good year." And I shall have some more very good years,
and I hope you'll all come along for the ride. God bless!


MEM


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My Emerald Jubilee

Friends, your beloved Peasant is turning 60 years of age (!)
this week on Friday, and I'm taking time to commemorate
this personal milestone. I shall be celebrating not just on the
day but throughout the week! Not to worry, we'll get down to
business again after the day, getting on with the business of
scrutinizing the political and economic news of the day and
the people who make it.

A person's sixtieth birthday is a special occasion. It requires
time to reflect, remember, give thanks, and to begin, if one has
not already been doing so, to closely cherish each and every day
as they come, for one is going to have less of them on the horizon
at this point. Oh, I'll be around for a few more years; as a matter of
fact I'll do my best to be around for a few more decades, giving
my fellow conservatives good cheer while giving the lefties
headaches, conniptions, and maybe some ulcers all the while.
And we'll have a lot of fun as we go!

If time permits me on the big day (February 2) I'll come back for
a quick visit with you, my fabulous readers! Otherwise, we'll
gather again on the following Thursday. Thank you all for your
generous indulgence and for your friendship! You are my birthday
gift on every day of the year!


MEM

Thursday, January 25, 2018

An Economist Who Blazed a Trail That Changed the Lives of Millions

About seventy years ago then-President Harry Truman
declared that if one were to line up all the economists
end-to-end, they would all point in different directions.
The 2017 Nobel Prize committee gave their economics
prize to an economist who spent the last forty years
showing that people don't act, in the investing sense,
the way that most economists have long said they do.
Moreover, this economist has enabled millions of
people to save more money than they thought they
could.

Over forty years ago two Israeli psychologists,
Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, had exploded
the long-held idea that people are "rational" in a
series of experiments. Many economists, however,
stubbornly clung to their notion of people's
"rationality" for dear life. Professor Richard Thaler,
in a series of brilliant and amazingly humorous articles
published in highly respected academic journals since
the early 1980s, posited that people think the way
economists think they think, rationally and disciplined.
Instead, non-economists think like the human beings
that they, first and foremost, are: inconsistently,
distracted by secondary things of less importance,
emotionally. In other words, typically human in
thought and resultant action. Furthermore, Prof. Thaler
pointed out that most economists think like the human
beings that they, too, in fact are. In summation, he
showed that human and financial behavior is much
less orderly and much more complicated than is
presented in traditional economic models.

An economist thinks that everything is about incentives
and information; Prof. Thaler demonstrated that financial
behavior is mostly a matter of faulty self-control.
Rather than deciding on their goals and investing in a
diversified portfolio likely to net the highest possible
return on investment for an acceptable risk level,
people often can't act on their own investment ideas,
figuring "Why invest today when you will have still more
money to invest tomorrow?". This shows that people
are more procrastinators than investment managers,
according to Stephen Utkus, head of the Vanguard
Group's Center for Investor Research.

If  prospective investors are signed up automatically for
a 401(k) retirement plan rather than asked whether they
would like to sign up, 90% of them would stay with it.
Convince them to invest more when they get a raise
and they won't miss the money from their paychecks.
Thanks to Prof. Thaler's research, over 15 million
Americans are saving more for retirement. This, notes
Mr. Utkus, is a very conservative estimate.

Congratulations to Prof. Richard Thaler for his being
awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. In reaction to
having so been informed, Prof. Thaler quipped at a
press conference "I basically have made a career stealing
ideas from psychologists!". Would that the Nobel Prize
people also had a prize to award for possessing a keen wit.


MEM



Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tax Reform and Financial Growth

President Trump's recently enacted tax reform
legislation shows great promise regarding
enabling economic growth in both the short
and long term. With the final legislation signed
by the president there is a reduction in the
marginal tax rates, which is critical to facilitating
the promised economic growth.

The Tax Policy Center, a think-tank which focuses
on national tax policy, reckons that the weighted-
average marginal tax rate from individual income
and payroll taxes will decline in 2018 by 3.2%.
Moreover, the TPC discovers that the marginal tax
rates will drop for taxpayers across the income
distribution, so that whomever pays any income tax
(and will be paying income tax this year) will get
this beneficial easement. Robert J. Barro, professor
of economics at Harvard University and a visiting
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, states
that he finds that the tax reform package relies on
the "user cost of capital"; this is a concept economists
utilize to get a fix on what the cost is for businesses
to acquire and deploy capital. This return is high,
roughly around 8% per annum in real terms, the reason
being that investing involves large risks.

The tax rate on corporate profits will be reduced from
35% (the highest such rate in the world) to 21%.
The degree of expensing allowed on business investments
will be impacted by this rate cut. On equipment, the new tax
law raises the depreciation allowance will be hiked from
80% to 100%, with this change to lapse after five years.
On structures, the depreciation allowances will also be
considerably discounted. Although the new tax legislation
does not change depreciation schedules for structures such
as factories and office buildings, the lower tax rates come
into play because whatever output comes about from
investment is taxed at the new rate of 21% -- a nice break.

When the user cost of capital is lowered, the long-run ratios
of corporate capital to labor are increased. This means that
companies will be more able and willing to provide each
worker with more structures, along with more equipment
in those structures, to do their jobs. This makes raising wages
possible by cutting corporate taxes.

Prof. Barro thus finds that cutting income taxes on individual
taxpayers will fuel economic growth in the short term, and
tax reform with an eye toward lessening the tax load for
businesses will fuel that growth over the long term. This
makes for more investment, increased production and
higher wages for millions of American workers. After the
eight years of punishing taxation and a resulting paucity of
investment capital courtesy of President Obama, this plan
will be a welcome breath of fresh air.


MEM


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Note to Police Chief Flynn: Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

Just a few days ago an unexpected, wonderful event
took place in Milwaukee: Police Chief Ed Flynn
announced his retirement, ending the puppet show
that has featured Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett
which had run since 2008.

A career cop with a heretofore sterling service record,
Flynn came from Massachusetts when he applied for
and was offered the post of Milwaukee Police Chief
by Mayor Barrett. Not long upon assuming his duties,
he entered into an extramarital affair with Jessica
McBride, a journalist, having publicly fessed up
when word got out. The illicit activity having made
for, among other things, a sticky PR situation, Mayor
Barrett was able to exert some leverage on his new hire
to get him to make Milwaukee's finest go easier on
criminals, especially those involved in car thefts.
Barrett had Flynn institute a no-chase policy regarding
them, including car-jackers. The resultant policy also
called for lenient treatment for first- and second-time
offenders, especially if they were juveniles; never mind
that the car-jackers oftentimes forced people out of
their vehicles at gunpoint. Barrett said that first-time
car thieves were most likely just going joy-riding (?!)
and that second-time offenders were not much more,
if any more of a problem than the first-timers. But the
third-timers and other multiple-time offenders, Ah!
THEY would be dealt with most severely. All this
made for some fodder for some stand-up comics
in the local night clubs, but had perplexed and angered
many Milwaukeeans, making them wonder what kind
of fool they have for a mayor, never mind for a police
chief. And to avoid getting chucked out no sooner than
getting started in his position, Flynn dutifully went along
with everything Barrett wanted him to do. Why, when
you saw them together at press conferences, whenever
Flynn spoke you never saw Barrett's mouth move at all;
a most convincing ventriloquist act, with Flynn being
Charlie McCarthy to Barrett's Edgar Bergen.

Along the way in his time as Milwaukee's top cop Flynn
also had the department massage the statistics related to
police efforts to investigate crimes and make arrests, to
make it look like the police were performing much more
effectively than they actually were. Whether this was
Flynn's or Barrett's brainchild is not clear, but it certainly
caused a loss of confidence that the public had for the
controversial chief. Flynn also had his officers take
possession of guns used by law-abiding gun owners
in self-defense and/or defense of their businesses
or other property supposedly to aid in their investigations
of these incidents, and taking forever to return them to
their owners after the guns' owners were found to be
innocent of any wrongdoing. Some of these gun owners
have been waiting months, even years, for the return
of their firearms. Seems that Barrett and Flynn don't care
for the recently enacted laws regarding carrying firearms,
and this is their petulant way of dealing with it.

And when Mayor Barrett pushed for his trolley project,
a folly which hizzoner claims will enable more people to
get around Milwaukee and its immediate suburbs more
easily, never mind that similar transportation schemes
in other major US cities have not resulted in the forecasted
riderships and resultant revenues, oftentimes diving deeply
into the red ink from their implementation, resulting in
among other things more and higher taxes for the taxpayers
in those cities. Local opinion polls have consistently shown
that Milwaukeeans opposed the building of this system
by large margins. In fact, many of the local citizenry have
instead stated that the mayor should instead beef up the
police and fire department budgets and hire more police
and firefighters to station in or to dispatch to their neigh-
borhoods, especially those with high rates of crime.
Barrett turned a deaf ear and gave the one-fingered salute
to these citizens, and Flynn obediently went along with
his boss.

Your observant Peasant is delighted to see Chief Flynn
go; I just wish that Mayor Barrett would have the decency
to announce his departure as well, so that both parts of this
sorry show would finally fade away. But Barrett will,
of course appoint another chief that will be his willing
toady, being the Mortimer Snerd replacing Flynn's
Charlie McCarthy in the act. However, there is a ray of
hope: the police department and its union, along with
the backing of the few members of Milwaukee's
Common Council that are not cohorts of Barrett's can ---
and certainly shall --- demand a say in who Chief Ed Flynn's
successor will be, and what they require in their next
chief. Perhaps they can muster and apply some pressure
to Mayor Barrett to get the right candidate. But with a
mayor who treats our city like his own little fiefdom,
surrounding himself with his deep-pocketed supporters
and political hangers-on, listening to them and the
sycophants in the local newspaper The Milwaukee 
Journal Sentinel who never write anything less than
glowing about their elitist hero, the situation is a
sticky one to be sure. Your faithful Peasant will keep
you, my fantastic readers, apprised.


MEM