I was a big fan of Meet the Press back in the day of the late Tim Russert…less so since. However, I do think David Gregory pulled off a solid show this week with the obvious central topic of the debt ceiling. Anyone who follows the business of Washington knew the spin would be thick coming from the White House, Senate and House. Everyone is looking for political cover and claiming some sort of victory. We also heard the presumptive but requisite phrase “the American people are tired of…” fill in whatever case the politician is making. The fact of the matter is the battle in Washington was exactly what we needed short of real reform. It has made the American people more tuned into the broader problems we face. The fiscal issues that actually lead to credit downgrades, falling dollars and so forth. It has forced politicians who are used to just brokering deals to begin to confront the reality of their options.
What struck me most about this week’s Meet the Press discussion, however, was the sound commentary that came from Tom Brokaw…someone I have never taken very seriously. Tom effectively summarized the general consensus of the panel that the real American crisis was not one of a debt ceiling….it was one of debt. He correctly explained that we have allowed politicians from both parties to spend our way into oblivion for 30 years and there is very murky land we now have to cross to resolve the problem.
During the show Gregory posted en excerpt from the Saturday Wall Street Journal that underscores what Brokaw said
“By 2010, [federal entitlement] payments to individuals were 66% of the federal budget, up from 28% in 1965. We now spend $2.1 trillion a year on these redistribution programs, and the 75 million baby boomers are only starting to retire.”
A debt ceiling increase deal is imminent, but let’s not kid ourselves…it resolves almost nothing. For those of you, like me, crazy enough to pay attention to Washington created concepts like “base-line budgeting”, “revenue” and “savings”, you know the numbers coming from the “deal” are absolutely meaningless in the bigger picture. For good measure the requisite commission is thrown in because apparently the last one didn’t produce the answers they wanted. But this time they really really mean it, pinky swear….lots of “triggers” and fairy tales will be thrown in so they can pound their podium with enthusiasm and conviction.
To be clear, little of substance has actually been accomplished….except that you and I are now paying closer attention to how the real problems, and the long term health of our country, begins to get addressed.
Oh, one final thought….we ought to ban politicians from using the word “invest.” The biggest investment most of them can make is to get the heck out of the way of those who actually invest and build for a living.
Minyanville posted an analysis that anyone interested in the real economic issues going on behind the smoke screens in Washington ought to read:
Last week my Brazilian-born housekeeper, who speaks broken English, stopped me as I was about to leave the house and asked “What do you think of the US Economy? Why does Obama need more credit?” I gave her some thoughts and she responded by explaining that if she can’t pay her bills this month, the answer isn’t to call her credit card company and ask for a credit increase. She concluded by asking if Obama’s reasoning is that he just wants money so he can fund programs that get him votes.
And in a very unusual conversation, my housekeeper summed up the essence of our debt ceiling “crisis.” I place crisis in quotes because if you read Mike Baker’s opinion article you’ll see he sheds light on the fact that this is about getting a damn budget created and passed. Yet the spin coming out of Washington, the Obama camp in particular, and the sycophant media, makes it difficult to track the details (the fact that someone with limited English and knowledge of our political system can grasp this crisis, gives me hope)
To be clear, the current debt ceiling debate is a watershed moment in American history. Forget the debt ceiling issue. That issue has come and gone far too many times, and there has been little accountability for either party’s game-playing to date.
Set aside the politics, the outright flip-flopping and gamesmanship of the past on both sides of the aisle. At this moment, a group of mostly freshman politicians sent to Congress with a strong fiscal mandate in 2010 has determined that enough is enough. The debt ceiling is just a portion of an overall spending problem in Washington and it threatens the very future of this country. Let me summarize some facts that are rarely on display in this sound-bite driven world and expose some of the lies being propagated.
1) Bankrupt: Spending as a percentage of GDP is about 3:2 ratio every month, and that’s if you take the OMB numbers on revenue that have been short every month for over a year. The Federal government spends over $300B a month. They take in $200B at best. More conservative calculations place the number closer to $173B. Using round numbers, we are going in the hole over $100B every month! This is so far beyond precedent that it makes George Bush look like a fiscal conservative (he was not). This also means that by 2020…not far away, debt to GDP ratio will increase from 40% to 90% or $170,000 per household. Do you have that cash lying around for Uncle Sam?
2) Entitlement Disaster: The CBO recently came out with an alarming analysis, and it received far too little media exposure. While most people understand that Social Security and Medicare are going broke, the rate at which this is happening should alarm everyone….especially Baby Boomers! Even the AARP that has resisted any real reform to these programs quietly reached out and said they are now ready to discuss options. This is a bullet train headed for a brick wall at 100 miles an hour; and the political will to fix it may be too little too late if we wait any longer.
3) Nice Try: “Savings” are different than Cuts! Anytime you hear a politician say savings are part of a plan, run or shoot…your pick! Savings are a joke. They essentially mean nothing gets cut except expenditures that they intended to make in the future and they calculate those into the bottom line. It’s like saying you are going to buy a television for $1500 and instead buy one for $1300 and you claim I saved $200 today. No you didn’t. You spent $1300. Washington DC accounting and spin is hard to follow…but invariably leads to the realization that it’s nonsense.
4) Obamanomics: Overall federal tax receipts have been steadily in the 18% range for decades. As an overall number, our personal taxes have not gone up over the past decade. That’s the good news. The problem is two-fold. Obama’s proposals will raise the rate to 21%! This is the biggest jump in generations. Moreover, our system needs reform. The 18% is achieved in a progressive manner that would make any European socialist proud. The top 10% of tax-payers are paying 70% of the tax burden! The bottom 50% pay NOTHING. And this isn’t progressive enough for this administration or the women on The View.
5) Hype: Reagan raised taxes so why are Republicans being so obstinate? Revisionist history is in full swing when it comes to Reagan. If you ask a Keynsian economist like Paul Krugman, Reagan wasn’t even responsible for the massive economic boom under his watch. The time horizons, according to Krugman and his ilk, should have led us to understand that the boom was started under Carter. (Note to reader: Keynsian economists are also responsible for the failed “spend your way out of recession” mess we are in.) Keynsians insert social studies into economics instead of math and logic. They are a failure except in the halls of select Ivy League dungeons. Yes, Reagan raised taxes several times but only AFTER the biggest tax reform in US history. Additionally, the increases came more from closing loopholes, FICA tax increases and other mechanisms, many of which Senator Coburn has put on the table on behalf of Republicans.
6) Bewildering: The disaster of appeasement is partly what led to our current fiscal mess. Republicans, the party that historically understands budgetary restraint, business friendly policies etc. were a disaster when they controlled the House, Senate and Presidency. Why? Those Republicans never saw a fiscal compromise they didn’t like. They weren’t fiscally principled. They weren’t willing to risk their next election by making hard financial decisions. Strong negotiating never starts by exposing your starting position then adding the qualification “but if we can’t get that, we’ll work something out.” This is tantamount to negotiating with the Taliban while also announcing our departure dates from Afghanistan (ohhh, we actually did that too). You don’t get true reform or results unless your opponent believes you are willing to risk everything. Normally we can count on politicians to think foremost about themselves, but the current Freshman Republicans are the type we can believe when they say they will stick to their guns – even if the voters send them packing. Finally on this point, it is an almost virtual certainty in deals that involve tax increases coupled with spending cuts, that the cuts don’t last while the taxes do. Why? Political self-preservation. Current politicians cannot bind the hand of future politicians to spend (unless there is a balanced budget amendment) and therefore the cuts never last.
7) Lie: Not raising the dept ceiling will cause Armageddon. No! While it has severe consequences to be sure, they are not the end of the world. Even conservative pundits like Michael Medved have fallen prey to the doom and gloom predictions being blathered on the 5 o’clock news. First, regardless of the debt ceiling action, we take in 2/3 of our needed revenue every month. This means the President and his Treasury Secretary will get to decide which obligations to pay with the money they have (sounds like a normal budget exercise doesn’t it?) If Social Security checks or military pay come to a halt, look to Obama. It’s his call. But realize this, the markets are rational. They have already calculated in the very likely possibility of a failure to raise the ceiling….AND THEY HAVENT CRASHED. Medved and company can back away from their “end of the world” hyperbole and realize the problems that will result are resolvable; and the results will be worth the pain IF politicians do their jobs. The President has to move on this issue or he’s done.
Ironically, if the President went along with Republican tax and spending reforms, he’d be re-elected in a likely landslide. His left-wing base isn’t going anywhere. Would wing-nuts like Dennis Kucinich or Howard Dean actually pose a primary threat? Not a chance. Rather, Obama would pick up huge points in the middle for demonstrating fiscal restraint. In other words, he’d pull off a Bill Clinton. The only rational reason for him not to pursue this path is that it is entirely contrary to his world-view and redistributionist instincts.
Republicans started this process slowly and didn’t get their message out effectively to the American people. Their poll numbers reflect that. So what? Real leaders don’t make decisions according to polls. They now have a chance to make their case and go on the offensive; which they are starting to do with the legislation moving along under Senator Coburn and his band of 6. For those of you watching from home, pay close attention to Coburn, Rubio and Ryan. These are the types of leaders we need in this country and each is pushing a pro-active agenda to get us through this “crisis” and ensure we come out the other side a healthier country.
It still amazes me Ken Jeong is a doctor by training. He’s one funny mofo.
Evernote is one of the best productivity tools on the web. They bill themselves as the global platform for human memory. At least they limit themselves to humans. Whew.
In short, Evernote is a simple and elegant solution for capturing all the elements of data you encounter and need to store for potential future recall. Physicians are inundated with information more than any other professional and Evernote can help.
So, you are wondering exactly what you can do with this tool? Here is a short list:
- Capture notes – written and voice
- Organize your photos
- Clip information from web sites
- Organize your PDFs and Microsoft Word files
- Store receipts
That’s just a sample list based on the primary ways in which I use the product. It gets better…while you can sort of do all those with your file folders on your computer, Evernote stores things so they are available from any browser and virtually any device you might use (except a crappy old flip phone if that’s still in your repertoire). Further, the way in which the tool helps collect and organize your objects is far more elegant than the built in file/folder structure on computers…oh, and there is powerful search using tags and even recognition of words from handwritten materials.
Previously I wrote about my LiveScribe Echo pen….Evernote is the perfect compliment. It’s the chocolate to Livescribe’s peanut butter. LiveScribe files sync straight up to my Evernote account and make sure the results and not the tools or process remain the focus.
Last, I want to address the difference between Evernote and virtual hard drives like Amazon’s CloudDrive, Box.net or DropBox. Both categories of services specialize in keeping a given set of data in sync across multiple machines…they are virtual hard drives. If you were inclined, and your time is not worth much, you could make Evernote into a kind of a Dropbox or Dropbox into a kind of an Evernote. However, the differences are what make each designed for a specific job and I’m an advocate of using the right tool for the job versus spending your time monkeying around.
Dropbox’s focus is files. It’s also great for file sharing using the public directory. (It allows large file sharing – over 50mb – Evernote does not). Evernote focuses primarily in textual and image content. Evernote allows more versatile and customizable organization in the forms of notebooks and tags (instead of just nested directories). To summarize, I use DropBox to store my bulk files and I use Evernote to store materials I need to search, recall or use on a periodic basis. Those are just a few of the differences. The reality is these tools can be used differently depending on your needs, work habits.
I suggest you create an Evernote account and commit to using it for a few weeks. See if you have any desire to go back to file/folder structures on your computer after that.
I have been a note-taker since developing the habit in high school. For me, the process of taking notes is as much about getting engaged in the talk/conversation as it is for future reference. In the past few years I have tried to shift my note-taking habits from archaic pen and notebook to digital options.
The iPad was a nice improvement….but still it lacked. Often my notes have a doodle or sketching element as I try to depict something visual. I annotate, draw arrows etc. I also find it annoying to type while involved in a discussion…it feels very “court-reporter.” Bottom line, it’s still just a heck of a lot easier to do these things with a pen and paper than a finger and glass screen. But I refuse to ditch technology and take a whole step backward to kinda go forward….follow? Now I don’t have to.
I was recently in a meeting and a colleague pulled out a very sophisticated looking pen from his satchel. The topic of conversation in the meeting for the next ten minutes revolved around his slick contraption called a LiveScribe Echo 8MG Smartpen. I thought for a moment I heard a choir of angels singing from above…this thing is a great middle ground between old school analog note-taking and modern technology. The pen works with specifically designed note pads and records both what is being written in the pads AND the audio if desired! You simply connect the pen via USB port at the end of the day and your notes are uploaded to your computer.
It gets better. LiveScribe syncs with any number of programs…Facebook, Google Docs and the holy grail of them all Evernote. What makes this even better than just capturing a picture of notes and storing it on my computer is the ability to add tags. Now, if I really want to find something I know was noted in my tablet, it’s far easier to find than scrolling page by page.
Notes can be stored as .PDF files and audio even the audio recordings can be exported. You can even save/create a “Pencast”…which is a Flash movie of your writing overlaid with the audio recording. Genius. (Note: with a separate program called MyScript you can convert your clearly written notes into text.) It seems to me, these features are really valuable for consultants, attorneys and students to name a few.
The note pads come in a variety of sizes to suit your needs, or you can print your own “dot” paper as long as your printer is capable of 600 dpi resolution or greater. The 8MG version of the pen ran me $180 on Amazon.com. I picked up a replacement pack of ink cartridges for less than $10.
Thursday I am going to discuss a long-time favorite of mine: Evernote. The combination of the LiveScribe pen and Evernote is like the combination of peanut butter and chocolate in a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.
I had to share this post by Bill Simmons the sports writer. Bill’s recent post caught my attention because it was about the lack of legitimate Hollywood movies stars (and correspondingly the lack of decent movies); the post seemed out of character for a sports writer. After all, what do sports and movies have in common? Read Bill’s column to find out. I’ll just say, that I rarely have the patience for a post of this length, but this one was so well done (and very funny), and he made some great comparisons to sports, that I found it worth the time to read it all the way through. Let me also add, I kinda like Ryan Reynolds and Will Smith…but now that I have read Bill’s column, I absolutely concur…they are formulaic and more often than not there is little quality acting involved in their movies.
“Every NBA team starts a home game the same way: by announcing the visiting team’s starting lineup, then turning out the lights and cranking a song that’s either hip-hop happy or gratuitously goose-bumpish (like Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”). Within seconds, a JumboTron highlight-video launches with a dopey slogan like “Our Time Is Now” or “Rise Up.” It’s crammed with awkward close-ups, dunks and alley-oops, as well as players muttering things like, “This is our city” and “Let’s do this.” The video almost always ends with the team’s best player staring into the camera and screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHHH!” or “LEMME HEAR IT!!!!!!!!” Then, the lights turn back on and they introduce their starting five.
How did this become the blueprint for starting an NBA game? I have no idea. But any franchise lacking a good-enough “LEMME HEAR IT!!!!!!!!” guy needs to decide something: Should it finish the video with a barrage of dunks, or with its by-default best player screaming as the closer even though he’s not really a star? Deep down, the team knows this decision symbolizes everything. You can’t win without a legitimate “LEMME HEAR IT!!!!!!!!” guy; pointing this out in the opening video is almost counterproductive. That’s what made it so interesting when, on Opening Night against the Celtics last October, the Cavaliers embraced their LeBron-less plight. Their video ended with Mo Williams screaming incoherently and turning into a fireball. The subtext?
In Hollywood, that Mo Williams dilemma hangs over everything. They make too many movies and don’t have nearly enough stars. That’s a problem. Their solution is to “create” stars, leading to a bigger problem: They’re effectively forcing actors like Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds down our throats like big clumps of broccoli. Why not worry about finding quality scripts and making quality movies instead? That would require real work and real ingenuity. It’s much easier to make superhero movies, sequels, anything with aliens, anything with the world about to blow up, and anything that could carry “3D” in the title. That’s how we arrived to a point in which the following two facts are indisputable.
Fact: People believe Will Smith is the world’s biggest movie star (even though he doesn’t make great movies).
Fact: People believe Ryan Reynolds is a movie star (even though he isn’t).
That’s all you need to know about Hollywood right now. Everyone is complaining about the quality of this summer’s movies (probably the worst ever), this year’s Oscar race (potentially the most ghastly in years) and a general lack of imagination by the studios (it honestly feels like they gave up), but really, everything comes back to Will Smith and Ryan Reynolds.”
Read the rest of the post from Grantland HERE