Sunday, September 23, 2012

Victims, Bullies and Bozos

Truth can be ignored
Unless it comes as a thief
And takes away our floor
Of childish belief
So now we chide the victim
In a chorus with the bully
Who professed a dictum
Of goodness more fully
Achieved without assistance
From man or government
By Mitt’s unique insistence
That he is heaven sent
We have all been immersed in a drama of sudden truth with Mitt Romney blaming the “47%” for his woes as a candidate for president.  All this is not without irony, because Mitt spoke from his heart that had remained hidden until the “secret” video was made public.  This is the same Mitt who exercised leadership by getting his prep school friends to hold down a gay classmate while Mitt forcibly cut his hair.  While Mittens complained that 47 per cent of voters acted as victims and were dependent upon government, he ignored the fact that he had actually caused the creation of victims at Bain and that Mitt depended on the largess of that same government to allow him to grab the pensions of those victims and to secure a lower tax rate for himself by doing so.

I will relate some specifics about Bain and Mitts bullying that seems consistent over the years, but first, I need to illustrate, by example, what happens in Free Enterprise when Bullies and Bozos run businesses.  During the 1970s and early 1980s, I headed a training department for a bank in Connecticut.  Things went so well, that we began to do training for correspondent banks.  I had a skilled and dynamic group.  My staff and I recommended that we become a profit center by charging other banks enjoying the service.  We were rebuffed because management felt that it was a good will gesture to provide training and not an item of direct income.  All this was fine until some senior management bozos decided that our bank could not live without entering foreign investment.  They established a lending office in London with 29 locals and quickly built a portfolio of all shipping: all oil, all tankers, all of Greek registry.  There was no equivalent of the loan committees we used as policy in the United States.  Soon, the oil market went bad and all the tankers were anchored in Athens harbor.  All the loans went sour.  Who needs loan committees that might veto stupid loans?  Not my bank.  Within a few months, we were purchased by Bank of Boston who a few years later repeated similar management blunders.

What were the results in Connecticut?  There were victims.  The entire training department was eliminated.  Some might call this downsizing; others might call it trimming expenses, but for the training department, it was a loss of work, pride, self-esteem and dignity.  When VP “Earl the Pearl” informed me, of course, his opening line was:  “George, this is nothing personal.”  What can be more personal than losing your job when you know that you did well at it?  Lindsey (not her real name) ran Teller Training.  She was masterful at training and evaluating tellers; held a Masters Degree; she was brilliant, warm, humorous and personable where, at times, I could be confrontational and challenging (to be kind to myself).  She beat me hands down on the interpersonal scale.  Bozos cause victims including nice people who know what they are doing.  I found work in California.  Lindsey found work in Connecticut. My family survived on my wife Louise’s income as a teacher, savings, and my severance money until we moved to California.  Lindsey used her severance and survived between jobs.  I don’t agree with the charge by Romney that paycheck people are not responsible or motivated.  Victims don’t want to be victims and they work to find work.

In California, a major aerospace company seemed to be a good match for my engineering background and my training skills, but after I agreed to work for this firm, it was acquired by a larger firm with no record in high technology.  Soon, this company of 85,000 employees announced a stock price goal of (memory) $65.00 and waves (spasms) of reductions-in-force began.  I used my experience and skill to help the transition where I could, but the layoffs had no aerospace basis.  Workers with higher salaries were generally fired first and then those of lower salaries until the workforce dwindled to 28,000 and the stock price was achieved.  The firm could no longer bid on government contracts because it had lost most of its talent.  At that point “X,” having met Wall Street goals, sold off the remaining pieces.  This big company provided a small example of how a bully proceeds in business decisions.  Engineers, as they were laid off, were told that they would get severance if and only if they signed to never work for the company again.  Unless you met very strict rules, you could not retire early and your severance depended on being compliant with tough conditions.  I counseled an engineer who worked for “X” for 32 years.”  “Sam” had known no other employer and was crushed that the company simply threw him away without the possibility of retirement.  He had never written a resume.  He, like all the others, was fired and unceremoniously escorted out of his workspace by security because “X” did not trust him.  “Company X” truly feared sabotage after 32 years?  This was Hollywood without the film.  Victimhood?  Well, there were heart attacks and strokes and lawsuits, but this is business and corporations are people, right?  I talked with another engineer who had created a hundred patents for the firm.  His reward was severance.

Let’s examine the issue of Romney’s 47% through the same lens of personal experience.  When managerial incompetence caused the bank to fail, what did Lindsey and I do?  We pumped out resumes and interviewed like crazy to find work just like 99+% of people you know.  Lindsey completed a second Masters.  I renewed my job-hunting skills but was not one of the remaining 28,000 selected by the bullies at “X.”  What happened was clear. Just as happened at Bain, the business decision had no human component in the decision to fire employees.  There may be a negative component of greed in some transactions, but blindness and numbness to another’s pain is more likely.  Ultimately, I opened my own business and worked 7 days a week to build it.  Clearly, that put me in the 47%.

Bain Capital was in the business of creating wealth and not creating jobs.  There is no support for Romney’s claim for creating 100,000 jobs, and when you examine Bain’s method of loading purchased companies with debt and then liquidating them, the standard result is fewer jobs.  Wealth accumulation through ploys such as absorbing pension funds earmarked for employees were then grasped by Bain for profit.  Ampad, Kaybee Toys, a steel company and a medical equipment company, etc. were essentially leveraged buyouts where Bain cashed in loans of purchased companies, absorbed pensions, took management fees and cut staff in order to maximize profit.  These transactions were about 10% of the total number of buyouts, but it was a 100% disaster for employees at these firms.  The Human Side of Enterprise as discussed by Douglas McGregor was never part of the process.  Yet there is a deep human toll.  We are each measured by our jobs and that includes our self-measurement.  Except perhaps for a death, there is no more severe blow to anybody’s psyche and health than the loss of a good job.  It matters not whether the job is physical or intellectual, it is a crushing loss.  Still, people are resilient and the Romney accusation that 47% of people are too lazy or dependent on the government is simply not supported by the facts.  The list of folks that do not pay income taxes includes many my age the infirm, and those temporarily out of work or earning so little that income taxes do not accrue.  Payroll taxes do accrue and most pay these taxes while the 4,000 or so millionaires on the 47% list pay neither. For decades, now, one role of government has been to help choose winners and losers through tax policy.  I can hear the murmuring already.  Redistribution of wealth…socialism…well, not exactly.  If you can understand that any policy for tariffs, subsidies or taxes automatically favors one group and not another, then you begin to understand the issue.  To place a tariff on tea disproportionately affects tea drinkers and does little to coffee drinkers.  To provide Big Oil some $ 4 Billion in subsidies each year assists Big Oil and does not assist start up companies in competing energy industries.  So is the case with corn for ethanol and Big Pharma (recall the drug donut hole in the Bush drug law).  Granting investors a lower income tax rate than wage earners favors investment and Wall Street and does not help people on salary or wages.  The direction of the redistribution reflects the values of our society and the power of lobbyists to create the supporting laws.  For example, Romney has stated that he pays only as much income tax as required by law, but he has personally lobbied Congress (with others) to favor investment income including generous investment tax credits that can accumulate and “carried interest” that is a specific grant to people like Romney and Wall Street.  (For 2011, he instructed his accounting firm not to use all his deductions so that he could match his word that he pain at least 14%, otherwise his tax would have been at 9.6%.  If he loses the election, he can amend that return and get the cash back.)  Bain was also able to convert management fees into “investments” to avoid taxes altogether.  Individuals cannot do that.  Of course, they were merely taking advantage of the law.  Please don’t look behind the curtain to see how the law was created.  From Politicofact, 21 September 2012.

 Though he's been gone from Bain for over a decade, Romney continues to rake in millions from accounts with the firm—and in 2007, he took Bain's side in a key lobbying battle with Washington—one that saved him millions of dollars.
2007, as it turns out, was something of a watershed for private equity lobbying: In that year, lobbying expenditures for the industry practically tripled. The spike was the result of an industry-wide effort to preserve a number of tax giveaways for the finance industry and its CEOs—including the carried interest rule, a tax loophole that allows Romney and other private equity mavens to reduce their taxes by millions of dollars. Carried interest refers to the commission that private equity and hedge fund executives receive for managing investors' money. Although commissions may seem like ordinary income to the rest of us, the carried interest loophole allows some money managers to claim this income as long-term capital gains, which are taxed at a rate much lower (15 percent) than the top tax rate for normal income (35 percent).
After Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, they advanced several pieces of legislation that threatened to end this lucrative quirk of the tax code and other tax policies that favor the rich. Mitt Romney, who made just over $20 million in investment income in 2010, wasn't having any of it. During an August 2007 appearance on Kudlow & Company, Romney was asked what he thought of the effort to close the loophole. He wasn't happy. "I want people to be able to save their money and invest in America's economy tax-free," Romney said. "I want to lower taxes. I want to lower marginal rates across the board. I want to lower taxes for corporations," he told Kudlow.
Bain was doing its part to make Romney's vision a reality. The firm spent $300,000 between August of 2007 and April of 2008 lobbying the House and Senate on bills that threatened the carried interest loophole. Along with other private equity titans like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Apollo Management, Bain and its ilk paid lobbying shops, public relations firms, and trade groups like Ogilvy and the Private Equity Growth Capital Council an estimated $15 million between January 2009 and April 2010 to convince lawmakers to keep the loophole alive. The force of those combined lobbying efforts kept the carried interest loophole wedged open, denying the federal government some $10 billion in revenues in the process. "Everyone who has looked at this boondoggle [of carried interest] thinks it's an egregious giveaway," Jacob Hacker, the co-author (with Paul Pierson) of Winner-Take-All Politics, says. "It still lives because of the lobbying of the industry, and in particular the PEGCC."

Romney has stated that his role at Bain was inactive after 1999 despite SEC filings to the contrary.  He appears to have lied.  That is important because his 2010 tax returns show that he took a 35% write off on Bain investments.  The IRS only allows that for ACTIVE and not PASSIVE investors.  Maybe God would want it that way, but the IRS does not.  When he wins, it is at only a 15% tax rate, but when he loses, he gets to write it off at 35%.  No, you cannot do that.  You are in the 47%.  Don’t try this at home or the IRS will have you on a poster as a law-breaker.  Well, maybe Mittens has different definitions of Active for the IRS than for you and me.  Maybe he was Active for the IRS and Inactive for campaigning.

That brings me to the final observation.  God rewards the blessed and punishes those having the stain of sin, even if that sin was handed down from an earlier generation.  The predestination element of Calvinism remains in our culture.  Some people are simply blessed by God and they deserve the riches of this life and the next.  If you are in the 47% or even in the 98%, tough luck, amigo.  You should have been born to better parents.  It is interesting that Mittens claims that he succeeded all by himself and had no inheritance while his wife claims that Mitt had a million dollars in stock as his inheritance that they lived on while attending college.  Maybe Mitt forgot, or has a higher threshold for calling an inheritance an inheritance.  Then again, it could be that Mittens invested while in the womb and can take personal credit.  These mysteries are complex and way beyond me.  All these phenomena are something like the genes that you inherit from your parents except that these are spiritual genes (no, not jeans).  This explains why some of us prosper and others do not.  It also explains why some folks seem arrogant and haughty.  It is a corollary gift from God.

George Giacoppe
24 Sep 2012


Gian said...

Romney was complaining - even if he doesn't know it, about the earned income tax credit. expanding it was a centerpiece of Reagan's 1986 tax reform, and it was a GOP idea first birthed under Gerald Ford.

the reason people working minimum wage avoid income tax (though not FICA, or medicare or sales tx, or state income tax) is do in large part to the EITC.

Watch Obama nail Romney on hating St. Ronnie's policies during the debates.

Of course if Romney wanted the 47% to pay income tax he could advocate raising the minimum wage, but for Mr. "outsource to slave labor in china" that would be like saying something about a rich man, heaven a camel and the eye of a needle

Roger in Texas said...

George, you are clearly and understandably bitter toward large businesses. But hundreds of thousands of workers (most not nearly as educated as you) have been downsized since our industrial megaliths began moving abroad and/or scaling back. And what happened to you in CT and CA is part of the risk white-collar employees assume when they opt for that type of career. It's impossible to know how valuable you were to your employers. Who can know why yu were fired and others weren't? The same goes for "Lindsey." These things are always subjective. I was fired (for the only time) from the last job I held simply because my boss left for a better job and his boss, who then became mine, didn't appreciate my abilities. That hospital later filed Chapter 7.

It's clear that you have no respect for anything Romney has accomplished or anything he stands for (whatever that may be). The 47% video has drawn fire from both parties, as it should, and unrelenting attacks from the left-leaning media, which is to say the vast majority. As always, MSNBC's "newsmen" went apoplectic. As an aside, I assume you saw the results of a Gallup poll last week, wherein 60% of those polled don't trust the media to be fair. What you doubtless didn't see or hear was the breakdown by party: 58% of Dems trust the media, 29% of Repubs, and 31% of independents (the last two seem high to me). When Obama and Biden say incredibly dumb or incorrect things, little is said or written, and it's over in a day or so. When Romney says stupid or insensitive things (which is often), the outcry is prolonged and strident, and persists long after it's old news. Or so it seems to me...

Romney is an aloof, patrician autocrat who would have been at home in a British court, as a medium-level functionary. He is so rich he's incapable of "getting" how the rest of us live. And he's continually making comments and statements that reinforce this negative image. In addition, he's surrounded by sycophantic yes-men who haven't a clue about how to run his campaign. If elected, he'd be about as far over his head as Obama was in 2008, except that he has run a state; Obama had never managed anything. And Obama's made some terrible appointments, something that's inevitable in our spoils system, where political considerations trump competence and effectiveness.

Bain Capital, however, seems to be the prime target of George's critique. Originally a very successful venture capital firm, Bain later began targeting businesses that were foundering. They engineered a takeover and then set about trimming deadwood, restructuring debt and either liquidating them, selling them or cashing out and leaving them in operation, leaner and likely to survive. In the process they looted many pension funds, an unconscionable action that should never have been legal. (It was, though, thanks to Congress, which is ultimately responsible for just about every bad thing that corporations have ever done that wasn't illegal on its face.)

Because of size limitations I'll need to continue this in separate comments.

Roger in Texas said...

There's no way to know what might have happened to corporations such as the one you worked for in CA, had it not been acquired by "X." Business executives make bad decisions every day; it's not uncommon for them to come back to bite them, as happened with your employers. RIM, maker of the Blackberry, is near death, as are lots of other formerly high-flyers, such as Radio Shack, Dell and AOL. Companies come and go routinely, and jobs are lost. That's the nature of free enterprise, which, with all its faults and shortcomings, is by far the best economic system man has devised, and is primarily responsible for our (previously?) lofty status in the world. The problem isn't capitalism, but the lack of sensible, effective regulations and vigorous, prompt prosecution. Again, blame Congress and the lobbies. When lobbyists are allowed to write the rules and regulations (e.g., Billy Tauzin and Medicare D), the laws are guaranteed to favor business, often at the expense of the taxpayers. And the enforcers are undermanned and underfunded, and generally composed of those who couldn't make it in the competitive world of business. Dodd-Frank is a bad joke; many of its regulations are yet to be written, and its efforts to restore fiscal sanity to Wall Street and the big banks are destined to fail miserably when they are. Today, the same abuses and risky tactics that led to the 2007-08 collapse are again being executed. Lobbies uber alles...

You make some valid points, of course, but like virtually all political partisans you focus only on the negatives of the opposition and ignore or gloss over those of your party. Unions have been a principal cause of the collapse or flight of industry, and public employee unions have done incalculable damage to many cities, counties and states around the country, particularly in CA, OH, WI and IL most recently. They wield the power to shut down services if their demands aren't met, and thus have bankrupted many municipalities and counties across the country. Many pay almost nothing toward their health care and pensions, and tend to strike when struggling entities attempt to rectify this. And of course the teachers unions fight attempts to evaluate their members, and make it almost impossible to fire incompetents and those who violate rules or laws. There are abuses and inequities on both sides of the political spectrum.

In Romney's latest revealed gaffe he conflates two different situations in his 47% comments. It's true that about 47% of the country's workers pay no income tax; it's also true that about that percentage of voters are solidly in the Dem camp, because the Dems have always been their principal source of economic support. There is a large overlap between those two groups, of course; many the same people who pay no income tax aren't paying it because they aren't employed, for one reason or another.

But it's also true that, when you divide the country by quintiles, there is much movement between the bottom groups. In our society, people can move up if they're willing to make the effort and take care of their affairs sensibly; people move down for a variety of reasons, unemployment being only one of them. Retirees, the chronically ill, malingerers and those who disdain or opt out of low-paying, unrewarding jobs and elect to subsist on taxpayer-subsidized programs are others who move downward. And along with most blacks, most Latinos, gays, many women and lesser minority groups, they make up the core constituency of the Democrat party. The only reason most Republicanss are ever elected is the massive apathy of that constituency, and it shouldn't be blamed on voter ID laws.

More commentary follows.

Roger in Texas said...

Texas Monthly printed an editorial a couple of months ago that basically announced the end of Republican hegemony in Texas. Actually, it would have ended several decades ago, but for the fact that a large number of those who say they're Democrats don't bother to vote. But that's changing, and we'll soon see the end of the Republicanss holding every statewide office and dominating the Congressional cohort. Even if Romney should win in November, which is very doubtful, it's highly unlikely that he'd be re-elected, or that any Republican would ever again sit in the White House. The tide is turning toward the Democrats, and it's inexorable. As the group of those dependent on entitlements and/or government funds for their existence continues to grow, it will soon outnumber the old-line Republican base, which is dying off rapidly. The larger the state population and the more urban, the more likely it is to vote Democrat. The enormous brown tide, already larger than the black population, will transform America into an unrecognizable place in a few more decades. My grandchildren and great grandchildren will doubtless live in a Latino-dominated society, much as we did in Corpus Christi as far back as the early 70s. And they'd better hope that the Latinos treat them better than we treated the Latinos and blacks.

There have always been bullies and bozos in business, just as there are in government. But in business, companies run by the bozos eventually fail, and those run by bullies will eventually run afoul of the law and be brought to account, although this may take a long time. The scenarios George recounts regarding Bain Capital and Romney are possible only because of bad laws and bad regulations. One of the most outrageous examples of bad law is the carried interest regulation; another is a tax code that not only allows, but encourages, overseas investment, and then makes it unwise to bring those profits here and reinvest them. A major problem is the absurdly high (on the world stage) 35% tax rate on corporate profits. Bain wreaked its havoc within the rules and regulations; Bain and similar companies continue to do that today. It's the law of the jungle; the fittest survive, and the weak and poorly run fail or are devoured. The collateral damage is always human capital. But of course all large operations have deadwood and incompetents; those are generally, though not always, the first to go when a reorganization or downsizing takes place. Most of Bain's leveraged buyouts occurred with the active support of top management, a clever approach which obviated the need for an expensive, bitter hostile takeover. Either way, however, the employees are still the victims.

I'll now comment on some specific statements you make. You recount the charge that Romney's prep school friends held down a gay classmate while Romney (Mitten??) cut his hair. It may be true, but that was 40 or so years ago. Young people, even rich young people, do stupid things. How is that relevant to your point? Obama sat in church and listened to the Rev. Wright's jeremiads for about two decades. Does that make him a US-hating racist, as Wright clearly is? Obama hob-nobbed with Bill Ayers. Does that make him an anarchist?

More commentary follows.

Roger in Texas said...

Later on you disagree with Romney that paycheck people are not responsible nor motivated. Well, some are, and some aren't. You again assume that all "paycheck people" are well-educated white-collar workers, which is far from the truth. Are burger-flippers, mop-wielders, liquor store clerks and construction workers all responsible and motivated? Hardly. They're either content with dead-end jobs or earning money to advance their education or feed themselves, and far different than well-paid engineers or executives. He writes "Victims don't want to be victims and they work to find work." An absurd generalization at best. I have two such victims in my household, and another across town, and none has the slightest interest in taking a min-wage job and losing their benefits. There are millions like them.

You decry the security escort "Sam" received as he was ushered out. This has been standard practice for a long time. And the engineer who created "a hundred patents" surely knew that, under the rules of virtually all engineering firms, patents developed by employees are the property of the firm, which provided the support required to create the invention and paid the individual for developing it.

No one can dispute that cutbacks and firm closings are heartless and brutal to the people involved. This is the way it works in free enterprise; thrive or die. There are always competent, deserving individuals who are fired, along with the usual deadwood and redundant people. It's an ugly but commonplace part of the business cycle. You then opened your own business. I did likewise. But what of the millions of laid-off or fired employees who aren't able to do that? They are paid a percentage of their final salaries as unemployment while ostensibly seeking new jobs. Some find employment, some don't. Some, like my son-in-law, disdain lesser-paying jobs and opt for extended unemployment. When that was about to run out, he finally went to work at a job comparable to his earlier job. Without the extended 73 weeks of unemployment, he'd have done that much sooner.

Yes, Bain Capital, like all enterprises, was in business to make money. You write "There is no support for Romney's claim for creating 100,000 jobs." You're right. The figures are muddled as to what the net result of Bain's activities were. For every Staples there was a failure; one study estimates that about half of Bain's acquisitions were profitable; the rest lost money. But whatever the number, it's bogus. Romney created no jobs, just as Obama's boast that he's created 4.7 million jobs since 2008 is preposterous. The net effect of Obama's nearly four years is a loss of jobs. about a half-million by most accounts. If you count the millions that have given up job-hunting, the unemployment rate is about 13%. And individuals in politics don't create jobs; they can only create an environment that encourages job creation by businesses. To say Obama has done this is absurd. Romney continues to proclaim he'll create jobs, but never says how. As with all of our problems, Congress must act if a positive job-creation environment is to exist. Lately they've only acted to put barriers in place.

More commentary follows.

Roger in Texas said...

You write at length about the psychological hurt one experiences when one is fired. I couldn't agree more. It's a staggering blow to one's self-esteem. But there is nearly always a period before it happens during which the smart employee will see what's coming and begin the hunt for another position, cut back on unnecessary expenses and prepare to hunker down when the ax falls. Those who fail to do this are harmed far more, and tend to dwell on the injustice of it all much longer than those who prepare. On the other hand, I have a grandson that's been fired dozens of times, usually after no more than a few weeks on his job of the moment. He couldn't care less; he simply lies around at his mother's home until his unemployment runs out, while his daughters survive on SSI and Medicaid. Then he'll eventually get another menial job and repeat the process. This is a far cry from what you envision, with your evident assumption that most people are much like you.

You then touch on the recent foofaraw regarding a long-ago video clip of Obama the community organizer advocating redistribution. Well, redistribution has been going on for a long time. And it was codified forever when the federal income tax law was passed. There has been, and will always be, redistribution of wealth in modern societies. It's simply a matter of how much is confiscated from the well-off, and how it's distributed. The looming problem is that, if matters continue as they are today, there won't be enough well-to-do people left to support the 47% who pay no income taxes, a number that is sure to grow each year. What then?

The Politicofact segment is essentially a screed against the tax laws that favor investors, and against Romney for lobbying for them. At the end, still railing against the carried interest rule, they quote Jacob Hacker: "It still lives because of the lobbying of the industry, and in particular the PEGCC." Wrong. It (and all similar loopholes, special exemptions and exceptions) lives only because of Congress, and their spineless, mercenary willingness to succumb to the blandishments of the lobbyists.

I don't quite know what to make of the last paragraph, wherein you invoke God, Calvinism, a supposed million-dollar inheritance, and make some weak jokes. I've inferred from those comments that you're not a religious person.

Yet more commentary follows.

Roger in Texas said...

I view the upcoming election as I would if faced with a choice between death by firing squad or by electrocution: neither is desirable, but one must be selected. I don't think who wins the White House is nearly as important as whether the Republicans retain control of the House -- a virtual certainty. And that will perpetuate the deadlock that's existed for the past two years. When more than 150 Republicans have signed Grover Norquists's no-tax-increase pledge, there's little hope of meaningful action. And the Democrats are nearly as adamant about preserving entitlements "as we know them." That's a guaranteed recipe for default in the future -- the near future if something isn't done to reduce the more than $1 trillion per year deficits that are now routine. Soon the Chinese, Japanese and others will stop buying our bonds each week, and what then? Interest rates will have to be raised, and that alone will kill our staggering recovery. One inexplicable situation is Obama's ignoring the recommendations of Bowles-Simpson, a committee he appointed. Then the Supercommittee failed to come to any consensus, and now we're staring at sequestration and the so-called "fiscal cliff," which will lead to more unemployment. And Obama wants to renew the Bush tax cuts except for those earning $250k or more, while the Republicans insist that all or none must be renewed. I deplore the positions of both sides. A good compromise would be restoring them for those earning less than $1 million, but the effect on the deficit will be negligible in either case. It's simply not that big a deal, given all our other problems. But it typifies the gridlock problem. I continue to hear business owners say that they're not going to hire until and unless tax rates for upcoming years are fixed and until the burdensome, growth-stifling regulations, promulgated and pending, are clarified or modified. Again, this is Congress' responsibility, and each party is resolutely blocking any action by the other. If the House passes something, the Senate blocks it, and vice versa. Maddening.

Our country is at an insoluble impasse, and anyone who's optimistic about its future is delusional, or more likely, ignorant.