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Sep 25, 2010 - 0 comments


America: grow up

Polls, polls. There are so many of them out there at the moment and most of them trying to figure out how us voters will vote on November 2nd. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from them: voters are frustrated and feel Washington is disconnected from their lives. They are mad as hell and ready to vote their incumbent out of office. They don’t approve of Democrats in Congress, but like Republicans in Congress even less. They are lukewarm at best about President Obama, but as least his approval numbers tend to hover in the forties, which is good for this toxic political environment. If the election were held today, Republicans would retake the House but probably not the Senate, but regardless of who wins, the voters don’t expect a whole lot to change. In addition, a sizeable number of us must have been smoking something because one in five of us actually believe President Obama is a secret Muslim.
Frustration is understandable. Voters voted for change, but they don’t much like the change they got, not that they liked what they had before either. And speaking of change, many of them are living on it, and food stamps, and extended unemployment benefits and maybe living in their parents’ basement. The job market is a depressing mess and those jobs that are available tend to pay a lot less than the ones lost.
Everyone wants relief from their misery, to know that real prosperity is ahead and that we can go back to living comfortable and predictable lives again. If anything in the Republican pitch is resonating, it is the vision of the white clapboard house with the picket fence and a flower garden in the front. Also, it sure would be nice to have our homes worth something close to what we paid for it, and to see our 401-K’s recover.
We can certainly wish for these things, but to expect them to all materialize rapidly is ludicrous. Unemployment is but a symptom of our real problem: a government and society still vastly overleveraged. Republicans can rail against the perceived socialist Democrats. Democrats can hiss back at Republicans for putting us deeply into debt and creating costly and unnecessary wars. All that hatred and vitriol though accomplishes nothing, which is why the anger that will be expressed on November 2nd will not bring relief. We all seem to understand that we can change the cast of players in Congress and the White House, but the relief we crave for is not going to magically appear. We face problems that no ideology can fix and no quick political voodoo can solve. Collectively, the nation is grieving, wailing for a time that is lost and not likely to come again, at least not anytime very soon.
With rare exceptions, politicians cannot be elected by telling us the truth. They tell us what we want to hear, and wrap their narrative around all sorts of other villains, most of them props. Yet, now of all times we must hear the truth, the truth that we know in are hearts. In case you are not listening to yours in the quiet of the night, here’s what it is saying. I can’t take credit for it. It was articulated by Walt Kelly many decades ago in the comic strip Pogo.

America, it’s time for some very strong coffee and to face some uncomfortable facts. First, we live in a democratic republic. Like it or not, we created this mess not that other guy. We created it by voting in people who told us what we wanted to hear. We also created it by tolerating a government that worked for the special interests, instead of demanding one that worked for us. Most of us selfishly tuned out our civics lessons. Instead, we grew fat, tone deaf and apathetic. Don’t care, can’t make any difference, so why bother? Still, for better or worse, it’s our government. We own it. We are all stockholders and the board of directors is out of control. We can’t all emigrate so we have to sober up and fix it.
It’s not the Democrats that need to fix it, nor the Republicans, nor the Independents, nor the Kiwanis Club of Passaic, New Jersey. We need to fix it. We need to fix it together. To fix things, no one is going to get what they want. We are going to have to reach that hardest of places here in American government: consensus. And it is going to be painful. Yeah, I know it’s already painful and you want the pain to go away, but to get to that promised land is going to require more pain. It will require years of pain at best, decades at worst. We have to undo a whole lot of self-inflicted damage and fundamentally change our orientation. Moreover, the stakes could not be higher. If we do not, we are facing the likely bankruptcy and eventual dissolution of the United States. I may have more on that in a later post.
America, we need to so sober up quickly, stop the incessant finger pointing and get busy. Republicans, to get to consensus, you must accept that America will not be the libertarian, Christian, largely white, God-fearing, ultra low tax utopia that you want it to be. By the way, it never was, and never will be. Democrats, America will never be the liberal, gun-free, vegetarian, eco-friendly, blissfully multicultural Birkenstock wearing utopia you want it to be. Independents: no party has a solution that is going to make you happy. The middle ground may not be ideal but if we want to actually solve some of our problems rather than find ourselves a second-class country, it’s a place we all have to get to again.
You get to the middle through this forgotten process called achieving consensus, or, failing that, compromise. We do it all the time in the business world. Not a week goes by where I work where some dispute does not comes up. My team and I do what we have learned to do: we talk an issue through, realizing that while we don’t always agree with each other, we respect each other enough to come to consensus. It’s sort of like therapy. Why should it be anathema for our political parties to do something as civil as I do at least once a week?
Take a deep breath because here’s a sample of what compromise will mean. For liberals this will mean some constraints on entitlements. It may mean something like Medicare costs cannot grow faster than the cost of living in general or a requirement to not allow Medicare costs to exceed a portion of the budget. It will mean that when we find some new medical problem we will not immediately be able to throw money at it, at least not without taking it from somewhere else out. For conservatives, it means that health care vouchers are out. We will mend the Medicare and Medicaid systems we have and make them the best we can with the money we can afford to invest in them, and they won’t be run by the private sector. Yeah, I know these ideas give both liberals and conservatives hives. Grow up.
We all need to suck it in because we are all in this together. We should not take anything off the table, not set any condition that will make us hide in our corners and pout. I was disappointed in President Obama recently when he suggested that the Bush tax cuts for the middle class should never be rescinded, even while he promoted restoring them for the rich. (It is true that when he set up the deficit commission he said everything was on the table, including potential tax increases should the commission recommend them. But that was then, not now.) While increasing taxes on the middle class may not be a good idea in a recession, any prudent stewards of the country would have to agree that in normal times taxes can at least be where they were when President Clinton was in office. We managed just fine, had terrific prosperity and even had a couple years of surpluses. Congress even had pay go rules which basically said you had to either raise taxes or cut something else if you want to propose a new program. Unfortunately, since Clinton left office the public debt has increased by at least half again (more than five trillion dollars). Our goal is not just a balanced budget, but paying down our debt. It means moving prudently and deliberately toward a balanced budget. That is but the first step. It also means paying back principle on our debt as well as interest on it, so our debt load decreases over time. What this really means in essence (steel yourself) is paying more in taxes and probably getting less.
So no one feels singled out, the pain must be spread evenly, and that’s where it will get even harder because we excel at creating tax policies where someone else gets the short end of the stick. It could be something simple like raising the tax rates five percent for everyone. Yes, this will mean a lower standard of living for us in the short run. However, it will also mean that we will be paying down our debt and our grandchildren will not inherit such an onerous debt.
Maybe there is someone in Congress brave enough to tell us the truth. There is at least one columnist. I know I would vote for such a brave politician. No more crying; no more whining. We made our fiscal mess and we must clean it up. If you ask me, anyone who stakes out an ideological position not to do so is unpatriotic at best, and a traitor at worst. This is our country. We are one United States or divided we will fall. We will not grow our way out of this problem. This problem will not ease until the burden of our national debt starts to lift from our collective shoulders.

Greater national dysfunction dead ahead

Sep 25, 2010 - 1 comments
Greater national dysfunction dead ahead
In about two months, citizens will go to their polling station and choose their elected officials. God help us, because no matter which way we are likely to vote nationally, we’re going to be screwing ourselves and our nation.
If the election were held today, it looks likely that Republicans would retake the House, but the outcome is much less certain in the Senate. There is some possibility that Democrats will retain both houses of Congress, but even in that event Democrats will be trying to govern with much smaller majorities. Regardless of who wins, Barack Obama will still be our president. This means the only possible outcome is more dysfunction between branches of government, exacerbating the sorts of tactics that Americans are already sick of.
Polls show that voters don’t like either Democrats or Republicans and pine for this idealistic notion that both parties will somehow put nation above party. As if. Instead, they have to vote from the slate of candidates they got. The dynamics suggest that in about ten percent of the House races (a remarkably high number) voters will vote their local bum out and vote in the bum from the other party.
Sweeping your current bum or bums out of office may give the illusion of changing the dynamics, but it will not. Partisanship will only increase, if that is possible. So if you think you are already frustrated with government now, just wait until you vote your passions and elect a newer even more highly partisan set of into office. I’m afraid Extra Strength Tylenol won’t cure this headache.
Only one part of the Republican agenda is clear: they will spend most of their time until the 2012 elections investigating the Obama Administration at length for alleged malfeasance. It will definitely take some digging because so far, the Obama Administration has been remarkably scandal free. At least Republicans will know what scandal looks like, because they are experts at it. Whether malfeasance actually exists or not is beside the point. One of the few powers Congress can wield in this environment will be the power of investigation so all that is needed is the possibility of malfeasance. So instead of just bottling up appointees and judicial nominations, Republicans will likely bollix up the rest of government as well, ensuring little actual governing is done. This will, of course, give them something to run on in 2014: can’t you see how little Democrats accomplished?
The other power Congress holds is, of course, the power of the purse. With an expected influx of Tea Party activists, expect that a sizeable minority of Republicans simply won’t vote for anything that resembles spending. If you want a preview, simply look to California where its dysfunctional system requires two thirds of both houses to pass a budget. While that is not true in Congress, in the Senate either party can effectively hold the other party hostage unless one side can cobble together sixty votes. The House though may start to envy the Senate. Pity orange-skinned speaker-in-waiting John Boehner. He will have the impossible task of trying to govern House Republicans, a sizable minority of whom won’t allow themselves to be swayed on any issue. After all, they will have gotten into Congress on a platform of no compromises anytime, anywhere.
Yet spending bills must be passed at some point, right? In California, the answer is “no” as long as Republicans stayed united. The ensuing mess led to massive cuts and layoffs, leaving California a largely dysfunctional state and, not coincidentally, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. I suspect that we will see a repeat of the budget showdown of 1995, which furloughed millions of federal workers and left most agencies, except the few that had an appropriation, mothballed. This time though, emboldened with fresh Tea Party members, it is likely that House Republicans simply won’t give in at all. The Senate is likely to be more reasonable, but it’s unlikely an acceptable spending bill will emerge from conference that either the House or the Senate will endorse.
Even if one emerges, can it sustain a presidential veto since in all likelihood such a budget will extend or expand tax cuts for the rich while decimating social spending? The answer is already clear (no), but if dealing with the budget were not enough, there are other recent laws, such as the health care reform law, that Republicans are chomping at the bit to repeal. They ultimately won’t go anywhere either during this presidency, but it will engender a lot of negative energy and hot air.
I expect that unstoppable force is going to meet immovable object. The result will not be pretty and will sour voters even more on government. Congress may look at its current dismal approval ratings as the good old days.
Is there good news in all this? Yes. The good news is that the issues animating voters to the polls this year, our less than stellar economy, is likely to finally recede in voters mind in 2011 and 2012 as our slow recovery is actually felt by the working class, albeit in fits and starts. The economy won’t be quite what it was, but we are likely to see the unemployment rate recede to more politically acceptable levels. Both sides will of course claim credit for it while castigating the other side that the economy isn’t doing better. Voters will get to sort it all out again in 2012.
The surest path to returning a Republican to the Oval Office in 2012 is of course to bet against our recovery, which is why disingenuous Republicans will be doing just that. They will secretly welcome high unemployment and exploding deficits, because it undermines the Obama Administration. In short, there is little upside for Republicans to improve the economy, deficits and the employment picture, particularly if it vindicates the unpopular but necessary long-term strategies Democrats and the Obama Administration have been fostering to achieve long-term growth.
I wish there was an island I could go somewhere until it all blows over in 2012. Meanwhile, I fear for our republic. Governing requires compromise and there will be none of it until 2013 at the earliest. My only question is who will ultimately be held responsible for the ensuing mess? The Republicans of course hope it will be Democrats and the Obama Administration, but if 1995 is any guide having the ability to govern but refusing to do so sours voters’ opinions of you, particularly when social security checks don’t arrive on time. In short, obstinacy is an effective short-term strategy, but a poor long-term strategy for staying in power. Say what you like about the Democrats, but at least they governed, despite near unanimous Republican opposition.
Consequently, any electoral gains Republicans make in this year’s election are likely to recede in 2012.

You might be a ........

Sep 12, 2010 - 3 comments

You might be a Republican if……

… you think the right to life ends at birth. …
you think that corporations have more compassion than humans. … you think trickle down economics actually trickles down. …
you understand that getting people to vote on abortion issues will keep you in office and let you pass tax cuts for the upper class.  
...You think $3,000 is a fair price for your vote (what Gov. Bush gave Texas teachers in a pay raise shortly before announcing his candidacy for president in 2000).
 ...You actually believe the election results in 2000 and 2004 were correct.
...You think the USA is the only 'free' country in the world.
...You think national health care should be run by the insurance companies.
…You think Liberal slant is bad, but think Right Wingerslant is just fine
 …You claim that speaking out against George W Bush is un-American and unpatriotic, yet speaking out against Obama even
though he is president is being a good, patriotic
You might be a right-wing Repugnant, oops, I mean Republican, if you're against abortion but don't give a damn about those babies once they're born.
You actually think that Fox News does not "spin."
You believe in "Liberty and Justice for All" (rich, white, Christian, straight men)
You are opposed to increasing the minimum wage and in favor of repealing taxes on inherited wealth.
You really believe that cutting taxes increases government revenues.
You've tried to argue that poverty could be abolished if people were just allowed to keep more of their minimum wage.
You've ever referred to someone as "my (insert racial or ethnic minority here) friend, Doctor, servant"
You see Monopoly as not just a board game but as good business for America
You believe money is free speech
You believe God is everywhere - except your motel room.
You support a waiting period for abortions but not for gun purchases.
You think of reality TV as Fox News.
You tend to think that the wealthy and large corporations carry too great a tax burden.
You feel that the way to grow the economy is to encourage business with tax incentives and that welfare is not an issue for the federal government.
You feel that the needs of the poor are best dealt with by private charities and faith-based organizations but  also feel that it is government's role to protect what they call "faith and values."
You want to outlaw abortion, sex education, birth control for teens AND reduce welfare, Medicaid and other programs for the needy.

So you want change?

Oct 13, 2009 - 10 comments

I'm not a socialist but I do believe our government should run certain things. Whether it be big DC Government, state or local, our government already runs a few things we have become accustomed to. We would probably be horrified if these gov. offices decided to turn some of these forces over to private businesses. Imagine your Fire Dept, Police Dept. being turned over to a For Profit Business (similar to the current insurance comp.)............Reply to 911 calls (also for-profit)....."I'm sorry, but your home isn't covered for this type of fire" ...."you have people breaking into your home?, let me check your policy...sorry, you're not covered for more than 2 home invaders. If you could remove 2 of them, we'd be happy to respond. Call back later".click.
If Social Security or Medicare were turned over to For-Profit buss, where do you think they would make there profit???? Yup, cutting services etc.
How about the military being a for-profit buss? Now that's scary.
The health of this country should be in the hands of a Not For Profit entity.
We need the Government to run things's just a fact. And the country needs heath care reform and a public option.