Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reflections from 2011

In my opinion, 2011 will go down in history as having showcased the most poorly led House of Representatives in the last 100 years. Speaker Boehner has shown either that he cannot lead or that his word cannot be trusted, or perhaps both. He has called for definitive votes and lost them. His rebellious members almost brought down our financial markets over raising the debt ceilings. He gave his word to the President and was torpedoed by his Majority Leader Eric Cantor who actively worked against him in prohibiting passage of agreed upon options.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What’s Next, Super Committee?

So now the super committee has not resolved the latest conundrum of government. How can a divided Congress learn to work together? So, what's next?

Smoke screens are rising from Capitol Hill, but it appears from here that the committee was joined by some with intent to make it fail.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

As Goes Mississippi, Maine, Arizona, Kentucky and Ohio?

Okay, so it wasn't a blowout midterm, it doesn't approach the Tea Party rout of 2010, but I think the Democrats can call Election Day 2011 as one for the Win Column! For the most part, few of those supporting the issues on the right did not carry the night. What seems amazing to me is that none of these states are seen as Democratic bastions, but have been either Republican or swing states. President Obama won only Maine and Ohio of this group.

So what was the Tally?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Are You Better Off Now?

Speaker Boehner recently previewed some of the Republican Party's strategies for the 2012 election when he posed the question above -- used prominently by Ronald Reagan in 1980 when he ran against President Jimmy Carter. Use of this mantra has been echoed by many during the current Republican opposition debates as well.

A poll taken by The Washington Post recently revealed that the economy and jobs was the primary focus for 56% of the electorate. Most other issues paled next to that. The President has been trying to get some jobs bills through Congress. The Senate has recently voted down three bills which would have provided employment for both public and private sector employees. Boehner claims that options he labeled "jobs bills" but which was Republican-directed House legislation actually focused toward regulatory and tax issues more than job creation, are languishing without consideration by the Senate. I am beginning to wonder just how much longer this charade and macabre dance can continue. The American public obviously wants real action, not shadows of legislation. The unemployed need real jobs, not straw figures masking real legislation. The unemployment figures did show a slight dip with growth in the private sector jobs market and now stands at 9%, which is still way too high.

On Sunday November 6, ABC's show This Week with Christiane Amanpour offered a roundtable discussion. The conservative columnist George Will applauded the loss of public sector jobs. His push for smaller government across the country is so short-sighted. Any loss of jobs hurts our economy. What he and other conservatives do not seem to appreciate is that the public sector is dropping employment because of what is happening on the national scene with an unstable economy. When people lose jobs they also lose their ability to pay their bills and their mortgages. The tax bases of cities then also decline as houses go into foreclosure and real estate values plummet. The city then has to decrease the numbers of employed persons it hires and further lowers real income in its area. The refusal of the Republicans to approve any real job creation legislation because it might help the President is mean and might well backfire, especially if the Democrats can hang this ball around their neck.

But if one looks outside the economy, some significant changes did occur since Barack Obama was elected. However, it has been increasingly difficult to mark any major legislation since the Republican House Tea Party majority was chosen. They spent recent weeks trying to limits rights for American women, even as we are fighting for them in other countries, and reaffirming our national motto. Why should they continue to be paid?

Some of these major changes already in place include:
  • The continued but gradual implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Health Care Reform – ACA).
  • Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been repealed.
  • Troops are on their way home from Iraq for the holidays -- the war is ended!
  • Student Loan programs have been modified.
  • Lilly Ledbetter Law has passed with legislation for pay equity for women.
  • Two more women have been appointed to the Supreme Court.
  • Wall Street excesses have been modified; Dodd-Frank has been implemented.
  • A consumer protection agency (without Elizabeth Warren, sadly) has been put in place and is making a difference.
  • Credit card fees have been restrained (did you note that BOA backed off their debit card charges after consumer protests?)
  • Modest relief has been offered for those with homes under water -- now if the banks will only agree to refinance these loans...!
  • The American auto industry has been rescued, revitalized and restored, allowing millions of hourly wage workers to have employment.

So, in conclusion -- I would say emphatically -- the Democrats have been and are continuing to make a difference despite the efforts of the Republicans. Some do fail to remember their history lessons regarding the turmoil when FDR came into office and just how long it took to turn the economy around -- with a compliant Congress! Effecting economic change has been likened to turning a battleship around in a small channel -- something best done carefully and in incremental steps, that keep it from running aground.

Are we better off now than we were in 2009 when President Barack Obama was elected? Absolutely! Look at the Stock Market report for the date of his inauguration: Dow was at 7948 ... do you remember those days?

This past week, even with the pressures of continued concerns in Europe -- an issue America cannot control -- the very same DOW closed at 11,983 -- an increase of some 400+ points from that date three years ago when Obama took office. Certainly this is an objective measure even those opposed to the Democrats can appreciate -- in their wallets. So the fact remains -- some are better off -- and some are not. Those who have are trying their best to maintain and widen these divides. It is up to the rest of us to say NO. What is your opinion? Comment here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hobgoblins and Such

It's Halloween time and my random thoughts turn toward witches riding broomsticks and hobgoblins in the night causing mayhem and mischief through out the land. Hey, to my way of thinking we don't need All Hallows Eve to begin to be wary of happenings in our midst.

All we need to do is to look at the appalling accomplishments of the House of Representatives this year and listen to the Republican candidates debates to know that there is a parallel universe operating within our shores. Should you need more convincing, just watch the Republicans in the Senate defeat the jobs bills which could get our economy back on track. Surely, they cannot be living in the same reality I occupy.

Recently the House voted to order the Mint to create a commemorative coin to honor the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It was an overwhelmingly endorsed piece of legislation with only three votes in dissent. (Far be it for me to point out that with the large numbers of unemployed in this country -- few actual working people will be able to afford commemorative coins, but we as Americans would not want to diminish the enjoyment of our national past time!)

I attended a "one year out rally" for the Obama campaign in Silver Spring at Blair HS this week and was happy to see a huge and enthusiastic turnout. They had a national headliner in DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz with locals Senator Ben Cardin as well as Reps. Elijah Cummings and Donna Edwards from Maryland. Chris Van Hollen was supposed to be there but he was tied up with the Super Committee. Speakers also included Maryland Governor O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. The theme of the evening was getting the supporters prepared for the difficult race ahead as 2012 is expected to be a tough campaign against whoever is chosen on the other side, especially with the Citizens United decision.

Speaking of those on the Republican side -- those candidates who are living in that alternate reality -- have you heard them recently?
  • Romney has swiveled on so many sides of some issues, even he doesn't remember what was said before. You know Romney -- the man with hundreds of millions in investments, off-shore businesses, and multiple residences who claims he is in the middle class! I'm in the middle class. Would he trade places with me?
  • Perry unveiled his flat tax proposal, but it must have bored even him, as he veered off onto the birther issue. His embrace of the death penalty and the oil industry should send chills up the spines of voters.
  • Bachman lost her New Hampshire campaign staff and continues to make misstatements such as when she recently claimed many thousands of Yemeni and Syrian "terrorists" are crossing our porous borders. She is staking all on winning Iowa, but is polling poorly even there, despite her appeals to the religious right.
  • Cain, however, states he will take care of the illegal immigrant issue with his advocacy for an electrified fence along our southern border. His 9-9-9 tax proposal flounders under real scrutiny. His strange campaign ad has sparked You Tube fans but few actual voters. He still seems high in the polls despite having little staff or money nor knowledge of foreign policy. Definitely in a strange universe!
  • Gingrich -- still in single digits in the polls -- but supposedly creeping up, as Republicans are trying to find someone other than Romney. His spending habits, aberrant ideas, arrogance and multiple marriages cannot be overlooked by conservatives if the religious right accepts any of its own rhetoric.
  • Santorum reminds one of the child at the back of the class who always thinks he knows the answer, (teacher, teacher!) but once called upon cannot remember what he wanted to say. He is stuck on the fact that he was once a Senator and so should be heard. He is riding the anti-abortion route as the issue which will drive his campaign.
  • Paul, who recently said that the local communities and churches will take care of sick people (he refused to take any government payments when he practiced obstetrics), has said people should be allowed to die if they cannot afford care. He denies his Hippocratic oath by such words. According to the Daily Kos, his former campaign manager died heavily in debt and without health care.
  • Huntsman seemed to be making the most sense for a while, except when he said he might choose Cain as his Veep. He has given knowledgeable answers on foreign policy, but is getting no traction and has little money.
This is the cast of characters -- none has the least chance of being ready to run this country. Think of some of the Democratic candidates in 08 or 04: Obama, Clinton, Biden, Dodd, Edwards, Richardson & Kerry, Dean, Clark, Lieberman, Gephardt -- most were accomplished, well spoken and knowledgeable. Okay, due to later events, take Edwards out of this equation. Any could have been seen as a president able to walk onto the national scene and be ready for work on day one. One cannot say this about any of those in the list above.

So it seems as if the scary characters and their unreal worlds will not disappear after Halloween. We will have some of them still around, at least until Iowa and New Hampshire voters have spoken. What is your guess?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Home for the Holidays?

President Obama announced this week that all remaining American troops in Iraq would be brought home before the end of the year.

The announcement which had been expected to say that a modest contingent of some 5,000 - 10,000 troops would remain, came about due to an inability of the Iraqi government to permit immunity for any actions of the military forces left as a token presence.

This, coupled with Iraqi leaders' indecision and approach-avoidance discussion of the real issues of a nascent state, led to the matter of fact announcement from the President.

Yet, even though more than 100,000 military forces have already departed and less than 50,000 remain, there was little dancing in the streets by Americans. Possibly this is due to the fact that although one million have served in Iraq over the ten years of this long war, it has passed from the short attention span of most Americans. If it is not in the nightly news -- it must not be happening. With an all-volunteer force, our country is not as vested in this war as the country was in Vietnam or World War II. However there is rejoicing among families who are no longer facing a fifth tour of duty and who may soon stop worrying about suicide bombers and IEDs.

Recently I finished reading an excellent biography of the late Molly Ivins (Molly Ivins -- a Rebel Life by Bill Minutaglio & W. Michael Smith, Public Affairs Books, 2009). Molly died too soon, in early 2007 at the age of 62 from complications of a multi-year battle with breast cancer. I remember that then she was against the war and had supported Howard Dean early on. She thought little of George Bush and his excuses for starting and prolonging the war. Her final column went viral in the liberal blogosphere and included these words:
"We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.... We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it now!' "
Ref.: (pg. 306) ... and on YouTube.

So now we can bang those pots and pans and watch our military members return home. Soon, I hope we may also see the forces fully return from Afghanistan. Obama said we can now turn our attention to re-building the neglected neighborhoods in our country. He has heard the voices from the streets, listened to the drummers in Wall Street, and seen the signs of growing support across the country from the 99% who are not fat cats.

He is listening to the real deciders, while the Republicans continue to listen to the Tea Party and continue to deny any job creation. While the Senate turned down jobs for teachers and first responders, the House was busy trying to deny emergent care to pregnant women who were miscarrying. Why are these people our representatives, if they cannot work for the people who elected them? The Senate Republicans threatened to filibuster. The vote was tied on whether debate could continue, so it failed. Personally, I say, make the Republicans stay there and filibuster, not just threaten to do so. Keep the Senate in session overnight if need be. Maybe they would finally tire and pass the jobs bill! Typically, the cast of characters running for President on the far right indicated the troop move would cause destabilization and harm the U.S. Romney and, of course, the neo-cons who started the whole war, spoke out against it. Meanwhile, Perry is beginning to discuss a flat tax, courtesy of Steve Forbes. What is next -- revitalization of the flat earth society?

What is your opinion of this anti-climactic end to the Iraq War? Share it here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Americans Need To Get Their Dreams Back

Those words were spoken by Rahm Emmanuel on NBC’s Meet the Press today.

He was being asked what President Obama should do to get re-elected and how the financial markets should show responsibility and take a role in this needed recovery. During this interview he also commented on the Occupy Wall Street protestors and indicated that their voices needed to be heard and they are speaking from the real America -- those people in Chicago and Peoria who need to get their lives back. The financial markets, he said, caused this crisis and subsequent meltdown with reckless financial decisions and the American taxpayers stepped up and bailed them out. Now Wall Street and the big banks need to bail out Main Street. Emmanuel, it must be remembered, was an investor and a hedge fund manager who made millions, but he has apparently not lost his understanding of where the average person sits and how President Obama believes in assisting the middle class in creating jobs and the difficulty in achieving this goal without the help of business and Congress.

Instead as we have all seen, the big banks refuse to use the money allocated by Congress to help out those who are under water or nearing foreclosure, citing too much red tape and too little time to correct the mortgage mess. By making mortgages almost impossible to get now for the middle class, they are deepening the homeowner crisis. Many homes cannot be sold, people can no longer move to look for employment and neighborhoods become unkempt with deserted or foreclosed homes. A suggestion was made to allow people to stay in their homes and pay rent. Not to address old debts, but keep current with a modest payment and await better days in the market -- refinance and credit these rents. Does this meet all financial rules? No. However it does allow for some stability and time for the market to improve and home values to increase somewhat. It does allow for some dignity and hope for homeowners and neighborhoods. It allows for some cities to return to a more stable tax base with increased revenues. It does allow for some Americans to again dream again of the little house with the picket fence.

There is increasing likelihood that the banks will try to wait out the Presidential election next year. There appears to be a concerted effort on Wall Street, along with the Republicans in Congress, and the biggest Corporations to stall, keep the economy in the doldrums, and try to defeat Obama. They are not bashful about saying so. Reporter Lynn Neary aired an interview on NPR last week in which she spoke with a venture capitalist named Bill Frezza who is based in Boston and who is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which "advocates for limited government and free markets." He has indicated that jobs are a necessary evil in the quest to make money. He is quoted as saying that: (paraphrased here) "nobody ... wants to increase their payroll because it is good for the American economy ... they want to have the highest quality at the lowest cost and jobs, rent and raw materials are input. Products and services are output." Read a transcript here.

This interview is chilling in his stark disinterest in improving the nation's economy. Businesses are sitting on billions in cash and not spending it. When asked about President Obama's statement that workers cannot wait 14 months until the next election to find a job, he indicated that business can and would wait. He wanted to move toward less regulation and saw no need to hire. As he indicated, businesses are run for the benefit of their shareholders and owners, not the country. Job creation is a consequence, not a goal. He felt that businesses do not have a responsibility to produce jobs. He indicated that Republicans are worried about the job creators (translate -- business owners) not job creation (that means workers). He indicates that the Democrats are using small businesses as whipping boys and raising their taxes needlessly. Want to read more in his own words? This is his blog.

So stop and think. Is this man on the same planet as we are? Do we really live in a nation where one group or class of people can care so little about the rest of us? Have we really so many people who have no moral sense of duty or responsibility? Do we owe it to ourselves to make it as difficult for these people to prosper as we can? Think of what Elizabeth Warren said recently -- do we as taxpayers pay for the roads that businesses move their goods on, pay for the police to keep their offices safe and schools to educate their workers? Do we not have a moral contract where each helps the other succeed?

That is the way it has been and should be -- we are no longer a nation of robber barons. Let's find good employers to stand behind and good companies to support, so that people who think as this man does will no longer be successful. Can you offer any nominations for good companies out there to share?

Do share your thoughts on this. Send suggestions for future blog topics. If you have a good idea, it might get shared here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Who Should Occupy Wall Street?

Have you been following the recent protests in New York City in the Wall Street area? Have you seen notices of similar demonstrations in other cities such as Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago? Some, such as Mayor Bloomberg in New York, have called the mostly young groups misguided, while others such as Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont have called for them to expand their protests further to DC. The protesters who call themselves variously, "anarchists, Socialists and the other 99%" have stirred up nascent societal discontent, however. They have been rather vague on demands, but seem to be trying to raise awareness of vast cultural disparities in our nation.

In recent days they have been joined by groups of airline pilots, and members of unions, such as SEIU, the Federation of Teachers, and the Transport workers have promised support. Troupes of gray hair elderly members have joined with the marchers in lower Manhattan. Celebrities such as Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon have stopped by to show support. MSNBC and Jon Stewart have run footage of alleged police brutality with mace and pepper sprays used on peaceful protestors or helpless restrained young women. Saturday, as they occupied the Brooklyn Bridge, more arrests were made at the bridge which was closed, while the protestors were forcibly removed.

Are these mostly young and heavily unemployed twenty-somethings speaking to and for the rest of us? What do you think? Many who came of age in the turbulent 60s as I did, see parallels to the anti-war and civil rights protests of that era. Then, young people -- mostly college students -- spoke out against the war, rallied against the draft, demonstrated for equal rights and against government regulations which were seen as too restrictive. Then, many could neither vote nor legally drink until age 21, but they could be drafted and go to war and die in Vietnam. Thousands joined in marches in the South to integrate lunch counters, schools, parks and public places, while others endured deprivation after trying to register to vote. Some were killed or beaten in these efforts. Are the times today as turbulent and as disruptive as those were some fifty years ago? No they are not -- at least not right now. But some signs are seen as disturbing. Then we were seen as living in separate worlds of black and white, rich and poor. The seventies and the eighties saw many of those divisions start to blur as the middle class expanded and racial boundaries decreased. Prosperity reached many and poverty and hunger became less of a problem. The Great Society brought us Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start and food stamps -- all of which raised vast numbers into healthier more productive lives.

Today we have many who saw this 70s era as one of profligate spending with money we did not have on bounty we neither needed nor deserved. They saw society as rewarding those who worked hard but not those who may have tried but not succeeded. They treated the corporation as a person of merit worthy of high honor and low taxes. They viewed few services as moral imperatives and did not believe that health care is a right to be provided to all, despite the fact that we are the only major industrialized "civilized nation" not to offer health care for all in some way. The corporations, many of which once hired employees for a life time with a gold watch and a pension after 40 years, now treat employees as disposable, and still off shores their jobs, despite entreaties from states. Still other states brag of stealing plants from other locales, with promises of tax breaks and no-union shops. Is the dollar so powerful that fair wages, decent working conditions and loyalty between employers and employees no longer are meaningful? Was this the climate that inspired anarchy eons ago?

Yet some are doing very well as Wall Street continues to pay out millions in bonuses, the big banks continue to become bigger as they merge and gobble up smaller ones. Although hedge fund managers see continued boosts in income, most of the country cannot share in their bounty. 25 top hedge fund managers made over a billion dollars as the saw their economy bounce back. Wall Street is a target due to the unrealistic world people there appear to live in. The New York Times asked recently -- are there no consequences for failure? Do we not see those who caused the crises of 2008, still in charge? Did any agency head get fired, whether at (Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) or Moody’s or S & P for allowing false valuations to persist in portfolios? Did we not see the large financial groups bailed out by our government attempt to pay out bonuses with our tax dollars, until they were made to stop by the Administration? Who pays a price for failure at the corporate level? We have seen the head of UBS whose bank was swindled out of billions of dollars resign and receive promised millions in bonuses. The head of Hewlett Packard was forced out for incompetence after almost running the company into the ground in less than a year, yet he receives compensation worth more than $15 million dollars.

Yet who bails out the homeowners, now under water on their loans, whose lender will not refinance? Where are these funds when a homeowner cannot get a lowered interest rate or reduced house payment on a home loan worth only a few hundred thousand dollars. But with large numbers of young and mature people unemployed and college graduates often under-employed, are we heading in the direction seen in the sixties? People of color have unemployment rates at least twice that of the national average. With foreclosure rates continuing to increase and banks appearing to refuse to renegotiate, even with available federal funds, more people are losing their homes and becoming more desperate. Savings accounts are paying little interest and individual retirement accounts (those replacements for the pensions of yesteryear) remain shadows of their once healthy balances. The stable middle class, as a group, is shrinking while incomes flatten, home values plummet and living costs continue to rise (see table for Household income for States.) Only a handful of states, mostly along the Eastern seaboard, noted household incomes in excess of $60,000. Sixteen states, mostly in the South and Midwest indicated median incomes of around $45,000, while the US median sat at just about $50,000. Students graduating from college face huge multi-year loans they cannot repay because their job -- if they have one -- pays too little. States, which once welcomed immigrant workers and seldom questioned their arrival papers, now are passing questionably legal limitations on free movement and education for those of foreign origin, no matter what their work status might be. The job pie has gotten smaller. Who gets the rights to enter this smaller market?

The Wall Street protesters refer to themselves as the other 99%, meaning the vast majority who are not the super rich. The 1% who own most of the wealth in this country and who are continuing to get richer pay proportionately little in taxes. The top 1% take home 24 percent of the income in the US. The average CEO earns more than 500 times the income of his (and they are mostly male – sad to say) employees. At a time when we need to add jobs in this country, is it really too much to add taxes to these disproportionate earnings?

When we have unemployment, underemployment and rising numbers of homeless families, shouldn't there be a moral imperative to help the needy? If our country continues to move into increasingly divisive haves and have-nots, as more and more families continue to live on the edge of survival incomes, and Congress continues to fiddle while the country figuratively burns, we may well see the "99%ers" rise up in towns and cities through out the land. Choices need to be made. We can either solve this crisis, creating jobs and providing services, or look sadly back in shame at missed opportunities.

What do you suggest we as a country should do now? We have it pretty good in the Metro area. What about the rest of the country where lives are more difficult, how should we help those areas? Do you think the protesters will raise awareness or just be dismissed as meaningless? Do you support them?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Is it Class Warfare or Welfare?

There has been rhetoric from those on the left lately about taxing the rich which has been countered by the right complaining about 50% of Americans not paying any taxes. Sorta reminds me of the college class called "how to lie with statistics" . . . or how to make your numbers tell your story. There seems to be a lot of that happening these days.

President Obama spoke to a crowd about his jobs program and the taxes he would like to use to pay for it and even said this is not class warfare -- it is math -- simple as that? Well, no, not quite. Our tax code was not written with the middle class in mind. The one deduction most families have is for their children. Homeowners can add the taxes and interest they pay on their homes and that is about it for most in Middle America. In 2005 more than 70% of all individuals filing used the short form, which meant they took the standard deductions. Businesses, corporate filers and wealthier taxpayers filed the more complex itemized forms. But did they pay their fair share? According to Forbes, regarding the top 25 companies in the US, apparently not. Much of the money from US Corporations is parked off shore in safer harbors and away from US tax liabilities. Huge earnings are offset by allowable losses and expenses in many cases. Profits made elsewhere are protected from US taxes.

Earnings from the big oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil exceeded $10 billion in the second quarter of this year driven by the increase in oil prices which were supposedly driven by the governmental instability in the Middle East and the banking issues in European markets. These price hikes directly affected the fragile economy in the US as companies, spending money for necessary fuel, continued to hold their cash tightly and not hire additional workers. It is said that the huge banking interests in New York are charging companies for cash deposits in excess of $50 Million, because they have chosen to keep the funds parked in money accounts, but not spend proceeds. Is there a moral responsibility from a corporation to give back to the city, state or country that made a business profitable? Should shareholders alone be the beneficiaries of corporate profits? Should profits be earned at all costs?

So when the average unemployment rate is around 9% and the economy is stagnant because consumers aren't buying and business aren't producing, why is there so much in the way of profits and excess cash in the system? Could it be that this is a psychological recession, are corporate interests still blowing on the economic soup to cool it down? States have less money because incomes and sales taxes are down. Businesses are selling less and paying part-time employees instead of full-time workers to save on benefits. More people are uninsured because the job no longer offers health care as an option. The Tea Party rails against those "feeding off the taxpayer" forgetting that the public workers have formed the backbone of our communities by fixing our streets, protecting our neighborhoods and teaching our children. They claim that "unreasonable pension payments" are bankrupting communities, forgetting that these employees often do not pay into social security if they have municipal benefits, so these modest savings will protect them in their later years. By not saving, funding or paying these earned and promised pensions, states and communities are breaking the promises made to these workers many years ago. Yet, some of these same right wingers would rail against unemployment benefits or food stamps to these same public workers.

Where is the collective outrage against the corporate welfare allowed for those 25 corporations and others which paid no US taxes, and who received a free ride? GE's tax return supposedly encompassed over 20,000 pages recently. Most US taxpayers could not afford to even buy that much paper, let alone afford the accountants and attorneys who came up with the numbers to fill those pages. Who elected Grover Norquist to dictate that corporations should not pay for the privilege of doing business? Where is the fairness in the system, when the IRS seldom questions the legality for offshoring of business assets? Why could there not be an excess profits tax, so Exxon-Mobil would have to share some of the extra billions it makes? Why did Bush era Republicans allow tax benefits to companies for moving jobs to other countries? Why could we not hold down the gas profits which were not based on market costs? If the American worker can be assailed by measures outside his control, why can we not look at higher taxes for corporate earnings achieved outside the country? Why is actual welfare for needy families castigated by the right when corporate welfare is called good business?

Do you think the average American worker is treated fairly by the "system"? What would you do to improve our tax code? Should the rich pay a higher rate? Should hedge fund managers -- whose average earnings were over $1 Billion dollars -- be allowed to have their earnings taxed at the capital gains rate of 15%?
May I say that again -- individual earnings of over one billion dollars? When the average American earns less than $50,000? Somebody help me understand the reason for their tax breaks. Let me know what your thoughts are on taxes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

When I was coming of age, one was often asked, "where were you when President Kennedy was shot?" For us that bleak November day was a defining moment for our generation. It was the time when innocence was lost, when the world changed into a less trustworthy place. Conspiracy rumors sputtered for years afterwards, the times were unsettled. For previous generations it was the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Stock Market Crash of 1929. For many today their most horrific time was when the events of September 11, 2001 occurred. It remains a day of chaos, incredulity, and tragedy. Few Americans were left untouched either directly or indirectly. As mentioned by President Obama during remarks at the Sunday Kennedy Center memorial concert, who can ever forget the first responders filing into the burning Twin Towers as others were escaping, then suddenly faced with death? Who can deny their selfless response to a sworn duty? I sense that most readers here could mention feeling disbelief when both towers fell. Who did not cry when the towers entombed so many ordinary people? Who has not felt the pain of survivors mourning and looking for loved ones? I know I was moved by the posters and photos on fences and lampposts. I could not help but feel a comradeship with the grief of the families who spent days not knowing but being afraid to find out what happened to their special person. Who has not marveled at the bravery of those passengers who took down a plane in Pennsylvania, rather than see others gravely harmed? Who has not seen themselves in the government and military workers at their desks in the Pentagon, who were in just the wrong place when the planes hit? These victims were all just regular folks, such as you or me, living their lives, most trying to do their best, but cut down too soon in a most improbable manner. I postulate that is why this is so close to us, that these events were not happening in extraordinary times or places.

Yet as we look back, now only ten years later, it seems to have been an event that was both near and far. Near enough to still bring tears, yet far enough away to allow some reflection. Near enough to show rough scars, distant enough to demonstrate some healing. Sunday, on the tenth anniversary, memorials were unveiled and speeches of healing were made. Many performers shared musical tributes; two I heard were Paul Simon singing Sounds of Silence and a flutist who played Amazing Grace. Both were tunes of stark simplicity. In many ways television is at its best with commemorative events. We have the kaleidoscopic view as well as the historic view paired with tapes from that day. Looking back we can see with different and hopefully wiser eyes as our perspective is tinted with time. There was sorrow, horror, anger and rancor then. Some of that remains yet with us. As the anniversary becomes more distant, what will remain in our collective memories. What will we tell succeeding generations? I hope we will focus more on bravery and survival, rather than terror and fear. What will we teach the children? Towns across the country have received portions of the building remnants to incorporate into local memorials. The Newseum in DC has a powerful photo exhibit and video from producers and reporters on that fateful day.

Many spoke of how the events in 2001 united us as a nation. Congressional Democrats and Republicans together stood on the steps of the Capitol, their voices raised in unison, as they sang patriotic tunes. The country united behind the President who declared war on terror. We stood together and spoke of our desire to move forward and not give in to fear. The almost three thousand men, women and children who died as a result of the plane crashes are not to be forgotten. Across this country memorials continue to bring people together in solemn and simple ceremonies in towns and cities large and small. Many have said they treasured the unity of the post September 11 period. Americans in foreign venues reported being stopped on the street by nationals who wanted to express their condolences. A friend, who was stranded in China when the airports were closed, described the kindness of strangers given to her just because she was an American. The world then shared our pain and joined in our sorrow.

Yet it should be mentioned that much has changed since terror came to our shores. We have fewer freedoms, our complacency is lost each time we remove our shoes at an airport or have our bags searched on the Metro. The world which shared our sorrow and supported us in Afghanistan -- when we searched for Bin Laden -- turned away when our country went into a misguided war in Iraq. Yet as a nation we have stood behind our armed forces as they went bravely off to war and returned, some 5,000 dead from Iraq, more thousands in Afghanistan (all in all, so many are so young). Many more return maimed or brain damaged. What has been the price of these wars in both money and in our self image? Hopefully we soon can say we will be out of both countries and wage no more war there. Now also the mastermind Bin Laden is dead and his organization is in shambles, yet we cannot cease vigilance. However, what is the long-term cost to our democracy, for our safety? Freedom isn't free, say some, but how do we measure its cost?

Sunday, I attended an interfaith memorial service at a local Muslim Community Center as hundreds in my town joined in a spirit of community and brotherhood. People of many nationalities and religions, (Jews, Christians, Muslims and others), offered words for hope and read from religious works with common themes, from prophets writing long ago. Many spoke of peace and understanding and common dreams for a better world. Elected officials mentioned the need for a community to come together, while the religious leaders spoke of the need for all peoples to have peace. Obviously we need more than words. We need hearts and minds to change. We need a government not ever eager to go to war. We need messages of intolerance and actions of hatred to cease. I remember the words of a song, "let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me" -- will this ever happen in our lifetime?

Let me hear from you -- how can we start to achieve peace? What did you learn from this day of remembrance?

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Republican Candidates Debate

Did you watch the debate which was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California? Did you, like me, also think that the former President must have been spinning in his grave as his policies were so misconstrued by all on that stage? I must admit that I have never worshipped at the feet (or feats) of the "great communicator," but I do believe that this group was tripping over themselves in stated allegiances to his principles while concurrently marching so far to the right of wherever he had been.

Everyone looks at debates and tries to determine winners and losers; I did the same. Let's see if you agree with my assessment.

Governor Romney appears to have helped his campaign the most in contrast to Governor Perry, although Ambassador Huntsman also tried to stand out. Even though Huntsman moved right, some of his statements were the most coherent, especially regarding a refusal to take pledges and in support of science. Michelle Bachman made no blooper statements, but her remarks neither stood out, nor made a difference. Actually she was lightly regarded by the moderators who wanted a knock-down between the two Governors and were not equitable in their questioning of the candidates. I think this reflected poorly on them, rather than the candidates. There were no questions regarding foreign affairs, nor were solutions sought regarding the world financial markets.

Former Senator Rick Santorum appeared out of his league, Newt Gingrich seemed surly, and Herbert Cain seems to live in an alternate universe. Representative Ron Paul had major differences with Governor Perry which he tried to emphasize, but they were on state, not Federal issues, mostly. And, finally, Perry was apparently his usual self, insisting that Social Security was a Ponzi scheme and would never pay benefits to our children. He was defensive about his jobs program, and could not speak adequately to the lack of medical care for more than 26% of Texans. He appears to prefer posturing to providing real solutions or answering direct questions directly. Once he ran out of prepared responses to predictable questions, he foundered and seemed less sure of his answers. In a surprising response to a question about the death penalty (used more often in Texas than any other state), Perry reinforced his positions, did not step back and received prolonged applause from the partisan Republican audience.

Governor Romney did engage in some give-and-take and appeared to relish the chance to provide a clear difference between himself and Perry. However he still provided no new ideas, nor did he move toward the center or try to reach the independent voters who sit mainly in the middle. Although he vowed that he was not a Tea Party member, he drew no distinctions between the Tea Party positions and his policies. Given the cast of characters on the stage with him, he did not seem to feel that he needed to stray from the radical policies they espouse. He did say that he would try to improve Medicare and Social Security. Although he has supported privatization in the past, he gave few details and tried to expand the distance between himself and Perry on this subject. He alone seemed to be running more against President Obama than his fellow Republicans, despite his drop in the polls to second place once Perry entered the race.

The biggest loser was Michelle Bachman, who despite her win in the Ames straw poll, has been in free-fall ever since Perry stormed out of Texas. Commentators in the MSNBC post debate show relegated her to the second tier and Hunstman and Santorum to the third tier.

One effect of this may be the ability to raise funds. Ed Rollins quit as her manager, citing age and health concerns, but one should wonder. Huntsman, Gingrich, and Romney have independent sources of income, so they do not need to go outside for funds. Perry has lots of moneyed friends, so he can stay the course.

According to the New York Times, candidates were sometimes loose with the facts: Some talked around the jobs issue and called for changes in regulations not in effect and opposed climate change protections which were said to be causing job loss -- a claim which has not been proven. All spoke out against the President's health plan with Bachman shouting out against "Obamacare" as job killing and made extraordinary claims about Social Security and Medicare. Other claims that stated global climate change is not happening and not man-made are -- to my way of thinking -- a denial of reality. There was little attempt to reach out, and in the Reagan Library they went where even Reagan would never have gone. How sad the process on the right has become.

So, who do you think was a winner or loser? Do you think the country is really moving this far right? Share your opinions here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

East Coast Sorta Survives One-Two Punches of Earthquake & Hurricane

This has been a week for paying attention to Mother Nature. First, many of us in the Washington DC/MD/VA area were rudely jolted by a 5.8 earthquake on Tuesday, and then as we regrouped from that, we were told we were under a tropical storm warning. Double whammy!

This area hasn't had a major earthquake of this magnitude -- ever! (Last year we had a mini-earthquake in the 4.2 range and some people, such as me, slept through it, although my dog didn't!) This one caused some damage and rattled nerves, as well as masonry. Iconic buildings such as the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Castle and the National Cathedral all suffered noticeable damage. Engineers are trying to determine the extent of damages, whether they are cosmetic and/or structural. Some of the older historic buildings near the epicenter and in historic Alexandria also suffered damages and cracks in walls. Thankfully, the nuclear power plant which existed a stone’s throw from this quake's center in Mineral, Virginia, was able to follow protocol and shut down automatically. Some one please tell me again -- why it is that we build nuclear plants near fault lines and population centers? It turns out that there are close to a dozen operating nuclear plants in the East Coast corridor shaken by this quake, and more than 50 million residents in the heavily populated centers along the path.

I understand that the West Coast "experienced" earthquake veterans have laughed at our modest experience, and I cheerfully acknowledge our naïveté in this area, but I am glad that only property and not people suffered injury here.

Now -- the hurricane -- many in this mid-Atlantic area are still without power and are trying to repair property damaged by falling trees or raging waters. Some have suffered from Hurricane Irene-driven tornadoes or storm surges and high winds. New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have joined Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina, who took the early damages from this massive storm. For a change, the population was prepared. FEMA and local state governments worked together in evacuations and strategic planning to meet the needs of a mostly unknown weather event. Still no one could adequately anticipate the floods which are devastating Vermont, far from the coast. Rarely has one hurricane/tropical storm brought so much damage to so many people in so many states. The Denver Post has collated a photo album which demonstrates the breadth of damages seen across these many states. Tonight millions are still waiting for rivers to crest, flood waters to recede or are trying to restore their lives to normalcy. Some 40 lives have been lost and this toll continues to rise. I am certain we all share in condolences to all who have lost so much here.

But I would absolutely be remiss if I did not bring in the reality of politics on this date, the anniversary of Katrina. What lessons have been learned over these last six years? Certainly we have seen a President Obama engaged in disaster outreach. We have seen the administration from FEMA, to the National Guard, to the Department of Homeland Security coordinate with local and state officials in meeting the needs of the millions in the path of a furious storm. No residents were marooned on rooftops waving white flags, nor herded into sweltering sports stadiums without food, water or sanitation. No distant smirking leaders patted themselves on the back. No, instead we heard Secretary Janet Napolitano say, "our job is not yet done," and FEMA chief Fugate indicate that one prepares for disasters by advance storage of food and equipment and strategic positioning of emergency supplies. I see a Federal Government at work in service for Americans with disaster declarations helping states to better serves their residents. I see the power of many coordinated efforts and cooperation between state and federal entities to make relief effective. I see the massiveness of a federal need being met in a critical and timely manner. I see our tax dollars hard at work for the greater good.

To those such as Eric Cantor (whose home state suffered from both the hurricane and the earthquake) who demand that moneys spent in this necessary relief, be offset from some other approved spending streams before it is expended, I say hang your head! I heard candidate Michelle Bachman laugh at the "double whammy" of earthquake and hurricane and state that God was trying to send Washington a message. (She later -- after being roundly condemned for these words which were spoken more than once -- claimed to be only joking!) Former Senator (and unsuccessful Democratic Presidential candidate) George McGovern speaking on the Diane Rehm Show decried this attitude by stating that his God wouldn't send people to their death in order to make a point. He felt that Bachman should not pretend to speak for her interpretation of God. He also spoke out against the combative nature of politics today and the mission of the minority in the Senate to paralyze any effective legislative measures. He mentioned how effectively he and Senator Bob Dole worked together to find food for the poor. Working for the common good was seen as a role for government. Shouldn’t that be true even today?

Governor Perry has been heard to say he wants government to be as inconsequential as possible to the average American. Does this mean I have to arrange my own national guard and FEMA relief or -- as a consequence -- be treated the way New Orleans was treated? Shame on those who espouse this attitude! Tsk, Tsk, to Ron Paul who stated that Galveston restored itself long before FEMA existed. He indicated that the Federal response was not in existence then and is not needed now. Galveston, he claimed, rebuilt itself. However thousands died due to the inability of adequate advance warnings. There were no FEMA stores of fresh water and portable toilets, tents, or cots for weary residents. There was no hurricane plane tracking storm trajectory and intensity, nor a National Hurricane Center projecting the storm path a week in advance.

Government, as I have said before, is a reflection of the goodness of a people, government is us. People such as you and I make government work by our dedication to our duties, whether great or small. Few get rich serving as federal employees. Those who do get rich are ones such as defense contractors and lobbyists, (and some legislators) who may not be serving for the greater good. So let's not tar all with a negative brush. Let's say thanks to the first responders, the National Guard, the Federal and local workers who manned the emergency lines, worked on power lines and opened relief centers even though their own families may have been in harms way.

Let's hear what you think. Shall we all fight hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters on our own or should we use the pooled resources of the many to assist those in need? Seems like a no-brainer to me!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Happens in Iowa -- Does This Train Run Elsewhere?

The 16,892 Republican people who voted in the Ames Iowa straw poll have spoken. In a poll taken by a self-selected and candidate-driven group at the periodic Ames straw poll, Michelle Bachman won a narrow victory over perennial candidate Ron Paul. Of the 16, 800+ votes cast, these two candidates took 29% and 28% respectively, leaving the other 8-10 candidates to split the rest. Tim Pawlenty came in third with around 15%. Nobody else made that much of a splash although former Senator Rick Santorum claimed he was happy with fourth place. The surprise was that Texas Governor Rick Perry, who did not enter the race until August 13 (the same day as this straw poll) and had little visible organization, garnered over 700 write-in votes besting Mitt Romney, who did not formally campaign for this vote although he did have a residual state organization in place from 2007. Of course it goes without saying that 16,000 people in a Midwestern state -- even a swing state -- should not be thought to speak for 300 million Americans -- just in case you might wonder at the significance here!

Tally: 16,892 votes, which broke down as follows:
  • Bachman: 4,823
  • Paul: 4,671
  • Pawlenty: 2,293
  • Santorum: 1,657
  • Cain: 1,456
  • Perry: 718
  • Romney: 567
  • Gingrich: 385
  • Hunstman: 69
The Iowa Straw Poll has sometimes gone on to select a nominee, but equally as often has not done so. Governor Romney was a winner in 2007 with Gov. Huckabee close behind. (The straw poll is only held for Republicans in pre-Presidential election years when there is no incumbent Republican candidate for President. It has been held five times since the first one in 1979.) In 1979 George H.W. Bush won, only to see Ronald Reagan win the nomination. In 1987, Pat Robertson won the poll when Bush finally became the nominee. In 1995, Senators Phil Gramm and Bob Dole tied with Dole getting the nod the next year. In 1999, George W Bush won over the other candidates and went on to win the nomination. And in 2007, Mitt Romney came out ahead, after spending some two million dollars busing in voters, campaigning, and building an organization there.

Political pundit Matthew Dowd on ABC TV claimed that if Pawlenty finished third, then he would not be able to raise enough money to continue. He also described the energy and money that Texas Governor Rick Perry brings to the race as a way to further shake things up on the conservative Republicans side. Sarah Palin suddenly showed up at the Iowa State Fair this week with her huge tour bus trying to sound coy, but he dismissed her as more entertainer than politico.

Does this all leave you a bit less than enthused? Did you happen to watch any of that sorry discussion on Fox last week (aka = debate?) The candidates were busy out-doing each other on Conservative anti-tax, anti-Obama rhetoric. They remain the only people in the country still using the ill-considered term "Obamacare." Although some of the questions were inane and incorrect answers on foreign policy had no follow-up, there was little to be learned from this show. Some complained that questions were not being addressed to the lesser candidates (Cain, Santorum, Gingrich) as much and an attempt was made slightly to improve. Bachman apparently kept dashing off stage at breaks to "fix her make-up," (or was it to get prompts from her staff?), so there was a bit of amateur hour in the air. The reporters also did not distinguish them selves with "gotcha" questions or asking Bachman the "submissive wife" question.

Suffice it to say, this group of candidates does not seem to be ready to run the country and with the way they talked about cutting the government budget and reducing taxes, there would be precious little of the Federal Government to run, if they had their way. Can they all collectively be that naïve or misguided? A sound bite from Governor Perry today indicated that he wanted government to be as inconsequential in each life as possible. This from a Governor who a year or so ago was urging Texans to explore secession from the United States? This from a Governor who was associating with known religious extremists at his day-long prayer meeting a week ago? How is such a person ready to govern a country which will be majority -minority, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic in a few short years?

I am torn between being amused and appalled at this cast of characters. Can this possibly be the best and the brightest that Republicans can offer? Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine was quoted recently as saying she was embarrassed by her party. She, one of the few so-called moderates left in her party, must find it hard to defend members of the Tea Party who purport to speak for her. She is also possibly targeted by the Tea Party since she did not support their agenda this year.

How can it be that a rational moderate voice can no longer be allowed to speak out? How can it be that any of these hopefuls could ever claim to be a leader for all of the people in this country?

As for me, I am a Democrat. I belong to a party with blue dogs, yellow dogs, and possibly a few wild dogs, but one which is also not quite as disciplined as the other side. So unfortunately we put up with the Heath Shulers (Rep NC) and the Ben Nelsons (Sen. NE) [often to our dismay] as they vote against the initiatives of our side. In the Senate some of our so-called Democrats have prevented Leader Reid from breaking threatened filibusters or overcoming cloture. Many Democrats have been ready and willing to compromise, while the House refused to do so.

The Republican candidates and leaders still have no apparent sense of the damage they have caused this country with their intransigence on the debt ceiling and raising needed revenues. According to Nate Silver in the New York Times 538 columns, these representatives will pay a price as the American public quite rightly is blaming them for the bond rating drop and the lack of compromise. The feelings seem to be that elected officials are sent to DC to solve problems cooperatively, not to create them. With high disapprovals for Republicans in general, and for residents own Congressional members as well, he expects some shifts to occur. He does not, however, see a Democratic landslide or even a return to Democratic rule in the House. Silver also discusses the redistricting taking place this year which is going to cause some demographic shifts and some Congressional districts to disappear. With more Republican Governors than Democratic, this redistricting may also see some conflicts between urban and rural areas.

Some are claiming that this is the year for the anti-tax groups of social conservatives, for the anti-choice groups, for the religious right to all have their say. What do you think? They cannot seem to say what they are for, just what they oppose. They attack the President on some very shaky terms. Has the time come for them to bring their decidedly minority views down the tracks into the political mainstream? Should we all be excited now that this crew of conservative candidates is trying to each be more conservative than the other? Should we wonder at the hypocrisy of this crowd of "Christian believers" who are ready to throw the poor to the wolves, close down social safety nets, and leave our elderly to live without Social Security or Medicare? Does not charity and benevolence begin at home? Is this not why hundreds of interfaith clergy stormed the Capitol during the debt limit debate to urge a social conscience on the legislators? It is so sad that they were unsuccessful. We, as concerned Americans cannot allow this train to continue unchallenged. Let me hear from you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Is It Poker or Chess?

Were you as dismayed as I was over the events of the last week? Did the agreement on raising the debt ceiling give you a big sigh of relief or indigestion? Are you tired of party politics playing games on our dime?

Personally, over the many years I have observed the antics of our politicians. I remember back prior to the Watergate years. I cannot think of a more contentious time. I had read of the arm twisting by LBJ and the offerings of bridges and roads as inducements for votes dangled before reluctant legislators. Some even spoke darkly of actual bribes over the years. So, Congressional misdeeds are nothing new. I must also say that I have observed many fine legislators who were steadfast in support of principles and policies from which we have all benefitted. We can point with pride to the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the signing of the landmark Medicare legislation. Each of these accomplishments have helped to change our nation and been beneficial to rich and poor alike.

But now we are seeing those who believed it was their duty to only serve the tiny minority which elected them. They did not believe it was their duty to listen to those senior in tenure and experience, or rank. Churlish and childish, to our sorrow and their shame they heard only their own voices. Disrespectful as a class and disobedient as a party they threatened to take down the country's economy if they did not get their way.

Lest you have pity for these poor neophytes, let me educate you. According to opensecrets.org, more than half of the members of the Tea Party caucus are millionaires. The numbers of Americans, who are millionaires and above, amounts to approximately 1% of the total population of 309 million. The average worth of a House member is stated as over $700,000.00, while Senators enjoy an average wealth of over $2 million. The average salary of an American male who worked full time in 2009 was $46,000 approximately, while for a comparable woman it was $36,000. How does this equate to the House of Representatives which pays each member over $174,000 as a base rate, not including staff, postage and expenses? Some of the newest Tea Party representatives refuse to take a house or an apartment in DC and live instead in their government supplied offices, with utilities supplied by the taxpayer and shower in the House gym, also provided at taxpayer expense. Despite claims by Eric Cantor (a millionaire himself, by the way) that no one has asked him to raise their taxes, there is actually a group called patriotic millionaires who have written an open letter and called for tax hikes. They understand that our current system is unfair and unbalanced. They joined with President Obama in calling for revenues to be paired with spending decreases. A lot of these arguments can be read in this website posting (link).

Now we are faced with the matter of Standard and Poor's (S & P) down grading the USA AAA bond rating. This slap on the wrist from those who were complicit in credit default swaps, the foreclosure mess, and cut-rate mortgages would be laughable in any other context. The European Union recently threatened to sue them for failing to accurately report the stability of some of these suspect mortgages and other entities. S & P, when the initial math used to underpin their decision was found to be faulty, went on to say, "well the political climate is too unstable, so we are sticking with it." Fortunately the other ratings agencies are not jumping aboard this bandwagon, so in reality this will most likely not have a long-term effect. However, where is the public outcry at the ill-conceived actions of the Republican House? The majority of those polled do blame the Republicans for this manufactured crisis. According to an article in The New York Times -- this outcry is starting to come -- as more than 80% of the public do not support the actions of Congress and more than 40% are unfavorable to the Tea Party. Independent voters are turning away in droves.

What does this mean for the election of 2012? Will the voters have long memories? Will the Republicans over-play their hand here? Already Speaker Boehner is egging on his dark side forces to go out and push for the Balanced Budget Amendment, which again is not what our government needs to focus on when we have millions still unemployed. Just how many jobs will this amendment create? Just how many people returned to work with the assault on Planned Parenthood? Just how many consumers have been aided with the refusal to seat Elizabeth Warren as the head of the Consumer Protection Bureau she organized?

I am hopeful that the voting public will not say a pox on all politics and stay home next year. I would like to allow real debate to surface and those who vote against the interests of the country in Congress to be defeated. I do not think the American people want their government to be dysfunctional. However when the President is indeed the only adult in the room, we have to insist on a better discourse. When one side is playing poker and stacks the deck, we should walk away. Perhaps that is the real problem. The Republicans are playing poker and the President is playing chess. One looks for short-term gains and the other looks for long-term solutions and a winning strategy. I am with the President on this, how about you? I’m not a millionaire, but if you are, would you mind paying a few more dollars for the collective good of our country as a whole? Do let me know.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Come for Tea -- Stay for Mayem?

Do you believe that the Tea Party officials elected last year have over-stepped their so-called mandate and become as some have claimed -- thugs and hostage-takers? Joe Nocera writing in the New York Times on August 1 minced no words as he compared the Tea Party Republicans to jihadists, claiming they showed "almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America's most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit" and claiming their intransigent demands were incredibly irresponsible.

Have you been intrigued and appalled at the spectacle of our Congress in action these past few days? Have you wondered how grown men (yes ladies -- they are mostly men, aside from Michelle Bachman) could behave in such a childish manner? Does it seem to you that these elected officials are not earning their keep? Their oaths of office seem to indicate that they will work to "well and faithfully discharge the duties" they were elected to perform, yet that seems to be quite far from their minds if actions account for anything in this world. Nowhere is it stated that they should drive the country to the brink of financial disaster with an exercise in political theatre and power grabbing.

The Tea Party caucus in the House consists of approximately 60 members (among the 435 total members) who collectively come from about half of the states in the country. Eight states in the South, six in the western portion of the country and several in the Midwest comprise the list of these members' home states. Maryland's octogenarian senior representative, Congressman Bartlett has joined in the caucus, although he is a long term member of Congress. No states in the Pacific Northwest or Atlantic Northeast are in this group. The U.S. population is over 300 million people. With each Congressional District representing a bit over 600,000 residents on the average, it would seem that these members who claim to have such a mandate represent a very small percentage of the population of several districts. Approximately 41% voter turnout was seen in 2010 among the approximately 210 million potential members of the American electorate, so about 86 million voters made it to the polls.

Now they have been rewarded for being hostage-takers by the Democrats caving in to their demands. The President and Vice President were apparently negotiating in good faith with those whose word cannot be their bond. The Speaker and the minority leader have not either been shown to be honorable or stalwart in their zeal to honor party over country. The country will be the loser here in the long run. This group of Tea Party obstructionists is not representative and has shown it does not care about the collective good of middle class America. Democratic leader Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has said this division of government will be resolved at the ballot box in 2012.

My concern is that this is the third manufactured crisis since the November election: the Lame Duck session agreements, the continuing budget resolution threatening government shutdown, and now the debt ceiling debacle. All have increased the pressure on the President, created a hostage mentality in Washington, and scared the elderly, federal employees and investors alike. In no way are these actions symbolic of what a representative government should be. My hope is that we can all survive the next session once Congress returns from recess.

One shining smile made yesterday have a small redeeming value -- that was the smile and tentative wave from Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords as she returned to the House floor to vote for the first time since she was so gravely wounded in January. The House erupted in spontaneous applause from both sides of the aisle -- a sign that there could again be unanimity in the Capitol -- if all were to view their jobs as ones of service to the Amrican people.

Some are working broadly to prepare for the next elections (aside from the Obama for President push); defeated Liberal Senator Russ Feingold has set up a group called Progressives United to prepare for 2012. Check out his site here.

Maybe he has found a path we can travel down toward the future. Let me know what you think. What do you plan to do to reverse this backward trend? There will be more discussion about the "super committee and the agreed upon measures" in a future column, but I want to hear from you. How could this have been better resolved and included revenues? What would you have had Boehner, Biden, Reid and the President do instead? How do we keep our country from being led by a group more symbolic of Lord of the Flies than Mr. Smith goes to Washington?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's a Budget To Do?

When is a budget not a budget? I would assert that a budget which does not deal with real numbers is not a budget. A proposal where there is no give and take, where no one will compromise, is an empty proposal. We are hearing the House Republicans -- most specifically the so-called tea party advocates -- claim that they were elected to cut government spending and shrink the size of government. We are seeing these representatives digging in. Are they in a foxhole as recently claimed by Speaker Boehner or are they digging their own graves and that of their movement as voters see their positions as injurious to the majority?

We have been faced with the childishness and churlishness of Eric Cantor -- he of the exaggerated Southern accent spoken with curled lip and sneer. Was this posturing, this intransigence to actual negotiations, a desired outcome of divided government? Did the voters vote for real change in 2008 and 2010? If so, just which change were they seeking? Was it the hope and change promised by a Barack Obama or was it the instantaneous paralysis promised by the Tea Party seeking to deflate government?

We live in an age of instant gratification, from scratch off lottery tickets to on line voting for various "idols", Americans have become accustomed to immediate results. The new Congress seems to be in disarray, with members voting for all sorts of "symbolic resolutions" but producing no actual legislation to improve the economy or produce jobs. They claim the monies donated to the stimulus were failures, while ignoring the rebound of the automotive industry and the infrastructure improvements across the country. Just recently (Friday, July 22), billions loaned to Chrysler were repaid to the taxpayers.

Could the stimulus have been more robust, could American businesses have stepped up more? Certainly, but should these efforts have been dismissed? Many newly elected representatives claim that "government regulations" have held back progress. For example recently trying to remove regulations about CFLs in light fixtures (which have shown to be more energy efficient). The Representatives also stopped using recyclable plastics in their dining room -- a further retreat from progress -- but surely necessary to preserve the financial stability of the country! By this time in her tenure as Speaker in 2009, the Nancy Pelosi led House had already passed significant legislation which was sent on to the Senate. Of course, that deliberative body bogged down many of these initiatives as self important committees debated further and Republicans filibustered almost everything. These steps toward gridlock in legislation almost killed health care and did stop initiatives such as the Dream Act and tax reform, foreshadowing the inability to legislate which is seen now.

As this is being written, Speaker Boehner has walked away from discussions with the White House. The debt limit ceiling, due to expire in less than two weeks, has not been raised. The middle class, which needs the promised protections under discussion, is being disregarded. Revenues which have supposedly been part of the Presidential bargaining position are again being dropped by the Republicans. Many ideas have been reported as on the table, from raising the age at which Medicare takes effect, dropping the current formulas for calculating Social Security COLAs, adding more unemployment benefits, dropping home mortgage deductions for mortgages over $500,000. The President has repeatedly spoken about taking away loopholes for oil companies and corporate jet owners. He indicated that millionaires should pay more than they currently pay. It was reportedly recently that the top 1% of earners in this country own 90% of all holdings in the US. The gaps between rich and poor are continuing to expand. Incomes have remained flat for the middle class since the1970s. As expenses increase -- prices for cars, homes, and a college education have jumped enormously during the last 40 years -- parents today do not expect that their children will have a higher earning potential than they had. Savings are much harder to come by. Interest rates are flat and the stock market gain is not a given, as many learned in 2008.

How does one fix this? The country needs more income, the government needs to spend more wisely, belts do need to be tightened. Paying off the trillions in debt we now have will not be addressed by a balanced budget amendment or votes about cuts and caps. The social safety nets still need to be protected. We need Social Security and Medicare to remain as viable options for our elderly and current seniors. Can we make small changes? Yes. Could we cut Defense spending? Yes. Should legislation be passed to keep the FAA solvent and small airports open? Of course. Can meaningful legislation be passed to get this country working again, to have a real budget, to relieve the debt ceiling issue? Yes, this can and should happen. This is not happening in a vacuum, it is happening in a real crisis. There is real unemployment. There is a real need for economic recovery. We need for responsible leaders to step up and lead. We need Speaker Boehner to manage his caucus by demonstrating leadership. We need Mitch McConnell to earn the money he is paid by the American taxpayer and not decide his number one job should be o keep the President as a one term leader, but rather to it should be to bring his members to the table to effect a compromise. The gang of six in the Senate thought they had a bargain the other day and great ebullience spread across the town. The so-called "Big Deal" is apparently no longer on the table and gone are the bargains made then. However, face to face discussions cannot work if Boehner is not empowered to accept any compromises and has to keep going back to his base. The President keeps finding a moving target on the table, more like quicksilver -- fast and difficult to pick up.

Democrats want to be able to support the President. He needs to protect their sacred cows, although he may tweak them in some fashion. Nancy Pelosi and Leader Reid need to be more at the table, VP Biden needs to stay involved. This should be the last time the President goes the extra mile. One cannot reach out to a closed fist or mind. I believe the debt ceiling will be raised although it may be at the last minute and deflate the value of America's finances internationally. This is tragic and should have been avoided. What do you think should be done? What cuts would you make?