Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A change in the Winds

The GOP has always had a strange way of uniting around their chosen candidates. For all the fodder being thrown around in conservative circles about Romney, the fact is that most of those people are just blowing smoke and will end up voting for him as a way to try and unseat Obama. But with the rise of Tea Party, and a new movement toward Conservative Puritanism, having an "R" next to your name doesn't cut it anymore. And the infighting is starting to go public.

As the conventions loom closer, and the presidential primaries wind down, Republican support for local candidates is starting to turn into a game of "Tea Party Roulette" in which the most conservative candidate is deified while the rest are attacked for being "moderates." It's gotten so bad that, in at least one case, the battle is between two conservatives arguing over who is more of an islamophobe.

And since when has being a moderate been the same as being a liberal democrat? Well, since the neo-conservatives started swallowing up the GOP, that's when. It's not enough for a Republican to be against raising taxes (in the link above, it points out Frank Gaffney, who accused Grover Norquist, of all people, of being allied with the Muslim Brotherhood). It's not enough for a Republican to want to slash regulations or stop abortion, close the borders and give more money to businesses. That gets you to the ball park. To get to the plate, you have to be willing to be a little bit crazy for your convictions. Consider this story, which points to the growing infighting among conservatives leading up to the general elections. A particularly great quote from this article sums up just how insane one has to be to survive in the current conservative climate:

"So far this year, conservative challengers in Texas have unseated three state House committee chairmen who were accused by tea party adherents of cooperating with Democrats on legislation."

What? Really? So, rather than supporting cooperation between the parties, the new Republicans will shun any member who tries to work with the Left to get something, anything, accomplished? What is wrong with this picture? For more than two hundred years, our society has flourished due to compromise between the political powers that be. Now, all of a sudden, one of those political powers is throwing their own people under the bus for the ridiculous affront of negotiation.

So, why is this happening? Well, you could argue that there has been a major shift to the Right in the past several years, aided by a combination of factors. Another issue, of course, is that the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, is himself a divisive figure for the Right. Those who are more "moderate" in their Republicanism seem to like Romney, and have the majority of the votes in the GOP. The more fundamentalist conservatives hate him, and that divide is, I think, continuing to fuel the disruption in the party as we move closer to the convention. And while Romney has had his share of gaffes, mostly during his European tour, he's still the presumptive nominee, and will likely end up getting the support of most conservatives on election day.

And the media? Well, they haven't really noticed much in the last ten years. They care more about money from advertisers and avoiding public criticism than stating the obvious trends in politics. Their handling of coverage over voter ID laws is particularly shameful, but it's all about the bottom line. So, as long as our primary information sources are unwilling to step outside the box of political correctness and start talking facts, there's not a snowball's chance in hell of changing things or keeping people informed.

The winds of change are blowing for the GOP, and they are blowing to the Right. As the party becomes more entrenched in the fringe doctrine held by the most conservative of US citizens, and as they push out more moderate representatives, I believe two things could happen. First, we may see the rise of a new, "middle ground" party that is really just the discarded remnants that used to be the GOP of the mid-90's (think Newt Gingrich), while the conservatives continue their spiral into extremist obscurity (think Ron Paul).  The other thing that could happen is the entirety of the GOP gives in to the conservative base and starts pushing for extreme policies en masse. Doing this will mean the collapse of the GOP, since extreme policy in one direction or the other tends to turn off those all-important undecided voters. Either way, the Republican party is going to go through some major growing pains. They are redefining themselves as a vastly more conservative and much more vindictive party than they have been in the past. It will be an interesting, but potentially harmful, process to watch. Let's hope we can keep enough voices in Congress to prevent the new conservatives from taking over our government completely. Let's hope.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Listed MIA

Republicans often spout off about Obama's lack of leadership and inability to get anything done. So, it's refreshing to see the GOP demand that Obama show leadership, even if his leadership really doesn't matter all that much.

Here's the situation: At the end of this year, the US government will see a large-scale tax increase and a equal cut to the defense budget. This is meant to steer America away from the "fiscal cliff" that Republicans are warning about. Keep in mind, this was the agreed upon consequence if the Left and Right couldn't come up with a plan to make cuts in other ways to help with the deficit and debt. Republicans agreed to this plan, and are now backtracking by claiming it's a bad idea and will ruin the economy. As a side question, I wonder why they agreed to these measures in the first place if they didn't agree with them?

So, anyway, while Obama is running his reelection campaign, Congress is fighting over a way to prevent these inevitable cuts and tax hikes. Republicans have used this opportunity to attack the President for his lack of leadership at this financially dark time, and have demanded that he return to Washington from his fundraising tour to help lead the Congress to a solution.

Now, at face value, this makes sense. Obama, our President, should be a part of the discussion on these issues. He should be at the center of the conversation, sitting at the table, negotiating for an end result that will benefit everyone. He is, after all, the President. Isn't that his job?

Well, no.

As a matter of fact, Obama's job has nothing to do with crafting or passing legislation. He's not a member of Congress, and has no vote or influence on any bill, save for what his distinguished office affords him, which is not much more than a seat at the table. Remember, its Congress that writes and passes bills, and the President that signs them into laws. The President is not required to negotiate on legislation. In fact, in the interests of maintaining the separation of powers in Washington, I would argue he should actively avoid those discussions.

So why are Republicans pouncing on this? Well, to be fair, this is the same mantra that is blasted at this time of year by the President's opposition in reference to whatever issue they are facing that day. The same attack was made of Bush in 2004. And remember the 2008 campaign? McCain and Obama both missed most of the roll call votes in Congress because they were out campaigning, and both got flack for it. But, like all those other times, this attack plays to people's ignorance about how government works. Obama has no influence on Congress, save that his own party tends to listen to him. The Republicans aren't going to magically start working with Democrats when Obama sits at the table. I'd be willing to be that his presence makes them less willing to work together.

No, the reason this argument is being made, in my view, is because Republicans want an excuse to do nothing. They want to point at the President and say "he's the reason we're not working with the Dems. It's his fault because he's not here talking to us!" So, Republicans are not neglecting their jobs as Representatives of the American People to make political hay out of the impending cuts and taxes they themselves agreed to, but rather because they feel snubbed by the President? Please.

Republicans, and some Democrats, are not doing their jobs. By claiming that they are waiting for the President, Republicans show that they understand how the average American views the office of President: not as an overseer, but as a participatory member of the lawmaking body. Republicans are placing the blame for their unwillingness to work on the President, despite the fact that he is not necessary in this situation. They are sitting on their hands for no good reason, seeing that delaying this discussion is to their political advantage, even if they also believe the results of the automatic consequences are bad for America.

Obama should just keep doing what he's doing. Keep campaigning, keep raising money, keep himself in the public eye. If he goes back to Washington to sit at the table for these debates, Republicans will seek to keep him there as long as possible and keep him off the campaign. It's a dirty game they're playing, but then politics has never exactly been clean...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lunch with Bernie

Democracy is a great thing. Today, I was able to go to a small town hall meeting, literally in the town hall of my hometown, to listen to a 2-hour discussion with Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator for Vermont. Sanders spent about half the time giving a speech that touched on most of the major issues facing our nation, and the other half taking questions from the fifty or so individuals who were there.

Of all the politicians and government officials I know of, Bernie is one of my favorites. Being an independent, and a self-described Democratic Socialist, Sanders and I hold many of the same views on major issues. The great thing about that kind of venue is that the people can really bring up the points that they care about most, and can get answers to their questions.

As you might expect, most of the time was spent on issues facing the economy. Like myself, Bernie was advocating for a reinvestment in our infrastructure and health care system to help boost jobs. He also discussed the continuing conservative shift in the Republican Party, and how that shift has come to the point where Republican Doctrine is more focused on the further wealth of the rich and the fleecing of the American People.

It was a great show of the power of our Democracy to see and speak with Bernie. he called on those present to take an active role in their communities and to stand up and demand change in Washington. I hope others, like myself, took that to heart and will do what they can to make our country a better place.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Foreign Fundraising

US law prohibits candidates for any public office to accept donations from individuals or businesses that are not from the US. That is supposed to cut down on the influence of foreign powers on our government and electoral process. But in recent years, candidates have started going abroad and hosting fundraisers in foreign nations. Obama did this in his 2008 election, and raised about $700K from wealthy Americans who were living abroad.

This year, Romney is doing the same thing, and is in London right now to raise money for his campaign. His plan is to hold two fundraising events, which have high entry fees, and show support for the wealthy Americans living in that country. As with Obama, Romney's visit was echoed by wealthy domestic donors, who also made the trip so they could throw more money at Romney.

The problem with this trend, in my opinion, is that it looks more like a publicity stunt than a serious campaign strategy. In an age where a video can make its way around the world in seconds, borders seem a bit superfluous. Whatever Romney says in London will be heard almost immediately by people in the states. But it still seems to me that our presidential candidates have a tendency to show off by going on these trips, and spending large amounts of money to do it.

The other thing that bothers me about this is that I can't be confident that Romney or Obama will refuse money from foreign entities, whether they be businesses or individuals. I've heard people talking about how they check ID's and make sure a person is eligible to give money to the campaign, but I'm still not sure that will stop the campaigns from accepting cash under the table.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kyl says it all

John Kyl made a great speech in Congress in which he complained that Obama was spending too much time talking about the middle class and not enough time focusing on the wealthy.

Rarely does a member of the GOP speak so openly about their plutocratic ideals, but Kyl provides some wonderful words that show just how committed he and his Republican allies are to the rich and well-off in our nation. Apparently, to focus all one's attention on the lowly middle class is missing the point, which is that the rich are the ones we all ought to be kneeling to and thanking for their tireless job creation.

Well, they aren't really creating jobs, but they could if, you know, they weren't paying taxes. Even though their corporate tax rates are effectively zero thanks to all the loopholes and deductions they enjoy. But still! In theory, they are being squeezed to the point of maybe, possibly, could be considering selling their third vacation home or downgrading to only two private jets. Truly, without the endless praise of the nation's workforce, the wealthy are feeling left out.

Kyl's speech was moving for many people. I, for one, feel his words resonated with some of the people who, like me, work for a living. I had no idea that I was remiss in my duties as an American citizen by not genuflecting whenever a millionaire went by. I did not know that I owed my very livelihood to a stingy old crone and should be thanking them by electing people who want to cut the support for the poor and needy to give the rich more money. How silly of me...

You know, this is probably one of the best things Kyl, or any other member of the GOP, has said in a long time. It was honest, clear, and easy to understand. According to Kyl, the POTUS should stop worrying about the little people, who the GOP is planning to step all over with their cuts to social programs anyway, and instead spend more time thinking on the values of the rich, and how they've contributed to our great nation.

Maybe Kyl will now be the benchmark for all future GOP speeches on the floor of Congress. Perhaps he is ushering in a new age of honesty about what the Republicans in the House and Senate really want. Maybe this is the end of the platitudes, the end of the verbal sidestepping, the end of all questionable claims as we know it!

Maybe....

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Forty Year Plan

Another great story out of TED Talks, this one from Amory Lovins, who sets up a course for energy independence within 40 years. What Lovins suggests is that, by refocusing on renewable energy sources that are cheaper, greener, and more resilient to time, we can develop a system of infrastructure, travel, architecture, and communications that is independent of fossil fuels.

The great thing about green energy solutions like wind and solar is that they can be applied on a micro-level, all the way down to the individual consumer. For example, you could have solar panels and a wind turbine at your house, while your neighbor does not. That gives the proliferation of these technologies more flexibility. And, the expansion of green energy makes us more energy independent, more safe as a nation, and keeps more money and jobs in our own country. In fact, to build and maintain a network of green energy nationwide would create a huge amount of jobs and jumpstart our economy. And, as if that weren't enough, it would help to reduce emissions.

As Lovins points out, this is a long-term and technical process, but it's already underway in places like China and Europe. In Europe, they're developing electric cars that get hundreds of miles to the gallon. They are designing vehicles using carbon fiber to make them lighter so their engines can be smaller and burn less fuel. And they are reworking those engines to burn fuels that are better for the environment. These are the first steps to a green world.

Will America step up? We're one of the biggest polluters, since our cars spew fossil fumes, and our power plants are run on coal and gas. But if we were serious about switching over to green energy, think of what that could mean. It would mean a complete change for our air quality, our urban areas, many jobs created, and long-term growth and development that we could depend on for centuries.

As I've said before, green technology is the inevitable future of our species. If we don't start developing tomorrow's solutions today, we're going to be lost in a crisis before we're able to work out a solution. Personally, I hope America can show more than its traditional foresight and catch up with the rest of the world as it moves forward with renewable, clean, green energy for tomorrow.

CO condolences

Just about everyone has now heard about the shooting that took place in a Colorado movie theater on Friday. The shooter, a 24 year-old grad student, opened fire with tear gas and several guns, killing 12 and wounding 59. The tragedy has created a media firestorm as prominent politicians, relgious leaders, and other public figures express their sorrow and their commitment to national unity.

Despite the national mourning that America seems to be experiencing, there are those who are quick to use this as a way to further their own ideologies. So far, I have heard at least three different people expressing their conviction that if people simply followed what they believe in, this could have been avoided.

First of all, you have the religous conservatives, who state that it is a lack of God in our public sphere that led to this. They claim that if people went to church, prayed, and donated more of their money to them, then this wouldn't have happened. It's an indication of the breakdown of morality in our society, and only by strong conviction in faith can we restore order.

Second, there are the gun advocates. As usual, this has sparked debates about gun control. What's unique in this case, however, is that a number of conservative pro-gun advocates have asked the question, wasn't anyone in the movie theater armed? Couldn't someone with a concealed weapon have stopped this from happening? What if everyone in the theater had been armed; the gunman wouldn't have been able to kill or injure so many people.

Thirdly, you have the people who are advocating for more gun control, pointing to the fact that the shooter was able to purchase most of his weapons online without background checks or anything. These folks argue that this tragedy would never have happened if tighter restrictions on guns were put in place.

If there's one thing I cannot stand, it is individuals or groups using a national tragedy to push their agenda on people. In the first instance, you have a religious group using this to further their ideological perspective. They say that people should repent of their sins so that this doesn't happen. How is prayer and Christian dominance in the public sphere supposed to prevent these atrocities? Really? How does that work? Even if you're a Christian, you can't force everyone else to be, and so what's the point?

In the second case, you have people who observe an incident of gun violence, and use it to advocate for looser gun laws? Really? You could argue, I suppose, that if everyone had a gun that the shooter would not have been so deadly. Then again, I could argue that if we restricted access to high-power assault rifles, handguns with large clips, and tear gas canisters that this kind of thing would not happen in the first place. And, if everyone had a gun, do you think it would improve public safety? Really? Sure, everyone could protect themselves, but you don't think that having everyone running around with a 9mm is going to cause some issues?

Then, we have gun control advocates. In this case, I tend to agree with them, but I disagree with them using this tragedy as a way to galvanizing their base and drawing more people to their cause. This makes them just as sick as the pro-gun crowd, in my mind. If they want to have a real debate on the merits of gun control, do that. But don't play to people's emotions over something like this. Present facts on gun violence, but don't commercialize a national tragedy.

Finally, it annoys me that politicians tend to use these tragedies as well. Granted, so far, they've been good about simply expressing their condolences and suspending campaign stuff. But I don't think it's going to last. This will be one more point about gun control rights, and will be used by both parties to try and push their agenda. Again, I would hope that this wasn't the case, but I'm not holding my breath for civility.

Soft Power

One of the the best organizations for free thought out there today is TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). TED Talks have become incredibly popular among those who want to learn about certain topics. They are often bunched into various categories based on a topic. For example, there are subjects like architecture, green energy, political power, economics, food and health, and art. What's great about the TED Talks is that each lasts less than 20 minutes, focuses on a single topic, and features an speaker who is often a pioneer in the area that they are speaking about. It gives you the feeling that you are tapping into a huge reservoir of knowledge about your chosen topic.

I like watching various TED Talks, but one in particular grabbed my attention. I recently started in on a series of talks about political power and influence. One of the speakers, Shashi Tharoor of India, presented a talk on the use of "Soft Power" by nations.

We are all aware of so-called "Hard Power." That's things like the military, which are visible, physical strengths that a country possesses. What Tharoor is talking about are things that are intangible, such as culture, food, music, entertainment, etc. These are things that attract people for reasons other than economic opportunity. Consider that for a moment: Indian cuisine has become a popular subculture in American dining. Bollywood films have a cult following. Indian style, music, and religion all have exotic and attractive qualities that draw people into them.

As Tharoor points out, India is a fast-growing country, adding more people to it's population per day than any other nation on earth. It is also exploding economically and politically as more and more people around the world tap into it's potential. Tharoor posits that this growth has less to do with India's military, economic, political, or social allure, but rather has to do with it's Soft Power, it's reinvention of itself and its adherence to its own culture and traditions. Tharoor also makes the point that, comparatively, India is a very peaceful and tolerant nation, where there are more religions and languages than nearly anywhere else on earth, and this diversity continues in relative tranquility compared to other places around the world.

So, maybe the United States should invest more in its Soft Power. Perhaps we need to reinvent and revitalize the American Culture, not just economically and politically, but socially, artistically, and so on. Maybe we should draw people in, not just for our business opportunities and our security and liberty, but because of our culture. Why not expand libraries, universities, art galleries, museums, concert halls, theaters, and more to entice people to come here for those things? Wouldn't we be better off if that were the case?

I strongly urge anyone to check out the TED videos. There really is something for everyone, and a video to explain just about any topic, liberal or conservative.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Government in Business

Recently, Obama made the point that businesses don't succeed without government. This is true. Romney and conservatives fired back, stating that businesses succeed despite government. This is false. Christopher Hahn, who was brought onto Fox News to be attacked on all sides for supporting Obama's notion, did a great job presenting his case.

During the interviewHahn makes some good points. For example, the government stabilizes the environment in our country, making it easier to start and grow a business. The government provides for the national infrastructure that makes business possible. The government makes trade agreements that allow domestic companies to branch into international markets. All these things are possible because of the government. Business does not succeed on its own.

In the linked article, Hahn's assertions are scrutinized and found lacking. But here is just one example of the bias used in this assessment. Hahn made the point that Henry Ford would not have been successful if the government had not been building roads. The author of the article had this to say:

"The interstate highway system wasn‘t built until 9 years after Henry Ford’s death, and the model T was originally built and marketed before Woodrow Wilson was even President. If Hahn was trying to make the case that activist government creates an 'environment for success,' he was doing a poor job of it."

Here's the thing: Hahn never specified the interstate highway system. He simply said "roads." Is the author asserting that there were no roads in the entire country prior to the interstate highway system? And if there were, were these roads financed purely at the state and local levels? In other words, the author makes a critical error in logic by attempting to change the meaning of Hahn's words so that what he said was inaccurate.

And again, Obama's statement is accurate. No business can succeed without some support from government, and the bigger the business the greater the need for what the government can offer. Why do businesses lobby Washington if not for special treatment in Congress and favors from legislators? Why do they spend more to prevent a tax hike than they would have to pay in new taxes? Why do they infiltrate the government with lobbyists and special interest groups? Because they need government. They want it to work for them, but they need it to keep things moving smoothly. No business can survive in America without the support of government. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that government created those private sector jobs, I would also point out that Obama didn't go that far either. He merely pointed out that government is an essential factor in job creation.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting There

Today, Obama did what he does best: cause the Right to go into fits of rage by opening his mouth. The funny thing is, this tends to happen when Obama says something that is actually common sense.

Obama made a speech in which he asserted that individuals who are successful are not successful on their own, that they always get help from other people. His argument is that no one can succeed in a vacuum, and that somewhere along the line every successful individual got help. If you think about it, that is undoubtedly the case. In a literal sense, no person is born successful. We all need someones help at some point in our lives. We have to learn from good teachers and loving parents, we have to be inspired by others, and we have to be encouraged by supportive people to achieve success.

So, why is it that those on the Right are up in arms about the President pointing this out? Do they believe, or want others to believe, that success is ingrained in certain people, that they're destined for greatness, and that their wealth and privilege have more to do with their own work and choices than with the encouragement of others? Do they think that those who become prominent businessmen do so because of their own natural aptitude, and without any kind of help? It certainly seems that way.

And that kind of thinking would fit into the mantra that is espoused all the time. The conservatives who are angry about what Obama said are the same conservatives who say that a) if you're poor it's your own fault, b) all you have to do is work hard to be successful, and c) there should be no help for people who can't afford it.

The funny thing is, no one can succeed on their own. What this idea does is sets success apart from the average American. They see it as something you're born with, something you have to have intrinsically, and as something that simply happens to people. But that's not the case. Anyone has the potential to be successful, but they have to have certain characteristics, and some of those are beyond your control. The right family upbringing, the right education, the right motivation and encouragement; without those things, success becomes harder to achieve, and the definition of "success" changes. But no one does it on their own. There is always help.

I'm not sure what Conservatives hope to gain from their spouting off on this issue. They seem to take this as an affront to business owners, which is particularly silly since business owners themselves are not so outspoken about these remarks. In fact, it's only the pundits who are taking issue. In short, it's fuel for the fire, nothing more.

Questions

The hot topic that is targeting Romney right now is his experience with the investment firm Bain Capital. Recently, Romney argued that he left the firm in 1999, despite documents that show he was there until the early 2000's. This really doesn't matter much in terms of his business sense, but it does make one wonder about Romney's honesty about something as simple as his work experience. Couple that with Romney's continued refusal to release tax forms from previous years and the existance of several off-shore accounts in his name, and there are a lot of questions people are demanding Romney to answer.

This post on Political Irony presents Romney attempting to respond to the questions people have been asking, and a video of some 35 questions that Romney is asked to answer about his work experience. The videos are pretty interesting, especially the one with Romney where he clearly evades the questions being asked of him.

What I don't understand is why Romney would be tight-lipped about his private-sector business experience. Aside from his time as governor of Mass, this is the most important piece of his resume. Yet, it appears as though he has been less than forthcoming with information about what he did there, when he was involved, and when he left. Romney appears to be unwilling to discuss his own history, while at the same time arguing against the President's lack of transparency.

I don't agree with Romney's politics very often, but I still believe he should be considered as a candidate for president. The problem is, he's not starting off very well. Already, he's throwing up walls to block information about himself. Already, he's dancing around questions about his record. If this is what we can expect for the next several months, I'm feeling much better about Obama's chances.

One last point: if Romney wants to use his experience at Bain and as governor of Mass as centerpieces of his experience that qualifies him for the office of President, shouldn't he be upfront and honest about that experience? If he wants to claim those as successful jobs, shouldn't he be giving us detailed accounts of what he did? I certainly think so.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

It's not a cash flow problem

The GOP is fond of saying that high taxes and government spending is what is keeping businesses from hiring. They claim that it's being unsure about the economy, and a lack of loose funds, that is resulting in sub-par job creation.

But looking at the account balances of these companies, money doesn't seem to be the issue. After all, they've got more of it on hand than before the recession. In fact, many companies are posting record profits. So, what gives?

As I've mentioned before, the driving force of the economy is demand. A company that is meeting the market's demand has no incentive to expand, since they will be spending more money to produce products that no one will buy. Only when they know they'll sell more is it reasonable for them to expand and hire. Still struggling in a slow recovery, and with high unemployment, demand doesn't seem to be budging much.

It's at times like these when government spending is important to maintain, not reduce. Government is the only institution that can pump money into the economy through job creation, and start the cycle of growth all over again. But with stagnant, ineffective governance, that cycle doesn't get started. So, we're left with slow growth, and no way to pick it up.

Just keep in mind that, despite what Republicans say, it's not the fault of the government that businesses aren't hiring; it's a calculated business decision.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Confusing Irony

Scranton, PA, famous as the city-setting for the show The Office, and now a battleground over budget cuts and how to deal with debt.

First, a refresher. In general, Republicans would rather see spending cuts than tax increases, and abhor borrowing to cover debts. In general, Democrats favor a mix of small spending cuts and large tax increases to help keep gaps small, and to borrow when necessary. When they work together, they often work well.

The reason this story is so surprising is that it seems a Democratic mayor has done exactly what conservatives have advocated for. See, the Scranton mayor wanted to raise taxes on city residents. The city council rejected this plan, and proposed a plan to simply borrow the money to cover their costs. The mayor didn't want to borrow the money because they wouldn't have a way to pay it back, leaving the city in a worse situation. He eventually delivered in ultimatum: raise the money through taxes, or cut the pay of public employees. The council didn't budge, so the mayor cut the pay to the minimum wage, including his own.

Now here's where it gets interesting. As you might expect, all those police officers, firefighters, etc. were very upset. They complained to their union, which took the matter to court. A judge ordered that the mayor couldn't do this. The mayor did it anyway, reducing everyone's pay to $7.25/hour. These public employees are quoted in the article, along with their union reps, saying that they are the breadwinners for their homes, that they need that money to pay bills, and that this cut in their pay (as well as overtime, etc.) is detrimental to their livelihood. And let's not even get started on the broader economic issues that come when the people have less purchasing power...

So, which is it? The Republicans have demanded these kinds of measures for years. They want to cut the pay of public employees who are paid with tax dollars. They want to get rid of overtime and some benefits. They've advocated for cutting workforces for some of these positions. So, will they be thanking this mayor who did it? Probably not, because it's obvious that it's not popular, and downright harmful. Will this change how conservatives think about public spending? Probably not. I'm not sure they'll see the parallels between their plans and what has happened in Scranton, but they are there. You can't demonize one person and herald another simply because one is a public employee and the other isn't. They both work hard, they both need to provide for their families, and they both participate in the marketplace. What is the difference, really?

While hiking taxes to an absurd level is not the right course, there must be a way to mediate. If Scranton files for bankruptcy, the outcome will be even worse for these individuals. So, what is the plan? I don't have one, but I hope someone does. Raising taxes, borrowing money, and cutting spending wherever possible may help, but I don't know if it would be enough.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Taxation

Obama recently said that he would fight to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class only for one more year. This would mean a tax increase on anyone making over 250K/year. As you might imagine, there's been a lot said about this announcement.

For one thing, Liberals are pretty happy. They see this as Obama drawing a line in the sand. To them, it means that middle class will have more purchasing power while the wealthy pay their fair share. Win-Win. They see this as further evidence that Obama can still be a staunch Democrat and can hold to his ideals if he's pushed.

Republicans, on the other hand, are not. They see this as a tax increase on "job creators" and as "punishing success." They believe that the tax cuts should be made permanent across the board, setting us up with a new top tax rate cap that can never be broken. They see this as being a disastrous move for the economy, and see it as Obama playing partisan politcs with the economy.

Finally, the nut-job Conservative groups see this as a violation of all that America stands for. They believe that, since Obama is a Marxist/Socialist/Fascist/Communist/Etc..ist, that whatever he advocates for is bad. Therefore, this is bad. To them, the solution is to cut everyone's taxes to as close to nothing as possible, and kill the government's ability to do anything. That is true liberty.

Here's the thing. Extending middle class tax cuts is a popular move. Refusing to extend tax cuts for the wealthy is a calculated risk. Obama has to know that he's not making any friends in the wealthy circles, but I think he's banking on people being pleased with his keeping their income taxes low. He wants people to look at their own situations, not those of people the idolize, and make their minds up from that.

The problem is, not everyone does that. There is no reason for a middle class person to demand that the wealthy receive a tax cut. There's no sense to that. You could argue, I suppose, that tax cuts at the top help the economy, but that has been debunked so many times that anyone continuing to believe it is either deliberately ignorant or deliberately deceptive. In fact, high taxes at the top helps people by giving the government what it needs to do its job. Without that tax revenue, governments are forced to cut programs that help the poor. So, really, higher taxes on the wealthy help the poor and middle classes more than tax cuts.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It's a Tax! It's a Mandate! It's....

Romney has been having a hard time since the Supreme Court ruling that upholds the Individual Mandate and the ACA. The plan was modeled on Romney's health care program in Massachusetts, and is a carbon copy of a program first proposed by the Heritage Foundation. Of course, neither Romney nor Heritage wants to be seen as agreeing with Obama's use of their idea, and so they've had to abandon it.

In reality, the individual mandate is a strong conservative idea. After all, it lowers costs to the individual while promoting personal responsibility. And, as many have pointed out, the ACA does not reflect a government takeover of health care. Instead, it is a boon to the private insuranace industry, and will eventually be a huge help to the American People while continuing to promote personal accountability. All of this should be sitting well with Republicans.

The only reason it's not is because Obama got it passed instead of them. So, now they have to come up with a way to make this a bad thing. They've done a great job smearing the law already, and with the SC ruling, they have one more piece of artillery to try and ruin it: the Individual Mandate is a tax!

So, since Romney passed an IM in Mass, does that mean Romney raised taxes? Not according to Romney. No, according to Mitt, his IM was simply a mandate, not a tax, while under Obama, it was a tax, not just a mandate. The funny thing is, Mitt actually advocated for his Mass plan to be adopted nationwide, just as the ACA is; but since Obama presided over its passage, it's no longer a good thing.

Romney further shot himself in the foot when he tried to come up with a list of things he would have done "differently" than the ACA, which actually turned into a list of things the ACA already does. His only real change would be to not pay for it, which really wouldn't fly with all those deficit hawks and tea party people...would it? Probably not, but since it would be a Republican, maybe they'd let it slide.

So, Romney really has a problem with a consistent message. And, those like the Heritage Foundation who once backed an individual mandate are having to backtrack and say that it's wrong. Sure, they can nitpick language, jargon, and intentions, but the basics are there. This has led to more and more outrageous attacks, and bogus claims, about the law. We've already heard about "death panels" which don't appear anywhere in the law. We've also heard about people being forced to drop their employer-based health insurance. Here's the thing: no employer-based health insurance is taken away based on the language of the law. If an employer stops providing health insurance to its employees, and is able to do so under the letter of the law (they must have less than 25 employees, I believe), it's a personal choice for the company and is not reflected in the law itself. There's a lot of misinformation floating around about this, and many people are being taken in by it.

So, bear in mind the origins of the individual mandate. This is not a liberal ploy, a government takeover, or part of an agenda to destroy the US. It's about personal responsibility, affordability, and fairness for those who do the right thing. Romney passed this, the Heritage Foundation came up with this, and it's the right thing for America right now.