Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Gorey Details

2000 was the year Al Gore didn’t become President.  The historical record of his “not becoming President” is pretty clear and I will never be happy about a fraudulent re-count in Florida or Supreme Court interference driven by partisan manipulation, but I was able to reconcile the “defeat” because that was Al Gore’s election to lose.  If he’d been just a little more convincing the opening for an election to be stolen wouldn’t have been there.

I voted for Al Gore, but I wasn’t excited about Al Gore.  Hell, TIPPER wasn’t excited by Al Gore!

I remember the campaigns, though.  Gore was running on the promise of continuing the prosperity we seemed to enjoy under Clinton and to use the surplus and financial stability to invest more in education, healthcare and infrastructure.

Bush sort of promised the same thing.  Bush wanted to be a President that maintained stability and peace and his message was appealing to almost as many Americans.  What he clearly had in his favor was a comfortable charisma that motivated a lot of swing voters.  When he became President he immediately implemented a plan to maintain prosperity but it focused primarily on those who were already prosperous and he reduced the discretionary spending that would have helped those who weren’t.

He even underfunded his own programs.  No Child Left Behind (wrong from conception to execution) was under funded; his prescription drug program was under funded.  He flatly denied highway and bridge reconstruction in lieu of an economic stimulus package that did nothing more than put a couple of hundred bucks into Americans pockets while healthcare costs rose due to an insurance industry that continued to commoditize sickness.  Mostly, his tax cuts allowed for wealthier Americans to increase their holdings.  His shared prosperity programs were doomed to fail ultimately by his party’s own design.

I often hear people on the right ask, “When are you Democrats going to stop blaming Bush for the economy?”

Well…when are we going to stop blaming Booth for assassinating Lincoln?

History is what it is, and exploring it gives us clarity to improve.  And in that pursuit of truth we must also acknowledge that while Bush inherited a seemingly robust economy, there was an invisible powder keg that was created under Clinton.  Unregulated derivatives and expanded deregulation of the financial market were hatched on Clinton’s watch by his Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and anyone who blew the whistle on the risk of these derivatives, like Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairperson, Brooksley Born, suddenly disappeared.

Why?  Because people were making insane amounts of money.  The bottom was going to fall out one way or the other, even if Gore had become President, but more serious consequences followed the path that was taken by Bush.

In that high risk and volatile financial environment there are two choices. One is to continue the Wall Street money train and to deregulate even more, allowing for more and greater opportunities to invest or to short trade, and the other would be, as I believe Gore would have done, to immediately use the surplus and discretionary spending to bolster our infrastructure, grow educational opportunities, create job programs and to reform healthcare.

In 2005 derivatives drove the still rising housing market.  Fannie and Freddie were supported by Republicans as well as Democrats and the initiative to bring the American dream of owning a house to Americans of modest means was embraced by President Bush.  Why not?  Americans were motivated, they were buying homes, living the dream, and people were getting rich.  But derivatives left unchecked became more and more toxic and more of them created higher risk bundles as derivatives of derivatives of derivatives hit the market.

It was all contingent on the housing market continuing to boom, but by 2006 values got too high and…the bottom fell out.

The whistle didn’t blow quickly because people were still making money on short selling and no one wanted to admit that we were heading toward cataclysmic collapse.  The derivatives tanked, the loans defaulted, the banks were over leveraged, AIG who insured the risks is now paying out more than its reserves and, well, the rest is history…..

This would have happened under a President Gore, as well, but there is a crucial difference.  Recovery would not have been as difficult and the fall might not have been as severe if America had been investing in itself all along.

The economy would not have been as fragile because production would not be lagging from poor interstate commerce and inadequate training.  With federal assistance toward infrastructure, state budgets would not be as over leveraged and job creation programs would have already been underway.

I also believe we wouldn’t be facing the same debt because there wouldn’t have been upper class tax cuts and Iraq wouldn’t have been invaded.

The conversation today would be less about debt ceilings, government spending, deficits and taxes and more about correcting what even Alan Greenspan described as a “big mistake.”

That mistake was to believe that markets will police themselves and that we can survive the Machiavellian thinning of the herd created from profit-at-any-cost motivation.  Markets don’t exist without people and people do not exist without at least some relationship to fear and greed.

I’m not even going to demonize those qualities, they simply exist in all of us as necessarily as our humanity and compassion, but my caution is to not let the lesser parts of our character determine the rules we live by; or at least let’s not put our trust into the parts of ourselves we don’t even trust.

We need financial reform and the sensible regulations a mixed market demands; we need Administrations who understand the investment of infrastructure, including education and job creation; we need voters to understand that such investment is not “spending” but the surest way to securing a prosperous future.

Someone asked me the other day how I would grade Obama, so far, as President. I said a “B.” Even with Herculean accomplishments in the face of lock-step obstructionism, I cannot give an A to any President when the climate is so contentious, no matter what measure of success they’ve had to overcome those conditions.

I gave his predecessor a “D.”  I would have given him an “F” but I really do think he would be fun to have a beer with.

I can’t help but wonder what I would have given Al….

My Apologies

I have an apology to make to my Republican/conservative friends, and, no, this is not a facetious apology. I often state that my politics are to the left of moderate and that I approach opposing views with an open mind, but, sometimes I’ll express a very negative attitude toward many of the things they believe. When I do, it’s because some issues truly aggravate me to the point of angry frustration, but that expression probably defeats my purpose, which is ultimately to find solutions.

In that light…I would like to begin a new discussion. What is it that separates political ideologies? What kind of America do Liberals and Conservatives envision?

There are essentially two agendas at stake; a social and an economic one. However, I believe that they follow the same reasoning; the economic model lends itself to the social agenda and vice versa.

With that in mind, I met three conservative/Republican friends for drinks and asked 4 basic questions and then did the same with two Liberal friends. I’m not so foolish as to believe that a small group of conservatives or liberals speak for the majority, but I do think that in the local trenches we can illuminate some consistencies.

The names have been changed (except mine).

The Conservatives

Gary: What is your vision of the best America?

Dave: One where the American dream lives. Where you can be anybody with a new idea—

Kathy: Or where anyone who works hard and never gives up can realize their dreams-

Dave: Right. Where the entrepreneurial spirit is alive. That creates competition and is best for the consumer. Products improve, jobs are created from more industry, taxes are less and everyone has more opportunity. It feeds the system without handouts at the expense of people who work hard.

Gary: What do you think is the best economic model for the United States?

Jack: The free market is what was intended and is what supports capitalism. When industry is privatized, incentives are increased and competition leads to improvements and lower prices. The market should be allowed to ebb and flow as a free market dictates. It’s when government interferes and manipulates the economy that we have problems.

Dave: De-regulation. Government places controls on business and they have to raise their prices or cut jobs to stay solvent.

Gary: So what is the function of government?

Kathy: To support the infrastructure of our country. To build the national defense and to support the infrastructure, build roads, schools, etc. And I’m fine with social security—

Jack: Not me! Privatize social security. Let us keep our money and invest for ourselves. Trust me- I’ll do a lot better with 500 a month than the government can do!

Dave: Entitlements are killing us. Not only do they take money out of the hands of people who’ve earned it who can then contribute it back into the system, entitlements propagate the problem of people who are not taking care of themselves. Give a man a fish—-

Gary: I know, I know…he eats for a day…

(I was talking to serious and informed people and they didn’t appreciate my dismissive reduction of a wise proverb)

Gary: Finally, what is the social responsibility of America? How are we to contribute to the world- but more relevant, how do we take care of one another?

Jack: What responsibility?

Gary: (Smiling) Jack, please don’t dismiss this one. You know that I’m on the other side of the fence and I’m already of the mind that the conservative agenda does not address the realities of poverty, and moral responsibility, please give me something better.

Kathy: Okay. You didn’t want to hear the Biblical saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” but that’s what we’re talking about here. If we allow people to take care of themselves, by providing more business opportunities, more income, and let them keep what they earn we can stop the cycle.

Gary: It’s a Chinese proverb.

Kathy: What is?

Gary: The “give a man a fish” thing.

Dave: Kathy is correct, though. “Giving” without “teaching” only creates a spiral downward into more handouts and ultimately more poverty. The liberals have created a welfare state.

Jack: Look, there are people who need to be taken care of. I’ve got a niece that can’t live alone and her family needs assistance, but believe me, if I could keep more of my check, I could give more to the great organizations out there who provide those services. Everything works better when you keep assistance out of the hands of government and keep it in the hands of people. That’s what we’re all here for, to help each other.

I thanked them and told them that I’d have answers from the other side for them. Now, I won’t lie and say that I don’t already have a bias here, but I will say that I thought the answers they gave were consistent to what I believe to be the general conservative Republican point of view and I have respect for what I believe was a sincere desire to do what’s best for our country.

The Liberals

Gary: What is your vision for the best America?

Sara: An America that stands as a shining example to the rest of the world for how people can care for one another and care for the environment at the same time.

Gary: Where did that come from? The “Hippie Handbook”?

Sara: I’m serious.

Gary: I know. I’m just teasing so that I appear impartial.

Dan: It starts with economics. Conservatives believe that investment capital creates wealth, whereas, the liberal philosophy is that labor and public investment also have a role in creating wealth.

Gary: I love that- “Labor and public investment play a role in creating wealth.” That is actually my next question- What is the best economic model for the United States?

Dan: Why should the majority support a system that only benefits a few? By the logic of the Republicans, society should be most interested in facilitating the interests of the investment class because that’s where wealth is created, but most of the country is not the investment class and never will be and so we need to counter those interests with laws to ensure that wealth creation results in social benefits. That’s our piece of the American pie! That’s not redistribution; it’s a more fair allocation of shared resources.

Gary: So what is the function of government?

Dan: I see government as a democratically elected body that provides “good governance.” Specifically, the creation of institutions to manage public resources to guarantee the realization of human rights.

Sara: I once Googled “government” and the first Wiki Answer came from a guy who said, “As a businessman my job is to create a monopoly. The function of government is to stop me.” Interesting, although perhaps too simple, but in a sense that’s it. Government is here to protect our common interests from our selfish intuitions.

Gary: So finally, what is our social responsibility?

Sara: Let me start by saying that I consider it our privilege to care for one another. Taxes are the rent we pay to live in a great country.

Gary: Nice job, getting “taxes” into the mix! I would like to answer this one myself, however….

Some people speak of an American dream where “if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything” and it is a wonderful idea but its mythology. The subtext is “if you fail, it’s because you haven’t worked hard enough (or worse, you’re lazy).”

That’s why Republicans hate welfare; they feel that it’s a feeding trough built from their sweat. The truth that shatters the myth, though, is that 35 million Americans are dreadfully poor and many of them are from a legacy of poverty through no fault of their own except birth. Millions of Americans have mental or physical illnesses and cannot work. Over half a million people will sleep outside tonight in a box or under a bridge. What do you do with them? Say, “It sucks to be you”? The private sector cannot handle all of that and organize with the services that government can provide.

2000 babies were born today into poverty and some may never be given the hope that we were born into; that allowed us to succeed. The answer is simple– We help them, as best we can, and we believe, as Dan said, in good governance, of, by and for the people, to protect and manage public interests. That’s the America I believe in.

Dan: Me too.

Sara: Me three.

Okay…I was prepared to give my answer but that summarizes why I am a liberal. I showed the responses to each side, and each side respected the civil tone of the other, but, not surprisingly, no one conceded any particular point. These modest interviews are too simple a way to conclude anything as far reaching as the ideological platforms of two political parties, but it does provide some insight, from which, I think, we can begin to create new dialogues. I welcome responses from other points of view because I’m not looking to “win”, my goal is to understand and to “solve.”

Maybe it’s on this local and personal level that understanding, compromise and compassion can take root and real change can begin to take place in Washington.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

I saw a Mitt Romney commercial where Obama is castigated for being a liar.  The spot includes Hillary Clinton saying, “Shame on you Barack Obama!”

Bear in mind, this quote is from the contentious 2008 primaries and I simply can’t imagine what will be culled from the Republican debates as the other candidates called Mitt Romney everything except a good man for President, but the commercial ends with a new statistic stating that Obama’s jobs record is the worst since the Great Depression.

My shoulders get tight when I am faced with blatant hypocrisy and…my shoulders got tight.  Romney’s statistic regarding Obama’s job record is as false as anything he can accuse Obama of saying (and by the way, no specific “lie” is uncovered in his commercial).  The statistic that makes 2009-2012 the worst jobs record since the 30’s includes January of 2009, before Obama was sworn in, but also the first months of his presidency which can only (if you’re being rational at all) be attributed to the economic death spiral he inherited.

Bush’s last year in office and Obama’s first, essentially saw the same numbers in terms of job losses, but the relevant curve shows Bush job loss numbers getting bigger each month, while Obama’s record shows the number getting smaller until there is, in fact, positive job creation in March of 2010 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

I am often asked by Republicans “When are you Democrats going to take responsibility?  Obama has been President over THREE YEARS!”  It’s an easy question to ask but only if you’re looking for an easy answer; unfortunately the problem is complicated and therefore so is the answer.  I did come up with an analogy, however, that played out pretty well in a recent conversation.  A Republican friend is a baseball fan and I asked him to explain why a starting pitcher is penalized for the runners he left on base even when it may be his reliever who gives up the hits where they score.

“Because the starter was responsible for putting them on base.  The reliever gave up a hit, but he shouldn’t be held responsible for runners he didn’t put there.”

“Exactly!” I answered.  “That’s the same thing we have here.  Obama relieved the pitcher who loaded the bases.
This was the deepest recession in 80 years and he kept the inning from getting worse, i.e. a depression.  Obama may have given up a hit or two but his pitching is not why the score is what it is.”  If I were to continue this analogy longer than I should (too late?) I could say, “Obama’s first term was still Bush’s inning.  It will be the second term that is Obama’s to win or lose.”

The truth is I love analogies!  Let’s say two guys are standing next to a soda machine that offers Coke and Pepsi and they’re arguing over which is the best.  One guy claims “Coke” while at the same time he’s putting money in the machine and choosing a Pepsi.  His credibility becomes a bit suspect.  This is how I view the current economic debate.  While Republicans are claiming to own the concept of fiscal responsibility and attach the word “crisis” to everything from the national debt to debt ceilings, and federal spending, they played more than a small part in creating this mess.  The debt to GNP percentage increased 27% under George W. Bush, while Obama has increased it by only 9% – and the majority of Obama’s percentage is from continued programs from the Bush administration.  Bush raised the debt ceiling 13 times and no one said a word, yet Obama faced that (politically fabricated) crisis and suddenly Republicans cried, “The sky is falling!”

Interestingly, only President Clinton reduced the debt during his two terms and he was the first to do that since…are you ready?  Jimmy Carter.  Reagan was the first President to turn us into a debtor nation and he tripled the national debt.  George Bush, Sr. raised the debt percentage 13%.  Obama conversely has increased our debt in real numbers by less than 2 trillion dollars, while his predecessor raised it over 6 trillion.

Maybe it doesn’t matter how, where and when it all started, perhaps, all that matters, is to end the politicization of our problems so we can begin to discuss these issues rationally, where we are informed by reality and facts.  Can Democrats stop blaming Republicans and can Republicans stop their spin to demonize this President and to exclusively cast Democrats into the role of the spenders?

We are not having rational discussions about trimming the budget and we are not educating ourselves when it comes to understanding spending in a recession, deficit spending or debt ceilings and debt to GNP ratios.  There is a vocal far left that castigates everything about corporations, Wall Street, and anyone with wealth, but it is the extreme right that is controlling this debate by holding moderate Republicans ransom if they so much as cooperate with a Democrat.  No doubt, the squeakier wheel will get the grease, but the squeak on the right is being financed by interests with lots and lots of money (i.e. the Koch brothers) and has convinced half of America that we need to fix those of us who didn’t make the mess and allow those who did to conduct business as usual.

We are now in full election year mode and the mudslinging will only get worse; Obama ads will misinform voters about Romney and Romney ads will be as disingenuous as the one I just saw.  I have no delusions whatsoever that I, or any number of us, can change that; what we can change, however, individually, is how we respond to those ads.  We can do a little research.  We can know that political ads bend the truth the way detergent ads sell their product.  Do our whites really get whiter and do our brights get brighter?

I think we know better.