Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black

Lately, as we’ve been talking about entitlement programs and the taxes they create, some people have been bringing up Corporate Welfare. It’s a term that I’ve tossed around as one of the great inequities of the welfare argument, but admittedly I used it mostly as a liberal talking point more than anything else.

Certainly the government “Bailout” of the banks falls into the realm of CW and so I find myself looking a bit cross-eyed; while I am no fan of bailing out the companies largely responsible for our current economic crisis, the “Too Big to Fail” argument resonated with me.

I do not profess to be an economist, but I would like to remind all of us that, while our debate can be healthy, not many among us are actually economists or military strategists, yet we often feel that our limited knowledge qualifies us to criticize many who are. Having said that……

What is Corporate Welfare? Well…it is comprised of the grants, real estate giveaways, tax incentives, exemptions, deductions, credits and low interest rates given to corporations. In America they amass to the tune of 125-150 billion dollars a year.

Why does it exist? Well…it is the result of political power possessed by corporations, via lobbyists and clout, campaign donations and political spiffs, to enhance the profitability of these corporations.

Those who support breaks for corporations point out that they encourage businesses to grow and supply jobs; better jobs with better pay. Those critical of these breaks say that it’s a smoke and mirrors argument and only lines the pockets of CEO’s by emptying ours.

What does Corporate Welfare look like? There are thousands of examples, but here’s a look at a few to illustrate:

The Pentagon’s merger subsidy program. It pays defense contractors to merge, lessening competition for government bids and increasing the lobbying power of newly combined defense mega-firms. The industry asked for and won encouragement in the form of payments to cover the costs of consolidation and that included “golden parachute’, bonuses to executives of acquired companies. When Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta, for example, taxpayers paid $30 million in bonuses for company executives.

The National Association of Broadcasters. Congress handed over to broadcasters the rights to broadcast digital television on the public airwaves-a conveyance worth $70 billion, in exchange for… nothing. The public owns the airwaves but broadcasters have never paid for the rights to use them because broadcasters are huge political donors. They have ties to key political figures who threatened the FCC if it failed to oversee the transfer of the licenses. Few members of Congress would challenge the giveaway because they feared that would result in slanted news coverage in the next election.

Western state senators still uphold an antiquated Mining Act that allows mining companies to extract billions of dollars worth of minerals a year from federal lands without paying royalties. The giveaway creates few jobs but also creates massive environmental problems with high economic costs. The western senators stand behind the mine companies, which pour millions into campaign contributions.

That is a cynical snapshot and this doesn’t mean that all corporate perks from government are bad and that there aren’t legitimate corporate welfare packages that really do stimulate the economy, it does indicate, however, that this is a completely un-regulated arena that needs to come under scrutiny.

It does indicate that there are billions of dollars being misspent and that money belongs to us, the taxpayers. In the discussion about welfare, there is a disproportionate amount of tax money that goes to special interests compared to individuals in need and it seems to me it would be more beneficial to our paychecks if we focused our attention in this direction and developed regulations to contain it’s misuse.

Who remembers the Savings and Loan meltdown in the 80’s?

I do! Do you remember why the collapse occurred? It was from a lack of regulations that led to lending on the promise of high returns; shady speculative trading. S and L’s cooked the books and at the helm were opportunistic executives. The government then manipulated the market by lowering interest rates to expand high risk loans.

Sound familiar??? But this was 25 years ago. George Bush Sr. then “bailed out” the S and L’s to the tune of 150 billion dollars. That welfare cost the American people over 500 billion dollars in principle and interest.

The point I’m making is not to indict Reagan or Bush, or the circumstances that preceded them, rather it is to illustrate the fact that fair regulations, aligned with fiscal conservatism, have never existed and the fact that as we wage a partisan war over spending and tax dollars put into “welfare” we have to address where all of it is going, not just the easy targets like the poor.  The deficit-spending/bailout/debt- ANGER that the right wing directs against the left is part and parcel with their own practices.

That hypocrisy has bothered me from the start. It has been a partisan fight all along, not a rational one looking for solutions.  If we are really looking for a Debt Solution, we can start by regulating and reining in Corporate Welfare by 50%.

Then….

1) Roll back tax tables to Clinton era levels

2) End the war in Afghanistan

3) Decrease overall military spending 10%

Now…discuss…..

Another Fine Mess!

“Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!” said Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel every time Stan had, indeed, gotten them into another fine mess.

That’s also what Republicans are saying to Democrats and what Democrats and saying to Republicans with regard to the latest high concept blockbuster:

The Fiscal Cliff.

If this were a movie where the writer was challenged to come up with the best high-stakes, dramatic, yet farcical storyline, they could not do better than what Congress has created with our federal budget.

So, who’s to blame?  Let’s get that out of the way first, shall we?

It all starts with the Great Recession.  That is the dark, powerful and mythical beast that lurks beneath our village; it is the Kraken of our story that has risen to devour us.

The only thing that keeps the Kraken at bay is money.  Money must be liquid, flowing throughout the land, and the economy must maintain some kind of growth before such a time when tranquility can reign over our village again.  Any step backward and the ferocious beast will consume us into a depression.

During the great, contentious, partisan, economic debate a couple of years ago, the President and Democrats in Congress, were committed to the only economic paradigm that has any track record of working in such dire circumstances, and that is the principle of Keynsian economics that promotes government stimulus.

It is based on the historical fact that the private sector cannot (and will not in financially uncertain times) put enough money into circulation to stimulate growth and create jobs.  Therefore, the federal government, through tax breaks, granting loans and borrowing capital, uses spending to reverse the downward spiral into economic depression.

It has worked (although, opposition will say otherwise) and that is evidenced by the fact that job loss ended and positive job creation began in March of 2010.  However, more debt was created, and that has been the only foothold Republicans have needed to oppose it.

What is lost in the screaming debate that has ensued is that debt goes down when production goes up and that is the eventual result of stimulus.  But in these bitter, partisan times of hyperbole and hatred, patience is not a participant.  The now notorious “Debt Ceiling” cornered that debate in 2011 when the President asked Congress to raise it in order to keep from defaulting on loans.  It has been raised, for the record, without controversy, throughout our history (George W Bush raised it 7 times, and raised the debt in terms of percentages far more than the current administration) in order to keep our national credit rating perfect.

The concept is predicated on believing that America will prosper and the fact that our economy has grown exponentially in the past 30 years, but it was the attack angle for Republicans to exploit in order to compromise Obama’s presidency.

Desperation to raise the ceiling caused a desperate compromise between the White House and Republicans in Congress and that compromise is what has brought us to (drumroll) The Fiscal Cliff.

Boehner’s Republican controlled House insisted that in order to raise the ceiling to avoid defaulting, a 10% mandatory reduction in federal spending (budget sequestration) would have to be made in January of 2013.  This was an easy sell to the American people who have been led to believe that the federal government is no more than a giant household and that principles of spending, debt and credit are the same.

Falderal, to be sure, since we don’t, as a household, print our own money, collect taxes, trade with foreign countries, and we aren’t individually responsible for national security, public education and disaster relief, but we’ll leave that alone for now.

Suffice to say, that many American’s are convinced that mandatory and massive austerity measures are a good thing.

Coincidentally, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the same time.  So, now we face The Fiscal Cliff; if the tax cuts are extended there will be less revenue, coupled with reduced budgets, which could slide us back toward a recession, or… we can allow the tax cuts to expire, thereby raising taxes, and risk decreased spending and…slide back into a recession.  Regardless, a 10% federal spending cut will create job loss (over a million estimated in science and research) and put us on a negative growth path that could jeopardize the economy.

A recession is not reversed through austerity cuts, but rather, through capital liquidity, and so this is a conundrum to be sure.

So…what’s the solution?  I’ve stated many times that I am not an economist, but neither are you (unless you are my friend, John Harvey), I only contend that I spend a little more time on this stuff than most voters.  The basic point to the solution is this—- wealthy Americans are the only people who can afford to pay what we need to avoid falling off the cliff.  And guess what?  They’ll do fine even if their taxes are raised.  Plenty of wealth was created with MUCH higher marginal rates than what we have now.

There is a psychology to wealth, however.  Once a person reaches a degree of affluence, their primary goal is to keep it and improve upon it.  There is no metamorphosis into becoming a Job Creator, the only change is that they discover they can never have enough and they will bristle at taxes that take money from their accumulation and put it into the “Common Good.”  Simple truth.  It has to be understood, though, the wealth is not created as a result of wealthy people having more money, it is created when average Americans can spend more money and so there is no solution if we take more out of our pockets.

Here’s what I suggest–

Let’s be blunt from the beginning by understanding that the Bush tax cuts will expire and the top tax rate will be back up to 39 percent.  Sit down, Republican friends– they are scheduled to expire!  The Taxation Mardi Gras that the top 2% have enjoyed for a decade is over and they will pay more, but nownominal rates for the rest of us can be cut back.

Next we need to put reform on shelters (this was proposed by Republicans and later taken away) on the table.  They must be implemented to eliminate high value deductions that the wealthy exploit.  Granted, Republicans suggested such provisions while also proposing tax reductions and so this will be a stumbling block, but by going back to a more progressive tax structure we will, in theory, produce more income.

Next, Dodd-Frank must be modified so that it actually works.  It was adopted to end the financial maneuverings on Wall Street that led to toxic assets and a House of Derivative Cards, but it is hurting small banks.  Dodd-Frank should apply only to large financial firms, and reforming it will reduce the new regulatory burdens that are strangling Main Street lending.

This compromise will give Boehner a boner (I’m so sorry!  I’ve been trying to use that phrase for two years and this seemed like the best opportunity I’ll ever get):

As dividends become ordinary income, we should change corporate tax rules to end double taxation on their dividends.  Dividends should be the same as collecting interest in the eyes of corporate tax collectors.

And there’s more to be bled from the Democrats in this Grand Compromise Solution-  raise the Real Estate Tax threshold!  It follows the age-old premise that money should be taxed when it’s EARNED and not when it’s invested, and allowing for more immunity from taxes on real estate, eases a burden on the wealthy.  Some of you won’t care about “easing” any burden on those who can afford burdens, but we don’t get anything if we don’t give anything.

Finally, we should put Pigovian taxes on the table.  For those who may think that is the taxing of pigs, let me clarify.  Pigovian taxes are regressive taxes that put a tax onto activities that produce a negative outcome.  Carbon emissions, cigarettes, even gasoline consumption.  There are pros and cons to each, but large amounts of revenue can be created that can be used toward necessary programs.  Education and health in particular.  Austerity measures to either would be costly to our future prosperity and Pigovian taxes can make up for budget losses elsewhere.

It can be argued that regressive taxes place a greater burden on lower incomes, but the revenue generated can offset those burdens as well as steer society toward better (cost saving) alternatives.  Yeah, yeah, yeah…that’s “social engineering” and some people break into hives at such a thought, but “social engineering” includes education, health benefits, seatbelts, car seats and tax breaks.

“Tell me what ISN’T ‘social engineering,” says Stan as he flutters his tie.

Now what?

The political arguments on Facebook have pretty much ground to a halt.  There are a few jabs here and there regarding basic philosophical differences between sides, but the daily attacks on what politicians have said, not said, done, or have not done, have pretty much fallen by the wayside.

I’m going to be really honest…I kind of miss it.  Someone asked me right after the election, “What are you going to write about now?”

I responded quickly with, “Don’t worry, there is still a lot of work to be done” and although that statement is undeniably true, I have to admit that I was concealing a bit of remorse at not having Mitt Romney to kick around, and from not trying to persuade the uncommitted to commit to President Obama.

So…now WHAT?

NOW we get down to business.  We have to outline the differences between parties, and we have to find the commonalities, as well, so that we can begin to work toward making alliances.

Great.  Problem solved.

But wait…HOW do we do that?  We’ve been so contentious for so long, we’ve created so many labels and categories for one another, and have insulted, branded, dismissed, and chastised each other for so many years, that an entire generation has grown into adulthood never having known anything close to bipartisan cooperation.

How did we get so far apart?  The obstinate divide began, from where I’m perched, when Nixon’s devious paranoia turned what was a logical ideological divide into a conflict where we now viewed politics as a battle between good and evil.  And while his successor Ford was a good man, who, in my opinion, deserved to be elected in 1976, he carried the stain of having been Nixon’s VP and he could not inspire voters.

Liberal confidence was short lived, however, with the election of Ronald Reagan.  Reagan was drawn from an almost mythical version of American Conservatism and with the emergence of “Reagan Democrats,” the left wing essentially gave up trying to differentiate their policies from his.  Even though fantastic people like Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis came forward, they were, nevertheless, milquetoast as candidates who represented the new meandering middle.

It wasn’t until a guy named Bill Clinton, who had the charisma to charm the disenfranchised center into believing again and his ability to turn supply side economics into a machine for social progress that the Neo-Cons became scared themselves.  And this is where the era of bloody political cage matches began.  With the simultaneous explosion of the internet, the discourse became truly hostile, and anti-left/anti-right hysteria would never again loosen its grip.

So I ask the question again.  How do we overcome what we have said about each other, how do we come together, shake hands, and get on with the business of solving America’s problems?

We start by posting, emailing, and calling each other and saying, “I’m sorry for the times when I became so frustrated that I may have belittled your positions when you opposed mine.”

And don’t expect an apology in return, just be happy with taking the high ground.  Then consider that we share common goals and we all want the best America possible for ourselves, our children and future generations.  We just don’t agree on how to get there.

But, we CAN get there.  We get there by talking to each other in bars, at supper tables, and backyard barbeques.  We tell each other what is important to us individually.  If its “clean air and water, better schools, a more stable economy, or more jobs” we will find that most people will agree with basic premises.  When we agree on those, we can go issue by issue.

When we agree that “a more stable economy is essential to strength and securing our freedom” imagine someone saying, “I think we need to look at the size of the middle class and look at where the money has been going, and find ways to strengthen the consumer.”

Another could add, “When we allow for entrepreneurship to thrive by removing restrictive taxes and regulations, then American commerce will flourish again and that creates jobs.”

Now, someone asks, “What tax breaks have been given already? Why do we need more?”

Civil debate, continues: “Have loosened regulations made consumers too vulnerable? Are some regulations necessary?”

“Can we find accurate information to support our theories about how, and to whom, money has been circulated?”

“What kind of debt can this economy endure and what are the real costs?”

“What are the government programs that you think aren’t necessary?”

“Have you ever benefitted from welfare?”

“What does ‘For the Common Good’ mean, anyway?”

Here’s hardest part….do research that doesn’t support what you have previously believed.  Look for what a Senator or Congressperson from the OTHER side has done, someone you may even dislike, that has been positive for their constituents.  Everyone got elected because some people must have liked them.  I voted against John McCain, but I like John McCain.  I deride George W. Bush, but I was a resilient American when he was my president during 9/11.  I like the way Governor Christy placed his state above politics in the wake of Frankenstorm.

I’m being a little pedestrian here, but frankly…going back to the basics of civility is what we all need to do.

Let’s shake hands.  We can talk about something other than politics first, and then we can inch toward topics like welfare, military spending, immigration, gay rights, foreign policy and taxes.

This would be a good time to create a new model for discussions and conversations, rather than hostile debates and arguments that no one ever concedes, anyway.

Child’s Play

Remember the game show “Concentration”?  There was a numbered grid and when a contestant picked a number, it would flip to reveal a piece of a prize.  The contestant would now try to remember where they previously saw a matching piece, and if they did, they would call out that number.  If it was, indeed, a “match,” the prize was won and then both pieces would flip to reveal pieces to a puzzle that was to be solved in order to win the game.

It was based on a children’s game to test and exercise the ability to concentrate and to remember.

I look at life that way.  It’s basically a huge, metaphysical grid that we navigate by trying to connect thoughts, experiences, images and feelings that we discover in the present, with thoughts, experiences, images and feelings that we’ve uncovered in the past.  When there is a “match” we find ourselves in love, or in a new job, living in a new city, discovering a previously unknown pleasure, or having made new friends.

Politics, also, fit nicely into this game show concept.  Our political beliefs are a reflection of how we have connected squares on the grid, and the more we’ve connected, the more evidence we are presented with to solve the puzzle.

The “puzzle” is the big ideological mission to achieve the best of “Life, Liberty and Happiness” (or “cash and prizes” for those of us who actually enjoy using a Game Show as a metaphor for life).

Several months ago, I was in a discussion with someone who claimed that “Liberals are racists.”  I’ve heard that strange and erroneous statement before and it’s based on a conservative notion that “liberals consider blacks and other minorities inferior and unable to achieve and that’s why they create programs like Affirmative Action.”

The “match” came just yesterday as I was reading a conservative blogger who said, “The liberal agenda is to keep the poor where they are by providing them with welfare, thereby disabling their motivation to work.  Liberals do this because they have no faith in humankind.”

The two grid squares revealed a perception that conservatives have of liberals.  Liberals, they conclude, do not believe in the fortitude of the human spirit and they (liberals) think that non-whites do not have the capabilities and wherewithal to succeed without assistance.  Many conservatives believe that they have solved this concentration puzzle by matching Civil Rights legislation with Affirmative Action, and Welfare with Unemployment, to reveal a picture of cynical, prejudiced and elitist white liberals.

But, this is where Hugh Downs says, “I’m sorry, that is not correct…you’ll have to keep playing.”

As a liberal playing this game, I will step in with my analysis of the same revealed pieces.  “Hugh, I’d like to solve the puzzle, please.”

“Liberalism recognizes that the oppressive specter of discrimination and prejudice weighs so heavily on those who are outside the overwhelming influence of white America, that policy must be created to counter where oppression still exists until such a time when the evolution of inclusion transcends intolerance.

The puzzle also says that welfare is the necessary component of a compassionate and civilized society that recognizes that there will be unfortunate and unfair complexities from a free market that also creates failures.”

The bells start to ring!  Ding-Ding-Ding!

“That is correct” intones Hugh Downs with his signature understated declaration of victory.  “You now advance to the Bonus Round where you can risk what you’ve won for a chance to triple your winnings!”

Well, I may be a liberal, but I am conservative in matters that risk my winnings.

“I’ll take what I’ve won, Hugh.”

There will always be conflicting analysis of the experiences that are revealed to us as we journey through the Game of Life (sorry, but I feel obligated to ending this post with the analogy I started with).  The difference that will lead us closer to a better guess at solving the puzzles of policies, politics and ideologies will be our collective ability to concentrate; to pay attention; and the patience to allow for more information.

It’s a children’s game, really.

Give a Man a Fish

I travel a lot and often overhear conversations in airports and restaurants regarding politics.  The arguments that are anti-Obama and anti-left, are usually the same. “Liberals want to spend, spend, spend” and “America is broke because of Obama” along with “My hard work is paying for lazy people.”

The consensus from the right (that I hear consistently) is that “we need to run government like a business” and while I counter with the obvious, “Government is not a business, it is a government,” usually their eyes glaze over, not because they can’t comprehend my simple premise, but because they think I’m full of shit.

The primary complaint I hear of socially liberal economics, in general, regards the social expenditures that come out of paychecks; money that conservatives believe should be left to them to decide how it’s spent and on whom.  It is money, they believe, that will stimulate the economy, and ultimately if welfare spending is curbed, will motivate those who are on the dole to get out and find a job.

It is a huge ideological gap between the two sides and one that should be examined…

On the left there is this idea that we could end poverty with the right assistance programs. On the right there is a belief that everyone will be better off by lowering taxes and ending most of those programs.

Both sides are only dreaming.  There’s an elephant in the room that no one wants to address- It isn’t possible to completely end poverty and it isn’t possible for everyone to be well off- because the rich feed off the poor and the poor feed off the rich.

Did I really just say that?

I’d like to play out a scenario to illustrate this point.  Let’s give the right wing their dream scenario.  Let’s say, the Bush tax cuts become permanent and, in fact, taxes are cut even 5% more! That takes about two hundred billion dollars out of the Treasury annually, but we can begin to balance that by cutting almost every entitlement program plus we’ll have to cut a little military spending (we can afford to) and other discretionary spending will be cut back, as well. We can take a red pencil state to state and cut a LOT of pork…

The average American household could keep about $2500 more in their pockets annually to put towards a down payment on a house, a car, buy appliances, remodel the kitchen, whatever. Or they can invest toward retirement or college.  We are talking about 375 billion dollars of new money being pumped into the economy!

Demand for products grows industry and that creates jobs. Job creation expands the middle class and that is the engine of a mixed (predominately capitalist) economy, along with incentive and wealth and the growing tax base covers the lost revenue from lower taxes.  Perfect!  Everyone is happy!

Except…we’re not….the wealthy have expanded their holdings exponentially in this scenario and the divide between the top and the bottom is greater than ever.

What’s the problem with that if everyone is better off?

Because everyone is NOT better off as the cost of living slides, as it always does, toward affluence.

“But the competition, as a result of increased industry from consumer demand, has driven down prices (The economic law that conservatives think was brought down from Mt. Sinai).”

After an initial reprieve from inflation, due to competitive pricing, wages have risen along with profits (if we’re going to use economic laws then we have to incorporate that one, as well) and prices go up to compensate. That $2500 in our pockets doesn’t give us the ability to buy that house; it only gives us more collateral to get a bigger loan and a better car with a higher payment.

It is inevitable that as the “standard” of living rises, Americans will live outside of their means to try and keep up.

The root cause of inflation is usury (interest on loans) and our debt has increased. Most “money” is created by banks as loans, but the interest on that debt is not and to create the money to pay the interest, more debt must be created (refinancing). This creates ever larger payments that in turn drive higher prices for goods in order to service the growing debt.

All we have done in this scenario is slide the bar higher and now there are as many, if not more, who fall under the new poverty line. This is not a made up scenario to illustrate a point, this is exacty what has been happening for 30 years.

But now (in the hypothetical that cut social programs)…there are no programs to bridge the gap during unemployment and poverty rises. Job education programs were taken out of the budget and the skill levels decrease. The economic machinery, however, is still geared toward high production (we can use Detroit as the model for this) while demand now sinks.  Major industry is in the red and unemployment rises, more people walk the streets indigent and the programs that could have at least given them sustenance or hope…are gone.

Some things will never change, however.  The wealthy are wealthier than ever but are still trying to convince the rest of us that they are unfairly burdened and if we’d just decrease their taxes even more….

And what about the liberal dream where our communal assistance ends poverty?

Well, people will fail no matter how hard we try to stop it. Failure is part of the human condition; as Mark Twain cynically stated, “Let us be thankful for the fools, but for them the rest of us could not succeed.”

Twain’s comment, though, has more to do with the precarious success “of the rest of us” than it is a condemnation of the “fools.” It comes down to a choice that my conscience and my heart have no trouble making clear— I would rather move in the direction of compassion than to isolate those who have failed.

That is why I call myself a “progressive”; the policies we champion give strength to a platform of helping those in need, of rehabilitation for those whose luck turned sour and of respect to all who grace this planet.

Conservatives love to quote the Chinese proverb ( many people think this is Biblical but it’s not), “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime” but that’s not what they really mean; their politics show no interest in teaching him to fish. They say, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but if he wants to eat like me he better find a pole and learn to fish, like I did.”

I love the original proverb, but I would like to add, “Let’s share the fish we caught while we teach him. And let’s give him our pole because he doesn’t have one…we’ll get another.”

I’ve Got Blisters On My Fingers!

My eyes are a little bloodshot this morning.  I stayed up late and partied with a lot of Democrats.  It wasn’t a celebration from the start, but by 11pm the shots started coming out.  When Iowa was announced “blue” I broke down and cried (that’s the real reason for my bloodshot eyes!).  So many worked so very hard for President Obama and our local representatives (as well as Judge Wiggins) and it felt like a small miracle when it paid off.

Many other great things happened last night, as well.

Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and gay marriage was approved in Maine and Maryland.

Democrats picked up seats in the Senate and although the Republicans retained a majority in the House, I, for one, think that might be good.  For America to heal and to build, bi-partisan cooperation has to become part of our political fabric, once again.

When one side controls the branches of government, “The Blame Game” becomes the only tool for the party-out-of-power to wield.  As it is now, Republicans have to come to the table if they want to get elected in 2014 and 2016.  While their obstructionism kept policies from moving forward, it did not accomplish its primary goal:  To remove Obama from office.

Of course, the re-election of President Barack Obama was the cornerstone to last evenings success for Democrats, and I believe his re-newed vigor to mend and cross party lines is sincere.  He also has to find cooperative alliances or nothing will get done- and there’s one thing we can ALL agree on- that things have to get done.

To start on that path, I want to challenge Democrats to be clear in our minds:  We did NOT receive a mandate.  This was a contentious 50/50 split.

And I want to challenge Republicans to clarity, as well:  You lost because you put your all your eggs into an extreme conservative basket, and that basket was tattered and torn.

Romney did not receive the youth vote, single women, blacks or Hispanics.  Needless to say, he didn’t get the gay vote, either.  He got the largest percentage ever, though, of white males.

What does that say?

It tells us that the landscape of America has changed, and it will not change back; back to when white males controlled government, business and the working class.  Even Texas, a solidly red state with a zillion electoral votes, is becoming closer to a “swing state.”

Republicans now have to weigh this reality and their options to figure out how to regain the White House or to gain control again on the Hill.  They cannot be the party of white males if they want to be relevant.

Historically, however, Republicans like to stay on the surface and look no deeper than their own rhetoric.  “We didn’t go far enough right!” they might conclude.  “We need a REAL conservative and not a closet moderate like Romney!”

That would be their tactical error.  It would be like analyzing the fact that they didn’t get young people, single women, blacks and Hispanics and concluding, “All we have to do is find a young, single, half-black, half-Hispanic woman and put her on the ticket!  That will make the difference!”

What they should do is critically examine the policies that alienate those voters.  They need to look at their positions on civil rights, immigration, the environment and religious freedom.  That doesn’t mean they have to become liberals, but they must remove the absolutes and intolerances from their ideological quilt and find threads of inclusion.

If they conclude instead that young people and minorities are simply looking for welfare handouts and that’s why they vote Democratic, then they will have missed the point, the truth, the lesson and the boat, and they will condemn themselves to irrelevancy.

That is, in fact, a dismissal of those demographics that I’ve already been reading and hearing from Republicans.

I do not wish for the end of the Republican Party.  My wish is for the Republican Party to be strong; strong because it reflects real constituents from all walks of life.  I may continue to disagree with many of their policies, socially and economically, but the polarity of perspectives is a good thing, not a bad thing, when looking for real answers.

I’ve written a lot over the past two years on the subject of politics and I’ve got a little carpal tunnel from typing frantically on too many mornings.  I will continue to voice my opinions, and my challenge to myself is this:  Stay informed, stay honest and always stay on 17.

I may take the week off though, because as Ringo Starr famously bellowed after his furious drumming on “Helter Skelter”:

WTF?

It’s Election Day!  Finally!  What a joy to watch the news this morning without one, single, political ad.

I feel like I wielded a sword in this fight, but I also feel like I should have worked harder for the candidates I support.  I could’ve given more money, maybe, or attended more rallies, I think, or maybe I should have sharpened my blade in my Courier column and not have been quite so…accomodating to the right wing.  With so much at stake and in the balance in this election, it just feels like I could have done more.

So…I’m wondering if there are still a few “undecideds” out there who won’t be voting until after work tonight…is it possible that I could put a few more words and ideas out there that one of them might see that…could influence how they view this choice?

As I was getting dressed this morning, preparing to vote, I was thinking about an argument that I never made.  I essentially work in the automotive industry because a majority of my clients, as an advertiser, are car dealerships, and when our economy collapsed in 2008 (just before the election), the auto industry was hit hard.  The company I work for was a direct casualty.

Detroit’s business model (Ford may be considered an exception) was poor.  The big thick margins on vehicles that Americans weren’t buying had finally come to roost.  American auto makers didn’t see the future that the Japanese and Koreans had figured out long ago by making dependable, affordable, fuel efficient cars.  Detroit didn’t see what consumers were looking for because, true to form, their operating principle since the early 70’s, had been “profit before quality.”

As cars didn’t sell, dealers cut advertising, and my company had to let employees go, while many executives, like myself (and ownership), took substantial pay cuts to keep things going.

As all this started unfolding, Barack Obama was sworn in as President on Jan 21, 2009.

In February, his massive stimulus package, including nearly 290 billion dollars of tax incentives, was approved by a Democratic Congress, Chrysler and GM were given federal loans, and health care reform was signed into law a year later in March of 2010.

The combined stimulus of loans, tax incentives and billions of dollars funnelled into infrastructure, led to positive job creation that same month and for the first time since December 2007.

Detroit was forced to restructure, in order to get the loan, into a more efficient business model, with better designs, and they immediately absorbed old cars in the government sponsored “Cash for Clunkers” initiative to get people into newer, better, more fuel efficient American cars.

By 2011 cars were selling and Detroit was in the black.

And in 2011….my company was hiring again.  Paychecks went back to where they were and this year we’ve had record months in Direct Mail advertising.  Our employee count is above where it was in 2009 and we’ve already forecasted a possible record breaking 2013….

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Barack Obama has been President that entire time…yet…Republicans give him no credit, whatsoever, for diverting us from a depression, and for, in fact, awakening recovery.  Who else could it have been?

If Republicans are going to blame President Obama for everything that happens in America, don’t they have to give him some credit for what is good today?  This is an election hinging on economic theories and despite real growth, polls show that Americans believe that Romney is the better candidate in that regard.

WTF?

Romney believes in the same neoliberal economic policies that President Bush deployed and they, undeniably, contributed to economic collapse as more and more money was transferred from the middle class (the consumers) to the wealthy.

Obama believes in what has been successful already, even with a hostile Republican House that has blocked every single initiative (with100% uniformity) since January, 2011, that he has proposed.  From a Jobs Bill with more tax incentives, to the Buffet Rule for more equitable tax reform, to financial reforms that would protect consumers from the fleecing they took leading into the recession.

WTF?

Even where I work, many of the people whose jobs have been saved or created by the recovery of the automotive industry are blind to the reasons WHY and instead they put their faith into a candidate who would have chosen attrition in Detroit which would have sent thousands and thousands of workers onto welfare rolls.

WTF?

Its going to be a close race and while I am optimistic of an Obama victory and for the local candidates I’ve supported to win, I am also preparing myself for the work ahead if they don’t.  That work will be to continue fighting for egalitarianism, environmental sanity, economic fairness, consumer protection and civil rights.

It may be to awaken the conscience of a President to do the right things….

..or it may be…to stand behind a President who already believes in those principles.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Half Price Drinks!

I keep hearing that my individual liberties are being threatened under the Obama Administration and that America is heading down the “wrong path.”

I hear this from conservatives who write into this blog and on my Facebook page and their proclamations are often reiterated by leading Republicans.

Every time I hear it I say to myself, “I’d better look into that.  I certainly don’t want my individual liberties to be threatened or to be heading down the wrong path.”

But then one thing leads to another, a good game on television and there’s always a Happy Hour somewhere and I forget.

So, I decided to take some time today and take stock of my jeopardized liberties and to look at this slippery slope that we are on, caused by…what was it again?

Oh yeah! Obama’s socialist takeover of America…

One thing that really irritated me right off the bat is that I’ve lost the right to complain about my stocks which had tanked in 2008.

I sort of enjoyed telling people how broke I was because it made me part of the national economic concern and I felt fellowship. Unfortunately now, after 4 years of that bastard in the White House, I’m up a little and I’ve lost the liberating feeling I got from the communal struggle.

Bills were on my desk and I got a notification from my bank that my mortgage rate actually went down. That’s unfortunate because now I won’t have as much interest to write off.

I got an email from my friend Steve, in Los Angeles, who has been without health insurance most of his adult life and now has coverage and that kind of pisses me off.  I like Steve, but to be honest, I always thought that as a self employed writer he was lazy.

I mean seriously- a WRITER? If he cared about his family at all he wouldn’t have chosen such a selfish profession. Sure, he’s written some television shows during better times that have entertained millions but who can’t do that?

I always thought that he should have taken the manager’s job at Burger King that he was offered after college because the benefits were generously mediocre.

There was a USA Today in front of me that carried an editorial about Obama’s surprisingly successful foreign policies and listed several of the accomplishments for which Republicans might have some trouble finding an attack angle.

It began with the killing of Osama Bin Laden and went on to ending combat operations in Iraq. It occurred to me that along with an actual strategy in Afghanistan, I have lost some wonderful liberal talking points about war escalation and establishing moral authority on the world stage —and that is a clear step off the path of American imperialism!

Indeed, we are on the wrong path if our goal is to create enemies and snub allies so that we can increase military spending in order to drive the debt even higher so that we’ll have to reduce the social spending that actually helps Americans to live rather than to die! That is the goal…right?

All in all, I’m disappointed that I don’t have more to be upset about.  I didn’t even have to shovel my driveway last winter.  If I didn’t already know that the scientific community was comprised of loser nerds, I’d think there was some validity to this “Climate Change” scam.

The truth is I’m lucky.  I have a good job and too many Americans don’t , but I can assure everyone that it isn’t the Affordable Health Care Act or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or anything else that is being labeled “socialist” or a “government takeover” that has stifled job creation.  It is something much more sinister and it rhymes with “Republican Obstructionism.”  Okay…it IS Republican Obstructionism.

Meanwhile, I will continue to support those programs, go to work, raise my kids and help everyone I can to enjoy more benefits of being an American.  Like I said, I’m lucky, and the biggest downer in my day so far was watching CNN and seeing angry jeers from a Republican fundraiser close by to where the President was to appear.

It was called “Stand Up America” and one guy actually did stand up.  He stood up and hollered, “Stop this Communist takeover of America!” and the whole banquet hall cheered.

Man, oh, man, I wish I had been there because the $1500 a plate dinner looked divine!

Blogging For Dollars

This is my last post for the week and I’m a little tired. I’m tired of making the same old arguments over and over, although I’m sure I’ll have renewed energy on Monday to get back into the swim.

Today, however, I’m looking forward to driving to South Bend with my youngest son to watch 8-0 Notre Dame.

I’m lucky to have healthy boys, a great job, and weekends like this are my bliss.

I work hard and I’m rewarded for it, but, there have been times in my life when I’ve needed help and that’s what I’d like to write about now…

It isn’t rare to read, or hear, someone accuse the government (which always seems to be a “liberal” government, whether the attack is on the current administration or a general slam against “government”) of creating a “Nanny State” or a dependence on welfare.

What is used a lot is a statistic that tells us that nearly half of America doesn’t pay taxes (“47%” is Romney’s percentage for everything, from freeloading Americans to the number of registered Democrats, and for how much of his day he spends at charity function photo-ops).

The deduction that conservatives are making from this is that it’s an indication of the failure of welfare programs and that the number is high because people don’t want to work (because they don’t have to).

The assumption is so easily made and the concept so simple to grasp (free money = no work) that it’s barely challenged anymore, allowing it to become a cornerstone of modern conservative rhetoric.

The trouble is…it isn’t even close to true.

The relevant deduction from a staggering number like 47% who don’t pay taxes is the fact that they don’t make enough to pay taxes or that they are unemployed.

It isn’t an indication of lack of desire to work, or that nanny-lust has taken hold of their inherent laziness, it is proof, in fact, that the balance of opportunity in America is out of whack.

Most working Americans have at some time or another taken some form of welfare, if just a temporary unemployment check and most American’s who receive welfare, go back into the work force.

Most Americans would rather work than not- and the kicker is that the general welfare budget (excluding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) is only 1% of the federal budget and only a fraction of those who receive welfare are the ones abusing the system, whereas welfare critics imply that everyone is abusing the system.

Here’s a macro view: According to UNICEF, nations with strong social welfare programs report a smaller percentage of population living in poverty. In 2005 the percentage of children living in poverty was: Denmark, 2.4%; France, 7.5%, Norway, 13.4%; Canada, 14.9%; United Kingdom, 15.4%; United States, 21.9%, all nations with extensive welfare systems (and the other nations ranking higher than the US have forms of socialized medicine).

Coincidentally, the nations at the top of this list are also considered the “happiest.”

Furthermore, among all households receiving food stamps, almost twice as many include at least one working adult as those that don’t, so in other words, receipt of this type of welfare does not discourage work- it simply supplements a wage that is inadequate to provide the essentials of living.

And according to the Food Research and Action Center, only 56% of people eligible for food stamps nationwide actually claim the benefits they are eligible for.

And the micro view? Millions of individuals are out of work through no fault of their own and hanging on solely by virtue of a social service safety net.

Welfare has existed since the Roman Empire to provide sustenance to those who ultimately provide sustenance to the ruling class and while we prefer to look away from our own socio-political shortcomings and pretend that there is no “Power Elite” in America, failures are a bi-product of a Capitalist machine that creates its own exhaust. But the micro-reality reveals that the “exhaust” has a family and carries the dignity of human life.

We are not a Third World country; we don’t step over our dead in the streets; we have the opportunity and the privilege of helping one another. When you look at the real numbers and not the rhetoric, we are paying a small price to protect ourselves and our neighbors.

Now…off to enjoy the weekend.