“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Why that doesn’t matter in the 2012 Election.

One would be hard-pressed to find an American that did not have a difficult time the last four years. America has suffered the worst economic collapse since the 1930’s. Understandably, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Republicans want to hold President Obama accountable for the last four years. They are driving the point home by using an old line. It was October 28, 1980, when Ronald Regan recycled Franklin Roosevelt’s question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Normally, a politician can get some traction with this question. Particularly if the past four years weren’t good ones. However, this time it is not relevant and this is why. Nothing is the same now as it was four years ago, and if trends continue we may hardly recognize what comes next in the years leading to 2016.

Economic problems are structural not cyclical.

It would be one thing if the current economic problems were a cyclical bump in the road. That is not the case, what America is experiencing is growing pains from a structural change driven by automation and constantly updating technology. This is a blessing for cost control and efficiency, yet from the employment side it is a curse. What are the employment options for folks who have a lower skill level, now that there is so much competition for coveted positions left in this shrinking job pool? In addition, though it is a good thing to think in ways that create a more environmentally sustainable future, this also causes economic growing pains. For generations, families have built their lives around the coalmines or the oil fields. The choice to move away from fossil fuels is a correct one, however leaders and policy makers need to consider those who are left behind by this fundamental change in how we look at Energy Policy and how that interacts with Labor Policy. These are but a few of the many complex challenges the US Economy faces. Not only domestic pressures, perhaps even more powerful, are the tremendous changes taking place outside of US borders and therefore outside of the President’s direct influence.

The world is not the same.

The world has gone through mind-blowing changes over the past four years. The tumultuous birth of Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa by way of the Arab Spring is one example. This opens up a completely new set of complex and delicate issues to maneuver going forward. Things will not go back to the way they were before. The old answers are irrelevant. In addition, the economic situation with the European Union and its members who are reshaping the relationships they have with one another. This has little in common with the way it was even fifteen years before. The past four years were incredibly tumultuous, creating many unknowns that will need answers.  Can the European Union be successful without sharing political power in order to set consistent  Economic policy? Will the European Union survive the recent economic crisis? The solutions the EU come up with will  impact the United States although the President will have limited, if any control over what happens. Again, this is a minute glimpse of the many issues happening all over the globe. The next President will need to be capable of deftly maneuvering through the historically critical window for as long as it is open during the next four years. This could set the tone in US foreign relations for the next century.

There is no turning back.

The greatest concern about the direction the Conservatives in the Republican Party are taking is that it seems to be going backward. Hearing many Conservatives speak, one wonders if they are in some sort of time machine stuck in 1950’s perhaps in some episode of Mad Men? The warrants that the party operates on seem to be from a bygone era that is no longer true. It is just not like that anymore. The minorities are becoming the majority. Poverty is due to many complex variables not just because people aren’t trying hard enough. Things like pensions, a living wage, and the ability to own a home, which give stability to the middle-class that is the backbone of the American culture and economy. Women’s issues are not just issues for women. Equal pay, affordable early childhood education, food security, and the ability for a woman to decide when and how many children she feels capable to care for are all issues that influence the society as a whole. Thinking in the past in ways that women are not the breadwinners for their homes and other such lost in the ‘50s delusions driving policy is not relevant in 2012 and beyond. The looming possibility of multiple Supreme Court appointments happening in this term add higher stakes to the polices of the candidates. It’s  important to pay attention to those who influence each man, especially those who don’t want to fight once more the vicious fight for women’s personal rights.

Voters will decide.

The “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” question may have worked before. However, we are not in the same world that we were in four years ago. We are not in the 1950’s. America needs to choose the candidate who acknowledges these changes and is able to navigate them. It is difficult for me to be confident in the Romney campaign because the Romney/Ryan Republicans are so intent on living in the past when directing us into the future is so important.  I have much more confidence from seeing Barack Obama’s performance thus far,  that he is the best choice to lead us through the next four years successfully. My confidence about the President’s future success would certainly increase if the Republicans lose big in the local and Congressional races.

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we need to focus on main street, not wall street

A rising tide lifts all boats. This is a phrase originally used by JFK in the 1960’s and it still rings true today. Through the years the phrase has been distorted by conservatives to justify trickle-down economics. You make things “almost free” (as the salesman on a Mexican beach may say of his wares) for the top 5% of wealth holders in America and they will be so touched by the generosity of the nation as to be inspired to make that money rain down on the nation in the form of jobs and abundant prosperity for all. –Amen.

Well things have been trickling down for the last twenty years but it hasn’t been prosperity. It seems to be a mechanical problem. I propose the trickle up theory of economics. It seems after reflection that America would have been better off giving a check of $500,000 to every American rather than giving it to the banks. The banks who by the way still sit on lending money. True many institutions given TARP money have paid it back. However, the lending to stimulate the economy didn’t happen.

What happened was record profits and bonuses. Well good for them. However, it still doesn’t solve the problem. So here’s the thing I am thinking about Wall St. vs. Main St. Wall St. can invest anywhere and they have. They create derivatives and hedge funds to protect their portfolios. Again fantastic for them. They know how to make money and they have the resources to do it. I feel no need to punish them for being good at what they do.

At the same time Main St. who isn’t going anywhere is being fiscally starved of capital. If America were a business Main St. would be our regular customers. They aren’t going anywhere else, they couldn’t if they wanted to at this point. They spend their money locally and it circulates locally, nationally and internationally to manufacturers and customer service centers abroad. Where Wall St. is the spleen and marrow creating and storing the blood of the economy, money. Where government is the veins, arteries and capillaries guiding the flow. Main St. is the heart, keeping things pumping and when the heart isn’t pumping the whole system dies.

“Rising tide lifts all boats”. ~John F. Kennedy

What good is having things to sell if there is no confident consumer to purchase it? The cycle of the economy needs to be complete to work. Main St. doesn’t have the resources that Wall St. has and the people of Wall St. used to understand the important part it played for the nation. I think Wall St .has lost it’s way. When did it become so “Me” and so not “We” where did the patriotism go? And if it is gone forever then the whole dynamic must shift to reflect that. To see Wall St. in an expatriate status.

Main St. isn’t going anywhere. It is the nation. When Main St. does well, everyone does well. It is time that public policy more accurately reflect this reality. The nation has tried the “voodoo economics” of the trickle down theory for a few decades now and it is a failed experiment. I say we put more money in middle-class pockets and they will distribute the money in a very capitalistic way. Rising tide lifts all boats. Grow the tax-base and the rest of these problems will take care of themselves.

we need statemanship, not brinkmanship

“Demotivation – Sometimes the best solution to morale problems is just to fire all of the unhappy people.”~Larry Kersten

If only it were that simple. In Congress that simply is not possible. Hence we have the awkward three-legged race only it has many legs and they are at this time going nowhere. Okay admittedly nowhere is harsh. There is progress being made and President Obama continues to assure us that the gap is closing between Republican and Democrats demands and the debt ceiling will be raised in time to save the United States’ pristine credit rating.

What is the cost?

At what cost? Is the question that comes to mind. What is  the cost to consumer confidence and the American morale in this brinkmanship? Is it worth the cost? So many Americans are facing their own real hardships right now. Is it not self-indulgent for these politicians to be playing these political games when what so many Americans really need to hear right now is “Don’t worry, everything is under control.” That is really what Americans need to hear right now. That is really why people send representatives to Washington D.C. in a crisis. To create innovative ideas to pull this economy up by its boot-straps and make everything okay again. However, that does not appear to be what’s happening.

It is much like the children watching their parents fight. It is scary because the children think to themselves “These are the people in charge?” When the people who are in leadership appear to be out-of-control it is a very unsettling feeling. An unsettling feeling when so many are already so unsettled is bad for morale and that is not good for America.

Americans need thoughtful, dignified statesmanship, not the out-of-control bullying of brinkmanship.

I grow tired of these bundling games. Trying to forcing complex issues through on mandatory legislation to force them down the throats of the voters is not what Democracy is about. Having a small minority hold the majority hostage is not what this is about. Yes we need to get our debt down. Okay. However, how do the Freshman members of Congress get such amnesia about how the money was spent?  In a deep Recession the pumps need to be primed, if it was done well and without interference it is very possible there very likely would be a much more robust tax-base to help repay some of this debt.

It is about investment. What private company is successful when they say “Oh we are low on funds let’s cut back.”? That doesn’t happen. They invest, expand, beg, borrow and steal to get more capital flowing into the coffers. None of this cutting back to create jobs makes sense. The US government is not a household and macroeconomics is not microeconomics — statesmen know this.

What will be left when the dust clears?

My biggest concern at this point is what will be left of American morale and consumer confidence after this debate has ravaged them? How long will it take to bounce back? As this game of chicken is being over-played in DC to make political points with DC insiders. Those who live outside the beltway are losing their patience with the games.

we need statesmen, not politicans

As the debt ceiling debacle rolls on in the 11th and a half hour the American people look on with great frustration at the political games being played in Washington D.C. Okay we get it there is an Election coming soon. Yet this debt ceiling work if done responsibly would have been completed months ago. Would it have helped if there were more reasonable voices in the mix like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)  for example, who all along has laid out the truth and consequences to all who would listen.

Will the  utter dysfunction displayed in Washington which becomes increasingly bizzaro to coin a phrase from Senator McCain, is at its worst in the last two years. The introduction of the Tea Party Freshman have become a liability to the Republican Party and the Congress as a whole with inadequate counter-balance to allow the body function in the House and to some extent the Senate.  Norman Ornstein  was on as Chuck Todd’s guest on MSBC’s Daily Rundown, July 25th,2011 to discuss this diabolical dysfunction. Orstein declaring the 112th Congress the “Worst.Congress.Ever.”

What becomes even more frustrating is the knowledge that this debt ceiling debacle is purely a political concoction.  It is difficult to  sit by as games are being played which apparently hold no consequence for the players. How are they able to be so irresponsible? How does such a small group in the House be able to hold the nation hostage twice? How many times will they be given the opportunity to do so in the future?  This awful twisting of the Democratic process is hard to take.

Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge. — Machiavelli from Chapter 3 of  The Prince 1513

Tell me. Is it really the worst thing for the Republican Party or the nation, if these hostile, no compromise Tea Party terrorists don’t get re-elected? In my opinion that’s a risk I’m willing to take for the good of the entire country. It is even more irritating to hear these debt terrorists say  “This is what the American people want,” when poll after poll shows they are out of touch with the majority of the American public.

Is it wise to bring Machiavellian principles into politics? I don’t think so. There has to be a time when all sides come together to govern and to make the best decisions possible with reality-based thinking. It is easy to dream up bumper-sticker slogans. Yet in practice, with numbers that represent great impacts on American’s lives, it is not a bandaid or bumper-sticker fix. It takes more sophisticated and complex policy crafting. It takes statesmen and stateswomen, not baser politicians to get the job done.

What has happened to the days of the statesman of Kennedy and Byrd? I miss them. We need them now.

Quote from: http://www.philosophyparadise.com/quotes/machiavelli.htm

we don’t need an agreement, we need solutions

Whose running the show?

That’s a question many Americans would like to know. It would be helpful to see the obvious ghosts that are in the room with President Obama and the others discussing the debt ceiling debacle.  If we knew exactly who these ghosts were, these shadowy “theys” who are impacting these discussions. If  the specific agenda was brought to light, than perhaps this whole process would make a lot more sense to the rest of us.

My question to our nation’s leaders is “How can you have a real discussion resulting in successful  solutions when you go into negotiations with both arms and one leg tied behind your back in the process?” Meaning, if you go into budget talks demanding  no tax revenue discussions, saying “Our prime job above all else  is to make the President a one-term president”, and we are only looking at numbers, not the human impact associated with those numbers. What kind of real discussion is that? The greatest concern and frustration is that the discussion is about what they can agree upon. It is not necessarily a viable discussion about the best remedy for the debt crisis for the American people.

The people sitting at the table are intelligent and they have made it up the ranks to get to where they are today. These legislators are not novices. So why are they not able to accomplish the task before them? Would it have helped if the President put together his own plan and said “This is it guys,” with a few minor modifications here and there? He hasn’t done that and no one is willing to actually do the work and stick their neck out because they don’t want it chopped off at the polls next Election cycle. Is it reasonable to think that elected officials can make these crucial decisions at all? If they can’t how can this vital work get done in the current system?

Another question comes to mind. Are the voters really as against taxes and reasonable solutions to our current financial situation as the media and Republicans in Washington would have us believe? How much does the Tea Party really represent the average American voter? Also, just because a voter wants something, if it is not grounded in reality should that point of view get to go to the front of the line merely because it is the loudest and frankly, most obnoxious?

Removing the referee adds risk to the game.

Now it is known to some degree that the corporate class would like to see a weak government. It would be their dream to see the Environmental Protection Agency, the Labor Department, the Fed and the Security and Exchange Commission go away so they could have free dominion on the land. Insert mad scientist laugh here.  It behooves the corporate class to have an educated work force and the protection of the US military however they don’t really want to have to pay for that.

There was once a time when the government was the middle-man. The referee if you will,  between the corporate interests and those individuals who may have less clout and power. This system made sure that business could create profits without creating a toxic environment that was not conducive to life. Which was the case during the earlier years of the Industrial Revolution. Government was the referee which kept an even playing field and set reasonable parameters, rules to the free market capitalism game. With no referee there is chaos in which many people get hurt and that is not good for the nation. However, the referees must get paid. It takes money to do the important work these agencies and social programs do.

Too little too late?

It would have been better to have had these discussions about the debt over a decade ago before we got into it. It’s too late now America is in substantial debt to China and other countries up to our eyeballs but that is the past and we cannot take it back now. So what can be done? It’s difficult to understand why talks about closing loopholes are off the table.  It seems a reasonable start to a viable solution. In addition those who would be taxed more in this scenario have been experiencing record breaking profits. They are not looking for where their next meal is coming from.

I’m also tired of this notion that people who are struggling aren’t trying hard enough. That simply isn’t the case. If the cost of living continues to jump with fuel and food prices rising as well as other factors that no one seems to talk about such as how America pays so much in utility, insurance premiums and telecommunications costs. These costs jump sometimes 10% in one year while wages remain stagnant or decrease.

We may need to solve problems not by removing the cause but by designing the way forward even if the cause remains in place. ~Edward de Bono

At the same time people are being asked to take on increased costs relating to the responsibility of saving for college for their children, pay for their retirement, sometimes long term care for their parents and cover unexpected expenses in addition to everyday bills.  The profit margin is simply not there after basic bills are paid. Perhaps a part of the over all solution to this debt crisis is  to raise the base wage. More wages can mean more tax revenue to pay the bills both locally and nationally and be able to take on more financial responsibility for the costs associated with education and growing older.

The other aspect is the human element. Leaders choosing for people to be obligated to work another 10 years of their lives. Why do they get to choose that for people? To pay for their poor planning and leadership? Is this because corporations need to keep people working longer due to the aging work force? Can they not come up with a better incentive than creating an environment of financial obligation one shade away from slavery?

Holding them accountable.

The way these debt talks have gone is irresponsible .  What’s more disturbing is that this is an obvious trend. Should we the public accept this volatile behavior producing mediocre at best policy as the norm? Is there some way to set a higher standard to hold our elected officials to? A standard of statesmanship and decorum. Can we as a nation ever get back to the days of bringing results that are beneficial to the majority of the American people? As an Independent Moderate all I can say is… I sure hope so.

stop dragging us around–the debt ceiling

There once was  a time when  a person voted on Election Day, chose someone to represent them, and then went back to daily life.  There was a basic level of ethics in leadership, a trust and regard that was recognized for the well being of the nation.  Leaders were entrusted to make honorable and fair decisions. There once was  a time that voters could basically vote and forget it, without significant negative consequences to their daily lives. Those days are over.

In the current political environment of hyperpartisanship, perpetual election cycles and 24 hour cable news to constantly blast the public with political party propaganda the climate in Washington DC is not only hostile, it  has become dysfunctional, some could even say volatile. There is a growing concern amongst voters that their representatives are not truly representing them and as a result activism has become more prevalent. This populism comes reluctantly to some as voters feel a resentful need to babysit their elected representatives to preserve their very  survival against special interests especially if they happen to be from the working class.

“This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer,” -Will Rogers

The debt ceiling debate is an example of this irresponsible partisanship. It grows increasingly clear that those who are stuck in the beltway both physically and mentally do not understand that a hostage taking mentality as a first resort is something unacceptable to the public. Independent Moderate or Indy mod voters who were once merely weary of these antics have recently come to feel scorn,  resentment and contempt for those who are not working toward viable solutions for our nation’s future.

As the discussion becomes more heated a vital concern  recently developed which was highlighted on Salon.com in their July 14, 2011 issue which brings up an even more disturbing scenario. Eric Cantor (R-VA) being a vital player in debt ceiling talks while at the same time being invested in a hedge fund that takes profits if the talks fail. Politicians, directly involved in important policy making, standing to  gain monetarily or otherwise having persuasive incentive to allow, even fabricate outcomes which are detrimental to the American public is in no way a policy that should be able to continue. It may be somewhat explanatory of some behavior on the Hill that without that information seems…well…inexplicable.

As a result voters have been caught up in a dangerous game of chicken. Where leaders are driving our nation toward a financial cliff in order to gain street cred for the upcoming election and additional assets in their portfolio. Voters have been  hijacked and put in the proverbial back seat are having the same response as one would in such a situation. Panic and  a lot of shouting in fear at the possible outcome of this unnecessary risk to the well being of the nation.

Considering that we are all in this together. There has to be a better set of priorities and actions by the nations leaders. Not just Government leaders mind you, but also leaders in Business, Non-Profits and the Faith-based community must come together to find a practical cohesive vision that is solution oriented and reality based to take America through this difficult financial transition.