“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 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 a watchdog, not a lapdog

President Obama appointed former Jeopardy champion and former Attorney General for the State of Ohio (a swing state) Richard Cordray to head the top consumer watchdog agency the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at the White House on July 18, 2011. The Consumer Financial Protection Agency is set up much like what the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is for law enforcement. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB will be a centralized department for consumer protection which was previously spread out amongst government agencies.

A primary task of this agency will be to make sure that correspondence between financial institutions and the public are written in a way that the layman can understand. It is also charged with addressing practices which may be less transparent to the consumer so they can better understand what is a good product or not. They will be educated to protect themselves in the marketplace.

I resent the fact that this bureau needs to be in place. That basic best practices are not created and maintained within the industry. However, it has been shown time and time again that the financial industry is unwilling or unable to make these types of ethical standards on their own.

“Self-regulation is to regulation as self-importance is to importance.”
— Willem Buiter

The President side stepped the logical choice for the position Professor Elizabeth Warren the Bureau was her brain child and she was the driving force creating it. Yet, because Republicans and those in the industry that would be regulated did not like that she wanted to do the job and not be dissuaded to water it down and do the usual “make it look like we’re doing something without actually doing something” that is so prevalent in the cesspool of American politics.

See more at http://www.elizabethwarren.com

The concern with the current path is that it becomes a drain on the tax-payer with mediocre at best results. Without Elizabeth Warren at the helm I am concerned that the CFPB will be more of a lapdog than a watchdog.  With Congress holding the financial leash. If Congress is influenced by the 10’s of  millions of dollars of lobbying they can merely strip the Bureau of needed funding to do its work. Sure Obama says he’s fighting now for the agency, but what about Presidents to come? Will they have the same passion to protect the consumer in the future?

“Deregulation is a transfer of power from the trodden to the treading. It is unsurprising that all conservative parties claim to hate big government.”
— George Monbiot

I love the idea of the CFPB. I think it is important that the consumer be offered a fair playing field on which to participate in the game of capitalism. I am just not sure that this is the way to get it done. I  saw on an MSNBC interview with Andrea Mitchell this morning that Professor Warren felt understandably fatigued and ready to spend time at home with her grandchildren. I would hope that she would be willing to head a well-respected non-profit agency. A watchdog for the watchdogs or lap dogs as I suspect they have a high risk to become.

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.