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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tea Party's Real Colors Showing Already?

Candidates and supporters of the Tea Party have been loudly celebrating their victories and those of the Republicans in the recent elections. I have been publicly skeptical that Tea Party candidates are really any different than mainstream politicians. However, even I am surprised by how quickly these candidates seem to be exhibiting the "corruption" of power and office.

My evidence? Three of the most well known Tea Party candidates, all vocal and consistent critics of government spending, especially for "social welfare" programs, have all rejected appointment to the critically important House Appropriations Committe. For those who are unaware, this is the committe responsible for the actual budgeting of the federal government. They determine spending priorities and evaluate spending bills and decide what spending bills will be sent to a vote.

Why would Michelle Bachman (MN), Steve King (IA) and Lynn Westmoreland (GA), all of whom are adamant about controlling spending and reducing taxes pass on what has always been a prestigious assignment? Because it's easy to be critical of others who make spending decisions. It's easy to decry the abuse of social welfare programs. It's easy to attack popular programs to which you are opposed. It's quite another thing to have the courage to stand up and say I'll help make those difficult decisions. It takes courage to put yourself on the line when you know every decision you make will be criticized by someone. These three, and many others like them, lack the courage to put their political career on the line to do the right thing, regardless of how hard and uncomfortable it may be. Throughout the campaigns they adroitly avoided giving any specifics about where to cut spending and to preserve this ambiguity requires they avoid a position on this committee. There they would have to have actual ideas, actual alternatives and stand on real principles. Take this as the first of many examples of the Tea Party embracing politics as usual.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is America Really Ready For "Change"?

Much has been made of the dramatic Republican surge around the nation in the 2010 elections, particularly in Congress. The new Republicans, especially those running under the Tea Party label, all made gaining control of government spending and debt the centerpiece of their campaigns. Very few people object to financial responsibility, though many are skeptical given how many times we have heard this from both parties over the last couple of decades. I, myself, am actually less skeptical about the willingness of the politicians to address the issue (and my skepticism is considerable), than I am about the willingness of the American people to make the sacrifices that will be necessary to make genuine progress.

If the United States is going to really gain control of spending and the ballooning national debt, Americans are going to be required to sacrifice in ways that haven't been seen since the Great Depression. The question is, given the partisan nature of our politics and the seemingly self-focused and entitled nature of the American people, whether these sacrifices will be accepted by enough people to make them a reality.

Anyone who believes that we can tax our way out of the problem without reducing spending (the liberal view) isn't being realistic. On the flip side, anyone who believes we can just cut spending to solve the problem (the conservative view) is equally unrealistic. People need to view the current spending/debt problem of the government the way they would a family with the same problem. Ask anyone who has climbed out of debt and they will tell you it took both increasing income (taxes) and reducing expenses (cutting spending). This requires sacrifice and commitment, and yes, pain. While there are clearly individuals who have the strength to successfully negotiate this process, I am not certain that the American people as a whole are ready to face this challenge.

A major problem we face in this dilemma is the partisanship rampant in our politics, where both sides see compromise as a weakness, and in some cases as something to be avoided no matter what the cost. With so much of our government spending already pre-determined because they are "entitlements" based on set qualifications, discretionary spending is actually a relatively small part of the national budget. This means sacred programs will have to be cut and every program will have to reduce spending, no exceptions.

Let's be honest...the structure of programs like Social Security and Medicare will have to be seriously re-evaluated. Military spending will have to be subject to cuts. Incentive programs to corporate America will have to be scaled back. Farm subsidies, oil subsidies, manufacturing subsidies, etc. will need to be reduced or eliminated. Congress will have to take the lead and reduce the number of staffers, committees, hearings, and foreign trips. Individuals will need to be willing to forgo the pork barrel projects in their district (which is how they choose most of their representatives in the first place). Tax rates may have to increase at least for the duration until real progress is made on the debt. Corporations and investors may have to lower their expectations for what is a reasonable return on investment (which has been outrageous in the last two decades).

Finally, individual Americans need to understand that their participation in the necessary sacrifices is not optional. Americans need to take an honest and objective look at their lifestyle and adjust expectations until we have met this challenge. We will have to consciously choose to build smaller homes (and stay in them longer), drive our cars more miles before replacing them, eat out less often, conserve energy to reduce utility bills, avoid indulging our children with every desire of their hearts, and stop paying exhorbitant prices for ordinary goods because they have the right "brand label". In other words, Americans are going to have to make many difficult, heart wrenching, sacrificial choices.

Getting the politicians to accept this challenge is actually the easy part of meeting this challenge. The difficult part is convincing the American public to accept the "medicine". To most people, sacrificing means "others", not themselves. As I said, I'm skeptical.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Open Letter To My New Congressman

Congratulations on your election to the United States House of Representatives! I am a moderate independent who, quite honestly, did not vote for you. However, now that the election is settled, I am one of your constituents.

Given that you now represent my interests in Washington, D.C. (and therefore work for me), I would like to suggest to you how I believe you ought to approach your responsibilities and what your first priorities should be.

First, DO NOT spend the next two years exclusively obstructing President Obama. Disagree where you feel obligated to, but make a genuine effort to look for areas where consensus and compromise are possible. I imagine you teach the children you so love that when they are fighting they must find a compromise position to actually solve their problem. Compromise IS NOT a dirty word and was THE key in the foundation of our great nation, for without it the Constitution could not have been written.

Second, recognize that sacrifice is going to be crucial in effectively addressing the challenges that face the United States. However, the people expect their representatives to spread the sacrifice around. If programs for the indigent and poor must be reduced or eliminated, there ought to be corresponding reductions in programs that benefit the wealthy and powerful. Remember that approximately 98.5% of the people you represent earn less than $250,000 a year and about 95% earn less than the $174,000 salary you will earn in Congress. The majority of people you represent are smart enough to understand that our financial problems are so deep that both spending cuts and tax increases will be required of any serious effort to reduce the national debt.

Third, DO NOT prostitute yourself to big business interests. The fact that a business (or individual) has more money available to influence you should not make their interests more important than mine. I am the representative ordinary American, earning right at the 50th percentile, with three children, and a mortgage on a home I can afford. Respect me enough to care enough about my interests at at least the same level as the interests of the millionaires and billionaires that you will begin to see on a daily basis.

The VERY FIRST thing you and your fellow Congressman should do is to quickly and clearly eliminate ALL laws, rules and regulations which allow American businesses to profit from moving jobs overseas! I am not saying that you should prevent them from moving jobs, they have the Constitutional right to do that if they choose. However, they should in no way profit at the expense of hard working Americans or the United States Treasury. It is time to recognize that one of the reasons that small, hometown businesses are suffering so severely in this recession is that large multi-national corporations are destroying local economies by moving jobs out of our nation and pocketing billions of dollars that would previously have flowed through hundreds of thousands of workers into those struggling local enterprises. It will not solve all our economic woes, but it would be a significant first step.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why The Tea Party Is Not The Answer

Before I go forward, let me make clear two points. First, I am not an opponent of the Tea Party movement or its candidates, I agree with some of their views and I disagree with some of their views. Also, I believe there are some Tea Party candidates that would make very good candidates in state and national offices.

This said, however, I am convinced that the Tea Party is not the answer to fixing the political problems that exist in the United States today. If you really drill down into the Tea Party and examine their candidates objectively, you'll find that they really don't differ from the two major parties. Too many of their candidates only differ from the "establishment" candidates in some of their political beliefs. Like Democrats and Republicans, many (if not most) of the Tea Party candidates are hypocritical and corrupt.

Assorted Tea Party candidates have lied about their education (Delaware), employment (Colorado), use of unemployment (Alaska), etc. Others have engaged in divisive campaigning, pitting groups against one another. Too many have demonstrated a lack of understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Constitution, the views of our founders and the ills of the early America they so passionately want to return to (Delaware, Alaska, Florida). Some have bordered on racist (Nevada, Arizona). Too many rail against the evils of unrestrained government while completely ignoring the evils of unrestrained corporate greed.

Too many have been hesitant to share their political views in a clear and open manner, avoiding anything but the most supportive media in their attempt to hide their real views from political analysis. Too many are simply running to "defeat Obama." Too many have pushed the political landscape away from the middle (where most Americans stand) to the extremes. Too many believe compromise is an evil and corrupt process.

And like the mainstream politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties, too few provide actual plans for how they'll accomplish their objectives. There are no detailed plans as to what programs should be cut. Like the two parties, there is no meaningful conversation about the need to sacrifice (at all income levels, individuals and businesses) to solve the nations problems.

In the end, while they may bring some fresh ideas and a fervent passion to these leadership positions, I don't see them actually effecting real change. I don't see a difference in the level of honesty, character, leadership or trust among Tea Party candidates as I see in the candidates of the two major parties. Like those before them, they will govern for the benefit of themselves and their major financial backers.

It will take a much more fundamental change in the attitudes and character of the American people than just changing who represents us in government to effect real change, but that recognition has not yet taken hold among the general population. It will only happen when we recognize that our leaders reflect our character as a people and that we are responsible for changing our nation (from the bottom up), not our government (from the top down).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rights? What About Responsiblities?

Americans are well versed on their rights. Just ask and you'll find that nearly everyone is an expert in their Constitutional rights...and even some that aren't in the Constitution. Interfere with somebody's effort to do something and see how soon they explain to you what their rights are. And we are fortunate that we live in a country where we have enumerated individual rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom to vote, etc. However, this is only 1/2 of the citizenship equation and one to which an unbalanced amount of attention is given by most Americans.

In our self-centered focus on our rights as an individual, we too often forget that we also have responsibilities as citizens. The only way a civilized nation can succeed and survive is if everybody accepts the compact which binds people into nationhood. Every citizen has the responsibility to be a good citizen. In the United States this includes many things but I believe the following are among the most important.

One, we have the responsibility to participate intelligently in the governance of our nation. The most visible aspect of this is voting. Personally, I believe if you don't vote, you lose you're right to complain....and nearly 1/2 of Americans abdicate this responsibility each election.

Two, we have a responsibility to pay our fair share of the cost of providing the essential services necessary to keep the nation safe and operating efficiently. While "fair share" can be a political debate, far too many people purposely work to avoid paying their fair share. Tax cheats ought to face severe penalties...perhaps even the loss of citizenship.

Three, we have a responsiblity to recognize that everybody else has the same rights as we do and to understand that means rights will sometimes collide. That means we must be willing to occasionally forgo our individual rights for the good of the larger society. You often hear people say "it isn't all about me", but we need to more often live this truth.

Perhaps politics and culture would be less contentious today if we spent less time worrying about our individual rights and spent more time focused on the responsibilities of citizenship.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Which Candidates Should Be Disqualified

The 2010 elections are poised to be among the most contentious in our nations' history. There are some good candidates, some bad candidates and some just outrageous candidates. There are a multitude of issues upon which people vote, any of which can swing a voter for or against that candidate. But one issue should automatically disqualify a candidate from earning your vote.

That issue? The movement of American jobs overseas. Any candidate running for office who has the creation of jobs as one of their principle campaign issues but has participated in the elimination of American jobs to increase corporate profits by moving jobs overseas should automatically be disqualified from your consideration. We have a candidate running for Congress in Kansas who is running on his ability to create jobs, but he has a proven history of outsourcing jobs to foreign nations. Connecticut also has a candidate who switched a contract from an American company to a foreign supplier. Similar situations are known to exist elsewhere in the country.

These candidates have failed to prove that they will work for the ordinary American worker and in fact have shown themselves a threat to the American workforce. How can candidates who have personally benefitted from closing American production facilities in favor of foreign facilities be trusted to work in the interest of those whose jobs are in jeopardy or have already been lost?

It's time to send a loud and clear message to American business leaders and our political representatives that this issue is non-negotiable. If you have sent American jobs to other nations you are fundamentally unfit to represent the people in the halls of government.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Where Did Our Nation Go? What Did I Miss?

I'm back after a lot of summer distractions including my summer vacation with my daughters, an expansion of my job (more travel) and working a second job. But, thankfully, I'm back just in time for the final push in the 2010 elections.

Perhaps the most common theme you hear from candidates this year is their commitment to "take back our country!" I have just one question about this: where did it go and who took it? I mean, I know I've been very busy and distracted, but did I really miss our country being take from us?

Were we conquered by a foreign power, perhaps Mexico, Canada or Iran? Or was a monarchy installed while I wasn't looking? Did somebody stuff it in their pocket and walk off with it?

Of course the answer to all these questions is an emphatic NO! The whole notion is absurd. This nation is still a nation of laws ruled by the Constitution. We remain the place people from around the world want to come to. We still select our own leaders in relatively safe and secure elections. We still have ALL the freedoms included in the Constitution. We still have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Our children are not slaves to a foreign leader nor do we pledge allegiance to an overseas power. In total, we are still a sovereign nation beholden to no other nation.

You can't take something back that is already yours and in your possession. Certainly we are divided and disagreeable politically at the moment, but it isn't the first time in our history that has been the case. The question is whether we will fare better than Civil War by coming together or continue to march down the road of division until we destroy ourselves from within.