America – Haven’t We Learned Anything?

I have been struggling to write about a confluence of events where we seemed to have lost our perspective on right and wrong. Last week, I expressed my kudos to Senator John McCain for his standing up against the new McCarthyism of the Bachmann Five, but it did not accomplish what it needed and the Bachmann Five has doubled down on making accusations without supporting evidence. Not to be outdone, Senator Harry Reid decided to make accusations toward former Governor Mitt Romney about what is and isn’t on his tax returns without ever having seen them. He is relying on innuendo and hearsay. There is no doubt Romney has done himself and his constituents a disservice by not releasing the returns, but Reid’s comments cannot be condoned without supporting evidence.

Unfortunately, these are just examples of what routinely transpires in today’s American culture and its version of leadership. You would think we would have learned our lessons based on unsubstantiated claims of the past – where the Nazis got away with saying the Jews were an inferior race until it was too late, where Religious leaders turned a blind eye, or worse, perpetuated the belief African-Americans were inferior to whites even into the 1960’s, where the US Marine Corps denied and  misled the public about claims the water at Camp Lejeune in NC has been harming people for decades, where Penn State turned a blind eye and facilitated predatory sexual behavior of one of its coaches, where the Catholic Church lied to everyone about the misconduct of its priests and those who perpetuated their criminal behavior and so on.

On a daily basis, we witness business leaders making claims that an issue is not a problem when it is in fact far worse than even they know. We see them create an environment where it is OK to cut corners and push the envelope and when illicit or unethical actions are discovered, say they had no idea that was going on. For example, Rupert Murdoch is most guilty of creating a culture that perpetuated misbehavior. He may not have bugged the phones, but he created an environment where it was OK. The same could be said for the leaders at many financial institutions who are too many to name.

We witness religious leaders make outrageous claims using their written word as a weapon rather than a welcome. When people say some Christian evangelicals are using the same tactics with the LGBT community as they did with the African-American community, they are not incorrect. What was done to the African-American community was far worse where many were killed and imprisoned, but there are many of the same elements in the accusations. When religions exclude they are at their worst. When they are inclusive, they are at their finest.

We need people to call people out for stances that are obviously inappropriate or based on contrived evidence. We also need to call out the people who are rallying behind them and cheerleading these poor behaviors. Michele Bachmann and her cohorts (Louie Gohmert, Lynn Westmoreland, Trent Franks and Thomas Rooney) are doing a disservice to America and should be called out even more. When asked for evidence supporting their claim, they will hedge a little, but their finger-pointing is pretty clear in their written word. The fact that Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are in support should be very telling there is not a lot of substance behind their claims.

I must confess I have always felt Harry Reid was a grandstander, so when he made his claims about knowing what is on Romney’s tax returns without evidence, it was not a total surprise. This follows on his making a ruckus over the US Olympic uniforms. Yet, in this case, he deserves any criticism since he is making claims without knowledge. If we are going to be critical of the Birther crowd, we should be critical of others who are making unsubstantiated claims. Unlike the Birther claims, there may be some interesting things on Romney’s unreleased tax returns, but we do not know that. We can all speculate, but that is all it is at this point – speculation.

We need to call out behavior that is inappropriate. When the Maiden, NC minister said in the pulpit on video that we should put gays behind an electrified fence and let them die off, people in the church should vote with their feet and leave that church – his comments represent bigotry and should not be condoned. When the entire panel of GOP Presidential candidates let an audience boo a gay soldier without repercussion, both the booing and the silence of the candidates was shameful and should not be condoned. When politicians, in general, let people in their audience say hateful or terribly wrong things, that is also inappropriate.

We should expect more from our leaders. We need them to be closer to the ideal of exemplary behavior. When they fall short, it is worse than when Average Joe falls short. It could be argued from many fronts that Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon had successful presidencies. But, each of them lied to the American people – Clinton about the Lewinsky affair, Reagan about the Iran-Contra issue and Nixon, of course, about Watergate. Even George W. Bush, who few would claim had a successful presidency, lied to the American people (and United Nations) about the reasons for going to war with Iraq.

Unfortunately, it takes a great deal of effort to understand the real stories underneath the public relations stories. As a result, we desperately need our leaders to know more than we do and act with judicious stewardship. When the Bachmanns and Reids of the world make claims like they have, we are ill-served. If we cannot trust our leaders, then we will need to look to each other in the vacuum they have created. Let’s hold our leaders and each other accountable. Whether they are up to it or not, we still need to make sure they know we are watching.




My Bill is Better than your Bill

In the movie “Hunt for Red October” about a Soviet era defection of a submarine captain and his sub – the Red October –  there is scene where the Soviet subs in pursuit are “pinging” or sending a sonar echo to ascertain the whereabouts of the Red October. The observation is made that the pingers were not listening as they were moving too fast to hear anything. They were “driving” the Red October to an area where they could sink it with waiting Soviet subs. I use this analogy as this is what is transpiring and has transpired in Congress over the last year and a half. Everyone is pinging, but no one is listening.

We have serious problems in this country, but rather than work together, we have strident politicians pinging each other with legislative bills that cannot pass both houses or survive a President’s veto. The bill creators are not listening to each other or the American people who want some semblance of action. You would think being downgraded by the S&P last summer as a financial steward would have awakened people, but it has not. What is happening is positioning for the election. So, while Rome burns, we have too many Neros fiddling away.

We have a deficit problem that was largely created by the unneeded Bush Tax cuts, two wars, a financial bailout and economic stimulus package. We were last balanced when Bill Clinton left office, before the Bush tax cuts. And, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), we were still less than 5% below the global average of 34 countries on tax revenue vs. GDP. In 2009, after the Bush tax cuts, we were almost 10% lower than this same global average and in the 32nd place out of 34 countries in taxes/ GDP.

We also have a slow economic recovery that should have been highlighted at the outset. While I think the President has done a commendable job (with over 3 million jobs created from his first budget to the end of the last budget), this lack of management of expectations is an Achilles’ Heel. Housing based recessions take six years on average to work their way out. That would put us, on average at, the end of 2013 for a recovery. The President should have highlighted this and focused on infrastructure planning. Contrary to the commercials, the economists said the stimulus package worked. It was not enough, though. So, we need to make strides against the deficit while not throwing water on the slow recovery.

What we do not need is the political posturing of “my bill is better than your bill.” You can sing along with the popular childhood tune. We need to address issues today in a collaborative fashion. The Taxed Enough Already crowd needs to read the OECD report which shows very clearly with unbiased data that we are one of the least taxed countries in the world. Let me repeat that – we are one of the least taxed countries in the world (32nd out of 34). 

We cannot resolve our budget issues with spending cuts alone. The math does not work. We must have tax increases, but we need to be mindful of the recession. Yet, we also need spending cuts as well, so here where I mention another big issue. We cannot gut programs for those in need as we have 50 million Americans in poverty and many more who are living paycheck to paycheck. We have a huge income and wealth disparity in this country. We cannot just give more to the “gated community” crowd (I like that better than the 1%) and let it trickle down as that policy did not work according to economists and people like David Stockman who was one of Reagan’s advisors. Just the name, “trickle down” sounds inappropriate as we need more of the opportunity to pour down.

As an Independent voter, I have the vantage point of seeing the good and bad of both points of view of each party. I can also see the hypocrisy of many of the extreme points of view, especially those which will not address our problems. To the chagrin of my conservative friends, I don’t see many good answers coming from your end, but we need your perspective at the table. We need politicians who signed the Grover Norquist pledge of no tax increases to pull the pledge out and tear it up. We need people to read the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report on man-influenced global warming and stop listening only to the data provided by the Oil/ Gas Industry who has a vested interest in decisions. To my more liberal friends, we need to stop grandstanding (Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, but the same could be said for Mitch McConnell – the poster child for what’s wrong with Congress) and start listening. We need Returns on Investment in every thing we do. We do need to look for spending cuts, but let’s be smart with them. We need to plot a course forward of what we need to do. And, to all of you, we need to cut defense spending.  We spend so much more than anyone else it is mind-boggling. Like taxes, we cannot balance the budget and pay down debt without tax increases and defense cuts – these are the two of the biggest lies that the GOP is telling people.

Yet, we have solutions to work from rather than this “bill pinging exercise.” The Gang of Six tried this last spring and were not given sufficient voice, but they had the answer. Here is your idea already grounded.

1) Adopt the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan as a working draft to work toward an effective date of January 1, 2014. I would suggest that the draft require good reason not to do something therein. I would suggest we not chip away at it to protect “sacred cows.”

2) Let the Bush Tax Cuts continue for one more calendar year along with the 2% FICA tax cut, but there is a price to pay for the GOP in item 3.

3) Increase the minimum wage and let ACA continue with only targeted changes to make it more workable. ACA is not perfect, but it is moving the ball forward and guess what – is a largely GOP idea who Senator Jim DeMint recommended in writing that we do (following the Romney MA Health Care law) in a letter to President George W Bush. 

These are few thoughts from an Independent voter. Call me crazy, but I think they can work and be accomplished before the election. Of course, they won’t but I can at least make a collaborative set of suggestions that will serve a greater good. I would love to see a definitive stimulus bill to create more infrastructure jobs and alternative energy jobs. On this latter point, there are many alternative energy success stories out there, yet we do not celebrate them enough. This scares the Oil/ Gas and Coal Industries to no end, which is why the nice commercials with less than forthcoming data on how safe things are. There is no such thing as Clean Coal, e.g. and Germany is ten years ahead of us on alternative energy and will be 80% alternative energy powered by 2030.

So, let’s stop pinging and start listening and making better decisions. You may just find out the other folks have some ideas worth hearing.