Letter to my Republican Senators on Debt Ceiling

I posted the following letter on my two Republican Senators’ websites. If you agree with its theme, please feel free to modify and use.

Dear Senator, as a retired business consultant and manager, I am disappointed in the Republican Party stance on the debt ceiling. I am glad eleven Republicans did the right thing and passed a measure to allow it to be raised for several months, yet I was disappointed you were not one of the eleven.

I have long been concerned with our building debt and annual deficit that has gotten worse. We need to address this issue when we discuss spending and revenue, not with the debt ceiling. Our reputation to our creditors is essential. To be frank, as an independent and former Republican, my former party is only concerned with debt ceiling when they are not in the White House. It did not seem to bother the party when it increased under Trump.

Yet, what also concerns me is the hypocrisy of both parties. The GOP passed a tax reduction in December 2017 that raised the debt by $2 trillion, approximately. And, we passed two pandemic aid bills that to me should have been directed at employers to keep people employed and not furlough them, as well as helping folks not working. We missed opportunity and spent poorly.

We need the infrastructure improvements which are ten years overdue. Yet, we must figure out ways to start bringing the debt down before the interest cost approaches the military spend in our budget.

Solving this problem requires data and effort, not sound bites. I have seen the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget do an exercise in Rotary or college groups that ask tables of people to solve the Social Security deficit. Armed with about two dozen ideas and price tags, these tables can solve the Social Security deficit in 90 minutes.

Solving the bigger problem can be done and will take time, but not if we never start to do so.

Grandstanding is not governance – not even close

As someone who follows the news and used to hold most elected officials in higher esteem, I am continually frustrated with the absence of good governance in Washington and various state capitols. Rather than governance, I see grandstanding for sound bytes to beat the other party over the head with. The purpose is to remain or regain power, where they will be in charge of doing nothing to govern.

Several Congressional representatives and Senators have retired or are retiring. The principal reasons are the disillusionment with the open hostility between factions and the fact over 1/3 of their time (some said 40%) is fundraising for the party. Let me say that last part in a different way. We taxpayers are paying for elected officials to hit us up for money between 33% and 40% of the time.

In essence, elected officials are more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs. A further frustration is the number of folks who just don’t bother to reach out to all constituents and only care about their own party. The truth has become a casualty. And, what is sad is those who pay attention to the news know many of these elected officials are lying and know they know they are lying, but they lie anyway.

Grandstanding is a pronounced way of lying drawing attention to the person so doing. To me, it is akin to a gorilla beating on its chest to make an opponent cower and not fight back. Right now, we have an entire party that is OK with the US defaulting on its debts. Increasing the debt ceiling is to address what we have already spent or decided to spend, which the same folks did not seem to mind doing. Or, they cut revenue which also increased the debt.

In fact, many of these same folks voted on a tax bill in December, 2017 that reduced taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals which raised the debt by $2 trillion, approximately. In essence, we added to debt to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Per the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, we must do both – cut spending and raise revenue to address our deficit and debt. The math will otherwise not work.

I have shared with several Senators it is OK to push back on spending to make sure we consider the best investments, but grandstanding on a debt limit that you helped make worse is not the place to do it. Before the pandemic, the US was around $22 trillion in debt with a $1 trillion annual shortfall on our budget ($3.4 trillion in revenue on $4.4 trillion in expenses). After needed pandemic stimulus, we are even worse off on debt and scheduled to be even further behind.

The last time we had a debt limit standoff was about eight years ago, led by Senator Ted Cruz (who by the way voted for the tax bill increase noted above increasing the debt). Our allies pleaded with us not to renege and when the US was within twenty-four hours of defaulting, ten female Senators from both parties told Cruz and others to get out of the pool for an adult swim. These ten women resolved the matter and the US did not default.

Our debt and deficit has been caused by both parties. Do not let either party say it is the other one’s fault as that simply is not true. And, we need for both of them to be involved to remedy this. Unfortunately, no one has the stomach to do what it really takes to resolve this. Any elected official can spend money and reduce taxes. Any elected official. But, that is precisely the problem. We need serious discussion with data and not grandstanding. Grandstanding is not governance.

Letter to Editor on Wedge Issues

The following letter I sent in to my local newspaper was published in its entirety, which is rare. Please feel free to modify and forward if you like the message.

It amazes me how so much time can be spent on created wedge issues for political gain and so little on real ones. The global (and US) water crisis and need for accelerated climate change action are key environmental issues. Investing in deteriorated infrastructure while also reducing the US deficit and debt are at odds, but both are needed, so we must be judicious with spending cuts and revenue increases, as both are needed to solve the math problem.

And, we must stop this degradation of civil rights that were long fought for. Attacking the right to vote under the guise of staged and unproven election fraud claims is abhorrent in the eyes of this independent voter and should be in the eyes of more elected officials.

The ice is going to break – a retelling

The following post was written a couple of years ago, but remains relevant today. We have one party that would rather talk about issues they have told their following are desperately important, but are over-inflated and another party who is having trouble pushing some of these issues, while ignoring the last one.

The title is a crucial line from a movie called “The Dead Zone,” based on the Stephen King novel. I use this line as a metaphor for ignoring real problems. Let me explain the context. The movie stars Christopher Walkien as Johnny who, because of a car accident, could see the future after touching someone. But, if the future was less clear, a dead zone as he described it, he could alter the outcome.

A boy he was tutoring was supposed to practice ice hockey on a frozen pond with his demanding father as the team’s coach. But, when Johnny touched him, Johnny saw the ice breaking. His father said that was crazy, even though both men knew the father did a background check before hiring the tutor. Johnny slammed his cane on a chess board and said “the ice is going to break!” The son stayed home, but the father went ahead with practice and four kids drowned as the ice broke.

So, Mr. President, members of Congress and various state legislators, let me state obvious problems with this metaphor in mind.

– We have a global water crisis including in the US with the World Economic Forum identifying it as a top long term risk. Farmers are having to fight harder to protect their diminishing water rights. It will be made even worse by climate change, especially the droughts, wildfires, encroaching seas into aquifers and greater evaporation of reservoirs.  And, the problem is exacerbated with the significant water loss in fracking and lead pipes tainting some of the dear water.

– That climate change thing is a problem in its own right. Our federal government and several state government need to pitch in more and help. The former president backing out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is as poor a decision as could have been made, especially when it came the day after ExxonMobil shareholders voted to order management to inform them on what they are doing about climate change. Getting back to the table is the adult thing to do. Fortunately, strides have been made, but we need to accelerate these efforts.

– I learned today (note this was in 2019) our EPA is turning a blind eye to asbestos. Since Brazil stopped production of this toxic product, we now are importing asbestos from Russia. As a metaphor for this the former president, each bag of toxic asbestos imported from Russia has Donald Trump’s picture on it. A toxic material imported by a toxic man from another toxic man. While all of this is going on, you can easily watch TV commercials advertising about getting compensation for the use of dangerous asbestos without your knowledge.

– Although, debt is not an environmental concern, our so-called leaders are ignoring this huge and growing problem. As interest cost grows to a greater part of our budget, it will hinder our ability to do other things. Both parties are to blame for our increasing debt which has only been made worse by the pandemic relief and 2018 tax law change. At some point, some poor soul will address this issue assuring he or she will not get reelected. It should be noted that it will require spending cuts and revenue increases, as the math will not otherwise work, per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The ice is going to break. We must heed the warnings now. If we don’t, we may be the ones who drown.

Thursday thunderbolts

What is happening in Afghanistan is awful, but it is not a surprise. The Taliban taking over was bound to happen no matter when the allies pulled out. Truly, the only surprise is the haste of the change. Afghanistan has long been called the “graveyard of empires” because no invading nation has ever been successful.

The US failed to heed that lesson, even after a reminder of the USSR failure in the 1980s. The opposing force is too distributed and the terrain too mountainous and arid-like. And, the Taliban carries through on its threats against locals who favor the enemy. As a result, the locals are scared to cross them.

Sadly, this failure falls on many presidents, even dating back to Ronald Reagan when Congressman Charlie Wilson helped secretly fund and supply the Mujahideen to drive out the Soviets in the 1980s. What we failed to do is help the country after the Soviets left and the US became more mistrusted and things deteriorated.

But, with George W. Bush authoring the invasion after 9/11, Barack Obama’s continuing push, Donald Trump’s acquiescence to the Taliban and Joe Biden’s decision to honor the agreement to leave, we have shown an inability to solve problems, leaving behind more. Since we dove in, leaving entirely should not have been the answer, as it is like the husband leaving the wife when times got hard. They needed to stay together to make it work. So, now our trustworthiness is even lower than if we never invaded.

Yet, this is not the only problem we let fester because of lack of focus or courage to analyze, discuss and try to solve problems. Reasonable immigration efforts have moved forward on a bipartisan basis, but they fell flat. A pretty good bill passed the Senate in 2013 under the tutelage of a “Gang of Eight,” but the House would not take it up. This led to the Obama DACA executive order which is not the way to govern hard issues.

Both parties talk about the debt and deficit when they are not in the White House, but show little appetite to do things when their party gets there. George W. Bush was actually handed a balanced budget by Bill Clinton and he proceeded to make a tax cut that his Treasury Secretary adamantly said was unneeded (and was fired). Outside of a sequestration approach (which said if we don’t make changes, these cuts will go in place), nothing substantive has come out of Congress to deal with the deficit and debt since Clinton. The debt will soar past $40 trillion by the end of the decade.

Then there is climate change. The naysaying mandate pushed by the fossil fuel industry which has known for several decades about the climate change risks, is appalling. Many do not realize that Dick Cheney, the second Bush VP, came out of the oil industry. Cheney and his old colleagues wrote key language in the 2005 Energy Act to give frackers a hall pass on scrutiny by the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act. In my view, we lost twelve years of more demonstrative action in the past twenty years.

We have other big problems that we have let fester under multiple presidents. But, the above shows what happens when we do not address them. They do not go away. They just build steam like a pressure cooker. We need to do something before they explode.

Find your moments

The talk has turned political. You are at work, a reunion, a party, at church, etc. What should you do? Do you exit the conversation voting with your feet? Do you lean-in with disagreement? Or, should we channel our inner Daryl Davis and listen? Listen not to respond, but listen to hear first, understand second. Then, you can respond..

Who is Daryl Davis you may ask? Davis is a black man who has had numerous discussions with members of the KKK, actually convincing over 200 of them to quit the KKK and give him their robes. How does he do it? He asks them questions. Then he listens. He said people just want to be heard. If you listen, then you have the opportunity to ask questions.

What you choose to do is your call, but if you give like you want to get, you might get heard. If you look for some common ground, you might get heard. If you avoid name calling, you might get heard. If you do the opposite of the above, you will be just getting a glazed over look. I also recognize you must pick your audience and time, as some folks are more strident in their views. Plus, being critical in a large group puts people on the defensive.

On this latter point, one could say “That is an interesting viewpoint, let’s talk about it after dinner?” I have spoken with friends and relatives who are ardent MAGA fans. I have also spoken with some relatives who like to argue.

But, even with these folks, you can find common ground. The most strident of MAGA fans will usually agree with this statement, “I wish Donald Trump would tweet less as he is his own worst enemy.” I can usually say something like this without getting someone’s dander up. When he was removed from Twitter, they did all of us, including the former president, a favor. We now hear fewer of his divisive opinions.

One of the other things I have found will get heard is focusing on real issues, not contrived ones. Issues like concern over the decline in fresh water, the increase in plastics in the ocean, the impact of climate change making forest fires, droughts and flooding worse, the increase in food waste, the increase in US debt and deficit, the decline in our infrastructure, etc. are safer than wedge issues created to divide us.

If someone wants to speak about wedge issues or issues that you disagree with them on, find your moments. If you ask questions and listen, you may find an opportunity to discuss. But, the key is to listen – hear them first. I have found that too many people are not too keen on the why’s and far too keen on the who’s. My tribe said this, so this is what I believe.

If you listened to them articulate what an opinion show host said or what someone on social media said, then you can say, “I hear what you are saying, but do you truly believe that?’ Or, you might say, “I must confess, I don’t find that to be true.” Again, if we listened, we can push back in the manner we wished to be pushed back on. Yet, if you lead without listening, your push back may not get heard.

I recognize fully the above discussion won’t solve our problems, but if our goal is to get heard, we need to start by listening. Last night, I shared with my sons that Senator Bernie Sanders is out talking with Republicans to hear what they are saying, so he can share his thoughts. I do not agree with everything Bernie says, but I have always appreciated his candor and being forthright with folks.

Wedge issues are designed to divide us. Often they are designed to sell fear which wins elections. Fear does not solve anything, so we must move past that and speak with others who may not hold our opinion.

Wednesday wanderings early in July, 2021

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang:

Just a song before I go
To whom it may concern
Traveling twice the speed of sound
It’s easy to get burned”

Simon and Grafunkel added:

“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy”

In our 24 x 7 world of social media and pseudo and real news sources that tell us what to think, everything seems like a problem of urgency. Isn’t this horrible and we must act? Part of this is very real, as in this big world, something bad is happening somewhere. Since “if it bleeds, it leads” or is there is conflict between sparring legislators, it makes the news.

Good news stories do get reported, but in inverse proportion to their occurrence. The good news stories are far more common and everyday, but are not deemed newsworthy. I recall a silly example on a music show called “Where are they now?” which usually highlights a band that had success, then fell apart. They filmed one on the group Kansas, but it never aired. Why? The band members were all living normal lives, so it was not titillating.

Yet, the other part of these pervasive bad news stories, which can be tragic and dispiriting, is the news that needs to be talked about, but does not get much coverage. Here are a few.

  • We have a global fresh water problem that is only being made worse by climate change.
  • That climate change problem is no longer a future event – it is brandishing its fangs now with more wildfires, droughts and stalled weather patterns, along with more intense hurricanes and tornados.
  • On the good news side, renewable energy is growing at a rapid rate now that cost of production is economical and fossil fuel companies are being held more to account by shareholders and judges..
  • There is a poverty and hunger problem in the US and abroad. Too many Americans go to bed hungry. Too many Americans live beneath or at paycheck to paycheck.
  • The US has a huge debt and deficit burden that was already bad before the pandemic relief and tax cuts – now it is far worse, with interest cost becoming an increasing part of the budget.

These issues don’t get talked about enough. Even on the better news stations, the focus is way too much on which political party benefits from an issue. The issue itself gets less reporting than who benefits. In fact, wedge issues are seized to beat the other party over the head with, even if the problem has been around for years. I have long grown weary of problems not being addressed, because of optics. Do something.

But, back to CS&N and Simon and Garfunkel, let’s also balance all of this with the good stuff that is going on every day. I recognize there are too many folks that are wound way too tight. They seem looking for a fight if some thing or some person makes them do something. Get over it. The world does not revolve around you. If you have to wear a mask to get in some place, then you know what you need to do.

Yet, we should endeavor to leave all of our encounters on a better footing. Somewhere in some book I read, some guy called this rule golden. Something like treat others like you want to be treated. Now, that is something to evangelize.

Sunday soliloquy

A soliloquy is defined as an act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play. Since William Shakespeare’s birthday is tomorrow, per advance reporting by Kim, I hope you will join me for these thoughts and offer a comment or two. I will try to use fewer words than the bard.

I am puzzled by an ongoing problem. People are usually mortified to learn they have been fooled or left out of something. Then, why would they get information from such disreputable sources who have been proven time and again to lack veracity? It could be repeated conspiracy stories from social media, a legislator, an opinion host or a former legislator or just erroneous use of facts or wanna-be facts. Strong suggestion – check your sources and stories, especially if the name of the source cites someone named Trump, Johnson, Gohmert, Taylor-Greene, Nunes, Hannity, Cruz or Carlson.

It matters not which political party a member of a legislative body belongs to, when he or she dishonors the office, either severely or on a routine basis, the member must be punished under the rules of governing body, ranging from censure, removal from committees or removal from office. And, it must not be “gotcha” politics – to be frank, a political party should try to clean up a mess before it gets to the actions of the whole body. The Catholic Church learned much too late, they needed to clean up its pedophile priests problem as it tainted the reputation of the whole. Police departments are only beginning to learn this truth about needing to address those over-zealous folks in their ranks. There are no perfect people, so why should we expect any group to be perfect?

Groups of people, whether they are legislative bodies, companies, organizations, or governments must not and should not punish the truth tellers in their midst. There are many reasons to have concerns about actions of the former president, but his firing of inspectors general and people who testified under known-in-advance risk disgusted me. Congressional sycophants of the former president left these honorable public servants hanging as they rationalized his deceitful, corrupt and even seditious actions. He is “just rough around the edges” we would hear. Lying is not rough around the edges, it is deceitful.

Let me close with a note to Democrats. Please do your best to govern. If one of your party has acted poorly, chastise his or her actions and remedy the matter. Just because it is your tribe does not make it OK. Bill Clinton balanced the budget and more jobs were created on his watch than under any other president, but he still was a womanizer who had one known affair in the White House and lied about it. Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi et all will make mistakes – own up to them and remedy them where possible. And, when a member says something inane or mean-spirited – say so.

We need truth tellers in both parties. We need honorable public servants. Right now, democracy is under attack, which is directed at the wrong problem. Our problem is not the wrong people voting, it is not enough people voting. Where our elections really have concerns is in the amount of money it takes to get elected. A legislator, at best, will be mildly subjective because of funding to get elected. This is the best argument for term limits and legislating out the Citizens-United and McCutcheon SCOTUS rulings. Maybe if the money influence wanes, less money will be funded.

Time for the adult swim – just a quick dip

We need more rational adults to tell people in leadership and legislative positions to “get out of the pool, it is time for the adult swim.” The message is simple – “you folks are too worried about keeping your job, than to do your job.” The lobbyists pay a lot of money to get these funded drones to look the other way or do their bidding.

So, with the more rational adults in charge, no more Q conspiracies, no more pretending climate change is not a problem, plastic in the ocean the size of Texas is not a problem, poverty and hunger are not problems, gun violence is not a problem, debt is not a problem, racial bias is not a problem, the lack of civility is not a problem, etc.

Finally, if the people in leadership positions start to focus on the multiple causes of real problems and actually use data and science to discuss solutions, then those biased talking heads with audiences will be forced to discuss these matters as well. Frankly, it is highly disappointing and embarrassing to witness how often these talking heads intentionally or accidentally misinform people.

Pay me now or pay me later

Seeing what is transpiring in Texas with the lack of advance planning, it reminds me of painful history lessons. There is an age old problem in governing and public service. When things hit the fan, it is often due to problems that were not fixed due to budgets and were left to linger.

Politicians are good at blaming others and asking how can you let that happen? They tend to overlook their role in the process. Here are a few real life examples:

When some one in a social worker’s care has a horrible episode, the fact the social worker is serving 160 people versus the best practice 16 to one does not get enough consideration as a root cause. Think about it, due to budget cuts, one social worker is serving 10X the number of people which is ideal. That is drive by social work, not counseling.

When a train wrecks on an old trestle bridge, the fact the bridge has never been fixed and is only patched up does not get enough consideration as a root cause. When the next train derails, read the fall out from politicians and dig beneath the finger pointing at the actual causes, not who did what.

When Katrina devastated New Orleans, people forget the Army Corp of Engineers said the levees could not stand a direct hurricane hit a few years before. Nothing was done about it and the levees failed. We should also remember the Houston area has flooded twice with one-hundred year hurricanes that were four years apart.

And, In Texas, the vulnerability of their independent electricity system is a festering problem. So, when the system is overwhelmed like it has been with the icy storms, it fails.

Avoiding disasters by planning is a rare commodity in governance. No one wants to pay for it. Plus, so-called leaders do not get sufficient credit for pre-planning like they should. They get more credit for fixing a problem later after the fall out, if they ever get around to it.

As we speak, we have thousands of car and train bridges in need of repair, we have antiquated electrical grids, we have poor water piping (think Flint), etc. When the Olympics was not awarded to Chicago a few years ago, it was due to our aging infrastructure, even then.

A good example of pre-planning occurred in my home city of Charlotte. The city built an Intermodal distribution facility which was placed on the property of the international airport. Easily accessible to this facility are train and truck distribution centers and highways for trucks. They took advantage of shipping in/ out by plane, train and truck.

This is the kind of planning that is needed with infrastructure improvements. The fixes have to be holistic in evaluating the problems and hopefully make the process better in the end.