Simpson-Bowles still gets the conversation started

In honor of November 8 being Deficit Day, meaning our US revenue for the year has run out in covering our expenses, I think it is important to revisit some of the saner voices on these issues. Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson who partnered with former Chief of Staff (for Bill Clinton) Erskine Bowles to lead a committee to address the deficit, has penned an interesting editorial. In essence, he is critical of the various tax plans submitted by GOP candidates for president all of which would materially increase the deficit. He notes they are so poorly conceived, that there are not enough legitimate cuts to overcome the loss of revenue.

Simpson knows of what he speaks. The Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan combined strategic spending cuts with revenue increases to reduce the deficit. It was well conceived, but not perfect, as nothing is. People found faults with elements of it, which is a reason it did not move forward. Yet, it was a terrific conversation starter. It was something to work with and modify, as needed. And, it spoke to the need to increase revenue along with spending cuts.

One of the issues conservative folks have with the plan is the revenue increases, but let me state three truisms, two of which are universal, and one that applies to the United States.

  • Of course, people don’t want to pay higher taxes, but they do realize a need to pay for expenses.
  • Any politician can get elected saying they will reduce taxes. But, that promise should not be confused with good stewardship.
  • Per the Paris based Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US is one of the least taxed countries of 33 countries who have participated in analyses dating back over forty years. In fact, the US is well beneath the median tax rate of the recurring OECD surveys.

The deficit is important and we need to be smart with what we cut and actually increase spending in some areas. Yet, we must garner more revenue or we will never get there. There is a reason President George W. Bush fired his Treasury secretary as he argued against the Bush tax cuts. It should be noted the budget was balanced by President Clinton the last several years of his presidency, which was handed over to Bush.

While President Obama has done many good things, he is an imperfect president, like they all are. One of my biggest criticisms of the president is not embracing the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan and say let’s start with this. It would have been a great conversation starter and still could be.

 

Asset Based Community Development fuels growth and jobs

The concept of Asset Based Community Development is one that was spawned from redeveloping blighted areas around a community asset, be it a school, library, church or landmark. For example, a school is more than a place to educate kids; it becomes a community center for after school and evening programs. When the school becomes run down, the surrounding community usually does as well.

Yet, the concept very much applies to redeveloping towns, cities, regions and other venues and has for some time. When New York City subways were a haven for crime back in the 1970s, the city began a daily occurrence of repainting over graffiti. When people saw this, crime diminished as the belief was if the City cares this much about graffiti, they will care also about crime.  The subway was an asset that had to be redeveloped and maintained.

If used wisely assets that have been redeveloped or nourished can create avenues for renewal and growth. In Greenville, South Carolina, the downtown area was revitalized around its assets which include the Reedy River Falls. Now, downtown Greenville is a wonderful and quaint venue for tourism and business. In Durham, North Carolina, the run down American Tobacco Campus has been revitalized into a place of innovative business, housing and restaurant venues. The new ball park and performing arts center round out an attractive area of Durham replenishing a previously uninviting downtown.

In Richmond, Virginia, an old train terminal has been converted into a wonderful children’s science discovery museum. This has been part of a refocus in downtown Richmond building off its unique history to make the downtown area an inviting part of an area of discovery. In Atlanta, the areas around CNN have been revitalized with the new aquarium and Coca-Cola museum, and the area around the refurbished East Lake Golf Club was redeveloped with golf club as a centerpiece for jobs, housing development and education.

Charlotte, North Carolina borrowed from Durham’s success to revitalize an area of downtown to build a beautiful new baseball stadium across the street from a new park honoring the artist Romare Bearden. This is dovetailed by other building projects that continue to renovate downtown which had been started in the mid-1990s.

Yet, the greatest success in North Carolina is Research Triangle Park (RTP) which came to fruition back in the early 1960s. Sitting between three high-caliber universities (Duke, UNC and NC State), a park devoted to research, marketing and leadership was created that attracted new business. The area, cities and universities have thrived under the RTP vision which is being revitalized as we speak. Durham’s success above is a key part of the RTP revitalization efforts and Raleigh was just voted the best place for growth in the country.

I mention this today, as we lose sight of the value that co-investment in maintaining, refurbishing or reconstituting existing assets means for a community. These are just a few examples of the partnership between private and public money that has made our country what it is today. When we speak of cutting expenses, as we should consider, we need to know that we should also be investing and spending in other areas where growth and job creation can occur. So, across the board cuts are unwise, as in some places we should spend more. We should recognize our assets (or strengths) and leverage them as much as possible. If we don’t, it is opportunity lost.

But, how could you let this happen?

“But, how could you let this happen?” is a phrase often uttered after an event has made the headlines. People are incredulous and leaders, in response, will look at others to blame for the recent turn of events. Yet, oftentimes, the leaders omit their role in the event which occurred by their failure to act. Or, the event was going to happen, and no proactive action was taken to lessen the impact.

I have written before about how social workers are sometimes thrown under the bus for a family treating a child poorly or rampant substance abuse exposing children to things they should not see at their ages. Invariably, the social worker is handling far too many clients due to budget cuts over the years, so that families do not get the attention needed. Depending on travel, capabilities, types of family challenges, and numbers of family members, a social worker should ideally have less than twenty clients. The ratio of 16 to 1 is often mentioned as ideal. Yet, when something goes wrong, we often see social workers with 150 or 200 clients, which means no family gets the attention they need. I have the greatest admiration for social workers, but even Mother Teresa would have a problem with the caseload.

However, this line of questioning is much broader than making sure we staff sufficient numbers of social workers to meet a community’s needs. It gets into most areas of politics and governance. Last week, I was watching a leader of the US border guards on the news describing the problems with the influx of child refugees. He defined and demonstrated how difficult the job is and noted we are already understaffed due to the sequestration budget from last fall. So, to state the obvious, we have people in Congress who, in addition to not passing an Immigration Bill, have not funded the open positions in the border patrol making it harder for them to secure the border. Please reread that last statement, as we have some Congressmen and women who are insisting we secure the border, yet they won’t fund staff to secure the border, in general. This is before the latest request for funds to handle the refugees.

Yesterday, I was encouraged that a bi-partisan bill was agreed upon between the House and Senate committees on handling veterans’ affairs. Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and Representative Jeff Miller (R) are the key proponents (kudos to both). Yet, when the VA Hospital problems hit the fan earlier this year on wait times and veterans not getting served, the echo from Congress was loud, “how could you let this happen?” A veteran leader noted this is the same Congress who would not sign off on Senator Sanders bill earlier this year to address known concerns saying it was too much money, but offered no compromise solution. Yet, they did not do a mea culpa and say we screwed up earlier. Our leaders talk a big game about taking care of veterans,  but we are much more prone to fund tanks and planes we don’t need, than take care of wounded soldiers. Soldiers who have fought much longer and, since fighting among civilians, have been exposed to more PTSD need our help and not just our “atta-boys and girls.” Words are cheap, very cheap. Thank you Senator Sanders and Representative Miller for your actions to support our troops.

Finally, I will drift back to another favorite topic of some and that is Benghazi. “How could you let Americans get killed?” is asked. This issue has been put to bed for eighteen months in a non-partisan review led by Admiral Mullens and Ambassador Pickering, neither of whom were asked before Congressional Committees to speak on their report from December, 2012 until the committees were apprised of this oversight. The report went through all of the areas where we could have done better, but one area was interesting. Security of all embassies had been shortchanged by budget cuts in funding from Congress. So, we cared less about securing our embassies and then cried foul when something happened. And,this is not the first time our embassies and foreign service personnel have been attacked. “How could you let this happen?” the same folks asked.

The two common themes from the above are budget cuts impact service and it is hypocritical to totally blame someone else for something you, as a group, had a hand in causing. As a business person and volunteer board member of non-profit groups, I recognize fully that budgets are not infinite and require trade-offs. I do think we need serious discussions about where we spend our money. Yet, I am also mindful there are some that want to axe everything without noting what services are being performed. And, I also am aware there are those who say cut this or cut that, but when reminded that people back home or funders’ businesses are impacted, change their mind. There are so many military weapons that are not needed and are stockpiling, yet because of funders and lobbyist efforts, we cannot stop making them, e.g.

We have a deficit and debt problem in this country. The answer that the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission came to in December, 2010 is both spending cuts and revenue increases are needed. Before we have other “what-ifs” happen, we need to take a look at that report as a plan to start from.

 

 

 

Obama’s Economy in 17 charts

In attempt to move beyond the rhetoric, attached is a series of charts with a brief commentary on each that I found on CNN Money, which does a good job of showing economic results under President Obama’s tutelage. These charts are updated through December, 2013. They do a nice job of taking some complex topics and boiling them down into 17 charts. It will not take too long to wade through them. I will let you draw you own conclusions.

http://money.cnn.com/gallery/news/economy/2014/01/28/obama-economy/index.html

I would love to hear your thoughts after you have perused these charts. What surprised you? What gives you concern? How do we address some key issues which may cause other measures to get worse before they get better?

**********************************************************

Some of my takeaways (comments added February 3, 2014)

On the positive side, while a president gets too much credit and blame for the economy, the steady job growth numbers over three and a half years is telling. The President and Congress passing the first stimulus bill (which did not fail per six econometric firms) as well as the bailout of the US automakers aided the recovery. The echo effect of not bailing out the automakers would have been significant. Also, the President has not gotten the credit he deserves on some community college retraining investment. What we needed was (and still do) an additional stimulus, but since the GOP opposition was using “failed stimulus” as campaign rhetoric, it precluded that as the legitimate course of action. Note a tax cut for the wealthy is not a jobs bill, as Trickle Down economics has been proven several times over not to work. We already have companies sitting on cash, so giving them more, won’t trickle down. If it would, the plan would have a better name.

The economy has also turned the corner. What is of interest is every governor running for office is touting a turned around economy in their state. The economic growth, corporate profits and stock performance (in part) charts show evidence of the improving economy. The stock performance is largely due to the Federal Reserve stimulus under Ben Bernanke. This money supply stimulus aided the economy. What Congress needs to realize is Bernanke felt a need to do something, since they were failing to do their job. Thank goodness he did.

On the concern front, I point to several measures which indicate the poverty problem in our country. The growth in food stamps, the stagnant wage and the unemployment number charts which mask the true rate of unemployment with so many not looking anymore, are indicative that our recovery is not being experienced by every one. Here is where I would add, while some fraud exists,  the data shows there is not significant misuse of the food stamp program. So, the increase is a good indicator of poverty rising in this country.

This is where we need combined efforts to address the problem. We need to push job retraining, minimum wage increases, and infrastructure investment. We should likely push out the extended unemployment benefits for a little longer, as we have a number of long term unemployed who will drop deeper into poverty. The infrastructure investment costs money which gets into the next topic, but is much-needed and is the  best jobs program out there.

The major concern is the increasing debt. This is one area where the Tea Party has it right, although they are myopic on the remedies. The deficit is coming down, but we need to get the annual budget back into a surplus position which is what President George W. Bush inherited. We need to look hard at the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan, which I fault the President and Congress for putting on a shelf, more so the President. We need both tax revenue increases as well as cuts.

While the Tea Party and GOP are touting tax cuts, that strategy is ill-founded, as we need more revenue as well to solve our problem. This is why Bush/ Dick Cheney fired Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill, as he openly disagreed with the Bush tax cuts. Here is where I like to add, any idiot can get elected talking about tax cuts, but we need to pay for some things, like infrastructure investment. And, truth be told, we have enough idiots in office.

Our country is falling apart and we must get deeper harbors on the east coast or the bigger ships passing through the bigger/ deeper Panama Canal will sail to Canadian ports. For example, LaGuardia airport, one of our nation’s busiest is the second worst airport structure in the country. Plus, per the Simpson-Bowles plan, we can cut more on defense rather than building vehicles and planes that fight older wars that are sitting unused on tarmacs. This is similar to China building huge cities that no one lives in.

So, if we really want to deal with the deficit and debt, we need to listen to folks like Simpson and Bowles. Cut defense even more along with some other cuts, reshape taxes to gain more revenue and invest in our infrastructure. As I mentioned in a post of a few weeks ago, borrowing to build or improve an asset is different from borrowing to pay for operational cost. Plus, the direct and indirect jobs around our infrastructure improvement projects will be felt in many places where needs exist.

That is my two cents. Some good comments are made below by readers. I would welcome others.

Political surveys need to ask better questions

I was reading an article online Sunday and came across this survey which had the title “How Republican Are You?” At the end of the survey, the tallied results told you if your answers made you more aligned with the GOP, Democrat, Green, Libertarian or Socialist party, actually weighing your alignment with the results.  Since I am an Independent voter, who left the GOP in 2006, I decided to take a few minutes to complete it.

I would describe myself as fiscally conservative and socially progressive. What that means is I don’t mind spending tax payer money, but I do want it to be for a greater good, according to some plan and achieve a Return on Investment. Throwing money at problems without measurement does not meet the needs in the long run. Yet, I also am in favor of assuring the equal rights and opportunities of all people, even the ones that do things or worship differently than I do. And, when people are in need, I am a big believer in helping them climb a ladder.

With that context, the survey was interesting, but lacking. I was disappointed in some of the questions that were asked and some that were not asked. The survey seemed to be based on headline issues and not day-to-day problems and concerns.

A couple of disappointing questions that were asked

I was truly disappointed that the question “do you believe in evolution?” was asked. Folks, it is January 2014. To me this shows the dumbing down of American politics to its lowest element that the surveyor felt obligated to ask this question. Fortunately, the survey did not ask if I believed the world was only 6,000 years old.

The other question that disturbed me was “do you believe in global warming?” This issue has pretty much been put to bed and only lingers due to the significant public relations push the fossil fuel industry has done for years to dissuade people. Yet, when less scientific people like Rush and Trump make inane comments because it was snowing, it panders to the dumbing down of American politics. For the record, I left the GOP in 2006 because of their stance on global warming then. My belief is if the party cannot acknowledge the greatest threat to our planet, then how can I fully trust your position on other issues?

I wished these questions were asked

I wished questions were asked about fiscal matters. There were headline issues included in the survey, many of which were fine, yet if you want to glean perspective on governance style, additional questions should have been asked. To me good questions would be some like the following.

What roles should be more governed by the federal government, state government or local government? Over the next thirty years, should we increase, decrease or stay constant on investment in fossil fuel development in the US? Should we focus more, less or the same on developing alternative energy sources? Over the next thirty years, should we be more focused on deficit reduction, growth in our economy or both? How invasive should our intelligence gathering be on common citizens? Should the US play a larger, smaller or similar role in promoting global peace, security and trade? Should we invest more, less or the same in our infrastructure? Should we invest more, less or the same on education? on defense? Is access to affordable healthcare of all citizens a right or privilege? Is it of importance that industry is governed to protect environmental concerns? What are the biggest problems facing your family over the next ten years?

Since the questions were asked more off headlines and less on fiscal matters, the conclusion of the survey for my answers is I was more aligned with the Green and Democrat parties. Yet, for me, the way the survey was asked does a disservice to my fiscal conservatism. I do believe there is a role for government on overarching investments that one industry, business or region cannot do alone, but I want them to use the money wisely. I do believe in a strong military, but we should not spend money on durable goods that we won’t need or use. I do want to help people gain opportunities that they have been denied, but I want to use the money wisely. I want to help people help themselves, so they can keep their dignity, but also break the cycle of poverty or disenfranchisement. This is a key premise of the book “Toxic Charity.” When we help people, we should be helping them climb the ladder reserving true charity only for emergencies.

We have many big issues facing us – our poverty problem, our need for more jobs, our need for better education, our need for improving our infrastructure, our need to address our immigration issues – which need to be studied and solutions planned out. Gauging the temperature of our citizens on these issues is what is needed. Many of the headline issues are important, but some are tools in the arsenal of what is needed. Complex issues require more holistic solutions. And, since money is not infinite, we do need to be good stewards with our expenditures in some areas spending less while in other areas spending more, which may require some additional revenue dedicated to funding.

Please look for the survey and complete it. I would love to hear your thoughts.

I don’t know why Republicans don’t like Obama – one of the best “GOP” Presidents

As an Independent voter, I voted for the President as well as some Republicans in the last election and the one before. President Obama has done some good things for our country and lot of good things have happened on his watch. He also done some things that have greatly disappointed me. Yet, the GOP has been firmly aligned to battle every thing he has done and some would run him over in their car if they got the chance. On the flip side, one of my friends jokingly says he is the best Republican president we have ever had. Some GOPers would cringe at this, but it shows what he has always been, more of a moderate, as he has disappointed folks on the right and left. Back in 2008, there was not much difference between him and John McCain on many issues and, for me and others it was McCain’s vice presidential selection that finally did him in.

Here are few things to consider to my friend’s point:

– US domestic oil production has increased significantly in the last five years, where we are much more self-reliant on our own oil. There is nothing more Republican than oil production increases.

– The deficit is on the decline due to spending cuts, lessening our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and tax increases by not extending the Bush tax cuts on the upper end. Republicans don’t like the last step, but they do love the direction of the deficit decline.

– On his watch the stock market has returned in a huge way since elected and many Republicans have done extremely well. The GOP does not like to admit this, but historically, the stock market has done better under Democrat white houses. I would add the president role gets too much credit and too much blame for the stock market results, but it is an interesting data point.

– The economy has gotten better on a monthly basis over the last three years and the number of jobs created on his watch are positive (even when you load in the layoffs shortly after elected due to the financial crisis at the end of Bush’s term). Contrary to GOP hype, the “failed” stimulus bill actually worked and could have been even more, so says six well-regarded econometric organizations. Like the above, the president role gets too much credit and too much blame for the economy, but the GOP might be interested in the data point that far more jobs have been created under Democrat white houses than GOP ones since 1921 by a ratio of 2.5 to 1.

– He quietly has invested in community college retraining programs leveraging state dollars with federal dollars matching up with business needs. Why this does not get more notoriety is beyond me? It is almost as if politicians have to sneak around to do things that might go against the party platform. It is like the high number of closet global warming believers in the GOP party leadership. This investment in retraining is precisely the kind of investment we need to be making to promote job creations.

– And, I have mentioned many times before Obamacare is largely a GOP idea patterned after Romneycare and tracing its roots to a Heritage Foundation idea embraced by GOP Senator Bob Dole when he ran for president against Bill Clinton. The exchanges, in particular, are a capitalistic Republican concept.The fact that Tea Party leader Jim DeMint supported Romneycare, before Obamacare was passed, advocating for it to President Bush is doubly ironic now that he is head of the Heritage Foundation. After Obamacare was passed and Romney ran for president again in 2012, DeMint said both Romneycare and Obamacare were unconstitutional. But, you said….

On the negative side, while Obama has opened the discussions on climate change action and should be commended for the higher mpg requirements on cars, he has not done near enough to move alternative energy forward. I am also disappointed in the lack of transparency of his administration and the NSA spying issues. And, the use of drones may have saved American and civilian lives without troop intervention, but their merciless, clinical nature and poor governance have harmed the US reputation as we have created more people who hate and distrust us. Finally, doing nothing to address our daily gun violence problem, as well as not getting immigration reform across the finish line or offering more help to those in need are disappointing. We have a poverty problem in this country which we need to do more about.

Being an Independent voter, I am afforded the chance to look at the many hypocrisies of both sides. I would like the GOP to return to a more reasonable party to balance against the Democrats. I would like Democrats to better understand the ROI of investments and that, on certain issues, we have to get a better economic handle – such as the high, unsustainable cost of governmental pensions which are contributor to bankruptcy in stagnant cities. We have too many unreasonable positions being bandied about based on anecdotal data, misinformation and disinformation. We need reasonable people to govern based on real data and concern for those impacted and not who wins on an issue.

So, let’s start looking for more real facts and not someone’s version of the facts. We need to ask questions of people, especially our leaders, as to why they feel a certain way. Our problems are too important to base solutions on someone’s biased version of the truth.

Yet, another Day in the Life

Again, with credit to Messrs. Lennon and McCartney, here are few more odds and ends in yet another “Day in the Life.” In no particular order…

Obamacare – Today is the day when the website is officially more functional, but it has been doing better through the month of November. It better be, as the major selling points of Obamacare are portrayed through the subsidies and additional offerings. Three quick comments, which I have made before:

– Buying healthcare is a personal risk decision: a political group’s opinion on the matter is irrelevant. Without knowing someone’s risk profile, telling someone not to buy insurance is on the unethical side of things. As an example, the risk of an unmarried, young male being in a car accident is greater than any other adult group, so some form of high deductible, catastrophic coverage might be worth considering, but that should be their decision. This is a key reason why I carry both of my adult sons on my policy.

– The Medicaid sign-ups continue to be the hidden success story; the states who declined Medicaid expansion will likely alter their position as it is a win-win for the people in need, the hospitals with high uninsured patients and the states’ economies, so says the RAND Corporation.

– The GOP has overreached on the bad rollout and it will likely come back to haunt them and should. Obamacare is largely a GOP idea and they have made it much harder for it to work and then step back and say “see I told you so” with its bumpy roll out. Since states’ rights is such an important GOP issue, for some states to pass on running a state based exchange (where you have state insurance commissioners whose job is to govern the market), is on the hypocritical side of things. The states who have done so are seeing better results on average, with a good bellweather state being Kentucky, the home of Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, two staunch Obamacare critics.

Temporary Deal with Iran

I am puzzled by the negative reaction to this deal. Multiple countries have a hand in it and it allows more verification and audit of nuclear development than what we have now. When old men beat on their chest and say we should bomb Iran or go to battle, I can assure you they will not be on the firing line. I understand Israel and Saudi Arabia’s points, but this temporary deal is helpful. Sanctions can always be reset, but dialogue is better than none. Haven’t we learned the financial and reputation cost of war?

I don’t know why Republicans don’t like Obama

I voted for the President and he has done some good things for our country and lot of good things have happened on his watch. He also done some things that have greatly disappointed me. Yet, the GOP has been firmly aligned to battle every thing he has done and some would run him over in their car if they got the chance. On the flip side, one of my friends jokingly says he is the best Republican president we have ever had. Some GOPers would cringe at this, but it shows what he has always been, more of a moderate, as he has disappointed folks on the right and left. Here are few things to consider to my friend’s point:

– US domestic oil production has increased significantly in the last five years, where we are much more self-reliant on our own oil. There is nothing more Republican than oil production increases.

– The deficit is on the decline due to spending cuts, lessening our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and tax increases by not extending the Bush tax cuts on the upper end. Republicans don’t like the last step, but they do love the direction of the deficit decline.

– On his watch the stock market has returned in a huge way since elected and many Republicans have done extremely well. The GOP does not like to admit this, but historically, the stock market has done better under Democrat white houses. I would add the president role gets too much credit and too much blame for the stock market results, but it is an interesting data point.

– The economy has gotten better on a monthly basis over the last three years and the number of jobs created on his watch are positive (even when you load in the layoffs shortly after elected due to the financial crisis at the end of Bush’s term). Contrary to GOP hype, the stimulus bill actually worked and could have been even more. Like the above, the president role gets too much credit and too much blame for the economy, but the GOP might be interested in the data point that far more jobs have been created under Democrat white houses than GOP ones since 1921 by a ratio of 2.5 to 1.

– He quietly has invested in community college retraining programs leveraging state dollars with federal dollars matching up with business needs. Why this does not get more notoriety is beyond me? It is almost as if politicians have to sneak around to do things that might go against the party platform. It is like the high number of closet global warming believers in the GOP party leadership. This investment in retraining is precisely the kind of investment we need to be making to promote job creations.

– And, I have already mentioned Obamacare being largely a GOP idea patterned after Romneycare and tracing its roots to a Heritage Foundation idea embraced by GOP Senator Bob Dole when he ran for president against Bill Clinton. The fact that Tea Party leader Jim DeMint supported Romneycare, before Obamacare was passed, advocating for it to President Bush is doubly ironic now that he is head of the Heritage Foundation. After Obamacare was passed and Romney ran for president again in 2012, DeMint said both Romneycare and Obamacare were unconstitutional. But, you said….

On the negative side, while Obama has opened the discussions on climate change action and should be commended for the higher mpg requirements on cars, he has not done near enough to move alternative energy forward. I am also disappointed in the lack of transparency of his administration and the NSA spying issues. And, the use of drones may have saved American and civilian lives without troop intervention, but their merciless, clinical nature and poor governance have harmed the US reputation as we have created more people who hate and distrust us. Finally, doing nothing to address our daily gun violence problem, as well as not getting immigration reform across the finish line or offering more help to those in need are disappointing.

Being an Independent voter, I am afforded the chance to look at the many hypocrisies of both sides. I would like the GOP to return to a more reasonable party to balance against the Democrats. I would like Democrats to better understand the ROI of investments and that, on certain issues, we have to get a better economic handle – such as the high, unsustainable cost of governmental pensions which are contributor to bankruptcy in stagnant cities. We have too many unreasonable positions being bandied about based on anecdotal data, misinformation and disinformation. We need reasonable people to govern based on real data and concern for those impacted and not who wins on an issue.

This is my Day in the Life as of December 1, 2013. Have a great final month of your year. And, please question things and data sources. Ask people why they believe a certain way on an issue. Maybe, just maybe, better discussion can evolve.

Crisis averted, but we cannot get complacent and must act

Thank goodness more rational heads prevailed this past week and we listened to what our global financial partners were telling us. I was not counting the chickens until they were all hatched. Here are few remarks from around the globe that we need to remind folks of courtesy of NBC News online.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde welcomed the deal but said the shaky American economy needs more stable long-term finances. The deal only permits the Treasury to borrow normally through February 7 and fund the government through January 15.

After the deal was approved and signed, the Tokyo stock market, the region’s heavyweight, gained as much as 1.1 percent Thursday. Markets in South Korea, Australia and Southeast Asia also gained. Earlier, China’s official Xinhua News Agency had accused Washington of jeopardizing other countries’ dollar-denominated assets. It called for “building a de-Americanized world,” though analysts say global financial markets have few alternatives to the dollar for trading and U.S. government debt for holding reserves.

In Israel, a key American ally in the Middle East, commentators said the fight hurt America’s overall image. “There is no doubt that damage was done here to the image of American economic stability,” Israel’s economic envoy to Washington, Eli Groner, told Israel’s Army Radio. “It’s not good for the financial markets, not in the United States and not around the world.”

The next time someone brings up that it would have been OK not to pay our bills, ask them if they truly understand what they are advocating with folks around the world saying the above. And, just to illustrate this point further, Brazil had some major building initiatives around their growth, Olympics, etc. and they looked to financing from China, Dubai and other non-American sources, so don’t think the world does not notice our dysfunction. With that said, we do need to deal with our deficit (and debt issues) and hopefully the December 13 report by the bi-partisan committee will be fruitful.

In May, 2012, I wrote the following post regarding the Tea Party’s efforts. While I support their push for dealing with the deficit, they are not being very good stewards with the faith some have entrusted in them. In addition to their uncompromising positions and trust in dubious sources of information and history, they are also taking a key lever off the table that we must use to get our deficit under control. In addition to reducing spending, we must increase revenue. It is not an either or issue – it is both as recommended by the Simpson-Bowles (or Bowles-Simpson) Deficit Reduction Committee.

http://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/what-kind-of-tea-is-the-tea-party-drinking/

So, Congressional leaders, you have until December 13 to come up with a plan. That plan cannot include holding the debt ceiling hostage or shutting down the government. Please remember, our stability is a rock on which the global economy is based. Please heed the words by the Chinese official above. If we can no longer be that rock, the world will find another one. Innovation is portable as is money. People are investing and will invest elsewhere if we don’t get our act together.

Missed Opportunities

With the country and global economies being held hostage by a strident few in Washington, I keep coming back to the missed opportunities. We should not overlook the fact there were two major trade negotiations that the US missed out in Asia-Pacific and Europe. These are negotiations that create deals to enhance trade and create jobs. Congress talks about jobs far more than it acts on creating jobs, so the government shutdown cut back the chance for the President to be where he needed to be in Asia-Pacific and short-circuited a deal that  might have been reached in Europe.

I have written before about David Smick and his book “The World is Curved” which discusses our role in the global economy. Who is David Smick? He was an economic advisor to two different party presidents and a third candidate who had a good reputation. He first advised Congressman Jack Kemp, who was as studious an elected official as you will find. He then advised President Ronald Reagan and later was an advisor to President Bill Clinton. In his book, he makes a statement that few have made – Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were very much alike on a key role of the President – opening up markets for trade.

They saw this role as critical to America’s success and they were right. Although the President plays an important part, he gets too much credit and too much blame for the economy. With that said, if you look at per capita job creation under presidents in Wikipedia, you will see that Reagan’s terms rank the highest of any GOP president (and pretty high for all presidents) and Clinton’s terms rank the second highest of all presidents behind those of Franklin Roosevelt. In terms of sheer numbers, Clinton’s terms had the most jobs created. According to Smick, a key was opening markets.

I have come to the conclusion that opening markets not only creates jobs because of the additional trade, but it can help diplomatic efforts. When we restrict trade to penalize a dictatorial and horrid regime, we end up punishing the wrong people. My thesis is if economic trade occurs across boundaries, it breaks down barriers and enables positive interactions. Opening trade affords people the opportunity to live a reasonable life and feed, clothe and house their families. This a key reason Iran’s new President is reaching out to the US and rest of the world – his country’s economy is suffering and his people are in need. I often used the term pawns to reference the common folks who tend to get harmed in political chess games like the one going on in Washington and the posturing by Iran in the past.  It is especially harmful when leaders are ignoring the real issues to debate a sound byte or a strident posture.

So, opening markets and tearing down barriers to trade, whether it is global or domestic, enhances economies and creates jobs. In direct contrast, creating barriers and making issues out of real, perceived, inaccurate or deceptive information or posturing, does the opposite. I have equated the failures of the current Congress to that of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take to “do no harm.” Well, our Congress and, in particular, a strident few, are “doing harm” and, as a result, we are missing opportunities. And, as a result, the pawns get hurt.

The GOP has screwed the pooch

If people are horrified by the verbiage of this headline, please know that it is a term used by test pilots in the Air Force and was used heavily during the book and movie called “The Right Stuff.” The term “screwed the pooch” is a term given when a test pilot pushed his aircraft too far and the mistake would cause the loss of the aircraft or, worse the loss of his or her life. The erroneous test pilot was said to have “screwed the pooch.” Unfortunately, these brave men and now women, often paid dearly for their test pilot efforts, which was a recurring theme in the movie.

I use the term to portray what the GOP has been doing to itself over the past few years culminating in the current state of affairs where a few are holding the country and their own party hostage with demands that are so strident, others in their party are balking. In fact, the GOP leadership is close to its wits end as they are being pushed by the US Chamber of Commerce, business leaders and conservative columnists and papers to cease the charade and come to the table. They have screwed the pooch.

I was somewhat hesitant to use this term as it was used with brave and daring test pilots who were paid and loved to fly jets to their outer limits and beyond. They called it “pushing the envelope.” I find no bravery in the Tea Party as I see a stubbornness that has arisen from a faulty data, misinformation and unlimited funds from a few key donors. These donors have heavy ties to the fossil fuel industry, so from my view and that of other independent voters, the donors are using the passion in Tea Party group for a cause that the group is unaware.

These donors want to perpetuate the fossil fuel profit making engine by any means possible. They want to dismantle environmental regulations and gain full access to dig, drill and exploit. Even as we speak, the GOP is considering the push for environmental restrictions being lifted as part of the debt ceiling and budget bill. Why would they do that at a time when the United Nations sanctioned International Climate Change Group scientists have just noted they are 95% sure global warming is man-influenced and the folks in China are having a hard time seeing the sun and breathing clean air is becoming a luxury.

The stubborness tracks to the position on Obamacare which is largely a GOP idea. The exchanges, in particular, are right out of a GOP playbook that wants more competition for insurance coverage in a state. And, one of the biggest Tea Party proponents lives in Texas, which is where the most uninsureds in America exist. They are dead last by having the highest tally of uninsureds. I get back to a simple question – why aren’t you in favor of Obamacare? And, why won’t you expand Medicaid, as well?

But, I guess one of the troubling aspects in the budget deal is the current proposal passed by the Senate has the GOP preferred sequestration restricted budget baked in. In other words, the GOP has garnered approval from the Senate on a major concession and that is to continue fairly capricious cuts. If the House voted for this Senate bill right now, it would pass with enough GOP Congressional representatives joining the Democrats. One GOP Congressman said if the vote was confidential, 150 GOP members would vote for it. That is almost 70% of the GOP representatives. What does that tell you?

Obama has made some concessions with this budget. He is not going to unwind his healthcare law. And, in spite of the overall like/ dislike of Obamacare, since the GOP disinformation campaign has been so effective, people don’t know what it is, including some representatives, senators and governors. Yet, if you ask about the features of Obamacare, people like the features in the majority. What has already been made effective – extending coverage to age 26 for adult children, elimination of lifetime limits, elimination of preexisting conditons on kids (the adult part is effective 1/1/14), limiting insurer profits on premiums, and improving senior drug coverage – are well received. The exhanges are a good idea and will let people have access to coverage.

I have written numerous letters to my GOP representative to stop siding with the Tea Party and start being a reasonable steward. The Tea Party has screwed the pooch and per conservative columnist David Brooks is on the downward side of their success.The GOP has screwed the pooch as well, but they still have time to remedy this and make a course correction. Let’s hope for our country they do. Speaker are you listening?