I am annoyed with Democrats and Republicans

This post may be offensive to some of my followers, but I appreciate your comments should you disagree. As an Independent voter who left the Republican Party in 2006, but did not choose to rejoin the Democratic Party, I want our leaders to solve our problems and work together. We have gotten progressively worse with partisanship and that is not good, as we are attempting to solve problems with party rhetoric and not data and or common sense. Both sides are to blame, but I find more fault with my more recent former party given their support by a more active misinformation base parading as a mainstream news network.

Like many people, I do not fit into a nice compartment. I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive. I have these beliefs we need to pay for things and every citizen has equal rights and opportunity. Per Teddy Roosevelt, they need a ‘square deal” and like his cousin Franklin, they need a “fair deal.” I guess I want our leaders to be better stewards than they have come to be with our money and rights. What many have failed to realize is my rights are just important as yours, and vice versa. The right to do something does not include the right to squelch another person’s rights. Think about this last sentence, as folks advocating religious freedom laws seem to miss the subtlety of this point.

Using a recent example, I cite the approval of our new Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch. This man was not perfect, but he seemed to have a pretty good set of experiences. Yes, he is more conservative than I would prefer, but he was nominated by a Conservative president. That is how this works. My question to Democrats is Gorsuch more horrible in their minds than the next few in consideration? Why force the Republicans hand in blowing up the 60 vote rule? I fault the GOP as well for blowing up this rule, as we now could get a more extreme person on the Court. And, that is not what this Court needs in m view. So, between the two actions, we have thrown future stewardship out the window.

Another recent example is the effort that fortunately failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Republicans decided to work without Democrats to do this and their party bickering caused it to fail. It also failed because it was a horribly crafted and rushed bill. Since most Americans want to keep Obamacare, but improve it, why did the GOP waste time and not work with Democrats to fix it? The President even blamed Democrats for this bill’s failure, yet they weren’t even at the table. That is a shame.

Stewardship is an important word to define what is lacking. We need our leaders to be better stewards of our country than they have become. Both parties do not lay claim to all of the good ideas and both can lay claim to some bad ones. So, why not set all the rhetoric aside, study real data and real causes, and come up with informed, bipartisan solutions through civil discourse. Right now, in my view, our Congress and President’s inability to do this are a threat to national security. Please be better stewards. We need you to be.

 

 

 

A few ideas on the US deficit and debt

I have written in the past few years (and weeks) about the US deficit and building debt as it is a ticking time bomb. We failed to reach a grand bargain early in the Obama presidency after the marvelous efforts of the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee. And, that is unfortunate as it was a terrific model to start legislative conversations. While I think the President has done a pretty good job, I see shelving the Simpson-Bowles work as his biggest failure.

Recently, I cited the sixteen myths about our deficit and debt problem in the US, that I gleaned from a bipartisan organization called Fix the Debt which can be found at http://www.fixthedebt.org. As with the efforts of Simpson-Bowles, reducing the debt cannot be done by panacea and will require bipartisan trade-offs that include a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts. The Simpson-Bowles recommendations blended about 1/3 tax increases with 2/3 spending cuts to make huge strides in reducing the debt.

It will definitely not be accomplished by tax cuts as proposed by the two leading GOP candidates for president, who former GOP Senator Alan Simpson said would so significantly increase the deficit, that there are not enough spending cuts to bring the deficit down. Both leading candidates tax proposals have been scored unfavorably by The Concord Coalition, another bipartisan deficit and debt reduction group in this regard, which is a concern, especially with one of the candidates touting how much of a deficit hawk he is.

Solving this problem will require trade-offs and both political parties will need to check their baggage at the door. From an exercise called “Debt Busters, An Interactive Budget Education Exercise by The Concord Coalition” which can be found at http://www.concordcoalition.org, here are few examples of what can be done. This is not a complete list, but is indicative of the kinds of options that could be considered. Note, the numbers reflect the impact on the deficit over the next ten years as measured by the Congressional Budget Office.

Spending Cuts

It should be noted the three largest areas of spending are Medicare/ Medicaid, Social Security and Defense.
  • Reduce healthcare spending by adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), limiting the subsidies to people making 3 x the poverty limit or less (it is currently 4 x)  and limiting malpractice suits = $327 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reform Medicare Part B premiums to be 35% of the cost (closer to the initial intent of 50%) and convert federal share of Medicaid payments to a fixed annual block grant = $749 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reduce specified defense spending deferring development of a long-range bomber and number of ballistic submarines = $41 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reduce domestic spending by reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition = $49 Billion deficit decrease
  • Increase Social Security retirement age gradually to age 70 and calculate cost of living adjustments based on consumer good price changes = $217 Billion deficit decrease

Revenue Increases

Increasing revenue is something that has to be considered. Strong opinions flavor this discussion, but this is where the exercise earns its keep, as it let’s folks consider the trade-offs and priorities.

  • Increase the Social Security Taxable Wage Base to $177,500 from its current limit of $118,500 which would draw in more FICA taxes = $672 Billion deficit decrease
  • Increase gas tax to 35 cents per gallon (or something equivalent in mileage tax) earmarked for Highway Trust Funding = $469 Billion deficit decrease

I purposefully stayed away from more tax increases, but reconfiguring our tax code to get more corporations to keep revenue taxed here and simplifying our individual tax code should be considered. Those ideas could be deficit neutral or deficit reducing, but we should think very hard about lowering tax revenue as we cannot afford it in my view and the view of the above bipartisan sources.

Please check out these websites and speak with your congressional representatives and senators. And, ask candidates pointed questions about their plans. Their failure to do something about an obvious problem, telling us what we want to hear via promised tax reductions, does not help us and is a reason our younger adults are frustrated. They will be the ones who have to bear the burden of our poor stewardship.

Religious Support for the Environment

A Catholic Nun, a Muslim Imam and a Jewish Rabbi walked into a room. Per the Rabbi, there is no punch line as this is not a joke, as all three came to discuss how their religions support treating the environment well. The discussion was called “Interfaith Perspective on Caring for the Planet.” After viewing a movie called “Stewardship and Lost Rivers,” co-produced by two professors at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which featured numerous religious leaders of various faiths, it is very apparent that each religion supports doing something about man-influenced climate change and treating our environment well for our children and grandchildren’s sake. In fact, Pope Francis will be publishing a position paper that says these very things later this summer, in advance of the next United Nations global meeting in Paris on doing something about climate change.

The Catholic Nun, who is one of 25 Climate Action leaders in the US Catholic Church, was keen on equating poverty and maltreatment of the environment. She noted that people in poverty are more impacted than others due to the placement of environmentally harmful energy sources nearer poor neighborhoods and the inability to easily pick up and move or seek medical help for illnesses perpetuated by pollution and energy waste product. Also, climate change seems to hit impoverished low-lying areas with sea rise and encroachment into farm land and fresh water supplies. In fact, one of the co-producers of “Stewardship and Lost Rivers” who was present used the term “eco-racism” to define the inordinate onus placed on the impoverished.

Yet, each religious leader echoed what was noted in the film regarding the wishes of God, Allah or a supreme being to treat the environment well for future generations. The Rabbi told the story of a man who was planting a tree that would not bear fruit for 75 years. When he failed to attend a meeting with a potential Messiah, he said he needed to finish planting this tree, as a tree bearing fruit was here when he came along and, irrespective of whether this is the Messiah, people will need the fruit from the tree. This is echoed in Deuteronomy where God tells the armies if they must wage war, to avoid cutting down the fig trees, as people will need to eat regardless of who wins.

Each religious leader discussed our need to be good stewards with our resources, in particular, water which is important in all religions symbolically and spiritually, but as well as to survive. I spoke with the Imam afterwards, and he noted because water is so dear in the Middle East, Muslims can use sand instead of water in their prayers. We discussed in Steven Solomon’s book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization,” Solomon notes that Saudi Arabia is oil rich and water poor, which will cause huge problems in the not-so-distant future. Sounds like Texas, Oklahoma and California to me.

This topic resonated with me, especially when poverty and the environment were linked. We must do something about man-influenced climate change and its impact on the world. We need to treat our resources of air and water as dear as they are and will become in the future. As noted in the movie, there is no “Planet B,” as this is the only chance we get. We cannot rewind and change what we have done, but we can alter the future course. It is great to see religious leaders, like the Pope and these three folks, embrace the need to act to address our environmental concerns and poverty, as well. We should follow the instructions in our religious texts and join them.

The Lord wanted me to have nice things

These words were uttered by Reverend Jim Bakker, who founded the Praise The Lord (PTL) Club, shortly before he went to prison for defrauding donors and accounting irregularities. He was being interviewed on a local TV station at his home when the focus came on his solid gold faucets. “The Lord wanted me to have nice things,” he said on camera. For several years before that moment, one of the local DJs used to do a skit called the “Pass The Loot” Club, as many locals caught on to his act before the national TV audience did.

This week, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta has come under fire for building a $2.2 million, 6,400 square foot home. His house was built primarily with funds donated to help those in need. After the notoriety, the church will likely be selling the residence. This is on the heels of the even larger spend in Germany by Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst on his residence mansion, whose repairs totaled over $40 million in US dollars.

Pope Francis has been a staunch advocate for the impoverished and has not been too fond of over-indulging priests and bishops. By taking the name of St. Francis who focused his life on helping the poor and by choosing to live in more austere settings than the Pope’s usual residence, Pope Francis has sent a clear message that is still being heard. My guess is many church leaders are laying very low. Hopefully, the message will resonate with all members of the Catholic clergy and other religious sects.

But, as Bakker has shown, the indulgences are not limited to those leaders in the Catholic faith. The minister of a prominent and growing church in my metro-area has come under fire for his opulent house, which exceeds the price of the Atlanta Archbishop’s. Two years ago, two married ministers in my area went to jail on tax evasion. The congregation is still in disbelief after they were arrested for not reporting their very fine way of life. And, not to be outdone, even Reverend Franklin Graham came under fire for receiving two million dollar (approximately) salaries for two different organizations he leads. He has remedied this to my knowledge, once it became public, but it did not seem to bother him before the press.

However, the one who takes the cake is Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh of Oregon. He was eventually arrested in Charlotte for immigration fraud, but had a knack for courting wealthy donors who would give up millions of dollars to his organization. When arrested, he had a fleet of many Rolls-Royces and several private jets. You can read more about the Bhagwan with attached link: http://www.ohs.org/the-oregon-history-project/biographies/Bhagwan-Shree-Rajneesh.cfm

As someone of faith, I do not begrudge ministers and religious leaders for receiving a reasonable income. They work long hours and are constantly on call. Yet, I do feel it is hypocritical to take advantage and live extravagantly at the expense of others. Like the above, some have been too keen on living well. It likely starts as self-justification for doing good. This happens in politics, business and other organization leadership, as well. That is why “stewardship” is a key word to me. The people who oversee these leaders and the leaders themselves have to be good stewards with peoples’ money. Otherwise, you breach their trust and sometimes, break the law.

 

 

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