Thursday, December 29, 2011

GOP vision would diminish America

My column Dec. 28 2011 in the Sky Hi News

I wonder what this new year will bring. Whatever happens, 2012 is going to be a special one because of severely conflicting visions of America.

What happens in the coming year may go down as a crossroads, an American spring, even breaking political gridlock in Washington, or not.  

The contributing factor is that the Republican party has taken a turn to the hard core right. Democrats have stayed pat. Each one of the potential GOP presidential candidates has tried to position his or her platform as being the purest and most conservative. Every public policy is subject to the measure of whether it reduces the debt and shrinks the role of the federal government.

Recently, it appears the Republican primary goal has been to protect the tax status of the rich. When it comes to foreign affairs, military strength and physical intervention are their measures of America's strength in the world. Any other approach is condemned as appeasement. Only Ron Paul differs. The Right wrings its hands, seeing the U.S. in decline and making a case that theirs is the only way to restore America's power in the world.

The Left has spent the past year protecting programs they traditionally treasure, Social Security, Medicare, education, and responsible withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democrats' vision is nearly the diametric opposite of the new Republicanism.

The villain in all of this is us. Americans want the federally provided services the federal government has given them. We want America to be the most powerful military in the world. We want low taxes, too. In short, we want, want, want, but what we do not want is to pay for it. 

We do not need to decrease taxes to be competitive in business in the world, according to Fareed Zakaria on CNN Dec. 11. Per the OECD (an international body studying economic development matters), the U.S. ranks 27th in taxes as a percentage of gross domestic product and we are still ranked by the World Bank as the best large country in the world in which to do business. 

Here is why the GOP vision if implemented will make us a nation diminished. America's greatness is more than the myopic view of military might and intervention. It is also our moral leadership in human rights and democratic governance, our innovative, educated populace, and a nation that can transport its people and products from border to border and beyond.

The GOP seems bent on defunding this human and physical capital, exempting from cuts more military might and promoting tax policies that would only increase one of the greatest income gaps between the rich and the poor in the industrialized world.

We are already familiar with a slip in our education levels compared to other countries, and our debt is a potential time bomb, though 40 percent is due to diminished income to the treasury due to the recession. The trend line shows we have slow, steady growth and job creation that will eventually reduce the deficit significantly.

At the beginning of 2012, according to the Census, one out of every two families are either poor or living in poverty. The major economic driver of growth is consumer demand, and our diminished middle class cannot afford to be vigorous consumers. Even the rich confirm that the motivation for expanding business is based on many more factors than just favorable tax reductions. 

According to the World Bank and the OECD: Federal spending on basic science is one half of what it was in the 1950s. Five years ago, our infrastructure was ranked in the top 10; now we are 24th. Once we ranked first in college graduates; now we are 14th.

In the GOP's rush to reduce the deficit, education and infrastructure are their main targets for cuts and they continue to defend the rich from tax increases. They are pursuing a vision that will further diminish America's place in the world.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Market, Free Market

Version of my original column submitted to the paper; skyhidaily news(   printed an edited version Dec.21, 2011

So many of our Christmas traditions come from Europe, some coming sooner and others later.  One that is only now catching on lately is a Christmas Market.  In the old country, especially in German speaking regions,  the village town square is filled with stalls selling hand made tree ornaments and goodies and toys and items to give at gifts when Christmas eve comes.  I treasure the tree ornaments my junior year abroad children brought to me so many years ago from Austria. Those markets are like our crafts fairs and farmers markets with a Christmas theme .  It is old fashioned, free market capitalism for which so many yearn.
Being nostalgic  for the free market olden days has also become an unstated litmus test of the GOP presidential contenders and their media spokespersons .  It is  held up as a standard of economic good, and it will cure what ails us including high health care costs and Wall Street busts.  The sound bite of the month is that the President Obama Is an enemy of the free market because  he supports more regulation of Wall Street   and his health care reform law  is a government  take over the health care market.
  I love the free market too, when it is truly free, fair, safe, and competitive. Following my European sister in law around  the huge farmers market in Zagreb, Croatia, this summer I saw the free market at its best.  She went to her favorite vendors who usually had the best quality and turned over the tomatoes to see if there was a rotten spot or a worm hole. She picked and poked and then bought.  There must have had twenty different tomato vendors  there.
Neither the health care insurance industry nor Wall Street meet standards of being  free, fair ,safe  or  competitive.  It is not Obama who is the enemy of the free market system;  it is some of the participants in that market who do it the most harm.  The financial sector has utilized  modern technology and shell game techniques to fool their customers, both unsophisticated  consumers and the experienced investors.   The old “liars can figure and figures can lie” approach  permeated the securities markets pre the 2008 crash may possible by unregulated financial instruments such as  derivatives   and hedge funds  and unwise lending practices.  Dodd/Frank  Wall Street Reform  brings  tougher  regulation and new scrutiny to those worst practices, to the howl of protest by the GOP and bankers.  .
  Major contributors  to the bubble that burst in 2008 were  practices that were unfair to consumers and  undermined  free market choices. The least able to shop wisely  in the credit  market were   everyday consumers, who assumed that they could afford the house if the bank told them they could and   were incapable of finding the worm hole in the shiny pages and fine print of documents shoved under their faces at closing.  Credit card companies found imaginative ways to soak their customers. There was no place to go for a consumer to complain or someone to make lenders behave  fairly .   
 The Consumer Protection   Bureau was established in the Wall Street reform legislation to provide a solution.  The GOP and Wall Street lobbyists are stonewalling appointments to the agency, hoping to eventually sabotage it by putting more banker-foxes  in charge of the hen/house  of consumer protection….all in the name of free market economics.
“Let competition of health insurance companies  cross state lines  and we can lower health care costs”, say the GOP, offering that as the alternative to Obamacare.   Bad news:  There is no free market .  A few nationwide health insurance companies and their subsidiaries control the market, free to collude on prices , restrict  offerings and divvy up customers because they are freed  from anti trust laws.  That is why Obamacare establishes  an open, affordable market of  exchanges  providing a choice of competing for profit and non profit private insurers, offering  coverage fairer to consumers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The GOP is becoming even more disconnected from the middle class

My  column in today's Sky Hi News

A riddle: How is hanging Christmas lights outside like politics?

The puzzle with the answer hit me the other day as I was doing that annual chore: If you do not make the proper connections, the lights do not go on. The voters will light up best for those who make the right connection, and polls are showing the Democrats are beginning to make some headway.

A shift in public attitudes has coincided with the GOP presidential contender debates and the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. OWS brought focus to the fact that the rich had gotten richer and the 99 percent of us had not, and it contributed to a change in public attitudes toward taxation fairness, even trumping debt and job creation concerns. The GOP also helped fire this mood shift by consistently defending the rich and big business in Congress and in their nearly weekly presidential hopeful debates.

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll Oct. 31, 70 percent of Americans said that congressional Republicans' policies favored the rich; two-thirds thought wealth should be more evenly distributed and that taxes should be increased on millionaires. A very critical shift in opinion from earlier polls was that 65 percent thought the way to lower the deficit was to increase taxes on millionaires instead of closing the deficit by cutting popular programs such as education, earned entitlements, and environmental protection.

In addition to giving the public a distasteful menu of cuts to middle class-benefitting programs, GOP candidates and congress people proposed a shell game of delaying any decisions until sometime in an indefinite future when the entire tax structure could be made flatter. They even approved a tax hike, in effect, on the middle class by trying to block an extension of the payroll tax cut, holding it hostage to removing the part paying for it with a tax on millionaires. When that position ran into public outrage, they shifted the terms of their ransom to agreeing to their proposal to reduce funding to the EPA and approval of an oil pipeline without the normal scrutiny. They are at least making big energy happy, if not anyone depending on continuation of the payroll tax cut.

Republicans try to justify their protection of the rich and big because they contend those are the job creators; raising taxes on them will kill jobs. Many of the same rich and big have publicly stated that tax policy is not the main reason they add employees and those same polls cited above showed that the public had more faith in Obama's job creation proposals than they did in the GOP's plans.

The GOP has complained the president had declared class warfare, making him appear to some as whipping up class anger, not that anger did not already exist. To explain away the anger, the newest GOP line is to say it is generated by wealth envy. That kind of bogus psychoanalysis shows how disconnected the GOP is from reality.

Obama seized on the fairness issue in his seminal speech in Kansas on Dec. 6, when he resurrected the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt's populism, setting forth “fairness” as a theme of his 2012 campaign.

If the GOP continues to be disconnected from the public mood as they have been, they will turn on the lights in the minds of independent voters that will only help the Democrats.

Monday, December 12, 2011

GOP is relying on voters being unsophisticated and dumb?

Of all the arrogance.  I heard at least two spokespeople for the GOP on Sunday talk say that Americans really do not care about policy; they just know they hurt.  (unstated: so they will vote for the other side). Do they really think voters are that dumb?  Is that what the GOP hopes happens…that there the vote will be based on the question: Are you better off than you were in the past? There is a reason polls show that the blame for the great Recession lies on the Bush administration and Obama is down 4 on the list.  Do they really think that voters know that it is possible to have policies that would make their situation worse, even though they do not think the Obama policies were good enough?  If the GOP hangs it hat on the unsophistication of voters, they may be in for a shock in November 2012.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gingrich as Scrooge

My column in the Sky Hi News, Dec. 7, 2011
‘Tis the season of giving and charity, yet elements of our politically active citizenry have just not gotten into the spirit.

Arguments using terms of humaneness are ridiculed, while others want to put poor kids back into the dark ages of sanctioned child labor and orphanages. Others think the way to save the cost of Medicare is to cure the diseases inflicting seniors.

All of these approaches have their supporters, and many reside on the right end of the political spectrum. In fact, the chief advocate for these positions is one in the same: Newt Gingrich. Credit him with schizophrenia when it comes to matters of a warm heart.

Both Newt Gingrich and Gov. Rick Perry had the fortitude to address the problem of what to do with the 11-or-so million illegal immigrants in this country. Perry's campaign was buried in the landslide of GOP right that cheered electrifying the border fences and zapping offenders, and deporting everyone who was undocumented. Gingrich escaped lynching by appealing to the humanistic culture, but his rise was in spite of his position on “amnesty.” He is the last, best known un-Romney left standing at this point.

Gingrich brings with him years of recorded pronouncements, but he is still capable of surprising us. His most recent sound bite, claiming child labor laws were “truly stupid” and proposing to put poor kids to work as school janitors to instill a work ethic, will haunt him as he takes his campaign forward. Charles M. Blow, opining in the New York Times (Dec. 3, 2011) captioned his piece as “Newt's War on Poor Children.” Blow cited statistics that shames Gingrich's rationale that poor kids need to have someone to give them a work ethic early in life because they all come from welfare households. According to Blow, 75 percent of poor adults are working and most poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed.

As a parent and grandparent of working kids, I appreciate they are protected by the stupid laws that keep them from working with knives and dangerous equipment, or exposing themselves to toxic chemicals or working long hours that prevent them from succeeding in school. What does Gingrich want to do? Subject all of our kids to  abuses for which those stupid laws were written? Or does he mean only poor kids should not have those protections?

This “war on poor children” is in character with Gingrich's past positions, too. Newt Gingrich will forever be identified with welfare reform proposals in the famous ‘90s “Contract with America”, of which he was the architect. While even Democrats embraced and enacted some of it, forgotten in the fine print was the proposal he made to take poor kids from dysfunctional families and put them in orphanages, later called children's homes, a political renaming because of the bad name orphanages had gotten. I thought conservatives have a thing about preserving parental rights. What were you thinking, Newt? Recently Gingrich has admitted he may have used the wrong terms, and what he meant was to call them “prep schools.” A rose is a rose is a rose.

What we ought to support instead is more of what cities are already doing: partnering with the private sector and nonprofits in summer work youth programs, mentoring, internships, and promoting their access to education or a GED. We not only need to give them income, we also need to give them tools to succeed. Tossing them in orphanages or making them janitors will neither not cut it nor warm many hearts.