Budgets, Deficits and Debt

If It Isn’t a Perfect 10 . . .

Look, it’s as plain as can be that the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – was flawed from the start.   Whatever your political views, the act focuses on payment, not medical care itself.  And it doesn’t cover everyone.  Besides, the stupid website doesn’t work.  Just de-fund it, already.

And while I’m thinking of it, our interstate highways are pretty beaten up.  De-fund those, too.

Education.  Now, that’s a mess.  Our kids are way behind most of the industrialized world in science and math, so the only sensible thing to do is to just dump the system we’re using.  Perhaps funding based on real estate property taxes made sense a long time ago.  Maybe, maybe not.  But that funding mechanism isn’t preparing kids for today, much less for tomorrow.  And we’re not hiring and retaining the best teachers, either, as too many are on the “Three Years and Out” plan.  No, this isn’t working well enough to continue to throw money at it, so just pull the plug.

The Postal Service doesn’t get any money from the government, unless some bureaucrat wants to mail a letter, so we don’t have to worry about that.  But the people running it ought to be re-thinking their whole model.  One stamp sends a letter to the remotest places in the U.S. every day.  That’s crazy.  Maybe congress should increase the requirement for their pension put-away to cover people who won’t be born for another 50 years.  That would put the pressure on them to pull the plug.

And those spiffs to alternative energy companies – what’s up with that?  Those technologies only supply 2% of our energy needs, which is way too little to make a real difference.  No point in encouraging that, so we should just de-fund those loony subsidies.

What the heck is the government doing in the home mortgage industry?  Everyone knows that Reagan was right about government being the problem.  We should just let the free market do its magic.  The FHA falls well short of doing things right all the time.  Adios, FHA.  And pay no attention to those too-big-to-fail bank derivatives that nobody understands.  Let the free market work there, too, except if those guys crash and burn again and then government will be the safety net.  Everything has an exception, right?

Medical R & D – now, that’s a real problem.  We keep throwing money that way, but where is that cure for cancer?  Have you seen it?  Neither have I.  Now, that’s a really dark hole into which we throw cash all the time, but that’s a system that never delivers like it should.  De-fund that bad boy, too.

Back to Obamacare for a second.  The website is so bad that it’s embarrassing.  And President Obama did that, “If you like it you can keep it” thing, which turned out not to be true for everyone.  Those are two more good reasons for trashing the entire program.  Okay, really just one more, since I mentioned the website earlier.  But it’s that bad, though, so it should be beaten up twice.  Maybe continuously.

There are so many programs that we fund that work at sub-optimal levels.  If we are to make good choices about what to do with our scarce resources (i.e. what’s in our collective wallet), then here is the bar that must be cleared:  If it isn’t perfect, de-fund it.

There.  That was easy.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Continuing Frog Boil

Boiling FrogThe U.S. budget sequestration went into effect on March 1, 2013.  It was designed to reduce defense and certain non-defense discretionary spending by annually declining percentages through 2021.  It applies these cuts with the fine precision of a large asteroid smashing into the Earth.  It was said to be designed as a pressure on Congress and the White House to hammer out a budget agreement on a timely basis and was not supposed to go into effect because its stupidity was unthinkable.  Apparently, some of the major actors in that drama didn’t do enough thinking, because we’re living with the sequester now.  Oddly, we are not hearing much of a wail from those affected.  There are reasons for that.

First, the impact of the sequester on defense spending is small enough to be a rounding error for the agencies with nearly unlimited spending ability and which buy thousand-dollar toilet seats, tanks for fighting the non-existent Soviet Union in a land war and trillion-dollar airplanes that no one wants.  Besides, when the affected contractors are unhappy with the government they don’t march in the streets.  Their comments are given behind closed doors, so you don’t hear them.

Second, many of the domestic program cuts only affect poor people and nobody listens to them.  For example, study after study has shown that early childhood education is the cornerstone for later success in higher education and for a lifetime.  But the sequester cut 57,000 children out of the Head Start program, thus necessarily relegating them to a much dimmer future.  Understand, though, that the Head Start victims of the sequester are poor kids whose parents’ voices aren’t heard in Congress because those parents don’t make large campaign contributions, so they don’t have access.  And you can’t hear them because the corporate media doesn’t relay their brutal reality.

Here is another example.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that the sequester would produce a reduction in economic growth of 0.6%, saying that this would affect job retention for 750,000 Americans.  “Retention” is not about new jobs.  It is about employed people just keeping their jobs.  That means three-quarters of a million Americans will lose their jobs because of the unthinkable sequester.  Like the parents of kids kicked out of Head Start, the newly unemployed don’t have access, so you don’t hear their voices, either, and it is relatively easy for the rest of us to ignore the change.

Third, we human beings only become aware of change when a big WHUMP! smacks us in the head.  Most of the time we tolerate small changes quite easily and don’t even notice them.  By the time we at last notice their accumulation into a WHUMP!, it is too late to prevent the adverse consequences that we will live with forever.  That is to say, most of us are living with the unrecognized effects of small changes and, like live frogs in a slowly heating pot of water, we fail to recognize that we are being boiled alive.

Yet, metaphorically speaking, that is what is happening to Americans.  We are tolerating changes like the sequester, either because each change is very small, as they are for most of us, or we are accommodating them because we are powerless, as it is for the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed – the very people who don’t contribute big money to political campaigns.

And the incremental deterioration story gets worse.  The current government shutdown engineered by Ted Cruz (R-Psych Ward) and his extremist pals has already kicked another 7,000 kids out of Head Start and 19,000 more are on the way out the door.  Those kids will under-perform and we will lose the benefit of their contributions and their genius.  Some will drop out and be a weight on society and some will turn to crime for survival.  For those who don’t care about those kids, surely even the investment class understands the value of spending a buck today to get a return of two in the future.  Yet all they seem to be able to see is that they want everything now.

Head Start is just one example of incremental changes that are absorbed with barely a public whimper – there are many more – but we will all pay the price.

On the other hand, here is a happy thought: we’re saving money today because we’ve cut unemployment compensation for those 750,000 Americans being laid off this year and we won’t have to listen to them complain because they don’t have a voice powered by campaign contributions.

Come to think of it, perhaps you are not donating thousands of dollars to the right legislators every election cycle.  If that is the case, you just might want to check the thermometer in your pot.  It might be edging up the the WHUMP! mark at the top of the scale.


Definition: The Republican Caucus – a gathering place for the clueless.


“Let me just check my talking points, and  .  .  .  Why, here’s something flamboyant and hateful I can say to rile up the base and make them cheer for me.  And here’s another.  Wow!  There’s a whole pile of ’em!  I’ll never run out of self-serving drivel.”  Sen. Ted Cruz in an imaginary and oh-so-brief moment of honesty.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

What Do You Want?

Uncle Sam What Do You WantA fundamental question in all negotiations is, “What do you want?”  Of course, there are other questions each party must answer but everything hinges on knowing what you want.  Absent that, all negotiations are just exercises in defeating the other guy for no clear purpose other than the opportunity to do a little chest beating.  Not much good happens from that.

Indeed, On Thursday Congressman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) said of the government shutdown, “We’re not going to be disrespected.  We have to get something out of this.  And I don’t know what that even is.”  And, in fact, nothing good came from that, except for Stutzman’s hand getting slapped by other Tea Party  people for making them all look stupid.

The answer to the “What do you want?” question for each side in our ongoing DC dysfunction is “government.”  The Democrats want government to be an active agent in society.  The Republicans continue to follow the slick campaign quip of Ronald Reagan, “Government is the problem.”  That is to say, what Republicans want is to do away with nearly all government.  To that point, Grover Norquist has told us that he wants to reduce government in size such that he can “drown it in a bathtub.”  And, due to 2010 redistricting, the Republican extremists have managed to shut down much of the federal government and have threatened to default on the nation’s debt in pursuit of their government destruction goal.  Apparently, nothing is sacred to them in their quest – not even our national honor nor the world economy.

This is not a situation where each party is equally to blame for the mess we’re in.  This is the result of a few dozen radicals holding the United States and the world economy hostage.

The question for all the rest of us is, “What do you want?”  If you want to terminate all the things you have come to expect from government, then the extremists’ view and their Machiavellian methods are for you.

On the other hand, what you want might include the protections that only a functioning government can provide, things like meat inspection, careful review of drugs before they’re used on your children, air traffic control so that the airplane on which Granny is riding doesn’t go bump in the night with another airplane, ensuring that our kids get an education for success both today and tomorrow, building and maintaining our bridges and interstate highways, all national security functions, funding the research work at the National Institutes of Health so that when you get sick there is medical help for you and so many other important functions.  If that is what you want, then it just might be a good idea to contact your representative and senators in Congress and tell them to shape up, especially if one of them is a Tea Party zealot with his/her gun pointed at Uncle Sam (aka you).

As always, the behavior you tolerate is the behavior you get.

One more time:  What do you want?

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Greater Good – Part 1 of 2

America Held HostageThere is a lot of craziness that can be rationalized using the words “greater good”.  Too often the only participants are those with a bizarre and dangerous imagination and with a vested interest in the outcome.  That applies to the separate issues of America’s budget and the U.S. debt ceiling. 

There is a small band of far right wingers who are holding hostage all the rest of the Republicans.  The result of that is that together they are holding hostage the welfare of every citizen of The United States of America.  Even more, by threatening to default on our national debt they are also holding hostage the entire world economy.  Gun to the head of America and the world.  All that matters is what they want.

Perhaps these far right legislators are true believers for whom their ends justify any means, no matter the pain they to cause hundreds of millions – and to perhaps billions – of others.  Lying and bullying are okay, they believe.  Those are just tools to achieve their goals.

They are funded by unimaginably wealthy individuals for whom ever more power, money and control are all that matter.  Those legislators and their fabulously rich benefactors are all hostage takers, packed with hubris, self-interest and a complete lack of concern for others.  “They are bold and proud and certain in the way of clever children blessed with too much self-esteem,” in the words of Ben Fountain’s brilliant 2012 best seller, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The ruination of America is of no concern to them.

For these megalomaniacs, it is all for the greater good.  Theirs.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Sam I Am

Green Eggs and HamFor many decades Dr. Seuss has entertained children and parents with his delightful rhymes, entertaining pictures and compelling characters.  His stories always contain life lessons and they go down easily for millions of children around the world due to his easy style.  One of those lessons seems to have been lost on Senator Ted Cruz (R-Pluto).

Cruz has been doing his fake filibuster to oppose the bill he insisted be passed by the House.  Some might call that crazy, but it is politics as usual for today’s Republicans.

The bill that Cruz is grandstanding against would insist upon the defunding of Obamacare as a condition of passing a continuing resolution to keep the government functioning.  In the event that the Senate refuses that bill, the alternatives that are available are to send a clean bill to the house (sans defunding Obamacare) or to just defeat the bill in the Senate.  Either would shut down the government.  That is how much Cruz hates Obamacare – or at least he thinks that it serves his narrow self-interest to grandstand – or maybe both – that he is willing to paralyze all of America.

So, he blathered on the floor of the Senate, including reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.  The hero of this Seussian journey to a lesson is Sam, who repeatedly tells us,

“I do not like green eggs and ham.
“I do not like them, Sam I am.”

Sam declares this in spite of never having tried green eggs and ham.  Not even a tiny bite.  In the end, he does taste them and to his shock and surprise, he likes them.  The lesson, of course, is not to reject things without trying them first.

I’m wondering if Senator Cruz understands the absurd irony of his reading Green Eggs And Ham during his filibuster, since it is clear that he hasn’t tried Obamacare, effectively saying,

“I have not tried Obamacare.
“I’m limited by my cranial air.”

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Conservatism Today

Conservatism can be defined in many ways, although dictionary definitions typically use the word itself as a descriptor: We should conserve the values and ideas of the past.  Surely, there is some good sense in that.

Another definition, the attribution to which I have not found, defines today’s conservatism this way: Conservatism has become the search for a superior moral justification for self-interest.  That certainly fits well with Paul Ryan’s budget, which calls for $1.1 trillion of tax cuts for wealthy and super-wealthy people.  That’s a lot of self-interest.

Conservatism has evolved from traditional bedrock values to something hateful and uncaring.  It is an expression of the vitriol that permeates society today, the pervasive view that if someone disagrees they must be some form of low life and perhaps unpatriotic.  The focus of today’s conservatism is fiscal, along with a testosterone fueled national defense and war making capability.  That’s it.

Today’s conservatives seem to have strange ideas about why they lost the last presidential election, lost seats in the House and lost the congressional popular vote count.  They don’t think it was because their ideas were unpopular, nor because they were disrespecting of huge segments of the American public and not because they lied and got caught.  They think it was because they didn’t couch their message in the right terms.  They just don’t get it.

People don’t want what they are selling.  It really is that simple.  Their trying to win upcoming elections by “enlarging the tent” to include people of color makes no sense, because once those recruited are in the tent the conservatives are going to metaphorically club them over the head and steal their wallets.  Here’s an example.

As mentioned, Ryan’s new budget proposes $1.1 trillion in tax savings for the wealthy, revenue that would be lost to the federal government.  What is interesting is that when Ryan is questioned about the cost to the government of his gift to the wealthy he declares that it will be paid for through some undefined magical process, perhaps a deus ex machina contraption from days gone by.  That’s what Reagan sold to the American people as “supply side economics” 33 years ago and which was described by President Bush the First as “voodoo economics.”  Bush was right.  It was voodoo then and it is voodoo now.  There is no deus ex machina that could restore that loss of revenue and save us from our self-inflicted national impoverishment.

All that would be accomplished would be to make fabulously wealthy people even wealthier and cut funds for critical national needs.  That is exactly what Ryan proposed and which was overwhelmingly rejected by Americans in the last election.  Regardless, Ryan plods on with his same tired ideas, now in a nifty new green wrapper.  His sleight of hand, though, hides his mean ideas, that taxes and costs will inevitably go up for all but the rich, including the newbies in that conservative tent.  That’s the wallet theft.

Meanwhile, there are other provisions to Ryan’s budget.  Everyone agrees that at some point Medicare will become too expensive.  Ryan’s plan to deal with that is to give each senior a voucher to go to the private healthcare insurance market and buy their own medical insurance policy.

  • Never mind that seniors are, by definition, older and therefore a poorer risk for those insurance companies who may not offer them coverage at all.
  • Never mind that many of our seniors will have pre-existing conditions that insurance companies will refuse to cover.
  • Never mind that those vouchers couldn’t possibly cover the cost of a medical insurance policy and will necessarily mean that seniors will have to take a lot of money out of their piggy banks to pay for their policies.  That assumes that they have enough in those piggy banks both to pay for their policies and also to eat.

Ryan offers absolutely no detail about how his proposal that would kill Medicare is not a proposal to kill Medicare.  Apparently, we should just trust him.  How well did that trust process work for us when President Bush started the war in Iraq on disinformation?

This third iteration of Ryan’s budget proposal is just another effort to kill social programs that so-called conservatives have been trying to kill for decades.  Doing that and making wealthy people even wealthier while leaving everyone else to scramble for crumbs is today’s conservatism.  There is nothing remotely conservative in the historical sense of the word in Paul Ryan’s budget thumping or in the hearts of today’s self-interested conservatives.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Other Than Your Mother

President Obama laid out offers to curb government spending two years ago by declaring that he is open to discussions around cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, much to the dismay of most Democrats and to left-of-center Americans of all colors.  The programs have been on the table, yet Republicans have been complaining since then that the President has not offered a single spending cut.  John Boehner, speaking out of the far right side of his mouth, has repeatedly declared this to be so, as has Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.  Weren’t they in those very same negotiating meetings that they both attended at the White House?

Their denials of reality are a mini-example of the Republican Big Lie strategy.  They repeat a falsehood enough times that people begin to believe that it is true.  Even the rank and file Republicans in congress have come to believe that the “no spending cuts on the table” lie is true.  Many of them have not heard directly from their leaders about the doings in those negotiating meetings with the President and apparently they don’t read newspapers or watch the news on TV, either.

That does not change reality, though, and if you live in a fact-based world where 2 + 2 = 4 and up and down are not the same things, you’ll recognize the Big Lie for what it is.  Boehner and McConnell protestations notwithstanding, President Obama really did lay two big ones on the table two years ago.

Related to that is a recent comment by failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said, “What we’ve seen is a – the president out campaigning to the American people, doing rallies around the country, flying around the country and berating Republicans and blaming and pointing.”

That’s an update of the attempt to diminish Obama by John McCain and Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign.  They blasted him for giving great speeches at big rallies.  That is what Saxby Chambliss (R. GA) did to Max Cleland (D, GA, Ret.), when he questioned Cleland’s patriotism during the 2002 senate campaign. Cleland lost both legs and an arm in Viet Nam, while Chambliss was getting deferments from military service and partying in civilian life, but that didn’t stop Chambliss from his dishonest attacks.

Similar to Chambliss, George W. Bush attacked the patriotism of John McCain during the 2000 Republican primary and that of John Kerry in the 2004 general election.  I guess he is sensitive over the cushy fun he had flying jets around Texas and doing a lot of drinking with his buddies while those other guys were out risking their lives for their country.

The ploy is to attack a rival’s strength, to diminish his advantages by accusation.  That is what Romney, McCain, Chambliss and Bush did and it is exactly what Republican leaders and other Republican mouthpieces have been doing to President Obama all along.  Now Obama is making his case to the American people and is succeeding, so the congressional Republican mouthpieces are attacking him, accusing him of failure and saying that he should be in DC schmoozing them, the same people who deny reality.

Obama, they say, should be having Republicans over to the White House for movie night.  He should be phoning them directly, each and every one of them, so that they feel important.  Then they wouldn’t claim that they don’t know about the budget cuts he’s placed on the table because they would have heard about them directly from the President.  But President Obama did not reached out to each and every one of them personally and their feelings were hurt.

But now he’s taken them out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  They feel special.  Now they’re all puffed up with self-importance.

Well, here’s a news flash for Republican legislators: Other than your mother, nobody cares if your feelings were hurt.  We didn’t send you to Washington so that you would be stroked and told how important you are or so that you would be patted on the head and made to feel special.  We hired you to do a job and that job does not include paralyzing the United States of America and it does not include undermining international trust in our country.  Get over yourself.  We’re not here for you – you’re there for us.

Are your feelings hurt?  Do you feel like you haven’t received enough special attention?  We don’t care.  Not a bit.  Come to think of it, your mother likes her Medicare and she probably doesn’t care, either.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Common Wisdom

We all know that the country is center-right.  Perhaps it’s there as a result of a pendulum swing from the socially farther left pendulum of the 60’s and the politicians and pundits now like to tell us we’re center-right almost as throw-away line.  Or maybe people just keep saying that and have done so for such a long time that we’ve come to believe it, but repetition doesn’t make the claim accurate.  Take a look at just a few issues before us.

Jobs – About 306 million of we 307 million Americans want the government to take energetic action to ramp up the economy and create jobs.  The noise from the far right is the only thing that is making it seem like there is huge opposition to that.  As a nation, we are left of center now on jobs.

Voting rights – Americans believe overwhelmingly that all of us over the age of 18, with the possible exception of convicted felons, should vote.  That’s pretty much smack dab in the center, not center-right.  On the other hand, there are Republican strategists who have openly stated that the only people they want to vote are those who will vote Republican.

In the 2010 election many states voted far right legislators into office and they have enacted laws they have fraudulently proclaimed are to protect us from a blight of voting fraud.  The thing is that voting fraud almost never happens – not even in Chicago.  These laws serve solely as an obstacle to voting for young people, the elderly, the poor and those in minorities who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.  Let’s see, righty R’s preventing D’s from voting.  Hmmm.

Immigration – Most of us believe that if people do something wrong that they should bear the consequences.  And most of us believe that children of illegal immigrants, born in this country and who have broken no laws should not bear those consequences.  Righties don’t want to pass the Dream Act and they are completely out of step with the majority of Americans.  The R’s continue to oppose it because they’re afraid they’ll get “primaried” in the next election by a fanatic on the lunatic right fringe.  That keeps them disconnected from everyone but the aforementioned lunatic right fringe.

This issue is complex, but as a nation we’re pretty much in the center.

Taxes on the wealthy – Depending on the week and the poll, anywhere between 62 – 80% of Americans favor increased taxes on the rich.  Only the righties who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes, along with some already wealthy people are opposed to that.  That is to say, the country is center-left on this issue.

Contraception – Do you really need an explanation about this?  Even 98% of Catholic women have used some form of birth control and only some fundamentalist righties have a problem with it.  It’s just that a few of them have very loud voices.  We Americans are far left in favor of contraception.

Women’s choice – The majority of Americans continue to be pro-choice, although by a smaller margin now than in past decades.  In part that’s because of the loss of institutional memory of how things used to be before Roe v. Wade.  It wasn’t pretty.  We are center-left on this.

Global warming – It’s not just all the environmental scientists; most Americans believe that the Earth is getting warmer and that mankind’s activities like burning fossil fuels is contributing to it.  The only question is why anyone denies that.  To find the answer, follow the money.  It’s way on the right.  (Ref: “And another thing” below)

Social Security & Medicare – These are the two most popular programs ever created by the federal government and America is far left on them.  Only the righties want to abolish or privatize them.

Note to budget hawk absolutist righties: We made a contract with the American people, who pre-paid for these services and we must keep our word.  I know you’ll understand that.

Education – The righties want to abolish the Department of Education at both the federal and state levels.  They are starving schools of funds, so teachers, administrators and janitors are being laid off.  School maintenance and improvement projects are being halted and the disparity between the education of our poor children and the rich kids who get to go to elite schools continues to widen.  Our children are suffering, their future becomes bleaker every day we fail them and we are putting the future of America in peril.

Americans don’t like this.  They want their children to be educated and think public education is a very good thing.  The righties are completely out of sync with America on this.  This country is way left on education.

Healthcare – Most Americans want the government to do more to fix it.  All that is standing in the way is the resistance borne of the hundreds of billions of dollars being collected every year by the medical insurance companies, big pharma, big hospitals and a few others.  We’ve tried letting the market fix this.  That has resulted in our having the most expensive healthcare in the world, while at the same time we’re getting just middling results.  Only the far righties with megaphones attached to their faces think that continuing to let the free market work is the solution.  We want affordable healthcare and are at least center-left on this issue.

The list can go on until sunrise.  Those saying that we are a center-right nation have either bought into the Big Lie or think they will benefit by making you believe it.

It turns out that the common wisdom isn’t so common, nor is it so very wise after all.


And another thing .  .  .

Have you seen the TV commercials with the pleasant looking blonde lady in a black pants suit talking about American energy?  She tells us how plentiful it is and all we have to do is go get it.  As an example, she walks across a map of the lower 48 and tells us about, ”  .  .  . tapping Canadian oil sands for U.S. consumers.”  Sounds great.

Except the plan for the Canadian oil sands crude is to transport that heaviest, dirtiest crude oil with the greatest global warming footprint via the XL Pipeline to our gulf coast for exporting to other nations.  I need for them to explain once again how that stuff is for U.S. consumers because I’m not seeing how exporting it makes it for us.

One last comment: That ad and the others like it are sponsored by the American Petroleum Industry, the promotional organization of Big Oil.  Just so you know.

“We move through life like a man in a rowboat, looking back even as we move forward.” – William Landay

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Brilliant – And Monstrously Harmful

Republicans relentlessly attack Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and spending for nearly all purposes other than defense.  It seems they will do and say anything, factual or otherwise, to kill these programs.  Death through legislation has not worked, though, so a while back they switched their strategy starting with Ronald Reagan.

He could not have been more clear when he declared that, “Government isn’t the solution to our problem; government is the problem.“  His message was that getting rid of as much government as possible was the goal.  But instead of moving to kill social programs through legislation, he and his Republican pals deviously began to spend as much money as possible.

Reagan took WW II battleships out of mothballs and did the same with other obsolete weaponry, all at fantastic cost.  His run up in debt over the eight years of his presidency was staggering.  In four of his eight years he set new debt records – that means record increases to the national debt – that eclipsed all former debt figures in US history.  His spending was so massive that he managed to set those debt records even while increasing taxes six times.

As he spent mind-numbing sums of your money, Reagan forged ahead to deregulate the economy.  Safeguards against such disasters as financial meltdown came under attack, with Reagan and his followers declaring that free market forces will always produce the best result and that government merely needed to get out of the way.  All regulation, they told us, was bad.

George H.W. Bush came next and the amazing thing about him was that he put us under even higher piles of debt in two of his four years in office.  In other words, in half of the twelve years of those two Republican presidents, from 1981 – 1993, the leaders who called themselves conservatives ran up the biggest debt ever seen in the United States.  Actually, it was the biggest debt ever seen in the world.  Clearly, there is nothing conservative about that, but there was far worse to come.

Starting in 2001, the unbridled spending mania of George W. Bush, coupled with huge, unwarranted tax reductions primarily benefitting the rich resulted in national debt increases that dwarfed all those that had preceded them.  In all of US history, from 1776 to January 20, 2001, the total of all increases to the national debt was $5.6 trillion.  In just eight years in office Bush ran up over $4 trillion on the government’s credit card.  He did it with off budget, unfunded wars, an unfunded prescription drug plan, massive tax reductions and more.  The resulting debt is so enormous that even if all debt increases were to end right now, our great- great- great-grandchildren will still be paying for Bush’s debt.  That was supposed to be okay, though, because conservative Vice-President Dick Cheney told us confidently and boldly, that, “Deficits don’t matter.”

Bush left office, handing to President Obama a country mired in two wars and an economy in freefall as a result of decades of brainless adherence to Reagan’s polarized notion about free markets and deregulation.  In addition, the new president inherited a congress that was intent upon stopping anything curative that he might propose, even if those same Republican legislators had promoted exactly the same things themselves.  After thirty years of preparation, it was the perfect storm to eliminate all social programs and ensure long term Republican control of America.

The Republican strategy boils down to a simple mandate: Spend the country to the brink of bankruptcy so that there can be absolutely nothing we can do but to slash every government program, with the possible exception of mindless spending on defense.

How exquisitely simple and clear: Revolution through near-suicide.

This strategy is oddly compelling to Republicans and easy to enforce.  Even normally sensible legislators can be brought to heel with simple, relatively cheap funding of their campaigns, along with the threat of that funding going elsewhere if they don’t comply with the near-suicide compact.  That has become a self-sustaining program, with the government increasingly favoring the wealthy.  Those wealthy people contribute to legislators who perpetuate the redistribution of wealth from poor and middle class people to the rich.   That is to say, the wealthy fund their congressional lapdogs who create legislation to continue the reverse Robin Hood flow of money and to end anything that promotes the welfare of ordinary Americans.

All it took was the grand vision to spend America to near-suicide and leave us with no alternative but to go back to the dark days of robber barons and people suffering without medical care and dying in abject poverty.

Brilliant.  And monstrously harmful.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Getting Elected

I’ve have a problem with any belief that professes to be the One True Way because it always polarizes people, as well as marginalizing most of us. Be clear that a belief is just that: what one believes. It is not necessarily universal reality or The Truth. That’s “The Truth” as differentiated from the total spectrum of truth, most of which cannot be observed by just one individual. None of us has universal insight nor even line of sight to everything. That makes knowing The Truth impossible. We are humbly limited to what we can observe and learn from others and then we profess our beliefs from that.

That’s a tough sell. We humans dearly love simple, binary choices. Up-down. Left-right.  Good-bad. That avoids having those messy “yeah, but’s” to deal with and is always a clean cut. Decision made. Next.

But our national challenges aren’t so simple that they allow us simple answers. If they were, many would have been solved by now. Instead, they are complex and interlaced with one another. It takes intelligence and a fierce desire to learn, to read and to listen to others with special insight in order to make thoughtful, best decisions for America. One of the difficulties of this complexity is that it doesn’t lend itself neatly to slick bumper sticker slogans that win elections. Come to think of it, that could be massaged into a pretty good bummer sticker slogan for thoughtful people.

Ronald Reagan was exceptionally good at making complex challenges appear to have pleasingly simple solutions. All that “tax and spend” sloganeering and his supply side economics got him elected twice, then Bush 41 once. The problem for Bush, of course, was that we read his lips about no new taxes, but then he had to raise taxes because Reagan’s supply side nonsense was starting to unravel.

But Reagan’s best was his question: “Ask yourself: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” That was such a neatly constructed attack on the unfolding of a complex set of problems, including debt left over from the Viet Nam war, that it fooled a nation. Do we want to be fooled by election year sloganeering again?

We just might want to be. After all, those slogans appeal to our love of simplicity and the bloody fangs of political attack excite us with primal adrenalin. How much more exciting and motivating could any appeal be?

Sarah Palin, with her brainless clarity of The Truth, has offered us her red fanged attack with no substance and a pack of lies, this from a woman whom the Republicans want to place one melanoma from the Oval Office. Let’s see, The Truth, all attack and no substance – that sounds vaguely familiar. It connects with the misinformation and blatant lies of the last 8 years that have delivered over 4,000 caskets to Arlington National Cemetery. It has doubled our national debt to 9 trillion dollars. To put that into a visual, that is enough to make a string of dollar bills go around the world at the equator 36,000 bills deep. And still, the Republicans have the best slogans, however misleading they might be, while the shades of gray Democrats put voters to sleep. That makes Republicans better at getting elected. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily deliver what’s best for America. So, I propose a different plan.

Let’s use Republican slogans to help elect Democrats.  Let’s ask Americans if they’re better off now than they were eight years ago. The 160,000 workers who lost their jobs in September will probably say no. So will the nearly three-quarters of a million other workers who were laid off just this year.

The Republicans are fond of tarring Democrats with the “Tax and Spend” label. Okay, let’s switch that just a little to “Spend and Debt” Republicans. Our great-grandchildren who will still be paying for Bush’s follies will thank us for that gesture.

Somehow thinking-enabled Americans have to tap into the emotions of voters. That’s how elections are won, especially in the instant gratification, sound bite world of today. So how about “Let’s Make America Safer For a Change,” or “Obama for America, Because Failure Is Not An Option” or, since the neo-con Republicans haven’t conserved any of our American fundamentals, not even the Constitution, try “Democrats, Because Conserving America For Your Kids Is Good.” Make up your own bumper sticker, because that’s what wins elections. And forget about thoughtful nuance. Just go for the jugular.

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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