Budgets, Deficits and Debt

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 2018 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 2018 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 2018 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 2018 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 2018 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 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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