Out There

politics today – personal power over serving others

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on October 19, 2012

Politics is important.  We need to pay attention, be informed, and vote for people who will help lead our country where it should go.  Tons of people don’t vote today, and this is especially true in Alaska, and even more so in the villages of bush Alaska like Kasigluk.  Why?

I think partly because articles like this and this are essential.  You can turn on the presidential debates like we did here on our XM radio, and really gain very little useful and true information as to the candidate positions on the important issues.  Because the most important issues may or may not be discussed (while frivolous or largely symbolic issues grab headlines), and because even when they are discussed the candidates so often speak in duplicitous half-truths or even out and out lies.  Example from the first link above (CAPS are my insertion of the actual truth and I crossed out the lies):

ROMNEY: “As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year FROM 2010 TO 2011 on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federal waters.” OF THE MORATORIUM ON NEW OIL DRILLING IN THE GULF AFTER THE APRIL 2010 BP OIL SPILL, AND BECAUSE ALMOST ALL NEW GAS DISCOVERIES ARE BEING MADE USING NEW AND CHEAPER “FRACKING” TECHNOLOGY ON PRIVATE LANDS.

Obama appeared to make similarly false statements, like about implementing a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens when in fact such a pathway does not exist at this time.  And Romney was clearly dissembling when he accused Obama of bringing down the auto industry, when in face Obama’s plan that Romney publicly opposed then and now saved much of the domestic auto industry.  

What if we had a candidate who could only be honest, like Jim Carrey in the 90s movie “Liar Liar.”  Yes, he would probably get killed on election day, but man would it be refreshing.  

I remember when republican Frank Murkowski defeated democrat Fran Ulmer here in Alaska in the governor’s race in 2002 or so and it was largely because he painted her as someone who wanted to implement an income tax and “steal” people’s PFD (permanent fund dividend – the state was in a budget crisis at the time due to low oil revenue).  Those were just fear mongering out and out lies, but they got him elected, with signs that said “Vote Frank Murkowski – Protect your PFD.”  Murkowski was a millionaire with a banking background, while Ulmer was an educator.  Guess which one had a lot more to lose from an income tax and would prefer to fund government using the permanent fund?

After his victory Murkowski called together the “Conference of Alaskans,” 55 bipartisan leaders and ordinary citizens to meet and agree on a way out of the budget crisis.  I actually taped the proceedings that were aired live.  Their initial conclusion was that the most fair way to help balance the state budget was an income tax that would kick in only if oil revenues stayed down and reserves ran out.  The Republicans freaked out and descended on the conference, and within 24 hours the conclusions were changing.  From the Juneau Empire, The Conference of Alaskans eventually “recommended spending some permanent fund earnings on state government, but also said the Legislature should consider balancing that with other sources of revenue, including a personal income tax and other broad-based taxes.  Another conference recommendation is that permanent fund dividends be guaranteed in the state Constitution.”

Murkowski and republican majority in the legislature pushed for the POMV plan, using more of the permanent fund earnings for government spending, and even a statewide sales tax, but never touched the income tax idea.  Anyway, all this to say that Murkowski ended up showing what was obvious from the start – he was much more of a threat to the PFD payouts than Ulmer ever was, despite his campaign signs to the contrary.

All of this leads me to this article in Time magazine by Michael Grunwald, which is unfortunately blocked behind a pay wall which most of us don’t pay.  But it basically details how the republicans were in disarray after Obama’s victory over McCain, and how they came together to plan stategy, and decided that everything hinged on denying Obama the bipartisan, “reaching across the aisle and working together” Washington DC that he sold to the voters.  By saying no.  To everything.  Here are some quotes lifted from the paper copy of the article in front of me.  “”We’re not here to cut deals and get crumbs and stay in the minority for another 40 years,” Cantor said.”  And “A few weeks later, [Pete] Sessions began his presentation at a House Republican leadership retreat in Annapolis, Md., with an existential political question:  “If the purpose of the majority is to govern…What is our purpose?”  The answer was not to promote Republican policies, or stop Democratic policies, or even make Democratic bills less offensive to Republicans.  “The purpose of the minority is to become the majority,” Sessions wrote.  “That is the entire conference’s mission.”  And they decided they would get there by saying no.

So if Obama had a plan to end world hunger and war forever by lowering taxes on everyone in the country by ten cents, they would vote no.  From an add-on to the article:  ““If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”  And “Republicans recognized that after Obama’s big promises about bipartisanship, they could break those promises by refusing to cooperate. In the words of Congressman Tom Cole, a deputy Republican whip: “We wanted the talking point: ‘The only thing bipartisan was the opposition.’ ”

This is so so so nauseating to me.  Shouldn’t you vote for each proposal on it’s own relative merits?  Not how your party tells you to vote.  Not in the way that will most hurt the opposition.  Vote in the way that most represents the people of your district (all of them), and in the way that most serves the people.  I know I’m hopelessly naive, but this is how we all want it to work, right??  And to me it is what Obama represented and what he actually tried to do.  This (“party of no” stonewalling) sort of garbage is why people hate politics.  Why they don’t vote.  And this specific instance is why I and hopefully many others won’t vote for a republican for national office for a long while.  I’ll show the party of no the voter of NO, and I hope most of the country is with me.  Throw the GOP out!!  (Where’s my paper bag??  About to hyperventilate!)  Honestly this gets me waaay too worked up and my mind goes in many irrational directions at once (get the pitchforks!  Light the torches!  Get a rope!  Get lots of rope!  Off with their heads!!!).

I’m an independent.  I have voted for people from both parties, and even a couple of 3rd party candidates, for local office, for president, etc.  I actually voted for the old George Bush, the W Bush, AND Obama.  I know, weird.  Anyway, I’m just trying to give context to my anger at the republicans for this “strategy.”  I’m not saying this as a hard-core democrat, I’m saying it as a normal, free thinking person and someone who tries to be a conscientious voter.  The republican “party of no” strategy actually succeeded in hurting Obama politically because he couldn’t get much accomplished.  But the GOP clearly put their own personal power ahead of working together for what was best for the country.  For 4 years.  That is reprehensible.

Now, I’m not so naive to think that dems have *never* engaged in this type of hyperpartisanship, putting themselves before those they are elected to serve.  Of course they have, countless times at various levels over the years.  We’re all screwed up.  But this is a recent example, on the biggest political stage there is.  And it was just wrong.

the art of compromise

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on August 20, 2012

The looming insolvency of the social security administration has been this giant political doomsday topic for what seems like most of my 30-something years.  I read this story today and was struck for the umpteenth time how dumb it is when our national politics are so polarized and intransigent.  The article states:  “…the trust funds that support the program will run dry in 2033.”  Yet the focus of the article, and the focus of our public servants, is not on how to actually solve the social security problem, but on how Romney’s selection of a running mate who supported some degree of social security privatization in the past might affect the presidential election this fall.  As in “In 2010 Mitt Romney’s running mate supported allowing 35% privatization for workers under the age of 55 so I can’t vote for Romney.”

I’m not much of a Romney fan.  I don’t think I’ll vote for him.  But I’m going to go out on a judgmental limb and say that if the above is your reason for not voting for him, that’s ridiculous.  The senior who is trying to get by on a fixed income who worries about losing that 35% on the stock market needn’t fear, because this hypothetical plan from 2 years ago that never got off the ground would have only affected workers under 55.  The ultra conservative 54-year-old investor can put the money in treasury bills or municipal bonds or other instruments that are 99.9% safe bets.  And actually the article says that the 2010 plan would “allow younger workers to divert more than one-third of their Social Security taxes into personal accounts that they would own and could will to their heirs.”  So it sounds like it wasn’t even a required thing, just a voluntary thing where you could choose to divert some of the money going to the social security fund to your own private retirement account.

Note that the Romney campaign isn’t talking about any plan like this.  At all.  So it’s really absurd to bring this up as a reason to vote against him.  The funny thing is I actually like some of that plan.  Here are the positions of Romney and Obama as described in the article.

Romney, in his book, “No Apology,” said he liked the idea of personal accounts. But, he wrote, “Given the volatility of investment values that we have just experienced, I would prefer that individual accounts were added to Social Security, not diverted from it, and that they were voluntary.”

Romney’s current plan for Social Security doesn’t mention personal accounts. Instead, he proposes a gradual increase in the retirement age to account for growing life expectancy. For future generations, Romney would slow the growth of benefits “for those with higher incomes.”

Romney says tax increases should be off the table, and current beneficiaries and those near retirement should be spared from cuts.

I’m totally with him on all of this, except for the tax increases being off the table. Boo!  I’ve encountered so many people who would seemingly rather sacrifice their firstborn than suffer a 1% tax increase, no matter what it might be used for.  In all seriousness, a couple of these folks I could ask them hypothetically if they would vote for a 1% tax increase if it meant a complete end to world hunger forever and they say no with a straight face.  Strange and sad.  And stupid.  Which is a big part of why I haven’t voted with that party lately nearly as often as I did when I started voting 20 years ago.

Anyway, what is Obama’s position on the social security problem?

During the 2008 campaign, Obama said he wanted to improve Social Security’s finances by applying the payroll tax to annual wages above $250,000. It is now limited to wages below $110,100, a level that increases with inflation.

Obama also pledged to oppose raising the retirement age or reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. “Let me be clear, I will not do either,” Obama said at the time.

Last year, however, Obama put on the table a proposal to reduce annual COLAs during deficit-reduction talks with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The talks ultimately failed and nothing came of the proposal, but it raised questions about whether Obama would honor his 2008 pledge.

“We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable or people with disabilities, without slashing benefits for future generations and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market,” Obama said in the speech.

Hmmm, clear as mud.  Takes a lot of guts to be specific before the election.  At least on a thorny, divisive issue like this one.  So this is way too long already, but what I thought when I read this was “How hard would it be to just meet in the middle on this stuff?”  

1.  Age at retirement.  It seems like common sense to raise the age at which you can start receiving SS benefits.  We are all living a LOT longer than we used to.  Phase it in slowly. This is not that hard.  For example everyone 45 and over can still retire at the same age.  Those who are currently 35-44 can retire 1 year later.  25-34 year olds can retire 2 years later, and those who are currently under 25 can retire 3 years later and let it go back another year every 20 years or so afterward.

2.  Payroll taxes are currently limited to wages below 110k and Obama proposed taking it to 250 and he was vilified for it.  How about we go to 170k or so?

3.  Accept Romney’s idea of reducing the benefits for people who very obviously don’t need it.  Anyone worth tens of millions at retirement age does not need their social security checks.  

Boom, solved.  You take an important part of each side’s proposal, each of which is absolute poison to the other side, combine them into one plan, and you have something that works.  If everyone is mad about it, then you’re probably getting somewhere, and it is probably closer to fair than anything either party could come up with.

So what I really want to know is, why is noone saying anything like this?  “Well if a politician says this he’ll never get elected.”  OK, lame, whatever.  But I don’t even hear anyone, anywhere, (media?  barber shop?) making proposals like this.  Is it because its a stupid idea?  Or….?  I’m really asking because I’m neither a genius nor a political junkie at all but every time I read anything about politics these days the need for compromise just seems really glaring.  There is so much room in between, it looks like low hanging fruit, and I don’t know why people aren’t pursuing it.  You know, for the good of…the world?