In Praise of Strong Women

January 8, 2019

It was bound to happen as 100 women entered Congress and presidential hopefuls followed in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton. What has happened is media pundits, election strategists and old white guys begin to question the suitability of women for high office in government. Already Elizabeth Warren has a ” likability” problem, Bronx Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is denounced as a dancing flake, and Michigan Representative Rashid Tlaib is castigated for having a potty mouth (and worse yet from a woman of Palestinian heritage). This is only the beginning of the campaign to question whether women are ready to run government and hold power.

What this avalanche of criticism is really about stems from the fact that the old boy network feels threatened as women question the male approach to governing, offer new policy prescriptions for the nation, and most importantly show no fear of speaking their mind. Many of these guys hate it when women challenge their knowledge and authority or worse yet vie for political power. The era of nit wit Democrats and Republicans in political office is likely over but that doesn’t mean  these guys won’t go down without a fight.

It is of course refreshing to have women in power and offering new solutions to desperate problems. More importantly, it is vitally important to have voices in this country talk about children, health care, education and income inequity rather than how much will be spent on a new aircraft carrier,  how to justify excessive corporate welfare or defend deregulating the banking industry.

Now having women play a larger role in our governing system does not mean that this country is on the way back from near political suicide. These women are politicians, and many novice politicians; they will make mistakes in judgment, offer unworkable solutions, fail to keep their word, and embarrass themselves in public venues. They may be a refreshing change of pace but their presence in government is only one piece of a complex puzzle of change.

But one thing is certainly true – having women in government, strong women in power offers some hope that the old ways of doing the business of our nation will at the very minimum be questioned if not changed. I am reminded of Bob Dylan’s famous lines from the song The Times They Are A-Changing, which appropriately fit the rise of strong women:

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’

It will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin.

 

Good Luck Strong Women.

 

 

 

 

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2018 – If You Think This Year Was A Mess, Wait Until 2019

December 11, 2018

As 2018 comes to a end there are countless reviews of what happened of consequence during the year and where we may be headed in 2019. As is often the case, the review of the past is mostly negative and the future is described as uncertain. So as not to shy away from this exercise of yearly review and prognostication, here is my take on the past and the future.

If politics, governing, leadership and public policy is your passion, 2018 could only make your confidence level take a sharp turn downwards. Almost everyday brings new revelations about presidential misconduct or at the very least presidential incompetence. Democrats and Republicans still can’t get along much less get legislation moving forward. Members of the cabinet are increasingly being shown as crooks and bogus charlatans.  And the media still can’t shake the fake news label, despite being more open and accurate than those in the White House. Not a day goes by when honest and thoughtful Americans wonder whether they live in an emerging authoritarian state or at the very least a very bad dream.

If the economy, jobs, GDP and spending power are your passion, 2018 would likely bring a smile to your face. Americans are on a spending spree ( mostly with credit cards), jobs are plentiful ( despite little real wage growth), data on key indicators show the US leading the major countries of the world ( at least for the time being), and overall consumer confidence is strong ( but could change in a heart beat). 2018 was a “good year” for most Americans, which is why President Trump continues to have a solid approval rate; there is nothing like a upbeat economy to make a president, any president look like a genius.

If values, mood, beliefs, standards, judgment and truth are your passion than 2018 was in crisis mode. There were very disturbing upticks in hate crimes, outright bigotry, shameless lying, a fundamental decline in basic decency, and just plain disinterest in searching for what is real and what is clearly false. The American Dream is under attack; the American Rule of Law is under attack, the American Governing Traditions are under attack, and the American Political Culture is under attack. The old days of cooperation,compromise and consensus have been replaced with gut-wrenching anger.

All in all 2018 gets mixed reviews with a definite lean towards the negative side. If grades are given, probably a C+ or if you were one of the lucky ones to benefit from the upper end tax cut or generous bonuses or job security than perhaps a B-. A mediocre year at best.

Now to 2019. There is not a prognosticator out there who knows where we are headed in the coming year, but there are sufficient signs in the wind to suggest that 2019 will be considerably worse than 2018.

In politics and government the I word will fill the airwaves and office conversations, that is I as in impeachment, indictment, investigations.  Again, not much in the public policy area will get done as Washington and America is consumed by what transpires in the White House. Political divisions will only increase, Twitter storms will increase, charges and counter charges will increase and institutional gridlock will rule the day. The unexpected, the uncertain, the unconstitutional will dominate. A real mess.

In the economy, 2019 could be the year of economic downturn, perhaps a recession.  Growth will stagnate, 401Ks will take a hit, joblessness will creep upwards and income inequality will continue to take the country further and further apart. No one knows where the tariff wars will be headed but one thing is certain, our national debt will climb upwards to the point where we will be putting more of our budget dollars into interest payments rather than toward substantive programs.

As to our national condition, 2019 will only bring uncertainty and disappointment and of course anger, always anger. The confluence of terrible politics and weakening economics can only create a nation of lost Americans who will question where their once great country is headed and whether their personal security and economic future are in grave danger. In short, Not Good.

At this early point the grade for 2019 is a C-, perhaps a D+. As someone who graded thousands, upon thousands of papers, I have been wrong and at the request of the aggrieved student took another look and maybe even made a change. This could also happen as 2019 plays out but right now this country is heading into uncharted territory with only trouble on the horizon.

 

 

 


Thankful for Small Favors

February 14, 2018

It should come as no surprise to anyone with an appreciation of how President Trump and the Republican Congress played the ” forgotten American” card and advanced what some have called a “peasants revolt” that poll numbers show a small but important spike in support for The Donald and the GOP. It all comes down to the simple fact that Americans got their tax cut reward in their take home pay.

It really makes no difference whether the reward was the $ 1.50 a week praised by Speaker Ryan or the more common $ 50-$100 bump a month for many working Americans. Progressives and leftist economists can point out until they are blue in the face that the tax cut is skewed toward the wealthy and big corporations, but most Americans have never really been upset over what the rich get out of tax cuts compared to what they receive in their pay envelope.  They are just thankful for small favors.

Democrats continue to fail at understanding the “forgotten” or the “peasants” and believe that harping on the inequality of the cuts will somehow weaken the Trump base and bring about the end of Trumpism. The response of the tax cuts to many Americans is simple human nature-more in my pocket is a good thing, less for the government is even better. The amount in the pocket is not as important as the fact that it is found money, a small favor.

Of course Trump and the Republicans are by no means out of the woods; there is the huge bump in the fiscal year deficit, the burgeoning national debt, the new signs of inflation, the wild ride of the stock market, and of course more stupid tweets and White House dysfunction. But again most Americans don’t sit up nights worrying about deficits, debts, inflation and the impact on their grandchildren; that extra cash in their pockets is what matters. I rarely run into someone who is even remotely concerned about the economic and financial impact of Republican tax policies on the security and lifestyle of their grandkids. It is much like the real threat from global warming – somehow the future will take of itself, what is important is the here and now.

The Democrats continue to show that they are riding the wave of rejection of Trump and the GOP but don’t count the Republicans out of the game as Trump and the conservatives will continue to play to the base by touting the tax cut. It just might work, especially if the Democrats forget what Clinton’s campaign adviser James Carville said, ” It’s the economy stupid.”

 


Tax Cuts or Entitlement Cuts?

December 6, 2017

Americans of all ages should not only be focused on the tax cut debate currently swirling around Congress but more importantly the long term impact of those cuts on yearly deficits and the nation debt. It is estimated that the cuts will add about $ 1.4 trillion to the national debt- already over $ 20 trillion- causing migrane headaches among deficit hawks, those who are getting nervous about interest payments to cover our treasury bonds, and the AARP and millennial generations who will have to pick up the tab for the gifts to corporations and the wealthy.

Since I am part of the AARP generation and our daughters and grandchildren are a few generations behind, the real story about the Republican tax bill is what will happen down the road to the entitlement benefits for grandma and grandpa and how will the youth of America be forced to deal with a certain budget crisis in order to get the nation’s finances in order?

The reason Republicans and conservatives in general are not talking that much about the deficit and national debt is that the end game of the tax cut is a shrinking of government entitlements. The shifting of money to Wall Street, corporations and the wealthy is just the first step in dismantling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. After the GOP gets its fiscal pound of flesh from the middle class, the next step is to take on the deficits and debts that the cuts created, and the best way to do that is to chip away at the so-called “budget busters” that so many Americans rely on.

Taking on the entitlements in the name of ” fiscal responsibility” can be accomplished in two ways- substantially reducing benefits for grandma and grandpa while selling privatization schemes to the young as replacements for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Since these next steps in the Republican plan to shrink government entitlements are years away, the current legislation is being touted as putting thousands of dollars into the pockets of Main Street Americans in the near term. The political plan of the GOP is thus a small five year bonus to the middle class followed by the inevitable attack on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

If you thought that the tax cut bill was a fierce battleground separating the two political parties, just wait until the skyrocketing deficits and debt call into question the fiscal strength of the United States requiring deep cuts in government programs to be replaced by 401K Social Security, privately funded Medicare and charity tax incentives for those poor receiving Medicaid. So for all those Americans receiving either a meager bonus or a huge cash reward with the Republican bill, enjoy your refund check. But always keep in mind that these short term gains are only the first step in dismantling the entitlements that have become an integral part of the safety net in our country.


Sexual Harassment or Tax Harassment?

November 20, 2017

There is nothing like a good ol’ sex scandal to take the American public’s attention away from what really matters in their lives. Sure sexual harassment is a plague that far too many women have had to endure as lecherous bosses and co-workers make professional relationships toxic. As many have said, we may be a moment in our national culture where women in the workplace begin to be treated as equals rather than as sex objects.

But the so-called tax reform juggernaut that is being pushed through the Congress hits at the heart of every American’s pocketbook. Sexual harassment may be a debate topic at a local watering hole, but it seems that in the real world of everyday life money trumps sex ( sorry for the terrible pun). Granted that matters of fiscal policy are often difficult to grasp as there is talk of deductions, rates, arcane rules, and loopholes. Yet tax policy is really quite simple and can be summed up in one question, ” who benefits and by how much?”

It may be good for the media bottom line to get viewers to watch as the likes of Spacey, Moore, Weinstein and Franken squirm in front of the cameras or make some lame statement from a rehab  country club. Taxes, however, affect all of us and the answers to the question of ” who benefits and by how much” are not the difficult to determine. By most accounts the big guys and gals in corporate headquarters and in the gated communities will do extremely well under the Republican plans currently being debated, while most of us, who are transfixed with sexual harassment stories, will likely get a few crumbs and only for a relatively short period of time. In fact many of us either in high tax states or with mortgages over $500,000 could take a beating.

Since the tax policy is headed for a political conclusion by the end of the year, it would be wise for Americans to stop asking each other who got outed today for being a sexual jerk and switch to discussing the ” who benefits and by how much” question, after all its about money, a lot of money, and most importantly it is our money. A word to the wise – keep your eyes on your wallet not the boorish behavior of Hollywood and Washington bad boys.

 


Paul Ryan – Atlas Shrugged or the Sermon on the Mount?

March 27, 2017

Paul Ryan went to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Janesville, Wisconsin. As a fellow Wisconsin Catholic who attended St. John de Nepomuc School in Milwaukee, I remember the nuns telling me about Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus kicking out the money-changers from the temple and Jesus often associating with the poorest of the poor. I am proud to say that those lessons about Jesus have stuck with me even today.

Somewhere along the line Paul Ryan forgot the lessons of the Gospels that I learned in Catholic school. It appears that while a college student at Miami of Ohio University Ryan became interested in the darlings of ultra-right capitalism – Freidrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and the novelist Ayn Rand. It was Rand, a Russian-American atheist who wrote Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, that apparently Ryan read and re-read until her ideas, grounded in cynical selfishness, condemnation for those who are poor, and a fanatical desire to rid government from redistributing wealth to those who are on the dole, filled his soul.

In his public image Ryan appears to be a nice guy – earnest, family-oriented, honest and a practicing Catholic. So how does someone who grew up Catholic embrace an atheist who is as far away from the teaching of Jesus as earth is from the moon? Maybe the nuns and priests at St. Mary’s didn’t teach about the Jesus that I know; maybe Ryan came under the influence of one of those sinister professors who brainwash students; or just maybe he has convinced himself that it is impossible for people to be poor through no fault of their own.

As a US member of Congress and now the Speaker of the House Ryan must have come in contact with the sick, the unemployed, the aged, the homeless, the hungry, in short those people Ayn Rand hated because they were on the dole. But rather than leading with compassion Ryan carved together a health bill that would strip the poor (that indelible number, 24 million), of an opportunity to live a better life, a healthy life.

In the wake of the Republican health care bill debacle more and more people are asking what Ryan has against the poor and why he was in such a hurry to redistribute tax benefits from the poor to the wealthy though the legislation? I can’t answer that question, other than say that Ryan should sit down soon and read the Gospels, especially Mathew 5-7 where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”  Ryan might benefit also from Jesus saying, ” Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I’ll take Jesus over Ayn Rand any day.


A Few Not So Modest Proposals for Liberal Democrats

December 21, 2016

The election is over, Donal Trump won, and liberal Democrats will just have to deal with it. Whining, street demonstrations,complaints about James Comey and Vladimir Putin and second-guessing about what should have been done in Michigan just won’t cut it anymore; it’s time to look to the future and develop some strategies to deal with the 45th President of the United States.

So let’s get serious about what liberal democrats must do as the loyal opposition, if the term loyal has any meaning anymore in the new American political culture. Here are a few strategies that may be necessary if liberal democrats are to survive as an alternative to the new Trump-defined Republican majority.

1. Liberal Democrats must adopt the Republican playbook. Hope is good, but in this post-truth, anti-ethical American political environment fear is better. Republicans have become the masters of using fear to gain votes and power- fear of minorities, fear of terrorists, fear of economic collapse, fear of change. Hope no longer works as a key word for attracting the support of the American people. If liberal democrats are to rebound they must know how to use fear as a strategic tool- fear of job loss, fear of income inequality, fear of corporate indifference, fear of tax injustice. Liberal Democrats don’t like to use fear as a strategy, but let’s face it, fear works.

2.  Liberal Democrats are known to be political weenies who want to be viewed as honorable and non-partisan, but if they are to get back in the game they must follow the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and embrace legislative obstructionism, a refusal to compromise, a willingness to delay, and an unyielding and annoying pain in the butt of the presidential administration. So far the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are already talking about working with President Trump rather than following the McConnell strategy and making his life as President miserable.

3.  Then there is always the best opposition tool-sue the bastards. Taking the President and his cabinet to court is an all-American tradition of the opposition. Fortunately, for the Democrats they have the Stock Act, which makes it a felony for a President, Vice-President and high governmental officials to use their office for insider trading and making a profit off of their connections while in office. America is a litigious society where lawyers feed off of challenges to the law, so liberal democrats must take that tactic and use the courts to make the President follow the law and respect the constitution.

4. Challenging the President is no easy task but it is made more difficult because of the weakness of those who deliver the liberal message. There has to be an way to offset the influence of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity, and it is not Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Michael Moore or Lawrence O’Donnell. My suggestion is get Joe Biden on for an hour on CNN and have him take on the conservative right. Sure it will be biased but everyone knows the media is biased anyway, so what does it matter if Joe talks to white America in their language. Maybe he can even wear those aviator sunglasses while he is on camera.

5. Finally, liberal democrats must begin to think about winning rather than making a point or raising up a social group. The Republican have shown that they will do just about anything to win and it has worked. Republicans aren’t ashamed of their tactics against the liberal democrats, in fact they glory in their victories, while liberal democrats complain and wonder how their message just doesn’t work.

Now all this praise for the Republican way of winning and working government to their advantage may blow up in the coming months as President Trump and his conservative minions drive the economy and the country into the abyss. But for now liberal democrats need to rethink how they operate and how they oppose the new political reality. In short, no more whining, no more excuses, no more playing nice, no more needless cooperation, no more being weenies.