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.”

 

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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.

 

 

 


The Political Wisdom of Rod Stewart

October 3, 2016

One of my favorite Rod Stewart songs from yesteryear is “Reason to Believe”. No one would describe the Scottish/British rocker as a political pundit or philosopher but the words to ” Reason to Believe” in many ways hit at the heart of today’s electoral and democratic malaise. As Rod says in “Reason to Believe”:

” If I listened long enough to you, I’d find a way to believe it’s all true.Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried, still I look to find a reason to believe.”

In this terrible 2016 election cycle Americans are desperately looking for a reason to believe, but know that the candidates, mostly Trump, but Hillary too, lie straight-faced and bring decent voters and patriotic citizens to tears.

Politics is supposed to be an honorable profession where the best and the brightest make Americans feel confident about the future knowing that the national interest, the common good will prevail. They want to have a reason to believe, but instead face lies, half-truths, money-grubbing excesses, shady deals, secrecy, false promises, careless actions and hurtful tirades.

So how did we get into this mess, where the choices for leader of the free world make people cry? There are a laundry list of reasons from middle class anger, to money-driven politics, to influence-peddling interest groups, to a ratings-obsessed media, to congressional incompetence. And don’t forget that we as a people are culpable as we pay scant attention to matters of state and then get mad when things go wrong.

What may save this country and our democracy from falling deeper into political distress is that the American people continue to seek a reason to believe; they want their leaders to be straight with them, to care about their safety and security, to work to improve their lives, and to end the petty disputes that paralyze the governing process.

You could say that there is always hope, but over the last eight years hope didn’t work out so well. What this nation needs now is the truth, straight talk, and positive steps that instill confidence, in other words a reason to believe.

 

 

 


Not That Great of a Year

December 28, 2015

In the waning days of 2015 there will be much written about the 365 days that made up this latest year of the 21st century. It is safe to say that 2015 had more downs than ups and the glass can best be described  as being half empty.

There were some encouraging economic signs in terms of job expansion and modest but consistent growth. The stock market had its moments of  excitement, but in the end the year was mostly flat. The national debt marched forward now approaching 19 trillion dollars, although the deficit began to recede a bit in large part due to budget cuts and more taxes paid by those returning to work.

Violence and personal safety took a big hit as terrorist attacks tested the resolve of the American people, mass killings became commonplace and the relationship between the police and the black community imploded. Race relations deteriorated as blacks marched in the streets to protest the killings of young men, too many unarmed or with severe mental illness.

Politics and electoral campaigning became the big story as Donald Trump tapped into the anger of white America with his no holds barred rhetoric and his authoritarian bluster, and Bernie Sanders tested the popularity and inevitability of Hillary Clinton, despite his socialist agenda. Both the Republican and Democratic establishment paid the price of do nothing government and its failure to address the economic plight of those whites at the low end of the economic ladder. President Obama did little to help the turn to the right by his annoying penchant for remaining”too cool” and failing to keep his promises.

Needless to say the mood of America is depression-filled. A huge majority say the country is on the wrong path, support for Congress is at an all time low and Obama’s popularity hasn’t been above 50% in ages. Clearly the American people want someone different at the helm, but who? Trump has no answers just outrageous statements, Hillary is viewed with extreme suspicion, Congress is likely to remain dysfunctional and Obama is playing out the string. 2016 looks like another bad year marked by tension, disappointment, division, death and a whole lot of craziness. Hope your year will be better.