Thursday, November 29, 2012

Phase in a compromise

Will the government push the country over the fiscal cliff?  

The left wing of the Dems and the Right wing of the Reps are all for it, if they don’t get their ways.  I have a pretty good expectation that the two sides will come together with a deal, after lots of fierce posturing and rigid expressions of core principles.  But, it is very easy for the process to become captive to the rigidities and rhetoric.  

What happens if no deal is made?  The Bush tax cuts expire and dramatic spending cuts go into place.  Isn’t that a good thing?  Won’t that lower the deficit? 

Apparently, these are good things in the abstract but become toxic for two reasons.  First, when these things happen suddenly, with no glide path into them, it will shock the economy and cause a second recession.  Not a good thing.  Second, the cuts called out are designed to be so stupid that it forces the government to make a deal.

So, what is the basic outline of the fiscal cliff?  As I understand it:

  • End of the reduction in the “payroll tax” i.e. Social Security tax – 2% raise in taxes for everyone who works
  • End of the Bush tax cuts - increase in taxes of everyone who works and invests
  • End of some tax breaks for businesses
  • Deep automatic cuts for over 1000 government programs

Effects expected?  As I understand it:
  • Cut GDP by 4% in 2013 sending the economy into recession
  • Raise unemployment about 1%, or two million lost jobs
  • Reduce total government spending over $100 billion per year, split evenly between defense and non-defense spending
  • Increase tax revenues over $400 billion per year
  • Total deficit reduction of $569 billion per year (about half the total current deficit)
How about agreeing to the numbers involved (cut spending about $100 billion per year, raise revenues about $400 billion per year) but phasing them in over a four year period, starting with 10 % the first year, 20% the second year, 30% the third year, 40% the fourth year?  
  • Cuts to be 50-50 defense vs non-defense.  
  • Revenue increases by maximizing deductions available as a percentage of income and let people choose whatever deductions they like.  Plus, perhaps, the Buffett rule, income over $1 million have a minimum tax of 30%, over $10 million have a minimum tax of 35%.  

Wouldn't the certainty of an actual plan stabilize business expectations and provide the certainty needed for business to plan and start spending their huge cash reserves, boosting the economy?  Wouldn't the debt glide down to manageable levels eventually if not right away?  Wouldn't the toxic partisan hatreds in Washington and in the country diminish as each side has to compromise and make deals, letting go of their own sense of righteous purity and perhaps even being able to see their political opponents as human beings rather than devils?  i.e. become politicians rather than ideological purists pandering to their extremes?  

In a nutshell, compromise and phase it in over course of one presidential term. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving

As I wrote the day after the election, the most shocking thing to me was that my conservative friends really did think that Obama would lose in a landslide. What this showed me was that they were getting nearly all of their information about the election, and about the world, from right wing media, especially right wing radio and Fox News. So, they were getting spin and propaganda rather than news and opinions. That is to say, their thinking is not based in reality, but rather, is based in the fantasies of ideological purity.

I have stopped being a Republican, so part of me would be happy to see the Republicans destroy themselves, and there is no quicker path to self destruction than self delusion. But I care more about the country than I do about the Democratic Party, which I still view with a distrustful eye. I'm not a Democrat either. There are parts of the Democratic Party that can't be trusted with a budget.

I believe we need a smart, vibrant, reality based Republican Party, and essential to that goal is for those on the right to turn away from Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, et al whose job it is is to get an audience rather than to provide political wisdom. I heard Limbaugh say it very clearly not long ago, that his job is to be ideologically pure.  That is a simple job.  All you have to do is know the ideological dogma and apply it to each and everything in the world, no matter how you have to stretch and distort the world to make it fit.  Thinking is not required, only memory of dogma.  Probably the primary cause of the fall of Communism was the inability of the ideologically pure to see obvious realities all around them that contradicted their dogmas.

I think there are some hopeful signs that this is happening. I am reading that some Republicans are saying that they can't be held to the no-tax pledge of Grover Nordquist, and the are some Republican consultants who are speaking out against Limbaugh. 

Those glimmers of sanity on the political right wing are good reason for my being thankful on this Thanksgiving.

There is  reason to hope that conservatives can regain their sanity and walk away for the fanatics of the Tea Party and the Libertarians and the Evangelicals and become a reality based political philosophy and contribute to our national dialog in a constructive manner. 

Who knows, maybe even the fanatics themselves will start to soften and re-look at their views... well, that is probably a bridge too far.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My hope for the country

The strangest thing, to me, about this presidential election is the fact that many on the right wing of the Republican Party actually thought that Romney was going to win by a landslide.  I had a conservative friend who predicted a 54 to 46 percent victory by Romney, with about 340 electoral votes.  This is not an uniformed person, nor a dumb one.  He is very political and almost obsessively followed the campaign.  So, how was he so wrong?

One answer, of course, is that his hopes overrode his good sense.  But, the real reason seems to be that his sources of information were very limited.  That is to say, his window to the political world is Rush Limabaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Fox News, Rassmussen polling, Carl Rove, Dick Morris, etc – the right wing echo chamber.  So, his view of reality was not a view of reality, but rather it was a view of the spin by the right wing spinmeisters.  

Conservatives are not the only victims of spin, the left wingers whose view of the world is through the lens of MSNBC don’t see reality either, they see the left wing spin and believe it to be the world as it is.  It has been humorously said that MSNBC is Fox News for vegans. 

I have written many times before that I have been a left wing whacko and a right wing whacko, and I am now trying very hard to be understanding rather than polemic.  As a result of my experience, I know for a fact that I was a good man when I was a lefty and I was a good man when I was a righty, and there are good, decent people on both sides of the aisle.  There are idiots and jerks on both sides of the isle as well, of course, but I try to see the goodness in the people, and see the idealism in the ideas on both sides.

Another thing that I know for a fact is that once you are inside an ideological bubble, whether in the left wing whacko bubble or the right wing whacko bubble, all you see is the reflections of the beliefs of your bubble bouncing back at you.  Everything, everything proves to you that you are right and that your ideology is correct.

It takes a lot to break out of that bubble.  What broke the left wing bubble for me was the plight of the Vietnamese after the communists drove the U.S. out of Vietnam.  They were persecuted mercilessly to the point that they became boat people and risked and lost their lives at sea trying to escape the totalitarian oppression of the communists.  I had to rethink my entire view of the political world because I had thought that the U.S. war in Vietnam was based upon a trumped up false view of communism as a threat which was just to justify capitalist and imperialist greed of the U.S.  I decided I was wrong about communism, and eventually became a right wing whacko instead.

What broke the right wing bubble for me was the collapse of the housing and finance industry bubble in 2008.  My view that markets could be trusted to self-regulate and create wealth for all ran aground on the rocks of the realities of Wall Street greed, government indifference, and corporate-political corruption.  I decided I was wrong about deregulated free markets, and I decided that markets can only exist in the environment of regulation and governmental and legal restraints, otherwise they become corrupt enterprises that harm rather than empower society.

So, during the elections, I was aware of what both the right wing and left wing propaganda wings were pumping into the body politic, and tried to find a view that I considered to be fairly close to reality rather than too much influenced by the True Believers of either side.  As a result, the election came out pretty much as I had expected: an Obama win, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House.

My biggest hope from this election is that the fanatical, Rigid Right will lose their grip on the Republican Party as a result of this election – Romney lost and I believe a number of extremist senatorial candidates also lost.  I hope  that the Republican Party can regain its sanity, see the world as it is rather than as being distorted by the extremist echo chamber of talk radio, Fox News, Carl Rove, etc., and become engaged in governing the country rather than trying to create some kind of bogus revolution that is supposed to establish a Libertarian or evangelical utopia on us all.

That is my hope for the country.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Voting against the Tea Party

I will vote for Obama because I wouldn't be able to figure out which Pretend-Romney to vote for.

Which will people vote for when the vote for Romney?  The Romney that pretended to be a Tea Party Right Wing extremist when he was campaigning to win the nomination?  Or for the the Romney who is pretending to be a Massachusetts Moderate?  

I don't say these things with venom or disdain for Romney, in fact, I can admire his guile to some degree.  Once the debates started he did a better job of running as Obama than Obama did running as himself. But why vote for the empty suit whose top qualification is that he knows how to pretend to be whatever his research tells him voters want him to be?

The key question is how he would govern.  I expect he would be the pawn of his fears, that is, he would be a tool of the extremes of the Republican Party, and I do fear the extremes of the Republican Party - Bush's domineering foreign policy, Ryan's libertarian domestic agenda, the Social Conservative's social agenda.  All of which I do regard with venom and disdain.

Voting against Romney is the only way I can vote against the Tea Party, the Evangelicals, and the Libertarians.  

I wish I were more enthused about Obama, but I think he has been a pretty good president overall.  I think his foreign policy has been quite good: Osama is dead, the country has not had a major attack, the status of the country has improved, our defenses are good, our diplomacy is doing OK, the Arab Awakening has not drawn us into yet another misguided fruitless civil war, we are approaching the world in a cautious, thoughtful, principled way.  It seems good enough to me.

I think he did an adequate job of keeping the country from plunging into a second Great Depression, and the problem with the economy is a structural one, not a government one, as far as I can tell.  

Obamacare was pretty disgusting to witness being formed, but in the end, I think it is good that health care has expanded dramatically to cover most people, that people cannot be dumped by their insurance companies for pre-existing conditions or because they become too expensive to cover, and the only way that can be accomplished and still keep health care in the private sector is to put everyone in the pool of the insured, i.e.the individual mandate.

I have always been a liberal on social issues and fully support a woman's right to choose whether to have a child, and don't see where it is the government's business whether or not same sex people want to marry, think that women should have the government keep its nose out of their reproductive health and issues, and think that racism still needs some prodding from both law and societal change to continue to die its long awaited death.

My hope is that Obama is re-elected.  But what I really care about is that the Tea Party, Libertarian, and Evangelical extremes of the Republican Party lose resoundingly during this election cycle.  It is time for the Rigid Right to shatter on the rocks of the reality of public opinion and election failures.

It is time for the Republican Party to be free of the death grip of their extremists.  It would be so nice to get a reasonable Republican Party back which is more interested in governing the country rather than converting it to their fanatical vision of utopia.