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They’re Just Words, And Who’s Listening Anyway?

Last Week

paul ryan Theyre Just Words, And Whos Listening Anyway?

NORFOLK, VA – AUGUST 11: Newly announced Republican vice presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

new running mate, learned last week; words are pesky little critters which can’t be trusted. First, they have defined meanings that the majority have long agreed upon. And second, people remember it when you use them.

Rep. Paul Ryan spent his first few days as Romney’s pick stumping against Obama’s domestic fiscal policies. Lambasting things like which Obama fought for, pointing out how it redirects over $700 billion away from Medicare only to have his criticisms somewhat neutered by the bothersome fact that Ryan’s own signature Budget Plan also calls for redirecting over $700 billion away from Medicare. The difference being that the Affordable Care Act gets that money out of Medicare via many cost savings measures that analysts have said will have no effect on the quality of care seniors are already receiving, then uses it to give additional health coverage for Americans who can’t afford it–while Ryan’s budget slashes services within Medicare to create the savings, and then uses the money to pay down debt and provide additional tax breaks for millionaires.

With his attacks on the Affordable Care Act’s fiscal maneuvering stymied, Ryan pivoted to denouncing for the 2009 Recovery Act, something Ryan called “a wasteful spending spree”. Which is when some of those vexing little things…words…rose up to bite Ryan’s rump again as reporting came out stating that Ryan had requested millions of dollars in Recovery Act funds for his district in Wisconsin.

In fact, Ryan spent several days stumping on the campaign trail, lashing out against big government spending under Obama for borrowing and spending as a stimulus measure during a recession. A strategy he’s called a failed neo-Keynesian experiment, referring to the ideas which essentially say that a healthy mixture of both private and public sector spending produces the most beneficial and sustainable economic outcomes, and that when private sector spending is cut back (for instance, during a recession) it must be countered with increased public sector spending–including deficit spending–to create jobs and keep the economic engine turning until the balance is restored.

It would be completely fair to have a national debate on the principles and merits of Keynesian economics, if that’s what Ryan was trying to start. My only thoughts would be that it seemed to serve our country well from the first implementation which helped lead us out of the Great Depression, during World War II, and through our post-war expansions up to the 1970′s, until it lost influence with some in government who opposed paying the taxes necessary to allow government to maintain its portion of the spending.

However, while he has thrashed Obama for policies rooted in the Keynesian school of thought, it came to light that Ryan himself has championed these very same ideas from the House floor. Arguing in favor of increased government spending during a time of recession to counter a staggering economy and private sector cut-backs, and to pay for a long list of things from tax cuts to unemployment extensions. He also argued in fact, that increasing government spending would create more jobs–and cited history of this being true to make his point.

A bit of glaring hypocrisy caused by those annoying little words that people pay attention to when you use them, and remember them when you contradict yourself later.

When you look beyond the campaign rhetoric in fact, there’s actually very little difference between the so-called “fiscal hawk” Ryan and President Obama when it comes to their fiscal beliefs. Their own words and actions clearly show that both believe in increasing government spending to counter a slowing economy when businesses are pulling back.

To find the real differences, “the Devil’s in the details” as my Grandpa used to say. Both Ryan and Obama call for more government spending to fix an ailing economy, where they split is in where you take the money from, and how the dollars get spent. Obama’s plans time and again show he favors government spending as an investment in the future. Borrowing while the rates are at near zero to get the money and then putting it into things like infrastructure for commerce expansion, better education opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders, and health coverage for the poor so that they may live longer and more productive lives. On the other hand, Ryan (and Romney for that matter) appears to favor taking the money from people (folks Romney would say just want more stuff from government) and putting the dollars into the hands of those who need them least, then hoping they will turn them into something better for tomorrow; like jobs or innovations.

Over The Weekend

Ryan’s problems, and repeated back-tracking because of them last week have been very public. Front page on most newspapers in fact. So, it’s a little surprising that Ryan’s peers would still be so loose-lipped at this time while talking with people…who might be listening.

But indeed they are, as shown by Rep. Discovered on Sunday when he made during a television interview when asked if he thought abortion could be considered in a rape case:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

todd akin Theyre Just Words, And Whos Listening Anyway?

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) (R) talks to U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Seriously, “a legitimate rape”? What sort of rape exactly is that opposed to? And, what witch-doctors has Akin been seeking his medical council from?

Doesn’t it seem a bit frightening that someone who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology could be so woefully ignorant of facts. Such as the fact . Perhaps someone should tell the members of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology about this little-known company on the Inter-webs which indexes information and makes it easy to find (unlike the old days when such information was safely hidden away in books). It’s called Google, and it took me just seconds to use and find out how not-so-rare pregnancy resulting from rape actually is, right from the government’s own C.D.C. website.

That would have probably been good information for the representative to know before making false and ridiculous statements which I imagine were highly offensive to every single victim of rape, along with most homo sapiens possessing a conscious.

Akin has since back-tracked from his comments, and issued a later statement where he essentially admits to speaking without first considering the meaning of what he’s saying:

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview…”

I guess that lets him off the hook. I mean seriously, how could he have possibly expected or known that there might be questions about his political positions for him to answer during a campaign interview for goodness sake?

mitt romney Theyre Just Words, And Whos Listening Anyway?

Mitt Romney

On a related note, Mitt Romney’s campaign issued a statement after Rep. Akin’s comments began making the Twitter rounds that said “Governor Romney and Congressman (Paul) Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape”.

But of course, once again we have those pesky little word things out there. Like from a few months ago when Romney was asked on Fox if he supported a constitutional amendment that would establish the definition of life as beginning at conception. Romney replied, “Absolutely.”

So, Mitt believes life begins with conception, and that should be declared in a constitutional amendment, which would then make any-and-all abortions illegal, because if life is defined as beginning with conception then abortion would be deemed murder. That’s the cornerstone principle of all the proposed Personhood amendments–including the one Rep. Paul Ryan co-sponsored which in-fact would have prevented a rape victim from getting an abortion and only allowed for abortions in extreme cases where the mother’s life was at risk.

But today, while the conversational winds are blowing another direction, Romney apparently wouldn’t oppose certain abortions under certain circumstances. If you follow the turns in logic long enough, I believe you’ll find that the Romney/Ryan ticket is pro-life and pro-murder. I guess it’s hard to offend voters if you just come out in favor of everything.

Of course, reading this may lead some to think it’s my personal hack-attack against Rep. Ryan, or Rep. Akin, or even Mitt Romney. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m not attacking nor criticizing anything but their very own words–and completely in-context with how they’ve said them.

These examples also aren’t–as some talking heads have postured–gaffes. They aren’t comparable to Vice President Biden saying “This is a big f^@#ing deal” to the President about the passing of the Affordable Care Act with an open mic next to him. That was a gaffe.

These examples of hypocrisy, ignorance and/or “fitting the conversational yardstick of the moment” are candid snapshots of the positions (the often interchangeable positions) of men who are running for national offices right now.

And they are prime examples of how those pesky little words we use should be considered, and meshed through our mental filtering systems before we let them just fly from our lips.


The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

I am always hopeful for move civility in American politics. I’ve written on several occasions about the silliness and poor manners many of our elected officials stoop to. However, I’m also realistic about the nature of the beast and so, despite being hopeful for election campaigns which are issues based and void of mud, I never honestly expect to see that in my lifetime.

I think of this each day as I read discussion threads on various political forums, or browse the comments sections on multiple news and political blogs. Because each day there’s always someone who will comment about how they wish it were more like the old days, when politicians would disagree on policy but could still maintain sincere personal friendships with one another, regardless of their party affiliations.

That sounds nice, but it really isn’t how it’s ever actually been in American politics. Sure, there have been exceptions to the rule over time, and you’ll often hear ex-politicians speaking fondly of members of their opposing party in interviews (because civility sells books).

JohnAdams 2nd US President The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

John Adams 2nd US President and Vice-President to George Washington

But in all honesty, ever since Vice-President Adams (serving under President Washington, and despite Washington’s public efforts to avoid partisan politics taking root in America), and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton (whom Washington appointed as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury) scurried about to officially form and introduce the first real organized political party in America, since that time there has been no true civility in our politics. In fact, it was far worse in the past than it is today.

Today, we hear evening news sound-bites, there is campaign trail lies and half-truths, prime-time television gets overwhelmed with ugly commercial advertising, and it’s fair to argue that all that cheapens us as a society. But, in the early days our leaders allowed their ideological divides and sharp-tongued rhetoric to escalate into fist fights, an occasional all-out brawl, and even so far as fatal pistol duels.

In other words, American politics is today as it’s always been since Washington was in office, an ugly race to the bottom.

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806 The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806

On a somewhat related side note for those interested in the fate of our first political party, the Federalists. They were a pro-business & industry, pro-expansion, pro-banker, free trade promoting bunch. One of their first big agenda moves was for Treasury Secretary Hamilton to convince Washington that revolutionary war veterans would benefit if speculators (the one-percenters of their time, and supporters of the Federalist party) were allowed to buy up their compensation notes. These notes are what many veterans were given in exchange for their service during the revolution, and in theory were supposed to be usable to buy military bounty lands directly from the new government. In other words, for fighting and serving to establish the new nation, veterans (in theory) would be able to leave service and use their notes to get property which they could settle on and work.

However, Hamilton and Vice-President Adams also pushed in congress for legislation that limited settlement on military bounty lands to blocks of 4,000 acres or more. This effectively made the compensation notes veterans received useless, because no veteran–including those who served as Generals–was given enough notes to purchase even half that much land with.

This created a situation where the veterans were left holding notes that they couldn’t do anything with, and once Hamilton convinced Washington to allow speculators to buy those notes from the veterans, it was a pathetic fleecing of our nation’s first military vets.

Speculators were buying the small bundles of notes from each veteran for essentially pennies on the dollar, pooling them into large bundles and then exchanging them for real estate purchases from the new government. In many cases, speculators were buying prime farming and coastal property as cheaply as a nickel an acre. Future stories suggest some veterans who sold their notes to speculators received as little as $2 total benefits for their multiple years of service in our nation’s fight for independence, while the speculators accumulated massive wealth from the deals.

Moves like these quickly made the Federalists unpopular with the masses, and the party brand suffered from it. They began losing elections, and despite years of trying couldn’t repair their poor public image. Finally in the 1820′s, after almost 30 years in existence, the party formally disbanded.

It’s former members didn’t just go away though, and with their ideologies unchanged they soon formed again . Once again wedding themselves to the nation’s industrial and upper-class citizens.

The major agenda items this time around were arm-twisting the government into financially supporting industrial growth (nothing like getting Uncle Sam to pay your business expanses for you, is there?), and weakening the southern caucus in congress, to create more favorable conditions for the northern industrial empires to exploit the cheap lands, labor and resources of the south. A quiet drum-march to (civil) war was begun.

The Whig party’s intentions were obvious, and just like they did as the Federalist party, they quickly lost favor with ordinary voters. This time, it took only twenty years for the party’s brand to become almost worthless, and in the mid 1850′s the Whig party disbanded. Unfortunately, much of the damage had already been done, and conditions were now ripe for igniting the civil war.

Once the Whig party ceased to exist, its former members (who were earlier the formal Federalists) jumped into another newly formed party.

And once again the new party was populated with all the same people, holding all the same ideas and intentions. But, they had learned a lesson in politics and brand protection. They had learned to disguise their true intentions with divisive, populist rhetoric.

In the 1850′s members of the new Republican party, as many of their letters and memoirs of the time show, still held the same positions and desires that they had as Whigs (as did the earlier Federalists), such as the desire to open the south up to exploitation by northern businesses, but this time they didn’t make themselves as obvious.

Instead, they latched on to the divisive issue of slavery, the primary wedge issue of the time, and presented themselves as champions for equality and civil liberties. Because the issue of slavery was on the minds of every American by this point, due in part to seeds which were originally planted by the same people when they were Whigs attempting to weaken the southern politicians in congress, the tactic was highly effective and within 7 years Americans were shooting at one another.

Obviously, my understanding and accounting here is quite simplified to avoid turning this article into a novel, and there were many other factors and factions at work leading up to the civil war. The actions of the Whigs and Republicans were just one or two pieces of a greater puzzle and I’m not proposing anything beyond that.

My writing of this is to present and connect the ancestral dots of one political party, from the Republicans of today back to the first organized political party, the Federalists. I wonder as I write this, if in the future some other person will be writing a similar piece connecting the dots between a then extinct Republican party and an active Tea Party?

It also shows how wedge issues and rhetorical spin are still being used by some in partisan politics in the same way. To disguise true intentions and rouse populace support for things which often go against the people’s own self interests.

In other words, the more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same.

A World Without Sound-bites Or Talking-Points

Obama spoke from the Rose Garden this morning, putting forward his ideas on how to both pay for his proposed American Jobs Act, and further tackle our national debt.

Three hours before he began speaking, I had already heard the “thought out” responses to his speech (which he was 3 hours away from even making), by more than a half dozen Republicans who have been taking their preemptive replies to the media since last week.

When we answer questions before they’re asked, and reply to proposals before they’re even made, aren’t we just setting ourselves up to fail as a nation?

I’ve heard a lot recently from the large group of Republicans who all hope to be President someday, that we “need to have a national discussion” on this and that. It usually sounds to me like they’re taking a pass over giving any real answers or ideas of their own when they say it, but they say it often so I thought maybe they just need someone to get the “discussion” started.

I’d gladly be that person, and I’d only have one rule going in, leave your talking points and sound-bite memos at the door. We’ve all heard them over and over, and frankly, some of it is getting pretty boring.

Higher Taxes Means Less Jobs
Really? Because Ronald Reagan raised “some” taxes, eleven times by my count, and we had significant job growth during those 8 years. Though, there is an argument to be made about the low quality of jobs created during his two terms, but right now I think most Americans (at-least millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans) would welcome even low quality job creation.

Bush (41) threatened to raise taxes and his party bailed on him, so no significant or relevant data from that term to add to this discussion.

Clinton raised “some” taxes, and we had significant job growth during his 8 years.

Bush (43) cut “some” taxes, and the significant job growth stalled.

Obama has allowed himself to be strong-armed over the last 2.5 years into keeping the Bush tax cuts and–still no job growth…

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time we look at the reality that when “some” taxes are more fairly proportionate, it lifts the screws from the middle class and allows the majority of small business owners to feel a bit more certain and confident about the future, which leads to job growth by the largest group of employers in the country.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop making false claims just because they fit our agendas and ideologies, and we start talking in hard facts.

For instance, like the hard fact that tax cuts over the last 10 years haven’t led to any measurable job growth what-so-ever.

An entire decade of evidence shows us that lower taxes for the highest earners does not translate into job creation in America at all.

Obama’s Proposals Will Hurt Millions Of Small Businesses
Actually, looking at the numbers that have been talked about and shared, it seems like somewhere around or under 5% of “small businesses” would see any sort of tax increases by what Obama is proposing, the rest would see their taxes remain the same, and even see new tax credits if/when they hire additional employees.

The truth is, most small businesses are already paying the higher tax rates that Obama is proposing all corporations and wealthy individuals pay, because most small business owners are in the middle class and don’t have the lawyers, accountants, and lobbyists at their disposal to game the system.

It’s only a small percentage of companies which actually fall under the status of “small business” and have the resources for getting the advantages of tax breaks and loopholes that would end under Obama’s plans.

Raising Taxes On Just Wealthy People Is Class Warfare
Well then, doesn’t that also mean that lowering taxes on just wealthy people is also class warfare? Only in the other direction?

You can’t have it both ways, we have to stop playing with two-headed coins.

If raising taxes on a specific group is class warfare, then lowering taxes for a specific group is too…and Republicans have been doing that to the benefit of the wealthiest 2% (adding to the burden on the middle class) for years. A lot of years, in-fact, since the 1950′s. It’s about time someone calls them out on it, and hopefully puts an end to their half-century-plus of attacks on hard working, middle class America.

I agree that forcing wealthy people to pay higher proportional taxes would be unfair, unjust and could even be accurately described as class warfare.

However, asking all Americans to pay even proportionate rates just seems fair. If you make $90,000 per year and roughly 28% of 100% of all your yearly earnings goes towards taxes, then anyone making more should be paying roughly 28% of 100% of their yearly earnings in taxes too. No loopholes, no caps, no shelters, no exceptions.

And since I know somebody will read this and say “what about those who work but earn so little that they don’t pay income taxes?”, let me just say first, ask your doctor if a heart transplant is right for you, and second, billionaires already get the same lower end deductions that low income people are getting which void their income taxes, so those deductions are already proportionately fair. Everybody gets them. What’s unfair, is that as your earnings increase, you begin to receive benefits and special treatment that those of lower income can’t. That’s where the unbalance is at.

The American government shouldn’t punish nor reward individual success, it should only work in a neutral manner to create the environment where individual success is possible for all. Not be a tool for those with large pools of money and access to gain preferential treatments.

Obama’s Plan Will Hurt Charities
Heard this sentiment from Gov. Perry today, loved it, laughed hysterically. Then I thought, someone should educate him on the strength of charities in years past, like when the wealthiest Americans were paying a 94% top-rate[1].

For instance, at those incredibly high upper-end tax rates in the early 1940′s, during World War II, the American Red Cross was able to get over 100,000 nurses into service, prepared over 25 million relief packages for Allied prisoners of war, shipped hundreds of thousands of tons of supplies overseas to Allied troops, and launched a national blood donation program that collected more than 13 million pints of blood for use by our wounded soldiers[2].

All of that had to cost a pretty penny, and if it were true–as Perry’s claim appears to imply–that wealthy Americans and American businesses are only donating to charity as a result of being rewarded with lower tax rates and credits for doing so, then I can’t imagine the Red Cross or any charitable organization being able to accomplish the amazing feats that they did at that time.

Do people and companies take advantage of tax breaks for their charitable donations, absolutely. But, is that the only reason they support the organizations and causes that they do? Absolutely not.

It seems I have a more optimistic view of the kindness and compassion that we Americans are capable of showing for one another than Gov. Perry, which is rare since I’m fairly pessimistic by nature, but I also have evidence to support my optimism in this case.

I didn’t start this piece with the idea of finger-pointing, I really just wanted to ponder if wouldn’t it be nice, for a change, if we all started talking in full and un-slanted truths about the mess we’re in?

Wouldn’t it ultimately be more productive if we stopped debating over the spin and ideological rhetoric, and actually just focused on finding real solutions to our very real problems?

Sure, politicians from both sides do it. And maybe I’ve unfairly called out only one side here, but that’s the side I see the worst behavior coming from right now. They have an agenda, they’ve stated it openly, to make Obama a one-term President, and it looks to me like they’re willing to put that agenda before the needs of the nation during a time of crisis.

I get that playing politics is what they do, but when it comes at the expense of suffering to those they’ve sworn to serve, it’s gone too far.

Has America Lost Its Way, Or Its Soul?

It’s obvious that there are some deep political divides between the left and right in this country. There have always been ideological canyons separating people in America, going all the way back to our founding fathers. But, one unifying thread weaving through our chaotic and sometimes violent history, that to my knowledge had never been broken–not even during the Civil War when brother fought brother on the battlefields–was our shared respect for life and ability to show compassion towards one another during times of need.

However, it seems that thread may be broken now.

I watched and listened in shocked horror last week as the audience applauded the statement that Governor Perry had presided over 234 executions during the Republican presidential debate.

It isn’t about people being for or against the death penalty. In fact, I support it being used in cases where all possible doubts have been removed, and even believe its use should be expanded to include many sexual offenders given my belief (based on statistics of repeat offenders) that there is no chance for rehabilitation for some minds.

But, when did we lose our compassion and empathy? When did death, even the death of a criminal, stop being a tragic and sad waste for some of us?

I’ve always been able to respect political and ideological differences, but to see proof that what many around the world believe–that Americans are heartless and blood-thirsty–brought my outlook for this nation’s future down to a new low.

Yet, I believe the audience at this week’s debate was sadly able to trump the earlier cheers for death, when shouts of “Yeah, Yeah, Society should just let him die” nearly became an audience chant after moderator Wolf Blitzer asked “who pays?” if a man who doesn’t have insurance (perhaps because he lost his job?) suddenly becomes gravely ill.

Really? We not only cheer for death but we also have zero compassion for our neighbors who may have fallen on hard times, possibly through no fault of their own? That’s the society we’ve become in America?

Suddenly, the party that spoke for years about creating a ‘culture of life’ in this country, has become the culture of death and misery? A party that celebrates–with cheers and applause–killing and suffering?

It makes me feel a lot of things, sad mostly, but it also makes me wonder what happened to the religious right? Where’s the Christian majority? Because there is absolutely nothing Christ-like in applauding pain and death visited upon one another.

So, How Do You Write-In A Vote On Those Electronic Machines?

I’ve tried. For 3 years now I’ve tried to see what my fellow democrats fell in love with in President Obama back in ’08, but still it escapes me. As full disclosure, I was for Clinton last time around in the primaries, and in the general election only voted for Obama as a vote against the McCain/Palin ticket.

Now sure, President Obama is smart and pragmatic, and that has been refreshing, but is that really all it takes? Aren’t there times when a leader should make bold and gutsy moves? How about being able to negotiate? That seems like a desired skill in a political leader.

Sadly, there’s been neither bold moves nor effective negotiations from this administration to date, so what is it people fell in love with?

Sure, we got a national healthcare reform bill, but in an attempt to pull support from the right democrats allowed the heart to be cut out of it, and the whole bill to be effectively rewritten into a windfall for the Insurance companies. And that support from the right that democrats caved in to get?–Well, at crunch time when the vote came down they backed out anyway, smiled and said “Gotcha!”

Was a lesson learned from that? Did democrats and the administration finally see that starting negotiations in the center and moving right while their opponents were starting on the right and moving further right through the dealings was a bad strategy? Nope.

How about with the debt ceiling negotiations of late, how did the administration do there? In my opinion, they dropped the ball by not tying a raise in the debt ceiling to the continued tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% last winter. Everybody knew then that the debt ceiling was getting close and going to need raising soon, and after seeing how republicans had acted time and again in negotiations up to that point they should have leveraged the republican’s desire to protect those tax breaks for the rich at all costs by getting a debt ceiling increase then.

That appears to have been a serious missed opportunity now, and President Obama compounded that missed opportunity during the recent negotiations by again starting with a reasonable, centrist offer that allowed republicans to force the deal further right as time went on, and then completely blew it by chopping his own legs out from beneath himself during the negotiations in stating that he would not consider a 14th amendment solution if a deal couldn’t ultimately be reached.

As a negotiator, you don’t necessarily have to be willing to go over some arbitrary line, but keeping your opponents in the dark over whether or not you would cross that line is a fundamental tactic. Showing your cards before the bets are placed is just bad poker.

So, I’m done trying to find what my fellow democrats fell in love with in Obama. Even if I found it somehow, the fact is I’ve learned that he’s in ineffectual negotiator, and that alone disqualifies someone from holding any political office in my mind.

It’s sad to me that no serious democratic challenger has stepped forward so far to offer our party–and the country–another option. I know there’s still lingering fears born out of the debacle that tore the party in two when Kennedy challenged President Carter’s re-election bid, and we all watched as Pat Buchanan’s challenge weakened Bush enough in ’92 to create hope for a hillbilly democrat from Arkansas (if only there were another like him with resolve and fundraising capabilities, hmmm), but this is a different time in America, and with the 24/7 news cycles voters like me have seen enough to know President Obama just can’t get the deals done, and are ready to gather behind someone with a little backbone and skills.

And lacking someone like that to rally behind, I need to know how to cast a write-in vote on these electronic voting machines, so that I can show my support for Elmer Fudd, the serious cartoon candidate.