Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Is Your Point?

In the movie After the Harvest, a young teacher who had become pregnant out of wedlock, was coveted by several young men.  When her fiancé died before their wedding day, a local farmer asked her to marry him.  He promised, at least by implication, that he would rear her child as his own.  Yet, when the boy was born, he gave him away.

Almost a whole generation later, they are feeding their resentment into the family life as well as his interactions with his neighbors.  His whole being is focused on acquiring land and showing the community who is going to bring in the best harvest.  He works his children and wife to the bone.  He insults neighbors and newcomers alike.  He obsesses on his goals and on being the "gentleman" farmer, but with no conscience and no compassion for anyone.  In the end, he loses all of them.  To make matters worse, his crops -- harvest -- catch fire.  Alone he stands watching it burn as the real important ones in his life, his family members, walk away.  What a sad and lonely man.

We have a political party in our country that is starting to look as sad and lonely as that farmer.  The members are so busy wanting to always win -- the election, the issue, the quarrel -- that they are ruining their own party.  They have so far pissed away 29 per cent of their following just since the last presidential election.  That's right, they fell just below half of the popular vote for President and the winner fell just above.  Now the Republicans of Congress hold about a twenty per cent approval rating.

So, Republicans, what is your point?  You have so far succeeded in alienating each other, your constituents, and just about every American voter.  And why?  Because you have chosen to feed your bitterness and resentment that the Democrats won the Presidential election, held onto the Senate and passed the Affordable Health Care Act into every issue.  You have chosen to be obstructionists.  You have dragged your feet.  You have quarreled among yourselves.  You have made mountains out of non issues.  You have yelled shame on you at every step your enemies and even your colleagues have attempted to make.  To do what?  Nothing constructive, that's for sure.

And now you are engaging in avoidance.  You have three months, much of which includes celebrations of holidays, to negotiate budget matters.  These matters are stuck in committee and not due to reach vote until mid December.  You have four months to deal with the debt ceiling again.  But what do you choose to do?  You pick one more way to embarrass and torment Democrats, as if masses of citizens have not told everyone for years to stop the negative politics.  All of this is evidence that you are engaging in avoidance of the real needed work.  To what avail?

It is time to quit avoiding . . . stalling . . . obstructing . . . politicizing . . .harassing . . . and demonstrating the dysfunctional nature of your party and your intent.

We need you to roll up your sleeves and do some real work.  Talk more about the budget negotiations.  Help member of the committees to formulate good compromises.  Make good, cooperative, bipartisan decisions.

The current obsessive-compulsive disorder which is being exhibited is not winning any favor or anymore future votes.

Please get the jobs done that we sent you there to do and quit the constant yammering.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Saving Social Security

Some months ago, I wrote to the Congressman for my District concerning Social Security.  In his wisdom, he espouses a wish to save Social Security for future, as well as, current retirees.  He even asked for my opinion concerning which method I thought would be the best solution to the problem.  My knee jerk reaction is none of them.  Yet, all of us know that something has to be done or we will no longer have this fund.

Social Security is one of those programs that was implemented by majority vote, but which a vocal minority will probably be protesting until the end of life as we know it.  All Americans need to take note that our insurance program, meant to fund our retirement, is definitely in danger.  This is not a joke.  This is not politics.  It is fact.

The first danger is with funding.  With what we have in the fund to date, as well as withholding taxes at the current rate, we can continue as is until around 2033.  If we want to continue to collect beyond the next twenty years, some change has to occur or we will run out of money.

What are the alternatives being considered and why or why not choose them?

As stated earlier, some politicians are opposed to any programs such as Social Security.  They scream it is socialism even though all people who receive money from the program have to have held jobs and contributed a Social Security withholding tax from their paychecks.  Also, they collect their transfers based on the amount they contributed.  This is not taxing the rich to give to the poor.  A person doesn't work, said person doesn't collect.

The Congressmen who dislike Social Security are usually the same people that scream about Social Security Reform during every budget debate.  I see two alternatives for why they do this.  Either they are trying to delude us into thinking that Social Security is part of the basic budget and, therefore, needs to be cut; or they misunderstand how it is funded.  Horrible as the first possibility is, it is preferable to the thought that Americans would elect such uninformed people to represent them.  So, you need to evaluate on a personal basis.  Do you receive or hope to receive the Social Security you have sacrificed for after you retire?  If so, you need to inform your Congressmen as well as your President of your concern.

One point of view, especially prevalent during the last Bush Administration, is privatization of each individual's funds.  This means that whatever money we contribute will be held in a fund with our names and would be invested for (and possibly by) ourselves.  President George W. Bush said one time that he liked this idea because people want to leave something to their families.  People already have ways to do this.  They are called savings, investments, real estate and insurance.  The biggest flaw with privatization is that it takes more, not less, money from the Social security funds.  Therefore, it would cause us to run out of money faster.  There are other problems with this which I addressed in earlier blog articles at        

Some Congressmen favor letting people choose whether or not to participate.  It is referred to as "opting out".    How would that be considered fair?  Were you allowed to opt out?  I sure wasn't.  Probably this option would be chosen by wealthy people because they think they will never need it.  I wonder though, how many suicides would have been avoided over losses during the Great Depression if people had been able to count on Social Security.  Besides, this is another example of removing money from a system that is already in trouble because it has too little money.  People really are determined to end the program, aren't they?

There is also the suggestion from some economics professionals that we raise the ceiling on earnings that can be taxed for Social Security.  I read somewhere that currently it is capped just above $160,000.  Some economists assure us that getting rid of this cap, alone, would solve the funding problem.

The everlasting solution of raising the age for full retirement again has reared it's ugly head.  For people who love their own jobs, this probably has a lot of appeal.  But folks, most of us don't get to earn our livings doing what we love.  For us, retirement comes as a blessed relief, a time when we can engage in our passions.  Sometimes when we can do this, we make greater contributions than we did with our work.  For my children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and those adorable little great grands, I would not wish this option to prevail.

And now for the chained CPI most suggested in recent months.  Per my understanding they would reduce the cost of living adjustment downward based on substitutions.  For example, if bananas were expensive, but apples inexpensive, they would allow us enough to buy only apples.  Doesn't matter which fruit our particular bodies might need.  We don't already have to buy the cheaper fruits, vegetables, breads and meat cuts on our niggardly Social Security money?  We don't already have to shop the ads for the stores with the best sales, the ones that are offering what we need?  We don't already go without movies, cable, phones with aps, vacations, basic clothing?

Many Congressmen, as well as media experts, misinterpret the statistics for retirees.  They look at the mean, which can be skewed upward by the people who earn high dollar values.  They look at the median, which is simply the middle number.  They need to look at the mode -- the most frequent amount of Social Security transfers.  This is the figure that represents most of the people on Social Security.  I guarantee that the mode will not look as optimistic.

As you can see, there is no easy solution.  Whatever choice is made, some group is going to be hurting and probably bitter.

My recommendation would be to rule out privatization.  That will ruin a system we are supposedly trying to save.  Opting out should not be a choice either, for the same reason.

What might work would be a compromise between raising the payroll tax on all and the cap adjusted upwardly (though not eliminated entirely) and increasing the work years by one additional year.

You will note that I did not mention using a chained CPI.  As I said before, the Cost of Living Increment and/or the base to which it is added is already insufficient for most Americans to live the barest existence.  But the methods I've suggested at least keep funding within the Social Security System.

Congress must remember that for every way they devise a cut to retirees, they increase the need for Medicare and Supplemental assistance, Medicaid, heat assistance and Food Stamps.  Retirees on Food Stamps already represent over eight per cent of the age group.  Though Social Security itself is not a drain on the Federal budget, Food stamps and Medicaid concerns are.  How would that cut the budget?

People have to be able to eat, pay rent and have medical treatment.  (Or would the more stingy of you prefer to shuffle all retirees out to the pasture to starve in the cold)?  There have been primitive cultures who handled us this way.  If you do it to us, though, it will also happen to your parents, your children and other loved ones.  Or are you planning to support all of them yourselves?  What happens to them if you precede them in death?  Are you planning to split your estate among everyone you care about?  The individual amounts wouldn't amount to much, would they?

Another Near Miss

Thank you all who set aside personal agendas and passed, however temporarily, the debt ceiling increase and budget issues.  No matter how queasy it makes me that you gave us a temporary fix, at least this was just another near miss instead of a disaster.

In psychology, in one layman's version, called Transactional Analysis, there is reference to impediments to problem resolution.  One such impediment causes the participants to "throw in everything but the kitchen sink".  They involve past quarrels, as well as side issues when discussing the current problem.  This makes it harder to reach resolution in the present situation.

It may be one of the reasons that progress cannot be made on budget issues.  So, how are we dealing with every sore spot but the kitchen sink?  Let's think about that for a moment. 

Why are participants throwing Social Security and Medicare into budget discussions and debt ceiling quarrels?  What do they have to do with these discussions?  Both have their separate funding.  The payroll deductions we pay for those are supposed to be in separate funds which should be safely invested so they will earn interest for future usage.  They are not budget items.  They do not come out of our income taxes.  Saving Social Security and Medicare should, therefore, be separate issues and discussions.  If they were left out of the extortion plots of Congressional members, it would be easier to fix the budget.  Fixing the budget might even lead to less raises of the debt ceiling.  Then, voila, perhaps we would have less gridlock in Congress.

Next, we have the Affordable Care Act, a. k. a, Obama Care, which also has a separate fund that was being tapped even as the rest of the non-essential government agencies had no funding.  Yet, our more naïve members of Congress were stalling the budget and debt ceiling negotiations to "stop Obama Care." 

As stated in previous blog articles, the Affordable Care Act is now a law.  This law has been upheld by the Supreme Court.  And, the majority of American voters apparently are willing to abide by this law as demonstrated by the reelection of the President whose name is part of the nickname for the insurance plan.

Now, granted, there are a lot of vocal people who don't like having to buy insurance even though they can afford it.  But a lot of insured people don't like paying higher insurance rates because deadbeats can, but don't, insure themselves.

Special interest groups, especially insurance companies, don't care much for it either.  Why?  If they could take our money for a hundred years and never have to pay our medical expenses, that they would like.  Payouts are anathema to them which is why they haven't wanted to insure people who are already sick or handicapped and why they drop people who get sick.  These special interest groups keep the opponents stirred up with negative advertising and even lies.  You should see the garbage that circulates on the internet.  Oh, yes, you probably have.

So, let the law alone.  It's bugs will show themselves as the launch persists and the kinks can be worked out in the future.  It's too late for big government, small government arguments pertaining to this issue.  Let this done deal alone so we can move on to unsolved deals. 

As to large government, small government issues, I look at it this way.  The less government institutions we have making laws and people telling us what to do, the better.  Most Americans have Federal, State, County and Local governments taxing them and pushing them around.  For me, less government would be one governing body, not four.  If you don't believe me, try living in a coop for a while and add another bunch of bullies telling everybody what to do and wasting your fees on things you don't care a fig about.

It is obvious Congress cannot move on so complex a set of issues.  So, separate the issues.  Surely members of Congress know how to do goal setting.  Set long-range goals.  From these, design short-term goals.  Break these down into smaller goals.  Prioritize these smaller steps.

When it is time to increase the debt ceiling, that is your priority goal.  Between debt ceiling crises, reduce the budget -- eliminate wasteful and unnecessary spending.  Stop pork barrel finance like Mitch McConnell's vote sold in return for Kentucky infrastructure improvements.  After all, most states need work on infrastructure.  Duh!  Won't Kentucky infrastructure improvements require taxes, that conservative Republican no-no?  Conservative Republicans don't like taxes?  Who are they kidding?  They just don't like to be taxed for someone else's needs.

Think of Congress as caught with too much to do. Because of it, they can't do anything, like a deer caught in the headlights.  To recap, they need to break their tasks down, prioritize and make small steps toward each goal.  Now, please just do it.  It will cut down on your stress level as much as ours.  And do it soon, not the day before the next debt ceiling deadline.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Ground On The Cliff Is Cracking

Picture a train track going round and round a mountain.  The train, about to leave the station at the highest elevation, suddenly begins spiraling down the track.  The engineer is not in control and disaster is barely averted.

Maintenance teams talk a lot about locating and fixing the problem with the vehicle or the track.  They spend so much time talking and laying blame on each other that they don't get the work done.  Repairs are delayed.

Day after day and issue after issue, the train spirals down the mountainside.  The ground on the cliff is cracking from the wear and tear.  The team hired to keep the vehicles and track working stalls. The riders keep pleading.  The administration keeps chiding.  The workers keep quarreling and debating the best methods.

The structure gets worse as weeks roll by but the people hired to do the work don't care.  This is their fifteen minutes of fame and power.  They are flexing their puny muscles.  Winning arguments and displacing blame are more important to them than taking care of business and shoring up the infrastructure.  They seem to get an adrenaline rush as they barrel along the tracks over the cracking cliff.

The "shareholders" would hire a new maintenance team, but the rules don't allow it without a fight and there isn't time anyway.  So, everybody has to keep waiting for the engineer to take control and the maintenance team to decide how to fix the rip.  The team threatens each other and the riders.  They disrespect the engineer and the administration.  They somehow think the strife is cute or charming or that it endears them to the riders who seem to support their side of the quarrel.

It is regrettable, but the out of control train is the only way down the mountainside.  The riders feel stressed.  They feel helpless.  This breeds anger and lack of confidence.  As soon as they can, they will fire the maintenance group unless the team learns to cooperate, negotiate, reconcile and facilitate.

Will the team get the work done before the track falls over the cliff and the train carrying all the riders plummets to disaster?

Your call maintenance team.  Please get it done and done right this time.  The ride near the cliff is too bumpy for sure.  Do it now, not six weeks from now.  Your jobs and our patience will not weather much more of this unnecessary drama and failure.

And save the issues that have no relevance to the present situation for a later day.  Keep the cracks from becoming canyons.  And remember that plans that include unacceptable issues are no plans at all.  They are just more excuses for finger pointing.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Chasm That Will Not Be Bridged

The Good Lord really knew what He was doing when He created the two lead characters in the current political mess.  On the one hand, we have Mr. Bluster, John Boehner, king of the Basset hound look and the crocodile tears.  On the other, we have a white man inside a black man's skin who is quite used to strife.

Both men are promising they won't negotiate. Both are "stuck between a rock and a hard place".  And as a result, the citizens of this country cannot seem to win.

When you understand that many long-time Republicans in Congress believe that the crisis after crisis stalemate should not go on, it is hard to explain how the Speaker of the House keeps getting himself into his binds.

This Week interviewed Speaker Boehner Sunday morning.  They showed a clip filmed after the recent Presidential election where Boehner is admitting that the election results left no doubt that the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) was now law.  Yet, here he is in October, 2013, still fighting the Affordable Care Act.  You recall that this is the Affordable Care Act that is now in effect.  You remember it -- the law that was passed and signed into law several years back.  The very one that despite righteous indignation of a vocal minority of Americans was upheld by the Supreme Court.  The law we are discussing was apparently accepted, if not welcomed warmly, by a majority of Americans who reelected the President who signed it into law and whose name is often used in a nickname for the law.

At least one critic of this law defended her position in an unusual way.  She was reminded during the last election that her candidate was opposed to the insurance law even though it was modeled after the act he had signed into law while he was governor of his state.  Her response was, but the people of his state got to vote for that law.  They had a say in whether it was passed.

Well, voting on every law Congress designs probably isn't feasible.  It certainly wasn't at the time our country was being formed.  Our forefathers designed and structured our governing system in a manner that excluded the need for a popular vote on every issue.  The way that Americans have a say in what laws we have is by whom we elect to run our government.  During the last election, we sent out a quite schizophrenic message.  We elected a liberal Democrat as President, by a reasonably respectable majority.  We elected a Democratic Senate, though not with such resounding enthusiasm.  And we elected a Republican/Libertarian/Tea Party majority in The House of Representatives.

All this, of course, is not new information.  But it is the cause of the great divide and our inability to get around our stalemate.  Chaos and confusion are so high in our own ranks that those whom we elected don't know what to do.  So, we are left with a bunch of zealots who won't budge an inch on principle.  We are stuck with a Speaker of the House too stuborn to even let the current budget crisis go to vote.  And we have a President with personal family experience of being victimized by money greedy insurance companies.  He also represents a party that tried for over six decades to protect the American public by enacting just such a law.  And who is right?  Well, certainly not the American public that is screaming out against being protected.  Certainly not the special interest groups that have circulated lies and rumors about the law.  And certainly not the hard-core politicians that will flush the whole country down the drain in order to get their own way.

Boehner, who has been refusing actual negotiation himself, sounded like a broken record last Sunday.  He kept saying that the President and the Democrats would have to agree to sit down for a discussion or his party would not move.  Let me define Boehner's apparent definition of discussion for you here.  The Democrats have to agree to blink . . . then he will hold talks . . . then the Democrats will cave again    . . .  then he will hold a vote.  Really Mr. Speaker, we hired you all to work out the kinks.  We did not hire you to refuse to even take a vote to see if anybody wants the law.  You won't know for sure how your own party feels about the situation until you permit the majority of the House to demonstrate it's wishes.  Then if the budget that does not include an axe of the ACA fails, you go back to the drawing board.  If it does not fail, we restore government services to all Americans.  And you and the Tea Party representatives might get to come back for another term.

But if you cannot build a bridge over that chasm and the two parties cannot work out the kinks, then you have all failed at the job we hired you to do.  Remember, sir, that you work for us, you do not work for you.  And we, the American people, expect you to see that you do not destroy the country you were hired to protect.  Quite frankly, war might be easier than the current divide, and you already know how we feel about war.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

More Finger Pointing

"More finger pointing," was the comment of a local news anchor as they cut away from the President's words concerning our partial government shutdown.  Hard to determine which party does it the most.  Each side of every issue wants the other side to take the blame, especially at election time.

Since the era of Watergate, at least, the Republicans have spent so much time trying to win the next elections, that they don't have time to accomplish anything worthwhile.  But that doesn't leave the Democrats free of responsibility for the gridlock.  Currently neither party, as well as Libertarians and Tea Partiers, has the vaguest idea how to work together to get things done.  They have no team ethic.  Everyone acts like the player who wants to hog the ball so that he can become the best known team member.  At the risk of being redundant, they all act like preschoolers who still need to learn socialization skills.  At the risk of being redundant twice, I would suggest that both parties concentrate on putting more Americans back to work instead of obstructing each other's efforts. 

Let us think about what job growth would accomplish besides the obvious desired effect.  Take Social Security, for instance.  If there were plenty of jobs for everyone who needed work, there would be much more revenue for Social Security.  With this abundance of jobs would be more individuals buying their own insurance.  More people could afford to buy their own food.

Thus, as you can surmise, working Americans would mean less individuals on Medicaid.  Also there would be less people qualifying for food stamps.  There would be more people off the streets into work rooms, thus ending with less crime.  Less crime would mean less tax payer expense for jails and prisons.  On top of this, the Stock Market would be less volatile. 

But, after the first few efforts to save the banks and car companies, as well as create a handful of specialized jobs, how much effort has Congress made to put America back to work?  Mostly they have quibbled about not taxing the rich and corporations so they will create jobs that they seem reluctant to create anyway.  Some of the business owners say the behavior of Congress makes them fear the risk.

Well, Tea Partiers, you've now upset the other Republicans in Congress.  You've put more Americans out of work at least temporarily.  You've cut income to Social Security -- again.  You've cut incoming taxes, not only from government employees, but also from the businesses where said money could be spent.  Depending on how long you continue this ill-advised strategy, you could cause more foreclosures and individual bankruptcies.  And for what?  To rebel against a law that has passed Congress, been signed by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court.

No matter how long and hard you continue to writhe on the floor, kicking and screaming like preschoolers throwing tantrums, the law is in effect.

True, the law is seen as somewhat unpopular.  But if it were as unpopular as you say it is, the President would not have been reelected and Democrats would not hold the majority in the Senate.

You say your constituents don't like the law.  How many of them?  Actually figure out the percentage of your voters who showed up at your town meetings to protest.  Then remember that it is the disgruntled element of any issue that goes to meetings.  Did a majority of your constituents actually attend?  Be honest with yourselves about these issues.

You've certainly made names for yourselves with your efforts.  Trouble is, we won't know until the next elections if these names are good or bad.  What you mostly have done is tick off all members of all parties with both sides laying blame at each other's doors and accomplishing absolutely nothing worthwhile.

Majority rule brought about legislation that many Americans have wanted since around 1945.  If you do not accept it, it is a sign you do not believe in the American system of government.  It is the law and it has been enacted now.  Change scares people, but the law may turn out to be at least acceptable if not a blessing.  We already know it is a blessing for people who have been unable to get insurance because the insurance companies wanted to protect their profit margins (wanted to rake in the bucks, without having to spend any of them).

The Senate and the President have called your bluff.  This represents a further loss for those of you who prefer minority rule in cases where you disagree with the majority.  In pure slang language, it's a done deal now.  It's the law.  Get over it.  Get on to something constructive.  Put obstructionism behind you and put Americans back to work.