Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas

I am blessed today with an empty schedule and a stress free day.  No last minute gifts to buy or wrap, no insane traffic to navigate, no work at the liquor store.  Yes, I did deliver papers this morning but I returned a bit earlier than normal and slept until 9:30.  It was as if I had never left my bed at all.

I took advantage of this time to catch up on some newspaper reading and I opened a few days of mail.   I hope to read some more later and am looking forward to opening the book I received for Christmas and glancing through past editions of Smithsonian and National Geographic, both of which I am a few months behind on reading.

As for the big day itself, it was very nice.  Wonderful quality time with the family, delicious meals and a bit of excitement at gift opening time, even though the kids are far past the Santa stage.   I usually ask people what was the best gift they gave on Christmas as opposed to the best gift they received.  For me, I was very happy with the North Face coat that we gave my daughter.  Even thought she knew she was receiving one, the fact that she wore it the rest of the day indicates that she was pleased.  For my son, two T-shirts with sayings related to Nietzsche was his best gift from me.  He is talking about a minor in philosophy and has already taken a number of classes in that field, so the Tees were appropriate.  But the most appreciated gift was the Kindle that I gave to my wife.  She used it practically all day!!

Speaking of Christmas gifts, I see that our congressmen gave us an extension of the reduced payroll tax for two more months in 2012.  I imagine that it will be extended to the remainder of the year once they return from their winter break (any reason why they can't call it Christmas break, or at least holiday break??).  It is a shame that there needed to be such posturing and political gamesmanship around this vote.  Clearly, a little more money in the hands of working Americans can only be a good thing.  I will never understand the continued devotion of some everyday Americans for the GOP, especially the current version which seems even more in love with the idea that giving all the breaks and advantages to the rich will trickle down to the rest of us.  Some recent letters in the Inquirer included opinions from people who truly believed that the House Republicans wanted the one year tax reduction.  I guess they missed the vote that I detailed in my last blog in which those same representatives voted against the tax holiday because they couldn't stomach the idea of raising taxes on the super rich to pay for it.  Oh well, I promised to avoid political statements on this blog so...

To conclude, I was again extremely grateful and pleasantly surprised about the number of my newspaper clients who chose to send me a Christmas greeting.  For all the horrific stories that are reported these days about man's cruelty to each other, I still like to think that given the choice between good and bad, the vast majority of people choose to do good. 

Here's wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season.  Whether through personal acts of kindness or pay-it-forward types of organized giving or just by holding one's tongue rather than saying something ugly or hurtful, let us all try to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our everyday thoughts and deeds.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Voting Against Your Interests

Very chilly mornings this past week.  Upper teens and low 20's for my newspaper deliveries.  Stark contrast to last week's upper 50 degree mornings, during one of which I drove with my window down almost the entire route. 

Weekend papers are getting HEAVY, and I don't mean the news within.  I was able to include a holiday greeting to all my customers and have already received return greetings.  Nice!!

I have heard, and I have often repeated, the idea that when middle class Americans vote Republican they are voting against their interests.  By that I mean that they are supporting a party whose policies favor those in the upper income ranges.  The recent wrangling over extending the payroll tax reduction that has been in place this past year is a case in point.  Republicans have either voted against extension or have added other bills in conjunction with the extension that favor big business or big money.  This extension has provided approximately $1000 (based on a $50K income) in tax relief to each working individual.  It is an example of bottom up economics whereby more money in put into hands of everyday people who it is hoped will spend that money on goods and services thereby stimulating the economy or pay down debt.  Two positive goals, I would think.

So, if my premise is true that voting Republican votes against the interests of working folk, why do we do it?  After all, if all middle class Americans, those earning less that $150K per year were to vote Democratic then all Democrats would win with double digit percentages to spare!

(Please note here that I am not in favor of an all-Democratic party run government.  We need a variety of viewpoints represented in our political system because neither party nor economic philosophy has all the answers nor is always in the right.  What I am trying to distinguish is which party currently represents what I term middle class American interests).

As I have stated more than once, I believe the answer lies in our apathetic approach to our democracy in general and our elected officials in particular.  We can quote the latest stat on our favorite sports star, or describe in detail what the hottest starlet wore at last nights gala, but we don't have a clue as to how our congressmen and women are voting.  Sure, we can rely on them telling us that they always vote for family values and jobs and opportunity for all, but when the actual bills come to the floor, what do they really vote for and who do they really represent?

And, while I firmly place the burden on the electorate, you and me, it is also true that the politicians make it difficult to know what they are voting for.  They attach all kinds of riders and amendments to what should be straight forward bills which allow them to say they voted for or against something when it suits their needs.  And, sometimes they can vote for or against something even if the vote is not what they truly believe because they know that the bill won't pass and it allows them to save face when questioned.

Still, despite the games, it is our responsibility to hold our reps accountable.  But how?  For me, I look in the Local section of the Inquirer every week for a summary of the recent House and Senate votes.  This past week the paper listed two major votes in the House and three in the Senate and it detailed our local area's reps votes, local area defined as Pennsylvania and New Jersey for House votes, and PA, NJ and Delaware for Senate votes.  (I am sure there were others as well so with this tool I am limited to what the Inquirer has determined to be "major" votes). 

In the Republican controlled House, two bills were sent to the Senate.  One would bar any new EPA regulation of course-particle dust generated by farming and certain other activities in rural areas.  In other words, it bars the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating pollution.  This vote was along party lines; all area Republican voted for, all area Democrats but one voted against.  The second bill would empower either chamber of congress to kill any new major rules proposed by any federal agency.  Currently, new rules take effect unless congress votes to disapprove.  This new law would require Congress to approve any new rule and would even render the rule unlawful if the rule was tabled (not voted on) for 70 days.  In other words, no action would kill the new rule.  This vote was completely along party lines, Republicans for, Democrats against.

In the Democratic controlled Senate, four major votes.  If you didn't know, the Senate operates under rules which enable the minority party to block voting on a particular bill unless the majority party has 60 votes.  In other words, they vote to allow a vote and if there are less than 60 votes, there is no vote on the bill.  The first vote was an attempt to break the GOP blockage of a vote to confirm the nomination of the Obama selection to head the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.  The Republican party had been dead set against this new federal agency so despite the creation of the department in 2010, there has been no one appointed to head it.  (Elizabeth Warren was the first choice).  All area Democratic Senators wanted to advance the vote, the one local area Republican Senator was against. 

Vote two was a Democratic sponsored bill to extend the temporary lowering of the Social Security payroll tax.  Again, 60 votes were needed to pass, but only 50 were gained.  All area Democratic Senators for, one area Republican against. 

Vote three was a Republican sponsored bill to extend the payroll tax but it included other items that were not in the Democratic bill.  All area Democratic and the one are Republican Senatos against.

The last vote was to end the Republican filibuster against the nomination of a US Court of Appeals judge.  Again, 60 votes needed to advance a vote on the nomination but only 54 yes votes cast so no vote to vote on the nomination.  All area Democratic Senators for, one area Republican Senator against.

So, first, did you know that Senate bills need 60 votes to advance even though 51 is a majority?  Second, does it surprise you that so many votes are along party lines?  Third, do votes to reduce the EPA's ability to regulate pollution benefit everyday people or big business?  Fourth, do votes to temporarily reduce taxes from working class people benefit everyday people?  Fifth, do votes to block voting on nominations reflect your understanding of how Congress should work?  Sixth, do votes to block the nomination of the head of a federal department which will oversee Wall Street and the creators of financial services benefit everyday Americans or big monied interests?

Clearly, I have shown my hand in the above analysis of our area congressional votes.

What is your opinion of which party votes to benefit working class Americans?