Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Election 2012, final thoughts

In my last post I mentioned my disappointment in the decrease in votes cast in the 2012 presidential election as compared to 2008.  Much was made on the Republican side by those who pointed to nominee Romney receiving about 3 million votes less than McCain in 2008, but I didn't see much talk concerning the drop of almost three times that number for President Obama as compared to 2008.  Clearly neither candidate was able to excite his base enough to prevent this drop in cast votes.

Or was it the huge sums of money spent on negative ads. 

I saw an interesting talk show which asked the question, did the billionaires get took?  In other words, were all those extremely wealthy people who shelled out millions of dollars for Romney, ripped off?  The panelists seemed to start from the position that BIG money was a BIG loser in this election cycle, and that all those super PACS threw their monies into bottomless pits.  Personally, I would eagerly like to think that was true, and that this type of free spending will not occur in subsequent elections.  However, what if the constant barrage of negative ads did effect the election, not in terms of the outcome, but in terms of keeping people at home last Tuesday.  Perhaps all that money convinced millions of would be voters that the choice between the lesser of two evils as described by all those nasty ads, wasn't worth the effort.  Perhaps BIG money won, and democracy, individual involvement in our political system,  choosing the best man for the job (as opposed to the least horrible), and in the end, the American electorate, were the losers.  Even worse, one panelist reminded the rest that this was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court ruling regarding Citizens United, and that the various super PACS on both sides will learn from their mistakes and do a better job of targeting their ad content to the appropriate audience.  UGH!!

The good news, in addition to the possible interpretation that BIG money was a loser in this election, my above comments not withstanding, is that freedom was a winner last week.

What, you say?  Americans have more freedom today than they did before the election?  Well, if you live in one of the three states that legalized gay marriage, you now have the freedom to marry whom you choose.  For those of you who truly believe that being married is an important factor in one's pursuit of happiness, then granting this right to the gay community in those specific states, by popular vote, is an amazing achievement.  And, when the people of another half dozen states do the same in the next four to six years, many will look back upon this election as an important milestone in the ongoing battle to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to true freedom in America.  If I were inclined to make a prediction, I would expect that same gender marriage will be legal in a majority of states by the year 2024.

Another interesting freedom issue was the legalization of marijuana posssession (under an ounce, I believe) in two states, again by popular vote.  While this movement has far less momentum than the battle to legalize gay marriage, it is a personal freedom issue nonetheless.  While I expect a much slower process as compared to the gay marriage issue, I can see another ten states following Colorado and Washington in the next decade.

It is kind of surreal to think that so many opponents of President Obama in specific, and the liberal viewpoint in general, believe their opposition is representative of the movement to preserve freedom in America.  I especially see it in the gun rights advocates who are already, just one week after the election, breaking out the same tired old, false stories about how the president is going to take away "our" guns.  I generally do not engage in debate on this issue unless I know the person more than as just an aquaintence as some, not all or most, but some, are extremely intense about their right to own guns.  But to those who repeat the oft stated response to gun control, "they can have my gun when they take it from my cold, dead fingers" I ask the following question.  Who exactly, are you expecting to take your guns from you?  The local police?  Your state's national guard?  The army?  I guess my point is, for those who believe they will be shooting at and fighting the "bad" guys, you might want to remember that those bad guys will be the cop who lives down the street, the guy at work who goes away a few times a year for Guard service, your neighbors' kid, or your child's friends who enlist in the military.  We the people, remember?  I often wonder if they think it will be a mob of zombies that comes for their guns so that shooting them won't be any big deal.

I also see it in the religion based freedom lovers who are all about denying the freedom of those who do not believe in their religion or their god.  Again, it is not all or most of them.  But the minority is vocal and has some powerful allies, both in terms of money and clout.  Abortion and other forms of birth control are against your religion?  Wonderful.  Be true to your beliefs.  Don't engage in these activities.  But to insist that I follow the same rules, violates the very principle you advocate.  My freedom to choose might result in a decision different from yours; that is what makes freedom so beautiful, and so complicated.

Finally, with all this talk of freedom, it is incredibly important that we remember that the more freedom we attain, the more responsibility we incur.  Frankly, I am not nearly as worried about how much freedom we have as I do about how much responsibility we are taking to preserve, protect and respect that freedom.  As mentioned above, we voted in lower percentages this presidential election cycle than last.  While I would like to see a much longer period to vote, say a full weekend, it is still a sad commentary that so many American adults pissed on their freedom to vote last week. 

Your right to do as you please, only extends to the point where it infringes on the right of your neighbor to do the same.  Your responsibility is to protect and preserve both the freedoms and rights that you seek and cherish as well as those freedoms and rights that differ from your own.  


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election 2012

Congratulations President Obama on your re-election, congratulations Mitt Romney on your hard fought campaign, and congratulations America for making your voice heard. 

Personally, I had reached my breaking point during this ever so long lead-up to the election.  Too many negative commercials, too much truth bending, too many outright falsehoods.  But I must confess that I watched the returns until after 1:00 AM despite dozing off a few times, because this was an important day for America.  Now, I won't go so far as to say that it was the most important election in our history.  I think that this kind of talk reflects more on our self-importance than historical reality.  But certainly any and all presidential elections are critical, and matter immensely for both short and long term reasons.  After all, this was only the 57th in our history.  While I didn't stay awake long enough to hear the Romney concession or Obama re-election speeches, I read them before composing this post.  Let's hope, in both cases, their actions in the next four years match the sincerity and patriotism reflected in their words.

Now comes the hard part.  But first, I must say that I am a bit disappointed in the overall turnout. Over 130 million ballots were cast in the 2008 presidential election while we will just surpass 120 million for this one.  And while I am sure that there were some transfers of power from one party to another in various state houses and governor mansions, overall we see the same situation at the federal level that we had after the 2010 election: a Democrat in the White House, a Republican controlled house of representatives, and a Democratic controlled Senate.  For all the talk about the lowest approval ratings in history for Congress, there was very little change.  One could almost say that we wasted, literally, hundreds of millions of dollars on this election only to find a very similar playing field. 

Anyway, the hard part.

Clearly, America is split in our opinions on the big issues and problems that we face.  While there was clearly no mandate for Obama to continue his agenda, there was also no clear rejection of that agenda. During much of the first Obama Administration, the word "polarized" was used extensively to describe both the members of Congress and the electorate itself.  Compromise became a dirty word, used to denigrate those who would negotiate with the other side.  Or worse, described as unpatriotic, evil, socialist, anti-American, etc, etc.  We all know that an all-or- nothing approach to any relationship, whether it be between spouses, children, neighbors or friends, is not only unhealthy but unproductive, yet we tolerate it in our political world.

It is time for that to end.  And it is up to each of us to make it clear that we will accept compromise on each side, sacrifice for all citizens, as long as these compromises are enacted fairly, above board, and with reasonable explanation on the whys and hows.  Adult decisions driven by adult conversation.


Roe vs Wade was the compromise created 40 years ago to respect the right of women to control their bodies without government interference.  Life began at birth at which point the rights of citizenship and the protections of our government to defend those rights kicked in.  It was not a perfect decision because, clearly, there is life in the womb of a woman.  But that life includes everything from a microscopic blob of cells to a full term baby.  The compromise, for better or worse, was to give a woman and her doctor the freedom to end the pregnancy.  For those who consider abortion murder, it was left to them to choose to not exercise their choice as granted by this ruling, and, while abortion was now legal in America, it was not legal for federal money to be used to fund abortions.  I respect those who are against abortion, would like to think that regardless of the situation, I might choose not to abort a child if it were my decision, but also understand that an abortion is sometimes the best choice in certain situations and I do not want my government to interfere in that decision.  My hope then is that those who have worked to make abortion illegal will join those who work just as hard to educate our young to abstain from sex as long as they can, use proper contraception if they are having sex, and provide the emotional and financial support for those who choose to abort, or to choose adoption.


America was built on the backs of the various waves of immigrants that have come to our shores in our history.  Each time, there were greeted with disdain and fear by those already ensconced in the American dream.  Yet each time, there contributions added to the advancement of America and fabric of our culture.  One might say we are the Heinz 57 country.  Amazingly, some of the most vocal of the current anti-immigration crowd are only two or three generations removed from their immigrant ancestors.   The first compromise we need to enact is the Dream Act.  Allow the children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship as detailed in this act.  But also, require those who wish to live in our great country to contribute, not just take, and deport those who commit crimes on our soil.  Finally, let's take a hard look at our immigration quotas and the process for legal immigration.  Are we encouraging illegal entry because the process is cumbersome, and the quota unrealistic?  And, let's not forget that many illegals easily find jobs with employers more interested in their profit than paying living wages, not to mention taxes.  We need enforcement of laws against hiring undocumented workers to have some teeth as well.

The Deficit

At the end of the day, the deficit will never be addressed as long as special interest groups are able to wield their financial powers to gain access to the our political system.  Everyone says the tax code is too complicated, but as soon as a proposal to eliminate a specific deduction is proposed, the special interest group which originally helped create that deduction goes into motion.  Also, the fact is, we pay less taxes than virtually all other western nations.  We will all need to make a choice; either pay a bit more in taxes, or expect less government services. 

The first compromise is to actually pass a budget.  The budget will include the understanding that spending will revert back to 2010 levels.  No exceptions.  Any additional spending will need approval by both houses and a presidential signature.  This alone will not create a balanced budget.  More revenues must be found.  Ending the Bush tax cuts for those making above $250,000 is the first step.  Creating means tests for certain tax deductions is another.  For instance, we can maintain the home mortgage deduction but limit it to one residence only.  Also, there should be basement tax levels for each income level.  For instance, those making $5 million MUST pay a minimum of 15% tax.  They can use deductions to get down to that percent, but not below it.  Conversely, those paying no federal tax cannot additionally get a refund.  Or, the refund can be no larger than what has been already paid through payroll deductions.   Even then, we will still have a yearly deficit.  We will need to continue to raise the debt ceiling.  But the national debt will increase more slowly until the economy improves sufficiently that payroll taxes for the newly hired plus a reduced requirement for assistance brings the budget more in balance.  And the American people will see that some serious decisions can be made when necessary.   


It is obvious that the future of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid is dependent on a compromise similar to the one made in the 1980's under President Reagan.  We are living longer, so must adjust the age when full benefits are realized.  Currently, I must wait until I am a bit over 66 as opposed to those who currently attain full benefits at 65.  Conversely, we may need to push the age into the low 70's for those born in the 1990's.  And, again, a means test must be established for receipt of benefits.  Someone earning millions of dollars a year doesn't need social security benefits.  If we want to give them an option to use that benefit as a tax deduction, so be it, but people of this income bracket do not need a monthly SS check.  Also, it is time to raise the ceiling at which income is taxed for social security.  I believe it is in the low $100's.  Let's raise it to $120,000 with an increase of $3,000 each year for the next 5 years, then an increase every year based on the increase in the cost of living.   Finally, and most importantly, each of us needs to remember that the idea of social security was for it to be a safety net, to keep our elderly from living in the streets or eating dog food.  We each must take responsibility for a plan to be financially secure in the years when we are not working.  Whether it is by having a large sum of money from selling one's home or business, or dutifully contributing to an IRA or some such retirement vehicle, we need to take responsibility for ourselves and leave the safety net to those who encounter unexpected life events.

Income Disparity

Not everyone sees this as a problem, which is part of the problem.  (See also Climate Change).  But, for all of us to begin taking responsibility for our financial futures, we need to have a living wage while we are working, and a method to save/invest some money for the future.  When a company outlays 30, 40, 50% of its labor cost to 3,5, 10% of its employees, then the remaining employees suffer.  Which means the community suffers as the families living there have less to spend.  I do not begrudge the movers and shakers of the world financial prosperity and wealth.  But when you are paid $10 million a year yet fight government regulations that require you to pay your entry level employees $8 an hour, you are part of the problem.  And, when your company earns billions of dollars a year in profits, yet purposefully limits its employees to part time hours thereby eliminating its need to provide health benefits, your company is part of the problem.  The middle class needs to be strong to create demand for the goods and services that our businesses make and provide.  Income disparity drains wealth from the middle class, thereby reducing demand for products and services thereby continuing the slow economic recovery.  Short of a government regulation requiring a company to pay its top wage earners no more than 50 times the salary of its bottom wage earners, I would appeal to those at the top to share a bit more, accumulate a bit less.  And remember, if the middle class does not have the means to save for retirement while still purchasing goods and services so our businesses can hire, etc, then something will have to give.  A growing income disparity sets the stage for either a continued slow growth economy, or a generation of Americans with no savings for retirement, which means even more dependence on entitlement programs.

Health Care    

This was the catalyst to the Obama as socialist viewpoint that engulfed a portion of the American population.  I feel confident when I say that most people accept the fact that everyone should have access to health care services.  The question seems to be, should everyone pay, even those who aren't sick?  I am of the opinion that if you are lucky enough to live your life without serious illness for you or someone in your family, you should happily accept the fact that you wasted your money on insurance.  Put it this way.  If you were told that if you paid a few thousand dollars a year and you and your loved ones would never get sick, wouldn't you take the deal?  I am no fan of the insurance industry, especially the health insurance industry.  But if we accept that we need them to insure that we won't go bankrupt should we get sick, then it seems an easy step to require everyone to participate in the cost of health care insurance.  The Affordable Care Act is not government run.  It is market based, private insurer dominated system that requires mandatory participation so that everyone has "skin" in the process.  We need to stop talk of repeal and replace, and begin the adult conversation of how to make sure Americans of low and middle class income can purchase affordable health care insurance, how employers should participate in this system, and how we can convince/require health insurance companies to derive health insurance premiums for all Americans via one all-encompassing pool. 

That said, if the compromise is that the federal government requires each state to establish its own mandatory system, in which each state offers a varying level of insurance coverage through those private health insurers who choose to participate, then so be it. 

Climate Change
Again, we can't address the issue unless we accept it is a problem.  For those awaiting 100% scientific evidence, backed by every single scientist on earth, I offer this scenario.  You are the president of the United States and in conference with your cabinet.  You must make a decision, a very important one, and you must act in a few days.  After hours of discussion, it comes down to nine out of ten cabinet members supporting one choice, and one supporting the other.  Do you wait for ten out of ten?  Or do you go with the nine, knowing that you picked those people precisely to advise you in these difficult situations? 

Scientific evidence is overwhelming, not unanimous, that climate change is occurring.  It is clear that the continued melting of glacial ice will increase the absorption of the sun's rays on earth, thereby raising the earth's temperature, reducing even more ice cover, etc.  If we make a calculated, thought out decision to accept that we can't change quick enough to slow down global warming, and will just have to pay as we go, then at least we will have made a choice.  But to continue to deny the obvious, sets us up for huge future expenditures that we can't afford (see Deficit above) and, eliminated the chance we have to direct our formidable scientific and technological prowess towards solving this important problem.  Perhaps this sounds biased, but is amazes me how people who beleive they are so patriotic and loving of America, seem so willing to throw up their hands and say, sorry, global warming is just too big a problem to solve.
Really, that is the extent of your faith in America and American know how?

The election is over, Obama won again.  This will not mark the end of democracy.  It will not mark the end of freedom.  It will not mark the end of racism.  If you voted for the president, be happy, but know that you will have to continue to show support for his policies to make them a reality, and will have to listen to voices on the other side as we craft the various compromises we will need to solve our issues.  If you voted for Romney, accept that your candidate lost, get over it, and understand that you can either engage in the dialogue that will help create the various compromises we will need to solve our issues, or you can do nothing to advance the discussions.  I truly hope that you will not only choose engagement, but that you will make it clear to your elected representatives that you expect the same from them.