Posted tagged ‘center’

Where Is The Center In Troubled Times?

January 18, 2017

When George W Bush was elected in 2000, Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative”. What could be better, a mix of pragmatism and concern for others? The wealthy smiled as the Bush Administration made a case for two tax cuts. The evangelical community smiled when government policy turned upon science severely limiting stem cell research and linking foreign aid to impoverished countries’ family planning methods.

And the gates were opened for the neoconservative movement, blindly supporting Israel and simultaneously destabilizing the Arab world. Along came the Patriot Act, secret subpoenas, and Justice Department sanctioned torture.  Hmmm. That America’s part of the world tilted strongly to the right and away from the center would be an understatement.

Barack Obama brought into power countervailing tendencies. Science was again respected as evidenced by renewed concerns about global warming, use of data in forming public policy, and research into solar and wind technology. The Obama Administration pointedly worked to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to close the dark spot on America’s image, the Guantanamo Detention Facility. And, most remarkably, the Obama Administration attempted to bring US healthcare into the realm of other world class, modern industrial countries by passing the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican Party, lead by the Tea Party/Freedom Coalition howled in horror about the reckless race to the left. It was not, however, clear that President Obama was guiding America towards the “center” until Bernie Sanders’s campaign revealed much more progressive goals. For many conservatives, however, President Obama’s policies represented socialism, if not outright communism.  To highlight this, the Republican Party’s complete rejection of Merritt Garland’s Supreme Court nomination underscores GOP rejection of centrist governance.

As the Trump Administration readies itself to take office, the Republican controlled Congress appears like the cat ready to eat the canary. The Republican Congress can’t wait to take the country back and “back” will be well to the right of center.

The unknown, strangely is President-elect Trump. Will he focus upon the ideological right or what ever is needed to stimulate economic growth? Will President Trump trade support for right wing ideas in return for support of his growth initiatives? Or, even worse as some conservatives worry, would a President Trump simply be a Democrat in Republican clothing?

“Regaining The Center” may appear a desirable goal, especially in comparison to the conservative hinterlands Republicans boast as the fruits of taking America back. The GOP possesses enough votes in Congress that Republican initiatives can carry the day. “Regaining the Center” may serve the reader well by putting GOP policies in context as a public reminder that Republicans seek benefits for their wealthiest members, at the expense of the average person.  If there are benefits, these pluses flow incidental to their main purpose.

For now, the GOP and the Trump Administration can do pretty much what they wish. In two years and again in four, voters get to assess Republican stewardship.  As with George W Bush’s Administration whose results were mixed but on the big issues, failures, “Regaining the Center” may sound prophetic.  The center may soon appear much less unsettling for independents to shift left of the Trump Administration without doing a full Bernie Sanders.

 

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“O” Is The Center

November 6, 2012

Today the Country votes.  Unless there is a tie or legal high jinx keep the final decision up in the air for weeks or months to come, talk show hosts and their habitual guests will be out of mindless things to say.  Oh (pun), it will be wonderful to once again know there is more in the world than two campaigns.

For those who prefer centrist leadership, there is a clear choice.  Consider these points

Deficit/Debt.  There are two big considerations facing any President trying trying to restore fiscal soundness to the US.  (1) The appearance of fairness will enable whatever the plan may be to become broadly acceptable.  This means tax cuts favoring the already wealth, increases in defense spending, and singular focus on entitlements as the route to spending decreases are poor choices.  (2) The rate of change and consistency of purpose will make or break any deficit reduction plan.  A too rapid deficit reduction will surely stall the economy and too slow an implementation will result in backwards motion as new deficits pile onto the debt.  Which candidate has proposed tax cuts and ending social security and Medicare?

Health Care.  The Affordable Care Act is hardly a perfect piece of legislation.  It is noble in that it provides a path to insurance for millions previously denied coverage.  But its attack upon costs and reliance upon employers dooms the ACA to a marginal status.  Is the right path to return to the time that pre-existing conditions ruled the way?  Is it fair for some to game the system and enter the insurance pool only when they are likely to require costly medical care (and then have this cost past onto other Americans)?  The US may be years away from realizing just how foolish out current health care delivery system really is.  Regardless, the “you’re on your own” approach seems hardly in the center.

Economic growth.  The US economy was on steroids in the years leading up to the 2007 crash.  An unrestrained housing bubble fueled a vast number of jobs.  Overshadowing housing was the financial sector where every street corner had a commercial bank.  Stealthy behind these banks which were offering fantastic saving programs and easy to get loans (got a heart beat, here’s some money), were extremely questionable ethics.  The financial sector seemed oblivious to any ethical violations when they repackaged subprime mortgages into fancy mortgage back securities and derivatives.  But financial institutions were not content with that.  These blue suiters would even bet against the instruments they were selling to investors while knowing that they could not cover losses if something went wrong with those securities or derivatives.  Who wants less regulations?  Who wants to free businesses to operate as they think best?

Individual freedoms.  This is a catch all for immigration reform, women’s rights, full recognition of gays and lesbians, and religious freedom.  Who will appoint Supreme Court Justices who favor over turning past Supreme Court decisions?  Who has said he would repeal legislation on equal pay?  Who favors taking away the benefits of marriage from homosexuals?  And who would enable religions under the flag of “religious freedom” to impose their religious views on others?

There is no one deciding factor in this election.  For sure many will cast their vote for Mitt Romney because they believe his policies will create jobs and in turn help them.  Others may vote for Mitt because they stand on the right side of individual freedoms.  And for still others, the lessons of history are lost.

There is no way to know with certainty whether Barack Obama will be successful if granted a second term.  The same is true for a Mitt Romney Presidency.  Events unknown at this time usually make or break a presidency.

What is unmistakable is that “O” lies closer to the center “R”.

Where Is The Center In 2012?

October 11, 2012

With about 4 weeks to go, the 2012 Presidential race is again neck and neck.  From what was once seen as a comfortable lead, President Obama has fallen back to a virtual tie.  Why?  What does it mean?

The fingers point to last week’s Presidential debate when Mitt Romney showed an assertiveness coupled with a complete denial of facts and a wholesale change in positions he had held since be began running for President.  No one, however, seemed to pay attention to whether what he said was accurate.  Instead voters seemed to conclude Romney was a viable alternative to someone they were only lukewarm about.

President Obama had built his lead by getting voters to worry about Romney’s far right of center views and what they could mean to the average American.  With Romney appearing to speak as if he had never said anything so conservative in the past, voters seemed only to see an energetic candidate spouting a relatively reasonable positions.  President Obama failed to call Romney on any of his flip flops and Romney scored an impressive win among undecided voters.

Interestingly nothing has really changed.  Neither candidate has outlined steps to reduce the deficit and balance the budget.  Neither candidate has addressed the US health care crisis, its out of control cost.  Neither candidate has proposed any believable quick fix to unemployment and the weak economy.  And on issues such as immigration, women’s rights, and recognition of gays and lesbians, both candidates have skirted direct discussion of these social values issues.

The President has said he will protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  He has, however, not described how he would pay for them.  Without funding, these programs are on a path for bankruptcy.

Mitt Romney has hinted that he would use vouchers and block grants to States to deal with these entitlements.  He has also maintained that his plan will look after older and poorer citizens while at the same time reducing taxes.  It is difficult to know what that means in practice and why these programs won’t go bankrupt under Romney’s watch.

With respect to the Affordable Care Act, Romney says he will keep the good parts (which voters like), and replace the rest of ACA with something else (undefined).  What seems to be the likely outcome is that Romney’s health care will be fine if you have or can afford insurance, but very problematic for those unemployed, without insurance, and a disaster waiting to happen if someone has a “pre-existing” condition.

Foreign policy is another quandary.  Romney says he will increase the Defense Department budget (while lowering taxes and reducing the deficit) and will put the US back into a world leadership position “shaping” world events, not reacting to them.  These are bold statements which seem incongruent.

What is most worrisome about Romney’s statements is the possibility he will resort to neoconservative foreign policy advisors as did former President George W Bush.  While there is no guaranty that President Obama’s foreign policy will serve the US well in the next four years, it should be clear that a return to “W” world views is not in America’s best interest.

So again, where is the center?

I would propose that both candidates are homing in on the center.  I would further say that if Romney’s first debate statements represent what he will really do, he will not be far from the center.  I also think that President Obama is already at the center and political realities will keep him there if he is reelected.

Voters must decide who is the real Mitt Romney?  Is he the “severely conservative” candidate he said he was, or is he the far more compassionate Mitt Romney of the first debate?

The potentisl Achilles Heal of the GOP campaign is the logical inconsistencies associated not increasing taxes (let alone proposing to reduce them).  There is no math that lowers taxes, protects those retired or poverty bound, maintains national strength, and balanced the budget.  In soccer, Romney would be about to receive his second “yellow card”.

The problems facing the US are not easy ones, nor are they ones which the Obama Administration have caused.  Romney without his no tax pledge and promise of no action on social issues probably is as good a choice as another four years with President Obama.  The suspicion, however, is that Romney is serious about lower taxes, increasing Defense spending, and will support social values driven legislations unfavorable to women’s rights, immigrants, and recognition of gays and lesbians.

In this light, Romney is too far right and not a centrist.

 

 

Making A Party Look Bad

January 20, 2012

Long time believers in the GOP must be scratching their heads.  Who should be their Presidential candidate? Loosey, goosey, Newt?  Or, tight pants Mitt?  Or, sanctimonious Rick Santorum, Or, I just forgot Rick Perry, Or the only honest broker Ron Paul?

Paul is a life long libertarian.  He consistently voices these principles which excite some and scare others.  Lower taxes brings cheers from social conservatives but keeping government out of the private lives of citizens does not meet their needs.  Paul’s foreign policy views simply are not compressible into a 15 second sound bite.  Avoiding foreign entanglements, however, is not a brand new philosophy.

Rick Perry is simply a sad case.  He is like a deer caught in the head lights.  His candidacy in hind sight should never have happened.  He had power in the sense that others thought he had great ability.  Once however, he entered the race, his real capabilities became clear.  His power melted. (On Thursday, Perry finally mustered the strength and withdrew from the race.)

Sanctimonious Rick has done much better than most would have predicted.  However, even with this performance, Santorum is a one issue candidate and that one issue will not solve any of the problems facing America.

For most of this campaign, Romney maintained the image of a steady, sound, and right of center candidate.  Mitt maintained he was wide right of center but others disagreed.  As with the other candidates (except Ron Paul), Mitt’s problem is when he goes off script.  All the memorable sound bites we hear from the candidates (except Paul) are well crafted by some alter ego.  Mitt now has stumbled into how much tax he pays and possibly more revealing, how much (like as in any) has he paid in past years?

Like always, as long as Romney has met the tax code requirements, even if that is a very low number, it should be ok.  What should, however, occur to people is “one more time, tell me why job creators should not pay higher taxes”?  His electability disease is called hypocrisy.

Loosey. goosey, Newt Gingrich has created a lot of fun and excitement.  He also has made it crystal clear what a risk he represents if he were somehow to become President.  His decision to use “code words” to energize certain voter segments in poorly vailed  hateful rhetoric, is not what Presidents are made of.  “Food stamp President” seeks to overlook our weak economy impact upon minorities, and blame the increase in food stamps to mainly lazy African Americans.  In fact current law can account for the increase in food stamp recipients due to the current recession.  Oh, and African Americans represent much less than half.  For Gingrich, provocative sounding words are better than accuracy.

In his last debate, however, a new card was played against Gingrich.  His former wife told reporters that Newt asked her to accept him remaining married to her and for him to keep a mistress.  He said, she said?  Maybe, but this type of behavior might fly in France, but I doubt it will in the bible belt.

Who’s the best of this litter?  It still looks like the tight pants kid.   But, he will emerge damaged even if the primary process ends today.

The center and the left are not very happy with President Obama, and were their a viable alternative might cast their votes there.  With these choices, what a dilemma!

The “Center” of Healthcare

September 4, 2011

The world of political pundits swings from hard right to liberal left over what to do about the economy and the deficit.  Those who recommend increased government spending as either a crutch, or hopefully a boost to jobs creation run smack into the ballooning debt.  Those who cry out for steep government expenditures reductions are in fact asking for a further contraction in economic activity and most likely increased unemployment.  What are they missing?

Like in all difficult or complex problems, “silver bullet” solutions are hard to find.  Far more helpful are steps that break an overall problem into smaller pieces.  Once a large problem is divided, finding solutions to the smaller pieces is often possible.

Pundits usually point to Medicare and Medicaid as prime territory for deficit reduction.  These public spending programs are projected to increase the deficit in ever increasing amounts over the foreseeable future.  Surely, these programs must be cut and recipients must pick up more of the cost, many say.

Is that the solution and if so to what problem?

Assume for a moment, the US does alter the benefits found today in Medicare and Medicaid, and does so in a way that recipients must pay more.  What would be the likely out come?

If we look to the overall US healthcare cost, we would see that the overall cost, on a per capita basis, would far exceed any other industrialized country in the world. (http://www.kff.org/insurance/snapshot/OECD042111.cfm)  One would see that the US spends about $7500 per capita versus an OECD average of about $4000.  The US spends almost twice as much as other countries.

In addition, one would find that even from this high base, yearly US per capita healthcare expenditures are rising 2-3 times the rate of inflation.  So is the problem really Medicare and Medicaid?

The data shows that the public portion of healthcare spending is actually about the same as the average of the rest of the OECD countries.  That means that of the total US health care expenditure of 16% of GDP, 7.4% is public health care expenditures.  This points the high cost finger clearly at the private health care sector of US health care.

So back to our left and right solutions.  Clearly simply cutting Medicare and Medicaid expenditures will only transfer the real problem.  Increasing the amount of payroll taxes, even if justified, will not treat the cost sources.

I would hope that a centrist, seeing this data, would conclude the US must attack the overall causes of disproportionally higher health care costs prior to, or at least in combination with, any attempts to make Medicare and Medicaid fiscally sound.  Am I dreaming?

Real Reform

July 27, 2011

Most polls are registering a very disturbing but unfortunately understandable trend.  Congress, the polls say, is totally dysfunctional and the two major political parties are viewed as almost worthless.  How can America extract itself from this quandary?

Some say there is simply too much ideology in politics.  We need our representatives to be more pragmatic.  Others say our politicians do not consider logic or hard data.  They need to be more fact based.  Others say, well the problem is related to the cost of campaigning.  We need to reduce the cost of elections.

While I think all of these are factors, I think we are overlooking the lure and the corrosive effect that results when each elected official seeks to improve their financial worth while in office.

It is hard to fault anyone who wants to improve their personal financial position but when the means to do so runs clearly head on into ethical behavior there is a problem.

Do you think your congress member can pass these basic ethical questions?

1. Does your Congressional member still have financial connections (even if active participation has been suspended) with any private firms, especially former employers… The objective is to insulate the Congress member from any potential gain for steering business to one of these firms, or from being influenced because someone else tries to steer business to his/her old firm.

2. Does your Congress person still trade in stocks and securities?  Ethically, all securities holdings (at the time of election) should be put in a blind trust, AND, the congress member should recuse themselves in all matters that could impact companies in which they holds stock. Congress members and their immediate families should not  invest in any private or public stock while in office.  It would be acceptable to invest in widely available indexed mutual funds…  The objective is to shield congress member from decisions that favor certain industries and would in turn benefit the Congress person.

3. Does your Congress member receive Honorariums (money to give speeches or attend special meetings)?   The best situation may be to receive none, but a limit of $500 per speaking engagement would be acceptable… Speaking at golf tournament dinners, or on a cruise, or at a vacation spot is also unacceptable unless the Congress person pays for their own entry fee.  The objective again is to avoid receiving goods and services which are not available to everyone else, and represent a gift to the Congress person.  The implication being that gifts beg a returned favor.

4. Has members of your Congress person’s family (mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister)
received special benefits such as employment, contracts, or special favors from businesses or special interests doing or seeking to do business with the Federal Government?  In addition, the family member’s employers should not contribute to the Congress member’s campaign unless the relative has had already 5 years work experience with that firm…. Objective is to reduce the chance that the Congress member receives directly or indirectly favors (through employment of a relative)…

5 Does your Congress member follow a basic ethical standard?  Examples are refusing to accept lunches, dinners, airplane transportation (private or commercial), vacations, conventions entrance fees, gifts (greater than $25.00), or any other item of value… Objective… simply remove temptation.

6. Would your Congress member agree to a Five Year Limit on joining any firm which does business with the Federal Government following his/her government service?   This is designed to prevent the “revolving door” syndrome… Congress members can do many favors for outside firms and interests, and then collect with high paying jobs later.

These six guidelines do not assure good government.  They do assure, however, that if government still fails to perform, the cause rests squarely upon the elected officials or the party to which they belong.

What Is Really Behind The Debt Ceiling Confrontation?

July 16, 2011

The spectacle playing before American eyes is truly hard to fathom.  Republicans demand large spending cuts before agreeing to debt ceiling increases.  Democrats agree but insist upon new tax revenues too.  Republicans say no.  Democrats propose smaller cuts and no taxes increase, and yes, Republicans say no.  What are our politicians thinking?

You are struck by the notion these politicians are more interested in something else and not a solution.

With 40 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government coming from borrowed money, we are talking serious cuts to balance the budget.  Economists warn, on top of this, that withdrawing this much spending from an already weak economy could lead to a severe recession or depression.

First, a little math.  Today’s federal budget is roughly 20% ($700 billion) defense and security, 20% ($700 billion) social security, 20% ($700 billion) medicare/medicaid, and 14% ($500 billion) social safety net, and 6% ($200 billion) interest on debt.  That adds to 80% of the total budget.  Of the remaining 20%, 7% ($250 billion) covers payments for Federal and Veterans retirees’ benefits.  This leaves 13% for all the rest.

On the tax revenue side, about 40% ($840 billion) comes from individual income taxes and another 40% ($840 billion) comes from payroll taxes.

So by simple inspection, one would think that individual income taxes barely covers defense spending and payroll taxes are considerably below the $1.4 trillion social insurance and retirement segments.  So why do our leaders not divide the problem into two pieces?

Lets look at what is happening with these social insurance and retirement costs.

There is a demographic piece related to the aging of the population.  The older population is “out living” the amount that has been collected.  But there is another piece to this puzzle.

Health care costs (the drivers for Medicare and Medicaid) are the highest in the world (per capita), and are increasing each year at 2-3 times the rate of inflation.  In other words, raising payroll taxes (or transferring costs from Medicare/Medicaid to recipients)would only be a temporary fix if it were at all politically feasible.  Unless the overall US health care delivery system cost is addressed, there are no good solutions.

So why do politicians not discuss the budget in this detail?  Why do they hide these figures from public discussion?

The simplest answer is they see themselves in a do or die battle for their political lives.  Each side is caught in their own webs of deceit.  Taxes must increase and cuts in spending must be across the board and done fairly to all constituents.  Raising taxes and not cutting spending enough is as indefensible as saying “no tax increases, just spending cuts”.

For sure, egos play a role.  But I doubt that can account for this dismal Washington behavior.  I think the pocketbook plays a bigger role.  I think you have to look where the Federal spending ultimately goes and where any additional tax revenue would be derived.  These special interests have co-opted our Congressional members.

Until our Congress members are freed from the pecuniary enticements, there will be little hope of reining in the budget.  If the Center wants to lead, they must find a way to renounce special interest moneys.