My wife tolerates it, my friends suspect it, and my family
knows better than to ask, but I'm passionate about following politices
and current events. So this little blog is my outlet. I haven't spent
much time on it and I don't expect that anyone reads it, but if you're
here, then hello and welcome!
You'll find the occasional frustrated outburst, but for
the most part I'm trying to understand the divisions in
our country today and see a way past them. I believe that we — not
just Americans, but people all around the world — have mostly the
same goals, and it's often just our means of getting there that differ.
Now if only the politicians would focus on those commonalities, rather
than emphasizing the differences to score points....
Anyway, you should also know that I'm quite liberal and
I don't try to hide it. But as I muse on the issues, I've come to
define "liberal" as someone who believes that working cooperatively
with your fellow citizens is better than trying to get ahead of them,
and that bad things come more from bad situations than from inherently
So here we go....
all rights reserved.
You can also see my earlier blogs from the
2004 and 2008 elections.
The Debt Ceiling Debate
Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 7:30 pm
A normally quiet event (it's happened over 100 times since 1917) has turned into a crisis of epic proportions this month as the President and Congressional Republicans debate whether or not to raise the federal government's debt ceiling. The Republicans, predictably, have reduced this question to The Only Political Issue That Exists, a.k.a. cutting taxes, and are firmly refusing not only any raise in taxes for any income level, but also closing any tax loopholes -- basically, anything that would prevent the maximum cuts to social programs, which is what cutting taxes is really about.
I read a bit of history about the Bush tax cuts this week that makes the whole issue seem pretty simple. After Clinton left office and the government had run a surplus for a few years, Republicans decided that government should not be allowed to run a surplus and should instead pay any extra money back to taxpayers. That's why the tax cuts were passed with an expiration date rather than as a permanent measure. The wisdom of that approach was proven when the economy tanked and the deficit soared toward the end of Bush's term. In that situation, the logical next step would have been to let the tax cuts expire and regard them as a failed experiment. Instead, they were extended, and now Republicans regard any talk of letting them expire as a tax hike. In short, an experiment at a time of surplus is now the new normal despite a drastic change in economic conditions.
I can't believe politicians can't turn this into a workable position. After a few years of Tea Party noise, everyone is concerned about the federal debt, so much so that I think most people are willing to pitch in and help bring it down. And some people might even be able to understand that letting a temporary tax cut expire is not the same thing as a tax hike. So that would be my first negotiating condition: end the cuts, then we'll talk. (Then let's end a couple wars and we'll really be making progress!)
By the way, one of the Republicans' new arguments is self-contradictory, as usual: they're now saying that tax hikes might be okay sometimes, but not NOW in the time of a recession. Okay, if they're really concerned about the working class then why do they want to cut social programs now? If that's an honest argument then they would have to agree to put the whole thing off until later. But it's not ... it's just another way to get at The Only Political Issue That Exists.
Friday, April 15, 2011 at 10:00 am
Category: Big thoughts
My dad repeated a comment to me yesterday -- that if tax day were scheduled right before election day, tax-cutting politicians would win every election. He might be right, but that's a terrible comment on American society. Your tax rate affects you all year long, but if you can't hold that concept in your mind between April and November, how good of a decision maker are you?
Examples of short-term thinking are numerous and frustrating. There's an oil spill in the Gulf? We need to stop off-short drilling and seek alternative sources of energy! (For a few months ... then quietly resume drilling again.) There's a nuclear disaster in Japan? We need to stop building new nuclear reactors! (For another few months.) The price of gas is up? We need to buy more hybrid cars! (Until prices come down again, then gas guzzlers are fine.)
I became aware of the hybrid car example when I bought mine in 2004. I'd been considering it for a couple of years and watching the technology develop, and the inevitability of gas prices rising at some point during the 8-10 year lifespan of the car made it seem like a good deal. As it turned out, gas prices went up the same summer I bought mine, so I had to get on a waiting list! A few months later, prices came down again and the cars sat on the lots, and a couple years later everyone was talking about the failure of hybrid cars to break into the market. Do people get a new car every few months? Or can they simply not anticipate their own needs for more than a few months in advance?
The sad thing is, these decisions don't even require an ability to imagine unprecedented future events -- simply an ability to remember things that have happened repeatedly in the past and are likely to happen again. In the case of your tax bill, it's not only likely to happen, it will happen ... we even know the date.
The Ethics of War and Assassination
Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 11:00 am
Category: Big thoughts
Here's a question about the new war in Libya. If our stated goals are to remove Gaddafi from power, then why is it better to kill thousands of his soldiers, plus a few civilians and allies along the way, then to just kill him? With all of our precision airstrikes and cruise missiles, are we not able to do that? Or do we simply value the life of one leader, who is making terrible decisions and compelling others to follow, more than the lives of thousands of those who have the misfortune of residing in his country?
I can understand that in some conflicts, killing the leader wouldn't necessarily resolve the conflict. But it is strange that in recent conflicts, we simultaneously place all the blame on one person, and then treat their life as sacrosanct. And proceed to kill everyone around them without a thought.
I regret any armed conflict and any killing, but in a "lesser of two evils" comparison, isn't killing one guilty person better than killing thousands of people who are more or less innocent?
Questions About War
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 1:50 am
Category: Big thoughts
It's hard to believe we're at war again, but after a few weeks of rebellion in Libya, I checked the news Sunday to hear that our fighter jets and cruise missiles were on the attack. Wow. Three wars at once now.
I never supported the Iraq war, but I'm kind of on the fence about this one. Actually, I'd have to say I support it, but it does raise some questions to ponder:
1) When is it right to intervene on behalf of an internal rebellion (e.g., civil war)? I'm thinking it's a lot better to intervene in an existing war, as we've done here, than to start one, as we did in Iraq. I mean, the help the French gave us during our revolutionary war is a proud part of our history ... but it would have been quite different if we'd been living with England and France decided to come in and change things.
2) What are our interests in this conflict? It seems that we're acting more out of altruism than economics, which is great. Hopefully our involvement will remain "pure."
3) What are the limits of a "no fly zone"? It seems like the justifiable approach is to put up a shield and attack any aggressors. Instead, our approach is to destroy any capability of counterattack. While it makes sense that we would want to protect our forces, days of continuous bombing of military installations and infrastructure definitely seems out of proportion. It's hard to say we are playing a "defensive" role when we are systematically destroying another country's military capabilities. In short, I think the best approach would have been to remain purely defensive -- only firing when fired upon, so to speak -- even if that put us at a little more risk. It's no wonder the Arab League requested a no fly zone, and then said, "Wait a minute, this isn't what we asked for." Definitely a missed opportunity there.
Anyway, I'm hoping this becomes more of a Kosovo and less of an Iraq situation.
Sunday, January 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm
Category: Big thoughts
I spent New Year's with my wife's family, and we enjoyed several lively discussions about politics and current events. I say lively because everyone in that family basically agrees on the issues -- at least within a 50% spread -- but everyone thinks independently, too.
One idea in wide agreement was that an underlying problem in our country today is the extreme, uncompromising positions than many politicians take. And to my surprise, the older members of the family felt this was a new development, appearing mildly during the Kennedy administration but really settling in with the visceral hatred of Clinton by the Gingrich-era Republicans, and continuing today with the likes of the birthers and Tea Partiers.
Many also agreed that the cause of this extremism was media-driven politics: a media landscape that is immediate, ever-present, and filled largely with commentary. My own feeling is that we've come to a place where an extreme stance like refusing to lower taxes unless it is lowered for even the wealthiest Americans, or refusing to condone an abortion for a 16-week pregnant mother of three who was diagnosed by her doctors as sure to die if she continued her pregnancy (a local issue there in Tucson) is presented as mainstream, and a centrist stance like attempting to reform the health care system one phase at a time with bipartisan input, or signing a nuclear arms control treaty while continuing to modernize existing weapons systems and develop new ones, is presented as radical. I know the Republicans have worked hard at painting Obama as "the most liberal Senator" and a radical, socialist, etc. ever since he announced his candidacy. But my question is, how can we start calling things what they are, and depicting the most extreme and obstructionist politicians as the troublemakers rather than as the voice of the people?
Waste of Money?
Sunday, November 28, 2008 at 7:15 pm
I've been slapped in the face by the reality of mainstream conservatism three times in the last few days. First I read a comment under a random news article that said, "Everything the government does is a waste of money." Then I heard an old Reagan quote on a radio interview: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" Finally a comment came up at Thanksgiving dinner, referencing the inclusion of cultural artifacts on the Voyager space mission, "Typical government waste of money."
I know there is wasteful spending and failed programs in our government, just like there is in any organization. But does it make any sense to say that it's ALL a waste? Here are a few government programs I'm feeling grateful for these days:
- The FBI investigation that foiled a terrorist attack on the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, here in Portland two days ago (I had friends and neighbors there).
- Low-cost, clean electricity from the Bonneville Dam (a 1930's "stimulus" project that is still paying dividends for the region).
- An extensive local network of bike routes and public transportation, which makes it easy for my wife and I to live and work with one car (which we don't even use most days).
- The health care reform bill, which will protect me from pre-existing condition exclusions if I have a lapse in insurance policies with my self-employed lifestyle (when it finally goes into effect).
Meanwhile, the area in which I'd most like more help is financial regulation, to protect the retirement savings I've been setting aside for over 10 years from the shenanigans that caused the 2008 recession.
Do people take things like this for granted, or just not value them, when they make these across-the-board complaints?
Party of No
Saturday, November 20, 2008 at 10:00 am
Brought to you this week, from the Party of No:
- Slowing down food safety legislation
- Blocking extension of unemployment benefits
- Opposing a nuclear non-proliferation treaty
- Backing out of a bipartisan meeting with the President
And then these guys criticize the government for being ineffective? Unbelievable.
Reflections on the Mid-Term Election
Wednesday, November 3, 2008 at 5:30 pm
1) I was going to suggest that the Grand Old Party change its name to the Cut Taxes Party, since it hasn't seemed interested in a single other issue for the last couple of years (I don't count bashing Democrats' efforts as an "issue"). Then I realized that this isn't even a distinguishing issue, since Democrats also support tax cuts for all but the top 5% of incomes. So the GOP really ought to be campaigning on the single issue of cutting taxes for -wealthy- Americans. I could accept these ideological differences, if they were just presented honestly.
2) When will the Democrats learn to create buzzwords with the same facility as the Republicans? The Republicans have controlled the dialog yet again, with everyone from citizens to pundits to candidates repeating phrases like "government takeover of healthcare," "out of control spending" and "creating jobs" over and over again. Never mind that the "government takeover of healthcare" is really just a loose collection of consumer protections; that the "out of control spending" most definitely started when Republicans were in power; and that "creating jobs" is actually defined by Republicans as "cutting taxes for wealthy Americans" (see above). These were memes that drove the election in the Republicans' favor, while real Democratic achievements like credit card reform, college financing and nuclear arms control weren't even mentioned.
3) Poor Obama just can't get a break. Remember when progress in the "war on terror" would justify a president giving a press conference in a flight suit? Now the Obama administration gets no credit for the terrorist plots it has foiled. How about when he showed bold, bipartisan leadership in working out health care compromises? Oh, then he was "overreaching." Republicans have repeatedly managed to redefine his successes as failures. I should have known this would happen when he was bitterly criticized for winning the Nobel Peace Prize ... for heavens' sake!
4) While my previous home states of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois all moved to the right last night, I'm hoping that Oregon at least stays solid blue. My Democratic Senator and Congressman were reelected, and while they're still counting votes for the Governor's race, that's looking good, too.
5) However, the two people I know personally who ran for office yesterday -- one a Democrat, one a Republican, but both underdogs -- both lost. Sorry! It's not something I'd ever want to go through, that's for sure.
My Problem with Tax Cut Rhetoric
Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 9:15 am
It seems over the last year that the Republican Party platform has been reduced to just one issue: tax cuts. It's their solution for everything: a poor economy, unemployment, health care costs, lagging technology, you name it.
And while the overall effect of tax cuts on the economy is pretty much unprovable, several of the arguments they've made seem so obviously untrue that I can't believe they get away with it.
The one I've been hearing lately is that higher taxes for upper-class Americans (those earning more than $250,000) will hurt small businesses and prevent them from creating jobs. I see several holes in this theory:
1) The tax we're talking about is the personal income tax, not the business tax. Therefore it would only affect small business owners who give themselves a salary of greater than $250,000. In my experience as a small business owner, you'd want to put that kind of money back into your business rather than into your pocket ... and that reinvestment is not taxed.
2) If a small business owner is paying themselves over $250,000, then a higher tax would stimulate job creation, because the owner will pay more tax on the money if he keeps it than if he pays it to an employee. Conversely, lowering that top-level tax would encourage the owner to keep it ... the opposite of what everyone wants.
3) In more general terms, the conservative argument is that wealthy people need as much money as possible so they can use it to create jobs. While this is no guarantee in good economic times, in bad times it seems particularly dangerous. I'm not wealthy, but if I were, I'd focus on good bargains: underpriced stocks, foreclosed homes, etc. Those investments will really pay off when the economy recovers! But the result is that when the smoke clears, the rich will be even richer and the poor will be even poorer than before.
I'm kind of impressed, actually, by the courage shown by Republicans in fighting for tax cuts for the rich during times of record unemployment. But if we looked a little harder at their arguments, I don't think they'd be nearly as successful at it.
My Problem with the Tea Party
Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 9:00 am
The Tea Party has been in the news constantly this year, especially regarding their involvement in various primary elections around the country. And every time I hear one of their representatives, their main message is: "stop out of control spending." And their secondary message is: "this is the Democrats' fault."
Now I don't have a problem with someone saying that the government needs to spend less, or even be "smaller." But when a group of people sits contentedly while the Bush Administration runs up the biggest budget deficits in U.S. history, then suddenly goes into a rage the moment the Obama Administration takes over, their arguments lose all credibility with me.
It's becoming clear that the Tea Party is not opposed to spending, per se, but to particular initiatives, like helping Americans find jobs or affordable health care or protect their retirement funds. Spending on elective wars, anachronistic missile defense systems and no-bid military contracts seems to be no problem. So, please, let's be politically honest. If you're opposed to specific programs, make your argument in those terms. Don't just say you're opposed to "spending."
Obama is My Hero
Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 10:00 am
I've taken a bit of time this morning to watch the "health care summit" on this marvelous confluence of democracy and technology -- the live video feeds at c-span.org (with live Twitter comments from other viewers). I have to say, I loved Obama before, but I can't believe what he's doing right now. I know how hard it can be to sit in a meeting and try to organize people with vested interests in the status quo, or who just don't want to cooperate -- and I've only done that at the level of my jobs and personal interests. I can't imagine doing that in a room full of Senators and Representatives. But as usual, every time Obama responds, he does it cooly and cuts to the heart of the matter, separating facts from rhetoric and moving things forward.
And by the way, I see a lot more favorable responses over Twitter than I've heard on the print or broadcast media. I suppose "tweeters" are younger and more liberal in general, but it's a breath of fresh air in contrast to the Republican assertion that Americans reject the idea of health care reform.
Health Care Summit
Monday, February 22, 2010 at 11:45 am
I haven't posted for a long time, but I've been following stories about health care reform for the past few months, and have been particularly disappointed by the plethora of stories about President Obama's declining popularity. I was finally inspired to write again today after reading about the upcoming "health care summit" scheduled for later this week.
I tried searching Google News for info about the summit, by the way, but most of the stories I found were either highly opinionated blog entries, or highly biased reports from Fox News or the Wall Street Journal -- or both. Finally, in an attempt to just get a factual account of what's going on, I went to the New York Times and found this story:
In reading about Obama's latest proposal, I found myself having the same reaction I always have when I read about his plans or hear him speak. He's just so darn -reasonable-. For example, in his proposal to merge the House and Senate reform bills, he removed the controversial deal to subsidize Nebraska's Medicaid costs, and also removed the controversial deal to place additional restrictions on abortion funding. And he is leaving the reconciliation on the table, but only in the event of a Republican filibuster. I think these steps are honest and fair and I'm sorry that so few other politicians approach their work this way.
Now, I'd just like to respond to a few complaints I frequently hear about health care reform:
- For those who say it's a government takeover, I would ask, is setting food safety regulations a "takeover" of the agricultural industry, or is setting road safety standards a "takeover" of the automobile industry? The government is not planning to offer, but rather to improve availability and lower costs of healthcare (as it does for the agriculture and auto industries).
- For those who say we can't afford to increase the federal deficit, will you -please- read the Office of Management and Budget reports that consistently say this plan will reduce the deficit? In fact, that's one of the primary reasons for the entire effort.
- And for those who say the President should stop wasting time on health care and focus on jobs, well, please write to your Republican Congressmen and ask them to stop obstructing this plan. Nobody expected that 13 months after receiving their mandate, Congress would still be stuck on this, and they wouldn't be if the Republicans weren't passionately opposed to any kind of progress.
Our Nobel Laureate
Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 9:15 am
Obama was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize early yesterday morning, and by the time I woke up, the media was already full of criticism ... frenzied, irrational criticism from the right wing. I'm starting to feel like this man could cure cancer and he'd still be criticized. One thread of criticism is that he hasn't achieved anything yet, but let's consider what Obama has done for world peace in less than nine months:
- Announced plans to close Guantanamo Bay -- an international symbol of U.S. abuse of power -- within a year, and stated definitively that the U.S. will no longer torture detainees.
- Opened direct negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program, something the Bush administration had responded to with threats of war.
- Cancelled a missile defense shield, to be based in Poland, that the Bush administration had rammed through despite fears from Europeans that it would turn their home into a nuclear battleground.
- Shifted the focus in U.S. politics 180 degrees from "smoke them out of their holes" to "affordable health care for all Americans."
This is all despite the fact that the president has no direct control over legislation and serves in large part as a figurehead, spokesman or inspiration for the country. Perhaps it's a sign of Obama's capabilities that his enormous success in this role is already taken for granted.
In any case, on Thursday I was shopping at a black-owned store in my neighborhood, whose owners had turned it into a gallery celebrating Obama's presidency -- they had calendars, posters, mugs and the like mixed in with their regular merchandise, all sporting legends like "from Slavery to the White House" and "an American hero, 45 years in the making." My first thought after hearing the news Friday morning is that they'd have to introduce a new line of merchandise to celebrate Obama's latest achievement.
Short-term vs. long-term vision
Monday, March 30, 2009 at 8:30 am
I haven't written for a while, but I stumbled across a brief news article yesterday with a lot of rabid comments and one of them really got to me. The author, while advocating for the George W. Bush tax cuts, said, "I have always found liberal policies to be short sighted."
Excuse me? Since when is funding education, improving the health care system, and researching new technologies like alternative energy, all of which lead to long-term economic strength, short-sighted? Since when is raising alarm bells about global warming and other environmental issues short-sighted? Since when is using diplomacy and engagement rather than military brute force to settle international conflicts short-sighted? These are the things liberals stand for. Conservatives are focused either on making money, or dictating morals, and these other issues simply don't exist.
By the way, I can't believe conservatives like this one are STILL hung up on the tax issue: what part of "for Americans making over $250,000 a year" don't they understand? Are they truly empathizing with the small percentage of Americans who actually have that level of income? I can't do that, because simple math tells me I'd be better off with a $250,000 salary and a 3% tax increase than I am now. Then again, I'm not hell-bent on killing the government via bankruptcy like most conservatives are; I guess that's really the issue.
Talk of the
Nation – Experts and everyday people discussing the news of
the Media – A meta discussion of how news is reported.
BBC News – It's
nice to step outside the U.S. perspective sometimes.
Huffington Post – And
sometimes it's nice to get a big dose of partisanship. (smile)