Let’s Give President Obama a Report Card

I just finished reading the text of the president’s State Of The Union address. I’m not much for listening to political speeches. I’d rather have just the words, not the carefully controlled emotional appeal. So I read it. The whole thing.

I want to recap what I think I heard him say. If you don’t think he said this, please let me know. What I am going to do with this list is remind you of this list every couple of months and let you vote on how he is doing. He made some great promises. Promises unfulfilled are what most of us expect from politicians, whatever their stripe, right? We expect them to blow hard and long to get us to support them, but when it comes down to putting rubber on the road, many of those promises are forgotten.

And I’m going to do something else. When I give you the report card to fill in, I’m also going to give you a chance to lay the blame where it belongs. If you grade the president badly on fulfilling one of his promises, I’ll give you a place to point the finger at the Democrats or the Republicans. I also promise you I will do everything I can to get this report card as much publicity as possible (and I might ask for your help with that.)

Here are the promises:

1) New Fee on the Biggest Banks
2) New Jobs Bill
3) 30 Billion for Small Business Loans
4) Small Business Tax Credit
5) Eliminate Capital Gains Tax on Small Business Investment
6) Tax Incentive for All Businesses to Invest in New Plants/Equipment
7) Slash Tax Breaks for Companies that Ship Jobs Overseas
8) Financial Reform Bill
9) Double Exports over the Next Five Years
10) End Subsidies to Banks for Student Loans
11) Freeze Government Spending for Three Years
12) Bipartisan Fiscal Commission

There may have a small one or two that I overlooked, but I think these are the promises he made. I’ll remind you of this in a month or so. Together we’ll see if he’s doing the job he promised.

Posted in Political Promises, State Of The Union | Leave a comment

The Federal Reserve Bank: Hero or Villain?

You’ve heard of “The Fed.” I think all of us have at least a vague idea of what it is, what it does and how it affects the economy. And affecting the economy has a direct bearing on everyone of us, because the policies they institute may mean we have a job or not, how much interest we pay on everything from our mortgage to credit cards, and whether businesses—especially small business—grow, shrink or go out of business.

Recently there has been a lot of talk blaming The Fed for the recent collapse of the housing market and the ensuing recession. Is this true? If you listen to ultraconservatives like Ron Paul, you will hear a resounding “YES.” You may have seen a video of him posted on Facebook in which he makes a rambling accusation against The Fed. Many people, because of name recognition and his association with the TEA Party believe him. Is he believable?

From what I have read and heard on the subject, he is not. I will give you places to get the information for yourself, but I have to lay the groundwork for it first. One source to which I will send you is The Brookings Institution. Again, this is probably something you have at least heard of. They are the think tank most quoted by the media in this country. It has been variously described as liberal, liberal-centrist, centrist and conservative. What that tells me is they are staying away from the wild and erratic pronouncements from the ends of the political spectrum. They don’t care if they make either end happy. They are not trying to influence the ideological direction of the nation. Please click this link to learn more about this institution.

Having laid that foundation, here is a link to a video made by Karen Dynan, vice president and co-director of the Economic Studies program at the Brookings. When or if you compare it to the aimless accusations from Ron Paul, you will realize the truth is much more centrist. One of Ron Paul’s accusations was that The Fed failed to see the financial crisis coming, even though many economists were loudly predicting it. What he fails to note is that economic prediction is an extremely difficult business. At the same time Ron Paul’s “experts” were claiming a financial crisis was coming, there were as many credible “experts” claiming the exact opposite. It’s easy to choose your prognosticators by looking into the rear view mirror at what has already happened. I remind you of an old joke with more than a grain of truth. If you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they would all point different directions.

So is The Fed a hero or a villain. The most honest answer is neither. It is true there may have been things they could have done differently before the meltdown. I remind you again that is easy to see in hindsight. If they had made major steps to cool the economy during the run-up to the burst, it would have led to cries of outrage from the people who were profiting from that economy. And, that would have included most of you. You were most likely enjoying the constant rise in the value of your home. You were looking at your retirement investments and calculating how much sooner you could retire than you originally thought. How do I know that? I heard many of you talking about it. I have heard many of you say how drastically your retirement plans have changed since the bubble burst. Please don’t claim prescient knowledge now that these events have already happened.

The other thing The Fed has done is it has mitigated the effects of the crash of the housing market. By making money more available, they have kept the economy out of the porcelain bowl, kept more small businesses in business, etc. Compare the 10% unemployment rate we have lived with for more than a year with the peak unemployment rate of 25% in 1933 (The Great Depression) that was still near 15% seven years later. So the fact that the unemployment rate is easing at all says a lot for the policies of The Fed. To say that the government—or The Fed—has done nothing that has helped is simply not true. Put 10% in perspective and be glad it’s not 20%.

“Another notable feature of the early 1900s was volatility in business conditions. There were recessions or depressions in 1902-04, 1907-08, and 1910-12, due, in part, to the absence of a mechanism to limit the effect of runs on banks or to control the money supply.” (Reference) The actions of The Fed have had a damping effect on the boom/bust swings that have characterized our economy.

I would ask you to note again that I am not fabricating this from fairy dust. What I am saying, I am backing up with credible sources. Please make sure ANY source of information you intend to quote gives you the same assurance. Having said that, please tell your friends and acquaintances about this blog. Please join me in dialing down the heated rhetoric and focusing on the truth that is so much closer to center than either extreme.

Posted in Economics, Political Information | Leave a comment

3.8% “Sales Tax” on all Home Sales? FALSE

I hate to keep harping on the lies of the radical conservatives, but they keep telling them. And they keep repeating them over and over via forwarded emails The one I received this morning was a new one to me. According to the email, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) secretly instituted a 3.8% sales tax on any real estate sale, starting in 2013. This is supposedly timed to go into effect after the next presidential election so people won’t know about it until after Obama is reelected.

The email further stated that if you sell your home for $100,000, you will pay a tax of $3.800. And to multiply it out, it said that if you sell your house for $400,000, you will pay a tax of $15,200. The person who sent this “information” to me attempted to validate it by saying that http://truthorfiction.com said it was true. Someone (one of the people who had forwarded it) also said—in 12-point Arial bold green type—that Snopes had no information on this, which would further seem to validate it.

So what is the truth? The truth is that this is an absolute lie! There is a new tax on investment income written into the PPACA. This tax is 3.8% of investment income above the levels already taxed on that type of income. By far the large majority of Americans (approximately 95%) will never be touched by this tax. The part that has to do with real estate is this: If you sell your home and make a profit—a profit—of more than $250,000 if filing as a single of $500,000 if filing as married, you would pay 3.8% of the excess profit over the above numbers.

In other words, if you bought your house for $500,000, invested $100,000 into it over a few years, and resold the house for $1,100,000, you would not be touched by this tax. (How many of you want to volunteer the information that you are making more than $500,000 profit on the sale of your home?) And if you sold that same home for $1,200,000, you would pay a tax of only $3,800, or only .32%, not 3.8%.

The other part of the email that seems to be giving people heartburn is: Why is this written into a bill on health care? It seems to the radical conservatives that it is a plan by our enemy the government to keep us from knowing about it until it is too late to do anything about it. The truth is more benign. It is written into the PPACA because it is dedicated to funding Medicare. So, as you see, it actually is a health-care-related tax. When asked why it was done that way, members of Congress who helped write the bill explained that they could have just increased the investment income tax by the same amount. But this way, it is dedicated to paying for Medicare. See? No ulterior motives after all, are there?

When are people going to stop looking for the bogeyman under every leaf on the tree? When are people going to stop ascribing evil motives to every act done by (the vile, heathen) liberals? When are radical conservatives going to stop writing this nonsense. And when are their conservative stooges going to stop forwarding it willy-nilly to everyone in the address book in an attempt to support their point of view?

If you want the truth, Snopes calls it part true (the 3.8% part) and part lie (the every real estate transaction part). Overall, I would give this a 10% true vs. 90% deliberate lie.

Politifact is less kind, giving it their “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” rating because of the blatant untruth of the chain email being sent around. They add further, “The e-mail seems intended to scare people, particularly older Americans, (emphasis mine) and it urges them to vote a particular way based on false information. And for that, we award this chain e-mail a Pants on Fire!” Many radical conservatives are attempting to discredit Politifact, and try to paint it as a liberal conspiracy. (What’s new? Anything they don’t agree with is a left-wing, Marxist insurgency, selling-us-down-the river conspiracy.) Please remember they were given a Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious prize in the area of reporting and literature, for this fact-checking site. It has been found to be the most accurate of any of the sites purporting to do the same thing.

I’m asking again, can we please tone down the rhetoric? Is it really necessary to try to fan the flames of dissension like this? Do you really think it is necessary to forward information like this without even bothering to check the facts on the two most accurate sites? My parents said to ask two questions before saying something. Is it true? Is it nice? If you have to answer “no” to either of those questions, please stop it in its tracks.

Yours for honesty and kindness in political speech…

Posted in Conservative Lies, Partisan Politics | Leave a comment

How About a Little Healthy Skepticism?

“What? You want me to be a skeptic?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because healthy skepticism is, well, healthy.”

bite

If I held that unrecognizable lump out to you in my hand, and said, “Have a bite,” a little healthy skepticism might save you from at the least a horrible taste to, at worst, getting sick. (Actually, it’s digitally cut out from a photograph of Burger King’s ribs, so it might taste good.)

Now when I say “healthy skepticism,” I mean this: If someone tells you the earth is round, not flat, that is not something to be skeptical about. If someone tells you the average temperature of a healthy human, taken under the tongue, is 98.6 degrees, that is not something to be skeptical about. Why? Because those are proven facts. But if someone tells you the paint on the chair is dry, and you can smell paint fumes in the air, be skeptical—even if that friend is a professional painter. Check. Touch it with your finger just to make sure you don’t ruin your $250.00 suit by sitting in wet paint.

I’ve been having an interesting discussion with a friend regarding a video on YouTube of General Boykin telling us how the Obama administration is selling us down the river to Marxism. I have pointed out numerous misleading statements and outright lies in his video in a previous blog post (Deconstructing a Conservative Rant). Yet she cannot bring herself to dismiss it as ultraconservative propaganda. Why is this? She believes, 1) that General Boykin has credibility because of his position, and, 2) “learned and educated” friends of hers accept it, and that they have credibility.

Is that true? No! No one, especially in the political realm, has inherent credibility! Does a decorated, retired army general have inherent credibility? No! Does a major candidate who is also a Christian have any inherent credibility? No! Do commentators, newscasters, bloggers, etc.—and you know their names—have any inherent credibility? No! And just to get the attention of my friends who are Christian conservatives, do your Christian friends, or does your pastor have any inherent credibility? No! (And if that answer causes your hackles to rise, I suggest you check where Paul praised the Bereans because they actually read the book to see if Paul was telling them the truth. Even he did not expect them to believe him just because of his name and sterling reputation.) No one in this realm has any inherent credibility, and that includes me!

What then is the difference between, for example, listening to General Boykin’s YouTube video and reading my blog about the same video? The difference is highly important and it is this: General Boykin—and many, many others—makes statements they say are based on some document. I quote the actual words of the document to you and give you a link to it so you can see it for yourself. Why is this vital? Facts! Like the earth being round.

You and I and General Boykin can be standing in a house under construction discussing the height of the ceilings. General Boykin exclaims, “Those ten-foot ceilings are pretentious and waste heat.” I might say to you, “The general is mistaken, friend. Those are only nine-foot ceilings. Look at the blueprints here and you can see for yourself.” But the only way to really answer the question in this case is to pick up a tape measure and get the facts—the facts—about how high they are. So General Boykin’s speculation and hints and even outright lies, even though they may sound logical, and even though they may fit with what you believe is going on in the world, cannot stand when compared to the facts of the actual documents. Surely we can all agree that is true, can’t we?

In addition to having healthy skepticism, I would ask you to have bilateral skepticism. What is that? All of us—that is every single one of us—has a tendency to believe people who say something we already believe to be true. That is why leaders, commentators, entertainers, etc. can say something and be instantly believed. If you hear something from someone you either know or even suspect of coming from a different point of view, the instant tendency is to dismiss it as “just another one of their lies.” (Go back and read the article on the distance between the two parties in this climate.) Because they are the “enemy,” there can be no truth in them is too often the thought process. And that thought process will always keep you from discovering the truth—the facts.

Those of us who are old enough know that on Dragnet, Joe Friday was famous for saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.” What you may not know is that itself isn’t a fact. Joe had been known to say, “All we want are the facts, ma’am,” and “All we know are the facts, ma’am.” But it was a song spoof of the show titled Little Blue Riding Hood that used the now-famous phrase. Don’t make the same mistake in the vital issues of the day. Just because something sounds familiar, or sounds right, don’t allow yourself to swallow it hook, line and sinker. Get the facts! Just the facts, ma’am.

Posted in Conservative Lies, Partisan Politics | Leave a comment

The Political Compass

You will enjoy this!

I don’t write every day as you know if you’re following this. When there is more political action, there will be more bellicose speech, and I will write more. So for right now, I am writing about issues that tend to keep us more focused on the important things—the things that matter to the country, not to us individually. (OK, and to keep the right wing from jumping on me over that statement, let me say I am fully aware of the importance of the individual as opposed to the importance of the state. It’s just that if we’re all going to live here—which we have apparently chosen to do—it is important for each of us and all of us to make this country work for all of us.)

A friend posted a link on Facebook today showing her position on the Political Compass scale. (Thanks, Courtney!) What these clever folks have done is create a chart that is more than just the regular left-right chart. Left-right it reserves for economic freedom vs. control, and a vertical axis shows a person’s tendency toward authoritarianism vs. libertarianism. So to start with, I’ll be happy to show you my chart.

GLW Political Compass Chart

I was quite sure I held a middle position on nearly everything, as my conservative friends think I’m too liberal, and my liberal friends think I’m too conservative. (It’s really bad getting stoned from both sides at the same time.) It did surprise me, however, to see how close I actually am to the middle on both axes. So I’ve shown you mine; show me yours.

Here is an interesting chart. It is all 50 states, and it is based on the views of state senators, who theoretically mirror the view of their constituents, hence their being elected.

States Political Compass

Who knew that all of us—whether from red state or blue state, tend to fall into the same quadrant, i.e., most of us have a very close view of what is best for the country. From the name calling, the epithets, the bombastic diatribes and the belligerence, you would have thought that we occupied very different positions, wouldn’t you?

Take the test yourself. Of course, I expect many people to criticize the test and call it wrong. Why? Because it won’t give them the answer they want. Or if it does reveal what is to them their real makeup, they won’t believe that they are so far out of step with the rest of the country.

Having said that, it does say a lot about you if you find yourself out of step. I have discussed (argued) with many people who declare with the utmost firmness that their position is the only right position. They swear that not only is their position right, but that it is the one shared by the vast majority of their fellow citizens. How about you? Do you dare to take the test? And do you dare show it so we can see if you’re out of step with the majority of your fellow citizens? Post your chart (or at least a link to it) in the comments. I’d love to see it.

Take the test here: The Political Compass™

Posted in Political Information | Leave a comment

Did Right Wing Violent Rhetoric Cause Jared Loughner to Shoot Representative Giffords?

Yes!

No!

Is my ambivalence showing? I have been ambivalent about this for several days. I’ve listened to the left wing. I’ve listened to the right wing. Both have some pertinent things to say. But they aren’t listening to each other. Yesterday I posted an article about the dismissive comment from a Tea Partier ridiculing Obama’s call for more civility—as if there were no possibility at all that he and his cohorts are doing the same thing. Basically, here is what the two sides are saying to each other—actually, yelling AT each other:

From the Left: Sarah Palin’s “bulls eye map” was inflammatory. “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”  is a direct call to violence. Conservatives have created a “culture of violence.” Gifford was on of those “targets” on Palin’s map and that is why she was shot. Jane Fonda blamed Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party in a series of tweets.

From the Right: It’s not our fault. Besides, the liberals did the same thing. It’s what you would expect liberals to do—blame the conservatives for everything. Loughner was a left wing nut, not a right wing nut; he read “leftist propaganda” like Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Marx’s Communist Manifesto. (Someone should tell them that Hitler was a right-wing Fascist, not a leftist. They keep getting that wrong.) Liberals blaming us for this is a case of “the left putting us under the bulls eye.”

So, what is the truth? The respected Christian Science Monitor reports that “Though much of Loughner’s writings are nonsensical, some indicate adherence to ideas of the far-right Patriot movement.” So it is still possible that he actually did have right wing leanings and took the right wing rhetoric to heart. I think there is a deeper truth, however, that while not drawing a direct line from conservative violent rhetoric to his actions, makes an important link.

From everything I have read about Loughner, his main focus was anti-government. It isn’t so much an issue of whether he was right wing or left wing; he distrusted and hated the government. Now, the primary focus of the ultraconservative movement during the debate on health care reform and the last election has been to “take back our government.” They are constantly fomenting the idea that the liberals are the enemy. The liberals have stolen our government. The liberal government is selling us down the river to socialism. Given Loughner’s antigovernment stance, that is an idea I can see resonating with him—crazy and/or delusional as he might have been—that gave him something to act on.

So—Direct line? No. Creating a climate of antigovernment hatred that could motivate a nut to act? Yes.

Let’s tone down the rhetoric on both sides. Do you agree? Please comment.

Posted in Partisan Politics | Leave a comment

Civility? Hah! Not us.

Here is a recent quote from one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement in Washington State (emphasis mine):

Hi All,  I know the call for “Civility” by the most uncivil president, representing the most uncivil party in history, has us all looking at ourselves introspectively and doubting our resolve.   So please let me apologize to all for my being unwittingly sucked into the evil Tea Party propaganda and resign all involvement in this “uncivil” group of terrorists immediately.  NOT!!!

Lovely, isn’t it? Rather than praising the president for his call to civility, it’s easier and more fun to mock him, call him names, and get right back to our arrogant, name calling ways. I didn’t listen to President Obama’s speech. I don’t know his call for civility in context. But I do know there are better ways to respond than by being uncivil.

Please remember that I am not saying all of this uncivil name calling is on the conservative side. But as I have said before, most of it right now is coming from the conservative side. I was prepared to show you some uncivil, name calling from the left side of the spectrum. I read  an article on The Patriot Post: Voice of Essential Liberty. (Please note that is their own description of their site, not mine. This is a conservative blog.) In it, they “expose” some of the leftist propaganda that mirrors their own admitted war imagery. The link they gave was to this site. I was ready to quote it to you, but to my surprise, there was nothing there. The worst they could show was a map from the Democrats showing targeted states with a—surprise—target on them. That is NOT the same as putting them in the crosshairs of your AR-15. If this is the best the conservatives can do to show the depravity of the speech of their leftist enemies, they are on thin ice all around.

You can read the entire article yourself here. It does indeed quote some Democrats using similar gun imagery, etc. As I said, it’s not all one sided.

However: The big debate seems to be whether or not conservative hate speech had anything to do with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords being shot. I have to say there is no direct line between hate speech and the shooting. That would be nearly impossible to prove, regardless of all the Law & Order shows I’ve seen. But I also think it’s disingenuous of the conservative radicals to say that hate speech has nothing to do with creating an atmosphere of violence. Words have power. Words influence people. If that was not true, no one would bother to make political speeches at all. So what is some of the hate speech being attributed to the conservatives?

Here is a link where you can see Sarah Palin’s “crosshairs map.” I would suggest you look quickly if you want to see it. Why? Because her web site, www.takebackthe20.com has already been taken down. (If you search Google, you can find a cached image of it.) I suspect they will be getting rid of as many instances of that as possible, as quickly as possible.

If you’ve read this far, you have greater tolerance than do I. I am sick of this whole mess. I guess I’ll leave you with the latest Sarah Palin nonsense. In response to those who have criticized her for her violent imagery in politics, she had this to say just a couple of days ago: “Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.” What does that mean? I have no idea.

Posted in Partisan Politics | Leave a comment