Are career politicians the problem?


One think I enjoy doing in debating.  Politics, sports, food, anything really is fair game for a debate in my book.  This weekend as I had another “discussion” on Facebook, whose views are often at the other end of the spectrum, we had a rare moment of having something in common. Term Limits.  As we went back and forth about over two days and a range of topics from size of government, racist history of political parties, government programs versus private sector programs we had nothing in common.  Which is not unusual.  That all changed though when we got on the topic of politicians representing this country correctly.

One of my big issues with politicians, is that today’s political leaders seemed to have forgotten the most important piece about governing the country.  That they represent the people who voted them in and not their own self interests. Nothing seems to happen in Washington these days, because a line has been drawn in the sand and neither party is willing to cross that line to get anything done.  They seem to have forgotten history, where people could reach across the aisle and do what is right for the country. Republicans like to tout Ronald Reagan, but seem to forget that he publicly admitted the need to compromise for the good of the country.

Why has this become a problem? There could be many reasons, but to me a glaring issue is career politicians. Without term limits, elected officials with standing virtually have a career locked down.  So much about election success is name recognition and fundraising. Current Congressperson and Senators have the name recognition when it comes to ballot days.  Also, because they have already worked with the various industries on a many different pieces of legislation, they also will have the inside track on fundraising.  This makes it nearly impossible for challengers to be successful at the polls.  Career politicians have become comfortable, the position is no longer about representing the people, instead it has become about their own self interests.

To me the solution to this is term limits.  We need people in office who will always represent the interest of the people, and eliminating career politicians is a clear solution to me.  Surprisingly enough, it was also a solution of my conservative friend. Will politicians ever go for it, no.  But if enough of us from all political view points can begin pushing this, at some point they will have to listen. However, if we continue to be afraid to speak up, because we fear debate or open discussion about real solutions to our problems nothing will change.

When we open ourselves up to debate and discussion, we will be surprised at how much we can agree on ways to change the system for the better.

In the Heat of the Night: NC Begins Assault on Gay Rights


Update: 9/13/11 – Senate passes it as well 30-16

 

I have previously written about the possibility of NC succumbing to southern peer pressure on same-sex marriage.  Well the process is off to a good start for supporters of the constitutional amendment. In a move that will surely upset opponents of this, about 5 hours after the bill was introduced it had passed the house by a vote of  75-42.  It now heads to the senate where passage is a little harder to determine.  While there is support in the senate the question is whether they have enough votes to get it through.

The real tricks in the night are about how they got the votes in the house.  This bill would make the constitutional amendment a ballot initiative and let the NC voters determine its fate.  They wanted to get support from some house democrats and so they made a slight change in the details.  Some of the house democrats supported the measure, but thought that putting on the November 2012 ballot, was a way to increase voter turnout in a presidential race for conservative republicans.  State republicans though, know it was less about voter turnout in a presidential election and more about pushing same-sex couples out of this state.  So they gladly moved it to the May primary ballot, which got them enough support from house democrats.

The majority of people voting in the May primary will be republicans since they are the only ones with a contested race.  This move virtually guarantees that the ballot initiative will get the votes it needs.  Pending what happens in the senate, opponents are going to have to do GOTV efforts to people who would not ordinarily vote in the May primaries to push this back.  It was a sneaky move done in the night hours.

You already know my feelings on the issue of same-sex marriages, so I won’t go into those details again.  But for a state with high unemployment this is a great way to welcome new people and businesses to our state.  Go ahead and tell the gay community they are not welcome in this state.  Don’t move here, don’t spend money here, don’t open a business here, don’t raise children here because you are not welcome.  Also, what a great way to show support for those already living here.  What message are you sending them?  You can live here and spend money here, but we won’t allow you the same rights as others.

Sad day for the state of North Carolina!

Will the American Jobs Act Go Anywhere?


After all the dust has settled from the speech, a huge question remains.  Will this go anywhere?  As I wrote in my last post, I think the speech did enough to put pressure on both sides.  This increases the likelihood that something gets done, but is it enough?  Maybe the answer is, not so fast.

Nothing in D.C. is ever what it seems.  For most of the off-season Washington Redskins fans thought John Beck was going to be the starting quarterback. Instead Rex Grossman will be under center week 1. Football references aside, things in the nation’s capital tend to change quickly.

During the speech, several items like corporate taxes and entitlement reforms brought republicans to their feet.  In the immediate aftermath they admitted that there was a lot to work with.  No one wants to seem like they are against creating jobs, so the popular thing to do was say let’s get to work.

The devil will be in the details though. The president promised that everything would be paid for, but failed to deliver the details.  He promised in the coming week that the details would be revealed.  Those details will determine how much support republicans give him for paying for this.

He talked about improving on the corporate tax rate by closing loopholes.  What loopholes will be closed and how will that lower the highest corporate tax rate in the world?  He mentioned entitlement reform, which will upset his base, and in theory draw support from republicans.  However, we need to know what that reform will look like.  Is it just making cuts, or eliminating waste?

When talking about rebuilding our infrastructure, the key is shovel ready projects.  The last stimulus promised similar construction projects, but found a lack of shovel ready projects.  For this to work, there needs to be a plan at improving the number of shovel ready projects.  The other issue is dealing with foreclosures. While it is great to talk about helping struggling homeowners refinance and capitalize on low rates.  We need to know how we get this done.  What is the plan to help those whose credit scores are too low?  What is the plan for those who are unemployed or underemployed?

The point of all this is that the details still are coming out, and depending on what these details say will determine if this goodwill continues.  I for one, am worried about these details.  I am not sure that both sides are going to hear what they want.  Once all the goodwill is gone and they get to work, we could be setting ourselves up for another nasty stalemate.  No one wants to be seen as stopping job growth, but they also don’t want to create jobs at any cost.

My Quick Take on the Jobs Speech


While under ordinary circumstances, this night would have been all about football these aren’t normal times.  The current crisis calls for action to create jobs and address the foreclosure crisis in order for us to move forward. People have been waiting for a comprehensive jobs plan to come out of D.C. and the speech was to deliver that plan.

President Obama was back to his old campaign form.  The speech felt like one of the moving speeches from the campaign, where you were captivated even if you didn’t agree. I think he played both sides well.  For his base, he focused on stimulus through tax breaks for the middle class, and job creation through rebuilding infrastructure.  He also played to republicans by mentioning the corporate tax rate, entitlement reform, and a mention about regulations.  He catered enough to both sides that I think there is real pressure to get something done. Even in a post speech interview Eric Cantor ( R-VA), couldn’t disagree much and admitted there was a lot to work with in the speech.

With all that being said, I think there were some specifics that could have used some more details.  He mentioned that everything would be paid for, but left us waiting for the specifics.  Yes, he mentioned cuts already made, and promised a detailed plan in the coming week, but some of those details would have been useful. When talking about eliminating loopholes to lower the corporate tax rate, while I know there are many options, but mentioning one or two of the possibilities would have been nice.

My biggest issue with the speech, was the plan for the foreclosure mess seemed like an afterthought.  He mentioned a refinance plan to capitalize on the low rates, but left it at that.  I have been critical of his foreclosure prevention plans in the past, and feel that more attention needs to paid to this issue.  I wanted to hear a strategy to address the refinance plan in the speech, but will have to wait for future speeches I guess.

Overall, I though the speech hit the right points, and had Obama in campaign mode, which really helped him shine.  Once the dust settles from this it will be important for us to hold congress accountable to get this done.

Is NC Caving to Southern Peer Pressure on Same-Sex Marriage?


For those who live in NC know by now that a fight is shaping up on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The coverage is showcasing the battle lines.  Democrats are coming together and taking the stance the amendment hurts job creation among other things.

Republicans are utilizing African-American ministers to lead their public fight to get the amendment through.  This has been an ongoing battle for years, but with the democrats being in control for so long the votes were always blocked.  Since the 2010 mid-term elections, when republicans took control of the house and senate.

It seems like they have been using this time to either introduce bad policy, or turn back good policy from years past. On the issue of same-sex marriage, they can finally succumb to southern peer pressure and push this through.  If they are successful, NC will no longer be the only southern state without a constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage.

I for one, hope that they fail.  I fully support fight for same-sex marriages, and do not understand the harsh fight against it.  We supposedly have the separation of church and state and so any religious reasoning for an amendment should be nullified.  Also, I am not sure how it hurts straight couples to allow same-sex marriages.  How would allowing this impact your marriage, or what your marriage means?  Marriage is supposed to be a life long commitment between two people who love each other.  This should be the case regardless of the sexes involved.

With divorce rates hovering around the 50% mark, it seems straight couples have their own problem protecting the sanctity of marriage. So here’s to hoping that the current attack on same-sex marriage fails, and NC can hold off peer pressure.

What We Just Avoided With the Debt Deal


This article was written by me, but originally featured on www.policymic.com.

Our leaders in Washington finally came together and did what was right for the country. Even though there will still be some political posturing about who won the debate, the fact is, they finally listened to all the reports of what would happen if a deal were not made. MyPolicyMic colleague, Jordan Wolf, has alreadylaid out what the deal means going forward. Even with our credit rating still at risk, let’s look at what we are avoiding, and whether or not the darkest days truly would have been ahead.

The cost on consumers would have been far reaching. We were warned about what would happenwith our credit rating with no deal, but even the news media around the world still recognize this as a possibility. The impact on world markets could still be felt, making interest rates on mortgages, car loans, and credit cards still rise and impact consumers’ pockets. Access to credit, which was slowly starting to open up, could once again tighten. The housing market could crash again as people qualify for less homes with rates going up, and sellers sit on homes and drop the prices even more. The markets could have crashed, making people’s investment and retirement accounts bottom out. This would have been just the beginning, but some of these could still be felt.

We already know we don’t raise enough revenue to cover our expenses, which is why we are in this position in the first place. The question was about to become, how do we use the money we do have to pay bills that are due? And let’s be clear, this was not just about paying bills, but also about having a functioning government. The Treasury Department could not pick and choose what bills they would pay. They have said they would pay them as they come with what is available. This means, if your paycheck or benefit check were further down the list, you wouldn’t get paid on time or even at all. This was an even worse proposition for the poor and minorities, as welfare and housing assistance were certainly going to take some hits.

The big issue we avoided was the grey area that would have occurred when people’s paychecks didn’t come. Would guards at federal prisons have shown up for work, would our mail have been delivered, would our military readiness have been impacted, and would judges and federal prosecutors have been available? If not, how would this have impacted security and the ability of our nation to function?

The good thing is that we don’t have to answer any of these questions, unless of course we find ourselves in this same position in 2012. Congress finally acted in the best overall interest of the country and made a deal.  Even if you think it is a flawed deal, it allows our country to move forward and deal with our issues like job creation, debt reduction, and tax reform without the threat of default looming over our heads. We avoided what would have been a dark period of uncertainty and that should be a good thing for everyone.

Devil’s Advocate


This post was originally written by Kevin Rogers of NCSJP and Action NC.  It was originally posted on www.actionnc.org.

 

It appears this morning that Congress finally found their collective sanity and averted the financial calamity they themselves created.

Truly, this is democracy at its finest.

While the political pundits analyze the political winners and losers to this debt-ceiling debacle, one thing is clear: they won, and we lost. This should not be surprising.

But more than that, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps the Tea Party folks were onto something here – would it really have been so bad if we didn’t raise the debt ceiling? More to the point, who would a government default hurt more – the rich or the poor?

Let’s break it down:

If the government defaults, there isn’t enough money to pay all the bills – someone gets an IOU. And while I would rather get an IOU from Uncle Sam than my Uncle Al, I probably won’t be able to use an IOU to pay my rent, buy groceries, or pay for bus fare, which is exactly what many would have to do if Social Security payments weren’t made on-time. Or so the argument goes.

Just to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, what if, instead of paying our bond creditors first, we paid domestic obligations first (like Social Security and Medicaid) and gave bondholders an IOU for the dividend? I know I’m going out on a limb here, but isn’t an a Treasury Bond essentially a government IOU anyway? Will these investors really run for the hills because they have to wait an extra week or two for their payments? Yes, China and others could reduce their long-term investment in T-bills, but where the heck else would they be guaranteed a safer investment – even with our maxed-out government credit card?

I know it is more complicated than that, and there are many possible (though I would argue improbable) long-term negative consequences of a default, including a credit downgrade (by the same folks who told us junk mortgages were AAA, so why anyone listens to them anymore is yet another baffling question) and increased costs for consumer borrowing.  But are those costs really worse than the long-term cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Social Security that are possible under this deal?

For your average low-income worker or retiree, I would argue not. These folks already pay adisproportionally high amount to access credit, when it’s even available, so it is doubtful that higher rates would really have much effect on them since, in many cases, they are already paying the highest APR allowed by law. Low income Americans are also far less likely to have significant retirement investments that would be negatively impacted by a down-turn in the stock market, and are therefore, ironically, far better protected from short-term swings in financial market conditions.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad Congress was able to come to an agreement that averted a default, because I think we would have paid our creditors before our citizens, and that would have been a double loss for people at the bottom of this financial food-chain. But I can’t help but wonder “what if.”

Rob Emanuel, former Chief of Staff to President Obama and current Chicago mayor, was famously quoted as saying “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Indeed, what if we changed this crisis into an opportunity to actually value our most important responsibilities, rather than cheapening them, and in the process redefine what it means to honor obligations, rather than merely satisfy them.

Leave it to Congress to waste an opportunity.