Category Archives: Democrats

Winning on the Debt Ceiling?

As the debt ceiling debacle continued in Washington, it didn’t seem like it was about the American people as much as it was about the coming election. Both Democrats, Republicans, and members of the Tea Party, were fighting tooth and nail to protect their priorities. Since they hear how hard it is to find a job from their constituents they were doing everything they could to protect theirs. That meant no compromise, no reform on entitlements, and no new taxes. In the meantime, the economy continued to spiral and American’s felt they were left without a government.

Whenever I go out with friends, politics is the last thing I bring up. No one ever wants to talk about it and strong emotions are always loudest which brings down the mood. But this week was different. After three weeks of absolute absurdity people started to come up to me to vent their frustration. The conversation would usually start with “what the hell is going on?” or “I can’t believe this is happening” and then proceeded for at least an hour (individually) of them complaining about how members of Congress have completely lost their minds. They were so frustrated they needed to vent, and I don’t blame them.

In the same week economists came out with revised numbers for the economy that showed we are basically still in a recession, the posturing got even worse. While government spending was the only thing keeping the economy going, all politicians were arguing about was how much of that spending should be cut. Then, instead of having a serious conversation about how to make sure Social Security will be there for future generations (the people who I was talking to) both sides were blaming the other on how they wanted to ruin it. Instead of coming together and dealing with the issue in a responsible matter, it wound up becoming a contest of who would blink first.

But why anyone in Congress thought this bickering would help them is beyond me. Gallup shows that both President Obama and everyone in Congress’ job approval was already pretty low, but sunk even further these last couple of weeks. It didn’t matter who they were either. Old, young, black, white, male, female, Democrat or Republican, people resoundingly disapproved of the way things were being conducted. Just like George W. Bush united the country against him during his final term, politicians united all American’s against them over the debt ceiling. When the news that Congress finally came to a deal was posted on Google Plus, tons of comments came in, and most people didn’t care as much for the plan as much as they were happy it was over.

While Obama overplayed his hand by asking for a grand bargain, Republicans refused to budge on any of their priorities, and Democrats refused to make any changes that might reduce the deficit or secure government programs. Personally, I wanted more government spending on specific items such as construction which is absolutely needed. We can’t keep letting our bridges fall, and it would have created jobs. One of my friends (who is getting his Masters in economics) told me that job creation is actually the best way to reduce the deficit. With more people earning money, more money would have been put into Social Security to secure the system, and other taxes could have been used to reduce the deficit. It would also be cheaper to do it now while prices are still low.

But really, some of the worst news came out today. Journalists, bloggers, and pundits, were discussing who had won and lost. It plays right into what American’s were complaining about this entire time. Whatever the specifics of the plan are, or how it turns out at the end, nobody won this debate. The way all politicians conducted themselves embarrassed the American people here and abroad. In a time when some American’s are living off food stamps and struggling to afford rent, people in Washington should conduct themselves in a matter that is attributable to the times, and stop wondering why mud is being thrown in their direction.

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Filed under Congress, debt ceiling, Democrats, Republicans

Are Third Party Candidates Practical?

After Thomas Friedman’s article on Sunday, there has been a lot of talk about a third party coming into the fold of American politics. American’s on both sides of the aisle are disgusted at what they are seeing. While all polls show people want a compromise on the debt ceiling, plans are being rejected on the left and right while the Congressional Budget Office is saying those plans won’t do any good anyway. So why can’t a third party break into the system?

One problem is money. Running races are expensive, particularly if you plan to go nationwide. In New York a candidate running for state Senate has to raise around three hundred thousand dollars just to be considered a serious contender. That’s not easy to get, particularly in the beginning when chances are not a lot of people have heard of you.

Getting the right people to run can also be hard. One of the reasons why the Tea Party was successful in the last election is that they ran candidates who were known in the state or district, had respectable jobs, family, and could stick to talking points. When new party’s come into play they are always coalesced around people on the extremes who are passionate about what they believe. Being an outsider is always good because you can say what the people want to hear without having any real responsibility. It also keeps the energy going because you are around people with similar views, and would probably be friends with them even if you met them another way. However, being too extreme can lead to political gaffes (i.e. Sarah Palin) that can swing the race.

Democrats and Republicans are also already very entrenched within the system. Here in New York, there is the Working Families Party (WFP) which has been around since the early 1990’s. They run grass roots campaigns and have a line on the election ballot. But in order to maintain a strong premise within the state, they work with Democrats. After going door to door for a few months telling people about the candidates they have endorsed, the people who said they would vote for that candidate are reminded about voting on WFP’s line. The more votes they garner the more political influence they have. The Party then tells the elected politicians how many votes they got for them and how many in their district actually favor more progressive policies. But that politician is still a Democrat, and probably wouldn’t be in office if he/she wasn’t because of the money raised to pay the people to go knock on doors.

I don’t think the Tea Party is as a powerful force in American politics as they claim to be. They got their candidates through primaries in more conservative areas, not to mention that the two extremes are the ones who show up for the primaries. Combined with a low Democratic turnout in the general election, they were able to get more seats then they probably should have. I’m not saying they didn’t run good campaigns, but their timing couldn’t have been worse for Democrats.

The internet is one of the major reasons people are excited about something new coming to American politics. It has made it a lot easier to organize and get messages out to the public, and quickly. It has also helped with fundraising efforts for political and grass root campaigns. But the messages that are sent out only goes to those who want to hear what these groups or individuals have to say. And obviously the money being raised is from people who would be donating anyway. But if it’s a local campaign or issue that is being funded by outside influence, it probably means you’re not reaching the people you need to.

What must frustrate political insiders though is that there hasn’t been a way to figure out how to reach those independents that can make or break issues. Eventually, politicians and interest groups are going to want to find a way to do it, especially as social media will become a part of our everyday lives. Someone is going to be willing to spend money to hire a smart programmer to create an algorithm that will find those independent voters. This is going to bring privacy and freedom of the internet issues to a whole new level.

The fact is no one is going to win politically over this debt fight. Both sides look incompetent and unable to lead. But the Tea Party/GOP are the ones who look extreme right now. Even though
Democrats are playing to the middle, that’s where most American’s are, and ultimately they are the ones who will decide the election. They won’t be voting for someone who seems too ideologically driven. Plus, with Obama back on the ballot, there is going to be a lot more people who are going to want to vote for him no matter what. Liberals will not like any of the other candidates, but times are too important for people to not want to participate.

Plus, whoever runs on this third party will need to be the right person. None of the Tea Party candidates can be taken seriously for President because they are too driven by ideology, that’s one of the reasons why we see the libertarian Ron Paul getting a lot of attention but going nowhere in the polls. Obama was the right person for the Democrat party in 2008. But remember, he played the game well.

So, are third party candidates viable? Not yet. It’s going to take a lot of effort by a lot of smart and talented people who can figure out a way to balance the energy to fight the man, along with promoting policies middle class American’s can agree to.

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Filed under debt ceiling, Democrats, Obama, Republicans

Triangulation On Taxes

Time is running out on playing politics and real decisions are going to have to be made. As the President and Speaker play golf, the rest of Congress needs to decide how to raise the debt ceiling without completely leaving the poor and working families in the dust, and both sides know more revenue is going to have to come from somewhere.

Before going into the first of four meeting this week to discuss the debt ceiling, Majority Leader Eric Cantor said “We have hit the point at which we are at some really tough stuff. Big numbers, everything as I have said before is on the table except tax increases.”

As negotiations continue, Republicans are asking for over one trillion dollars in cuts that won’t include Medicare or Social Security. So that means other programs that involve grants for research, food stamps, public housing, and infrastructure, are potentially on the chopping block. The GOP is serious about the cuts, but they’re not evil beings who want to see people suffer.

In this time of economic ups and downs, taxes need to be raised in order to keep the programs running that are helping people stay afloat, and Republicans know this. Even though their most conservative supporters don’t want them to raise taxes on anyone, the party that was built by Abraham Lincoln does not want to be become the party who turned its back to the poor.

A New York Times article on Monday discussed lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations who hold assets abroad, where they will bring the money back and invest it. The amount of money is worth billions, some by single companies, and is sitting in accounts around the world where they are barely touched. Republicans have always been in favor of lowering corporate tax rates, but many Democrats have argued these companies do not pay any taxes even under the current rules.

However, this proposal seems to be gaining momentum as Senator Chuck Schumer is negotiating a deal, with both sides, for lowering the rates into a jobs package being put together in the Senate that focuses on infrastructure. According to the article on CNN “While the repatriation holiday alone is a non-starter for most Democrats, pairing it with an infrastructure program could marshal labor support. It’s an approach backed by former Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern, who’s emerged as the most vocal proponent of the tax holiday on the left.”

But while corporate tax rates might be lowered, a part of the deal will be to close the loopholes corporations currently use to avoid paying them in the first place. But no matter how you cut it, say it, or write it, closing loopholes is a tax increase.

Once the deal is cut, Eric Cantor will be talking about how cutting spending and lowering the overall corporate rate will create jobs. But cutting spending has nothing to do with creating jobs, in fact, it could make the entire situation worse. Right now states want to hire people to strengthen their infrastructure but they need the money to do it. But banks aren’t lending, and since the GOP refuses to spend any money, states are stuck.

On the second point, if the overall tax rate is lowered, the IRS wouldn’t be collecting as much as they would now if they enforced the rules already on the books. But if the deal passes they would be collecting more money because the rules will be easier to enforce, and presumably there will be more money to collect. But politicians could be taking a huge gamble. There is no guarantee these corporations will bring back the money, or European governments won’t lower their taxes even further so those corporations keep their money where it is.

And don’t forget, most of Europe’s taxes are collected through a Value Added Tax System (VAT) which allows them to collect money before these large corporations accountants and lawyers figure out how to hide it.

Democrats will declare this a victory too. Many liberal economists are trying to figure out ways for the government to put more money in people’s pockets. One idea has been to lower the amount being taken away out of people’s paychecks for Social Security and Medicare. So yes, economists do consider tax reductions a stimulus. But the only stimulus that takes place is through the money that people spend when they receive their cut, which right now isn’t much. In this climate they are more likely to save it or spend it on necessities like rent, healthcare, and food (like that last one did), which only had a small and short impact on the overall economy.

The Tax Code is a complex monstrosity that should be put into a shredder and thrown into a furnace. But let us digress, and come to the realization that even if this plan does come together, there is no way to determine how many jobs will be created or how much it will reduce the deficit. It is a possibility for a short term solution, that requires long term thinking, and no one can say how much good it will really do. In the end it is just another example of how current economic models and the advice given to politicians are defunct.

 

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Filed under Budget, Congress, debt, debt ceiling, Democrats, Economics, Eric Cantor, Political Economy, Politics, taxes, VAT

Blue Dogs Singing The Blues

In my desperate attempts to find news not about Anthony Weiner, I went to POLITICO’s website and found an article about Blue Dog Democrats, or I should say, the lack of Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. The Blue Dog Caucus was started in 1995 and was always a thorn on the side of liberal Democrats of the west coast and north east. Whenever it came to taxes, health care, and especially the farm bill, these moderates always seemed to have the upper hand.

Coming from the Dakota’s, Tennessee, Kentucky, and “Pennsyltucky,” these Congressmen and women would always use the same argument; our “rural” constituents don’t want more spending, so I can’t vote for this unless I can tell them how they will benefit from it. Or they would lay the guilt on the Democrats in safe seats and rant about how in order to keep the majority the liberals need to put together more moderate policy proposals. Well guess what, the Democrats did pass moderate legislation that benefited every single state in the union, and they still lost.

According to the article “The Blue Dog decline has been sharp, to put it mildly. Following the 2008 elections, the coalition counted 54 House members. When the dust settled from the 2010 midterms, just 25 remained.” Of course if they were real Republican’s it would be a lot easier for them to win reelection. They do come from more conservative districts, but I find it hard to believe Blue Dogs lost because of the policies that were passed between 2008 and 2010.

The hardest votes Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to get were for the bailout, stimulus, and health care, and had to work hard to convince the Blue Dogs. They were worried about keeping their job, and since the media and Republican’s hit the panic button whenever they get a chance, they have to go with the flow. The communications staff of House and Senate members (usually between 2-5 people) don’t have the time or tools to work on all the stories the media is covering. Most congressional offices have a policy of sticking to a limited amount of stories that make the member look good. But Blue Dogs can’t say the Democrat’s didn’t try to help them.

One of the biggest bills (and one that gets the least attention) was the Farm Bill in 2008, which is set to expire in 2012. It always carries huge subsidies for America’s least productive industry (1.2 percent of GDP) but there is never, ever, a debate of whether it should be passed. As far as the people who benefit from it are concerned, the more people who can benefit from it the better, and you can forget all that deficit stuff. The subsides in this law are with billions. I will also be writing a letter to Anheuser Busch. Since the law extended the tariffs for ethanol allowing local breweries to charge less to bars, I want to know why I still have to pay triple the price for a Budweiser.

Both Democrat’s and Republican’s need a wide variety of candidates in order to keep the gavel. The difference is while Democrat’s make a big deal out of their differences, Republican’s pretend there aren’t any. When the Democrats took back the House in 2006, there were stories coming out of Blue Dogs telling their leadership they were the reason they control the House. But the leadership should have reminded them about all the money they so the Blue Dogs could have their seat.

There will be Blue Dogs coming back in the next year, and yes it will help the Democrats get control of Congress, but that doesn’t mean the Democratic leadership should bow down to their every wish. If they wind up losing their seat it’s because their constituents didn’t see what their representative did for them. But if you look at what the GOP has accomplished this year (cut to Eric Cantor trying to fix his whip), and considering the seriousness of the issues coming up (cut to John Boehner crying), Democrats should stop singing the blues and replace it with rock and roll.

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Deficit, Democrats, Politics, Uncategorized

Teaching to Teach

Out of the several issues President Obama will have to tackle these next few years, renewing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Law will be one of the toughest. One would think that a piece of legislation that Senator Kennedy pushed through Congress, and was signed by President George W. Bush, that in this new bipartisan era it wouldn’t have much problem getting through. But then again, the first vote to be taken in this new Congress is the “job-killing” repeal of the health care law.

The biggest problem President Obama will have trying to re-authorize NCLB will be that both Democrats and Republicans have issues with it, and some are legitimate. When the law was first enacted funding for NCLB was non-existent. States that were trying to implement its policies were unable because there was not enough money in the federal budget. This lead to the second problem: in order to qualify for what little funding there was, states had to device a way which would assess schools. The law never said that standardized tests had to be implemented, but it was the cheapest way to qualify for the federal money.

Since Arne Duncan took over the Department of Education, he devised a new way for states to compete called Race to the Top. The difference here was States had more standards to meet. Yes students still had to take tests, but more charter schools had to be created, and assessments had to be submitted. But in every race there’s always a loser. While most states changed their education system in order compete for the millions of dollars being dangled in front of them, most states did not receive any money, or not as much money as they thought they would or should get. When the second round came up, the states that got shunned threatened not to participate and derail Obama and Duncan’s image of how schools should be run.

I have no problem with using money to get what you want. It’s done all the time. Whether it is to stop people from drinking and driving, regulate pollution in streams and rivers, or building new wind turbines for energy, this is how our current government works and has for a long time. The problem I do have with this policy is that it won’t help children learn.

Making students take tests won’t get students to understand what they are being tested on. Where Secretary Duncan and school Superintendents around the country should focus its efforts, is figuring out the best methods to teach teachers how to teach, and the best practices that enable students to learn. Then, incentives can be given to states based on what we know works, instead of assuming a one shoe fits all approach. Which brings me to my second point.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been studying which teaching practices work best. One of the key findings is that smaller classrooms produce better outcomes for students. Reason being; the teacher is able to give those students the attention they need. But if you’re going to give more money to states to hire more teachers and build more schools, you have to make sure the teachers being hired actually know how to teach. The Gates Foundation is looking at what the best teachers are doing now, so teachers of the future can learn from them.

One of the recommendations by the Gates Foundation is to take the students that are seriously struggling and put them into other areas where they can get the help they need. They are not specific on which students they are, only that the students who will be moved should be based on the criteria they develop. But let’s assume the students that are moved have learning disabilities.

In the past, I have written about learning disabilities, and while the research being done will indirectly help teachers teach these students, it is still not an issue that is being dealt with. Even the best teachers will have to adjust their methods so the student with a disability can properly learn the material. But shifting them to another room is not the answer. As long as they are willing to work hard, students with disabilities can be in the same classroom as his or her peers, but putting them in another room will only make them feel as if they are below everyone else.

There is no reason why Congress needs to politicize this issue. When NCLB was first enacted in 2001, there were obviously aspects of the bill both liberals and conservatives liked, otherwise, it would not have passed. In the State of the Union Address, President Obama should talk about the success this bill has had since it was first enacted and how it is a way to enact changes to a system that desperately needs it.

Many more studies need to be conducted, and this post does not even begin to scratch the surface of what is wrong with our education system. But once there is a compilation of methods that are proven to effectively teach students, incentives should be given to states to teach, and teach those policies to its teachers.

 

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Filed under Arne Duncan, Democrats, Education, Gates Foundation, Leanring Disabilities, NCLB, No Child Left Behing, Obama, President Obama, Republicans, Teach, Teachers

We Need Energy

If you want evidence that only funny characters and what they say dominate the news media, try figuring out the latest debate on taxes. The Senate “worked” this weekend on the nations taxes. But since the United States Senate requires hours of debate before a vote can actually take place, it makes it easy to waste a lot of time. So unless you are a C-SPAN2 junky (like me) you missed hours upon hours of our elected officials talking about how they were going to vote.

[Quick side note: Notice how I didn’t say debate to describe what the Senate was doing this weekend. The Senate doesn’t debate anymore. If you want to read a great debate, look up Second Reply to Hayne, given by Daniel Webster.]

But don’t worry, Senator’s don’t get paid overtime. After all that talk the only agenda that was accomplished was playing politics. Only two votes were taken and both sides knew they were going to fail. Democrats said they wanted to show Republicans only support the rich, and Republican’s refused to raise taxes even though they claim to want to tackle the deficit. Now it looks like all the Bush taxes will be extended. The good news is that unemployment benefits will also. The bad news is that even if Democrats somehow manage to raise some taxes, Wall Street is already trying to figure out how to not pay them.

What both sides forget though is that Americans aren’t looking for a show, they’re looking for things to get done. While building Noah’s Arc in Kentucky may seem funny, it is a policy that will create jobs and help the economy. It shows leadership and strength, which is exactly what people are looking for.

One of President Obama’s problems the past two years is that he let Republican’s control the debate on all the issues. Whether it was health care or Wall Street Reform, the Obama never used the bully pulpit to the extent other Presidents like FDR or Reagan did. Even though both President’s lost seats during their midterm elections, their base was ready to fight for them when they were up for reelection, and they won big.

The State of the Union speech is coming up soon. It will be a moment where the president can set the agenda and tone for the next two years he is in office. The first issue he should talk about is energy. This is an area where Republican’s and Democrats can make themselves happy. Obama already came out in favor of nuclear energy, which Republican’s have been pushing for years. Wind and solar energy have are already a growing industry. With the right incentives, creating new energy industries can create thousands of jobs that can’t be shipped off. The best part is that the technology for these new industries is being developed in America, and that means more exports which (according to standard models) will help America’s economy grow.

President Obama not only needs to create more energy, he also needs to show more energy. Letting the other side control the modern hyperbole of a debate, only takes away the victories he has already accomplished. We all know what a great communicator he can be, next year, it’s time to step up and speak loud.

 

 

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Filed under Democrats, Energy, Nuclear, President Obama, Republicans, Solar, Speech, State of the Union, Wind

>Pre-Election Mortem

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Watching this election cycle has been like watching a movie that’s really bad but you can’t manage to walk out of the theatre. The Tea Party is the stupid friend who is funny (think Zach Galifianakis), the Republicans are the guys who seem alright but keep getting everyone else into the dumb situations (Mike Myers in Wayne’s World), and the Democrats are supposed to be one of the main characters but you really have no idea what they’re doing there (Gene Hackman in Heartbreakers).

The Tea Party has managed to nominate people with no political experience, or for that matter any experience, and single handedly made what should have been strong races for Republicans and turned them into toss ups. Harry Reid was behind more then ten points in generic ballots (at which point a politicians tombstone is usually being built), but has been able to make Nevada a close race. But he can only thank his opponent Sharron Angle who made demoralizing comments toward Latinos. Alaska shouldn’t even have been a contest with the conservative Republican Lisa (spell my name) Murkowski, but I guess she wasn’t obnoxious enough for the Tea Party. So instead, the nomination goes to Joe Miller whose claim to fame is being a lumberjack. And then there’s Christine O’ Donnell. Running for Vice President Joseph Biden’s former seat, she lied about finishing college, her personal finances, and being a witch.

Since the Tea Party has become the main character the Republicans can’t get rid of them. They need them for the movie to go on and to win on Tuesday. Even with this apparent hijacking, the Republicans can’t say anything because they need the Tea Party. Unfortunately, most people don’t vote in the midterm election, and less in the primary where the people listed above became famous, which give these small groups more influence.

After passing two historic pieces of legislation, the Democrats aren’t able to come up with a strong message to tell voters. President Obama should be proud of what he’s accomplished in the past two years. But part of being President is also being Communicator In Chief. While the debates for health care and financial reform were taking place, he should have been out there talking to the people and saying what he wanted passed in this legislation. He knows he will be compared to other Presidents like FDR, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. While on paper they’ve accomplished similar feats, Obama didn’t use the bully pulpit like the others did to win the political points he needs right now.

My prediction for Tuesday: Democrats lose 23 seats in the House and the Republicans are one short of taking the Senate. The script for this disaster will be spun in two ways. Republicans will say it is a referendum on President Obama and his agenda. Democrats will say there were seats we knew we were going to lose, while historically, new Presidents always lose seats in the midterm elections. Democrats will look like they’re giving excuses, and they are. I know I’ve said this before, but for a campaign that was so good at delivering a message and being clear as to what they wanted to accomplish, you almost wonder how they won just two years ago.

Not having a strong message explains the big difference between voter enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. Liberals feel they worked so hard to elect a candidate they believed in and they still got the short end of the stick. But change has always been slow. With these types of movies there is usually a sequel or a spinoff, but it doesn’t necessarily means it is as bad. Maybe next time the Democrats can figure out what to do.

 

 

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Filed under Christine O' Donnell, Democrats, Election 2010, Lisa Murkowski, Sharron Angle, Tea Party