Platform-ish – Part IV – Taxes

Taxes

Taxes are riddled with complexities to the point where few people could ever understand them.  This leads to every politician promising to lower taxes and silly “pledges” childishly thrust upon them by Grover Norquist.  For once, I want it to not be political suicide for a politician to say we might need to raise some taxes.  Instead, everyone stays quiet about it, which leads to taxes only being raised on those without a voice loud enough to fight back.

Here is the reality: We have a lot of government expenses.  Somehow these expenses have to be paid.  If we want a prohibitive military, someone has to pay for it.  If we want roads and bridges, someone has to pay for it.  If we want utilities, fire protection, police protection, someone has to pay for it.  And guess what.  If you don’t want to be paying $10 for a gallon of gas, $8 for a gallon of milk, $25 for a pound of beef, and a dramatic price increase on everything that contains corn (which, by the way, is nearly everything), then someone has to pay for it.  At least that’s what those industries will tell you.  Go read up on government subsidies; you’ll come out of it angry and confused, I promise.

tax increase kitten

This is one of those annoying political areas where someone says, “Do you believe in raising taxes or lowering taxes?”  That’s a stupid question, so please don’t ask it to anyone.  The amount of context that is left out of that question is staggering.  No one wants taxes to be raised, so a politician saying anything other than that would be a sound byte that would haunt them forever.  But what if our country is attacked?  What if another country is attacked and needs our help?  This costs a lot of money, and not addressing it by increasing revenues is what has led us to the enormous deficits and overall debt for the nation.

The reason I harp on people like Grover Norquist and his “no tax pledge” is that, not only does it ignore all context, it doesn’t even allow context to enter the discussion.  Do I think the very wealthy should pay more in taxes so all poor people can get a Lexus?  Of course not.  Do I think people making over $1 million a year could pay a little more in taxes so adults making $7.25/hour can feed their children?  Saying no to that should be the political equivalent of clubbing a baby seal.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  Somewhere along the line, our society decided the seal deserves it.

It’s time for politicians to tell you the truth.  Sometimes taxes need to be raised.  Perhaps saying that will come back to bite me if I run for political office, but if I were to run, honesty would be the most prominent part of my platform, and this is the honest truth.  If ever a politician tells you different, he or she is lying to you.  They can be lowered again when our debt is lower or gone, and our obligations to our state and country have been fulfilled.

We could actually be there now.  In 2001, President Bush enacted his first round of tax cuts because, and I’m completely serious about this, they were afraid to pay the debt down to 0.  The Clinton Administration left the country with a surplus, and the debt was going down.  Now, there are obvious reasons that a country having 0 debt could be a problem; namely, what happens to surplus money after the debt is paid off.  The government buying up private property would not be a situation that ends pretty.

The more important part of this is that, under testimony before Congress, Alan Greenspan said these tax cuts were the best way to slow down paying off the debt, which seems reasonable…a more controlled approach.  A very important recommendation in that testimony from Greenspan was largely ignored, though.  Because he knew how quickly the economy can change, he suggested automatic tax hikes if the government started running deficits again.  The automatic tax hikes were left out, the World Trade Centers were attacked, and we jumped into trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Then Bush the Younger threw in another round of tax cuts in 2003, because apparently the deficit wasn’t screwed up enough yet.  The result of all this was fiscally conservative Republicans cranking the national debt up and blaming everything on terrorists.  Dick Who Shall Not Be Named used the Vice Presidency to get his company a $39.5 billion profit from the Iraq War.  Deregulation going back into the Clinton Administration finally crept up and suddenly a bunch of investors found out at the same time they were carrying toxic assets, everyone bailed and every company got bailed out, and the market tanked.  Companies started laying people off in droves, and the combination of lower income tax revenues (less people working) and increased unemployment benefits kept the debt piling up.

A huge swath of all that could have been avoided if we weren’t so afraid of the mere concept of a tax increase.  Everyone wanted us to attack Afghanistan and, for what we now know were misleading reasons, Iraq.  Going to war means everyone at home has to pitch in extra.  We can’t have our military police the world and simultaneously cut taxes.  So next time you find yourself wanting to whine about your taxes, think about all the things around you that you need and use often that would not be possible without those taxes.  You want your taxes cut, just remember you get what you pay for.

Elections: Lessons from Our Strangest Political Movies

travojones:

Spectacular. And still relevant after election day, because it’s not too long before the next one.

Originally posted on The Stake:

Our next national election of unprecedented significance is one week away. Non-presidential midterm elections sometimes lack inspiration for voters, and turnout tends to be down compared to presidential election years.

Which is unfortunate because midterm elections matter. The outcome of every election has consequences, from the most local of local elections to to the highest seats in our federal government. If nothing else, it matters that voters realize the consequences of our elections.  So go vote, and know that your vote matters if only because you choose to exercise the right to vote.

And when you do go vote (next Tuesday!) remember these lessons about political elections in the United States, from some of our strangest political movies

From Bulworth: Money is the Problem, Voting is the Solution

Senator Bulworth is out of favor. A Democrat of the 70s, he’s now become an entrenched career politician. Hiding affairs from the public (but…

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A Canadian’s View On Our Disrespect Of President Obama’s Presidency

travojones:

It’s nice to hear an outside perspective. Sometimes it feels like we’re being drowned on the inside. President Obama isn’t perfect, nor has he ever claimed to be. There are several issues that I will continually call him on, most notably his passing on public financing in 2008. But he has also done a ton of good things, including a health care bill that means my wife and her pre-existing condition can’t be denied health insurance anymore.

Originally posted on The Fifth Column:

EgbertoWillies.com

America – He’s Your President for Goodness Sake!

By William Thomas

There was a time not so long ago when Americans, regardless of their political stripes, rallied round their president. Once elected, the man who won the White House was no longer viewed as a republican or democrat, but the President of the United States. The oath of office was taken, the wagons were circled around the country’s borders and it was America versus the rest of the world with the president of all the people at the helm.

Suddenly President Barack Obama, with the potential to become an exceptional president has become the glaring exception to that unwritten, patriotic rule.

Four days before President Obama’s inauguration, before he officially took charge of the American government, Rush Limbaugh boasted publicly that he hoped the president would fail. Of course, when the president fails the country flounders. Wishing harm upon…

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Platform-ish – Part III – Election Law

Election Law

One of the more under-the-radar topics of elections was brought to the forefront this year due to massive redistricting efforts by state legislatures and some questionable new laws regarding identification and early voting put forth by many of the same states.  Terms like “voter suppression” and “poll tax” continue to stir in Democratic circles, and state and federal courts have spent more time talking about election laws than I’m sure any of them feel comfortable.

What bothers me about the process of setting elections laws in many states is that elected officials set them.  In some cases, even the judges that hear these cases are elected.  How is this not the greatest and widest conflict of interest ever?  Just think about that…elected officials set the laws for the elections that get them elected, and inexplicably, no one sees a problem with what.  That would be like telling your boss what your job requirements will be, then setting them specifically to make sure your job performance is as high as possible.  It sounds great in theory, if you’re the employee, but it is not in the best interest of the company.  Similarly, election laws set by elected officials will not be in the best interest of their bosses, also known as their constituents.

This is a Wisconsin map showing each of the eight Congressional Districts in the state, with lines drawn prior to the 2010 census, and after:

wisconsin district map

The significance of this is that it was drawn, in private, by Republicans.  I’m not naive enough to think that an all-Democrat state government would have behaved differently, and in fact there are examples of this just to the south in Illinois.  Take a look at the recent hatchet job on Illinois 4th Congressional district:

Illinois 4th

The most disturbing part of this map is how the bottom and top are connected on the left.  It literally runs up the width of I-294.  There are no actual constituents there; it’s just a stretch of highway.

The reason they did this in both Wisconsin and Illinois, and several others states, is simple.  If the state legislature draws up lines that combine highly populated areas that usually vote Democrat, or rural areas that usually vote Republican, the result is all non-competitive races, to the advantage of the party that drew the lines.  This actually doesn’t happen all that often because it requires one party to hold all three branches of state government: State Senate, State Assembly, and Governor.  That also has to happen in a government that will span a census (every 10 years, last time in 2010).  But that doesn’t mean it’s anything new.

Original Gerrymander

There are several solutions to gerrymandering, most notably in Iowa, where the lines are drawn by a non-partisan group called the Legislative Services Agency.  They are not allowed to take into consideration any information on where voters are located, who they voted for, or even where legislators are located.  And the results are clear.  In the 2014 midterm elections, the eight districts in Wisconsin were completely void of any competition.  Only one district, the 6th, didn’t re-elect the incumbent, but only because 35 year Congressman Tom Petri retired.  That district did, however, go to a member of the same party.  56%-43% was the closest U.S. House election in Wisconsin; all but two races were decided by at least 20 percentage points.  One race was 70%-27%.

Now compare that to Iowa. where only one of the four races was decided by more than 10 percentage points.  One of them was 51%-49%, another was 52%-48%, all because the lines weren’t drawn by one party or the other, but rather drawn to show the most even and reasonable look at the population.

Our election laws are just messed up, and the only way to change that is for some elected officials with integrity to step up and do what’s right for their bosses.  In Wisconsin, Democrats and a few Republicans are supporting Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163, which would have the Legislative Reference Bureau, a non-partisan entity, draw the district lines.  This needs to happen before the next census, and I would hope Republicans would see this, since 2020 will be a Presidential election year, where Democrats typically turn out in far higher numbers.  This bill would protect them, and more importantly, protect the voters.  It’s hard to feel like a vote makes a difference when the races are all called an hour after polls close.

And it doesn’t end there.  Identification requirements, early voting days, voter intimidation practices…all of these should not be decided by Republicans or Democrats, but by a non-partisan agency that will remove partisan politics from the rules of the election process.  This should be in the best long-term interest of both parties, regardless of who is currently in power.

Platform-ish – Part II – Abortion

Abortion

(To anyone that has had an abortion, please know that nothing in this section is meant to offend, and I fully understand my place as a man that will never find myself in the midst of such a difficult decision.  I would recommend skipping it entirely, but if you don’t, understand that I do not put myself in the position of judging you.  This topic has been grossly oversimplified, and my opinion holds that it is due a much deeper conversation than “pro-choice” or “pro-life.”  I only seek to shed light on the many questions we have failed to ask and answer)

For many reasons, abortion might be the most consistently influencing topic in modern politics.  It has helped win and lose elections, all the way up to President.  George W. Bush “won” the 2000 election for two reasons.  1) He was going to flip the Supreme Court to get Roe v. Wade overturned, and 2) there’s really no polite way to put this…Al Gore is just so boring.  Lockbox.  Also Ralph Nader.

George the Younger won that election on the shoulders of the Christian Right, who voted in droves because they believed (myself included) that this was finally the chance to get it done, and because it might be the final chance to get it done.  We were all duped, and that duping became a catalyst for my political transition.

I abhor abortion.  Oddly, though, and you might have a hard time believing this, but so do many Democrats.  I know, I’ve talked to them.  See, you probably thought Democrats like abortion because they mostly identify as pro-choice.  They just haven’t been asked the right question yet.  No one likes abortion.  Pro-choice women don’t go home and watch the video of their abortion.  It’s why Rush Republicans have spent the last decade trying to coin the term “pro-abortion” to take the place of pro-choice.  They don’t want the debate to be an issue of whether men get to decide what a woman does with her body; they want it to be about liberals clapping gleefully as another child dies.

Change the picture in your head.  Imagine a Republican that honestly and genuinely cries at the news of an abortion, and without judgment of the woman, says a prayer for the child’s soul.  Not for the cameras or some self-righteous ploy, but from genuine sadness.  They don’t go and hold up signs at abortion clinics, but they would like to see the practice made illegal.

Now imagine a Democrat that honestly and genuinely cries at the news of an abortion, and without judgment of the woman, says a prayer for the child’s soul.  While they appreciate the woman’s freedom to make her own decision, they want to make birth control more accessible everywhere so that there are far fewer abortions.

What this led to was the revelation that both Democrats and Republicans would like to combat abortion, but have taken vastly different approaches.  The loudest one is obviously an outright ban.  The reason it’s so loud is because it’s so simple, black-and-white.  Where it becomes more complex is where you see Democrats combating abortion.  Sex education has proven to make teenagers more responsible about sex, and new research says it actually leads them to wait several years longer before their first sexual encounter.  Birth control has the production levels to be highly available in any community, and Democrats constantly push for more access in poverty-stricken areas.  The reason is obvious; end the cycle of teenage pregnancy and poverty.  Republicans say they should just be abstinent.  Democrats understand the reality that we can’t all lock up our kids until they hit their 20’s, and since we can’t, they’re going to have sex.

I consider myself pro-life, but in the pro-choice mold, only because the terminology has been tainted.  If you ask me to choose, one side or the other, I will not.  I will instead ask why you insist that there are only two sides.

Platform-ish – Part I – Intro and Campaign Finance

I’ve always found platform-building to be a tedious process.  The objective is to state a position on current relevant topics, many of which are controversial and that disparity is meant to show the difference between parties or candidates.  But the very practice of stating said position makes the mistake of assuming the topic has an objective answer.

Many questions arise to the pragmatic mind throughout the process of choosing and stating positions.  Can I simply state positives and negatives of each position without choosing an objective side?  Is it okay to say that my head and heart disagree, therefore I choose to not have an opinion?  Is it okay to submit that the question is too complicated to have just one simple answer?  Can my opinion change depending on the situation?

This will be a different kind of platform.  These are my opinions, brought together by years of gaining knowledge and facts, employed by logic and reason, and through a voice fortunate to have wisdom bestowed by several incredible mentors.  I will stick to the basics of the question, but I promise the answer will be anything but basic, as no one should accept a simple answer to such complex questions.  Because of that, I will be breaking nearly every rule of a position paper, so please don’t inform me when I do.  If your response can fit on a bumper sticker, you are part of the problem.


Campaign Finance

The complexity of this topic is that there are so many things involved with a campaign that both follow traditions and cost money.  Political yard signs have been used as far back as I remember, and for a very long time before that.  It’s a tradition linked directly to free speech.  But what happens when one candidate has more money than the other and has the capability of producing twice as many signs?

The only way to solve such a dilemma is for the public to fully fund all elections, though such a thing would be very tough in today’s political climate.  It would be easy for a “corporations are people” voter to point out the incompetence of our Congress over the past few years and say they don’t deserve our tax money.  But that would be a knee-jerk reaction, based on nothing but hyperbole and lacking mountains of context.  A publicly-funded election must be recognized as an election in accordance with the public.  Often “public” and “government” are interchangeable, but when they are not, they are confusing.  Yes, the government would be stewards of that money, but it would still be our money going to pay for elections for our representatives.

We all pay taxes, some of us check the box to toss in an extra $3 for Presidential candidates, so we should expect that our money will be split evenly amongst candidates.  No private donations, no fundraising necessary, just speeches, issues, and knocking on doors.  If you want to know what’s going on with your government, you need to participate.  And every door you knock on, whether it’s a mansion on a private road or a box on the street, is worth the same vote, which is the only way I can see people wanting to participate.

This could happen; this needs to happen.  While I am generally listing these topics in no particular order, there is a reason campaign finance is at the top.  It is the foundation that determines who gets represented by our government.  Until it is thoroughly addressed, all issues that I will discuss after this will continue to be corrupted by money, power, and greed.

Next: Platform-ish – Part II – Abortion

Game-Changer: The Most Important Shift In Campaign Finance

Campaign finance reform.  It’s a buzzword phrase that either makes you incredibly passionate or snoringly bored.  I assume if you’re reading this, you’re as much of a nerd as me, so let’s jump right in with the snoringly bored part.

Every response to any important issue is based on a threshold, a big game of risk/reward.  Your response to a problem will follow a proportional line that closely relates to the impact or potential impact of the problem.  The more I push you into that problem, the more options you’re willing to employ in your response.  This is one of the most important philosophical distinctions in ethics, and it is
the foundational concept behind what is going to quickly become the most important shift in campaign finance history…

At what point is it ethically acceptable to seek and raise millions of dollars for a political campaign if that campaign is strongly against money in elections?

The answer seems to be…at this point, right now.  The problem crossed that threshold over the last three or four elections, and I fully expect to see major campaign finance legislation over the next decade.  Until now, those of us with a strong interest in getting money out of politics and the 28th Amendment effectively nullifying the Citizens United and FEC v. McCutcheon decisions thought that we could make a difference if enough people would just realize how important it is for each voter to have an equal voice.  We thought we could do it grass roots.  We thought we could do it while making a statement that we don’t need money to fix a money problem .  But there was a threshold, and we were pushed over.

By the way, did you know that you can actually fight fire with fire?  It turns out, if you use a controlled fire to remove oxygen and combustible elements from the fire’s path, it will suffocate the original fire.  Firefighters have been known to set off dynamite around an oil well fire to remove the oxygen the fire desperately needs.

We need to fight fire with fire.  We need to fight money with money.  I hate that it has come to this, but we have crossed the threshold where the influence of money on our government cannot be reversed with desire and dreams.  It has to be lots of money, because apparently that’s the only way to get people to start caring about being informed voters again.  The very wealthy were originally intrigued by the Tea Party deregulation battle cry, but then those same Tea Partiers decided to shut down the government, and those wealthy people lost money.  Then they threatened to not raise the debt ceiling, because they don’t understand the distinction between paying your already accumulated bills and spending more money.  And those wealthy people lost money.  Now some of those wealthy people have changed their tune, realizing they get a much more consistent return when the middle class is strong.

The most powerful evidence yet of this evolution comes from two things.  This week, an amendment to the Constitution will be presented by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  It will fail miserably, but it will be on record how our senators voted.  Republicans will crush this bill under the guise of free speech, not willing to admit that free speech is infringed upon when someone else’s speech is more influential than mine because he can pay enough money to get a meeting with an elected official.  The other piece of evidence comes from the recent creation of Mayday PAC, a crowd-funding project put together by Lawrence Lessig under the slogan “A SuperPac to end all SuperPacs.”

This is happening right now, and you have a chance to be heard so that you can finally have a voice loud enough to be heard.  Fire with fire; sometimes it works.  And sometimes, it’s the only option we have left.