I’m Not Going To Vote For “Fighters” Anymore

I’ve got friends who occupy just about every niche along the political spectrum.  For once, almost everyone seems to be united in one thought:  we all agree that the recent “fiscal cliff” scenario, and the hash house legislation that “resolved” it, are an infuriating embarrassment for our country.  Everyone seems to recognize that the hastily brokered bill, with its special deals for well-heeled special interests, just illustrates how bad things have gotten in Washington, D.C.

Why has this happened?  There are a lot of reasons, of course, but I think one significant cause is that we’ve changed how we think about our political leaders and what they should be doing.  What attributes are featured in political ads these days?  Democrat or Republican, the candidate is always portrayed as a “fighter” who will “fight” for his constituents in opposing unnamed forces of evil.  Important qualities like thoughtfulness, cool deliberation, and attention to detail are ignored.  When was the last time you saw a candidate in a political ad sitting and reading something?  Instead, they’re always out, talking, talking, talking to groups, and vigorously gesturing as they are doing so.

We need legislators who understand the true importance of their role and who have pride in their legislative bodies and in their offices.  We need people who recognize that laws that will govern the affairs of more than 300 million Americans have to be carefully considered and can’t be cobbled together in a back room huddle of Joe Biden and a few congressional leaders.

In reality, too, most of the “fighters” who currently hold office really are sheep.  They listen to how their party leadership tells them to vote, and then they do it, even if it means they don’t even read whatever last-minute, lobbied-up deal they are voting on.  Can you imagine the Lincolns and Clays and Websters of the past — or any legislator with an ounce of self-respect, for that matter — accepting these legislative practices, which have now become so routine?  A real fighter for our system would refuse to participate in such shenanigans.

I’m not going to vote for phony “fighters” any more.  In fact, I’ll make this pledge:  candidates whose commercials extoll their qualities as “fighters” will be automatically disqualified from further consideration.  Our country badly needs reasoned solutions, not more pointless name-calling and legislative brawls undertaken in the name of “fighting” for constituents.  We need readers and thinkers, not “fighters.”  “Fighters” look for fights; readers and thinkers look for solutions — and solutions is what we really need.

Helping Out Hollywood, NASCAR, And Anyone Else Who Can Afford To Hire High-Powered Lobbyists

We’re starting to learn more about what was in the “fiscal cliff” measure that the President supported and Congress cravenly passed at the eleventh hour.  Of course, the information shows that the legislation is loaded with targeted provisions, tax breaks, and loopholes for special interests — just as any rational person predicted.

For example, the bill included a film production tax credit for Hollywood that allows deduction of millions of dollars in production costs if a TV or movie production occurs in an “economically disadvantaged area” — whatever that is defined to mean.  Supporters say the tax credit helps to keep productions from going overseas and “helps get investors who would like to have a significant impact in their taxes reduced.”  Sure, sounds good!  Let’s make sure that Hollywood fat cats get a bit fatter, so producers, directors, and actors can continue to make sober public service announcements that lecture us not to engage in the crazed gun violence that every Hollywood production seems to glorify.  And I’m sure we can all be confident that the millions of dollars that the Hollywood moguls and “stars” have contributed to political campaigns had nothing to do with Congress’ reasoned judgment to extend this tax break.

In the bill there’s also a tax break for NASCAR, to allow accelerated (no pun intended) depreciation for anyone who builds a racetrack.  Apparently all of the races on TV and gear that you see people wearing are misleading and, in reality, NASCAR is struggling and needs all the help it can get.  Perhaps the tax break recognizes that high gasoline prices have hit the owners of those powerful, gas-guzzling cars even harder than they hit the rest of us.

IMG_2787As the Washington Post reports, the fiscal cliff legislation also includes tax breaks, tax credits, and subsidies for banks and multinational corporations, Manhattan apartment developers and railroads, and even manufacturers of plug-in two-wheeled electric scooters.

With our current system, it’s all about who you know, who you can afford to hire to lobby for your cause, and whether they have the access and power to make sure that, when the last-minute deal goes down and an emergency bill is passed that the vast majority of members of Congress haven’t even read, your pet provision is included.

It’s a great system, if you are one of the people who can afford to play the game.  If you’re one of the rest of us, who can’t afford a gold-plated lobbyist to represent your interests, you’re left defenseless.  Of course, average citizens are supposed to have representatives in Washington, D.C.  They are called Senators and Representatives, but who can count on them to protect our interests?  Most of them didn’t even read the entire bill that they voted on.

Time To Activate The Sarcasm Font, America!

Our leaders have done it!  The Senate has approved a package of tax hikes, in order to keep our country from tumbling over the “fiscal cliff.”  The vote to approve the bill was 89-8.  Let’s all bask in that warm bipartisan glow!

The deal was brokered by negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republicans.  We should all take comfort that such intellectual titans were doing the heavy lifting on this crucial matter!  Aren’t you relieved that brainy, detail-oriented statesmen like Biden and Senate leaders scrupulously evaluated the wording of the new taxes and their potential economic impact and the loopholes that inevitably must have been part of the deal?  There is every reason to be confident that this carefully considered legislation will not produce any unintended consequences.  After all, the Senate proudly calls itself “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.”  I bet they deliberated on this bill for a few minutes, and maybe even longer!  Oh, and Harry Reid is in favor of it.  What more do we need to know?

There’s lots of new taxes in this proposal:  increased estate taxes, increased capital gains taxes, and increased income taxes for those people who, purely through dumb luck and undeserved good fortune, make more than $400,000 a year.  What’s important, though, is that the draconian spending cuts that everyone wanted to avoid would be delayed for two months under this proposal.  Thank God!  That will allow the President, the Senate, and the House even more time to really roll up their sleeves and come up with meaningful spending cuts that wouldn’t be ruinous.  Once the tax increases take effect, of course, our leaders will be eager to make tough spending decisions that will incur the ire of government workers and the special interest groups that are invested in the continuation of every federal program, no matter how ill-conceived, bloated, or unsuccessful that program might be.  Maybe, after two months of thoughtful analysis, our leaders also might decide that what they should really do is impose more taxes on us, and further shore up the revenue side of the budget.  And we can be sure, too, that our leaders won’t wait until the last minute to take action.  Long before the two-month extension period expires, our leaders will have agreed upon well-reasoned spending reductions and program cuts and “revenue enhancements” that will delight every American.

Of course, this well-crafted Senate proposal still needs to be approved by the House of Representatives.  With this kind of quality legislation pending, though, why would any member of the House of Representatives vote “no”?

A Pox On All Their Houses

I’ve consciously refrained from writing anything about the “fiscal cliff” because I knew anything I had to say would come out as a vitriolic screed that wouldn’t accomplish anything.  But now that we’ve reached the last day before the automatic spending cuts and tax increases take effect and no deal has been struck, the time for the pointless yet heartfelt screed has come.

I say a pox on all their houses.  By that I mean the White House and both Houses of Congress; I mean the President and Congress, Republican and Democrat, “progressives,” liberals, conservatives, and “tea partiers.”  Congratulations to you all!  You’ve maneuvered us into a situation where tax increases and spending limits that were consciously designed to be so foolish and draconian that they would force a compromise look like they might actually take effect unless a lame duck Congress and a disengaged President strike some poorly thought out, last-minute deal that the American public has no opportunity to consider or voice an opinion on — just like the deal that got us into this stupid “fiscal cliff” predicament in the first place.  Your little plan about a “supercommittee” to reach a grand compromise failed, you frittered away the intervening months raising money from your pet interest groups and electioneering without doing anything to make meaningful progress on the tax policy changes and spending reductions that every conscious American knows must occur to avoid enormous impending debt problems, and now you are frantically trying to avoid the imminent, painful consequences of your years of stupid politicking, indolence, and irresponsibility.

What’s sad about this is that the President and the Republican and Democratic leadership probably all think they’ve got the other guys just where they want them; they likely think the opposing side is bound to knuckle under today and give them a huge, last-minute victory.  Here’s some news for you all:  we shouldn’t be governing through a process that sees us lurching endlessly from crisis to crisis.  Your failures to do things like propose, debate, and pass meaningful budgets, hold hearings on spending, tax and budget proposals that allow citizens to comment and thoughtful changes to be evaluated, and engage in the standard activities of government as our Constitution contemplates reflects badly on you all.  Even if an eleventh-hour deal is reached and everyone declares they won, you’ve achieved no victory.  The American people have come to realize that, unfortunately, we have no real political leaders — just political hacks, buck-passers, and pipsqueaks who don’t have the sense or courage to put the interests of the country ahead of their personal political interests and the narrow perspectives of the pressure groups that contribute to their campaigns.

I know most of the people reading this will say “hey, it’s not my guy’s fault!”  Supporters of President Obama will say it is the no-new-tax-pledge intransigence of the tea partiers that have brought on this ridiculous crisis; tea partiers will say it is the President’s and the Senate’s unwillingness to make meaningful spending cuts that is to blame; and everyone will point the finger elsewhere.  My response is that it is everyone’s fault.  In the past, when large problems have loomed, American politicians have managed to reach compromises that have allowed the country to move forward.  The difference is that, in the past, our political leaders included real statesmen.

There is a reason why there was a huge fall-off in the number of Americans who voted in the most recent election.  Naive notions about hope and change and broad social movements to achieve fiscal responsibility have given way to disgust and outrage at the continuation of politics as usual.  The “fiscal cliff” crisis will just exacerbate those feelings.  Having a disillusioned, disgusted, and angry electorate is not a good thing for our country.

Banning “Lunatic”

The United States Congress has been working hard on our behalf.  Both the Senate and the House, for example, have now voted to ban the word “lunatic” from federal statutory law.

IMG_0072The stated reason for Congress’ action is that the word “lunatic” is “pejorative.”  The sponsor of the bill effecting the ban says “[f]ederal law should reflect the 21st Century understanding of mental illness and disease.”  Huh?  Sure, “lunatic” obviously traces its roots to the notion that the moon affected mental health, but so what?  “Lunatic” is a perfectly good word that has a well established, commonly accepted definition as synonymous with “insane.”  Are we really going to go through the U.S. Code and strike every word that is rooted in antiquated thoughts, concepts, or science, even if the word has acquired its own established meaning that is perfectly well-suited to the matter at hand and most people don’t have the slightest idea of its unfortunate history?

In the U.S. House of Representatives, only one person — Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert — voted against the legislation to strike “lunatic” from the statute books.  He argues that Congress is wasting time with such measures, when it should be focused on issues like the fiscal cliff, the budget deficit, and the economy, among other things.  I’m with him.  How many times is “lunatic” even used in the U.S. Code?  Is dealing with that issue really important enough to command the attention of our legislators under the circumstances?

Of course, every other member of Congress voted for the measure because it’s just easier to do so and thereby avoid getting ripped for your lack of sensitivity and political correctness.  I suppose you could argue that it was an act of lunacy for Congressman Gohmert to take a stand on the issue.

Teetering On The Edge Of The Fiscal Cliff

We’ve all heard about the “fiscal cliff” that is heading our way in January 2013.  If President Obama and Congress don’t act before then, a combination of tax increases and government spending cuts will automatically take effect.

The Tax Policy Center has now attempted to quantify the impact of the “fiscal cliff” on American taxpayers.  It finds that almost 90 percent of households would experience a tax increase.  The top 20 percent of taxpayers will bear 60 percent of the tax increases, but the tax increases will have an impact across the economic spectrum.  A middle-income family earning between $40,000 and $64,000 would pay an additional $2,000 a year, and families making between $110,000 and $140,000 a year would see a $6,000 tax increase.  In all, the government is forecast to reap an additional $500 billion in tax revenues.  Some people believe that the economy is already slowing to a zombie state because of fears of the new, bigger tax bite that will take effect in January.  Other economists fear that the combination of half a trillion dollars in tax increases and $109 billion in automatic government spending cuts that were implemented because the “debt supercommittee” couldn’t reach agreement on a deficit reduction will hurl the struggling economy into a full-fledged recession.

As I noted earlier, of course, this all will happen only if President Obama and Congress don’t act.  The President has been spending virtually every waking hour campaigning for re-election, and Congress has been inert for months.  So what do we have to worry about?