Category Archives: Politics

Get Bent, Ayn Rand, or How Sharknado Saved My Sanity

Note from Localista: The best part of social media, including blogging, is for me the exchange of ideas. Here is a counterpoint to my ATLAS SHRUGGED blog post. Kirstie is a funny and astute writer. Enjoy!

Sequester Savings #1: A Running Tally of How the Sequester is Affecting My Spending

dumpster diving photos 001

So, the sequester has the talking heads buzzing about how much, if any, effect the sequester budget cuts are going will have on the economy.

As a family whose income is going to be reduced 20% for five months starting sometime in April, we are already working on our family budget and figuring out how to “not spend” that amount–because we don’t think we should have to sacrifice the savings we already have (or even the savings we were planning on putting by) to the cowardice of our legislative and executive branches of our federal government. Cowardice, yes, because the brave move would have been to tell the people of this fine country, honestly, that we are in a mess and we need to cut spending and we need to raise taxes, both. Instead, they chose to “let the sequester happen” and take zero responsibility for their failure to govern or lead.

So, they won’t get a penny of my savings account. We will instead withdraw that money from the economy.

My plan is to post regular Sequester Savings entries. I won’t be able to keep an exact tally. How to account for “what I didn’t spend” as opposed to “what I did spend?” You don’t get receipts for NOT spending. Unless you create one. Like today.

Daughter: Can you go to Waterways (a local coffee shop)and get us some lattes?
Me: We can make coffee at home. We are saving money.

Total savings: $7.50 directly OUT OF THE LOCAL ECONOMY.

I’m also in the middle of baking a loaf of homemade bread. My usual loaf of 12-grain bread costs about $4. A quick search on the internet shows a loaf of white bread homemade costs between 36-45 cents a loaf. Huh.

It will be interesting to compare grocery totals for months pre-sequester to months post-sequester. I’m counting March as post-sequester since we are starting the economizing now.

This is list of things I’m cutting out:

$ coffees and lattes anywhere but home
$ breakfast out once a week at local restaurant
$ books–kindle, Amazon, bookstores
$ pizzas from pizza shops (making my own instead ALL the time)
$ lunches and dinners out–take turns making lunches at home, peeps?
$ clothes for me for the next five months; I’ll make do with what I
have
$ theater, movies, or a concert unless it is free
$ entertaining at home, i.e. parties–unless it is potluck it isn’t happening!
$ jewelry, makeup, shoes–almost goes without saying, right?
$ extra trips that burn gasoline

You may wonder if I plan on having any fun at all. Sure. Libraries have books last I checked, so I don’t need to buy them. Coffee at home is fine. My homemade pizza and bread–yum and fun to make. A game of cards of mah-jong with friends down the road is fine entertainment. Scrabble anyone? How about a walk, bike ride, swim?

On the other hand, I’ll miss eating out, I really will.

But the main point is this, Federal Government: I’m not bailing you out with my savings. I hope the economy feels the pinch. I hope, finally, you duly-elected officials start doing your jobs, work together, and figure out how to balance this budget, starting with entitlement reform and ending with closing the most egregious tax loopholes.

Oh, and raise the minimum wage while you are at it. Have you seen the stats on wealth inequity lately?

Ignoring the Elephant

Elephant at the Washington D.C. Zoo

Elephant at the Washington D.C. Zoo

With all this talk of sequestration and deficits and budgets, there is a huge elephant in the room pretty much ignored by politicians who are scared out of their MINDS to even whisper it: Social Security.

What is responsible about drastic, across-the-board cuts in federal spending if we REFUSE to put Social Security and Medicare on the butcher block as well?

Why are politicians scared to talk about it? Because the generation known as Baby Boomer has our country by the you-know-whats simply because of sheer numbers. Ever since they were running around college campuses in the 1960’s this generation has gotten its own way.

And now they are retiring.

And we’ve known this day was coming for 40 years.

And we’ve refused to deal with it proactively.

According to the Social Security Administration website, life expectancy for those reaching adulthood has only increased, on average, a mere 5 years. The main problem is not life-expectancy. It is the huge size of the Baby Boomer generation, the SSA says. There are simply too many of them and not enough coming up behind to pay. http://www.ssa.gov/history/lifeexpect.html

Well, that may be, but why not start there? Raise the retirement those five years. It would be a start. In fact, I have to wonder why it hasn’t already been implemented. Apparently, nobody wants to go there. Guess why? Those Baby Boomers VOTE!

I say nobody, but that isn’t exactly true. I found this on the Heritage Foundation’s website (a conservative think-tank, for those who aren’t familiary):

While lawmakers from both parties squabble over tax rates, a fiscal crisis is looming on the horizon. Entitlement programs — Social Security and Medicare to be precise — have unfunded obligations of $48 trillion. By comparison, the fiscal cliff carries a price tag of roughly $650 billion. As lawmakers talk about another debt-limit increase, they need to think seriously about America’s long-term obligations.
(click the quote to read the entire article)

The article goes on to outline three solutions.

1)Fix the annual adjustment rate to reflect true inflation rates
2)Increase the retirement age to 68 and then link it to life expectancy
3)Focus benefits on those who need it–as originally intended.

So as not to be one-sided, let’s take a look at a progressive plan to fix the problem. The Center for American Progress (a liberal think-tank) published this:

Is there room in Washington for a true bipartisan agreement on Social Security reform that increases national savings, individual ownership, and ultimately retirement security? It’s a tall order, but doable if both progressives and the president are willing to consider the following four-part framework for bipartisan Social Security reform:

At least they are talking about it! But what of their proposals? I have to admit I found them to be rather convoluted, but I’ll try to simplify. Come on progressives, ya’ gotta dumb it down a little for the average American. But here goes.
1)A universal 401K plan with matching dollars provided by the U.S. Government.This would also include a flat-tax savings deduction on income taxes.
2)Increase taxes on the rich
3)Balance the budget and in good years, save the money, don’t spend it.
4)Bipartisanship

Gasp! Cooperation? What a novel idea!

Once again, I believe it all comes down to power and politics, and both political parties are equally to blame. It’s time for those of us in the middle to move ever more firmly into the middle and to begin to encourage others on the near left and right to join us. We should not be held hostage to two over-reaching political parties that are over-influenced by the power elite and money elite on both sides with their deep pockets and bribery.

It is also imperative that the younger generations band together on this and other issues in order to have equal voice at the ballot box. If we don’t vote, the large voting block of Baby Boomers will stomp all over us, leaving us with huge debts, a decimated economy, and a bleak future.

Social entitlements to the Baby Boomer generation is the big, gray, wrinkled elephant in the room. There it is. Take a good look. Now what are we gonna do about it?

Maybe it is time we go back to some good old-fashioned values and begin to take care of our own elderly again, and then begin to reduce the entitlement spending. Again, smaller and more local control is better, less complex, and therefore more manageable. Local communities can (and will, if necessary) take care of their own.

I see consensus up there on those ideas for changing Social Security. You have a Progressive think-tank talking about balancing the budget and saving money. You have a Conservative think-tank talking about giving benefits only to those who need it. I bet both would agree to raising the retirement age incrementally. The only thing left, really, is to stop playing politics and cooperate! We the people need to demand it of our representatives.

Pass the word, write to your representatives in Congress, and talk…and consider switching to an alternative political party or declare yourself an Independent. That’s what I’m gonna do, asap. It’s time.

The Sequestration Fiasco

june 24 2011 124

Does anyone else think this whole supposed sequester “debate” is a political scam perpetrated by BOTH parties?

Here’s my thought: both Democrats and Republicans know we need to reduce our budget spending and raise revenue in order to get our fiscal house in order, but neither wants to be “the bad guy” who makes the tough choices. So our lovely political parties are going to let the sequester happen, and neither side will claim responsibility for the sequester and will instead blame the other side…in effect, political stalemate. This, instead of being brave and making tough choices with reductions and taking responsibility for those choices. And if it is a political stalemate, neither party loses. Only the American people lose.

It’s not a bad move, if you are a political party. You don’t stick your neck out. You can skew the facts and figures as fuel for your next campaign and light the match from behind your safety wall of political rhetoric. The politicized news agencies will blow on the flames, igniting a wildfire of ire on both sides. The smoke and flames will obscure the truth…whatever that is. Great plan. If you are a political party.

Neither party is willing to admit, out loud, that Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare (as well as defense and other items) have to be cut and revamped if we are going to have a responsible budget. Dems refuse to admit that the government is bloated. Repubs refuse to admit that we need increased revenue to pay down the debt we’ve grown.

No one wants to think about China.

We the people really need to withdraw our support from both parties, in my opinion. They are not working for us. They are too busy starting fires.

To read more about the sequester, I’ve put together a list from a number of sources from both sides and the middle.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/02/19/172425370/whose-sequester-is-it-anyway

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/02/19/obama-seeks-sequester-scare/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-21508658

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/02/18/bowles-simpson-debt-sequester-budget-plan-politico/1928819/

Election Day–Does It Really Matter Who Wins?

U.S.A. Election Day

Ralph Lauren vneck sweater / J.Crew twill jacket / Levi’s Made & Crafted mid rise jeans / Converse shoes, $14 / Tommy Hilfiger bag / Tommy Hilfiger Sid Cable Knit Multicolor Scarf, $98 / Tommy Hilfiger perfume, $52

I am voting today–and I’m going to check a box for President–but I’m really only going because of the state and local races and questions, where I (perhaps naively) believe my vote actually makes a difference in my life and my community. When it comes to the Presidential race, eh, shrug, not so much.

Either Obama is going to win and we’ll continue with this gridlock as the Republicans block everything for the sake of politics…or Romney is going to win and we’ll start hearing, “I inherited this mess…so don’t blame me” as the Dems begin to block everything for the sake of politics. And they’ll all start talking about 2016.

Meanwhile the Federal Reserve and corporate cronies will go ahead and do their own thing, laughing (at us) all the way to the bank.

Read what economists think about the affect of the election on the economy on CNN.com

Hard Right

Home Work

Dear Reader:

Following is a snippet of conversation I had on a social networking site. I was commenting on the following quote which had been posted as a photo from something called Suzie’s Daily Quotes.

“It is wrong to tax a working person almost to the breaking point and then give it to someone who is able to work but refuses to.”

Twenty people had already “thumbed-up” their approval of the statement with no question, no mention of nuances, nothing. Being me, I rose to the bait. In that respect, I guess I got what I deserved. Read on.

Shelley : I agree, too, except.. it is hard to get a job in this economy, especially if you are maybe not above average in smarts, didn’t get a chance to go to college, and used to work in a paper mill or shoe factory or textile shop. What do we do about people who want to work but there is no work because we’ve shipped all the blue-collar jobs to sweatshops in third-world countries?

Dorcas Hardliner (name has been changed): To Shelley: Why can’t you take a job, such as McDonalds, or is it because they don’t pay what you used to get at your old job? I’m sick and tired of hearing that there are no jobs, when the paper has them everyday! So quit bitching and go find a job! If I can take a lower paying job than what I was used to, than you can or anyone can!

The conservative political right. They may have some decent, worthy ideas. They may be good, hardworking, nice people in general. But boy, oh boy, do some of them have a problem with communication.

This is the topic of today’s ruminations, my dear readers. The comment above exemplifies everything I despise about the voice of the political right in this country. Its vitriol. Its condescension. Its resentment. Its hate.

I was shocked by the absolute venom spewing forth from “Dorcas” aimed at a person she a)never met b)knows absolutely nothing about and c)said she partly agreed with her. And on a Facebook wall, to boot!

(Not to mention the fact that “Dorcas” so quickly assumed I was a welfare recipient who wasn’t even trying to find a job. I’m not, by the way. Interesting how people read so much into a little Outside the Box thinking? Or maybe it’s just “thinking” that throws them? Hmmm…)

Read it again and ask yourself, is it any wonder that some of us have a hard time separating the right’s IDEAS from its ATTITUDE?

There’s nothing wrong with sharing political statements/satire/photo commentary on a social networking site. This one was simply one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of facile quips that validate certain personal prejudices and political beliefs. Here we have one that is politically conservative, but as such it is no different from the silly little leftist sentiments that get thrown around regularly on the sites.

Ironically, I also happen to agree with the statement–but only if it is taken literally.

It IS wrong to take money from a hardworking person and to then give it to someone who CHOOSES not to work but instead to live off state and federal welfare. (Apparently 20 others did as well, as they all signaled their approval in the usual thumbs-up fashion.)

However, there is something insidious about the statement. There is hidden between the facile lines an implication that welfare is wrong. We hear a sly whisper that anyone who takes welfare is lazy and could get a job if he or she really wanted to. There is an attitude of “I’m better than you are simply because I work and you don’t.” It implies that all taxes are going to worthless bums, conveniently ignoring the reality that taxes also go toward defense (a pretty large chunk, in fact), Social Security, Medicare, education, the arts, medical research, etc.

In fact, I recently read in Harper’s magazine about the number of families in poverty receiving federal cash assistance. Back in 1996, 68 out of 100 families with children living in poverty received help. In 2010 the number was 27 out of 100. (July 2012, “Harper’s Index”, pg 9.)

According to the pg 54 Index Sources, this info came from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Click HERE to read a report on poverty put out by the CBPP. The gist of the report? We are sinking further into poverty every day of this recession.

Thumbs-up on that anybody?

I wrote back to Dorcas with the following:

Like I said, I agree in general. I worked as a cashier at Shop n Save while putting myself thru college and was not too excited to see people on food stamps eating steak while I made do with hamburger helper. That being said: Dorcas, I’m glad I’m not in that position, I’m grateful that I made good choices, and I’m super grateful I didn’t have some tragedy happen to me and I really, really hope nothing tragic happens to you so that you have to listen to someone say this sort of thing to you. ps: I’ve never been on welfare, but I do practice compassion.

I just can’t believe the incredible ill-will and vitriol spewing forth… there are people who use the system and there are people who are truly in a scary situation. And I’ve always said this about government: Government steps in only when people fail to act. If compassion and charity had been adequate from the private sector (churches included), then the government wouldn’t have had to step in in the first place. Soo, if we don’t want government taking our money and distributing it, then maybe we should start giving it to those in need who we feel truly need it. Just a thought.

And…wow…I wasn’t even talking about me (I’m quite comfortable financially, thank you for your concern). It was a generalized point about the loss of good American jobs because we like our cheap stuff at WalMart made in Chinese sweatshops. You know who benefited from the off-shoring of our jobs? CEO’s and big-time investors in the stock market. We want people to work? Buy American. Buy local. Hire someone local to sew our clothes instead of schlepping down to Wamart or Target. Until we start buying local and stop shopping at those places, we have nothing to complain about. But that’s just my opinion.

Not too surprisingly, “Dorcas” hasn’t written back. A few others did chime in with more thoughtful, helpful, insightful, rational commentary–so the right isn’t completely wacky, I guess. Still, there seemed to be a general resentment out there that people less fortunate somehow were “taking” from them, even “killing” them. Really?

Look, people. Many folks out there are in tragic circumstances. Some people make bad choices as young adults (and haven’t we all? and aren’t we kinda’ lucky those bad choices didn’t end up defining us?) and have a hard time pulling themselves out of the mucky mess they are in. Bad things DO happen to good people–sickness, injury, car accidents, death, divorce. There aren’t alot of good-paying jobs out there. Unemployment is high. We can’t all work at McDonalds.

(And what about those awesome McDonald’s and Walmart jobs? If anyone is interested on how easy it is to live on Walmart wages, read NICKEL AND DIMED, please!)

Yes, there are chronic welfare abusers. Yes, there are generations of families who have lived off the hard work of good, decent, honest people and have done nothing but pop out litters of kids. Yes, I think that the MOST money a welfare-recipient receives should be LESS than the lowest-paid employed taxpayer earns. Yes, job training programs are better than simple handouts. Yes, food-stamps should have stricter limits on what people can buy. Yes, the government is really not that adept at ferreting out the abusers from those who need a hand up. Yes, yes, yes. I agree.

I’ll tell you what, though. Telling someone on Facebook to “quit bitching and go find a job!” isn’t going to strengthen this country, and it isn’t going to solve the problem.

In my opinion, the best way to solve the problem is to a)support local businesses b)buy locally-grown food and products c)support local charities who know the needs of the community.

The best way is to make big government unnecessary by taking care of our own.

And that’s MY hard line. . . Outside the Box.

Day 35: The Tea Party Solution?

Liberty Tree

At the Museum of American History, a representation of the Liberty Tree, a gathering spot for the Sons of Liberty in Boston (the original Tea Party) where they tarred and feathered tax collectors, hung tax collectors in effigy, and held protests and demonstrations against the ruling British government.

Dear Reader:

Here’s some good news. A couple savvy freshman “Tea Party” Republicans have a solution to the debt crisis they have unleashed on our stymied country. Prayer.

From this morning’s WASHINGTON POST: “Outside the House chamber, Boehner summoned members of the holdout GOP South Carolina delegation to his second-floor office just off the Capitol Rotunda. But he appeared to make little headway and, within minutes, freshman Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan left the meeting, saying they were heading to a nearby chapel to pray for their leaders.”

Boy, I feel better, don’t you?

Outside the History Museum

The ‘Rents and I spent the better part of yesterday at the Museum of American History where we saw a demonstration of how people washed their clothes prior to the invention of washing machines, participated in an interactive, theatrical performance about the abolitionist martyr, John Brown, and browsed the Revolutionary and Civil War exhibits.

"John Brown"

John Brown was an abolitionist so convinced of the immorality of slavery that he resorted to violence and extremism, planning a raid on the Harper’s Ferry, Virginia arsenal in order to arm a slave uprising. Such an uprising would have led to the death of both slave and slaveholder. Slavery was a heinous institution in a country which supposedly valued personal freedom above all things. John Brown was, of course, morally right. He was courageous, taking bold action while others went about the business of trying to end slavery using less violent means. But what about his methods? Is violence justified? Do we believe throwing society into chaos is the one and only way to make things better?

The uprising failed, John Brown was captured, and then he was hung, a martyr of the abolitionist cause. The South refused to yield to Northern pressure, and in the end, massive and tragic violence ensued in the struggle to abolish slavery once and for all in the United States of America. The Civil War claimed 620,000 American lives. The South was ravaged. Resources were wasted. If we had it to do all over again, would we not try to find a peaceful way to bring about the end of slavery? Better yet, wouldn’t we sit down with our Founding Fathers and insist on freedom for ALL right from the very beginning?

Washboard In Tub

The temperature is rising back into the 100’s today in D.C., and I imagine tempers are heating up to dangerous levels on Capitol Hill as some lawmakers seem unwilling to put aside extreme positions in order to prevent possible financial chaos in a country already struggling with unemployment, rising prices, and uncertainty about the future. If we aren’t careful, those Depression Era washboards and tubs might be our future.

Our founding fathers built this country on compromise. In fact, when the Constitutional Convention came together in Philadelphia in 1787, a conflict between large and small states almost derailed the entire process. The “Great Compromise” was adopted, saving the Constitution.

So why is compromise suddenly a dirty word?

Don’t all sides have a point here? If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, if we don’t get our debt under control, and if we don’t begin the difficult process of moving over to a sustainable way of life, we might have nothing left to do but pray.

Election Day In Maine

Cathedral of the Forest

Dear Reader:

You know the old saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” This is how I feel about this year’s elections and ballot initiatives. Take, for instance, Question 1. Mainers will decide if we want to allow a casino to be built in Oxford County, arguably a part of the state that could use a boost in jobs and income and opportunity–the trees. But what about the forest? According to the Morning Sentinel Online, proponents of the casino have outspent opponents 10-1. Who ponied up the money? Mostly the casino’s partners and investors.

Then again, who is contributing to the Vote No campaign? Oh, businesses like Hollywood Slots in Bangor (they have quite the little monopoly on gambling in our state at the moment) and the Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe up in Washington County (they are hoping to get a casino initiative of their own on the next ballot). We are supposed to believe that these groups have our best interests at heart . . . nothing to do with competition for what little Maine dollars there are to be spent on entertainment when the cost of heating oil is going up and January’s chill is lurking around the corner of the calendar.

Life's a Beech

While I am strongly in favor of business development in Maine, and I also believe in free enterprise and competition, I’d rather see something on the ballet like: Will you support the RE-creation of shoe factories, textile mills, and paper mills in the State of Maine? I’d vote yes. Will you support tax-exemption for Maine’s small, non-industrial farms so as to encourage more local production of food? Yes. How about abolishing sales taxes on ALL Maine-produced goods? Instead of sneaking down to sales-tax-free New Hampshire, maybe a few more Mainers will stay home and buy our own great products.

Do we need a casino . . . or just a better view of the big-forest picture? And some Outside the Box thinking?

What about the gubernatorial candidates? Any of them thinking up new and improved ways to grow our sluggish state economy? One candidate has been in Augusta so long that the “way things are” attitude has probably become embedded. Another candidate has some radical, new ideas that would certainly shake things up a bit, perhaps for the better, perhaps not. The third candidate presents some solid, maybe even workable solutions for what ails us, though less radical and therefore less likely to produce sweeping changes.

Whoever takes over the Blaine House after today’s election, the new governor will have a tough row to hoe. It’s one thing to come up with ideas. It’s another one altogether to initiate legislation and get the measures passed at the State House. And we can’t forget (though sometimes it is easy to) that we are part of the larger national economy. Some of what goes on in Washington effects us here in Maine, no matter what crazy or just-crazy-enough-to-work ideas we come up with here in the Pine Tree State.

Remember to vote today! Take a look outside at our still-pretty foliage. At least the view from our windows is still tax-free. For now.