Archive for July, 2011

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BACK TO SCHOOL

July 21, 2011

Take notes. There will be a quiz.  🙂

I was watching/listening to Joe Scarborough’s “Morning Joe” TV show about two weeks ago while getting ready for work. They were discussing why revenues are an important part of improving our country’s financial health. Yes, the former Florida Republican Congressman agrees with President Obama on this issue.

Naturally, the conversation turned to taxes with the left and right leaning guests debating. During that debate, I heard Pat Buchanan ask, “Can someone please tell me how increasing taxes in a bad economy helps to create jobs?”

Much to my amazement, no one answered his question.

Picture a middle-aged man, standing at the sink in his bathroom, looking into the mirror while simultaneously shaving and yelling at the television in another room at 7:15 in the morning.

“Seriously! None of you guys can answer that? You’re just gonna to let that go? I can’t believe it! Put me on that show! I’ll answer it!”

Yup. That would be me. Sad, I know, but true.

After a few seconds I regained my composure, sort of. Truth-be-known, I was still grumbling about it under my breath while driving to work.

Since no one on Scarborough’s show would (or could) answer Pat’s question, I will. God knows I had plenty of practice working through it that morning. But unlike TV, where everyone is trying to say the singular clever sentence that will be carried through the rest of the news cycle, I’m going to lay it all out.

To my Republican family members and friends: please read with an open mind. This is not about politics, it’s about our country.

Knowing Our History 

Over the past several decades, arguments that raising taxes on the rich and regulating industry hamstrings employment have been disproven time and time again.

These concepts were shredded in the 1930’s under Roosevelt, in the 1950’s under Eisenhower and in the 1990’s under Clinton. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the discussion continues nearly a century later. When I ask anyone for some evidence that illustrates lowering taxes and de-regulating industry somehow creates jobs, they have no evidence. Furthermore, there is no history that backs these theories.

We know we must invest in our country if we want this experiment in freedom called America to be successful. We created a Constitution which provides for a government that sees “…to the general welfare of the United States.”  This clause includes assessing and collecting taxes and then using that revenue on behalf of the union, “…to assist national needs in agriculture or education, provided that the spending is general in nature and does not favor any specific section of the country over any other,” according to Alexander Hamilton, whose assessment of the clause is predominant in case law.

Our Government’s Responsibility

In order to get our economy back on track, we must get the middle class back to work. When the private sector fails to do so, as it has done for the last decade, government must step in, as it did two decades ago. Now I know this seems like socialism to some of you, but I promise you, it’s not. We have only one socialist (government-run) program in this country – the Military/Veterans’ Administration. Our government trains, houses, feeds and pays our soldiers. It also builds hospitals, pays the doctors and staff and all other related expenses. Social Security is an insurance program and Medicare and Medicaid are reimbursement programs. Neither is socialism.

We (the government) can create middle class, private sector jobs by investing in our country’s infrastructure, technology, research and development and education. We subsidize (invest in) the states so they can rebuild their roads, bridges and public buildings by contracting private companies to do the work. We invest in technology, much like we did in the 1990’s, to help develop businesses in new areas heretofore untouched and we invest in scientific research that helps us with education, healthcare and agriculture. All of these investments create millions of jobs in the private sector. These new employees are paid by private employers, not the government. As this cycle begins to take hold, government involvement ends.

Ulitmately, these investments by government result in thousands of small, unrelated, private businesses (like the restaurants my parents owned and operated) expanding because more people are working and therefore have money to spend on things like going out to dinner, or a vacation, or a house, or a better education for their children, and so on. As these small businesses hire more people to meet the demand for their goods and services, they also add to the employment numbers, which helps to create an even larger middle class. As the middle class starts to prosper, everyone up and down the income ladder benefits.

Meeting Our Obligations

The return on our investment is always far greater than the initial outlay of funds due to the tax revenues generated from the jobs created. Add to this the revenues that come in from jobs created solely in the private sector and we have a large net gain that helps get our finances in order. It allows us to provide the safety net for our seniors and those less fortunate by making sure Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are solvent for future generations. It also eliminates our deficit spending as well as reduces our debt. Once the inital investment is recouped, there is no need for the government to continue to invest at the original level. The jobs created through building, re-building, repairing, inventing, researching and developing will continue to grow because demand for newer, better, and more inovative ideas will always be there. Any further investment would come in the form of grants, funding for additional research and development and small business loans, all of which are already in the annual budget.

Making sure we have a thriving middle class is the only way to keep our country strong, safe and united. In addition, this creates opportunities for many of those who would otherwise “fall through the cracks” by providing early childhood care, a decent public education, low-cost financing for college and good employment possibilities after graduation from high school or college.

The Truth About Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

If it was true that tax cuts for the so-called “Job Creators” really created jobs, why were there only one million private sector jobs and 2 million public sector jobs created from 2001 to 2009 when the tax breaks for the top 2% were at their lowest since 1945? In the previous decade, 23.1 million jobs were created, when taxes were higher on the same income group.

Why is it fair to allow hedge fund managers and CEO’s of large corporations – that make millions every year – to only pay a tax rate of 15%, while the rest of us pay anywhere from 20-35% in federal taxes on our income? Most everyone reading this does not fall in the top 2% of income earners. So why would you be supportive of a system that exponentially rewards our wealthiest citizens while the rest of us see higher living costs (as a percentage of our income) and stagnant wages? It doesn’t make sense.

The idea that we can’t afford to invest in our country is ludicrous. When the ultra-wealthy and the large corporations paid much more in taxes, we were in great shape (i.e. the 1930’s, 1950’s and 1990’s) and everyone prospered. Now that those revenues are not being collected, look where we are: state governments shutting down; lending for small businesses at a stand-still; unemployment at 9% because there is no demand for goods and services; home foreclosures at an all-time high; teachers, firefighters, first-responders and policemen being laid off; programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits being slashed; roads and bridges crumbling; public buildings in desperate need of repair. Even with the tax breaks the Obama administration has given to small businesses as incentives to hire people, there is no reason for these businesses to add more employees when there is no demand for their products.

Get people back to work and demand for goods and services goes up, putting even more people back to work. It’s a ripple effect that benefits the entire economy. Get rid of the tax loopholes and subsidies for the wealthy so that those who have denied our government its revenue over the last ten years, can start paying their fair share, and we can be out of this mess in the next ten years. 

The Envy of the World or…

The quality of any government is judged by the health and welfare of the country it governs.

We can be the America that is the envy of the world, taking care of our elderly and providing opportunities for the less fortunate and mentally or physically challenged to help lift them up. We can be the America that continually improves its infrastructure, invests in R&D, and is a leader in new technologies, medicine and education. We can be the America where ‘can’t’ is not in our vocabulary and we meet our challenges and obligations together, knowing we are “…indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Or, we can be the America that continues to allow our politics to divide us and eventually become the country the rest of the world used to envy.

The quiz has only one question: What kind of America do you want to be?

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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WHERE HAVE ALL THE STATESMEN GONE?

July 1, 2011

“So are you going to do a ‘Rants and Observations’ post on the Anthony Weiner scandal?”

“I’m still too pissed off about it to write anything, but a post will be coming soon. I want to look at the larger picture, not just this one incident.”

“The larger picture?”

“Yeah. We have very few true statesmen left in congress. Most of these guys now act like spoiled rock stars.”

As I left my friend Geoff’s home, I thought about all the scandals that have plagued our government, keeping our elected officials from doing the work we sent them to do.

When I started digging, I found that no administration is free of scandals, and in the last 30 years, two administrations – Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s – were at the top of the list with Clinton’s coming in third. Obviously, one-term administrations had fewer, but as you go back before Reagan, you’ll find that even two-term (and three-term) administrations had far fewer scandals than we have today.

So this begs the question: Why? 

The answer?

Money.

In much the same way rock stars have their “groupies,” so do politicians.  Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Politicians have been playing to the cameras for decades and, if you look at the number of congressional members that are multi-millionaires, you begin to understand how these scandals originate.

As we continue down the path of larger and larger monetary contributions to campaigns with a reluctance to reveal sources and amounts, this issue will only get worse. Add to that the Supreme Court ruling that large (and often multi-national) corporations can now donate unlimited funds to campaigns as long as they are not directly tied to them, and you now have politicians working primarily on behalf of these constituents. If their efforts are successful, they are rewarded by being well-funded and most often re-elected time and again, thus exposing themselves to even more money and giving them even more power, all of which are aphrodisiacs for some women. Good looks, personality and character have nothing to do with this “attraction.” As a politician’s career continues to rise (no pun intended), so does his list of groupies. If he is younger than most of his peers, and he is outspoken enough to draw even more attention to himself, his groupie list grows exponentially.

It does not appear that the reverse is true. We seldom, if ever, hear of sexual scandals involving congressional women.

Sadly, money and power seem to be the over-arching motivator once our officials are elected to office. While their intentions may be sincere at the outset of their initial campaign, they learn very quickly, if elected, that the game is not played that way on the inside. From the time they take office, they are fundraising for their next election. In addition, they are also fundraising for others and expected to raise funds for their party as well. They must meet certain monetary goals on a regular basis. If they fall short, they will not get a seat on this or that committee or be invited to certain functions. And in the next election, they may not have the support of their party leaders. Add to this the reciprocation that must take place to the people who put them in office (large donors taking priority) by voting on their behalf and you realize the pressure is always on.

It is not surprising that under this pressure, some politicians often resort to un-statesmen like conduct (to say the least) to relieve their “stress.” This does not justify their actions by any means. It simply explains them for those of us who do not live that lifestyle. And as much as we’d like to say we would never do these things if we were in their situations, we can’t.

But we can be thankful that in the 1990’s, Bill Clinton didn’t have the ability to “tweet.” 🙂

Whew. You dodged a bullet there, didn’t you Bill?

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com