Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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MEET YOUR GOD

July 14, 2012

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I may not make any new friends with this post.

What we are warned against by nearly every faith on the planet as well as secular teachings, has come to pass. In the Christian faith, the Biblical words are, “Place no gods before me.” In the secular, it’s “Don’t let money guide your life.”

Whoops.

Too late.

Whether you’re a person of faith, an atheist or somewhere in between, the bottom line is we have not heeded this warning.

A few, very wealthy, unelected people are stealing our government. These billionaires – the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess and others – are funding the candidacies of people who mislead the public to get into office so they can do the bidding of their financiers. Add to this organizations like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council (funded by large corporations), that write legislation such as Stand Your Ground, Personhood, Conceal-Carry, Anti-contraception, Voter ID, and Anti-tax for many state legislatures and you have the textbook definition of a plutocracy, not a democracy, or a republic.

This is neither about Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians nor conservatism and liberalism. This is about a portion of the electorate that is not aware of (or ignoring) what’s going on around them – which is exactly what the leaders of this plutocratic movement are counting on. They want us completely distracted with arguments over gay rights, abortion and gun rights while more and more power goes to a select few.

Many of us are guided at the voting booth, much the same way we’re led to believe that Red Lobster has great seafood. And while it is a fact that Red Lobster absolutely does not have great seafood, if that statement is heard and seen often enough, some will eventually believe it – or at least try their product. They then discover the selection is not at all as advertised.

How does this happen? How are we duped into believing something that is patently false? Why do we constantly ignore the obvious signs of hypocrisy and lies? Why are we so quick to accept statements embedded with so many untruths?

Money.

We’re impressed with those who have it, so much so that we think they know better than us who should hold elected office – or what the best seafood is. If enough money is spent trying to convince us of the validty of something or someone, the purveyors of the message know that many of us will eventually believe it. Let’s face it: if a computer-generated gecko can convince us that the company it represents has the best car insurance (four million people were reportedly convinced to switch in 2010), then we’re likely to believe a lot of things we see and hear in media, regardless of the facts.

When it’s products and services, we can usually recover quickly from an uninformed choice. But when it’s elected officials, we pay for that mistake for a long time – sometimes decades.

Who’s the best candidate? It doesn’t matter. Who’s telling the truth? You won’t learn from popular media. Who has enough money to buy your choice? At least 45% of the citizens in this country believe the money and end up choosing without forethought of consequence.

Meet your god.

1.)  If you blindly believe the statements of the people you are voting for without doing some research, your god is money.

2.)  If you believe spending billions of dollars to elect a president is not a problem, your god is money.

3.)  If you think it is okay for a few very wealthy people to buy the candidacies of house/senate members and a presidency, your god is money.

4.)  If you believe that advertising informs you well enough to elect good public servants, your god is money.

5.)  If you think it is okay for large corporations to be a part of the election process, your god is money.

6.)  If you think none of the above is a problem, your god is money.

If I’ve irritated you, ask yourself, “Why?” If you don’t believe what I’ve written, do the research. Don’t just listen to pundits’ talking points and assume they are informed about the issues. They get paid to keep controversy alive – truth-be-damned.

We have a country to save.

All the money in the world cannot deter a well-informed electorate. Here are some steps that I believe will help keep our country from becoming a plutocracy:

1.)  Have conversations with those who hold opposing views. There is no need to yell or pound your fist. And for the sake of everyone’s sanity, don’t argue on Facebook or Twitter. Listen more than talk. (That’s why we are provided with two ears and only one mouth.) A perfect example is my friend, Geoff Pomeroy, who is a conservative in the truest sense of the word, but doesn’t feel the need to convert others who don’t believe as he does. We differ on certain issues, but at no time do we raise our voices or get angry. Our friendship is far more important than any political or social differences we might have.

2.)  Open your heart and mind to the idea that what you have believed over the years may not be what’s best for all of our citizens. This is where most of the arguing starts in politics. The issue of abortion is a perfect example. If you vote for a candidate solely because he or she believes as you do about abortion and you don’t look any further into their record and experience, you are doing a great disservice to yourself, your community and your country.

3.)  Become informed on the issues that matter to you by reading legitimate sources, NOT watching television, listening to talk radio or reading material on obviously biased websites. Most media is bought and paid for by the same corporations that funnel money to candidates. Instead, research legitimate sources of information. You might gain knowledge about those issues that is never discussed by media.

4.)  Take religion out of the equation when discussing issues. This is a tough one for many people, but our founders specifically excluded any reference to religion (other than stating that there will be no religious test) when forming our constitution. The idea is that we are all free to believe as we wish and do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others. Therefore, discussion of the issues that affect the citizens of this country should be free of personal religious bias.

5.)  Ignore labels. They are not informative and only serve to divide us. For example: there are more pro-choice Republicans than there are anti-abortion Republicans. There are also plenty of anti-abortion Democrats.

6.)  This is not your parents’ America. Our country has been evolving since its inception. This is why the Constitution is so amazing. It really is a “living, breathing document” that has the ability to transcend current events and situations.

7.)  Vote in every election. But first, make sure you are registered properly. Many states are now trying to implement laws that will require voters to show picture IDs, even if the voter has lived at the same address and voted in the same precinct for decades. Next, educate yourself on the local, state and federal issues so that media is not defining your decisions and then… VOTE!

We must become aware.

Voting for someone just because he or she has an “R” or a “D” next to their name is complete lunacy in the present political environment. These labels mean nothing.

I’ve spoken to Republicans who say they will “hold their nose” and vote for Mitt Romney in the upcoming general election. When I ask them why, they don’t have an informed answer. When I ask them what it is about President Obama that keeps them from considering him, the answer usually does not include specifics about policies. Instead it’s “I could never vote for a Democrat” or “He’s a socialist, communist, fascist liar that was born in Kenya.” They just repeat statements they’ve heard elsewhere, regardless of how untruthful those statements might be. (BTW: If someone is a Socialist, they are the exact opposite of a Fascist. One person can’t be both. Just sayin’.)

Please don’t let a handful of wealthy people determine the future of our country. They want government (us) out of the way and our tax dollars to go to their private corporations who will provide services such as police, teachers, firefighters, prisons, airports, postal services, utilities, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, etc. As this happens (and it has already started in many states), they will not only have control of these services, the cost for them will increase dramatically because corporations are in the business of making money, governments are not. Private ownership of these services will bring decreased wages, no benefits and no protection for workers.

Vote for money, and there’s a very good chance you’ll earn less of it.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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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

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THE TRAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

June 7, 2011

I must first apologize to Peter Max, the cover artist for the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” album, for distorting his very famous artwork. I just couldn’t resist. 🙂

As “Pundit World” goes wild with speculation about the line-up of possible Republican candidates competing for the presidential nomination, it is obvious that many good Republicans / Conservatives are not running until 2016, when the field will be wide open in both parties. There are two possible exceptions to the “wide open” theory on the Democratic side: (1) Joe Biden: though I seriously doubt he’ll want to start a campaign when he’s almost 74 yerars old. (2) Hillary Clinton: who has said she is done with public service after she retires as Secretary of State. But, she will only be 69 at that time and she could be convinced by Bill and the party to run, since she did so well in the 2008 primary. I’m sure she would have President Obama’s support.

Real Republicans can’t be happy about the current field of candidates. I know – I used to be a Republican. The tragedy of the “tour” that will be roaming the countryside in this election season is the ridiculous lack of substance in the rhetoric and actions of its members.

“She wasn’t invited. We heard yesterday she came out with a press release she was coming to Rolling Thunder,” Ted Shpak (national legislative director of Rolling Thunder), told Andrea Mitchell (MSNBC). He had no idea Palin was coming until it was posted on her website.  Her intrusion into Mitt Romney’s announcement was another distasteful and disrespectful ploy for attention. Already, her “vacation” is annoying people. Yet, media covers every step and syllable. (I will never understand the fascination it has with this woman.)

So who are the members of this tour – so far?

SARAH PALIN is not running for president, like many of the pundits now seem to be reporting. How do I know? She has a multi-year deal with FOX. While she continues to receive a paycheck from them, she can’t run. It’s against federal regulations. When she stops cashing in, I’ll reconsider my words. (She earns a reported  $1 million a year with this deal. The presidency only pays $450,000.) Her recent home purchase in Arizona may well be to establish residence for a gubernatorial run. 

 

 

RON PAUL is not running for president. Yes, he announced, but he knows he can’t win and doesn’t want to win. His goal is to be a “king-maker” in the election, which is also what Palin is doing. Both will give their opinions of the other candidates to garner media attention and fatten their political coffers. Bottom line: neither will say anything that will shift Republicans’ thinking in the voting booth.

 

 

MICHELE BACHMANN, who hasn’t announced as of this post, will not get the nomination if she does announce, because she has no chance of beating President Obama in the general election. There’s so much video of her saying stupid, nonsensical and nonfactual statements that political ads against her will write themselves.

 

 

 

As this tour continues, we will see HERMAN CAIN, who is slowly going off a cliff. In an interview with Scott Keyes (Think Progress), he was asked if he would ever hire a person of the Muslim faith. He said “no” and went on to say, There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government. This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change. And now they’ve got a social problem that they don’t know what to do with hardly.” He also added, “And I get upset when the Muslims in this country, some of them, try to force their Sharia law onto the rest of us.” His Muslim-based fear may garner some attention from the far right, but most Republicans know he is not qualified to be President. He has never been elected to any office and has no experience running a campaign. If you think he has a chance because he’s black, I have two words for you: Michael Steele.

 

RICK SANTORUM? Google “Santorum.” (I hope you haven’t just eaten.) Once you’ve digested that little-known fact, know that Rick Santorum puts homosexuality in the same category as child molestation, incest, sodomy and bestiality. In his words (taken from an Associated Press interview), “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.” He also believes the right to privacy does not exist in our Constitution. Statements like these might help him with the far right of the Evangelical movement, but not in a general election.

 

FRED KARGER has no chance of winning the Republican nomination – he’s openly gay.

 

 

 

 

DONALD TRUMP teased the media again by saying he might still consider running, but that’s all it was. He’s locked into a contract with NBC for “The Apprentice.” Game over, Donald. You’ve been trumped.

 

 

 

 

NEWT GINGRICH is self-destructing. Three examples: (1) He called President Obama the most successful food-stamp president this country has ever seen. (Goodbye unemployed, under-employed and minorities). While there has been a significant rise in the use of food stamps due to the recession, it began in 2007, long before Obama became president. (2) He called the Paul Ryan Budget Plan “social engineering” on a Meet the Press interview and then quickly back-tracked the next day, telling media to not quote him. Six weeks prior to that interview, he praised the plan. (3) He flipped on the issue of helping  Libya. When first asked, he stated we should go into Libya, criticising Obama for not doing so and suggesting he was weak on foreign policy. Then, when the president did go in to help the rebels, he said that was a mistake – that we should never have done so.  Newt is yesterday’s news. He brings nothing new or substantive to the 2012 race.

This leaves the inevitable two:

MITT ROMNEY will have to separate his Massachusetts Healthcare Law from that of the President Obama’s, since many features are shared by both. But this will probably not be the biggest issue. His challenge with true Conservatives is his flip from Pro-Choice to Pro-Life, his Mormon faith, and lack of favor from the Tea Party, whose grip on the GOP is baffling, to say the least.

 

 

 

TIM PAWLENTY left the state of Minnesota in a fiscal mess, although he touts a very different story on the stump. Otherwise, he probably fits the mold of what Republicans / Conservatives are looking for – more so than Romney. He does not want to cut the Pentagon budget, he wants to cut jobs in the public sector (the same sector that employed him for eight years), especially union jobs, and has used some “creative” accounting in a failed attempt to reduce the state’s budget deficit which included a $58 million dollar reduction in education. In case you’re wondering, the I-35 West bridge collapse in Minneapolis on August 1, 2008, that killed 13 people, was the result of a design flaw, not a lack of infrastructure funding, like some on the left have reported.

 

There may be one potential candidate that could surprise everyone and is currently not a member of this tour. JON HUNTSMAN was President Obama’s Ambassador to China. He does move away from the Republican Party on global-warming and other issues, which may be a problem in the primaries. But he’s smart, moderate and knowledgeable.

 

 

 

Q: Knowing all this, why aren’t more qualified candidates running?

A: They don’t want to run against a president that has accomplished as much as President Obama. Their records would pale by comparison.

The current Republicans in the House and Senate can only boast about what they have blocked – which is quite a list. They ran on a platform of creating jobs in 2010, criticizing the president for the slow economy (which had been tanking rapidly for nearly two years before he took office)  but they’ve passed nothing that helps the dwindling middle class.  In the House of Representatives, where they have the majority, they have passed no legislation to help the economy recover. We keep hearing words like “job creating” and “job creators” which mean nothing without defining what and who these words refer to. Instead, they’ve focused on legislation they know will never become law: repealing the Healthcare bill, defunding Planned Parenthood, the attempt to defund National Public Radio, defunding public funding for presidential campaigns, and passing a bill that says the government cannot fund abortions, which is already law. It’s called “The Hyde Amendment” and it was passed over 30 years ago.

President Obama, on the other hand, has quite a list of accomplishments. Once you read the list on the first page, skim through the rest. You’ll see that this president is working hard to resurrect and protect the middle class, which is the only way to put our economy on solid ground. Remember the 1990’s? A tax increase of only 3.5% on the wealthiest Americans, the Pay-Go Bill and a $160 billion stimulous (part of the 1994 budget) resulted in 22 million new private-sector jobs, a balanced budget, debt reduction and a $200 billion budget surplus all in just eight years from 1993 to 2001. Republicans and Democrats were split 50-50 in the Senate on the budget bill and the vice president had to come in and cast the tie-breaking vote – a vote that Republicans said would ruin our economy because taxes were being raised on their wealthy constituents. But don’t expect to hear any of these truths from tour members.

To be sure, the “Tragical Mystery Tour” is coming to take you away… from common sense and facts. You’ll hear falsehoods and misrepresentations by its members stating they know better than our president, how to heal the economy. But they will mysteriously exclude details. They will offer a “new elixir,” knowing it is exactly the same recipe that has been swallowed many times over the last thirty years – without success. This “concoction” only exacerbates our country’s condition. It does nothing to heal it.

Hopefully, one of these Republicans will actually offer a new idea, a fresh thought, a constructive, forward-thinking plan with merit – one that doesn’t punish the middle class, the elderly and the poor.

Right now, I don’t see it.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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ARE WE DONE NOW?

May 5, 2011

Eight years ago to the day, then President George W. Bush announced “Mission Accomplished.”

It wasn’t.

Sunday, May 1, 2011, our current president did no such thing. But he did announce that a covert military operation ended the life of Osama bin Ladin. For nearly all  Americans, this was the real “Mission Accomplished.” People took to the streets in celebration almost immediately after hearing the news.

This does very little to change the current terrorist landscape. However, we have now accomplished the goal that we set when we invaded Afghanistan: to bring to justice those who perpetrated the 9-11 attacks. Al-Qaida is no longer the top-down, heavily-armed and well-financed organization that it was a decade ago. It has been fractured into small groups throughout the world – sometimes with not more than one or two members per group. And now, their leader is gone.

Militarily, President Obama scored a huge success with the death of bin Ladin. Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, and the Navy Seals team that handled the mission did a remarkable job.

For those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001, there will be some closure and personally, I couldn’t be happier that bin Ladin is out of the picture. But it’s a hollow victory for me. We’ve sacrificed so much blood and treasure over these last nine years that his demise seems far less significant by comparison.

Politically, this event resulted in a boost in the president’s poll numbers. He succeeded where his two predecessors failed. Although, with all the domestic issues that need attention: 8.5% unemployment, stupid-high gas prices, a crumbling infrastructure and increasingly higher food costs, the rise in his popularity will probably be short-lived. As a country, we need to re-think our military strategies. Our “enemies” are not other countries anymore. We do not need huge military forces stationed around the world in order to keep the peace. Small, well-trained forces on the ground like “Seal Team 6” appear to be far more effective. (They executed this operation with incredible precision and not one team member was injured, much less killed.) Plus, so much more can be done from the air than ever before that large numbers of ground troops are not necessary.

The world has become “smaller” and more transparent, especially since 9-11. The human desire to be free is starting to re-shape the Middle East with uprisings in many areas. We can be the beacon of peace in the world by not engaging in warfare and not sticking our foreign policy “nose” where it doesn’t belong. Through the unfiltered lens of the internet, people around the globe can witness life in a free society. What they do with that information is up to them, not us.

So… are we done now?

With 24 people and 40 minutes, we succeeded where nearly ten years, thousands of soldiers lost, tens of thousands of soldiers injured, hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed, and well over a trillion dollars spent, did not.

Can we please end these senseless wars?

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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DONALD’S DETOUR

April 18, 2011

If any of you seriously believe Donald Trump is running for President, it’s time to re-think your meds. And if you think you would actually vote for him, just quit taking them altogether.

Donald Trump is not going to run for President. His current “birther” antics are simply a scheduled detour on the path of drumming up attention for his TV series which, after this season, needs some help.

He can’t be a presidential candidate and keep the show, so he says he’ll announce his decision on the season finale of Celebrity Apprentice. When the fall line-up for NBC is announced in May (around the same time as the May 22nd finale), his show will be on that list, according to those who work at NBC/MSNBC.

Also, according to the same personnel, he has not been offered a three year contract, as he recently stated. That’s not how things work in the “here-today, gone-tomorrow” world of entertainment.

For those who may not know, most of Trump’s money was inherited from his father, Fredrick Trump, a real estate developer who left his children over $400 million. Donald has not done well managing his portion. Bankruptcies and re-financings have forced him to relinquish ownership of nearly all of his real estate.

Most of what Trump currently “owns” is really owned by financial institutions and other real estate entities that pay him a fee to use his name for promotional purposes. He calls himself the “founder” of this and the “president” of that, but the truth is Trump is the sole owner of very little.

Bottom line: The “money-is-my-god” Donald will not give up a $3 million an episode job for a $450,000 a year job that has real-life responsibilities he can’t ignore like he does his accounts payables.

As for the $600 million Trump said he would invest in a campaign? He doesn’t have that kind of liquidity. He would have to borrow the money or do many, many fundraisers. Either way, it would be an embarrassment for this self-proclaimed billionaire.

Trump’s attention-getting stunts are simply filling the “Narcissism Segment” of the media once occupied by Sarah Palin.

Nothing more.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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IT’S YOUR TURN

February 27, 2011

This one turns into a rant quickly.

The current political discussion about our government’s financial “crisis” is loaded with useless dialogue – okay…  crap. This “problem” was intentionally created and therefore easily fixed, but none of our congressional leaders will tell the truth about it. Instead we’re told that we all have to sacrifice in order to “…get our fiscal house in order.”

No we don’t – at least not most of us.

You don’t need to be a Pulitzer Prize winning economist to understand the simple solution to this contrived fiscal issue.

Let’s apply the K.I.S.S.* method, shall we?

Every business has two basic elements: money coming in and money going out. The goal: more money coming in than going out. Simple.

Our government is a not-for-profit business that provides services at a far less cost per person than any for-profit company can, for the obvious reason: it doesn’t need to make a profit – just break even. Again, simple.

As our population grows and expenses increase (money going out), so must income (money coming in). Cutting expenses alone, does not improve the financial health of government or any business, for that matter. That’s an amateur’s solution. What must be done to offset expenses is increase income. In the case of government, there’s only one basic source of income: taxes. But these tax increases need to come from those who can most afford it, not the rest of us. The ultra-wealthy had a great ride for the last 30 years so it’s time for them to “man-up.”

The truth is we can easily get out of this mess in the next 5-10 years by taking the tax rates on the top 2% of wage earners back to the 1990’s levels – a measly 3.5% increase. Income to the government: $4+ trillion. Bingo! Budget deficit balanced and debt reduction begins.

But why stop there? Here’s another $399 billion in income for the government:

1.)   Reduce Pentagon spending by the amount that went unaccounted for to private, no-bid military contracts. $9 billion alone went missing in Iraq from October, 2003 to June, 2004, under Paul Bremer’s watch. No audit has been done on the Pentagon in the last 20 years. Imagine what a good forensic audit would expose.

2.)   Eliminate tax subsidies for oil companies – the top 5 profit earners in the Fortune 500. ($45 billion)

3.)   Remove the subsidies for Medicare Advantage – a privately operated, for-profit program offered by Humana, United HealthCare, Anthem, Wellpoint and other health insurance companies (the top six insurers made a total of $3.4 billion in profits during Q3, 2010) and is not part of Medicare or Medicaid. ($108 billion)

4.)   Create millions of jobs in infrastructure repair and replacement as well as new technologies. From 1993 to 2000, nearly 22.5 million private sector jobs were created thanks to the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act, thus eliminating the budget deficit, and giving us a surplus. ($237 billion by 2000) This can easily be done again. Back then, all the opposition said this would hurt our economy, including the governor of my home state, John Kasich, who was a congressman at the time.

So quit screaming about the unions – they’re not the problem. Only 36.2% of public jobs and 6.9% of private sector jobs are union. Any organization wanting livable wages and reasonable benefits for workers is not what caused this fiscal crisis. As for collective bargaining: taking away employees’ rights to negotiate with employers will only drive wages down, further reducing revenue to the government and creating an even larger gap between income and expenses.

While I’m thinking about it,  leave Social Security alone too. This insurance program is also not a culprit. Not only do we pay for this program while we’re working, those who receive SSI income in retirement have been paying taxes on it since 1984, when Ronald Regan signed the 1983 Amendments to the Social Security Act. We’ve been paying our “premiums” for this “policy” for decades so we’re entitled to the money. A simple tweak of the tax code so that those earning more than $106,800 per year pay their fair share will make Social Security viable for decades. The same goes for Medicare.

We, the vast majority of wage earners in this country (about 98%), have been sacrificing since the 1980’s. We’re done – it’s your turn, 2%’ers. Quit trying to pick our pockets of the few coins we have left and instead, dig into your own.

There’s more than plenty there.

I’m exhaling now.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

* Keep It Simple Stupid