Tag Archives: Paul Ryan

Stand Your Ground, Mr. President


After scanning the news one particular thing stuck out at me. We can’t borrow anymore money. That’s correct the U.S. has reached its debt limit. Apparently due to some fancy accounting we are still paying our bills, but only for a few months. The President has called for the debt limit to be raised. Treasury Secretary Geithner has warned of dire economic conditions if it is not. The general consensus among economists and most politicians is that this must happen. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal even said:

“The first sign that a debt crisis has arrived is that bond investors lose confidence in a government’s ability to pay its debts – and by that point, it is usually too late to avoid severe disruption and economic pain.” Rep. Ryan’s Budget Proposal Pg. 21

Defaulting on our debt will certainly cause investors to lose confidence. So why hasn’t an increase passed it? Republican’s want more spending cuts.

The debt ceiling debate is driving me crazy. Speaker John Boehner is out calling for spending cuts equal to the increase in the debt ceiling. That’s ridiculous and impossible. We can’t cut spending by the amount the debt ceiling will need to go up. If we did it wouldn’t be long before we completely defund the federal government. The possible implications of not raising the debt ceiling are huge. Everyone seems to agree that if the U.S. stops paying its bills the effect on the global economy would be catastrophic. The result in this country would be unimaginable. The worst part is that John Boehner isn’t against raising the debt ceiling. He’s just against it when a Democrat is President. Not that his hypocrisy doesn’t exist across the aisle. Democrats are eager to raise the debt limit now, but they were more that happy to complain about it just a few years ago. For his part, Mr. Boehner has voted to raise the debt ceiling multiple times in the past. A number of these votes are hard to find, because under House rules some legislation is passed without anyone’s vote being recorded. How’s that for open government? It is record that in 2002 and 2004 (when President Bush was in office) he voted to raise the debt limit. He voted that way because it was necessary and John Boehner isn’t a lunatic. At least I hope he still isn’t. I should note that President Obama is calling for a raise in the debt limit, but when President Bush sat in the Oval Office, then Sen. Obama, along with many Democrats, voted against the increase. He now says that was a mistake. It was.

When it comes to budget deficits, debt limits and other things involving money, the reality is that it’s all politics. This is a non-partisan issue being used for partisan gain. Do you want evidence? We’ve had a budget deficit for 10 years. Republican’s just got angry about it when a Democrat was in the White House. Congress has voted to raise the debt ceiling a number of times in the past decade. Republicans supported it all of them until President Obama took office. Democrats were against them at that same time. Then a magical thing happened. On Jan. 20th, 2009, President Obama was sworn in and everybody changed sides. It’s like everybody was suddenly persuaded by the other side’s point of view. If only one argument had been so compelling, we wouldn’t have this stalemate. Unfortunately, both sides were so convincing we just ended up right back where we were. Sentences like that make me wish there was a “sarcasm key” on your standard QWERTY keyboard.

This should not be an argument. We have to pay our bills, and bickering over some arbitrary limit imposed on the government nearly one hundred years ago is childish. I like that the debt ceiling brings public attention to our national debt. It’s important that we pay attention to what we are spending. Using that attention to promote a drastic partisan agenda, however, is irresponsible. John Boehner seems to think that spending isn’t getting enough national attention. We’ve been talking about spending for months. There are groups in both the House and the Senate working on budget compromises. Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled the Republican ideas for reducing the deficit weeks ago. President Obama released his proposal shortly thereafter. THIS ISN’T ABOUT THE BUDGET. This about whether or not we will live up to the commitments we have made. The budget should be a different debate, and it is a debate we are having.

That’s why I believe the President should stand his ground and not give in. For what might be the first time in his Presidency, he’s in a game of political “chicken” and he doesn’t need to flinch. Everybody knows that this has to happen. Yes, some of the new Tea Party supported members of Congress may be clamoring for spending cuts. I think that why Boehner is out causing a ruckus. In the end, the establishment of the Republican party will make sure our economy doesn’t collapse, and will continue the spending debate as they prepare the next budget.

The vote over the debt ceiling shouldn’t even be big news. It would be to the political advantage of both parties to quietly pass it instead of engaging in such obvious hypocrisy. If they don’t get what they want enough of them will still vote for it that the increase passes. Republicans just want the best political advantage they can get going into the next election. They will look at swing districts where a Republican is the incumbent, and a no vote will be popular and those members will vote no. They will look at districts where a Democrat is the incumbent, and a no vote would be popular and special interests will make huge ad buys in the 2012 election.

We have to raise the debt limit and we all know it. So, John Boehner can raise a ruckus about spending. Democrats and Republicans can hope that the public ignores how hypocritical they have been on this issue. Republicans will jump on any notion of conciliation from the White House. If the White House doesn’t give them the chance, they will still pass the debt limit increase.

Stand your ground, Mr. President. This is one fight you’re going to win.

So There’s An Imaginary Forest. . .


Really, there’s an imaginary forest. This forest has trees and plants, but no animals, nothing that can hear, except you. Suddenly a wind picks up and a huge tree starts falling to the ground. Now think, if you weren’t there did it make a sound?

How long did it take before you said, “Of course.” Not very long, I’m guessing. It isn’t such a simple question though. Let’s talk a little about our sense of hearing. Hearing is an example of mechanosensation, meaning that our hearing organs, the ears, are interpreting the movement of molecules around us and sending that information to our brains. Sound is a wave, which means it is not a physical object. It is really just energy that causes molecules to vibrate. They bump up against other molecules and transfer that energy. That happens countless times until some of those molecules bump up against your eardrum. That information is then translated into nerve impulses that shoot up your auditory nerve to your brain. Then you hear something. This happens extremely quickly and is going on constantly. So a tree falls and vibrates the world around it eventually those vibrations make it to your ear and you think “I think a tree is falling.” Hopefully you look around to make sure it’s not falling on you. People usually argue that sound waves are still sent out even if no one is there and so the tree still makes sound.

The presence of sound waves isn’t the question, however. The real question is what is the very nature of sound. Is sound something that exists in the environment? Or is it merely our brains interpretation of something in the environment? Does the physical sensation of sound exist outside our heads or is it created by our brain? Imagine if humans lacked a sense of hearing. We could still discover sound waves in the environment. We could make machines that would detect them. We might still call them sound waves, but they wouldn’t mean the same thing to us. If we lacked a sense of hearing it would fundamentally change the way we think of sound, because our brains would not interpret that information the same. In essence, sound as we know it would not exist. So is the “tree in the woods” question really so simple? Should you have answered so quickly?

The “tree in the woods” question is perhaps not important in our lives. People certainly have more important things to worry about. The nature of sound and hearing doesn’t usually make the top 5. What’s the problem with that? The problem is that we answer so many important questions with the same quick, “of course.” Questions about government, politics, education, any number of important things get brushed aside and we just believe what we repeatedly hear. That’s why FOXNews can say the President is spending $200 million a day on an Asia trip and people believe. “Do politician’s waste our tax dollars? Of course.” We can be convinced that teachers have easy jobs and are overpaid. “Teachers only work 9 months a year, of course they’re overpaid.” We don’t demand thorough arguments and answers, so we don’t get them.

When I was a child I dreaded hearing one of my say four words. “Because I said so.” I hated it, because it was simply not an answer. I’ve always asked questions and I wanted a real answer but sometimes “because I said so” was just easier. For example, my mother would tell me to put on my coat. I would ask why, and she would say “because I said so.” She could have said, “It’s the middle of winter and if you don’t put on your coat you’ll have hypothermia before we reach the car.” That would have taken much longer I  would’ve needed an explanation of what hypothermia was. She went with brevity instead.

I only mention this because we are getting “because I said so” arguments and we’re responding with “of course.” The new Republican budget was unveiled recently. In a video Rep. Paul Ryan, showed that his budget would avoid a debt crisis. How? Well he had a graph and he said so. He doesn’t want people asking too many questions. We are being force-fed a mantra that tax cuts for the rich will create jobs. Republicans say it so often I’m beginning to think they have a “millionaire tax cut” button. Why do tax cuts for the rich create jobs. Because they said so. You could argue that the people who really create jobs are consumers, because they buy products and services thus creating demand for more products and services. This in turn employs more people to manufacture and sell those products and to provide those services. Virtually all of those consumers are not wealthy. So perhaps cutting taxes for them would make more sense than cutting taxes for the rich. You could make that argument. They would rather you didn’t. I’m amazed at the number of people who just assume the “tax cuts create jobs” argument is  true without taking the time to think about it. This brush-off by the public is how we ended up with “death panels.” Sarah Palin hopped on FOX and did some “golly gee Democrats want to kill old people,” number and we were off to the races.  Pres. Obama might not be a citizen. Why? Donald Trump says so. He said so multiple times so it must be ultra-true. These questions are far more complicated and take far more attention than we are willing to give. Yes, people are busy. They have families, and jobs and any number of things to do, but we are at the beginning of the next presidential campaign. If we want real leadership, we have to demand it.

I wrote 402 words about the tree in the woods question. Imagine how many more words could be written about taxes, healthcare, and education. All of these discussions are going on in the federal government, and state governments. In the movie “Uncle Buck” there’s a scene where Macualay Culkin is asking rapid-fire questions of his Uncle Buck. Buck (played by John Candy) tells him he asks a lot of questions. Culkin replies, “I’m a kid. That’s my job.” When did we quit that job? When did we become so disillusioned that we decided it wasn’t worth asking anymore? We need to take up that job again, but it won’t work if we just accept any answer. So we have to ask, How many “because I said so” arguments are we going to accept before we ask for real answers? How many times are we just going to say, of course?  I used to think that Americans were just apathetic when it came to holding government accountable. I was wrong. We just don’t want to take the time to really examine the questions. So, I’m extending an invitation. It’s to a rally. A rally where we start asking the tough questions and demanding real answers. Where is this rally? It’s on your computer, in you living room, in your statehouses, or an imaginary forest. It’s anyplace where we know that sound exists because we make sure that people can hear us.

Bachmann-Trump Overdrive


A quick scan of political news seems to turn up the names of two people these days. One is Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) which is not that surprising. Congressman Ryan is the GOP point man on the budget issue and the major political battles going on right now are all about the budget. You would expect him to be out in front arguing the Republican side. The other person is more surprising. It is common to see him on TV and in the news, but not usually political news. He is Donald Trump, he fires people once a week for a hefty paycheck. The question is, just what the hell is Donald Trump doing on news/political TV. Apparently, he is seriously considering running for President, and his major issue seems to be that the President may not be a citizen. That’s right, Trump has put the “birther” movement back on the table and he’s pushing it hard.

If it were just Trump, I wouldn’t be here typing this. Donald Trump can run around playing presidential candidate and I really don’t care, but it’s not just him. Michele Bachmann mentioned that she would make her birth certificate public if she decided to run. She’s from Minnesota. If you are from Minnesota, North Dakota, or Wisconsin you don’t need a birth certificate. Just talk a little. As long as you don’t say, “aye” after everything we believe you’re American. If it were just Rep. Bachmann, I might not worry too much. Then at CPAC this year I saw a clip of Mitt Romney making a joke about his birth certificate. Mitt Romney is the Republican front-runner. This things got some staying power, and Republicans are trying to ride it to the White House. In fact, a recent poll showed Romney in first with Trump tied for second.

I could go on at length about the birther issue. I could talk about “certificates of live birth” vs. “certifications of live birth,” both of which fit under the umbrella term “birth certificate.” I’m not going to because I firmly believe that people are on one side or the other of this issue and nothing is changing people’s minds.

What’s more important is the rhetoric people are using. If you were to ask Mitt Romney if the President was a citizen he would say yes, but in front of a very conservative crowd he’s willing to fan the flame.  What these people say matters, and they seem willing to push their words to the point of insanity if it will help them win.  Sarah Palin is a master of this, and it’s why she has an ardent group of supporters. They may not be a huge block of people but they are very strong in their support. They are a group that truly buys into the things she says even if they don’t really make sense. It those kind of people who destroyed town hall meetings on healthcare. By dropping terms like “death panels” and “healthcare rationing” politicians like Palin were able to enrage the people who believe anything they say. So rather than having an honest open debate about healthcare, we had angry white people screaming at the President, and the HHS Secretary and so forth.  We have to demand more. We cannot sit back and allow the blatant hyperbole.  When Newt Gingrich goes on TV and says America is headed toward, “a secular nation, perhaps one run by Islamist Fundamentalists,” More people need to call him on that. We are a secular nation. We have no national religion, and what crazy muslim terrorist are you going to find who would run one? That statement probably helped him. It uses all the right terms to appeal to a white, conservative, Christian. Those are people he’s going to need if he wants the Republican nomination. Apparently, he doesn’t care if he sounds insane. Listening to NPR during the labor protests in Wisconsin, I heard a woman describe the protesters as, “willful idiots in the Communist agenda.” What Communist agenda!?!? Twenty years after we won the Cold War, and there are still people out there who think the President is a Communist and he’s renaming Dupont Circle after Stalin. Republicans are using the old standard tactic. If you want to win an election take an issue. Make people afraid of it, and tell them whose to blame for it. So they brought out death panels, terrorists and communists, and it’s all Obama’s fault. Oh and he’s not really a citizen by the way.

I bet that the closer we get to the 2012 election we’re going to start hearing about how important it is. I would put money on the table that we will hear that this election is a fight for America’s future. It’s the most important election of our lifetimes. They will play it up to make people think if Obama wins this election on Jan. 20, 2013 he’s going to pull out the launch codes and shoot nuclear missiles at all the red states. This election isn’t the most important in our lives. I would argue that the election in 2000 was the most important one I’ve lived through. It was one of the few times in American history that the succession of the Presidency was unclear. Also every election is a fight for America’s future. We’re picking the people who run the country. This one will be no different.

What needs to be different is the tone. With all the money going into advertising by special interests the tone is unlikely to change. Politicians have to start really talking about the serious issues. That is the biggest threat to the US in the long term. We cannot continue to allow politicians to push rhetoric to the fringe of reality. We have to expect more. Politicians will always focus on what gets them elected. It is our job to be more engaged in the public debate. We have to hold them accountable for what they say. If we do that they will start saying different things. Hopefully, we could have a more honest and open election. Unfortunately, I, and I’m guessing you also, will believe it when I see it.

Cutting Taxes To Fix The Budget? Really?


The Republican congressman who chairs the House Budget Committee, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan,  unveiled the Republican budget proposal for the next fiscal year. I thought it was a little confusing. In the last election the Tea Party had a big influence. Supposedly this was based on the idea that we needed fiscal responsibility. The deficit is too large, the debt is out of control and we have to do something about it. The Republican party seized this message and said they were the ones to fix it. They won many elections and gained control of the House. They now have the opportunity to prove to their base that they are serious about fiscal matters. So I was a little confused about the fact that the proposal won’t balance the budget.  It calls for trillions of dollars in spending cuts over the next decade, but still doesn’t get us back to even, How is that possible? That’s a good question. The answer is that Congressman Ryan’s proposal would also lower the highest tax rate to 25%. That’s %10 less than now.

Why aren’t we seriously concerned with balancing the budget? Republicans have taken Tea Party enthusiasm and used it to propose a radical government limiting agenda without attempting to solve the issue the Tea Party is supposed to be all about. Cutting government spending may have some merit. Balancing the budget and reducing the national debt makes sense. To accomplish that goal with a one-sided approach that assumes government programs are just to expensive isn’t the answer. Why don’t we examine the fact that tax revenues are down. As soon as President Bush cut income taxes in 2001 we went from surplus to deficit. That trend has continued. All the while Republicans have opposed tax increases on anyone, and measures to enforce tax collection on corporations. They proposed cutting the IRS budget for tax enforcement by $600 million, which could lower tax revenues $4-6 billion, and now they want to lower the top tax rate 10%.

Congressman Ryan’s proposal put forth ideas about changing Medicare and Medicaid. While I don’t necessarily agree with them, at least this can start a debate, and a debate is a good thing.d I’ve said we need to look at 4 things: Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, Defense spending, and tax rates. Working with those things is how we are going to balance the budget. So far Republicans want to cut non-defense discretionary spending by at least $33 billion, probably more. That won’t do any good. Democrats have refused to join the debate over entitlement programs. A lack of involvement won’t do any good. Republicans have refused to discuss defense spending, and now they are proposing lowering tax rates by a huge margin. This isn’t the Bush tax cuts. This proposal cuts over $4 trillion of government spending in the next decade and won’t balance the budget?

We need to address the budget issue, but we can’t do that by intentionally cutting government revenue. The wealthiest Americans might benefit from this proposal but the majority of Americans will suffer.

An Interesting Vote


NPR had a very interesting report this evening.  The House of Representatives voted to stop a 465 million dollar a year program that builds an engine for the f-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This is not the primary engine, which is made by Pratt & Whitney. This is an alternative engine built by GE. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called it “the extra engine” in a Senate hearing. The Bush Administration wanted to kill the program. The Obama administration would also. The Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps agree. Most importantly the Defense Department says it’s unnecessary and the money could be used elsewhere. The House just did what they all recommended. Why is this an interesting story then? It seems pretty cut and dry.

The interesting part is the vote. It was 233 to 198. The majority of Republicans voted to sustain funding. They voted to keep a program that costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year when the people who benefit from that program want to get rid of it.  This is the party that is currently talking about the need for drastic budget cuts. This is the party claiming to be all about fiscal restraint. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan proposed cutting billions of dollars from programs like HeadStart, and the funding for Pell Grants. Now his party votes to maintain funding for an “extra engine” for a fighter jet we probably don’t even need. Just last year after building 187 F-22 fighters the Defense Department decided they didn’t need them. They would rather put more time and money into the F-35. So now the question is will we need the F-35? Or after billions of dollars spent will they say we need to move on to the next generation? Defense spending has to be brought under control.

That is just a quick thought. I will talk a lot more about defense spending this weekend when I write my opinion on the upcoming budget battle. We will soon see if anyone in Congress is willing to tackle the deficit issue. Likely, we’ll see a bunch of people saying what they think is important to getting elected. Campaign season never really stops these days.