Tag Archives: taxes

Politicians Trying to Weaken the US Economy: Conspiracy Theory or Current Reality?

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Although I have written a lot about the polarization of the United States political system here, I tend to shy away from partisan politics on this blog. But there was an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper this week analyzing claims by some Democrats that Republicans are intentionally trying to sabotage an economic recovery in the United States in order to win the White House in November.

Regardless of your political affiliation, I think this article is worth reading, if only to better understand the debate and rhetoric. One of the sections of the article that I found compelling is below:

“When teachers are laid off, for example (and nearly 200,000 have lost their jobs), it means larger class sizes, other teachers being overworked and after-school classes being cancelled. So, ironically, a policy that is intended to save “our children and grandchildren” from “crushing debt” is leaving them worse-prepared for the actual economic and social challenges they will face in the future.”

It seems like a bit of an exaggeration, or at least a generalization, to say Republicans are intentionally trying to weaken the economy. But policies currently espoused by the Republican party, which include finding savings through deep cuts to social programs and refusing to discuss options for increased revenues, do seem to create further challenges for our country’s economy.

I am no economist, but I trust the large number of economists who have repeatedly said that, in an economic recession, the federal government must take leadership and increase its spending to help the country recover. As someone who has worked on public policy on the state level for many years, I have seen the spending restrictions on the state level, such as balanced budget amendments, which make doing this impossible on the state level.

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Again, I have a hard time believing that Republicans are intentionally trying to weaken the economic recovery. But it is more important now, than ever in my lifetime, for the two parties to work together to help the country move forward from the economic devastation that has led so many families to lose their homes and their livelihoods.

What do you think? If the two political parties cannot come together to find a way to solve the current financial crisis the United States, when will they ever be able to come together? What type of visionary leadership do you think is required to help get the US economy back on its feet? Do you see the answer to these problems coming from the corporate or the government sector? Or do you think it will need to be a partnership? Do you think that extreme factions of the political parties are making this situation worse? What can we, as voters, do to help bridge the gap between the parties? Are these problems as prevalent on the local and state level or do you think this is more of a federal problem?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

26 Comments

Filed under Campaign Finance, Income inequality, Politcs, Poverty, Role of Government

Learning to Kill: President Obama’s Evolution in the War on Terror

There is a fascinating and disturbing article in Newsweek entitled, “Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill”. The article is long, but worth reading when you have a moment. It is excerpted from a new book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, written by Daniel Klaidman.

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The book explores how President Obama’s thinking on anti-terrorism activities has evolved since he took office. Specifically, the book describes the decision-making process that the President and his top advisors go through before deciding to kill a terrorist target.

I have to admit that even writing these words makes me uncomfortable. I am a pacifist at heart and feel a strong urge to ignore the realities of what happens outside of our bordersin the name of keeping us safe.

I can only imagine the heavy burden placed on a President and his top military officials when forced to make a decision like this. Some striking excerpts from the book that help me better understand the complexities of what these officials deal with:

The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult, and he has struggled with them—sometimes turning them over in his mind again and again. The people around him have also battled and disagreed. They’ve invoked the safety of America on the one hand and the righteousness of what America stands for on the other.

If there is a person in the camp who is a clear threat to the United States we should go after him. But carpet bombing a country is a really bad precedent.

…both men were grappling with the same reality: their advice could ensure death for strangers who lived thousands of miles away—or spare them.

I really struggle with this. I realize that there are people whose sole aim in life is to harm the United States for a wide variety of reasons. From the comfort of my home I cannot fully condemn the activities of leaders who have willingly taken on the responsibility and are doing their best to grapple with the difficult choices to keep us safe.

I also know that when George W. Bush was President, I was probably much less willing to explore this issue and more willing to cast stones.

But I have to wonder if there is a better way to keep us safe. Of course, I believe that promoting economic and democratic stability around the globe is one of the best ways to lessen vicious animosity towards the United States. But I also wonder if there aren’t more opportunities to use the legal system to bring people to justice.

I understand that this is extremely complex and that a protracted court case could actually exacerbate the risk.

I clearly don’t have the answers to this complex problem and I realize that I probably come from an idealistically naive perspective. Of course, I never do have the answers in this blog, which is why I always ask…

What do you think? How do you feel about the recent killings inflicted by the United States on terrorist suspects? Do you think there is a better way to keep us safe? What does that better way look like? Do you think that President Obama is going to suffer any legal consequences for his actions? Should he? Do you feel conflicted about this issue like I do?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under International, Peace, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Terrorism, War

Wall Street is Like a Middle School Playground: How do you Plan to Retire?

I turned 40 this year and decided that it was time to try and understand what steps I need to take to be able to retire someday, with the full understanding that Social Security simply will not be the answer for my generation. I realize that it takes more than just a Social Security check for most people to be able to retire anymore, but even that paltry check is unlikely to be there when I hit retirement age.

After prompting by my accountant mother (thanks Mom!) I started to research the best ways to invest money for retirement a few years ago. And I started paying attention to the stock market. Granted, I began watching the stock market in 2008, and we all know that, since that time, the market has experienced one of its most turbulent episodes in its history. So, my next statement could be off the mark for people who have been tracking these issues for a long time. And if this statement is incorrect, I would love to hear from you.

Is it just me, or is the stock market as temperamental as a school child? I am astounded by the roller coaster of ups and downs in the market, which seems to be wildly impacted by rumors and hearsay or by the latest statement from the Fed.

The stock market holds the hopes and dreams of many Americans, including many in my generation who are looking for ways to pay for their retirement. The roller coaster of the past several years, combined with the despicable actions of many bankers on Wall Street, have made people very nervous about where they should place their money.

And yet the buzz surrounding the Facebook IPO made it clear that people still want a get rich quick scheme and see the market as a place to make that happen.

What do you think? Have you changed your investment strategies since the economic collapse in 2008? Do you have any faith in the stock market or do you feel that your money would be better invested elsewhere? Are you depending on social security to fund your retirement? Have you put much thought into this issue?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

11 Comments

Filed under Career Planning, End of Life, Income inequality, Poverty, Role of Government

Race, Charter Schools and JP Morgan

In the same week we learned that JP Morgan lost $2 billion through risky trades, the New York Times published a story about a charter school called Explore Charter School in Brooklyn, New York, where the vast majority of the students are African American, the majority of the teachers are white and almost all of the children come from families living in poverty.

These two stories highlight two sides of what I believe to be one of the most destructive aspects of our modern culture – namely, the growth of income inequality. The fact that there is even any discussion about whether or not to require more regulation of the banking industry is unfathomable. It is clear that, while banks are capable of doing great things to support people in achieving their dreams, something is broken in this system.

As bankers make millions while taking huge risks with our money, income inequality continues to rise. There are so many implications for this complex problem. But what this means for the education of future generations is highly concerning. The way that schools are financed in our country appears to set some children up to fall behind from the start.

One response to the need to improve education has been the establishment of charter schools. No one can argue with the results of many of the charter schools in this country, but charter schools seem to be a band-aid approach, rather than a meaningful fix to the significant problems facing our public schools, which are primarily financed by income taxes.

Wouldn’t it be better to make investments in our public schools, to enable all children to have access to a high quality, affordable education that could set them up for success?

The article in the New York Times examined the pros and cons for children of being educated in a school with mostly black students. Some of the parents expressed belief that this is a strength of the program, and talked about their focus on the quality of the education alone. Other parents expressed concern about the low number of black teachers at the school and about whether this environment sets kids up with an unrealistic expectation of what they will face after school. I have heard similar debates about the benefits of all-girls or all-boys schools. But race is a much more complex issue in our country.

I am always struck when I hear kids talk about race – the responses seem to come from a much more innocent place than when you hear adults, who have been steeped in the complexities of this issue for so long talk about the same issue. It is refreshing to hear children say that discussions would be more interesting if you had more people from different backgrounds in the classroom. This is such a true, honest statement that is so clear – but adults, in many workplaces and in general society seem to forget this simple fact.

Racism is such a raw subject in our culture, surrounded by strong emotions, ranging from anger, to sadness, to guilt. What concerns me most is the general fear to talk about the issue. How do we move beyond something that people are afraid to talk about and that some even fail to acknowledge exists?

The Trayvon Martin case is one in a long line of incidents that have brought this issue squarely back into the public eye. While I cannot say with certainty whether Trayvon was murdered solely because he was black, this tragedy brought up a lot of emotions. Had the justice system responded as it should, by arresting George Zimmerman and letting the case work itself out through the courts, the outcry may have been significantly reduced, but that is not what transpired. The reaction from around the country was electric.

I was glad to see people finally talking about race and the criminal justice system. It became clear that most people, of all races, want to believe in a criminal justice system that is not racially biased and that most people will not accept a system that is perceived to be corrupt.

The President’s statement in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples this week was historic, courageous and widely applauded by people around the country. There are still some who disagree with the President’s position, as evidenced by the disappointing vote in North Carolina this week, but the country seems to be slowly moving forward on this issue.

I like to believe that my generation is more willing to examine the assumptions and biases of my grandparents and that my kids and grandkids will point out my blind spots – be they related to race or sexual orientation – or even to political party. We must stop being afraid to talk about the complex issues that make true progress in our country so difficult.

What do you think? Why can’t we see people as people, with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences that make each person unique, but still as people, just like ourselves? Why can’t we acknowledge that these conversations might be uncomfortable, but that we can’t move forward without them? Why does it feel so vulnerable to share our thoughts and beliefs on these core issues? Do you think that the next generation will be more willing to confront these issues? Do you think that some of these issues will lose their sting naturally with time? Or do you think that the biases and prejudices of prior generations will cloud their childrens’ judgment and make progress slower? How do you feel about all-girls schools or schools with kids of all the same race? Why do schools with all white kids rarely ask why there aren’t more kids of color in their classes?

Sorry this post was so long. It is a complex issue and I guess I have a lot of thoughts about it! I hope you do too. Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Education, equality, Income inequality, Parenting, Poverty, Stereotypes, Women, Youth Leadership

Human-Created or Not, Why Not Try to Stop the Warming?

The New York Times op-ed by James Hansen, who is the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies should give anyone pause about the future of our planet.

It never fails to amaze me when I hear people question whether human activity is impacting global warming. There is no question among scientists that the planet is warming – the scientific evidence is conclusive on this. And even if, for the sake of argument, human activity is not causing global warming, why would we not want to take action to slow the warming trend?

It seems that attention to this issue has lessened in recent years and I am not sure why. In the meantime, we have seen a devastating proliferation of hurricanes and tornadoes and heat waves and wildfires. I am no scientist, but I put a lot of faith in the knowledge and understanding of experts.

Given the persistent outcry from the scientific community about the perils of inaction, why don’t more policymakers stand up and take action on this issue? Is it because the corporations who are funding political campaigns are afraid that caring for the environment will negatively impact their bottom line?

It reminds me of the smoke-free movement in some ways. Bars, restaurants and casinos consistently proclaimed that they would have to close their doors if a state passed a smoke-free law. We all know that that is not what actually happened once laws were enacted.

The science was clear regarding the harms of tobacco, much like the science is clear about climate change. But the arguments for smoke-free laws were related to harming to people’s health; stopping climate change is just about protecting mother earth.

Perhaps environmentalists could link their arguments more to the impacts of climate change on people’s health. I know that some groups have made this connection, but it seems to get drowned out by the ongoing debate about the science and whether or not global warming is actually occurring.

Sometimes it seems that the environmental messages are too varied, maybe because the implications of inaction are so broad. If there was a way to focus the message on the impact climate change will have on people, the arguments might get more traction with the public.

I am just thinking out loud here and know that there are a lot of people with much more knowledge about the politics and science of this issue than me. I would love to hear your thoughts!

What do you think? And thank you for reading!

7 Comments

Filed under Environment, Health, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Uncategorized

Who Needs Government Anyhow? Except…

Since many of us paid our taxes this week, it seems only appropriate to highlight an article about how our tax dollars are spent. So, in that spirit, I am posting an article entitled “Who Needs Government Anyway? Except…” This opinion piece was written by Kevin Horrigan and was published in the Denver Post on April 15th. You can find the article here.

This article, while certainly tongue-in-cheek, highlights some of the critical functions performed by government on which we all rely. It is easy to get caught up in the partisan rhetoric over the size of government and cutting costs or controlling spending by shrinking government; but maybe it would be more productive for all of us to actively engage in a meaningful dialogue about how our tax dollars are spent.

I remember when Colorado was looking for ways to cut the state budget a few years ago, and they closed some of the Department of Motor Vehicle Offices. I was amazed to see how, all of a sudden, people from all walks of life were impacted personally by budget cuts. People were talking about this in every locale. But it was difficult for people to see the connection between the amount of taxes they pay and the long lines at the DMV.

I also heard a story recently about a town where people in the community had a choice whether or not to pay into the fire protection services in their town. But when the house of a community member who had not paid into the service caught on fire, the community was horrified that the fire department did not run to the rescue to put out the blaze.

There is so much double-speak when it comes to talking about taxes and the size of government. Sometimes it feels like people want plenty of government services – including public transportation, high quality public schools, rapid street repairs, snow plowing, protection from crime and fire – the list could go on and on. But people are not willing to pay more for these services.

Some questions for discussion: What is behind the fear and hatred of government we hear on the nightly news? Do you think it would help if people had a better understanding of how their tax dollars are spent and the specific benefits they, personally, receive from government? Would you be willing to pay more taxes to have more benefits, such as guaranteed health care or quality child care? Or do believe that government is fundamentally mismanaged? Would you rather spend your own money to provide for yourself, and deny any community-provided benefits? Do you feel that the government is choosing to spend your tax dollars in ways that you disagree with? How would you allocate the dollars differently if you were a policymaker? Have you been engaged in these debates in the past? Are there any particular resources you have found helpful to educate yourself on these issues?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks for reading!

11 Comments

Filed under Policy, Privatization, Role of Government