This is an important mid-term election, politically, not just for the country, but also for the Piedmont Triad region of NC.  Here in the 6th district, the venerable and honorable Howard Coble is retiring after 15 terms in the House, and state-wide, Senator Kay Hagan is up for re-election.

The field is crowded (to say the least) for both seats on the Republican side.  There’s one thing in common with most of the candidates though, and that is all of them have made repeal of Obamacare their #1 priority and messaging.  Understandably so, as generally speaking, it’s unpopular with many Americans.  Yes, there are a few “success” stories out there, and I’m not going to discount them, but for every success, it seems there are 3 more who have a negative experience.  And not just because of the website, but sticker shock.

I myself am one of the “negatives”.  While my insurance is provided by my employer, it is essentially an individual plan that he pays for.  I don’t need much, I’m a single male in my 30’s, good health, and as such, my premium was only $135/mo.  My plan wasn’t “ACA-compliant”, and so I would have been moved to a new plan that would have increased my deductible (from $2,000 to $4,000), increased my co-pay from $25 to $35, and increased the co-insurance from 20%-30%.  All of this for… wait for it… $259/mo.  (I was since allowed to keep my current plan, at a new rate of $165/mo, but for how long is anyone’s guess).  Oh, and I get maternity coverage and birth control (aka pills and abortions), which I so obviously need.

Let it be noted that while I believe in a woman’s right to chose, I don’t like the idea of abortion as a method of birth control and wish there were less of it.  But I’m not going to say “change the right to choose. ”  That’s a topic for another (and more inebriated/enlightened day).

Back to the original point though.  Every candidate’s central plank is “repeal Obamacare”.  Second is “protect the 2nd amendment.” How do you choose your “front-runner” if all of them run on the same thing?!

You have to look at everything else about them – what their plans are beyond repeal.  Because let’s face it, if you want to be re-elected after this term, you have to prove to me that you can do the job beyond one major task.  Otherwise, you wind up in the same boat Kay Hagan is right now – her one “accomplishment” is unpopular amongst the populace and she really can’t run on the rest of her record.

If we repeal Obamacare, what’s your solution for a fix?  How do you propose addressing a $17trillion debt (and continued budgetary deficits)?  How do you uphold the spirit of the 2nd amendment while still making sure that I or my friends or family can protect ourselves against a home invader?  Are you really going to win my vote based on calling the other candidate a liar and a cheat and whatever else you can think of under the sun?

40% of the voters already have made up their mind whether they will support you or hate you based on that little letter after your name.  I’m in the 60% – you have to convince me you can do your job beyond the latest popular topic in the news.

I’m reminded of a line from The West Wing (I’ve reduced it down to the barest form)- 

Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it?

You’re on the clock, and you’ve got until May 6th to convince me.

I never realized just how many of my friends from high school and college could be classed as “liberals” until the last election.  Maybe it’s just my sensitivity to the subject matter over the last few years, but it seems that I can’t go a day without at least 3 “outrage” articles about Republican politicians coming across my Facebook feed.

Usually, I can tune them out.  I see them all the time.  I may label myself a Republican, but certainly don’t fall within the mainstream or core of the party.  Just the way I am.  Some might even call me a RINO.  In my business, expressing your political views is generally frowned upon, and can even lead to lost business.  But regardless, I’m not the stereotypical Republican.  I typically don’t care for a lot of the views of the Tea Party faction or the “Religious Right” (not being overly religious myself).

But one such article posted today riled me up.  Here’s a link to the article –  The “outrage” over what Rep Bachmann said.  I hadn’t even read the article, but my friend’s commentary prompted me to post something just as scathing  about the “liberal left”.

But then I took a second and read the article.  The content isn’t so bad.  I tend to agree to a certain extent with her comments that the LGBT community is beginning to look like bullies.  (whether they are or not is a different matter)  Between the outrage just a few months ago regarding the comments made by Phil Robertson and his “discipline” from A&E over said comments, the Chick-fil-A boycott, and everything else, the LGBT community is putting itself in a bad light.

But stepping back from that, what bugs me most about the current political climate these days is that people seem to focus on the delivery than the content of the message.  I won’t deny there’s been quite a few politicians the last few years who have stepped in it.  That goes without saying.  But automatically, one side or the other “drinks the kool-aid” of their party and automatically writes off whatever the opposition says, usually in the most provocative and insulting manner possible.  I’ve said similar before – it’s become a matter of fitting the most attention-grabbing thing possible into 140 characters or less than about real issues.  The first step to negotiation and compromise is seeking to understand the other’s viewpoint.  We’re not doing that anymore.

Maybe it was this way during the 1850’s/1860’s and 1950’s/1960’s (minimizing the message to the most galvanizing/polarizing thing possible), or maybe it wasn’t.  But I can’t help but think that if we don’t stop focusing on the tone (and let’s face it, we color the tone with our own perceptions) and start focusing on the message, the war of words will eventually escalate into a fistfight, or worse.

Anyone who’s known me over the past few years will know that, generally speaking, I avoid commenting on current politics.  Anymore, it seems we’re just going from one knee-jerk reaction to the next knee-jerk reaction without the benefit of any real discourse.  To say that this is a sad state of affairs is understating the case in leaps and bounds.  We can argue all day long about the who, the what, the where, and more importantly, the why all day long.

I bring this up because SCOTUS’s decision on Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act triggered just such a knee-jerk reaction from my cousin (mirrored with the dozens I’ve seen pasted across Twitter) that Civil Rights is now set back 50 years.  Having the benefit of actually reading nearly half a dozen articles (from both “liberal” and “conservative” leaning sites), I chose to engage him with my opinion that I don’t believe that it’s quite the “death knell” everyone portrays it to be.  While it’s certainly disconcerting and does “open the door” to future possible discrimination, what the ruling does is invalidate Section 4 only.  Section 4 creates the scenario that makes certain jurisdiction (states and a few counties) subject to federal oversight of election process changes.  Section 5 actually enforces the oversight, but Section 4 creates the conditions to qualify for additional oversight.

While it’s true that the conditions laid out in Section 4 basically make Section 5 a moot point right now, that’s not to say that it goes away entirely.  SCOTUS has basically said “Congress, you should use more relevant data than something from 40 years ago.”  Makes sense to me, right?

Then people go on to say “well, Congress isn’t getting anything done” – there’s a certain measure of truth there.  But I made the comment to him (and he has yet to respond) that this is such an “under the radar topic” that Congress might just surprise us.  Believe it or not, Congress does actually accomplish things.  It’s just not on the “tentpole” issues that are major headlines to news outlets.  Those are the issues where we see the “partisanship bickering” because Congress actually has to campaign on their visible record.  It’s easy to tell your constituents “I voted against (or for) immigration reform, while my opponent is against my stance.”  It’s not so easy to do on “lower profile” issues or where you might actually agree with something.  Continue reading

So, the Federal Government has decided that it needs yet another stimulus package because the economy’s lagging.  So far, I have to say that the last three packages have done little to nothing to really create a sustainable recovery.  Perhaps it’s time for some different thinking on the matter?

It bothers me to see the actions of the government over the last six weeks.  A political deadlock over the fact we need to cut spending, then vote to spend *more*?!  Logic took a long walk off a short pier up in DC the last few years…

To date, over the last four years, the government has spent almost $1.8 trillion in defined “stimulus” packages.  Where’s the payoff?   Unemployment is still at an all-time high. Jobs growth is nil.  The remaining economic numbers don’t look all that hot either.

So here’s my wild-ass idea.  Might not work, but hey – people who make a hell of a lot more money than me and have tons of alphabet soup on their business cards haven’t been doing any better.  The simple thought – take that $1.8 trillion and split it amongst US households, and DON’T require them to pay it back over a series of years.  It’s a gift, not a loan.  Even better, how about just paying down the total US Consumer Debt number of $2.4 trillion?

Hear me out on this… As of May, the average household credit card debt stood at just shy of $16k.  In interest payments only, that’s $2,100 per year.  How many are actively paying more than that and trying to pay it down?  (Consumer debt, by the way, includes things like personal loans, car loans, etc.  I don’t believe student loans are included.)  So, in essence, you free up at least $200 per month per household, perhaps more.

That’s money that was being spent to pay down debts that could be used elsewhere.  Perhaps an extra dinner and movie out per month?  Maybe vacation money?  Perhaps a new TV, or maybe even a new car.  Home improvements, such as a new washer & dryer for the one that’s been there for fifteen years?  What happens then?  Producers have to raise production to meet demand (or prices inflate).  IF they have to raise production – doesn’t that mean more jobs?

Or perhaps they save it at the bank (yes, yes, horrid rates and all).  If that happens, that would give banks much higher reserve ratios, which would allow them to lend more (with proper risk controls) at reasonable rates.  That in and of itself would be beneficial to not only consumers, but businesses as well.

The point I’m trying to make is this – these “stimulus” packages are short-term at best.  The roots of a true economic recovery have always been at the consumer-spending level.  All these packages serve to do is provide a sense of false hope and keep the politicians in office for another term.  What’s the President going to be touting for the next twelve months as he stumps?  “I brought in a stimulus package for jobs.”  Big whoop – it’s not addressing the core problem.  And realistically, how is this packages supposed to help “now” anyways?

Sure, we can go on and on about how this might be a short-term fix as well, all the pitfalls, etc.  But really, the first $1.5 trillion hasn’t broken us out of our slump.  Consumer sentiment and confidence are low.  The simple reason is that people know they have a lot of bills that are still due if they’re out of a job.  Remove some of those bills and see what happens then.

I find it folly to believe that a corporation can create jobs when there is no demand for the goods and services they produce.  So what exactly are we stimulating them to do?  Did you hear the story about one of the stimulus programs that spent a few hundred thousand and created exactly 1.2 jobs?

I’m obviously not part of the “brain trust” in DC.  (No, I don’t mean the one where they share a brain between all of them, though it seems that way sometimes.)  I don’t have an advanced degree in economics.  What I do have is real world experience.  I know that if I had another couple hundred bucks in my pocket each month, I’d eat out or go on vacation.  I might buy something that I really don’t need, but would love to have.  Perhaps it’s time the “trust” in DC actually thinks what they would do with their money if it was in their pockets rather than their lobbyists’ pockets?