Political Viewpoints

September 2012

Why Obama?/Why Romney

The Clearest Choice Ever
Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat

In the same month Barack Obama was inaugurated, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that the number one job of the Republicans was to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. This partisan goal was more important than ending the recession, protecting the United States credit rating, or dealing with an expensive, broken health care non-system.

After the Tea Party-led victory of the House Republicans the capacity of the federal government to meet the nation’s needs ground to a halt. The intellectual architect of the Congressional Republicans was Paul Ryan. By selecting him as his running mate, Mitt Romney effectively signed on to the Tea Party agenda.

The Ryan-Romney agenda is a radical one. It is the opposite of “fiscal conservatism.” Conservatives accept that the American economy is mixed—government provides the framework that the marketplace cannot. It is the federal government under Republican presidents that assumed leadership to build a national interstate highway system and to establish the Environmental Protection Agency to cleanse our air and water.

It was two very conservative Republican presidents—Reagan and Bush 41—who presided over major tax increases to bring the federal budget closer to balance and to protect Social Security. It was Eisenhower who launched federal programs in basic and health research that led to the creation of the world’s greatest research universities that attract the brightest scholars and researchers from around the globe. Many stay: about 40 percent of Silicon Valley startups are begun by foreign nationals attracted to the fertile ground between Stanford and Berkeley.

House Republicans oppose the role of government in investing in America’s economic future. The Ryan-Romney budgets would slash the national investments in infrastructure like mass transit, highways, airports, and seaports. The United States is falling behind other developed and developing nations ranking 24th in the quality of its transportation infrastructure.

They would attack, as well the programs that working and middle class families rely on for education and health care. Ryan proposes that Medicare be converted to a voucher program whereby retirees would pay $6,000 per person to make up for Ryan’s cuts (a quarter of whom rely exclusively on modest Social Security for survival).

What is worse is that the Ryan-Romney plan pays for substantial tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest 2 percent by reducing middle class programs and tax benefits, but without specifying any increases in tax revenues from “closing tax loopholes.” The result? Increased federal deficits, smothered opportunity, and a go-it-alone society.

The only near-term solution is to turn the rascals out and decisively so. Otherwise, the nation is heading for the Fiscal Cliff with a know-it-all radical agenda, an agenda that defies logic and mathematics.

Jeb Bush doesn’t like the radical agenda. Neither should you.

Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat, is a former Assemblyman and State Senator from Morris County.

Rick Watson, a Republican

For this election, “social issues” and foreign policy take back seats to the economy, specifically the lack of jobs.

Philosophical Reasons:

Capitalism works (USA, Germany, Singapore); socialism doesn’t (USSR, Zimbabwe, North Korea). We need a President with actual experience (unapologetically successful, in Romney’s case) who believes in capitalism, not one who denigrates small business people and thinks their success is all due to government. While there’s a spectrum of possibilities between socialism and liberty, and it’s too simplistic to call Obama a Socialist, he is moving us in that direction and it isn’t working; we need to reverse course. Americans believe in equality of opportunity, not equality of economic success. Some people are more talented and/or work harder than others; if some make more than others that’s OK so long as the opportunities are there. This election is between those who think the proper function of government is taking money from people who’ve earned it to give it to those who haven’t, and those of us who don’t agree.

The National Debt has grown under each modern President, but exponentially under this one. Our debt now equals annual GDP, a dangerous situation like what plagues Greece and other insolvent countries. Every dollar the government borrows to “lend” to bankrupt solar companies is a dollar that can’t go to capital investment or job creation.

Government must do less and do it better. We need a President who understands there are limits to what government can do, and who’ll stop obstructing development of domestic energy (e.g. Keystone pipeline.)

Mandates like health insurance and other alleged protections for employees, however well-intentioned, can actually hurt workers when they discourage hiring. People who’ve had real jobs in the private sector understand this better than politicos and academics.

Practical Reasons:

Yes, we’ll hear ad nauseum, the President “inherited a mess.” BUT HE DIDN’T MAKE IT BETTER! Trillions in “stimulus” only add to the national debt. Unemployment stays above 8%, not below it as promised. The lame excuse “it could’ve been worse” may have worked for FDR in 1936, but it won’t fly in today’s America.

We can live in denial and blame Bush for all this, or we can admit what we’re doing isn’t working and it’s time for a change.

Have you seen any TV ads touting the Obama record? Of course not; that wouldn’t sell; they have to go negative because they can’t talk about his record. As the greatest President of our time said: “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?”

Rick Watson, a Republican, is former Committeeman and Mayor of Morris Township.

June 2012

Religious Freedom

On Religion
in American, Jefferson Got it Right
Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat

Thomas Jefferson would be appalled to hear the invocation by “strict” constructionists of what the Founding Fathers ordained. On issues of the role of organized religion in the conduct of government, his view was simply stated—maintain a “wall of separation between church and state.”

Religion is a matter of individual choice and, in Jefferson’s view, not something to mixed with the affairs of state. He was the most influential of the Founding Fathers in hammering out the First Amendment to keep organized religion out of government. Everyone should be free to determine his or her relationship to the divine and no government should interfere with that right.

The only amendment to the U.S. Constitution ever revoked was the 18th, which was a blatant effort by Protestants to send a message to the then rapidly-expanding Catholic population of Irish and Italian immigrants. Prohibition was a nasty, failed experiment brought on by mixing religion with politics.

Of course, it gets tricky when the majority imposes its religious beliefs on everyone else. For example, Bergen County maintains Blue Laws that forbid stores from opening on the Christian Sabbath. A state-chartered bank in New Jersey may not conduct business on Good Friday. Biology teachers in Kansas—at least for awhile—had to offset instruction on the well-proven theory of evolution with unproven assertions of “intelligent design.”

Today’s test of our capacity to tolerate conflicting religious views focuses on the federal law to expand health care coverage to tens of millions Americans without health insurance. In a nation where 98 percent of women of child-bearing age use birth control at one time or another, there is a concerted effort to forbid coverage for those employed by religious organizations. Others seek to prevent doctors from counseling those with terminal illnesses from understanding all their options. All this in the name of religion, or at least organized religion.

There is not of us who is not offended by at least one policy, one law, one court decision, one regulation imposed by government at some level. Often this opposition if born of a religious or moral belief about what is right or fair or divinely inspired. The way we sort out these certain conflicts is the system of untidy representative government bestowed on us by our revered Founding Fathers.

Look around the world at the strife and bloodshed brought on by government representing one religious group over another. The list of such places is endless: Bahrain, Bosnia, Serbia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Tibet, Sudan, Northern Ireland, etc.

Thank God, or something of your choosing, for Thomas Jefferson. We should remember and respect.

Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat, is a former Assemblyman and State Senator from Morris County.

Rick Watson, a Republican

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

Thus begins the First Amendment to the Constitution, held later to apply as well to the States and local governments. We all know what it says, but what does it mean (or we should say what will a judge say it means) in a particular case?

Fifty years ago we started every day in Public school with various rituals, including a non-denominational, voluntary prayer. Then along comes the Supreme Court, decreeing that no, a public school can't sponsor a prayer even if it's voluntary, and decades of litigation followed over the issue of how far the government can be involved with religious institutions. The general answer is "not much".

As for the actions of individuals, a thumbnail summary of the First Amendment is that you can believe anything you like, and say almost anything you like. What you do, however, is not so completely unlimited. The problem with our legal rights is that they sometimes bump into each other. For example, you can be a Jehovah's Witness and advocate against blood transfusions, but if a court decides your child needs a transfusion to survive, it will likely order it done, in effect deciding that one child's right to live overrides the parent's Religious freedom. On the other hand, if your faith prescribes wearing a turban in the workplace, your employer probably can't forbid that without showing some unusual need that workers dress uniformly.

But suppose you're a member of the Taliban, and you very sincerely believe that girls shouldn't go to school? If you live in the US your daughters will likely be sent to school no matter what you sincerely believe.

The Taliban case is hypothetical so far as I know, but there is another interesting conflict that almost did get litigated: Can the Federal Government force the Catholic Church to pay for its employees' health insurance if that insurance is required to provide for contraceptive services, which the church sincerely opposes? The Obama Administration said yes to this, until a firestorm of opposition forced a compromise. In other words, the Administration considered the desirability of getting everyone covered by health insurance to be more important than the religious liberty of a church. In an increasingly secular society, many people would agree---regrettably, because if such a significant erosion of liberty is permitted, in order to achieve such an arguable and marginal benefit, other such erosions will follow. More attention needs to be paid to the part of the First Amendment about prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

Rick Watson, a Republican, is former Committeeman and Mayor of Morris Township.

March 2012

The Millionaire Tax

If not millionaires, then who?
Facing Debts for the “Selfish Generation”
Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat

No generation of Americans has been so selfish in demanding public services that it refuses to pay for than the current gang. What is worse is that those who decry the nation’s growing debt the loudest are most also the most eager to add to it. No one can top the 2012 GOP presidential candidates on the hypocrisy scale. I mean, no one.

The centrist, bipartisan, and respected Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget analyzed the Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum tax plans and found that they would add $7, 1.5, and 6 TRILLION respectively to the national debt by 2021. And that was before Romney promised a 20 percent across-the-board income tax cut, which would almost double the loss of revenue under his plan.

The United States is on a path to reach a debt level that equals our GDP in the next few years. This is not a good development. We’re on this path because of the Financial Meltdown, the Bush tax cuts, and sending the bills for Iraq and Afghanistan onto our children to pay.

Why is all this important to the question of whether the tax rates for millionaires should be increased? Because it’s the only idea that has the political support to pass that would actually help rein in the growing debt.

Otherwise, we will repeat the practices of the past thirty years where candidates promise tax cuts that will be paid for by spending cuts. Voting for tax cuts requires zero courage. Legislators pile on like nine year-old boys at a birthday party. But where are they when spending cuts on are on the agenda? Invisible.

We can’t blame just the legislators for this mess. The public favors cuts in government spending overwhelmingly, just as long it does not affect their Social Security, Medicare, public schools, soybean or gas-drilling subsidies, national parks, improved highways, etc. That leaves programs for the under-represented like Medicaid and food stamp recipients that are not big enough to match the spending cut promises of the GOP presidential candidates.

Back to the millionaires. Not surprisingly, there are a host of opaque special benefits written into the unreadable tax code that benefit the already-wealthy. Hedge fund guys get taxed on their ordinary fee income as if it were a capital gain. Folks with second and third homes take the same deductions as ordinary homeowners. Passive income like dividends and capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate than income gained by working.

The result of all this is that most taxpayers with annual incomes over $1,000,000 pay taxes at a much lower rate than those working for salary or wages, but earning a good deal less. Romney, we learned, pays only 14 percent of his $22 million+ annual income, which is a far lower rate than most middle-income families pay. Add in the FICA deduction for Social Security, which is almost always ignored in these discussions, and you can be certain that Romney is doing less than his share.

None of us can be Warren Buffet (except maybe Bill Gates). Not only can we not expect to store up tens of billions in assets, but we will never complain that our taxes are too low. More than two-thirds of Americans agree with him that millionaires should be taxed at a higher rate. Not only would such an increase produce a significant slug of new revenue to reduce annual deficits, but it would help reduce the growing gap between the very wealthy and the rest of us.

Maybe that explains why so many of us favor the millionaire tax hike. Now, if only the Congress would join us.

Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat, is a former Assemblyman and State Senator from Morris County.

Rick Watson, a Republican

First, some definitions: "Rich" means someone who has, or makes, more than you do. "Fair Share" (of taxes) means "more".

Reasons for:

  1. Some people make more than others by cheating, but it's too hard to figure out who, so let's just use taxation to bring down everyone.

  2. The private sector, being the major impediment to Washington taking over the whole economy, needs to be weakened and demoralized further.

  3. The politicians' thinking: This will annoy the payers, but the non-payers have more votes and will think I'm on their side.

Reasons against:

  1. It's already being done, the top 5 % of earners paying 60 % of federal income taxes. Even if the tax were a flat percentage, as in Pennsylvania, someone making 10 times as much as another would pay ten times the tax, without getting anywhere near ten times the benefits.

  2. Every dollar taken by taxation is one that can't go to job-producing investments.

  3. Equalizing wealth by taking money from those who've earned it and giving it to those who haven't is not a legitimate function of government. If Gates and Buffett want to redistribute their own money, fine, but that's voluntary. They have no business redistributing yours and mine.

  4. As Ronald Reagan may have said, if you give Washington more money, they'll just waste it. Examples are easy to find, and bipartisan: Solyndra, a trillion in failed stimulus, bailouts going to bonuses, and endless wars. The only way to keep up any kind of pressure on Washington to cut spending is to deny them a free flow of our money.

  5. Squeezing more money out of the productive class would hardly make a dent in the debt or deficit, and could even reduce total revenue, if money is diverted from job-creating enterprises.

  6. Last but not least: "THOU SHALT NOT STEAL" (Ex.20:15). If it's wrong for Willie Sutton to rob banks simply because "that's where the money is", why is it OK for the government to rob some of the taxpayers for the same reason?

Rick Watson, a Republican, is former Committeeman and Mayor of Morris Township.

February 2012

The Tea Party

The Tea Party: Waning but still dangerous
Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat

The Tea Party burst onto the scene in 2009, captured the credit for the big Republican congressional victory in 2010, and is slowly sinking. Too slowly, because it still claims 60 members of the 243-seat Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Hence, the danger

. The first and last point to understand about the Tea Party nationally is that there is no one party. There is no coherence, no coordination, no single message. It appears to represent frustrated and angry white middle-class citizens who have seen their 401(k)’s shrink while Wall Street banks gobbled trillions of taxpayer dollars but suffered only a hiccup. It favors eliminating most government spending while making sure that the 1% see no tax increase.

The congressional Tea Party Caucus comprises 60 House members and four Senators, all Republicans. The founding chair and most visible spokesperson is Michelle Bachman, who recently discovered that being the leader of the Tea Party was not enough to survive past the Iowa caucuses. The fairest measure of the Tea Party movement is found, therefore, in the workings of its congressional caucus.

Here are some reasons to be frightened by the Tea Party:

  • It represents a narrow slice of the nation, mainly the states of the Old Confederacy. Sixty percent of the 60 House members are from Southern states--twelve from Texas, seven from Florida. One Marylander is the only one from the Northeast; only three from the industrial Midwest (none from Ohio or Wisconsin);
  • The Caucus thinks that it is okay if the United States Government defaults on its debt obligations after 220 years. During the debate over raising the debt ceiling, its members sponsored legislation that would have required the government to continue paying Social Security, pay to military based in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to U.S. residents owing government securities.
  • Even though it claims only one-quarter of Republican members, it has converted formerly moderate Republicans like Congressmen Frelinghuysen and Lance to support extremist positions such as eliminating Medicare and federal support for family planning.
  • The Tea Party Caucus pushes a fantasy that the federal deficit can be eliminated overnight by slashing programs and services essential to preventing additional economic pain and eliminating all forms of investment in research, transportation, research, and support for higher education. Half of its members were ready to arbitrarily force huge cuts in national defense spending as well as ending unemployment compensation for jobless Americans.

. By the way, if any Honeywell workers or retirees contribute to the company’s PAC, you might be interested to know that it is the largest corporate contributor to the Tea Party Caucus freshmen members. And ironically, born of frustration over bank bailouts, Tea Partyers happily accept banker donations.

Pushing the nation into bankruptcy is hardly the answer to our economic woes, yet that is an almost certain result of Tea Party dominance of the Republican Party. Maybe the GOP voters in Iowa got the message in handing Iowa native Bachman a decisive shellacking.

Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat, is a former Assemblyman and State Senator from Morris County.

The Tea Party
Rick Watson, a Republican

There are two Tea Parties. First, the version most of the media wants you to perceive – angry old people who can’t stand the President and therefore must be racists. TV nurtures this notion by showing only their most extreme statements and scouring the fringes of a rally to find the lone nut with a racially insensitive sign.

To get the real picture, attend a Tea Party rally, where you’ll see friends and neighbors and hear what the speakers have to say. The people are angry, for sure, but it’s all about policy, not race. Their complaints, like those of the Occupy movement, include the bailouts of selected industries at our expense and arguably without clear benefit for the public. Their solutions, however, are less government, not more, a simpler, more “back to basics” approach, where the government does only what it needs to and taxes as little as possible (TEA stands for “taxed enough already” but also invokes the spirit of our revolution, which was to replace an oppressive regime.) The movement would never have arisen if people weren’t justifiably frustrated with Washington’s dysfunction, trillion dollar deficits, a 13 trillion+ dollar debt, and an intrusive health care law that any student of the history of new programs knows will cost more than predicted.

There’s much talk in the movement about returning to the original intent of the Constitution, but the Constitution does give Congress the power to enact foolish laws, so the Healthcare Act is unlikely to be nullified by the Supreme Court. Still, the Tea Party improves public debate by raising the fundamental questions of what, exactly, the government should be doing and how we’ll pay for it.

Over time, the movement, still not a formal party or centrally organized, moved from rallying to political action, and had some success in Republican primaries, but sometimes, as with their Senate candidates in Nevada and Delaware, this resulted in General election wins for Democrats. This is because the Tea Partiers regard compromise and moderation as sins and undervalue electability.

I have a Congressman who I agree with about 95% of the time. That’s about as good as it gets, but the Tea Party people may try to replace him with someone I’d agree with 98%, but who would lose a General Election to a more liberal Democrat. This is the essential flaw in the movement – not recognizing that politics is the art of the possible. Sometimes you have to settle for budgets and legislation that are less than perfect.

That said, the Tea Party gives voice to many frustrated Americans and in spite of their intransigence and sometimes clumsy political moves, will be remembered in the future for having shaken up our public discourse - for the better.

Rick Watson, a Republican, is former Committeeman and Mayor of Morris Township.

November 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street Makes a BIG Point
Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat

It looks like the scruffy campers of OWS may make an impression after all. They should, because they have one very big idea that will not go away: 99 percent.

OWS still has no clear strategy or specific demands (except for warm tents). What it has is a number that cannot be ignored. The highly regarded Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just reported that over the last thirty years the top one percent saw its after-tax income increase by 275% versus 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent. Over half the gain (53 percent) went to the top one-fifth.

If the top 1 percent gained its wealth like Steve Jobs gained his, I don’t think that OWS would have a chance. Jobs was a genius who contributed mightily to America’s enjoyment and its economy.

No, OWS is alive because so many Americans think that the very rich have been propped up by the rest of us.

Big Finance has sold Washington on the story line too essential to fail. “Let us sink,” it says, “and the world flirts with total collapse.” Presidents and legislators of both parties bought and sold the line.

Here’s the problem: the money to bail out Wall Street was raised by shifting the bill to the rest of us. And what did we get in return? Not much.

  • The government drove interest rates to historically low levels. The rationale? Low rates will encourage borrowing and, hence, economic activity. There were lots of loan applications, but very few loans. Much of our money went to executive compensation and stock buy-backs;
  • Low interest rates mean less income for savers. So, the bill was passed along—not to bankers who failed to perform due diligence on the securities they were peddling—but prudent folks who did what they’re supposed to.
  • To save American International Group, the government used $180 billion to repay investment banks that insured their subprime investments with AIG. They received 100 cents on the dollar including billions for French, British, and German banks.
  • Now Republicans want to make it even sweeter for the very rich. Rick Perry would cut their tax rate by 43% Herman Cain by 74%!

Here is the stinging irony of all this special treatment for the wealthiest: there’s nothing left for American families going bankrupt because of rising foreclosures and lower property values. Nothing.

Occupy Wall Streeters wants to reverse this lop-sided game of fortune for the few, insecurity for the rest of us. They don’t need the answers. Just keep pushing 99%.

Gordon MacInnes, a Democrat, is a former Assemblyman and State Senator from Morris County.

"Occupy Wall Street" and unfocused anger
Rick Watson, a Republican

At noon, in pleasant weather, I checked out Zucotti Park to see it first-hand. Bizarre is the word for no more than 150 demonstrators, mostly young, plus some unreformed hippy types, and equal numbers of tourists taking pictures and Police, who weren't doing anything and didn't need to. 1968 all over again? A guy had an "end the wars" sign right across the street from where the Twin Towers were, a sight unthinkable 10 years ago. Another sign just said "Sanitize the Lunacy", unexplained. Unlike the Tea Party rallies, there was almost no attempt to persuade anyone or to engage passers-by, (exceptions are made for fawning reporters from politically correct media). I didn't see, but don't doubt, the reported conflicts with homeless people, attracted by donated gourmet food, and local residents who don't appreciate steady drum-beating 12 hours a day.

Weirdness aside, they show frustrations the Tea Partiers share (sometimes, as with bank bailouts, over the same things), but their remedy is more government, not less. Their mantra is "blame the rich", but don't they understand that paying a CEO less means more $ for stockholders, not for the lower-paid people? Don't they know that taxing the rich is already being done? The top 5% of taxpayers earn 37% of all wages, but pay over 60% of all income taxes. And when they die, their heirs will pay death taxes that other people won't.

Yes, some people make too much, but using taxation as a punishment is a lazy solution, a blunt instrument that strikes Bill Gates as well as Bernie Madoff. It's just easier to slash down a whole class of people, many of whom deserve what they have, than to do the hard work of discerning who deserves high pay and who needs to be fired, or prosecuted for cheating.

Wouldn't you like to someday see a President say on TV something like "Listen, American stockholders, stop acting like sheep. Think before you send in those proxies and don't automatically rubber-stamp whatever management wants"? I can see Teddy Roosevelt saying that; it's a spirit we need to recapture. And while we're at it, why not Occupy Washington?

Rick Watson, a Republican, is former Committeeman and Mayor of Morris Township.

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