May 2011


We are all very aware that the United States has a budget problem. The Republicans have taken to the roof tops and are shouting that spending cuts are required to solve the budget crisis. To these folks, who claim to be the party of business, they continue to focus on only one side of the balance sheet and completely ignoring the other. In this post I’ll try and do both and explain the real world impacts of tax cuts and how the country got into this mess.

The Republicans think that the government should be run more like a business. This mantra has been repeated for decades. Fair enough, we’ll look at the budget issue through the lens of a business and see how the problems can be fixed. The Republican solution to all of America’s budgetary problems is encapsulated in the proposed Paul Ryan budget. This budget is heavy on reducing social spending while extending Bush era tax cuts and hoping to make them permanent. From a business perspective, this concept is completely void of common sense. Here’s why.

To make things as simplistic as possible we’ll point out that in business everything you do is based off of revenues and access to capital. All decisions are based on your ability to generate revenue and sustain your access to working capital. From hiring employees to carrying larger inventories of products everything is linked directly to your ability to generate revenue. When your revenues drop your ability to gain access to working capital is restricted by your lenders and creditors. The same issue arises when your debt load becomes unmanageable. This is where the government finds itself. This is the root of all of its problems.

Currently the government is spending more that its revenues can sustain. This is increasing our debt and gives our creditors heartburn. The Republicans point to social spending as the root of all evil, and believe that by reducing spending in this area we can solve the budget problems. This is where they are wrong, as our business example will show.

To the government business, revenues are collected in the form of taxes. When taxes are cut revenues drop. This is where we find the big problem. The Bush administration passed a series of tax cuts that greatly restricted the government’s ability to generate revenue. The biggest part of this problem is that the tax cuts were passed on to those in the country who really didn’t need the tax relief in the first place. These tax cuts were akin to the government having a huge sale and slashing prices on everything, but only allowing those consumers with the right membership card to attend. That membership card was only available to those in the top 1% of earners in the country! Goods were flying out the door, but revenues were not meeting the levels to sustain the bottom line. These tax cuts reduced the business revenues by some $200 billion a year. That was only half the issue though.

Back after 9-11 the government (a Republican government!) went on a spending spree, engaging in two wars and creating a massive expansion of government, and money pit, called the Department of Homeland Security. Defense spending has better than doubled, to just under $664 billion, an increase of almost $350 billion. The DHS budget is tagged at $42.7 billion. This was an increase of almost $400 billion in spending just between these two departments. Add in the $200 billion in revenue shortfall and you have a massive $600 billion a year problem that started in 2001 and has remained unchecked to today.

So what are we to do? Do we keep the big red and white sale sign out there, reducing our revenues? Do we continue to spend in areas that might not be prudent? I think it is wise to again treat this like a business. We need to increase our revenues. This means eliminating the Bush era tax cuts, getting back $200 billion a year in revenues. This also means reducing spending in areas that caused the problem to begin with. We need to reduce our military spending back to 2000 levels, which would still see us spending as much as the next top 30 military spending nations combined. We need to look a lot closer at the way money is spent in Washington bureaucracy, and not in the way of entitlement programs for the common good. These programs were created to be self sufficient and were operating just that way, until the government started to abuse their powers and borrow against them. Leave these programs alone and focus on fixing the big revenue problems. That’s the elephant in the room the GOP appears to be blind toward. They like to call the Democrats “the tax and spend party”, but they are doing nothing to face the reality that their own Republican brethern are the “tax break for the wealthy and spend our children into the poorhouse party.” You can’t call out the other guys as failing to fix the problem when it was you who created the problem to begin with, and are actively preventing mitigating strategies from being put in place. The big spending has to stop and the revenues must increase. Achieve these simple goals and our business is again capable of meeting its financial needs.

The United States is a divided country. Much of the limited discourse that does take place is poisoned by divisive rhetoric. Rational thought is cast aside and ridiculous arguments based on unintelligible talking points rule conversation on any important issue of the day. Those talking points can be reduced to several core ideas, believed to be originated by the founding fathers of this country, but instead bastardized by politically motivated think tanks and shyster wordsmiths. To better understand the damage being inflicted upon our nation by these contemptible entities these core ideas will be examined in a series of essays, each focusing on one of the base terms that find their way into our national dialogue, attempting to find greater understanding of the idiom and those who use it as a shield.

This past weekend the South Carolina GOP held a convention to fire up the troops and scare the bejesus out of anyone who would listen. It was the same old series of talking points from the usual suspects of criminal stupidity. Senator Jim DeMint, Representative Tim Scott, and ex-Governor Rick Santorum were all bringing their best scare tactics to the table in hopes of finding traction with their base.

Senator Jim DeMint spoke about the creep of socialism and told attendees “this is our last chance to get it right. 2012 is when we have to lay it all on the line. We have to go to the mat.”

Representative Tim Scott continued down that same avenue. “There’s no question that we are moving, step by step, closer to socialism. So that puts democracy at risk to some extent.”

Rick Santorum, the ex-Pennsylvania Governor and possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, attempted to raise the specter of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy when discussing government intrusion into the lives of Americans. He was especially critical of education, saying, “I don’t know, maybe they called it early pre-K or something like that, that the government sponsored to get your children in there so they can indoctrinate them.”

This is the stuff that makes the head of the average non-American explode in frustration. The contradictions and dissonance in their policy position is astounding. These people who represent our supposed better interests pick these terms out of mid air and attempt to use the stupidity of the common man against them. Terms like socialism, fascism and indoctrination all have a negative connotation in American society, simply because Americans have been indoctrinated to view these words as euphemisms for negative consequences. If people would learn the true meaning of these terms they would see through these snake oil salesmen and see the obvious lies in what they say.

First, let’s examine the bugaboo of socialism and why it is evil. It is hard to believe that a political or social philosophy could be evil but that is the talking point from a certain party in American politics. This concept is mind numbingly stupid when you consider that almost every other country in the G20 is more socialistic in their governmental structure than the United States, and, last I checked, none of the citizens of these countries were crushed under the yoke of oppression. In fact, using the adjusted Human Development Index as a measure, the United States ranks 12th in quality of life for its citizens, and quickly dropping in that measure.

The textbook definition of socialism is a system where the means of production is commonly owned and controlled through cooperative interests. This definition is open to much interpretation and, in the extent of socialistic practices, varies greatly from example to example. I could go to great lengths to explain socialism in action, but that is a moot point. The important thing here is understand why the Republicans use this as a scare tactic and why they are bastardizing the term.

Socialism to the Republicans is the artificial control of the free market. That is really all they are concerned about. They want nothing more than to have a non-regulated marketplace where anything can be done to make a buck. Anything that is restrictive of that marketplace is socialism in action. I don’t think we need to go very far to find examples of why an unregulated marketplace is a bad thing. Whether it be lead in paint, salmonella in food, immoral lending practices by banks or unscrupulous trading practices by corporations I think we can agree that regulations are required to protect the common good of our society. These controls are not examples of socialism, they are illustrations of a functioning society acting in a responsible manner. Acting collectively, to protect everyone equally, is a core tenet of the constitution, so it shouldn’t be scary in any shape or form. What is scary for Republicans is the idea that acting collectively might just give everyone the same access to those aspects of our society that we deem as being necessary for a quality life. If we did act collectively, as our government was designed by the founding fathers, we could have the same freedoms that other G20 countries have, like universal healthcare, quality education, equal access to low cost food and drugs, and a removal of the corporate power structure.

I find it ironic that Republicans and conservatives continue to fall back on using socialism as a scare tactic when they themselves embrace some of the most socialistic constructs any free society can develop. Conservatives, as a stereotype, are a religious bunch. They fall back on their religion and all for it to be the central focus of their being. They come together and work collectively under the banner of their particular church, gaining the benefits of a community. This is socialism in action. Republicans and conservatives are huge supporters of the military and military spending, yet this is as socialistic as you can get. We use our collective resources to fill the ranks and pay for the weapons systems. That is socialism in action. The Republicans are also huge supporters of big business. Most corporations, who get so much from their political stooges, generate their working capital from selling common shares. A group of people come together to commonly own and cooperatively control the production of a product. This is socialism in action. When these huge corporations suffer from their own stupid mistakes it is the tax payer that is expected to bail them out and pay for their operational errors. It can be argued that this is socialism for corporations in action, (although it is more accurately aligned with fascism). Conservatives don’t hate socialism, per se, they just hate it when it helps out people who have different beliefs as them.

The second term of discussion is fascism. Republicans like to use the term fascism and socialism interchangeably, even though they are contrary political positions. This is another term badly misused or mischaracterized by conservatives and the mass media alike. Fascism is an ideology based on authoritarian nationalistic beliefs. People are taught from a young age (called indoctrination) that their country and their belief system is superior to that of any other. Fascism relies on the development and promotion of a national mythos where ancestry and culture make the country unique and powerful. This helps develop a singular collective identity, where others who have different ideas are ridiculed or purged from society all together. An example of this is American exceptionalism preached by hardcore conservatives.

Core functions of fascist regimes have been control over education, family policy, and an embracement of militarism, showing a willingness to freely use force without significant provocation. Fascist states believe that the individual does not exist but is nothing more than a cog in the corporate machine. During WWII, corporations were key partners in running the government and collected huge profits for doing so.

When Republicans toss out the term fascism it is hard to keep a straight face. This is the party that believes in American exceptionalism and is pushing for the establishment of state religion through adoption of Christian standards. They are strongly pro-life, wanting to outlaw abortion and the mother’s right to choose. They believe education should not be an open system, but instead should be closed with a very dogmatic curriculum. These Republicans and conservatives also believe that we need a strong military and should be free to use it as often as possible. Finally, and most importantly, the GOP firmly believes that by empowering the corporations, and drafting policy for their benefit, we make our country stronger. How this group of people can call anyone else fascist is beyond logic?

The final term to pick apart is indoctrination. Merriam Webster informs us that soft definition of indoctrination is the instruction of fundamentals or rudiments of any given subject. Basically, this is called teaching. If we assume this to be the definition then we are all indoctrinated into believing what we think we know. The harder definition tells us that indoctrination includes the imbuement of a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view or principle. This is the indoctrination that the Republicans like to roll out there as a scare tactic and an example of all that is wrong with our education systems. The only problem with their allusion is it is flat out wrong.

Indoctrination really boils down to the teaching of a single point of view. This is done in fundamentalist religions and totalitarian societies. The regulated curriculum in our school system is exactly what prevents indoctrination, forcing instructors to provide an open perspective to their students and abide by a secular point of view. This important to recognize because it is aligned with the constitution and the freedoms guaranteed in the first amendment. If indoctrination is taking place in this framework then the entire system the founding fathers framed is an abject failure. Seeing as how these “patriots” are so enamored with the founding fathers we can assume this is not the case. If these merchants of misdirection were honest they would be looking in their own backyard for examples of indoctrination.

The reality is the Republicans prey on those people who have a very closed perspective, one developed because of indoctrination. The GOP base is very decidedly Christian, most of which being fundamentalist. This component of the base was brought up to believe that their interpretation of God is the only true deity and all others are false idols. They believe they are the chosen few and are bent on promoting their own kind into positions of power. If you are not one of them, you are the enemy and inherently evil. Most of these people were home schooled and force fed religious belief as children. This prevented them from developing a broad perspective and questioning their teachings. If we look at the definitions again we’ll find that this is the textbook example of indoctrination.

At this time in our country’s history it is important to recognize the snake oil salesmen and call them on their inaccuracies. We can’t let them get away with the twisting of the facts and the scapegoating of ideologies or beliefs which they have twisted in shapes beyond recognition. We need to be aware and not fall for it. We need to be able to look at all potential solutions to the problems that plague our nation and adopt the solutions that best work regardless of the scary words some may try and wrap them in. There is a rhetorical battle going on in the country where negative euphemisms are quickly attached to solutions in hopes of marginalizing them or eliminating them from the discussion. Socialism, fascism and indoctrination are just a few of the terms used to scare people into thinking their country is at risk. Ironically, as people run from these solutions they run right into the trap of greater corporate control. In fact, these terms that are being used against the people only become accurate when the word corporate precedes them in a sentence. I think that the next time the Republicans toss out the terms socialism, fascism and indoctrination that they should be fed the terms projection, transference and introjection.

I first heard the news from my wife, who received an update on Facebook. Al Qaeda leader and financier, Osama bin Laden, had been reportedly killed during a raid of a compound outside Islamabad, Pakistan. Watching a re-run of The Taking of Pelham 123 was now a secondary interest. Learning more about the assassination of bin Laden became primary.

Information was slow to come out as the press corps appeared to be waiting for the official announcement from the President. Even though the details were sketchy there was a definite reaction from the American people. The one term that kept coming up in describing the events was “jubilation.” For some reason this troubled me. I decided to turn in for the night and wait for more details surrounding the events and the potential fallout from the action.

When my dogs dragged me out of bed to feed them the following morning it gave me opportunity to check the newswire and see what other details there were in regards to the stunning news of bin Laden’s death. I read as much unique information as I could find but details were still sketchy. What was made very clear in the media was the American reaction. From political leaders to first responders to the common man on the street the response was similar. The same word that still resonated through the media was “jubilation.” This still troubled me. I needed to figure out why.

I began to look at the many photos of the American reaction that were splashed all over the Internet. What I saw was a wild, almost uncontained, celebration of bin Laden’s death. These pictures looked all too familiar to me. We’ve seen these types of scenes in the Middle East when a key campaign is won or someone is martyred. These are the types of scenes that we have openly criticized as being irrational or the people being over-zealous in their support of a flawed cause. Had we become that which we most often criticized?

I can understand the desire to see the leader of Al Qaeda killed, but this reaction seemed over the top. There was a disconnect in logic. It had been almost 10 years since the September 11th attacks, and our reasoning for going into Afghanistan and Iraq had changed multiple times since then. Osama bin Laden had become an afterthought in the search for redemption. Why was there such an outpouring of emotion for this killing when the world had changed so greatly since 9/11? This is likely the dilemma my conscience was wrestling with. What has this changed and is this action worthy of a celebration?

As I sat in the dawn’s early light of the day after bin Laden’s killing, the thing that kept running through my head was what has changed? Was the economy going to get better? Were more jobs going to become available because of this death? Was the value sucked out of my house by the housing bubble going to magically return? Was my retirement any more secure, or were the political vultures going to continue to pick at that corpse? Were health care costs going to drop and become affordable? Was anything that directly impacted my current existence going to change as a result of this assassination? I couldn’t see how this made any difference to the issues that matter.

I will admit that I do find some satisfaction that another terrorist has been killed in a very grizzly fashion. I also think it is great that it was our intelligence community and one of our SEAL teams that got the job done (this is how you respond to instances of terror, not through large military engagement). Unfortunately I don’t think this is a time to take to the streets and celebrate. Not when the streets are filled with the problems caused by chasing the shadow of bin Laden and his ilk with the costly machinations of our military. When measured against the trillions of dollars spent in making war against two nations one has to wonder, was the over-reaction all worth it? Did we win anything by killing bin Laden or did bin Laden win the war by bankrupting our nation?

It is tough to be celebratory, even when achieving a long term goal like this. Not when there are so many other troubles facing this country. I’ll take to the streets in celebration when the villains from Wall Street get tracked down and dealt with in a similar fashion. Or when the economy gets fixed and well paying jobs are available again. Or when things become affordable based on my miserable ever shrinking salary. Or my future is re-secured with the money and tax dollars I invested in vehicles like my home and retirement saving plans. Until then I’ll remain reserved over the killing of another terrorist mastermind and hold my celebrations for when my country is made whole again.