Political Theatre: Debt Ceiling and Back Room Deals

Oh joy!  I like to follow the headlines and separate the political theatre from the national policy that’s at stake.

The political theatre behind the debt ceiling theatrical production currently playing for the American public is political posturing.  We should all ask our selves: Do we want government that plays political games behind the “debt ceiling,” or do we want government to get to the business of raising revenue, cutting spending (including international “conflicts”), improving infra-structure, restoring financial market protections, etc.?

Me, I say, cut the comedy; get to the business of governing.  And, not through back room “debt ceiling” deals.  We want to know exactly who is asking for what concessions, what are going to be the costs, upsides, downsides, trade offs, etc….and would it be too much to ask for a national discussion or conversation about these domestic policies?

Playbill for the Debt Ceiling Production:  the excerpt below  is all you need to know about the debt ceiling.

The debt ceiling is a legal cap on the amount of money the U.S. Treasury can borrow to fund existing government functions. It essentially authorizes the Treasury to borrow the money necessary to pay the bills incurred by the federal government.

Where it came from: Before 1917, Congress authorized the Treasury to issue bonds for specific purposes. But that meant approving every bond separately. To fund World War I, Congress decided to give the Treasury more latitude by instituting caps on how much it could borrow through each type of bond, rather than forcing it to get every new bond approved separately. In 1939, this was changed so that most bonds were bound by the same limit, effectively creating the general debt ceiling we have today.

How it has worked: The debt ceiling has traditionally been raised as a matter of course whenever Congress passes spending bills requiring more borrowing, though the opposition party has often voted against increases to signal its opposition to the majority’s deficit spending. Between 1940 and 2010, we have increased the debt limit more than 70 times, and from 1979 to 1995, a House rule proposed by Rep. Dick Gephardt made increases automatic by raising the ceiling whenever new spending is approved. The new Republican majority repealed this rule in 1995 to use raising the debt ceiling as leverage in getting President Clinton to agree to spending cuts.

Why it’s an issue now: Currently, the debt limit is set at $14.3 trillion. Around Aug. 2, the Treasury will exhaust that borrowing authority. Because spending currently exceeds revenues by almost 45 percent, if that happens, we will either have to default on our debt or stop funding a substantial portion of the government. Congress could simply choose to raise the debt ceiling, but like the 1995 House GOP, the 2011 House GOP is insisting that it will not increase the debt ceiling without large spending cuts from President Barack Obama.

Do we need a debt ceiling? Strictly speaking, no. The debt ceiling is unique to America. In other countries, when the legislature passes a law, the Treasury is given automatic authority to carry it out. A number of former Treasury secretaries have said it should be abolished, including Larry Summers, who said, “I think that given that Congress has to approve all spending and all tax changes, there is not much logic to the debt ceiling.”

Does the debt ceiling reduce deficits? In general, no. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office examined this issue and concluded that “setting a limit on the debt is an ineffective means of controlling deficits because the decisions that necessitate borrowing are made through other legislative actions. By the time an increase in the debt ceiling comes up for approval, it is too late to avoid paying the government’s pending bills without incurring serious negative consequences.”

Is the debt ceiling unconstitutional? A number of commentators have suggested that the 14th Amendment, which states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned,” renders the debt ceiling unconstitutional. Others have disagreed, saying the Constitution gives Congress the sole power “to borrow money on the credit of the United States.”

— The Washington Post

via Too late for a debt deal? | | The Bulletin.

“accidental activist” article Empowering Readers

Wow.  The previous post  (http://edugossip.com/?p=176) has tapped into the emotions of many readers, as reported by Oprah.com 

One reply by  Elizabeth7957 left on “OWN HOMEPAGE” was especially heartfelt:

“Thank you for posting this. This is the best letter I have read on here…. But reading your letter was as good as any of the shows I would have seen.

I worked as an underpaid social worker and donated heavily until I became disabled. I’ve been feeling powerless. As long as my computer lasts, I realize now that I can have some power and continue to contribute and make changes for the best.”

Thank you, Elizabeth.   

The Accidental Activist

I worked for many years in higher-education as a professor and as a fundraiser. The financial markets were rising, and so were transfers of wealth by generous individuals to nonprofit causes including education and hospitals. But by the close of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, things began to change. The earnings of the middle class had been stagnate since the 1970’s, but now it was beginning to show in the decline of discretionary giving. And although wealthy individuals could and often made large donations, it was the middle class who made up the bulk of annual giving dollars. And they were on the decline big time. And then came the 2008 Great Recession.

 That’s when I realized that the economic world we once knew had shifted quite dramatically. Pointedly, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton came out with a big, bright red “Reset” button. There were and are still many who are profiting nicely during the ongoing economic crisis, but there are far more who are not. I realized the economic crisis is vastly different than the ups and downs of recession that we had known before. It is global: what happens in Greece has an impact in America; what happens in Japan has an impact in America.

So I began to look for a way to understand this “new normal.” And much to my surprise it was fun and easy. I found and watched terrific programs that helped me understand the policies, laws and regulations that were being discussed in the desire to balance what we want for ourselves and what we want to achieve together as a nation. The headlines began to make sense. I found individuals and groups who are having fun bringing together helpful information. Before, I downloaded apps that entertained but didn’t inform, now I download apps that keep track of Congressional voting and legislative bills under consideration. I comment on blogs that discuss the balance between our individual desire to have cheap goods and the social consequences of those decisions. Each day brings excitement and fulfillment as I recognize that I have a profound role to play as a citizen.

 I’m more joyful and content. I’m a participant in this democracy in ways that are meaningful and heard. It’s my key to happiness in these unprecedented times. With this new re-alignment in thinking, I’ve gained community and peace of mind. Now when folks ask me, “Whatcha doin’?” I say, “Participating in democracy and letting my voice be heard.” “Whatcha doin’?”

Some Say We Don’t Need Clean Water

What a courageous leader for the public good. Lisa Jackson is a name that needs to be known in every household in America.  I don’t know about you, but I feel great knowing that someone is fighting for me to breath clean air and drink clean water.  And I love it that Ms. Jackson is so passionate about protecting the environment for us.

www.oprah.com

Aid in Dying Under Review

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is releasing a document with serious ramifications for the rights of patients across the board. End-of-life healthcare policy is a major looming issue in guarding democracy against the disturbing side effects of supercapitalism. It’s time to understand and face the social and economic consequences of our decisions.

US: Catholic Church Amps Up Its Fight Against Aid in Dying

churchandstate.org.uk

Published on 15 June by

via Educating Gossip.

Did You Hear? Democracy Needs Trustworthy and Impartial Information|the Educating Gossip™

Feel It, Love It!

Ohhh this makes me feel sad but also more determined

“Gone with the Papers,” written by Chris Hedges ( http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/gone_with_the_papers_20110627/)  noted: 

 “We are losing a peculiar culture and an ethic. This loss is impoverishing our civil discourse and leaving us less and less connected to the city, the nation and the world around us.”  And also, “A democracy survives when its citizens have access to trustworthy and impartial sources of information, when it can discern lies from truth, when civic discourse is grounded in verifiable fact.”

The writer holds passionate beliefs about the role of a free and impartial press especially now as “[T]he increasing fusion of news and entertainment, the rise of a class of celebrity journalists on television who define reporting by their access to the famous and the powerful, the retreat by many readers into the ideological ghettos of the Internet and the ruthless drive by corporations to destroy the traditional news business are leaving us deaf, dumb and blind.”  Powerful stuff.  Love It!

Teachable Moment: Moral Panics, Anthony Weiner and Seal Team Six Insights

Can we separate political ethics and morality from personal ethics and morality?  This seems to be the question America has been struggling with for some time.   “Moral panics” are what George Lakoff refers to them in his book The Political Mind Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain.

America likes to gossip about the personal details of a public person’s life—the more outrageous, the more perplexing, and the more morally confounding the better. Such talk is considered “juicy” and America could talk about it all day long.

Representative Anthony Weiner is at the center of the current moral panic.  Should he resign?  Should his wife divorce him?  Can he be trusted as an official elected to represent the voters of New York?  Is he “true” to them?  And if he indeed walks his political talk, should his actions within his marriage matter?  Can we separate his morals and his ethics?

We can make a distinction between the two that I think is useful.  Ethics refers to a theory or system that describes what is good and, by extension, what is evil.  Morals refer to the rules that tell us what to do or not to do.  Morality divides actions in to right and wrong.

Ethics are more theoretically focused:  How do we judge white-collar crime versus violent crime?  How do we allocate health care when demand and costs out strips resources?  Mythology and theology are the oldest sources of ethics, though philosophical systems are often more discussed today.

Ethics are about theory, while morals are about practice.

Morales are the rules you live by; ethics are the systems that generate those rules.  Morals have to do with your personal life:  What is appropriate behavior on a first date? Is taking a ream of paper from your job home for personal use a crime?

Teachable Momemt: SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper author Howard Wasdin said to Jon Stewart on the 6/9/2011 Daily Show, that although he is a republican and did not vote for President Obama, Wasdin would consider doing so in the future because the President had it right on three accounts: keeping the mission operations secure, burying binLaden’s body at sea, and not releasing the pictures.  Wasdin admired the President’s political actions.

Should we really care about a politician’s personal actions?  Some say we should, for it gives insight into that person’s theory or system by which they judge good and evil and thereby decide what to do.

Stay tuned.  As we enter another presidential election cycle, the major weakness of ballot-box elections will once again become glaringly apparent:  the voters decide on a candidate by making an X rather than by exploring what it means to be the best candidate for the job.

The influence of smear campaigns, misleading political ads or the force of party-line habit voting, will make it a struggle for voters to possess a deep understanding and consensus on policy issues and thus elect the best candidate for the job.

The Importance of Trust-Clinton, Edwards and Schwarzenegger

There’s personal trust and public trust.  Trust between individuals is personal trust.  Trust placed in public figures and public institutions is public trust.  When trust is broken, people often feel betrayed and angry.  When former President Clinton betrayed his marital vows of fidelity, personal trust was broken–which should have been limited to the trust between him and his wife, yet the public felt outraged because a public trust relationship had been established during the campaign when allegations of infidelity had been denied. 

Some say this is the case with former Governor Schwarzenegger.  He broke both personal and public trust with the revelation of fathering a child with another woman while still married and denying marital infidelities during his campaign for California governor.  

John Edwards, it’s been said, clearly breached the public trust because he misused campaign funds in attempts to hide his extra-marital affair.

The bottom line: fidelity, vows, one’s word is taken seriously.  If trust is broken, say to a spouse who you vowed to love and remain faithful to,  it demonstrates selfishness for momentary gain with total disregard for the other.  If you can do this to someone who trusts and loves you, how can the public trust that you will put aside your selfishness and act in the public interest and not your own selfish interest?   How will the public know that you hold their interest in higher regard then your momentary selfish gain?  They won’t, unless trust can be restored through not only apology but action that demonstrates this regard for the other.   

Some say Clinton redeemed himself through his political leadership, restoring public trust.  Some say Edwards has not and will never have the opportunity since his chances for public election are slim to none.  And some say Schwarzenegger is like Edwards, especially since his leadership of California ended in catastrophy for the state.  Time will tell.

Attack on Religion or a Call to Discovery?

 I have a friend, a learned scholar, who brought this engaging exchange to my attention posted at The Science Network.

File:Neil deGrasse Tyson - NAC Nov 2005.jpg
Neil deGrasse Tyson

It’s a talk by  Neil deGrasse Tyson basically saying that religion is what some early scientists turned to when they could not explain the unknown and was used to fuel their creative thought.  The talk is lively and fun.  Tyson tells us to keep in mind that some of the greatest minds that have preceded us expressed notions of  intelligent design  when faced with the limits of their knowledge. “Science is a philosophy of discovery, intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. “     He encourages us to acknowledge that people are feeling at the limits of their knowledge when they invoke the notion of intelligent design.  He also encourages us to be self-aware of when we are at the limits of our knowledge and not let our belief systems limit our creativity, our search for knowledge.   Fun, fun, fun.

File:Shermer wiki portrait4.jpg
Michael Shermer

Dr. Tyson is joined on the panel by speakers including  Michael Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things.”  Michael Shermer takes a social scientist’s point of view, asking the question:  what are the different variables that go into a person’s belief system?   He states that smart people believe weird things “because they are better at rationalizing beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.   Which is to say that most of the beliefs that most of us hold we arrived at because we were raised that way, or we were influenced by peers or mentors.”   It’s human nature to want to find reasons to justify what we believe. 

Another panalist states that business interests understand that science and innovation is important for the economy but they don’t particularly care if there is a large number  of uneducated people.  However, from the public policy and government affairs  point of view, it is critically important that citizens are educated.  In the United States, elected officials are tasked to represent and put into law policies and practices that the voters want.  If the people are uneducated on the most basic of human affairs, bad policy and government will result.  Business and government need educated people–business may need a few, but good government requires many more.

I started this blog to encourage myself and others to challenge beliefs.  First, acknowledging and modifying beliefs in light of new discoveries (“Own It”).  Then, acknowledge how the updated beliefs make us feel (“Feel It”), put those new beliefs into daily practice (“Live It”), and then be happy with our lives (“Love It”). 

It’s worth the 75 minutes to view the program because it makes you think about religion and beliefs in a different way. For me, this program was a reminder that wisdom (religion, philosophy, psychological) is a means for people to seek a deeper human experience and be encouraged to press forward, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming confusion, doubt, and unknowns. I felt both hopeful that public policy will balance the teaching of science and intelligent design in schools and happy that there is a role for belief in play in people’s creative lives. Watch the program and let me know how it made you think about what you believe, if it made you modify what you believe and how that makes you feel as you deeply connect with people and the world around you.

Kirsten Gillibrand on Daily Show – Garnering Trustworthiness?

Kirsten Gillibrand 2006 official photo cropped

Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator for New York was credited by Jon Stewart for helping pass legislation that included health benefits for the September 11, 2001 first responders.  Wisdom says, “You can tell a tree by it’s fruit.”  Perhaps Ms. Gillibrand is showing signs of someone who is trustworthy…

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