Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Charitable organizations lose out to politics - Published in the Centre Daily Times June 2012

Sometimes it seems we’re on nearly every US charity’s mailing list.  Their letter writers put together thick envelopes packed with pages with underlined points and yellow highlighted passages explaining what they’d do with our money.  Sometimes we donate, and sometimes we don’t.  Either way, we always keep the free address labels they usually send (thanks everyone).

Now that it’s election season, though, the charities have competition.  Politicians everywhere are carpet bombing America asking for donations to their campaigns. The pleas are written by the same writers, it seems – lots of pages filled with bold type and underlining, and passages highlighted with yellow. 
I’ve made a short study of these requests from both political parties.  To start with, I sent small token donations to Romney and Obama, and agreed to be on their mailing and emailing lists.  Since then, they’ve become close friends, sending me personal letters and emails nearly every day.  At the end of each note, though, comes the request for a handout, closing with something like ‘Will you stand with me?’  

They often send token goodies to their small donors.  Mitt Gear anyone?  Lapel pins, bumper stickers, signed photos, T-shirts are all available – for a price.  Same goes for Team Obama, who have also been trying to get my wife and me to eat with them if I’m chosen from their donor lists, pitching fancy dinners with the stars (Sarah Jessica Parker has become a recent email buddy).  Romney has countered with his own meal invitations, but he’s more frugal, offering to share a short lunch with him somewhere on the campaign trail.

Many of the emails, usually sent by campaign flunkies, are pretty nasty. They slam the other side, including the word ‘failure’ a lot, and often include links to videos that ‘I simply must see’, showing the ‘Truth about President Obama and how he’s destroying America’, or the ‘Truth about Governor Romney and how he ruined Massachusetts’.  Of course, the answer is always to send more money.

However, the most ridiculous and frantic requests come because the other side may have pulled ahead in the fundraising race, and plan to show new attack ads.  ‘You won’t believe what the Republicans/Democrats are saying about Obama/Romney this time; donate now so we can set the record straight.’  Why have our politicians lowered themselves to become common beggars?  Because we keep on giving to them.  It’s time to stop.  Every attack by the other side doesn’t mean they need another several million dollars to ‘fight back’ and re-attack.  I understand dangerous infinite loops – and this is one of them.

The money we give to charities feeds the hungry and heals the sick.  The money we give to politicians goes to fling dung at other politicians, helping nobody.  So, every time I get another email from a political beggar, I plan to donate to one of my charities.  I encourage you to do the same.  Instead of Democrats and Republicans raking in billions of dollars, imagine the boon year America’s charities would have with that extra funding.  Here’s to a record 2012 for the needy.

Compromise only option for fixing Medicare - Published in the Centre Daily Times, April 2012

It’s an election year, and that means more grandstanding in Washington – this time about Medicare. Our seniors’ health care is run by the government and broken into parts.  Part A is for hospital stays, Part B covers Doctor visits, and Part D pays for medications. Total premiums for Part B are about $100/month, with Uncle Sam picking up the other $300.  Seniors don’t pay any premiums for Part A, but pay about $30/month for Part D.

Those of you familiar with your current health care costs will see this as a great deal, particularly for older folks who need a lot more care than the rest of us.  That’s the problem, though, the deal is too good, as we’re not paying enough to cover all the costs.  Medicare deficits are driving our country’s finances into the hole in a big way.

Our payroll taxes (1.45% for you, another 1.45% for your employer) cover only about one third of Medicare’s cost. Premiums and copayments paid by our seniors cover another quarter.  The difference, about 40%, our government borrows, increasing our deficit.  This year, that deficit is about 285 billion dollars, and will keep rising as health care costs skyrocket, particularly for those needing expensive end-of-life treatments and care.

There are three main ways to deal with this deficit – (1) limit payments to doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies; (2) limit how much the government pays for the insurance itself; or (3) raise premiums and payroll taxes.  Medicare currently uses option (1), but would have to reduce payments even more radically to balance their books.  Doctors are already turning away Medicare patients because they can get higher payments from younger people.  Further payment reductions would mean fewer doctors available to our seniors, and likely rationing of care.

Republicans are proposing option 2, opening Medicare up to private insurers and setting a cap on the government contribution to the premiums.  The hope is that private insurers would compete with traditional government Medicare (which seniors could still choose), reducing premiums.  This seems overly optimistic though, since a similar plan – the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program - has seen its costs rise by a total of 30% over the past 4 years.  The Republican proposal would have capped its premium contribution by only 15% over that time.  Our seniors would need to either eat that difference, or choose a cheaper, weaker health plan.

Option 3 is the simplest, and may make the most sense. Doubling the 1.45% payroll tax would just about cover our current budget overruns.  However, our politicians never have the backbone to tell us that tax increases are necessary, even when they are.

Whether we give our premiums and copays to the government or to a private company, some means of addressing the real problem – holding down the costs of medical care in our country – is necessary.  This means limiting malpractice awards and capping allowable profit margins at insurance agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals.  Combine that with modest increases to taxes and premiums, along with raising the Medicare eligibility age, and Medicare will be on sound footing again.  Democrats and Republicans have both suggested these ideas in the past.  Now it just takes bargaining and compromise to fix Medicare, something that's been in short supply in Washington lately.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Iran war would be devastating to its people - Published in the Centre Daily Times, January 2012

A lunatic is building a bomb.  We know where to find him, but he’s also holding a group of innocent people, including children, hostage.  Do we use deadly force to obliterate him, and all his hostages, to prevent him from bombing us?  Or do we work carefully to talk him out of doing anyone, including his hostages, harm?

This is where we are with Iran.  The religious fanatics that run their country are determined to develop their own nuclear bombs.  Many are rightfully worried they’d threaten to shoot them at Israel for political leverage.  At the same time, the fanatics hold their own people hostage and slaughter them if necessary to retain control.

What should the United States do?  During campaign season, it’s popular for some politicians to feign toughness by threatening Iran with bombing, and in some cases all out war.  Let’s consider these options.  First, we’re not sure whether our bombs can actually damage Iran’s nuclear sites, which are buried up to 80 meters underground.  A failed bombing attempt would make for a bolder, more defiant Iran while showing the world our weapons have serious limitations. 

Also, lunatics don’t often respond rationally when attacked.  Potshots at Israel would be likely, perhaps escalating to a regional war involving other difficult elements, like Syria and even Russia.  Expect a surge in oil prices as a result, shoving the world toward another global recession.  Finally, for those who favor all out war and occupation, consider this:  Iran is four times the size of Iraq, with three times the population.  The cost and scale of an Iranian conflict are simply beyond our military and budgetary means.

The effect of a potential war on Iran’s people is deeply personal to me.  I spent part of my childhood there.  The Shah was in power then, and as a 4-6 year old I sat on friendly Persian men’s knees, ate like a prince thanks to their doting wives, and played with their children.  Iran is a beautiful place, thousands of years in the making (explore it sometime on YouTube – look for ‘Iran cities’).  Its citizens are civilized, outgoing, friendly, and like us, care deeply about their children and future.  It is not their fault the ruling clerics are misguided, vicious, and obstinate.

Most Iranians want new leaders.  They were tantalizingly close to overthrowing their oppressive government in 2009 after blatant ballot-box stuffing reelected the clerics’ stooge Ahmadinejad.  Months of uprisings and demonstrations, a precursor to those we’ve seen recently in the Middle East, were eventually suppressed with much blood and suffering.  However, the 2009/2010 tensions remain, and the country seems ripe for another, perhaps successful, revolution in the future, particularly with parliamentary elections later this year.

This should be our approach then – doing whatever we can to help the hostages turn on their oppressors. Anything that weakens Iran’s government, and its influence throughout the region, will eventually empower its people.  The proposed oil embargo is a good start.  Diplomacy, mixed with aggressive covert operations (spying and propaganda distribution within the country) initiated by President Bush, and continued by President Obama, are our best hope for a new Iran.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spend Less and Tax More - Published in the Centre Daily Times, December 2011

In my formative years, I was a regular reader of the comic strip Bloom County, which spawned Opus the Penguin, a hapless microcosm of the American middle class.  In one strip Opus, who is perpetually out of shape and overweight, searches for a quick diet fix.  He’s told the answer is simple – he should eat less and exercise more.  This is precisely the way we need to handle our bloated budget and exploding debt – spend less and tax more.  However, like Opus, our congress is unwilling to accept the obvious.

Our biggest eating problems are our entitlement programs – Social Security (which is somewhat paid for with payroll taxes), Medicare (woefully underpaid for), and Medicaid (not paid for at all).  The Democrats refusal to consider major, or even minor, changes to these programs is unconscionable.  The math cannot be denied – within 30 years, 1 out of 5 of our population will be on Social Security and Medicare rolls, thanks to the wave of aging baby boomers.  The rest of us simply cannot pay for this without massive, unacceptable tax increases.  Reform is a necessity.

However, it is also clear that our government isn’t bringing in enough income.  Here, the Republicans are to blame, with their refusal to consider any adjustments to increase revenue in future budgets.  While we clearly shouldn’t raise taxes until we see improvement in the economy, there are certainly innovative ways to adjust our tax codes to increase revenue in the future. 

If we continue to do nothing, eventually Medicare, Medicaid, and our debt payments will swallow our federal budget entirely, leaving nothing to pay for defense and everything else.  Well not nothing – we could always continue to borrow trillions more, until we fall into an economic death spiral and implode.
Here are two simple messages.  First, to the Republicans:  you cannot eliminate or gut our entitlement programs.  Your older constituents will not stand for that.  Also, please look closely at the budget numbers.  Really look at them.  You’ll see then what economists everywhere see – we are not bringing in enough revenue, nor will we in the foreseeable future.  Tax increases or tax code changes must happen.

To the Democrats:  we cannot afford to sustain Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid at their current levels, particularly as the baby boomer enrollment explodes.  Your constituents will not allow you to raise taxes to the point where we can afford them.  Please look at the projected budgets and see what everyone can clearly see – entitlement programs will break us if you don’t scale them back.

What has happened to compromise in our country?  No sane business could survive like this.  No American family could either.  There must be give and take for the greater good.  Spend less and tax more.   There are no miracle solutions you can order online (as Opus surely would) that avoid this simple principle.  For once, the politicians should stop their ridiculous posturing, lock themselves in a room, act like the grownups they’re supposed to be, and work together to find a compromise.  The solution won’t please everyone, but no solution is not an option.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

US students lose out to bilingual competition, published in the Centre Daily Times September 2011

What if we sent a group of Pennsylvania kids to a sporting tournament against the best young athletes from around the country, without first teaching them how to play the sport?  How about entering our children in a music competition, without first teaching them how to play an instrument?  We’d never do that, right?  How about this:  sending our young adults, freshly graduated from high school or college, into a global job market against the best and brightest from around the world, without first teaching them how to communicate?  We’re doing that now, with only about 1 in 10 Americans able to speak more than one language.

The good jobs in the future will be fiercely competitive, with people from South America, Europe, and Asia all fighting for them.  There’s one big difference between our kids and theirs – most of them speak other languages, and ours don’t.  Over half of Europeans speak a second language, usually English.  South Korea and China teach all their young children English, and Japan starts mandatory English for their kids next year.

Since so much of the world now speaks English, you might be tempted to believe we’ve won some sort of global contest, and need never learn other languages again.  The opposite is true.  Other countries have us at a distinct disadvantage, with their young adults, fluent in their and our languages, beating out ours for lucrative jobs with multi-national companies, abroad and here in the USA. 

Most of our schools start offering language instruction in Junior High or High school.  This clearly doesn’t work well, though, since so few of our adults are bi-lingual.  The time to teach other languages is at very young ages – starting in Elementary school.  As most parents know, kid’s brains are like sponges. Those sponges harden with time, though, and if language learning skills aren’t exercised early, it’s awfully hard to develop them later.

I’ve heard from educators in our area that they’d like to include language in Grade School, but simply don’t have the time or resources to do so.  Studies in the European Union show that kids need at least two or more sessions of at least 30 minutes a week to effectively learn another language.  They also need bi-lingual teachers, and as we know, there aren’t many of those here in the US.  In spite of these difficulties, many charter and private schools are using their early language programs to lure kids away from public schools who don’t offer them. 

Perhaps we need to reprioritize what our children spend their time on, or even consider extending the school day to fit in languages.  As many educators know, multi-lingual kids are even better with their native languages, better at math, better at science, essentially better at everything.  This means higher test scores, something that our school districts should be interested in.

Both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush have advocated early childhood language learning, both with their eyes on the future job market.  If these two agree, surely the rest of us can.  Our country’s future depends on it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Voices of Reason Invited to Speak Up, published in the Centre Daily Times, July 2011

Imagine a group of incompetent firemen in a burning building, arguing about where to attach their hoses, when to turn them on, and how much water to use.  While they bicker, a modest fire builds into a raging inferno.  The firemen are our congress, the fire is our debt ceiling and economy.  Where are we?  On the sidelines, helpless, and shaking our heads sadly.

The House Republicans, a few months after nearly shutting down the government and finally approving a budget, now want to deny funds to actually execute it by refusing to raise the country’s debt ceiling.  Their reasons are good – we do need to reduce our deficits.  The problem is, this has now turned into yet another gunfight at the O.K. Corral with the Democrats, and this time, amongst the Republicans themselves.

Their goal:  reduce the federal deficit by the same amount the debt limit is raised, which is about 2.5 trillion dollars through the end of 2012.  However, in true politician fashion, they’ve decided to do this over ten years instead of two, spreading most of the pain downstream.  But now the Democrats have jumped on board, and want a grander reduction – 4 trillion dollars.

As usual, the devil’s in the details.  Republicans will only consider spending cuts.  However, they can’t meet their goals without massive cuts to the big hitters in the budget – Defense, Medicare, and Social Security.  Democrats want a deal with ¾ spending cuts, and ¼ revenue increases. Many Republicans insist on no revenue increases, calling them tax hikes.   Some Republicans won’t vote for raising the debt limit under any conditions.

The puzzling thing is that Republican governors across the country are balancing state budgets through both spending cuts and revenue increases.  The revenue increases are from state employees who will now pay more for their health care and retirement.  The national equivalent to this would be increases in Medicare and Social Security taxes.

Here’s a painful fact, though: the $4T isn’t nearly enough, only reducing yearly deficits from about $1.5T to $1.1T.  We need far more than that, and in fact need to be running surpluses soon to pay down our debt or we’re in for even more serious problems.  Spending cuts alone cannot get us there – we simply must have tax increases of some sort, particularly to fund Medicare.

Another way to crank up our revenue is to finally do something to help put unemployed Americans back to work so they can pay taxes again.  Simply continuing to lower taxes isn’t helping – after the cuts of 2009 and 2011 our taxes are among the lowest in the industrialized world.  And yet our unemployment rate remains over 9%, with our companies still wary about hiring because our citizens are pessimistic and reluctant to spend.

Much of this pessimism is from watching our dysfunctional government.  The only way to fix our budget problems in the long term is to stop voting in extremists from both parties, and put reasonable, independent non-ideologues in office to address our debt issues in a common-sense bipartisan way.

Independents Shut out of Primaries, published in the Centre Daily Times May 2011

I’m not voting on Tuesday (there’s a primary on, in case you weren’t aware).  The only reason I’ll go to the polls is to bring my wife a cup of coffee and for my 9 year old to say hello while she works at the College Heights polling station.

Why aren’t I voting?  It’s not because I don’t want to – independent voters in Pennsylvania, and in half of our states, aren’t allowed to vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries.

Let’s count the reasons this is so wrong. 

1.     All eligible Americans should be allowed to vote.
2.     By not allowing independents to vote, each party often nominates their purest, most radical elements, leaving the independent-minded with poor choices in November.
3.     See reason number 1.

I realize I could simply change my affiliation to one of the parties so that I could vote in their primary.  I’ve done this before, and found myself on some mailing and phone lists I’d rather not be on.  Therefore, I’d rather stay unaffiliated.

It’s time for an independent category in our political system.  The two reigning parties have not been serving us well, and do not deserve to continue their monopoly on public service.  In 2008, Democrats swept into power, promising to fix the recession and deliver more jobs to America.  Instead, they spent a year and a half arguing with each other and the Republicans over health care.  In 2010, Republicans swept into power, promising to deliver more jobs to America.  Instead, they’ve spent their first few months in office busting unions, and slashing and burning education and any social program their far-right base dislikes.

What part of ‘please work on restoring jobs in America’ do these folks not understand?  It’s clear they’ll say anything to get elected, and then when in office, keep pounding away at their same old agendas.  A truly independent party might fix this problem.  Without a clear majority for either the Democrats or Republicans, they would be forced to work with a centrist independent group of senators and representatives on all major decisions.

I believe that there are already many folks in office who are actually fairly independent and moderate.  However, they are not allowed to vote their consciences because their parties threaten them, dangling reelection campaign funds and advertising over their heads.  If you don’t go along with the party line, say goodbye to your chances in the next primary.

Starting a truly unaffiliated, independent party would very likely draw some of these public servants in.  Combine it with a new wave of centrists, and perhaps we could build up a moderate group that represents the 25% or so of us who don’t identify with either party.  Then, we might be able to restore some common sense and reasonableness into our government.  The first step though, is to allow Americans like me to vote in Pennsylvania, and in other state’s primaries.

Natural Resources Key to Unlimited Energy, published in the Centre Daily Times, April 2011

Until 2008, you probably took the energy you used for granted.  The gas in your car, electricity that powers your home, and perhaps the natural gas you use for heat seemed plentiful, and didn’t cost much.  That world is gone forever, as Middle East chaos, oil slicks in the Gulf, coal mine disasters, and Japanese reactor meltdowns have us off-balance and confused, wondering where to turn for energy in the 21st century.

We should clearly find more energy here in the US, so we aren’t forced to buy so much of it from other, sometimes unfriendly countries.  Some advocate the ‘drill, baby, drill’ approach, but that won’t do us much good, since the oil extracted here is sold to the highest bidders in the global energy markets.  The natural gas boom looks like the classic quick fix, and could provide decades of cheap power.  However, even our home-grown natural gas could be sold overseas, jacking those prices upward.
Another part of the answer is simple, but one that many of us don’t seem to like – use less energy.  Recent increases in automobile fuel efficiency requirements, with more to come, are encouraging.  Electric cars also sound great – at current electricity prices.  With deregulated power companies, though, it seems doubtful those prices will stay low.

Our best move is to better harness the limitless natural resources we have.  Our atmosphere constantly spins its way around our planet, blowing faster at higher altitudes, where expanded wind turbine farms could generate far more electricity than they do now.  Hydroelectric turbomachinery – in dams or offshore – are even stronger power sources. The sun is perhaps our greatest gift – radiating a huge supply of energy onto the earth every day.  All of these sources, used optimally, could easily replace fossil fuels in our lifetimes.

What’s to keep us from seeing a future like this?  The current energy suppliers, of course.  The CEOs who run our fossil fuel-based energy companies love to point out that the investment required to advance green energy to the point where it costs less than traditional energy is exorbitant.  However, these CEOs don’t like to admit that their own companies have been receiving generous government subsidies for decades.  Also, many of these companies have ‘befriended’ enough politicians to avoid being taxed fairly for the resources they extract from our states (sound familiar?).

Mankind has been put in an ingenious puzzle – given enough burnable resources to power our lives for a limited time, but also an enormous body of clean energy that could power our world indefinitely. Do we follow the fossil-fuel CEOs down the easy path, and doom our children and grandchildren to a new dark age without the easy energy they are accustomed to or the means to extract it from new resources?  Or do we follow engineers and scientists down a more difficult short-term path to a world where energy is limitless and clean?  The answer seems simple, and yet politicians from the fossil-fuel states are trying to steer us down the wrong path, spewing nonsense about how any government attempt to nudge us toward new and smarter energy would cost jobs and ruin our economy.

Even if we continue taking the easy road – know that other countries are not.  When fossil fuels begin to run out, we face the sad future of being a country subservient to Asian and European clean energy technologies.  We cannot let this happen.  The only thing standing in the way of a better energy future is ourselves.

To Reduce Unemployment, Pass New Trade Bills Soon, Published in the Centre Daily Times February 2011

The recent recession has turned many of us into armchair economists.  I’m often surprised to find myself reaching first for the business section of the paper instead of the sports, hoping to see that unemployment statistics are getting better. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( about 7.5 million Americans lost their jobs between 2007 and now, more than doubling the number of unemployed to 14.5 million.  Most of these folks were in the ‘goods producing’ sector, with the rest in supporting areas like trade and transportation and business services.  This decline in manufacturing and construction has actually been going on for a while now.  In 1979, over 1 in 4 employed Americans actually made and built things for a living.  Today, only about 1 in 8 do.  We’ve become a society of service providers, selling each other things (usually made in China), growing and serving each other food, and taking care of our aging baby boomer population.

While many large companies are starting to hire again, they’re doing so at an extremely cautious pace.  Small businesses, which employ about half of all private sector workers, are still struggling to hire as they try to get loans from stingy banks still smarting from their losses in the subprime home mortgage markets.  The direst employment projections are for state and local governments, which after the expiration of the 2008 and 2009 stimulus programs, are facing massive deficits.  Reluctant to raise taxes to balance the books, governors and mayors will soon be laying off hundreds of thousands of teachers, law enforcement officers, and other public servants.

What can the government do to resolve these issues?  While the president’s vision of an alternative energy-driven new economy is intriguing, it won’t lead to 7.5 million new jobs anytime soon. Besides, the days of stimulus are clearly over with Republicans controlling the House.  Reforming the corporate tax code might provide more incentives for businesses to hire, but that will take years to debate and implement.  The Republican mantra of reducing regulations?  Unlikely with Obama in the White House (and frankly, much of our industry needs regulating – let’s not forget the Gulf oil spill or the lost West Virginia miners too quickly).

While new job-creating federal policies are unlikely, there is another way to put Americans back to work, and that is to get our country back into the business of making things.  This means not just selling things to each other, but exporting more goods to other countries with newly well-heeled citizens, like China, South Korea, and India, as well as to South America.  We already export more stuff than any other country in the world (except for China), including a lot of airplanes and automobiles, pharmaceuticals, farm goods, and fuels.

Obama wants to double our exports within five years – a lofty goal, considering we export almost 1.3 trillion dollars in goods now.  It’s been done before, but typically over a ten year period, not five.  This is why trade agreements with South Korea, and with Panama and Columbia, are in the works.   Both parties in congress seem willing to debate, and hopefully pass these agreements.  The big jackpot, however, is China, with its newly wealthy behaving a bit like ours did in the 1950’s and 1960’s – all wanting their share of the new Chinese dream.  The President and congress need to find ways to carefully push our way further into these markets as soon as possible.

Stimulus II, published in the Centre Daily Times December 2010

Get ready for Stimulus II, also known as the “Two Year Bush Tax Cut Extension/One Year Social Security Tax Cut/One Year Unemployment Benefit Extension/Add your Favorite Congressional Deal Sweetener here” bill.  To both extend the Bush Tax Cuts temporarily and pass a second stimulus bill, President Obama has made a deal with the Devil (the Republicans), or so liberal Democrats would have you believe.

Most of us have seen the details in the papers – the compromise would dump almost 900 billion dollars into the economy over the next two years, most of it tax cuts and unemployment benefits.  Liberal democrats call this bill a sellout to the rich, and are threatening the president with retribution.  This doesn’t seem constructive, as the real debate should be about (1) whether the bill will actually stimulate the economy in a big way, as most conservatives believe, and (2) is the price tag (nearly a trillion dollars added to the deficit) worth it?

Extending unemployment benefits (about 60 billion) is a no-brainer.  The unemployed use their checks to pay their bills and shop for food, so the money goes directly into our economy.  The potential benefits of the Bush tax cut extension are less clear.  Low income families will use most of the cuts (460 billion) to continue buying goods and services.  The rub comes with the extensions for the wealthy (80 billion, plus 70 billion in estate, or ‘death’ tax reductions).  Economists are divided on whether this money is stimulative, or just goes into bank and trust fund accounts.  The one year Social Security tax reduction is intriguing, though, as it benefits the middle class the most.  But, will the middle class go on spending sprees in 2011 with this ‘rebate’, or will they pay down debt or save it?  I’m inclined to dump my cut (should the bill pass) into my daughter’s college fund, which isn’t very stimulative.

Why isn’t congress only passing the portions of this bill that are guaranteed to help the economy?  Because congress is full of politicians – nothing simple and straightforward happens there.  Republicans, who believe strongly in supply-side economics (money and prosperity flow downhill from wealthy companies and individuals), have tied unemployment benefits to extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.  Also, our Senate has degraded to the point where only bills with supermajorities (60 votes or more) can pass, forcing compromise between the parties.

I am torn in many ways on this bill.  In spite of economists declaring the recent recession over, there are over 8 million people who lost their jobs in the recession still looking for work.  Consumer confidence remains stubbornly low.  More stimulus may be needed to nudge our economy to the point where it becomes self-sustaining.  However, our debt keeps growing, and borrowing more money than necessary to give rich folks tax breaks doesn’t seem like a great idea.

After much reflection, I’m inclined to support this bill, and caution liberal Democrats that recent polls seem to show that most Americans do as well.  The recent election is also a clear sign that Americans want compromise.  Trashing the rich and the president is not helpful for the country right now, and I encourage my liberal friends to save their anger for 2012, when we’ll all have this debate again, hopefully under better economic conditions.