The conventions were quite telling

The times have been awful, but they have proved a useful truth, that the good citizen must never despair of the commonwealth.” Thomas Jefferson, March 1801, after his election to the presidency.

The Republican and Democratic primaries and conventions are over. The cheering and booing have subsided; the bunting was removed. Now is the time that tries the people’s souls, fills their TVs and mail boxes, and keeps the phones ringing.

Electioneering now begins in earnest as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take the themes of their conventions forward and battle for the presidency of the United States.

A different tone, urgency and portrait emerged from each of the two conventions.

Speakers at the Republican convention, attended by 2,472 delegates, repeatedly stressed a gloomy, ominous vision of America. Most of that gloom was of their own making as some statements took liberties with reality. The fact checkers were kept busy with Mike Pence’s and Trump’s acceptance speech. They were not demonstrating an unfamiliarity with reality, they were distorting it to conform to their needs.

The Republican convention was unusual in other respects, not the least of which was, the deliberate absence of many Republican elected stalwarts including those from Virginia.

No former presidents attended the convention.

The week also saw the extensive use of family members, rather than colleagues or fellow politicians to explain policies or praise the candidate. The world hasn’t seen such a cult of personality since Josef Stalin or Mao Zedong.

Trump’s acceptance speech’s theme was that he was the law and order candidate and that America needs a man on a white horse. He said there would be no prosperity without law and order, which makes one wonder why the stock market is almost 100 percent higher than eight years ago and unemployment is a low 4.3 percent in Virginia.

His speech did not contain any specific policy recommendations. However, earlier he said businesses would suffer (unspecified) “consequences“ for moving jobs overseas, and women would be punished for having an abortion.

A different tone emerged from the Democratic convention, attended by 4,764 delegates. It started raucously. There was passion. There was a stunning cast of elected officials, such as Sen. Cory Booker, who took the podium.

Playing a prominent role was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran a thrilling race that brought out hordes of enthusiastic young people. He was particularly eloquent in his chiding of the Democratic Party establishment and the media and offered again his vision for reform. He also graciously called for Hillary Clinton’s nomination by acclamation at the end of Tuesday’s roll call vote, just as she did eight years earlier for Barack Obama.

Speaker after speaker called for America to live up to its promise for all people. National security experts, headed by President Obama and accompanied later by retired Marine Gen. John Allen, called into question the idea that American was in decline.

Both conventions brought real people at the podium, people with problems, survivors of gun violence, such as Congresswomen Gabby Giffords, or leaded drinking water. But most eloquent at the Democratic conclave Thursday night was Khizr Khan, father of an American soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice for American freedom.

Definitely exciting for the Virginia listener was the acceptance speech from Sen. Tim Kaine. Jesuit trained, he questioned the opposition’s assertions and demonstrated evidence to the contrary.

Thursday night was Hillary Clinton’s opportunity to remind us that the national motto is e pluribus unum. America is a country of “we,” not “I.” Whatever the problems, she repeatedly stressed, they can be solved by working together.

The future belongs to the party that reflects the nation it aspires to lead. The audiences at Cleveland and Philadelphia were different in size, diversity, inspiration, and aspiration.

Going into the voting booth on Election Day is like picking your own boss. What temperament do you want? How experienced in the ways of the world? These are worthwhile questions to ask, because as a battleground state, Virginia is going to be awash in campaign ads; but as Jefferson suggested, voters must be warriors for democracy.

Those who sit this election out are abrogating their responsibilities to their children and grandchildren. Listen for the differences in the policies of the two candidates. Your choice will determine whether America stands out in the world or wanes in its stature.

Your choice will certainly affect your checkbook but it will also affect whether our infrastructure is repaired or continues to crumble, whether education serves all our children, and whether there is a wise leader who tries diplomacy before the nuclear button.

You must vote because our Founding Fathers expected you to and generations of hardworking and brave Americans have nurtured and protected this opportunity and right in peace and in war.

Dave Reuther

Editors Note: This article originally appeared here and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

 

 

 

Social Security is dull but vital

Elections have consequences. One of the reasons the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, has a glaring vacancy is to act as a brass ring for this year’s election. It is politics and elections that decide a slew of economic, foreign, trade and social issues. As equally important as the Supreme Court vacancy, but more technical and dull, is which side wins the Social Security brass ring, which the Republicans have fought since its inception in 1935.

But first, let’s get some facts on the table, which are always dull. The first thing to recognize is that over the years more money is paid into the SS Trust fund than is paid out in benefits. The 2015 Trustees Report press release (which covered 2014 statistics) stated income amounted to $884 billion in 2014 ($756 billion in net contributions, $30 billion from taxation of benefits and $98 billion in interest from Treasury bonds).

The asset reserves of the combined trust funds increased by $25 billion in 2014 to a total of $2.79 trillion.

These income figures would be better if the Republican-dominated Congress wanted them to be. By custom the FICA tax applies to 90 percent of all incomes. These days, however, the FICA cap only covers 83 percent of all incomes. Social Security’s missing seven percent reflects the increase in high-end salaries and congress’ willingness to give free stuff to the rich. If a 7-percent loss sounds small, it still adds up to huge losses for the trust fund year after year. Returning the FICA cap to cover the traditional 90 percent of all incomes is an easy fix and has been bipartisanly accomplished in previous years.

The second thing to realize is that Social Security is legally not part of the national debt. Or as the law says:

“Pub.L. 101–508, title XIII, Sec. 13301(a), Nov. 5, 1990, 104 Stat. 1388-623, provided that: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the receipts and disbursements of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund shall not be counted as new budget authority, outlays, receipts, or deficit or surplus…”

A third thing to realize is that the original law requires that any monies collected in excess of projected payments, which has been true since its inception, is turned over to the treasury in exchange for special treasury bonds. To this extent, you could say the Bush administration paid for the Afghan and Iraq wars with your Social Security money. Because of that perception, some liberals have argued that the government should not be able to touch the trust fund. Even if you could change the law, such a move is not in the trust fund’s best interest.

The treasury bonds deposited in the trust fund bear interest. This interest increases the trust fund’s pot, just as it does in your IRA or 401(k). The combined asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 3.6 percent in 2014. Otherwise, the trust fund would run out of money sooner. This interest paid on the treasury notes is the only direct way that Social Security affects the national debt today.

So how do you take a dull subject of deep interest to those who have little in the autumn of their lives and work it into the political campaign? After all, right now there is a $2.8 trillion surplus in the SS fund. But it’s true that if the 7-percent decrease in income remains the case, by 2034 only 75 percent of today’s benefits will be covered.

Having contributed to the income shortfall alarm, Speaker Paul Ryan and Congressman Dave Brat recommend raising the age of eligibility and reducing benefit calculation by changing the cost of living index. Thank goodness the recent recession blocked the earlier Republican proposal to convert Social Security into Wall Street accounts. Raising the age of eligibility is a cost saving because in life expectancy terms people who worked in low paying jobs all their lives die eight years earlier than their wealthy counterparts. So they won’t be drawing benefits very long.

Despite his claims of being an economist, Brat can take a dull subject and really sensationalize it. He claims that the unfunded mandate for Social Security and Medicare will absorb the entire federal budget in 2037. This claim is strangely inaccurate because Brat is not citing a congressionally authorized bill that will be presented in 2037, but an estimation of 75 years of expenditures to 2091. Such sensationalism displays an incredible ignorance of how the Social Security system actually works.

The advantage of such a sensationalist claim, of course, is to confuse the issue and complicate clear thinking. In opposition to the congressional narrative, during the primaries Trump spoke favorably of Social Security and supported strengthening it. Both he and Clinton argued that improving the economy and restoring robust wages will lift the Social Security boat. Trump now is running back to the Republican bottom-line.

This is convention time. Compare the convention platforms. Listen to the speakers. Do the platforms strengthen Social Security or do they weaken it? Elections have huge consequences and dismantling Social Security is one of the most important, but admittedly dull, issues in this year’s election.

Dave Reuther

Editors Note: this article appears here and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

Happy Birthday America

As we raise our hot dogs and hamburgers high this holiday weekend, we can be proud inheritors of a grand political experiment.  America’s exceptional experiment in government is blessed by having two awesome mission statements in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  These documents are so impressive we often forget that Confederation preceded the Constitution.  Confederation did not work well because the states virtually considered themselves sovereign countries.

There were many intractable problems.  There was no mechanism for the sinews of commerce – roads, contracts, travelers, money – to move among the states with ease.  The Founding Fathers saw the problem and adjusted the structure of government to create a central leadership buffered by a separation of powers.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1801, “I join cordially in admiring and revering the Constitution of the United States, the result of the collected wisdom of our country. That wisdom has committed to us the important task of proving by example that a government, if organized in all its parts on the Representative principle, unadulterated by the infusion of spurious elements, if founded, not in the fears and follies of man, but on reason, on his sense of right, on the predominance of the social of his dissocial passions, may be so free as to restrain him in no moral right, and so firm as to protect him from every moral wrong.”

Jefferson and the Founding Fathers saw government organized on the representative principle as the best path to the rule of law, not rule by the passions of men.  They could see in their own and European history that the unbridled power of monarchy or oligarchy did not provide the security, justice, and general welfare that would make America great.

Nevertheless, today some pundits claim the government is broken.  On the contrary, it may be that it is working as designed.  Given the balance of power among the three government branches, it is clear that some level of cooperation among them was assumed by the Founding Fathers.  If government is seen as broken, it is because cooperation and compromise are no longer in favor.

For example, the Senate refuses to act on a presidential Supreme Court nomination.  The Republican blockade of Judge Garland is shameful, but it is only the most glaring example of what has been a historic slowdown in filing federal court vacancies across the country.  McConnell’s  Senate has confirmed only 20 of the President’s nominees since the Republicans took control of the Senate in January 2015.  This is the slowest pace since the early 1950s.

As a result of the Senate’s blockage, there are now 83 vacant federal judgeships nation-wide – 30 of which have such overwhelming case backlogs that the court system has classified them as judicial emergencies.  The fact that the current Senate has approved the fewest civilian nominees by a president in 30 years, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service, is testament that the government is functioning as designed 229 years ago.  The fact that during the Ebola crisis the United States did not have a Surgeon General in place is not a problem that can be traced back to the Founding Fathers.

The government is not broken.  However, the Founding Father’s system of representative government is being sorely tested.  In this presidential election year, unimaginable amounts of money are being spent at a time when economic growth is slow and wages have not returned to the level before the Great Recession that started in the last year of the Bush Administration.  The effects of the invasion of Iraq continue to be felt and have molted into the terrorism we read about today.

Even if you think government is broken, there is one firewall left protecting representative government: the active, educated voter who demands that elected officials should tear down these walls of non-compromise.  What is the best way to celebrate this birthday of the Great American Experiment in government?  Vote!

The candidates from federal to state office are spending millions, perhaps billions of dollars to get you to participate.  Don’t let their money go to waste.  If the rich think it is important for you to vote, you should not disappoint them.  Of course, you have to be a registered voter.  The last day to register to vote is Monday, October 17, 2016.

You can register on line at: https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation or pick up forms from the library, or go to the registrar’s office at 151 North Main Street, Suite 301.  Vote for the Founding Fathers’ version of balanced government and separation of powers.

David Reuther

NOTE: reprinted with authors permission, and only appearing in the printed version of the Culpeper Star Exponent

 

 

Let’s talk about guns

The Republicans offer the Second Amendment as a defense for allowing persons on the No-Fly List and the Terrorism Watch List to legally buy guns in the United States. Their reasoning is that maybe an American could be on the list mistakenly and that person might have their Second Amendment rights violated if they wish to buy a gun. And that violation is sufficient to allow really bad people to buy guns in order to protect the rights of that person mistakenly on the list.

The Terrorist Screening Center was created in 2004 with the mission of maintaining the master list of persons who could be a danger to our country. Currently, the list contains about 1,877,133 individuals with one in 20 being an American or legal resident. This list adds and deletes hundreds of names daily based on intelligence.

The smaller No Fly List has about 81,000 names but only 1,000 are Americans. There is a secondary list for increased screening at the airport of 28,000 but only 1,700 Americans. Where is the logic? The choice Republicans want to give America is to prevent a possible listing error of one of those 2,700 persons or allow several hundred thousand bad people who wish to do harm to our nation to buy guns. The Republicans have opted to sell the bad guys guns.

Between 2004 and 2010, there were 1,400 attempts by persons on the watch list to buy guns. 1,321 were successful. I don’t like that. Constitutional rights come with limits. The First Amendment gives freedom of speech and religion but there are limits. Polygamy, animal sacrifice and illegal drug use are just a few of limitations on religion. You can’t incite a riot, libel or slander another, or yell “Fire” in a theater. There are limits to speech. Even the Second Amendment has limits. You can’t buy an automatic weapon or an artillery piece.

Our Constitution contains a mission statement. It’s the Preamble. Part of that Preamble says “…insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare…” Letting bad guys have guns in the U.S. does not advance the mission of our Constitution.

George DeSerres  Culpeper

Note: reprinted with author’s permission, and originally appearing here.