Thursday, July 28, 2011

Raise the roof

On August 2, 2011, the full faith and credit of the United States of America will be damaged. On this date, the USA will more than likely be downgraded in their credit rating by Moody's and Standards & Poor's and this will have a direct impact on us. The most immediate will be that interest rates on loans and mortgages will go up. For example, a home appraised at $200,000 will see the mortgage payment increase by $400 per month on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage.

We learned on July 25th that the wealth disparity in America has widened between white Americans and minorities in America. The ratio is 20:1 between whites and Blacks and 18:1 between whites and Hispanics. During the Clinton administration, the ratio was 7:1 with both groups. This is significant because the wealth gap will increase if the National Debt Ceiling is not raised by August 2nd. White families will see their wealth decrease, but minorities will suffer more from the higher interest rates.

There are two options that can happen. One, the US Congress can totally eliminate the debt ceiling altogether, thus allowing Congress to borrow money when needed without worrying about reaching any self-imposed limit. The negative side of that option would be the historical lack of self-discipline Congress has shown in spending the taxpayers' money.

The other option would be the one that has been exercised 20 times over the last seven years: Set a new debt ceiling rate to continue to allow the US Government to borrow the money needed to fund obligations and maintain the operation of government. Simple right? It would have been if partisan ideology had not interfered with the process.

The Tea Party Caucus put their foot down and said they would not support raising the debt ceiling without cuts in federal spending. The President acquiesced, but with a caveat that revenues needed to be increased by eliminating tax cuts and loopholes. That is when the political game of chicken began and now has put the financial stability of the United States in unnecessary peril.

I agree on these points: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as we know it, needs to be reformed to stabilize costs and viability; overall government spending needs to be reduced; Tax cuts and loopholes need to be removed and the whole Federal Tax Code needs to be revised; the debt ceiling needs to be raised for two years. The only one that can be accomplished in the next five days is raising the debt ceiling.

A fractured Congress cannot pull off the miracle of miracles and address all of these issues in the time allotted. Quickly drafted legislation offered by both sides have proven that they do not have the time to get all of the numbers right in a massive budget package.

It is time to prioritize. The main priority right now is to raise the debt ceiling. The US Congress has to do it, based on their constitutional obligation. The 14th Amendment does not give the President the authority to by-pass them and raise the debt ceiling by Executive Order. The Speaker of the House and The Majority Leader of the Senate must act now to avoid putting the nation they claim to love, and pledge their allegiance to, in further financial distress.

It has been a spirited debate and a great exercise in partisan muscle flexing. Now it is time to do the patriotic thing and raise the roof, so that the full faith and credit of the United States of America will still stand as the strongest line of credit the world has ever seen. There is no other option.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Labels are for grocery items

I was tweeting with my friend Nic, who labels himself as a conservative Republican in Mississippi, when he asked the question, "Do you think I'm stupid?" My tongue-in-cheek response was: "You are a conservative in the poorest state in the nation...next question..."

By definition a conservative is someone tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions. I personally myself will never want to be tagged with a label that infers that I am predisposed to the notion of maintaining Mississippi as a poor state, because that is the condition we are in.

That is why I am against this labeling system we have adopted in the political process. Human beings that fully use their power of reason, especially in the realm of public policy, are too complex to be neatly placed into that kind of a box. People that tend to think in the big picture range from maintaining the status quo to challenging traditional forms (liberal). I know I have during my time in public office, but outsiders want to try to put me in a box as well.

In Mississippi, the opposition wants to quickly say that I am a liberal because I am a member of The Democratic Party. When I took the position to limit abortion or protect the right to bear arms, fellow Democrats accused me of being a conservative in Democratic clothing. The truth of the matter is that I was born Erik Robert Fleming, the name that my parents agreed upon after much negotiation. I am a child/creation of God and I am an American citizen because I was born in this country. I am identified as a person of African heritage, but there are Sioux, Cherokee and Caucasian bloodlines in my DNA as well. I am a Christian because I profess that He is the Savior of the World. I affiliate politically with the Democrats because I personally believe in government of the people, by the people and for the people.

That is enough labeling for me. I do not like to be boxed into a corner because of who I align with or what I look like. I want to be respected for being me and I would want my ideas to be heard regardless of the audience. Unfortunately, that is not the political system we live in and that is why we are in gridlock while our financial house slowly crumbles away. We are too busy trying to appease a group we want to be labeled with instead of pursuing solutions to move our state and country forward.

Staying locked into a labeling system is a conservative idea. Standing out and making a difference is a liberal idea. What would Jesus, my spiritual inspiration, do? According to the Bible, Jesus' disciples were gathering wheat on the Sabbath day. Some Pharisees, the conservatives of their day, questioned Him. He stated that men had to eat on the Sabbath as well. That is the pragmatic, yet liberal, concept humans should embrace: doing what is right when it is right.

I never want to be stuck in anything I do. If there is a better way to move forward, then I am all for it. The only conservative position any human should be boxed into is when we are in the grave. Until then we should be free to hold on to values we embrace, yet shake things up when needed. We idolize coaches that use that philosophy, but we condemn politicians. That is strange to me when the end game in both arenas in winning.

I am not a tomato can to be placed on a shelf in the canned food section of the super market for convenience. I am a human being, born free and refusing to be bound by the chains of society. I am a free thinker. To label me is de-humanizing and that is not what God intended for me.

Mississippi and America deserves men and women in public service who adhere to the philosophy of thinking about the next generation, not the next election. You can't have that when you marginalize them into labels. I am not convenient, I am complicated. Accept me for who I am.

If we all respected each other like that, then we would truly have a better government that represented us and our best interests, in my humble opinion.