Election politics–Respecting our own values

It is July, Independence Day is just around the corner.  We are in the thick of a Presidential election campaign. Stories concerning President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, fill our newspapers, our television and radio stations and the internet news.

                                                                                                               NYDailyNews.com Samad/Getty

                                                                                                Washington Post  Charles Dharapak-AP

There are weeks you would swear that the insults and barbs are directed at an enemy nation, not at an individuals who are lead and/or seek to lead, this great nation.  Listening to the venom in the political debate, you would swear that neither candidate is fit to be President.  In fact, both of these men are good men.  They are flawed, as are we all.  Their values, and the values of their parties, may be different than yours and mine.  But they are not evil, incompetent or stupid.

Francis John McConnell, a bishop in the Methodist Church and president of DePauw University from 1909-1912, said it well:

“We need a type of patriotism that recognizes the virtues of those who are opposed to us”.

We are so fortunate to live in a country that values its citizens.  Our government is a model for the world.  We are so fortunate to live in a nation with a United States Constitution that speaks to fundamental rights such as freedom, democracy, liberty and the rule of law.  Wouldn’t our founding fathers weep at the level of venom directed at our government leaders; not only our Presidential candidates, but all levels of elected office (and this isn’t the day to talk about the election of judges.)

As fortunate as we are, and have been, our nation has serious problems, and we aren’t going to solve them by demeaning our government leaders through campaigns of hate.  And can’t we stop throwing insulting comments at family and friends who vote for “the other guy”.  Can’t we recognize their virtues?

Isn’t this a time to direct our attention to finding solutions to serious national problems: the economy, immigration policy, strengthening our position as a leader within the community of nations.  Can’t we look for answers together.  Can’t we set aside our anger long enough to find common ground and to focus on solving problems together rather than focusing on new ways to embarrass and harangue those with whom we disagree.  Can’t we make our leaders and each other look good, not bad?

Support the candidate of your choice.  Raise money, go door to door, help the processes of democracy work well.  But at the end of the day, can’t we just find each other’s virtues?

In this opinion we do not intend to speak for our employers, our spouses, our families or our friends.  

The “Dragon Boats are coming”–and friendship comes with them

From X’ian, China, to its sister city, Kansas City, Missouri, come the Dragon Boat races, a wonderful cultural tradition.

The races are held under the  “Sister Cities International Bridge”, where life-sized Chinese warriors guard the foot bridge as it crosses Brush Creek.  The imposing bronze warriors are symbolic of the rich culture of China’s ancient civilization as well as the friendship between our cities.

Festive red ornaments crossing the bridge announce the 12th annual Dragon Boat races held Saturday, June 9, 2012.  The races are part of an annual celebration of the friendship between the people of these two cities.

The celebration includes races involving local university students and corporate teams as well as representatives of China. The event  includes a wonderful display of pageantry, speeches and a colorful dose of Chinese culture.

While the celebrations include a ceremony called “waking the dragon”, the dragons of most importance are the decorative dragons that embellish the front of each boat.  These dragons are whimsical and colorfully painted.

At this year’s event, Mayor Sly James not only greeted visitors, he spoke to the crowd, encouraged the celebrants, and also agreed to be  the drummer for Kansas City’s home town team.  Way to go, Sly!

Here, a drummer beats the rhythm for the crew in the first race.  The crew paddles as quickly, or as slowly, as the cadence of the drummer.

On this happy day there were no worries about the politics of our two countries, of the balance of trade, or of jobs lost and found.  It was a celebration and a time of friendship.  A good time was had by all.

Impact of Health Issues on Poverty in Rural Iowa, Guest Author, Sherry Mesle-Morain

Biography:  Sherry Mesle-Morain received her undergraduate degree from Tufts University, her Master of Education Degree from George Washington University, and her Masters in Social Work from Smith College School for Social Work.  She began her career in financial aid for students at Nazareth College in Pittsford, New York.  After raising two children she returned to academia at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa.  She retired as the Director of Financial Aid Services for the university.  Since her retirement she has focused on volunteer activities in Lamoni and, as she says found that people suddenly thought she could do anything.  Her volunteer work with the Community Financial Support Coalition (FSC) guided her thinking to the subject of this blog.

Impact of Health Issues on Poverty in Rural Iowa

Life is good.  Or, I should say, my life is good.  I have a family I love and who loves me.  We are kind to each other.  I have more than plenty to eat and I have nice clothes to wear.  I can afford the gas to drive to Atlantic to see my daughter and Kansas City to see my dad, my sister and my son.  And I have energy to serve my community and to have fun. Not everyone in my small town in Southern Iowa is so blessed.

The City of Lamoni has some generous citizens who contribute to the Lamoni Community Financial Support Coalition (FSC), the mission of which is to provide modest emergency financial assistance to citizens in need—shifting the balance, so to speak.  My stewardship with the FSC is to interview those folks who have requested financial assistance from our small pool of funds.

I began to sense that major medical issues were a primary factor in the lives of the people I meet with, but I know that hunches are not truth.  Then I realized that I had the raw data to do a small statistical analysis of the reasons these good folks are in need of help. Of the 32 people seen, 75% of them or their children had medical issues that ate up their resources and/or kept them from working, at least temporarily, whether full-time or part-time.  Their time off work was anywhere from a couple of weeks to a full year.  One of the things that surprised me when I talked to people who had medical issues was that they took seriously their responsibility to pay their outstanding medical bills.  Many used up their savings paying their bills and others were on payment plans that kept them in poverty.  Some were on Medicaid, which relieved them of constant payments, but they still faced the fact of having no income because of their health issues.  Occasionally someone had gone several days or a week without taking vital medications because they would not get paid for another week and could not afford to pay for their prescriptions. Four women were unemployed because of maternity leave.  They not only could not work during those few weeks, but they also did not have paid maternity leave.  And, of course, when they do go back to work they have to figure out-child care—who will provide it and how will they pay for it.  This is a huge expense that eats up their minimum wage earnings.

Just a few days after I did this analysis I heard a news story on National Public Radio of a national study showing the same results.  Both my analysis and the NPR story of April 20, 2012, by Jennifer Ludden verified my observation.  There are three points Ludden made that I would like to share with you.

1)   Two-thirds of women with young children now work.  Nearly half are their family’s primary breadwinner.  (Of the women I interviewed the majority were living with the fathers of their children, men who were either underemployed or unemployed.  These are serious issues, but that is a subject for another day.)

2)   Because so many companies do not offer paid sick leave or paid vacation, a mother who stays home to care for a sick child is at risk of being told not to return to work.  If it is mom who is sick, she is in the same spot.  She doesn’t get paid to stay home, so she can either care for her children herself when she is sick, or she can put them in day care and go to work sick so as to afford the child care.

3)   Having a baby is a leading cause of temporary poverty.  Many women with no maternity leave end up quitting their jobs to care for a baby.  When they lose those needed jobs it is very hard to get back into the workforce.

While on the national level we have the necessary and intense discussions as to how to address unsolvable problems, how to manage the social safety net, and how to see to it that everyone gets health care, the people who request assistance from the Lamoni Community Financial Support Coalition are in real and immediate need: of diapers and wipes, of formula, of heat and water, of a place to live, of medical care, of gas to get to work and to medical appointments.  The needs do not stop and they are real.

I am amazed at the resilience and optimism of these folks.  But from time to time they need a helping hand to shift the balance in their favor.

Please note: the views expressed by guest authors are not necessarily those of the primary authors of Shifting the Balance.  We do believe it is important to encourage the free flow of ideas and to promote collective action and compromise.  In order to keep the country “in balance” we believe we should work together, and that means sharing and respecting ideas, including those that may be different from our own. 

World War II: They died that others might live

World War II holocaust survivor, Bronia Roslawowski, was born Brucha Kibel, in Turek, Poland, to Tzvi Eliezer (Hersh) Kibel and Bluma Bayrach.  She was born in about 1926 but we were never really sure about her age!  She died July 14, 2010, in her adopted hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, after a long and meaningful life.  She was beloved by all who knew her–and she seemed to know almost everyone.

On September 4, 1939, German armed forces marched into Turek, where Bronia lived with her family.  After two already difficult years, in December 1941, Bronia was sent to Inowroclaw Straflager in Northern Poland.  A “resettlement camp” during the war, it was the first of approximately 5 concentration camps in which Bronia survived the war.  In 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She worked in a forced labor camp at Telefunken plant in Reichenbach, escaped the gas chamber in 1944 and was forced on a death march shortly before war’s end. Her right arm was tattooed with the number 57365. Still, despite all that she suffered, she survived.  She was liberated by U.S. servicemen in 1945 and worked briefly in a resettlement camp before moving to the United States.  Only she and a brother survived the war.

Bronia married Mendel Roslawowski, himself a survivor of the camps.  Together they raised his son and her three daughters.  They opened the M & M Bakery at 31st & Woodland.  A popular neighborhood deli, it was a favorite of the local community, medical students and young lawyers.  Her brisket and bagel sandwiches were absolutely priceless.  She had photographs on her walls of children who frequented the deli, many of whom she fed free sandwiches and cookies.  She hugged her customers and seemed to find time to make each of her regulars feel loved.  To Bronia, no one was ever a stranger.

Bronia never forgot her war-time experiences.  She was determined not to let those experiences, or the loss of her family, control her life. She laughed easily and often.  She opened her home to her extended family and her children’s friends–who came to feel like family.  At the same time, anxious to educate her community about the horrors of war, she spoke regularly on behalf of survivors about the holocaust, and worked with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.  Her message was a message of love., stating She forgave those who harmed her, insisting they are all God’s children.  She acknowledges the hate and ugliness she saw in the world and she denounced Nazis, but not the German people.  She stated that “you cannot condemn a nation.”  “I don’t hate” she  repeated.   

Prior to her death she was one of 52 Kansas City Holocaust survivors and war refugees whose stories are included in the book From the Heart.  She is also the subject of a children’s book, Love the World, by Maureen Moffitt Wilt focused, obviously on her message of love.  It is beautifully illustrated by Jeff Porter.  The photograph of her family, taken at her granddaughter’s marriage, is an image of a woman who not only survived the war, but thrived.  She lived a rich and full life. Bronia’s life, and her message of love, are reflected in the strength and commitment to family and community of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

For Bronia, her family and all of the other Bronias, the horrors of their early lives gave way, to meaningful lives here in the United States, in Europe and throughout the world.

A victim of hate, she became a messenger for love.  She understand that as she suffered due to the hate and intolerance of others, she also was given a new life by liberation forces.  Neither their sacrifices, nor Bronia’s message of love, should be forgotten.

Kansas City Remembers: The World War I Museum

Memorial Day weekend is a fitting time to remember the sacrifices of our nation’s military forces.  There are few places that symbolize this sacrifice as powerfully as the National World War I Museum, located here in Kansas City. It includes over 55,000 artifacts from the war years, a time line of events during the war years, photographs, armaments, and far more treasures than a visitor can absorb in one visit.  Even the setting is a powerful visual experiences, sitting as it does with one of the most beautiful views of downtown Kansas City.  

No visitor can reach the museum without first confronting the Liberty Memorial Tower, which sits immediately above the museum, and which is dedicated to the the “Honor of those who served in the World War in Defense of Liberty and our country”.

On either side of the tower are two giant sphinxes with wing like coverings concealing their faces, as though they are, themselves, traumatized by the reality of war.  Two concrete buildings sit behind the sphinxes, themselves housing exhibits for the museum.

The banners on the doors that mark the entry to the museum are unassuming.  Once inside, visitors face a vast, but well-organized exhibit.  The various rooms, includes a timeline of the war years, uniforms, posters, banners, video histories and other documentation of the war years.

Knowledgeable volunteers are available throughout the building, eager to share their knowledge of the war and of the museum contents.

The munitions they describe are primitive by today’s standards, but were sufficient to cause, in combination with factors such as disease and starvation, horrible destruction to the military forces, civilian populations and the landscape of Europe.  The combined death toll of the military forces exceed 8,528,800.  While World War I was often called the “Great War”, or the war to end all wars, it was neither.  The destruction it caused contributed to events culminating in World War II and influence world affairs even today.

While statistics cannot adequately convey the depth of human misery, they are telling.  The casualty rates for the mobilized forces of the major powers are (approximately) as follows:

Country         Total Forces              Killed  Wounded/Prisoners/Missing        Total Casualties    Percent Casualties

Russia                        12,000,000                   1,700,000            7,450,000         9,150,000              76.3  

Germany                    11,000,000                   1,774,000             6,400,000         7,142,600              64.9  

British Empire           8,904,500                       908,370             2,280,000          3,190,250              35.8    

France                         8,410,000                     1,357,800            4,800,000         6,160,800              73.3  

Austria-Hungary      7,800,000                    1,200,000            5,820,000         7,020,000             90.0      

Italy                              5,615,000                        650,000             1,550,000          2,197,000              39.1  

United States             4,355,000                         116,516                  208,000             323,000                7.1

Because the museum is focused on the war itself, the reality of death surrounds us.  The ancient weapons of various sizes and shapes are on display.  

A restored 1918 Ford Model T ambulance is almost humorous in its quaintness.

But there is also significant information about the culture of the era as evidenced by murals, photographs, clothing and everyday mementos of the times.

There are life-sized murals which can only be described as glorifying, if not war, than the strength and power of those who are successful in war.

It is easier for the eye to turn to the powerful and positive symbols of hope and accomplishment.  But nothing, in a place dedicated to war, can escape the reality of death.  It is everywhere. In the midst of the exhibits are reminders of the humanness of the suffering.  An example of the power of those posters is one quoting the leader of German mutineers, sentenced to death for his role in the mutiny of members of the German fleet, struggling to end the war:  “I have been sentenced to death today.  Only myself and another comrade; the  others have been let off with fifteen years’ imprisonment.  You have heard why this is happening to me.  I am a sacrifice for the longing for peace; others are going to follow”.

When the United States entered the war in 1917, it mobilized forces for war on the ground, on the seas and in the air.  It was a welcome relief to its allies and helped tip the scales for the war’s outcome.  Because it entered the war more than two years after the war commenced, our casualties were comparatively small.  But each casualty, our own, and those of our enemies, is real.

Throughout the museum are portraits, sketches and photographs of those who fought and those who died.  Each had his or her own personal and tragic story.  Each had a family who mourned the lost of their loved one. This portrait is of Lieutenant John F. Richards II, 1st Aero Squadron, killed in action September 26, 1918 over Argonne Forest, (France) part of the final Allied offensive in World War I.  I will not easily forget his face.

The World War I Museum is a place memorializing one of many tragic wars.  It is a place of sadness.  It is also a place of remembrance.  I would like to believe it is a place of hop.  I am not so sure.  But each of us benefits by being reminded of the devastation that is the inevitable result of human conflict.

When to go to war, whether to go to war and why to go to war are issues that have no easy solutions and I will offer none.  But it is important to be reminded of the tragedy of war and of the sacrifices made by our men and women of the military who make great personal and family sacrifices to protect their nation in times of peace and times of war.  We should never forget them.

 

The Peace Journalist, a Publication of Park University

In April 2012, Park University’s Center for Global Peace Journalism published Volume 1, No. 1 of its new journal, The Peace Journalist.  Dedicated to “disseminating news and information for and about teachers, students, and practitioners of peace and conflict sensitive journalism”.  Wow.  I opened the pages of the new journal and was immediately fascinated.

Page 3 quotes Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian humanitarian who used non-violent protest to oppose British colonial rule before and during World War II and who worked for harmony between India’s Muslim and Hindu populations.  His perspective on journalists is that:  The true function of journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock the public mind with wanted and unwanted impressions.  A journalist has therefore to use his discretion as to what to report and when.  As it is, journalists are not content to stick to facts alone.  Journalism has become the art of intelligent anticipation of events.

As I reflected on Gandhi’s sentiments and wandered through the pages of this journal, I became aware that my view of journalism seems pretty simplistic.  I have asked only that journalists state the facts and let me decide how to feel about the facts presented to me. I still believe that.  But the focus of the articles in this first volume is far more sophisticated in analyzing the role of what are described as “peace journalists”.

For instance, an article by Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz, an Arab American commentator, focuses on ways in which the media can promote  religious tolerance.  She encourage the publication of what she calls “good news” stories, stories about how a Jewish boy saves an elderly Muslim woman or how a Muslim saves the life of a Jew.  She further advocates for free and honest media that discredits what she refers to as “fear-mongering pundits”.

Another article focuses on training peace journalists in Uganda, particularly to support violence free elections.  In an article analyzing the ethics of peace journalism Julie Dolezilek describes the ethics of peace journalists:  1) their first obligation is to the public; 2) they must report the truth; 3) they should avoiding reporting news that is really just propaganda; 4) they should avoid writing articles that will incite violence of further worsen conflict.  She also comments on the obligation of journalists to anticipate the consequences of their articles before they are written.

I have not yet fully absorbed the material in this new publication.  I don’t even know whether I agree with all of it.  Even as I read the discussion of ethics I respected the conflicting ethical challenges touched on by the author, herself a student at Park. But in this era when we complain constantly about the state of civility in the national and international dialogue and complain about media bias to the left and to the right, isn’t it refreshing to have a new journal focused on these important issues.

Park University has long had a focus on international students and global studies.  Park’s focus on preparing its students to be prepared to participate in the global community positions it as a natural center for such a journal.  I applaud Park and Steven Youngblood, Director of the Center for Global Peach Journalism for this fascinating new journal.

Springtown, Texas-Where country is, was and always will be “Cool”

This was a busy weekend for our family.  Meg was in Kansas City for a wedding (more to come), Laura and Michel were in Warsaw, Poland and Terry and I were in his hometown, visiting Christina and his family.

Springtown, Texas, has a population pushing toward 3300 people in the city limits and over 7000 in the metro area.  Terry’s family has lived here since about 1900, so his family roots are deep in the soil.  His parents were successful dairy farmers.  His parents, Finis and Vivian, seem to have been involved in nearly every organization in town. There is even a street named after them, it runs right in front of his family home, where his sister Mary now lives.

Situated just 1/2 hour from Fort Worth, it seems a world apart. It is easy to joke about rural Texas, where the names Poolville (ignore the “l” and soften the “v”), Hickey Hollar and Azle roll easily off the tongue. But residents of Springtown are anything but unsophisticated. Underestimate them at your peril.  This is cattle country.  Everything associated with cattle is important: birthing, feeding, watering and sale.

This is also natural gas country.  Everything associated with natural gas is also important: contracts, easements and the related challenge.  Heavy pipes are buried to move natural gas from Oklahoma and Texas for processing. Water for fracking ( the process of drilling and injecting water into the ground at high pressure to release natural gas) moves through small above ground pipes from Eagle Mountain Lake some 10 to 15 miles away to the gas fields in Springtown.  Storage tanks and sound baffles are a visual distraction. The dust and noise from the constant movement of heavy trucks to and from the construction sites fill the air.

Financial security is measured not only in natural gas and cattle, but in land. Ancient fence lines reflect property boundaries but are also important to the movement of cattle from grazing field to grazing field, separating cattle from horses, and sometimes separating garden plots from everything else.

For a city slicker like myself, it is easy to assume that farm life is “easier” than city life.  That is simply not true.  There is a combination of intelligence, hard work and back braking labor.  Farm tractors and trucks cost more than most automobiles and there are more of them!

At the end of the day the conversation includes all of things I would hear at any dinner table.  We talk about national and local politics.  But there is also discussion about feed prices, whether natural gas prices are up or down, whether there will be enough water to last the season.

But fear not, there is precious time for fun.  There is more than enough work to go around, but the food, hospitality and fun are worth the price of admission.

Oh, and did I forget to talk about the snake.  I was in the middle of the street, thinking that was safe from nature’s viler creatures, talking to Meg on my cell when suddenly I became aware that the black streak less than 6 feet from me, in the middle of the road was not tar, but a long motionless snake.  On telling my tale to Maurine and requesting assurance that it probably wasn’t dangerous, she just suggested that she tries really hard to stay away from snakes!

Have a great week.

Kansas City’s Public Library–More Than Just a Library

A funny thing happened in Kansas City when Crosby Kemper, III assumed leadership of the Kansas City Public Library.  The sleepy, somewhat deteriorated library system was reinvigorated.  The Central Library at 311 E. 12th Street, across from the Jackson County Courthouse, closed.  In its place, thanks to hard work, creative minds, and  public and private funds, the Central Library reopened in the  historic First National Bank Building at 10th and Baltimore, in the heart of Kansas City.

The exterior  of the library complex hints at the extraordinary nature of the library.  The murals on the wall are truly elegant.  The book spines that dominate the separate library parking lot remind us of the fundamental purpose of the library–to instill enthusiasm in books and knowledge. But it also invokes a sense of fun, excitement and hints at the passion of the leadership of the library. Seriously, Tao Te Ching?  This isn’t just a library for children’s books.  But neither is it a library that ever, ever minimizes the importance of nurturing young minds.

The bronze doors are tall and stately, reflecting the significance of the building and its purpose. The moldings surrounding the doorway are works of art in and of themselves.

When Kemper accepted the position as the Executive Director of the 10 libraries that compose the Kansas City Public Library, things immediately began to change.  Educated at Yale University, his career has included working as a teacher in China, as  the Executive Director of the British American Education Foundation in New York, and as President of UMB-St. Louis and CEO of UMB Financial Corporation at United Missouri Bank.  Not a likely background for a librarian but it certainly works, and more so.  He is clearly a man with a mission.

You may ask yourself what has changed under his leadership.  The answer, is almost everything, inside and out!

The Central Library is light and airy.  In addition to a first class library, with the support of the top quality leadership of the Kansas City Public Library Foundation he has implemented a schedule of events and activities that are world-class.  In conjunction with Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kauffman Foundation, the Stowers Institute, the Nelson-Atkins Museum, the University of Missouri, Park University and others, the library offers concerts, lectures and meetings. These events are held at the Central and Plaza libraries, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and elsewhere. He hosts authors and statesmen.  He personally shares the stage with actors portraying historical figures and “interviews” them to give the audience a sense of their personalities.

The library has a high quality film vault and has regular screenings of classic movies.  Spread throughout the 10 libraries in the system, are book clubs, events for children and teens, classes on finance, computer basics, exercise classes, genealogy.  The list goes on and on and on, but you get the point. While all of the library locations offer a range of programs, the Central Library is generally the location of the major academic and current events lectures. Programs in the Gladys Feld Helzberg Auditorium on the 5th Floor are generally free to the public, but reservations are requested or required.

In mild weather, visitors enjoy the patio adjacent to the Auditorium.  Year round the rooftop view is wonderful.

Genealogists are welcome at the Missouri Valley Room also on the 5th floor.  There is knowledgable reference librarian on hand.

While Kemper gets high marks for his leadership, his passion and vision are shared by the library’s  board of directors, led by Jonathan Kemper, and by library’s foundation. His staff and administrators are also knowledgeable, helpful and enthusiastic.

If you live in Kansas City, what are you waiting for? It is an easy building to find.  Just look for the pillars, the elegant exterior murals and you are there.  If you don’t, it is worth the trip.

It is well worth the visit.  Happy reading!

Independent Action: An article by guest author, Terry Christenberry

Guest author, Terry Christenberry.

Please note: the views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the primary authors of Shifting the Balance, however, we think it is important to encourage the free flow of ideas in order to promote collective action and compromise. In order to keep the country “in balance,” we believe we should all work together, and that means sharing and respecting ideas! Including those that may be different from our own.

INDEPENDENT ACTION

Since starting their blog, Meg & Ann have asked me to consider authoring some guest articles.  However, given the stipulation that they be absolutely non-partisan and the fact that my world is finance, I have to date been a reluctant participant.  However, an excellent opinion article in New York Times on Monday April 16, 2012 by Bill Keller has pulled me out of my shell.  The article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/opinion/keller-the-sweet-spot.html ) focuses on the 15% of Americans who comprise the “independent” segment of the voting population.  In this article, Mr. Keller notes that independents get so little attention because “The politics of the center… do not quicken the pulse,” and goes on to say that “the middle is not the home of bland, split-the-difference politics” but rather they are “just not views that all come from one party’s menu.” I am also mindful that while our friends and family often vote differently, we all share many common beliefs, including the importance of a healthy economy.

Mr. Keller identifies several characteristics he believes are associated with independent voters.  In reviewing those characteristics, I quickly noted that almost all fit me.  While Ann and I sometimes vote differently, we are seldom very far apart when considering practical solutions to either economic or political problems.  For example, a couple of years ago, when the New York Times offered a chart that provided readers an opportunity to make their own choices in balancing the budget, Ann’s choices and mine were amazingly close.

The U.S. is now facing what many describe as fiscal Armageddon (The New York Times and others have labeled this “Taxmageddon”).  This coming crisis is because Congress, as usual, has “kicked the can down the road”.  Unless Congress and the President agree on changes to laws currently in place, on January 1, 2013, tax rates on capital gains, dividends, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and payroll withholding rates will increase dramatically resulting in large tax increases for almost all tax payers.  At the same time, extended unemployment, Medicare reimbursement rates, many entitlement programs, national defense and other programs will all be subject to significant reductions. This combination would in all likelihood send the U.S. economy back into recession.

To address our country’s fiscal issues, President Obama created the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility on February 18, 2010.  The Commission was charged with identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term, and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run.  Specifically, the Commission was to propose recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, (“primary balance”) by 2015. The Commission was composed of 18 members drawn from both political parties and co-chaired by Alan Simpson, Former Republican Senator from Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, Chief of Staff to President Clinton (and thus came to be known as the “Simpson-Bowles Commission”).  The Commission worked diligently to come up with a workable bi-partisan plan to meet its objectives.  The Commission provided its report, entitled “The Moment of Truth” on December 1, 2010.  The Commission’s plan included a combination of spending cuts and tax increases that would bring the budget into primary balance by 2015.

This group really did their homework and I would encourage all to read the full 66 page report which is available at http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/sites/fiscalcommission.gov/files/documents.  While I am reasonably knowledgeable regarding tax matters and government programs, this report recommended the elimination of numerous tax breaks and billions of dollars in reductions of entitlement programs, many of which I was completely unaware.  I say this only to point out that this was not a broad brush effort, but a very detailed, well thought out plan based on thousands of hours of work by bi-partisan commission members and their staff.  There are many recommendations in the report that I disagree with and would change if I were “king for a day.” I am sure each member of the commission felt the same way.

America’s future under our current policies (today’s existing tax rates and expenditures), the current law (assumes tax increases and spending cuts due to be implemented at future dates under current law all take place and remain in force) and the Commission’s recommendations are shown below.  Which option would you choose?

American business must contend with global competition.  The uncertainly of our country’s fiscal policy and changing regulations are crippling U.S. businesses ability to return to growth and global competitiveness.  Competition with lower cost countries is difficult in the best of circumstances.  It is difficult enough when lower cost countries undercut us on wages, dump government subsides products on our shores or impose unreasonable tariffs on our goods, but even worse when we, as a nation, shoot ourselves in the foot economically with the uncertainty created by warring factions in Washington.

Business is desperate for a plan!  (Probably why Herman Cain got initial support for his ill-conceived 9-9-9 plan:  at least it was a plan.)  Simpson Bowles is also a plan!  It is a well-researched, well thought out, bi-partisan plan to put our country on sound fiscal footing.  Yet subsequent to its submission, the Commission’s report has been virtually “swept under the table” by the Administration and Congress alike.

What do Mr. Keller’s article and the Simpson-Bowles plan have to do with each other?  A lot, I think. I believe it is time for independent thinking voters-whether they consider themselves Independents, Democrats or Republicans-to take lessons from the far left and the far right and “shift the balance” of politics by making our voices heard. Implementing a well researched and well thought out plan should be a priority.  We need to come together now by immediately passing legislation implementing the Simpson-Bowles plan or a similar well thought out plan.

Failure to act now will almost certainly mean nothing will be done as we get closer to this year’s presidential election.  Failure to act now will also mean that actions after the election, no matter which party’s candidate is successful, will be taken in the approximately six-week period between the election and year-end, resulting in “kick it down the road” or “cram it through Congress” legislation that is likely to be ill-conceived and poorly drafted.

International Women’s Day-March 8, 2012

          March is Women’s History Month.  President Obama has described Women’s History Month as a time to reflect on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping the country’s history.
          But it isn’t just Women’s History Month.  If you opened up google this morning, you saw the “google doodle” that announces that March 8th is International Women’s Day.  The UN also celebrates March 8th as UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
          We sometimes need to be reminded of the strides we have made in developing richer, fuller lives for women and our families. We live in an era when our women friends are highly educated, live rich full lives with significant control over our personal destinies.  We are mindful of the educational, employment and personal opportunities available to women in this country. But we recognize that women in many parts of the world live their lives subject to rigid societal expectations, unable to be educated, and unable to control their destinies.  We are also mindful of the current environment in which women’s issues are once again a focus of political and media attention that harkens back to less progressive times.
          Meg and I take seriously the challenge of conflicting personal values concerning the role of women in society.  We recognize that people have differing opinions on a wide variety of issues from child care to contraception to employment opportunities. With that said, we believe in the right of all people to be treated with equal respect and equal dignity. We share U.S Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s belief that for women there is little difference between a pedestal and a cage. We believe that Title IX, which requires that women and men receive equal educational opportunities, is invaluable in developing the equal role of women in society.  We respect and appreciate the men in our lives. We consider them our equals and consider ourselves equal to them. We respect the choices of women who dedicate themselves to family, home and community.  We believe that their choices, like ours, contribute to strong families and to rearing children who are happy, and who are physically and emotionally healthy.
          In 1995, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women that “women must enjoy the right to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries if we want freedom and democracy to thrive and endure.”  What is true of the rights of women in developing countries is also true of women in this country.
           As we support the equal rights of men and women, we should also follow her wisdom that, “What we have to do…is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities.”  We are grateful for being part of a community of friends who love and care about each other and endeavor to create a better and more just society.