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On Occupying Congress: Essay for October 22, 2011

It was in mid-September that the Occupy Wall Street movement began. It has continued unabated in New York since then and has spread throughout the country; indeed, throughout the world. I had a hankering to understand this movement in more depth so I went to the Occupy Wall Street dot org website. Here is a quotation from a former Wall Street analyst cum organizer for OWJ that describes the movement:

“(I am) Concerned about the egregious Wall Street bonuses — particularly after the industry accepted a tax-payer bailout and the middle class continues to be squeezed — I believe it’s time for a fairer system that provides health care, education, and opportunity for all, and rejects corporate influence over government.”

What is there to effectively argue about with this statement? Many a Tea Party advocate could make a similar statement. We could debate how much contribution the government might make towards achieving these goals but the key point is that the middle class is getting unnecessarily squeezed by a system that promotes crony capitalism at the expense of the unconnected. No objective observer of the current situation could dispute the disproportionate role special interests play in doling out a status of Most Favored Company or Most Favored Federation. There is no status the decrees Most Favored Middle Class. We are on our own and have been for quite a long time.

Has the time come to Occupy Congress?

At the untainted heart of this movement lies a kernel of common ground around which we all can muster. There is a place where the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers can agree: government is failing the people because it has become slave to the interest groups that own Congress. Pay attention to the heavy hitters in contributions since 1989:
ActBlue $56 million
AT&T Inc $48 million
American Fedn of State, County & Municipal Employees $46 million
National Assn of Realtors $41 million
Service Employees International Union $38 million
National Education Assn $37 million
Goldman Sachs $36 million
American Assn for Justice $35 million
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $34 million
Laborers Union $32 million

Are you getting the picture? Our government is for sale. These organizations lean heavily towards the party of the Democrats but influence peddling is always in season on Capitol Hill.

On top of that, Lobbyists play a prominent role in directing policy in Washington. In 2010 there were almost 13,000 registered lobbyists stalking Capitol Hill. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks political spending, lobbying efforts reached a record $3.5 billion last year.

We very often hear that class warfare is being stoked by the highly charged rhetoric from no less than the President himself, his Vice President and other members of government. The Occupy Wall Street crowd talks about being part of the 99% who are disenfranchised, not the 1% who hold all of the cards.

I tell you this: there is a war between the classes but it is not who you think it is. It is not between rich and poor; not between left and right. It is between the people and the political class in Washington.
Our elected officials in Washington have become corrupted by the power, the prestige, the money and the influence it brings. They cling to their seats in Congress or offices in Washington in hopes of being the martinet who inflicts pain and later comes to the rescue using other people’s money to solve the inflicted problem. They have created a Munchhausen syndrome that only they believe they can fix. I disagree.

Despite the pain and dislocation caused by our current economic woes, and they are substantial, I see no evidence of a percolating class struggle that exists naturally. The embers of discontent are fanned by ill-intentioned members of the political class who have agendas far from those the likes of us.

If I had to suggest another place to occupy, it would be Congress. I would gladly link arms with a fellow sojourner bent on changing the face of the political class in Congress.

Press on.

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Conservatively Speaking: October 15, 2011

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On an Economic Solution: Radio Essay for October 15, 2011

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On an Economic Solution: Essay for October 15, 2011

If anybody can tell me what is going on with the Occupy Wall Street crowd, as Ross Perot once said, “I am all ears.” Are these people really victims of an economic malaise or a rabble encouraged by the unseen hand of conflicting sources?

It matters not to me. Whether they know it or not, whether they are tools or not, they are card carrying members of the Lost Generation. Their economic future is in the hands of someone else. Their choices are limited and their futures are in doubt. Surely, they are doing nothing to improve their economic situation by squatting in a park and mindlessly ranting on television.

Some would have us debate the threshold of wealth as if the taxation of the wealthiest of society would be enough to free us from the shackles of reckless financial management. “Tax the rich; feed the poor, till there are no rich no more.” And if it could not, and it will not: then what? We will still have a lot of people out on the streets, young and old asking the question: Whatever happened to my American Dream?
I could rant on and on about the many issues before us in this great land: the social issues, the personal liberty issues or the foreign policy issues. They pale in comparison to the economic issues.

It must be our solemn quest to restore opportunity to our countryman. This must be goal Number One. If our economy is not functioning, we will be focusing on the wrong debate at the wrong time. Perhaps we can set aside the rhetoric that panders to the primary fringe voters from both parties and focus on the one true issue in this campaign that should rightly dominate our discussions: the faltering economy.
The “fix” is not a simple one. Nor can it be simply stated. It calls for a concerted effort between government, business and education. It must start now. Time is catastrophically short. The overall fix is long term but it is one that will begin to yield results immediately.

There are three legs to the stool we must address immediately and well.

First, there is the business component. Simply stated, we must retain a manufacturing base that leans towards high technology and high value added activity. We must dispense with the image of manufacturing as a dirty and menial job. Modern plants of today demand highly skilled workforces who often work in office or laboratory-like conditions.

Secondly, we must revise our system of education. It must align itself with the manufacturing sector. We need to focus our efforts on the four pillars of science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM subjects. These disciplines will serve to support the expansion and further development of the manufacturing sector.

Finally, there is a role for government. It was less than 30 years ago that the federal tax code was revised to give the United States the lowest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. It worked. Direct investment soared. The economy soared. Over time the rest of the world followed suit in lowering rates while our rates crept back up to where they are now. America is number one in having the highest corporate tax rate in the world. It is a dubious distinction. Direct investment, both foreign and domestic, is shrinking. Additionally, our regulatory burden is unnecessarily high. It is ambiguous. It is prohibitive. Our regulations must be focused on the common good of society not bureaucracy. The last meaningful review of regulations took place during the Clinton Administration. Our agencies have remained unchecked throughout the last decade.

Andrew Liveris is the Chairman of Dow Chemical. He heads up the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership initiative under the Obama Administration. He leans a little towards the left but makes eminent sense in his book, “Make It in America.” His recommended path is clear. First, make it easier for businesses to remain or locate in the United States. Second, remake the manufacturing sector into an advanced, high-value added industry. Third, create an economy that can sustain itself through long term job creation and economic growth. Fourth, prepare the next generation’s workforce for the challenge of a changing economy. And, fifth, improve America’s global competitiveness for the near and long term. I concur.

Amid the cacophony of the choruses from left and right there must be a way forward that both parties can agree upon. It is of no use to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. To carry the metaphor, we have already struck the iceberg. It is time to save the ship.

Press on.

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On Lessons from a Stimulated Economy: Radio Essay for October 8, 2011

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