Why Northampton County Controller Steve Barron Should be Re-Elected

Posted in 2015 elections with tags , on October 19, 2015 by Rich Wilkins
Steve Barron

Photo credit to Lehigh Valley Ramblings

Northampton County’s Controller, Democrat Stephen Barron, is seeking a third term in office in just over two weeks at the polls. He will be opposed in that election by Republican County Councilman Hayden Phillips. According to my information, the races will be close for all of the county offices, or at least they are now, so your vote will matter. I will be voting for Mr. Barron’s re-election. I hope you will join me, so I will share my positive reasons behind Mr. Barron, and my negative reasons for not voting for Mr. Phillips.

  1. Steve Barron has been an independent thorn in the side of the last two County Executives, both Democrat John Stoffa and Republican John Brown. He was a leading critic of Stoffa’s policies on Gracedale, helping lead the charge against closing it. He has opposed Brown on tax increases, wasteful contracts, and illegal pay raises for staff. I guarantee you that both will be voting against Mr. Barron. He’s also found millions of dollars in savings for the county voters, via his office’s audits. Mr. Barron has done a good job.
  2. Mr. Phillips is on the current county council, and he voted last year for a 9.25% tax increase. In fact, he proposed a tax increase of double that on council. He refused to vote to sue the County Executive to stop his public relations contract that was unnecessary under the Home Rule Charter. He’s attempting to confuse voters into believing he wants to turn Gracedale into a non-profit, when he actually wants to privatize it. Beyond all of that, Hayden Phillips is one of the right-wing nuts that want to stop “Agenda 21,” echoing the complaints of Texas Senator Ted Cruz that “the UN wants to get rid of golf courses.” Nothing like stopping sustainable land use practices.

For me, the choice is very clear. Northampton County voters should vote for Mr. Barron’s re-election.

You Grow, Not Cut, Your Way Out of a Deficit

Posted in President Barack Obama, The Federal Deficit with tags , on October 19, 2015 by Rich Wilkins

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President Obama has refused the most draconian budget cuts proposed by Congressional Republicans. The result of his refusal has been a growing economy and a falling deficit.

WASHINGTON — The federal budget deficit fell this year to its lowest level since President Obama took office, his administration reported Thursday, a change propelled by an increase in tax receipts amid a strengthening economy.

The deficit was $439 billion in the 2015 fiscal year, $44 billion less than last year, the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget said in a report. The shortfall represents 2.5 percent of the economy, the lowest share since 2007.

“Under the president’s leadership, the deficit has been cut by roughly three-quarters as a share of the economy since 2009 — the fastest sustained deficit reduction since just after World War II,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a statement released with the figures. The deficit ballooned to $1.4 trillion in 2009, in part because of stimulus spending during the recession.

Government receipts rose by 8 percent over the last year, the report said, which “can be attributed to a stronger economy.” Rising wages drove up collections of individual and payroll taxes, and higher corporate profits led to an increase in business income tax receipts. Also, fees and payments under the Affordable Care Act that took effect in 2015 helped increase federal collections.

Now it is true that in 2017, the deficit is supposed to start rising again. For that reason, the fiscal hawks on the right are calling for massive overhauls to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other major programs. Cuts to those programs will not help bring down deficits though. You can’t cut your way to balance, because these cuts cause a drop in growth. We know how to bring down the deficit though, we’re seeing it now. The policies we’ve followed the last six years reduced the deficit. There’s no reason to believe the people who were wrong before, in the future.

Yes, the Democratic Party Has Changed, No It Isn’t Like the Republican Party’s Change

Posted in The Democratic Party with tags on October 19, 2015 by Rich Wilkins

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A lot was made about how Jim Webb seemed out of step with the Democratic base during his debate performance, and he was the hero of the 2006 cycle, nine years ago. Some have made the point that the Democratic Party has moved politically, as the Republican Party has, in the last decade. It is true that both parties have moved. It is not true that there is much similar about that.

The one similarity both parties have is that they have changed to be more responsive to the people who vote for them now. That’s the end of the similarities. One party has simply begun to be responsive to their base, while the other has devolved into a dysfunctional mess. One has a policy agenda attached to their movement, the other does not. One has actually moved to their political pole, the other has simply made good on their rhetoric.

The Obama-era Democratic Party really hasn’t moved to the left the way many believe. Yes, it has changed, but it has changed mostly in that it now acts on it’s beliefs. Democrats talked about supporting LGBT rights for a long time now, but have become more effective in making substantial change under this President. Democrats have talked about supporting the environment and moving away from pollution-causing fossil fuels for a long time, but they have been more effective in causing that change under this President. Democrats have long stood for women’s rights, but have been more effective in changing government policy to help women under this President.

Democrats had to make good on their long-time promises because that is what the coalition that elected President Obama demanded. They’ve had to explicitly support policies that move along progress for key constituencies. It’s simply an extension of stated party beliefs. It’s the party making good on long standing promises.

What is happening on the right is not the same. They are not moving the policy bar on most issues. They are not talking about being more effective for their voters (it is arguable, but one could say they are for their donors). The movement on the right is movement toward an ineffective party that doesn’t even want to get things done. It’s essentially a movement towards an anti-government dystopia. Comparing this level of dysfunction to the movement on the left is an apples to oranges comparison.

The War on Drugs is One of the Worst Things America Has Ever Done

Posted in The War on Drugs with tags on October 18, 2015 by Rich Wilkins

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In the 1920’s, alcohol was illegal in the United States. We certainly can argue the merits of that, but it was a colossal failure. Alcohol was not only not removed from society, but it became a black-market item that made some people really rich. Those people were mostly European immigrants and their descendants, and some like the Kennedys became excessively wealthy from it. While some people were prosecuted, for the most part, the “bootlegging” went on right under the government’s nose.

Fast-forward a few decades to Nixonian America. President Nixon responded to the rise of marijuana and other drugs by declaring the “War on Drugs.” Future Presidents systemically upped the ante on Nixon’s war, stiffening penalties and increasing funding for enforcement. Policing in America moved from “serve and protect” to a near manhunt for drug users, sellers, and producers. Mandatory minimums, three strike laws, and even overseas targeting of producers took tens of millions of dollars from our treasury, destroyed lives, and broke apart families. People suffering from addiction have been treated as hardened criminals. This tough stance on drugs stands in stark contrast to Prohibition. At times it’s appeared ridiculous, like Nancy Reagan saying “Just Say No,” or the old cracked-egg commercials saying “this is your brain, and this is your brain on drugs.” At other times, the anti-drug activities have been brutally punitive, like the 1994 Crime Bill ending educational opportunities for many drug offenders.

The two eras couldn’t be more of a contrast, and I can’t help but think a big part of it is racial. Too large of a percentage of our prisons is populated by black and brown people convicted on drug possession or sale charges. We have continued to push the penalties more harsh with each passing decade because of support from Nixon’s “silent majority.” All that term means is a bunch of coded racists. We have not only not made a differential between dangerous drugs like heroine and not dangerous drugs like marijuana, but we’ve also made sure that sentencing guidelines and penalties are worse for drugs like crack-cocaine (a drug more often associated with African-American users) than they are for powder cocaine (a drug more associated with white users). It seems very clear that race has been a huge factor.

The result has not been the eradication of drug use. There has been very little public health benefit. The result has been packed prisons, ruined lives, and broken homes. It’s seen people labeled felons for life on non-violent, minor drug charges. The results have been cruel. They have not made America better. They have created a prison industrial complex, and made the economics of imprisonment trump care for helping people with problems.

America has more than one dark chapter in it’s history. There was slavery, Jim Crow, our Japanese internment camps, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the War on Drugs that all stand out to me. The War on Drugs is as bad of a moral and operational failure as most. It’s time to end it. Starting with some of the sentencing reform plans, such as the Booker-Paul legislation, and continuing with legalization of marijuana and other less serious drugs. We need to start treating drug addicts as ill, and less as criminals, particularly in how we sentence them. The time for reform has come, there is some bi-partisan consensus on this issue, and there is no reason to delay.

De-Bunked Theories on President Obama and Writers who are Past Their Day

Posted in Donald Trump, Peggy Noonan, President Barack Obama with tags , , on October 17, 2015 by Rich Wilkins

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I’m always amused when I see Reagan era figures brought on television or into print as “expert pundits” in Washington. I mean, I get that they made it to the White House, so they deserve some respect, but it was a different era than today. Today’s GOP doesn’t agree with them on a lot of core issues. Today’s Democratic Party isn’t Tip O’Neill’s. National elections are a lot different than they were in the 1980s, in no small part because they are a lot less white. Things have changed a lot since they were in the White House.

So of course, I was amused by Peggy Noonan’s piece yesterday about Joe Biden and Donald Trump, mostly because it told me more about her view of President Obama. She nailed some of her analysis of the Democratic contest, but still bombed some parts of it. She bombed her analysis of the Trump candidacy. Then she wrote this:

The only thing I feel certain of is how we got here. There are many reasons we’re at this moment, but the essential political one is this: Mr. Obama lowered the bar. He was a literal unknown, an obscure former state legislator who hadn’t completed his single term as U.S. senator, but he was charismatic, canny, compelling. He came from nowhere and won it all twice. All previously prevailing standards, all usual expectations, were thrown out the window.

This is her explanation for how Donald Trump became an acceptable candidate. It’s wrong for several reasons:

  1. Yes, Barack Obama was young for a President, and perhaps had less lines on his resume than many others, but we haven’t been electing Lyndon Johnson for a while in America. From Jimmy Carter forward, the only two Presidents we’ve elected with experience in Congress were President Obama and President George H.W. Bush. President George W. Bush came into office with six years experience as Governor of Texas. President Reagan had only served as Governor of California and President Clinton as Governor and Attorney General of Arkansas. Yes, Senator Obama had served only a couple of terms in the Illinois Senate, and four years in the U.S. Senate, but he’s not really an outlier in that sense.
  2. The rise of Donald Trump has less to do with President Obama than it does with the waves of freshman Republicans in Congress in 2010 and 2014. The best way to explain this came to me from a Republican hack who told me that the difference between 2010 and 1994 was that the 1994 wave was a bunch of Mayors and State Legislators coming to Congress, and 2010 was a bunch of outsiders that were true-believers. In this group weren’t people with government resumes, which is driving why they are more confrontational and less interested in governing. They are the exact mold by which the Trump candidacy has grown from.

Noonan’s “Obama came out of nowhere” notion is not grounded in reality, but it’s widespread in DC. “But he doesn’t follow our norms here” is like the rallying cry of Washington since 2009, but it’s really just code for that he called BS on most of it. Yes, President Obama has introduced some radical concepts to people from the Reagan era- like talking to Cuba and Iran. This is less because he “came from nowhere,” and more because he rejected the tired Washington group-think that dictated foreign policy. Yes, President Obama basically rejected Reagan-era terms that dictated the economic debate, but this is less because he “came from nowhere” too, and more because he realized they were tired talking points that were really just code the status quo. None of this is because President Obama was inexperienced or unprepared, or any other Noonan-esque talking point, and more so because President Obama came to the Presidency as a response to the last thirty years of American politics that preceded him. He had as much or more experience before taking the job as most of his recent peers, in so much as that experience matters at all. No one is prepared to be President before they are.

This gets back to the whole idea though that these Reagan era pundits should have remained fixtures in our political media after 2008. They shouldn’t have. They offered little insight into a changing political world, a world where the Republican coalition of voters is increasingly militant, and the Democratic coalition is increasingly less white and male, and is younger. These pundits just don’t understand what they’re watching, partially because it’s so different than their experience, and partially because they just don’t want to try to. If you’re understanding Trump’s candidacy through President Obama, you are definitely doing it wrong.

It’s Saturday- Go Cubs!

Posted in 2015 MLB Playoffs with tags on October 17, 2015 by Rich Wilkins
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I wrote about these Cubs lifers earlier this week. They deserve to see a World Series.

1,000 Posts

Posted in milestone posts with tags on October 16, 2015 by Rich Wilkins

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Today, I passed 1,000 posts on here. I started this blog earlier this year to try out a different medium, and I’m mostly happy with it. With that said, i’m not as prolific of a writer as I used to be. Perhaps the traditional blogging is dying for me too. I’ll try to spice it up moving forward, though I expect to write less.

A few insights on this blog- you seem to like it best when I write about baseball, but also when I write about dogs, international issues, and local politics. You are mostly from America, but I get readers from France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, India, the Netherlands, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Panama on the regular, to name a few. This is the most gratifying part of the blog- writing for a global audience. It makes our world a little smaller, and brings us closer together. It’s an honor that you read what I have to say.

In the future, I expect to unveil some new things on here. I hope to advocate for some views, causes, and candidates that I support. I also hope to advocate for changes I want to see happen in my world. I look forward to the next thousand posts with you all, and hope you continue to support me by reading as you do.

Sincerely GC

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