We Can’t Wait

For most of the country yesterday, around 4 p.m. Pacific Time, the President of the United States was addressing both houses of Congress. He unveiled, what I consider, a reasonably bold plan that should not take more than a few weeks to become law. The simple fact of the matter is that we can’t wait for politicians to haggle, wrangle, debate because all that means is delay. We can’t wait until our roads and bridges fall apart. We can’t wait to learn that our children are growing up uneducated.  We can’t wait for our manufactured products and the technology that we create to be bought by people around the world.

I, and my fellow San Diegans, however, could not watch the President. We had to wait. We had to wait for more than one hour before anyone – and I mean anyone – said anything at all about why an entire County including parts of at least two other counties as well as Baja California were without any power. Outages happen and there are no perfect systems. But when the greatest nation on this planet, with all of its billions spent on homeland security, makes us wait to know if and why we are at risk, it is embarrassing at best. Why were the lights out? Why did our world come to a standstill and we not receive any information whatsoever from anyone who should know. If a real disaster happens, how long will we wait?

This isn’t a public relations mess, it is a failure of leadership. On the eve of the 10th year anniversary of 9-11, when there is a credible threat identified by the FBI, and then almost 2 million people lose power and no one says a word, it does not promote a feeling of safety. It tells us that we are incredibly vulnerable and all the people who we trust to take charge let us down.

This has to change and we can’t wait. I have to believe that all the layoffs from every sector of our society makes us vulnerable because we do not have the people power to react in disaster. This power outage could have been much worse. We were kept relatively safe by our own sense of responsibility and protocol. While we were waiting for someone to speak to us, we acted calmly and with civility. This is what we do in America.

For our own part at Townspeople, we took quick action on a several fronts. We made sure all of our staff were safe. There was the possibility that one of us was stuck in the elevator. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case but someone was looking out. A team of staff worked to figure out how to open the electric garage door so that people could be evacuated. We made a quick plan on leaving the office and then three of us headed out to check on our properties and our clients. None of that could wait. We had no idea how long the power would be out, what the long-term consequence might be, or what danger was around the corner.

So, too with our national crisis and our political embarrassment. When millions of people are out of work at a time when our infrastructure is crumbling, why in God’s name, should we wait? When thousands of soldiers come back from a war should not have to wait for months or years to get a job and return to the mainstream. Just like we should not have to wait more than an hour to know why there is no power. How long do we wait for those in power to tell us why they cannot act.

We wait no more. The President laid out a strong, clear, and do-able plan of action. He told Congress to pass it now. I agree. I believe most of my fellow Americans do as well. We tire of waiting. We want action and answers and accountability. Otherwise we simply remain vulnerable as we wait in the dark feeling like we lost all our power.

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An appointment with the People

Not a lack of communication, but a lack of respect and protocol allowed the President of the United States to be temporarily rebuffed by the speaker of the house, who for the first time ever delayed the time when the President asked to speak before a joint session of Congress.

They knew even before they arrived back from their recess, that jobs was the first priority of the President and of the people. Yet, their bumbling, disrepectful tactics compelled them to be obstinate and to impede. This is the state of our Congress. This is a sad state for the nation.

When the President asks to speak to the representatives of the people, there is only one answer to be given, “Yes!” It is not a minor thing to delay the President by even one day. If we were about to declare war or if we were being attacked by powerful forces, there would be no delay. Yet, we are being attacked by a crushing unemployment rate which is the key driver of a sour economy. The people cannot spend money they no longer earn. This time of unemployment is the worst this country ever experienced. Worse than the great depression because there is no resolve, no plan, no momentum to get things moving again. The African American community is hardest hit with almost 25% out of work.

Older adults, the most experienced of our workforce, are being shunned and set aside for younger and albeit cheaper workers. Labor unions are under attack and our Congress men and women sit in their cushy offices, on cushy jobs, earning a cushy income while a growing segment of society loses their homes, their incomes, their confidence and self-respect.

This is not the American way. Each day, I work with and for the low-income of our society. People who struggle each day to sustain themselves, to get housing, to get food. There are many things we can do but as our economy crumbles, mostly due to inaction, the people lose hope, lose faith. This is the tragedy of our time.

We must turn this around and do it today. We cannot wait another day, week, month or year to take action on our greatest challenges. We must tell our elected representatives to get to work and do something for us or go back home for good.

When the President makes an appointment with the people, we must all say yes. Regardless of each of our political views, we must find ways to embrace the principles of American society. We must embrace the leadership of the President, especially in difficult times. Don’t agree with the President? Fine. Don’t vote for him again. But, for now, while he is still in office, get behind him, help him succeed.

If the President succeeds we all succeed. Is there anything wrong with that formula? People are sick and tired, out of work, broke, in despair all because there is a deep dislike for the President by members of the House. It is beyond politics, it is beyond being childish. It is, in my view, immoral. The anger, hate, bickering, fighting…they all lead us nowhere.

Today, let us commit to each other to find common ground. We all want the same things: a job, a stable, steady income, a home, a way to feed our family and educate our children. We are truly at a crossroads when we either stand up for the values that made this country what it is, or we take a different path to destroy everything accomplished by those who came before. We need now a new American revolution where we no longer tolerate elected officials who are only interested in their own agenda, their own limited views and their special interests. We need more middle class people, rather than millionaires, serving in office. We need both fiscal restraint along with the courage to invest in our people.

Getting people back to work will increase tax revenue, it will provide billions more to help balance our budget and pay down our debt. That is the way it has always been.

Soon after Labor Day, when we honor the tradition of a good day’s work for a good day’s pay, let us focus on moving America forward. Unlike the Republicans who claim we need to “take our country back,” I believe we need to move America forward. The only thing wrong with America today are the people who condemn our leader, obstruct our progress, refuse to negotiate all to simply hold on to what the power they perceive they have. No one party, no one person, owns America. We, the people, own it and thus are in charge of it.

Let’s hear what the President has to say, let him speak now, and let us rally all of our efforts to end this crisis of despair. The President has an appointment with the people. The people have an obligation to show up and listen.

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Ignorance and Fear: The real threat to the U.S.

Watching many news shows, politicians, pundits and commentators and a myriad of on-the-campaign trail reports from presidential candidates it is clear to me that we live in an irrational world filled with people who are not that smart. They rely on rhetoric and fear to try and get “one-up” on someone else. Not only don’t they tell the truth but they make it worse by the constant, confusing harangue of negative speech that does not match the facts.

Because I live in the greatest nation on earth, I have no reason to live in fear. Saying we will become like Greece is not just silly, it is impossible. It is counter to the will and spirit of Americans. Greece is not known for its inventions, their work ethic or their robust Gross National Product.

What weighs heaviest on my mind today is not that one rating agency nudged our credit rating down a notch, it is the reactions from people in leadership that worries.

They are not speaking of a return to bi-partisanship. They are not saying publicly, “wow, we really made a mess of this,” or say to the market, “We hear you, we apologize and we will do better.”

Every republican who has spoken of this issue has blamed the President. Regardless of how anyone feels about him or whether or not they trust him, the real facts of the downgrade, and any related blame, goes to Congress.

Here is what S&P actually said:

“The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policy making becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year’s wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.”

Political brinkmanship. Less stable, less effective and less predictable. That’s Washington.

What some of the people from Standard & Poor’s said was key to their lower grading was not being able to count on America doing what it says it will do. They cited that in April, we passed a federal budget. Budgets take us  into the future. They passed a budget that they knew would increase the current debt limit. This was the predictable future the nation set out. Yet, when it came time to live up to its commitment from past obligations some members of Congress said, “We don’t care, we are not paying.” And though Congress passes the budget, Congress authorizes all expenditures, they want to blame the President.

Our leaders can’t figure a way out of this because they are ignorant of history, they are ignorant of the facts, they ignore business leaders and the markets and they lie to their citizens. Their selfish, spoiled tactics are, in my view, reprehensible. The only result is to scare the American people – mostly the middle and lower classes – so they do not rise up and revolt. If you keep a citizenry uneducated, you have an easier time of reducing their freedoms and fortunes.

Here are the 10 top things we all need to know regarding this downgrade and how it really affects you and me.

1. None of this necessarily means disaster for your money. The United States has not been downgraded to “junk” status, like say, Greece. The rating is still very high — just not tops.

2. The relative safety of the different vehicles in which you might stash your cash — FDIC-insured accounts, money market funds or short-term Treasuries, for example — wouldn’t be so affected by a downgrade that you’d need to shift your money around, say experts.

3. As for money market mutual funds, which are not insured, the effect of a downgrade is not expected to be dramatic, since those funds generally invest in short-term debt, and discussion of a downgrade has so far been limited to long-term U.S. bonds, says Mike Krasner, managing editor of imoneynet.com, which monitors the money fund industry.

4. Despite a downgrade, U.S. debt would still be considered a safe haven. “Double A will become the new triple A,” says Peter Crane*, “because there simply isn’t a viable competitor to Treasuries.”

5. The price of consumer credit would be pegged less to a Treasury downgrade than it would be to bond investors’ overall confidence, says Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics for Moody’s Analytics. For now, investors seem optimistic about the future — but more cautious about the next few months.

6. Rates on car loans, which follow shorter-term rates like the two-year Treasury or LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate, could go up — but not enough to really hit consumers, says Paul Cuevas, director of auto finance at J.D. Power & Associates.

7. Most mortgage rates, however, track the 10-year Treasury yield, which continues to fall. Adjustable rate mortgage holders could be slightly more vulnerable, because ARMs are typically tied to shorter-term interest rate movements, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

8. For students and parents who rely on private student loans, any jump in borrowing costs for lenders would be passed on to borrowers, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org and Fastweb.com. Federal student loan rates would remain fixed.

9. Credit card rates are pegged to the prime rate, which moves with the federal funds rate. If the prime rate goes up, consumers could be hit with credit card rate hikes, says Beverly Blair Harzog of Credit.com. Even if the rate doesn’t go up, she says, card issuers spooked by a credit downgrade could raise your interest rates anywhere from 1% to 5% –– but only if you’ve had your card for more than a year.

10. Bad news for the economy generally means tough times for stocks. But history shows that when a country loses its AAA credit rating, it’s not necessarily terrible news for that nation’s stock market. When Canada lost its AAA rating in April 1993, for instance, the country’s stocks gained more than 15% in the subsequent year. The Tokyo stock market climbed more than 25% in the 12 months after Moody’s downgraded Japan in November 1998.

The biggest threat is psychological. When we hear over and over that we have lost our credit rating it is not true. We were nudged by ONE of three credit rating agencies who felt compelled to speak up. What they said could not be clearer: “U.S. government stop your bickering, stop wasting time, build your country back up and everything will be okay. We had to give you a reprimand because you are acting like children. ” That quote is my interpretation of the real message being delivered today.

No longer do we have time to blame each other. This game has gone on far too long. Congress’s approval rating is in single digits right now. Senator Dick Durbin, appearing on the Daily Show with John Stewart, said, “I think those numbers are inflated.” Ahhh! someone speaks the truth.

For what it is worth, here is the truth as I see it. Calm down. No one makes good decisions in fear. Stop watching campaign ads. If you want a new president, fine. But take some time on your own, away from the telly and do your homework. Read some factual stories and reports. Expand your reading beyond your routine and see that each side basically says the same thing over and over. It is a script. It is not genuine. It is false by my standards.

Because we are an educated people, because we have the tool of the Internet giving us access to as much data as we can handle, we must do more of our own homework. We must demand our news organizations drill a bit deeper into the news. We should watch the PBS News Hour more often. We should investigate, research and really know the facts about what makes our economy work and what  has fueled our country’s growth throughout our history.

We need to invent more, create more, do more to help each other in times of need. More, more, more is our motto and anyone who chooses to take us to the cliff’s edge in hopes that we fall off, should simply be ignored. We need to turn away from this evil, threatening rhetoric that does nothing good for the American psyche. We know we are better than this. Let’s move forward with out fear. Those who want to simply continue the argument may now leave the room. We need some quiet time for reflection and intelligent discussion. Together, we will fix our nation. The world – and more importantly – our children are watching us. Are they learning good or bad habits? Time will tell.

Do you feel better now? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment, question or disagree below. 

——–notes on this blog —–

1. Click here to read the actual rating news from Standard & Poor’s. (I read it, it’s easy to understand. The truth is always the best language)

2. *(Peter Crane, quoted above, is president of Crane Data, which tracks the money-market fund industry; after all, like Treasuries, FDIC-insured accounts are ultimately backed by the same entity: the U.S. government).

3. Sources I used for this article were: By Paul Lim, Susie Poppick, and Angela Wu @Money August 7, 2011: 1:40 PM ET (I do my homework 🙂

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