Archive for November, 2011

HOW WE GOT HERE, IN MY LIFETIME

November 4, 2011

Two days ago I celebrated my 57th birthday. I was born on the night of November 2, 1954, election day! My parents were attending an election night party when apparently I decided I wanted to join in the fun, I’m sure to my parent’s dismay, the timing, that is! I was born on the day Hubert Humphrey won the election to the U.S. Senate and Orville Freeman won the race for the Governorship of Minnesota. After arriving at Our Lady of Mercy hospital in Alexandria Minnesota, I came aboard a short time hence. Back then, mother and child were required to stay in the hospital for many days. Mom and Dad hadn’t decided on a name for me yet, even after being born! Many of their DFL compatriots and friends recommended Hubert Orville or Orville Hubert. After a couple days, they named me Cameron Justin. Mom told me that morning, when a couple of the Nun nurses brought me into her room, they asked her if I had a name yet. Her response was; “Cameron Justin Obert!” To which, in horror, the Sister almost dropped me. You see, in 1954, Cameron and Justin were not common or known names at all. Today, of course, my name fits in with thousands of babies borne to yuppie couples!

My birth occured at about the halfway point of President Eisenhower’s first term. Ike swept into office in 1952 as the hero of the U.S. victorious World War Two(The Big One) effort. He actually was courted by both parties to run for the office, and once he decided to go the with the GOP, the Democrats turned to Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. My parents, of course, were big Stevenson supporters. He actually campaigned in Alexandria! I remember pictures of my folks with him, though I don’t know if was from ’52 or ’56.

The eight years under the Eisenhower administration was a time of economic stability, and a slow but strong sustained growth. Ike recognized the importance of a strong infrastructure in order to be considered the “other power’ on the globe. The interstates highway system was constructed during his administration. New hospitals and schools were constructed to meet the demand of a growing economy and population. Wise thinking! Under Ike, the entire system of roads, highways, bridges, railroads, mass transit, schools, governmental facilities, and hospitals were upgraded and modernized. Ike figured a strong economy bolstered by a strong infrastructure was necessary to a world power. And, of course, this expansion had to be paid for. Under Eisenhower, the top marginal federal income tax rates were as high as 92%! Interesting, huh? 92% tax rate and yet an economy on the move! Go figure!

As President Eisenhower was about to leave the Oval office and give way to the dynamic forward thinking Jack Kennedy, he advised Kennedy and the country…beware of the uncontrolled growth of the military-industrial complex. We’ll touch on this later.

President Kennedy faced many global threats as the Cold War deepened. He did, however, face down the Red threat from the USSR and implemented the Cuban Naval blockade. That single action, non-violent as it was, probably changed the course of history. On the domestic front, the strength of the GOP in Congress was starting to flex it’s muscles on taxes. JFK did say that too high of taxes could have a negative impact on the economy. Under him, the top marginal rates came down into the 50-60% range. President Kenndy also had to deal with a growing population of angry African-Americans. Civil unrest was the story of the days during that time. Riots, clashes with police and National Guard troops were all too common. JFK, recognized the out-dated and discriminatory laws on the books and began to right them, unfortunetly, he was assinnated prior to seeing his goals to the end. The age of Camelot in America died with him. The optimism, the forethought, the brilliance of a young leader taken from us.

President Lyndon Johnson was now in charge. Johnson began the “Great Society”. A society he envisioned of peace and properity. Where no Americans will be left by the wayside. He continued the work for a progressive America started under JFK. Two of the greatest legislative acts in the history of the country became law under the strong leadership of LBJ, The Voters Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. Landmark legislation. Lyndon Johnson became, and probably will always be the greatest domestic affairs President this country has ever had or will have! Under Johnson, the economy was strong, the country had budget surplusses most years, paid for the Vietnam War as we went, inflation was kept in check, and taxes were down a little into the 40-50% range. Johnson blind spot, however, was the war in Southeast Asia. I believe it would have or could have been different had someone else other than General William Westmorland been advising the President on the management of the war. Westmorland convinced LBJ the war could be won militarily if the President would keep increasing the troop numbers and give him more time. The straw that broke that camel’s back was Tet in 1968. The U.S. was damn near slaughtered on the battle fields, thousands of casualties and wounded. That spelled the end of the Great Society and LBJ’s Presidency. On the domestic front, LBJ was getting killed in the polls because the anti-war revolution happening all over the country finally got the ear of Washington, very similar to the results from the civil rights campaigns starting a decade earlier. We’ll revivit this again in the paper later on.

In 1968, Richard Nixon won a very close election over Hubert Humphrey. In my opinion, this is where America started coming off the rails. I’m not saying Nixon was a bad President, but just didn’t have the vision to keep the country moving forward. Nixon was a very good tactician for foriegn policy. He opened the doors to the USSR and the old Red China. He was straddled with the Vietnam mess, it took him too long to get the message to get out. Southeast Asia had a long history of invading forces from countries from around the world, many years of massive blood shed and loss of human life, and yet the invading forces were never able to conquer, they all left with tails tucked between their legs. We’ll discuss this topic again as well.
Nixon initially cut taxes too deeply, and started the country into it’s first economic downfall since the great depression. He did raise them again prior to leaving office, but left the remains for temporary President Ford to pick up. Inflation was rampant, energy supplies were short and there didn’t seem to be a fix. Remember Ford’s “WIN”(Whip Inflation Now) campaign? Disaster. Enter Jimmy Carter in 1976.
President Carter was a man of vision. A very intelligent man, possibly the smartes President the country had since Woodrow Wilson in the teens. President Carter understood the what Ike said. A strong economy and infrastructure is the key to country’s strength. While dealing with a tremendous fossil fuel shortage, remember the gas lines?, he also was working with an economy still reeling from the Nixon-Ford years compounded by the oil embargo the US faced. With this on his plate, President Carter proposed a national policy for energy conservation, exploration, and scientific development. The republcan lead Congress never embraced these concepts. In retrospect, possibly one of the biggest errors the Congress of the US has ever made! President Carter also brought a level of decency and diplomacy to the office which at the time it was sorely needed. In 1980, still handcuffed by a poor economy and a hostage situation in Iraq, lost to Ronald Reagan in a fairly close race.

President Reagan brought to the American scene a feeling of optimism and hope. After the economy was down for a long time, though recovering by the time Dutch came into office, the hostages were released and America was starting to feel good again. It was later revealed, the reagan campaign was working with the hostage takers in Iraq, and asked them not to release the hostages until the day of the election. So much for Dutch’s squeaky clean reputation! Reagan began a campaign of systematically smashing the middle class. He fired the PATCO union strikers, cut the taxes for the wealthy quite deeply and started the shift of financial burden on the middle class. Funny thing is, he is the President who supported the “Star Wars Initiative”. A multi gazillion dollar fantasy boondoggle of space based weaponry! He was so derided by that non-sense he finally gave up on it. Reagan championed the “trickle down” and “supply-side” economics during his Presidency. His financial guru, David Stockman, sold these as programs to strengthen the economy by giving all of the assistance to the “job creators”. We’ve all heard that term, haven’t we? Just as the clone of this program exploded the economy in the early 2000’s, the economy went way south. He cut too deeply and the debt exploded. Interestingly enough, Reagan made a speech while in office decrying how morally wrong it is to under-tax the wealthiest of our population! Sound familiar? The new norm was budget deficits. Reagan so weakened the economy, it affected his predessessor, George Bush.

President Bush, a economically wounded successor to the office had no choice but to raise taxes. The country was headed to financial ruin without an influx of revenues. Unfortunately for him, he did this after the famous “read my lips…no new taxes”. That sunk him! He only has the mismanagement of the White House by Reagan to blame. It’s interesting that now, economic “wunderkind” David Stockman now says supply side and trickle down really hurt the economy and he was dead wrong. Enter Bill Clinton in 1992.

President Clinton went on a mission to clean up the office, still reeling in the after light of Reagan’s bunch of felons that got caught in the most despicable act of treason and espionage in history. The Iran-Contra Scandal was still fresh in the minds of America. Reagan should have done time for that. However, in retrospect, most of his second term, Reagan was probably there in body only, Nancy was calling all the shots as Dutch was probably starting be taken down by Alzheimers. At any rate, with Clinton, America has a very intelligent person in the White House again. He started with the progressive ideas of sexual orientation discrimination and health care reform. Though he was pretty much defeated in these areas, the table was set, for the first time, although Nixon made an attempt at health care reform. After Clinton won a resounding victory in ’96, he finished the job of leading America back to fiscal strength. He finally was able to lead the country back from the ruins the Reagan administration had left the country in. By the time he left office in 2000, he turned over a 200 billion dollar surplus to George W. Bush.

The “W” years are easy to review. He backed two unfunded tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, he proposed and got passed an unfunded Medicare pharmacicuedical plan, over a trillion dollars alone, he got the US involved in two unfunded wars, to the tune of over 400 billion dollars a month! History repeating itself? Lets look. Remember Ike said, beware of the military-industrial complex? You think Haliburton, Boeing, etc. prospered in the billions from Pentagon contracts? “W” kept feeding the pig, or should I say Cheeney? Remember how Westmorland almost took down the country with his advice to LBJ. You remember “W” and subsequently, Obama, giving Patreaus everything he wanted in unwinnable and unending wars? Remember Stockman saying it was his tax cut trickle down programs that sunk the economy under Reagan, then “W” does the exact same thing? “W” left office in January 2009, with a country posting a budget deficit of 1.43 trillion dollars! Hew came into office with a 200 billion dollar surplus. He flushed the economy by 1.63 trillion dollars. Trickle down and tax cuts were proven again they don’t work. Under “W” the economy contracted 9% in his eight years. The country was losing 800,000 jobs per year under Bush. Bush did get TARP passed in the final weeks of his term, that was a good move gone bad. It was a three page document with no forms of accountablity written in to it. Enter Barack Obama.

With President Obama, we got a return to intelligence to the White House, filling the total intelectual void from the previous eight years. With Obama, we got a return to hope and optimism. Like Clinton’s first term, the new President perhaps attacked issues in the wrong priority. It cost him. This poor White House management opened the doors for the whackos on the right, the Tea-Baggers, etc. The stimulus bill has worked. Most economists agree without it we would have suffered a worse financial fate. The Health Care reform Bill actually reduces the deficit by 100 billion in the first ten years and over a trillion dollars by the end of 2 decades. A win-win for the country.

The right-wing is rearing it’s ugly head all over the place in the country now. Remember the Civil Rights Act and Voter’s Rights Act from the years of LBJ’s Great Society? Now we have several renegade John Bircher-type governors trying to repael these laws in their respective states. There are many states that have already passed discriminatory marrige laws, barring some couples from getting married. We are returning to the days of Jim Crow, forcing aliens to carry their documents with them at all times. The conservatives are continuing their ongoing war against the middle class and poor. The country now has the largest descrepency in income in its history. The top 2% owns over 80% of the country’s wealth. The gap is widening. The US if it continues on this path is fast becoming the clone of any third world state.

These are desperate and discouraging times in our country. The compassion has gone. It seems its becoming a nation of all being in it for themselves. Now,, that might be a survivor mechanism but, it’s a concept which must be dealt with. The old saying of history for warns future, and if lessons aren’t learned from history, the same things happen again. It seems to be the contemporary way in America. Thanks for your read today, and I do look forward to your comments.
Cam Obert

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