Sunday, May 8, 2016

How to Survive An Oppressive Political Environment

Politics is a dangerous game in America. The presidential race is a battle of extremes on the right and left. The U.S. economy appears to be slowing down. US GDP Growth was a meager 0.5% growth in first quarter 2016 and was only 1.4% in fourth quarter 2015. Many people have lost jobs and never gained full employment after the economic crisis of 2008-2009. State governments are struggling to balance their budgets. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback's tax breaks for businesses is creating higher budget deficits. One day I was so frustrated with state cuts to child care, I had to get on my bicycle and ride out my anger. While on that bike ride, I examined my philosophy toward politics. To better cope with the mess here, I put together a coping philosophy. Here it is:

World Citizen
I consider myself first and foremost a citizen of the world. I just happen to live in Kansas. When I’m not happy with Kansas, I protest, I call my legislator, I write letters and I post my thoughts on The Internet. But after doing all of that to fight for justice, I leave. I get out of Dodge. I go somewhere. Anywhere to connect with nature and the larger world around us. I have taken my family to Puerto Rico, France, Scotland, England, Colorado, Nebraska and  Minnesota. I once lived in on an island in Greece in my single days. I worked in Yellowstone National Park in 1984 and 1982. I am at heart a “vagabond soul” having met the beautiful stranger a time or two, connecting at train stations, bars and beaches around the world.

When I can't leave Kansas, I remain connected to friends and colleagues around the Globe through Facebook and Seeking Alpha. These ties are important because they provide a global culture to my living as opposed to a Kansas culture only.  I have friends in Greece, France, Israel, Canada, Puerto Rico, Chicago, New York and San Francisco and all over the United States.

I retreat to nature. This is a critical part of my coping system. I put my hands in the dirt and plant flowers. I clean the bird bath, and watch eagerly the bluejay that bathes in the fresh water. I get lost in the sound of a Carolina Wren with its lyrical song, so unique that it sounds mysteriously unlike anything ever produced by a human being. I ride my bicycle to the river, and watch it flow. I connect with like minded friends at the bar. I'll buy you a beer, tell me your story.

Politics of Trickle Down
Having lived in Kansas for 17 years, Nebraska 19 years and Iowa for 16 years, I have seen a variety of city and state political environments. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback four years ago eliminated taxes on 330,000 businesses while cutting services to the poor and middle class. The idea was the business owners would re-invest their tax savings into their businesses and create more jobs and ultimately more state revenue. But this did not work. To make up for losses, Kansas raised the state sales tax from 6.15% to 6.5%, plus raised cigarette taxes.

Increasing sales tax is tougher on the poor than the rich or middle class. The poor pay sales tax on food and drugs in Kansas but don't have to in other states like Nebraska, where food and drugs are exempt from state sales tax. Topeka's total sales tax is now 9.15%, up nearly two percentage points since I moved to Kansas.

Brownback’s administration has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from the the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Brownback has delayed his promises for completion of a four-lane highway on  US-69 because of the budget crisis in Topeka. Brownback in April delayed payment of $93 million to the KPERs pension and has made multiple cuts to education. 

While the U.S. economy was modestly growing since 2009, many states have prospered with the help of strong state governments. Minnesota, Nebraska and Colorado are doing well. Nebraska ended its last fiscal year with a surplus of money and it has among the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.5% while Kansas unemployment rate is 4.3%.

If Kansas can't balance its budget during "good" times when U.S. Gross Domestic Product is growing and unemployment is going down, then it will do much worse when there is a recession. And a recession is not out of the question. I think we could see a recession in the United States this year. Pity the state governments that are broke. They will get worse. I want the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to admit to making a mistake with their tax policy and reversing the exemption of tax on limited liability companies in Kansas. This would generate over $250 million in needed tax revenue. Several businesses who benefit from the exemption testified the exemption should be eliminated to help balance the Kansas budget. Yet the Legislature and Brownback do not have enough courage and wisdom to reverse their mistake. Brownback has too much pride to admit he made a mistake.

This brings me back to my original thesis. How do we cope with a political environment that is upsetting? We participate. We get involved. We vote. I will vote in the November general election. I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. I will not vote for Donald Trump. He is not fit to be president. I don't like Hillary much but she is certainly more skilled than Trump. My favorite is Bernie Sanders but it looks like Hillary may have him beat. I wonder if the two will join together if either one wins the White House?

I vote in every election. This gives me a right to bitch. I did not vote for Sam Brownback. At least my neighbor admits he made a mistake when he cast a vote for Brownback. It may take multiple years to reverse the damage done by Brownback. But my inner soul will carry on as a citizen of the world, a lover of nature, a man who cherishes connecting with family and friends around the world.

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