Too much infighting, not enough action

Two weeks in a row, I was taken to task on these pages. First, by publisher Bill Forhan and then by guest columnist William Slusher. I tell myself I should get used to it; a liberal in eastern Washington is a fish out of water. Then again, I’m also a liberal who weathered the conservative stronghold of Utah. You may as well be a libertarian in Seattle.

I appreciate Slusher’s cool head and I agree that the best solutions for America aren’t conservative or liberal. Forhan touched on it, but Slusher emphasized the dialectic method, the thesis countered by an antithesis and the synthesis that follows, are what moves us forward.

In the process, it’s important, however to base arguments in agreed facts.

Forhan points to the Democrat’s in Olympia who haven’t funded state pensions adequately. As for current and the most recent budget cycles, he’s right – Republicans haven’t had much of a voice. But the problem wasn’t created overnight; most issues stretch back decades into periods of brief Republican control of the Legislature. While today it’s the Democrats who are delaying the answer to a tough issue, both parties are to blame for getting to this point.

As for the raiding the “Social Security trust fund,” it has no cash. It never did. There’s no fund to be raided and either party is rolling out a tired argument when they bring this up. The way the system currently works, payroll taxes generate more money than what Social Security pays out. The Social Security Administration takes the surplus revenue and buys federal bonds. They go in a file cabinet, the actual cash goes into the federal general fund. It’s estimated that as early as 2017, the situation will reverse, at which point the Social Security Administration will start cashing in bonds. Eventually the system may run out of funding, unless something changes.

Solutions aside, that’s the way the system works. Democrats are doing it today. Republicans did it before them and Democrats before that. It’s not a partisan issue; it’s the way the system was designed.

While I can agree with Forhan on some points, the bulk of his op-ed piece two weeks ago was a long drive on a dead-end street. His analysis of average disposable income compared to gross domestic product. However, the value of the analysis is questionable.

Disposable income also fails to take into account housing, transportation, food, medical, utilities or any other costs. Each of those varies from one country to another, indeed from one community to another. Furthermore, in countries with universal, single-payer health care, medical costs come out largely as taxes. I think what Forhan was looking for was discretionary income, which is what a worker has left after taxes and after paying necessary costs. That number is even harder to come by and it would waste ink to even attempt an analysis here.

He further compounds the folly in his argument by inventing his Billdex, which takes a rarely reported figure with little value and divides it by the per capita gross domestic product. The outcome: a statistical nightmare.

What’s interesting is that his standard of living argument relies wholly on finances. Yet standard of living is much more complex than the dollar amount on the average worker’s paycheck.

Forhan touched on the 20 percent of Americans who are functionally illiterate, calling it “a seemingly great endorsement of our public education system.” I agree. We’re far behind much of the industrialized world on education. If there’s anything that came out of No Child Left Behind, it’s a clearer understanding of the failures of our public education system.

Debates about public education far too often center around budgets and compensation levels. Throwing money at schools doesn’t always make them better, no matter how under- or over-funded they are. Frequent and meaningful measurements coupled with practical application of data to reach higher standards is the right solution, whether accomplished in traditional public, charter or private schools.

That’s the kind of discussion we should be having in this country.

Instead, we’re stuck on issues like Wall Street reform. Let’s settle the blame game: both Dems and the GOP are to blame. Both parties softened regulation and allowed chaos into the financial sector. Prior to the Great Depression, there was a major banking crisis about once a decade in this country. Regulations of the 1930s prevented financial meltdown for half a century.

Somehow the country was shocked at the savings and loan crisis after deregulating the S&L industry in the early ’80s. Deregulation in the ’90s blurred the line between commercial banks and investment banks. Again, we were shocked by the banking crisis that resulted.

It’s true of just about every problem out there. Both parties broke it.

There have been strides on several fronts. At the end of 2008, we were shedding more than 700,000 jobs a month. That’s changed and we have finally seen a couple months of job growth this year, however small a consolation to this country’s unemployed. The bailout worked and most of the money is being returned to the government.

However, there are still real problems out there, like an ever-growing deficit, environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico due to failed bureaucracies, climate change, entitlement program reforms and more.

Last week’s elections underscored an anti-incumbency sentiment that is likely to affect what was already anticipated as a tough election for Democrats. Regardless of the outcome in November, the question for whoever governs is this: What are you going to do to fix it? Put aside the politics and come up with a solution. Conservatives and liberals alike can forget about moving forward with either agenda unless they can give Americans a real, honest, common sense answer.