Saturday, August 6, 2011

Having it Both Ways in America

In case you hadn't noticed recently, we have a bi-polar political atmosphere in America. For far too long we have wanted to have it both ways -- entitlements and fiscal restraint. Whenever an impasse over those two polar extremes has presented itself, the two parties have compromised.

Now it seems we have compromised ourselves into a box canyon with nowhere to go. Here's the full S&P analysis for your reading pleasure. Having rejected the guidance of the rating agencies, S&P this week announced the jig is up. For the first time in the history of credit ratings, America has fallen from atop its perch as a AAA credit risk. What follows are the highlights from yesterday's S&P report on their decision to lower the long-term rating to AA+, while the short-term rating is even worse at A-1+:

· We have lowered our long-term sovereign credit rating on the United
States of America to 'AA+' from 'AAA' and affirmed the 'A-1+' short-term
· We have also removed both the short- and long-term ratings from
CreditWatch negative.
· The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan
that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of
what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's
medium-term debt dynamics.
· More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness,
stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political
institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic
challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a
negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
· Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the
gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us
pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be
able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal
consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any
time soon.
· The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the
long-term rating to 'AA' within the next two years if we see that less
reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new
fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government
debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case. (Emphasis mine).

Last week, the American people rendered their own verdict in a recent NYT public opinion poll that overwhelmingly (82%) rejected Congress and its handling of the people's business over the debt crisis. That's a new high for disapproval ratings of a Congress. We seem to be breaking new ground in America every day now, and it's not exactly comforting familiar territory we are claiming.

In short, the two-party system in politics must be declared a failure.

There are those who maintain a split government is what the American people prefer, electing some Republicans here, some Democrats there, and putting an occupant of the White House in place to try to bring peace between the warring factions. As S&P notes in their report:

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as
America's governance and policymaking 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.
Our opinion is that elected officials remain wary of tackling the
structural issues required to effectively address the rising U.S. public debt
burden in a manner consistent with a 'AAA' rating and with 'AAA' rated
sovereign peers (see Sovereign Government Rating Methodology and Assumptions,"June 30, 2011, especially Paragraphs 36-41). In our view, the difficulty in framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government's ability tomanage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to
achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth in an era of fiscalstringency and private-sector deleveraging (ibid). A new political consensus might (or might not) emerge after the 2012 elections, but we believe that by then, the government debt burden will likely be higher, the needed medium-term fiscal adjustment potentially greater, and the inflection point on the U.S. population's demographics and other age-related spending drivers closer at hand (see "Global Aging 2011: In The U.S., Going Gray Will Likely Cost Even More Green, Now," June 21, 2011). (Emphasis mine).

Now, one may argue this report is from S&P, the same corrupt rating agency that gave us AAA on securitized sub-prime mortgage debt instruments that put us in this debacle in the first place. They would say S&P sold their credibility for a mess of pottage, and how dare they come forward now with this negative assessment of U.S. creditworthiness.

"The Enemy Is Us"

However, I would argue that any rational and open-minded individual with half a brain in his or her head, regardless of which party label you wear, would come to precisely the same conclusions stated above by S&P. As part of the retiring, graying, aging population known as the "baby boomers," but speaking strictly for myself alone, I echo the sentiments and embrace S&P's conclusions. "We have seen the enemy, and it is us."

At a time when the bubble in an aging population is expanding and pushing its way through the shrinking access to cradle-to-grave-government-welfare knothole, the number paying into our entitlement programs is decreasing, putting additional strains on the system. Add that demographic reality to a dysfunctional two-party political family and you have the perfect storm for destruction of the free market economy (if we ever truly had one).

Entitlement reform of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is relatively simple now, but as this last round of discussions between the bi-polar political class demonstrated, they seem to lack the political willpower to get the job done we elected them to do. Why? Because there is a persistent belief among politicians that to get re-elected they must continue to dole out the candy from the government in order to win favor among the electorate in order to get re-elected. If allowed to perpetuate, this is a formula for disaster.

Even in the wake of negative polling data and now a public reprimand for our "political brinksmanship," the professional politicos do not seem to be deterred in their entrenched positions. They stand in their respective ideological corners of the ring and shout at each other, then occasionally the sparring escalates to verbal abuse, but then they "make nice" for a season, crown their bickering with yet another "compromise" hailed in language like, "It isn't a perfect bill, but we've done the best we could under the circumstances."

Three Ideas to Save America

So what are the options going forward? I would suggest three things:

1. Elect people to represent us who are apolitical who refuse to pledge allegiance to a political party. In the short term, they may have to adopt a banner of one or the other party to get on the ticket (we've seen how impotent third-party candidates can be). However, it is my growing opinion the more they lean libertarian, the more acceptable they will be in the ensuing years ahead. Think how radical Ron Paul, for example, sounded in  the 2008 election cycle, and witness how prophetic his predictions have proven to be. Yes, we are a house divided, in truth we have been since our inception, but we must now reinvent ourselves to survive as a nation. I would define "reinvent" as "unite" under the banner of freedom and throw off the tyranny of a government that refuses to be responsive to the wishes of the governed.

2. Get involved in the political arena to the degree we are able, and don't shrink from participation or voicing your opinion to change things from the toxic status quo. Standing under an ideological banner represented by our two political parties in America and yelling from across the ring at each other is no longer productive or useful (if it ever was). This will require intelligence, self-directed philosophical anchoring, independence and a willingness to not count the costs personally. All that is required is to do what is right for America without regard to what may be politically expedient.

3. Re-enthrone God as the center of your universe if you haven't already. Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), raised eyebrows by announcing a day of fasting and prayer in Texas "for a nation in peril." And someone tell me why that would be thought to be a radical idea? We have paid allegiance to our elected representatives, the parties they have represented and the ideologies they purport for far too long. The net result has been near-catastrophic, but it is not too late. If there are any lessons we can learn from history, it is that when the people of this land have gotten themselves into a dicey place, they have always turned to God with their allegiance and they have been delivered when they have turned to Him.

So our future as America looms before us and the foreboding decisions are brooding over us, awaiting our collective decisions. We are still free to choose.

A New Path in 2012, or the Same ol', Same ol'?

Will we do something different as a nation in 2012, throw off the yoke of a stifling class of politicians who have done little more than try to perpetuate their electability, or will we embrace a new direction and vote for those who will administer the distasteful but healing tonic of truth and demand better of themselves and us as a nation?

We have miles to go as a nation before we sleep, and today we stand at a crossroads. These are only some of the questions begging for an answer:
  • Will we continue to opt for divided government ensuring more gridlock, or will we give one party the reins to Congress and the White House? Who is trustworthy?
  • Will we pick between needed fiscal restraint and more unsustainable debt, or continue to compromise on a path down the middle leading nowhere but into oblivion? 
  • Will we continue to uphold a two-party system of government, or will a third party, CAN a third party emerge behind which all freedom-loving people can unite and throw off the false traditions of two-party rule that have gradually overtaken us as a stealthy thief in the night? 
  • Can anyone truly believe we can continue to have it both ways with an expanding dose of progressive government designed to save everyone with a domestic social safety net (one in seven Americans is now on food stamps), and a commensurate offsetting dose of government devoted to expanding the military-industrial complex designed to spread democracy everywhere?
  • While both parties have laudable goals, can we chart a new direction or have we lost our will to do do something different? 
  • Will we ever be able to reclaim the American dream through easy credit at low rates and a stable, predictable store of value in home equity, or will we become a nation of renters? 
  • How long will it take for us to put America back on a stable economic footing? (Most plans being put forward today are operating on a ten-year assumption for achieving a balanced federal budget.) 
  • Where will we find people to represent us who can shun the party labels and ideologies to get the job done in framing our future?
This much is certain in my mind -- we stand on firm ground only when we worship the God of Israel. All other gods before us are impotent and cannot save us now.

Nothing to Fear

I raise my voice, in summary, to the youth of this country, to believing members of churches everywhere, and to my own children and grandchildren. There is nothing to fear. Live your lives, make your plans for the future in the constant hope of your deliverance. You do have a future. . . the path leads toward ZION, and the journey has just begun. Click the link and discover for yourselves where we are going.

With all the God-given promises and prophecies before you, do not let yourselves be stampeded by the fears and the panic of the crowds about you. Here's a small sample:

"And all the nations that fight against Zion, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision; yea, it shall be unto them, even as unto a hungry man which dreameth and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty; or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite; yea, even so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion." (2 Nephi 27:3).

I sense fear and doubts sweeping over the hearts and entering into the minds of good people. Don't ever forget who propagates fear at its roots. They are the minions of Satan who would embroil us in wars and foreign intrigues, against which we have been warned by our founders. They are those who would tell you without government programs and stimulus and profligate deficits and debt, we cannot be safe and secure. They would tell you the government has to rescue everyone, even those who are deemed "too big to fail."

Well, poppycock.

We must be determined to throw off the wisdom of men in the days that lie ahead. We must not act as though subjugation by a foreign enemy is inevitable. Or that debt will swamp our ship of state. Those are false choices, and they are not inevitable. That day will come only if we reach a "fulness of iniquity." I still believe that finality is in the "if" column, not the "when" column. No matter how dark or dreary the path ahead may appear, America still has a future. Our future, however, is not threatened so much by foreign enemies as it seems to be with decay from within. Whether Communist-inspired or not, the effects seem to be more than coincidental.

We must not fail to take on the horrors of evil as they become manifested. It is faith and righteousness this nation now stands in need of, not more bristling armaments and unaffordable social entitlement programs to defend us and our allies abroad and "save" us here at home in supposed comfort and ease through government-mandated redistribution of our wealth with more entitlements. We have reached the tipping point on who we will become, but our fate and doom is NOT cast in stone just yet. We can take counsel from our past instead of our fears of the future.

Columbus and Settlement of America

A thousand years after the Nephites were destroyed, Columbus came. He was among the first to become aware of its existence. For a hundred years thereafter the Lamanites were thrashed by the invading Spanish conquistadors, and were stagnated in a state of wickedness from which they never emerged after they finally destroyed the Nephites. Truly, the scriptures were fulfilled -- they did "afflict the seed of Lehi." (2 Nephi 10:18). The visions and prophecies of Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob were all fulfilled.

Then in the seventeenth century, the English, the French and others began settling the sprawling uncharted land of America. The day of the Gentiles began. The sad history of our nation proved to be yet another era of fulfillment as the scattering of the Lamanites ensued. Those same ancient prophets saw and predicted it, a scattering which may not yet be fully finished as we witness undocumented immigrants spilling over our borders continuously today to occupy America. (1 Nephi 15:17).

The earliest Gentile settlers came to escape religious persecution. So why in America of all places would a Governor of Texas today be thought somehow strange for inviting (not commanding) his people to offer up their fasting and prayers? We forget so easily that to escape the persecutions of the Old World, our forefathers came here to the New World, and they were a hodge-podge of religious Christians.

Our records find the Puritans in New England, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Catholics in Maryland, the Huguenots in Virginia and the Carolinas, the Lutherans in Georgia and other Gentile colonies. They came because they believed they could prosper in this "chosen land of the Lord." For them the land was a "consecrated" land. They envisioned liberty, freedom and they forged the future together while retaining the uniqueness of their respective heritages, customs and cultures.

They prospered financially, they grew religiously, but they went farthest and fastest in the development of their political doctrines. Looking back, one sees the unseen power of God guiding them year by year, harvest by harvest, factory by factory, home by home. They planned, they worked tirelessly, and what was their goal? To make this country exactly what Jacob had said it was to be, "a land of liberty unto the Gentiles." (2 Nephi 10:11).

God Himself was moving the minds and souls of those whom Lehi said would be "led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord," (2 Nephi 1:6), moving them toward a future of unrestrained spiritual and material prosperity.

The Colonies

The stirrings within our forefathers in the original thirteen colonies should capture the imagination of every young person in America today. But I fear we have forsaken history and they may not be taught without intervention from those of us who are older. Our earliest inhabitants were caught up in the French and Indian wars. George Washington had his first lessons in commanding men in battle, and for the most part he was so miserable as a tactic commander he felt completely inadequate when asked to command the Continental Army later.

The purpose of those early skirmishes on this land of freedom were for motives our European mother countries espoused and had nothing to do with emerging American thinking. The wisdom of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would evolve based upon these formative experiences. They believed we had no business mixing in European affairs. If only we could believe it today, but the wickedness came to our doorstep in Pearl Harbor and New York, and since 9/11, I fear our national psyche has been altered forever.

Our forefathers were "brought out" by the hand of God to forge a better path, inherit a far brighter destiny. They were separated from the Old World to build a new and mighty nation together, to become united in a land of liberty. They truly did consecrate the land to this purpose.
President J. Reuben Clark

President J. Reuben Clark, long accused of being a pacifist in his teachings and writings, observed in 1940, "How vain for us to join with those against whom we are to be fortified, with those who shall perish if they fight against us." He warned against the foreign intrigues of World War II, until America's involvement became inevitable and unavoidable when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We have found ample justifications for war ever since, most recently in that war in Libya -- you know, the one in which we would only be involved for a matter of "days not weeks." We continue to fight three foreign wars against almost invisible enemies. We killed Osama bin Laden, but his expressed goal to destroy us lives on in the jihad.

The War of Independence

Our ancestors claimed this land by the shedding of their own blood. With the aid of France, they fought and won the War of Independence from Great Britain against all odds. When we consult the scriptural accounts, there is little doubt Nephi foretold what he saw in a futuristic vision. We were "delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations." (1 Nephi 13:19). Note that word "delivered." It repeats again and again in The Book of Mormon. This prophecy was to have a more complete fulfillment later, but God was moving us toward our ordained destiny as a nation, toward unnumbered blessings.

George Washington and King George

George Washington
Prophetic fulfillment continued at the end of the Revolutionary War. Once again, Jacob: "There shall be no kings upon this land." (2 Nephi 10:11). All Washington had to do was reach out and take it if he desired -- the grateful nation would have gladly crowned him King of America. In his wisdom, however, Washington's desire was to return to his beloved Mount Vernon, now wasted in disrepair and neglect because of his long and devoted service to his fellowmen. But he was denied his return to Mount Vernon, serving another eight years as the first and only president to be elected unanimously in the electoral college. Without knowing of Jacob's prophecy, however, he fulfilled it to the letter and established a precedent that there should be no kings here. He retired after two terms as president, not wanting to die in office, fearing that if he did succession to his office as president would be something other than intended by the founders.

God had seemingly pushed us forward one more vital step toward our our collective destiny. The blessing for which we seldom express adequate gratitude -- from that early formative time until now kings and emperors, potentates and dictators have never prospered on this land.

The Constitution

Recognizing the inadequacy to govern thirteen independent Colonies, the representatives of the people voluntarily came together "to form a more perfect union," as they put it.

We had won our freedom from Great Britain, but our ancestors were near losing it in the aftermath. Fragility was everywhere. The Constitutional Convention met and out of that collaboration, that glorious compromise,  came our God-inspired Constitution. Gladstone would later declare it to be "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."

The Lord Himself bore witness of its origins: "I established the Constitution of this land by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose." Then He added meaningfully in reference to how it was obtained, "and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood." (D&C 101:80). Freedom is NEVER free.

The Lord declared the purpose of this Constitution when He said that it "should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh." (D&C 101:77). It thus became a document for a nation to be governed, and to provide a beacon of hope to all living flesh on earth.

What was accomplished in those early formative times was the setting up of a government under the guidance of God Himself, a government that made this land the kind of land Lehi and his son Jacob had foreseen and prophesied about. It was "a land of liberty."

Once again, the Lord had moved us forward towards our destiny. He had bestowed upon us another blessing. And once again our own actions have put that vision at risk and opened the doors to our self-inflicted peril if we fail now to remember our history.

What was this glorious plan of the Lord to look like in practice, this "glorious banner" established by the hands of wise men whom He had raised up for this very purpose? Consider with me what we received:

Three Branches of Government

It gave us, for perhaps the first time in all history, a republic with the three basic divisions of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial, mutually and completely independent the one from the other, under which it is not possible for any branch of government legally to set up a system by which that branch can first conceive what it wants to do, then make the law ordering its doing, and then itself, judge its own enforcement of its own law, a system that has always brought extortion, oppression, intimidation, tyranny, despotism, a system that every dictator has employed and must employ. May we never unravel those underpinnings.

Benjamin Franklin
And when it was done, a questioner asked Benjamin Franklin, the first American, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy?” To which Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

In the sweltering heat of the negotiations recently concluded in Washington, Franklin's response still resonates. We know we can keep our Republic, the question looms. . . Will we?

No longer can we have it both ways.

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