Putting the ‘Con’ in Congress – How Some Political Leaders are Running the Greatest Ponzi Scheme Ever

As our country slides into financial hell trapped in a debt-laden hand basket, politicians continue to hide deficit, debt, jobs, and many other problems from us by using scare, misleading and seduction tactics to avoid telling us the whole truth. Certainly they have reasons to con us since it’s these same politicians who have caused our problems in the first place. Politicians can only achieve their top priorities of being reelected and gaining party power by continuing to use sleight of hand tricks that make Bernie Madoff and Charles Ponzi seem like saints. Lets look at our “politicians’ con tricks of the trade,” and how they are being used on our precarious financial problems. There are several commonly used “political con tricks.” Some are obvious, some are subtler, and many use numbers and “facts” that are misleading.

The top con is “tell them what they want to hear.” This con is very effective because optimism always trumps pessimism independent of the truth. We like positive or optimistic information and, unless the message is obviously untrue, we tend to like and believe the person who delivers the message. Career politicians listen carefully to their constituents and financial supporters so they can formulate their “tell them what they want to hear” speeches — the whole story or even the truth is seldom a priority in these speeches. Politicians know we are generally too busy with family, jobs, and simply keeping our heads above water to spend much time researching the facts and they know other cons can be used to provide cover for any “confusing discrepancies.”

What have our political leaders’ been telling us that we wanted to hear? Both parties are implying there will be more funding for education, research, job creation and retention, and to help the less fortunate. Each party has a “no” to garner votes from their constituents’ — no increases in taxes and no reductions in our governments’ “promises” like pensions and Medicare. Both parties know voters are frustrated with how politicians do business so they suggest they will make our government more transparent, and change Congress’ operational rules (lobbyist, vote buying, etc.), and make perks more consistent with ours.

So what have our political leaders not been telling us? Have you heard any of the following discussed? There is no significant new source of money to pay for what “we want to hear.” The annual increases in revenues by dropping the Bush tax cuts for the “rich” is about $75 billion, less than 5% of the 2011 deficit. The cost of the two ongoing wars since 911 (to date) is less than the 2011 deficit. Higher taxes on everyone or businesses will slow the economy and costs jobs. The deficit proposals by both political parties fail to reduce the deficit to even one-half of the estimated annual deficits; thus, our $15 trillion debt will continue to rise by more than $500 billion per year. The debt and unfunded liabilities accumulated by our federal, state and local governments is well over $100,000 (and may be as high as $400,000), for each man, woman, and child, (a minimum of $400,000 per family of four) and is growing. This example demonstrates how the “tell them what they want to hear” con works for Congress and the Administration.

While this top con is very powerful, others too are used either as a stand-alone con or in support of the top con. Some obvious cons include:

  • Blame game” where scapegoats are used to take the blame for politicians’ failure to provide adequate laws or oversight, or to demonize some person or group. Greedy lenders and financiers were blamed for the housing meltdown even though Congress developed the governing process and failed to oversee it. Other financial problems are still being blamed on the previous administration.
  • Wedge game” where politicians seek to divide us into ”us” verses “them” groups, such as rich verses poor, main street verses Wall Street, race verses race, and many others. Wall Street, lenders, the wealthy and businesses all have been pitted against main street.
  • Isn’t it awful game” where one or more badly mistreated individuals — that deserve our sympathies — testify before congress or news media, and the politicians suggest these individuals are typical. The “accused” are seldom allowed to defend themselves. Uninsured unhealthy individuals were used to drive health care changes. Housing losses were used to drive significant controls on banks but so far have only exasperated the lending process.

More subtle and misleading cons include:

  • Free money game” where unearned money is given to one group that some other group is to provide, such as the government, the “rich,” and businesses. Free services or money provided to garner votes is common. The thousands of waivers the Obama Administration has provided for the new Health Care Bill and the corporate and union bailouts are examples.
  • Kick the can games” where costs or solutions are to be provided later by future generations or workers, or for example, when a federal mandate requires states to provide all or part of the funding. The Health Care Bill is an example.
  • Lawyer adversary truth game” where one lawyer tells only those truths and perhaps a few lies to protect his client, and it is up to the opposing lawyer to tell only those truths, expose lies, and tell his own lies as required to protect his client. The whole truth is seldom revealed. Most politicians are lawyers.
  • Religious twists games” where politicians play on our beliefs to be charitable to the needy, and to feel guilty if we sin. Politicians’ use these tricks to covet and steal what others have earned, and use the money to garner votes for themselves and their party. Again the Health Care Bill is a good example, as we often heard “it is the right thing to do.”
  • Inflation and progressive taxation (cash cow) game” where wage increases result in progressive tax bracket jumps so individuals pay a higher percentage of their wages in taxes. Inflation over the last fifty years has increased wages on average fifty percent per decade making this a cash cow for politicians.

All of these tricks work well for politicians but are not in the best long-term interest of “we the people” or our country. Our very survival depends upon politicians working problems for us rather than for their reelection and party power gain. There is a long list of actions we can take to force the changes we need. For example, one way is to demand debt-ceiling increases be no more than $500 billion at a time. This limit would force multiple Congressional debates and votes per year thereby forcing politicians — other than when running for reelection — to focus on our fiscal problems, minimize the use of scare or other tactics, and increasing citizen knowledge through the debate process. We need to remember knowledge is our best weapon and ballots are our bullets. When we hear politicians using tricks to hide debt and other problems, we need to call them on it and vote accordingly. Only by a threat or actually booting them out will we get the changes we need.

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About

Dr. Cleland’s Ph.D. is from Purdue University where he specialized in complex systems theory. His technical training and experiences includes analyses of many types of systems, involvement with numerous federal, state, and local agencies, and management of a broad set of set of professionals, services, and trades people. He has managed scientists, engineers, policemen, firefighters, environment, health, safety and emergency planning experts, building trades and maintenance crafts personnel, and others.

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