Fiscal Cliff Notes

On shopping local, credit card debt, and cash mobs.

Posted by Andria K. Brown on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 8:37 PM

This past weekend, I was mobbed in Cooper-Young. Luckily, I was with about a dozen other women, and the mob consisted of eager holiday shoppers looking to buy some stuff we’d made. As part of the Memphis Women’s Creative Collective, I was a beneficiary of the second-ever Memphis Cash Mob, the local outlet of a national effort to ambush small businesses (with their blessing) with a scheduled burst of paying customers. It’s a deeply simple concept, and so far, very successful. I was a mobber the first time and a mobbee the second, and on both occasions, I was surrounded by friendly Memphians with open wallets.

The whole “shop local” movement has gained traction over the last few years, as the community-related effects of Wal-Martization have set in and even large chains like Borders haven’t been able to fight their online counterparts. I have to make a confession, though: I’m terrible at shopping locally. I want to, I try to, but when it comes right down to it, I usually can’t afford to. I shop at my desk or on my couch, during random off-hour pockets of time, and I hold “50-percent-off-retail” as a standard for what I’m willing to pay.


By all appearances, I should be willing and able to make the small and rewarding sacrifices required to shop in my own community, but the reality is, I’m on my own fiscal cliff, and have been teetering on its edge for four years now. That’s when, as a recovering small business owner (oh, the irony), I began a debt consolidation program that has redirected a significant portion of my paycheck toward the mountain of credit card debt I built while trying to keep my store above water. For 50 months now, the equivalent of a mortgage payment, or a week in a 2-bedroom Gulf Shores condo, or semester’s tuition for one course at the University of Memphis, has been automatically withdrawn from my checking account. Poof! Gone! Worst magic ever!

It’s been happening for so long now that I barely think about it, but now that the end is in sight (April, if I’m doing the math right … which clearly may not be the case), I’ve started pondering what life will be like when that sturdy sum stays put each month. No more end-of-the-pay-cycle panic, no more due-date juggling, and, Maude help me, no more credit card balances. Ever.

I’m no economist (I mentioned that I kept a business afloat on personal credit cards, right?), but I start feeling a little like one when all the current budgetary rhetoric flies around because the financial mess we’re in as a country feels a little too familiar. Simply put, we overspent, from the top on down. No matter how noble or frivolous the intent, the money’s gone either way. And it wasn’t just The Administration. We helped. We sent in those no-interest-rate credit card applications and applied for mortgages that seemed a little too good to be true because, well, they were. Welcome to my cliff, everybody. Pull up a chair. And don’t look down.

The problem with the national parallel is that going through a serious buckle-down period as a country may not resolve anything, because we can’t guarantee that everyone will hold to their part of the deal and stop making the mistakes that caused these issues in the first place. I have no problem making major, long-term sacrifices if I know I’m coming out better on the other side.

My neighbors, however, are giving me hope. Seeing hundreds of people forgo the mall – at least for an afternoon – and spend money in their own communities, even though it’s a little less convenient (sorry about the downpour, people who parked two blocks away!) is reassuring. I think it’s safe to say that Memphis doesn’t tend to be at the forefront of many trends, so there’s good reason to believe that this mentality is already catching on in other metro areas. And if a growing number of people are buying into the idea that paying a little more, working a little harder, and supporting our own is worth the trouble, we just may be able to step back from the cliff.

Comments (74)

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Too many people are in the same boat. This Christmas, about 50% of my shopping has been online. I've bought some local - Consignment Music, Tripp's Ham - but most of my Christmas money has gone to Msssrs. Macy, Penney, and Skymall.

BTW, personal finances and national finances are not merely a difference of scale. They don't work the same way at all. During a recession, reducing your spending is a wise decision. But when everybody reduces their spending, that makes the recession worse. When the government also tightens its belt, you get sustained economic ruination. Such backwards thinking (spending our way to prosperity) offends our sensibilities. So does quantum mechanics. E pur si muove.

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Posted by Jeff on 12/12/2012 at 8:47 AM

Oh come on Jeff, what good possibly came from WPA programs during the Great Depression?

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Posted by mad_merc on 12/12/2012 at 9:05 AM

Merc, as I'm sure you know, the WPA program's biggest error was in not providing for the middlemen and skimmers. It was direct employment by the government, and that was FDR socialism, which is evil. What they should have done was what Obama has proposed - infrastructure banks. That's how government spending is done, that's how bipartisanship is done, because what's the point if you can't skim 30 or so off the top for administraition costs before the first yard of concrete is poured? I mean, seriously.

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Posted by Jeff on 12/12/2012 at 9:13 AM


Hear! Hear!

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/12/2012 at 9:35 AM

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Posted by Smitty Patterson on 12/12/2012 at 9:53 AM

Speaking of shopping local, I completely forgot about all the Bottom Dollar gift cards I purchased from Smitty's back in July. Everyone at the office is getting one.

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Posted by Jeff on 12/12/2012 at 11:11 AM

Do I qualify for a Bottom Dollar card for that excellent set up I gave you?

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Posted by mad_merc on 12/12/2012 at 12:03 PM

Indeed you do, Merc. If you go before Christmas, I suggest the Nordic Pine scent. Nothing like the smell of the wind blowing through the Christmas trees.

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Posted by Jeff on 12/12/2012 at 2:03 PM


You can't spend your way to prosperity, and you can't reduce your way to prosperity. BOTH have been proven.

As far as recessions go, we have to understand they are just a part of the economic cycle. We get in trouble as a nation, and really as a world, when we try to do too much to combat them. When we try to combat them, we either delay the inevitable, or we make the highs extra high and the future lows extra low.

Ideally, if the government was working at its best, it would spend a little bit more during a recession, and then it would cut spending during a growth period. Instead, we spend our way through recessions and those programs never go away. Then the next recession comes and we have to spend more. Then the next comes and we have to spend more.

By the way, on the fiscal cliff, Tennessee's own Bob Corker was a voice of reason the other day. He was recommending the Repulicans, his party, go ahead and allow a tax bill to pass that holds the bottom 98% cuts where they are, allowing the Top 2% taxes to increase. It's not what his party wants to do, but it's something that's going to be done anyway. His point was that if they will let that go, they can get on to entitlement spending. As of right now, if we go over the cliff, the Republicans stand to take most of the blame for not compromising on tax increases for the wealthy.

If the Republicans give in on that but the Democrats refuse to give in on restructuring of entitlement programs, then the blame shifts to the other party. The only way to get to a compromise here is for both sides to give a little. Politically, I don't think the Republicans can afford to fall on the sword of fighting the tax increase on the wealthy. Not only that, but you have Warren Buffett and Fred Smith among others out there telling you that it's OK to increase taxes on the wealthy. Just do it, and then they will force the discussion to shift to entitlements, which also need to be addressed.

There needs to be a combination of increased revenue AND reduced spending.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 12/12/2012 at 2:42 PM

GroveReb your last sentence says it all. Fair taxes for everyone. Reduce government spending including reducing ,cutting, the size of government. That means getting rid of the exorbitant amount of unneeded jobs and departments. The government has never and will never run anything efficiently.

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Posted by clarion on 12/12/2012 at 3:59 PM

I wish you naysayers would name the things that the government does not run properly? I hear all of this talk, but, nobody comes up with any facts.

The federal government is responsible to the people. If the people want to keep certain departments and/or spending, then let it be so. For a minority party, one out of three branches of government to try and decide what is and what is not correct just won't cut it.

Let us cut discretionary spending. We can start with the tax credits, corporate loophoole, corporate giveaways, oil and gas subsidies,, farm subsidies and, of course defense. Let us get them all. You see, because the total of all discretionary spending on direct aid to the poor and low income only makes up 6.4% of the total budget, we couldn't get too far just cutting that.

While we are at it, let's make the feds put the one trillion dollars in IOU's back into the social security trust fund. Take all caps off of the medicare tax and make all income, from whatever source, subject to the FICA Tax.

Defense? We can have a field day with that one. We have enough stealth bombers to destroy the world, enough nuclear carrying submarines to destroy the world, why do we need more at this time? We have the 2 best fighter planes in the sorld and plenty of them, the F-22 and the F16. Why do we need the F-35? We have the most accurate artillery the world has ever known and again, plenty of them, why do we need more. The best battle tank in the world, why more? Why don't we just lay low on the defense budget for another 10 years. It will take other contries longer than that just to catch up.

You people are crazy. If you think that just cutting 6.4% of the budget, cost of all poverty programs, is going to help, have at it.

While we are at it, let us not forget about the biggest giveaway in the individual tax code, the old mortgage interest deduction. Hell, if you can afford to buy a house, you don't need a deduction.

Close down the FDA, the CDC, EPA, Diaster Relief, just close them down, like you say, the government can't run anything right.

Let us just do these things and we will all be fine, prosperous and above all healthy!

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/12/2012 at 6:42 PM

I'm not sure about all of that other spending, and I definitely think we need government spending in a number of areas. Regardless, you can't ignore the fact that social security, Medicaid, and Medicare need restructuring. People are living longer now, and you have the baby boom generation moving into retirement. That means you have more people on top of the longer life span.

Those programs aren't structured to handle the uptick. Either the benefits have to be shifted to adjust the age of qualification, the benefit levels, or something.

That's the kind of entitlement spending I'm talking about. If it isn't addressed, my generation won't have it at all.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 12/12/2012 at 10:25 PM

The old social security and medicare lie again.

Facts; Social Security is a self sustaining program, so is medicare. They are not officially a part of the budget. Sustain it, easy. If the majority of the citizens want to keep it, and by the last votes of the election, they obviously do, justtake the cap off of income subject to the taxes. Make the tax applicable to all income, regardless of source. This could easily be done wihout having to raise the age or anything else. Right now, if the government put the one trillion dollars that it borrowed from the social security trust fund, that fund woul sustain the program for another 85 years.

Grove, stop listening to this gop bullshit! Wake up and smell the coffee. It is the majority of the american people who decide what programs and whether they want to pay for them. Let the people, the majority, make those decisions, not any one faction of the three branches of government. The people do that with there votes in every federal election.

It is just like this crap about the federal government is so bloated. Hell, the U. S. is the richest nation on earth with more ariable land than any nation on earth. When you compare the percentage of federal workers to the total wealth and population, our government is not bloated at all. Take any populous, prosperous, diverse state, compare their government workforce by percentage to the percentage of government workers and tell me what you come up with. The facts will not lie. Then compare that with any other democratic style industrialized, populous and wealthy nation.

You people really take the cake! You repeat talking points of politicians and never take the time to do your own research. Be an American! Think for your self!

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/12/2012 at 11:43 PM

You talk about raising the elegibility age - that might work for you, but think about the guy who is out there running a backhoe or laying asphalt, do you want to tell him he has to keep doing that until he's 67 years old because removing the FICA cap on earnings might pee off the millionaires? Think about the woman standing on her feet eight to ten hours a day working retail - are you going to say sorry grandma but you can't retire for another couple of years because we can't afford to cut defense spending? How much do you think their private insurance is going to cost them when they're 67 years old? What kind of jobs do you think they will be physically capable of doing at that age, and how much would those jobs pay? Do you want them to just do without for a few years?

I'll say one thing in your favor - that would certainly solve some of the "people are living longer" problem because more of them would die sooner.

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Posted by Jeff on 12/13/2012 at 8:57 AM

So, in your post, you admit that social security could use a re-tooling. You said we might need to take the cap off the income subject to taxes, and you say that if we put the one trillion borrowed from the trust fund back, it will sustain for 85 years. reading those comments, you readily admit that something needs to be done to make it sustainable. That's my point.

I didn't say social security needed to be cut or eliminated. I said it needed restructuring, along with the other long-life entitlements, because people are living longer, and there are more people in this coming generation of retirees than there have been in the past. Those are facts.

The government needs to decide either A) how to fund the programs and sustain them at their current levels, or B) if and how the programs need to be restructured to put less burden on the government.

Also, you are wrong that the majority of the American people decide which programs they want. We more or less pick a party and a representative, and those representatives decide. We don't have true democracy. We have representative democracy. People vote for representatives for varying reasons, so Republicans don't know that a vote Republican is a vote to protect the wealthy tax rate, just as Democrats don't know that a vote Democrat is a vote to protect social programs, even though both parties will use those arguments many times over. They are both wrong in making those claims.

Typically what happens is a party thinks they have a mandate to follow ALL of the typical party platform just because they have the majority, and if they do follow ALL of the party platform, they eventually lose votes and get kicked out of office, because they go too far. Not everyone agrees with the entire platform of the party they vote for. In fact, MOST people don't agree with all of it, so when the landscape shifts too far one direction, the people slap the party back and keep it in line.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 12/13/2012 at 9:00 AM

Social security will be solvent for a good while still; there isn't a crisis yet. Certainly it will need to be addressed eventually, but it is a "problem" with a simple solution, i.e. raise the payroll tax cap, which should be done anyway. When republicans talk about "retooling" they mean raising retirement age and/or cutting benefits. Don't try to act like they don't, it's no big secret.

Hey, I agree with you on one point: we need increased revenue and a little decreased spending. I suggest we decrease military spending.

However, acting like we are in some horrible debt crisis is both disingenuous and false.

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Posted by clegg on 12/13/2012 at 9:33 AM


You missed the point again!

The programs belong to the people, the government is, of the people, by the people and for the people. There is no extra burden on the government, for it is only a conduit for us, the people. If, by the majority of our votes, we decide to keep the program or whatever, it is no burden on the government.

An article published today in Politico or Huffington Post, I forget which one, show that this year the social security program took in 798 billion and paid out 730 billion. That is not in deficit. We don't have to run billions and billions of dollars surplus, all of the time, in these programs. We jsut have to keep it deficit free.

No we do not have a true democracy, a plebicite, but the threat of not being re-elected and the ability to change whatever has been previously adapted makes for a strong deterrent from federal lawmakers forcing their personal will upon its constituents. That process in itself is a form of checks and balances. Every politician, regardless of party affilliation, whoi tried to change social security and/or medicare in a negative way have not won re-election. Any politician saying that they would do something negative to these two programs have not been elected, in the first place. That is why it is called the third rail of politics. Touch it and you die!

Saying that this party spends too much, can't balance the budget or handle the debt is pure political bullshit! We can bring the federal budget in balance overnight; we can pay down or eliminate the debt in short order also. The problem is, as you say, we are a democratic republic. In order to do those things which the majority say they all want, regardless of party, is not political feasible. All Americans want these things done, they just don't want their ox gored in the process. You know, tax my neighbor, tax them, tax the tree, but, please don't tax me! Are you willing to give up your precious mortgage interest tax deduction, your charitable giving, your health care costs? I would think not. So, it is not the government that is screwing up, it is the unwilliness of us, the people to give up our sacred cows that keep the debt high and spending out of control. The easiest thing in government to do is to give citizens another right, but, after giving it, it is nearly impossible to get rid of it.

You might be good at business, but, Grove, you know jack about political science.

One example: Why do we tax dividend income at the 15% rate? The gop answer is that if you make those taxes any higher, people won't invest. That is bull and have been proven false for over a hundred years. You are an investor, say like Romney. He made 23 million, mostly off of investments, taxed at the lower rate. Are you telling me that he will not invest if he can only make 15 million profit if he invests? When that hypothetical question was put to the smartest investor in the world, Warren Buffett, he smiled and said bullshit! You'll take the 15 million and keep investing.

Grove, stop listening at the politicians, either party, and start using your common sense, mother wit, we old folks say.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/13/2012 at 9:50 AM


The problem that the gop have with social security and medicare is simple. They can't control it and keep the people subseviant to them and their business interest. With the federal government running it, there is no profit in it for their private business interest.

They also dislike social security because it makes senior citizens too independent and they don't have to vote the way the gop wants them too, because they have a safety net and that is that monthly check. In other words, the maximun rate that social security pays is 27,000 per year. Hell, that is 3,000 above the poverty line for a family of four.

They hate medicare because their business interest can't make a ton of money off of it. If they wanted to really make medicare stable, they would just have to do one thing. Repeal the law that the gop passed that forbade the federal government from being able to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs. The Va doesn't have that restriction, so, the VA can get the same prescription drugs for 50% or more less than medicare can get them. Why have a law like that? It is simple; keep their business interest happy, screw the poor seniors who have to have those drugs. See how simple that is.

One day, before it is too late, maybe you will finally see the light.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/13/2012 at 10:47 AM


The Fed has done so much quantitative easing so far that the treasury bond rate is basically 0%. They have to now invest in other areas, like mortgage backed securities to print money and get it into the economy.

It's most certainly a debt crisis. I blame a lot of it on Bush and his tax cuts for sure, but regardless of who all is at fault, something has to be done so we aren't forced to keep printing money bringing down the value of the dollar.

And along with that, OTP, I agree with you. No one wants to pay the price. That's why the wealthy get tagged. They're the minority, and we'd rather have them try to foot the bill than us. That doesn't change the fact that we've been living with a little bit too many freebies and a little bit too low of a tax rate for a while now, and now we're having to do something about it. It appears that something will be increasing the rate on the wealthy and making a handful of spending cuts (nothing too serious). Personally, I'd be willing to give up a few tax breaks I get if that's what the government deems necessary to be able to afford the type of system we need, but obviously I don't want to lose significant funds over it.

For the record, I would not be against SOME defense cuts. My main concern with that is how much of the cuts get passed on to the front line. More than likely though, if done properly, significant defense cuts could be made without have much of a negative impact on our defense department.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 12/13/2012 at 12:42 PM

Hmm, so investors are buying more and more US bonds because...? Sounds like you have a case of right-wing histrionics. It's the same incorrect reasoning that was made about investors running away after S&P downgraded our debt rating. Same false conclusion that screams about all the inflation that's coming any day now, honest.

Our debt isn't great and some simple long term planning can prevent future problems that might manifest, but it's not close to crisis level. We do have a problem with jobs though. And hey, our borrowing costs are awful low right now, since people will literally pay us to keep their money.

Posted by clegg on 12/13/2012 at 2:11 PM


Slowly, you are beginning to see the light. You are finnally seeing that this is a totally manufactured financial crisis. It was part of the grand gop plan to starve the beast. You give outrageous tax breaks to the rich, spend money like a drunken sailor on projects, defense and corporate loopholes, etc to use up the money. You then declare a financial emergency and scream that we have to cut, cut, cut to get our fiscal house in order. This puts you in a position to do what you had planned all along, gut the social safety net programs that help the poor and low and moderate income peope.

The main goal of this strategy is to break what the gop see as the base of the democratic party. As long as those social programs are going strong, the democrats maintain a very large base of loyal voters. Unless the gop can break the hold that democrats hold over the poor, low and moderate income people, the gop is doomed. It is a simple, but dastardly effective plan if it can be carried out. The gop know that the total cost of these social programs is only 6.4% of the federal budget, but, in voting power, it gives the democrats a 35% base of loyal voters.

Btw, there was this point being put out by the gop in relation to this last past election. It has been repeated by all of the gop, even you and the gop in Shelby County. It goes like this; Hell, Obama didn't win a mandate because the house still remains controlled by the gop. If Obama had a mandate, how did the gop keep control of the house. This, to me, was a perplexing problem that made a lot of sense on face value. I just couldn't figure it out. Well, NBC did a report on this and I could not figure it out because it was just too simple. Remember the 2010 midterm elections? After trashing the ACA, the republicans had a wave election where they took over quite a few state houses and governorships. 2010 was also the year of the census. The once in a lifetime takeover of statehouse and governorships allowed those gopers to redistrict the congressional, house, districts. What they did was to pack democrats into several districts and draw the lines there. That gave the democrats several safe seats, however, it left the rest of the state practically democrat free, allowing republicans to take seats throughout the rest of the state. It was one of the most brilliantly redistricting schemems, gerrymandering, that has ever been used. Don't get me wrong, democrats have been know for gerrymandering, however, no party, until 2010 had been so brazenly egregious in the process before.

NBC took 4 states, Mi, Wi, Oh, and Pa and added up the total votes for all congressional seats. Guess what? The democratic totals far out numbered the republican totals. Yet the republicans ended up win a roughly 75-25 split of the congressional setas, house, in each state. If not for packing democrats into isolated pockets of urban areas, the house would have been democratically controlled. So, actually, when the total votes are taken into considered, the democrats actually did get more votes than the gop and thus, it is correct to say that this election did, in fact give the democrats a mandate for their policies.

Well, the democrats have finally woke up to this and have set up committees, with big money, to concentrate on one thing and one thing only, retaking the state control, especially in statehouses of traditional blue states. You will see the result of this strategy working in the 2014 midterm elections. Yes, the gop taught us a painful lesson. Don't over concentrate on the federal side of elections at the detriment of the state and local elections. You will now see a rapid change.

Thank you Grove for your patience.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/14/2012 at 12:46 AM

OTP, I'm not sure if it was all part of a master plan to kill social security or not, but if it was, that's quite the lengthy drawn out plan.

Also, you are correct about the Democrats and the House. It's an issue with Democrats being centered in urban areas, and since the voters are not spread out, it would take a good bit of gerrymandering just to get the Democrat vote its controlling voice in the House.

If you draw lines that make geographic sense to divide up the population, it naturally diminishes the power of the urban centers to a certain extent. Not saying gerrymandering didn't occur, but it wouldn't have taken a lot of work to draw the district lines in a way to make it favorable to the Republicans, since Democratic heavy populations tend to be more centered with each other.

Posted by GroveReb84 on 12/14/2012 at 10:41 AM


Got to tell you, I have been a card carrying member of the Republican Party for many years and I have never heard of such a master strategy. Given that such a conspiracy would necessarily include hundreds of thousands, it is remarkable this plan is just now coming to light.

I understand that flights of fantasy, complete with paranoid delusions, are quite common among the disturbed. And besides, also constantly thinking of yourself a a victim enables a person to try and seize the high moral ground of being the persecuted one.

But that does not work so well when there is no reality, much less rationality, behind an argument.

As in this case.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/14/2012 at 11:03 AM


Starve the beast was a plan. It was introduced by Newt Gingrich, back in 1994. It was meant to be a slow process. You had to first have the condidtions to bring about a financial crisis with no money left. After that, the only way out would be to cut drastically or eleimnate certain programs. In doing it this way, it would look like it is being done out of neccessity instead of on purpose.

This gerrymandering is the most extreme that it has ever been done by either party. The political term is called packing. It cannot work in places where there is a large minority population spread out because you can't draw congressional district lines that purposely dilute the minority vote. Philadelphia, Pittsburg, etc has always been democratic strongholds, but the lines were crisscrosed through it, thus spreading it out further than the geographical boundary of this group. The gop purposely altered this to simply pack them all into one district, which ends up only giving the a chance at one congressional seat. Like I say, it has never been done in such an apparent, eggregious way. With the expanding minority demographics, this will take care of itself, as younger voters come of voting age. In the meantime, the dems are going to spend serious money to recapture the state houses of the traditional blue states which are already blue states, when you county them nationally.

Even in Tennessee, Obama only lost the state by 11 points or less, yet, look at the makeup of the General Assembly. Already, the democratic committee is looking to recruit and train stealth democratic candidates for state offices. You know, the ones with the right complexion, a historic name and pedigree to match. The trick is to find the right one, preferrably from middle Tennessee, Nashville. That would get the majority of democrats in Memphis and Nashville and that margin would be enough, in itself to swing the state. Also, enough money to keep the spotlight on the crazy gopers that have been elected to the General Assembly will soften them up for a defeat by a conservative looking democrat. That is right out of the gop playbook. It will work.

Btw, I must congradulate the state of Mississippi on the way it is handling it's new voter ID Law. It is doing it the proper way, the way Tennessee should have done it. They set a 2 year phase in period before the law goes into effect. They have done extensive surveys to identify who does not have a proper ID and where they live. It is now offering free public transportation for those individuals to and from the clerks office and assistance to anyone that have trouble getting the necessary supporting documents they would need for a phot ID. If Tennessee had done it this way, there would have been no problems or complaints. Why can Mississippi be more fair-minded than Tennessee?

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/14/2012 at 11:15 AM

So....with that in mind, why not raise taxes on the middle class too in order to take care of the beast? I admit I'm not an expert on the topic, but you have two levers to pull, the cost lever and the revenue lever. I don't have a solution, just posing the question.

By the way, I agree with you on the ID laws. It sounds like Mississippi is handling it the best way possible, essentially how I described it needed to be done.

That said, I don't think the ID laws in Tennessee would've had any impact on this past election.

Posted by GroveReb84 on 12/14/2012 at 1:18 PM
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