By CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Picture the United States in the convertible at the end of the movie "Thelma and Louise" as it hurtles toward the cliff and the demise of the car's occupants. A bit melodramatic perhaps, but the fiscal cliff is fast approaching.
And if Congress doesn't take action before the end of the year - which is entirely possible - we're going to fall off it.
It's called a "cliff" for a reason. If nothing is done, massive spending cuts and tax increases will kick in.
The fiscal cliff also includes those automatic across-the-board spending cuts to The Pentagon and other domestic programs.
And once again as the clock ticks down, there seems to be little common ground between Democrats and Republicans:
Democrats want to raise taxes, Republicans want major changes to entitlement programs. And they want to do away with those automatic spending cuts. We've seen this movie before.
House Speaker John Boehner says 2013 should be the year we "begin to solve our debt" through tax and entitlement reform.
But don't hold your breath.
For starters, there's not that much time left for this lame duck session between their Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations. And Democrats might want to wait until January when they have a larger majority in the Senate.
Then there's always the possibility Congress settles on a smaller deal or a temporary one. Kick the can down the road once again.
But if nothing is done taxes will go up for every single American, and we will be looking at another recession next year.
None of this will be easy on Americans' pocketbooks.
Here’s my question to you: How will the fiscal cliff affect the way you handle your money?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 4pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.
His critics have called him a socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth of the nation from the haves to the have-nots. Now a newly surfaced 1998 clip of then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama would seem to support those allegations.
Republicans are pushing this audio clip – which they say was recorded at Loyola university...
In it, the future president talks about what he calls a "propaganda campaign" against government funded programs. He says he wants to resuscitate the idea that "we're all in this thing together, leave nobody behind."
Obama goes on to say this:
"I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution – because I actually believe in some redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot."
Obama's critics say the idea of redistributing wealth is socialism; they're linking these 1998 comments to more recent remarks like Obama's "you didn't build that" line.
Back in 2008, John McCain and Sarah Palin went after Mr. Obama after he said "when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
More recently the president has said he wants people to feel like they're getting a fair shot. In a December interview with “60 Minutes,” he talked about inequality and people like teachers and small business owners who are working hard but feel like they're just treading water.
In response to the 1998 comments, the Obama campaign says Mr. Obama was making an argument for more efficient and effective government. They say the president believes there are "steps we can take to promote opportunity."
Here’s my question to you: Is the redistribution of wealth President Obama's answer to America's problems?
Turns out $1 million still isn't enough money to make some people feel rich.
A new survey of millionaires finds more than one-quarter of them say they don't feel wealthy, but they would if they had an extra $5 million.
The Fidelity Investments Millionaire Outlook Report finds the average millionaire is about 60 years old and has at least $3 million in assets.
The survey also shows 14% of today's millionaires say they grew up wealthy while a whopping 86% describe themselves as "self-made."
And according to this report, millionaires' outlook on the future financial environment is the highest it has been in the survey's history. Let's hope they're right.
Meanwhile, there are a million different definitions for what being "wealthy" means.
I bet it's safe to say Mitt Romney's idea of wealthy is a far cry from your idea or mine. Wealth is relative in many ways. If you are free from financial worry, have enough set aside to secure your retirement and can afford a few luxuries such as vacations, maybe a second home or a fancy car, you may well consider yourself wealthy.
But for the Donald Trumps of the world, too much money is never enough. They are driven continually to amass more wealth, buy another company, make another deal. Sometimes not stopping to appreciate what they have. And the accumulation and management of that kind of money involve tremendous stress and energy.
The saying - "Money can't buy happiness" - is true, but it can buy peace of mind.
Here’s my question to you: How much money would it take for you to "feel" wealthy?
Interested to know which ones made it on air?
It didn't used to be this way.
Our government - local, state and federal - didn't always spend money like a drunken sailor and run up astronomical debts.
In recent weeks, three california cities - Stockton, Mammoth Lakes and San Beranrdino - have declared bankruptcy.
Scranton, Pennsylvania is so cash-strapped that it has cut the pay of all municipal workers to $7.25 an hour - minimum wage. Scranton's mayor wants to raise property taxes by 80% to try to close a $17 million budget deficit and prevent bankruptcy.
And there will likely be more cities forced to declare bankruptcy because of toxic economic conditions.
High unemployment along with foreclosures and plummeting home values means less tax revenue.
The Los Angles Times reports that tax receipts in some areas have shrunk more than 20% over the last three years - and soaring pension costs top funding levels by as much as a $3 trillion debt nationwide.
Meanwhile our federal government is nearly $16 trillion in the hole - that's more than a $5 trillion increase since Pres. Obama took office.
CNSNews.com crunched the numbers and found that the National Debt has now increased by more than $64,000 per federal taxpayer in the last three and half years under President Obama. To pay off the entire $15.8 trillion national debt it would cost every taxpayer in the country $194,000.
In the meantime neither Democrats nor Republicans are doing anything meaningful about the so-called fiscal cliff as we get closer and closer to the edge.
Here’s my question to you: Why have we become so financially irresponsible?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
One in five voters has a problem with Mitt Romney's money.
According to a new Gallup Poll, 20% of those surveyed say Romney's net worth of over $200 million makes them less likely to vote for him for president.
Most Americans - 75% - say Romney's wealth makes no difference.
While only 4% say his money makes them more likely to vote for him.
Democrats and independents make up most of those who say they're less likely to support romney because of his riches.
Most of these Democrats probably won't be casting a ballot for Romney anyway but when it comes to independents, we all know how important they are - especially in swing states.
Voter income plays a role in all this. Nearly 30% of those making under $24,000 say they're less likely to support Romney because he is rich.
Romney's money has become a campaign strategy for President Obama and the Democrats. Call it class warfare.
They've been highlighting Romney's wealth, how he made many of those millions working for the venture capital firm Bain Capital, and how he's yet to release all of his tax returns for the last decade.
President Obama, who is also a multi-millionaire, wants to convince Americans that Romney can't relate to poor and middle class Americans - and that his policies as president would mostly help the wealthy.
Of course this is America and it's no crime to be rich. There's also an argument to be made that as the economy keeps sputtering along, a businessman in the White House wouldn't be the worst thing for this country.
At this point it's unclear if poverty and high unemployment will prevent Americans from voting for a rich guy. A very rich guy.
Here’s my question to you: Do you have a problem with Mitt Romney's money?
Many Americans are hurting - big-time - from a lousy economy. But that doesn't stop the politicians, shameless creatures that they are, from holding their hands out for campaign donations. It's an election year after all.
The latest scheme comes courtesy of President Obama who wants people to give him money in lieu of giving graduation, anniversary, wedding, birthday, bar mitzvah gifts, etc.
This new fund-raising tool lets those who want to contribute set up a gift registry to solicit donations from their friends and loved ones to give to Obama. This in lieu of a gift for your birthday or wedding. The name for this is chutzpah.
The website suggests this is a "great way to support the president on your big day. Plus, it's a gift that we can all appreciate - and goes a lot further than a gravy bowl." Sure.
As you can imagine, critics and comedians are having a heyday with this.
Jimmy Kimmel suggests it's a "great way for people to lie about getting you a present."
And one guy writes on the campaign's website: "M y 6-year-old just lost a lower incisor. he's going to be so excited when the Tooth Fairy leaves him an obama-biden donation receipt in his name."
Meanwhile the president, Mitt Romney, and the rest of them go right on asking Americans to give them money at a time when millions of Americans can't find a job and 28% of us have no emergency savings.
The polarization of America is like a cancer that is slowly killing us. And like many forms of cancer, there appears to be no cure.
We are more severely divided now than at any time in the last 25 years according to a new pew study.
And it's not the usual suspects of race, education level, income, gender and religion. Political differences are what's ripping the country apart.
This political divide peaked during the last decade - during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The Pew survey finds Democrats and Republicans are most divided on the social safety net for the poor with a 41-point gap between the two parties.
Other issues with huge divisions include: the environment, labor unions, equal opportunity and "government scope and performance."
This deepening polarization is something we see among voters and of course among our so-called leaders in Washington. The government is paralyzed - unable to get over their political differences in order to work together and address the people's business that desperately needs doing.
Perhaps the most serious consequence of partisanship is our skyrocketing national debt - now closing in on $16 trillion.
The Congressional Budget Office says that unless Congress does something about government spending and/or taxes, the federal debt is set to double by the middle of the next decade and will reach twice the size of the whole U.S. economy by 2037. We are committing economic suicide.
But don't expect Washington to do anything about it. There's an election in November.
Here’s my question to you: What can be done about the deepening polarization in America?
FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Can you afford to get old?
In case you weren't already worried about your retirement, now comes word that it's getting more expensive to get old.
The International Monetary Fund says people around the world are living three years longer than expected. That's increasing the cost of aging by 50% - and governments and pension funds aren't ready for it.
Reuters reports the IMF study, coming out next week, shows that longevity is a bigger risk than previously thought.
Researchers say that if everyone in 2050 lived three years longer than now expected, society would need extra resources "equal to 1 to 2% of GDP per year."
In the United States alone, an extra three years of life would add 9% to private pension plan liabilities.
Life expectancy in the United States is approximately 78.5 years. According to the CIA World Factbook, the U.S. ranks 50th worldwide. At the top of the list is Monaco, where people live an average of almost 90 years, followed by countries like Macau, Japan and Singapore.
As medicine improves and standards of living go up in some of the developed countries, people continue to live longer. The IMF is calling on governments and the private sector to prepare now for those longer life spans.
Governments' options are fairly limited. Raise the retirement age, raise taxes to fund public pension plans, and lower benefits. A lot of countries are already considering doing all of this to tackle crippling national debts.
Another step governments could take would be to educate people on how to better prepare for their retirement.
Here’s my question to you: Can you afford to get old?
When I read these numbers I was stunned. I had no idea that Americans make up fully one half of the world's richest 1%.
When you look at the world's population as a whole, it only takes $34,000 a year per person - after taxes - to be part of the world's richest one percent. A family of four with after tax income of $136,000 would be among the world's richest.
60 million people make up the world's richest one percent. And, according to world bank economist Branko Milanovic, half of them - or 29 million people - lived in the United States as of 2005.
Another 4 million live in Germany. And the rest are scattered throughout Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia.
None of the world's richest 1% live in Africa, China or India - statistically speaking.
Although places like China and India are seeing economic growth, and people there are getting richer, they're starting from a very low base. This also means the emerging middle class in these countries isn't the same as the middle class in developed nations. No cars. No retirement plans. They don't own their own homes.
Milanovic says people in the world's true middle live on around $1,200 a year.
Which means even the poorest 5% of Americans are richer than two-thirds of the entire world. Something to think about.
While the Occupy Wall Street movement targets the so-called 1% with protests in New York, Los Angeles, Denver and Washington.
These numbers give one percent a whole new meaning.
Here’s my question to you: What does it mean when Americans make up half of the world's richest 1%?
If you go to the race track, do you bet your money on a three-legged horse? No – you bet your money on a four-legged horse that has a chance of winning the race.
So why is it when it comes to politics some people insist on betting on horses that have no chance of winning?
Several of the Republican presidential wannabes are raking in loads of campaign cash despite the fact that they have virtually no chance of being the nominee.
Rick Santorum, who came close to defeating Mitt Romney in Iowa, has raised more than $1 million since the caucuses Tuesday.
Yes, Santorum placed a very close second in Iowa, but that was largely due to his appeal among social conservatives and evangelicals. And that's not something that will translate in many of the upcoming races. He stands to lose badly in New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul raised an impressive $13 million in the last three months. That tops the $8 million he raised in the previous quarter. Paul has a passionate group of supporters. He, too, ran well in Iowa, but again, chances are he won't be the Republican nominee.
Newt Gingrich also raised $10 million in the last quarter, but some of that came when he was spiking in the polls. And that is now history.
Of course, none of these compare to Romney's expected haul of $20 million in the last three months.
But that's the thing, you can understand why people might plunk their money down on Romney to win.
Romney is looking more and more like the party's nominee every day. He is expected to win by a landslide in New Hampshire, and it seems unlikely at this point that there is anyone – or anything – that can stop him.
Here’s my question to you: Why do people give money to candidates who have no chance of winning?
Jack Cafferty sounds off hourly on the Situation Room on the stories crossing his radar. Now, you can check in with Jack online to see what he's thinking and weigh in with your own comments online and on TV.
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