Monday, March 30, 2009

Stupid Human Tricksters

When Carter spoke of a national malaise, I wonder if he saw it coming.

Since all this began pretty much during my lifetime, I keep wondering what it was I thought I was seeing while I was seeing it. I've read Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew (after reading his equally infuriating What's the Matter with Kansas?), and, while I certainly agree with his theses and conclusions, I worry whether, at this point, if there's anything we can do about any of it?

And the answer of course, is yes, we can. Not the way President Obama wants to do it, but the right way, the grass-roots way. Call your Senators and Congresscritters and tell them that we've finally overstepped the bounds of taste and sanity in bailing out billion dollar entities that have spent the last twenty years or so figuring out ways to keep most of the money they've handled, even when it wasn't their money to begin with. Call your local media outlets (assuming you have any local media outlets left) and scream bloody murder about the poor stenography that they're trying to pass off as journalism. Write to the President, the Chairman of the FCC, and pretty much anyone else you can think of, and say that the concentrated ownership of large media is unacceptable, and if the government is going to subsidize anyone, it should be local newspapers.

While it's good that the government is finally telling GM that they need to get their damn act together when it comes to how the company is run, the main thing GM really has yet to learn is that oil doesn't grow on trees. 

(and even if it did, global warming will make the trees shorter and less productive)

And, of course, we're asking the good old autoworkers at GM and elsewhere to take a pay cut. And that's not even said with a hint of irony while we try to take back bonuses paid to people who (on average) made about nine million dollars a year while coring the economy with a chainsaw, and who now complain about not being able to keep their lousy million-dollar bonuses.

And we have to not say, the sky is falling. Because while the sky is falling, all you can do is stand up straight and hope your head can stand the blow.

The conservatives have done their job well. They've managed to drag as many millions out of the system for themselves and squirreled away the money while complaining about being taxed too much, thus gutting the functions of government. The liberals have done their job equally well, by being the loyal opposition, but not much of an opposition, since none of them can agree on enough of anything to get the job done well, but just well enough not to offend anyone, thus gutting the government. And if that's not playing into their opponent's hands, I don't know what would (one can also argue that the liberals are just as guilty as the conservatives in sneaking a little cash out for themselves). The monetarists have finally seen their system collapse before their eyes, and either a) want to continue how it was done before; or b) want to make sure the systems that were in place before the collapse are financed properly so they can build up to a bigger collapse in a few years. And everyone wants more regulations, but no one is willing to give the regulations teeth, so what's the point? 

Give up while you still can, and move to some other country, and wait to watch as the United States of America, that great experiment in democracy, shoots itself in the foot repeatedly, all the while complaining that the bullets cost too much and buying a gun is overregulated and going to the emergency room counts as primary care.

Unfortunately, I think I might be optimistic.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cause I'm the Taxman

(with apologies to the Beatles)

I'm hearing a lot about how Obama's gonna "tax the rich." To which I reply, "so?"

When you think about it, the folks who have been hit hardest by all the taxes we currently have are the poor. Social Security is now running around 6.2%. So, no matter how many kids you have, 6.2% of your income goes to Social Security and 1.45% to Medicare. Once you hit $106,800, the Fed stops taxing that income for Social Security. To illustrate it with a number, someone making $100,000 per year, they will pay $7,650.00. Someone making $200,000 would pay $9,521.60. The AIG folks who received a $1,000,000 bonuses for fixing the mess they made would pay $21,121.60. So, someone making 5o times what a garment worker in Soho makes, only pays 2.1% of their income in Social Security and Medicare taxes, while the garment worker pays 8.65% of their income. Doesn't seem fair, does it?

After that it's sales tax. And sales tax in Washington State, King County, runs around 9%. So anything other than unprocessed food is going to cost you 9% more of everything you buy. For poor people, that's not as much, but still.

Then there's fuel taxes. Poor folks tend to buy older cars that have poor gas mileage, so they buy more fuel (and create more pollution) than their wealthier counterparts. And fuel taxes are collected to pay for road repairs and bridge and tunnel maintenance. Except that we haven't been paying for those things, except for maybe the occasional pothole.

And there's the Estate Tax (known to the Republicans as the Death Tax). Enacted originally in 1916 (same time as Income Tax) it tends to affect a very small percentage of families in the United States, and since 1987, it affects less than three-tenths of one percent of all estates in any given year. It provides for approximately one percent of the federal revenue. What if we brought it all the way back, but exempted estates worth less than $15 million?

Now, there are some new proposals that worry me. Since people are trying to buy more fuel-efficient cars, the gas tax isn't creating the revenue they would normally see, so they're now talking about a mileage tax, and the way a mileage tax would work... Well, would you like the government knowing how far you've gone, and where to? Didn't think so.

So what's the solution? Tax the rich a little more, use the taxes to construct new infrastructure and to finance a new generation of industries, such as mass transit and research into renewable resource energy systems. Then you get a lot more paid middle-class workers paying regular taxes into the revenue of the federal government. We may have to deficit spend for a while to do this, but hopefully it will be worth it.

Get people educated, give them the opportunity to be the leaders of tomorrow, and maybe we have a country I can be proud of again, and not the potential Third World, plutocratic cesspool we're slowly sinking into.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Money, Money, Money

Why do we put Friedmanite bankers in charge of regulating banks and globalist free-traders (who are also Friedmanite bankers) in charge of handling Keynesian stimulus money?

On the one hand, we have Tim Geithner, a former employee of the Federal Reserve bank (think Federal Express is a government institution? neither is the Federal Reserve ["the Fed"]), our boy-genius Treasury Secretary playing with TARP funds, Ben Bernanke (his former boss and head of the Fed), playing with TARP funds, and Lawrence Summers (Clintonista, NAFTA supporter, and pretty much an a$$hole, who once famously said that Africa is "vastly underpolluted"), deciding how the stimulus package should be divided.

Nice progressive values, there, buddy...

Overall, Lawrence Summers has proved, time and again, that he doen't know anything about anything, but by God he's got an opinion, and a lot of people want to hear it. A friend of Enron, he worked with Kenneth Lay and Alan Greenspan to deregulate California's energy markets, thus causing the bankruptcy of the state of California, and putting Gray Davis' head on the block.

While everyone talks about how Obama is President, and what he says will be what goes in his administration, the people he hired to throw money at the problems of the American public tend to be more squarely in the "business knows what's best" category of economists.

Bonuses, bonuses, bonuses, bonuses, life is but a dream...

AIG got bailed out so they could pay all the folks who were losing money on AIG's phony insurance policy scam things that they were selling. Credit default swaps, I believe. So, AIG got a bunch of money. So they could pay back CITI, Chase, Wachovia, B of A, etc., etc., all of whom have either been bought by other banks or been bailed out by the Federal Government (us), and the banks who bought the failing banks also got bailed out. Because AIG wasn't going to be able to pay them back. Oh, wait...

I know, confusing conspiracies abound. Then there's the bonus money, paid to executives of AIG as "retension bonuses" to keep them from leaving the firm and running off to make some other firm fat, dumb and happy until the rug got pulled out. Except, of course, that many of the folks being paid retension bonuses are either quitting or will be fired. And the other top talent is staying on so that they can maintain the wonderful fiscal order of AIG's books for at least another year.

My head hurts.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rush to the Cliff

Rush Limbaugh has no testicles.

(one now wonders how many Google hits I'll get for that line)

Seriously, though, I think it's high time we discussed Rush Limbaugh's manhood, or lack thereof. Since apparently, if someone criticizes him for saying stupid, bigoted and/or blatantly false things (which he does on a not-unfrequent basis), that person is another person who Hates America, is not Manly Enough to Debate Him on the Air, is a Terrorist, or is a FemiNazi (a word apparently coined by Professor Tom Hazlett of George Mason University).

In the past week or so, many Republican politicians have taken Rush to task over his statement that he would like to see Obama and all his policies fail. Rush then takes the politicians to task over the airwaves, and many of those politicians have fallen over themselves to apologize to Rush and his legion of dittohead fans. Gov. Michael Steele, the newish token dark face of the Republican National Committee, apologized not more than three hours after Rush called him out on his criticisms of the great Limbaugh. 

Steele, by the way, is not to be confused by the other newish token dark face of the Republicans, Gov. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal.

Am I a racist? Probably. But only against idiot Republicans that think if you put a dark face on a bad idea, that somehow makes it better.

Anyway, back to the testicularly-challenged Rush. This is a man who regularly states falsehood as fact, and bigotry as good-old-fashioned American values. He is the first radio personality to play that cute little ditty, "Barack the Magic Negro." This is the man who, at three hundred pounds, yells for everyone else to show some self-control. This is the drug addict who wants other drug addicts to go to prison forever (though not himself, of course). He does not have the huevos to actually debate anyone in the real public, but has no problem shutting down anyone who calls into his show with a differing opinion. He has occasionally visited the real world of other TV shows and had his yam-sack handed to him on a paper plate most of the time.

(the famous instance of his appearance on David Letterman, when Dave asked him, "Do you ever think to yourself, 'Boy, I'm just a bag of hot gas?'" The audience response was loud, raucous and supportive of Dave - Rush turned a shade or two of green)

So, Rush, if you have the stones to come out and debate, I'll debate you. Live, in public, anyone can ask anything. Bullhorns at thirty paces, c'mon Rush - you can do it.

Can't you?

(disclaimer: he may have not been neutered in the real world, but I am only claiming he is unable to father good ideas)