Drinks Are on the House (and Senate)

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

“Got any idea how to make a frozen daiquiri?”

Saturday. 6 a.m. A question no one else would have asked at that hour. I knew it had to be Marshbaum, my faux-friend foil.

“Too early to be drinking,” I mumbled, then hung up. The phone rang again.

“It’s not for me,” said Marshbaum, but since I’m going to own a bar, I should learn how to make drinks.”

“Marshbaum,” I said, reluctantly awake, “you can’t even afford to buy soap to wash your fuzzy navel! How are you going to afford a bar?”

“The government’s going to bankroll me,” he said matter-of-factly.

“New kind of welfare?”

“Old kind of subsidies,” said Marshbaum. “First thing those Santa Clauses in the red ink suits are going to do is to help me find an appropriate location.”

“Something available in Afghanistan?” I asked.

“It’s called exploration subsidy. Thanks to those patriotic pure-bred Republicans who just blocked the President’s proposal to eliminate $2 billion in subsidies a year to oil, gas, and coal companies, all I have to do is say I want to build my bar over a proposed but hidden coal vein. Doesn’t even matter if there’s coal or not. All I have to do is say I think there may be coal. Later, I get a low-interest small business loan, build the bar, and deduct the mortgage interest from my income taxes.”

“That deduction is meant to allow the common person the right of home ownership.”

“And what’s more common than taking someone else’s money? Besides, it isn’t the middle-class that gets most of the benefit.” He explained that almost 100 percent of everyone with at least a $100,000 mortgage takes the interest deduction, while fewer than 20 percent of Americans below the poverty line get federal rental subsidies.

“You’ll still have to pay property taxes,” I reminded him. He reminded me that it didn’t matter.

“Most local and state governments will be so happy to have me build a business and hire minimum-wage bar girls, they’ll probably waive my taxes the first year or two and then give me tax rebates for a couple of more years.”

“O.K., for awhile you have a cheap bar. How are you planning to keep the lights on?”

“Electric companies save about $210 million a year when they buy electricity below cost from the federal dams. I just tap in on some low-voltage energy.”

“Even with cheap utilities, you’ll still have problems keeping it going.”

“Only problem I’ll have is deciding which line on the income tax form is for deductions for advertising, dinners, and research at the country club.”

“I suppose you have other scams?”

“Other subsidies, just like everyone else,” said Marshbaum snippily correcting me.

“The government pays farmers about $20 billion a year to grow feed grains to assure there will be an adequate supply. I plan to get some of those bucks by selling malt liquor. Rye. Barley. Wheat. Corn. It’s the Basic Four food groups. I can even water down my drinks since   the government also provides about $400 million a year in water subsidies.”

“The agriculture subsidy program was begun during the Great Depression to benefit poor farmers who—” Before I could finish, Marshbaum interrupted.

“It’s true that the largest 10 percent of the corporate farms get over 75 percent of the subsidies. But, as a poor struggling farmer, I may get $500. That’s still money in the pocket.”

“So, you’re saying that the government wants you to sell more drinks?”

“And less too,” he said. “There’s far too many of those nauseous appletinis. I might be able to get a government subsidy not to grow apples or tinis.” He thought a moment. “Maybe I can feature kahlúas. The government has a minimum price on milk. I may even get NAFTA trade concessions for my Friday Night Margarita promotions. Olé, y’all!”

“Aren’t you just blowing a lot of smoke past me?”

“Smoke,” said Marshbaum, “will fill my bar. It’s the least I can do to help the tobacco cartel, which gets about a billion dollars a year. I’m sure the tobacco growers would want me to have several cigarette machines in my bar.”

“And what happens when the bar fails. Your business record is as bad as cheap vinyl on a 50-year-old 45.”

“I expect to fail,” said Marshbaum. “It’s all part of my business plan.”

“Why would you want to fail?” I naively asked.

“So I can get money to keep from failing even more. Three trillion went to financial institutions. I figure I should get something for being greedy and a failure. That’s the American way!”

“Even if all of what you said is true, President Obama has been trying to reduce subsidies to the rich and to eliminate most of the annual $100 billion in corporate welfare.”

“As long as the Republicans control Congress,” said Marshbaum, “the American way of life will be preserved. Want a drink now?”

[Walter Brasch is author of the social issues mystery, Before the First Snow, and 16 other books. Before the First Snow is available at www.greeleyandstone.com, amazon.com, and other stores.]

“They Vote Against Their Own Self-Interest”

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

There’s a common refrain among both parties of the American political system. Members of Group X always vote for the opposing party. But it doesn’t make sense for Group X to be so antagonistic against us. Our party’s policies are actually much more in line with what members of Group X believe. They’re voting against their own self-interest. If only members of Group X woke up and saw the light, they’d be voting for our party all the time.

For Democrats, Group X is generally the working class white southern vote. Poor white southerners, the line goes, benefit much more from Democratic economic policies than from Republican economic policies. Yet they vote strongly Republican. Why, Democrats lament, do poor white southerners continually vote against their own self-interest? If only they realized this, they would start voting Democratic.

For Republicans, Group X is the black (and, to a lesser extent, Latino) vote. I recently listened to a conservative radio host talk extensively about how it just didn’t make sense for the African-American community to be so Democratic. Black churches, for instance, are bastions of Democratic strength, yet their social policies are much more in line with Republican social policies than Democratic ones. African-Americans and Hispanics in general hold very socially conservative views on things such as religion and gay marriage; it doesn’t make sense for them to be voting Democratic when those beliefs are so opposed to Democratic ones. I’m not asking for much, the radio host said, just 30% of the black vote. It’s ridiculous to be losing African-Americans 10-to-90.

In my opinion, these arguments are less valid than they seem. Both poor white southerners and African-Americans have very good reasons to vote for the parties that they do. In both the Democratic and Republican Party there are a subtle (and sometimes not very subtle) currents of hostility towards white southerners and African-Americans, respectively. You don’t have to be in politics very long to be aware of this. White southerners and African-Americans will naturally be reluctant to vote for a party whose fundamental narrative, in many ways, paints themselves as antagonists. Voters aren’t stupid, unlike what many people say.

 

 

Why Republicans Aren’t Serious About Reducing the Deficit

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Republicans talk a good game about why the United States must reduce its debt. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan:

We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.

On this current path, when my three children — who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old — are raising their own children, the federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.

No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.

Frankly, it’s one of my greatest concerns as a parent — and I know many of you feel the same way.

Mr. Ryan then proposed a plan whose purpose is purportedly to solve America’s debt problems. To its credit, this plan cuts trillions of dollars in spending. It bravely – or cruelly, depending on your political orientation – cuts the sacred Medicare program.

But then Mr. Ryan’s plan does something very strange, at least if its purpose is to reduce the deficit.

To cut the deficit one has to cut spending and raise taxes. Supply-siders argue that cutting taxes will lead to more revenues raised. Perhaps in a world in which taxation levels are at 90% or 70% that is true, but right now in the United States we’re definitely not at that level (the highest tax bracket is currently 35%). So one have to raise taxes to solve the deficit.

Instead of raising taxes, however, Mr. Ryan cuts trillions of dollars in taxes in his plan.

This is not something unique to this particular Republican. As a whole, the Republican Party steadfastly refused to allow a single dime in revenue increases during the debt ceiling debate. It proudly advocated extending the Bush tax cuts for everybody before that. Fighting against tax increases is a very core element of the Republican program today. The Republican Party does this because it goes against their philosophy of small government.

Now, that’s absolutely fine; there’s nothing wrong with arguing against tax increases. The Republican Party believes that America should lower taxes and lower spending. That’s a philosophy that it will try selling to the American people during election time, and then America will have a debate over that philosophy.

But there is a problem when Republicans sell their proposals as a way to solve the deficit. Cutting taxes and cutting spending does not solve the deficit anymore than “tax and spend liberals” do. Cutting taxes increases the deficit. That’s simply a fact (unless taxes are 70%, which they aren’t in this country).

The Ryan proposal, like most Republican proposals, is a proposal to change America to be more like what Paul Ryan wants America to be like. That may be a better America or a worse America. I personally believe that enacting Ryan’s plan hurts America; many Americans, for very valid reasons, believe that it helps America.

But when Mr. Ryan – or other Republican politicians – sells his proposal as a way to cut the deficit, that’s disingenuous. The plan simply isn’t a way to cut the deficit; it has too many trillions of deficit-raising tax-cuts inside it. It’s fine for Mr. Ryan to advertise his plan as the Republican vision of what America should be like. It’s not fine for him to advertise the plan as a way to cut the deficit. That’s not what Republicans really want; otherwise they would be willing to accept tax increases.

All in all, any Republican who’s not willing to increase taxes is not serious about cutting the deficit, full stop. And since almost no Republican nowadays will agree to tax increases, then the Republican Party as a whole really isn’t serious about reducing America’s debt. It certainly talks a good game. But when push comes to shove, what the Republican Party really wants is to change American to be more like it’s vision of what America should be like (rather than cut the deficit). That’s absolutely fine on its merits. Just don’t pretend that you’re trying to reduce the deficit when you do that.

 

 

Why Republicans Aren’t Serious About Reducing the Deficit

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Republicans talk a good game about why the United States must reduce its debt. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan:

We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.

On this current path, when my three children — who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old — are raising their own children, the federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.

No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.

Frankly, it’s one of my greatest concerns as a parent — and I know many of you feel the same way.

Mr. Ryan then proposed a plan whose purpose is purportedly to solve America’s debt problems. To its credit, this plan cuts trillions of dollars in spending. It bravely – or cruelly, depending on your political orientation – cuts the sacred Medicare program.

But then Mr. Ryan’s plan does something very strange, at least if its purpose is to reduce the deficit.

To cut the deficit one has to cut spending and raise taxes. Supply-siders argue that cutting taxes will lead to more revenues raised. Perhaps in a world in which taxation levels are at 90% or 70% that is true, but right now in the United States we’re definitely not at that level (the highest tax bracket is currently 35%). So one have to raise taxes to solve the deficit.

Instead of raising taxes, however, Mr. Ryan cuts trillions of dollars in taxes in his plan.

This is not something unique to this particular Republican. As a whole, the Republican Party steadfastly refused to allow a single dime in revenue increases during the debt ceiling debate. It proudly advocated extending the Bush tax cuts for everybody before that. Fighting against tax increases is a very core element of the Republican program today. The Republican Party does this because it goes against their philosophy of small government.

Now, that’s absolutely fine; there’s nothing wrong with arguing against tax increases. The Republican Party believes that America should lower taxes and lower spending. That’s a philosophy that it will try selling to the American people during election time, and then America will have a debate over that philosophy.

But there is a problem when Republicans sell their proposals as a way to solve the deficit. Cutting taxes and cutting spending does not solve the deficit anymore than “tax and spend liberals” do. Cutting taxes increases the deficit. That’s simply a fact (unless taxes are 70%, which they aren’t in this country).

The Ryan proposal, like most Republican proposals, is a proposal to change America to be more like what Paul Ryan wants America to be like. That may be a better America or a worse America. I personally believe that enacting Ryan’s plan hurts America; many Americans, for very valid reasons, believe that it helps America.

But when Mr. Ryan – or other Republican politicians – sells his proposal as a way to cut the deficit, that’s disingenuous. The plan simply isn’t a way to cut the deficit; it has too many trillions of deficit-raising tax-cuts inside it. It’s fine for Mr. Ryan to advertise his plan as the Republican vision of what America should be like. It’s not fine for him to advertise the plan as a way to cut the deficit. That’s not what Republicans really want; otherwise they would be willing to accept tax increases.

All in all, any Republican who’s not willing to increase taxes is not serious about cutting the deficit, full stop. And since almost no Republican nowadays will agree to tax increases, then the Republican Party as a whole really isn’t serious about reducing America’s debt. It certainly talks a good game. But when push comes to shove, what the Republican Party really wants is to change American to be more like it’s vision of what America should be like (rather than cut the deficit). That’s absolutely fine on its merits. Just don’t pretend that you’re trying to reduce the deficit when you do that.

 

 

The Success of Proposition 25 in California

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Until 2011, California’s budget process followed a very unfortunate pattern. Democrats, who control the legislature, would propose the general outlines. California’s budget required a two-thirds supermajority to pass it in the legislature, however, which Democrats do not have. So any budget would need Republican support.

Republicans would then make a series of demands for their support, demands which Democrats would find unacceptable. The two sides would then be stuck at an impasse. This would last for months, until finally (long after the deadline) some type of compromise would pass. The whole process would then begin anew the next year.

In 2011 all this changed. California passed its first on-time budget since 2006. This budget was only the sixth budget in the last twenty years which has been on-time. The accomplishment is all the more substantial given that it happened in the middle of a recession. In the past, budgets passed before the new fiscal year only during the good times – when revenues were much higher than spending.

Proposition 25, which passed in 2010, is responsible for all this. The proposition did two things to improve the process. Firstly, it annuled the supermajority requirement. From now on, budgets only require a simple legislative majority to pass (like forty-seven other states). No longer can a small minority hold the budget hostage until they get what they want.

Secondly, the proposition permanently took away legislative salaries for every day that the budget was late. Previously pay had just been delayed, not permanently taken away.

This part of the proposition turned out to be a lot more important than anybody thought it would be. At first the clause had just been put in there as a way to sell the proposition to voters. But the threat of permanently losing one’s pay has turned out to be a very powerful incentive for state legislators to pass a budget.

All in all, Proposition 25 has turned out to be an enormous success.

Nevertheless, there is one more reform which California must enact. California still requires a two-thirds supermajority in order to raise taxes. Neither party has this supermajority, although the Democrats are coming close to it.

The problem with this stipulation is very similar with the problem that until this year assailed California’s budget; it enables a small minority to hold the popular majority hostage (by refusing to allow revenue increases) until the minority gets what they want. In 2011 this happened; Democrats were unable to get a single Republican to agree to new revenues. So the budget is composed entirely of spending cuts, especially to California’s university system. Why is your college tuition going up? Because California Republican legislators refuse to allow the budget to be balanced any other way.

Still, a very imperfect budget is much better than no budget at all. Proposition 25 deserves to be commended for accomplishing that.

 

 

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