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.]

Weekly Mulch: With D.C. in GOP Hands, Environmentalists Must ‘Fight Harder’

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

For the environmental community, this coming year offers a chance to regroup, rethink and regrow. Two years ago, it seemed possible that politicians would make progress on climate change issues—that a Democratic Congress would pass a cap-and-trade bill, that a Democratic president would lead the international community toward agreement on emissions standards. And so for two years environmentalists cultivated plans that ultimately came to naught.

What comes next? What comes now? It’s clear that looking to Washington for environmental leadership is futile. But looking elsewhere might lead to more fertile ground.

Our new leaders

On Wednesday, the 112th Congress began, and Republicans took over the House. They are not going to tackle environmental legislation. This past election launched a host of climate deniers into office, and even members of Congress inclined to more reasonable environmental views, like Rep. Fred Upton, now chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, have tacked towards the right. Whereas once Upton recognized the need for action on climate change and reducing carbon emissions, recently he has been pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending carbon regulations and questioning whether carbon emissions are a problem at all.

“It’s worth remembering that Upton was once considered among the most moderate members of the GOP on the issue,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. “No longer.”

Good riddance

The climate bill is really, truly, dead, and it’s not coming back. But as Dave Roberts and Thomas Pitilli illustrate in Grist’s graphic account of the bill’s demise recalls, by the time it reached the Senate, the bill was already riddled with compromises.

And so perhaps it’s not such bad news that there’s space now to rethink how progressives should approach environmental and energy issues.

“It’s refreshing to shake the Etch-a-Sketch. You get to draw a new picture. The energy debate needs a new picture,” policy analyst Jason Grumet said last month, as Grist reports.

Already, in The Washington Monthly, Jeffrey Leonard, the CEO of the Global Environmental Fund, is pitching an idea that played no part in the discussions of the past two years. He writes:

If President Obama wants to set us on a path to a sustainable energy future—and a green one, too—he should propose a very simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy subsidies. Yes, eliminate them all—for oil, coal, gas, nuclear, ethanol, even for wind and solar. … Because wind, solar, and other green energy sources get only the tiniest sliver of the overall subsidy pie, they’ll have a competitive advantage in the long term if all subsidies, including the huge ones for fossil fuels, are eliminated.

No impact? No sweat

Federal policies aren’t the only part of the picture that can be re-drawn. Even as Congress failed to act on climate change, an ever-increasing number of Americans decided to make changes to decrease their impact on the environment.

Colin Beavan committed more dramatically than most: his No Impact Man project required that he switch to a zero-waste life style. This year, he partnered with Yes! Magazine for No Impact Week, which asks participants to engage in an 8-day “carbon cleanse,” in which they try out low-impact living. Yes! is publishing the chronicles of participants’ ups and downs with the experiment: Deb Seymour found it empowering to give up her right to shop; Grace Porter missed her bus stop and had to walk two miles to school; Aran Seaman found a local site where he could compost food scraps.

The long view

Perhaps, for some of the participants, No Impact Week will continue on after eight days. After Seaman participated last year, he gave up his car in favor of biking and public transportation.

On the surface, giving up a convenience like that can seem like a sacrifice. But it needn’t be. Janisse Ray writes in Orion Magazine about her decision to give up plane travel for environmental reasons. Instead, she now travels long distances by train, and that comes with its own pleasures:

Through the long night the train rocks down the rails, stopping in Charleston, Rocky Mount, Richmond, and other marvelous southern places. People get on and off. Across the aisle a woman is traveling with two children I learn are her son, aged twelve, and her granddaughter, ten months. In South Carolina we pick up a woman come from burying her father. He had wanted to go home, she says. She drinks periodically from a small bottle of wine buried in the pocket of her black overcoat. The train is not crowded, and I have two seats to myself.

Our true leaders

Ultimately, though, sweeping environmental changes will require leadership and societal changes. American politicians may have abdicated that responsibility for now, but others are still fighting. In In These Times, Robert Hirschfield writes of Subhas Dutta, who’s building a green movement in India.

“The environmental issue is the issue of today. The political parties, all of them, have let us down,” Dutta says. “We want to be part of the decision-making process on the state and national levels. The struggle for the environment has to be fought politically.”

One person who understood that was Judy Bonds, the anti-mountaintop removal mining activist, who died this week of cancer. Grist, Change.org, and Mother Jones all have remembrances; at Change.org, Phil Aroneanu shared “a beautiful elegy to Judy from her friend and colleague Vernon Haltom:”

I can’t count the number of times someone told me they got involved because they heard Judy speak, either at their university, at a rally, or in a documentary.  Years ago she envisioned a “thousand hillbilly march” in Washington, DC.  In 2010, that dream became a reality as thousands marched on the White House for Appalachia Rising….While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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