Friday, February 27, 2009

The Wingnut Gospel: Obama will Kill Small Business

Yesterday, Media Matters, published a great article entitled "Washington Post and New York Times let Boehner revive small business tax falsehood." I encourage you to read it.

Sometimes, however, even greater insight can be found in the comments than in the article which prompted them...here are some of my favorites...

From Nerzog:

I guess the Replutocrats think that if they keep repeating this lie, the Media will stop bothering to correct them..... oh, wait, it's already happened.

The Democrats need to take it upon themselves to publicly debunk this myth as often as it takes. As media savvy as they are, Obama's team doesn't seem to realize yet that the Replutocrats own the media, and they'll have to find alternative means to get the truth past all the bullsh*t.

I particularly like the term: RePLUTOcrats....and think I shall adopt it.

And here is another insightful comment, this one from Snoopy:

My experience these last few years is that tax cuts puts more operating capital into the owner's pocket who in turn uses that capital to outsource manufacturing to china and india, thus putting even more capital into his pocket. Who needs quality when you've got 3 billion potential customers who think transister radios are awesome technology!

A great discussion on corporate vs. personal taxes took place between neon desert and nerzog . Here's the take-home:

I was under the impression that incorporation legally segregated the individual from the business, thereby protecting personal property from liabilities incurred by the business.

That being the case, anyone making >$250k/yr from their small business who hasn't incorporated should be assessed a stoopidity surtax anyway.

You said it, buddy.

And last but not least, some great advice from Col. Harlan Sanders (no, probably not THAT one):

These are the questions I keep asking the conservatives on this issue. I'm just going to copy from a recent thread;

Do you own a business? If so, have you ever let an employee go, or decided not to hire a new employee because your taxes were raised?

Do you work for somebody else who has done these things?

Do you know anybody personally who has?

Friend of a friend?


Fictitious right wing email claiming to?

An example , with the essential numbers in revenues/expenses that is feasible?

Cheney2012, to his credit, at least tried to fake a generic anecdotal answer;

"I have known several business owners over the years who have SHUT DOWN completely because of increases in taxes."

What I never get is a credible example. I've owned a small business, I've worked for small and large companies, and have never seen an employer eliminate or add a job because of taxes. It's part of the Wingnut Gospel, and is used as a given, a starting point for their arguments, something that happens all of the time, but something that I've never seen a real world example of.

I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm just asking that anybody who wants to use this as a common occurence cite some reality-based example. Maybe some numbers, some specifics on the company, where were the revenues and expenses when this company decided it was better to pass up those profits than to pay taxes on them.

I've seen taxes used as an excuse by people who couldn't run a business, maybe that's the bottom line.

Great Discussion.

It isn't "YOU"-- It's "THEM" : John Boehner Defends the Wealthy

Just remember this:

When a Republican says "You"- He (Or she) really means: "Them".

Yesterday, I heard House Minority Leader John Boehner declare, that "The era of big government is back and Democrats are asking you to pay for it".


As I contemplate an uncertain world and the possibility of layoffs, these words would tend to strike fear into my heart...I AM GOING TO PAY? ME? I CAN'T AFFORD TO PAY!

But then I remember- Obama's "Tax Hike" is aimed at those people who make A QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR or MORE...I don't make anything CLOSE to a QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS a year...think of it, every 4 years, you earn a million dollars...nope, that's not "me"...

That is Not Me...and, what's more, that is not anybody I know... and I even know some people who are pretty comfortable with what they make...Doctors, Small Business Owners, etc.

So, when John Boehner points his finger straight at the camera (I heard him on the radio, so I'm imagining that part) and declaims in that big deep, stiff voice: YOU ARE GOING TO PAY!

You have to stop and ask yourself: YOU WHO?

And the answer comes back: The Wealthy.

Okay- well, that might still be bad. Don't the wealthy create jobs for the rest of us? Through their entrepreneurial energy, or at least through their mindless conspicuous consumption, don't they serve as the economic engine that takes us where we want to go?

Isn't it worth our while to appease them with Tax Cuts so that they continue to shower us with their largess?

My answer, is, of course: No.

Why not?

Simple: We are not getting our money's worth out of the rich.

It's a good theory, and very seductive (especially if you're rich...it's also quite flattering)...but it just hasn't proven to be the case.

There has been advancement, too be sure, and, until the current crises ripped the mask off, it was possible to say that a rising tide raised all boats.

But some boats rose much faster and further than others.

For most of the latter half of the 20th century, and the first 8 years of the 21st...the American people, and particularly the American Wealthy, have enjoyed some of the lowest tax rates in the world.

As a people, we have excused the wealthy from a large portion of their financial duty as citizens and, instead, have passed that debt on to ourselves in our old age, or to our children. We did this in the hopes that the wealthy will commit that money to stimulating the economy, providing jobs and raising the standard of living for us, their fellow citizens.

I would submit that this plan has not worked.

The Gap between the rich and the poor is growing, and the United States has "the highest inequality and poverty in the OECD after Mexico and Turkey, and the gap has increased rapidly since 2000."

And, as Republicans have fought to save the "Estate Tax"- they have worked to ensure that this gap is passed on to the next generation. The odds are, now, that if you are born into the lower middle class, you will stay there...and if you were born wealthy, you will die that way.

What does that mean?

It means that a poor person would have to possess almost superhuman amounts of entrepreneurial energy (and experience rare good fortune) to raise themselves to a higher level. I'm not talking about common sense and hard work.. I'm talking about Genius, and we all know that the good Lord don't hand that out on anything like a regular basis.

It means that those who are born to wealth and power will have not earned it through hard work, or intellectual ability.

It means that the United States will, increasingly, be run by people who were born in to their positions without earning either experience or wisdom.

I would offer my opinion that this does not bode well for our democracy, OR our economic system. As evidence, I would offer the current banking crisis...this can certainly disabuse us of the notion that the wealthy are smarter about money than the rest of us.

By going along with this Republican plan, we, as a people, have paid a great price...and we are passing an even greater price of debt along to our children.

A few days ago, I wrote about how the Republicans used the cry of "TAXES BAD" to tempt us into this mess...

And now, to borrow a phrase from the man who set us on the path, Ronald Reagan, we can point to Mr. Boehner and say: "There you go again....."

We can't afford it this time.

So, if you are slightly panicked when you hear John Boehner say "YOU" just remember-- he isn't really talking about you. He's talking about "Them" and we've let them have enough. The experiment didn't work, and it's time to put this country, and ALL of us, back on the right track.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nation Undead: The Do It Yourself Zombie Film

(Note: Rip and Read would like to suggest that you play the accompanying You-Tube video while reading this post.)

My relationship with the Zombie Film is changing. I have to admit, I've never been a big fan...until recently. First, there was Shaun of the Dead, which is just a really funny, clever film. Then, the Johnathan Coulton song: RE: YOUR BRAINS- which I hope you are listening too right now as you read this...and last year, I watched the Vincent Price film Last Man on Earth for the first time.

I watched Last Man because I was bored, and it was free on-line, and I was very surprised when I found that images and voices from this film kept coming back to me, haunting me (if you'll pardon the pun). This was not because the plot, which has become pretty damn standard these days- deadly disease creates flesh eating (or blood drinking) monsters- people trapped inside fighting for their lives, etc. Nor was it due to the special effects- which are 1950s low budget awful.

Rather, it had to do with the way the story was told, and, in particular, the melancholy performance of the great Vincent Price in the title role. Price made his lonely, besieged character live, and, through his acting, drew me deep inside of the story.

Now, I've found another new wrinkle on this old story...Nation Undead. The difference this time, however, is that the story is being told by many different artists around the country. And anyone is free to submit a short film to the project. Depending on what part of the country you live in, you are invited to tell a specific chapter of the tale...all submissions are posted on the Nation Undead website, and, at the end of the project, the best submissions will be wrapped together in to the final nine part film...

It's a neat concept...but what's even more fun is watching how different filmmakers handle the story assignments. In each of the two short films I watched ("Sticks" and "Warren, Ohio") I was wrapped up, not in the horror of zombies...but more in the horror of watching people face a reality that is unfaceable... in one episode, a couple of twenty-something drifters deal with reality of a world in which everything stable has become unstuck...in the other, a man desperately tries to get medicine to cure his wife...these are Zombie stories, and yet, they could just as easily be stories about kids dealing with a world of economic upheaval or health care which is beyond reach. The situation is highly fictional, but the characters are very real, and thus fascinating.

I first heard about this project earlier this week from a friend of a friend who was involved. When I wrote back to him about how much I enjoyed viewing these films, and explained that is was the reality of the characters that had me glued to the screen.

He wrote back: "[that's] I am most interested in with the genre...the psychology of the event. The true horror is in survival."

Social Media as film-making....it's really, really neat concept, and I hope you'll Run, not Walk, to Nation Undead - pop some popcorn and enjoy watching a great movie unfold before your very eyes!

If readers are interested in learning more, I suggest a visit to New Hampshire Public Radio, which did a story on this. The link is here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Recession: A Battle Lost (revised)

It is high time for the Democratic party to face a very unpleasant fact: We have lost the battle for the second half of the twentieth Century. It is high time for the American people to realize the cost of that defeat.

In the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, Americans swept Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the Oval Office. FDR proceeded to remake American society. He and the Democratic party constructed a new type of society, in which Americans were offered social security in their old age, the right to collectively bargain with their employers, and the right to participate in a market place regulated and made safer by the Government’s presence as traffic cop.

In effect, FDR smoothed the wrinkles of the free market…eliminating the lowest of lows, but also restricting access to the highest of highs.

The right wing never forgave him for it. For, although most Americans were now comfortable, there were, the right felt, restraints on them which prohibited them from reaching for unlimited wealth and power.

Grover Norquist, the Republican strategist who, with Newt Gingrich, drafted the Contract with America, famously said: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Republicans of his sort set the goal of cutting the federal government in half by 2025.

How was this reduction in size to be accomplished?

Given the fact that the American People had come to expect help with higher education, health care, workers compensation for injury, social security and a host of other helpful programs, Republicans were faced with a problem. How were they going to convince the majority of Americans to vote for policies which were not in their best interest?

Their answer, their Ace in the Hole, was Tax Cuts. Anyone who has ever been dismayed at reading his pay stub and noting the difference between his gross and net income likes the sound of those words “Tax Cuts”…that was easy to get people to rally behind.

And, since the hated programs and regulators were funded by taxes, Republicans knew that in the end, their goal of a weakened, rickety federal government was also within sight.

Today, as we contemplate the ruin of American society…as we see the American dream sliding out of reach for most Americans, we are forced to conclude that this strategy of “Starve-the-Beast” has worked.

We, as Democrats, have lost this battle. The radicals on the Right have succeeded in diminishing the power of the Government to serve as an instrument to help us build a more just society, and to more fully "provide for the General Welfare".

We have not yet lost the war, however. We may still work to rebuild Government so that it may continue to serve the ordinary people of this nation. The task, however, will not be a pleasant one. And, for Democrats, it will be exceedingly difficult as we find ourselves having to postpone addressing the genuine needs of certain of our fellow citizens as we tend to the business of rebuilding that engine by which we can help them in the long run.

But this is what we must do. Our inability to act quickly, and to provide help immediately, is the price we will have to pay for loosing this battle.

If, however, we continue to fight this action, we will loose the war itself...and that means we will never be able to redress grievances again. We must fall back, dig new lines, and fight to stop the Right wing march of debt, only after we have stopped them, can we then begin to regain lost ground and continue the task of building the shining city on the hill.

It will take many years to replace the safety nets for ordinary Americans which were strung between 1933 and 1981. Before we even begin, we will need to spend our money to get our government out of debt. There are hard times for the American people ahead, and we will need to grit our teeth and get to work if we are to dig ourselves out of the hole the Republicans talked us into.

The President's Speech: The Value of Communication

From the very first moments of President Barack Hussein Obama's speech last night (which I watched this morning on the NYTimes website) I felt fortunate that we have this man as our president at this time.

One of the Republican talking points during the recent campaign was that eloquence is not action...but it has always been my belief that eloquence is the primary quality a leader must have...especially in troubling times. Without the ability to express ideas, not only clearly, but in a way which invites an emotional and energic positive response, a leader of a free people can do nothing.

The President, started his speech last night by saying that:

... while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and our universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

This is precisely the note of hope that the nation must keep top of mind, as we enter a period of reduced luxuries and harder work...and we must remember that, though our collective labors, we WILL return to prosperity.

The President also invited us to look back into our recent past, and realize that we are now reaping the bitter fruits of the crop we sowed - starting as long as twenty years ago. As a people, we chose not to break our addiction to forgiegn oil and cheep goods, and we turned to leaders who promised us easy answers:

The fact is our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. (Applause.) Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely -- to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that is what I'd like to talk to you about tonight.

Both the reminder that, as a Democracy and a people, we put ourselves in this place, and by inviting us to remember that, through our focus and hard work, we will raise ourselves out of it, President Obama is following in the great tradition of our best orators (who, not coincidentally, have been our best leaders) Kennedy, Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt.

I, for one, was grateful to hear the speech.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Recession: Rochester Town Hall Meeting

On Thursday, February 19th, I attended a town-meeting of legislators and citizens to address Minnesota’s current budget crisis.

The meeting was packed. I had expected maybe 100 to 150 people. The total crowd size was more like 275 to 375. Olmsted County citizens overflowed the seats and stood in the wings and along the back row.

Bill Marx, Chief Fiscal Analyst for the Minnesota House, kicked off the meeting by presenting an overview of how the current budget crises occurred and ran through details of Governor Tim Pawlenty’s drastic budget cuts.

Then, as State Legislators (including the Speaker of the Minnesota House, Rochester Representatives Kim Norton and Tina Liebling, and State Senators Ann Lynch and Dave Senjem) listened, people from Rochester came to the Microphone to offer testimony about how the budget cuts would effect them.

A group of Attorneys who worked as public defenders complained that the judicial system was going to be cut. Aid workers to the disabled and parents of the disabled complained that their sources of support would be cut. Teachers complained that their colleagues were losing their jobs and that class sizes were grown as budgets were cut. Doctors complained that heath care was being cut. A college president complained that his budget was being cut. A small business owner complained that he has had to cut employees and might have to cut more if his taxes were increased to prevent more cuts.

In one of the bigger crowd pleasers, two bright, well dressed young members of a high school speech team complained that the budget for their TEAM was in danger of being cut…(“won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children”)

As I listened to this litany of complaints and cuts, my heart began to harden. “Don’t these people realize”, I muttered to myself, “that we are OUT OF FREAKIN’ MONEY?”

Of course I, as a citizen (not to mention as a Democrat, born and bred) don’t want to cut teachers, hurt small businesses, cut aid to the disabled or deprive some kids of their treasured speech class field trips…

One of the common problems with most of this “testimony”, in my opinion was a lack of ability on the part of the speakers to explain in cold heart numbers (and not just warm, humanistic fuzzy sentiment) how their work SAVED this Government of the People, by the People and for the People MONEY.

I felt a deep lack of understanding on the part of those testifying of the fact that Life Cannot Continue as Before. Changes will be made. They are not pleasant. That is the fact- there is, alas, no way around it.

Next to me stood a man I judged to be in his late sixties. Based soley on his dress and demeanor, I made a snap judgement that he was probably the type of Republican with whom I felt I had nothing in common.

He turned to me and said, “It all sounds like a lot of begging to me”.

I was somewhat dismayed to find that I agreed with him. Was I, the staunch Democrat, turning Republican?

But I realized, in the end, that no. I was just being realistic. As Democrats, we are now going to have to engage in some deep slicing- it will hurt, and it will run contrary to what we, in our hearts want for our fellow citizens and ourselves.

But, we must realize that the welfare of the nation as a whole is, at this time, of even greater importance than any one singe interest group, no matter how worthy.

Yes, as Democrats, we will, in all likelihood, have to begin doing things we would rather not do. No one, even those who are now suffering, will be spared additional suffering until we reach the other side of this crisis.

However, as one speaker pointed out, our job (especially as Democrats) is to ensure that “these cuts [shouldn’t and don’t] fall disproportionately on the backs of the poor.” Again, however, the key word is “disproportionately”- there will, I’m afraid, have to be cuts for all if we are to survive.

The rain, as the gospel of Matthew reminds us, falls upon the just and the unjust. And there will be pain in the future for all of us…the faster we suck up and deal with this fact, the sooner we will dig our way out, and once again have the resources to renew our mission to raise the standard of living and offer hope to all.

There is one other thing worth noting. In all of the testimony that I heard, only one speaker mentioned the importance of Volunteering. If we cannot, as a government, afford to provide professional caregivers to the disabled, can we not Give of our Time to help them ourselves? Can we not collect some change to help the speech class? Can some who are currently out of work not give of their time to function as teacher aides in oversized classrooms?

As a society, we are dealing with the pain of loss right now. However, we can not afford the luxury of denial, we must move forward if we are to heal.

The Recession: A Fable

Imagine: A father returns home from his job. A driven man, he’s created a comfortable life for his family. His family is also driven, and has done many great things with the resources he has provided for them. His wife travels to Central America every year, at the families expense, to build housing for the poor. His son, still in high school, is working with an excellent and expensive private tutor to help ensure his chances of attending an Ivy League School. His daughter is progressing very nicely with the violin lessons she receives every week.

But today, that will all change. Today, the father has been laid-off from his job. The steady income of money upon which this edifice was built is gone. At first, nothing much changes for the family. Trips to Central America , lessons and training are all placed on the credit card, which, thankfully, still works. There is no serious decline in the family’s standard of living, either. A large screen TV is purchased for Christmas, the coffee every morning is still gourmet.

But eventually, holes begin to appear in the fabric of this family's life. The phone calls begin to come. The mortgage on the house is over-due….the father has not found a new job to replace the lost income. He calls a family meeting: We must cut back on our expenses, he says, or go under.

And the cries come. “But my charity work is important,” cries the mother, “I’ve actually saved people’s lives.” “I need my tutor so that I can get in to the best schools”, cries the son. “My music is important, I have to right to fulfill my full potential as an artist”, cries the daughter.

All of this is true…but, in the last analysis, there is no more money. It is all gone. There is nothing to be done. All of these great things that we were and are doing can no longer be done,” says the father. “Not only that, but we’ll probably see some changes here at home as well- we’ll probably have to move to a smaller house, and we’ll loose most of our electronic toys- TV’s, computers, pool table- they will soon be repossessed if we don’t find the money to pay for them.”

But the family stares at the father in incomprehension…they have never lived any other way, and it is beyond them to imagine a different way of life. They continue to use eloquent arguments to justify why their activities and their comforts are absolutely necessary and beneficial…

And outside, in the cold, the wolves gather.

Okay- that’s a bit melodramatic, but I think it is an apt description of the place in which the American people find themselves at the moment. If we are to survive, and eventually rebuild, it is now time to buckle down to work AND to face some hard choices.

As a people, however, I don’t think we’ve accepted that reality and I’m not sure how we can drive the point home to ourselves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Michele Bachmann: Evil Incarnate, Just Plain Stupid, or All of the Above.

No need to write much today...spend a few moments listening to the odd, bizarre, and just plain slimy inner monologue of Minnesota's Own Michele Bachmann.

Visit The Huffington Post to learn the shocking Truth:


PS- The really amazing thing is listening to the Republicans bitch about things that the Democrats are supposedly doing--- and looking back at the last 8 years (and then some) every crime these NUTS accuse the Donkey of contemplating, they have already have been able to do.