Category Archives: USA

American Embarrassment

There are things that people need to read.  This is one of them.

 

American Embarrassment

by: Joe Klein

It is always an education to watch our American writhings from overseas. It is particularly excrutiating watching the Republican Party presidential candidates who, on a daily basis, pronounce some ignorant racist or irreligious twaddle…which–amazingly enough–manages to be heard around the world. As Crowley notes below, today’s example primo is Newt, who really needs to get back on his meds, worrying about his grandchildren:

“I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9,” Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

There is genius in this: no other human had located the secular humanist wing of radical Islam before. And then there is Herman Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza who is pretending to run for President, proving that a black man can be as gutter-cheap bigoted as anyone. If elected, he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or the federal bench because:

There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.

Sharia law! Break out the burqas! Even Pete Wehner is appalled. I mean, what are these guys smoking? (Nothing so benign as marijuana, I would venture to say.)

This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party’s banner. They are the most compelling argument I’ve seen against American exceptionalism. Even Tim Pawlenty, a decent governor, can’t let a day go by without some bilious nonsense escaping his lizard brain. And, as Greg Sargent makes clear, Mitt Romney has wandered a long way from courage. There are those who say, cynically, if this is the dim-witted freak show the Republicans want to present in 2012, so be it. I disagree. One of them could get elected. You never know. Mick Huckabee, the front-runner if you can believe it, might have to negotiate a trade agreement, or a defense treaty, with the Indonesian President some day. Newt might have to discuss very delicate matters of national security with the President of Pakistan. And so I plead, as an unflinching American patriot–please Mitch Daniels, please Jeb Bush, please run. I may not agree with you on most things, but I respect you. And you seem to respect yourselves enough not to behave like public clowns.

Please, in the name of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, run.

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SkyBar- Thank You

I have been here once.  Now, I really want to go back.

Is your state broke?

In his new budget proposal, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich calls for extending a generous 21 percent cut in state income taxes. The measure was originally part of a sweeping 2005 tax overhaul that abolished the state corporate income tax and phased out a business property tax.

The tax cuts were supposed to stimulate Ohio’s economy and create jobs. But that never happened once the economy tanked. Instead, the changes ended up costing Ohio more than $2 billion a year in lost tax revenue; money that would go a long way toward closing the state’s $8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2012.

“At least half of our current budget problem is a direct result of the tax changes we made in 2005. A lot of people don’t want to hear that, but that’s the reality. Much of our pain is self-inflicted,” said Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal government-research group in Cleveland.

Schiller’s lament is by no means unique. Across the country, taxpayers jarred by cuts to government jobs and services are reassessing the risks and costs of a variety of tax reductions, exemptions and credits, and the ideology that drives them. States cut taxes in hopes of spurring economic growth, but in state after state, it hasn’t worked.

There’s no question that mammoth state budget problems resulted largely from falling tax revenues, rising costs and greater demand for state services during the recession. But questionable tax reductions at the state and local level made the budget gaps larger — and resulting spending cuts deeper — than they otherwise would have been in many states.

A 2008 study by Arizona State University found that that state’s structural deficits could be traced to 15 years of tax cuts, mainly income-tax reductions that “were not matched by spending cuts of a commensurate size.”

In Texas, which faces a $27 billion budget deficit over the next two years, about one-third of the shortage stems from a 2006 property tax reduction that was linked to an underperforming business tax.

In Louisiana, lawmakers essentially passed the largest tax cut in state history by rolling back an income-tax hike for high earners in 2007 and again in 2008.

Without those tax reductions, Louisiana wouldn’t have had a budget deficit in fiscal year 2010, the 2011 deficit would’ve been 50 percent less and the 2012 deficit of $1.6 billion would be reduced by about one-third, said Edward Ashworth, the director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a watchdog group.

These and similar budget problems nationwide are symptoms of a larger condition, said Timothy J. Bartik, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“If state and local taxes were at the same percentage of state personal income as they were 40 years ago, you wouldn’t have all these budgetary problems,” Bartik said.

Before California’s Proposition 13 triggered a nationwide tax-cut revolt in the late 1970s, state and local taxes accounted for nearly 13 percent of personal income in 1972, Bartik said. By 2007, it was 11 percent.

State corporate income taxes have fallen as well. Once nearly 10 percent of all state tax revenue in the late ’70s, they accounted for only 5.4 percent in 2010.

“It’s a dying tax, killed off by thousands of credits, deductions, abatements and incentive packages,” according to 2010 congressional testimony by Joseph Henchman, the director of state projects at the Tax Foundation, a conservative tax-research center.

Even now, as states struggle to provide basic services and ponder job cuts that threaten their economic recovery, at least seven governors in states with budget deficits have called for or enacted large tax reductions, mainly for businesses.

Five are newly elected Republicans in Florida, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin. The others are Republican Jan Brewer of Arizona and Democrat Beverly Perdue of North Carolina.

Their willingness to forgo needed tax revenue is hard to fathom, as states face a collective $125 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, said Jon Shure, the deputy director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a respected liberal research institute in Washington.

“To be cutting taxes when you’re short of revenue is like saying you could run faster if you cut off your foot,” Shure said.

“States have suffered an unprecedented collapse in revenue, and they are at the bottom of a deep hole looking up, and these governors are saying, ‘You need a ladder to climb out, but I’m going to give you a shovel instead, so you can dig the hole deeper.’ ”

Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge said the governors were simply trying to improve their states’ business climates by lowering the tax burden.

“They’re trying to increase their market share and their attractiveness to business,” Hodge said. “And also, more importantly, they’re trying to prevent the attrition of business and investment to other states” that have lower tax rates.

Republican lawmakers and pro-business groups have long maintained that tax cuts help stimulate economic activity, while keeping businesses and wealthy individuals from leaving the state for lower taxes elsewhere. They also argue that business and personal spending increases after tax reductions, broadening the base to be taxed at the lower rate, which partly offsets the lost tax revenue.

So calls to balance lean state budgets through spending cuts as well as modest, revenue-boosting tax hikes haven’t resonated with Republican governors, who see tax relief as the key to reversing job losses in the Great Recession.

“Raising Ohio’s taxes even higher won’t bring those jobs back. Reducing costs so we can start reducing taxes is the key to our revival,” said Rob Nichols, Kasich’s press secretary. Extending the state’s personal income-tax cut will cost $800 million over two years.

Business tax reductions may be overrated as an economic stimulus because they’re so low on the totem pole of expenses. For most businesses, the cost of labor is probably 15 times the cost of all state and local taxes, said Bartik of the Upjohn Institute.

In his own research, Bartik found that a 10 percent across-the-board cut in state and local business taxes might boost employment by 2 percent, but it could take up to 20 years.

“Most studies indicate you might get 30 percent of the effect after five years and maybe 60 percent after 10 years,” Bartik said. “It takes a while because investment decisions are quite lagged and take place gradually.”

Compounding Ohio’s budget woes are 128 state tax exemptions, credits and deductions that drain more than $7 billion a year in would-be revenue. These loopholes make Ohio miss out on one of every four dollars it would otherwise collect in taxes, said Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio.

In Missouri, business and individual tax credits cost the state $521.5 million in fiscal year 2010, compared with $103 million in 1998, according to a state report.

Louisiana’s 441 individual and corporate tax breaks cost the state $7.1 billion last year. That nearly matches the $7.7 billion that all state and local taxes brought in.

Some of the breaks provide sales-tax exemptions on groceries, prescription drugs and residential utilities that saved Louisiana taxpayers $717 million last year. But another allows Louisiana companies to keep 1 percent of the state sales taxes they collect — about $34 million statewide — just for filing their tax returns on time.

Hodge, a conservative, said that closing loopholes and exemptions was less harmful to the economy than tax increases were. The Tax Foundation supports scaling back or closing tax loopholes, while lowering tax rates across the board.

“My argument to state lawmakers is that lower rates for everybody are better than tax incentives for some,” Hodge said.

That incentive-free philosophy was behind Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for a flat 6 percent corporate income tax to replace the current business tax system. But Snyder’s flat tax amounts to a $1.5 billion tax cut for businesses, paid for in part by education cuts, personal income tax increases and taxing public and private pensions.

“We think that’s the way to rebuild our state, and to get it on a path toward economic prosperity,” Snyder’s top economic development official, Michael Finney, said during a recent trip to Washington.

History suggests otherwise, however. After the nation recovered from the 1990-91 recession, 43 states made sizable tax cuts from 1994 to 2001 as the economy surged. Twenty-eight states, in fact, reduced their unemployment insurance payroll taxes after 1995.

But states that cut taxes the most ended up with the largest budget shortfalls and higher job losses when the economy slowed again in 2001, according to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

To be sure, states have made bad budget decisions on the spending side as well, said Robert Ward, deputy director of The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, a state-government research center at the State University of New York at Albany.

Part of the problem is that the public wants everything but doesn’t want to pay for anything, Ward said.

“People want something for nothing. They want big increases in education and health care spending. They want good roads. They want lots of parks, and they don’t want to pay more taxes,” Ward said. “But at the federal, state and local levels, we are hit with the reality that there is no free lunch.”

A Chicken and a Thymus Gland

My wife, child, and I were in Kansas City for a family pre-Christmas get together.  We had an open night, and my wife’s aunt and uncle volunteered to watch the baby.  SOOOO, where else would I want to go while in Kansas City other than Chef Celine Tio’s restaurant Julian?  Ummm, Nowhere.  Of course we called the day we wanted to book the reservation.  I fully expected to hear, “Sorry, we are fully booked tonight.”  Much to my surprise, The kind voice on the phone responded to my plea with,” Yes, we can seat you then.”  I hope I didn’t hurt her eardrum as I squealed like a young girl encountering her 1st frog.  It was all set!  Julian here we come.

eat here

It goes without saying that I love food.  I really love good food.  Kansas City, Missouri is home to Celene Tio’s restaurant, Julian.  Watching The Next Iron Chef, my wife and I quickly started routing for Chef Tio. She was funny and entertaining and seemed like a genuine person- and she cranked out some killer looking (and sounding) food.  So, we knew the next time we were in KC we were definitely going to visit her restaurant.

If you watch any food related TV, you have heard of sweetbreads.  For those that don’t know what they are- it is not a bread at all.   Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of a calf (this isn’t always the case).  To an average American psyche- daunting to eat to say the least.  Through the wonderful world of the internet, we knew the menu options at Julian before we arrived.  Sweetbreads were on it and my mind could not stop thinking about them.  I was wondering about the texture of them, how accurate Jeffrey Steingarten’s account of them are, and could I actually eat it.  The balance to this was- “When can you get a A+ Chef’s recipe for sweetbreads again?”  I could not let this opportunity pass.

I talked about sweetbreads all day and all the way there.  Everyone in our party was well versed on what they were and forming their own opinions of them by the time we pulled into the parking lot.  We arrived and were quickly seated.  When it was time to place our order and the sweetbread request was to be made- I ordered caviar.  Yeah, I chickened out.  My table gasped when they realized I passed on the sweetbreads.  All of my talk- apparently it was hot air.  My trepidation of eating a gland made me order fish eggs.  As delicious as the caviar on homemade chips was, I immediately felt like a wussy.  I felt like a coward.  I couldn’t believe that I didn’t order sweetbreads in this perfect setting to try them.  I started convincing myself to order some- to be in the moment- to take a chance- to do what you wanted to do from the start.  After my internal Dr. Phil moment passed, I asked our server to please add an order of sweetbreads.  He smiled and nodded.  A calm pleasantness suddenly came over me, it could have been the wine, but I doubt it.  It was the expectation of the sweetbread magic that was on the way.

The sweetbreads arrived at the table in an oval bowl with a red and white checkered paper surrounding them.  They resembled something fried.  To a southern boy like me…perfect.  I selected one.  I smelled it.  I noticed my party’s eyes trained on me.  This was the big moment.  All the talk came down to this.  Here I sat, with great company, in Celine Tio’s restaurant with a sweetbread in my hand.  All that was left to do was bite it.  So, I did and it was wonderful.  It was fried crisp on the outside yet soft and meaty on the inside.  The flavor was unexpectedly sublime.  My face lit up with pleasure as the taste registered.  Now, my table mates wanted to taste one.  After the guinea pig lived- everyone wants one.  I offered them all one.  They all tried it – and liked it.  The oval bowl was quickly emptied and savored.

On my “culinary bucket list” a check mark instantly appeared by “sweetbreads” and “Eat at Julian.”  Two accomplishments in one delicious bite.

Chef Tio and I @ Julian

You should not assume that the meal in total it was any less delicious.  The crispy pork with the tamarind sauce was greatness on a plate.  The wine selection was amazing.  Not to mention the fact that Chef Tio visited our table, agreed to take a pic with me, and was completely a real human being was MONUMENTAL!

It is nice to know that our assumption about Chef Tio and her food was correct.  Her food and personality are both great.  We will definitely go back as soon as we get back to KC.

Social Hierarchy…and an AK-74U

There is someone behind a shattered brick wall.  They are moving in and out of view.  They are armed.  You are armed as well but, completely unafraid.  You raise your weapon and take aim on the area they will be moving to next.  They move as you launch a grenade from your under barrel GSN-19.  The explosion sends the target spinning into the air as you turn your head to look for another target.  Forgetting them instantly.  Your communication device cracks to life with voices alerting you to the fact that you are a “noob.”

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Post Christmas Reflections

My Wife's Proposed Lighting Plan For Next Year

The tree has been put away or discarded.  The newly untangled lights start their year long re-tangling process.  The plastic Rudolphs, Santas, Jesuses ( I admit I do not know the plural of Jesus.), and plates with Frosty on them are all put into their storage containers and forgotten about by everyone for another 11 months.  Everyone except my wife.

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Some Info for Mississippi Voters

First some facts:

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Olbermann: If the Tea Party wins, America loses

As you know, if I see or read something that makes so much sense that I have to share it – I will.  This comes from Keith Olberman on MSNBC’s Countdown.  It is about the Tea Party and its agenda for America. Please read it, think about it, and check the facts contained within it – then decide for yourself if the Tea Party is something that you truly feel is good for this country.  Don’t decide solely because of this Special Comment from Mr. Olberman, but look around and educate yourself from the myriad of reports and analysis that draw the same conclusions.  These are important times my friends…get smarter.  I now yield the remainder of my time and my blog to Mr. Olberman. Read the rest of this entry

How Intellectuals Betrayed the Poor

Cornel West is a philosopher, author and the University Professor at Princeton University. A widely cited figure in a variety of fields, he is the author of the new memoir, “Brother West: Living & Loving Out Loud,” as well as “Race Matters,” “The Future of Race,” “Democracy Matters: The Battle Against Imperialism,” among many others. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and raised in Sacramento, California, West graduated Magna Cum Laude Harvard University and went on to complete his Ph.D at Princeton. The winner of numerous awards, including the American Book Award, he has also received more than twenty honorary degrees.

Here is a video of Dr. West speaking on how the poor have suffered from the idea that an “unfettered market” was good for America. Click here to watch Video.

This and other completely smart, mindblowing, and relevant interviews are on BigThink.com.  I have attached a transcript of the video for those without speakers.

READ, WATCH, GET SMARTER

Transcript of interview:

Question: Why are we no longer concerned with the working class?

Cornel West: I think one was, there was an idolizing of unfettered markets. And much if not most of the intelligentsia were duped. I recall traveling with my dear brother Michael Harrington and talking with brother Stanley Aronowitz years ago. And you know, here we’re engaged in critiques of unfettered markets, and it looked as if we were medieval thinkers. Everybody was saying, we’re followers of Milton Friedman. Everybody was saying Frederick Hayak got it right. Everybody was saying marketize, commercialize, commodify, and we were still reading Lukasch. And Lukasch was saying commodification is not simply an asymmetric relation of power, of bosses vis-à-vis workers, so workers are being more and more marginalized. Profits are being produced, wealth is being produced, hemorrhaged at the top, no fair distribution of that wealth or profit for workers. Poor are being demonized because they are viewed as those persons who are irresponsible, who will not work, who are always looking for welfare; i.e., failures in the society of success. And we reached a brink, and the chickens came home to roost. And a few years ago the unfettered markets led us off and over the brink.

And all of a sudden, very few intellectuals want to be honest and acknowledge the greed with which they were duped. Don’t want to talk about the inequality that went along with it. Don’t want to talk about the demonization of the poor that went along with it. Don’t want to talk about the politics of fear that produced a Republican Party that was more and more lily-white, using not just race but also demonizing gay brothers and lesbian sisters, you see. Don’t want to talk about the indifference toward the poor, and greed being good and desirable and so forth. Now is a very different moment, and it’s not, you know, just about pointing fingers, but saying somebody’s got to take responsibility. This was a nearly 40-year run. Who paid the cost? As is usually the case, you know, poor working people paid the cost, disproportionately black and brown and red, you see.

Question: Is this changing in the age of Obama?

Cornel West: So in the age of Obama, we say, okay, can we have a different kind of discussion? And that’s what we’re trying to do, but of course you’ve got two wars going on; you’ve got still Wall Street in the driver’s seat in the Obama administration when it comes to the economic team, you see. And you’ve got very — you know, I think in some ways unimaginative thinking when it comes to foreign policy, be it the Middle East or be it European Union or be it Latin America, you know, calling Chavez a dictator; the man’s been elected! If he’s calling into question rights and liberties, criticize him as a democratic president. We did the same thing for Bush. Bush was calling into question rights and liberties; we didn’t call him a dictator. We said he’s a democratically elected president who’s doing the wrong thing. Chavez ought to be criticized. He’s not a dictator; the man’s been elected.

But it’s that kind of demonizing that obscures and obfuscates the kind of issues that are necessary, because Chavez is also talking about poor people. So of course I want libertarian and democratic sides. I want right and liberties and empowerment of poor people. But talking about poor people is not a joke; it’s crucial, it’s part and parcel of the future of any serious democratic project. The fundamental question of any democracy is, what is the relation between public interest and the most vulnerable? That’s the question, you see. That is the question. The test of your rule of law is going to be, how are the most vulnerable being treated? It’s not whether the torturers are getting off; we know the torturers don’t have the rule of law applied to them. The wiretappers, they’re getting off scot-free. What about Jamal with the crack bag? Take him to jail for seven years. Oh — so you’ve got a different rule of law when it comes to Jamal on the corner versus your torturers and your wiretappers? Torture is a crime against humanity; it’s not just illegal. Wiretapping is illegal, you see. Now, it’s not a crime against humanity, because I mean, I’m sure I’ve had my phone tapped for years. I don’t think they committed a crime against humanity; they just ought to quit doing it God dangit.

Question: How can we strengthen the demos?

Cornel West: Well, you — I think you keep in mind — I mean, the demos is always a heterogeneous, diverse — got a lot of xenophobic elements among the demos — a lot of ignorance, a lot of parochialism. You also have a lot of cosmopolitanism, a lot of globalism, a lot of courage, moral courage. So the demos is not one thing. But when it comes to the ability of the demos to organize, mobilize and bring power and pressure to bear, we certainly are in a crisis; our system is broken. We’ve got seventy one percent of the people who want universal health care, and you can barely get through a reform bill with a weak public option. It’s clear lobbyists from the top, pharmaceutical companies, drug companies have tremendous influence, much more than the demos from below, you see. So that those preferences don’t get translated easily because our politicians are beholden to that big money and that big influence. But I mean the demos is still around, thank God. You’ve got your own institution. Dialog — dialog is the lifeblood of a democracy. You’ve got to allow ideas to flow. You have to expose people to different visions, alternative arguments and so on, to try to keep the torch of the progressive demos alive. But it’s very difficult to organize it. Complacency is deep; apathy is deep; people are wondering how can you confront, you know, big finance, big government tied to big finance, when all you’ve got is these little people, who are willing to talk and so forth, but have tremendous power bringing serious pressure to bear. We can march; you know, we marched against the war by the millions. We were ignored by the Bush administration. Some of us went to jail. We were ignored; we couldn’t translate into foreign policy. That happens sometimes. It was **** Vietnam.

Recorded on: November 3, 2009

100% of this post was taken from http://bigthink.com.  Just thought you needed to see it.

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