April 19, 2009
People having trouble making ends meet have reason to wish bank and credit-card fees were less onerous, and they naturally resent the inevitable burden of any tax they think is unfair. Yet nobody in the U.S.A. wants our local, state, or federal agencies to outright shut down the way they have in Somalia. We value the services the government provides even though we hope Obama can cut costs and reverse the run-away growth of the U.S. federal government that has characterized the beginning of this century.
Fair, easily understood taxes are a reasonable means to pay for public education, defense, bridges & roads, and so on – so long as they aren’t roads and bridges to nowhere that benefit some special interest that donates to a congressional campaign to win favors. Nobody doubts we need on-going investments to keep this country a great place to live, work, and raise families – yet amid the on-going economic meltdown there’s a natural anger when we hear about bailout money going to folks who earn more in a single bonus than most Americans earn in a lifetime.
So when we argue about tax cuts, let’s make sure we’re clear on just whose taxes are being cut. We’ve been giving tax breaks to oil companies, and now Exxon’s atop the Fortune 500 – it doesn’t take an accounting degree to know that’s not fair to people trying to pay for health care, college tuition, and the home they live in. Congress has been looking out for the already-rich at the expense of the rest of us by creating byzantine, opaque loopholes in exchange for campaign donations and junkets, and that has simply got to stop. People aren’t upset about taxes, they’re upset about not being sure if everybody’s paying their fair share.
In the late 1700s, in an era when nobody dared drink unboiled water, merchants and bureaucrats conspired to tax the tea sent to America – the tea that made getting enough fluid more palatable – at exorbitant rates. In a gesture not unlike cutting off their noses to spite their own faces a boycott was enforced – and a message sent – by vandalizing private property, thus insuring that the captains had no merchandise to sell and no collected taxes (or profits) to take back to England. Naturally coffee filled in the gap in the colonies for some time. (The U.S. didn’t immediately become a coffee nation, though. That change is usually tied to the tea embargo during the War of 1812.)
In modern terms, tea is considerably more central to the daily living of people in Europe and Asia. The fact that every student of U.S. history learns about the “Boston Tea Party” apparently made it seem a catchy sound-bite as behind the scenes operatives sought to foment a movement timed to use as a media event on April 15th, but the effect of the media coverage seems to have given us more sense of Alice’s Mad Hatter than colonial rebels battling distant rich despots. The President’s shining success at the Summit of the Americas further diminished the amount of attention the story got in various media.
Curiously, in hindsight the naive echoing of the slang-term “tea-bagging” by conservative pundits probably drove more web traffic to Google and the UrbanDictionary than the actual events. It certainly detracted from impact of the hype leading up to the not-so-grassroots parties.
I’m betting the folks with Google Ad Sense terms tied to those searches, and “astro-turfing“ are enjoying a brief bonanza of exposure.
March 24, 2009
President Obama told the National Conference of State Legislatures last week that, “Decisions about how Recovery Act dollars are spent will be based on the merit…” and stressed that maximizing job creation, making health care affordable, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, and other projects that manifest “enduring benefits” to taxpayers must take priority.
Under the recently issued guidance from the Obama administration (which some were hoping wouldn’t appear) lobbyists seeking an administration member’s time to discuss a “Recovery Act” project must submit their requests in writing so that correspondence can be posted online, just as with the topics of meetings between administration officials and lobbyists on stimulus efforts. This is not business as usual for DC lobbyists; this is a refreshing degree of openness at a time when voters are very curious about how their money is parceled out, and echoes his warnings to mayors last month that the President would “will call them out” on wasteful uses of stimulus dollars.
As history shows us, when we let Wall Street and lobbyists handle their own affairs in smoke-filled back rooms and over martinis at the country club, jobs and sustainable wealth fall by the wayside while cash flows to the wealthiest investors. Curiously enough, income disparities shrink while job creation and government revenues increase if, and when, the wealthy are taxed – it causes them to invest rather than hoard their capital.
Economic viability will come only through repudiating the unfounded faith many Republicans have exhibited in trickle-down voodoo and unregulated capitalism, paired with self-serving definitions of sound-bite terms such as educational choice. We need a return to an ethic of service, work, and strong family values such as the first family demonstrates.
We need to restore confidence – both here and abroad – that the United States is a leading force on economic and moral issues, not a duplicitous, arrogant bully guilty of not practicing what we preach. Obama’s walking the walk.
March 4, 2009
As an entrepreneur who has run several small businesses, I think it’s time to return to fundamentals on the economy, starting with investing in America again. It’s small businesses that will put people back to work; that’s how we’re going to get this country back on its feet. It’s entrepreneurs and small business owners who respond with enthusiasm instead of being bound in their decision-making by CFOs and slow-moving Boards of Directors focused on short-term bottom line numbers, (the kind of decision-making that led to the foreclosure and credit crisis, and ultimately the big business bailout using taxpayer dollars.)
To be sure, we need public education, technical schools, and affordable college tuition so young Americans are ready for these new jobs. It’s a global economy, but most of us work in the same city we live in. When we see bulldozers and excavators moving dirt, and trucks hauling instead of sitting idle at auction sites, then we’ll know things are turning around.
The President is intent on stimulating the private sector, but big businesses with names we all know have abused deregulation and the public trust. Credit card companies raise their rates willy-nilly, and hide extra fees in the small print. How much of his economic stimulus can be paid for simply by ending wasteful government spending, and eliminating tax cuts for the super-rich?
Is it a coincidence that the size of the bailout Bush proposed roughly equals the cost of the war in Iraq?
That war has been a burden on our military, and paying the debt is a drag on our economy that will linger for years. The new President is winding that down, but we’ll be paying for it for years and spending is only half of the equation. The money to do these things has to come from somewhere. Government is here to stay: In some way we need to fund the things that make government work for the people. Our elected leaders, in turn, must stop letting our hard-earned tax dollars simply line the pockets of special interests.
The American Dream isn’t about letting lobbyists control who pays taxes and who gets rich, it’s that any child in this country should have a chance at becoming a productive adult who can support and raise a family comfortably. Working full-time and pulling your weight should mean you don’t have to worry about grocery bills, the price of commuting, or paying to see a good doctor when you or your family needs medical care.
Tax credits for continuing education make it tempting to better yourself. The tax cuts for the middle and lower class earners proposed by the Obama administration make a start at offsetting the skyrocketing costs of groceries, health care, and college, but we need to go further. One great idea is to give tax incentives to companies that cover increases in health care costs while the President tries to reform that out-of-control system.
Public pressure and increased scrutiny are starting to make companies think twice about huge salaries and bigger bonuses for wealthy executives while pleading for bailout funds and cutting paychecks and benefits and pensions of the people who do the real work. Let’s take it a step further and tax those who make money by exploiting cheap labor overseas. Our government needs money to operate, no matter if it’s to build roads, insure products made overseas are safe, or to keep our military strong, and if a company doesn’t want to pay American workers they still have an obligation to contribute and support the system that has made their success possible. We need to reverse the trend of layoffs and plant closures; we need to rebuild the foundation of our economy – and the American Dream – by putting Americans back to work.