4/12/2009

ten commandments for an economic resurrection

(P) A couple weeks ago, I wrote a detailed post emphasizing that we have options in restoring our financial system and our broader economy. We don't have to panic or accept bailouts of the very corporations that are responsible for our mess.

This morning, I'm posting a concise version that boils it down to the solutions. If you are interested in a more thorough discussion, here are the thoughts behind this.

Ten Commandments
for an
Economic Resurrection
"Human destiny will be what we make of it."
-- President Barack Obama in Prague

There’s a lot of concern about the current status of our economy. It leads to natural questions like

What, exactly, should we do about it?
Don’t we have to bail out these companies?
What alternatives do we really have?

These steps can be taken immediately to address our present situation:

1. Take over failed firms that are 'too big to fail'.
2. Break up non-failed firms that are 'too big to fail'.
3. Provide direct assistance to stimulate the economy.
4. Make the jump from a minimum wage to a living wage.
5. Use our public policy to save communities, not companies.

After these initial coping mechanisms, we can start addressing some of the broader challenges we face:

6. Re-connect wages and productivity.
7. Re-regulate industries like financial services.
8. Re-invest in our public commons.
9. Re-write our tax code.
10. Re-think our social and military policies.

Call your Senators and Representative to see what they think about bailing out people instead of companies.

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4/10/2009

i want my money back

(P, R) Well, my checks to the Department of the Treasury and the Missouri Department of Revenue cleared the bank yesterday. I'm passionate year round about responsible uses of public dollars, but tax time does serve as a nice reminder as it puts the specific numbers in front of you in a way that can't be ignored.

For fun, I thought I'd break out rough estimates of spending categories exceeding $1,000 in 2008. I realize not everybody gets worked up by numbers, but these kinds of things really make me mad.

What's my top expense? Rent? Car insurance? Utilities? My Roth IRA? Nope. Federal income taxes.

1. Federal income taxes: $5,600
2. Roth IRA: $5,000
3. Rent: $4,900
4. Europe/Other travel: $4,000
5. Payroll taxes: $3,500
6. Groceries/Eating out: $2,500
7. Missouri income taxes: $1,800
8. Other taxes: $1,600
9. Car insurance: $1,300
10. Utilities: $1,300

In case you're keeping score, my rough estimate of my total tax burden last year (income, property, sales, OASDI, and medicare) is approximately $12,500.

Now, what separates me from the conservatives like Grover Norquist is that I'm not opposed to taxation per se. I recognize that programs require resources, and the purpose of taxation is to raise revenue to pay for those programs. I happen to like courts and armies and fire departments and schools and roads and subways and sewers and parks and so forth. Indeed, most people understand that in order to have these popular services, we have to be taxed.

What's aggravating, what gets me ranting around tax time, is the unnecessary expenses, the waste, the programs that do nothing to invest in the safety and prosperity of our country. The Republican Party has taken an interesting strategic course, which is to talk about fiscal responsibility while doing the opposite. The enormous disconnect between rhetoric and reality from the GOP leadership has done much to put them in an amazingly restrictive demographic situation looking forward. And the Democratic Party has certainly shown progress. But what stands out is how little has changed since the Democrats took control of Congress over two years ago now. It's like celebrating cutting an alcoholic back from 10 drinks a day to 9. Well, that's great and all, but it's only progress if much more noticeable changes are around the corner.

From corporate subsidies to war profiteering to the costs of inaction on things like mass transit, energy, and healthcare, there is enormous waste and outright theft going on in our system. We devote massive resources to law enforcement efforts against petty criminals, and yet these master thieves walk around freely enjoying the spoils of their endeavors. Maybe it's one of those cases where being mugged personally makes it easier for you to get angry about the more impersonal kinds of muggings going on.

AIG has been mugging me every month since last September. The broader financial bailouts, from Goldman to Citi and on, will be mugging me for years to come. The Iraq war has been mugging me every month since 2003. The drug war mugs me a couple times a year. Farm subsidies, wealthy tax cheats, on and on, these are greater thefts than any petty criminal who steals a hundred bucks from your wallet. Over six million Americans are incarcerated or on probation or parole. We've done God knows awful things to 'high value' detainees all over the world. And yet the very people who have caused massive suffering and looting still walk around in charge of our government and the financial industry they wrecked.

And then that doesn't even cover the opportunity costs, the extra expenses we pay because we don't have good mass transit systems, passenger rail lines, freight rail lines, wind and solar energy, single payer health insurance, universal unemployment insurance, and all the other investments that actually make us better off.

It's probably unrealistic to ask the rich to play by the same rules as the rest of us. The Bernie Madoffs of the financial world will be the Lynndie Englands of the war crimes world, people who did bad stuff, but who can serve to be scapegoats for the larger perpetrators rather than compasses pointing to the larger perpetrators. But at least, stop taking my tax dollars. If you want me to bail out Goldman Sachs, sell me as an investor, not a taxpayer. If you want me to fund a trillion dollar defense industry, fund everything else that lavishly, too, from education to healthcare to employment services to affordable housing to energy to transportation to the environment to every other sector that produces a bigger return than another Reaper flying over Pakistan.

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4/07/2009

congratulations mayor slay

(P) I know the polls are open another half hour, but I feel pretty confident calling it. To be fair, I've never thought anybody had a chance against Slay. But my experience this evening adds a little more specificity to that thought.

Upon arriving at my polling place about 6:15pm, I was greeted by two folks with the 26th Ward Democratic party. They had two pamphlets, both of which a more cynical person might conclude were almost purposefully designed to undersell Mayor Slay, as if the fact his name is on the ballot is an afterthought. The first one, the 26th Ward sample ballot, includes names of five Democrats. Only one of them, Mayor Slay, is running for a contested position. The other one highlights President Obama, Senator McCaskill, oh yeah, and our Mayor.

Then, I was greeted by a gentleman with the Green Party. Now, as an aside, the Green Party has always fascinated me in St. Louis. Urban politics is not my native tongue, and it's particularly confusing for a 'third' party to actually be the second party in your town. We suburbanites are trained from an early age to accept that there are two major parties and these parties compete with each other for voters. The actual truth, that regionally in many rural and urban areas, there is one major party and several minor parties, is a lot messier and thus not introduced to confuse us white kids from the suburbs. If we're told that the Libertarian Party believes in smaller government and the Green Party believes in universal healthcare, it raises sticky questions about what exactly the Republican and Democratic Parties believe.

Anyway, back to tonight, the Green Party rep had one flyer, and this was specifically for their Mayoral candidate (they are not running a candidate against Darlene Green). It sported the basic message, 'a new day' on one side [ie, a new day from Slay, gotta love those implied marketing slogans], and more detailed policy information on the other.

I was not greeted by anyone from the Coleman or what's-his-name camps (addendum, I of course looked up the Libertarian's name, Robb Cunningham, but I thought it fair to admit that 20 minutes after staring at his name on the ballot, I couldn't recall it).

This is of course informal, unscientific, and only reflective of my precinct after work. It's much like the initial impression you get from a marketing campaign, when you first hear that slogan or see the packaging or something. Gut instincts aren't always right, and they certainly aren't rigorously researched. But if Coleman was counting on enough anybody-but-Slay voters, I think McCowan did a good enough job of earning votes in his own right that even if there's more organized opposition to the Mayor than at first glance, I think Slay walks away with this pretty easily. At about 6:20pm, I cast ballot 165 in my precinct. That's about how many people were waiting in line at 6:00am for the general last fall.

I of course could be wrong. But the Mayor elected my freshman year in college looks to be headed for his third term. Which, interestingly, has actually been very rare. Only three St. Louis Mayors have served three or more terms since about the Civil War. The stuff you learn.

Speaking of stuff you learn, one last tidbit I feel almost embarrassed to have just discovered today. Apparently, McCowan's family van was attacked by an arsonist last week. I don't have any reason to doubt Mr. Rainford's assurances that Mayor Slay had nothing to do with it, but it's very interesting to say the least. I read about it today on CounterPunch when I was googling the race. You'd think that would be big news, particularly since it's not like anyone's scared McCowan could actually win the race, but in fairness, I suppose it is hard to compete with the Women's Final Four, Opening Day, and that airplane-stealing Canadian.

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