Conservatives Caused Huge Deficits, Blame Obama

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Headline at Drudge Report: Obama policies projected to add $9.7 trillion to debt by 2020… points to this story, National debt to be higher than White House forecast, CBO says,

President Obama’s proposed budget would add more than $9.7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, congressional budget analysts said Friday. Proposed tax cuts for the middle class account for nearly a third of that shortfall.

So here is the deal. This Drudge headline, saying Obama’s spending “adds to the deficit” is a trick. Here is how it works. Suppose you take over a company that is losing $100 million a year, and your jobs is to turn it around. So perhaps the second year the company only loses $70 million, $30 million the third year, and breaks even in year four. You saved the company. But in those years the company “lost” another $100 million. Should you be fired?
President Obama took office as President of a country with a $1.4 trillion deficit – thanks to the failure of conservative policies. Their tax cuts, wars, military buildups, corruption and incompetence drove the borrowing WAY up, and then their deregulation, corruption and incompetence destroyed the economy, driving the borrowing up into the stratosphere.
If the borrowing just stayed the same at the $1.4 trillion level Obama inherited each year — never mind that interest on all that borrowing gets higher and higher each year — that would mean $14 trillion would be added to the deficit by 2020. That’s a LOT more than the $9.7 trillion that Drudge and the conservatives are making so much noise about. Obama is dramatically reducing the borrowing, but they use trickery to make it look like he is causing it.
What about that $1.4 trillion deficit? That was the deficit for the 2009 budget year. Conservatives say — over and over — that Obama “tripled the deficit” in 2009. This isn’t even a trick, it is just a lie. The final Bush budget year ended with a deficit of $1.4 trillion. Conservatives have been telling the public this was an “Obama Deficit” and use graphics and charts that label this last Bush budget as Obama’s. Look at that chart, and then look at this. The first chart is nothing more than a lie, of course repeated endlessly.
But what else should you expect? Like the scorpion that stings the frog as the frog ferries it across the river, it’s what they do. They screw things up, and then point the finger of blame at everyone else.

Jobs: Bail Out States, Yes Or No?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
In Big Push Needed For Win 60 Votes For State Aid … And More Private Sector Jobs, Bill Scher writes of the need for,

…a major grassroots push to secure critical aid for fiscally distressed state governments and help tackle the jobs crisis.

There is good reason for this. The warnings are dire. Just yesterday, for example: Recession Tightens Grip on State Tax Revenues,

The recession can now claim another troublesome record: state tax collections shrank at the end of 2009 for a fifth consecutive quarter, the longest period of continuing state revenue declines since at least the Great Depression…

How dire? States and localities face a 3-year, $469 billion shortfall,

Ethan Pollack, a policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, .. estimates the combined shortfalls for state and local governments at $469 billion over the next three fiscal years. “At the best, that can lead to a protracted, slow, jobless recovery, and at the worst, a double-dip recession.”

Here is the problem. In this recession shortfalls at the state level – and resulting job cuts – can cancel out federal job-creation efforts. If we want to get out of the recession, we need those jobs! This is why the “stimulus’ gave aid to the states. A lot of last year’s “stimulus” money – about $87 billion – went to states through the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FAMP).
And, of course, now the states are asking for more. Jobs Bill Missing Medicaid Money For States, Governors Call For Change

The $15 billion jobs bill that passed the Senate Monday does not include additional matching funds for state Medicaid programs, but governors are continuing to ask for its inclusion as they look for other ways to plus state budget holes made from Medicaid liabilities.

As I said above: If we want to get out of the recession, we need those jobs!
BUT
There are some problems with “bailing out” states. Let me explain.
I live in California. We, the People of California, in our wisdom, have decided through ballot initiatives to make it impossible to fix our budget problems. We have a “2/3 rule” allowing a minority of legislators to block budgets from passing. So a small extremist minority that hates government is able to block everything, and is trying to force the state into bankruptcy. They insist on cutting the budget but refuse to specify what to cut, all the while insisting on tax cut after tax cut. (Does that sound strangely familiar?)
Did you know that last year, in the middle of our state budget crisis (caused by a revenue shortfall), while firing teachers and gutting essential government services, California gave a big tax CUT to large corporations? Did you know that California won’t tax oil companies for the oil they take to sell back to us?
Should the federal government be sending billions of taxpayer dollars to states like California so they can cut taxes on big corporations and keep from raising taxes on the wealthy?
So there are some problems with assisting states during this crisis.
* What if, like California, they use that money to pass tax cuts or give subsidies to a favored few?
* What about states that give breaks and subsidies to big corporations to move jobs there from other states. Should federal tax dollars be sent to these states?
* What about states that act responsibly, like Oregon. Oregon voters recently passed tax increases on the wealthy and corporations. So they have less of a budget shortfall than other states. Should they receive less federal tax dollar assistance because they did this?
Any aid to states should be passed with oversight, conditions and restrictions. They should be required to raise taxes to cover the shortfall in future years. States that act responsibly should receive cash consistent with states that have budget shortfalls. States that give tax breaks and subsidies to lure jobs from other states should not receive this aid. States that refuse to sufficiently tax corporations and the wealthy should not receive this assistance.

Huge 2009 Budget Deficit — Just One More Conservative Failure

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF). I am a Fellow with CAF.
Conservatives claim that President Obama “tripled the deficit” and point to the huge 2009 budget deficit as proof. The fiscal-year 2009 deficit, as reported in October was, indeed, about triple the prior year’s borrowing. But the 2009 budget was the last budget year of the prior, conservative administration. It is just one more demonstration of the failure of conservative policies.
Basic math: A budget year that ends 8 months into a President’s first year wasn’t that President’s budget.
Yet we hear, over and over, that “Obama tripled the deficit.” Recently, when President Obama spoke at the Republican caucus retreat, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas said that Obama had “tripled the deficit.” A CNN fact check addresses this,

Obama was essentially correct when he said he inherited a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion. Though the budget deficit for 2008 was a then-record $458.6 billion, the CBO issued a projection in January 2009, just days before Obama took office that the budget deficit would reach $1.2 trillion that year, before the cost of any new stimulus plan or other legislation was taken into account.

Don’t believe me? See the conservative Cato Institute on this: Don’t Blame Obama for Bush’s 2009 Deficit | Cato @ Liberty,

Listening to a talk radio program yesterday, the host asserted that Obama tripled the budget deficit in his first year. This assertion is understandable, since the deficit jumped from about $450 billion in 2008 to $1.4 trillion in 2009. As this chart illustrates, with the Bush years in green, it appears as if Obama’s policies have led to an explosion of debt.
[chart]
. . . But there is one rather important detail that makes a big difference. The chart is based on the assumption that the current administration should be blamed for the 2009 fiscal year. While this makes sense to a casual observer, it is largely untrue. The 2009 fiscal year began October 1, 2008, nearly four months before Obama took office. The budget for the entire fiscal year was largely set in place while Bush was in the White House.
[corrected chart]

Please click through to see the charts. And then look at Cato: Who’s To Blame for the Massive Deficit? for an even better explanation,

What about the so-called stimulus, they will ask, with its $787 billion price tag? Or the omnibus fiscal-year 2009 appropriations bill? And how about Cash for Clunkers and Obama’s expansion of the children’s health insurance program? Didn’t these all boost spending in 2009?
The answer is yes. But these boondoggles amounted to just a tiny percentage of FY2009 spending — about $140 billion out of a $3.5 trillion budget — as the pie chart nearby illustrates.

Here are some examples of how this propaganda is applied. Keep in mind as you read these and look at the charts that the 2009 budget was Bush’s last budget, and began before Obama even took office.
Heritage Foundation: Bush Deficit vs. Obama Deficit in Pictures. Look at how the colors on the chart trick you into thinking that 2009 is an Obama budget year. This is just outright deceit.
Here is Heritage directly labeling the 2009 budget as Obama’s in a chart.
Here is a similar use of deception in charts, by right-wing blogs.
More examples: Federal budget triples under Obama – yes TRIPLES, and After Tripling The Deficit, Obama To Try And Create Jobs With More Government Spending, and Obamanomics: Deficit Tripled in One Year
Fox News: Obama Triples Budget Deficit to $1.4 Trillion (they have since changed the headline but here is it as it appeared:) fox nation clip
Here’s a good one, using a Heritage propaganda chart: Obama’s Tripling of the National Debt in Pictures
The right’s noise maching is good, though, there are 27,000 websites listed if you search for “obama tripled the deficit” in quotes.
Conservative policies since Reagan have led to massive debt. Don’t let them trick you by changing the colors on a chart.

Save Social Security – 10 Questions for the Deficit Commission

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
It is possible that there is going to be a “deficit commission” to look for ways to reduce our country’s budget deficits. I have some questions for them to ask to help get things started in the right direction:
1) President Reagan increased Social Security taxes, but used that money to cut the very top tax rates that only the wealthiest pay. Now that the money borrowed from Social Security is coming due, which income group is better positioned to pay it back, wealthy people or the elderly to whom this money is owed?
2) President Clinton left office with a huge budget surplus. Then, President Bush gave tax cuts to the wealthy, and his last budget had a $1.4 trillion deficit. How much of this change was because of those tax cuts for the rich?
Clinton_Bush_Deficit
3) How large was the country’s yearly budget deficit and total debt in the “Eisenhower/Truman” decades when the top tax rate was 90%?
4) Today we have an “infrastructure deficit” – the amount needed to repair our country’s roads, bridges, sewers, etc. – of somewhere upwards of $1.6 trillion. Was our infrastructure kept in good repair before the top tax rates were cut?
5) Concentration of wealth is long recognized as a threat to democracy, and now we are seeing a low-wage, everything-to-the-top economy with the greatest ever concentration of wealth going to a few at the top. Was the problem of wealth concentration increasing or decreasing before the top tax rates were cut?
6) When top rates were high people couldn’t take home vast fortunes in a single year. When it took several years to make a fortune did corporations depend on long-term or short-term thinking? Did the executives of corporations care if the infrastructure and communities their companies depended on were in good shape? Did large corporations fleece customers and exploit employees for quarterly returns as they do now?
7) The military budget is the largest item in our country’s budget. Was the military budget larger or smaller when we faced the cold war threat from the Soviet Empire?
Defense-Budget
8) Just how big is our military budget, if you add in veterans programs, nukes, intelligence and the military budget’s share of accumulated debt interest? How large is it in relation to all of the rest of the countries in the world, combined?
9) Speaking of debt interest, how much debt interest do we pay on the debt that has added up since we cut tax rates at the top? Who gets all that interest?
10) Some will say that proposals to bring back the tax rates of the Eisenhower administration are “socialist.” What was the name of the organization that accused President Eisenhower of being a Communist?
11) Does the following chart stimulate any ideas about how we might solve the debt problem?
TopRates_vs_Debt_Chart

Does the Public Think Politicians Are Crying Wolf (Again)?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
A recent large headline in the San Jose Mercury News got me thinking.  The headline was, “A dire warning from the Governor”. (Online headline is different from the morning’s print headline.)   From the story, “Schwarzenegger said … his threat … is necessary to prod lawmakers into swift action.”

I have to admit that even I rolled my eyes when I saw that — even though I understand how serious the problem is. And this led me to think that maybe there is a “crying wolf” factor at work here.  This has been going on now or a long time. 

A few months ago the crisis was reaching a breaking point, dire warnings were issued, and most importantly the public was starting to pay attention.  This triggered the leadership in Sacramento to do what I think was the worst possible thing: they came up with the fluffy budget compromise that “solved” the crisis and resulted in the failed May 19 Special Election.  I believe the compromise was a mistake that broke the tension and led people to believe that the “crisis” was over, so they tuned back out. 

I think the “chicken little” aspect of the whole affair kept people away from the polls in droves.

I am not faulting the Governor and other state leaders for headlines like thos and other warnings because the crisis is real.  Our leaders all need to do whatever it takes to get people to pay attention, to realize this budget crisis is real and that everything that can be cut has been cut, that they really are going to have to let people out of prisons and close parks and still will run out of money anyway.  Bankruptcy and all of its consequences looms.  For real.  The public has to get involved and do their job in this democracy.

But I can understand why most Californians have tuned out.  I think part of this budget problem is that it has become the norm to use drama and fear to prod others into action.  And not just with the budget.  There are so many terrible problems hitting us from so many directions.  The economy really did collapse, and we may be on the edge of another Great Depression.  For real.  This has been a headline swarm for months.  Swine flu is real, but is not as lethal as it first appeared it could be.  This was the headline swarm a few weeks ago.  And of course Global Warming is real, and serious.  It has been a headline swarm for years.  

Those are real and serious problems.  But at the same time there are so many manipulative, well-funded and sophisticated PR campaigns, usually from corporate interests, that use fear and/or other manipulation.  Remember the headlines warning aobut possible terrorist smallpox attacks?  Remember being told that Iraq was on the verge of hitting us with nuclear weapons?   Remember duct tape

So people just do not know who to trust and necessarily are becoming immune to drama.

California’s big media outlets could do a better job of explaining the real problems facing the state, beginning by dispelling the idea that the state is just wasting taxpayer money and everything can be solved with a few painless budget cuts.  They need to do this in a serious, respectful way, with comprehensive investigative reporting.  If print media won’t do that, they should close their doors — they aren’t doing their jobs and aren’t helping anyone anymore so they should let their advertisers support a medium that helps democracy rather than hinders it.  If broadcast media can’t do that, they should relinquish their broadcast licenses to others who will.

The poor, elderly and disabled have already suffered the cuts.  They understand that this is for real.  So maybe we need the crisis to hit home so (middle class) people can also understand that it is for real – this time.  
Click through to Speak Out California.

California Election Results — What The Public Wants

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Did the results of the special election on the budget propositions really show that the public is against taxes and government, as the Republicans claim?  Recent polling looked at the reasons the propositions failed.  Polls are a useful way to understand what people really thing because they take a scientific sample, actually asking the voters what they think, instead of just repeating something that Republicans just say.  Let’s see what the voters give as their reasons for opposing the propositions.  From the polling:

  • 74% of voters polled thought the election was just a gimmick, not an actual fix for California’s budget problems.
  • 70% of the voters polled said the legislature is a captive of special interests (possibly because people are learning that the “budget deal” that they came up with in the middle of this emergency included a huge tax cut for large, multi-state corporations.)
  • In a budget battle dominated by Republican demands for spending cuts instead of asking the rich and corporations to pay their fair share only 19% of voters polled said that Californians are being asked to share the pain equally. 
  • And to drive that point home, only 29% of voters polled said that the budget should be balanced only with spending cuts.  According to the polling “even among ‘No’ voters, less than half (46%) say the government should rely entirely on spending cuts with no tax increases.”

In summary, voters resented that the legislature is held captive by the 2/3 rule, and want them to address that instead of coming up with short-term gimmicks to get through another year while making things even worse later.

Additionally, and completely contrary to anti-tax and anti-government claims, the polling showed “broad support for new revenue streams.”  According to the polling report, the public supports:

  • Increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages (75% support)
  • Increasing taxes on tobacco (74% support)
  • Imposing an oil extraction tax on oil companies just like every other oil producing state (73% support)
  • Closing the loophole that allows corporations to avoid reassessment of the value of new property they purchase (63% support)
  • Increasing the top bracket of the state income tax from nine point three percent to 10 percent for families with taxable income over $272,000 a year and to eleven percent for families with taxable incomes over $544,000 a year (63% support)
  • Prohibiting corporations from using tax credits to offset more than fifty percent of the taxes they owe (59% support)

The corporate right has to spin last week’s special election as an anti-tax vote.  What else can they do?  But, as usual, their spin goes completely the other way from the facts.

Let’s put them to the test.  The corporate right claims that this election showed that the public is solidly against government and taxes.  If they really believe that, how about reinstating majority rule in California, instead of requiring a 2/3 vote to pass budgets and taxes? 

Since they claim that the public is solidly against taxes, will they also support a straight up-or-down vote on taxes?  Of course not.  The public is not with them and they know it. This is just a ruse to continue destroying our great state and our democratic process.
Click through to Speak Out California.

Do Businesses Leave California Because Of Taxes?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
There is a myth that businesses and people are leaving California in droves because of taxes.  A recent example is George Will, in California as Liberalism’s Laboratory, writing as part of an anti-tax column,

For four consecutive years, more Americans have moved out of California than have moved in. California’s business costs are more than 20 percent higher than the average state’s.

Notice the obfuscation.  Will cites “costs” and the thrust of his column implies that he means taxes are forcing this exodus.  But the costs that cause businesses to leave California are the high real estate prices, not taxes.  This higher cost of owning and renting in California is, of course, because more people want to live here than other places.
A December LA Times story, More are moving out of California than in, made clear the reasons for the exodus,

The outflow — last seen during the economic and social struggles of the 1990s — started when it became too expensive for most people to buy homes in the state, and has kept going throughout the bust with the loss of so many jobs.
[. . .] “This was the epicenter of the housing meltdown,” said John Husing of Economics & Politics Inc., a regional economic research firm.
“People started leaving California because of housing prices – particularly younger couples that just couldn’t afford to buy a house.”

The Public Policy Institute of California studied California job losses in 2007 and released, Are California’s Companies Shifting Their Employment to Other States?,

… Given that this shift was sharpest during the economic boom of the late 1990s, it cannot be attributed to business climate problems unless one is willing to argue that the business climate was worse during that period, which strikes us as implausible.

One thing to understand is that taxes are not a cost, because taxes are calculated after the end of the year, all costs are subtracted before calculating the profit, and only profits are taxed.  Salaries and other business expenses are deducted before profits are calculated. Companies that are not making money are not taxed at all. 
Actually there is a tax problem affecting businesses here.  The effect of Prop 13 on commercial real estate gives a tremendous disadvantage to new businesses – the very entities that provide most new jobs.  Commercial property held for a long time has a much lower tax rate, providing advantages over innovative new companies.
Another tax problem (data from California Budget Project) is that the poorest fifth of California’s households earn and average of $11,100 a year and pay 11.7% of their income in taxes, while the wealthiest 1 percent bring in an average of $1.6 million and pay only 7.1% of their income in taxes. 

Looking past the surface hysterics there is something disturbing about the implications of this conservative-corporate threat to move companies rather than pay taxes. What does the threat say about their perception of the relationship between the people and the corporations?  After all, who is supposed to be in charge here?
Corporations are creations of our government and We, the People created them to benefit US.  (Why else would we have created them — to harm us?)  Our laws enable their existence in the first place, our courts enforce the contracts and settle disputes, our police and firefighters protect them, they deliver their goods on our roads, and we educate and train their employees.
We created these entities, and gave them rules.  And now they are telling us that if we ask them to share the gains with us, they will throw a tantrum, pack up and leave?  It sounds like it is time for We, the People to put our foot down and explain the rules: We tell you what to do, not the other way around.     
Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

What Sen. Spector’s Party Switch Tells California Voters

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen (“Single-Bullet“) Specter switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party this week.  Rush Limbaugh reacted to this news by welcoming Specter’s departure, and added, “take McCain with you.”

Specter left because the extremist wing of the Republican Party — the ones who listen to and agree with Rush Limbaugh and will tolerate absolutely no compromise of any kind from the most extreme conservative positions — have taken over and are driving others out. This rightmost element, who call themselves the only “real Republicans” have a special name for people like Arlen Specter and John McCain.  They call them “RINOs.”  RINO stands for “Republican In Name Only” and refers to Republicans who are not conservative enough to meet approval of the absolutists.  (What is conservative enough?  Half of Texas Republicans want Texas to secede from the United States.)

Arlen Specter is hardly a liberal.  He has a solidly conservative voting record, (after switching parties he voted against President Obama’s budget), but not conservative enough for the hard core purists.  John McCain won the ire of this element for not supporting torture.

The Limbaugh branch of the party have been working to drive moderate-right members like Specter and McCain out, and are increasingly successful.  Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, another target of this element, warned that,

“being a Republican moderate sometimes feels like being a cast member of ‘Survivor’ — you are presented with multiple challenges, and you often get the distinct feeling that you’re no longer welcome in the tribe.”

This demonstrates just how far the Republican Party has moved from its roots.  They have drifted so far away from their mission that even their last Presidential candidate is being urged to leave the party!  They have drifted so far from their mission that the “party of Lincoln” has a solid contingent supporting having their states secede from the Union!

This hard-core extremism is also being demonstrated in California, where not a single Repubilcan will vote for a budget — any budget — because their strategy for the state is to “let it go into bankruptcy, let it go off a cliff, we need to prove a point.”  The reason that crazy-sounding line has quotation marks around it is because it is a quote.  It is also the definition of extremism.  And, combined with the 2/3 rule that lets them block budgets, it is the reason California is becoming ungovernable.

Roberts and Trounstine at Calbuzz write that, “the California Republican Party is doomed to minority status” by this extremism.  For example, California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring said of Specter’s defection,

“The Republican Party didn’t leave Arlen Specter. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party some time ago,” Mr. Chairman said in his statement. “Arlen Specter decided on his own – no one forced him – to violate core Republican principles by voting for the wasteful $787 billion stimulus bill while every single House Republican, including California’s entire Republican delegation, voted with taxpayers in opposition instead.”

In other words, it violates Republican principles to vote to help the people.  The “taxpayers” they “support” are their wealthy and corporate campaign donors.  And, they add, it doesn’t make sense for Party leaders to “applaud Specter’s defection, as if losing prominent party members holds the key
to growing the party and returning it to majority status.”

Why they are wrong:  The hard-core conservative values these people support are “limited government, free markets and personal responsibility.”  But what is this government that they want to limit?  Abraham Lincoln, another RINO, famously said that our American government is “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  So today’s Republicans want to limit the people’s ability to make decisions (government by the people) and instead hand this ability over to “the market” (ruled by big corporations.)  They want to replace a country where we watch out for and take care of each other (government for the people) with a system where we are all left on our own at the mercy of these corporations — which they call “personal responsibility.” 

There is an alternative to the extremist right’s approach.  Progressive values and policies are better for people.  Instead of limiting our government progressives believe that the people should have more power to make the decisions that affect all of us.  Instead of a one-dollar-one-vote “market” approach to decision-making, progressives believe in one-person-one-vote equality where people are on an equal footing, with an equal right to benefit from our common resources. 

Progressives believe in a community-based, democratic approach to deciding how we should run our state and country.  We’re here for each other, not just for ourselves.

So let’s welcome all those disenfranchised Republicans into our tent. We’re big enough and tolerant enough of differing opinions, so long as the best interests of the people are at heart. I think they’ll like being part of a true democracy where the people come first.

P.S. See Assemblymember Nancy Skinner’s invitation to Republicans.
Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

A Dialog On California State Spending

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Over at Calitics there is an interesting diary from ‘zeroh8′ asking “Why Are We Spending So Much More?”  zeroh8 looked at the changes over the last ten years in how the state spends money.  The result, according to the diary, is a per-capita increase of $1088 as follows:

California Government Department
2007-08 less 1997-98 Per Capita Spending

Criminal Justice $185
General Government $14
Health $265
Higher
Education $109
K-12 Education $399
Resources & Environmental
Protection $27
Social Services $59
Transportation $30
Total $1,088 

Robert Cruikshank commented that the appearance of an education spending increase is an illusion, (sadly California still ranks 47th in education spending-per-pupil)

Much of the “increase” in K-12 funds is illusory. When Arnold cut the VLF in
2003 that money had to be backfilled by the state. That backfilling is listed on
the books as “spending” and so it appears as a huge “spending increase” when in
fact it is no such thing. Schools didn’t actually get more money. It’s an
accounting trick.

Robert is pointing out that this appearance of a large increase in education spending is actually just replacing spending that was already there, but that was cut from local budgets when Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle License Fee, so the state had to make up (backfill) the loss.  The state is spending more because local governments are spending less, but the total hasn’t increased.  Lesson: you have to look at the whole picture including local budgets to see the whole story because the state has to step in when local governments lose their funding sources.

Health care spending increases are certainly not isolated to California state government.  This is the health care crisis that is eating up government, business and family budgets around the country.  So far We, the People, in our wisdom, had avoided the kind of “socialized medicine” that the rest of the world has, which means we spend vastly more for health care with vastly worse results.  There is little California can do about it, except to further deny health care to people.  Is that the kind of people we will decide to be? 

Then there is that huge increase in criminal justice (prison) spending.  Was that necessary?  Well, we decided to pass laws that put people in prison for life for stealing a pizza or for years for smoking a joint.  And in the last few decades we have cut education spending, which to some extent has necessitated the increases in prison spending, because we know where that inevitably leads,

“18-to-24-year-old male high school dropouts have an incarceration rate 31 times
that of males who graduated from a four-year college”      

We’re seeing the health care crisis eating the state budget, and the problem of the prison costs.  Part of our problems today are because yesterday we were “penny wise
and pound foolish,” saving some money by cutting education only to
spend it on prisons (and who knows how many other ways) later.  Along with foolish tax cuts like cutting the VLF, and cutting property taxes for big corporations, and instead borrowing which has led to huge interest payments, those are the spending problems that brought about the budget crisis and that keep our government from being able to spend more on things We, the People need.

About those choices:  zeroh8 did a ton of research because no California citizen would know any of this from sources available to most of us.  The corporate media is not explaining the state budget and the functions of government to the public.  The example of the state making up local revenue losses in order to save our schools is a great example — instead it is just presented to people that the state is “spending even more”.

So what is the point of this exercise? To give the people the facts, not the phony sound-bites designed to further anger people against government and rail even further about having to pay taxes to fund the programs and services. The goal of the conservatives is to simply unfund government, thus making “We the People” powerless against the big moneyed interests — the people who brought you the sub-prime fiasco, the Wall Street boondogles, the Haliburton no-bid contracts and the Blackwater mercenaries.  As long as the bucks are flowing, what do they care if government can’t do its job…. what do they care about long lines at the DMV, wildfires that burn down communities, gangs that take over our streets and oh, yes……swine flu epidemics that kill millions?  They can just fly away in their private jets or sail away on their yachts — that California won’t tax.
Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

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Don’t Blame Me, I Didn’t Vote For Anything

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

The Republicans in Sacramento refused to vote for any budget, saying each budget didn’t cut spending enough, while also refusing to specify what items they wanted to cut and by how much.  The result was that the Democrats in the legislature had to vote to dramatically cut the school budget — along with everything else the state does.  And then after the legislature came up with those cuts, the Republicans voted against them, too

Now citizens are weighing in expressing their anger over these massive budget cuts, and the same Republicans are sending letters saying “don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for the cuts.”  A recent letter to constituents from State Senator Tony Strickland is most likely a standardized “boilerplate” budget statement that has been provided to Republicans to send out.  Let’s see if we can translate it into English:

As your Senator, I voted against the budget and the education cuts included in the proposal.  To answer your questions, I would like to share my reasons for opposing the budget and education cuts as well as why the Legislature decreased spending on K-14 education. 

Translation: don’t blame me for budget cuts, I voted against them.  I voted against everything you don’t like, and will claim to support everything you did like.  Whatever it was.  I can do that because I didn’t vote for anything.

In order to ease the impact of the funding decreases, the budget has granted local educational agencies unprecedented funding flexibility, which is the authority to move state funding for most categorical (special-purpose, such as principal training, English learner programs, and the arts) programs to supporting the highest locally-determined priorities through 2010-2011.  The spending flexibility should provide local agencies significant relief during this economic downturn.  However, if the agencies abuse the funding, then they have missed the opportunity to demonstrate that local communities are superior to managing their education funds than the bureaucrats in Sacramento. 

Sorry, I can’t figure out what this means.  Leave a comment if you can figure out what it says.

I will continue to support protecting education and providing local communities the flexibility to determine how to invest in their children.  Please be assured I will continue to oppose cuts to education because the state’s greatest asset – our children – will be the future workforce essential in reviving our economy.  Thank you, again, for contacting my office and sharing your concerns.  It is citizens like you who make the difference.

Translation: While voting against every budget, and being against any form of revenues — especially if they would be collected from the large corporations that funded my campaign — I now claim to support not cutting the education budget. 

This is an interesting strategy: Just vote against everything, and leave it to the responsible people to come up with ways to get around this obstruction.  And then, when citizens are angry about the huge mess this creates, send them letters saying you supported whatever spending they wanted, and that’s why you voted against everything.  Meanwhile, you collect your state paycheck, and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate “contributions.”  Nice work, if you can get it.

This is a dilemma for responsible legislators.  When you face an extremist group with just enough votes to block everything, how can you keep the kids in schools, provide oxygen tanks and other necessities to the elderly, provide police and fire protection and continue other essential government services?  When the state’s major media just won’t inform the public of the facts and makes this budget standoff seem as though government is little more than children squabbling over some cookies, with “both sides” refusing to compromise, the state slides toward becoming ungovernable.

What you you do about this?  There will be a ballot initiative tp roll back the rule that any revenue increases require a 2/3 majority to pass.  This initiative is currently named Restore Majority Rule, and you can visit the early website at ca.restoremajorityrule.com. Please sign up to help pass this initiative, and tell your legislators, friends and family that you support this change.

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Tea Party Contradictions

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Let’s take a look at yesterday’s tea parties.   I am hearing from people who attended tea parties around the country that the people who showed up were by and large good, honest Americans who are upset about the bailouts, deficits and general direction that things have been going for some time.  I say good for them for getting involved, speaking up and showing up.  We need more of that in this country, after so many decades of apathy.

There is a problem with the tea party events as presented, however, in that the sentiments and concerns of these regular people were largely hijacked by professional manipulators, who wanted to make it appear that the the people at the rallies support an anti-democracy, anti-government, pro-corporate and right wing agenda.  These were the FOX News and Rush Limbaugh audience, and the people from militias with racist signs, and paranoid people convinced that President Obama is a "fascist," etc. and who claim that the economic distress we are experiencing is somehow the fault of Obama’s and the Democrats’ policies even though he only took office less than three months ago

There are distressing photos of these event-hijackers, and there was troubling and violent rhetoric at many of the rallies. The Governor of Texas actually talked about his state seceding from the union — the very definition of hating America and the kind of talk once that led to a savage civil war. (FOX News called such talk "patriotic." One has to ask, "patriotic to what country?")

An obviously focus-group-tested phrase was repeated at the rallies: "Obama is going to raise taxes on our kids by borrowing for unnecessary government spending now." But what did the people at these rallies think us "liberals" have been saying all this time about the effect of all the Republican borrowing to pay for these huge tax cuts they gave to the rich and corporations, and to pay for the Iraq war and other military spending increases? This is the reason we have these huge deficits!

And, of course, no one ever says which spending is "unnecessary."  Do they mean unemployment checks? Bush made those necessary.  How about money to rebuild roads and bridges and schools? Bush made that necessary.  How about money to reduce our oil use? Bush and Cheney, both former oil company executives, made that necessary. How about money to continue funding the Iraq war? Bush made that necessary. The bailout money? To the extent that it was necessary (I don’t agree that it was) it certainly was not Obama who wrecked the economy.

Which spending in the stimulus plan, specifically, is "unnecessary," and which was made necessary by the Republicans who messed things up so badly?

Some contradictions from the rallies: 

  • The people at the rallies were presented as protesting tax increases, yet in the current Obama budget only tax cuts have been proposed. (There are hints that there will be a request for a small tax increase on the very wealthy after a few years.)
  • Many at the rallies were protesting against "government spending," but did not seem to understand where the government actually spends a huge portion of our budget, such as on military and huge subsidies for big oil, agriculture and other corporations (like Wall Street bailouts) — but instead were protesting against imagined spending like "welfare" and foreign aid, which add up to only a tiny fraction of the budget. 
  • Reagan’s and Bush’s tax cuts for the rich have created so much debt that we currently pay out over $500 billion to interest each year — paid to people who can afford to loan us trillions.  Now that is some serious government spending. 
  • Many rallies were rebranded by their corporate-funded organizers as "Fair Tax" rallies. But the so-called "Fair Tax" is really about cutting taxes on the rich and making up for it by raising taxes on everyone else. This is an example of corporate astroturf convincing people to support raising their own taxes or cutting their own benefits so that taxes on the wealthy and big corporations can be further reduced.  (You can’t cut taxes for that group without making up for it somewhere.)

This all brings to mind something that I have said about marketing: with good enough marketing you can convince people to kill themselves.  Think about cigarettes and the comet-suicide cult and you’ll understand what I mean.

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Forbes List Of Highest-Taxed States Lists California

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Forbes List Of Highest-Taxed States Lists California — Not.

The Forbes list of states that tax their citizens the most is out!  And California ranks … well, California isn’t even on the list.

Forbes: Where Americans Are Taxed Most:
10. Pennsylvania (not California)
9. Wyoming (not California)
8. Washington (not California)
7. Massachusetts (not California)
6. New York (not California)
5. New Jersey (not California)
4. Minnesota (not California)
3. Connecticut (not California)
2. Hawaii (not California)

Drum roll ….

… keep scrolling …

— And the winner is …

1. Vermont (NOT CALIFORNIA!)

So yesterday I’m driving and KGO radio has a show about the "tax revolt" that is "taking place all over California," with people rising up and having "tea parties" to protest the "incredibly high taxes" in California.  Here is KGO’s program listing:
 

2 PM – Growing Anti-Tax Revolt in California? And What About Prop 13?

Taking inspiration from a landmark 1970s tax revolt, a determined group of activists say the moment is right for another voter uprising in California, where recession-battered residents have been hit with the highest income and sales tax rates in the nation. And like Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot measure that transformed the state’s political landscape and ignited tax-reform movements nationwide, they see the next backlash coming not from either major political party, but from the people. How real is the latest anti-tax sentiment and has Prop 13 run it’s course?
Guest: John Coupal, president Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Mr. Coupal was on the show to say that California is the highest-taxing state, and state taxes should be lower, and the government wastes all the money it takes in, and can’t be trusted, and is too big.  He talked about how other states get by with lower taxes while providing better services than California. He said, for example, that there is no income tax at all in Texas — without mentioning that Texas taxes oil taken out of the ground while California doesn’t.  He said that California spends more on schools than any other state, and called for "school choice" — which is getting rid of public schools and only having education for those who can afford it.

He said a lot of things that turn out not to be factual if you look into them.  But you can’t bother be factual and argue for lower taxes and spending.  As Dave Dayen points out at Calitics,

"Right now we’re at the bottom of per capita spending in almost every major category – 44th in health care, 47th in per-pupil education spending, dead last in highway spending and 46th in capital investment among all states."   

But here’s the thing.  HE was on the radio, telling Californians that we are the highest-taxing and spending more on schools, etc. than any other state.  And the other side was not on the radio telling Californians the truth.  So he wins. 

Californians don’t really have much choice except to believe the anti-tax, anti-government, pro-corporate arguments because they are not hearing anything else

This was just one radio show of the hundreds of radio shows every month that repeat this message.  And the newspapers repeat it.  And the TV shows repeat it.  And there are even public speakers, funded to go from civic group to civic group around the state to repeat this message!

Why is it that he was on the radio and the other side was not?  Because there are so few "other side" organizations for radio stations to call on, funded, with people trained and ready to talk on the radio and TV, write columns, speak to public groups, and generally make the case that government serves a purpose, roads and schools and public safety and are beneficial and that democracy is better than rule by corporations.  Corporations are enabled by our laws to amass incredible sums of money with little oversight, and are using some of that money to influence the state’s policies, always to further reduce oversight and amass ever greater power.  That money leaks out of the corporations and into the political system, while pro-democracy organizations have few sources of funding.  

The result is that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is very well funded and is widely quoted in the media. Organization that makes the case for government and democracy are not.  And democracy in California is the loser.  So if we think we’re going to be able to persuade Californians to overturn the 2/3 vote requirement for a budget or to increase taxes, we’re going to have to come out swinging… At the moment, we don’t even have a batter at the plate.

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