Make Them Work

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Conservatives seem to think of America’s citizens as “the help.”
“Everyone knows Americans are lazy, shiftless, always looking for a way to shirk their responsibilities. People don’t want to work so we have to make them work. And good dose of humiliation is good for the soul. If you let them have any dignity they might get uppity.” That is what conservatives sound like when they talk about the long-term unemployed — who, by the way, are out of work because of conservative policies.
For example, from Tuesday’s WaPo, No extension of unemployment benefits in sight for the long-term jobless,

“Workers are less likely to look for work, or accept less-than-ideal jobs, as long as they are protected from the full consequences of being unemployed,” said Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “That is not to say that anyone is getting rich off unemployment, or that unemployed people are lazy. But it is simple human nature that people are a little less motivated as long as a check is coming in.”

That’s right, you have to make them work, or they’ll just sit around and wont be “productive.” They wont face up to the “consequences” of unemployment. These parasites will just suck the blood out of the producers. You hear language like this all the time from conservatives. The unemployed are “lazy,” or “on drugs” etc. They are not “productive.” They are mooching off the rest of us.
This is all in sharp contrast to the noble rich, who are an entirely different species biologically and spiritually. They are the “wealth producers” who we must treat with kid gloves and certainly not ask them to pay for their use of infrastructure or government services lest they decide to stop working. They just want to keep working, and what they do is so important, so pure, so necessary to the sustenance of the rest of us that they must be coddled at all times lest we lose their golden-egg magic touch!
Maybe this kind of attitude towards their fellow citizens comes from the slaveholder roots of conservatism. According to Robin L. Einhorn, author of American Taxation, American Slavery,

…Americans are right to think that our antitax and antigovernment attitudes have deep historical roots. Our mistake is to dig for them in Boston. We should be digging in Virginia and South Carolina rather than in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, because the origins of these attitudes have more to do with the history of American slavery than the history of American freedom. They have more to do with protections for entrenched wealth than with promises of opportunity, and more to do with the demands of privileged elites than with the strivings of the common man. Instead of reflecting a heritage that valued liberty over all other concerns, they are part of the poisonous legacy we have inherited from the slaveholders who forged much of our political tradition. [emphasis added]

As for this idea of low taxes, smaller government that we hear about so often, (and please read this, it is so important)

It might seem strange to trace our antitax and antigovernment ideas to slavery instead of to liberty and democracy. Isn’t it obvious that a democratic society where “the people” make the basic political decisions will choose lower taxes and smaller governments? The short answer is no. In this democratic society, the people might decide to pool their resources to buy good roads, excellent schools, convenient courthouses, and an effective military establishment. But slaveholders had different priorities than other people—and special reasons to be afraid of taxes. Slaveholders had little need for transportation improvements (since their land was often already on good transportation links such as rivers) and hardly any interest in an educated workforce (it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write because slaveholders thought education would help African Americans seize their freedom). Slaveholders wanted the military, not least to promote the westward expansion of slavery, and they also wanted local police forces (“slave patrols”) to protect them against rebellious slaves. They wanted all manner of government action to protect slavery, while they tended to dismiss everything else as wasteful government spending.

Compromises with the slave states became entrenched in our political system with consequences to this day,

Majorities voluntarily renounced the right to regulate their society by majority rule. Giving up the essence of democratic self-government, they celebrated the outcome as democracy. The consequences would outlive the slaveholders who played such a large role in establishing this attitude toward government and taxation. Long after slavery was gone, a regime forged around preferential treatment for the slaveholding elite came to favor very different elites—commercial and industrial elites who shared little with their slaveholding predecessors except a demand that majorities renounce their right to govern what ostensibly was a democratic society.
. . . Today, this brand of politics looks eerily familiar. We have experience with political parties that attack “elites” in order to rally voters behind policies that benefit elites. This is what the slaveholders did in early American history, and they did it very well. Expansions of slavery became expansions of “liberty,” constitutional limitations on democratic self-government became defenses of “equal rights,” and the power of slaveholding elites became the power of the “common man.” In the topsy-turvy political world we have inherited from the age of slavery, the power of the majority to decide how to tax became the power of an alien “government” to oppress “the people.”

Please go read it all.
It is time to take a fresh look at what it means to be a citizen in a country where We, the People are supposed to be in charge. This idea that we should force people into demeaning jobs with no minimum wage and make them work seems antithetical to democracy. A government of We, the People should be about taking care of each other, protecting and empowering each other and respecting each other. You are supposed to be the boss of you here. And we are supposed to be in charge.
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14 Ways A 90 Percent Top Tax Rate Fixes Our Economy And Our Country

A return to Eisenhower-era 90% top tax rates helps fix our economy in several ways:

1) It makes it take longer to end up with a fortune. In fact it makes people build and earn a fortune, instead of shooting for quick windfalls. This forces long-term thinking and planning instead of short-term scheming and scamming. If grabbing everything in sight and running doesn’t pay off anymore, you have to change your strategy.

2) It gets rid of the quick-buck-scheme business model. Making people take a longer-term approach to building rather than grabbing a fortune will help reattach businesses to communities by reinforcing interdependence between businesses and their surrounding communities. When it takes owners and executives years to build up a fortune they need solid companies that are around for a long time. This requires the surrounding public infrastructure of roads, schools, police, fire, courts, etc., to be in good shape to provide long-term support for the enterprise. You also want your company to build a solid reputation for serving its customers rather than cheapening the product, pursuing quick-buck scams, cutting customer service, etc. The current Wall Street/private equity business model of looting companies, leaving behind an empty shell, unemployed workers and a surrounding community in devastation will no longer be a viable business strategy.

3) It will lower the executive crime rate. Today it is possible to run scams that let you pocket huge sums in a single year, and leave behind the mess you make for others to fix. A high top tax rate removes the incentive to lie, cheat and steal to grab every buck you can as fast as you can. This reduces the temptation to be dishonest. If you aren’t going to keep the whole dime, why risk doing the time? When excessive, massive paydays are possible, it opens the door to overwhelming greed and a resulting compromising of principles. Sort of the definition of the decades since Reagan, no?

4) Combined with badly-needed cuts in military spending – we spend more on military than all other countries on earth combined – taxing the wealthy ends budget deficits and starts paying off the massive Reagan/Bush debt. This reduces and ultimately eliminates the share of the budget that goes to pay interest. The United States now has to pay a huge share of its budget just to cover the interest on the borrowing that tax cuts made necessary. Paying off the debt would remove this huge drag on our economy. (Never mind that Alan Greenspan famously called for Bush’s tax cuts by saying it was dangerous to pay off our debt – now that same Alan Greenspan says we need to cut benefits to retired people because our debt is so high.)

5) It will bring in revenue to pay for improvements in infrastructure that then cause the economy to explode for the better. Investing in modern transit systems, smart grid, energy efficiency, fast internet and other improvements leads to a huge payoff of increased prosperity for all of us – especially for those at the top income levels. Infrastructure improvement and maintenance is the “seed corn” of economic growth. We have been eating that seed corn since Reagan’s tax cuts.

6) (related) It will bring in revenue for improving our schools, colleges and universities. Not only will this help our competitiveness, but it will improve each of our lives and level of happiness.

7) It will boost economic growth and rebuild a strong middle class. A consumption-based economy does better when consumers have more to spend. Perhaps not cause-and-effect, though I suspect so, but after FDR raised top tax rates the economy grew dramatically. The 90% top rate years under FDR, Truman, Eisenhower and the beginning of the Kennedy years were the years when we built the middle class. And remember, after Clinton raised top tax rates only modestly the economy grew. How’s it been doing since Bush’s tax cuts for the rich?

A look at economic growth rate charts shows a steady decline in the decades since top tax rates began to fall. Is it just a coincidence that the economy booms after tax increases that provide revenue to invest in new “seed corn,” and that the economy declines as we reduce taxes?

8) It is good for business because increased revenue will enable increasing government spending for the benefit of regular people. This recirculates money into the economy more productively than the current system of putting huge fortunes into a few hands and hoping for a resulting consumption of high-end goods. The wealthy can only spend so muc h so more disposable income in the hands of regular people is good for business. Any business owner will tell you they want customers more than they want tax cuts. (Let’s wait until the top one percent no longer owns most of everything before we talk about whether there is an effect on investment.)

9) It protects working people. Exploiting workers with long hours, low pay or lack of pay increases, lack of worker protections, firing union organizers and schemes that call employees “contractors” will no longer pay off as it does today. The era of extreme union-busting came in at the same time as the tax cuts.

Krugman:

The chart shows the share of the richest 10 percent of the American population in total income – an indicator that closely tracks many other measures of economic inequality – over the past 90 years, as estimated by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.

10) It redistributes income and wealth in ways that help all of us. Currently a few people receive most of the income and own most of everything. A very high top tax rate reduces this concentration of wealth.

11) It fights the political instability that results from concentration of wealth. Great inequality in a society and the resulting loss of opportunity results in political instability that can lead to extreme ideologies, rebellion, etc. We are seeing all the signs of a resurgence of these problems today.

12) It will help rebuild our sense of democracy and belief in equality. As we have seen and are seeing, when too much is in the hands of too few, they have too much power and influence and use it to get even more.

13) It will strengthen the government that We, the People have worked hard to build, and strengthen its ability to enforce the laws and regulations that protect all of us and the resources we hold in common. It will increase its ability to provide all of us equally with the benefits of our joint efforts and our economy.

14) Finally, for good measure, increasing top tax rates will cause those affected to work harder to make up the difference. The Ayn Randians claim the very rich are the “producers” and all the rest of us are just parasites and slackers who feed off their “work.” So it will be very good for our economy to get them working harder by taxing them at 90%! You may have heard about those 25 hedge fund managers who brought in an average of $1 billion each last year – an amount that would have paid for 658,000 teachers — while the rest of the country suffered through a terrible economy. If we had a top tax rate of 90% they would “only” take home $100 million or so each – in a single year. And we could have 658,000 more teachers. So it’s a win-win.

Taxes are how we all pitch in to enjoy the benefits and protections of modern society. Those benefits and protections are what enable people to become wealthy, and we ask that they give some back so others can prosper as well.

Signals Obama Could/Should Send?

This post originally appeared at Open Left.
Symbolism is very powerful, and great Presidents use it to set the tone of their Presidency. It is the “Bully Pulpit” because Presidents tell the people “this is the way it is now,” then repeat the message and they act in ways that consistently reinforce it, until the message ripples out and people start acting accordingly.
FDR took office and signaled change. What could be more dramatic that his first 100 days? Message: The government will from now on be on the side of the People.
Reagan certainly signaled change. Message: The government will now be on the side of the wealthy. The rest of you are on your own.
Bush II certainly signaled change. People understood that we will be a country ruled by men, not laws. (And he meant men. Wealthy, white men.)
What has Obama signaled? What tone has he set? What actions have backed up his words? What new direction does the country understand we are following?
More below the fold.

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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.

Public Still Trusts Corporations More Than Self-Government

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Marketing works.  But we already knew that.  Big business has been marketing the idea that corporations making decisions for us is better than having government run by the people.  And a lot of people have bought into that idea.

But is it really better to be government by corporations?  In February I wrote,

After decades of anti-government speeches claiming that government holds back business, government takes money out of the economy and government is less efficient than corporations, people came to believe that, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is the problem, not the solution.”  This led to deregulation and budget cutbacks in all areas including education and infrastructure. 

If you think about it, government really is what We, the People want it to be.  In a democracy we jointly make decisions about the best way to manage our affairs.  So saying that corporations do things better is really an anti-democracy message.  What they are saying is that organizations run by a few wealthy elites telling everyone else what to do, with the benefits of everyone’s work mostly going to those few at the top, is a better way to manage society than to have everyone making the decisions and sharing in the results.

Just for fun, here is the video from that post again:




Here is more proof that marketing works:  A recent Gallup Poll of public trust of government vs corporations found that the public still would rather be governed by big corporations than by themselves.

Gallup’s recent update of its long-standing trend question on whether big business, big labor, or big government will be the biggest threat to the country in the future finds Americans still viewing big government as the most serious threat. However, compared to Gallup’s last pre-financial-crisis measurement in December 2006, more now see big business and fewer see big government as the greater threat.

Gallup’s results, graphically:

GallupGovtBusResults.gif

Marketing works.  Especially when it is repeated over and over for decades, unopposed.  This blog reaches a moderate audience, but the message that government by the people is a good thing needs to reach people who don’t hear it very often, and only hear the marketed anti-government, anti-democracy message that is spread by the corporations.  Did you know that Speak Out California also provides speakers to talk to local groups across California and do radio and TV interviews discussing the benefits of government and democracy? Please contact us at info@speakoutca.org to schedule a speaker for your event.

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Who Is Our Government For?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
dday, writing in Giving Away The Tax Argument at Digby’s Hullabaloo blog, asks why so many California newspapers have “tax increase calculators” but no calculators that show people how much the budget cuts affect them.

In my life, I have never seen a “spending cut calculator,” where someone could plug in, say, how many school-age children they have, or how many roads they take to work, or how many police officers and firefighters serve their community, or what social services they or their families rely on, and discover how much they stand to lose in THAT equation. Tax calculators show bias toward the gated community screamers on the right who see their money being “taken away” for nothing. A spending cut calculator would actually show the impact to a much larger cross-section of society, putting far more people at risk than a below 1% hit to their bottom line.

[. . . The media already highlights the tax side of the equation over spending, dramatically portraying tax increases while relegating spending cuts to paragraph 27. It feeds the tax revolt and distorts the debate. And it’s completely irresponsible.

In Why Are Public Assets Being Cut Right When We Need Them Most? Jay Walljasper, of OnTheCommons.org wonders why public transit, libraries and other things the government does for us are all being cut at exactly the time people need them? As the economy turns downward more people need to take the train or bus, or use the library. Jay makes the connection,

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, proposes closing the state’s budget gap by reducing corporate taxes and slashing state aid to local governments. This will mean painful cuts in public assets, such as transit and libraries.

. . . This loss of our public assets is an alarming threat to our society. The things we all own in common and depend upon–libraries, transit, parks, water systems, schools, public safety, infrastructure, cultural programs, social services–are being gradually but steadily undermined.

For many years I have been blogging at Seeing the Forest, often coming back to a question, “Who is our economy for?” For some time now regular incomes have stagnated, while incomes at the very top just go up and up. The GDP keeps rising, productivity keeps going up, but regular people see less and less of the benefit of this increase. In fact, if you look at charts and data, the stagnation of incomes started almost exactly at the same time as President Reagan took office and started implementing the corporate agenda of anti-tax and anti-government policies. So is this a coincidence?

Throughout human history we have seen one scheme after another wherein a few people seize power and devise a system to hold it and use it to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. This is human nature and through history we have seen it happen over and over.

America formed in reaction to the British monarchy’s exploitation of its people. We, the People formed our government to band together and protect each other from attempts by the powerful few to exploit us. Our Constitution was supposed to be include a system of checks and balances to account for the nature of power.

It is time for the people to take back that power and use it to again benefit each other. And it is time for California’s newspapers to do something for We, the People and include a “budget cuts calculator” as well as tax increase calculator. It is just as important, maybe more so, that we all understand how we’re injuring and jeopardizing our future with the budget cuts the Republicans required in this year’s budget negotiations.

Click through to Speak Out California

CA’s Budget Problem Is Paragraph 10

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Today’s San Jose Mercury News front page story is about California’s budget problem: that they are still one vote short. But Californians reading the story are not told why one more vote is required, not are they told who it is required from — until the 10th paragraph. The 10th paragraph reads,

The votes were there in the Assembly. But in the Senate, only two Republican senators were prepared to buck party orthodoxy and vote to raise taxes. Three were needed.

Even in this 10th paragraph readers are not informed that every Democrat is voting for the budget.
Before this paragraph, readers are told that “lawmakers” cannot agree and that “the deal still was held hostage by the thinnest of margins.” But there is nothing telling them who or why.
The reason this is such a problem is that the people of California need this information, to help them play their part in the functioning of our state government. The voters need to know who to hold accountable or they will not make their wishes known through calls to their Assemblymember’s or Senator’s office. And they can’t make informed decisions at election time.
This is typical of stories about the budget impasse — across the state the major newspapers, radio and TV stations are not giving the voters the information they need in order to participate in their government. The result is that the state is becoming ungovernable — and going broke.
So let’s be clear about what is happening here. California’s elected Republicans have all signed a “no-new-taxes” pledge with Grover Norquist’s organization. (He’s the guy who says the plan is to make government small enough to “drown in a bathtub.”) So now they see the budget crisis as an opportunity to force mass layoffs of state employees and reductions in support for people who need things like state-supplied oxygen tanks. They call that “reducing government.” And even with all the budget cuts that the Democrats have all voted for, they still will not vote to pass a budget. They want more, and then more, and then they want the state government to go away.
This is ideology. They repeat an ideological mantra that will ruin the state. And they say this is their goal — to get rid of government. They say government is bad. They say government spending is bad. They say taxes are bad. They say corporations are good. Ideology.
California can not continue to fund our schools, universities, roads, public safety, firefighters, health services, services to the poor, blind and elderly, provide funding for local government, etc. without additional revenues. Do the Mat (George Skelton, LA Times):

It’s Republican dogma in the Capitol that to vote for a tax increase is “career-ending.” Even if true — and there’s evidence both ways — so what?
These are folks, after all, who sermonize against making politics a career, publicly pretend to worship term limits and preach the virtues of private enterprise. You’d think they’d be eager to return to the private sector. Yet, they’re afraid to risk losing out on their next political job.

Another item not reported is that the Republicans demanded a huge tax cut for large corporations — the very kind that are killing off California’s smaller independent, job-creating businesses.
And they still won’t vote for the budget. And the public still doesn’t have a chance to learn what is going on here.
Click through to Speak Out California

Government

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
After decades of anti-government speeches claiming that government holds back business, government takes money out of the economy and government is less efficient than corporations, people came to believe that, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is the problem, not the solution.” This led to deregulation and budget cutbacks in all areas including education and infrastructure.
If you think about it, government really is what We, the People want it to be. In a democracy we jointly make decisions about the best way to manage our affairs. So saying that corporations do things better is really an anti-democracy message. What they are saying is that organizations run by a few wealthy elites telling everyone else what to do, with the benefits of everyone’s work mostly going to those few at the top, is a better way to manage society than to have everyone making the decisions and sharing in the results.
As the financial crisis hits, and the fabric of that pro-big business philosophy is shredding the fabric of our society, we can see clearly just how foolish and destructive the right-wing machine has been to our economic, social and political values. (Not to mention cutting off peanut processing plant regulation and inspection, leading to the current situation of 9 dead and hundreds seriously ill across the country. This is just ONE more example of the consequences of right-wing policies.)
Alone those lines, here is an interesting video, making fun of some of the anti-government propaganda we have heard over the last few decades:

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The New President

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
At 12:01pm EST, as Barack Obama took the oath of office to become President of the United States of America, the White House website, whitehouse.gov, switched over to its new format.  The list of menu items on that website includes “Our Government.”  It is OUR government, the People of the United States joining together to manage our affairs.

One feature of the new website is a blog.  The first post at the blogs promises Communication, Transparency and Patricipation.  For example,

“One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.”

It is OUR government, and a new era has begun. 
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The “Tax Freedom Day” Trick

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
It takes a 2/3 vote to pass a budget in California. As we have seen this means any budget that does not completely meet the hard-core anti-tax, must-cut-government position of the Republicans in the legislature is voted down. Even though there is enormous public support for government – schools, roads, firefighters, etc. – they will not compromise at all. They demand that we gut the government, lay off tens of thousands of workers, or nothing. So California races toward economic ruin.
What do your taxes buy you? The average person benefits greatly from strong government. By gathering together into a community that is jointly managed (i.e. government) people can pool their resources and accomplish great things that cannot be accomplished by people who are on their own. Roads and bridges are examples of things that people cannot accomplish individually. Police, firefighters, public schools are other examples. Law and courts and a monetary system are still more. And then there are benefits like Social Security and the “safety net” of programs for people who lose jobs to food programs for those of us without enough to eat.
The reason we have almost everything that we value as a society, our education and (until recently anyway) jobs, the internet, buildings that don’t easily burn down or blow away, drinkable water coming to our houses and sewage systems leaving them and (until fairly recently, anyway) a health care system that stops epidemics is our government. All of the businesses we see around us exist because of our government — a corporation cannot even exist without the government that establishes it and the legal system that maintains it.
But there are some who would personally benefit more in the absence of government than in its presence. History has taught that there are some who would organize themselves to take what others have worked to build rather than do that work themselves. One need only look at the walls built around cities in the past to understand this. There have also been organized gangs and other criminal enterprises that take rather than build, and more recently we have seen that organized predatory enterprises also find ways to victimize and prey on people. Fraud, confidence and ponzi schemes, consumer scams and all manner of trickery prey on people who are left unprotected by their community. Government is what has always protected regular people from such predators.
Government — the people banding together to guard and accomplish their interests — serves to protect people from those who would just take rather than work with the rest of us to build.
So why did Ronald Reagan famously say “government is the problem” in his first inaugural address and he loudly and repeatedly attack the idea of taxes? The foundation and strength of government is the taxes it collect. Taxes are what provide government with its strength to do all of the good things described above. This is why anti-government ideologues reason that the way to cut government (and thereby bring in its alternative) is to cut taxes. They say that if they can just cut out the foundation of government, it will fall. Or, more famously, that they can “drown it in a bathtub.”
One way that anti-government ideologues have worked to accomplish this is to turn people against their own government, tricking people into misunderstanding how taxes work and what government does for them. last week, in What Are Tax Brackets, I explained how one of these tricks works — that you only pay bracket rates taxes on income that falls in that bracket, not on all income earned up to that bracket.
Another way they turn people against taxation and government is to misrepresent how much is collected and how it is used. Exaggerated statements like, “We pay half our income in taxes” are commonly heard, along with under-representation and misrepresentation of the benefits we receive from government.
“Tax Freedom Day” is one example of this technique. Tax Freedom Day is a product of The Tax Foundation, which is funded by the very same collection of right-wing donors that fund the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and so many other components of the anti-government “conservative movement.”
Tax Freedom Day is widely publicized by corporate media, and usually described as being when “the average American” has earned enough income to pay their taxes. Tax Freedom Day for 2008 is April 23. To calculate Tax Freedom Day the The Tax Foundation adds up all the taxes paid to the government from all sources, but it only includes certain forms of income. It doesn’t include capital gains income, for example, yet includes capital gains taxes on the tax side of the calculation. These misleading calculations of course result in a much higher tax amount than “the average America” really pays. So while they say that 30.8% of “our” income went to pay taxes in 2008, anyone reading this who looks at their own tax bill can see that their taxes are substantially lower than this figure.
So the next time you hear about Tax Freedom Day, keep in mind who is making this claim, and why.
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California’s 2/3 Requirement Hobbles Democracy

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
In Santa Clara County they want to extend Bay Area Rapid Transit down to San Jose. To fund this they put Measure B, a 1/8 cent sales tax, on the ballot. In California all tax measures must pass by a 2/’3 margin and on Election Day the voters approved Measure B by a 2/3 margin.
That would be the end of it, except the vote was very close to exactly 2/3. For several days it looked as though the measure would fail because it reached a few votes short of exactly 66.66% but when the last ballot was counted the result was 66.78% in favor. So in the face of a 2/3 vote by the people, a group sued to block certification pending a recount. Yes, with 2/3 of the public voting for this, a group sued to stop it!
My observation is that this demonstrates something important about the “anti-tax” forces in our state. Their intent is to hobble our democracy and thwart the will of the people. It is time for us to take back democracy and return majority vote to tax measures!
It is nearly impossible to get 2/3 for anything, ever, in an election. Clearly this 2/3 requirement is about hobbling democracy, not protecting rights. The public wanted to bring BART to San Jose. A remarkable 2/3 voted for this, yet a group sues based on the count being close to exactly 2/3. And in our state legislature the budget process has completely broken down as a 1/3 minority blocks every budget, every compromise and every last attempt to pass sensible measures to run our state! We are now in a “Fiscal Emergency,” cutting back our schools and laying people off during a recession. This is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing and of what the public wants, but there is no choice because we are hobbled by rules that anti-government extremists managed to sneak past misinformed voters decades ago.
We must get rid of the 2/3 requirement. It is time. Democracy and good government are back in fashion so let’s get on with it!
(By the way, California’s Secretary of State ruled that the law says automatic recounts occur when the vote count is very close to 50/50. Since the vote count was 2/3 the law does not apply even though the election was close. A judge ruled Tuesday that the attempt to block Measure B came too late.
Click through to Speak Out California

Thought Experiment On Government

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Try this: Every time you read the word “government” substitute the appropriate variation of the term “We, the People” or “democracy” and then see how you feel about what is being written. Use the same substitution for the term “the state.”
This is especially fun when reading anything written by a conservative or a right winger.
Ronald Reagan’s famous phrase, “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem” takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? He was saying that “democracy is the problem” — and here we are 25 years later seemingly living under corporate rule instead of democracy. How has that turned out?
When conservatives complain about government or “the state” they are complaining about control of decision-making by the people rather than by a few. Never forget that.