Monday, August 22, 2011

Distressed Royalty


I believe that this is the Ladenburg in question (there are always several German towns with the same name) and it sounds like a great place to visit. I believe that, when you have a busy restaurant like that, it means the food is pretty good. No wonder the royals tried to get something to eat.

Royalty is somewhat more accepted in Germany since there are princes and princesses and royals living all throughout the country. Should they get preferential treatment? Of course not.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Scenes From the Breakdown of America's Economy


There are two Americas--the one where white people can find jobs and the one where African-Americans can find jobs. We comfort ourselves by putting the national unemployment rate at the artificially low level of 9 percent or so--for African-Americans nationwide it is much higher than that. Factor in all of the people who have given up and the under-employed, and your national unemployment level is at a critical level.

The solution isn't obvious, but it does involve government stimulus spending to finance job creation projects. Fixing our long-term unemployment issues will take a fundamental reorganization of America's economy. Should we go back to being a country that actually makes stuff? Or has that ship sailed?

I don't know. I do know one thing--President Obama is not going to get reelected if unemployment remains this high. The American people aren't going to vote for the continuation of misery even if they're being lied to by a major party candidate about what can be done to solve our problems. They'll vote for anyone who promises jobs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Governor Chris Christie is Firmly on the Side of the Millionaires


It doesn't get any more blatant than this:

This would have taken an extra 1.78% out of the pockets of millionaires and businesses that make over a million dollars in taxable gross income, something that doesn't even seem too unreasonable, given the times in which we live.

I think what is happening here is a microcosm of the problems that we face. Tax rates are almost artificially too low. Many Americans enjoy tax rates that are almost absurdly low and many corporations pay virtually no income taxes. I live in Europe where there are tax rates that would give an American millionaire a heart attack. And we can't discuss a meager increase in taxes to help make up enormous budget shortfalls?

Where's the room for debate? What is, and what is not acceptable?

Here in this one veto message from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which has exactly three "reads" in his Scribd account as I'm looking at it now, is the American problem, writ large. No matter what, taxes cannot be raised. Not even by small, pithy amounts. Not for any reason.

Where, then, do you find the middle ground to compromise on anything? You can't.

This is, of course, a veto message. The legislative process is very complex, so I'm sure that this is not the only reason why the bill was vetoed. I get that. But what struck me was how small the increase on tax rates for people making over a million dollars per year was. It was almost nothing. Well, it would mean a lot to a person making nothing per year, of course, but I think we are well past being able to argue that cutting taxes creates jobs. It doesn't.

Fine. If taxes can't be raised, then we have to cut spending. Let's start with all the things that have to be cut, and let's let the Republicans explain why old people have to starve or go without medicine and let's watch them pitch wounded Veterans out onto the street by the busload. Let's cut Medicare and Social Security and plunge the country into Dickensian poverty.

Run on that come election day.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Sam's Club Republican Gives Up and Goes Home


The gang that couldn't shoot straight loses a member. And with the departure of Minnesota's ex-governor Tim Pawlenty comes the realization that there isn't anyone running for President who can claim to speak for working people. And that goes for both parties--nobody cares about working Americans.

You could argue that Pawlenty didn't care about them, either, and I wouldn't disagree. But here's the reality of his departure--Pawlenty was the closest thing to a real advocate for working people in the Republican Party. All of the rest of the candidates are slaves to the wealth that propels them along (or the delusions that accompany those dollars).

Pawlenty had that erstwhile connection to people who shop at Sam's Club. It was a significant part of his appeal for the 150 days of his campaign for the Republican nomination. Now? Forget about hearing anyone champion those people. They didn't turn out to support him in the phony run-up to Iowa and New Hampshire which is months and months away.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

So Long to Whatever is Left of Your 401K

So many Americans have bailed on saving for retirement that I don't think this is such a huge thing right now. But there is a real danger that what is left of the retirement savings for millions of Americans could be wiped out in a major, prolonged stock drop.

I'm less concerned about large companies and more concerned about people who have dwindling retirement portfolios (yes, the two are intrinsically linked, but I think Bank of America can absorb a loss much easier than a family with one breadwinner who has $75,000 in a 401K or something to that effect).  There's very little left to give in this economy. The margin of error keeps shrinking--that margin between giving up food, medicine, or a payment on a credit card or the mortgage and the dwindling value of the weekly paycheck--and if it shrinks to the point where enough Americans are hurting, who are they going to blame?

I'm afraid they'll blame the political class. And if so, what does that mean? Does that mean a wave of amateurs will take over and run things? They certainly couldn't do any worse than the crew running things now. But that sentiment is a dangerous one. The American form of government is too complex to entrust to amateurs. What we need is reform, both in terms of how money is used to buy influence and in how the media is incapable of explaining the hard choices ahead. Ethics and information are the key elements of reform. We need hard and fast rules to deal with soft money and we need a population that is better informed.

Overwhelmingly, this crisis was triggered by the failure of the Republican Party to negotiate in good faith on the debt ceiling. The Democrats conceded a great deal, and governed with a great deal of pragmatism. There is none of this "both sides are to blame" nonsense being spread around here. If you haven't been paying attention, don't blame those of us who see the modern Republican Party as an extremist organization bent on destroying the American economy for political gain.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When Will the Recipients of Tax Cuts Start Creating Jobs?


So, that's how it's going to be, huh? The American people have suffered through nearly a decade of spiraling debt, reduced purchasing power, and stagnating wages. We keep hearing about how the economy will improve if only we can keep taxes on the richest Americans low. We keep hearing about how much worse things will get if rich people have to pay more in taxes. We keep hearing about economic armageddon if someone with a private jet has to pay more to Uncle Sam at the end of the tax year.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it rewards the laziness of the media and tricks the American people into voting against their economic self-interest. If cutting taxes on the wealthy actually created jobs, we'd have jobs flying out of our asses. Instead, we have nothing but crap everywhere. Wow, you made it this far? Might as well keep going, huh?

And what do we see after extending the Bush tax cuts? A limp, almost indescribably bad job market. Millions unemployed, millions more under-employed, and untold numbers of young people living at home, unable to find decent jobs.

David Frum begins the soul searching here, but that's not what needs searching:
Frum doesn't go far enough. It's time to attack the idea that tax cuts will produce anything other than deficits and unemployment. Because that's what you get when you cut the wrong taxes for the wrong people--you reward bad economic behavior and end up with bad economic results. The American economy will not recover unless good behavior is rewarded. Do you think I would shed a tear if someone got a tax cut in exchange for hiring ten people? Or for extending benefits or for investing in worker training? Hell no. That's a tax cut I would happily defend.

We need to find a way to bring revenues up (at the state, local, and Federal levels) without causing America's rich to panic and go live in Switzerland. This has to be a gradual thing, because, after all, everyone knows that as soon as taxes in the U.S. go up, the rich will flee.

Yeah, right.