Friday, September 23, 2005

Radicals in charge of the purse strings

E.J. Dionne gets a bit impolitic in his Washington Post column today when he rails about how “fundamentally stupid our budget policies have been over the past five years.”

Dionne notes that the cost this year alone of the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 comes to $225 billion, more than enough to pay the costs of the Katrina recovery. Unfortunatley, the Republicans will wreck our economy, allow our infrastructure to deteriorate and sink us under a mountain of debt before giving up one penny of their tax cuts for the rich.

This devotion to tax cuts above all else is not “conservative” as Dionne rightfully notes, it is “radical.”

...our current budget policies are built not on honest coherence but on incoherence or, even worse, a dishonest coherence. The president and members of Congress always insist that they are fiscal conservatives who believe in balanced budgets. Yet their actions bear no relationship to their words, and labels such as "conservative" have no connection to their policies. Our federal purse strings are in the hands of fiscal radicals.

Dionnes says he would have more respect for these guys if they would at least be honest about their radicalism:

... if they just came out and said: "Look, we love deficit spending. That's why we waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cut taxes at the same time. It's why we'll talk about offsets for Katrina and Rita but never enact them, except maybe a few cuts in programs for the poor. All we really care about are passing tax cuts -- and popular spending programs that get us reelected so we can enact more tax cuts."

I just hope our nation is strong enough to withstand three more years of this radical mismanagement of our government and economy.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A smart move

After failing five times in two years to develop a fair and equitable tax system to finance public education, Gov. Rick Perry has now done the smartest thing he has ever done during his entire administration - he has appointed former Texas Comptroller John Sharp to chair a committee to find a bipartisan approach for fixing the current system.

Perry and Sharp agreed that a bipartisan approach is necessary to fix the current system, which has been found unconstitutional by a state district judge.

John Sharp, or The Man Who Should Have Been Governor, is perhaps the last best hope Texas has to getting out of this school financing mess. Unfortunately, it looks like he may have allowed the new committee to be cut off at the knees before it even gets started by agreeing to leave the possibility of a state income tax off the table.

Both Perry and Sharp said that any effort to reduce the state's heavy reliance on property taxes to fund public education would not include an income tax.

OK, maybe that is politically necessary for them to say that at this time. But after the new committee has flopped around for awhile it will come to the conclusion that they can’t make the money magically appear by wiggling their noses or waving a wand in the air. At that point they will have no choice but to look at where the money is and actually consider a state income tax just like nearly every other state in the U.S. Then it will be imperative on Perry to consider their recommendation and hopefully do something to enact it.

Of course, as Burnt Orange Report has noted, this means that Sharp is not going to be running for governor next year as I had hoped.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


My brother-in-law is finally back from Iraq after spending the past year stationed at Camp Victory in the heart of Baghdad with the Louisiana National Guard. He’s the old guy on the left - Class of ‘86. The youngster on the right is Class of 2004.
My sister was picking him up at the airport this morning. Welcome home!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Two sides of the same coin

The aftermath of Katrina has once again sparked a debate over the proper role of government in our society.

I’ve addressed this issue in the past, specifically here and here.

It is my contention that neither pure capitalism nor pure socialism are viable economic forms suitable for modern society. While many people see them as opposites, I see capitalism and socialism as two sides of the same coin. I believe it is necessary to have a mixture of the two.

I previously tried to make this point using the analogy of an automobile (one that I am kind of proud of) and I will repeat it here:

“Let us look at the U.S. economy as a car where capitalism is represented by everything that makes that car go - the engine, the drive shaft, the steering column, the brakes and so forth. Socialism is represented by everything that goes into the car to make the ride more comfortable, but is superfluous to making it go. That would be the cushioned seats, the plush interior, the windshield to keep the bugs out of your face, shock absorbers, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power locks, the A/C and heater, the radio and cd player, and on and on....

I think this is a great example of the growth of government and the increasing expectations of the people it serves. How much is too much? When you go to buy a car, what do you expect it to have at a bare minimum? I just bought a new car last year. It was the first car I’ve ever bought that had power locks and power windows. I used to think those were silly extras that I would never need. Now they are practically standard on every car and I personally love the convenience.
The government is the same way. Without some of the social programs in place, capitalism would be a bumpy ride. But too many programs weighs everything down and hinders our forward progress. So we are constantly struggling to come up with the proper balance. When critics urge the elimination of welfare, ag subsidies, Medicare and Social Security - it’s like trying to sell the American people a car with metal seats and no shock absorbers. They are not going to be happy. They won’t buy the car and they won’t vote for your candidate. That is the reality.”

Very few people think that we have the perfect formula in place. Most people believe that we have too much of one side and not enough of the other. Whichever side that is would probably place you on either the right or left half of the ideological spectrum.
I tend to think that we have a pretty good system in place overall, but I am open to arguments that we need more of some things and less of others. What I reject are the extreme arguments from either side that claim the current system is somehow an abomination (or unconstitutional) and needs radical altering.

Stephen, one of my frequent commenters here, has recently made an argument along these lines, specifically in regards to welfare:

We will always have the orphaned, the aged, the sick of body, mind and soul. And we have an aching responsibility to care for them as best we can. Add to them the sufferers of some catastrophic event. In that category reside those who, for one reason or another, have suffered a set-back. Any profit conscious society would see the value of giving those persons a hand up. .... All others fall into a bracket we might label scum. It is THIS category – the scum of the earth – that welfare statism has so successfully nurtured and perpetuated.

The “unfortunate” I describe above are a tiny, tiny minority. We need not concern our government with the care of those few, but deserving people. We are the most charitable nation on earth. Moreover, there is nothing in our Constitution that warrants that concern.

Finally, I do recognize that these despicable humanoids I have labeled “scum” produce children. These children are “orphans” in every sense of the word. It is the duty of everyone to be on the lookout for them so that we might remove them from their diseased environments as early as possible. Again this is a community concern; a deep responsibility we must all bear.

It is my position that, were it not for government, the scummy multitudes would not exist at all; given their penchant for knifing each other in dark alleys, overdosing on drugs and committing crimes that would ensure a lifetime in prison, or a place on the gallows. But, by virtue of the trillions of dollars we have spent guaranteeing that these malicious and contemptible people will have plenty to eat, air conditioned bedrooms, and a new Lexis to get them to McDonalds and the lottery machine, they have multiplied into the tens of millions.

First, I want to applaud Stephen for acknowledging society’s need to take care of “the orphaned, the aged, the sick of body, mind and soul.” Unfortunately, his contention that this group - along with the “sufferers of some catastrophic event” - make up a tiny, tiny minority is not at all in touch with reality. Perhaps I misread him and he meant to say that the group he labels as “scum” is the tiny minority. That would be closer to the truth.

But let’s talk for a moment about the “scummy multitudes” whom Stephen believes would not exist is if were not for government aid programs. How many people believe that there was no poverty before government welfare programs were established? Can I see a show of hands?
Hmmmmmm. It’s obvious that some folks could use a bit of a history lesson.

Let’s not pussyfoot around. There are obviously plenty of able-bodied people who end up on welfare in one form or another - perhaps even some who deserve the label of “scum.” But arguing over whether or not they deserve to recieve government handouts ignores the central role they play in our economic system. The purpose of government welfare, as Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward pointed out long ago in their classic work “Regulating the Poor : The Functions of Public Welfare” is to regulate labor.

”When mass unemployment leads to outbreaks of turmoil, relief programs are ordinarily initiated or expanded to absorb and control enough of the unemployed to restore order; then, as turbulence subsides, the relief system contracts, expelling those who are needed to populate the labor market.”

Note that it only expels those who are “needed to populate the labor market.” This raises another interesting aspect about capitalism that conservative critics of welfare tend to overlook or ignore - the role that unemployment plays in keeping wages down. Our economic system depends on having a certain percentage of people unemployed (usually between 4 and 6 percent) so as to keep pressure on workers and prevent them from having the upper hand in wage disputes. If we had full employment, then workers could go and demand higher wages from their bosses with no fear of reprisal - rising wages would mean higher costs for businesses which would be passed on to consumers through inflation.
But by having a constant pool of unemployed people in need of work, the laborer is constrained from demanding higher wages for fear that the boss would fire them and hire the next guy desperate for a job and willing to work for the same or less pay. This helps to keep a cap on inflation and stabilizes our economic system.

It strikes me, then, as the height of cruelty to have a system that depends on a certain percentage of people being unemployed that would then deny them the basic necessities of life - food, shelter, medical care - while they are serving that purpose.

Fortunately, we do not have such a cruel society. And the welfare program that we do have takes up only a very tiny portion - less than 2 percent - of our nation’s $2.5 trillion annual budget.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Delusional columnists

Two columns in Sunday’s Express-News show people in a delusional state of mind - one from the right, and one from the left.

First we have conservative Jonathan Gurwitz who is still desperately trying to justify his support for the invasion of Iraq in light of the fact that the imminent threat from the Weapons of Mass Destruction turned out to be a hoax perpetrated partly by Hussein himself and partly by his enemies.
Now Gurwitz is trying to use the latest report on the U.N.’s oil-for-food scandal to prop up the dead horse notion that Saddam Hussein was a threat to anyone outside of his own country.

Saddam was able to skim ($12 billion) from the program and divert (it) for largely military purposes. Gurwitz announces breathlessly.

The fact that Hussein and his Baathist regime were corrupt shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.
And Hussein obviously didn’t do a very good job of building up him military with that money based on what we saw when we invaded. Hussein’s military folded almost immediately and months of fruitless searching afterwards revealed no evidence of any kind of WMD program that we did not already know about and have under wraps via U.N. inspections.
The money that Hussein skimmed most likely went into his pocket and to prop up his corrupt government which was based largely on bribery and theft. Gurwitz’ contention that Hussein was getting stronger at the time that we invaded is flatly contradicted by the Iraq Survey Team which concluded that Hussein’s military might had been steadily deteriorating since the end of Gulf War I.

Next, we have liberal Susan Ives with a column that seems like it was intended to confirm every negative stereotype against liberals that I have ever tried to knock down. How embarrassing.
Ives thinks we need to have another cabinet level position in our government - to the tune of about $8 billion annually - to promote “peace and nonviolence.”

A Department of Peace would add more tools to the president's toolbox., Ives says.

Arghhh! I don’t even want to hear all the stupid jokes about people standing around in a circle singing “Kumbaya.” Please, just spare me that. This is the stupidest idea I think I have ever heard from folks on my side of the fence.
First off, we already have a cabinet level department that is supposed to promote peace and non-violence. It’s called the State Department. That’s what they do. They negotiate and barter and design peace accords and all that other diplomatic stuff short of waging wars. If the State Department is not doing a good job at that lately its because we have lousy leadership at the top.
A Department of Peace and Nonviolence like Ives wants would be totally redundant. And furthermore, what good would it do to have a department like that if Bush is still going to be the one appointing the people to run it? Can you imagine?
I can see it now. Bush’s first appointee to be the new Secretary of Peace and Non-violence would be someone like B-1 Bob Dornan.