Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Suddenly, bookkeeping is their thing?

    If you're like me, it's difficult acclimating to the new Republican role as The Party That Wants the Numbers to Add Up.
    Forgive me, but when I see John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the rest striking the virginal pose, halos overhead signifying "zero dollars more than revenues allow," I can't help but see a whole other group.
    I see the Republicans of the Bush-era fiscal rave — the all-night spending party that barely blinked at the nightclub tab, nodding to the beat of Dick Cheney's rapping, "Deficits don't matter."
    I did see one Republican at the time, Sen. John McCain, blasting his party for authorizing off-the-books expenditures for simultaneous wars. Response? Damn the deficits; full speed ahead with more tax cuts.
   Now, of course, we're supposed to believe things have changed — the tea party and all.
   However, reading these words from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, I want to ask him, "Are you blind?" He said:
    "Today's conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits . . . We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping."
    Sorry, but the new GOP breed is less interested in reducing the deficit than never having to pay a dime more in taxes for all the government that was bought in the years since the budget surplus under Bill Clinton.
    Exhibit A to depict reality is this from the New York Times about Senate Democrats calling Republicans' deficit-bluster bluff:
    "The House Republican demand that the Senate produce a budget by mid-April could set in motion a Senate effort to overhaul the tax code to raise more revenue, contrary to Republican vows to stand against any more tax increases."
      Recall that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wanted to reform taxes as well, close loopholes, but to reduce the deficit not at all. Revenue-neutral, baby.
     See? The New Party of Bookkeeping isn't so much interested in making things add up as it is avoiding further embarrassing Grover Norquist, who has threatened with a martini skewer any Republican in Congress who voted for the "fiscal cliff" bill that let some tax cuts lapse.
    Today's GOP is less interested in deficits than what motivates Norquist: starving government.
    If the GOP truly were motivated by bookkeeping and deficits, it would acknowledge that the nation has maintained 21st-century spending levels with (as a percent of GDP) 1950s tax levels.
    If it were truly the Bookkeeping Party, the GOP would be amenable, per Simpson-Bowles, to significant cuts in military spending. It's not.
    Parallels can be seen in states strapped to Republican desires to cut taxes, and to strangle human services and education. In Texas, amid the Great Recession, a rough fiscal time was made much rougher because of a property tax cut presented as "school finance reform." A new business tax didn't come close to making up for revenue lost.
    This resulted in an enormous fiscal hole for  schools. Even though Texas balanced its budget as state law requires, its Republican leadership acted, and continues to act, irresponsibly. Instead of storing grain for hard times, it was making corn cakes with its seed corn.
    Nationally, the GOP did much the same under Bush with reckless tax cuts. And when hard winter hit — the worst recession in generations — when the federal government had to spend to stimulate the economy, Republicans flung, and continue to fling, accusations of unnecessary hyper-spending at Barack Obama.
  "Obsessed with bookkeeping?" That's hilarious. Deficits by design? Bingo. The better to strangle government.
    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bring the fire, Mr. President

   When fighting a fire, one strategy is to start another one.

   When a wildfire is chewing up acreage, setting a fire in its path and letting the intentionally set flames burn away available ground cover can dramatically slow the foe.

   That's all we can ask in the face of America's gun-death inferno. That's what the president did last week. Bring the fire.

   President Obama knows what's coming. If the first salvo — National Rifle Association buying TV ads pulling his daughters into the debate — is any indication, it's going to be beyond vicious, even if every proposal Obama makes is reasoned and reasonable.

    It's got to happen. Bring the fire.

    Vice President Biden said, "We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of  the good." We must do what is possible in the face of the expected blister of flame and fury.

    One bogus assertion is that to prevent tragedies like Newtown, Aurora and Tucson, Obama is focused only on guns. Those who claim this either aren't listening or haven't been wearing their ear protection at the target range. In his Jan. 16 speech, he addressed addressing mental health issues. He talked of helping schools beef up security if they desire. He mentioned entertainment's influence on violence. Each is a concern worth examining. And what are we doing to understand what's happening?

    Since 1996, for instance, legislation put forth by the gun lobby has meant that the Centers for Disease Control cannot study gun violence as a health issue. That year a bill sponsored by Congressman Jay Dickey, R-Ark., forbade money's going "to advocate or promote gun control." This stopped statistical and forensic studies by the CDC focused on guns' role in so many deaths, for instance — how do these weapons typically flow into the wrong hands?

   Among President Obama's new directives is one to ease such research restrictions. (Interestingly, in the wake of so much gun carnage, Congressman Dickey has modified his views and supports new research.) What Congress did in '96 had the ideological markings of what has happened under the Bush administration to stifle research that would confirm man's role in climate change. And don't forget restrictions on embryonic stem cell research which blocked crucial lifesaving developments. All are know-nothing directives from the do-nothing set.

   As for actual restrictions on sales of weapons, the most ridiculous argument is that such laws will be ignored by criminals. Name a law with which a criminal will abide. Does that obviate the need for any limits on human behavior?

    High-capacity clips have no business in anyone's hands unless that person is hired by us to protect us. The reason Arizona gunman Jared Lee Loughner didn't kill more people is that after shooting off more than 30 rounds he had to reload, and bystanders tackled him.

    Anyone who asserts that he or she needs 30-round clips for self-protection or sport will also make the claim that he needs surface-to-air missiles for bringing down pheasants and a bazooka to ward off door-to-door solicitors. And watch, they will.

    Bring the fire, Mr. President. Benefit from the gun lobby's broadsides, as when your opposition tried to make you out to look like something other than an American, something other than a lover of country, something alien and dangerous. The voters saw what you are: a reasoned, reasonable, sometimes too moderate, often too conciliatory leader.

    Nothing Obama has proposed would take away a single gun now in possession. But that's what we're told by those who would wish that we do nothing in the face of flames that have consumed so many lives, blackening in grief so many parcels of this land.

    Let the NRA belch flames. Let its overstatements and carnal rage clear the ground around a vital public health issue, and then let's fight this fire.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The people vs. buckets of money


   It's what the founders called a certain assertion: All persons are created equal.

   This, too, is self-evident — or should be: A corporation is not a person.

    A corporation has no fundamental rights. It is a legal construct, like a parade license. A parade and a corporation both involve people. Neither has constitutional rights. If either of them did, a dogfighting ring would merit due process as an enterprise.

   Or maybe dogfighting would be protected as free speech.

   Someone should try the latter argument on the wing of the Supreme Court that ruled three years ago this month in Citzens United vs. the FEC that political spending is protected speech under the First Amendment. For the same reason, the court scrambled or negated a host of state restrictions on corporate political contributions.

    All of which motivates a growing movement to amend the Constitution and insert among other things: "The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only," and for the purposes of  influencing elections, "Money is not speech."

   Eleven states and 500 local governments have sided with the effort to overturn Citizens United by amending the Constitution. Find the proposed amendment and sign a petition on

   Hear acolytes of the court's Scalia-Thomas-Alito wing rail against "judicial activism," when in Citizens United the court ignored the people's reasoned determination that unchecked political contributions are a golden key to graft.  

   "Corporations as people" was one egregious result of the ruling. The other was the germination of super PACs that could dish out unlimited campaign funds.

   Hence, though the founders said we are all equal, it's not true at all — not when when comparing us to Dallas chemical titan Harold Simmons. His holding company Contran donated $18 million to Republican super PACs focused on the 2012 elections. He was one of the pace setters in a campaign on which a record $6 billion was spent, the lion's share from carnivorous corporate interests.

   What can be done? The first objective is to take up the Supreme Court on its dare and change the Constitution as urges. Another objective is to elevate the role of small individual contributions.

    Admittedly, the Obama campaign did a good job of that by itself (again) in 2012 by harvesting small contributions at a historic pace — $690 million of Obama's $1 billion in donations coming online.

    However, more needs to be done.

    The Brennan Center for Justice, carrying on the legacy of Supreme Court Justice William Brennan to promote a more representative democracy, is one of the nation's biggest advocates of public campaign financing.

    The most doable approach of which I know has served New York City for 25 years now: a small-donor matching program.

    Simply put, under the national program advanced by the Brennan Center, the taxpayers agree to a 5-to-1 match of all in-state donations of up to $250 from individuals. Hence, for candidates who consent to participate, a $100 donation would yield $500.

   Under the Brennan Center's proposal, those candidates who consented would have the present $2,500 federal individual limit sliced in half. Those who didn't would get no matching dollars.

     Sounds like liberal (Democrat) do-goodism, right? Well, the idea has been embraced by Republican Rudy Giuliani, as well as Democratic Gov.  Andrew Cuomo, who advocates a similar program statewide. 

   Truly, nothing is more fundamental to restoring the representative concept the founders first put on that far-off easel (an era before before dry-erase boards) than to X-out, or at least carve away at, the enormous power of big money.

    Otherwise, those of us with modest means will always be subordinated to the Harold Simmonses and Contrans of the world. If you're OK with that, please disregard that "created equal" jive.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:    

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cuffed to trickle-down myth no more

   It's called Chinese handcuffs, a trick that perfectly illustrates why America's in a fiscal pickle. The thing is, it's not tricky at all.

   Stick two fingers into opposing ends of the tight wicker tube. If they pull in opposite directions, the tube contracts and won't release them. But if the fingers stop resisting and move slightly toward each other, the tube relaxes and releases them.

   Say what you will about the result of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. They showed that we can wiggle out of a stalemate that threatens America's future.

   With their free hands, majorities of senators and congressmen held their noses and voted for something that both cut spending and raised taxes. They moved ever so slightly toward each other.

     This happened despite screams against tax hikes by tea party fantasists, not to mention the most frightening words for all elected Republicans: "Grover Norquist is on Line 1." At the same time, some lawmakers on the left like Sen. Tom Harkin thought the measure was too kind to the wealthy.

    The fact is, however, something was very right about the fiscal cliff resolution, stopgap and threadbare though it may be. For one, it raised taxes for every person who earns a pay check.

    That's right: every one. That's as it should have been.

    The measure let lapse the 2 percent payroll tax cut contained in economic stimulus legislation. This means that people paying $20,000 will pay $425 more this year. Those paying $40,000 will pay $747 more, and so on. And so be it.

    So much for the ignorance behind the Romney-esque claim that 47 percent of Americans are tax freeloaders. They pay payroll, property, sales, motor fuels and utility taxes, to name just a few.

     Well, everyone should pay more, because it was under our watch, all of us, that public policy put the nation so deeply in the red. That includes the wars for which some, including many who tout "less government, lower taxes" so avidly beat drums.

     You might feel in your heart that you're being taxed too much, but your national credit card account, 10-year wars included, says you're not.

      Despite what the tea party may say, taxes as a portion of Gross Domestic Product are at historic lows.

      Cut spending? It's self-evident that we need to, and dramatically. By the way, name the president under whose watch government employees declined most significantly — ever. That would be Barack Obama, for all those who believe he just can't spend enough. Obama also imposed a two-year freeze on federal pay.

    Only those swimming in anti-Obama bile will fail to acknowledge that he has made major spending concessions, and will make more. He has to.

    On the other side? Most congressional Republicans signed, and this time broke, a no-new-taxes pledge for lobbyist Norquist, whose Americans for Tax Reform has the resources to punish any who defy.

   Because of such a threat, though Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talked about closing tax loopholes, their intent was not to raise revenue so much as a dime. It was to lower tax rates — that old voodoo.

   Well, consider Obama's re-election and the fiscal cliff resolution the sounding of "Taps" for trickle-down economics. Enough of the fantasy that lower taxes result in lower deficits.

    If we are serious about debt reduction we are going to have to abide by the two-sided nature of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. We are going to have to cut military spending just as well as domestic spending. We are going to have to raise revenue, and not just through hoped-for economic activity. That spells taxes (and possibly Norquist immolating himself in the public square).

     Something has to give. In the fiscal cliff negotiations, both sides gave. Trickle-down economics is dead. Fiscal responsibility now has a chance to live.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:



Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Government of, by and for gun sales

   From Associated Press:

   "The (Newtown) tragedy prompted calls for greater gun controls. But the NRA is resisting those efforts, arguing instead that schools should have armed guards for protection."

    That intriguing parsing from the AP is most telling. The National Rifle Association is a separate branch of our government, a statutory check on the elected/appointed branches.

   We have an executive branch, a legislative branch and a judicial branch. But whatever they do must be cleared by the U.S. Chamber of Carnage.

   Understand and accept the fact that the gun lobby's clout is a very American condition. Understand, also, that its leverage has little to do with self-protection, sport, or lofty claims about holding oppressive government at bay at gunpoint.

   It's about lucre.

   Rhymes with Luger.

   It's about sweet profit, which itself is owed to the most basic capitalist impulse: to possess — to own, to have, to hold, to lock, to load, to project one's self through one's household appliance, be it one's toaster, one's waffle iron, or one's AR-15.

    It's about America's competitive spirit, the age-old quest to be the first Glock on the block.

    No other human reaction could explain the fact that so many Bushmaster rifles got sold days after the weapon killed so many grade schoolers so efficiently.

    The purchasers will rationalize each purchase in the standard terms (sport, personal protection, and, of course, "gummint comin'"). But understand, this was really about one reason: possession. Gotta have it. Keeping up with the Joneses' arsenal. Very American.

   All those Americans bought all those assault weapons for the very reason we Americans have done lots of things in our history, like massacre the Sioux and Iroquois, and roll tanks into Iraq: Because we could.

     Nothing else explains shelling out $700-$900 for a weapon whose actual sporting/self-protecting/stopping-the-government-in-the-driveway functions are so limited.

         It's true that one can have a whale of a time pummeling a black firing-range silhouette with 30 continuous bursts, and 30 more. But $900 for the privilege?

     The fact that these weapons, whose only real utility is military-style assaults, could fly off the shelves at such a price tells us something: Those who would possess such things could and would pay a much higher price. Short of keeping them off the shelves, as Congress would do if the NRA weren't part of our checks and balances, we should take these gun buyers up on their desires and see how much they would pay.

    Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, recently implemented a $25 tax on each firearm sold in the county. Critics say the tax simply will drive gun sales out of the county. And we wouldn't want that. A sale is a sale, and all commerce is good. The Medellin Cartel agrees.

     Maybe it's wrong to drive up the price of Granny's Beretta by $25 when she must choose between self protection and this week's bottle of gin. So, as a nation let's refine Chicago's idea to see if something good can come of it. Assess a $200 federal tax on future purchases of each of the weapons prohibited by the assault weapons ban which expired in 2004. Let's face it; the ban is unlikely to come again based on NRA's expressed constitutional power of veto.

     So instead, we say that based on a background check you are welcome to these shiny metallic killing curiosities, but the price includes a whopping tax that contributes to a fund to help pay for what happens when firearms are used for non-sporting, non-self-protection purposes.

     Or, use those dollars to help balance the federal budget. Lawmakers could do that, if they cleared it with the NRA, of course.

     It was a knee-slapper to hear the NRA float its "armed guards" idea. Very funny — when teachers are laid off and school districts are at the mercy of  "less gummint" budget writers.

      However, if the gun lobby will consent to a $200 tax on the sale of each assault-style weapon that shouldn't be sold to civilians anyway, maybe we could afford even the NRA's foolish notion about keeping children safe. 

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lies in Colorado. Email: