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Weekend Update 02-19-2011

Posted: February 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | 4 Comments »

One part of me is appalled at what Fox News (and I use the term loosely) is doing. But there’s a voice in my head that whispers that those who buy into its pig slop and willingly subject themselves to it deserve what’s happening to them. The media outlet is basically the Jersey Shore of news.

After initially appearing that he would buck the food industry, Vilsack apparently forced by the White House to concede. Of course, when it comes to Big Food, Republicans are no different than Democrats and arguably even worse (though it’s hard to imagine how). Sigh. What’s the point in having a regulatory agency that for all practical purposes is run by those it regulates?

Here we go. Neither Republicans nor Democrats apparently learned anything from Herbert Hoover and the lessons of history. I like Robert Reich’s suggestion on restructuring income and payroll taxes. It makes a lot of sense.

Actually, I don’t think Republican leaders in Congress are craven leaders. I think it’s a deliberate extension of the well-known Republican post-Civil Rights era “Southern strategy” intended to shore up that part of their base while keeping the reality of their actions at arm’s length. Shrewd? Probably. But despicable nonetheless.

Robert Reich’s proposal remains one of the more sensible ones out there. But we all know sensible and reasonable ideas go nowhere fast in our country today.

We also can’t have reasonable regulations on food labeling like Europe. No, it might be bad for business if we were actually able to figure out what we were eating.

I’m not even sure what you do when such a large portion of your population loses touch with anything vaguely resembling reality. Historically, countries whose populations have succumbed to delusion haven’t fared too well.

No surprise that IE9 is years behind comparable products. IE has always lagged well behind everything else. Microsoft has no interest in making it any better than barely good enough. I use Firefox as my primary browser. If I encounter a site that doesn’t work well in Firefox and I really want to access it, I’ll try Opera, Chrome, and Safari. If it doesn’t work in any of those browsers either, I’ll typically decide I’m just not interested in the site.

The real problem with Social Security. Not that enough Americans are paying enough attention to notice what is happening. (Or have been deluded into believing it’s something else.)

The Republicans have a mandate to repeal the laws of arithmetic. I love that line and it’s so true! As a one-time teen parent who knows exactly what the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program achieves, especially in the poorest parts of our country. The effects of malnutrition during pregnancy and childhood development produce lifelong negative effects. I’m disgusted by attempts to cut or eliminate it.  And when I see things like proposals to cut $578 million from the IRS enforcement budget either those proposing it are as bad at arithmetic as the people who elected them or they are specifically representing the interests of tax cheats. Why do I say that? Because that particular item is not even a short term savings; it’s a net cost. Nor is it a small one. The last time I checked, IRS collected roughly $50 dollars for every dollar spent on it. (Among other things, that ratio illustrates how grossly underfunded tax enforcement is today in the US. If a company was receiving a 5,000% return from its collections department, it would be heavily increasing its investment until that return reached some smaller, sane percentage.) If you’re able to do basic arithmetic, you’ll see that cut won’t save anything. Instead, it will cost the government a net of roughly $5 billion dollars immediately. And the long-term costs will be much higher. Our tax system relies on our high rate of what is called “voluntary compliance.” The term doesn’t mean that you have a choice about whether or not to pay taxes. It means that you comply with the law voluntarily without any enforcement or active collection action on the part of the government. Our voluntary compliance rate sits at roughly 90% (last time I checked) and is one of the highest in the world. However, voluntary compliance relies on a mix of intangibles. For those who might be tempted to cheat, there needs to be a credible belief that the law will be enforced. Moreover, the population as a whole needs to believe that everyone else is paying what they are supposed to pay. When you cut enforcement action and people begin to see or hear stories of others who have gotten away without paying the taxes they owed, it undercuts that core belief. As voluntary compliance drops, it becomes a snowball rolling downhill. I don’t know what it is today, but back in the 80s, voluntary compliance in Italy reached a low of 10%. Italy’s a very different culture and our withholding system makes it difficult for people to avoid all of their tax obligation, but the intangible impact of cutting tax enforcement even in our country could exceed the tangible impact over time. Oh, and that roughly $5 billion cost of cutting IRS enforcement? It’s a continuing cost. It will cost you $5 billion dollars this year and $5 billion (or more, probably) next year, and so on and so on. It doesn’t cost as much as allowing the still unfunded Bush tax cuts to continue, but it’s not an insignificant direct cost and it undermines the principles under which our tax system functions.

I’m pleased at the protests to union-busting efforts in Wisconsin and other places. But I will note that when the people of a state choose to vote for people who take public positions directly opposed to the interests of most of the state’s population, there is some sense of getting the government you deserve. The same thing has long left me bemused by the behavior of so many people in some of the very poor states of the South. They vote for people who outright say they want to end programs on which a vast number of the people in the state depend or have depended in the past. And the same people are often in favor of the continuation of policies that simultaneously increase poverty and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Of course, I’ve lived in many of those states growing up and I recognize there is a deliberate exploitation of an undercurrent of racism that supports some of it. It’s somewhat less overt than it used to be, but it’s still very much present. I’m not sure what excuse the people of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, etc. have for their voting choices. If you vote in people who say they are going to do harmful things to you, you shouldn’t be surprised when they actually try to do them.

Then again, Robert Reich is probably right about the Republican strategy. It does look like the Republicans are actively working to pit different classes of voters against each other in order to distract the vast majority of Americans from the fact that they are looting America and bankrupting our future in order to further enrich the wealthiest 1%. And they seem to be achieving a surprising degree of success with that strategy. Go figure. I like his question. Who is more valuable? One hedge fund manager or one teacher? Just by having the income of the top 13 hedge fund managers taxed at the current income tax rate rather than at the current 15% special rate for “capital gains,” we could pay for 5 million teachers. Think about those numbers and let them sink in. We have never been a classless society, contrary to popular myth, but we are entering (or have entered) a period of active class warfare. Nobody seems to be responding effectively on our behalf. We desperately need a Teddy Roosevelt.

These two writers are going to a different church every Sunday in the Portland, OR area. A Year of Sundays chronicles their experiences. The articles so far have been insightful and entertaining. They aren’t Christian and they aren’t merely attending Christian groups. If either of those facts bother you, consider yourself duly warned.

Of course, the American people have notoriously short memories and probably don’t collectively recall what a government shutdown really means. And this time, instead of occurring late in the year in the middle of a strong and growing economy, it will happen in the middle of tax season in an economy that is still struggling. The damage will be much, much worse. If the House of Representatives does shut down the government through their failure to legislate, will it finally be the death knell of the modern Republican party? That would at least offer one bright ray of sunlight in an otherwise bitter pill.

4 Comments on “Weekend Update 02-19-2011”

  1. 1 Joel Gunz said at 3:24 pm on February 28th, 2011:

    Hi Scott –

    Thanks so much for dropping by the blog and for writing up your thoughts! We have just finished having our way with the Beaverton Foursquare church and, as soon as I can get straight in my head the difference between sarcasm and cynicism, we’re going to go live. Love to hear what you might have to say.



  2. 2 Scott said at 9:10 pm on February 28th, 2011:

    I look forward to the posts! I’ve enjoyed all of them so far.

  3. 3 Charlie Sheen, My Soul Brotha; Plus Tidbits from around the Web | A Year of Sundays said at 12:17 pm on March 4th, 2011:

    […] weekend update at Faith and Food says, “The articles so far have been insightful and entertaining. They aren’t Christian and […]

  4. 4 Charlie Sheen, My Soul Brotha; Plus Tidbits from around the Web - Year of Sundays said at 1:23 pm on July 11th, 2011:

    […] weekend update at Faith and Food says, “The articles so far have been insightful and entertaining. They aren’t Christian and […]