Happy Christmas. War is Over.

Posting has been light because everything comes across as somewhat insignificant lately. David Bellavia is filling in for Sandy Beach on WBEN this week, and he had me on for two segments to talk about guns, mental health, assault weapons, and Newtown. Bellavia is about as conservative as anyone can get, and we disagree about almost everything – but he is rational, and willing to engage in a discussion. This is a good thing. 

I saw another WBEN host asked his listeners why they own guns. One of the popular answers was, “because it’s my right”. Well, you also have a right to free press, but you don’t write for a newspaper, much less own one. You also have a right to freely exercise your religion, but fewer and fewer people do so, much less lead a parish. You have a right to freely assemble and to petition your government, yet people are woefully disconnected from government lately. 

It also didn’t go unnoticed that people’s attention spans quickly pivoted from what happened in Newtown to the revised terms of service for a cost-free social photo sharing mobile application. Way to keep your eyes on the ball, America. 

My friend Brendan Burke posted this to his Facebook timeline a few days ago, and I’ll leave it here. I think there’s a lot of truth in it. 

This is a public service announcement for anybody who is paranoid about their right to bear arms being taken away as a result of strict regulation. Especially to those from the “from my cold dead hands” camp: Your country has already been taken, my friends. Bank of America, Citi, Chase, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, McDonalds, Exxon. You do not own anything. You lease or rent, you live in hock, your police are militarized, your children are filled with fear and mistrust. You can not fly without taking your shoes off, and then get banged out financially for a carry on bag. Your jobs are outsourced, your wages are stagnant and in many cases dwindling as the cost of living rises, your unions are shot, your healthcare is crushing you with debt, your school is crushing you with debt. You have ZERO ownership of your everyday lives and as a result, have less freedom today than you’ve ever known. Your evil government doesn’t need guns to defeat you, and your guns are no match for the pervasive and poisonous effect that Wall Street has on your congress.

You have lost your country, precisely because you thought your gun was protecting you and your family. You will never win a pitched battle against what the military industrial complex (that you pay into) can deliver in 3 minutes right to your home. In my opinion, its time to use that great big beautiful mind that has been afforded to you by living in such a provident country and dream all night and day of ways to strategically take it back from Wall Street and those moneyed lobbies that infiltrate congress and those whom you elect to “lead” you.

First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo and Lloyd to Feed #Occupy Buffalo

On Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 5:00 PM, the Lloyd Taco Truck will pull into Niagara Square to give 75 burritos and beverages to the Occupy Buffalo protesters on behalf of First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo. This goodwill activity is being funded as a mission project by the church.

“The Occupy movement is a peaceful movement. This holiday season we aim to share the peace of Christ with all,” said Rev. Dr. Philip S. Gittings, the Interim Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo.

Formed in 1812, First Presbyterian Church is the city’s oldest congregation, and will celebrate its bicentennial during the next year. First Presbyterian Church is part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbytery of Western New York. The congregation consists of approximately 300 active and inactive members. The church’s architecturally significant building on Symphony Circle features Tiffany-designed stained glass windows, two impressive pipe organs, and a 168-foot tall tower which stands as a beacon of hope on the west side of the city.

Lloyd Taco Trucks, Inc. hit the city streets in 2010 as the region’s first taco truck. Their mission is to bring legitimate street food to Buffalo by offering affordable yet incredibly tasty takes on tacos and burritos.


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Typical.

It’s typically Buffalo that we can’t just have one #Occupy group in town, but we have Occupy Buffalo in Niagara Square, and Occupy WNY in Lafayette Square.

We love to needlessly duplicate efforts in almost all things.

Propaganda Minister Luntz

Republican Minister of Propaganda, Frank Luntz, is advising his underlings in the party, and its official organ, <<Fox News>> to modify the language they use in discussing the #Occupy movement. The reason? The Republicans’ unifying theme: fear.

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message. “They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

Luntz, of course, is being too clever with that. #Occupy isn’t opposed to capitalism; it’s opposed to a crony capitalism that’s arisen in this country thanks to the ultra-rich, their Washington lobbyists, and compliant, greedy pols. From Luntz’s drecking points memo:

1. Don’t say ‘capitalism.’

“I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market,’ ” Luntz said. “The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we’re seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we’ve got a problem.”

Interesting that, for all of their loud attacks against Obama’s brand of Kenyan socialism, the Republican pollster’s focus groups thinks capitalism is “immoral”.

2. Don’t say that the government ‘taxes the rich.’ Instead, tell them that the government ‘takes from the rich.’

“If you talk about raising taxes on the rich,” the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But  “if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no.Taxing, the public will say yes.”

Government takes money from everybody.  It’s the price we pay for a civilized, Western, First-World society.

3. Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the ‘middle class.’ Call them ‘hardworking taxpayers.’

“They cannot win if the fight is on hardworking taxpayers. We can say we defend the ‘middle class’ and the public will say, I’m not sure about that. But defending ‘hardworking taxpayers’ and Republicans have the advantage.”

And with that, the Republicans acknowledge that they have abandoned the middle class altogether. It’s as if the United States wasn’t the embodiment of the oldest and most established anti-feudal bourgeois revolution(s) in history. (Plural because I’m including the Civil War as the second American bourgeois revolution).

4. Don’t talk about ‘jobs.’ Talk about ‘careers.’

“Everyone in this room talks about ‘jobs,'” Luntz said. “Watch this.”

He then asked everyone to raise their hand if they want a “job.” Few hands went up. Then he asked who wants a “career.” Almost every hand was raised.

“So why are we talking about jobs?”

Because you can’t have a career if you don’t have a job, and right now we have a jobs crisis. Mass layoffs and slow hiring lead to an unemployment malaise and record corporate profits. When those companies start realizing that unemployed people can’t buy their tchotchkes, they’ll find themselves in quite a pickle. The economy trickles up, not down.

5. Don’t say ‘government spending.’ Call it ‘waste.’

“It’s not about ‘government spending.’ It’s about ‘waste.’ That’s what makes people angry.”

Is it waste when those “Me Generation” boomers start whining about the government keeping its grubby hands off their Medicare?

6. Don’t ever say you’re willing to ‘compromise.’

“If you talk about ‘compromise,’ they’ll say you’re selling out. Your side doesn’t want you to ‘compromise.’ What you use in that to replace it with is ‘cooperation.’ It means the same thing. But cooperation means you stick to your principles but still get the job done. Compromise says that you’re selling out those principles.”

Of course not! The Republicans have shown us over the last 2 years that compromise is anathema to them. Why would we have two two-party deliberative legislatures if the Founding Fathers expected there to be “compromise”? That’s un-American treason, for God’s sake!

7. The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: ‘I get it.’

“First off, here are three words for you all: ‘I get it.’ . . . ‘I get that you’re angry. I get that you’ve seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system.”

Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.

That’s what my tween girl says to me when she gets mouthy after getting in trouble. It sounds condescending and rude. Sort of like the contemporary Republican Party.

8. Out: ‘Entrepreneur.’ In: ‘Job creator.’

Use the phrases “small business owners” and “job creators” instead of “entrepreneurs” and “innovators.”

Entrepreneur is a French word. France is communist and permissive.

9. Don’t ever ask anyone to ‘sacrifice.’

“There isn’t an American today in November of 2011 who doesn’t think they’ve already sacrificed. If you tell them you want them to ‘sacrifice,’ they’re going to be be pretty angry at you. You talk about how ‘we’re all in this together.’ We either succeed together or we fail together.”

I don’t know how this jibes with the Republicans going out of their way to screw the middle class, “hardworking Americans of less means than Trump” but I’m sure they have it figured out.

10. Always blame Washington.

Tell them, “You shouldn’t be occupying Wall Street, you should be occupying Washington. You should occupy the White House because it’s the policies over the past few years that have created this problem.”

Actually, no. It’s the policies that have been bought off through lobbying by the wealthy that have created this problem. If Washington had balls, a moral compass, discipline, and a true desire to fix problems rather than just win elections, this would be moot. The solution isn’t to occupy the White House; the solution is to get money out of politics. Want to blame Washington? Blame the Supreme Court.

BONUS:

Don’t say ‘bonus!’

Luntz advised that if they give their employees an income boost during the holiday season, they should never refer to it as a “bonus.” 

“If you give out a bonus at a time of financial hardship, you’re going to make people angry. It’s ‘pay for performance.'”

Semantic newspeak. “Orwellian” doesn’t begin to describe the Luntz-Fox axis.

Class Warfare

Here’s a Presidential follow-up to this post from earlier this week. Sure, there’s class warfare going on, but it’s being waged by the Republican Party against the American wage-earning middle class.

Statement by the President

Tonight, Senate Republicans chose to raise taxes on nearly 160 million hardworking Americans because they refused to ask a few hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.  They voted against a bill that would have not only extended the $1,000 tax cut for a typical family, but expanded that tax cut to put an extra $1,500 in their pockets next year, and given nearly six million small business owners new incentives to expand and hire.  That is unacceptable.  It makes absolutely no sense to raise taxes on the middle class at a time when so many are still trying to get back on their feet.

Now is not the time to put the economy and the security of the middle class at risk. Now is the time to rebuild an economy where hard work and responsibility pay off, and everybody has a chance to succeed.  Now is the time to put country before party and work together on behalf of the American people.  And I will continue to urge Congress to stop playing politics with the security of millions of American families and small business owners and get this done.

Congressional Republicans Poised to Raise Middle Class Taxes

We know the drill – our sovereign debt is about to be downgraded because (a) the Congress couldn’t get it together to pass a budget that includes both a reduction in public spending and a repeal of the Bush/Obama tax cuts for the richest earners, so they punted to a so-called “Supercommittee” to do it; and (b) predictably, the Supercommittee was unable to reach an agreement because a tax hike for the wealthy was out of the question for almost all Republicans, and some Democrats.

So, now with our malaise economy of high unemployment, uncertainty, and a crisis of demand in the market, the federal government refuses to increase revenues by asking the wealthy to pay more, and is instead seeking contraction of the government’s involvement in the economy. To say this is backwards would be an understatement.

Many fingers have been pointed in recent weeks at Republicans’ obeisance to a pledge most of them signed with Grover Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform“. As ATR describes it,

…candidates and incumbents solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases. While ATR has the role of promoting and monitoring the Pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is actually made to a candidate’s constituents, who are entitled to know where candidates stand before sending them to the capitol. Since the Pledge is a prerequisite for many voters, it is considered binding as long as an individual holds the office for which he or she signed the Pledge.

Yet, the Republicans have pledged themselves into a corner.

Part of the Obama stimulus package included a payroll tax holiday for wage-earners. Social Security payroll taxes are paid equally by the employee and his employer at 6.2%. The tax holiday reduced the employee’s share to 4.2%, and the Social Security trust fund took no hit whatsoever.  A vote to extend the tax holiday is scheduled for later this week, and all indications are that Congressional Republicans are going to vote against it.

For a $50,000 earner, [the tax holiday] meant paying $1,000 a year less in payroll taxes. It was agreed in that law that the holiday would cost the Social Security Trust Fund nothing—the depleted revenue would be replaced out of the general treasury. So the holiday adds to the general deficit but does not affect the trust fund.

This is part of the Republican jobs and economic program, which basically amounts to “prevent anything Obama might do to help the economy, so one of our party’s questionable fringe candidates wins the White House in 2012.”  All it’s missing is a catchy acronym.

And if the no-tax-hike-pledge-taking Republicans vote against a renewal of the payroll tax holiday, thus effectively raising taxes on wage-earners. The party that supported President Bush’s gimmicky $300 rebate checks now recommends a plan that may plunge us deeper in an economic hole, all in the hopes that Obama would get the blame.

Two economists at the Economic Policy Institute say ending the holiday would reduce GDP by $128 billion and cost 972,000 jobs in 2012. The EPI is a liberal outfit, but Mark Zandi of Moody’s, who advised John McCain in 2008, agrees that raising the payroll tax back to where it was could cause another recession.

And besides those macroeconomic concerns, there is the simple question of money in people’s pockets as they try to tough out the economy. A thousand dollars to a $50,000 earner, or $1,500 to a $75,000 earner, isn’t nothing.

The Democrats? They want to further lower the earner’s share to a full half – 3.1%, and they also want the reduction to apply to employers at the same 50% rate, in the hopes that more money in the pockets of consumers will spur economic activity, and that more money in the employers’ coffers might spur further hiring.  For $255 billion, you target the real job creators directly. How will they pay for that?

… with a 3.5 percent surtax on dollars earned over $1 million per year. In other words, if someone earns $1.3 million a year, she will pay the extra 3.5 percent only on the last $300,000 in earnings; that is, an extra $10,500 a year (bear in mind that this person takes home, after taxes, around $30,000 every two weeks). So it certainly raises the taxes of the very wealthiest. But it gives more money back to middle-class people, and it stimulates the economy, perhaps to the tune of 50,000 jobs a month, maybe even more.

The Republicans would have supported something like this if it was their idea, but now it’s the Democrats’ plan and must be blocked reflexively. Interestingly, they’re likely to grudgingly demand a continuation of the status quo, in which case they’re asking that the deficit be further enlarged.

Decisions, decisions.

What should President Obama do? Take it to the people.

Obama should give an Oval Office speech Wednesday night and say: “If you are an employee and make less than $1 million, or if you are an employer of any size, I am trying to give you a tax cut. If you are an employee who makes more than $1 million a year, you should write and thank your Republican senator, because the Republicans are blocking me and helping you.”

The proof couldn’t be more stark. The national Republican Party isn’t the party of low taxes. It’s the party of the superwealthy and the social warriors.

Prioritizing the Bailouts

Anyone remember Rick Santelli? He became famous for a day or two when he assailed the Obama stimulus for “rewarding bad behavior” because it included money for mortgage relief.

While many tea party types cheered Santelli’s rant for exposing the Indonesio-Kenyan socialist usurper President Obama for the Leninist Hitlerite he is, as it turns out, Obama’s mortgage relief plan would spend $85 billion to help keep beleaguered Americans who were upside-down on their mortgages in their homes.

Yet as of early 2009, the federal government committed $7.77 trillion to bail out the banksters, Santelli made no noise whatsoever about rewarding their bad behavior.

This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand.

Outrageous outrage! That’s what Santelli says in his infamous rant. Yet he and the traders whooping it up with him have dummied up when it comes to almost $8 trillion to bail out the “loser” banks.  Despicable people for despicable times.

The Real Looters

From a New York Times profile of how multibillionaire heir and man-of-leisure Ronald Lauder avoid paying taxes on his income.

The tax burden on the nation’s superelite has steadily declined in recent decades, according to a sliver of data released annually by the I.R.S. The effective federal income tax rate for the 400 wealthiest taxpayers, representing the top 0.000258 percent, fell from about 30 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2008, the most recent data available.

And the economy tanked.

“There’s real truth to the idea that the tax code for the 1 percent is different from the tax code for the 99 percent,” said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of Colorado. “Any taxpayer lucky enough to have appreciated property is usually put to a choice: cash out and pay some tax, or hold the property and risk the vagaries of the market. Only the truly rich can use derivatives to get the best of both worlds — lots of cash and very little risk.”

The story praises Lauder for making charitable donations of money and art to certain causes, the philanthropic way to tax avoidance. However,

“It’s admirable when people back their charitable impulses up with donations,” said Scott Klinger, tax policy director of the group Business for Shared Prosperity. “But the tax code shouldn’t allow the wealthy the kind of loopholes that let them, essentially, force other taxpayers to underwrite donations to their pet causes.”

So when you joke and mock the Occupy protesters for being a bunch of unwashed nouveau hippies with no point or direction, consider for a moment that the system is now rigged in favor of the very rich – especially those who make money from money.  When you look at the taxes withheld from your paycheck each week, or fill out your 1040 on TurboTax, remember that you pay a larger share of your income to the IRS than the superwealthy.

From Birthers to #Occupy and the Great Rejection

It’s somewhat astonishing to consider how our President with a funny name continues to engender a new and unique kind of hatred and derision among a certain population in this country. It’s not so much about his policies, (most of which they’d be misinformed about, anyway), but about the nature and location of his birth.

I’m convinced that someone could dig up a Super8 movie of Barack Obama being born, which also shops the sign indicating that the hospital is in Hawaii, with Diamond Head in the background, and still, that wouldn’t satisfy the incredibly stupid.

Despite the fact that President Obama asked the State of Hawaii to release his long form birth certificate in April 2011, dead-ender birthers still exist, and are making some distinctly ignorant noise about prohibiting Obama from appearing on ballots in 2012.  Late last week, a group of birthers, led by a California lawyer, tried to get Obama removed from the ballot in New Hampshire. When that state’s Ballot Law Commission refused to do so, birthers in the gallery started yelling “traitor!” and “treason”, because those are now shorthand for “I disagree with you!”

In the comparatively short time I’ve been paying attention to politics, the vitriol with which we attack the other side – of an issue, of an aisle – has reached quite literally comical levels. Birtherism is a mere symptom of our penchant to delegitimize our opponents, and I think it began in earnest during the Clinton administration. Our 90s two-termer carved a middle way between liberalism and conservatism, which often enraged both groups. Those on the right, however, didn’t just attack Clinton’s beliefs or policies; they attacked the very notion that he was fit to serve at all. That this draft dodging, pot-smoking, hippie womanizing liar would dare to co-opt certain Republican platform planks, and that his uppity wife might want to get involved in reforming a horribly broken health care insurance system were too much; he had to be not just opposed, but destroyed.

Just ask Ken Starr.

So, when genuine issues about the 2000 vote in Florida arose, the left retaliated against George W. Bush, whom they still consider to be the worst President ever, brought into office on gold-plated rails thanks to a corrupt, politicized conservative Supreme Court that suddenly discovered the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection clause”.

Bush won re-election in 2004, but not before a group supporting him took John Kerry’s Vietnam heroism and defiled it with lies. Kerry couldn’t just be defeated – he had to be destroyed as a person.

So, when you have a multicultural President in uncertain economic times, the crazies come out in full force. He’s a communist usurper who wasn’t born here, is an Indonesian/Kenyan Marxist hell-bent on turning Bill Ayers into the Emperor of the Politburo. It’s the second revenge of the Bushists.

Or something.

The 2012 Republican field of arguably viable candidates runs the gamut from “batsh*t insane” to “completely insincere panderer”. They have a unique opportunity to re-brand themselves and mount a serious challenge against an embattled President with very bad poll numbers and a crap economy, yet they can’t get that together.  Mitt Romney appears to be the least offensive, least insane, likely nominee. In 1996, it wasn’t much different, what with Bob Dole emerging as the least repugnant from a cast including Christianist Alan Keyes, “Single Issue Steve” Forbes, and Nazi apologist Pat Buchanan.

The tit-for-tat is phenomenal in that the same crowd that impeached Clinton over perjury in a sexual harassment civil lawsuit are now denying the very existence of “sexual harassment” as a societal ill, a crime, or a tort.

The vitriol and the deepening of socioeconomic and political cleaves that’s taken place over the last 20 – 30 years, and the lingering nature of the Great Recession and the 2008 bailouts have left us with a fundamentally broken national political system. The Occupy movement, which belongs to no one, seems to be articulating a Great Rejection in our politics and economy – a post-Reaganist re-engineering of societal priorities seems to be in order.

It’s a shame political disingenuousness isn’t an exportable good or commodity. At least then, we’d put a dent in the trade deficit.