How Morally Bankrupt Do You Have to Be to Criticize the #IceBucketChallenge

I’ve been doing some reading today thanks to TWO Ice Bucket challenges I received almost simultaneously last night. I accepted them both!

One of the first pieces I came across was, “Five myths about ALS.” It was very informative. For example, I had never even heard of the (incorrect) connection some make with lyme disease before.

My attention was also drawn to a linked piece in the LA Times, “A few (impolite) questions about the ice bucket challenge.” I read that one, too. I readily admit to have also wondered about the basic premise of that article which can be summed up as, “Are there more ‘deserving’ diseases?”

The award-winning, once disgraced, and later reinstated columnist, Michael Hiltzik, thinks the ice bucket challenge is a fad.

He claims that it will only make us feel good for now. He posits that it’s a way for us to feel like we’ve filled some sort of annual philanthropy “quota” in a painless way; “painless” as in when we use credit cards for holiday shopping and the card makes (a pittance of) a donation to a charity.

He goes on to say that, while the Ice Bucket Challenge is working at raising awareness and cash for a worthy cause, it’s also drawing money and attention away from diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes that afflict many, many more people.

Some of the online comments on his article echo that sentiment.

ALS Comment

Putting aside Kbalman’s seemingly envious explanation for not supporting this particular fundraiser, Hiltzik does make a logical argument if all one considers are concepts and principles like cost-benefit, return on investment, and the economic outcomes of The Ice Bucket Challenge.

As a self-proclaimed Conscientious Capitalist, I can see the case he’s making. I can even agree with the analysis and what he presents as outcomes.

But, I kept coming back to another thought.

I kept coming back to, “Christ, what kind of a dick do you have to be to begrudge ALS and the people afflicted by this terrible disease even if The Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t make ‘economic sense’, is only a fad, and will turn out to be ‘last year’s thing’ next year?”

It’s not always about the numbers.

Sometimes – too infrequently nowadays, if you ask me – we should simply and joyously embrace doing the right thing regardless of the economics and the return on investment.

In addition to helping to fund the ALS Foundation, here’s what I’m hoping for as a result of this “fad.”

I’m hoping that it actually begins to change our minds, our values, and our belief systems. On the whole, we – meaning Americans, and especially a certain subset of Americans – have become way too selfish, way too narcissistic, and far, far, FAR too Objectivist in our thinking.

Maybe by pouring ice water over our heads we can begin to awaken to the possibilities for shaping and guiding our society toward being that “kinder and gentler nation” that President G.H.W. Bush extolled us to become.

Maybe as a result of this heightened awareness about this one horrible disease, one which I just learned we know far too little about and which is a death sentence to the afflicted, we can begin to become a more humane, more caring, and more social society.

Maybe we’ll start to see more and more “fads” of all kinds that inspire us and move us to do more to help all kinds of people all over the world.

Maybe, just maybe, The Great (I added that!) Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014 for ALS will, in some small but cumulative way over time, influence how we look at and think about lots of things.

Maybe we’ll think and act more on issues like….
….how we fund public education and public research,
….what changes are necessary to rein in Big Pharma and their control over our health sciences and our health care services, and most of all,
….what kind of world we want to bequeath to our kids and to future generations.

Yes, some decisions are and should be about cost-benefit and return on investment. I have no issue with that. There’s nothing wrong with making money. I just think the qualifier we often don’t add is, “How do you make that money?”

Contrary to what some believe, it is possible to make money without actually harming anyone or the planet. Capitalism doesn’t have to be a zero sum game where the only way I win is if you lose, and if I gobble up all the resources before you do.

Which brings me back to The Ice Bucket Challenge.

Why would anyone apply ONLY the cold and unblinking calculus of pure economics to fundraising efforts like this one?

We may not be pouring buckets of ice water over our heads next year, but so what?

Wouldn’t it be great if next year and in years to come more and more people abandoned their selfishness and their self-destructive belief in cold, heartless, and morally bankrupt ideologies and replaced them with support for people, policies, and ideologies (not always a bad word, btw) that strive to make life better for more people?

Not everything in life should be a for-profit venture driven by a cost-benefit analysis and an acceptable return on investment. I have every confidence that we – Americans and people all over the world – have plenty of room in our hearts and in our wallets to do more to help others than we’re doing today.

That’s an ideology that makes sense and makes us all better individuals.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. (Image and text from http://www.als-ny.org/index.php?page=about_als&sub=what_is)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. (Image and text from http://www.als-ny.org/index.php?page=about_als&sub=what_is)

 

Young (and Old) People: Do Not Be Fooled by Rand Paul

I’m all for….
….putting the NSA and the CIA back in their cages,
….taking drones out of the hands of presidents,
….spending tax revenues in wiser ways,
….legalizing marijuana (which, btw, Paul is NOT in favor of doing; see here and here) and
….shrinking our global empire.

That does NOT make me a libertarian. It shouldn’t make anyone else believe they might be one, either.

I want to encourage everyone, but especially young people, to not be fooled by Rand Paul just because he successfully delivered some none-too-surprising applause lines, “…thanks, presumably, to the first-come, first-served ticketing system used by the student-run Berkeley Forum, which sponsored the event in collaboration with the Berkeley College Republicans.”

What he didn’t have the courage to do was to address, “….Republican red-meat subjects like abortion, Obamacare and gay marriage.” To his credit, he did say, “Clapper lied in the name of security; Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy.”

As with every politician, he played to the audience before him. Sure, a little silver lining was visible.

After all, not all libertarian ideas are bad ideas, just like not all Green, Republican, Democratic, or any other political party’s ideas are all bad.

While we might all find some amount of common ground everywhere, we should not mistake that for support.  Yes, I share some ideas with libertarians, but make no mistake about it. I consider hardcore libertarianism as not only bad for America, it’s bad for humanity and for civil society.

In fact, the only ones who actually benefit from libertarianism are the wealthy corporatists.

Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist who, it's now known, was discoveed by the Buchanan Committee in 1946, to have arranged along with with George Stigler, an under-the-table deal with a Washington lobbying executive to pump out covert propaganda for the national real estate lobby in exchange for a hefty payout. (http://www.alternet.org/visions/true-history-libertarianism-america-phony-ideology-promote-corporate-agenda)
Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist who, it’s now known, was discovered by the Buchanan Committee in 1946, to have arranged, along with George Stigler, an under-the-table deal with a Washington lobbying executive to pump out covert propaganda for the national real estate lobby in exchange for a hefty payout. (http://www.alternet.org/visions/true-history-libertarianism-america-phony-ideology-promote-corporate-agenda)

Milton Friedman would either have to agree or lie to our faces about that fact.

Why do I say that? Well, I wonder how many self-proclaimed libertarians and so-called “libertarian populists” actually know about their movement’s history?

Let me share some here.

“Libertarianism” was a project of the corporate lobby world, launched as a big business “ideology” in 1946 by The US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. The FEE’s board included the future founder of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch; the most powerful figure in the Mormon church at that time, J Reuben Clark, a frothing racist and anti-Semite after whom BYU named its law school; and United Fruit president Herb Cornuelle.

The purpose of the FEE — and libertarianism, as it was originally created — was to supplement big business lobbying with a pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-economics rationale to back up its policy and legislative attacks on labor and government regulations.

This background is important in the Milton Friedman story because Friedman is a founding father of libertarianism, and because the corrupt lobbying deal he was busted playing a part in was arranged through the Foundation for Economic Education.

The True History of Libertarianism in America: A Phony Ideology to Promote a Corporate Agenda, Sept. 6, 2013, Mark Ames

Seems that lobbying and corrupt lobbyists aren’t new ideas, and that even movements who profess to want smaller government aren’t above lobbying that very same government under the table.

In a recent Politico article, Ready for Rand? Americans hate Rand Paul’s libertarianism. They just don’t know it yet, Kevin D. Williamson explains succinctly why Rand Paul and his flavor of libertarianism will fail. (Note the dripping sarcasm below. It strikes me as meant mostly for conservatives.)

The problem for libertarian politicians is that Americans hate libertarianism. They like Social Security and minimum-wage hikes, they are still somewhat wary of free trade and they resent that the world is full of conniving and frequently swarthy foreigners who are scheming to provide us with goods and services in exchange for little green pieces of paper.

Smaller government. Unfettered and unregulated free trade. Ending the Fed, the IRS, the EPA, the DOE, the ED. If not eliminating, at least privatizing federal social safety net programs. Banning abortions. Putting more and more decisions like voting rights, gun laws, and marriage equality into the hands of locals.

These are libertarian ideals, and they are an anachronism. It is a way of thinking about and seeing the world, people, society, and governance that belongs more to the 18th century than it does to the 21st.

Unregulated markets have proven time and time again to be a recipe for environmental and economic disaster. It is exactly what is causing our ever-widening wealth gap, and it is precisely to blame for what looks more and more like a caste system in America.

As for the social issues, we have seen time and again what locals do the minute they are given the chance to turn their parochial thinking and ideology into legislation.

We never would have had the Voting Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act had it been left to the states. The latest and most obvious example of the abuse of power at the state level is voter suppression. Some states leapt at the first chances they’ve had since the 60s to institute the very same voter suppression laws that the feds have denied to them for years because those laws aim squarely at limiting minority voters. States are getting it wrong.

Yes, the movements for marriage equality and marijuana legalization, as well as for reforming gun laws if the majority of Americans ever find the courage to stand up to the gun manufacturers, the lobbyists, the NRA, and the minority of Americans who oppose them, are movements today at the state level. They are meant to do one thing: Make these federal issues and, eventually, federal law because each state should NOT get to decide who marries whom, what vices we choose to indulge in, or whether or not the person in line with us at the grocery checkout – or in the pew next to us on Sunday – is carrying a concealed weapon. That’s not only parochial, it’s uncivilized.

So, young people, please do not be fooled or seduced by Rand Paul. Just because he went to Berkley and just because he’s talking the talk on domestic spying, drones, and military interventions does not make him your friend, your ally, or your advocate. (And remember, he’s NOT for legalizing weed. He just thinks you should spend *less* time in jail if you’re busted.)

Conservatives of all ages need to know that Rand is not your friend, either, at least not according to those ostensibly speaking for that ideology like Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post.

In fact, Paul might have created what has become a rarer and rarer occurrence. He’s created agreement between extremist tea partiers and their intra-party nemeses, the so-called “mainstream” Republicans, that he’s not a conservative.

(Editorial note: The 2012 presidential election results prove that the GOP is anything but mainstream. All one has to do is look at the demographics. Data does not lie.)

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul fields questions following his talk at International House. (Photos by Kevin Ho Nguyen)
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul fields questions following his talk at International House. (Photos by Kevin Ho Nguyen)

Rubin excoriated Paul for how he insulted the intelligence of Berkley students and young people everywhere, first by wearing “baggy jeans” to Berkley (btw, what is it with conservatives and jeans?) and then for, “…pretending to be an undergrad who’d just rolled out of bed,” something Rubin says Jack Kemp wouldn’t have dreamed of doing.

On the more serious issues, Rubin exposes Paul’s, “…lack of forthrightness about conservative policies and solutions when it might prove uncomfortable – the desire to be something very different than what he’ll be in Iowa or New Hampshire.”

But what about CPAC and Paul’s straw poll victory, you ask?

Well, in this Bloomberg video (by way of The Christian Science Monitor) Dr. Larry Sabato tells us what Paul’s 31% straw poll win at CPAC means: Nothing.

First, there’s the math. Sabato reminds us that 7 in 10 at CPAC voted for someone else.

Next, he reminds us that CPAC is not the GOP. It is, he says, where, “…one goes to show a little leg – the right leg.”

Finally, he leaves us with this, and it’s something that everyone must understand about Rand Paul and libertarianism in general: Paul is very conservative on social issues like abortion, and he ran a very conservative campaign when he ran for Senate, but he is anything but conservative on homeland security issues like defense spending, the Patriot Act, and trials for Gitmo detainees.

What this all means – and what Sabato is pointing out to us – is the obvious about what Rand Paul is trying to do now. Rand Paul is simply trying to meld libertarianism with conservatism to appeal to younger voters.

Do not fall for it, younger voters.

The only kind of governance that would be worse for you than straight-up libertarianism would be libertarianism melded with conservatism.

Don’t believe it? Don’t think that’s what he’s doing, and don’t think it would necessarily be a bad thing if it were true?

Then understand this about what merging libertarianism and conservatism might mean. It comes from Paul’s own words from page 78 in his book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington:

In talking to Palin, one of the primary things I wanted to do was allay her fears about social issues, telling her, “My opponents call me a libertarian but I want to assure you that I am pro-life.” Palin responded, “Oh, we all have a little libertarian in us.”

Palin and Paul. Try that on. Take it for a little walk.

Now, is that even an idea with any appeal at all, and to whom?

Again, my advice is don’t be fooled by Rand Paul or any hard-core libertarians, for that matter. They are not your friends, they are not our friends, and they are no friend to young people. They are, in fact, no one’s friend or champion except for those who believe the corporatist ideology and propaganda that comes out of places like The Cato Institute.

It’s way too early to be prognosticating 2016. Between then and now, I encourage everyone to put a little time and effort into keeping yourselves informed.

If you’re curious and want a more in-depth analysis of the GOP’s 2016 contenders – and you may be surprised at what you find! – then check out Dr. Sabato and the UVA Center for Politics. Start with this March 20th report, 2016 Republican Presidential Update: A New, Familiar Name at the Top

For more details on Rand Paul – or any politician, for that matter – my advice is to avoid their web sites. You simply won’t find deeper and faster spinning pits of political bull chips anywhere in the universe.

Stay away from cable news and most corporate media, too. They are corporatists with a single goal: To attract and retain your attention in service to advertisers and their shareholders.

Instead, look for independent and non-partisan sources. Here’s a site I came upon recently. It’s called OnTheIssues, and I’m already finding it to be pretty helpful.

You should also join the conversation with your fellow citizens of all stripes and ages. Below are a few organizations I like and recommend.

The future is yours, young people, and, like it or not, someday you’ll be in charge. It’s up to you.

For what it’s worth and speaking on behalf of the Baby Boomers willing to tell you the truth, we effed things up royally, and we’re very, very sorry. We were the generation that bought the lies of trickle-down economics, worshiped the “greed is good” ethos, and have been governing and running businesses with sadistic selfishness and unbridled narcissism born of Ayn Rand’s perverse Objectivism.

For your own sake and for the sake of the planet and humanity, please don’t miss the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and please don’t make the same ones we did.

http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/
http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/

10/1/2016: For the record, I no longer support CoffeePartyUSA as they have become a corrupt organization led by people who pick and choose whom they allow to have a voice and whom they allow was voting members as their way of holding onto power. Click here to read more.

http://www.wolf-pac.com/
http://www.wolf-pac.com/
https://represent.us/
https://represent.us/
https://movetoamend.org/
https://movetoamend.org/

Taxing Truths, Especially for Conservatives

National Taxpayers Union US Income Tax Brackets 1913-2011
National Taxpayers Union
US Income Tax Brackets 1913-2011

And taxes stayed pretty much just that way for the next 15 years, until the early 1960s. Importantly, this was one of the most successful eras in US economic history. The middle class boomed, the economy boomed, and the stock market boomed. And all with the top marginal income tax rate over 90%. This suggests that the Republican mantra about high marginal tax rates killing the economy is, well, a bunch of crap.
Henry Blodget, “THE TRUTH ABOUT TAXES: Here’s How High Today’s Rates Really Are”Business Insider

Blodget is not the left’s fool, errand boy, or mouthpiece. He spent time on Wall Street and attracted AG Spitzer’s sufficient attention to necessitate a change to his career path that divested him from securities trading forever.

That said, when Blodget collects and presents facts about the economy and, in this case, tax rates, it’s not as if we’re getting the information from Ed Schultz or, for that matter, Glenn Beck.

Here’s a tip for the holidays!

Keep the link to this blog post handy. Should the discussion with friends, family, and co-workers turn to politics, the economy, and taxes, I invite you to plagiarize as much of my comments below as you like. (I can’t speak for Blodget, so you should probably give him his due credit.)

BLODGET: Today’s government spending levels are indeed too high, at least relative to the average level of tax revenue the government has generated over the past 60 years. Unless Americans are willing to radically increase the amount of taxes they pay relative to GDP, government spending must be cut.

YOU/ME/WE: I am in favor of spending cuts beginning with the military and corporate subsidies. I am not in favor of cutting social safety net programs….. with one caveat.

I am in favor of a means test for Social Security benefits. I favor means testing that would progressively reduce and ultimately exclude benefit payments to wealthy retirees.

Heresy, you say? Not at all!

It’s not *your* money. Social Security is *not* your personal savings account. It’s a social contract between the present-day youth and the able-bodied with the present-day elderly, infirm, and indigent. That’s why it’s called SOCIAL SECURITY.

I also favor radically increasing the taxes on upper income earners and corporations. They benefit the most from our society and our system of government. It’s time they start paying for it proportionately and appropriately just the way they did during the Golden Age of America. They seem to have done just fine back then. I’m confident that they’ll find a way to somehow survive again.

BLODGET: Today’s income tax rates are strikingly low relative to the rates of the past century, especially for rich people. For most of the century, including some boom times, top-bracket income tax rates were much higher than they are today.

WE: Tea partiers especially seem to be incapable of accepting this fact. In doing so, they make themselves convenient and easily manipulated pawns for the rich and powerful. They also look and sound absurd in their demands for lower taxes, and they do damage to their movement, to the GOP, and to the whole country by nominating and electing people who also refuse to accept reality.

I’m done soft-pedaling this issue.

If you’re outside the wealthiest 2% and you’re still voting for tea party Republicans (and most Republicans, actually), you’re voting against your own economic self-interests and the economic self-interests of your fellow 98-percenters (see here and here).

That means you bear a big part of the responsibility and the blame for the weak recovery and the social divide plaguing our nation on issues like equality, voting rights, and science. I hope you come to your senses soon.

BLODGET: Contrary to what Republicans would have you believe, super-high tax rates on rich people do not appear to hurt the economy or make people lazy: During the 1950s and early 1960s, the top bracket income tax rate was over 90%–and the economy, middle-class, and stock market boomed.

WE: This is a real lay-up. Trickle-down economics, at best, is a failed theory. History and facts do not lie, and they have no bias. It has evolved from a “theory” to become an economic lie perpetrated on the easily manipulated by the rich to benefit the rich.

Someone out there in the 98% show me what has trickled-down to you.

BLODGET: Super-low tax rates on rich people also appear to be correlated with unsustainable sugar highs in the economy–brief, enjoyable booms followed by protracted busts. They also appear to be correlated with very high inequality. (For example, see the 1920s and now).
Periods of very low tax rates have been followed by periods with very high tax rates, and vice versa. So history suggests that tax rates will soon start going up.

WE: It’s obvious that rich people do *NOT* invest when their taxes are low, they hoard. When your income is high and your effective tax rate is zero, where’s the incentive to do anything but collect more and sit on it?

Oh. That’s right. Ayn Rand’s work of fiction is now conservative dogma, and the fact that history proves that progressively higher tax rates actually motivate reinvestment of excess earnings counts for nothing in the fantasy world perpetrated on some ordinary Americans by the Koch Party and their shills in the GOP.

Facts are facts. So long as a certain percentage of Americans are willing to suspend reality and believe the lies being told to them by the rich and powerful, we’re likely to have some amount of gridlock and deadlock.

I, for one, am happy to report that I detect a shift away from the siren call that is the lunacy and lie of trickle-down economics.

I detect a shift away from the extremism that is the hallmark of the tea party, thanks mostly to moderates in the GOP who are finally starting to speak up.

I also detect a growing appreciation among Americans that it is Big Money that represents the greatest threat to our society, our economy, and our way of life. So, while you’re here, why not lend your voice to the movement to #GetMoneyOut of politics? Money in politics is (or should be), after all, a bi-partisan issue, right?

News flash to conservatives: Liberal money helped to secure McAuliffe’s election.

Getting money out of politics is not some liberal or socialist idea. Both sides are spending tons of “secret and dark” money, and we’ve got to change that if we hope to have any real influence over our elected officials.

Everyone – conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican and Libertarian and, yes, even tea partier – can help to change American politics by becoming a Citizen Co-Sponsor of the American Anti-Corruption Act.

Here’s the link to sign on with me: http://unitedrepublic.actionkit.com/event/cosponsor/9815/

The Economics and Patriotism of Infrastructure Jobs Programs

Infrastructure map courtesy of The Atlantic

The Economics and Patriotism of Infrastructure Jobs Programs

America’s crumbling infrastructure is both a safety hazard and a drag on our economy that is projected to only get worse. If we’re going to tackle the really big challenges of government budgets, deficits, debts, and the economy, then every citizen must understand the realities of what a deteriorating infrastructure means to this country. We then need to demand that our elected leaders stand strong against austerity and, instead, do whatever it takes – including raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy – to improve our infrastructure.

Properly-funded federal and state infrastructure improvement jobs programs would produce immediate and lasting benefits, including but not limited to:

1) Putting large numbers of Americans back to work in good paying middle class jobs which would immediately boost the economy from the bottom up (since trickledown economics has proven to, once again, be an unmitigated and disastrous failure)

2) Making all of us safer and less vulnerable to infrastructure inefficiencies, failures, or acts of terrorism

3) Demonstrating to American companies and to the world a sense of patriotism that includes spending public funds on the infrastructure that is so vital to our economic and commercial success

Putting patriotism and safety issues aside for the moment (although I don’t know why we should), the sheer impact to our economy and our own selfish financial interests are at stake. This is usually motivation enough for most Americans to demand action from our politicians.

I think it ought to be more than just self interest. Americans have become the experts at professing their patriotism at every opportunity. We’re known the world over for our self-proclaimed exceptionalism. It’s why I believe that we ought to be thinking about and talking about funding the repair and expansion of our infrastructure as one of the most truly patriotic things we can do for ourselves and our country.

First, the economics. Math, after all, doesn’t require an emotional investment or belief system. It just is.

The Economics of Infrastructure

In his blog post, “Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs,” William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution points out that a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers projects that, “…by 2020, if the mounting investment gap in infrastructure is not addressed, ‘the economy is expected to lose almost $1 trillion in business sales, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million jobs . . . the cumulative cost to the U.S. economy will be more than $3.1 trillion in GDP and $1.1 trillion in total trade.'”

He also tells us that the Building America’s Future Educational Fund report reveals that a lack of a national infrastructure plan puts a serious drag on our economy. The example he cites is “…in 2010, Americans spent a total of 4.8 billion hours stuck in traffic, wasting 1.9 billion gallons of fuel, at a total cost of $101 billion.”

Let these numbers sink in.

$1 trillion – that’s a ‘1’ followed by 12 zeros; $1,000,000,000,000 – in LOST BUSINESS SALES and 3.5 million lost jobs in just 7 years.

$101,000,000,000 wasted sitting in traffic in just one year.

So in addition to patriotism and public safety, do we as Americans really want to waste greater and greater amounts of time, energy, and money sitting in traffic or waiting for delayed flights and trains?

Do you want to waste even more of it in the future?

Do you want American businesses to forego realizing ONE TRILLION DOLLARS in sales between now and 2020?

If not, then ask yourself how or why we ought to buy into Paul Ryan’s thinking that what’s needed most right now is greater austerity.

His budget – which unless I’ve missed it still seems to be the GOP’s position, too – proposes we spend $78 billion, or 25% less, on infrastructure than the White House’s proposed budget of $104 billion per year over the next decade. According to Galston and some think tanks, the White House’s budget is already less than one-half of what’s needed to repair our infrastructure, and yet Ryan would have us believe we need to spend even less.

How does that solve the problem? I simply cannot believe there’s that much waste and, true to form, Ryan still is unwilling or unable to offer any substantive details.

So as far as the economics go, one would think that numbers like the lost sales, lost jobs, trade imbalances, and lost productivity would be enough to rally the public *and* the business community to demand that something be done immediately to repair, improve, and expand our infrastructure. It’s not like there aren’t precedents to follow with proven outcomes. We – meaning the government hiring both workers and outside companies as contractors – have done big infrastructure projects before.

It took courageous leadership in government to get those projects moving. The private sector was and still is the beneficiary of that leadership. Where is it now?

No, You Didn’t Build That

With all due respect and admiration for the courage and creativity of entrepreneurs and captains of industry everywhere, I remind you that, “NO, YOU DID NOT BUILD THAT!”

You just get to benefit from it. The nation’s infrastructure is, without question or doubt, part of the reason for any commercial success and, hence, at least part of the resulting wealth that’s made possible in America for those who want to start, run, and work in the private sector. Trust me; I’m your fan and one of your biggest cheerleaders. I just think it’s time that you and your followers put your copy of Atlas Shrugged down and join the rest of us in the real world.

Business people everywhere – from the titans running multinational corporations to the small business owner on Main Street struggling to compete with Walmart – owe it to themselves and their self respect to please stop this self-indulgent and self-serving love affair with the Randian mythology. It’s tedious and tiresome and, truthfully, a complete fantasy. Where would you be if your workers quit tomorrow, and when was the last time you built a bridge, an airport, or an electrical power station?

To the business people busying themselves complaining endlessly about the government, please stop your childish whining and please start acting like real leaders. You can start by acknowledging that if you’re going to continue to benefit from everything a democratic society has to offer – including infrastructure – then you are going to have to pay for it. That’s how capitalism works, right? Payment for goods and services rendered?

Yes, I know that means higher taxes than the historically low taxes you pay now. The only sympathy you’re going to get are from fellow wealthy individuals and the people you’ve duped into believing in another fantasy – trickle-down economics.

Look, if your business cannot survive an increase in taxes and the closing of loopholes, well then maybe you’re not such a successful business person after all. Don’t feel bad. Lots of people have tried and failed more than once, including yours truly. It’s what makes me your cheerleader. I know how hard it is. We both know that there are no guarantees, but I will say this; never once did tax obligations figure into my thinking or have any impact on my results.

Real entrepreneurs don’t let things like taxes get in their way; they don’t use them as a lame excuse for not trying, nor are they the cause for why one tries and fails. Only someone who has never started a business would believe such a thing.

It’s only in bad novels by Russians with absolutely no economic credentials where real entrepreneurs give up and disappear because they were somehow defeated by government or society.

To the average citizens who rises in Randian defense of all things private and corporate, including infrastructure, I’d like to ask you a few questions.

How well do you feel you understand the profit motive and the demands it places on the business managers to maximize revenues and minimize expenses?

Have you really thought through what it would be like living in a country where every other river crossing or highway exit extracts a toll from us that goes only to a corporation and their shareholders?

If you have thought about it and you do want to see infrastructure privatized, then I would like to hear how and why you believe that the corporation collecting your tolls will forego maximizing profits and, instead, do what’s best for the nation and for the local community once they’ve built their monopolies modeled on Matty Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge?

It all comes down to money, of course, and, like it or not, it takes money to fund a democracy.

So here we are. We’ve arrived at a point in our political and societal evolution where, hyperbole and ignorance of the facts notwithstanding, American corporations, wealthy individuals, and their toadies in the GOP continue to foist upon us their strategy of fear, uncertainty, and doubt – along with unhealthy doses of outright lies – to keep us at bay and living in fear that they’ll abandon our shores if they can’t keep – and even reduce further – their already historically low tax obligations when they do pay any taxes at all. (Yes, I’m looking at you Mitt Romney, GE, and the rest of you uber-rich individuals and corporations paying very little taxes or actually getting tax refunds.)

The message from Big Money America and the GOP is clear: they are completely and utterly devoid of care or concern for this country and its citizens outside the now well-known 2%.

Where’s The Patriotism?

Galston reminds us that we’ve pulled together as a nation under both Democratic and Republican administrations before to do big infrastructure projects. We’ve done what’s been needed before. We can do it again.

A federal (and state) infrastructure program now would put lots of people to work. In addition to safer and more efficient infrastructure, big and bold new projects – hell, even repair and rehabilitation projects – would mean lots of decent paying middle class jobs for Americans. That is exactly what is needed right now to get the economy growing faster and better. What we don’t need and can’t afford is more austerity and more of our fellow citizens left with little choice or opportunity outside of working in retail or the fast food industry.

We need a sense of patriotism.

Federal infrastructure projects are patriotic and need to be talked about as patriotic. They are physical and enduring evidence of the love and devotion we should have to our country and to each other. Our society simply cannot operate without infrastructure, so programs to repair and improve it is service to our country, isn’t it?

Since the days of the Erie Canal, infrastructure projects have proven to deliver huge economic and societal benefits both at the time they are undertaken and for generations to come. We Americans need to remember this every time we merge onto an interstate, get on a train, board an airplane, turn on our lights, or buy bananas in January. None of that is possible without infrastructure, and that infrastructure was built by Americans for Americans.

Our roads, airports, railways, and sea ports have become too small, too old, and crumbling too quickly after decades of use for us to stand by and let it happen. They’re more and more unsafe and, for all the true capitalists out there, it’s a drag on our economic vitality and growth that will only get worse unless we do something about it.

And when it comes to defining what it means to be an American, letting our infrastructure deteriorate turns us into a second-rate first-world nation. It’s an embarrassment and a shame on all of us. We’re always making lots of noise about being number 1. I don’t know about you, but I never hear any Americans proudly proclaiming, “We’re #33!”

It’s time to show some real patriotism outside of military excursions. It’s time for Americans to rally together to demand that our elected officials put us to work fixing and rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

It’s good for us citizens. It’s good for business. It’s good for America.

Sounds like patriotism to me.

Sources:

(1) Galston, W. (2013, January 23). Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/01/23-crumbling-infrastructure-galston?cid=em_alert012813

(2) Plumer, B. (2012, March 30). What Paul Ryan’s budget actually cuts – and by how much. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/what-paul-ryans-budget-actually-cuts–and-by-how-much/2012/03/20/gIQAL43vPS_blog.html

(3) Berfield, S. (2012, May 3). Matty Mouron, Detroit’s Border Baron. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-05-03/matty-moroun-detroits-border-baron

Food as Fuel – A Very Bad Idea

….$11B a year in corn subsidies.

I wonder where the Libertarian, tea party, and GOP outrage over this government subsidy of private enterprise is? Perhaps they just don’t have the strength and the energy to be simultaneously outraged over that and….oh….I don’t know…..the social programs that benefit poor women like Planned Parenthood at the same time. Maybe they consider PP’s $70million in annual funding and the $293 million they get through Medicare reimbursements (1), Senator Kyl’s NITBAFS lies about abortions notwithstanding, to be a bigger budgetary problem than corn subsidies.

If so, perhaps some remedial math will help. PP’s $363million is only 3.3% the size of the corn subsidies, and PP’s funding is still only 0.0104% of the 3.5trillion fed budget.

…”Eating up just a tenth of the corn crop as recently as 2004, ethanol was turbocharged by legislation in 2005 and 2007 that set specific requirements for its use in gasoline, mandating steep rises from year to year. Yet another government bureaucracy was born to enforce the quotas.”

Perhaps someone can remind me who controlled both houses of Congress and the White House in 2005?

I know. Dems are the ones always being accused by tea-baggers, Randians, and GOPpers of bloating government, but even they must admit in this case that when, “…another government bureaucracy was born to enforce the quotas” that that birth could reasonably be assumed to have happened in 2005 and not 2007, right? Maybe someone will be interested enough to look that one up.

I don’t suppose there’s much point in reminding anyone about the truth of the Reagan, HW and Wjr years and GOP Congresses when it comes to bloated bureaucracies and budget deficits, either, is there?

Besides all the downsides of treating foodstuffs as fuels that this article brings to light, here are a few final related food facts I also thought worth sharing….
….The average American family wastes $1,200 – or about 500 pounds – of food each year. Add in restaurants and farms, and the total comes to $155billion (with a ‘b’) worth of food going into landfills every year (2)
….925 million people are hungry. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That’s one child every five seconds(3).

In the time it took you to read this far, 30 kids died from hunger.

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Sources
(1): http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/planned-parenthood-center-budget-shutdown-threat/story?id=13328750

(2): http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/23/earlyshow/contributors/susankoeppen/main4285083.shtml#ixzz1QPOW0xhL

(3): http://www.bread.org/hunger/global/

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FEELING the need for an example of government policy run amok? Look no further than the box of cornflakes on your kitchen shelf. In its myriad corn-related interventions, Washington has managed simultaneously to help drive up food prices and add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit, while arguably increasing energy use and harming the environment.
Related
· Times Topic: Corn

Even in a crowd of rising food and commodity costs, corn stands out, its price having doubled in less than a year to a record $7.87 per bushel in early June. Booming global demand has overtaken stagnant supply.

But rather than ameliorate the problem, the government has exacerbated it, reducing food supply to a hungry world. Thanks to Washington, 4 of every 10 ears of corn grown in America — the source of 40 percent of the world’s production — are shunted into ethanol, a gasoline substitute that imperceptibly nicks our energy problem. Larded onto that are $11 billion a year of government subsidies to the corn complex.

Corn is hardly some minor agricultural product for breakfast cereal. It’s America’s largest crop, dwarfing wheat and soybeans. A small portion of production goes for human consumption; about 40 percent feeds cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens. Diverting 40 percent to ethanol has disagreeable consequences for food. In just a year, the price of bacon has soared by 24 percent.

To some, the contours of the ethanol story may be familiar. Almost since Iowa — our biggest corn-producing state — grabbed the lead position in the presidential sweepstakes four decades ago, support for the biofuel has been nearly a prerequisite for politicians seeking the presidency.

Those hopefuls have seen no need for a foolish consistency. John McCain and John Kerry were against ethanol subsidies, then as candidates were for them. Having lost the presidency, Mr. McCain is now against them again. Al Gore was for ethanol before he was against it. This time, one hopeful is experimenting with counter-programming: as governor of corn-producing Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty pushed for subsidies before he embraced a “straight talk” strategy.

Eating up just a tenth of the corn crop as recently as 2004, ethanol was turbocharged by legislation in 2005 and 2007 that set specific requirements for its use in gasoline, mandating steep rises from year to year. Yet another government bureaucracy was born to enforce the quotas.

To ease the pain, Congress threw in a 45-cents-a-gallon subsidy ($6 billion a year); to add another layer of protection, it imposed a tariff on imported ethanol of 54 cents a gallon. That successfully shut off cheap imports, produced more efficiently from sugar cane, principally from Brazil.

Here is perhaps the most incredible part: Because of the subsidy, ethanol became cheaper than gasoline, and so we sent 397 million gallons of ethanol overseas last year. America is simultaneously importing costly foreign oil and subsidizing the export of its equivalent.

That’s not all. Ethanol packs less punch than gasoline and uses considerable energy in its production process. All told, each gallon of gasoline that is displaced costs the Treasury $1.78 in subsidies and lost tax revenue.

Nor does ethanol live up to its environmental promises. The Congressional Budget Office found that reducing carbon dioxide emissions by using ethanol costs at least $750 per ton of carbon dioxide, wildly more than other methods. What is more, making corn ethanol consumes vast quantities of water and increases smog.

Then there’s energy efficiency. Studies reach widely varying conclusions on that issue. While some show a small saving in fossil fuels, others calculate that ethanol consumes more energy than it produces.

Corn growers and other farmers have long exercised outsize influence, thanks in part to the Senate’s structural tilt toward rural states. The ethanol giveaway represents a 21st-century add-on to a dizzying patchwork of programs for farmers. Under one, corn growers receive “direct payments” — $1.75 billion in 2010 — whether they grow corn or not. Washington also subsidizes crop insurance, at a cost of another $1.75 billion last year. That may have made sense when low corn prices made farming a marginal business, but no longer.

At long last, the enormity of the nation’s budget deficit has added momentum to the forces of reason. While only a symbolic move, the Senate recently voted 73 to 27 to end ethanol subsidies. That alone helped push corn prices down to $7 per bushel. Incredibly, the White House criticized the action — could key farm states have been on the minds of the president’s advisers?

Even farm advocates like former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman agree that the situation must be fixed. Reports filtering out of the budget talks currently under way suggest that agriculture subsidies sit prominently on the chopping block. The time is ripe.

Steven Rattner was formerly counselor to the secretary of the Treasury and lead auto adviser. He has spent nearly 30 years on Wall Street as an investor and investment banker and is a contributing writer to Op-Ed.