Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas Story

I've noted before that, although I'm not a Christian, I love Christmas. Not for the theology--that won't surprise you--but for the spirit. Yes, the Christmas spirit. Tomorrow night, as we do every Christmas Eve, the lovely Diane and I will watch Miracle on 34th Street (the original, 1947, B&W version, of course), and at the end I'll tear up.

One reason that it's easier for a non-Christian to love this season is that it never came with any of that baggage that that bedevils (you should pardon the expression) so many for whom the holiday has religious and family trappings. I can appreciate the spirit of Christmas in its essence. Of course, the spirit I cherish was largely constructed by American business and Hollywood. The miracle on 34th street, after all, was that Macy's would put customers ahead of profits (and in so doing, as the actor portraying RH Macy notes, make even more profits).

But enough Scrooge.

Tonight's CBS Evening News had a truly wonderful Christmas story, about a young (really young) man who truly knows the spirit of Christmas. Take a look. Oh, and go here to learn more about how you can get in on the goodness.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Good news--for me, at least

Just saw a story that asserts that my home state, Massachusetts (a commonwealth, actually), is one of the 10 worst states for retirement. Whew! I don't want to spend my retirement (when and if) among a bunch of old people, any more than I want to be surrounded by tourists when I travel. When I travel, I want to be the only tourist (well, with the lovely Diane), and when I retire I want to be among younger people.

So, all you alte kakas out there: Go to Florida!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


You have no doubt head the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If that's the case, then our attitude toward guns is the very definition of insanity.

In Panama City, Florida, the other day, a man stood up at a school board meeting and started taking potshots at the School Committee. In Sacramento, a young mother, a supervisor at a bookstore, was killed after a man apparently walked into a barber shop and started shooting. The mother was found in a position that led police to conclude that she heard the firing and placed her body to protect her 2-year old son. He will now grow up without a mother. Meanwhile, TPM reports that a plan to reduce gun smuggling to Mexican drug cartels has languished at the Justice Department out of fear of NRA influence.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The tax psychosis

The prevailing attitude toward taxes in this nation--at least so far as the mainstream media are concerned--may best be described as a psychosis, that is, a derangement characterized by a loss of contact with reality. This disease has grown over the past 30 years, to the point where it now dominates our politics.

Reality is that the nation faces great challenges: an educational system that has been overhauled and surpassed at all levels by countries in both Europe and Asia, the immense financial burden of war, a deteriorated infrastructure, a high-tech sector that is losing ground daily to foreign competitors, and a dependence on foreign energy sources that is only increasing, to name a few. Yet every serious attempt to deal with these problems--and to restore the United States to a position of leadership--is crippled by a reflexive refusal to consider any increase in the levies on those who can easily afford to pay more, who are also those who by every measure get the greatest benefits from government.

Not surprisingly, the tax psychotics are also bullies. Anyone with the courage to question their delusion is bullied and shouted down. They have to do that, because no rational defense of their position can be mounted.

Like many sane people, Democrats have been hesitant to challenge the delusion. Instead of calling the tax psychosis was it is--crazy--Democrats have temporized, tried to avoid conflict and attempted to reason. To no avail.

The anti-tax movement did not start out by being loony (although elements of the movement got there quickly). In the hands of its initial proponents, opposition to taxes was an expression of a belief that government was too large. And there are still those who espouse the need for smaller government, although few indeed are the members of this camp whose positions are consistent. But even the "starve the beast" camp of Grover Norquist et als has been obscured by a simple, reflexive and complete rejection of any tax hike, no matter how needed or equitable it might be.

The tax psychosis has crippled the United States. It distorts the debate about vital national issues and limits the range of solutions to problems that have have led to our national decline. It empowers the forces of reaction and fear.

Unless and until the progress of the tax psychosis is reversed and room for a healthy, real debate about tax policy created, there will remained hobbled, at home and abroad.

Future posts will pose some suggestions about how to counter the tax psychosis. Your suggestions will be welcome.

True intellectuals

Democrats tend to consider themselves more thoughtful and, truth to tell, more intelligent than Republicans.

But consider: It is said that the mark of a true intellectual is someone who can keep opposing thoughts in his or her head at the same time. And Republicans, as we know, believe that we must not tax the rich at the same time that they think that diminishing the deficit immediately has to be our first priority.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The price

"Why didn't you people shoot?" With those words Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, chief of German military intelligence, greeted his new deputy, Col. Erich Lahousen, formerly his opposite number in the Austrian service.

What would have happened had the Austrians resisted the forced annexation of their country? No one knows, of course. Had the Austrians fought (there was substantial division in that country over the Anschluss), they would have had to pay a price in blood, and most probably Germany would have prevailed. But it seems safe to assert that the butcher's bill would have been lower than it turned out to be. In all probability, many fewer Czechs, Poles, French, Norwegian, Dutch, British, Russians and Americans would have died to destroy Nazi Germany.

Had the world resisted Hitler earlier, the cost would have been even lower. When the German Army marched into the Rhineland in 1936, its orders were to turn around if the French put up a hand and said Stop.

I do not for a moment mean to equate Republican congressional leaders with Hitler. The point is that there is always a price to pay for standing up to bullies, and the cost gets higher the longer the bullies are allowed to prevail. Worse, that cost curve provides further justification for refusing to fight We saw that yesterday, when the President argued angrily that the cost of further resistance to Republican obstructionism on the Bush tax giveaways is too high. What he ignored is that the price has risen precisely because he has not been willing to fight back. Had he and his administration stood up to the GOP earlier, many fewer people would have had to suffer before the Republicans knuckled under--as they would have been forced to--on issues like taxes and unemployment compensation.

Ultimately, the West was forced to stand up for Poland, a nation that was geographically isolated and profoundly undemocratic. But by September 1, 1939, there was no choice. Even then, the Allies' unwillingness to take risks led to the occupation of Western Europe.

So far, Barack Obama has refused to learn from history. But he is a smart man and there is yet time for the light to dawn. Let's hope that the fury of his supporters and allies wakes him from the stupor that has taken up much of his first two years.

The President's defense

Did you see President' Obama's spirited defense of his "compromise" with the Republicans?

This is called--as the President should recall--putting lipstick on a pig.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

How come?

Today's Times reports that the President's commission on the national debt lacks to votes for a comprehensive plan.

There are essentially three ways to bring the federal budget into line and, ultimately, to reduce the national debt: 1) For the economy to grow fast enough so that increases in federal revenues are greater than increases in spending. 2) To raise taxes. 3) To cut spending.

How come the deficit commission concentrates almost all of its energy on the third of these? As do Republicans and a surprisingly high percentage of commentators who ought to know better. As far as raising taxes are concerned, the deficit commission's chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, would concentrate on extracting more from the middle- and working-classes while letting the affluent off pretty much scot-free. They pay no attention to the first source of needed funds.

Does that make sense to you? Me, neither. But maybe that's because we're not rich enough. Or being paid by those who are.

What the President should say

Last night, I suggested that President Obama should announce that he will veto any extension of the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000. On thinking about it, he should be more clear. Here is the kind of thing he should say:

The Bush-era tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 will expire at the end of this month. They are history. They will not be restored. I will veto any measure that extends those tax cuts. If Congress sends me a bill that extends the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers, I will veto it. If Congress attaches an extension or reenactment of the tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 to a defense-authorization bill, I will veto it. If Congress attaches an extension or reenactment of the tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 to a bill raising the debt limit, I will veto it. I trust that I have made myself clear. It is time for Congress to get on with the business of the nation, to pass measures that will be effective in bringing the nation out of recession and in starting to plan how we are going to deal with our huge load of debt once the economy is strong again. It is past time to talk about tax cuts for those who can well afford to pay a little more for the benefits that they receive from this nation.