Washington State is Coming Up Short

in so many ways… but let’s start with revenue. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, svilen.milen

The Olympian reported (so it might be true) that the Gov is calling the legislature back in special session to deal with a revenue shortfall of at least 1.3 billion dollars. It’s probably a 2 billion dollar deficit, but the accountants are still penciling that out.

So the legislators are coming back sometime in November to address the shortfall. The tea party tax initiative that passed last general election cycle requires a super majority for the State to raise taxes, and the repub side has not yet warmed to the necessity of taxes for essential services, so this is likely to be another session devoted to finding things to cut. The activists who like education and essential services like medical care, disability services and more will be doing all they can to oppose another all-cut budget, but it’s going to be a struggle. There are arguments over whether the super-majority initiative is constitutional, whether closing tax loopholes (that could produce the 2 billion) are subject to the super-majority rule, but it’s an uphill battle. You have to give the Norquist puppiteers credit for creating a wildly successful and destructive political agenda, but what is the end game? When the success of trickle down, unregulated, free market economics is the meltdown of 2008, it does raise the question of “where do we go from here?” Further down the right wing rathole? I would rather not.

Activists, including Washington Can, have been organizing and gearing up for the next legislative session, but will now need to hustle to put an agenda together for the special session. I think we need to focus not just on posing loopholes that can be closed, let’s look at budget cuts that will truly share the sacrifice. How about:

  • Immediate cuts in pay to State Legislators of 25%
  • Immediate 100% cut of travel budget for legislators
  • Let’s sell the Governor’s mansion and cut the expense of maintaining that big house
  • Let’s set the thermostats at 55 degrees in cold weather and 85 degrees in hot weather for the office and meeting space that the legislators use. (apologies to the staffers)
  • Let’s convert the Capitol campus to public garden space and save the cost of mowing that big lawn

Just some ideas off the top of my head. What are your ideas? What services should the legislature cut in this special session? Shared sacrifice anyone? Can we make the legislators uncomfortable enough to challenge the super-majority rule? Or to vote as a super majority to do the right thing and raise revenue?

Or if you insist, what loopholes need to be closed to fix this mess?

On Obama's fear of a coup

According to a scary and eye-popping article, Obama Team Feared Coup If He Prosecuted War Crimes,

President-Elect Obama’s advisers feared in 2008 that authorities would oust him in a coup and that Republicans would block his policy agenda if he prosecuted Bush-era war crimes, according to a law school dean who served as one of Obama’s top transition advisers.

The US is being held hostage by criminal extremists: a coalition of the military-industrial complex, the Republican Party, the super-rich, and the Religious Right (which provides a veneer of godliness).  The Rule of Law is suppressed. Torture and immoral wars go unpunished.  Corruption, injustice, and mismanagement are rampant.  Privitization, deregulation, and tax cuts are enriching the rich and forcing states to slash programs.  The New Deal is under attack.

Right wing monster
Right wing monster

So we needed a leader who would fight back against the right wing. Instead, what we got was an appeaser. Or a wimp. Or a centrist.

As article author Andrew Kreig pointed out, the Republicans blocked almost all of Obama’s agenda anyway.  They needed to be fought, not coddled.

Let’s suppose the article is correct and Obama was threatened with reprisal or revolt if he pursued accountability for Bush-era crimes.  Then President Obama should have told the American people what’s going on.

In fact, judging by his many sellouts, I think Obama is a centrist, with little sympathy for progressive ideals. Hence, I have my doubts that Obama was forced by threats to relinquish accountability.  He may have been threatened, but he still had an obligation to do the right thing. And he still went out of his way to protect and aid the GOP.  Anyone who pretends that Obama was forced to make his many compromises is hiding their head in the sand.

The American people need to DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY, or we will never be able to set things back on course towards justice, prosperity, and fairness.

Quickie: Rick Perry's extremism revealed

In The message from Rick Perry’s book: Repeal the 20th Century Seattle P-I columnist Joe Connelly describes the extreme anti-government views of Rick Perry.

The 1930s are in the crosshairs. Social Security has been America’s most successful social program in lifting our seniors out of poverty. In Perry’s view, however, it is “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal,” “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,” and was put into place “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.”

In a wider sense, Perry represents a new extreme in American thought — those who would roll back the Progressive Era and the New Deal, and roll up powers given government in fields from workplace safety to punishing polluters.

The Only Real Solution to our Economic Problems is Active Democracy

In a recent article in the Los Angeles Time, economist James Galbraith argues that “Stimulus Alone was Never going to bring Recovery.” See http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-galbraith-economics-20110815,0,843976.story

I agree in part with his solution: “Let’s build a new financial system to serve public purpose and private business. And let’s start to act on our actual needs and problems: jobs, foreclosures, public investments, energy security and climate change.”

I also agree that the patient, our national economy, is not going to recover on its own. In fact, I have long predicted that until we address the underlying causes of our economic problems, our economy will only get worse. However, I disagree with Galbraith’s assessment about the “causes” of the Great Recession. I therefore also disagree about the effectiveness of his proposed solution. Given that our economy is in the worse mess it has been in 70 years, we need to look much deeper than merely economics to understand what our problems are and how to solve them.

I have taught courses in problem solving for 20 years. One of the key principles of problem solving is that one must determine the “underlying” or hidden causes of a problem in order to create a truly effective long term solution. Economists tend to think the solution to all problems must be economic – just as carpenters see the hammer as the solution to every problem. But we can not solve problems merely by focusing in on symptoms – or by proposing solutions that solve only a part of the problem. Instead, we must examine our assumptions and peel the layers away from this onion. This requires going back over time and seeing where we took a wrong path – so that we might better recognize how to get back on the right path.

The reason the federal stimulus program did not restore our economy was primarily that the money was given to the wrong people and used for the wrong purpose. Instead of directly creating jobs on Main Street , nearly all of the money was given away to corporate bankers on Wall Street. Corporations were handed trillions of dollars. This led to a fake Stock Market rally and billions in Wall Street bonuses for the super rich.

US Corporate Profits reach a new record in 2010

(Annual Profit in Trillions $):

SOURCE: US BUREAU OF ECONOMIC ANALYSIS (BEA)
http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdpnewsrelease.htm

 

But because there were no strings attached that this money be used to create jobs, very few jobs were created (less than a million jobs, when more than 10 million jobs were actually needed). Thus, the recovery went no where. But this latest saga of corporate corruption was only the latest chapter in a very long and corrupt story.

Our economic problems did not start in 2008. For many years before that middle class families were being slowly driven into bankruptcy. During the Bush years, there is a tendency to focus on the big problems – the fact that he ballooned the national debt by giving away trillions in tax breaks to the super rich and added another trillion to the debt by putting two wars on our national credit card. But there were many other smaller wounds inflicted on middle class families. Not only were banks deregulated – leading to predatory lending and causing credit card interest payments to triple, but oil companies were also deregulated – causing gas and energy prices to triple. Health gouging corporations and drug companies were also deregulate – causing health care costs to triple. Together, corporate deregulation cost middle class families thousands of dollars a year – money which was no longer available to spend at local small businesses supporting an expanding local economy. Instead, the money went towards wealthy corporations further increasing the concentration of wealth at the top.

In addition to tax breaks for the rich, rules were also re-written to essential exempt wealthy corporations from paying State and federal taxes. This caused two problems. First, in order to pay for essential services like schools, the tax burden was transferred from the rich to the middle class – costing working families even more thousands of dollars a year. The Tea Party blamed the government for raising their taxes. But in fact, as a percent of income, government is much smaller now than it was 10 years ago. Taxes on the poor, including payroll taxes and sales taxes, went up to pay for tax breaks for the rich.

The second problem was even worse. Granting corporate tax breaks and expanding corporate tax havens gave wealthy corporations a huge financial incentive to ship capital and jobs overseas. Because Free Trade agreements were not fair trade agreements, the US economy was essentially destroyed long before the collapse in 2008.

A final “symptom” is the corporate control of the media which promotes propaganda such as the nonsense that the unemployment rate is only 9% when even basic math confirms it is closer to 25%.

To find a time when the government and the media actually told the truth and treated people fairly, we would need to go back to the 1950’s under Eisenhower when the “effective” tax rate on corporations and the wealthy was 50%, when the media was required to be balanced and serve the public and follow the “Fairness and Equal Time” Doctrines in order to receive a license. Banks, oil companies and health insurance companies were regulated which meant that costs to working families for essential things like health care and gasoline were kept very low. Taxes on the poor and middle class were also much lower because taxes on the rich were much higher. This meant that the middle class had much more discretionary income which they could spend at local businesses helping to expand the local economy – growing jobs from the bottom up.

But if all of these things are mere symptoms than what is the underlying or common problem?

One can certainly blame banks and corporations for destroying our economy. One can also blame a weakening State and National government for deregulating the banks and oil companies. But before every economic calamity, there must have been a political calamity to allow the deregulation which led to the economic calamity.

Elimination of the Media Fairness Doctrine did not just happen. It happened because some corrupt politicians allowed it to happen. Elimination of Glass Steagall Banking regulations did not just happen. It happened because corrupt politicians in Congress passed a bill in 1999 to permit it to happen. Even in Washington State , tax breaks for wealthy corporations did not just magically skyrocket from $20 billion per year in 2000 to $50 billion per year in 2010. This huge expansion of corporate welfare occurred because corrupt State legislators passed several specific bills – such as the “no strings attached” Boeing Tax Break Bill in 2003 – which illegally transferred billions of dollars away from our public schools and into the pockets of private corporations – money which Boeing then used to outsource jobs to South Carolina, Italy and China.

This is why I concluded years ago that our underlying problems are not economic – but rather they are political. Our problem is extreme corporate corruption of both political parties – whereby corporations bribe politicians and pay for the re-election campaigns of the most corrupt politicians. Elections have turned into bidding wars in which the most corrupt person accumulates the most corporate campaign contributions and is most likely to win. The only solution to this problem is not public financing of campaigns – but rather active participation in Democracy. This means becoming a PCO for your precinct and organizing your neighbors and building a political network in your community and attending political party meetings and demanding that the long term needs of people be placed ahead of the short term greed of corporations.

People would like to believe that they can passively sit back and that government will solve our problems – or that big business will solve our problems. But until we take back our Democracy and recognize that WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT, our economic and social problems will only get worse. There is no doubt that corporations bought the election in 2010. We are seeing today the disastrous consequences for our economy and for the American people. But there will be another election in 2012 and 2014. Just as the people took back our Democracy by electing Progressive Democrats in 1932 – saving our country from Fascism or worse – so can we work to elect Progressive Democrats in 2012. Until we kick the current group of corrupt “corporate” politicians out of office, and replace them with progressive Democrats, there will not be an economic recovery.

Just as our underlying problems are political rather than economic, so to is the solution political. Only after the election of progressive Democrats will we see restoration of a fair tax system and a fair economy with opportunity, liberty and justice for all.

Reality-challenged GOP presidential candidates

What’s going on with the Republican Party? Their candidates keep getting further and further out in right field.  The Tea Party libertarians are more extreme than typical Republicans in their opposition to government and taxation. And the new breed of Christian conservatives are more extremist in their religious beliefs and in their willingness to let those beliefs guide their political positions.

Forrest Wilder of The Texas Observer writes in

Rick Perry’s Army of God

“Rick Perry, who is running for President of the United States, is a self-proclaimed prophet…The pastors told Perry of God’s grand plan for Texas. A chain of powerful prophecies had proclaimed that Texas was ‘The Prophet State,’ anointed by God to lead the United States into revival and Godly government. And the governor would have a special role.”

Indeed, Texans can be at ease, because their governor is praying for them.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/11/rick-perrys-unanswered-prayers/

Rick Perry’s Unanswered Prayers
by Timothy Egan
August 11, 2011

A few months ago, with Texas aflame from more than 8,000 wildfires brought on by extreme drought, a man who hopes to be the next president took pen in hand and went to work:

“Now, therefore, I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.”

Then the governor prayed, publicly and often.  Alas, a rainless spring was followed by a rainless summer. July was the hottest month in recorded Texas history. Day after pitiless day, from Amarillo to Laredo, from Toadsuck to Twitty, folks  were greeted by a hot, white bowl overhead, triple-digit temperatures, and a slow death on the land.

In the four months since Perry’s request for divine intervention, his state has taken a dramatic turn for the worse.  Nearly all of Texas  is now in “extreme or exceptional” drought, as classified by federal meteorologists, the worst in Texas history.

Lakes have disappeared. Creeks are phantoms, the caked bottoms littered with rotting, dead fish.  Farmers cannot coax a kernel of grain from ground that looks like the skin of an aging elephant.

….


GOP co-front runner Michelle Bachmann may not be a prophet, but according to her The New Yorker article,  Leap of Faith, Bachmann is a great admirer of Dominionists  Schaeffer and Rousas, Nancy Pearcey, and John Rushdoony.  Dominionists believe in biblical inerrancy.   According to Sara Diamond, Dominionists such as Shaeffer believe that  “Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.”

The New Yorker article also reports on Bachmann’s frequent habit of distorting facts about her past and about her ancestors’ appearance in Iowa and Minnesota.

She has refused to distance herself from far right John Eidsmoe, who was kicked out of a Tea Party meeting for his racist views. “In 2005, he spoke at the national convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a defiantly pro-white, and anti-black, organization.”  Eidsmoe once said “Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun understood the Constitution better than did Abraham Lincoln and Daniel Webster.”   Bachmann has called him “a wonder man” and “absolutely brilliant.”

When, in 2005, the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Bachmann what books she had read recently, she mentioned two: Ann Coulter’s “Treason,” a jeremiad that accuses liberals of lacking patriotism, and Pearcey’s “Total Truth,” which Bachmann told me was a “wonderful” book. [Pearcey has written , “There may “be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right,” she writes in “Total Truth.” “Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false.”]

Bachmann enrolled at the new O. W. Coburn School of Law, at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Bible, not the Constitution or conventional jurisprudence, guides the curriculum. For several years, the school could not get accreditation…  Among the professors were Herbert W. Titus, a Vice-Presidential candidate of the far-right U.S. Taxpayers Party (now called the Constitution Party), and John Whitehead, who started the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal-advocacy group. The law review published essays by Schaeffer and Rousas John Rushdoony, a prominent Dominionist who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law—execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for example—would be instituted. In a 1982 essay in the law review, Rushdoony condemned the secularization of public schools and declared, “With the coming collapse of humanistic statism, the Christian must prepare to take over, he must prepare for victory.”