Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Unemployment Benefits and Taxing of the Rich

I love being an independent political thinker.

Although most people would classify me as a liberal, and I think of myself as mostly a progressive libertarian, the truth is that I do my best to listen to both sides. Well, except Glenn Beck. That asshole pisses me off far too much.

So what I see going on right now is precious: a classic example of where both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. Conservative Republicans have declared that the national debt is a priority crisis, and have moved to block additional deficit spending for unemployment benefits. Simultaneously, they've proposed funding unemployment benefits with stimulus money, essentially cutting spending elsewhere in order to pay for the additional spending. Democrats, on the other hand, have been pushing for an extension to unemployment benefits in spite of it being an increase in deficit spending, arguing that this is an emergency measure which is needed immediately to aid our economic crisis. For now, it seems the Democrats have won, having passed their unemployment benefits bill, with Republicans swearing that they'll make them pay for it come November.

What is so very interesting is how the politicos are posturing themselves around it. Our trophy president has pointed out that a partisan minority is blocking aid to those who need it the most, and he's correct. Republicans, by contrast, are saying that our deficit and debt are simply too large, and we must prioritize doing something about it now, and they're correct. Somewhere, there's got to be room to see the merits of both sides. I believe I do.

What cracks me up about all this is how Republicans are almost right. They've got a good idea, saying that additional unemployment benefits should come by cutting spending elsewhere. They're quite correct in saying that we need to eliminate our deficit and pay down the national debt. These are good values, and need to be championed by all concerned. But somehow, conservatives think that the spending which should be cut ought to come from stimulus money. In other words, in order to increase spending to help the economy, we must cut what we're spending to help the economy! In other words, we must rob Peter to pay Peter!

What cracks me up about the opposite side of the political spectrum is how the Democrats are also almost right. Yes, it is a crisis situation, but sooner or later will come the straw that breaks the camel's back. Or, in this case, the dollar that breaks the greenback. Democrats are concerned about this, but not nearly as much as they need to be.

Now, it's been suggested on Capitol Hill already that what needs to happen, if we're to talk about cutting spending elsewhere, is for something other than stimulus money to be cut. What follows is a clusterfuck of competing suggestions, of which none emerge as winner. Fuck that! Here's my list of skull-bangingly obvious suggestions on where and how to cut money.

1. Admit that Osama Bin Laden is probably dead. Make it a public announcement, and challenge the asshole to prove us wrong. He's almost certainly dead in reality. So by doing this, and showing that Al Quaeda's leader is a ghost, we can pull out, and avoid spending that money. The Afghan war cost 55 billion last year, and will cost 72 billion this year. So, we end that war, save 35 billion, spend 34 of that billion to help the jobless, and reduce the deficit by a billion. Simple, huh?

2. I hate to keep harping on this (actually, check that -- no I don't!), but something like 15 billion is uselessly spent on a pointless drug war, trying to stop what cannot be stopped. Let's turn that 15 billion going out into money coming in. I'd argue that this would increase tax revenue by half a trillion or more -- enough to pay for healthcare, jobless benefits, and an elimination of the deficit, all at a single stroke. Shit, what are we waiting for?!

3. Let the Bush tax cuts expire.

Okay, regarding that last one, I'm not one of these "stick it to the rich" people. Hell, I think Republicans are damn well right to insist on lower taxes. But the best way to ensure that you, the average American, have low taxes is to make sure that the wealthiest 1% don't shirk their taxpaying responsibilities! Because if they do, the only one to make up the difference is YOU! Yes, the rich pay most of the tax revenue regardless, but we're not talking about percentage of tax revenue -- we're talking about their percentage of non-earned income. Anything else is bullshit and noise. But let's not do so in order to "put the screws" on those who are successful financially. Taxes are a duty, not a punishment, and the only reason we ask them to pull more weight is because they are stronger.

A delicate balance needs to be struck here. And this balance is better decided by economists than by legislatures. But it goes like this: Tax the rich too much, and they tend not to hire as many people. Or worse, take their employment interests away to other countries. The wealthy individuals, as well as corporations, are the primary job-makers (for better or worse), and we have to act in a way that ensures the maximum number of jobs get created by them. But tax the rich too little, and then too much of the money supply gets sucked away from the lower and middle class, resulting in depression. This is because the government, for all it's ills, is the primary means of siphoning the money supply away from the wealthiest people and getting it to the poorest. Whatever else a government may be there for, it needs to be there at least for equality of opportunity. So we need to be Goldilocks when it comes to taxing the rich. Not too much, not too little, but just right.

And in case you didn't get where I was going with all that, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans made it so that we were taxing too little. Even Alan Greenspan agrees that the Bush tax cuts should expire.

It's been said that our government has no cause for denying unemployment benefits after it spent so much money bailing out giant mega-banks and large corporations. It was argued then that these businesses were "too big to fail." But when the working stiff who can't find a job is on the line, suddenly, that's not as important? No, the American people are "too big to fail" every bit as much as a mega-bank or a giant corporation. Let's bail them out!

But let's not get too ahead of ourselves in blaming certain legislators, mostly Republicans, for the big corporate bailouts. Most of the TARP money given to the big banks has been paid back, with interest. Meaning the government actually made money on the deal. Since the government was asserting control over paying of salaries and dividends, these entities were more willing to pony up the cash than hand over the reins. (Maybe that's the real secret to taxation of the ultra-rich.) But there's still blame to go around for turning a no-deficit, debt-paying-down government budget into a trillion-dollar runaway stagecoach. That's primarily a Republican fault, especially given that party's approach to fighting terror, which is to throw money at the problem. After fighting to prevent Bush's tax-cuts for the wealthy from expiring, and endeavoring to make them permanent, these clowns have some nerve getting in the way of helping the poor and the unemployed on the grounds of lessening the deficit!

Yet the cause is still noble, in spite of the knife wound inserted firmly into our backs. The deficit is a ticking time-bomb, and the debt an increasingly large ball-and-chain. We simply must find a way to deal with it. And if Republicans have finally taken up this cause, good for them. Granted, they should have done so during the Bush years, but we can welcome home the prodigal son, and forgive the penitent sinner. I give them a clean slate. (Not my vote, though.)

And for Democrats, it's time to stop being so damned timid with what needs to be done. All the momentum that had been built up by conservatives leading up to the midterm elections has now been blown on the worst possible tactical error, as those of us fellow Americans who needed help the most were instead made into a political football for nearly two months. It's time to end the wars in nations where we've already done all we can. It's time to make the tax code fair again, and pay off the national credit card. It's time to put all energies towards rebuilding our economy, and attracting more industry. It's time to make our nation free, and put an end to useless, anti-American prohibitions. Do that, and do it now! And if you lose your majority after November, then at least you seized your opportunity!



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