Birth of a Slogan

Largest Tax increase ever? Allow the Bush tax cuts lapse? Job-killing tax hike? But what does it mean?

Given the uncertainty of the Senate outcome, the strategy offers the GOP a chance to accuse Democrats of planning to raise taxes on most Americans, by allowing all the Bush tax cuts to lapse. The cuts, passed in 2001 and 2003, will expire on Jan. 1, 2011, unless Congress passes legislation to extend them.

Except that they lie. Check it.


They only way Bush/Cheney could get them passed in the first place was accounting tricks. This was the main one. Which is not to say they/we won’t pass a “fix” this fall. Only that we/they shouldn’t.

Attention to the Deficit Disorder

Whenever you hear anyone belabor, lament or just plain whine about how high taxes are and how we’ve got to, just got to, take care of the deficit or else all their sweet little baby prayers will never be answered, just go ahead and call their bluff. Because the simplest argument is always the best one.

“[Y]ou should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes,” Jon Kyl said on Fox News Sunday. “Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to — if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increased spending, and that’s what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”

What he’s admitting is that it’s okay to cut the estate tax, nevah (evah) mind the deficit, and to eliminate capital gains taxes and to treat shareholder dividends as anything but taxable income but, but any tax relief at the lower end of the economic pyramid must always be balanced with spending cuts. It’s crazy, incoherent, chauvinistic classism not at its best but at its most American, self-selving finest, a brand that wealthy people have been able to obscure with moral concerns about federal budget deficits for at least thirty fifty years. And now it greatly accepted as gospel, except that none of it is true.

Understand the laziness dodge, the immorality of budget deficits and the government keeping its hands of your money, because they are all of a piece. The gentle creatures care nothing about the supposed deficit and will balloon it with tax cuts as soon as they are proposed. It’s another euphemism, aided by the (linguistic) fact that keeping up with the green is complicated.

Brought To You By agrees to have a nutrition blog written by PepsiCo.

Much consternation over at the home of science bloggingScienceBlogs. The forum for the brilliant OracPharyngulaMolecule of the Day, and countless other insightful, funny and informative blogs has decided upon a bizarre new strategy in sourcing new posts. As of yesterday, the platform will host a new blog written by food giant PepsiCo, all about the company’s specialist subject of refreshing sugary drinks and their benefits for dental and dietary health.

Is nothing sacred? Of course it isn’t – nothing at all. We’re as far past that as the Gagosian Gallery on its worst day might imagine. What is a bad day for them? What is the first thing BP did when they learned about the Deepwater Horizon problem? What was their actual problem? The whole reality of human habitation, its need for sustenance and breathable air, not to mention sufficient amounts of intellectual clutter, means not the same thing for the Limited Liability Companies among us. Sure we exist on the same planet and sign all manner of agreements, in principle, on paper gleaned from that planet’s perennial woody plants. But that may be where the common dimensions begin and end. A tear in one man’s time-space continuum is but a sub-bullet point in another man’s standard operating procedure (SOP) handbook.

Pace William Faulkner, the sacred is not dead and buried, it’s not even sacred.

Green Faith

This could go without saying, but I guess if I really believed that, I would let it. There is no good faith element – as in, “We’re operating in good faith” – in a capitalist system. Nor does there have to be. There is only green faith.

WASHINGTON — Reversing its oft-repeated position that it was acting only on behalf of its clients in its exotic dealings with the American International Group, Goldman Sachs now says that it also used its own money to make secret wagers against the U.S. housing market.

A senior Goldman executive disclosed the “bilateral” wagers on subprime mortgages in an interview with McClatchy, marking the first time that the Wall Street titan has conceded that its dealings with troubled insurer AIG went far beyond acting as an “intermediary” responding to its clients’ demands.

They could clearly see it was toppling and vulnerable sector; opportunities abounded. Of course they were playing both sides, they would be stupid derelict in their duties, i.e., not competitive, not to. Just as we would be derelict in our duties stupid not to know this is what they are doing, particularly because of the despite the altruistic tone of their t-shirts and coffee mugs. The very notion that something, anything, is done by a company that is in the best interest of anything other than making more money is… worse than naive, it’s a sentiment that is itself counted on and used, where possible, to make more money – a tool like any other. No flag, no empathy, no brotherhood, no fidelity except to profit, where the loyalty is ruthless and unwavering. It has to be.

See the circle? You’re soaking in it.

Before Petroleum

One thing that is very difficult to get to, maybe not as difficult as a gushing volcano of oil a mile below the surface of the Gulf, but… just how did we get o this place? With major corporate interests having us all right where they want us, able to create a catastrophe but still leave us unconvinced that we/they should stop the activity that created the situation in the first place. And they are right, in a way, because what would that be? And on top of that, we blame our political leaders for not being able to immediately fix the situation – but not for creating the atmosphere that made the situation possible. See. Difficult. Where do you even start? Maybe 1876?

Johnson’s rocky relations with Congress resulted in an impeachment trial. Johnson survived in office, and was followed by Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant, who was elected in 1868, and reelected in 1872.

The eight years of the Grant administration came to be known for scandal. Financial chicanery, often involving railroad barons, shocked the country. The national economy faced difficult times. And federal troops were still stationed throughout the south in 1876 to enforce Reconstruction.

The Candidates In the Election of 1876

The Republican Party was expected to nominate a popular senator from Maine, James G. Blaine. But when it was revealed that Blaine had some involvement in a railroad scandal, Rutherford B. Hayes, the governor of Ohio, was nominated at a convention that required seven ballots. Acknowledging his role as a compromise candidate, Hayes delivered a letter at the end of the convention indicating he would only serve one term if elected.

On the Democratic side, the nominee was Samuel J. Tilden, the governor of New York. Tilden was known as a reformer, and had attracted considerable attention when, as New York’s attorney general, he prosecuted William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, the famously corrupt political boss of New York City.

The two parties did not have tremendous differences on the issues. And as it was still considered unseemly for presidential candidates to campaign, most of the actual campaigning was done by surrogates. Hayes conducted what was called a “front porch campaign,” in which he talked to supporters and reporters on his porch in Ohio and his comments were transmitted to newspapers.

Waving the Bloody Shirt

The election season degenerated into the opposing sides launching vicious personal attacks on the opposition candidate. Tilden, who had become wealthy as a lawyer in New York City, was accused of participating in fraudulent railroad deals. And the Republicans made much of the fact that Tilden had not served in the Civil War.

Read all about it.

Mean Ol’ Government

Why do you hate money America? Watch Goldman squirm.

In conversations with private equity executives and others, Mr Blankfein left clients with the impression that he was eager to fight the charges in court. The SEC has requested a jury trial.

“He was very aggressive,” said one person called by Mr Blankfein on Wednesday. “He feels that the government is out to kill them, that they are under attack and the whole thing is totally political.”

Mr Blankfein said the SEC action “hurts America”, this person said.

More at Naked Capitalism.

Why would we hurt America The Earth so close to Earth Day?

The Perils of Ownership

At first [okay, maybe only right away], this article about efforts to save the Everglades benefitting U.S. Sugar appeared to be the apotheosis of green: environmentalism that made sense fiscally, actually working to save an industry whose competition – sweetener not from sugar but corn –  was wrecking the ecology, not to mention the health, of the country. Also, being so easy to find right up near the top of the page of the Times on a Monday morning, surely it might also be a positive harbinger – you see, this is what green is supposed to mean.

Boy, talk about projection.

In its current form, the deal’s only clear, immediate beneficiaries would be United States Sugar, a privately held company based in Clewiston, Fla., and its law firm, Gunster, which is expected to collect tens of millions of dollars in fees for its work on the sale, according to current and former United States Sugar executives.

The sale, scheduled to close March 31, amounts to a lifeline for the company, which entered negotiations at a time of profound weakness; it was facing a costly shareholder lawsuit, sinking profit margins and increased foreign competition. The deal would enable it to wipe nearly all the debt from its books.

United States Sugar had an unusually powerful advocate in Gunster, a West Palm Beach law firm that had represented it since 1990. Gunster’s chairman, George LeMieux, was Governor Crist’s chief of staff when the deal was first conceived. Mr. LeMieux, who began working at the law firm in 1994, returned to it in January 2008 as the deal was being renegotiated.

So, on top of the long-obstinate landowners getting to profit by allowing a lifeline to clean water for the ecosystem, their competitors, the Native American tribe that lives on the land, conservation groups and the feds were all locked out of negotiations right up until before they were announced. It’s not that this alone doomed the project, but it certainly didn’t help – mainly because the governor and U.S. Sugar created a dynamic whereby their efforts would naturally be opposed, instead of engendering a sort of automatic support – the kind I had when I first glanced at the headline.

Because (uh-oh, the Adventures of Positive Boy), as North Americans, cynicism is not our default setting. But that’s not where I was going… oh yeah. There is a disconnect, a patented (that’s a crazy, if illustrative, euphemism: only in this country – where, oddly, everyone’s gotta own everything but everything that is not privately owned has some taint and is not worth anything) separation between a ‘best of both worlds scenario’ and  the ‘worse possible combination’ that are so close to each other that they travel the same pathway. Yet we persist in believing them to be completely different. The path to health for the environment and positive economic outcomes is the same. Not to say this path is an easy one but, Occam… gesundheit.

We can have eminent domain on all kinds of levels, but we must only use it to benefit commercial interests. We can’t allow ‘the state’ to value the Everglades – the only subtropical wetlands ecosystem of its kind – in its own right; it must be attached to profit and ownership in some form.

How about we engage in a little trade for a euphemism-to-be-named-later: we change the concept to manifest domain, in exchange for eminent destiny.

Can you tell who’s had a supposedly free morning? jeez.

Money to Buy Mediocre Lies

Not even the best money can buy, but kinda middling ones.

The extent to which lying is an operative political strategy in your lifetime, of your government, by your representatives, cannot be overstated or stated often enough. Even if you think you know this, You don’t. And if you don’t know Frank Lutz is, John Chait reminds you:

Luntz’s latest memo advising Republicans on how to fight financial reform,obtained by Sam Stein, is a classic of the genre. The unstated argument of the memo is that, being determined to oppose legislation that most Americans support, Republicans should simply pretend they are arguing against something completely different. Luntz makes it clear that the public demands reform. “You must be on the side on change,” he writes. “Always.” (There is no pretense anywhere in Luntz’s paper that Republicans do, or even should, have a reform plan of their own.)

He likewise insists Republicans never call the reform bill “reform”: “It’s not ‘reform.’ This is not a reform bill. It is the ‘Stop the Big Bank Bailout bill.” Of course, Luntz does not try to explain why the reform bill is not reform. Indeed, his paper is entitled, “The Language of Financial Reform.” It calls to mind the French absurdist Rene Magritte’s painting of a pipe, labeled, “This is not a pipe.”

And we’ve been there before, of course. But then again, we thought we remembered about lying.

The Path to Dominance

World dominance, that is. For China:

The main challenge from the world’s new industrial superpower is not that it will continue to use the dirty, old technologies of the past, but that it will come to dominate the new, clean, green ones of the future. 

As developed nations fail to put an adequate price on carbon, and thus to stimulate clean-technology development themselves, they risk handing market supremacy to the rival they most fear. Indeed, it could even be hypothesized that China’s blocking of agreement on rich-country emission targets in Copenhagen was intended to hold back the development of cleantech by its Western rivals.

An interesting question for business minds, at least. Business/finance/economic growth thinking – that drives investments in infrastructure, engineering and technology, not to mention general promotion of cultural shifts – has been consistenty wrong about the solutions to climate change. There’s a reason business interests – so-called – keep being on the wrong side of this issue. What exactly is the challenge that is being misunderstood? At its best, enterprise sees opportunity everywhere, even in threats. Check out the tone of the recent proceedings in Copenhagen. When has such an opportunity seemed like such a threat?

And remember: we’ve got quite a record in the face of really big challenges – 9/11 (Iraq did it?), the Soviet threat (from a rusting, empty shell of a superpower?). And while much of this ignorance might have been purposeful, it doesn’t make it look any less stupid in hindsight – though nothing will compare with even the middling scenario of irreversible environmental devastation that will result from doing nothing about climate change out of some affinity for cost-benefit analyses. Talk about stupid. In other scenarios we’d apply for a patent.

So this is the double-whammy for the world’s leading economy. If we [still] want to become something other than the world’s leading army, there must be serious improvement in geo-political business understanding. As the article points out, even Little Tommy Friedman gets this (which, I admit might normally undermine the reality. But not this time.) From a frantic, stock/futures market perspective, what happens in the next couple of years will determine if the U.S. and American companies will be competitive in clean energy development in the decades to come – or whether we will be colonized by Chinese solar and wind companies like the Chinese were with soft drinks, cell phones and fast food brands.

What happened to all that ruthlessness?

Taking Care of Business

So… banks are experiencing a priapism that just won’t shrink.

Sixty per cent of the people support a cap-and-trade bill.

Everybody loves the public option.

Much larger CRE defaults than expected are predicted.

Recession for all means depression for many.

So… what’s happening with all of this? Our green compass has definitely lost its magnetic north Franklin, or the device has been broken down and sold as parts. Now what? Do we know the way to San Jose?

Like an uncle’s hand on your knee, it’s funny that we assume and perhaps long for a return to normal – when that’s the last place we need to go. How many times will we lurch back toward something that holds nothing but FAIL before we realize the futility and set out in a frightening new direction? The truth is we’re already headed there; all the above plus anything you read in newspixels are signs of this. Remember the change-thingy?

The whole arrangement – not impure for any reason, political or other, besides it simply could not last – is shifting. We’re waking up slowly, trying to see things the same way, but they are already different. And that’s unsettling. An economy that makes money off of money is a fabulously faulty set-up; it entices innovation that is self-immolating of the whole. Then we stand back, gape and wonder who was to blame. These would be lessons in any other context; what we will call them now, it’s hard to tell because we are attempting to see them through eyes that want to make the best of what’s left rather than use the knowledge to change what we see. We only want to adjust our vision, but it’s semantic optometry at best.

An example, as private equity firms rush to cash in on green tech. They are attempting to extend exactly the same cycle that brought us such hits as health insurance companies, credit default swaps and off balance sheet transactions: shareholder value is given precedence over actual value, much less social value. The model must be tied to it’s own failings, then we won’t have to crush it. Remember triple bottom line? This stuff is not as hard as it is different. Different from the way we have been doing business up until now, which is taking care of business, not people or planet.

If you don’t do all three, taking care of the one doesn’t work.