Friday, August 21, 2009

THAT DOGMA WON'T HUNT

Posted By on Fri, Aug 21, 2009 at 9:16 AM

Did you ever notice how quick conservatives are to abandon a deeply held principle when it clashes with another? The most common example is how maleable the committment to states' rights becomes the moment a state might do something unacceptable, like allow same-sex marriages or let families make private decisions or choose the wrong presidential candidate.

NPR was polite enough not to point out the underlying hypocrisy in this report, but you can't miss it:

Starting next year, the Justice and Agriculture departments will hold public workshops in farm towns throughout the United States to learn about anti-competitive conduct in agricultural markets.

The announcement came one day before the annual convention of the Organization for Competitive Markets. The next day, many among the 150 people gathered at a St. Louis hotel for a session — titled "Confronting the Threats to Market Competition" — could not believe what they were hearing.

Small but influential, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group is made up of farmers, academics and others concerned about the gigantification of American agriculture. Its executive director is Fred Stokes, a Mississippi rancher and registered Republican who has been leading the charge for the government to intervene.

"We want to stop this rubber-stamping of every ag merger that comes down the pike," Stokes said. "We want to call in the predators that are putting our farmers and ranchers out of business. We want them to do their job."

Mr. Stokes is absolutely right — the federal government has stood by and watched for decades as mergers have created mega-corporations against which no small farmer has a chance. But one can't help but wonder if he's ever considered that the Republican candidates he's voted for over the years are the very ones who've made that possible. Market forces are practically God's will — isn't that what Republicans have been preaching for at least 30 years? And, Mr. Stokes now wants the federal government to intervene?!

I don't mean to make fun of him, he's got enough problems. But it's maddening that so many Americans vote against their own interests — much less the common good — then seem baffled over constantly losing ground. — Frank Lewis

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

POOR PEOPLES' MARCH RETURNS

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 2:33 PM

Politicians and candidates love to carry on about the “middle class,” but few speak much about poor people. In fact, they’ve been much demonized by the right wing, causing officeholders across the ideological spectrum to ignore poverty as much as they can. It takes events like the fifth annual Poor Peoples’ March — taking place in downtown Cleveland starting at noon Friday — to remind the rest of us about the have-nots.

Bad times call for action, and it was bad times that sparked the initial march. “We began the year that Cleveland was first announced as the poorest city in the nation,” says Valerie Robinson of Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor, one of the two main sponsoring groups, along with the Family Connection Center. “We began having an annual Martin Luther King march in late August, when he had the first march on Washington in 1963 for jobs and freedom. It was to address the issues of the day and honor Martin Luther King as well.”

Beginning at the State Office Building, wending through Public Square and ending in Willard Park at the Free Stamp, the march will feature speakers at each stop on the route who will talk about how government has (or has not) addressed issues facing the poor. It will open with the singing of the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and a welcome by the Rev. Tony Minor. Speakers will include experts like Larry Bressler of Advocates for Budget Legislation Equality talking about state budget cuts and the UAW’s Martha Grevatt addressing job loss in Ohio. Other speakers will address homelessness, education and health issues.

“A new addition this year is we have some peace activists joining us from the Northeast Ohio Anti-war Coalition and Peace Action Cleveland,” says Robinson. “They’re going to talk about how money spent on war could be better spent helping people at home.”

The march will conclude at Willard Park with a keynote address by local radio personality Basheer Jones and a program of local entertainment from 2:30-6 p.m. hosted by Al Porter and the Hip-Hop Workshop.

Although Robinson said that the early marches drew a few dozen people, last year’s attracted more than 100, and she’s hoping for more this year. All are welcome to join in any part of the march and the festivities at Willard Park. — Anastasia Pantsios

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

HELP SHOULDN'T HURT

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 3:20 PM

Last month I was approached by a beggar, and pointed him in the direction of one of our city’s homeless shelters. “Aww hell no!” he candidly replied. “They’ll tear you up in there, those places are more dangerous than the streets!”

Shelters serve no purpose if homeless people are afraid to enter them. Recently, with the help of shelters in Northeast Ohio, many of our cities homeless have organized to make the shelters safer.

The Homeless Congress is made up of two residents from every shelter in the area. The group started working in 2007 to develop a bill with 39 provisions to help improve the quality of shelters and the services they provide. The Congress dreams of a system in which every resident is supplied with a hygiene kit and clean linens, and is required to take courses on life skills like applying for jobs and setting up bank accounts, drug treatment and first aid. The goal would be for residents to have housing plans within two weeks.

Shelters would be required to have an infectious disease policy, teach their employees CPR, and, in larger shelters, provide a nurse on site 24 hours a day. Therapy would also be provided. The staff would be tasked with making sure children are enrolled in school within 24 hours of entering the shelter, and adolescents could not be moved to a new shelter when they became legal adults.

The most important part of the plan is a push for a sort of ombudsman to advocate for the residents of shelters, and an agency tasked with handling shelter complaints by the homeless regarding staff and conditions.

But in the grand tradition of ambitious bills, it has made little progress since its introduction in 2007.

“I think that homeless issues are not a high priority for City Council,” writes Brian Davis, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, in an e-mail. “I also think that it is really hard to get homeless people organized on this issue. Half the homeless population is only homeless for 30 days or less. Then most people want to get out of this horrible situation and once they are housed never want to look back on this bad time in their life again.”

Davis points to a study by the Levin College at Cleveland State that estimates there are 4,800 homeless on our streets and in our shelters at any given time, and about 20,000 a year who go without a home for some time in Cuyahoga County.

For Davis, the Homeless Congress’s efforts are a key part of the solution, and his organization has been working to build political momentum for the bill. So far, they’ve managed to garner the support of a dozen candidates for city council, three of whom are incumbents. “We hope that because we can show that nearly 2,000 homeless people voted in the 2008 election that the City Council members will start to take this group seriously.” — Niklos Salontay

Friday, August 14, 2009

BOEHNER WAS FOR "DEATH PANELS" BEFORE HE WAS AGAINST THEM

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 3:38 PM

Time's Swampland blog finds yet another way to underscore the utter lunacy of the right-wing's obsession with "death panels":

Remember the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, the one that passed with the votes of 204 GOP House members and 42 GOP Senators? Anyone want to guess what it provided funding for? Did you say counseling for end-of-life issues and care? Ding ding ding!!

Ohio's Congressman John Boehner, who helped get this crazy train rolling, voted for that bill.

I'll give the righties this much, they are motivated. Having reached the bottom, they are now furiously digging. — Frank Lewis

FAIR WARNING: GANLEY PUSHING THE LATEST TAX "REFORM" SCAM

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 8:00 AM

Among the precession of Republicans vying for Senator George Voinovich’s soon-to-be vacant seat is star car-dealer Tom Ganley. As chief of the largest automotive group in the Ohio (and perpetrator of wretch-inducing commercials), Ganley’s all about business, and what businessman-turned-politician's campaign could get rolling without a promise to overhaul the nation’s tax system?

Ganley supports “FairTax,” which is essentially a redux of Steve Forbes’s flat tax with a twist. FairTaxers wan to eliminate all income taxes — business and personal — and make up the budget void with a high sales tax instead. They'd also disband the IRS.

Supporters believe that a 23 percent sales tax (which ends up producing a 30 percent markup in traditional terms) would be sufficient to fund the government without widening the deficit, but some economists believe otherwise. The tax would be in addition to the state and local sales tax, which in Cleveland would add up to 31.25 percent, or a 46 percent markup on the price of goods.

The current tax system is progressive — those who earn more pay higher tax rates. A head of household earning between approximately $11,000 and $44,000 tithes 15 percent of their income to the government, while someone pulling down $357,000 or more owes up 35 percent to The Man.

So here's the problem with the so-called FairTax: The poor don't save much; they spend most, perhaps all of their income. So they would likely end up paying a lot more in taxes than they do now. They'd also lose the few loopholes that benefit them. For example, anyone who’s married with one child under 17 doesn’t pay taxes on the first $31,400 of income. FairTax makes no such allowances.

Meanwhile, imagine the jubilee among the wealthy over their contribution to society dropping from a 35-percent tax on their marginal income to a 23-percent tax on purchases only.

Besides pushing two words into the ever-trendy “single word separated by capitalization,” FairTax is intended to be more appealing to the masses than the ol’ flat tax by offering to mail every citizen a “prebate” to compensate for the increased burden on the poor. According to The FairTax Book, everyone would receive a prebate of up to about $185. Those who live paycheck to paycheck naturally would spend that right away, giving at least 23 percent right back.

Or possibly more. William Gale, an economist at the Brookings Institution, called the 23 percent figure a “big lie about tax reform” and predicted in 2005 that the figure would rip a $7 trillion hole in the budget over 10 years. Instead, he suggested 31 percent would be a more reasonable figure, and even more if the model takes evasion into consideration.

And why not evade? Economists and common sense agree that when taxes start to rise to that high of a level, the incentive to cheat becomes ever more tantalizing. If buying a product under the table meant making it 46 percent cheaper, there’s no denying that people would take advantage of it. Lots of people already drive out of state or to Indian reservations to buy cheaper cigarettes.

The only way to combat evasion is regulation and oversight. So while FairTax advocates dream of tearing down the IRS headquarters like the Berlin Wall, it seems delusional to believe that we’d no longer need the threat or audit and prosecution to keep people from trying to render unto their own pockets what should go to Caesar.

At MSN Money, Jeff Schnepper notes:


The biggest winners [under a FairTax system] would be most savers and investors. A consumption tax gives savers something like an unlimited-deductible individual retirement account. There would be no tax hit until the dollars were actually spent. While the money was saved or invested, it would grow fully tax-free.

Financial companies would get an enormous windfall. Most of their expenses are payroll-related, and, relatively speaking, they spend little on goods and services. Much of their profit is generated by investments. That wouldn't be taxed until spent.

And we've all seen how responsible investors and banks are when there's lots of cash sloshing around.

The transition alone is good reason to avoid FairTax. Supporters propose a five-step process but the prediction is that, as the switchover date draws near, consumer demand will explode as people stock-up and purchase goods before the taxes come into effect. Then, as the transition snaps into place, demand would collapse.

Perhaps it’s just a bad case of Have-Not Fever, but the FairTax proposition seems too simple to be realistic. To believe we can dispel the complexities of collecting taxes in such a direct way seems foolish. It’s unreasonable to believe there wouldn’t be exemptions added and changes made to the tax rate over time. At the core, it’s a system that takes a larger part from the thin wallet than the thick one. To say that such a system is fair is to argue that the poor owe the nation as much (or more) as the rich. An aspiring politician like Ganley needs to realize that supporting a plan so poorly developed shows a serious lack of intellect, a poor choice for a candidate whose career consists of a high school diploma and 47 years of automotive sales. — Niklos Salontay

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CLEVELAND SIGNS AND MORE CLEVELAND SIGNS AND, WELL, MORE CLEVELAND SIGNS

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 12:21 PM

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We're all for old signage, new signage, funky signage, and every signage in between. Old street corners that still have signs for long defunct business, old signs on the top of brick buildings throughout downtown. Love them all.

So, imagine our happiness when we stumbled upon this flickr page from ClevelandSGS. That's right. 2049 pictures of Cleveland signs.

Enjoy wasting some time. You're welcome. — Vince Grzegorek

RIGHTWINGNUTS CAN'T DERAIL LOCAL TOWNHALL (UPDATED)

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 8:54 AM

acdd/1250170813-fudgeforum1.jpg
The wildly misinformed, angry-about-they’re-not-sure-what bullies who have been trying to shout down democracy at congressional health-care town hall meetings all across the country met their match Wednesday evening on the corner of Euclid and Adelbert on the Case Western Reserve campus.

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Eleventh District Congresswoman Marcia Fudge was holding what she billed as her First Annual Congressional District Address. The "over my dead body will you give me affordable health care" brigade showed up, although their numbers were straggly compared to the dozens of health care reform supporters also standing outside with signs. A lone woman stood in front of a car on Adelbert Road, holding a sign that said “Kill the bill, not the patient.” Across the street in front of Severance Hall, a camouflage-clad, flag-waving demonstrator brandished a sign that said “Govt. is sick.” He and a handful of compatriots were surrounded and outnumbered by supporters of single-payer health care.

But when Fudge’s meeting let out, they’d been replaced by a team of LaRouchies passing out pictures of President Obama sporting a tiny Hitler moustache and dense, wordy pamphlets titled “Act Now to Stop Obama’s Nazi Health Care Plan!” The cult of former fringe presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche takes a backseat to no one when it comes to The Crazy. Even the right-wingers yelling about socialism and euthanizing the elderly steer clear.

What had originally been planned as a “state of the district” speech turned into a de facto health-care forum; all but one of the dozens of questions asked concerned health care. CWRU’s 500-capacity Ford Auditorium was packed, and it was clear from the start that the crowd was supportive of the congresswoman, who is a strong advocate of health-care reform. She said that that “will be the most important thing this congress will do,” earning a round of cheers and a handful of boos. She got the same response when she said of the wilted economy, “We didn’t get this way overnight; we won’t fix it overnight — it took eight years of destruction.”

As she spoke, she was interrupted by someone yelling about “passing a bill to kill old people.” Fudge responded, “Anyone who would believe that anyone in this country would euthanize old people has really got a problem." But the screamer kept screaming and was hauled out by a couple of cops. That pretty much put the lid on disruptive shouting.

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