Tag Archives: states

Calling the IDF

State prisons keep botching executions of inmates, prolonging death to obscene lengths of time such as nearly two hours in Arizona. How hard is it to kill a person? Israel has killed 1500 Gazans, all accidentally? Surely there’s a way to turn two wrongs into a right.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Dumbistan

Dumbistan

Silicon Valley zillionaires feel entitled. They like to get everything their way. They order off the menu. Steve Jobs, who famously parked across two handicapped spaces, prompted a note riffing on Apple’s famous advertising slogan: “Park different.” So it was bound to a matter of time — a short time — before they began screwing around with politics, and doing it in their usual brash, short-sighted way.

Timothy Draper made his money the old-fashioned way: his father made a bunch of smart investments that paid off. Like most members of the American nobility, being born at mile 25 ½ in the marathon of life has convinced Draper that he knows best how to cure everything that ails California:

Split the state into six smaller states.

Draper has submitted 1.3 million signatures to state election officials, which allowing for disqualified signatures will probably be enough to meet the 807,615-signature requirement to place his referendum — the Chinese Communist Party would call his idea “splittism” — on the ballot for consideration by voters in November 2016.

California, Draper says, is too big to not fail. With six smaller states governed from six new capitals, he argues, these state governments will be closer to the people — geographically, anyway. Personally, I don’t see the logic. If geographic proximity led legislatures to take better care of constituents, wouldn’t the city governments of state capitals be cleaner, safer and less corrupt than cities and towns further away from legislators’ offices? From Sacramento to Austin to Harrisburg to Albany, however, there is no evidence of that.

Patrick McGreevy writes in The Times:

A Field Poll in February found that 59% of California voters oppose a breakup of the state, Maviglio noted, and the strategist predicted the business community and Democratic and Republican leaders will will campaign against it. “There is no groundswell of support  for this,” said Maviglio. California, he said, “is going to bea laughing stock on [TV comedy shows, including] Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman because of this idea. For anyone considering investment in our state, this raises a question of uncertainty.”

Even if voters approve the ballot measure, breaking up California would have to win approval of Congress, which he said is doubtful. “Is Congress going to give California 10 more senators?” Maviglio asked.

The Republican House? Give Democratic California 10 more senators? Probably not.

So this is a perfect referendum: except for its dubious constitutionality, political unpopularity and almost certain unfeasibility. Which makes me wonder: who are the 1.3 million Californians who signed Draper’s petitions? Sure, I know that voting to put something on the ballot isn’t the same thing as turning up to vote and then supporting a measure. Still, some ideas are so dumb we shouldn’t have to waste our time discussing them in the first place — and this one clearly qualifies.

Which has me thinking: maybe these people need a place all to themselves.

A dumb place.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Why split Calif. into only six states? Go libertarian all the way!

40,000,000 Californias Can't Be Wrong

Before now I was unclear on why California should be divvied up into six smaller states. But I didn’t feel bad. Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist billionaire guy who is trying to collect enough signatures to put a California Balkanization proposition on the ballot, seemed unclear about his idea too.

Thanks for George Skelton’s column, however, Draper has finally shed some light on why California should fade into history, replaced by six new states (assuming Congress were to admit them to the Union), one of which would be called, um, Jefferson.

Skelton explains: “Draper’s split-up-California proposal, he contends, would result in more local control and focus on regional problems.”

Local control! Bien sur.

Draper may or may not be nuts, but you can’t reflexively dismiss the argument that Sacramento may be a too far away to understand the issues affecting people 600 miles away in Calexico.

But that’s where I get stuck.

If more local control is better, and if the way to get more local control is to divide the state into smaller statelets, the question locally follows: why six? Why not seven or eight?

Connecticut is a small state. It’s well run. Why not cut California into 49 Connecticut-sized states?

Actually, scratch that “well run” part. The Nutmeg State ranks 41st out of 50.

Um, Rhode Island? Smallest of them all?

Number 47.

Anyway.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there was evidence to support the notion that smaller is better. Where does it stop? Why not declare every one of California’s 38 million people the sole citizen of their own state, with their home their capitals? With 76 million United States Senators, that would give The States Formerly Known as California serious juice in Congress.

(Draper argues that ex-California would have 12 Senators, which would be better than two. Though he doesn’t explain why they’d necessarily cooperate with each other, what with having gone their separate ways in the first place specifically because they don’t have enough in common to stay together.)

Speaking of inconvenient truths, few people have brought up the fact that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow new states to be created by splitting up existing states (as happened, for example, when West Virginia left Virginia) without approval of Congress. With the Senate controlled by Democrats, it’s unlikely they’d sign off on a new configuration that would add a net of Republican seats.

Everything said, I don’t know if splitting the state would be a net benefit or net disaster. What I find fascinating is the transparently faulty logic being floated for a project with breathtaking implications — from a man who’s obviously smart enough to know better.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Phony Budget Crisis

Forget Austerity. Tax the Rich.

Everywhere you look, from the federal government to the states to your hometown, budget crises abound. Services are being slashed. Politicians and pundits from both parties tell us that the good times are over, that we’ve got to start living within our means.

It’s a lie.

Two case studies have made news lately: California, where new/old governor Jerry Brown is trying to close a $25 billion shortfall with a combination of draconian cuts in public services and a series of regressive tax increases, and Wisconsin, where right-winger Scott Walker says getting rid of unions would eliminate the state’s $137 million deficit.

Never mind the economists, most of whom say an economic death spiral is exactly the worst possible time for government to cut spending. Pro-austerity propaganda has won the day with the American public. A new Rasmussen poll funds that 58 percent of likely voters would approve of a shutdown until Democrats and Republicans can agree on what spending to cut.

The budget “crisis” is a phony construction, the result of right-wing “starve the beast” ideology. There is plenty of money out there—but the pols don’t want it.

There is no need to lay off a single teacher, close a single library for an extra hour, or raise a single fee by one red cent.

Every government can not only balance its budget, but wind up with a surplus.

The solution is simple: tax the rich.

Over the last 50 years tax rates for the bottom 80 percent of wage earners have remained almost static. Meanwhile the rich have received tax cut after tax cut after tax cut. For example, the rate paid by the top 0.01 percent—people who currently get more than $6.5 million a year—fell by half (from 70 to 35 percent).

Times are tough. Someone has to pay. Why not start with those who can most afford it?

Europe has the world’s best food, its best healthcare system and its best vacation policy. It also has one of the fairest ways to generate revenue for government: a wealth tax. In Norway, for example, you pay one percent of your net worth in addition to income tax.

What if we imposed a Norwegian-style wealth tax on the top one percent of U.S. households? We’re not talking upper middle class here: the poorest among them is worth a mere $8.3 million. This top one percent owns 35 percent of all wealth in the United States.

“Such a wealth tax…would raise $191.1 billion each year (one percent of $19.1 trillion), a significant attack on the deficit,” Leon Friedman writes in The Nation. “If we extended the tax to the top 5 percent, we could raise $338.5 billion a year (one percent of 62 percent of $54.6 trillion).”

But that’s just the beginning. Wealthy individuals are nothing next to America’s money-sucking corporations.

Business shills whine that America’s corporate tax rate—35 percent—is one of the world’s highest. But that’s pure theory. Our real corporate rate—the rate companies actually pay after taking advantages of loopholes and deductions—is among the world’s lowest. According to The New York Times, Boeing paid a total tax rate of 4.5 percent over the last five years. (This includes federal, state, local and foreign taxes.) Yahoo paid seven percent. GE paid 14.3 percent. Southwest Airlines paid 6.3 percent. “GE is so good at avoiding taxes that some people consider its tax department to be the best in the world, even better than any law firm’s,” reports the Times‘ David Leonhardt. “One common strategy is maximizing the amount of profit that is officially earned in countries with low tax rates.”

America’s low effective corporate tax rates have left big business swimming in cash while the country goes bust. As of March 2010 non-financial corporations in the U.S. had $26.2 trillion in assets. Seven percent of that was in cash.

The national debt is $14.1 trillion.

Which is a lot. And, you see, entirely by choice.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hope and Change? Not for Americans

Turmoil from Mideast to Midwest

If irony were money we’d be rich.

“You’ve got to get out ahead of change,” President Obama lectured a week ago. “You can’t be behind the curve.” He was, of course, referring to the Middle East. During the last few weeks there has been a new popular uprising every few days: Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya.

And now, Wisconsin.

In Madison, where a new Republican governor wants to gut the rights of state workers to form unions and negotiate for higher wages, tens of thousands of protesters have filled the streets and sat in the State Capitol for days. “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison these days,” said Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Revolutionary foment is on the march around the globe, but Mr. Hopey Changey is nowhere to be found now that it’s here in the U.S. Whatever happened to “get ahead of change?” What’s good for the Hosni isn’t good for the Barry.

Deploying his customary technocratic aloofness in the service of the usual screw-the-workers narrative, President Obama sided with the union-busters: “Everybody has to make some adjustments to the new fiscal realities,” he scolds.

“Everybody,” naturally, does not include ultrarich dudes like our multi-millionaire president. Obama, who declared a whopping $5.5 million in annual income for 2009 (the last year available), has neither reduced his salary nor donated a penny of his $7.7 million fortune to the Treasury to help adjust to those “new fiscal realities.”

Hard times, doncha know, are for the little people. “We had to [my italics] impose a freeze on pay increases for federal workers in the next two years as part of my overall budget freeze,” said Obama. “I think those kinds of adjustments are the right thing to do [in Wisconsin].”

“Had to.” Interesting pair of words. They imply that there was no other choice. What a brazen lie.

Three more words: Tax. The. Rich. Rich people and corporations are making out like bandits. If they paid their fair share, there’d be no need to cut budgets.

“Adjustments.” How bloodless. For normal people, Herr President, losing two percent of one’s pay is not a mere adjustment. It hurts.

Obama’s grandstanding had-to freeze on federal pay will save $5 billion over two years. Which is nothing. That’s what the Pentagon chucks down the Iraq and Afghanistan ratholes in a single week.

The federal deficit is $14 trillion. That’s $14,000 billion. Obama’s federal pay freeze, which amounts to a piddling four hundredths of one percent, is empty symbolism.

As the striking members of the PATCO air traffic controllers union learned in 1981, higher wages and working conditions are for foreigners, not Americans. Ronald Reagan had nothing but praise for Solidarity in Poland (declaring that “the right to belong to a free trade union” was “one of the most elemental human rights”).

At the same time he was defending Polish workers Reagan fired all of America’s 11,345 striking air traffic controllers and ordered their union decertified.

All political systems are built on contradictions that eventually lead to their downfall. The U.S. relies on a whopping chasm between soaring rhetoric (freedom, democracy, individual rights) and brutish reality (preemptive war, supporting dictators, torture, spying on citizens)—a gap that is so wide and so glaring that it is amazing anyone ever takes the propaganda seriously.

A recent report in The New York Times slathers on a rich quadruple serving of syrupy irony. The Obama Administration asked the CIA to prepare a secret memo about the revolutions in the Middle East, specifically analyzing “how to balance American strategic interests and the desire to avert broader instability against the democratic demands of the protesters.”

What, exactly, are those “strategic interests”? Business. Dictators cut sweetheart deals with big corporations that donate to the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Democracy—real democracy, the kind people are fighting for in Bahrain and Madison, is incompatible with free-market capitalism.

Which is what union members in Wisconsin, as well as those of us who don’t belong to unions but understand that we would be working 100-hour weeks in death-trap factories without them, see clearly. The American Dream is just that— a dream. And it’s not for Americans.

Obama’s statement about the Arab autarchies is astonishingly tone deaf to realities here at home. “I think that the thing that will actually achieve stability in that region is if young people, if ordinary folks, end up feeling that there are pathways for them to feed their families, get a decent job, get an education, aspire to a better life,” he said. “And the more steps these governments are taking to provide these avenues for mobility and opportunity, the more stable these countries are.”

Well, yes.

According to a recent Bloomberg National poll, most American adults believe that their children will have worse lives than they do.

That’s true even about those who have all the so-called advantages.

At this writing the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 80.3 percent.

How will they pay their loans?

The rate is even higher for other young adults.

In a way, the unemployed and underemployed should thank Obama and the plutocrats he helps protect. The ruling classes’ shortsighted refusal to give up some of the loot they’ve stolen will soon bring about the real changes Americans require and deserve.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL