I'm not going to drag this one out, because it doesn't need an essay: with September's arrival, we've gotten a series of proposals from the President on "job creation" and "deficit reduction." They're terrible, and really, more of the same; which, you'd think they'd have figured out by now, are too obviously designed to bait Republicans, and to go nowhere fast.
Of all the proposals, though, the one that stands out to me as doubling down on silliness and incoherence is the now poorly named "Buffett Tax" proposal for millionaires.
The name, ostansibly, comes from the fact that Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed for the New York Times saying people like him (which, really, we can count on slightly more than two hands) should pay more in taxes, and that he should pay more in taxes than, say, his secretary. All I can say is... there's a fun office to work in. But never mind.
Calling the tax the "Buffett Tax" just underlines the silliness - you could, just as easily have called it the "Koch Brothers Tax" if you wanted to make a pointed commentary on people with filthy loot that should be subject to more taxes, and heck, I bet that polls better, too. But here's a quick explanation of why the tax is so silly: most millionaires (and billionaires) do not have salaries over $1 million. The problem with taxing really high levels of "income" is just that - the definition of income. Most wealth is inhereited (hence, the reason to revisit an estate tax), and most highly paid executives don't make $1 million or more in salary. Executive pay "packages" are combinations of salary, benefits and things like stock transfers that aren't taxed as income.
I used to be an executive assistant, and one of the eye-opening things I learned there was about "deferred compensation", which is, in essence, the stretching of salary payments into escrow accounts available to executives in the furture. It amounts, basically, to a tax deferment, because the compensation isn't income until the person receives it.
Stuff like deferred compensation, too, is why this tax idea is just kind of dumb. I don't like being cynical - or worse, a cynical realist - but I've been around enough to know that the truism about rich people having the time and resources to avoid taxes is largely accurate. Raise taxes on very high incomes... and you're merely shifting money away from things defined as "income." One basic problem with taxing very wealthy hedge fund managers, for insatnce, is a hole in the tax code that's allowing them to claim profits from their funds as something other than income. Congressional will to close that obvious loophole, which affects a really small number of really wealthy people, has lagged. Why? Oh, come on.
And not to glom onto right wing assailment of Warren Buffett, but look, the man brought it on himself: for one thing, it's perfectly true that Warren Buffett could send the government more money in tax revenues anytime he wants. No one's stopping him. Second, Buffett's claims that he pays so little in taxes begs the question... just what do his tax forms look like? Don't raise questions you don't really want to answer later. And just as pointedly, if Warren Buffett is using a bunch of loopholes to redefine his own income as not income... then taxing his "income" at a higher rate isn't really the issue.
It's the loopholes.
I've said before, and I'll keep saying it until good sense takes over and liberals stop playing dopey games on taxes: the problem with tax revenue that we're having is a direct of the Bush tax cuts. Not because they lowered rates for the top brackets, but because they artificially lowered rates for all of us. All the Bush tax cuts should be ended. Everyone's taxes should go up. After that, we can revisit notions of how to better address tax issues on the welathiest among us... which probably means tax reforms to close loopholes, not false fixes not raising rates on income that basically create the incentive to hide it.
And finally, one other controversial sentiment: there's nothing wrong with being rich. And rich liberals know it, too.
A friend at work asked me about reading my blog - since I try to be anonymous, I don't do a lot of personal promotion of this place - and I realized I wasn't so much worried whether he'd like the content or not... as much as I was a little depressed that lately there hasn't been any.
As always, I have a million reasons not to write: I've been busy, there's not much to write about, politics is depressing, who's really reading this anyway... and on and on. These are, in the end, excuses. The who-what=when=where-how issues of writing are details. The real question is why. Why write? Why have anything to say at all?
The passion I have for writing, the passion to write... ebbs and flows. In these economically hard times, writing for no pay is, in many ways a luxury, a luxury I can't always afford. But the choice not to write isn't about circumstance, so much as its about choices. Lately, I've chosen not to write. Because the passion to express myself has waned.
It's hard to explain how these ebbs and flows are, at either end, temporary. I can't not write for too long; it makes me crazy, I start to feel stuck. But writing round the clock - especially when I really have nothing to say - strikes me as pointless. I don't do one sentence posts. I don't do "here's a funny video" most of the time. Or tell you how someone else has written everything I wanted to say. I'm arrogant enough about my writing to believe that no one, really, says it quite like, or even as well as, I do.
Restarting this time has been harder than usual, though not utterly impossible. The sense of slight defeat - why bother - hangs around more lately, the wall is higher, harder to climb. I have to find a reason for writing that suits me, ultimately; it's nice that people want to read what I write (but then, in my head, I'm going, "of course you will"), but that's not why I have to want to write it. I don't write for the validation... not anymore, anyway; if I ever did, I suppose, it was in high school, less in college, much less out in the world. I worked really hard to get this writing thing down. Mission accomplished.
So, yeah, I'm sorry for the general silences, the way life intervenes, the ebbs and flows of my passions and the stuff I have to work out in my head, by myself. I don't expect people care about that, or my excuses. Who cares? I do. And that's the reason I have to keep doing this.
Unlike many, and like many others, I feel September 11th ought to be treated as not another day. As hard as it is, as painful as it can be, this is a day to remember what happened, now ten years ago, to pause and reflect, to grieve and yes, move on.
Today, I will be going in to work, though I had requested the day off. It's not a big deal, it's a schedule, and weekends are hard to cover in my store, and I've had the morning to watch the ceremonies at Ground Zero (how odd - I really never say "Ground Zero" much, though, of course, it undeniably is that). Still, I think going in to work, treating this as just another day, hawking coffee and pastries to the masses, is just inappropriate.
I understand the instinct to try and put 9/11 and what happened that day behind us. It was one day, life goes on, there's so little use in the end for sadness and grieving, it's time to move on. We all grieve and react in our own ways, and no one, really, should tell another what to do or how to do it. That's one of the painful parts of watching the families of those who died on 9/11 - who's place is it to say to them "we need to move on" or "you need to get over this"?
Last night, on cue, MSNBC replayed a somewhat edited version of the Today show from the morning of 9/11. I've watched it a couple of times, at least parts of it (and also a replay of coverage from local channel WABC), and I'm struck, always, by how the events of that day unfolded in real time. We had no idea, really, what we were watching unfold. We didn't know, as the hole in the North Tower burned, that for most of the people above the fire, it was already over. We couldn't imagine that, in about three hours, there would be no more World Trade Center.
After a few minutes of watching last night, I gave up. It was too sad, dredged up to many emotions. I've been feeling, all week, that the inundation of memories and articles and TV reports was too much. I picked up a paper one day last week and started an article about the completion of the 9/11 memorial. I was weeping by the second paragraph.
I understand the desire to move on, I share the need to look away. But what that amounts to, I think, is pretending. Let's pretend that things are all better now. Let's pretend life is all back to normal, whatever normal is, in the life of the economic collapse that 9/11 helped create. Let's pretend we can work and shop and travel and do everything we ever did just the way we always did it. And maybe, just maybe, all the sad stuff, and the grief, and the remnants of buildings and lives and senses of security destroyed will just go away.
Since 9/11, I've developed a renewed appreciation for, of all things, Pearl Harbor Day. In my youth, I understood that Pearl Harbor was a key moment in the hostory of World War II and America's involvement in it. But since 9/11, I've realized why - because of the way Pearl Harbor forced us, as a nation, to face our vulnerability. And on another, vastly more important level, it was an enormous tragedy where thousands of lives were lost, for no good reason at all.
We can pretend that 9/11 is something other than what it is - a day when our nation, especially it's largest city and our nation's capital both, has to stop and remember a tragedy, a disaster, a dramatic event. We don't have to make a memorial day for 9/11 into a national day of remembrance, though, in fact, that's what we do. We can pretend that it doesn't matter and we can pretend to move on.
I'm just not a big fan of pretending.
Because Paisley Park is in my heart:
The Family, Nothing Compares 2U. I am one of the few people who, when Sinead O'Connor released her version, said "Oh, what a nice idea to remake that song" while other people looked blank. The Family was a studio band created by Prince out of the remnants of The Time, when Morris Day left to go solo (and shortly after Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis went off to form Flyte Time). Paul Peterson, renamed St. Paul (Minneapolis and Christ references in six letters!), served as the lead singer, backed by Susannah Melvoin (Wendy's twin sistrer). In reality, Prince wrote and recorded much of the album himself, then added the vocal tracks from St. Paul and Susannah. If you listen careffully, you can hear him, quite obviously in the backup, as well as on much of the rest of the album (Titled "The Fsmily" - get it, the family album?). As I was deeply into Prince a the time (more on that in a minute), I am one of the few owners of the album, and this song really stuck with me. And while I think Sinead did a lovely job, Peterson's yearning vocal, and Susannah's ghostly gospel backup strike me as more mood appropriate.
Chaka Khan (featuring Melle Mel and Syevie Wonder), I Feel For You. This too is a remake, Prince's version having been on "For You" years before. That's a nice version with a striking new wave vibe, but in the hands of Chaka's longtime produce Arif Marden, the song became a mini-opera of all that she is capable of doing. One of th earliest pop hits to incorporate rap seamlessly into the mix, I Feel For You didn't quite sound like anything else at the time, nothing like Chaka's previous recordings, and was one of those near perfect dance records that didn't really need a remix.
Bangles, Manic Monday. A lot of people object to "C'mon honey, let's go make some noise" as a reference to sex; I find it clever. Originally written for Apollonia Six, Prince eventually gave the song to the Bangles, since he liked their sound (and, it's suggested, because he had a crush on Susanna Hoffs). The song is actually credited to "Christopher", referring to the Christopher Tracy character Prince Payed in Under the Cherry Moon (yeah, I saw that, too).
Sheila E, The Glamorous Life. Although I had already been listening to and liking Prince (thanks to early MTV, we got exposed to 1999 and Little Red Corvette), it was Purple Rain that turned me into a rabid fan. In large part, it was because Prince was really the first celebrity I ever thought I looked like (Michael Jackson, at his Thriller moment, I got a lot of. I didn't agree). None of which necessarily explains why I so completely got into The Glamorous life, except that Prince was clearly all over making Sheila Escovedo a star, and by that time, I'd follow him anywhere. What else can you say? The Glamorous Life is just about perfect, a simmering, percolating piece of pop salsa that's a reminder that the best dance music comes from a cracking band, who could probably keep going for hours, not some computer generated remix.
Vanity 6, Nasty Girl. The Glamorous Life, by the way, was originally written for Vanity 6, a reminder of just how much importance Prince put on lead singer Vanity. Watch her in the Soul Train Clip to se just how assured she is, given a deeply smutty lyric, and her relative inexperience. The whole idea for Vanity 6 is indeed sexist and dreadful, and Nasty Girl is, at heart, pure stripper music. But I have a decidedly soft spot for stripper music, the frank expression of sexuality done to a raunchy beat (at heart, that's what I really like about jazz, and even the best Broadway show tunes). And the song, for all its suggestiveness, is actually about freely expressing fantasies (Do you think I'm a nasty girl?). The answer, after all, could be no.
Prince, Adore. In the end, what I like best about Prince is not the obvious; not the When Doves Cry and Let's Go Crazy, the 1999 and Raspberry Beret. What I love is that the deeper you go, the more there is to discover. Adore is tucked away on Sign O' The Times, an enormous double record that is really probably three albums of material, but not enough of any of them separately. There's a dark, new music album about social problems (the title track), the usual sex and dance anthems (U Got the Look, I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man), and then there's a whole gospel vibe as well, which is where this ace slow jam comes in. A complete mash note, Adore simmers away as Prince begs and pleads for the love of a girl, but then he drifts away on repeating how much he adores the girl until "Adore you" becomes a whole gospel chorus. It's as good, better really, than Marvin Gaye at his "Let's Get It On" best, with similar payoffs.
For months, a certain sort of liberal - the sort who probably voted for Obama, but has become disillusioned by his Presidency - has insisted that it's long time for the President to "bring it" to the Republicans in Congress. Give them the "what for", that sort of thing. This, they reason, would be him "showing some spine," "standing up for our core principles," and "making Republicans squirm."
On style and tone points, I suspect the President gave these party stalwarts some reason to be pleased. He was angry. He said things were urgent. He said now is the time to act. Bring it, spine, giving them the what for... all of those boxes strike me as checked.
But the speech was a dud, and the real measure of its success - whether anything like his proposals will pass Congress, and whether those proposals, or anything else, can move economic indicators in a more positive direction - is already that the whole exercise was more posturing than progress. All the people who said the President needed to "be bold" kind of got their wish: his proposals had a larger price tag, and more elements than expected. But those elements, all of them, were predictable, modest proposals that amount to mostly stuff that's been tried and that hasn't done all that much. The President's problem, I'd argue, has nothing to with boldness, or giving the old what-for: his problem is a lack of creative thinking when it comes to our economic problems, an unwillingness to take on the difficult topics, and a distant, chilly style of leadership that (still) frustrates people who, even as they like competence, need that sense that a leader understands what regular people experience in their everyday lives.
Perhaps the most nervy element of the President's approach was claiming that his proposals were "paid for" in this era of Washington trying urgently to look busy on cutting some spending somewhere while in fact actualy cutting very little. Rather than specify cuts that actually balanced the plan"s approximately $450 billion cost, he said, 'here, Super-Committee, just add this to your total." Given that the "Super Committee" is already likely an exercise in failure, the farcical nature of the proposal was really just icing on an already absurd cake.
The President, and his team, it seems clear, have settled on a reelection strategy that amounts to "yeah, it's bad... and what are you gonna do, have those crazy Republicans take over? Is that really a solution?" A, it's thnd as I keep saying... that's probably enough to win on (Lord knows, when it's that or Rick Perry).
I didn't bother writing much about the run-up to the speech, and in its specifics, I generally couldn't care less: while there will be a lot of debate and hand-wringing about various aspects (he keeps saying he'd change Medicare!), the cold reality is Republicans want to say "no" and The President wants to turn to the public and say, "see? they keep saying no." QED.
We don't need a "jobs speech" or even, really, a "jobs plan"; the ability of government to really affect employment for the masses is actually quite minimal, hopeless really in these terrible times. What we needed, last night, was a President who took the need for action and refocused the "jobs issue" into the issues that make up our lingering economic problems: the housing crisis we still can't unravel, the mortgage and lending crisis that still hamstrings banking and finance, and the need to not "eviscerate" Dodd-Frank, as Republicans seem to have settled on campaigning with, but taking Dodd-Frank's modest good points and building better finance regulation off of them. The business world knows this, the financial world knows it, and a lot of government leaders know it. We, the general public, know it too. One way, or another, that's probably how things will unfold - one way or another, housing will get sorted out, foreclosures settled, mortgages unwound. We can do it long and slow and painfully, or we can, with some government leadership, take a large painful hit now or very soon. In the long run, that's how we get back to an economy that creates more jobs, and saves some too. Right now, though, the job the President apparently wants to save is his own. And that, of course, is always another way to go.
Just for the record - even my mother, for goodness' sake, accuses me of right wing sympathies - as a traditional liberal, I find the experience of watching Republicans debating things excruciating. Always have. It's like a competition to see who can say the worst most possible thing. And then the wrong one wins.
So as much as I can say interesting things about last night's contrived (I mean, they all are, these days) debate on MSNBC, I do like context: anytime I call one of these people interesting, or thought provoking... let's remember, I won't be voting for any of them. And last night's debate was as good an example as any about why.
Oh, let's start with the easy ones:
I would include Rick Perry in my list of the easily dismissed, but I think Republicans may be too distracted to see Perry's a disaster just yet. Once "Ponzi scheme" fell out of Perry's mouth in reference to Social Security, it was pretty much all over, though some diehards - who, after all, actually believed George W. Bush might actually succeed in privatizing Social Security (and some still do, bless) - will cling to the idea that Perry will be rewarded as a Brave Truth Teller. Trust Mitt Romney on that one: no, he won't. The reason we have an "entitlement spending problem" (which is almost entirely about Medicare) is because older voters are very clear that anyone who threatens Medicare or Social Security will be punished. And Rick Perry will be, mark my words. Especially by older Republican women.
Of the other three, I'd say they were, in their ways, more promising than any of the others: keep your eye on Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann and Mitt Romney, because at this point, this is all the GOP has got. Gingrich, for his part, seemed to find that comfortable place where he chides the "liberal" media (effectively, I thought), for not even contemplating another point of view, while challenging right wing true believers to think differently about major issues. Gingrich may have been technically incorrect accusing Ben Bernanke of inflationary measures as Fed Chief, but his larger point was strikingly confrontational towards a piece of business world orthodoxy that deserves it: the secrecy surrounding the Fed and its actions is counter to a free society. On immigration, even on education, Gingrich was much less orthodox and much more willing to think creatively than his opponents, and he was a reminder, however small, that Republicans can be generators of ideas (even, as I said, if they're bad ones).
Mitt Romney, I think, made about as solid a case as he's ever going to that this is his time to be the national candidate; he played it safe, he made it clear that this was about who can replace Barack Obama (not who can show the right the love they feel they've been denied), and he both made no real gaffes and effectively boxed Perry with some sharp retorts. Romney will never entirely captivate the right, and this country is, I still think, in no mood to elect a Mormon as President (yes, I said it); but Romney's the closest thing the Republicans have to a serious candidate. And either they get that... or this dalliance with Rick Perry will just wreck them.
Which is why, unlike many, I suspect that reports of Michelle Bachmann's death are premature. Perry alienated people last night - whether it was older voters on Social Security, or the quiet coalition of left and right who find "whoot whoot" cheering for the death penalty (and, in particlar, the Texas model of heavy use of it) off putting. Yes, much of the loudest revulsion is on the left (and thus irrelevant... though this is why serious heads are probably shaking "no" thinking about Perry's chances in a general election, all across the northeast and west coast), but even some death penalty supporting righties found last night's cheering unseemly, and Perry's engaging and encouraging it more problem than solution. And if some of the deepest conservatives leave Perry, where, really, can they go?
In a word, Bachmann, who also made no gaffes last night, and repeatedly reinforced her real appeal with folksy (even, dare we say, Reaganesque) reminders that the issues we deal with are about how politics and government affect ordinary people's lives. She personalized the unemployment story, the spending debate, the health care discussion, and even education, with reminders of her conversations with real people on the campaign trail, and related them, personally, to her own experiences as a parent and a working woman. She also managed, more effectively than even Romney, to put Perry deeply on the defensive about the HPV vaccine, connecting the questions about big pharma money and parental rights in a way that may not attract liberals, but touches a real nerve on the right.
All of which, I point out, makes Bachmann attractive to a segment of voters that Republican men still take for granted: conservative women. Bachmann relates to suburban women in a way the others don't, and her low key, personalized approach is something that many women candidates have deployed effectively against men they run against - never mind the yelling and the posturing... I know that you have a family and are trying to put food on the table. Compared to Perry's swaggering assertions that people like their low rent, under minimum wage lives without health insurance in Texas, Bachmann's referencing of high unemployment numbers for black and Hispanic youth as unacceptable seemed way more sensitive, and sensible. And my bet is, people noticed. And my other bet is... those people vote in Republican primaries.
Of course, as a liberal.. what do I know? I think the segment of the right that simply loathes Obama on every level (we're long past the point where it's just cause he's black... it's everything, to these people) wants a fire breather who will knock heads and take names, and, in his way, Perry got a bit of that out there last night (though, honestly, that Texan swagger thing just struck me as jarringly off pitch on him). And maybe that's good enough. But for all the bravado, he hedged on specifics, wobbled on obvious challenges (you can't, on the one hand, be as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the science of cancer and vaccines, and at the same time mouth the right's platitudes against evolution and climate science and be serious), and let others overtake him on issue after issue (I mean, when even Rick Santorum can seem better on international relations and anti-terror security, you're a bit of a washout). Compared to that, Michelle Bachmann's midwestern common sense sounding approaches to excoriating Obama may seem tired and a little old news (and, in the end, who cares if Romney is just playing them off one another to clear his way?). And maybe, the GOP Establishment can get their way and successfully use Bachmann to marginalize Palin, and use Perry to stiffen Romney's resolve.
In the end, all of this is details, and much of it matters not a whit - virtually nothing heard onstage last night (except a few of Gingrich's more provocative assertions) amounts to an especially compelling argument against reelecting Barack Obama; and much of last night's worst rhetoric was probably the cold water face splash much of the angry left deserves - if not Obama, it's one of these folks, and that's the bottom line choice you make. What wasn't said last night - the liberal responses to our economic concerns, our health care costs, our approach to international issues, just for starter - is probably more significant to how voters will decide than much of what was said. Conservatives complain - even now - that "the media" squashes their message. Last night was a reminder that the right has well over a year, almost all to themselves, to lay out their best case. And, I'd point out, last night is a good example of just how lousy - and how debatable - their best case is.
And that, really, is why we still face the grim likelihood that the net result next November is four more grim years of an Obama Administration that we may not love, but given the choices...