What’s Best?

In a recent post I noted that the template for so many activities we humans engage in has been created by business. We have become a nation of shopkeepers governed by shopkeepers with tiny minds. I mentioned the health-care industry (note the noun) and education — which I have commented about endlessly, some might say. I should have mentioned sports, especially professional sports.

I noted repeatedly the increasing movement toward business in NCAA I sports, especially football and basketball. But I might also have noted the effects of huge amounts of money in professional sports. Because in both cases it is money that is indeed the root of the evil. I  recall a discussion I heard on ESPN recently among four men and one woman, who all agreed that the trend toward football players opting out of the meaningless Bowl Games at the end of the year is perfectly OK because these young men “must do what is best for them” — meaning, they must do whatever necessary in order to make as much money as possible in professional sports.

Now I have a habit of whistling into the wind, as some might have noted. Some will insist that I am blind to reality. But I will agree that young men should do what is best for them, and even agree that they would be wise to maximize their income in a sport that may well cripple them. But there is the fact, ignored by so many these days, that these young men do have a responsibility to their college teams and it is not clear that making the most money possible is indeed what is best for them. In any event, the trend started last year when a couple  of young men who knew they were to be high draft picks in the upcoming NFL draft refused to play in their team’s Bowl Games after the regular season ended. This year a player on the Ohio State football team chose to withdraw from the team in mid-season because he knows he will assuredly be a high draft pick and didn’t want to get hurt after returning to the team and therefore lower his chances of landing a big contract from some NFL team or other.

Coaches used to like to say, “There  is no ‘I’ in team.” But then a great many coaches jump ship whenever they get a better offer from another university and the players who sign on with them are often severely disappointed, even frustrated. They have learned to be suspicious and take promises at their face value — which value is becoming increasingly worthless. Now players can transfer from university to university and become immediately eligible to play on their new team, and, as I have noted, the really good ones feel free to quit if they think their professional futures are in jeopardy, given the violence of the game they play. To be sure there is a risk. There are millions of dollars involved. And that is the rub.

The trend toward opting out of the Bowl Games is one that the experts are convinced will grow as more and more players with potential to become highly paid professional players realize that by playing in what is in so many ways a meaningless game they would jeopardize their future wealth. All five talking heads I referred to above agree that this is coming, if it is not already here, and it is perfectly OK. They saw nothing whatever wrong with it. And this speaks volumes when it comes to understanding what is going on in our post-modern society. It is all about money. End of story.

But I will not end the story because not all things should be about money. Health care certainly should not. Education assuredly should not. And a young man or woman who plays for a collegiate sports team and accepts a full scholarship should pause before choosing to quit before their season ends — even if that season ends in a meaningless Bowl Game. Because let’s face it, all of the games are meaningless in the grand scheme of things; and the Bowl Games, as absurd as they are, are still a part of the football season and are prized by many who play the sport and are not good enough to expect a professional contract when they are finished.

In a word, there is a responsibility to the team here, a responsibility that is totally ignored because we have all become so inured to the parade of fools who sell their better selves for filthy lucre. It is not all about money. Sports are not and education and health care certainly are not. And yet the fact that we have allowed the business model to become so very prominent in our culture causes us to ignore the deeper levels of human behavior — such things as character, for example. And this seems to me to be a serious problem we might well consider as we casually dismiss the latest young man or woman who is concerned only about “what is best for them.”



Waiting For Plan C

As the country lurches toward the fiscal cliff an army of Tea Party supporters has been on the phones putting pressure on Republican representatives to reject House Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B” which was supposed to help stave off the inevitable. Bear in mind that Plan B would have, in effect, involved raising taxes on people making over $1 million and that was considered unacceptable by the Tea Party faithful. They think they can save the economy by raising taxes not on themselves but on the dwindling middle class and cutting programs such as health care and food stamps — but NOT “defense” (which is a sacred cow). Their plan is absurd, but this doesn’t deter them in the least.

One of the more disturbing facets of the fight to avoid the fiscal cliff is the amount of pressure Tea Party groups can put on the Congress. Clearly, this group is made up of the 20% of those in this country who control 93% of the wealth. As a story in HuffPost noted recently, referring to the Club for Growth, a powerful Tea Party affiliate:

“Members of Congress know we’re not afraid to get involved in a primary,” Club for Growth’s communications director, Barney Keller, told HuffPost on Thursday night. “Members know that the first thing we do is look to our scorecard, and decide who is a pro-growth vote and who isn’t. And we felt that to vote in favor [of Boehner’s plan] would be to vote for a tax increase, and against economic growth”

Talk about arrogant: if you want to keep your job you will play ball with us. And why wouldn’t the members of Congress want to “play ball”? Where else could they make the kind of money they make for doing little or nothing and voting themselves pay raises whenever they feel like it? It’s the gravy train and they want to stay on it. They are indeed single-minded in their determination to remain in office. You can’t really blame them. As HuffPost noted:

Keller was unapologetic about Club for Growth’s impact on congressional races. “The number one thing people in Congress fear is losing their jobs,” he said. “So we don’t lobby members, we help educate them. And if you look at the rising stars of the [Republican] party, it’s a lot of people who were supported by” Club for Growth.

Why do I get the feeling as I read this that the man is smirking? In any event, the notion that we can work out of the economic mess we are in by raising taxes on the dwindling middle classes and protecting the wealthy — that this will promote “economic growth” — borders on delusion. It can’t be done. To be sure, some programs will have to be cut, including (one would hope) defense spending. But the wealthy who pay very little of their income in taxes must start to pay their share or matters will continue to worsen. One does wonder if they really care.

The wealthy on average pay somewhere around 35% of their income in taxes — though exact figures are hard to come by in light of all the loopholes in the tax laws and the ways the rich have found to hide and protect their wealth. Mitt Romney, for example, was reported to have paid a mere 14% last year in income taxes on a very large income. But when we think that this country was at its most prosperous just after the two World Wars when the wealthy were paying a large portion of their income in taxes — as high as 91% in 1946! — the unwillingness of the wealthy to pay the piddling amount they are being asked to pay, even with Boehner’s anemic plan, tells us more than we want to know about their commitment to the growth of this economy.

Even if the wealthy were asked to pay as much as 70% of their income, they would still retain $300,000 on an income of $1 million. You could somehow manage to feed your family on that amount, and the wealthy make considerably more than $1 million a year. Stare at the flag and put your hand to your heart, but heaven forbid that you part with some of your money to help out your country. This is “patriotism” spelled  f-u-c-k-y-o-u. It stinks.

Death and Taxes

My mom used to say (over and over) “there’s nothing certain but death and taxes.” OK I get it. But apparently other people’s moms didn’t tell them that. Growing numbers of people in this nation want to stop taxation altogether. “Taxed Enough Already” says the group, the so-called Tea Party. And whether or not one takes the extreme view, it is certainly the case that a great many people in this country (most?) want taxes to be reduced and social programs cut to the bone. Though most I have spoken with and read insist that the bone has already been exposed, this is not adequate for those determined to cut even deeper.

The truth of the matter, has been explained by my fellow blogger “musingsofanoldfart” — a former Republican who woke up to the lies that are being broadcast by that political party (and, yes, there are lies being broadcast by the Democrats as well. It’s the name of the game these days: tell them what they want to hear and don’t worry if it isn’t true). “Musings” tells us that

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, who has measured overall taxes as a percent of GDP in 34 countries for over forty-five years, the US is one of the least taxed countries in the world. Of these 34 countries, the US ranks 32nd in terms of most taxes. Our average tax rate pf 24.1% of GDP in 2009 is almost 10%of GDP lower than the average of these 34 countries of 33.8%. When  our budget was last balanced in 2000, the year before Bush took office, our rate was still much less than the average. We also are at our lowest tax rates in over 50 years in the US. The truth is any politician can get elected saying he or she will lower taxes, yet we need sober discussions now regarding raising taxes as well as cutting spending as recommended by the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan.

It’s hard to accept that we are taxed lower than almost every other developed country because it is being drummed into our heads daily by the Tea-Partiers and their friends that our taxes are too high and need to be cut — or at least held to their present level. Why? To save each of us a few dollars every year. Are we really that selfish? Further cutting social programs that help those in need — no matter how many abuses of social programs the nay-sayers can point to — would suggest that we are a wealthy country that ignores its own citizens in need. As those in need become more numerous and more genuinely needy we begin to take on aspects of a third-world country. I cannot believe that people really want that. It is one thing to have RVs and second homes in the Berkshires; it is another to have enough money to put food on the table or have adequate health care. We are not talking about “standard of living” here, we are talking about life or death.

This country was founded on the principle that government exists for “the common good” — not the good of the 1% or the corporations that make them wealthy, or the fools who mouth platitudes about cutting taxes. All of us should want adequate health care and the knowledge that the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink are safe. Even those who have no children should want this country to have sound educational system that will turn out intelligent and informed citizens. I remember having a discussion with an elderly single women who had no children who thought she should not have to support education with her tax money. That is bullocks! We all need to support education — and welfare; and health programs, the whole ball of wax. We need it in order to be a healthy country that continues to care about “the common good” and does not place selfish interests (like saving a few tax dollars) above the interests of the whole.

Back On Board

The conservative newspaper “Wall Street Journal” recently faulted Mitt Romney for fumbling the ball on “Obamacare,” calling him “dumb” and insisting that his waffling on whether the mandate is a tax or a penalty may end up costing him the White House. They also faulted him for taking an expensive vacation at a key moment in this important race. Poor Mitt can’t win for losing.

A recent article on Huffington Post summarized the Wall Street op-ed piece and also noted that Mitt’s overall strategy is to repeatedly point to the sitting president’ failure to solve America’s economic woes. Specifically, the article says Romney’s campaign strategy so far has been to pivot all points of discussion to Obama’s failed economic record, but according to the Journal, voters would benefit from actually learning why Romney’s policies would fare any better — something his campaign has yet to elaborate on.

I am not a political strategist, but it does seem to me that voters in this country find a willingness to change one’s mind in the face of new facts a serious character flaw. As a general rule, I would not fault Romney for changing his mind unless he did it for purely political reasons — which is assuredly the case here. But then apparently I am more tolerant than most. Voters faulted George McGovern for changing his mind about Thomas Eagleton in 1972, a decision that critics said virtually assured Richard Nixon’s victory. In any event, the pattern has been fairly clear since that time: be consistent even if you are consistently wrong. Voters admire a man or woman who “sticks by their guns” even if the path they have chosen is stupid and possibly treacherous — witness George W. Bush and the “weapons of mass destruction” (which some people still think are hidden somewhere in Iraq). But I suspect voters will soon forget that Mitt has done an about-face on the mandate, that he may have fumbled the ball, because he and his team will divert their attention elsewhere.

Romney’s strategy is to simply say nothing until his opponent opens his mouth, or keep pointing an angry finger at the economy while he repeatedly insists it’s all Obama’s fault. This may in fact be a politically wise course to take, given past elections. If we have learned anything, we have learned that if a thing is repeated often enough, people will believe it. It doesn’t matter if what is repeated is right or wrong, true or false, no one will take the time to check. If they hear is often enough, it is as though it were carved in stone.

So we had best prepare ourselves for the endless repetition of the mantra: Obama is to blame for the retched economy….and he wants to raise your taxes. It will be repeated ad nauseam. In the meantime, Mitt has joined his fellows on the Republican band wagon and now insists that the mandate is a tax (which Obama has foisted on the American people) and we will soon forget that he ever thought otherwise. All we will hear is how the sitting President is to blame for the poor economy and for the thousands of Americans being out of work — though, as the above quote suggests, we should not expect this candidate to provide us with a program of his own or convince us how he would have acted other than Obama has acted — given the mess he inherited.

Proactive Court

President Obama is attempting to explain away a comment he made regarding the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision concerning Health Care. It is generally expected that the Court will take a pro-active stand on the issue of mandating health care, one of the more controversial features of the new bill. In anticipation of that decision, due in June, the President recently said: “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraintthat an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” Please note that the issue is not whether in Obama’s view the Court has the right to overturn laws that are deemed unconstitutional, but rather that they do not have the right to legislate (in effect) by overturning laws that are in fact in compliance with the Constitution. As I read the Constitution, Obama is correct.

Obama’s spokesman recently met with the press corps and spent several heated minutes trying to explain that the President wasn’t telling the court what to do, that he understood as well as anyone that the court’s job is to interpret law and determine whether laws are in compliance with the Constitution, But the President is confident that this law is in compliance and seemed to be expressing his frustration over what he anticipates the decision to be — to wit, a ruling against the mandate. It might have been wise for him to remain silent at this point.

In any event, earlier in the week, former President Clinton spoke out in favor of the law and quite candidly said that any attempt by the court to overturn the law would be politically rather than judicially motivated. As he noted, “Nobody knows how well it’s [the mandate] going to work, because it’s just now being implemented. But I don’t think it was unconstitutional in any way, shape or form. Even in the 1790s, George Washington mandated that shipping companies insure their employees, he signed a bill mandating that able-bodied citizens have firearms in their home because they thought the British were coming again, John Adams signed a bill to mandate that individual seamen have hospitalization insurance. To me, it’s hard to take the constitutional argument seriously, so I think there’s a little more politics.” Washington’s mandating the carrying of firearms came as a result of the unwillingness of the Quakers to bear arms in spite of the fact that the Bill of Rights guaranteed them that right. Those who holler loudest about the “right to bear arms” ignore how closely tied that right was to the felt necessity of an armed population in a country without a standing army.

In any event, a mandate is not a new thing, going back as it does to George Washington. But, as Clinton noted in his remarks, in appearing before the Court the government failed to point out relevant precedents in the law that would allow one to see that the Health Care mandate is not in any way unconstitutional. This may turn out to have been a capital blunder, if it is true. But as it happens, the court seems to be blatantly political these days, insisting in both Bush vs. Gore in 2000 and more recently in Citizens United that their role is to force their political ideology on the commonwealth rather than seek to determine on a case by case basis whether the legislative body is doing its work properly, as determined by the Constitution. It does appear we are at a most interesting period in our history and can anticipate a new chapter in the workings of the American government, though I confess it’s not one I am eager to read.