Posts Tagged ‘Bush Tax Cuts’

John Buchanan taking on the funeral industry

A friend wrote the other day to ask if my dad had been on the Blacklist.

My friend had been reading about America’s waltz with fascism during the 50s when demagogic politicians and rightwing zealots attempted to ruin the lives of show folk, teachers and other public figures — sometimes with great success– for being a little too free in the Land of the Free. Dad was a professor and locally high-profile lefty political organizer/activist, and my friend figured my father had at some point endured the wrath of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s merry band of commie hunters. He hadn’t. Dad did have problems with cops and feds later on, but in the 50s he was still in his pre-activism stage, just settling into his new job teaching at Pacoima Junior High in the San Fernando Valley, going to grad school and helping mom raise my sister and me.  The activism that would become central to his life was still a few years off. My buddy’s email got me thinking about my father’s life choice, though. What changed? What inspired this mild-mannered, soft-spoken, Mr. Chips-type academic to become a full-throated crusader for peace and social justice?

The Bandleader and the Bastard

Though dad and I never talked much about his political awakening period, I’m pretty sure it began during the civil rights era. I was about six years old when I began hearing dad talk about the plight of Negroes. Even at my tender age I noticed that TV images of Dixie cops and clan types beating up dark-skinned people would send my father into a funk. He would get very quiet. Then he’d talk to my sister and me about how immoral it was to mistreat people because of their skin color. He told us that we should always stand up to bullies of all kinds, whether they were attacking us or others. To illustrate his point he would often tell us about the time during World War II when he and mom went to see the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in mom’s hometown, Great Falls, Montana. While the band was playing, someone in the audience yelled “nigger” at Dorsey’s only black musician. Dorsey stopped the orchestra mid-song and the crowd went silent. He called out into the microphone, “You! Hey you. Yeah, you in the yellow tie.” The heckler was trying to scamper away into the crowd but couldn’t get around the throng in front of the bandstand. He finally looked up at Dorsey, who was shaking with anger and pointing down at him like a vengeful god with a trombone. Unfortunately for the yellow-tied bigot, the black trumpeter happened to be a good friend of Dorsey’s and had just returned from duty in the Pacific, where he’d been wounded. According to dad, Dorsey went crazy, yelling into the microphone about his friend’s heroism, then verbally filleting the bigot, whom he called a stupid, un-American bastard. At the end of his rant, Dorsey ordered the guy out of the dance hall and refused to continue the show until he left. Whether for noble cause or the fact that the crowd was ready to jitterbug and had shelled out good money to see Dorsey’s whole show, many in the audience sided with Dorsey, booing and hissing the guy out of the dance hall. The show went on.

Though the full meaning of the tale was over my 6-year-old head, I never got tired of it. I loved hearing dad do the Tommy Dorsey parts. “Yeah, you with the yellow tie,” dad’s baritone rumbled, as he pointed at some imaginary racist in the living room. I also got a bang out of hearing dad say the word “bastard,” a word rarely heard in our house–a word I probably assumed meant bad man in a yellow tie. For my sister Pam and me, the story was a great example of someone using his position to stand up to a bully. For dad, who knows? Tommy Dorsey’s wrath might have been an important inspiration. After all, it was the kind of thing dad would soon be doing full time, only on a larger, relentless scale, against bullies ranging from Richard Nixon to the funeral industry. Inspiration or not, by the time the 60s started, dad was taking on the bullies of the world with a vengeance.

The Art of Activism

The first piece of dad’s activism I remember–helping a black family move into our whites-only neighborhood–was relatively small-scale and personal. For months after the Holmes moved in, it was dad’s job to protect the house from vandals when the family was away. There wasn’t much he could do about the rocks thrown through the Holmes’ front room window during the night, or the cross burned on their lawn one very early morning. But during dad’s watch, just the sight of him sitting on the Holmes’ front porch, grading his students’ papers, was all it took to keep the Bubba brigade off the property. I don’t know how long dad had been at it before I realized that threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and flat tires from tacks and nails scattered on our driveway weren’t part of everyone’s hearth and home, but I gradually came to understand that dad’s dedication to fairness was not shared by everyone. As for the 3 AM phone calls, we discovered that the cardboard stick from a Sugar Daddy sucker made a terrific telephone bell dampener when jammed through the proper hole in the phone’s access plate. My contribution to the struggle, of course, was to eat the Sugar Daddy. Ah, the sacrifices of activism.

Sometimes dad’s protests verged on street theater. During his quixotic run for the California Assembly in the mid-60s he delivered a campaign speech at a local shopping center while stomping a bathtub full of grapes. This might have been a fine way to draw attention to the farm workers’ strike and grape boycott raging at the time, but the sight of dad in the tub, wearing his trademark Petrocelli business suit with the pant legs rolled up for the fruit-stomp, did not sit well with my teenaged notion that parents should always strive to be invisible. For weeks after, I was known to my rotten buddies as “Grape.” To dad’s supporters, though, it was a beautiful sight to behold–and it worked. Lots of people gathered to see the lunatic in a bathtub, and wound up learning why they should support Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers and stop eating grapes. Dad lost the Assembly race in a rout, of course, but his son’s embarrassment over his father’s unusual forms of activism soon morphed into pride and admiration. His low-key protest of the Vietnam War at L.A. Valley College, where he spent the rest of his teaching career, was particularly memorable. Every day during his lunch hour, he would set up a card table full of anti-war literature next to the . For that hour he stood silently next to the flagpole wearing an armband featuring the number of GIs killed that week. He did this for two years.

Dad’s Final Years

Dad started in the 60s and never let up. He was still active in the Memorial Society — a consumer activist group — well into his 80s, fighting the good fight against the predatory practices of the funeral industry. A 1992 L.A. Times interview about the Memorial Society found dad in top form.

“You have to look at death as part of life,” Buchanan said. “‘If people looked at it that way, they wouldn’t need the limousines, the caskets and the tons of flowers, the embalming and all the other barbarities that go on at a so-called traditional funeral.’ ‘The hoopla is undignified,’ he said. ‘The other indignity is putting so much emphasis on the body, which is not a person.’ Buchanan has not made the trip to his mother’s gravesite in Spokane, Wash., in years, he said. ‘That grave site does not mean anything,’ he said. ‘What does mean something is that the dead still live in our minds,’ he added.”

“The hoopla is undignified” and “…all the other barbarities…” Dad had a way with words.

*

I’ll never know whether a big band leader’s outburst in the 40s inspired dad to help save the world. But damn, it was inspiring to hear him tell that story. Actually, there wasn’t a lot about John Buchanan that wasn’t inspiring. Though less active, dad still followed the news during his final years. I wish he had been spared America’s rightward drift during the 90s and new millennium and all the intentional unfairness it has thus far meted out. Mercifully, he wasn’t around to see the bully renaissance in full flower. If he were still alive, news of such bad-guy victories as the passage of voter suppression laws and the Citizens United ruling would have put him in a funk. He would have gotten very quiet…for a while.

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This is the first of ten installments examining the biggest and fattest, most unapologetic out-and-out whoppers that Republicans will be running on this November. It was hard to narrow the list down to just ten (I could have done volumes on Michele Bachmann alone), but after extensive study and fact checking, these are the winners of “The Ten Biggest Republican Lies.”

Extending the Bush Tax Cuts Will Reduce the Deficit

To grow the economy, I, King Russell of Buchania, have decided to extend a 5% tax reduction to my subjects. For most Buchanians the 5% reduction will merely postpone the wolf’s scratching at the door, but for my fellow aristocrats the cuts will result in a doubloon windfall—a cascade of cash that they will then invest in Buchania businesses and the creation of jobs for my many unemployed subjects.

I will then be able to collect enough taxes from my happy, gainfully employed people that I will be able to replace the amount Buchania’s treasury lost by cutting taxes in the first place. The Deficit of the Realm will be reduced, and I, their beloved sovereign, will then be able to pay for better roads and better education for their children.

The deficit reduction caused by my tax cuts will also calm the fears of our creditor kingdoms, Chinathia and Germandria, whose growing nervousness about our out-of-control spending might have eventually caused them to dump—for pennies on the doubloon—the trillion in Buchania Treasury Notes they now hold… a situation so devastating we would long for the relatively good old days of the Black Plague.

However, when Buchania’s unemployment reaches 20% and my subjects have discovered that my tax cuts only fattened the deficit and the bank accounts of my fellow aristocrats, their love for me will diminish. When it is further discovered that instead of investing in Buchania’s economy, my wealthy chums used their tax cuts to purchase fine country estates and caviar for their polo ponies, it will not sit well with the Great Unwashed. After losing their livestock, thatched huts and sanity, they will storm my castle and hang me from the outstretched arm of my beautiful, jewel-encrusted statue of Adam Smith.

The Voodoo They Do

Voodoo Economics” is what Bush Sr. called this particular piece of “supply-side” theory eventually signed into law by his Voodoo-friendly son. Before Senator John McCain became “Weather Vane” McCain, he too loudly inveighed against this obviously unworkable scheme.

N. Gregory Mankiw, former chair of Bush Jr.’s Council of Economic Advisers, broke it down like this: The money kept in the private sector by cuts in capital gains taxes generates only about half of the government revenue lost by the cuts, while payroll tax cuts replace about 17% of what the government would have collected without the cuts.

In other words, continuing across-the-board tax-slashing while our deficit turns into a fiscal version of “The Blob” is economic madness; only a fraction of the money kept in the private sector due to tax cuts finds its way back into government coffers.

Economists with impeccable conservative bona fides, including Alan Greenspan and Reagan budget chief David Stockman, predict fiscal disaster if the Bush tax cuts don’t expire when they’re supposed to at midnight, December 31, 2010.

Bush’s Folly in Perpetuity and the “Small Business” Canard

If Bush’s tax cuts are allowed to continue, the wealthiest Americans–by far the major beneficiaries of the cuts–would simply pile those millions on top of the money they’re already hoarding. The only jobs created: crews for their new yachts.

Small business owners–the folks Republicans claim are in Obama’s “over $250,000 ” bracket — AREN’T.  John McCain can shout, “23 million small-business owners will see their taxes go up under Obama’s scheme” all he wants, but he can’t make it true. In fact, a number of those business owners will see their taxes go down.

According to FactCheck.com’s analysis, “McCain is counting mostly ‘business owners’ with no workers, including those who simply report small amounts of income from sideline or freelance work. McCain is arguing that Obama’s tax increase would “destroy jobs,” but he’s counting mostly firms that don’t produce any.”

Business Week tells us that “8.9% of individuals who report small business income or loss (including self-employment income, income from S-corps, partnerships and limited liability companies, farm income and income from rental property and royalties) have household income greater than $250,000. But fewer than 2% of those filers fall into the top two tax brackets.” From Business Week, no less–not exactly a champion of wealth redistribution.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, extending Bush’s tax cuts would add $2.6 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

We’d have to really hate our kids and grandkids to leave them holding that kind of bag.

When you add to the Bush tax cuts our current policy of continual war, our red ink begins to take on biblical proportion–plague, locusts and the American deficit.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion added to the deficit in 2009 and will account for almost $7 trillion of the deficit from 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs. These impacts easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues. Furthermore, unlike those temporary costs, these inherited policies (especially the tax cuts and the [unpaid for] Medicare drug benefit) do not fade away as the economy recovers.”

Republican Whoppers

We’ve gotten used to Republican end runs around the truth with “death panels,” global warming-as-hoax, Iraq’s WMDs, etc., but those claims at least offered some sort of plausible deniability, i.e., “Everybody thought Saddam had WMDs,” or “Obamacare does mention ‘panels’ and ‘death’ at different points in the legislation.” But the bold assertion that tax cuts will reduce the deficit is not only the biggest and fattest of big fat Republican lies, it leaves no credible dance steps toward the wings for its minstrels.

Once Americans see the original Bush tax cuts and their extension as tragic fiscal policy, Boehner and crew could try, “You heard us wrong, we said, Let’s end, not extend,’ ” but somehow I don’t think anybody will buy it…or prevent us rabble from carrying our pitchforks and torches to the voting booth.

Click here for next Republican Whopper: We are the Party of Family Values

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