Friday Mashup (4/25/14)

April 25, 2014
  • Someone named Amber Barno at The Daily Tucker rails as follows here (about a favorite wingnut target)…

    (On 4/16) the New York Times made the audacious choice to publish an article linking military veterans to white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

    Frazier Glenn Miller shot and killed three people at Jewish Community Centers near Kansas City, Missouri earlier this week. He was a former KKK leader and also a former Master Sergeant in the Army who was forced to retire for circulating racist material. That information seemed to be enough for Kathleen Belew, the author of the article, to draw a distinction between veterans, the ‘radical right,’ and their tendency to become an danger to society, and apparently enough for the New York Times to publish it.

    The title of the piece, “Veterans and White Supremacy” and the entire slanderous article are almost as offensive as the picture that accompanied it. It displays a row of soldiers saluting, the way they would to an American flag, while one ‘soldier’ in the middle is posed doing a Nazi salute. It is despicable. It is reckless and it only further contributes to stereotypes that veterans must overcome each and everyday in the civilian world.

    Before I say a word about this, I should note from her bio that Ms. Barno, military advisor for Concerned Veterans for America, is an “Army veteran and former Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilot who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.” She deserves my thanks for her service, and she has it.

    With that out of the way, let me add that the “slanderous” and “offensive” article (that I read and consider reasonable, by the way) does indeed contain a graphic like the one Barno cites. However, I believe the graphic makes it plain to a reasonably intelligent adult that a comparatively small percentage of our veterans become homegrown terrorists, and it isn’t anywhere near as incriminating as she suggests.

    And Concerned Veterans for America…why exactly does that ring a bell?

    Oh, I remember now. It’s because the person in charge of CV of A is Pete Hegseth, who used to head up something called Vets for Freedom, which was a PR factory doing its best to influence public opinion to make sure we kept our military in Iraq and Afghanistan (and as Crooks and Liars notes here, this “veterans” group claimed to support deficit reduction, which to me is a strange issue for a veterans group to be associated with – ahhh, can you smell the Astroturf?).

    And as you might expect, CV is A is tied to the shadowy, “dark money” network of Charles and David Koch (here).

    Barno is right to claim that our returning heroes face a variety of issues that demand our attention, though I don’t think she adds much to that discussion here by climbing on a favorite conservative “hobby horse,” if you will (the old gray lady, that is), and giving it a ride for no good reason.

    And speaking of veterans, former U.S. Army Ranger and Democratic candidate in the PA-08 primary Kevin Strouse wrote an Op-Ed that recently appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times (here). In it, he protested yet another ridiculous Paul Ryan budget that voucherizes Medicare (again), cuts Pell Grants (again), cuts SNAP assistance including food stamps (again), and refuses once more to invest in infrastructure spending (I’m paraphrasing because the Guest Opinion is now behind the paper’s utterly laughable pay wall…and to be fair, his primary opponent Shaughnessy Naughton wrote the following here).


    (And as long as I’m on the subject, I’d like to hear something besides roaring silence on the issue of Paul Ryan and his horrendous budgets from the Roman Catholic Church, notwithstanding symbolic yet still important comments on this subject from Pope Francis. I know the Church in the US is primarily “in bed” with the Republican Party, but I just wish they weren’t so damn obvious about it.)

    I think this merits support of Kevin Strouse from filthy, unkempt liberal blogger types such as yours truly, and if you agree, please click here.

    Update 6/18/14: Another inglorious moment involving Hegseth is here (BENGHAZI BENGHAZI BENGHAZI!!!).

  • Next (and continuing with faith matters), I give you this from someone at Fix Noise named Jay Sekulow…

    The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent Clemson University a “letter of complaint” detailing (Clemson football coach Dabo) Swinney’s alleged constitutional violations, including such atrocities as the team’s volunteer chaplain writing Bible verses on a whiteboard and the team making available bus transportation to players who wish to attend church.

    In a reasonable constitutional world, this complaint would be ignored by the media and discarded by the university. After all, there’s no evidence that Clemson or Coach Swinney did anything other than expose players to the coach’s religious point of view, a point of view he’s constitutionally entitled to hold and express.

    Players were not compelled to attend church or Bible study, and the university is not paying the volunteer chaplain. So, how could any of these actions “establish” a religion within the meaning of the Establishment Clause (sic).

    In response, I give you the following from here

    Responding to what it says was a complaint sent to it by a member of the public, the FFRF had one of its five staff attorneys investigate the program via open records requests over the constitutionally protected separation between church and state.

    It uncovered a host of issues, from Swinney directly hiring the team chaplain (even Clemson policy says the players should choose), to coaches participating in testimonials and bible studies, to buses being organized to transport the entire team to “Church Day” at a local Baptist Church.

    The letter, in great detail, cites various university policies and case law that are violated by these actions. It’s a thorough letter. And it goes after Swinney, who it claims as a public employee is barred from participating in any official capacity in the religious activities of his players or underlings.

    As a thumbnail, the FFRF says a coach should never discuss religion with a player, let alone stop practice for prayer sessions or sponsor after-hour testimonials. Should a player come to him seeking religious guidance, he should encourage him to seek out the innumerable faith-based groups on a major college campus. Clemson boasts 41 of them, ranging from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to groups and congregations for Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Jews and others. There is even the Secular Student Alliance of Clemson for atheists, agnostics and others.

    “The religious counseling should be outside the athletic department,” (the FFRF’s Annie Laurie) Gaylor said.

    I’ll grant you that there are bigger issues out there to address, and if Swinney is as devout as he appears to be, then he should be commended. However, I also think that he shouldn’t be allowed to proselytize on the job if public money is involved.

    And I think this is all amusing coming from Sekulow anyway, who has no issue with Swinney carrying on as he does, yet somehow was still one of the loudest voices against the so-called “ground zero mosque,” as noted here (Sekulow also supports Hobby Lobby over the so-called “contraception mandate” of the Affordable Care Law, as noted here, basically arguing that religious freedom is conditional for people Sekulow likes, but should be guaranteed regardless for corporations – riiiiight).

  • Further (and returning to The Daily Tucker), I give you this from someone named Mytheos Holt, claiming that …

    The economist Robert Samuelson has pointed out repeatedly that Social Security, far from being insurance against the dangers of old age, which merely gives recipients back what they already paid in. It is, in fact, nothing but “middle class welfare.” Quoting Samuelson:

    Benefits shift; they’re not strictly proportionate to wages but are skewed to favor low-wage earners – a value judgment reflecting who most deserves help; and they aren’t paid from workers’ own “contributions.” But we ignored these realities and encouraged people to think they “earned” benefits and that Social Security is distinct from the larger budget. Politicians, pundits, think-tank experts and journalists engaged in this charade to spare Social Security’s 54 million recipients the discomfort of understanding they’re on welfare.

    Let’s see, “middle-class welfare,” “generational theft” – yep, the dog whistles are at the ready…also, the article claims that lifting the payroll tax cap won’t do anything to keep Social Security solvent (uh, no).

    Here is a more in-depth response from Dean Baker (who knows a thing or two about this stuff), including the following…

    Robert Samuelson is once again calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, ostensibly in the name of generational fairness. Samuelson makes the now common argument that a hugely disproportionate share of government spending goes to these programs that primarily serve the elderly. Of course, using Samuelson logic we should also complain that a hugely disproportionate share of government expenditures go the very wealthy.

    The reason that the wealthy get a disproportionate share of government expenditures is that they bought government bonds which pay interest. The reason that the elderly get a disproportionate share of government benefits is that they paid Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes that were intended to support these programs.

    Samuelson goes on to complain that Social Security has become a “middle-age retirement system,” citing Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute. Samuelson apparently is not familiar with data on life expectancy that shows that workers in the bottom half of the wage distribution have seen relatively small gains in longevity over the last three decades. He is apparently also unfamiliar with Steurele’s calculations on the rate of return that retirees get on their Social Security benefits. For many middle income retirees in the baby boom cohorts it will be less than 1.0 percent and in some cases less than zero, according to Steuerle.

    What is remarkable about Samuelson’s piece is that there is absolutely zero effort to consider any real issues of generational equity in a piece that is ostensibly devoted to the topic. For example, there is no discussion of the fact that the current generation of near retirees experienced an unprecedented period of wage stagnation over their working lifetime. The median hourly wage in 2010 is less than 10 percent higher than it was in 1973.

    By contrast, the Social Security trustees project that average hourly wages will rise by more than 40 percent over the next three decades. While it is possible that income inequality will continue to increase so that these gains again go overwhelmingly to the top, there is no precedent in U.S. history for the level of inequality that this would imply.

    Yes, all of this is obvious. Yes, what we need to do is expand the Social Security entitlement, not do everything we can to kill it. But we need to drive this home every way we can as often as possible (and to help with that, click here).

  • Continuing, I give you the following unintentional bit of hilarity from Irrational Spew Online (here, with the understated claim that, by advocating for renewable energy sources, Chris Hayes, of MSNBC and The Nation, wants to kill 5.7 billion people)…

    There are many more moderate suggestions than Hayes’s on the carbon-cap continuum. But his goofy idea makes clear that all of these involve some diminution in human life: less health, less longevity, fewer opportunities to pursue happiness. At some level that translates into fewer people — a consummation many warmists might devoutly wish, though few would admit that. (As green panics go, overpopulation is long over; global warming is merely on its way out.)

    Hayes is right to equate the battle against fossil fuels with one of history’s greatest moral struggles. He’s just wrong to think he’s on the side of humanity.

    I don’t think Hayes or anyone else who questions our energy consumption should be criticized for it, for the reasons noted here (basically, ignoring other environmental “multipliers” associated with our energy consumption is a rather pin-headed argument to make, and if fewer of those multipliers come from renewables, then what else is there to think about?).

    And overpopulation, as a global threat, is “long over”? Really?

    (Actually, I have a feeling that NRO’s Tim Cavanaugh was referring to this…i.e., 6.8 billion people living as a result of fossil fuels, 1 billion not…don’t have any data to argue with him on that).

    And if Cavanaugh doesn’t want to believe me on the importance of renewables vs. fossil fuels, fine. Read the following from here

    The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is the nation’s largest energy user. In recent years, DoD has launched several initiatives to reduce its fossil Fuel use by improving energy efficiency (i.e., reducing wasted energy) and shifting to renewable energy such as biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar to meet operational and installation needs. Energy efficiency and renewable energy can benefit mission effectiveness, the environment, and the bottom line, as outlined in the following excerpt from a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding between DoD and the Department of Energy (DOE):

    Energy efficiency can serve as a force multiplier, increasing the range and endurance of forces in the field while reducing the number of combat forces diverted to protect energy supply lines, as well as reducing long-term energy costs. DoD is also increasing its use of renewable energy supplies and reducing energy demand to improve energy security and operational effectiveness, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in support of U.S. climate change initiatives, and protect the DoD from energy price fluctuations. Solving military challenges through innovation has the potential to yield spin-off technologies that benefit the civilian community as well.

    Which brings me, in a roundabout way I’ll admit, to Hayes’s recent post here. As the moderator of “All In,” I get it that he has the right to have conservatives on his show. But the problem is that all these people do is pollute the information blood stream, if you will, leaving it up to little fish like me in the great, big bloggy ocean, if you will, to speak truth to stoo-pid – mixing my metaphors I guess.

    And I’m not talking about this idiotic “conservative vs. liberal” parlor game that has masqueraded for intelligent political discourse in this country for the last 30 years or so. I’m talking about verifiable truth and reality. When Jennifer Stefano starts foaming at the mouth because she thinks Hayes is trying to talk down to her or something, and Paul Wolfowitz basically tries to argue that liberals are too scared to stand up to terrorists or whatever, guess what? The fact that these people tend to be conservative is irrelevant. What matters is that they are wrong. I would also argue that they know that they are wrong and continue to argue anyway, pushing their talking points regardless. And as far as I’m concerned, when people like Stefano or Wolfowitz do that, then they lose the right to engage in a discussion on a nationally televised program featuring news analysis and political commentary.

    Note to Hayes: See what happens when you try to play fair and square with the wingnuts?

  • Finally, I absolutely have to say something about this item from last week…

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Election-year memo to Democratic candidates: Don’t talk about the economic recovery. It’s a political loser.

    So say Democratic strategists in a blunt declaration that such talk skips over “how much trouble people are in, and doesn’t convince them that policymakers really understand or are even focusing on the problems they continue to face.”

    In addition, Stan Greenberg, James Carville and others wrote that in head-to-head polling tests the mere mention of the word “recovery” is trumped by a Republican assertion that the Obama administration has had six years to get the economy moving and its policies haven’t worked.

    Coincidentally or not, Democrats have largely shelved the “R” word.

    God, this makes me want to vomit.

    If the “polling” on the issue of the economy supposedly doesn’t work, then try making the case that the U.S. House Republican “leadership” doesn’t know a damn thing about managing our economy. Worse, they have a vested interest in continued economic hardship since they think that is a winner of an issue for them politically. However, just because that is so doesn’t mean that you roll up your tent, refuse to make a fight, and walk away.

    Because, as noted from here

    As it turns out, (Speaker John) Boehner has decided that every time House Republicans pass a bill that advances House Republican priorities, the party gets to label that a “jobs bill.” The GOP approved more oil drilling? That’s a “jobs bill.” The GOP voted to take away health care benefits from millions of Americans? That’s a “jobs bill,” too. The GOP disapproves of clean-air regulations? “Jobs bill.” The GOP wants more “transparency” in federal spending? “Jobs bill.” Republicans cut food stamps? “Jobs bill.”

    I’m not exaggerating in the slightest; this is all from the list of “jobs bills” the Speaker of the House has pulled together and presented to the public. How many actual jobs would be created if these bills became law? No one knows because Republicans never submitted them for independent economic scrutiny, but GOP leaders are confident the answer is, at a minimum, some.

    How reassuring.

    It’s why the parties so often seem to be talking past one another. For congressional Democrats, jobs bills have to relate to job creation in a meaningful way, then be scored by independent economists to determine how many jobs are likely to be created by the proposed legislation. For congressional Republicans, jobs bills happen to be whatever bills the GOP likes – even anti-abortion bills.

    And as noted here, the following actual jobs-related bills were passed by the House with at-or-near-100-percent opposition from Boehner, Eric Cantor, and his same-party playmates (including Mikey the Beloved, of course)…

  • The American Clean Energy and Security Act
  • The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act
  • Jobs for Main Street Act
  • Small Business Jobs and Credit Act
  • The America COMPETES Act
  • This has led to 49 straight months of private sector job growth (here). And the results would be better if the House decided to get serious on immigration reform (here) and raising the federal minimum wage (here – granted, job growth might be negligible, but it would represent progress, and it would help millions stay in their jobs as opposed to losing them).

    And about Stan Greenberg in particular, I believe the following should be noted from here

    “The Republican focus on Obamacare is backfiring,” says (Greenberg), a top Democratic pollster, who conducted the survey (which found an increasing approval rating for health care reform) with a GOP counterpart. “They’re on the wrong side of the issue.”

    The surprising resurrection of Obamacare is poised to have broad political ramifications come November. During the darkest days of the healthcare.gov rollout last fall, Republicans made what seemed a safe bet that the unpopularity of the law would help deliver another midterm-election romp, just as it did in 2010. The GOP electoral strategy has been supported by millions from the Koch-backed Super PAC Americans for Prosperity, which has been bombarding key Senate swing states with anti-Obama¬care TV ads intended to destroy vulnerable Democratic incumbents like Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina. But so far the impact of these kinds of ads has been modest, registering with voters as both old hat and “overreach,” says Greenberg, the Democratic pollster.

    Public opinion on Obamacare is now shifting. A Pew poll in March found that a 71 percent supermajority either supports Obamacare or wants politicians to “make the law work as well as possible,” compared to just 19 percent of the electorate that wants to see the law fail.

    Though Ted Cruz and the #fullrepeal crowd may still excite the GOP’s Tea Party base, their message is no longer a clear winner among independents in the general election. The House leadership is taking notice. After more than four dozen votes attempting to repeal or roll back Obamacare, the House GOP is scrambling to come up with a policy it could market as a replacement. In a startling admission, GOP House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy acknowledged that the GOP’s old playbook isn’t cutting it anymore. “The country has changed since Obamacare has come in,” he told the Washington Post. “We understand that.”

    House Republicans have learned the hard way that even nibbling around the edges of Obamacare can backfire. In February, the GOP pushed a bill to tweak the mandate that businesses offer health care to all employees working more than 30 hours. Switching to the GOP’s preferred 40-hour standard, it turns out, would add $74 billion to the deficit by 2024 and cause nearly 1 million Americans to lose coverage. That’s the kind of move that would play right into Democratic hands. Says Greenberg, “Democrats do very well when they hit back at Republicans on what people lose.”

    Until recently, Greenberg had been advising Democrats to move beyond Obamacare and turn to bread-and-butter issues like jobs and the minimum wage. “The strongest attack on Republicans,” he says, “is that they’re obsessed with Obamacare instead of critical issues like dealing with the economy.” But his new poll has Greenberg rethinking that counsel. “Until now, this is an issue where the intensity has been on the other side,” he says. But defending Obamacare, he adds, has emerged as “a values argument for our base.” Greenberg now believes Democrats “ought to lean much more strongly” to campaign on the virtues of Obamacare as a means of boosting progressive turnout. “Not apologizing for Obamacare and embracing it actually wins the argument nationally,” he says. “And it produces much more engagement of Democratic voters. That’s a critical thing in off-year elections.”

    So instead of walking around on eggshells, as it were, run an ad leading off with “Obamacare” and tout its successes (kind of like this), then point out that the same people who were wrong about that were entrusted with helping Obama to manage the economy, and they’ve failed on that score too.

    Sure, talk about women’s issues in the workplace (which ultimately are family issues anyway). But give voters a reason to vote for you by pointing out how different you are from the opposition, or else you’ll lose.

    And one more thing – don’t accept political commentary from the AP’s David Espo as gospel (here).

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    An NJ Teacher Schools The Governor

    April 22, 2010

    I’m sorry I didn’t find out about this video in time to put it up before last Tuesday, but I still think it’s important, if for no other reason to show that there are real-world consequences when a Repug mangles a state budget (and leave tax cuts for millionaires alone, of course…audio could be a little better, but it’s OK for now).


    Wednesday Mashup (2/17/10)

    February 17, 2010

    (Trying to clear out a bit of a backlog here, I know…)

  • 1) In the Sunday New York Times, N. Gregory Mankiw wrote the following here…

    The president seems to understand that the fiscal plan presented in his budget is not sustainable and, as such, is not really a plan at all. That is why the budget prominently calls for a fiscal commission that will be charged with “identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation.” The goal, the budget says, is “to stabilize the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio at an acceptable level once the economy recovers.”

    In other words, President Obama’s long-term fiscal strategy is to appoint a commission to figure out a long-term fiscal strategy.

    Yep, kind of like the commission Mankiw’s former boss formed to come up with his Social Security privatization scam (here). And it’s funny to hear Mankiw’s criticism of Obama’s budget commission idea (which I don’t agree with either for now, truth be told) when this tells us how generally unserious conservatives are on this issue (how can you propose to balance a budget over time without discussing tax increases or other revenue enhancement)?

  • 2) Also last Sunday in the Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg engaged in the following bit of wankery (here, criticizing President Obama for balancing his work schedule with that of his family)…

    So far at least, Washington does not seem to have raised any eyebrows. When Mr. Obama told lawmakers why he was leaving the health talks, “We all said, ‘Absolutely, get out of here, go,’ ” said Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, who was there.

    Yet even in today’s father-friendly world, Mr. Obama’s balancing act is not risk-free — especially in an economy where so many ordinary Americans are struggling. Critics could accuse him of slacking off when the country is in need.

    And of course for emphasis, Stolberg includes a quote favorable to that notion from Republican political strategist John Feehery.

    Meanwhile, this tells us that Obama’s predecessor absolutely shattered the vacation record set by The Sainted Ronnie R (still awaiting comment on that from Feehery).

    For the first time in a long time, we have a president helping to raise one or more kids (the two Bush daughters were already grown), and that makes family time particularly important.

    Besides, the one legitimate vacation Obama got was last summer, and right in the middle of it, Ted Kennedy died. So I think it’s particularly crappy to begrudge the man of the precious family time he is able to enjoy.

  • 3) And finally, the Times Sunday Magazine carried a story titled “How Christian Were The Founders,” in which our corporate media remains preoccupied with trying to find some proof that the individuals who truly risked their lives, fortunes and sacred honor during our country’s genesis (oops) intended this country to be a Christian nation.

    We could come up with anecdotes forever to argue one way or the other as to how tolerant these people really were on this subject, but I would merely like to put out the following from the Nobel Prize-winning book “John Adams” by David McCullough, pg. 222, in which McCullough describes how Adams addressed the subject in the first Constitution of Massachusetts…

    …While it did not guarantee freedom of religion, it affirmed the “duty” of all people to worship “The Supreme Being, the great creator and preserver of the universe,” and that no one was to be “hurt, molested or restrained in his person, liberty or estate for worshipping God in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience,” provided he did not disturb the public peace.

    If “live and let live” was good enough for John Adams, then it’s good enough for me too.


  • Still More Comedy From “The Most Trusted Name In News”

    February 4, 2010
  • 1) And this from the party that did every human thing it could possibly do to avoid seating eventual Dem Minnesota Senator Al Franken, ladies and gentlemen.

    Didn’t take Scotty long to “learn the ropes,” did it?

  • Update 2/4/10: Yep, Scotty is a pro at the hypocrisy game all right, in particular on health care as noted here.

    Update 2/5/10: Why do I have a feeling that it’s going to be a really long three years with this guy (here)?

  • 2) And also I got a laugh out of this item (from here)…

    (CNN) – President Obama declared on Wednesday that Democrats can be trusted on the budget because, “the last time the budget was balanced was under a Democratic president.”

    – Republicans say they should get at least some of the credit for the balanced budgets during the Clinton administration, because Republican majorities controlled both the House and Senate.

    In response, I give you the following here (dated February 1998)…

    WASHINGTON — In a White House ceremony heavy with political symbolism, President Clinton ushered in a new era yesterday in the way the federal government handles the taxpayers’ money.

    Unveiling a $1.73 trillion spending blueprint, Clinton sent, as he had promised, the first balanced budget to Capitol Hill in 30 years. The president proposed spending more on a host of issues, including child care, environmental cleanup, AIDS and cancer research and education, paid for largely by a sizable increase in tobacco taxes.

    Republicans questioned whether the federal government would ever reap such a revenue windfall, and some accused the president of backsliding on his previous declaration that the “era of big government is over.”

    I swear, some things never change.

  • 3) And finally (from here)…

    An abstinence-only education program is more effective than other initiatives at keeping sixth- and seventh-graders from having sex within a two-year period, according to a study described by some as a landmark.

    The study, published in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, indicated that about one-third of the preteens and their young teen classmates who received an eight-hour abstinence lesson had sexual intercourse within two years of the class.

    “It is unreasonable to expect any single intervention, curriculum or program to solve the teen pregnancy problem,” (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy) said. “True and lasting progress requires not only good programs in schools and communities, but also supportive norms and values, informed and active parents, good health services, a positive media culture and more.”

    So yeah, it turns out that abstinence-only ed may be beneficial after all.

    For two years.

    And after that, you’re on your own.

    And remember, you heard about all of these stories from CNN.

    We’ll have to “leave it there.”


  • An “Inartful” Solution To PA’s Budget Impasse

    September 22, 2009

    jfa1881l
    Given that I rightly dump on the Inquirer and Daily News on a regular basis, it would be unfair of me not to give either paper credit when they do really good work. And that is true of Karen Heller’s column today (the subject is the last-minute deal to slap “an 8 percent surcharge on tickets and membership at arts and cultural organizations in Philadelphia, 6 percent elsewhere, at a time when endowments are down, giving is down, and attendance is down,” as Heller tells us)…

    “I don’t know what Gov. Rendell and the leaders of the legislature were thinking,” Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance president Peggy Amsterdam said before launching a “Fight the Arts Tax” movement at last night’s fall meeting. “The really sad thing is we try to make cultural experiences accessible and affordable to everyone. This is going to make it harder.” Increased ticket prices, she argued, will drive away even more patrons already hit by the recession.

    Of the alliance’s 390 member institutions, 40 percent are suffering deficits, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, with shortfalls of $3.3 million last fiscal year and a projected $7.5 million this year. It’s like drawing blood from an anemic. Amsterdam says projecting $100 million in annual tax revenues is pure folly: “Our estimates are nowhere near that – maybe $20 million statewide.”

    Arts administrators complain there are no details on how much will be redirected or where. What’s to prevent Republican lawmakers from taking Philadelphia Museum of Art revenues and shipping them, say, to the Enchanted Woodlins chainsaw carvings of Elk County?

    “If this had been proposed totally across the board on all forms of entertainment, you might say, ‘This stinks. It adds to our challenges, but these are really difficult times and we’re all doing our share,’ ” said Cultural Alliance chairman Hal Real. “But it’s not across the board. And it’s symptomatic of how undervalued the arts are in our culture.”

    “Not across the board” indeed: as Heller points out, anyone who wants to pony up some dough to ogle Megan Fox in “Jennifer’s Body” as she cavorts with and then subsequently attacks her boyfriends (apparently she’s a vampire also – I only know about the flick from the commercial that seems to be on everywhere) is free to do so without paying the 8 percent tax on top of the ticket price.

    And that also goes for anyone who wants to get drunk at a tailgate party and watch the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense get carved up by a reasonably competent NFL quarterback again (to say nothing of watching slapstick special teams play), as Drew Brees of New Orleans did last Sunday (I’ll admit that Brees is a lot better than “reasonably competent,” though). Also, in the matter of football, don’t you worry, all of you egomaniacs driving around in your Hummers, Jettas and Lexus SUVs with your lion’s paw decals and bumper stickers saying, “If God Isn’t A Penn State Fan, Why Did He Make The Sky Blue And White?”…it looks like your precious Nittany Lions weren’t affected either.

    And you want to know who else wasn’t affected by the 8 percent arts sales tax? The warmongering Pattison Avenue Potentate himself, Ed Snider, that’s who. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to watch Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins skate circles around the orange-and-black at the same cost you would have paid otherwise, to say nothing of watching the Sixers get eaten alive by other teams’ big men in the paint.

    (By the way, to the Eagles’ credit, I should point out that owner Jeffrey Lurie and Snider are polar opposites politically; the Eagles are big contributors to the Democratic Party.)

    Yes, I’m more than a little pissed about this, partly because, as Heller points out, it doesn’t make economic sense. However, the tax does appease the Republican Party for the purposes of doing the deal, which of course is what this is all about.

    And with that in mind, this tells us the following…

    The philosophical divide between those who see the arts as frivolous and those who see its value is as old as the nation.

    During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal Works Progress Administration paid thousands of unemployed artists to write regional guidebooks, produce plays and organize symphony orchestras. The work of more than 5,000 artists can still be seen today in murals commissioned for schools, post offices and other government buildings.

    President Obama has not proposed such a program but supports increased arts funding. Most Republicans oppose spending tax dollars on aesthetics.

    “America is a practical nation that comes from very practical roots,” says Robert Lynch of the advocacy group Americans for the Arts. “That practicality … is part of what we’ve had to overcome.”

    It was on display in the recent debate in Congress over the economic stimulus package.

    The House of Representatives version included $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts to help non-profit arts organizations avoid closing or laying off workers, but the Senate version left it out. The final bill restored the money for the NEA.

    “Putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art community,” said Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia during the debate.

    No word on whether or not Kingston ever found his flag lapel pin, by the way.

    But on top of that, anyone who thinks arts spending doesn’t make a positive economic impact (like Kingston) is just plan wrong (I linked to this in a prior post, but it bears repeating)…

    In Chicago, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations generate $1.09 billion in revenue, support 30,134 jobs, and deliver over $103 million in tax revenue to local and state government, according to the Illinois Arts Alliance. In Illinois, 23,643 creative enterprises employ 132,882 people, according to Americans for the Arts.

    And as noted here…

    The arts are a prime vehicle for job creation and a valued economic distribution mechanism. The country’s more than 4,000 local and state arts agencies have nearly 50 years of proven history as good stewards of our tax dollars and can ensure speedy disbursement to local projects, along with the excellent direct distribution track record of the National Endowment for the Arts itself. The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities.”

    NEA funds, on average, leverage $7 in additional support through local, state, and private donations, for every one dollar in federal support. Fifty million in economic stimulus will leverage $350 million of investment.

    And returning to Heller, she concludes with this…

    If you were a deeply cynical sort of person, even someone with a fleeting knowledge of the sour feelings Republicans have for Philadelphia and Rendell, you might think this latest culture tax was a spirited flamenco dance atop the city’s fiscal woes.

    In high heels, for good measure (to twist the old saying a bit, I guess PA’s Harrisburg poobahs don’t know much about spending money efficiently, but they know what they like…or don’t like in this case).


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