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A few weeks ago, Texas governor and presidential front-runner Rick Perry staged “The Response,” an all-day event of Christian-centered prayer in Houston. He “called on Jesus to bless and guide the nation’s military and political leaders and ‘those who cannot see the light in the midst of all the darkness.'” In the weeks leading up to The Response, Perry and his supporters predictably received criticism from liberal religious leaders, particularly Jews, and civil liberties groups.

There’s plenty to criticize about The Response, for example, its emphasis on piety and Jesus over our more this-worldly injustices and dangers. But criticizing the public display of religiosity, as many groups did, is dangerous for both religion and secularism.
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Taxation and Fairness

I have heard a lot of complaints lately from the news media that while corporate profits and earnings continue to rise unemployment is not improving.  Now, I understand that tax hawks have done a great job explaining to us that lower tax equals more investment – but there is simply no evidence that this is correct.  Supply-side economics doesn’t work, and never has – see here, here, and here (gathering additional sources).  Now, this is not an attempted justification for tax rates of 80%, but perhaps a more nuisance accounting of our nation’s fiscal situation would be helpful.

Initially, there is no logical reason to think that an actor with more money will lead to an improved economy.  (Please point me to any study suggesting otherwise.)  Why anyone would ever have believed that supply-side economics has any basis in reality?

Yet for some reason, we believe that an increase in corporate profits or earnings will necessarily result in an increase in wages and/or employment for non-owners.  I am baffled.  Of course, an increase in profits and earnings could result in increased wages, etc., nevertheless it is not necessarily the case that it will.

In connection with the deficit talks, Republicans appear to have asserted that all new taxes are evil.  Unfortunately (for them), the economy and deficit do not agree.  Additionally, economists have always argued for taxes to account for our externalities.  For example, a gas tax approximating externalities rather than cost of constructing/maintaining federal highways.  But I digress.  Economists may disagree as to how the government should tax, what money should be spent on, etc. but there is no doubt that Republicans (and to a far lesser extent Democrats) are not basing their decisions on sound economic principals but are instead arguing for lower taxes for lower taxes sake – because certain high income earner want to pay less (and who can blame them).

Perhaps a little more honesty on this point would be in order – Republicans and fiscal conservatives should simply say that people who make more money don’t want to pay for food, shelter, and medical care for the poorest and neediest amongst us.  That the needs of those individuals are simply less important than the needs of poor children, single mothers, and seniors.  I’m not sure that Democrats care about what is “best” for society, but there is one thing I do know – Republicans decidedly do not care about what is best for society as a whole.

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The budget deficit and debt talks are the big news, and in the age of the soundbite its not surprising that newspapers don’t report all the details.  Eyes glaze over with numbers.  So here are some succinct, and overly simplified points to bear in mind.

  1. The budget estimates are based on 10 year plans. But Congress is supposed to pass a new budget every year. How often do those future expected cuts actually come about? Well, every year Congress votes against cutting Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements for doctors. Do the math.
  2. The federal government spent $3.552 trillion in 2010 of which $2.16 trillion came from taxes and ~1.4 trillion came from borrowing.
  3. Over 10 years we’d need to borrow $14 trillion, or double our total debt, in order to keep spending the same amount today.
  4. But spending doesn’t stay stagnant. In 1996, President Clinton’s budget was $1.6 trillion. In other words, we borrow today about as much as President Clinton’s entire budget spent. Every single year.
  5. So our likely debt over the next 10 years is probably a lot higher than $14 trillion.
  6. The number being spoken in the media point to a $3-4 trillion spending ‘cut’ over the next 10 years.
  7. That would be the equivalent of a 10% cut per year. But as we’ve mentioned in points 4 and 5, spending won’t stay the same.
  8. How much will spending grow? President Obama’s budget for 2011 and 2012 increased spending by another 10% to $3.7-3.8 trillion per year.
  9. So the budget talks today are aimed at increasing our debt by another $10 trillion to $24 trillion over the next 10 years.
  10. Now for fun Washington stuff. If you cut $1b today, that’s a $10 billion cut over 10 years. Whoa. So if you cut $300 billion today that’s a $3 trillion spending cut…
  11. Any doubts whether we can find $300 billion to cut today? Anyone?
  12. Now what makes it better is this – if today we spent $10 and we expect to spend $20 next year but then change that to $15, according to Washington accounting we’ve just had a $5 spending cut. Per year. Whoa. In other words, we “cut” spending not by spending less but by spending less than we thought we’d spend before. Heck, Congress should pass a $10 trillion budget, cut it to $3 trillion and then claim a huge savings.
  13. Back to that $3-4 trillion reduction we discussed earlier. According to media reports, VP Biden’s suggestion (and one reason House Republicans didn’t like it) cut a total of, get ready for it, $2 billion next year. That’s 2 with a b. Not a t. So a $2b cut on a $3.5T budget. Most of the spending “cuts” would come in later years, but as we saw from point #1 that doesn’t always happen.
  14. Did I mention that Congress today can’t bind a Congress five years from now? So spending “cuts” today, the cuts that don’t actually lower spending, might not happen. But the extra borrowing? That’ll definitely happen. So you’re agreeing to allow definite borrowing (for the next year’s budget which is pretty easy to predict) for future possible spending cuts which can easily be reversed by a future Congress trying to bring home the pork.
  15. Why don’t newspapers put the $3-4 trillion spending cut in perspective. Tell me how much that is relative to the federal budget over 10 years. C’mon, I’m waiting. Cuz $4 trillion on a $50 trillion spending plan? Not so great.
  16. Now the calls to not up the debt ceiling make more sense. Those opposed don’t want a $3-4 trillion cut spread over 10 years. They want no more borrowing. That spending cut would be more than $10t over 10 years.

Maybe I’m getting my government accounting wrong, and if so, someone correct me. But there seems to be a lot of gimmickry going on.

Let’s put it this way. If Congressional members had to comply with the same rules that corporations do for accounting, and if they were threatened with jail, gimmicks like this would never happen.

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This is a guest post by Apollo, a second-year law student.

It takes a lot from an elected official to irk me these days because my expectations are pretty low. Let’s face it — politicians do not set the bar too high. Rod Blagojevich was just found guilty on seventeen counts of corruption, making him the fourth of the last seven Illinois governors who will serve time in jail. The Republican primary process seems more like a circus than anything resembling political/policy discourse. Ex-Representative Anthony Weiner, who was entrusted by his constituents to cast meaningful votes on matters ranging from the Wall Street Bailout to the use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan, did not have enough common sense to avoid extreme ‘sexting.’ Spitzer, Edwards – I could go on. In a bipartisan overture, I would say that the most significant unifying factor between Democrats and Republicans is each party’s proclivity towards stupid behavior. But these events don’t bother me anymore; they’ve become so common-place that I really don’t expect anything much different.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I found myself surprisingly irked over something President Barack Obama said in a speech to a group of gay rights advocates. Obama reiterated his position that gay marriage is a matter best left for the states to decide, invoking the age-old “States’ Rights” argument in an attempt to evade handling the gay marriage hot potato “straight”-on. As a political maneuver, not bad. I completely understand his fear of alienating the Blue-Dog Democrats who have helped elect him. Also, let’s not forget about his socially conservative Hispanic voting contingent. From the liberal side, Obama definitely annoyed a few constituents; but why would he pander to lefties in his party; who else are they going to vote for in 2012? Bachman? Palin?!?! From his time as an Illinois State Senator to his current tenure as President, Obama has consistently flip-flopped on gay marriage. Currently, his position is ‘evolving.’ Normally, I would not fault a politician for feeling the need to side-step this contentious issue, especially so close to an election year. Every politician does it and Obama actually makes it look easy. My problem with Obama is that, given his past, his dishonesty on the issue is particularly troubling. I do not know what bothers me more, that the comment came from an African-American, from a child of a racially mixed marriage, or from a former constitutional law professor.
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During one of my frequent visits to Tablet: A New Read on Jewish Life, I came across this article, entitled When Anti-Circumcision Turns Anti-Semitic. The article is interesting, discussing whether certain cartoons produced by the anti-circumcision movement in the Bay Area are Anti-Semitic – Marc Tracy thinks that they are and convinced me. One of the comments to the article particularly interested me:

This should not even be allowed on any ballot measure as it will be deemed illegal as it interferes with seperation of church and state. it will never see a vote. I am very liberal and this is just a ballot hatred. Tis is not what san francisoc is about. It’s disgusting!

Typos aside, this brings up a very interesting question: is outlawing circumcision constitutional? As I frequently find with “core” American political dogma (in particular relating to freedom of speech, religion, etc.), there is significant confusion about what the precise parameters of our “rights” are. For example, this commenter believes that a ballot measure outlawing circumcision would interfere with the “separation of church and state.” The separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and reads that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Of course, some intermingling of church and state has always been permissible in the United States – the best examples are blue laws. Additionally, the United States gives billions of dollars in tax exemptions to religious institutions exempting contributions to churches (and other houses of worship). Interestingly, because of the structure of the tax exemption of contributions to churches, they cannot endorse political candidates – another example of the government intermingling in the “god business.” Finally, several states maintain “Kosher Laws,” including New York, and at least 16 other states define the term “kosher.” In Miami-Dade County, Florida, it is “unlawful to offer any food product for sale which is falsely represented to be Kosher”; in Broward County, Florida, “sellers of kosher food [must] hold a Broward County Kosher Specialty Regulatory License.” Of course, thousands of municipalities, quasi-governmental agencies, and both federal and state governments display religious artifacts during the month of December – typically Hanukkah menorahs, X-mas trees, and nativity scenes.
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This is part of an on-going discussion of Rick Scott (“El Governor”) in his on-going struggle to return Florida to the swamp it was prior to its development. The initial post is here.

El Governor continued to assault civil liberties of state employees with his ill conceived “drug testing for all state employees” program. The Miami Herald reports that the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit against Florida “on behalf of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 79 which represented 50,000 public workers who are now subject to the new drug-testing regime and Richard Flamm, a 17-year state employee and Research Scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”
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This is the first of a multi-part series on Florida Governor Rick Scott. As you may know, I am a resident of Florida and therefore take particular interest in Florida’s governor, particularly his policy decisions, which will be the thrust of my posts. (I have little interest in his personal life or the fact that he is, perhaps, the scariest looking dude ever.) The various issues that I would like to cover include: disenfranchising felons, required drug testing for government employees, required drug testing for government aid recipients, revamping teacher compensation, and funding the dredging of the Port of Miami.

This post will concentrate on Mr. Scott’s rejection of $2.3 billion in federal money for high-speed rail from Tampa to Orlando.
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