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Your Estate Is Now Safe

By "your", I don’t actually mean yours. I guess I do, but only if you own one of the top .2% of the biggest American estates who have been suffering under the onerous and tyrannical estate tax system. It’s tyrannical because the government actually claims that your heirs should have to pay taxes on money they inherit from you. You know, like they would have to pay on lottery money or unemployment benefits that they’ve been contributing to their whole working lives. If you ever need to take advantage of that unemployment insurance you’ve paid for, you have to pay federal taxes on that money. But dammit, taxing your heirs for receiving money they didn’t earn is a bridge too far!

I am a firm believer that if you had the forethought to be born into a filthy rich family, you shouldn’t be penalized for having better boot straps than the poor bastard who thought that being born to poor people was a good life plan. Why the fuck should you pay taxes on the money that you didn’t earn, but watched (when you weren’t at your tennis lesson) your parents earn. Or worse yet, weren’t around when your grandparents earned it, but are clearly bootstrapped to. I mean, being born to wealthy people is hard work. Why should a rich person have to pay taxes on money that drops out of the sky for them, the way you pay taxes on the money you spend 40 – 60 hours a week working for? I mean, it’s not the rich guy’s fault that you’re the kind of sucker who obtains money by working for it. Why are we punishing the innovation of being born rich?

We all know that the best way to stimulate the economy and create jobs is to let Paris Hilton have her grandfather’s money for free. She’s obviously going to spend it in a much smarter way than the government, who will probably squander it on a road or a republican war that even republicans don’t want to pay for.

Let me explain how the estate tax works for the 99.8% of you lazy moochers who aren’t familiar with it. In 2015, any inheritance you (again, I don’t mean you, you fucking loser) get is tax free for the first $5.43 million dollars. I’m sorry, when I said $5.43 million dollars, I mean per person. So if you’re inheriting from Mummy and Papaaa, you get $10.86 million dollars of free money. Just to give you a little context, the amount that was free in 2001 was $650k per person.

To recap, right before we launched two wars, heirs of large estates got $1.3 million dollars of free money from Mamaaa and Papaaa. Today, since we’re still paying for those wars, they get $10.86 million dollars of free money. That’s today, but don’t worry because republicans in the house just voted to make things more fair. They want to make the entire estate free for the heirs. They really are a party of the people. There are precisely 5,500 people whose estates will be affected by this bold move to fight the power and stand up for the middle class.

Obviously, the estate tax is an attempt to loot money from hard working children of billionaires, and it must not stand! Let’s review the origins of the estate tax. The estate tax was born in 1916, and it was proposed and passed under the auspices of fair taxation. Cordell Hull, who sponsored the legislation said,

"I have no disposition to tax wealth unnecessarily or unjustly, but I do believe that the wealth of the country should bear its just share of the burden of taxation and that it should not be permitted to shirk that duty."

Representative William Cox, who supported the estate tax said,

"It is the first successful attempt to make wealth bear its just and proportionate burden of taxation."

At its original implementation in 1916, the estate tax was set at 10% of all estates worth over $5 million dollars. It went up very quickly. For 1917, it was 15% on all estates worth over $5 million dollars. But in 1917, it was raised again to 15% of net estate in excess of $5 million plus war estate tax 10% of net estate tax in excess of $10 million. Huh. So because we were at war, the legislators at the time thought that raising taxes would be the prudent and fiscally responsible thing to do. Oh, but we’re just getting started on the increases. By 1932, the estate tax was 45% of net estate in excess of $50 million. And then here a’come FDR to raise it to 60% of net estate in excess of $50 million in 1934, but that didn’t last long. By 1935, he increased it to 70% of net estate in excess of $50 million. And then came 1940, where there was another war to pay for. He increased the estate tax to 70% of excess of net estate over $10 million plus a defense tax of 10% of the total tax computed under the basic and additional estate taxes (in effect, maximum tax was 77%). From 1941 until 1977, they decided not to fuck around with all that language and just set the estate tax at 77% of excess of net estate over $10 million. Can someone remind me when the golden era of economic expansion in the US was again? Jimmy Carter came in and changed the tax to 70% of excess over $5 million. And then Ronny, patron saint of the wealthy, set it at 65% of excess over $4 million for 1982, 60% of excess over $3.5 million for 1983 , and 55% of excess over $3 million for 1984 – 1988. For 1987 – 1998, the rate was set at 55% of excess over $3 million (effectively 60% for estates in excess of $10 million but less than $21,040,000 because of a surtax to phase out benefits of the graduated rates and unified credit). That was as low as Ronald Reagan could conceive of dropping it. But fear not, Buckley v Valeo was starting to being in dividends. For 1998 – 2001, Bill Clinton set the rate at 55% of excess over $3 million (effectively 60% for estates in excess of $10 million but less than $17,184,000 because of a surtax to phase out benefits of the graduated rate).

To be clear, the intention behind an estate tax was twofold. It was the best way to pay for things because what better time to tax someone, than when it’s on money they didn’t break their backs earning? The second purpose was to prevent oligarchy. FDR correctly said,

"Great accumulations of wealth cannot be justified on the basis of personal and family security. In the last analysis such accumulations amount to the perpetuation of great and undesirable concentration of control in a relatively few individuals over the employment and welfare of many, many others."

I don’t care if you like that or not. FDR was right, and there’s nothing you can say to change that empirical fact.

Huh. As soon as we lowered the Paris Hilton tax, wealth started to become mega-concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of people. Today. 400 people own the same wealth as 50% of Americans. That is not a fucking accident. Taxation is always a redistribution of wealth. It always had been, and it always will be. First worlds have never been built in any way other than through an involuntary taxation system. The question is, do we want to redistribute across, or up?

During the time when the top estate tax was set at 77%, the top corporate and income tax rate was higher (at 91%). This forced reinvestment in companies and the country. There was no incentive to loot money from your company or your country because you were just going to pay it all out in taxes. That’s what created the greatest economic expansion in the history of our country. Again, I don’t care if you don’t like it. It is what it is and all of your theorizing and quantum physics, parallel universe nonsense isn’t going to change the empirical facts of what happened.

So let me share some estate tax fun facts so that you can really see (in case you’ve been confused for fifty years) who republicans champion.

  • In 2013, among estates that paid any tax at all, the effective tax rate was 16.6%. To put that into perspective, if you make 40k per year, your federal tax rate is 25%.
  • In 2013, a total of one hundred and twenty (that is the largest nonpartisan number I could find) small businesses and small farms paid any estate tax at all.
  • The largest estates are comprised of 55% in unrealized capital gains. This is money that has never been taxed. Not once. Capital gains become "realized" when you sell them. That’s when you pay taxes on them. If you’ve never sold stocks, that your parents bought for you when you were born, taxes have never been collected on that wealth. So a billionaire would have a very large amount stashed in unrealized capitalized gains, since they’re never really having to face a situation where they have to sell the stock they’ve been sitting on for generations, so that they can buy a sandwich.
  • Repealing the estate tax entirely, as republicans want to do, will cost $269 billion dollars over the next ten years.

So you decide: is the GOP the party of the people? Are you the person they’re fighting for? Let’s be clear, someone is going to have to pay that missing $269 billion dollars. Just like someone has been paying for every top tax rate cut. That unicorn republicans keep referring to, where spending less is an option has never happened. Remember, they never paid for their last two wars. Wars that will cost us money until their invention ISIS, and every other terrorist group that forms as a result of destroying Iraq are completely eradicated. And bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bombing Iran isn’t free either. So if you’re opposed to negotiating with Iran, you’d better get ready to pony up your share of that war plus the $269 billion dollars you want Paris Hilton and the Walton miscreants to have.

Someone has to pay. Who do you want that someone to be?               

           

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Greece Vs Wall Street

So this is going to get interesting. The results of the election in Greece are in. The Greeks voted for killing austerity and renegotiating their debt with (basically) Wall Street vultures. This also puts the new Greek government at odds with Angela Merkel, who basically is the EU. But I believe that the Merkel clash is being overestimated and won’t be the standoff that some media outlets are predicting.

Here’s a recap of what happened in Greece. The country incurred massive debt. This is very different from what happened in Spain or the US, where the people incurred massive debt even though the result was the same, and the creditors were the same. In Greece’s case, it was the government who borrowed massively. Here’s how banking worked in the olden days of Glass Steagall: banks would assess a borrower’s ability to repay debt and decide whether extending a loan was viable, and setting the percentage rate based on viability. This made banks more prudent in who they loaned to because the goal was to get repaid with a little interest. See the interest was calculated using a formula whose two primary goals were to cover the bank’s total exposure (meaning all they loans they had made) and to create a profit for the bank. But then something horrible happened that wasn’t unforeseen, since it had happened before; banks assigned value to debt. And yes, that’s as crazy as it sounds. They took the projected profit (if everything went swimmingly) from the debt and let investors buy a piece of of that imaginary profit in the form of securities. In the interest of keeping things simple and getting to the point of this post, securities are basically trade-able debt. So now this money that doesn’t actually exist is worth something. Glass Steagall used to separate the banking assets of a bank from their investment assets. The need to do this should not have to be explained. If a bank puts these securities on its balance sheets as assets, they can sell them and still be insured against those losses in the form of the FDIC insurance that real assets (your deposits) have. When a bank can inflate their assets by making insane loans without worrying if those loans are actually viable, what do you think happens? If you guessed that they make loans to anyone and everyone they can, with no regard to viability so that they can sell those "assets" and create a profit stream out of literally nothing, you win a cookie because you’re right.

The Wall Street vultures did this anywhere they could. To the government of Greece, the homeowners in Madrid and the US, and all over south America. They did not care if the loans they made were viable because it didn’t matter to them at all. There was nothing to lose. The money that was repaid became profits, and the money that wasn’t repaid became either someone else’s problem, a repossession, or a fixed (meaning nonnegotiable) debt. That’s what happened in Argentina. A crooked judge made a chunk of Argentina’s debt nonnegotiable when the vultures decided they weren’t going to to along with all of the other creditors who accepted a certain percentage on the dollar (I can’t remember what the percentage was). These vultures demanded 100 cents on the dollar, plus all of the interest on the incredibly risky loans they had made. When only the profit, but none of the risk is an investor’s concern, they’re no longer an investor. They’re a vulture. Argentina subsequently overrode the corrupt judge’s ruling, cleared all of their debt, and are doing just fine now, after a decade of dicking around with the vultures

Greece is still wrestling with the vultures. Since they don’t control their own currency, the EU (Germany, really) decided that they were going to "belt tighten" Greece by implementing austerity measures. Here’s the thing about austerity; when you take money away from people who can’t afford to have it taken away, the whole economy suffers. You can’t shrink the consumer base and think it’s going to work out well for the economy. So Germany, who makes and sells a lot of stuff, austered the shit out of both Greece and Spain. And predictably, there were far fewer people in Spain and Greece who had the money to buy Germany’s stuff. Neither Greece nor Spain have really "recovered" financially, despite the pain that was foisted on the poorest among them. Who could have seen that coming?

Anyway, back to the newly elected government. They were elected on a platform of ending austerity and renegotiating the debt, which is exactly what fucking needs to happen in order for them to ever recover. I don’t think that Merkel is going to be as big an obstacle to all of this, as some people think. She did fuck Germany a little with the loss in sales with the austerity crap she insisted on. No, the big showdown is going to be between the Greek government and the Wall Street vultures. Needless to say, I’m rooting for Greece.

Here’s the thing; you can’t be allowed to do business without accepting any liability for your risks. Some people think that the homeowners, and the governments are to blame for over borrowing. Those people would be republicans, libertarians, or idiots. But I repeat myself. This would be like putting a box of cookies out on the counter and blaming the children who ate them all for being irresponsible. Of course they ate the cookies. They’re not in charge of cookie portioning. Knowing how many cookies should be consumed is not their area of expertise any more than knowing how much money to borrow is the expertise of the borrower. No, that’s the job of the bank. And when the bank is spinning a load of crap telling you that you’re totally within reasonable parameters of debt, you listen to them because that is their area of expertise and you want the money. There is no reason to become a subject matter expert when the experts are telling you that you can have what you want. Creating amortization tables for debt is not something that most people know, or should be expected to know how to do. It’s incumbent on the person with the cookies to determine how many cookies they should give out. I cannot believe this needs to be explained. When a kid pukes from eating too many cookies, the bank needs to clean that shit up. They overloaded Greece with debt, and they should write down their losses.

Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do for you. Why you? What do you have to do with the debt in Greece, or your neighbor’s upside down mortgage? When Greece or your neighbor are working their assess off to pay the vultures with their money, they’re not putting money into the economy, which puts your job in jeopardy. Let me put it to you another way: paying off the vulture debt means giving your paycheck over to the 1% instead of to the 99%. That’s how this fucking income inequality happens. The dumbest and the greediest among us will have you believe that you need to buck up and bootstrap all of your money over to the people who stacked the deck against you.

That’s bullshit. The 1% will not own a full fifty percent of all of the global wealth this year because they’re all that. This happens when the game is rigged, and anyone with an iota of sense can see that.

So I say, GO GREECE! We need your money more than the vultures do so go get em!  

           

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Trickle Down Bites The Dust

We have what might be the final blow to the ridiculous economic theory that Ronald Reagan made fashionable. The last thirteen years of the lowest effective corporate tax rate made it clear that trickle down is bullshit. But if that wasn’t enough evidence for you, we have the final nail in the trickle down coffin (it was your coffin by design). The plummeting gas prices have given us decisive data to demonstrate that economies grow from the bottom up.

Let’s go through it. According to gasbuddy.com, we’ve been seeing a steady drop gas in prices since last June. CNBC just published a story detailing what the drop in prices means in terms of monthly savings, as well as what people are doing with those savings. The data was collected by Cardlylics, a company that tracks your credit card usage and sells those analytics to different brands. According to their data, the average savings per person was $18.00 per month.

What did Americans do with that money? They spent it. Here’s what they spent it on:

  • 2 gallons more per month of gas
  • 10.3% increase in e-commerce
  • 8% increase in fast food
  • 6.8% increase on full service restaurants
  • 6.2% increase on home and garden improvements
  • 5.7% increase in grocery spending 4.5% increase in auto service and products
  • 3.7% increase in quick serve light fare
  • 3% increase in health and beauty
  • 1.4% increase in bars

Americans actually spent more money than they saved on gas. They spent $27.00 per week. This is what people refer to when they poll "optimism" about the economy. Perception is in fact reality to some extent.

These increases in spending increase what is referred to as "economic activity". Economic activity is (for example) the total impact on the economy when you buy an extra loaf of bread. That includes the jobs created (stock clerk, truck driver, farmer, etc). This is what economists mean when they tell you that every $1.00 spent on food stamps creates $1.72 of economic activity. Every dollar that you spend helps to create demand, which creates jobs.

Here’s what does not create economic activity:

  • giving a millionaire $18.00 per month

They’ve got a few million in the bank already, and therefore have no immediate need to spend the $18.00 so giving it to them created no economic activity since it ends up in an offshore bank (or any bank).

Here’s what doesn’t create a job:

  • a tax cut to a corporation whose demand hasn’t increased enough to warrant hiring more people

The only circumstance under which a company hires more people, is when demand dictates that they need more bodies to keep up with that increased demand.

All that bullshit republicans have sold you about tax cuts for the "job creators" is crap designed to get you to support their greed. That crap that you were told starting on January 21st, 2009 about how government needs to reign in spending during a recession is crap. When you don’t have any money, and your neighbor doesn’t have any money, and Mitt Romney is keeping all his money in the Cayman Islands, the spender of last resort is the government. Recessions are precisely the time when the government needs to spend money on social programs to help you create some economic activity which keeps your neighbor employed. And when the government is borrowing at a 2% interest rate (that’s where it was before the republican shut downs), it’s complete madness to suggest that they shouldn’t borrow to keep money in your pocket.

Trickle down was always a crock of shit, but now it’s a demonstrable crock of shit. Believe your own lying eyes instead of your own lying politician or billionaire.     

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The Demon Earmark

I’m already seeing a lot of coverage around republicans and earmarks, Rand Paul and earmarks, and [insert name here] and earmarks. I’m writing this post to beg of you, please put an end to this inane conversation. Please?

Anybody who is anti-earmark is lacking a fundamental understanding of how our government works. If you know one of those people, please forward this post to them because I’m about to break it all down for everyone.

I don’t know what you think you’re voting for when you elect a congressman or a senator, so I’d like to clear this up. You’re voting for someone who will bring home the federal bacon. Yes people, it is your representative’s job grab as much federal money as they can and deliver it to your state, county, or town. Why is this their job? Because it’s the only way that the money gets dispersed to local municipalities. If your representative didn’t pork up every bill that they could for you, there would never be any federal money going into your district, ever!

Here’s the deal; if we didn’t have the pork system that we have, we would have our house and senate voting on each local spending bill individually. Let’s use the senate as an example. When New York needs money to maintain the public transportation  system, and the senate has to vote on whether those funds will be allocated to New York, we would have a situation where 98 senators who don’t don’t give two shits about New York would most definitely shoot it down. This is true of any project in any state. We would have a situation where only two out of one hundred votes give a shit about the project or need. Nothing would ever get approved for funding. In the house, this would be amplified by four hundred and thirty five. Only one congressman would support any given project, because it’s their project. Four hundred and thirty four other people don’t give a damned about your district or its problems.

I’m guessing that after a few dozen failed attempts at obtaining the votes needed to secure a representative’s requested funds, they would adapt, and the horse trading would begin. Okay New York, I’ll vote to give you public transportation funds if you vote to get my funds to maintain my local parks. See how that works? We’d end up in basically the same place we are now, except with much more complex deals being made to distribute the cash.

And on top of that, Americans would be made aware of every single vote. People in forty-nine and nine tenths of each state would be outraged by the passing of any bill. Why would I, in New York, give a flying fuck about subsidizing a corporation in order to entice them to open up shop in California? And within California, Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, Sacramento, and Oakland would all be outraged if that money went to Santa Barbara. You think you’re pissed off at they system now? Wait till you see what happens when you “clean it up”.

I’m not saying there isn’t a better way than earmarks. I’m saying that this is the only way we have right now to distribute funds for state infrastructure, parks, and transportation projects among others.

So please democrats and left wing press, don’t spend the next two years perpetuating the same childish arguments about excessive pork barrelers. Grow the fuck up and start pointing out that given our current system, a representative that doesn’t pork up a federal bill is committing political malpractice.

And to liberal voters that are pissed off at the jackasses that were elected last week – don’t harp on your friends for voting for Rand Paul, who turned out to be a hypocrite. You should instead point out that of course, Rand Paul was going to be hypocritical. He’s not the asshole. The person that voted for him based on his promise  to shrink government is the asshole for falling for the same, tired unicorn they always vote for.

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Bin Laden Is Winning

He always said that his goal was to bankrupt the United States. Well, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

We’re caught in a vicious cycle, thanks to the Bush approach to economics. Losing 8 million jobs has had such a profound impact, that most people can’t even grasp the big picture anymore.

See, when people aren’t working, two major things happen; they’re not earning taxable income, which lowers the amount of money that both states and the feds are collecting, and they’re not putting money into the economy, which costs more jobs.

I’m about to debunk two lame ass republican mantras; “trickle down economics” and “the government can’t create jobs”.

Let’s start with the latter. Last week, republicans were up in arms over the federal jobs bill which included 26 billion dollars for school funding. That 26 billion is supposed to save over 160,000 teachers from losing their jobs so naturally, we’re all supposed to hate the free loading teachers now. Actually, that’s not true. We’ve always hated the teachers because they have the audacity to join labor unions, but that’s a topic for another post. The one thing that Fox and the republicans didn’t tell you, is that those funds were paid for. They weren’t an “emergency” supplemental a la Bush, and they weren’t off budget funds. They were paid for.

So let’s look at the impact of those teachers on the economy. I’m going to use my city of New York as an example because well, it’s my city!

New Yorkers are currently talking about yet another impending increase in subway fares. This is  BIG deal for us, because we don’t drive cars. The subway is how we get around. The proposal on the table right now would increase the monthly cost by 16%. That’s a huge increase. We’ve been getting a minimum of 10% increases every year for the past 4 years. The MTA (transit authority) is facing major shortfalls (as they always are), so they’re cutting services and increasing fares.

Back to the teachers. Some of the shortfalls that state and city run services are facing are due to unemployment rates. When New Yorkers aren’t working, they’re not paying New York city taxes (yes America, we pay city, state, and federal taxes here so QUIT your whining!). In addition to not paying taxes, they’re not using some services, and using the shit of other services. Services that cost money see shrinking revenues. Unemployed people don’t buy $89 unlimited Metro cards. They buy single ride cards because they’re not leaving the house every day. With less people riding the trains, those shortfalls increase exponentially. So if New York city saves 5,000 teaching jobs as a result of those federal funds, it’s good for us in more ways than most people can even conceive of.

When 5,000 teachers are spared from the fate of unemployment, some number of MTA employees are also saved because those fares help to mitigate the budget shortfalls.

This applies to a myriad of different service jobs. Every $1 that those 161,000 teachers spend on food creates $1.71 in economic activity. “Economic activity” includes the jobs of the people picking (or processing) the food, the truck drivers delivering the food, the gas station owners filling up the trucks with gas, the store employees stocking the shelves, etc. You see how the list goes on and on, far beyond what most people think about.

If those teachers were unemployed, they would be spending less, thereby causing more unemployment. And that impact wouldn’t be limited to the state they live in. Yes, unemployed NYC teachers hurt the state of New York, but they also hurt economic activity in several other states. How is this not obvious to everyone?

Anybody who says that the government can’t create jobs is just plain ignorant. Republicans that say it are just lying. All they have to do to prove that government creates lots of jobs, it to look at the Reagan presidency. The Reagan years were eight straight years of stimulus spending. He jacked up record deficits so that he could spend wildly on defense. He pumped hundreds of billions of dollars onto the pockets of the defense industry. That investment is still creating jobs today. All of that defense money Reagan spent ultimately led to the silicon valley boom. Hundreds of billions of dollars being thrown at R&D in defense, shrank the microchip down to a size that made the personal computer possible. Yes, we would unquestionably have gotten there eventually, but the “Reagan stimulus” greatly sped up the pace.

So yes, government does create jobs. Lots of jobs because money doesn’t trickle down, it flows up.

Poor people are the ones that actually create jobs. No, I’m not crazy. Just stay with me. Those 161,000 teachers that make between $25,000 and $50,000 a year are actually the backbone of our economy because they spend every cent of what they earn, which creates economic activity. People who make more generally save some of their money. They defer some of their income into 401k accounts and open up savings accounts.

People that make a lot more invest their money. They invest their money in ways that will maximize a return on their investment. They invest in companies that will pay out high dividends. How does a company get into a position of paying out high dividends? By maximizing profits by any means necessary. Historically, this is accomplished by paying less for goods and labor. This means offshoring jobs and buying supplies from Chinese manufacturers that can offer those supplies at a much lower rate than a US manufacturer can.

Companies don’t have an imperative to create jobs. They have an imperative to create money, which is why “trickle down” is total bullshit. Very little actually trickles down. In fact, every $1 in tax cuts to corporations creates 32 cents in economic activity. The other 68 cents ends up either in a Swiss bank account or at a manufacturing plant in China.

Republican ideology is giving Bin Laden his wish. Every cent of stimulus spending they choke off is accelerating the pace for the bankrupting of the United States.

States all across the country are removing street lamps, or just turning them off at night. How’s that going to work out for your city’s crime rate? And as states are running out of money, they’re also cutting state jobs like policemen and firefighters. Good luck with getting help on those dark streets. Another charming development is that we’re devolving from using asphalt on our roads, back to gravel because it’s cheaper. Seriously, we’re going to be driving on dirt roads soon. Our roads are literally crumbling, our cities are getting darker, and our infrastructure is falling apart.

Two key measures of the development of a country are its infrastructure and its education system. We’re moving backwards in both of those areas. Thanks republicans!

Your sudden interest in fiscal conservatism is as ass backward as your knowledge of world politics. If we don’t invest a lot of money in our country right now, we’re either going to give Bin Laden his wish, or we’re going to spend a lot more later. And by “later”, I mean a couple of years.

Nevada is a few months away from not being able to pay its municipal bonds. Florida, Arizona, California, and Wyoming aren’t far behind. Where do you think they’re going to turn to bail them out?

The federal government can spend money to create jobs now, or they’re going to be forced to throw a lot more money at the problem later. Homeowners know that if you don’t spend a dime on maintenance for ten years, you’re going to have to spend a lot more to rebuild portions of your house later.

We are letting our country fall apart, and we’re giving Bin Laden his wish. Anytime some asshat talks to you about “trickle down” or the evils of stimulus spending, just let them know that Bin Laden appreciates their hard work. He can’t do it without them.

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