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Setting tax facts straight
I'd like to thank, and praise, Ernie Dumas for once again shining the cold, hard light of fact on the age-old conservative argument that lower taxes increase general prosperity ("Setting the Dem-Gaz straight," 9/5/13). I think the problem many people have in rejecting this fallacy is that they can't imagine the mechanism by which it works. If there is more money tied up in government — well-documented to be the paragon of waste and largesse — there will most certainly be less to distribute among individuals. Right? But, as Mr. Dumas has illustrated many times in his valuable column, the facts don't support that conclusion. Sometimes, a situation is too complex to yield to "horse sense."
Many economists have explained mechanisms by which lower taxes could lead to economic decline. But your average, self-absorbed citizen — of which our legislatures are increasingly comprised — is more interested in important things, like the defensive scheme that the Razorbacks will set against the Aggies, than in boning up on the grist that academic economists grind out in their ivory towers.
Imagine a company that lets accounts receivable hoard all the revenue, never paying its other workers or performing maintenance on its equipment. Imagine a large fish trap, concentrating an entire river's fish in, say, 1,000 cubic feet. Could the company survive? The fish? The basic premise is that excessive concentration of almost anything makes a system top-heavy and dangerous. And such self-destructive concentration of wealth is the natural outcome of capitalism that is allowed to run unchecked in a free market. The rich DO get richer, when their wheeling and dealing goes unchecked.
One of the goals of taxation is to provide those resources that we know to work better as a collective, such as a national army or a system of roads. But no one should apologize for also expecting taxation to redistribute wealth — if only partially — such that inefficient hoarding is mitigated. Because, in truth, government is NOT the paragon of waste and largesse. That title belongs to the tycoon who accumulates money in such mass that he forgets its value. (I once saw a man spend $40,000 on a tobacco pipe. And no, it was not an archaeological artifact.)
Most of us can see the truth in extreme examples and, accordingly, the need for some level of taxation. The major disagreement lies in the precise proportions by which we separate individual accumulation from general distribution. Personally, I feel that a system where just six members of Walmart's founding family hold greater wealth than the bottom 120 million Americans combined (the status quo in the good ol' U. S. of A.) is not the ideal. But don't take my word for it; follow the numbers, starting with those that Ernie Dumas provides in a free and digestible format in many of his columns.
According to the lead story in yesterday's Washington Post, the meat inspection program that USDA plans to roll out in meat and poultry plants nationwide has repeatedly failed to stop production of contaminated meat. The program allows meat producers to increase the speed of processing lines and replace USDA safety inspectors with their own employees.
But plants operating under this program have experienced some of the worst health and safety violations that include failure to remove fecal matter and partly digested food, according to USDA inspector general. These contaminants may contain complex strains of deadly E. coli and listeria.
Traditionally, USDA has catered more to the interests and profitability of the meat industry than health and safety concerns of American consumers. Consumer interests come into play only when large numbers of us get sick. Having the USDA protect consumers is like asking the fox to guard the chicken house.
The Obama administration must re-allocate responsibility for consumer safety to the Food and Drug administration. In the meantime, each of us must assume responsibility for our own safety by switching to the rich variety of plant-based meats offered in local supermarkets.
Fear of Hillary
Up until the 2012 elections, North Carolina and Arkansas were islands of reason and sanity in the South, but not anymore. Why did Arkansas's recently-elected Republican legislators pass an obviously unnecessary voter I.D. law? Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, correctly vetoed it because it was "a solution in search of a problem." Our legislature did what the right-wing bill writers expected of them and passed it again over his veto with a simple majority vote.
But if President Obama only got 37 percent of the vote in Arkansas in 2012, why are the state's Republicans so eager to restrict voting?
I suggest a one-word answer: Hillary. In the primaries of 2008, Arkansas voters strongly supported Hillary Clinton. On the issues, Hillary and Obama were virtually identical. However, once the Democratic nomination went to Obama, Arkansas voters stampeded from those issues to support John McCain, whose positions were completely opposite.
I thought that the nomination and election of Barack Obama had permanently moved Arkansas into the Republican camp for the remainder of my life. If Arkansas's anti-voter law means anything, it is that our Republican lawmakers don't feel secure if Hillary is the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. If it weren't for the fear of Arkansans voting for their former state and national First Lady, why would they be working so hard to prevent people from voting who had voted Republican in the last four presidential elections — and by landslides when Barack Obama was on the ballot?
Maybe if Hillary is on the ticket in 2016, Arkansas voters may forgive the Democratic Party for nominating Barack Obama sooner than I think — at least our Republican legislature seems to think so.
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