Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Archive for December 2010

Dutch treat excludes foreigners from coffee shops

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What if the United States banned foreigners from its major chain fast food restaurants? After all, fast food is something tourists want to check out while they visit America.

Eating fast food in a fast food restaurant is perfectly legal in the United States, whether you are an American or a visitor.

Separating out foreigners from our fast food restaurants would be asinine, especially since worldwide tourism is down due to increased airline travel scrutiny and a worldwide recession. But the new Dutch government is doing just that by banning foreigners from its coffee shops.

You could be outraged at comparing marijuana with fast food, and there is more than one way to find the comparison to be insulting. But the new Netherlands government wants to crack down on foreigners in coffee shops.

The radical change in policy doesn’t seem to be matched up to the facts. What is bought in the coffee shop has to be consumed on the property. The coffee shops don’t serve alcohol. And regardless of where you stand on marijuana, the drug helps you relax.

Like America and The Netherlands, there are plenty of other things to do while in those countries than fast food and coffee shops. But travel isn’t just about seeing things; travel encompasses a full, rich experience of what it is like to live in that country.

You eat bagels and poutine in Montreal; you get fish and chips in London; a bowl of spaghetti or a true Italian pizza in Rome because there is a distinct richness to those experiences in those countries.

This isn’t to say that you have to do these things; but you want to as the expression goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

This isn’t about the ability to smoke pot. This is about doing something that may not be legal back home but you can do in another country, provided you follow their rules. To be like a Dutch person, you need to experience what they do in their own environment.

Every day, at least one person in the United States is smoking pot. But unless they have a prescription for medicinal marijuana, there is always the fear of police action. And police action is still a threat even if you have that prescription.

To smoke pot in a public setting without fear of apprehension – that is worth traveling in an airplane. But if you are thinking about going to The Netherlands, you might not have that opportunity.

Americans who are 19 and 20 years old can travel to Canada to drink. And if you have ever spent a Saturday night in Windsor, Ontario, you know they take advantage of Canada’s laws. And there are 18 year old Americans drinking in Montreal bars, where the provincial drinking age is 18.

At some point in the 20th century in the United States, you could smoke pot legally and drink in quite a few areas at the ages of 18-20. Now you can’t do either of those things. To someday bring those laws back to where they were, people need to experience those events in a natural environment where they are legal and safe.

The Netherlands have proven that you can decriminalize the use of marijuana and produce a positive effect on society. To rob foreigners of the chance to experience that for themselves is an insult to the world’s citizens.

There is an obligation to demonstrate to the world that these policies work, so other countries can learn the best way to make society work as well as possible. The United States welcome those to come to this country to see Americans up close and see how we live.

We open up our 7-11s and fast food restaurants to all who visit so they can see how we live in our natural habitat. All we ask from the Dutch is to do the same. Cooperation within the world is a beautiful thing; the new Dutch government needs to see that for themselves.

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Written by democracysoup

December 31, 2010 at 7:58 am

Food politics coverage in 2010

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In lieu of a regular column this week (hey, it’s Christmas Eve), we thought we would spotlight some of the recent food politics coverage from our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com.

Most of the coverage concerns school lunch bills and food safety bills, but we’ll start off with a look at the “Happy Meals” lawsuit. Enjoy the holiday season.

House passes food safety bill; we deserved a much better political process

Solution to McDonald’s Happy Meals lawsuit? Keep the toy, throw away the food

Obama signs school lunch bill, still waiting on food safety bill

National Review’s Kate O’Beirne can’t fathom poverty, food deserts in her ‘cereal and a banana’ crack

Sarah Palin could help improve food supply if she argued policy, not politics

We have a school lunch bill; President Obama should sign bill by the WH organic garden

Colbert Report: Tom Vilsack and school lunches

Jon Stewart, Spaghetti O’s, and the food safety bill

Stephen Colbert calls out Tom Vilsack for ag policy contradictions

Your Senate at work passing a food safety bill, but it may not be enough

And this is just from December. There won’t be as much to write about in terms of food politics for at least the next two years, thanks to the new GOP-led House of Representatives.

Happy Holidays!!

Written by democracysoup

December 24, 2010 at 7:43 am

Barack Obama would have been better off fighting against W tax cuts in 2009

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If we rolled back exactly 24 months, and if you asked whether the Bush tax cuts would last 0, 2, or 4 years: some would have hoped for 0, but most would said 2. Very few would have said 4.

If you have said 4, congratulations. You were ahead of the curve. The argument these days centers on why it will be now be 4 instead of 2. But they forget the true debate should have been why it wasn’t 0.

President Barack Obama certainly had the momentum after his election in 2008. The Bush tax cuts were vilified, and given the largest separation of income since the 1920s, the timing was perfect. If Obama had said we would use the money to help those who needed jobs, that would have been sweet poetic justice.

Now there was the possibility that this would not have been easy. But people wanted Obama to make changes, and those hated Bush tax cuts were a good place to start.

The Democratic majorities were at a strong point, and if they limited the tax cuts to incomes below $100,000, they would have fought for principled party stands.

But Obama didn’t want to fight that battle in 2009. “Just let them expire naturally” seemed to be the message from the White House.

As we know now, they live on, as if there were zombies. And those who screamed about the deficit – the teabaggers – could have at least pointed to the action taken against the Bush tax cuts as proof of the Dems being serious about the deficit.

Obama doesn’t really want to have that fight in 2010 or 2011 either. The two-year extension of those tax cuts for EVERYONE pushes the debut to the election year of 2012, and we know this won’t get done then either.

The president campaigned in 2008 that the tax cuts were not good or helpful or useful, especially when economic times were so bad. And he got elected. And the tax cuts will survive at least through the entire realm of Obama’s first term in office.

Obama is the target of this concern, but there are other responsible parties. The Democratic Party, champions of the middle class, as they like to portray themselves, define the middle class as anyone making less than $250,000.

Since neither party is a champion of the poor, perhaps the Dems set a high water mark for the middle class in the hopes that those between $100,000 and $250,000 will side with the Dems. After all, the true middle class in this country makes less than $100,000.

Let’s break this down practically: as of 2008, before the worse was yet to come, only 6% of the country made more than $100,000. Now we might not be math wizards, but in that equation, $100,000 is not the middle.

Yes, there are couples who fall through the cracks because they live in high-housing areas, such as New York City, Washington, DC, or San Francisco. And a two-income home in these areas could make $150,000-$200,000. But they still aren’t middle class; even in those areas, they are in the upper echelon. After all, they wouldn’t trade places with a two-income couple making $48,000 combined in Mississippi.

The best scenario at the end of 2010 would be to let all the tax cuts expire and start from scratch. But, as Obama explains, the GOP was holding hostage the unemployment benefits. This leads to problem number 2. If the Bush tax cuts get a 2-year extension, why can unemployment benefits also get a 2-year extension or a 3-year extension.

There have been a few times in the last two years where unemployment benefits were held hostage by the GOP. The Bush tax cuts weren’t held hostage – they lasted 10 years under the original bill. There is nothing in the provisions of legislation that would limit unemployment benefits from being renewed for a long period of time.

Obama also said that the tax cuts for the rich were very important to the GOP, as unemployment benefits were to the Dems. So wouldn’t you think that the Republicans would be desperate to keep the tax cuts even it meant renewing unemployment benefits?

We’ll never know because Obama didn’t want that fight. Well, Obama makes $400,000 a year to fight for the American people, and there are a lot of people who are still waiting for him to put on those boxing gloves.

Written by democracysoup

December 17, 2010 at 7:40 am

Those who are rich shouldn’t decide who is middle-class

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Outside of New York City, Washington, San Francisco and a few other places, how rich is rich?

This article points out the obvious: in really large cities, x number of dollars doesn’t go as far.

What we have in this country is the opposite of an inferiority complex. We all want to be middle-class, whether that means $35,000 a year or $240,000 a year.

People who make $35,000 a year know that $240,000 wage earners are rich, not middle-class. Unfortunately, the ones who seem to get to decide how rich the rich are are the rich.

The upper echelon — 2.5% of Americans are couples who annually earn more than $250,000 and individuals who earn more than $200,000. These are the people the Dems and GOP have been fighting for, not the other 97.5%. Yet, we have identity issues as to what the middle-class is.

Republican politicians don’t consider anyone to be rich enough, even if they make as much as everyone in the Walton (Wal-Mart) family, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett combined.

Democratic politicians fight for the middle class, but their high-end definition is $250,000. They don’t even argue that $250,000 is upper middle-class, just middle-class.

The visible element of the MSM are in really large cities, and probably make lots of money in those really large cities. Their ability to relate to someone who tries to survive on $30,000-$35,000 is almost impossible.

And people in those large cities do survive on $30,000-$35,000, even if they don’t survive nearly as well as the others. So the MSM and the politicians don’t even have to come out of their bubble to learn about those people.

The small percentage of Americans — 2.5% — that make more than $250,000 (couples) and more than $200,000 (individuals) are rich. Anyone individually making $100,000-$200,000 and couples from 140K to 250K are upper middle-class. Individual $70,000-$100,000 salaries and couples up to $140,000 are middle-class. Lower middle-class is for $35,000-$70,000 and for couples $50,000-$140,000. The rest are struggling except for the extreme, which are simply poor.

These numbers were pulled out of my posterior, but even from an objective standpoint, they are much closer to reality than any numbers we see.

But perception is in the eye of the beholder. One gentleman from the Atlanta area — who makes short of $250,000 but wouldn’t be more specific — was quoted in the article. He owns a 6-bedroom house in the Atlanta suburbs. But he said even in these hard times, he “didn’t consider a family making $250,000 a year to be rich.”

“Maybe in the ’70s or ’80s,” he said. “Not now.”

Given that income disparities are as high as ever in our nation’s history, $250,000 is not only rich, but also harder for most Americans to ever obtain, short of the lottery or being able to hit a curveball.

Written by democracysoup

December 14, 2010 at 10:34 am

GOP starts using the 2011 bully pulpit — minus the pulpit — to get Bush tax cuts

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Not to focus too much more on the calendar theme from last week, but we got a dose of 2011 even if haven’t hit New Year’s Eve.

I did theorize that Republicans would somehow come up with ways to get unemployment benefits, but they wouldn’t do it voluntarily. Well, we have had our proof even before the GOP takes control of the House in January.

The Republicans, who have preached that deficits are too high, want the Bush tax cuts to remain no matter how much a person makes. Like you thought that the GOP would roll over when the time came to renew them?

We’ve seen this mentality in government lately: doing something for a long time but pointing out that there is an expiration date, so it’s not “permanent.”As Prince once sang about life, “It means forever and that’s a mighty long time.”

Those in Chicago are suffering through this as their parking meters haven’t been “sold” — they are leased for 75 years. If you live in the city, and even if you are young, and live a long life — you know in your world that 75 years is forever. And so will the city’s coffers for generations to come. The Chicago Skyway, a toll road leading out of Chicago to Indiana and Michigan, was leased for 99 years, an even-longer forever.

So 10 years later, the tax cuts are set to expire. They have been a disaster in terms of the deficit (and therefore debt), and the majority of the benefit goes to those in the high percentile in this country.

If you estimate the American population at 300 million (a low estimate), 18 million make at least $100,000 as of 2008. The numbers for $250,000 or more is considerable less than that, but the richest of the rich can afford to pay taxes at the same level that would have under President Bill Clinton.

Now if we take that 300 million figure and note that the unofficial unemployment figures are about 20%, this means that 60 million fall in that category.

(We should note for the math experts that we are not factoring in families into the equation on either side; after all, rich people who make $400,000 a year probably have a spouse and children. Of course, poor people and previous not-poor people have spouses and children, too. )

But in our rough math sense, we have 60 million who are personally affected by the unemployment saga. This doesn’t count the underemployed, and those businesses (and their employees) affected because don’t have enough money to spend.

Even with our rough math numbers, 60 million is still more than 18 million. But the GOP’s fight for less than 18 million has been tougher than the Dems’ fight for the 60 million.

You could argue that the Dems could have the GOP hold the paper bag on this issue: blame them if the GOP doesn’t extend unemployment benefits. Force them to do the right thing. But Dems don’t have that kind of fight in them, because they know that the unemployment benefits aren’t something to gamble.

Nothing illustrates the GOP’s confidence on this issue more than this paragraph from The New York Times:

Rather than extending the tax rates only on income described by Democrats as middle class — up to $250,000 a year for couples and $200,000 for individuals — the deal would also keep the rates for higher earners, probably for two years. In return, Republicans said they would probably agree to extend jobless aid for the long-term unemployed.

The key word in the last sentence is “probably.” “Give me your lunch money and I probably won’t beat you up.” Even the victim of a school bully wouldn’t fall for that lack of logic — the kid on the playground would want a guarantee.

And what’s worse is that the GOP wants everyone to keep the Bush tax cuts for as long as possible, will get that, and then will want something else when the unemployment benefits come up again.

Dealing with a bully isn’t easy whether you are in the playground or the Capitol building, but the Democratic Party leadership hasn’t been good at fighting under normal circumstances.

The alternative strategy is to hold the Bush tax cuts hostage and let them expire for everyone. Then in 2011, the GOP would have to propose a tax cut for millionaires in the worst economic times in our lifetime with a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Democratic president. Show a backbone.

But we know that won’t happen.

The teabaggers — fearful of the deficit — aren’t concerned that the GOP, their party, wants to raise the deficit with the Bush tax cuts. When the GOP has to raise the debt ceiling, the teabaggers aren’t going to complain. Because the Republicans are in line with what the teabaggers believe, not what they say.

Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi will still get blamed, regardless of the reality. The irony is that the teabaggers, if they were consistent, could stand up against the Bush tax cuts. Then the Dems could use leverage to get the unemployment benefits without significant damage to the deficit by people who can afford to take a hit.

Can’t wait until 2011? Looks like you won’t have to wait.

Written by democracysoup

December 10, 2010 at 7:35 am

IFC’s corporatespeak is insufficient response to showing ads during movies

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Even though corporations are now people, according to 5 people on the Supreme Court, we were hoping that they would learn to talk like people.

Unfortunately, many companies have chosen to use corporatespeak as their native tongue.

The word Orwellian is so 20th century to describe such language.

IFC – Independent Film Channel – shows independent and foreign films along with other shorter programs. Like all other major movie channels, the channel features a logo in the corner. Lately, its promos have danced on the screen at inopportune times, throwing off what is often a dramatic point in a non-mainstream film.

While the channel has run commercials in-between movies and shows, IFC is now running commercials DURING films.

IFC isn’t the first movie channel to fall into this lame trap; cable movie fans might recall the fate of AMC – American Movie Classics, now known way more for “Mad Men” than any movie it might show.

But the movies than AMC would run were usually available in a video store, even in a smaller city. IFC films don’t always make it to a major city video store. And given the price of cable to get a lot of crap, getting gems of films uninterrupted was a bright spot on the cable TV dial.

Now here is where the fun kicks in. IFC claims that their policy hasn’t changed, noting that the movies are unedited — now known as unedited for time. In their words:

IFC’s commitment to unedited indie films has not changed.  IFC does not censor or edit films for time. IFC is the only place independent films live unedited and in their entirety.

Going from airing uninterrupted films to running commercial breaks in the middle of movies does qualify as changing one’s commitment. The last sentence has been untrue for some time, ignoring the efforts of the Sundance Channel.

The second sentence is technically true since basic cable channels do interrupt movies, but you don’t pay the extra price for those channels as you do for IFC.

Now companies have been taught to do the social media thing to communicate with the fans. If you’ve been reading the IFC Facebook page in the last few days, the dialogue is corporatespeak in response to some very pissed off fans.


Nice one, Bob.

In another response, the channel says, “While our format may be evolving, we are still IFC. We’re just evolving to give you more of what you want.” Can’t imagine people were lining up for IFC to throw commercial breaks in the middle of its movies.

The other corporate presence is to pay/compensate people to say nice things. Here is one person’s take on the changes:

I think the minimal AD’s between programing is understandable and doesn’t impede my viewing experience. These Ads have the potential to create some great shows and …content that would otherwise never get off the ground.

The ellipses are his, not mine. But let’s look at what he wrote. Does it sound like something a fan would write on his own? This person might be receiving some compensation from IFC or a related party. Capitalizing “ads” doesn’t help his cred.

If you think I’m being over the top on the capitalization thing, read this one:

I defend your addition of Commercials. I know you needed to do it, and I acknowledge the necessity of the move.

Again, an oddity repeated. The mention of the ads or commercials is capitalized.

Now it wouldn’t surprise if IFC were doing something to draw such fine responses to an unpopular move. Companies have been caught doing this, and the number that hasn’t been caught has to be huge by comparison.

For the record, there is no proof — just suspicion. Read these and others and judge for yourself.

IFC has made an extreme shift in philosophy. You can tell from the many responses that this caught fans by surprise. And people wrote to IFC and used social media to find out what was going on.

Based on what IFC has written, they were prepared for the switch even if no one else was. Yet, their responses prove that they didn’t think the reaction would be this bad, and the lack of concern for specific issues lead to the corporatespeak examples.

The channel was one of two major cable channels that catered to independent film lovers. Unlike a lot of cable programming, independent and foreign films are difficult to find.

IFC has exclusive rights to films that can’t be shown on most other cable film channels. They won’t give up those rights, though you hope deep down inside that running commercials in the middle of their films violates those contracts. And you paid extra for cable for IFC, you are still paying that amount, even with the commercials during the movies.

A human reaction would be to feel bad, but point out why you wanted to do this. This was well below a human reaction, and even some corporate ones. Even the reactions from “independent” humans were sub-human.

Then again, despite what the Supreme Court says, corporations aren’t human.

Sarah Palin could have a positive effect on the food supply if she argued policy, not politics

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Given how badly Sarah Palin has been trashing Michelle Obama, the “Let’s Move” campaign, and the government trying to get us to eat better, you would think that Sarah Palin would be the last person who could help improve America’s food system.

Actually, Palin has outsider cred, and the USDA/FDA/corn subsidy/high-fructose corn syrup is such a giant monster, no insider can do what needs to be done. And the teabaggers, people who respect Palin, should be as upset about many elements of the American food system. Someone with power and outsider cred would be perfect, and the fact that Palin has small children would make her efforts even more legitimate.

The problem is that her limited world view is “government bad, Obamas bad, Democrats bad.” But there are elements to the American food system that offend Republicans, yet they still go through. Our food system isn’t truly free market — just one example.

For the rest of this detailed analysis, please join us for this entry at our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com.

Written by democracysoup

December 7, 2010 at 7:55 am