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Noxious vapors

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''(A)s politics as usual rolls across America like a noxious vapor, I'm no longer sure it matters whether the Democrats or the Republicans run the country. It's just a different swarm of locusts moving into Washington.''

So writes Richard S. "Kinky" Friedman, the author, musician and satirist, in his new memoir of his quixotic, and ultimately unsuccessful, independent race for governor of Texas in 2006. Two developments this week suggest the Kinkster got it right:
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is reported by The Washington Post to have assured private-equity partners that the Senate won't consider a bill this year that would raise taxes on their massive earnings this year. Partners in such firms invest and raise private money to take public firms private, and then take them public again, pocketing 20 percent of the profits. The profits are called "carried interest" instead of income and, thus, are taxed at the capital gains rate of 15 percent, instead of the top income tax rate of 35 percent. This sweet little loophole is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to some individuals and costs the U.S. Treasury an estimated $6 billion annually.

  • Democrats reportedly are preparing to renege on a promise they made two months ago to roll back some of the vast electronic eavesdropping powers granted to the Bush administration. In the hours before their summer adjournment in August, Congress approved the so-called "Protect America Act," which extended the already-broad domestic surveillance powers of the National Security Agency. Democratic leaders promised to revisit and tighten up the bill in six months.
But The New York Times reported Tuesday that, fearful of being labeled "soft on terror," Democrats are prepared to extend the vast "umbrella" eavesdropping authority for several more years.

Agree or disagree with them, the three most distinctive features of President George W. Bush's administration have been the Iraq war, his tax policies and the security measures imposed after the 9/11 attacks. Given that Democrats have failed to muster the votes necessary to change the course of the war; given that Reid wants to preserve a policy that calls a special kind of billionaires' income "carried interest" and taxes it at 15 percent instead of 35 percent; and given that at least some Democrats are afraid to challenge the NSA's broad authority to eavesdrop without warrants on foreign-based communication, what difference does it make that Democrats are running Congress?

Yes, it's true that general elections are won in the center. The Democratic left - the so-called "net roots" activists, the crowd and the like - can help a candidate win a Democratic primary. The Republican right - the fundamentalist churches, the anti-tax crusaders and the like - can help a candidate win a GOP primary. But majorities in November are found in the center.

The "hold the majority" school among Democratic strategists fears that a vote against the cynically titled "Protect America Act" could be used against candidates in close races. Why bother the judges of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance court with signing warrants? Why not sacrifice a little principle, a few civil liberties, in the name of keeping a hold on power?

That, in turn, gives you greater access to the kind of campaign contributions generated by lobbying firms for the private-equity firms. Bloomberg News estimates that such firms already have spent $5.5 million lobbying to keep their loophole intact, and hedge firm executives are ramping up their contributions.

This is politics as usual, and, as Kinky Friedman says, it rolls across America like a noxious vapor, slaying men and women of principle. Before the Civil War, Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky stood against slavery, even though it cost him the presidency. "I'd rather be right than president," he said.

Reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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 Civil War  taxes  Democratic  Congress  Washington Post  matters  Republicans  senate  Senate Majority Leader  Reid

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