I’d like to see Obama COMMIT to something

My friends at The State were right today to praise the fact that President Obama is working with Republicans on a compromise on taxes and unemployment benefits. But they were equally right to be unenthusiastic about the deal itself.

On the one hand, it’s good that we’re not going to see our economy further crippled by untimely tax increases (even if all they are are restorations to pre-Bush levels). And it’s good that the jobless needing those benefits will have them. (At least, that these things will happen if this deal gets through Congress.) On the other, we’re looking at a deal that embodies some of the worst deficit-ballooning values of both parties: tax cuts for the Republicans, more spending for the Democrats.

It’s tragic, and bodes very ill for our country, that this flawed compromise stirs such anger on both partisan extremes: Some Democrats are beside themselves at this “betrayal” by the president. (Which bemuses me — as y’all know, I have trouble understanding how people get so EMOTIONAL about such a dull, gray topic as taxes, whether it’s the rantings of the Tea Partiers who don’t want to pay them, especially if the dough goes to the “undeserving poor,” or the ravings of the liberal class warriors who don’t want “the undeserving rich” to get any breaks. Why not save that passion for something that really matters?) Meanwhile, people on the right — such as Daniel Henninger in the WSJ today — chide Obama for not going far enough on taxes.

In this particular case, I think the folks on the right have a bit of a point (some of them — I have no patience for DeMint demanding the tax cuts and fighting the spending part), but it doesn’t have to do with taxes — it has to do with the president’s overall approach to leadership, and a flaw I see in it. Henninger complains that these tax cut extensions are unlikely to get businesses to go out and invest and create jobs, since the president threatens to eliminate the cuts a year or two down the line.

That actually makes sense (even if it does occur in a column redolent with offensive right-wing attitudes — he sneers at Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath”), and I see in it echoes of the president’s flawed approach in another important arena — Afghanistan.

Here’s the thing: If keeping these tax cuts is the right thing to do to help our economy, then they should be kept in place indefinitely — or “permanently,” as the Republicans say. Of course, there is nothing permanent in government. The next Congress, or the one after that, can raise taxes through the roof if it chooses.

The problem, in other words, isn’t that the cuts won’t be permanent, because nothing is in politics. The problem is that the president is, on the front end, negating whatever beneficial effect might be gained from extending the cuts by coming out and promising that they won’t last.

One of the big reasons why the economy hasn’t improved faster than it has this year is that businesses, small and large, have not known what to expect from the recent election in terms of future tax policy with these tax cuts expiring. People were waiting to see what would happen on taxes before taking investment risks. (Even if the liberal Democrats were to eliminate the cuts, knowing that would be better than the uncertainty.) And even with the election over, the future has remained murky. The best thing about such a deal between the president and the GOP should be that it wipes away those clouds and provides clarity.

But the president negates that by saying yes, we’ll keep the cuts in place, but only for a short time. You may look forward now to a time when there are unspecified increases. And Henninger has a point when he says:

But if an angry, let-me-be-clear Barack Obama just looked into the cameras and said he’s coming to get you in two years, what rational economic choice would you make? Spend the profit or gains 2011 might produce on new workers, or bury any new income in the backyard until the 2012 presidential clouds clear?

Ditto with the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What good is it to say we’re going to stay and fight NOW if at the same time you give a future date when you’re going to leave (or, as the president has said, start leaving)? What are they going to do? They’re going to sit tight and wait for you to leave on schedule.  (And yes, pragmatic people may take comfort from the fact that the president has allowed himself lots of wiggle-room to stay there — but the harm has been done by the announcement of the intention to leave). Every effort should be taken to make one’s adversaries believe you’re willing to fight them forever (even if you aren’t), if you ever hope to achieve anything by fighting.

The problem in both cases is trying to have one’s cake and eat it, too — making a deal with the Republicans without one’s base getting too mad at you, or maintain our security commitment without (here comes that base thing again) freaking out the anti-war faction too much. What this ignores is that out in the REAL world, as opposed to the one where the parties play partisan tit-for-tat games, real people react in ways that matter to your policy moves: Business people continue to sit rather than creating jobs; the Taliban waits you out while your allies move away from you because they know they have to live there when you’re gone.

What would be great would be if Barack Obama should commit for the duration to something. He should have committed to a single-payer approach to health care from the beginning. Going in with a compromise meant that we got this mish-mash that health care “reform” turned into. He should commit to a plan on the economy, and not undermine it by saying he’s only going to do it for a little while. And most of all, he should commit to Afghanistan, and not try to mollify his base with dangerous deadlines.

What the president does, and even says, matters. He needs to recognize that, pick a direction, and stick with it long enough to have a salutary effect. Whatever their ideology, that’s what leaders do. And we could use some leadership.

90 thoughts on “I’d like to see Obama COMMIT to something

  1. bud

    Indeed the POTUS needs to be more definitive. Here’s how:

    1. Commit to keeping the Bush tax cuts for those earning less than 250k just as he promised during the election.

    2. Commit to keeping the Bush tax cust for the rich until a date certain then revert those back to the Clinton era taxes. Businesses could then plan knowing their tax burden for the forseable future.

    3. Single payer never had any chance but a good starting point would have been to propose a gradual lowering of the age requirement for medicare. After 50 years or so everyone would be covered.

    4. Prepare a plan to immediately pull all troops out of all countries in the middle east. No deadlines. No uncertainty. Just say they’re coming home as soon as the logistical assets are in place.

  2. Doug Ross

    All the talk is about how these options “add to the deficit”.

    The only reason they add to the deficit is because nobody wants to look at cutting spending (which is different from not raising taxes).

    Do everything in this bill and then cut foreign aid, close some overseas military bases, shutdown the Department of Education, cut government contractor spending, etc. and you can have all this.

    The one part of this whole farce that baffles me is the extension of unemployment benefits for 99 more weeks. Two YEARS? What are the expectations of people who are out of work for two years? The majority of them are high school dropouts (16% unemployment versus 5.1% for college grads). Are you telling me in two years time if you are out of work it’s not possible to a) get your GED or b) go take some tech school training?

    And once the 99 weeks are up, then what? More extensions?

    The jobs we have lost that unskilled, uneducated people can do have been shipped overseas and are never coming back unless we Americans are willing to pay double or triple for manufactured products made by U.S. workers.

    26 weeks of unemployment should be plenty of time for a person to take some initiative to do something to improve their job prospects. 99 weeks is way too long.

  3. bud

    What far too many members of the Congress forget — and what Mr. Obama clearly failed to remember during the past two years — is that the American people reside mainly in the political center.
    – State editorial

    Wow. That statement is unbelievable. Again, WOW! Obama has stridently tried to accomodate the right-wing zealots on issues large and small for two years now. He’s reached out in a vain attempt to compromise. It’s the arrogant obstructionists in the GOP who have stood fast and firm in opposition to sensible reforms in the way this country and government operate.

    To suggest that Obama is the one who is failing to understand the value of compromise is to misintrepret the way the two parties have operated over the last few years. The State misses the boat in a way that takes ones breath away. No wonder we continue to languish as a state when the largest newspaper prints this kind of hapless nonsense. Again – WOW.

  4. Lynn T

    Do you really believe that a few percentage points in taxes for those making more than $250,000/year has a major restraining effect on their business and investment decisions? I don’t. They were investing like crazy during the Clinton years, at the old tax rates.

  5. Phillip

    Random thoughts: I somewhat agree about Afghanistan, especially considering that all indications are that Pakistan plays both sides of the fence because they are convinced we will eventually leave. However, ALL foreign powers have always left Afghanistan eventually, usually in humiliation. It wouldn’t matter what Obama said, the Taliban understands this aspect of history more viscerally than we do, so if Obama said he was staying for 50 years, they would still fight, still wait.

    This President can’t win. He gets hammered by the Fox Party for being “committed” to supposed socialist policies, doggedly getting the health-care reform through, etc., but then many liberals and now you say he’s not “committed” to anything simply because he believes that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    As for passions regarding taxes, it’s not just tax policy per se that liberals are upset about; if you listened to Bernie Sanders’ wonderfully eloquent speech a few days ago, it’s really the hollowing-out of America, this unsustainable widening of the disparity between the wealthy and the working poor, with a gradual disappearance of the middle class, that inspires passion among those who don’t want to see this country crumble away. This reality, far more than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, is a true existential threat to the US, especially paired with our falling behind in education. What’s “tragic,” to use your term, is that no one can talk about that problem without being accused of conducting “class warfare,” whereas class warfare is practiced every day against the middle class and working poor.

  6. Maude Lebowski

    The majority of them are high school dropouts (16% unemployment versus 5.1% for college grads)

    How current is that statistic?

  7. Herb Brasher

    I think Jim Wallis got it right in his most recent Sojourner newsletter:

    ‘At a Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner in February 2010, Obama said, “Change is easy if you’re just talking about tinkering around the edges. Change is harder when you actually dig in and try to deal with the structural problems that have impeded our progress for too long.” What Obama has found is that as long as the system is broken, change is hard, even when you tinker around the edges. We have seen tinkering around the edges when it comes to the poor, our economic system, the war in Afghanistan, and immigration reform. But these systems don’t just need tinkering, they need deep change.

    Obama should have fought on taxes. The richest 2 percent of the country just got an extension of tax cuts they didn’t need at great cost to us all. There was GOP opposition, and Democrats battling with one another, but President Obama should have been fighting against the self-interests of the wealthiest Americans long before this. He allowed those who benefit from these tax cuts and the political allies they have bought in Congress to frame the debate and set the terms of engagement. So Obama is now backed into a corner, and just made a compromise that he thinks is the best deal possible when up against the clock. He got some good things for working families in the payroll tax cut, the extension of unemployment benefits, various refundable tax credits, and the important middle class tax cut. But the president is now presiding over the great redistribution of wealth that has been going on for a very long time — the redistribution of wealth from the middle and the bottom, to the top of American society — and leaving us with the most economic inequality in American history. This will only grow larger with the Obama “compromise.”

    If Obama had he fought earlier, he could have ensured the protection of small business owners, who are the primary job creators. Obama could have focused the higher tax rates on the very rich and protected those who are more in the middle and really creating jobs. But now, most of the people who will be keeping their tax cuts are not job creators. After all, how many jobs will be created by the Goldman Sachs traders, or the hedge fund gamblers, or the celebrities who dominate our lives? Almost none. On the contrary, they have been the “job destroyers,” and have wrecked this economy and the lives of so many people.

    Let’s be clear here: At the root of the crisis was just a handful of banks — not the banking industry, not business in general, but a handful of very rich people who took big and selfish risks. They are already getting richer because of our taxpayer bailout, and now we’re giving them more tax breaks and estate tax bonanzas. There is socialism in America, but it’s only for the rich. Risk has been socialized for some of the very richest people in the country, and then, the “free market” pain is distributed to all the rest.

    The rich are too big to fail in America, while many in the rest of the country really are failing. The president did want to keep some things for average Americans in this compromise, but he lost the big battle a long time ago when he did not fight the people whose greed, recklessness, and utter lack of concern for the common good led us into this terrible crisis. He waited too long to fight, to force a national debate on economic fairness, and to counter the distortions of the Republicans who clearly don’t mind adding huge sums to the deficit (almost a trillion dollars with the tax cuts) as long as it benefits their wealthy patrons. The Republicans will now seek to reduce the deficit by adding more pain to the rest of us — especially those on the bottom and increasingly shaky middle rungs of the economy. And now, Obama and the rest of us are all backed into corners without a way out.’

  8. William Tucker

    He committed to giving the black farmers $1.25 billion in reparations. And by black farmer, I mean every black person who put had a tomato plant on their back porch. Average check will be $50,000.

  9. SusanG

    Just to clarify one point — I believe the unemployment benefits extension does not extend benefits past the 99 weeks for anyone. It just continues the current rules for another 13 months. These rules allow an individual to get (depending on where he lives) up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. (Only workers in 25 states can get the full 99 weeks — it’s based on the state’s unemployment rate). So new people going on unemployment during the next 13 months would be eligible for up to 99 weeks unemployment. The current “99ers” are still out of luck as far as their benefits being extended.

  10. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Most reputable economists wuld tell you that you get a huge economic bump from unemployment benefits and very little from tax cuts for the wealthy–on NPR they said it was about $1.50 for every dollar in unemployment bfts, vs. about $0.40 per dollar in tax cuts (for anyone).

  11. Nick Nielsen

    “Do everything in this bill and then cut foreign aid, close some overseas military bases, shutdown the Department of Education, cut government contractor spending, etc. and you can have all this.”

    Let’s see, assuming the best case, $63.7 billion for the Dept of Ed, kill foreign aid (about $25 billion), $40 billion in contract waste, and let’s say $10 billion by closing bases. That’s about 35 days of deficit spending.


  12. Mark Stewart

    The dire warnings of the Deficit Reduction Committee is so last week’s news.

    This was such a pointless political hack job; so right there it provides none of the assurances that the economy is looking for to begin to rebuild. Furthermore, continuing unemployment coverage for the same people for two more years seems to me to be about the worst idea. I thought the idea was to help people adjust to the shock of a job loss; not disencentivise them from making changes in there life that might move them closer to a productive future.

  13. Greg Jones

    As far as the “taxes for billionaires”, I fear that any arbitrary level that sets you above everyone else is bad. Are you rich if you make $250K? I don’t think so. Worse yet, what if they pushed it down to $200K, or $175K? Those are equally arbitrary, but those are incomes that you (or people living on your street) make. Do you consider yourself rich? I certainly don’t.

  14. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    The median income for SC is about $30K, per today’s paper.

    If you make more than that,you are in the top half. If you make the top ten percent, say, I’d say you’re rich, even if you don’t “feel” rich. Our perceptions of our wealth are relative. If you live in Heathwood or Ascot or King’s Grant, and send you kids to private school, and drive a luxury car, you may not feel rich, but you are.

    I drive a 4 year old Prius or a beat-up 11 year old Jetta, live in one of the cheapest and smallest houses in my neighborhood by far, and have no kids. I have to watch what I spend. Nonetheless, we are quite wealthy by local standards. We would not fall anywhere near the Bush tax cut wealthy level.

  15. Phillip

    Greg, if a household is making $250K a year that puts it in the top 2% of Americans. If it’s an individual making that kind of money, that’s an even tinier percentage of Americans. Whether or not you want to say that level is “rich,” it’s indisputable to say that 98% of Americans are less wealthy than that. Anyone grossing that kind of money (and I’m speaking now about individual income, not total receipts of a small business) who does not think they are wealthy, is living in a bubble, or spending too much time watching news about even wealthier. celebrities, and needs to get out more. And not just in their gated communities, either.

    Ain’t nobody on my street making $175K either, BTW.

  16. Doug Ross


    There will always be a top 2%… even in communism.

    People need to get over the class warfare. The majority of “rich” people earned their money by having some special skill or talent or taking some risks. If they didn’t steal it, they should be able to keep the same percentage as everyone else.

    I’ll never grasp the concept of “you’ve made more money, you owe the rest of us a cut of it”. I don’t want anyone else to pay a higher percentage of their earnings than I do. I want everyone to pay the same.

  17. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    How about “you had a lot more opportunities, either because you were born into a certain class or with a skill set, or you had great schools, and you have benefited proportionately greatly from our society, so you must give proportionately greatly back.” I know I won the birth lottery by having two stably married, well-educated, smart parents,great congenital intellectual skills, decent schools, for the most part the emotional fortitude to take advantage of those opportunities, reasonably physical attractiveness, a reasonably able body, the privilege of being white, etc. I gladly pay more than those who did not have those benefits.

    ….not class warfare–just the kind of just society that doesn’t cut the Welfare benefits or the poorest by 20% while letting the plutocrats continue to buy fancy watches and second and third homes in gated communities….

  18. Phillip

    @Doug, the point was not to say it’s bad to be rich. Not at all. The point is that people who are wealthy can at least acknowledge it, and acknowledge the reality of widening income disparity, which is steadily directing this nation towards a state of oligarchy rather than democracy (reinforced for example by the GOP stance on the estate tax, as they seek to preserve concentrated power—an aristocracy—in inherited wealth).

    I agree that people need to “get over the class warfare.” But you and I define it differently. When people worry about increasing income disparity, the shrinking of the middle class, and the disappearance of the once-taken-for-granted American idea of economic mobility, that is NOT practicing class warfare. Class warfare is a set of policies implemented by the most powerful interests in this country to cement their political and economic clout at the expense of the middle class and below. (As in “reducing the deficit is the most important thing—as long as we can do it by spending cuts that disproportionately hurt the middle class and poor—but if it means eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy, then no, reducing the deficit is no longer the most important thing.”)

    So “getting over the class warfare” to me means: abandoning fiscal policy that is run primarily for the interests of the top 10% or fewer at the expense of the other 90%; letting go of the corollary to “wealthy-people-are-smart-talented-hardworkers-circumstance-had-nothing-to-with-it”, which is “poor-people-are-lazy-freeloaders-who-contribute-nothing-to-society-and-less-worthy-human-beings”–call that the Andre Bauer school of thought; and acknowledging the danger that completely unfettered and unregulated Capitalism (worshipped with a capital C as dogmatically as Marxism ever was anywhere) lies inherently on a collision course with democracy.

    BTW, if you are talking about a flat tax, my mind is certainly open to the idea, as long as things can be structured to be as non-regressive as possible (though I’d say fat chance in the USA of that). Because if you want everyone to pay the same, that is not happening now in a country where Warren Buffett’s income is taxed in a lower bracket from his secretary’s, as he famously points out often.

  19. Doug Ross


    Let me decide how much I want to “give back” instead of having someone else decide what the proper penance is for my efforts and skills.” Should we have a different tax rate for black females who came from broken homes and attended lousy schools?

    Here’s the biography of one who managed to escape: “She was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in an inner-city Milwaukee neighborhood. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood, including being raped at the age of nine and becoming pregnant at 14; her son died in infancy.[9] Sent to live with the man she calls her father, a barber in Tennessee”.

    How about this guy? “He was born in New York City to Florence Spellman, an unwed 19-year-old.His father was an Italian-American U. S. Air Force pilot, who was stationed abroad before Spellman realized that she had become pregnant by him. After he contracted pneumonia at the age of nine months, his mother determined that she was unable to care for him adequately, and arranged for him to be adopted by her aunt and uncle in Chicago. He left the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the end of his second year, after not taking his final exams because his adoptive mother had just died.”

    You think Oprah and the sixth richest person in the world, Larry Ellison, had more opportunities than anyone else?

    “In August 2010 it was reported that Ellison is one of the 40 billionaires who has signed “The Giving Pledge”. Ellison wrote: “Many years ago, I put virtually all of my assets into a trust with the intent of giving away at least 95 percent of my wealth to charitable causes. I have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, and I will give billions more over time. Until now, I have done this giving quietly—because I have long believed that charitable giving is a personal and private matter.”

    Imagine that – one of those nasty old “rich” people giving away 95% of his wealth BY CHOICE rather than at the whim of some politician. Shame on him for not letting the government decide how much and to whom he wanted to give the money he rightfully earned. Shame on him for creating a business out of nothing that now employs 100,000 people worldwide. If Larry Ellison wants to keep more of his money, I’m all for it.

  20. Doug Ross

    That’s also why I am against the estate tax. Every dime you make during your lifetime is taxed. Why tax it again just because you happen to accumulate a lot more than others do thru your efforts? I’ll never be in a position to pay estate tax if the base level goes to $5 million as expected but I wouldn’t expect someone who achieved that to pay it either.

    If you didn’t steal it, it should be yours to keep.

  21. William Tucker

    Looking at it from the other side, a person making $400,000 with a tax rate of 25% would pay $100,000 for government services. A person making $60,000 with a 33% tax rate would pay $20,000 for these same government services. Should one person be expected to pay 5X what his neighbor pays for the exact same services? If so, should these same people pay $10.00 and $2.00 respectably for a loaf of bread at the store? One product/service, two prices.

    I wasn’t “born into money”, but I have worked since I was 12 years old, paid my way through college, saved and spent my money wisely to get where I am. Why should I be expected to pay several times more for the same services as someone who refuses to wake up before noon and prefers to spend his money on fast food, cigarettes and alcohol? I don’t agree with Kathryn’s “birth lottery”, my parents were near opposites of her parents and I don’t consider my success to “birth lottery”. If one wishes to voluntarily donate more of their income fine, but don’t expect me to gladly hand over my tax money to only be given to someone across town who hasn’t worked a day in their life, other than to fight for a better spot in line where government checks are handed out.

  22. bud

    The majority of “rich” people earned their money by having some special skill or talent or taking some risks.

    Completely false. Much of it has to do with plain ole luck. The luck of having wealthy parents(Sam Walton’s children). The luck of being born 7 feet tall (Shaquile Oneil). The luck of being in the right place and establishing a name for yourself before you can earn anything (Ron Howard). Even many folks who supposedly “earned” all their wealth had a huge amount of luck along the way (Bill Gates). Gates was a smart, hard working guy but he was able to cash in on a major blunder by IBM to become the zillionaire he is today. Without that blunder Gates would probably just be a middle class software engineer.

    The rich certainly are entitled to enjoy a comfortable life and I don’t propose a completely level income situation. But when CEOs of failing companies like ENRON and Goldman Saks can make 1000 times what one of the secretaries makes there something terribly wrong. Let’s tax the super rich at a very high rate for everything over $1 million a year, maybe about 50% for starters. They can still drive a nice car and live in a nice house but the ridiculous lavishness of these folks would slow down. Ultimately the economy would prosper by allowing folks with more modest means to buy stuff that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. The rich would have an incentive to re-invest in their companies rather than hoarding their wealth.

    This seems obvious to me. The rich have gotten much richer since the Bush tax cuts and the economy has done nothing but flounder. Jobs were definately not created by those cuts. The Bush years saw the slowest growth rate in jobs since Herbert Hoover.

    Since we’re already engaged in class warfare let’s have the lower income folks fire a few salvos. And for heaven’s sakes let’s get beyond this nonsense of saying the rich actually earned their wealth.

  23. William Tucker

    bud forgets to include the fact that under his 50% tax scenario that these same people would continue to move their companies to offshore factories. Under his scenario, he’s suggesting that the government raise and spend more money through taxation. Maybe bud feels that welfare recipients should be getting pay raises paid for by these same people paying extremely high tax rates. If I’m paying 50% in taxes, I’m moving my primary residence and citizenship to Europe where I’ll be taxed at a similar rate but will get something back in exchange. I could still keep a “vacation home” in the United States. I didn’t work to get where I am to only give half of it back to those who refuse to fend for themselves.

  24. William Tucker

    I’m really sick of these people who feel the need to point fingers and say, “you… pay higher taxes”. Maybe if these people weren’t a voluntarily out of work lawyer or someone who decided to make a living as a piano player (which I’m guessing isn’t a high paying position) and actually get off their butts and do something productive they’d have a different view. I realize it’s easier to sit on a blog and complain that you aren’t making the kind of money that you consider “rich”, but that’s their own fault. Maybe if these same people would work 60-80 hours per week they’d sit on the other side of the table.

  25. Doug Ross


    Yeah, Bill Gates has just been on a really long lucky streak. 30 years of rolling sevens.

    Some people are better than others. I don’t blame them for their success.

  26. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @ William Tucker– If you are referring to me, I work very hard at a number of socially useful activities, but for no pay. I’ll be ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Green’s on Assembly at 2 today, with Brad. Stop by and let’s chat.

  27. Phillip

    @Mr. Tucker: There are plenty of people who work 60-80 hours a week who would feel the same as I do about having to feel the pinch of spending cuts for the sake of granting millionaires extra tax breaks. People who work two minimum-wage jobs, for example. So it’s not just a question of “who works the hardest.” Moreover, there are plenty of very wealthy people (The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength group for example) who also echo some of the comments I made above.

    Making the argument personal doesn’t do much for your side of it: nobody here complained about what they’re personally making relative to other people, and I certainly don’t begrudge people getting wealthy; my real worries are for the many many Americans far far worse off than myself, and for the health of our society in general. As for me, I’m just fine, thank you very much. I have no qualms about my choices, and life has been more than fair to me.

    Besides, I do prefer to sit on my butt, as a matter of fact it’s really hard to play the piano without sitting on my butt. But many thanks anyway for so vividly reminding all of us that real class animus taken to a personal-attack level certainly doesn’t just run in one direction only.

  28. SusanG


    You’re saying if your a professional musician you’re lazy and unproductive? Ha ha! I’m sorry, that’s just so ignorant of what it takes to be a musician for a living, it’s funny.

  29. bud

    Maybe bud feels that welfare recipients should be getting pay raises paid for by these same people paying extremely high tax rates.

    The most extreme abusers of welfare are the rich welfare recipients. Did the folks at the failed financial institutions earn those lavish bonuses? Of course not. I say let’s end welfare abuse, for the wealthy.

  30. William Tucker

    @ SusanG, yes I do realize those successful rappers are terribly overworked and productive members of society. Maybe hey should be low paid piano bar musicians instead.

    @Kathryn, sorry but I don’t habit going to liquor stores on a Sunday (I didn’t even know they were open on Sundays). If I’m out I’ll go ahead and suffer through my alcohol withdrawls until Monday evening. You mention you’re economic status in your neighborhood (smallest house, oldest cars), yet you seem to enjoy stating the fact that you don’t work. This seems a little odd to me.

    If one chooses to work in low paying jobs or nonpaying volunteer position while being grossly overqualified then so be it. But don’t stand here and whine about how “rich folk” are paying a lower tax rate than you are… because actually they’re probably paying MORE taxes than you are. Look at my first post in this thread. Why should one person be satified with paying $100,000 in taxes when his neighbor is paying $20,000? Does the first person get anything for these higher taxes? Do they get faster fire or police responses, do they get to drive on better streets, etc…

    Why don’t we put a ceiling on what citizens have to pay? We do it with Social Security payments… why not with income tax?

  31. William Tucker

    @Kathryn – Besides those bell ringers annoy me. If I wanted to be around constant bell ringing I’d go to Vegas.

  32. Steve Gordy

    My personal wish for those who argue that income is a result of brains, effort, etc. is a dare (which I’d offer in a minute if I had the money): “Here’s the deal. You go to work and work your normal working hours. But you won’t be working in an office with a panoramic view. You’ll be working rotating shifts in a nursing home, emptying bedpans, dealing with dementia patients, and so forth. Do that for a year and then tell me that what you were doing before was worth what you got paid.” Taxation hits the ‘working poor’ hardest of all in our society.

  33. Scout


    Tom Steyer is another billionaire who signed the giving pledge who has a different take, as he told Christiane Amanpour, recently:

    “AMANPOUR: you said that you would be willing to have your taxes higher, many Americans, particularly those who are successful say, hang on, I did this work, this is a capitalist society, this is my just reward. You disagree with that notion.

    STEYER: I certainly do.

    AMANPOUR: Because?

    STEYER: I think anyone who doesn’t give credit to the system that they are born into is taking an awful lot onto themselves. I mean, I really think that people have sacrificed a lot more than a little tax money to make that system available for all of us. And I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t give some credit to them. ”

    My views on this subject are pretty close to Phillip’s and Kathryn’s. Doug, I think you take a lot for granted and make a lot of false assumptions about people less fortunate than you are.

  34. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    I was there on a Saturday–check the date of the post. They aren’t open on Sunday.

    The Salvation Army kettles are one of the few ways readily available to those who don’t have checking accounts, or who just can’t get it together to send in donations, to give back. I have certainly seen a whole lot of people who, admittedly are at Green’s to buy booze,put plenty of cash in, despite not appearing to have a whole lot to spare.

    If your reading comprehension skills were half so great as you think, you’d see where I said that I am indeed one of the wealthy, ALTHOUGH I live in one of the smallest, cheapest houses in my neighborhood. That was my point–that we can feel poor relative to others in our milieu, without in fact being poor. Context matters.

    Even Warren Buffett’s wealth won’t pay for all that is needed–which is why he exhorts his fellow megawealthy people to give away half their wealth, for one thing.

    I also don’t know why it’s so important to you that I take a paying job that I don’t need, and frankly am not sure I am consistently healthy enough to manage–not that that’s any of your business, when there are so many people who truly need paying jobs. I am not “proud” of the fact that I do not have to work–it’s just a fact. We get by fine on my husband’s salary, which frees me up to do plenty of other useful things–my point was that I’m not sitting on my sofa watching soap operas and eating bonbons.

    —and a ceiling on Social Security payments is one reason why we are going to run out of money….

    and we’ve hashed over the fallacy of taxes-for-services so much already on this blog–which you must know since you’ve stored up so much information on some of the commentators.

  35. Doug Ross


    You can call me fortunate but I believe in the concept of “luck is the residue of design”.

    People make choices.

  36. bud

    Does the first person get anything for these higher taxes?
    – William Tucker

    Of course they do. The rich get far more benefits from their tax dollar than the rest of us. This argument that the rich only receive comparble benefits for greater payment is ludicrous.

  37. William Tucker

    @bud – “The rich get far more benefits from their tax dollars…” such as?

    Does the government give the rich checks (which are valued at far more than the recipients contribute) they can cash like it does for the poor? Does the government give the rich free or subsidized housing? Does the government give the rich grants for a free college education? I can go on and on.

    When the “rich” get back more than they contribute as is the case for the “poor” I’ll agree with your statement… until then the only thing ludicrous are your views.

  38. Scout

    People do make choices, Doug,…no question about it, yet the choices available to them are dictated by their circumstances….which are quite often a matter of luck and out of their control. Where and who you are born to, for example, or the type of care/interaction you receive up until age 5 are completely out your own control, yet significantly impact the types of choices you will be able to make in life.

    A child born into a situation of severe neglect, for example, who does not have his needs met and does not receive the necessary nutrition and interaction for normal development and subsequently has cognitive delays that will likely always cause him to be behind in school, and who has no encouragement at home, will likely give up and drop out of school because even though the teachers want to be compassionate and work with him on his level, they have to make him take the state test on his grade level, by God, or else the school will be penalized (more) under NCLB, and Lord knows we couldn’t have that.

    So this child, Doug, by whose design was it his luck to be born into this condition of severe neglect which shaped his life’s choices? His?

  39. William Tucker

    Point of fact, the Columbia bus system. The people voted down the 1% sales tax increase. Benjamin and the boys in city council said, okay we’ll just tack it on your power bill. Columbia got rid of the bumbling Coble and elected the equally bumbling Benjamin. I suspect, like Obama, he’ll serve one term and be done.

  40. bud

    The rich benefit from a system that allows them the opportunity to accrue massive amounts of money, often through chicanery or outright theft. Billions are made by a handful of people by virtue of the military industrial gravy train that largely exists only for that purpose. Dick Cheney is a great example of that. Haliburton has squeezed tens of billions out of the taxpayers for mostly just feeding the troops. Only in a system like we have could a 5 deferment coward enrich himself off the teet of taxpayer largese and not be branded for treason. The tiny payouts Mr. Tucker whines about can’t compare to the riches stolen by the Cheneys of the world.

    I could go on with the likes of Enron and Goldman Sachs but the point is clear, the rich benefit from the U.S. government far greater than a handful of hapless welfare recipients. It’s not even close.

  41. William Tucker

    I’m just happy that those children with rich parents are getting a better education than those of poor parents. I mean what would happen if the Osborne, Kardashian, Hilton, Lohan, etc. children hadn’t had had the money to get an Ivy League education.

  42. Doug Ross


    My response to you would be “how much money do you expect it will take to fix that child’s situation?” Obviously you think it is more than we currently spend. How much more? and what other government functions are you willing to give up in order to achieve that goal? Can you convince the state legislature to stop spending money on the Hunley in order to fund child protection?

    We as a state do not have a legislature that understands the words “priorities” and “stewardship”.

  43. Doug Ross


    And just to give you some personal information that may influence my opinions – I am the first college graduate in my family tree. My mother was raised by my grandmother (whose husband died while she was pregnant) in a cold water one room flat during the Depression. My grandmother attended school through third grade. But you know what? Somehow my mother graduated from high school and went to secretary school without all the government intervention the exists today. She married my father and they lived in a tiny one bedroom house that was half the size of a double-wide trailer. My father worked three jobs in order to save the money to buy a half-finished 1500 square foot house 50 years ago. They had three sons who all attended public schools, did well in school, and then went on to college.

    My story is no different from millions of people my age. We all weren’t just lucky – because there are just as many from my background who didn’t have similar results because they made other choices.

    The government should provide opportunities for people willing to work, not a cradle to grave welfare based upon the hard work of others.

  44. Burl Burlingame

    I’m becoming more impressed with Obama’s politik-fu this last week. He used the Republicans’ obsession with billionaire tax breaks against them, getting all sorts of concessions they would have normally opposed, if they weren’t so pleased with themselves over getting the tax break extended.

  45. William Tucker

    @bud, how is this any different than the poor, inner-city, black athlete who signs a multi-million, multi-year professional sports contract or music contract? All the while unable to read, write, or manage money. The number of people we’re talking about is probably equally divided between silver spoon white kids and athletically gifted black kids.

    “handful of hapless welfare recipients”… handful??? Is this why the SC welfare department is asking to run in the red next year, because this handful of welfare recipients in this state is going to bankrupt the department? How many people are we talking about at Enron (your example)? A handful, less than ten? Is the number equal to the welfare recipients in any given state? You’re trying to compare Apples to Zippers bud.

    Just call me “son of Jimmy the Greek”.

  46. bud

    Doug, it sounds like you had wonderful, loving, hard-working parents who were able to provide you with a good grounding. My family experience is much the same. We are lucky to have all that.

    We were not so lucky as to be in the situation of Ron Howard though. He grew up in an environment that enabled him to become the successful actor and director that he became. And good for him. I don’t begrudge that to him at all but clearly he was lucky along with being a hard worker and talented. But we didn’t have that opportunity. And millions don’t have the opportunity that we had.

  47. William Tucker

    @ Doug Ross, Thank you for giving your real life experience. Yours is like mine and many others who started out with minimal to no finances. Most of my family members went through the military before going to college or earned a college degree while in the military. I worked, borrowed student loans, and did without while attending college. I didn’t have a car until my junior year, and the one I got was my grandparent’s old car. I worked manual labor jobs working construction during the summers working 10-14 hour days, six days a week work weeks, and saved what I earned. I didn’t ask for or was given a dime by my parents for my college expenses. Unlike kids today, once I reached the age of 18 my parents decided it was time to stop raising me and let me fend for myself. I did live with them during the summers while at college but they didn’t pay for my gas, insurance, food for packed lunches, etc. If I couldn’t afford something, I did without or saved until I could afford to buy it.

    Throwing money at education is not the solution like many believe. I know teachers who have taught in the “Corridor of Shame”. They said that SC could build a state of the art, billion dollar facility and the test scores might change slightly at best. The students and parents there do not care about education. Teachers get discouraged by the lack of interest in learning and quit. The buildings are poor, but the students and parents attitudes are worse.

    To date, I don’t know of one family member who has received a nickle of government money other than social security benefits which began at the age of 65. Welfare should be a short, temporary assistance program, not be a multi-generational lifestyle.

  48. William Tucker

    @bud – Where are the rest of the cast of the Andy Griffith Show or Happy Days these days? Are they as successful as Ron Howard? Where are Johnny Paul, Mary Alice, and Leon (Ron Howard’s brother)? Where are Potsie and Ralph Malph? How about the kids of the Partridge Family, Brady Bunch, and Leave It To Beaver? If child actors had it easy, then why aren’t all child actors as successful as Ron Howard?

  49. Doug Ross


    Sorry, bud, the luck ends when the the hard work begins.

    Your Ron Howard example is completely backwards. “Luck” may get you one chance but if you fail to do anything with that opportunity, you aren’t lucky, you’re lazy. Do you seriously think Ron Howard has just been “lucky” year after year? He’s had bad movies and yet has been able to recover. Why is that? Hard work, intelligence, perseverance, insight, a good attitude… all those things have nothing to do with luck.

    Mike Tyson made and lost over $100 million dollars in his career. Was that bad luck or bad choices?

    Bernie Madoff went from billionaire to inmate. Luck or choice?

    We have a culture that says, “Poor baby, you are so unlucky, let’s get you on the government dole for the rest of your life. We’ll take more money from those terrible lucky people and give it to you. Revel in your poverty.”

  50. Doug Ross


    This is why I believe unemployment benefits should be tied to some specific expectations of the recipients. In 99 weeks, you can get an associates degree at any tech college in SC.. and pay very little for it if you are unable to pay.

    People need to develop initiative, not develop dependence on government welfare taken from the hard work of others.

  51. Doug Ross


    And please compare the success of Ron Howard with his brother, Clint. Clint has been an actor for nearly as long as Ron. Same gene pool, same career, completely different results. Could it be that Ron is simply better than Clint? It happens.

    Winning the lottery is luck. Having a long, successful career over the span of a couple decades isn’t. And the bottom line is that there is no basis for a system that takes more from those who succeed just because it’s “not fair” to everyone who doesn’t have the same success.

  52. Doug Ross


    And one more comment on “luck”. One cannot be a true believer in pretty much any religion and still believe in the concept of “luck”.

    Grace, yes. Blessings, yes. Luck, doesn’t exist.

  53. SusanG

    Mike Tyson is not on the public dole, and Madoff is in prison. So in neither case did we as a society reward their poor choices.
    I don’t think I can agree with the idea that we have a culture of wanting to reward people who make poor choices. We still do it sometimes, but I’ve not met many who like doing it, or feel it’s a virtue.

  54. bud

    I’ve never denied that hard work, intelligence and other factors individuals control factors in to the odds that a person becomes wealthy. But it’s equally true that luck is an important factor as well. Why is that so hard to understand and acknowledge? A high tax rate for the wealthy simply acknowledges that fact and helps provide the government with funding while at the same time giving those on the lower rungs of the ladder a bit of help to move up. What’s wrong with that? A heavily taxed billionare will still be comfortable so what’s the problem with spreading the wealth around a bit? I don’t get this zealous defense of the rich?

  55. Doug Ross


    Ok, let’s set up a committee to decide who is lucky and who worked hard and let them decide who gets taxed more. High taxes for lottery winners, ok. High taxes for a guy who built a business from one person to 100,000 employees (all who pay taxes) – no… in fact, give those job creators MORE money because they know what they are doing.

  56. Doug Ross


    Should we “reward” unwed mothers with multiple children by multiple fathers?

    Removing some of the assistance might trigger more responsible behavior.

  57. William Tucker

    @ bud – “A heavily taxed billionare will still be comfortable so what’s the problem with spreading the wealth around a bit?”

    Are you a billionaire? Do you know what makes a billionaire comfortable? Why not substitute “penalized” for “taxed”. Who are we to tell people how much money they can make before Uncle Sam steps in and tells them they can’t make that much so he’s taking a higher percentage of that income than he does for others below a specific income level and dictates where it will be spent?

    Why should the government be in the business of financially supporting citizens? Is that a constitutional right? It’s not, so why is the government involved?

    What percentage of those receiving government assistance truly are working to get out of their situation? From what I’ve seen, I’m going to say the majority are comfortable with the situation and are doing little to nothing to help themselves. The only way they’d be happier is if the government gave them even more money… and expect a government worker to fill out the paperwork for them.

    Why don’t we make a higher tax rate a non-deductible, voluntary tax? That way bud can be taxed at the same rate as those he is suggesting be taxed at a higher rate. I wonder what his reaction would be if his tax rate were increased by 5%.

    There is no such thing as “luck”. Luck could best be described as a law of statistics.

  58. bud

    Ok, even if I were to concede the point that luck has nothing to do with a persons wealth (which I find ridiculous), as an unwealthy person I still see no reason to zealously defend the wealth of billionares. It’s just not the hill I would die on. It simply astounds me that folks who are not extremely wealthy could be so defensive about this. If a wealthy person pays less in taxes I have to pay MORE. Why would I support that? I’m fully in favor of soaking the rich. Best thing for me and the country.

  59. William Tucker

    @bud – You need to quit looking at percentages and start looking at actual dollars.

    Why the hatred of the rich? Jealous of those who inherited, envious of those who worked harder than you did, or just plain bitterness at the haves while you sit around doing nothing but complain about being a have-not.

    Maybe those of us defending the rich see the whole picture.

  60. SusanG

    @doug No, I don’t want to reward those women (and would like to require responsibility from the men). I also don’t want to starve their children. So there’s the rub.

  61. bud

    I neither hate the rich nor am I jealous. That’s a typical right-wing canard used as a distraction from the main issue. Simply put I find that the rich: (1) are rich largely because of luck (2) will lead a very comfortable lifestyle regardless of their tax rate (3) benefit the most from the government and (4) if they pay less I pay more. No hate or jealousy just pragmatism.

    Of course I can turn that silly canard around: Why do WT and Doug hate the poor?

  62. Brad

    Yes, that IS silly — either way.

    False dichotomies, guys. Like arguing nature vs. nurture. Reality is, it’s both. Of course talent and hard work have a big impact on income. So does luck. Look at me — I’ve been in the top quintile of income, and I’ve been scraping to keep a roof over my head, and you know what? I was the same guy, with the same talents and work ethic, in both situations. Anybody who thinks luck has nothing to do with it has never had an entire, once-thriving industry shot out from under him. You don’t see me crying about it; that’s just the way the world is. Sometimes you’re up; sometimes you’re down. You move on. You adapt.

    Anybody who thinks luck has nothing to do with it, that talent and hard work are all you need … well, go have a few beers with my friend Robert Ariail, and let him set you straight. Or I will, if he’s not available. (Oh, and for those who want to be jealous of “the rich” — take satisfaction from the fact that Robert and I were canned for the sin of making too much money.)

    Why tax the rich? Because, as ol’ Willy Sutton allegedly said about robbing banks: That’s where the money is. Ditto with taxing the middle class — the yield isn’t as great per taxpayer, but there’s more of ’em.

    All this moralizing about what individuals deserve or don’t deserve really distracts from the practical matter that to have a civilization, you have to have taxes. And yeah, taxes need to be fair, or at least perceived as fair, to get the job done. (One of the problems with having reasonable discussions about taxation these days is that a generation ago, Ronald Reagan, or somebody, convinced a sizable portion of the electorate that it was right and sensible to resent ALL taxes, and that has warped any discussion of fairness ever since.) You need a stable, diversified and fair tax base that puts the minimum drag on economic activity — better yet, one that stimulates economic activity so that it’s easier to raise the revenue (and because we’re all happier that way, and “luckier”). That’s what the calculation should be based on, not on how anyone FEELS about rich people.

    This class-warfare stuff is boring, and gets in the way of rational policymaking.

  63. Doug Ross


    I’d be interested in hearing what the Catholic Church says about “luck”.

    As I said before, you can’t believe in a God and believe in luck.

  64. Brad

    I’ll ask the Pope next time I see him…

    Burl — language, language!

    Y’all, Burl used to write and edit an underground newspaper when we were in high school, so I make allowances…

  65. Burl Burlingame

    Under Eisenhower, the rich were taxed at much, much higher rates than today … and they managed to stay wealthy.
    The canard is that if the rich keep more money, it will trickle down to the rest of us because they’ll be busy purchasing American goods and services. Ha-ho!
    There’s not a s___-eating smiley-face big enough to justify that kind of fiscal arrogance.

  66. Phillip

    Brad writes: “to have a civilization, you have to have taxes. And yeah, taxes need to be fair, or at least perceived as fair, to get the job done….You need a stable, diversified and fair tax base that puts the minimum drag on economic activity…” I completely agree. The problem is that anybody who dares to point out the unavoidable reality that income inequality has gotten more and more and more extreme (reaching levels unseen since 1928 just prior to the Great Depression) is accused of conducting class warfare or hating the rich, when one has nothing to do with the other. Yes, Bud and Doug could go round and round infinitely about the degrees to which luck or hard work contribute to wealth, but that still misses the central question: how and why have we gotten to this society of extremes, and is it sustainable for a healthy capitalist democracy?

  67. Doug Ross


    You neglect to mention that during that time when income equality has gotten more extreme, the relative size of government programs that transfer funds from taxpayers to non-taxpayers has increased just as much. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and other general welfare programs have had the unintended consequence of creating a class of citizens who make just enough to dull their incentive to improve themselves.

    The money for those programs that now eat up a significant portion of government spending came from somewhere.

  68. Burl Burlingame

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”


    I get tired of being lectured by arrogant people (whose homes are being repossessed) that trickle-down economics “works.” It never has in the entire history of the world.

  69. Doug Ross


    “so does luck. Look at me — I’ve been in the top quintile of income, and I’ve been scraping to keep a roof over my head, and you know what? I was the same guy, with the same talents and work ethic, in both situations. Anybody who thinks luck has nothing to do with it has never had an entire, once-thriving industry shot out from under him. ”

    But there was no luck involved in your situation. You say an entire, once thriving industry was shot out from under you. That didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the impact the internet was having on the delivery of information. As I recall, some of your colleagues left The State before they were laid off. Were they “lucky” to leave or were they making a smart decision? Maybe the reason you were in the situation you were in was because you were slow to react to the changes occurring around you. It’s very easy to “walk backward” any unfortunate situation and see that there really isn’t any “luck” involved.

    Perfect example – Sarah Palin. She is now enjoying success that never could have been predicted two years ago. “Well, she was just lucky that McCain picked her.” Yes, but was she lucky that McCain lost the election that would have pushed her into the abyss known as the Vice Presidency? Was she lucky to have a Downs Syndrome baby a year before being selected for the ticket? Was she lucky that an outlet like Fox News existed to allow her to babble on to the morons who think stupidity is a positive character trait?

    Wherever we’re at is a result of trillions of individual, interconnected decisions made by millions of people. Or the result of God’s will. There is no such thing as “luck”.

  70. Doug Ross


    Another point to consider – how did this condition of “extreme income inequality” occur? Did it happen by force or illegal activity? or did it happen because of policies that have been implemented by the government? How many people have become incredibly rich because of our military buildup over the past decades? How many have become rich because of special tax breaks provided by the government?

    And what has stopped all these people who have been on the bottom end of the income situation from voting for politicians who would change the rules in their favor? We’re talking decades and decades of an expanding government that created the situation we are in now. At the bottom, we have a large population of uneducated, unmotivated people waiting for the next monthly check to come from the government. At the top, we have rich people buying influence from politicians who turn their public service into a lucrative career. Look at Lindsey Graham – how has he managed to quintuple his net worth to several million dollars while in office? Good “luck” I guess.

  71. William Tucker

    @Burl – Who’s homes here are being repossessed? I have a degree in Economics and can tell you for a fact that it does work, and even better when it’s allowed to work in it’s natural unaltered or adjusted state. Having worked in the financial industry for several years I’ve seen it work, primarily in small communities back when people bought locally… long before the big box stores and internet. Main Street America was founded on the trickle down theory.

  72. Brad

    Doug, we’re arguing over semantics. “Luck” isn’t an ideological or theological statement. It’s just a word I use to describe unavoidable conditions in which an individual finds himself that have nothing to do with his actions, or what he deserves, or the quality of decisions he makes, or whatever. It’s like the weather. You can decide whether to wear a coat in the morning, but you can’t affect the weather. Call it “prevailing conditions” if you will. Whatever.

    Sometime offline I’ll talk to you about my situation at the newspaper. For now I’ll just say that you don’t understand it. I do, and did — I had all the data, and fully understood what was happening. Just to touch on what you don’t understand is that I had an obligation to stand at the post as long as there was a post to stand at. I wasn’t enjoying it; in fact it was increasingly depressing. But I knew that if I didn’t do that job, there was no one with my qualifications to step in and do it in my place. That sounds egotistical, but it isn’t. I was just weirdly suited to being the editorial page editor of The State. And I thought it was important for someone to do that job. The ownership of The State decided otherwise, which is why there is no one in that position today. In fact, the editorial department doesn’t exist anymore (Cindi and Warren have been folded into the newsroom). I could go into what the costs of that move are to the newspaper and more importantly to the community — no one is better qualified than I to do that, because I know what I did and I can see what is and isn’t getting done in that regard today. But I would hardly be seen as a disinterested observer, so it’s best not to comment.

    Bottom line is, I had wanted to do something different for some time, but I felt obligated to stay and tough it out, because that seemed the best use of whatever poor talents I have to the community. I actually had this gnawing feeling that the time would come when I was the only person left doing it (mainly because I was the only person who knew how to do every task associated with publishing those pages), and I’d be doing it for a fraction of the pay. But I just didn’t think I had the right to quit.

    The only way for me to leave with a clear conscience was to be booted out. And sure, that was a financial blow and all, but some people remark these days on how much more relaxed I seem. Those last years at the paper, standing at my post, were not much fun.

    That’s probably hard for you to understand. And it would be REALLY hard for anyone to understand who looks at their job as just something they do to pay the bills. A person like that says, “Golly, this isn’t paying off, and won’t pay off in the future; I’ll just do something else.” But not me. As embarrassing as it is to try to explain, I just felt too strong a sense of obligation to keep doing it.

  73. Doug Ross


    Please. Plenty of us make choices in our jobs every day based on wanting to the right thing versus just making decisions on a financial basis. I could have left my current company many times over the past 15 years but chose not to when I balanced everything out, including pay. I could make more somewhere else but would have to trade other benefits. I have also made four distinct changes in the direction my career was going over the past 25 years based on assessing what the industry was doing and trying to set myself up for the future. You chose to go down with the ship at The State. You can’t then call that luck or uncontrollable circumstances like the weather. You said “I want to do this and not that”.

    Your explanation of your tenure and departure at The State just drives home my point – there wasn’t even the slightest bit of luck involved. As I’ve been saying all along, “people make choices”. The college student who decides to get drunk on Friday night instead of studying for a final exam. The girl who decides to have unprotected sex while in his school and ends up with a baby. The textile worker who sees plants closing all around him and doesn’t take the initiative to go to the local tech college to learn a new skill at night.

    There is no luck, nor many unavoidable conditions. There are always options that can be pursued.

  74. Burl Burlingame

    It’s hard for people who aren’t newspapermen to understand how fiercely loyal we are to the profession. It’s not just a paycheck.
    Brad is also a military kid, and you don’t desert your troops. It’s unseemly.

  75. Brad

    Burl gets it, both from the specific instance to the military metaphor. The thing that was killing me in that job was that I was so helpless to take care of my troops, as they were picked off one after another around me. Well, not entirely helpless — I saved them now and then, but only temporarily. We were being overrun.

    Doug, on the other hand, will never get it. No one who thinks in terms of “trying to set myself up for the future” has any notion of my relationship to my position at The State. I was fortunate (luck again!) that for a period of time a course of action that was consistent with my sense of mission was also fairly lucrative and “good for my future” — until the future changed.

    I shouldn’t have even gotten on that tangent. But maybe I can explain what I’m saying better this way: When the ship’s going down, a captain has decisions to make (up to a point). But the fact that that ship was going down was a prevailing condition that I could do absolutely nothing about. Nothing effective, anyway. I hadn’t driven it onto the rocks. I hadn’t dismasted it by overpressing it with sail in a high wind, or tried to take on an enemy ship that threw a vastly heavier broadside. The ship was just sinking. I could get us on another tangent by saying the captain does NOT have the moral option of deserting while crew and passengers are still aboard, but that would distract from my point, which is that regardless of what the captain did or did not do, the ship was sinking. That’s the “prevailing condition,” or circumstance of luck, to which I originally referred.

    People find themselves in situations that are none of their doing, for good or ill. Understanding that, and figuring out how to live one’s life in light of that consideration, is a fundamental part of the human maturation process. Only very immature people (and they are people cruising for a very crushing disappointment) think that they can control everything that affects them.

  76. Doug Ross


    Sorry, I don’t “get it” because it’s a lame excuse for being inflexible while the environment was changing around you over at least a decade. You can call it noble, I call it stubborn.

    I’m sure the guy who sold the last buggy whip thought he was a hero as well.

    What specifically did you do to respond to the changing market conditions that technology was forcing on you? You came up with an unsupported blog while at The State. Did you do anything to drive readers to The State’s web page? Did you change the format of the editorial page (as a reader from 1990 thru about 2005, I didn’t see any change). Subscriptions were dropping, quarter over quarter; your typical reader was aging every single year;

    You were the captain of the Titanic but with one big exception – the iceberg was visible right in front of you and there was ample time to change course. You weren’t trapped, you chose to watch the ship slam into the iceberg.

  77. Doug Ross

    And let me ask you this – would the average reader of The State know that there is any difference today in the editorial page versus two years ago?

    I remember you writing about using some ancient piece of software to layout the editorial page, I believe. Could you have changed or did you choose to stick with the old ways?

  78. Mark Stewart

    The great thing is that we can pick ourselves up after a failure – of whatever cause – and try again.

    Sometimes the past was “better”, and sometimes the future will be, but having the opportunity to reshape and remold our career, or life, is the best kind of luck.

  79. William Tucker

    @Brad – Didn’t you see the handwriting on the wall? I would think as a manager you would. Newspapers have been dying for over a decade and I witnessed The State getting smaller and smaller and I don’t even know anyone who works there. Even I knew those who were left were in trouble and needed to update their resumes. Loyalty to a dying company is one thing, allowing your personal life to die along with it is another. You stated that this allegiance to The State almost ruined you and your family financially. Why would one and their family in that situation. Once layoffs and firings became a pattern of I wonder who’s going to be next, you should have began a full-force job search. As a manager it was your responsibility to warn those underneath you of the situation and suggest they do the same once you realized that recovery wasn’t going to happen. I’ve been in my current position for nearly 20 years and I’ve kept my eyes and ears open, if I get a wiff of my company folding I’m going from casually looking to full force looking for another job. Employer and employee loyalty died out a generation ago.

  80. Brad

    Hmmm… no one seems to hear what I’m saying here. I answer a question, and then someone asks it again…

    Oh, well: No, Doug, there was nothing I could do about the ancient pagination system. Replacing it required a multimillion-dollar capital investment, which was definitely not within my sphere of decision-making. You’ll be happy to know they have a new one now. The motivation? By moving to the new system, which standardizes platforms across McClatchy newspapers, it will be possible to lay off more people by consolidating production functions for several newspapers at a single location. This, of course, further degrades the quality of the local newspaper. It essentially takes an existing weakness inherent in the daily newspaper model and exacerbates it. The traditional copyeditor was already too detached from his community, because he was a night person. This led to a lot of mistakes, bad headlines, etc., because they didn’t work the same shifts as the people who interacted with the community and wrote the stories (copyeditors will protest as to all the times they saved those clueless reporters, but I’ve worked both sides of that equation for years and years, and on the whole, the copy desk was the greater liability). But at least they lived in the community, and interacted with it some. And often they were former reporters with long memories of the news and the newsmakers.

    In the future, they will be strangers.

    And yes, readers notice these things, even though they usually don’t know WHAT caused the thing they don’t like to happen. (Even William, who doesn’t seem to have taken in anything I said, notices it.) It’s really kind of funny how often people come to ME and complain about all the ways that their newspaper has changed.

    One more thing: I would LOVE to hear Doug’s plan for avoiding that iceberg — for overcoming “luck” with his savvy decision-making and indomitable will. Or whatever it is that keeps him from being subject to circumstances beyond his control.

    Perhaps his navigational skills will be useful to Burl and others still trying to get a little steerage way as the water slops over the gunwales…

  81. Brad

    I’m joshing with Doug here, but we are talking about a fundamental cognitive difference in the way he and I see things, which leads to us seldom agreeing here on the blog.

    Doug’s the engineer type. He’s like the test pilots Tom Wolfe wrote about, who refuse to see that there’s not always a clear solution to a problem: “I’ve tried A! I’ve tried B! What’s my next option…” they cry just before the aircraft hits the ground with a resounding boom.

    Or perhaps Doug would have bailed out before that. Either way, he loses the plane.

  82. Doug Ross


    You could have left The State five years ago and got a jumpstart on what appears to be a very successful transition to ADCO.

    There are plenty of jobs that you are well qualified to do and would excel at. You chose to stay to hear those violins playing while everyone else was getting in the lifeboats.

    I started in my career as a COBOL programmer in 1983. I could have remained a COBOL programmer probably right up until January 2, 2000 when all that code had to be converted for Y2K. And then I would have been laid off and sat at home wondering where all the COBOL jobs went to. Instead I made three changes of direction over the past 20 years – each requiring me to learn new skills, take on more responsibility, push myself beyond what I thought were my limits. I made my last change in 2005 and expect I will have to make a couple more before I retire. This wasn’t about changing jobs, it was about changing what I do at my job to avoid being stuck in a deadend.
    I have a friend who chose the other route and he expects to be laid off at age 50 this year. I tried repeatedly over the past 10 years to get him to adapt to the coming changes but he chose not to.

    As a husband and father and the primary breadwinner for my family, my responsibility is to provide for them. But that doesn’t mean I will go for more money every time. If I make $20K more but am not happy, that is not a good situation for my family.

  83. Burl Burlingame

    The key word is “community.” newspaper people, in their hearts, believe they helping their community by creating an informed electorate. It’s a calling and a responsibility, and when you’re severed from it, no matter what the reason, you feel like you’re letting the community down.


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