Saturday, February 19, 2011

Land of make believe

Belgium has been without a government for more than eight months, surpassing Iraq as the nation that has been without government the longest. Despite the absence of clear leadership the country is doing well which just goes to show you that elected officials do not contribute all that much to the proper functioning of a democracy.

Belgium is doing so well that the Jupiler beer company decided to finally introduce Force, a soft drink for men. Because, as my faithful readers know, in Belgium men -I should say adults really- don't drink sodas. Sodas are for kids.

Ever since the dawn of civilization Northern European males have imbibed beer. But thanks to a recent health craze that is no longer acceptable to everyone, so what is a man to do? Many in the younger generation follow the example of America and go pop, but the average Belgian male, who is older than a teenager was facing a huge dilemma -until now.

Finally! A refreshment brewed for men.

In the US meanwhile, things are not going so well. Not only is everyone desperately obese and on the verge of -if not outright suffering from- type 2 diabetes, thanks to all that soda pop, but the government is in turmoil too. Clearly something needs to be done and what better thing to do than to cut wasteful government spending? Or dismantling the not-yet universal access to healthcare?

That of course sounds great until you ask people what wasteful government spending they want to cut. The US does not have the generous benefits that European nations have. Besides, what entitlements there are, these are off-limits by definition. Nobody wants to cut social security or medicare, which make up most of the budget. Defense is also off limits, as defense contracts are the key pork elected officials are there to defend. Furthermore, after 9-11, there is no public support for a weak America. Never mind that Ronnie ended the cold war decades ago. The pentagon never received the message.

The real problem facing the nation, of course is not spending but lack of revenue. As in taxes that nobody wants to pay, and certainly not those who can afford to pay taxes. They instead, get a huge break. The top 1% of Americans, who own over 1/3 of the nation's wealth would rather not be taxed, yet a very small increase in their tax rate could solve all our deficit problems -both federal and state- overnight.

One well known bank executive, who was just rewarded with a $12 million bonus, remarked that all of California's deficit problems would disappear with just a 1% across the board tax increase. Most states are in the same boat. But don't say that to the rich.

The mantra is that taxing the rich will cause them to run away. Where exactly they would run to is unclear but everyone is convinced they have their bags packed and are ready to go as soon as someone will ask them to spend an extra dollar.

The other mantra is that taxing corporations will drive away business and make American businesses non-competitive. Never mind that American business profits are at an all time high. That is right, with true unemployment near 20%, American corporations are making record profits. And a key reason why that is so, is because these businesses cut expenses (read workers) or moved operations overseas where wages are lower and benefits non-existent.

In other words, the rich won't run and the jobs are already gone, so why is no one in the land of make-believe catching on?

As we all know tax increases are deadly for elected politicians so maybe America should take a cue from Belgium and go without elected officials for a while??

In other news, Ivan Basso ended up in tenth place in his opening race, the Trofeo Laigueglia. The Italian did show his form on one of the climbs but he could not carry his momentum through to the finish. There Daniele Pietropolli won the sprint before Simone Ponzi and Angel Vicioso.

Robert Gesink won the 18 km time trial in Oman and is now all but assured of victory. Cancellara was fourth. The race ends tomorrow with a flat stage. In Portugal, Alberto Contador remains in second, six seconds off the leader Stephen Cummings. Greipel won the stage there.

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