For me, kids are like boats.  Love ’em / would never want to be responsible for one myself.

Let alone three.

But reading about them?

That has turned out to be very fun:

The author‘s been a pal since college.

Living through his and Barb’s struggle to get pregnant without having to get pregnant myself . . . deciding whether or not to “reduce” the pregnancy without having to decide that myself . . . changing diapers 37,000 times (literally) without having to get anywhere near them . . . reading Not Your Father’s America I felt like the uncle who gets to enjoy the kids for a few hours with none of the hard stuff.

(Cort and Barb would be first to acknowledge they were blessed with the resources to get a lot of help.)

And as a bonus, sprinkled throughout the book are some socio-economic observations you won’t find in Dr. Spock.

Two of which I share here:

Determined to become his own boss, my father and mother drove to California in search of a small newspaper they could buy. Imagine that. It was every newspaperman’s dream to own his own paper. They drove from the top of California to the bottom, from Eureka, near Oregon, to Chula Vista, near the Mexican border, stopping in every little town and hamlet that had a small independent newspaper that was or might be for sale. They found the El Cajon Valley News in East San Diego County about thirty freeway minutes from the beach and about an hour from Mexico. I know. Too bad about the beach. I guess the La Jolla Light, in one of California’s premiere beach towns, wasn’t for sale. The paper was a “shopper” that came out twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays, and they could afford it. They paid $65,000, using money they had saved and some they borrowed. My father achieved his dream—he became the editor and publisher of his own newspaper. He got a piece of the American dream right there. It was 1954. Almost immediately, my dad set out to expand the Valley News, as it was also called, into a daily newspaper. He built a new building, bought a new printing press, and purchased composing machines, including some that had been damaged in a fire. He hired reporters, photographers, typesetters, proofreaders, pressmen, advertising salesmen and women, a circulation manager, job printers, and paperboys. He created jobs. He didn’t get any special tax breaks to do what he was doing; he just did it. He was turning a twice-weekly paper into a daily. Did I mention it was 1954? When my mom and dad were growing the El Cajon Valley News, the maximum federal income tax rate on regular income was 91 percent. That’s right, 91 percent. My father wasn’t complaining about the tax rate. He was growing a business, one that would serve the community and support our family for the next decade.

Growing up, I heard the old saying, attributed to Benjamin Franklin in 1789: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I got it. Taxes came with the territory. They weren’t evil. They were inevitable. They were part of life. Politicians didn’t swear a pledge that they’d never, ever raise taxes. That would’ve been like saying they were never, ever going to die. This notion that taxes are evil, and we shouldn’t have to pay them, is a relatively recent perversion advanced by a guy named Grover Norquist since the mid-1980s. Grover grew up rich. His father was a vice president of the Polaroid Corporation which, when I was growing up, used to make “instant” cameras. (Amazingly, they still do.) You could take a picture with a Polaroid and, in minutes, a color print of the photograph you had just taken would come out the front of the camera! It was (and is) astonishing. Around the age of twelve, the story goes, Grover came to believe that taxes were evil. I grew up not-so-rich and came to believe that taxes were a necessity, that they were the price we all have to pay to enjoy the country we live in. My family never belonged to a country club, and nobody I knew growing up belonged to a “gym.” I think some of my older brothers’ friends worked out at the YMCA because the “Y” had a gymnasium. And there were gymnasiums at high schools. But in the ’60s, people didn’t join gyms and work out. They smoked and drank, as you know if you’ve ever watched Mad Men. Today, of course, we know quite a few people who belong to country clubs, even more who have gym memberships, and hardly anybody who smokes. They gladly pay their dues to be members of their country clubs and gyms and don’t think much of it. But when you think about it, why should anyone have to pay dues to use a country club or a gym? Why can’t you just go in there and use the exercise equipment, swim in the pool, play golf, and use the tennis courts for free? It’s there. Why should you have to pay to use it? Because if you didn’t, there wouldn’t be a country club or gym. There’d be an empty lot with weeds on it. The gym or country club wouldn’t exist for you to use if someone didn’t pay for it. And that someone is you.

In the America my father left to me, we understood this. I thought everybody understood this. Taxes are like dues, or better yet, membership fees. Taxes pay for all the things we all get to use—roads, bridges, schools, airports, dams, water systems, sewer systems, the power grid—things that wouldn’t be there if we didn’t all collectively pay for them. Taxes also pay for all the people who make our lives better and safer: teachers, first responders, city planners, postal workers, sanitation workers, the army, navy, air force, marines. Taxes are an investment in what we want and need to function as a country. Painting taxes with a big, black brush, the way Grover Norquist has, is called “framing,” which is a twenty-first-century term for spinning the truth or, more accurately, distorting it. Instead of “framing” taxes for what they are—the membership fees we pay to enjoy everything we all need and share—taxes have been framed as an excessive unnecessary evil, especially for the rich. “We should be able to keep more of our money instead of giving it to the government,” the anti-tax zealots say. I tried this with the gym. I told them I was going to keep more of my money instead of giving it to them. They said, “Fine,” and locked me out of the gym.

And this:

April 15, 1996

For the first time in our lives, we have three dependents we can claim on our tax return. Could it be there’s a silver lining in these diaper-filled clouds? I start looking at how we pay taxes, who pays taxes, and where our tax dollars go. As mentioned earlier, I’ve always believed taxes are an inevitable necessity, even as conservatives tirelessly “frame” them as a bad thing. Taxes, who pays them, and how we spend what’s collected reveals a lot about who we are, what we value, and what we’re committed to as a nation. In the 1996 US budget, for example, we’ll spend the most on Social Security (22 percent); Medicare and Medicaid is next (17 percent); defense (16 percent), interest on the debt (16 percent); domestic discretionary spending, such as health, education, housing, energy, food, and agriculture (16 percent); “other” (12 percent), and international affairs (1 percent). (Source:

Mike Lofgren, an author and a Republican, has written incisively about taxes and budgeting, including a number of related realities, myths, and deceptions. Mr. Lofgren was a congressional staff member for twenty-eight years, serving on both the House and Senate Budget committees. When he left government service, he wrote a powerful essay on titled, “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult.” In the essay, Lofgren recalls: “When I began work on Capitol Hill in 1983, President Ronald Reagan adopted policies devised by his young budget director, David Stockman, who came up with what he called a ‘magic asterisk’ in his documents to show that future deficits could be imagined out of existence” by simply placing an asterisk next to potential, future budget cuts. “This deception,” he observes, “allowed the Reagan Administration to push through steep tax cuts and vast military increases,” presumably while pointing to the “magic asterisks.” “Over President Reagan’s two terms,” Lofgren explains, “America’s gross federal debt nearly tripled. Republicans don’t like to talk about this. They like to call Democrats ‘tax and spend Democrats.’ But Republicans have been budgeting with the ‘magic asterisk’ and driving up deficits ever since Reagan.” In other words, with their “magic asterisk,” the Republicans were saying to themselves, “We’re going to explode the deficit by giving rich people a tax cut and spending more on defense but, if anyone insists on cutting costs, they could cut the lines in the budget that have an asterisk by them.” Welcome to “Magical Budget Thinking.” Lofgren later expanded on his essay in a book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, pointing out that modest tax increases by both President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton effectively “refuted the Republican assertion that even the smallest tax increase would ruin the economy.” It blew a hole in their framing. “Republicans have been remarkably successful in delinking taxes from fiscal policy, ‘framing’ taxes as a distasteful personal burden unconnected to widely desired public goods like roads, food-safety inspections, or clean water,” Lofgren writes. “Instead, they claim that reducing taxes will spur so much investment the cuts will ‘pay for themselves.’ Three decades of evidence have shown this claim to be false . . .” “Working for Republicans,” Lofgren concludes, “I learned the hard way that expecting the [Republican] party to restrain the deficit, let alone balance the budget is, in Samuel Johnson’s words, ‘the triumph of hope over experience.’”

(Unfortunately, in 2001, as our boys are turning six, George W. Bush will follow the example of Mr. Reagan, not his father, Lofgren recalls. “[W’s] policies turned a $236 billion budget surplus he inherited in 2000 into a $459 billion deficit in 2008, while in those same eight years doubling the national debt.” That’s a $659 billon swing in the wrong direction, which would have horrified fiscally conservative Republicans in the past. By contrast, when President Obama took office on January 20, 2009, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the projection for the deficit Obama inherited was $1.2 trillion and 9.8 percent of GDP. Five years later, the CBO projected the federal deficit would be $492 billion, down from $1.2 trillion, and just 2.8 percent of GDP, down from 9.8 percent. This five-year reduction under President Obama ranks as the largest and fastest reduction of the deficit since the end of World War II more than seventy years before. Yep. That’s what you get with “tax and spend Democrats.”) The bottom line: “Trickle Down Economics”—the distribution of wealth to big corporations and the very rich in hopes it will trickle down to benefit ordinary workers—has never worked. America will be rebuilt by restoring the middle class, not by continuing to favor the moneyed class. In the America we’re leaving to our children, vital pieces of our infrastructure—roads, bridges, schools, water systems—are failing and urgently need repair. Other essential pieces of infrastructure need to be created or expanded—rural broadband internet connectivity, investment in clean energy production, a nationwide smart electric grid. The money to pay for these things can be found by requiring the super-rich and our largest corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. This may necessitate a thorough revision of the US tax code and spending millions more to enable the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to enforce the new code, but it must be done.

→ It should be noted that the Lofgren essay and book linked to above are now more than a decade old.  The “crazy” Republican Party Lofgren abandoned when he decided it was a cult — scary as he thought it had become — was nothing compared with the cult it is now.

And while I’m plugging books, consider Trust.

Normally, I suggest listening to books — and you could certainly do that here.  But Trust is one that may be easier to follow in print.

Normally, too, one wants a hint, at least, of “what’s it about?”  But this novel is so inventive and builds in such an interesting way all I’ll say is: it’s about money.  At least in large measure.  No great harm knowing more, I guess.  But I’m glad I didn’t.

Have a great weekend.



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