Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reading about Prohibition

I recently reviewed Daniel Okrent's Last Call:  the Rise and Fall of Prohibition.  But I'm not satisfied with what I wrote.  The book fascinated me; it's like studying a mosaic.  Okrent has done a wonderful job of detailing all the ins and outs of how the 18th Amendment was passed, and how it was repealed.  But it's the interlocking of all the motives that make the story. 

After reading this book, I think it's possible we would never have had Prohibition, and possibly not women's suffrage (at least not in 1920), if the Sons of Temperance, in an 1852 meeting in Albany, NY, had allowed Susan B. Anthony to address the meeting.  They did not.
"The sisters," said the group's chairman, were there not to speak but "to listen and learn."  (Last Call, p. 15)
As a direct result of that and other rejections by male temperance supporters, Susan B. Anthony joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton and spent 50 years building the suffrage movement.  And sixty years later, when the Anti-Saloon League was building its campaign to ban alcohol, they supported the suffragists because they knew that women with the vote would vote to ban booze.

And then there are the "wets" and the "drys" - you'll recognize them.  The "drys" were mainly white, mainly from rural states, and mainly evangelical Protestants.  Their political strategist, Wayne Wheeler, developed a technique for winning close elections by calling out his faithful single-issue voters to vote for the candidate most likely to support their cause - is this familiar?  Is the Tea Party not doing something just like that right now?  For that matter, do these people look like Tea Party supporters, or what?

The "wets" were mainly from the big cities, ethnically and economically diverse, with a lot of immigrants (and Catholics and Jews, both of whom use sacramental wine), but also a lot of very rich men.  The men who eventually organized Repeal had names like DuPont and Rockefeller.  Why did the very rich want booze back?  Not because they couldn't get it - anybody could get booze during Prohibition.  They wanted to get rid of the income tax.  The income tax replaced the excise tax on booze as the federal government's main source of funding when Prohibition came in.

It's a great story, superbly told.  I'm glad I read it and I may read it again.  I grew up in the Napa Valley, and the story of the Napa Valley during Prohibition is not what you might think.  But if I keep writing, I'll just end up retelling the book - and Mr. Okrent tells it much better than I can.  Go read it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Growing by the Road

I drove to Modesto last weekend.  My cousin is in the hospital there, and I went down to see him.  The Kaiser hospital in Modesto is just off Kiernan Road, which is a freeway exit, so it was easy to find.  Going in on Kiernan, I passed a serious corn field - I think it was somebody's experimental agricultural station.  Talk about the corn as high as an elephant's eye - this field was right up there. 

I mentally noted it - I like corn and think the plants are handsome - and then drove on to my hospital visit, which was about as much fun as such visits ever are.  Leaving, I drove past the cornfield again without taking much notice.  But, climbing up the freeway on-ramp to go home, I saw - feral corn.  Not "wild corn" like the stuff they grow in Mexico - escapes from the agricultural station.  They were growing out of the landscaping by the on-ramp, and they were about 3-4 feet high; their tassels were waving in the breeze.  I was charmed, and I still am.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Taxing Question

The Democrats in the California legislature have labored, and brought forth, not a mouse, but a proposed budget, which they claim will solve the state's deficit problem.  The main talking points seem to be that they will do the following for a representative California making $60K a year:
  • increase the personal income tax by one percentage point (additional $473 per year)
  • increase the vehicle license fee to 1.65 percent (it's now 1.15 percent and is scheduled to drop to .65 percent next year - cost to the taxpayer, $118)
  • cut the state sales tax from 6% to 3.5% (savings to the taxpayer, $677)
The Republicans, including the Governator, are posturing madly about this attempt to Raise Taxes.  Ahnold says he will "never sign a budget that includes a tax increase."

Now, we all know that they made these numbers up.  Your Mileage May Vary, as the car ads say, depending on the age of your car and the amount of stuff you buy for which you pay sales tax, besides which, you probably don't make $60,000 a year.  But just consider this arithmetic as projected.

$473 plus $118 is $591 more per year from the beleaguered taxpayer. 

But the projected savings from the sales tax cut is $677. 

On my calculator that's a net savings to the taxpayer of 86 bucks a year.

First of all, how does this constitute a tax increase??  Second, how do the Dems propose to eliminate the deficit if their tax changes will bring in less money than the current arrangement??  And third, can't any of these people add??  (Well, no, of course not - they're mostly in the 30-50 age range, which means they were educated under California's "new math," under which the ability to add numbers together to produce an answer was not taught.  But that's another rant.)