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Llamas in a Summer Meadow
Our grand-prize-winning poem.

The '37 Chevy
Buying the patron's automobile was not so simple!

The Distrubance Last Saturday
What crawled out of the Big Ditch?

The Saga of Bronco Bill
A true Wild West tale of outlaws and buried treasure

De Garza's Coffin
Why not hold your wake while you can enjoy it?


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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  September 2010


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A Shot in the Dark

Nobody likes taxes — until government services get cut.

A drumbeat of rightwing bombast over the past few decades has convinced Americans that government — especially government taxes — is bad. "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," Ronald Reagan told us. And, "The most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

We'll see how folks feel when the streetlights start going out. In Colorado Springs, one-third of the streetlights — among those government services we take for granted while railing against taxes — are going dark to save money. Other places are literally tearing up roads — another pesky government service — they can no longer afford to maintain. Right here in New Mexico, judges in Albuquerque are donating some of their salaries to help keep the courts open. And basic school supplies must now come from donations — or teachers' pockets.

Yet both candidates for New Mexico governor vow to veto any tax increases in 2011. Neither Diane Denish nor Susana Martinez will cut education spending, however, so presumably they plan to cover the state's projected multi-million-dollar budget shortfall with Monopoly money. Denish has outlined a plan to save $42 million in state spending in her first year — a good start, but only enough to address perhaps one-tenth of the problem. Reflecting either disingenuousness or her lack of Roundhouse experience, Martinez won't even reveal specifics of how she'll "restrain" state spending until she's in office — asking voters to take a high-stakes gamble.

In Washington, meanwhile, politicians from both parties are seriously considering extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of American households. Republicans who decry the deficit one minute turn around and propose adding $700 billion in red ink over the next decade to keep taxes lower for those who can most afford to pay.

No one, in the midst of what still feels like a recession, supports raising taxes on individuals with less than $200,000 or couples with less than $250,000 in annual taxable income. That's 98% of US taxpayers. The debate is over the 2% of households over those thresholds, including the 315,000 with adjusted gross incomes of $1 million or more.

Those millionaires would save an average $100,000 a year if their tax cuts get extended. Even under the approach pushed by President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress, households with $1 million-plus in taxable income would pay $6,300 less compared with rates during the boom years of the Clinton administration.

GOP leaders have warned that tax hikes would hit small-business owners who file their taxes as individuals. But that's simply a smokescreen to cover their concern for the rich: The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and the Tax Policy Center says that fewer than 3% of filers with small-business income fall into the two affected tax brackets — mostly doctors and lawyers in partnerships.

But won't the wealthy spend this tax-cut largesse, stimulating the economy? A few yacht builders might benefit, but most of the money will just go into their already-fat portfolios.

As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman puts it, "When we save a schoolteacher's job, that unambiguously aids employment; when we give millionaires more money instead, there's a good chance that most of that money will just sit idle."

The fact is, the current jobless recovery desperately needs another stimulus package targeted at boosting employment. But that's simply impossible in today's poisoned political climate — while the idea of extending tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest gets taken seriously.



Hasn't the government already spent like drunken sailors? True, New Mexico state spending skyrocketed under Gov. Bill Richardson. In the budget specifics Martinez has released, she's proposed ratcheting back exempt hires to the 2002 level and implementing "zero-growth" budgets — two sensible ideas that sound a lot like what we suggested in this space some months ago (December 2009). But even paring Richardson's excesses might be unwise given the state of the economy. In the short run, Krugman says, state and local cutbacks "are a major drag on the economy, perpetuating devastatingly high unemployment."

Writing in the New York Times, Krugman goes on, "It's crucial to keep state and local government in mind when you hear people ranting about runaway government spending under President Obama. Yes, the federal government is spending more, although not as much as you might think. But state and local governments are cutting back. And if you add them together, it turns out that the only big spending increases have been in safety-net programs like unemployment insurance, which have soared in cost thanks to the severity of the slump.

"That is, for all the talk of a failed stimulus, if you look at government spending as a whole you see hardly any stimulus at all. And with federal spending now trailing off, while big state and local cutbacks continue, we're going into reverse."

For government-bashers, that's just fine and dandy, of course. "Starving" government has long been the plan. As activist Grover Norquist famously put it, conservatives want to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Sounds great — that is, until the streetlights start blinking off, the roads turn to gravel and the schools go begging. "The end result of the long campaign against government," Krugman concludes, "is that we've taken a disastrously wrong turn. America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere."

 

 



And the Winners Are

The best of the Southwest — writing-wise, that is.

As has become an annual tradition at Desert Exposure, this issue presents the winners of our writing contest. Once again, readers will enjoy a collection of remarkable authorship, ranging from sharply evocative poetry to laugh-out-loud hijinks, all of which share a uniquely Southwestern sensibility.

We don't keep a precise count, but this year's batch of entries felt like the biggest ever — more than 100 stories, poems, essays and articles that we somehow had to winnow to one grand-prize winner and four runners-up. If you entered and didn't win, take heart in knowing the 2010 competition was probably the toughest yet.

While we love seeing submissions from past favorites, it was particularly gratifying to read writing from so many brand-new entrants. And four of this year's five honorees are first-time winners, including grand-prize winner Bill Voyce. Among the other finalists, only Phillip Parotti — whose name will automatically bring a smile to readers who've enjoyed his past work in our pages — has previously placed in our contest. The other newcomers to our writing winners circle are Pat Conway, Phyllis Reiche and Noreen Lehmann.

The 2010 winners also reflect Desert Exposure's geographical diversity. Voyce lives in Pinos Altos, Reiche in Gila, Parotti in Silver City and Conway and Lehmann in Las Cruces. (Deming shouldn't feel bad about being shut out this year, given its near-dominance of past contests!)

We know you'll enjoy reading this year's winning words about llamas, "Bronco Bill," a '37 Chevy, an out-of-place gator and a premature coffin. If you're a writer as well as a reader, we hope these winning entries will also inspire you to head to the keyboard and start crafting your entry for 2011.



David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.

 

 



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