The year was 1970, and the song of the moment was called Ride Captain Ride. It cut through the boring sounds on the AM radio like a diamond on glass. You listened to the song and thought: Who are these guys? You got the sense that this was a band that was tight and going places.
That sense turned out to be wrong. The band was called Blues Image. Although Ride Captain Ride sounds like the creation of a west coast band — after all, the song does refer to the San Francisco Bay — Blues Image hailed from Tampa, Florida. By the late 1960s the band had performed as the house band at a club in Miami and then moved to Los Angeles to try to make it big. The group recorded a debut album and then in 1970 released a second album called Open that featured Ride Captain Ride. The song went to number 4 on the American charts. Less than a year later, however, Blues Image broke up and its members moved on to perform in other bands.
Ride Captain Ride holds up pretty well as a signature song of a group that disbanded more than 30 years ago. The song has it all — from the chirpy keyboards in the intro, to the funky drumming and rhythm section, to the fine guitar fills and song-ending guitar solo — but what really made it a classic was the lyrics. Sung in a key that was easily reachable by even the most vocally challenged teenage boy, the song told the nonsense story of 73 men on a mystical voyage of discovery in words that demanded to be sung out loud. Who wouldn’t want to ride along to another shore and laugh their lives away and be free once more?
A dictatorial government has been overthrown in Tunisia. Protests continue to rage in Egypt, causing long-time leader Hosni Mubarak to reshape his government and to declare that he will not seek “re-election.” Whether he can remain in power until September, as he plans, is anyone’s guess. Significant protests also have occurred in Jordan and Yemen.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in remarks reported by the BBC, has said that the entire Mideast region is in the grip of powerful forces and that the status quo is not sustainable. The inevitable question is whether other countries in the region — such as Lebanon, Syria, Libya, and even Saudi Arabia — also will be the site of mass protests and regime change.
Revolutions — even revolutions that, like the protests in Egypt, seem to be motivated by desire for freedom and democracy — can be unpredictable in their results. Were the bloody Jacobin governments and eventually the reign of Napoleon really preferable to the corrupt French monarchy? History teaches that there can be no assurance that, long-term, the governments that may replace the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes will be preferable to those that went before.
These circumstances present foreign policy challenges that are far more difficult than any yet confronted by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. They will be asked to make quick decisions in the face of fast-moving events, decisions that may have profound consequences. All Americans, whether Republican, Democrat, or independent, should hope that their decisions help to produce a Middle East that is more stable and more democratic, rather than the opposite — because the opposite could be catastrophic.
The New York Times recently carried an interesting article on the odd state of corporate tax payments in the United States. The Times asked a research firm to analyze the tax payments of Fortune 500 companies over a five-year period, and the analysis showed significant discrepancies in the tax payments made by those companies. Although the stated corporate tax rate is 35 percent, the study found that one company — Carnival Corporation, of cruise line fame — paid total taxes equal to only 1.1 percent of its cumulative profit. A total of 115 of the Fortune 500 companies paid taxes of less than 20 percent.
The reason for the discrepancy is that loopholes in the tax code allow companies to deduct losses or shield income from taxation by engaging in certain kinds of activities. As a result, the tax code establishes perverse incentives to engage in such activities — activities which, incidentally, may not be most conducive to being competitive in a global economy or creating jobs in the United States.
The loophole-ridden tax code is why the House Ways and Means Committee is one of the most powerful committees in Washington, D.C., and why the chairs of that committee don’t have any trouble raising money for their reelection campaigns. The curious tax code provisions that have produced the discrepancies noted in the Times article are like footprints in the snow. They show that legions of lobbyists have worked with committee staffers and members to insert special provisions that benefit certain companies that engage in certain activities. Who knows what the staffers and members have received in return?
As the Times article observes, the current situation is the worst of all worlds. The United States has one of the highest stated corporate tax rates in the world, which clearly must discourage corporate activity and job growth in the United States, yet the actual tax code itself is the product of an insiders’ game, riddled with loopholes that encourage unproductive corporate activity. President Obama and the Republicans in Congress say that they want to revisit the corporate tax code, reduce the tax rate, and also reduce the loopholes that have produced such a wide divergence in how companies are treated. Let’s hope they intend to follow through on those statements. If the United States is serious about addressing its budget deficit problem, both sides of the balance sheet — revenues and spending — must be addressed.