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In the comments, @TheBigHenry told me that this upcoming presidential election was all about the negatives. Romney may be log(1), but Mitt's candidacy should still evaluate greater than the "cons" surrounding Obama's.
This started me wondering: how does Obama stack up against some recent presidents in terms of negatives?
|Kennedy||Johnson||Nixon||Ford||Carter||Reagan||HW Bush||Clinton||W Bush||Obama|
Seems to me that Obama is slightly better than average, equaling Reagan and Ford with only two negatives. And before any of you start pounding me in the comments, I admit there are some gray areas here. First of all, I'm sure many of the Reaganistas will argue that their idol being shot was a positive. I don't really think being lynched, nailed to a cross, or bullet ridden is a plus, but I'm willing to grant it so long as you don't try to convince me that Iran-Contra wasn't a scandal. Anyway, if I reluctantly grant being shot isn't a bad thing, then Reagan ties HW Bush as our best president in my personal memory. Wy should be happy about that. Kennedy and W Bush are the worst. And our current President remains in the "doesn't-quite-suck-as-bad" category.
How Romney will fare, should he be elected, is hard to say. I think he's clean and sober. He might keep his junk locked away. I don't think he's particularly ugly, but there might be some sort of scandal lurking in his future, probably financial if I had to guess. He is pitching pretty hard that he'll cure the economy, but we've heard that lie before. My opinion is that endless war, the 2008 financial meltdown, Medicare Part B, and the impossibility of raising revenue will remain a weight on the budget for more than just four more years, regardless of who wins in November. I guess I'd predict two negatives for Romney, tying him with Obama.
PS: While technically (according to the life-begins-a-month-before-conception people) I was alive when Eisenhower was in office, I don't remember him. Thus I did
not include him above.
In his 1912 book, Hilaire Belloc makes the case for the natural instability of pure capitalism. He argues attempts to reform capitalism lead to an economy where state regulation has emasculated capitalism, removing its essential freedom. This endpoint he calls "The Servile State". Force of law, as opposed to social custom or natural economic necessity, dictates certain people work for others like slaves. In Belloc's words, "...If we do not restore the Institution of Property we cannot escape restoring the Institution of Slavery; there is no third course."
Capitalism proponents, many of whom congregate in this blog, often argue that "small" insults of the marketplace, even when writ large, are a necessary evil worth tolerating for the greater good deriving from general economic prosperity. Socialism proponents, often caricatured in this blog, argue that no amount of trickle down prosperity can justify the unjust cruelty and exploitation of the marketplace. Our political discourse has polarized along this axis for at least a century. Proponents on either side are sure if they just "got their way" things would be better, but history proves both systems are unstable. In fact, I've previously quoted the words of the great historian Will Durant who concludes that "the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive redistribution."
That such historic patterns exist is indisputably known. How to use this knowledge to avoid repeating their sad excesses is subject to lively argument here and elsewhere.Belloc, along with the consummate Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton were proponents of a stabilizing solution called "Distributism". Based upon the traditional principles of Catholic social teaching, Distributism is a third-way economic philosophy in opposition to modern, anti-traditional forces found in both socialism and capitalism. In Distributism property ownership is a fundamental right. The means of production should be spread to as many people as possible. The tools to make a living should not be centralized under the control of the state, nor should they be controlled by a wealthy elite. G.K. Chesterton said it this way: "The problem with capitalism is not too many capitalists, but not enough capitalists". In an ideal distributist world, everybody has the basics to support themselves as a small-scale capitalist, but no monopoly capitalism can emerge. Distributists argue that in such a world a just social order develops, with our spiritual, intellectual, and family life taking proper precedence over economic activity.
Some of the things President Obama says may seem distributist. For example, his "I want an America where everyone gets a fair shot" talking point has a mild distributist feel. But Obama is not a distributist; he's a Whig, as I've previously argued. The distributist view is in direct opposition to the theory of Whig history that interprets the past as an inevitable progression toward better things, particularly centrally, scientifically, bureaucratically organized "better" things. Say, for example, CFL light bulbs. This is not to say there's also some appreciation of liberalism in distributist thinking, at least in the abstract. Distributists are well aware of liberalism's limitations. Chesterton once stated "As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals." Maybe Chesterton was thinking about his long time "friendly enemy", George Bernard Shaw.
Personally, the theory of Distributism resonates well with my own economic philosophy. Most of my career I've been an independent contractor and entrepreneur. I've built small businesses from the limited "means of production" left available to me. Difficulties I've faced -- those few that weren't caused by my own stupidity or laziness -- typically stem from giant monopoly Captialists cutting off the means of production from little guys like me, or to "well meaning" yet onerous regulations by the state intended to reign in the excesses of those giant monopoly Capitalists. I've been screwed rather equally by the right and the left.
If you want a concrete example, take Internet access. Almost 20 years ago I started an Internet business. Back then, net access was wide open. You didn't need permission to "host" or "resell". Anybody could lease a link to somebody that had net; create a business; make money. It wasn't trivially "easy", but the means of production (computers, software, and net access) were pretty much available to everybody equally. There were some big data centers, and some small ones, but anybody could homestead some Internet acreage, hitch up a mule, and plant as much corn as they pleased. All that separated someone from success was hard work and perseverance. Nowadays, things are becoming quite different. A small number of giant monopoly providers control many aspects of the network. Fears developed that these big monopolies create a non-neutral network. Regulations appear to reign in these excesses and abuses. A consequence of these regulations is that there now is a definition of a "supplier" and a "consumer". Most of us are consumers now. We are protected from the oligopoly of suppliers, but as consumers we are discouraged from becoming a supplier ourselves. The Internet business I created in 1993 could never be created today because of these trends.
Is there anybody that still thinks pennies are a good idea?
A cup of coffee at a nearby WaWa is a buck and fourty-six cents. To avoid walking out with four useless disks of copper, I pay them with a credit card, shafting the WaWa corporation with a transaction fee of several cents and profiting a frequent flier mile. I have a hypothesis that the WaWa corporation is a money laundering operation for the mob, their stores hand out so much unnecessary coinage.
If anybody needs evidence that our government is incapable of cutting useless expenditures, they need look no further than the coin mints. Pennies and nickels cost about twice their face value to make, yet congress has repeatedly sidelined legislation that would reform currency.
Before I go on, I'd like to know how many of your right-wing extremist readers of the WyBlog are with me on this? Are any of you conservatives out there clinging to your guns, religion, and pennies? I'd like to know what possible argument you could have against rounding prices the nearest nickel, at least. Do you all have old houses with screw-plug fuses replaced with pennies? Too cheap to play nickel-ante poker? Fans of Abraham Lincoln? Does drill baby drill extend to dig baby dig for copper and zinc?
If conservatives could say yes to anything, maybe they could assent to eliminating costly pennies. Then again, I expect I'll soon lose any bi-partisan support should I suggest eliminating nickels, dimes, quarters, and paper money as well. Nevertheless I say: get rid of it all. Physical currency is increasingly expensive to manufacture as more and more "high tech" features are needed to discourage counterfeiting. Maybe North Korea prints more US hundred dollar bills than the US Treasury. And who among us hasn't wasted precious minutes of our lives waiting on line behind some old biddy as her palsied hands tediously extract penny after penny from her coin purse.
Please calm down. Before you all freak out and tell me why you love the Benjamins -- why paper money is the salt of the financial earth -- and that I'm a lunatic for suggesting we eliminate it, please give me a chance to explain. To begin with, I am not suggesting we eliminate cash. Cash is fundamental to commerce. In fact, I think the more we all use cash for transactions, the more fault tolerant our economy becomes. Nor am I suggesting a gold standard or auditing the Fed. Please try to pay attention.
What I'm suggesting is that the government stop minting physical currency; the government should promote the use of electronic cash instead. Traditionally minted paper and metal currency needs to go the way of wampum and buffalo hides. The direct benefit will be billions saved in minting costs and lower currency friction. Freed from the difficulties associated with credit cards, affordable "micropayments" in electronic commerce can become possible.
When I say electronic cash, or ecash, I'm not talking about credit cards, debit cards, cell phone payments, EZPass, or any scheme where there is no value intrinsic to the medium of exchange. These things are not ecash. There's no value inside a credit card. A credit card merely stands as thin proof that you might someday pay for the good or service rendered with "real" money. Similarly, debit cards don't have value in themselves, but simply provide a convenient means for accessing value stored elsewhere. None of these systems are anonymous. There is a central authority that knows the identities of all the parties involved in every transaction, and makes sure "real" money is ponied up where necessary. None of these systems provide final payment. They are revocable. Sales are not final; buyers can renege on purchases, possibly months later.
What I mean by ecash is a system like Bitcoin. Operating without any central authority, Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to enables near-instant, irrevocable, near-anonymous cash-like payments to anyone. Value is stored as information and any transactions are audited collectively by the network. There is no "central bank" regulating Bitcoin. There is no corporate overlord or government sovereign to provide a magic fiat to make Bitcoin work. Bitcoin works because it's based on mathematics. But Bitcoin is not an academic future possibility; it exists today. Millions of Bitcoins are in circulation. There are markets established for converting between Bitcoin and major world government currencies.
Ecash has many advantages over physical cash. It can't be counterfeited, and it can be transmitted at the speed of light rather than the speed of a Brink's truck. On the other hand, an ecash system like Bitcoin shares some disadvantages of paper currency. If you are careless, ecash can be lost or stolen. Then again, unlike the paper currency stuffed in your mattress, ecash savings can't burn up in a fire (assuming you have your ecoins saved in the cloud or on offsite backup), and modern cryptographic algorithms that protect your coins are stronger than any vault. From the point of view of government and society, a possible disadvantage shared between ecash and paper currency might be the difficulty in taxing ecash. Law enforcement may have difficulty tracking ecash transactions by criminals. Yet these disadvantages are nothing new. Governments have tolerated these problems with cash for millenia. And remember: physical cash is the preferred medium of exchange for bribes to politicians and government officials.
Although the Bitcoin economy exists today and continues to grow, I'm not necessarily suggesting the US government adopt Bitcoin as a replacement for pennies. I merely point at Bitcoin by way of proof that such a system can work. You could trade Bitcoins for products and services right now, assuming you had any coins. But wait! The WyBlog can set you up with free money. Do you want to try ecash first hand? Well then here you go: the first 10 individuals to post a comment here that includes a Bitcoin
payment address will receive one free bitcoin. You heard that right. Free money from the WyBlog. Last I checked, 1.00 BTC was worth about six bucks. Enough for coffee and a breakfast sandwich at WaWa. Keep the change.
Some politically motivated quasi-religious gored oxes think they deserve a triple-plus-special deal for their religious beliefs. Even though there are an average of 24 churches per town in the USA, religious icons are everywhere, and religious dogma is inextricably intertwined with our society, these greedy zealots pretend there's some sort of War on Religion being waged. Recently, they've outdone themselves in hyperbolic paranoia, claiming their fragile "religious rights" have been significantly injured by laws like the Affordable Care Act. They want special exceptions to this law to protect their religious rights.
Sorry. I don't think so.
Why their request for a "special deal" should be denied was expressed best by Reagan-appointed Antonin Scalia. This conservative justice authored the majority opinion in the 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith finding that religious liberty is insufficient grounds for being exempt from generally applicable laws. In Smith, the Court established a standard anyone (even a gored ox) can understand. The standard asks simply whether the governmental action is neutral toward religion and whether the action is generally applicable (whether it applied to all relevant activities without exception). As long as a generally applicable law does not single out religious activities for special restrictions, those that argue such a law limits their religious freedom do not have a constitutional remedy. As part of his opinion, Scalia quoted from Reynolds v. USA, a case from 1878 finding that religious duty was not a suitable defense to a criminal indictment. Wysocki calls me a liberal, but on this point of denying religious exceptions to general laws I agree with conservative and devout Catholic justice Scalia.
What's more, it's absurd to accuse the government of taxing religion. As exceptions to general laws go, how about that double-plus-special exemption for churches granted in the IRS code? Is that exemption not the heavenly Father of all special-interest deals? In case you don't know about this loophole, let me explain. Unlike all other charitable organizations and non-profit corps that come under 510(c)(3) regulations (yes, including Universities like RPI, Wy), a church does not need to petition for tax exempt status, nor does it need to open its books to prove ongoing compliance. Nope: no form 1023, no form 990. Churches simply are trusted as tax exempt entities with no requirement to apply, be audited, or publish reports. Don't believe me: look for yourself. I can't think of a bigger special deal and license to free exercise than an a priori presumption of tax free status. God bless you US taxpayer. Do you think a default, unaudited exemption like that might lead to some abuse? What scandals lurk behind that exemption, I wonder. Can you imagine the IRS simply trusting the rest of us to decide if we owed taxes?
My point is this. Although I'm an atheist myself, I do rather believe in belief. Thus, I have no serious beef with modern, mainstream religion. I know that most churches are run on the up-and-up and they do objective good in the community. The corrupt exceptions are, well, regrettable exceptions. I'm cool with much of it. What I'm not cool with is a vocal minority of political activists leveraging the presumed moral authority of religion to achieve political ends. Good arguments tell me that freely available birth control can lower the generally shared burden of health care costs by a significant margin, so there are no fiscal "damages" to Catholics by making birth control available. Catholics won't be "paying for people to have sex". Nobody is forcing Catholic women to use birth control, although a large fraction of good Catholic women certainly choose to do so.
The total cost to everybody is lower when birth control is available freely through insurance. Why should the rest of us pay more so that these partisan zealots can score political
points and possibly win yet another special exception that even their own legal scholars admit they aren't due?
What could be a better dessert for an Independence Day celebration than a delicious slice of Jimmy Carter Cake!? Made with 5 parts Justice and only one part Liberty, it's the perfect way to sober up after an orgy of truculent US chauvinism and bad beer. I recommend pairing this delicious cake with a cup of shade grown sustainable java.
Some claim that there are two kind of people: those that think there are two kinds of people, and those that don't. Me, I think that very statement is false. So, I'm not sure what kind of person that makes me. I do know some of you have labeled me "liberal", Maybe I don't salute the flag in exactly the perfect way you imagine the founding fathers originally intended. Fine. If calling me a liberal pleases you, so long as it doesn't cost me any money, abuse any kids, pollute my water, or displace the deer population from your subdivision into my cornfield, you can call me whatever you want. Sticks and stones, baby. Sticks and stones.
What I am may be uncertain, but I am most assuredly not Wysocki. I did the best I could to amuse you in his absence, but even my best efforts fall far short of his worst. I was flattered he thought I could hold the fort for him in his absence, but now that he's back I'm relieved I no longer need to live up to his standard. It's not easy being the warm up band for Springsteen, let me tell you.
I will now retire from the WyBlog front page, returning my liberal, left wing, Islamist sympathizing, pinko, pansy, one world, eggheaded ideas to the comments where you can more easily ignore them.
UPDATE 01 Aug 2011 20:01:
Wy here; please allow me to say a few words of thanks to my friend Nadz.
And no, I didn't pay him for that amazing testimonial up there! Wow, a guy could get a big head or something if he wasn't careful. Thanks bud.
You done good by the blog my friend, you carried the torch with style. Like you said, it wasn't my style, but man can not live on WyWords alone. That's why I have that blogroll down yonder! And the occasional friend who pinch-hits when I'm off recharging my batteries.
Speaking of occasional friends; Myron sends his kudos too. You know how hard he is to please, so consider yourself doubly commended.
I want to say thanks as well to all of my loyal readers (both of you…) for making Nadz feel at home here. Yeah, even you guys who were pissed off at me for pulling this little switcheroo. You kept coming back, didn't you? Hits is hits baby!
Now be forewarned; there's always next summer. Maybe I'll ask one of the whingers to trade hurling insults at Nadz from the cheap seats for a stint in the bullpen. Bring it!
Any conservative worthy of the name resists change. Yet this defining characteristic hurts the conservative cause by making them less agile in criticizing the adaptations of their opponents. For example, right wing dogma paints Obama as a Liberal with a capital "L", but this hackneyed label is badly misplaced. Every time I hear a right-wing pundit blather about how Obama is the most liberal politician ever, I instantly stop listening. The person clearly isn't uttering original thoughts; he's stuck in a 20th century conservative rut. What year does he think this is? 1940? 1965? No, President Obama may be a lot of things, but I don't think he's a liberal.
I see Obama as a Whig.
Yes a Whig. To my way of thinking, Obama resembles Henry Clay more than classic political liberals such as Lyndon Johnson or FDR. Obama is an intellegent man with a complex vision: an American Plan like Henry Clay. There's much Whiggery, not Liberalism, in the Obama presidency.
The more I learn about the Whig Party from the mid 19th century, the more I think this is where the modern Democratic party is moving, toward whiggery. There's actually a Modern Whig party, founded when Obama took office.
Conservatives take note: your opponent has moved to a new idealogical stronghold. If your guns are still aimed at LBJ, I think you'll miss by a large margin where the modern Dems are headed. A symptom of this cockeyed targeting are the accusations of socialism hurled at Obama. They are nowhere close to the mark. Whigs are not socialists. They are planners inclined toward complex solutions, but not socialists. My, my no!The original Whig party formed in opposition to Andrew Jackson, who was sort-of the Ronald Reagan of his day. A great communicator, with folksy charm, it's said that "Old Hickory" was the first president to really understand the power in popular opinion. His Whig opposition followed the elitist axiom that ordinary citizens would naturally accept their betters in Washington had things well in hand. Does that sound like Obamacare?
Therefore, if the Republicans want to beat Obama in 2012, I think they need
a candidate who can run effectively against a Whig. Sara Palin or
Mitt Romney are bad choices for this. Get somebody like Andy Jackson,
or better yet, Jackson's protégé: James K. Polk. Don't know much
about Polk? I think if you read
about the man you'll agree with me that he's exactly the sort of man needed
to defeat a Whig. Look at Polk's simple campaign platform: secure our borders, stabilize
the treasury, cut tarrifs, keep the federal government out of local affairs, and (this is the best one) get it all done in four years and
not seek re-election. Polk achieved all of his campaign promises. Polk was, without a doubt, the most
effective President we've ever had. In addition,
Polk swept away the progressive, elitist American Plan of Henry Clay and the Whigs. Read
about his Rivers and Harbors Veto
and I think you'll agree that Polk would have been a Tea Party favorite.
Wy likes tea, I like coffee. Wy's religious, I'm an atheist. Wy enjoys football, I'm a baseball fan.
Speaking of professional sports in the context of politics, I always think about the absurd anti-trust exemption that Major League Baseball enjoys, an exemption no other sport has. Since the supreme court said so in 1915, baseball games "are purely state affairs", and thus not interstate commerce for the purposes of the Sherman Act. As a result of this incredible ruling, MLB has been able to arbitrarily crush competition in any form without fear of legal pushback. The MLB juggernaut is only limited by the 1972 ruling Flood vs Kuhn, where the court ruled that MLB's anti-trust exemption did not extend to labor relations.
In 1957 when the NFL wanted some free stuff for its millionaire owners, in Radovich [sic] vs National Football League the supreme court said, sorry Charlie, professional football, unlike professional baseball, is clearly subject to antitrust laws. No free stuff for you.
You see, baseball, like Mickey Mouse and Jesus, is simply special.
Wysocki and I have had many discussions regarding Environmental issues. I believe that we both agree on the core issue: suicidally dumping crap on ourselves is a bad idea. That said, we seldom agree on the surface issues. Wysocki generally takes the position that the environmental movement comprises a bunch of radical lunatics that care more about Mother Gaia than all us endangered people that attempt to live on her. I try to oppose that point of view, but I admit it becomes very difficult to disagree with Wy when I read something like this.
Talk about delusional! Hey Wysocki, if I ever claim that environumbskulls don't exist, remind me of the "environmental philosopher" Patrick Curry, OK?
Anyway, although I doubt I need to, let me explain where Curry goes wrong in the above statement. His mistake is when he tags capitalism as the source of all Mother Gaia's ills. Let's take the first example he gives: overpopulation. It's hard for me to see how overpopulation is a result of capitalism. A much better explanation for overpopulation is that people like to have sex and make babies, and ethical systems in societies throughout the world tend to promote this excess-people-producing behavior. In that sense, it's arguable the root cause of overpopulation is a major world religion that prohibit birth control and opposes pretty much anything that might impede the production of more babies -- whether or not they can be reasonably supported by society.
If capitalism plays any role in overpopulation, it allows all these "extra" people on the Earth to not die. Capitalism generates so much economic value that the excess value can be taxed to support billions of extra people who would otherwise die off. It appears that Curry would prefer that economic support for our current population vanishes and consequently all these "unsustainable" people would quickly die. Problem solved.
Of course, if you listen to right-wing rhetoric you can sometimes get the idea that conservatives also want to pull the plug on the extra people. Cut entitlements, cut taxes. Let people sink or swim. Oh, and by the way, every life is sacred.
In fairness, I'm taking liberties in my sketches of these polarized opinions, but the polarizing rhetoric I hear from people on the left like Curry is easy to caricature into what I hear from the right. Curry probably doesn't want all the extra people to die. He probably wants us to pay even higher taxes so that the government can magically transport the extra people out of cities, scattering over the face of Mother Gaia to form ecologically ethical self-sustainable communities where they will all eat locally produced native species plants and free range animals, live in carbon neutral homes, and eschew most of the fruits of technology. In short, become neo-Amish (conveniently ignoring the fact that the Amish are, without a doubt, brutally competitive capitalists.)
And the conservatives? No, they don't want the extra people to die either. Atlas
wants to shrug off these freeloaders for their own good. With this shock
of being cast off, and despite being
single moms, elderly, or incarcerated, these reformed freeloaders
are suddenly inspired to pull themselves (and
their babies) up by some sort of heretofore unnoticed
bootstraps. They ultimately start businesses, create jobs,
and generate even more economic value so as to support even more extra people,
with liberty and justice for all (cue music).
Speaking of atheists, I'm an atheist myself. I recognize that lots of really nice people are religious, and to the extent that they practice on private property without hurting me, without hurting innocent kids, and without any of my tax dollars supporting them, it's none of my business whatever nonsense they believe in believing, no matter how bizarre or horrid. So long as it's make believe, they can pretend they are drinking actual human blood and do it with my blessing. Yes, there are some real world, not-pretend abuses of religious license where kids do get hurt and tax dollars do support private religious practices. Those abuses bug me. They bug me a lot. Also, there are some objectively immoral practices enshrined in mainstream religious dogma that need correcting, especially with respect to the abuse of children, but also with respect to the undue hatred of people that are not like us. These abuses bug me a lot as well.Yes, atheists like me have some serious and objective criticisms of mainstream religion that need to be heard, but I'm not about to raise awareness of these serious issues by putting a pasta strainer on my head at a DMV photo shoot like this gnocci-brain did.
Saints be praised, people like Niko Alm give atheists a bad name. No wonder the religious majority in this country think we are soulless morons. To start with, everybody knows that proper Pastafarian garb is pirate regalia. He should be wearing a tricorn and an eyepatch, not playing around with some silly colander. Yarrr! The heretic must walk the plank after he confesses his crime.
What? You say he's not a heretic to be forked over to Davy Jones because Pastafarianism (let alone scolapastaintestationism) is plainly not a religion at all. Rather, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is obviously a put up job -- a satirical stunt. The details of FSM dogma don't matter because they were merely made up for the stunt. Colander, tricorn, yarmulke, they're all the same. That's the point. Ha ha!
Sorry. Can't have it both ways. If it's so obvious Pastafarianism is invalid as religion, then it's also the case that the put-up job has no point. To deny the obvious just insults everyone's intelligence. All a millitant Pastafarian putz like Niko Alm will accomplish is to diminish any chance legitimate aspects of the atheist agenda will ever get a serious hearing.
Maybe if Pastafarians were using their noodles, they'd adhere, ummm, well, religiously to the arbitrary dogma they invented. If they
waited long enough without accidentally breaking character and lapsing into a fit of giggles, maybe then they can make some kind of shocking point when they
let the meatball roll onto the floor at some future date. They don't need to wait very long. L Ron Hubbard wrote a lame self-help book in 1952, and in 1993 the IRS
granted his nonsense status as a tax free religion. That's only 41 years to achieve the ultimate tax dodge. Imagine
if today's Mormon leaders were to come out and say: "Yo! Check it out. Joe Smith just made up all that crap about Moroni and the golden plates. It's
a con that lets us have our way with lots of young girls. HAHA! I can't believe you all fell for that shit."
Once again, the US military leads our country in the fight for securing the civil rights of all. Today, defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, formally certified to the president that the readiness of our military will not be harmed if gays and lesbians honorably serve our country without lying about their sexual orientation. As it did in the past when it recognized the right of women, Negroes, and atheists to serve as equals with other soldiers, the US military reminds us that we are one nation united with a common purpose: to preserve and protect the freedom and liberty of all.
I know that Wy will be less than enthusiastic about this event. I hope he forgives me for taking advantage of his gracious permission to post something here that is so very contrary to his expressed views. I respect Wy's right to state his religious objections to homosexuality. I have no quarrel with anyone expressing their religious views. But when it comes to matters of national policy, something greater than the dogma of a particular religion must guide our decisions. We need to choose what is right because it is objectively right. In this case, I believe that our society has matured to the point that we can accept gays and lesbians as our full fledged brothers and sisters without fear born of ignorance, without abusive prejudice, without hate. I predict that many years from now we'll look back at this event, and the eventual repeal of DoMA with amazement that such injustice could ever have been allowed in our country -- as we now look back at slavery and Jim Crow.
Man, it's hot out!
Previously in this space I've opined that Americans are generally illiterate when it comes to matters of science and nature. Special interests, both left and right, love to take advantage of this mass ignorance, warping objective theory and evidence to fit their own agendas. They hope to stamp the imprimatur of science on their self-serving goals in hopes we'll go along with them. Whether it be intelligent design (or social darwinism), climate change panic (or climate change denial), or any other outrageous distortion of science or nature, the solution to the outrage is simple: be uncomfortable with your own ignorance, be willing to work hard in seeking the truth, and be suspicious of easy, pat answers.
My experience has been that few scientific facts are obvious. They don't fall like rain equally and effortlessly onto all. Reaping the fruits of science is more like harvesting a finicky crop during a drought. Science requires work, thought, consideration, and above all a stubborn adherence to the scientific method when a flood of convenient conclusions and pat answers threaten to wash it all away.
For example, Heat Index. As we experience a record heat wave, I'm annoyed at how in these conditions the media loves to talk about the Heat Index. Today it will be 103°, but it will feel like 115°. What complete and utter nonsense! For over three hundred years scientists have been refining the concept and measurement of Temperature -- a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Temperature is the scientific fact; how hot you feel expresses your fuzzy "belief" with respect to that fact. I feel hot when it's 70°; my wife feels cold. So what. It's an abomination to spin the rigorous concept of temperature in an attempt to accommodate the touchy-feely aspect of how hot we might "feel" at any given time. Brilliant men like Rømer, Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin dedicated their lives to making the "feeling" of hot and cold into testable scientific theory. And we just throw that all away?
It's a funny irony that Heat Index has an objective definition. Check it out:
Does that capture your subjective sense of how hot it is? Me neither. Besides, there's no way that Heat Index is ever used objectively to help me know what I should be feeling. Let me put it this way. Suppose we listen to a typical weather report on the five-o-clock news. The weather guy says that tomorrow the temperature will be something, say 93°. Now, let's you and me make a bet on what the Heat Index will be.
Ready to bet?
Me, I'll take the over any day, any time. Why? Because
the weather weenie only ever mentions the
heat index when it's higher than the temperature.
Evening news weather forecasts aren't
trying to convey useful facts; they
are trying to entertain and thrill you with a scientific
sounding hyped up view of a natural world that you are too frightened to
go out and experience directly.
They assume they can exploit your ignorance of science
and nature in order to keep you indoors watching TV and thereby sell you soap. And
in large measure they are successful in doing exactly this.
I have a decent career, a technical career. Technology is clean work, generally indoor work, and it pays really well in comparison to most other legal ways of earning money. I'm glad I went into technology, even if it was a result of the lies told to me by Walter Cronkite.
You see, every Sunday night my family gathered around the TV at my grandparent's house. Along with Ed Sullivan and Bonanza, we would watch The 20st Century narrated by Cronkite. I'm old enough to remember when they renamed the show to The 21th Century, round about 1967. The episodes were in documentary format with Cronkite explaining all the great things that the future held in store for us. As an impressionable kid, I was soon hooked on the drug that was Cronkite's futuristic optimism. Through Cronkite I learned of the limitless free energy we'd derive from nuclear fission and fusion. On that show I saw a first glimpse of the cars of tomorrow -- personal rocket pods that would fly us around on rainy days when we weren't so inclined to use our personal jet packs. I was intrigued by computers that would soon be able to think for us. Most enticing of all was the bold new frontier of space exploration. Gemini, Apollo, and soon there would be an orbiting station with express commuter service by Space Shuttle. My kids would travel to the stars.
Oh dear! No more Space Shuttle. If you haven't yet, try to watch this video. Take the time to watch the whole thing. If you make it to the end without your eyes tearing up with bitter emotion at least once, you are either a child or you have no soul.
If it wasn't for Cronkite's lies, I would have never been hooked on technology. Given my innate skills that orient toward math and science, I doubt that some other career would have paid off as well. I drank the Kool-Aid that promised a better living through chemistry, and indeed I worked hard for a long, long time to develop and sustain my technical career. I'm still working, learning new skills, competing, struggling to get by in the fast paced rat-race that is a technical career. No rest yet in sight. Without social security and medicare to count on, my paper investments all flattened by the "missing decade" of zero growth, my house after 20 years still valued near its purchase price, my kids punished for their "savings" and unable to qualify for college aid, and thus saddled with a half-million bucks of college costs that will need to be paid for out of what money we get to keep after taxes, you can't blame me for feeling a little cheated by the system. There will be no early retirement for me. Yes, I understand that in life everyone does NOT get a trophy. Trying isn't enough, as The Great Wy so eloquently points out. And even if you do try, and work hard, success is far from guaranteed, especially for boomers like us.
Still, I'm surviving and supporting my family. I still enjoy my work somewhat. We have savings. We don't live paycheck-to-paycheck. Our debt/equity ratio is low. Retirement isn't as close as I'd like, but I'm certain someday I will retire. Goodness knows how tough things would be for me and my family had I not taken up a technical career.
So, I guess I'm not too bitter about being swindled into this gig, even if today's computers are dumber than ever. There are no jet cars, no sustainable supply of cheap energy, and now no space shuttle.
My one last hope is that Robert A Heinlein told me the truth.
In the comments to my missive on tax progressivity, MNRobot is confused:
The confusion here is that I'm discussing the real world "effect" of altering tax policy, not what anybody would "want" in some kind of idealistic social aesthetic sense. Of course nobody wants to pay taxes, that's why they punish you if you don't pay them. The question is, given that the insult of forced taxes are necessary to pay for all the free stuff we demand (see note below), what's the best way to lay on those painful taxes so as to get the necessary revenue while we minimize negative consequences.
Policy makers should think about effects, not idealistic wants. I'm talking about how altering tax policy changes behavior. Policy pundits often confuse these two things. They confuse their simplistic and idealized moral wants and theories with real world consequences. There are many other examples of this same confusion. One is the pointless war on some drugs where the idealized want is to decrease drug use and the real world effect of the policy is gun violence and 7 million people in the criminal justice system (3.1% of the US adult population).
Anyway, I digress, back to the pointless war on some taxes. As taxes go up on people with discretionary funds, behavior changes to favor the best tax dodges. One of the best tax dodges is investing in a business, therefore as taxes go up, entrepreneurs will tend to invest more in their businesses rather than, say, taking money as salary or dividends to spend on mink coats or vacation homes. Spun the other way, as taxes go down people will use their tax holiday to cash in their investments to spend on consumer items.
The conservative talking point is that higher taxes discourage business investment. I disagree. In general, higher taxes make investment in a business more attractive. Furthermore, I think higher taxes on the rich hurt the sale of luxury items, and taxes on the middle class make hiring middle class workers less attractive. In that sense, higher middle class taxes stop the creation of human worker jobs and encourage outsourcing, robotics, etc....
The bottom line of my argument is that the tax rate curve is better more exponential than logarithmic. We need to make the middle class American worker less expensive to hire as we encourage entrepreneurs to invest in their businesses. One way to do that is to tax the rich more, and tax the middle class less.* Yes, I know if we stopped giving out free stuff, we could lower the taxes on everybody. I get that. But are we really going to stop giving out the free stuff? I doubt it. Again, it's a question of not letting ideology cloud our view of reality. A balanced approach that combines budget cuts with revenue increases will balance our budget faster in the real world than ideological fantasies like a balanced budget amendment.
A problem with this country is that some things that benefit everyone are purchased individually, and some things paid for collectively are given free to those few individuals who get all their benefit.
Yes, the biggest reason Netflix hiked rates is simply because they can. Everybody knows that Netflix service is still a good deal even at nearly twice the price. People grumble, but in the end they'll reach down into their pockets and pay an extra ten spot for the convenience of advertisement free, on-demand films and current TV shows. Have you seen the prices at a regular theater? I feel robbed watching "The Twenty" after shelling out twelve bucks for a ticket. And think of whot commercial infested "triple play" cable or DSL costs. How can anybody criticize Netflix for charging what the market will bear? Kudos to Netflix.
But there's another reason for the hike. Netflix has been opening its wallet up to Hollywood and needs to recover that royalty expense. Back in December, there were reports of Netflix offering top dollar for TV shows. More recently there was a deal with NBC Universal. And I expect that tons of other deals are in the making. We all want to watch the best and latest movies, Netflix wants to save postage by setting up streaming deals with studios, and the studios want their rent paid. So what does this have to do with free stuff and the fall of the American Empire? Simple.
The constitution gives the government the power "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." I understand society's need for the "embarrasment" of a patent or copyright, but there need to be limits to what private intellectual monopolies we create. The framers felt this way too. Note the phrase limited terms, and nowhere does it say the "securing" of the right has to be totally free of charge to the authors and inventors. Therefore, I say the government should start charging authors for copyrights. Yes, charge. Pay up for your free stuff you millionaire movie moguls and pulp fiction fat cats you.
The way the law is now, copyrights are basically free of charge, and last more than a lifetime. In my view, that's free stuff for billionaires, pure and simple. Disney company sits there in taxpayer protected veritable perpetuity rent seeking with a portfolio of films created by authors and artists now in the grave. To add insult to injury, many of those films are based on captured public domain characters or plagiarized stories and characters. In my opinion, so long as there's an taxpayer funded FBI warning on the Lion King, Disney owes the US taxpayer a cut of its action.
Here's how I'd do it. The first year, copyright would be free. By the end of that year, to continue receiving taxpayer financed protection of some "work" you'd need to register the work on the USPTO web site and pay $1. Yes, just a buck the first year. The second year, the price would be $2 to renew. Then $4, $8, $16, and so on. After 10 years the renewal will be $1024. If you can't make a grand from your book or movie in ten years, maybe you need to give up on it and write something better, OK? After 20 years the price would be just over a million bucks, still chump change for any big media catalog item, like Harry Potter. If after 20-30 years you're making enough money on your work, you'll pay. If you miss a payment: bzzzzzt! The work goes into the public domain. As original author you can still sell or use it after failing to renew, but so can anyone else.
I hate to say it, but US manufacturing is fading. Is there any doubt that intellectual property is the way of the future for this country? We need to support new IP creators and we need to support the development of innovative information distributors like Netflix and Amazon. Locking down the rent seeking business model of big media is not the way to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. Media innovators need an open playing field, with a rich public domain providing a steady flow of new content unencumbered by an entrenched media monopoly.
Unsurprisingly, Obama and his Hollywood backers have offered nothing with regard to this sort of IP reform, but the GOP hasn't been any better. Of late, none of our elected representatives seem to be looking out for the public interest on this issue. PDEA seems dead. My copyright-for-a-fee plan might generate a few cents to help balance the budget, but more importantly it would shake loose millions of so called "orphaned" works, abandoned by their original authors yet unusable by Netflix or Amazon because of the uncertainty in their ownership. It would also gradually strip exclusivity away from original authors after "limited terms" in natural proportion to how important and/or profitable the work is to that author. Over time, even the most valuable works would turn over to the public domain, as I believe was the Founding Father's original intent. Best of all, the predictable supply of freed IP would allow third parties to find innovative ways to deliver high quality content without being burdened by perpetual payments to rent seekers.
Want a way to tax the rich and promote innovation at the same time? Charge for copyrights.
Enough with the pointless proposals like Duck, Dodge, and Dismantle from the Republicans, or the Uncommon Denominator plan from the White House that pretends to cut a paltry 4 trillion over twelve years. Enough of this wimpy crap. Finally there's something almost reasonable on the table.
Look at the details of this awesome "Back in Black" plan. $1T from defense, check. Almost $3T from entitlements, check. $1T from tax revenue, including the elimination of ethanol subsidies, check. Raise the retirement age, of course. This is a wonderful plan. What's not to like? Well, the $9T isn't quite covering the $13T budget shortfall predicted over the next decade, but with some solid economic growth, we might be able to close the gap.
Maybe, just maybe, this plan causes enough pain to enough people that it will engender a spirit of shared sacrifice and pull us all together with a sense of civic duty to save our children from financial collapse and violent revolution. Maybe. Or maybe the sphincters of the whole congress will make a collective scrunch at the thought of cutting that much free stuff before a major election, and they'll find some lame way to duck their responsibilities yet again.
I need a
back up plan,
just in case.
I've already explained how higher tax rates help businesses and churches, as they both have fundamental tax dodges that increase in value as taxes go up. Now I'll show that the federal tax rates on the elite "job creators" in the US are at historical lows. Of course, I know that I'm probably wasting my breath in this crowd. You all won't be happy till your favorite CEO gets his free stuff for free. But at least let me show you how they are getting their free stuff for really cheap. I'll also show that for a middle class wage slave, things aren't quite so good.
In a recent speech, President Obama pointed out that tax rates on the richest Americans are at their lowest rates in over 50 years. This statement is largely true. Between Reagan-Reagan and Bush, Bush-Bush, the tax rates at the high end have been pounded down. Check out this comparison of the "progressiveness" of federal taxation.
The difference between 1960 and 2004 is striking. Those in the upper five percent of income brackets used to pay dramatically higher total rate than everyone else, especially when considering estate and corporate taxes. Even individual and payroll taxes were more progressive. Keep in mind I'm talking progressivity here, so I don't want to hear any comments regarding absolute revenue numbers. Marginal rates are far more relevant when it comes to the argument that taxes dissuade entrepeneurs from expanding. Try to stay with me, OK.
It's also quite notable that those in the below 90% income categories had lower rates than today, especially payroll tax. I suspect most of the readers of this blog are in this sad range. Nowadays, the rates are pretty flat as a function of income, and generally higher than they were, especially at the low end. The flat tax the Steve Forbes' of the word have argued for is largely here, and consequently, the top echelons have little disincentive to increase their incomes, and the middle class shoulders an inordinately large burden of taxation. Of course, I'm sure I'll soon hear arguments from all you Ayn Rand fans that flattening out the progressiveness of the tax code was a Good Thing. We don't want to punish success. And believe it or not, I do agree with that. I do. Honest! I've read Atlas Shrugged -- even the long, boring speech at the end, and I get her point. And I get the tea party sentiment -- in general.
But the thing is, as somebody in that not-rich/not-poor middle land (was only kidding last post about being an elite tax-dodging job creator last post). The droopy middle zone in the sharply progressive 1960 tax rates look pretty good from where I'm sitting. I'd be willing to accept some of that comfort and let my dream of being a rich, undertaxed billionaire fade a bit, especially if the extra money "redistributed" from billionaires could help curb the deficit and preserve more of my own free stuff. You see, I've also read John Steinbeck and I like the idea that this country has a social safety net. Class warfare is a recurring theme in history and pushed to its extremes during tough times, things can get very ugly. I don't like ugly. I like coffee.
I can't be anywhere near as eloquent in explaining this point as the great historian Will Durant.
Forced to choose, the poor, like the rich, love money more than political liberty; and the only political freedom capable of enduring is one that is so pruned as to keep the rich from denuding the poor by ability or subtlety and the poor from robbing the rich by violence or votes.
We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive redistribution.
Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history. The rate of concentration varies (other factors being equal) with the economic freedom permitted by morals and the laws. Despotism may for a time retard the concentration; democracy, allowing the most liberty, accelerates it... In progressive societies the concentration may reach a point where the strength in number of the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or revolution redistributing poverty.
Personally, I favor the former rather than the latter.
I don't mind the rule 5 stuff so much (other than it's inherent rudeness is an abuse of the license granted old, white, heterosexual males such as us) but you really need to step back from politics, Wy, and have another martini. Trust me: your blog is in the very best of hands.
Let's see, where was I? Oh yeah, I love taxes.
No, silly, I mean taxes as in dollars
But seriously, Wy must really be quite drunk over there if he thinks we can dig ourselves out of this multi-trillion dollar PER YEAR financial hole without raising some revenue. The way I look at it, for a long time politicians on both sides of the aisle have been pandering to their bases, giving their constituency what it wants. The right panders for votes with unfunded tax cuts; the left panders for votes with unfunded services. Both sides give it up for seniors and soldiers. It's always an unfunded chicken in every pot and it has to stop. Both sides need to nut up, go back to their bases, and prepare them to chow down a big slice of crow pie for the good of the country. We need a two-pronged "everybody suffers" approach that combines honest cuts in spending with honest increases in revenue. I believe the president's claim that this is what the majority of Americans want: a balanced, and big, deal.
Oh, and Buy Bonds.
OK, I know what you all are thinking: "If you love taxes so much, Nadz, send the government all your money. Just leave my money out of it." Yeah, whatever. Anyway, I do love taxes. The higher the tax rate, the happier I am. Let me explain.
First of all, I'm no fan of "kicking the can down the road". Divide the deficit by the number of people in the USA (illegals included), and send everybody a bill. Pay up, or get out. I'd vote for that. Or raise taxes on everybody, not just "the rich". Deficits are merely taxes put on credit. Conservatives are stonewalling against tax hikes, but I don't want my kids paying for two wars, Medicare part D, the Bush Tax Cuts, and Cadillac health plans for GM retirees. Do you? Crank up the rates. Let's pay our credit card bill today before the interest piles up any higher.
With all that bravado about my willingness to be taxed now, and taxed hard, I have a confession. In the interest of full disclosure I need to mention that I'm self employed. Yes. I'm a small business owner -- one of those people that are supposedly hurt by tax hikes. That's what the politicians warn, anyway, but it doesn't seem to me that I'd be hurt. Quite the contrary. Raise taxes to the moon. I don't care. A large chunk of my day to day costs -- maintenance and gas for my car, many of my meals, my Internet connection, and part of my home -- are all business expenses. When wage slaves drive to their W-2 jobs, they buy gas with what few pennies they get to keep after taxes. Me, I'm a 1099 man. Nothing is withheld from my fat checks, and when I drive to work, I get paid 51 cents per mile.
Yes, I deduct utilities, meals, "entertainment", health insurance, you name it. OK, I admit I do pay a little extra on Social Security tax, but in the final tally, taxes leave me pretty unscathed. In fact, the higher the tax rate, the more incentive I have to start yet another tax deductible business, and the less incentive I have to work like a fool for somebody else. My new businesses don't even have to do all that well in their bottom line. If they allow me to write off a larger fraction of my outlays, they are worth it.
I'm only kidding about the last part. I do care about the bottom line. That is to say, I care about the bottom line I keep in my mental version of the books, not the official books submitted to the IRS. The official books plow almost every penny the business earns right back into the business. If I can't think of things to "invest in" for the business, I invest some in the local mega-church. They have their own tax-free boondoggle going, but who am I to complain? The church has racquetball courts, a health club, and a bistro. All these are top-shelf and free to "parishioners" like me.
To lower my audit risk, my official books have to show a meager profit, which is almost completely taxed away. But in my personal version of the books, I count all the goodies and perks as tax-free gravy. Who knows, if one of my ventures grows big enough, I might be able to buy a corporate jet -- paid for pre-tax, of course. Yes, higher taxes make growing my businesses my number 1 priority.
So I say, if we really want to stimulate the growth of small businesses and pay down the debt, not to mention supporting the growth of bigger and better churches, let's pile on the taxes.
Today Barack Obama reiterated his desire to close a big deal with Republicans. We should seize the moment, he said, and push for the biggest deal possible to cut the deficit. He didn't say in his speech what the exact nature of this big deal might be, but the Washington Post, among others, reports the president's "big deal" as a $4 Trillion dollar package of spending cuts and revenue increases over ten years.
Publicly, the GOP doesn't so much as acknowledge the president's "big deal" proposal even exists. Besides, back in April, the GOP had an even bigger deal, Paul Ryan's plan that would net $6 Trillion in budget savings over ten years. Most recently, the GOP shrunk their deal down to Cut, Cap and Balance, a three-pronged proposal that would cut $2.4 trillion from the federal budget over ten years. A cornerstone of this GOP idea is a constitutional balanced budget amendment, sort of a Gramm-Rudman-Hollings on steroids.
I have two questions.
First of all, why are all these budget cutting proposals scaled over ten years? Could it be practicality? In 1928, when telephone engineers standardized the unit describing power in telephone circuits, the simplest formula yielded too large a unit. They settled for a more numerically practical working unit one-tenth the size, naming it the decibel, one tenth of a bel, which honors Alexander Graham Bell. Are politicians similarly inclined toward numeric practicality here? Is stating the savings of some budget cut per year simply less efficient than the 10 year unit?
Or is it something else. Recall the Byrd Rule, a Senate rule that allow Senators, during the reconciliation process, to block a piece of legislation if it increases the federal deficit beyond a ten-year term. The Bush Tax Cuts were set to expire just under ten years specifically to sidestep this rule. For some reason, people in 2001 thought the BTCs would cause the deficit to increase over ten years. What a silly idea.
My second question is more important.
The CBO predictions show the federal deficit growing $13 Trillion over
then next ten years. Let's do the math here. $13 Trillion over 10 years minus the president's "big deal" $4 Trillion over 10 years. Hey! Handy common denominator. I get a deficit growth of $9 Trillion over 10 years. Check my work and wake up the Parliamentarian.