Archive for the ‘News and politics’ Category

Some Quick Thoughts on Charleston and Media

June 20, 2015

To call the mass murder in South Carolina anything but Terrorism is itself a crime.

The vast majority of terrorism in the United States is not from foreign right-wing religious fanatics. The vast majority of terrorism in the United States is, and has been for many years, the action of American White Christian Right-wing fanatics who are inspired in their actions by the promotion of their hatred by right-wing radio and Fox News and the Koch Brothers’ funded Tea Party and it’s long past time that we called those forces of hatred out and stopped pretending that they’re just "another view".

When we ignore the tacit support these "information" sources give we contribute to making their hatred and violence mainstream.

When we pretend that a White, Christian, Right-Wing terrorist is, over and over again, a "disturbed person the mental health system missed" we contribute to excusing the climate of hatred and violence these forces encourage and spread.

When we pretend that shooting doctors and blowing up clinics is merely "an excessive response" to perfectly legal medicine rather than acts of terrorism, we contribute to excusing those actions as not reflective of those whose idea of debate is to violently force their views on those who disagree.

When we do not demand the disownment of these terrorists by all those who have given normative voice to their hatred and violence, when we do not demand apologies from those who have encouraged the reduction of debate to the violence of the mob boss it is we as a culture that have failed to do our job of saying that the fruits of their actions lie partly at the feet of those who planted that fruit.

The cost of free speech and a free press is that those who speak share responsibility for the actions of those who are inspired by them and we have failed and failed miserably as a nation at holding those sources responsible.

And that must be recognized and that must be fixed.

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A Concept Forgotten

April 26, 2014

The fourth in a series of posts to answer questions I’m tired of explaining over and over again. For the others see Flattened Taxpayers, I Won’t Pay for Your Star Trek V Collectors’ Plate and Some Answers on the "Rebel Flag" and Reality

Here’s something that a stunningly large number of Americans apparently never learned or perhaps forgot. I see it demonstrated every time somebody asks, “Why don’t those people need to prove they’re American before…” or “Why do we keep giving things to ‘illegals’”

Read the following, hopefully familiar, sentences:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Notice that doesn’t say that “citizens” are given rights, it says all men.

Notice that doesn’t say that the government grants rights, it says those rights are endowed upon all men as a characteristic of their existing.

Those are not cases of poetic license.

Those are not cases of carelessness.

Throughout history governments had existed above the people run by the powerful who granted privileges on those who pleased them.

With the founding of the United States of America a new philosophy of government was tried for the first time. A government that was below the people, that was a tool of the people and not a cudgel held by the powerful or chosen few above the rest of humanity.

That concept of government meant that rights that were not gifts of the powerful as thanks for obedience and for peasants quietly knowing their place but as inherent parts of being human. A government whose power was not to grant or remove privileges but to protect these universal rights wherever it had authority for whoever was in land under their authority.

This is the biggest philosophical change that the founders of America instituted and one that surprisingly few ever understand. I guess it doesn’t get much discussion because the powerful still want to wield the power of kings and nobles over those they feel are their lessers.

The old ways die slowly but America has been teaching this new way to the world for almost a quarter of a millennium now. Perhaps it’s time we learned what we, as a nation, stand for and stand proudly for it.

Sanity Roll Call

September 28, 2013

Probably the most interesting vote this week was in the Senate where the GOP split along faction lines on whether to follow the House Republicans in blackmailing the people of the US to reverse the 40+ votes they’ve lost regarding Obamacare.

What made it interesting is that we finally have an on-the-record list of which Republicans are owned by the Looney Tunes fringe wing of their party and which still have at least a little respect left for the United States.

All 54 Democrats (including the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats) effectively voted to send the House’s blackmail note back to them as insane. It’s worth remembering that the next time somebody says "They’re all the same in Washington" or "Congress did…" when they really mean "The Republicans in Congress did…".

On the GOP side of the Senate it gets more interesting.

  • 25 Republican Senators (54%) voted with the Democrats against anti-democratic blackmail
  • 19 Republican Senators (41%) voted with the insane wing
  • 2 Republican Senators (4%) refused to go on the record

Congratulations to Kansas and Alabama for having 100% of their Senators in the Insane wing – What’s the Matter with Kansas, indeed.

A special award to Utah for having 1 under the Insane list and 1 under Cowardly. Who says there’s no diversity in Utah.

It is interesting to note that 79% of Senators are sane so we’re really having the global economy held hostage by a minority of a minority.

Here’s the list so you can see if your Senators are either insane or completely corrupt.

SANE REPUBLICANS

  • Alexander (R-TN)
  • Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Blunt (R-MO)
  • Boozman (R-AR)
  • Burr (R-NC)
  • Chambliss (R-GA)
  • Chiesa (R-NJ)
  • Coats (R-IN)
  • Coburn (R-OK)
  • Cochran (R-MS)
  • Collins (R-ME)
  • Corker (R-TN)
  • Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Graham (R-SC)
  • Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Isakson (R-GA)
  • Johanns (R-NE)
  • Johnson (R-WI)
  • Kirk (R-IL)
  • McCain (R-AZ)
  • McConnell (R-KY)
  • Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Thune (R-SD)
  • Wicker (R-MS)

INSANE REPUBLICANS

  • Crapo (R-ID)
  • Cruz (R-TX)
  • Enzi (R-WY)
  • Fischer (R-NE)
  • Grassley (R-IA)
  • Heller (R-NV)
  • Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Lee (R-UT)
  • Moran (R-KS)
  • Paul (R-KY)
  • Portman (R-OH)
  • Risch (R-ID)
  • Roberts (R-KS)
  • Rubio (R-FL)
  • Scott (R-SC)
  • Sessions (R-AL)
  • Shelby (R-AL)
  • Toomey (R-PA)
  • Vitter (R-LA)

COWARDLY REPUBLICANS

  • Flake (R-AZ)
  • Hatch (R-UT)

Some Answers on the “Rebel Flag” and Reality

August 10, 2013

The third in a series of posts to answer questions I’m tired of explaining over and over again. See Flattened Taxpayers for the first and I Won’t Pay for Your Star Trek V Collector’s Plate for the second.

Having lived in the deep south for well over a decade back in the late 1960s and 1970s when racism was slightly less hidden, I had to deal with racists who flew the Confederate Battle Flag or who wanted their state flag to contain some confederate emblem as a part of that flag’s design.

When something comes up over and over again and I’ve gotten tired of typing the same answers over and over again through the years, I put together some quick answers to the most common questions so that when it comes up yet again I can just point them back here.

No, flying a confederate battle flag isn’t about your love of  "Southern Heritage".

Southern regional history (at least European Southern regional history) goes back over 400 years. The “Confederacy” was 4 of those years. If you pick less than 1% of your history that’s defined by treason and murder justified by wanting to expand racism-based slavery (as the secession declarations clearly stated) then you’ve clearly picked the only 1% of Southern "heritage" that you actually care about and made what you treasure as “heritage” abundantly obvious.

No, the Southern Treason was NOT about "states’ rights".

The major states rights issue at the time was whether non-slave states could pass laws that overrode the Federal Fugitive Slave Act which required all states to arrest escaped slaves and return them to their "owners". Guess which side of the coming conflict said federal law supersedes the “rights” of states? Hint: It wasn’t the ones wanting state law to free slaves.

No, the Southern Treason was NOT about unfair tariffs impressed on the South by Northern Congressmen.

There are two tariffs that are occasionally brought up in this canard by people who think that once you move to a subject as exciting as trade tax policy their opponent will fall asleep without finishing the discussion. One of these tariffs was written by some of the slave states’ own Congressmen. The other was passed after the war had already started. Neither one was even mentioned in the various secession documents.

No, it wasn’t about anything that President Lincoln did.

Abraham Lincoln hadn’t even been inaugurated when the first six southern states declared themselves above the laws of the United States and started murdering US soldiers. The President at the time that the talk of treason turned to war against their own nation was James Buchanan. I’ve yet to hear anyone say that the war was a response to Buchanan, though.

No, it wasn’t a reaction to there being no mechanism for states to secede in the US Constitution.

There is a perfectly good mechanism for anything anyone wants in the US Constitution. It’s called Article V. It deals with the process for creating amendments. Want to do something the Constitution doesn’t describe? Fine. Amend the Constitution to give yourself that power.  It’s not “impossible”, it’s been done quite a few times now.

The usual response to this is “well, a Constitutional Amendment wouldn’t have passed”. Too bad. Laws apply to you when you lose and the other guy wins just as much as they do when you win and the other guy loses. Just because you don’t think you’ll win a vote doesn’t give you the right to start murdering people. That this isn’t blatantly obvious is a bit frightening.

No, there wasn’t a war between the Union and the Confederacy or a war between the Yankees and the Rebels or a war between the United States of America and the "Confederate States of America".

There was a war between the United States of America and a bunch of criminals who had decided that violating US law by stealing US property and killing American soldiers and sailors was a better course of action than trusting in democracy or rule of law. That’s about as noble a cause to be honoring as memorializing Timothy McVeigh or Charles Manson.

Deal with it.

Bill Maher Starts a Conversation

June 29, 2013

Finally!

Somebody realizes that the GOP’s "Culture War" – from opposition to birth control to opposition to fact-based sex education to opposition to gay rights to opposition to Plan B to opposition to abortion – are NOT about "morality". Their actions and choices make it clear that their real problem and the basis for their policy plans are just them being upset that they’re not being praised for being the town scolds who think that children are God’s punishment for sex they don’t approve of. I have yet to see a Republican who claims to be "pro-life" come out in favor of measures that prevent unwanted pregnancy which would be the obvious stance for somebody who cares about minimizing abortion.

Oh, and to be "fair and balanced", note also that it’s not just the right that desperately wants to see people hurt by sex they disapprove of. You’ll notice there’s been no big public outcry on the left or right for making the HPV vaccine mandatory for boys even now that we’ve seen how it causes throat cancer in men. Apparently while the left has grown up enough to say that female sexuality is none of their business, male sexuality is still something they feel free to cluck their tongues and wag their fingers about. (Even before Michael Douglas’ throat cancer made HPV in men a topic of conversation, making the vaccine universally required in adolescence made great public health sense since even without the direct disease result it removes a disease vector)

Thanks to Bill Maher for getting the conversation started. Now lets keep it going until we see some meaningful action.

Bill Maher’s last New Rule for the June 28, 2013 episode of Real Time

For those who don’t like video, a transcript of Maher’s New Rule can be found at The Daily Kos.

Seventy Years Since Bermuda

April 19, 2013

Seventy years ago, on April 19th, 1943, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom convened a conference in Bermuda with the intent of dealing with public outcry against the Nazi’s extermination of millions of Jews in Europe. Note that the intent was NOT to help stop the extermination.

Both nations wanted to fix their PR problem but neither wanted to face the option of having to deal with the possibility that Hitler would change his policy from extermination to exporting Jews to the UK or US – an option that neither nation found acceptable.

Both nations worked very hard to make sure that neither nation would have to do anything. The conference was held in Bermuda which under wartime restrictions was inaccessible to the press. No Jewish organizations were allowed to attend even as observers.

The agenda explicitly prohibited referring to the Nazi "Final Solution" and, in fact, prohibited discussing the Jews any differently than other refugees not targeted for extermination.

Neither nation increased their tight restrictions on Jewish refugee immigration. The US sent as a representative a man explicitly prohibited from actually signing anything that would bind the US. The British explicitly refused to lift, even partially, the blockade of Jews attempting to flee death by going to the "Jewish Homeland" in the British Mandate of Palestine promised by British Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour 25 years earlier. Neither nation was willing to bomb the rail lines or gas chambers or crematoria already known to exist.

As a PR move it failed. The response to the conference included protests, condemnations and suicide. The result did not save a single Jew targeted for death.

And after seventy years, we of both nations either have no knowledge and have accepted the rewritten history that "nobody knew it was happening" that protects the images of Churchill and Roosevelt or we hide this history away and pretend it didn’t happen.

But ignorance and willful self-deception do not prevent future genocides, only learning the hard reality of history does.

To learn some of that history see:

Today’s Filibuster of Background Checks

April 17, 2013

Today 5 Democratic Senators and 41 Republican Senators betrayed their constituents. Today these corrupt officials violated their oath of office and ignored the wishes of over 90% of the American public they’re sworn to represent.

Also today 4 Republican Senators singled themselves out for doing their jobs correctly. As much as that is ludicrous to call out, let’s start by giving them credit so they are not tarred by association with their party.

  • John McCain of Arizona
  • Susan Collins of Maine
  • Mark Kirk of Illinois
  • Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania

They, sadly, deserve the credit for doing their jobs.

But, the real story is that 46 Senators did not do their job and should not be returned to office.

Reality is that the public has a short memory and Senators have a 6-year term so roughly 1/3rd of them will be up for reelection next year, 1/3rd in 2016 and 1/3 get to stay in our employ for 5 more years.

Fifteen of those betrayers of the public trust are up for reelection next year and today begins the job of making this their last term in office. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) has already announced he will not be running for reelection.

I suggest we contact not just the remaining 14 Senators and let them know we will make preventing their reelection our single-minded priority but that we also contact their major donors and let them know that a dollar in these coward’s campaign chests means a customer they’ve lost and a negative publicity campaign their PR firm will find themselves fighting for as long as their support for these embarrassments to our nation continues.

Those 15 “Senators” who are up for re-election in 2014 are:

  • Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Max Baucus (D-MT)
  • Mark Begich (D-AK)
  • Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
  • Thad Cochran (R-MS)
  • John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Mike Enzi (R-WY)
  • Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  • Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Mike Johanns (R-NE)
  • Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  • Mark Pryor (D-AR)
  • Jim Risch (R-ID)
  • Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Jess Sessions (R-AL)

Oh, and the other 29 Republican Senators and 2 Democratic Senators who betrayed the Constitution they swore to uphold? We’ll remember them in 2016 and 2018 if they haven’t resigned for other reasons before then.

The Ryan “Budget Plan”–Déjà Vu All Over Again

March 16, 2013

If you thought the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich plan was bad, just wait until you see the Ryan Budget Plan (or as it’s sometimes called, Paul Ryan’s attempt at Ayn Rand Fan Fiction). It cuts $5,700,000,000,000 over 10 years from the government’s income and then doesn’t actually explain in more than vague "it’s magic" terms how it’s going to cut enough of that out of the budget to keep that off the deficit while claiming it’ll balance the budget. Remember, he not only doesn’t cut Pentagon spending – the largest part of the discretionary budget – he raises it.

Of course, while those new debts go into everyone’s purse, the tax cuts themselves are massively geared toward the very rich.

  • If you make less than $22,000 per year you’ll save less than $40.
  • If you are middle income you’ll get $900.
  • If you are, however, in the group making over $3,300,000 per year (up in the 99.9% group that Ryan actually thinks aren’t parasites) then your tax savings would be $1,200,000 per year.

Or put into percentages

  • Bottom 20% get a 0.3% cut
  • 2nd 20% get a 0.9% cut
  • Middle 20% get a 1.6% cut
  • 4th 20% get a 2.1% cut
  • Top 20% get a 5.9% cut

But the biggest gifts go to the very top

  • The top 1% get a 10.9% tax cut
  • The top 0.1% get a 12.1% tax cut

Yes, the top bracket don’t just get more in cuts but the percentage of their cuts is forty times as great as the cut for the person struggling to put food on their family (we’re talking Bush logic – may as well use Bush phrasing).

So, tax cuts mostly for the wealthy and no real way of absorbing those cuts without putting them into the deficit except "by magic".

Sorry. We’ve been there before and we’ll be paying, as a nation, for that mistake for decades.

For the actual numbers and analysis by the Tax Policy Center, here is the link.

And if you want to see just how UnFlat this tax cut is…

Ryan Proposed Tax Cuts

I Won’t Pay for Your Star Trek V Collector’s Plate

March 13, 2013

The second in a series of posts to answer questions I’m tired of explaining over and over again. See Flattened Taxpayers for the first.

Let’s start by clearing up a misimpression that people seem to have.

Buying and selling stocks is not investment income

Buying stock is not “investing in a company”, it is gambling on reselling some collectable you bought based on your assumption that the stock or Limited Edition Star Trek V Collector’s Plate is going to fetch more in the collectors market than it did when you bought it.

Actually investing in a company would require that the money you paid went to the company. Aside from when you buy into a public offering of new stock, your money did not go to the company, it went to another collector. It does nothing to help the company fund their start-up costs to produce a new product for the actual marketplace. And even in the case of a public offering you don’t help the company when you cash out that investment. You bought, say, 0.1% of that company and that was the only time you helped them bring something new to the market. If you purely sold that 0.1% of the company for 1/1000th of the actual value of the company at the time you sold it, then your income would be “investment” and your profits would be actual investment income tied to the increase in the actual value of the company you risked money on.

No purchase and sale of stock is investment. By the time the company is ready to float an Initial Public Offering they’re cashing out on the investment by selling off the company’s assets. Any purchase and sale of stock after the IPO is just gambling income and does not contribute to the free marketplace that Capitalism revolves around.

Neither is most venture capital

That said, now lets talk about actual investment income. If you are an “angel investor” or “venture capitalist” (which is really another name for unregulated banking with no guarantee on either your return nor their costs) then your income from that risk is the increase in valuation of the company’s actual assets over the time you were a partial owner. Any income you get beyond that isn’t investment and in no case does your selling your share benefit the company’s ability to bring products to market – they get no benefit from your profit so stop thinking that you’re risking your money to help get a startup going when you cash out.

Adam Smith, Capitalism and “Investment Income”

One of Adam Smith’s premises in The Wealth of Nations – the book that defined Capitalism back in 1776 – is that the greatest harm to a Capitalist market based economy was the creation of instruments that brought in income without producing valuable items that could be traded in the marketplace.  He called these instruments “rents”.

These practices produced income sources for an essentially parasitic class that could use their wealth to create ongoing revenue for themselves with no risk and no contribution to society nor the marketplace. It’s important to remember that despite what the GOP or some Randian tells you, Adam Smith was an Enlightenment radical who created Capitalism to flatten society to a level competitive playing field. He was doing so at a time and place where most wealth was held by the landed houses of England who did nothing but being born into the right family to achieve wealth far beyond even the worst robber barons the US ever produced – families with trillion dollar plus family assets in current dollars.

Smith’s central premise was that society did best when ideas and products competed equally and the wealth created through the market was by production and sale of competitively better goods at a better value as determined by consumers.

What we call “investment income” does none of this. It is a Smith “rent” scheme. It is wealth distributed not by the competitive value of new inventions and improved products but by passing valueless paper around from one wealthy family to another. This is neither Capitalism nor good for a Capitalist economy. Smith himself said that as this is something that damages the efficiency and fairness of the market it is the job of the government to regulate it into harmlessness and to re-level the playing field so actual competition can continue.

As an aside and a reward for reading this far, the next time some “get the government out of the free market” idiot blathers on, you can now safely assume he doesn’t know what Capitalism actually is.

Now, let’s look at some “investor” assertions I’ve actually gotten in my discussions…

I earned the money I spend on stock from a job.

That’s really irrelevant. If I say “I used the money I made by selling food to starving orphans at minimal costs to buy equipment to torture kittens” do we really care how you got the money to torture kittens? No. No matter how you got the money it’s the issue of whether we as a society should subsidize what you choose to do with it.

I take risks

Should taxpayers subsidize your losses in your hobby of buying and selling collectables? We currently do. Investment loss is deductible and when we do that we’re precisely taking tax dollars from other people to cut your risks. I’d argue that we should not do this at all but that isn’t the question at hand.

I should be able to cash in on my gains

And I think so, too. In the case of long-term investment I suggest taxing your “cashing in” collectable sales profits at the same rate as income you gained by actually producing something of value to the market. That’s probably too generous but I’m trying to be reasonable during the transition period of moving toward actual Capitalism.

I also suggest that we tax short term gains at a 50% rate. Yes, it really should be higher as its meant to discourage if not eliminate a dangerous hobby. There are several damaging aspects of short-term investment that need to be addressed but lets focus on the worst of those. Short term profit taking discourages businesses from actually producing goods and services for the market and ends up replacing the productive free market with optimization for short-term shareholder return.

As a compromise, how about we say “if you want to claim short-term stock gain as regular income you are prohibited from voting your shares directly or via proxy, are prohibited from participating in any shareholder litigation and are barred from any interaction with the company you partly own during your period of ownership for a period of two years prior to your intended or actual sale. Any of these activities triggers marking the “investment” as stock manipulation and requires your shares to be sold at the price you paid for them or the current market value, whichever is lower and any income you received above that amount to be added to your tax bill.

The increase in stock price funds innovation

Some people will say that the increase in stock price in the speculation market continues to fund the company since that company gains as the shares they own increase in value. That anyone thinks that way shows that we have let the tail wag the dog. The purpose of the company in actual Capitalism is to produce a product for sale in the competitive marketplace. When their income is now tied to the immediate stock price rather than the value of their products in that marketplace they no longer are participating in the market and are now just speculators themselves and no longer focused on producing goods and services to stimulate the market based economy.

Summing up…

Summarizing, I fully support actual investment as measured by the purchase of a share of a company and the gain in wealth of the value of that share of the company itself. That is investment income. It is unsubsidized risk being rewarded by the marketplace. Speculating on buying and reselling collectables that do not directly fund the value of the company is both harmful to the company and to the economy and should be discouraged by any Capitalist government as part of their role to keep Adam Smith’s playing field level.

A Little Checkpoint

December 16, 2012

I saw a little reminder today. A checkpoint on where we’ve been and where we are and where it looks like we’re going. It was the opening clip from Aaron Sorkin’s show The Newsroom. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you have seen it, watch it again.

Here’s the video clip:

The opening of The Newsroom’s pilot episode

Yep. A great show and one of many great moments.

The difference between today’s left and right in the US is their response to those numbers Sorkin cites in that speech.

Liberals respond to all the "we’re number 14 in this" and "we’re number 34 in that" with "That sucks and we need to fix it" while conservatives respond with "How dare you think we’re not best at everything? Why do you hate America?"

The most recent, really on point, example is not the shootings last week – horrific as they were – but the vote on the UN treaty on the disabled. This was the UN saying "The USA created a great policy for a nation to follow with the Americans with Disabilities Act and we think all nations should aspire to be as good to their citizens as the USA is to theirs". An action that we used to deserve and used to receive with a fair degree of regularity.

Now, however, rather than having the vision and courage to produce legislation like the ADA, we can’t even get our own nation to support a non-binding, toothless resolution applauding our own actions because the tin foil hat brigade thinks the UN is about to send blue helmeted soldiers in black helicopters to seize Billings, Montana.

And that’s pathetic.

And we need to not only recognize that but we need to fix that.


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