Thursday, December 13, 2007

Zinger of the day and more on today's debate...

In today's Des Moines Register debate the moderator asked Senator Obama: "With all of the Clinton advisers on your campaign, how are you going to offer a clean break from the past?"

Hillary Clinton laughs loudly and then says: "I'd like to hear the answer to this..."

Obama pauses momentarily then lands the knock out blow by saying: "Well, Hillary, i look forward to you advising me as well."

Hillary Clinton wasn't laughing anymore after that.

I enjoyed the debate quite a bit today. I particularly enjoy hearing from Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson. None of these three men will win the Democratic nomination, but at each debate they have hammered home the fact that their collective experience on the issues, their fundamental understanding of the challenges we face. They may not end up as President, but it is nice to know that they are out there working hard for us.

Clearly, that last paragraph was loaded. I was purposefully pointing out that the three front runners in the Democratic primary as well as all the Republican candidates are simply not as well qualified. If public policy knowledge truly dictated who the next President would be then we wouldn't have to endure this putrid poor excuse for a beauty pageant.

I am not looking forward to seeing John McCain in the swimsuit portion!

A revolution of thought…

Do Americans need more money in their pockets (i.e. a tax cut) or do we just need to stop buying so much crap. This country faces serious challenges in the next decade. We face declining revenue due in part to reckless tax cuts as well as increased interest payments on all our outstanding debt to foreign creditors. As a nation, we have failed to offset this decline in revenue. This is primarily because our political leaders lack the courage to stand up to the various interest groups who fight tooth and nail for their piece of the pie (AARP, NEA, and Chamber of Commerce, I am looking at you). This is all occurring at a time when we face an increasing demand for our social safety net programs. Programs like Medicare, which will be placed under incredible financial strain with the impending baby boomer mass retirement. Other programs like Medicaid and SCHIP will also feel the squeeze due to the swelling ranks of Americans who lack health insurance. All of this reckless finance is occurring while the United States is pouring grotesque sums of money into the black hole that is the United States military. All so that we can prop up a dysfunctional regime in Baghdad under the guise of security.

This incredibly myopic view completely ignores that for the [false] perception of physical security (from those crazy Jihadists) we have triple mortgaged and then refinanced our economic security. The United States used to be the largest creditor in the world, but we are now the largest debtor. We borrow $800 million annually from Japan, South Korea, and even more disturbingly, China.

What is the solution? Well, Rudy Giuliani would tell you that everything could be solved with a few well placed corporate tax cuts. I am dubious. Fred Thompson would say that the solution is to simply tell baby boomers that the Medicare benefit that they had banked on will be unavailable because we can’t afford it (everyone burn your bras!). Ron Paul would say that the United States needs to close all bases around the world, adopt an isolationist foreign policy and then with the savings we will be able to shore up domestic programs. As ridiculous as all those solutions are, and they are, it is nothing compared to what is coming from the donkeys. Arguably this election cycle is idiot-proof for the Democrats. There has almost never been a more sure bet then 2008. Anyone who has watched any of the Republican debates knows that this crew of mental midgets doesn’t stand a chance on policy mostly because they willfully and proudly disdain public policy. Public policy, to the Republican presidential candidates, as synonymous with “Washington insiders thinking they know how to use your hard earned money better than you.”

This brings me to the point of this blog posting. Perhaps the Republicans are right! No, I have not fallen down and hit my head. I am quite alright. I am standing on one foot, touching my nose and saying the alphabet backwards. What I mean is, maybe Americans hate the idea of working hard only to turn around and pay a tax for that hard work. The taxation of income was first enacted in the United States in July 1861. Congress passed a 3% tax on all net income above $600 a year (about USD 10,000 today). In 1894 a tax act was found to be unconstitutional and the collection of income taxes was halted. This event led to the ratification of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913. But I digress.

It has become the stated practice to place the largest portion of our taxation on production. Perhaps we should shift away from that paradigm. Why do we tax something like hard work that we want to promote? Perhaps in a time when our planet faces serious challenges from over consumption of goods and production it is time to instead place the tax burden on consumers. There are a number of ways to do this and they should all be discussed out in the open without fear of hateful vitriol and assertions of being a “tax and spend pinko.”

One potential shift would be to implement a Value Added Tax (or VAT) like many European countries successfully have. The VAT is levied on the added value that results from each exchange. A traditional sales tax is levied on the total value of the exchange. A VAT is neutral with respect to the number of passages that there are between the producer and the final consumer. This would be very effective in making the supply chain of many products more efficient (eliminating endlessly inefficient layers and middlemen). It is an indirect tax, in that the tax is collected from someone other than the person who actually bears the cost of the tax (namely the seller rather than the consumer).

Another approach is the much hyped carbon tax. A carbon tax is a tax on sources of carbon dioxide emissions. It is an example of a pollution tax. This type of consumption tax has two key aspects that make it an attractive alternative. First it creates an incentive for consumers to purchase products or utilities which are carbon neutral. Second, this tax targets a "bad" rather than a "good" (such as income).

The solution that I envision would probably include both. We could either severely cut the income tax and implement these tax alternatives to offset the revenue loss, or we could eliminate the income tax altogether and make the consumption tax the major method of collecting revenue for government services. It should be said that Mike Huckabee has proposed eliminating the federal income tax with a national sales tax and has been laughed out of the room. The press coverage has portrayed this idea as a sign of insanity.

This isn’t a perfect solution there should be debate about whether this approach is too regressive, but in the end the goal of these taxes is to bring to light the amount of consumption we engage in as a society and the extent to which that consumption is destroying our environment.

Our leaders need to have the courage to speak truthfully and openly about the very serious economic challenges that we face. That will not happen until the American people realize that we are collectively (rich and poor alike) sitting in a boat, drifting towards a huge waterfall and our reticence about even discussing tax policy is akin to throwing the oars overboard. If we don’t, at the very least, have the conversation we are doomed to second tier status. Then this country, which has for over a century stood as an example of entrepreneurial “can-do” spirit will cease to exist and will be replaced by a nation that panders to the lowest common denominator, debates triviality, and preys on fear to achieve power.

I am not optimistic.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The blogger returns... briefly?

This is an e-mail exchange that has been going on with a conservative friend of mine. I will update if it continues to be interesting.

On 10/16/07, B wrote:
Subject: Re: Environment


Next time you are wondering why we can't save the environment....throw on an episode of COPS late on a Saturday night. Everything becomes much clearer.


Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2007 - From: Freak Politics

Actually the reason we can't fix the environment is because seemingly intelligent people like you vote for ass clowns like Fred Thompson... to quote rolling stone's latest article...

"You have to see it to believe it, the effect that Fred Thompson has on certain crowds. Reporters who describe his public appearances as "bland" and "uninspiring" and "vague" and "blurry" do so because they're looking for the wrong thing; they're looking for theatrics, for fire and brimstone, for that candidate who can get crowds howling for blood. What Thompson inspires is something much more appropriate for Americans of the TV age: He gets audiences purring in a cozy stupor. Their eyes glaze over and they end up looking like a bunch of flies happily lapping up their own puke."

If you'd like to read the whole article...

On 10/17/07, B wrote:

Lets review the alternatives:


Obama - Bright, well-spoken, but not enough political experience yet. I am also concerned that he intends on raising taxes to give more money away to lower income households.

1. Give stuff away doesn't work, and doesn't motivate people to work harder
2. Taxing those who make more and giving to those who make less sounds a lot like socialism. I find myself being hard working and upper middle class, but having to watch my spending carefully. Why? Because we tax too much and give it away. Don't believe me? I live in on of the poorest states in the nation....but has the highest taxes. This sense of entitlement in America has to go....

Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2007 - From: Freak Politics
cc: C

I agree on Hillary, though she is better then anything the GOP are putting up. She would destroy Rudy in a debate. "Crank Mad Catholic!!!"

Also, you should re-assess the "give away stuff doesn't work, and doesn't motivate people to work harder." statement. The welfare reform that was bi-partisan (though a big win for Clinton) changed the landscape of welfare in the United States. It was coupled with job training and educational entitlements. In short, it worked. A huge success! Also, this administration and the Rep Congress before 2006 did more "welfare spending" then any Democratic administration has. The difference is it is corporate welfare and contracts handed out under the guise of "public-private partnerships." These PPPs, if you study public policy, only work when heavily regulated by the government. This administration is not a fan of the deadly R word. Don't think we have privatized government services? Halliburton, Blackwater (when did the Marines stop providing embassy security?), there is a conference this week in Austin where there is talk about how to privatize services in our National Parks (how do you feel about that C?). The list goes on and on.

You're right; giving stuff away doesn't motivate people to work harder. Look at how lazy, bloated and inefficient corporate America is becoming. There is a reason why our efficiency lags behind even France! The difference between corporate welfare and individual welfare is that you are helping people who because of a number of factors cannot help themselves. If the market (invisible hand and all) truly function, corporations should not need government assistance to succeed. I support eliminating all corporate welfare (include subsidies for agri-business and no-bid contracts for government contractors, etc). I draw the line at services targeted at small businesses. By and large those work quite well. If you are going to have tax incentives for Con-Agra and mega corporate farms, I think family farmers should get them too. You will not find one analysis that says that family farming is less efficient.

Racism, classism, unequal educational opportunities, the devaluation of education in poorer communities, the lack of successful role models, etc, etc, etc. The list a barriers to success for the people who are the recipients of "welfare" goes on and on. You're right, hand outs don't work. But hand ups do. The data is there, though you won't hear any of it watching a GOP debate (or a Democratic debate, really). The GOP claims to champion individual rights. I can dig it; if the playing field is level. You should not hold yourself up as an example of someone who has overcome any form of adversity. You and I come from incredibly fortunate backgrounds. Our parents are very well educated, they were role models in the importance of education, we went to top notch public schools, we were taught that working hard makes the difference. That AIN'T the norm. Social services are necessary, if for no other reason than to deliver the type of America that is discussed at Republican Debates.

Just some thoughts…

On 10/17/07, B wrote:


Welfare: I would not call this a resounding success. If people are going to receive benefits, they should have to work to some degree.

Giving stuff away: You have conveniently (Democrat move) shifted the subject matter away from the people to corporations. If people aren't motivated, they won't work harder....the same for corporations. I have no problem with corporations paying CEO's millions of dollars, if the company is profitable and returning monies to their investors. I agree Corporate welfare needs to be assessed though.

"Racism, classism, unequal educational opportunities, the devaluation of education in poorer communities, the lack of successful role models, etc, etc, etc. The list a barriers to success for the people who are the recipients of "welfare" goes on and on. " People still have the opportunity to make choices, and the longer and longer excuses are being made, the less water they hold. While I do not discount these situations exist in all too much frequency, in cannot be used as excuse to be a criminal, not work, use drugs, not care for your family, or any of the other activities that continue to plague our social services system. Take a look back fifty years ago, and I guarantee you saw a fraction of this occurring. I am tired of the Democrats trying to make people feel guilty for being successful, and thus obligated to "share the wealth." People should feel their own obligations to help their fellow man, but not have to pay 30% of their income in take care of people that make bad decisions, not people just caught in bad situations, but people that continue to make bad decisions and rely on others to help them.


Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2007 - From: Freak Politics
cc: C

Part one: You should look at the welfare reform from 1994... it really should be called workfare.

Part two: If people don't have skills they can't get jobs, motivation or not. You are right people should not get handouts. We need to use entitlements to empower people and create an incentive to learn, get trained, get jobs and move up. But in the mean time it is unacceptable for the "richest nation in the world" to let them fall through the cracks. The "sink or swim" mentality exists only in the United States. Even China doesn't have uninsured children! There is a segment of the population that will never be a productive part of society. That is true in every country. But ask yourself, why is that segment so much higher in the United States then other industrialized nations?

Part three: Ask African Americans how peachy things were 50 years ago. How about Hispanics? How about the rural poor? You are assuming a level playing field and level access to opportunity. Democrats don't hate rich people. Most of them are pretty darn rich themselves. I guess it is just a difference of opinion on the role of those who are most fortunate (and yes, you fit in that category) to care for their fellow man. If you feel guilty because of your status in the great order, that is your deal. I don't feel guilty at all, but then again I believe that my 30 percent in income tax is used to, among other things, provide old people and the poor and young poor and lower-middle class kids with health insurance. I feel it is my obligation, as a human being to not only share my wealth and help out those who are less fortunate then I am in this country, but everywhere in the world. That is a difference between you and me and it doesn't make me a better person then you. I hope you don't think I'm judging your beliefs.

There is a lot of validity in the idea that individuals need to help themselves. Trust me, I live in Texas, the most libertarian place I have ever been to. But there are homeless people who are homeless not because they are lazy but because they suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. These people cannot help themselves until they are helped by others. Some believe that charities can serve that purpose, and I agree that they have a large role to play. But LBJ said it best: "I know that government cannot resolve all problems. It cannot make them happy or bring them spiritual fulfillment. But it can attempt to remedy the public failures which are at the root of so many human ills." You disagree with that and I respect that.

Here is my point. You and I agree that we want to spread prosperity to as wide a portion of the population as possible. We just disagree on the best way to do that. You want individual responsibility and I want to empower people so they can take that responsibility. I think we can both agree that we don't want to pay a penny more in tax then we have to. I think we can also agree that government has at least some role to play, even if we disagree on exactly what role that is. I come from the line of belief that government can be (not is, but can be) the best engine for empowerment. FDR, in his speech when signing the New Deal legislation said: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” I think if conservatives could acknowledge that the government has a role to play and liberals could acknowledge that there is a certain amount of individual responsibility inherent in success then there could be a substantive policy debate that would produce fruitful results. To be honest, all I see is a shift in that the Democratic Party has become the party of fiscal austerity (it was Nancy Pelosi that re-instituted the PayGo system in Congress). Yes, there are still people like John McCain (who, by the way, is the best Rep. on policy) who still talk like fiscal conservatives, but they are becoming increasing rare. Discretionary spending (what your peeps like to call PORK) skyrocketed between 1994 and 2006. It didn't just double, I mean it skyrocketed!

And yes, there are still liberals that have never met a problem that they could throw money at, but Obama, Edwards and Clinton are not them. Really the only Dem running who is, is Dennis Kucinich. And he doesn't even show up on most polls of Dems. That is pretty telling.

Being President isn't about saying no. Ronald Reagan didn't say now and George W Bush didn't say no (as much as I wish they would have). Look at the political spectrum. In many ways Nixon would likely have been a Democrat in the current political climate. He created the EPA, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act and so much more. He believed in a robust, but measured federal government. He expanded LBJ's Great Society.

We'll find solutions to our problems, but until then... Everyone sing!

Happy days are here again,
The skies above are clear again,
So let's sing a song of cheer again,
Happy days are here again.
All together, shout it now!
There's no one who can doubt it now.
So let's tell the world about it now,
Happy days are here again.
Your cares and troubles are gone,
There'll be no more from now on!
(repeat first chorus)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A quote for today...

"I know that government cannot resolve all problems. It cannot make them happy or bring them spiritual fulfillment. But it can attempt to remedy the public failures which are at the root of so many human ills."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The seasons of our lives

Rolling, tumbling, turmoil, and confusion
The path down was fast
And the way up is long
Stretching out before me like a winding dirt road
Lined with green trees on a warm spring day
Wildflowers blooming
The insects singing
The road should seem daunting
It is long
But all that matters are the course ahead of me
Step by step
There is no turning back
Behind me is winter
Cold, gray, unforgiving, and harsh
Staggering in the blizzards of yesterday
Still fresh in my mind
They should not be forgotten,
Even as my body warms
From the sun of spring
The planting of new seeds
Tilling the thawed Earth
And preparing to grow into yet another summer
But never forget
Winters always come again
But if we prepare
The harshness will be diminished
And we can survive until spring comes again!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

If you’re American, the President thinks you’re too healthy!

In a recent column, Paul Krugman discussed the “new” Bush administration health care system reform. He referred to it as “gold plated indifference.” The line that stands out to me most in his column is: “Wow. Those are the words of someone with no sense of what it's like to be uninsured.” Truly, this new series of tax cuts is nothing but a not so subtle attempt to land the death blow to our employer provided health care system. There are many people, including myself, who have wanted this to happen for many, many years. But this group is incredibly diverse and brings together people with many different rationales for wishing for the collapse of this system. They include the George Wills of the world who refer to President Bush’s proposal as “revolutionary” as well as proponents of universal coverage who see the current system as being so fundamentally flawed that it needs to be totally destroyed and rebuilt. This latter group includes the likes of E.J. Dionne, Paul Krugman and Hilary Clinton (though good luck getting her to admit it after she took such a severe beating back in the early 90s).

The Bush administration has, simply stated, never identified a problem that couldn’t be repaired with a “well placed” tax cut and the invisible hand of the free market. But let’s take a closer look at what this proposal would do. It would essentially treat the health insurance industry like the home ownership industry and create a health insurance tax rebate of $7,000 per year for an individual and $15,000 for families. The problem with this is that many of the uninsured are not paying that much in taxes.

The President talks about taxing people who have, what he terms, “gold plated coverage”. The flaw in this reasoning is that he won’t just be taxing the rich but just about every blue collar worker who is a union member. Just about every electrical worker or day laborer or any collectively bargained worker has traded at least some pay for high quality health insurance. The President’s approach will punish these workers most of all.

Let there be no illusion, this plan is not designed to fix the problem. If individuals are given the same tax benefits as business, there will no longer be an incentive for employers to provide coverage. This will leave people to buy their own individual plans. If you have ever been covered by an individual plan, you know how bad that is. No coverage for pre-existing conditions, no employer’s HR department to help you navigate all your choices. The flaws with this logic go on and on.

Of course there are problems with the health care system, but this plan doesn’t try to deal with any of them. This is just an exercise in cost shifting. The real challenge is how to control the spiraling costs of coverage. This won’t happen by tossing everyone out on their own to fend for themselves. Everyone agrees that people should be more proactive in ensuring their health. Individual responsibility is a virtue and one that should be included in all facets of life, but we need to equip people with the tools that they need to take responsibility. You can’t just say: Individual responsibility and then throw everyone into the fire.

If we put everyone in one pool and set rates for everyone at the same level then we could, in essence, control costs for individuals. Then we need to look at the health care system and eliminate waste and fraud. There are a lot of middlemen in the health care system now. A national health system modeled on the Veteran’s Administration would cut down a lot of the administrative red tape.

This system does not need subtle change. It needs revolutionary change and we should remember that this President isn’t good at starting revolutions, but civil wars.