Dear Libertarians

March 22, 2014 at 6:51 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Dear Libertarians,

It seems it’s that time again.  That time when I have to say it’s over.  I’d say that it’s not you, that it’s me… but I think we both know that it’s actually you.

We got together because we shared something special.  We both believed that the government needed to back down, that it needed to reduce its interference in people’s lives.  That personal responsibility should take precedence over laws and regulations.  That there was obvious evidence on the record of gross negligence and disregard for civilian life by the government that wasn’t even being covered up, just ignored by society at large.  We’d spend hours debating the best way to gradually work in a wedge of sensible third party candidates to break the two-party stranglehold on our country’s government.  The nights spent going over plans to gradually reduce government interference in daily life will always be fondly remembered.

I suppose this was also when I started to realize there would be problems.  I’d quote Andrew Carnegie, and you’d quote Ayn Rand.  I’d suggest the government should redirect sources where they were a better investment, you’d insist that going cold turkey was the right approach.  You’d propose the immediate repeal of all gun laws once a Libertarian was in the White House, I’d point out that the Constitution you wanted to protect didn’t give the President that power.  I’d advocate for improving the rights of minorities, and you’d insist that doing so was actually harming them by giving the government more power.

That was the moment when we started having real problems, I understand that now.  I agreed with your general suggestion; the government shouldn’t be involved in the marriage business at all.  Marriage licenses could be replaced with civil contracts to achieve the same legal protections, there could even be a standard template, but anybody could enter into those contracts, and marriage would simply be a socio-religious affair, and excuse to have a party.  It all made sense, until you said that we shouldn’t make gay marriage legal because it would reduce the pressure to eliminate marriage as a legal construct.  It was our first fight, but it would hardly be the last.  To be honest, I’m not even sure it ever stopped so we could have a second one.

Maybe I was just blind at the time, ignoring your more extreme elements in the search for something new.  I had questions about some of your ideas early on, about the fact that the President couldn’t just say “these laws don’t exist anymore,” but you explained that as something that would be proposed, not just done unilaterally.  I had questions about some of your roommates, the ones who were more socially conservative.  They reminded me a lot of the people who’d just thrown me out of my last relationship, with Christianity.  But you explained that they were disgruntled Republicans who were squatting, and you were trying to get them to leave.

So I put up with it, and dealt with the raving and the questionable decisions and the arguments.  You got the roomies to move out, told me they’d gone back to live with their parents, and I thought things were going to get better.

But then I found out that you were cheating on me, not just with your old “roomies,” but with some people who seem to be even crazier.  I hadn’t thought that was possible at first, but this Sovereign Citizens guy you’re seeing?  Honestly, I thought he was a nuisance at first, but the more he says the more he scares me.  Not just for what he might do to me, but for what he’s doing to you.

In trying to impress your old roomies and your new partner, you’ve been straying further and further into crazy land yourself.  You’ve started calling me, me of all people, a leftist, a liberal, a fascist apologist, and for what?  For suggesting that maybe, just maybe, the ideas you’ve started promoting are a little… well, insane.

Just in case this whole thing is one great big misunderstanding, I’m going to take this one last chance to make myself perfectly clear.  I don’t have a problem with your idea that the government really needs to pull back.  I agree with you that the police in large parts of this country are dangerously over-armed and over-militarized.  I agree with you that the prisons are overcrowded with people who don’t really deserve to be there.  I agree with you that we need to stop spending useless money.  I agree with you that corporate special interests wield far too much power in this day and age, that the plutocrats are taking over and not even bothering to hide it anymore.  And I agree with you that we need to really stop and think about if we’re going to be the land of the free, or the home of the terminally paranoid.

What I don’t agree with you on is how we’re supposed to accomplish that.

This Sovereign Citizens guy has been telling you that government, as an institution, is inherently evil and tyrannical.  Not just federal government, but local government, even a city council.  He’s been telling you that any legal system whatsoever is an infringement on the freedom of the people, a false contract established by force and intimidation without the consent of the people.  And he’s been telling you that what we really need to do is get rid of it, and shift to… what?  Rule by the free market, where people’s will and ability to acquire and apply force is what enables them to protect themselves from their fellow men.

What I can’t believe is that you’re buying this line, and that you’re not seeing the problems with it.

The government we have now is flawed, yes.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not like our government.  The tirades I’ve made about the NSA, drone strikes, and our country’s… how to put this delicately… utterly fucked up sense of entitlement to the world’s resource should prove this.  But when you look around you, how can you not see the terrible, terrible flaws we have with the free market, with complete deregulation?

Earlier this year, 300,000 people in West Virginia had their waterways poisoned by private industry.  A year or two ago, a private chemical plant in Texas exploded.  Not too long before that, a major (private) oil well exploded, pumping unknown amounts of oil and God alone knows what else into the Gulf Stream.  All three of these events were due to lax oversight and lack of regulations, and not even the companies responsible have argued otherwise.  We still haven’t figured out how much damage the Fukushima Reactor meltdown has caused, because private industry hasn’t cleaned it all up yet.  New reports of preventable tragedies are coming out of one private company after another every day.  Every.  Single.  Day.  And that’s not even counting the number of people whose lives are gradually ruined by the working conditions that they’re told to put up with or quit and find a new job… where the conditions will probably be just as bad, if not worse, especially in this job market.  Productivity in this country has increased drastically, but the only people who are seeing any real economic benefits from that are the super-rich.

And this is under what you’re calling a dictatorial, regulation-happy, practically-communist regime.

I just have to ask… how is this going to change, if we don’t have anybody holding them back?  If the only way we have to punish these companies is to not buy from them, how do we, the people, hold responsible companies that produce industrial solvents that are used for coal production?  We don’t buy their products ourselves, and the only way to stop patronizing their customers in protest would be to shift to solar and wind (which you argue are unsustainable) or nuclear.  And while I’m all for a well-regulated nuclear industry with high safety standards, do you seriously, sincerely believe we’ll have the incredibly safe reactors of today without somebody to tell the people building these multi-billion dollar facilities that, no, they can’t cheap out on the reactor shielding?

After all, it costs money to build the sort of redundancies that actually prevented Three Mile Island from being a hideous disaster with fatalities.  Without that money, you get Chernobyl.  It works!  Kind of.  Until it doesn’t.  Then you end up with… well, Chernobyl.

Do you really think that the unfettered free market would have prevented the economic disasters caused by the Enron, Worldcom, and our recent megabanking collapses?  Because as an accountant, I’m here to tell you that’s a load of grade-A manure.  Fraud and economic disaster thrives in an environment without regulation, far more than it does in an environment with too much regulation.  And I’m not in auditing; I’m in the field that usually complains about more rules coming down the pike to force me to add another layer of checks to my numbers.

Do you really think that a lower tax rate and fewer regulations will keep companies from outsourcing jobs overseas?  That they’ll bring jobs back to the States if they just don’t owe as much in taxes?  That’s bullshit, and if you don’t know it, it’s because you’re willfully ignoring the facts.  Look at their tax expenses.  Then look at their labor expenses.  That’s the line item that has them shipping jobs to places like China or India.  Apple could build the iPhone stateside without any problems; there are enough people to do the jobs, there are enough resources to build the factory, there are cities that would get on their knees and BEG for a FoxConn-like plant and that sort of industry!

But in China, they can do it at pennies on the dollar for the labor, and with working conditions that drive people to kill themselves.  You can’t do that in the USA.  In the USA, you have to pay a minimum wage that still isn’t enough to keep somebody out of poverty, and you have restrictions on the hours you can make people work.  You have minimum standards that the plants have to be kept up to.

Of course, you don’t like minimum wage laws either, but I fail to see how leaving us competing on the same wage scale as the Chinese is supposed to actually make life over here any better.  And when I ask you about that sort of thing… you don’t like to answer.

Frankly, there are a lot of questions you don’t like to answer.

You throw around words like “plutocrats” and “corporatists” as much as you throw around words like “statists,” but then you say that we need to give these people and their money more influence… and you really don’t like to be asked how that’s supposed to fix anything.

I’ve asked you how corporations are supposed to be kept in check without any sort of effective regulation, and the closest you come to answering the question is to say that we haven’t seen a country where the corporations haven’t been able to buy the government, so we can’t say what would happen.  And when I point out Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and any of a dozen other nations where corporations have had unfettered freedom to do what they want, the abuse of natural resources, the rampant human rights violations, the rape and enslavement of nations… you don’t like to answer any questions about that sort of thing.

I just can’t stand by and ignore it any more.

When we met, I could suggest smarter ways for the government to use its resources, and you thought those were good ideas.  Now, you tell me that I’m trying to socialize medicine when I suggest that making birth control freely available is a smart investment.  Because, you know, daily pills or annual shots are much cheaper than either helping to make sure that a kid grows up to not be a felon, or the costs of imprisonment.

Of course, your solution is that the private market should handle all that stuff.  Because the problem they’re having at food pantries is that not enough people show up who actually need help.  Because the private prison system has been proven to be so free of fraud and abuse, and get such better results than government-funded prisons.

What you are currently advocating isn’t a democracy.  You’ve actually gone and actively said that democracy is a tyranny of the majority.  I’d ask what sort of government you want, but I know that the answer these days is ‘none’ more and more often.

By the way, we actually have tried that governmental system before.  It’s called the feudal system, or a dictatorship.  He who can afford and wield the most intimidating force makes all the rules.  The reason the government is working with the corporations in those nations is because the corporations buy the government and make it take the rules away.  It wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t a government – they’d still rule through force of arms.  They’d make the rules.  And those rules would be to their advantage, while abusing the people and land as much as they can get away with.

The unfettered free market runs on money.  Ergo, the people who have all the money… have the power of the unfettered free market.

I’m sorry, I suppose I’m starting to ramble.  I really do wish that I didn’t have to write this letter, but here I am.  Maybe there’s still a chance… one of these days, maybe you’ll realize what you’re doing wrong and straighten things out.  It wouldn’t take much… just loose the lunatic fringe jacket, actually quit seeing your scary friends, and maybe we can make this work.  But until then…

Not yours anymore,

The Wolfemann

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A little extra food for thought….

January 9, 2013 at 9:43 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , , , )

My last post on here was a bit of home-brew analysis of readily available stats related to gun ownership and death rates.

Turns out, I could have just pointed everybody to this handy paper by the folks at Harvard Law.

In particular, I would like to draw attention to the following statement, which emphasizes the point of the article:

Although the reason is thus obscured, the undeniable result is that violent crime, and homicide in particular, has plummeted in the United States over the past 15 years.

The fall in the American crime rate is even more impressive when compared with the rest of the world. In 18 of the 25 countries surveyed by the British Home Office, violent crime increased during the 1990s.

This contrast should induce thoughtful people to wonder what happened in those nations, and to question policies based on the notion that introducing increasingly more restrictive firearm ownership laws reduces violent crime.

The point is this; gun control advocates believe that reducing or eliminating the presence of guns (or certain types of guns) will reduce violent crimes.  On the contrary, the evidence would seem to suggest that there is, at best, no correlation whatsoever between gun ownership and the homicide rate, once you stop limiting your data set to firearm-related deaths.  Reducing the number of firearms-related homicides and suicides doesn’t really matter if the people who are looking to kill just find another method to do so, and the data indicates that’s exactly what happens.

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Ah, irony….

January 6, 2009 at 9:29 am (Politics) (, , )

http://punditkitchen.com/2009/01/05/political-pictures-blagojevich-irony/

It spells out the issue quite nicely.

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The Blame Game

September 27, 2008 at 11:43 am (Politics) (, , , , , )

As you might have noticed, there’s been a little bit of trouble with the economic markets lately.  Maybe you noticed your 401K being decimated, maybe you noticed investment firms going out of business, and if you (were) a Washington Mutual customer, maybe you noticed when your bank was sold to J.P. Morgan-Chase.

One of the big questions that everybody is asking through this, the “greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression,” is… what caused it?

Not that there’s a shortage of people to blame, but the most popular culprit is, as always, “corporate greed,” followed closely by “failed Reagan-era economic policies.”  Well, I actually am an accountant, which makes my commentary here almost legitimately qualified (more than your typical Journalism major’s at any rate), so why don’t I join in the blame game?

Who do I blame for the current economic crisis?

Everybody.

You see, here’s the thing.  There’s no one thing, or one aspect, that caused this.  It required a perfect storm of new regulation, market conditions, political expedience, and human panic.  Like the last economic disaster, it required poor long-term investment strategies, the lemming-like tendencies of investors everywhere, and just a soupcon of fraud.

First, a little terminology… or, as I like to think of it, our Usual Suspects, straight from central casting.

  • Bonds – long-term securities typically sold on a 10-30 year term that pay a modest interest rate over that period.  You buy a bond, you collect your interest, and when the bond comes due you’re given back the face value of your bond.  Bonds are often backed by some sort of collateral, just like your mortgage is backed by the house you buy with it.
  • Stocks – also known as trading securities, stocks regularly trade hands and are generally considered practically the same as cash.  You buy a stock, usually hold onto it for a little while, and then sell it on the uptick.  The exception, of course, is in some companies which are more long-term investments – Microsoft, for example.
  • The SEC – the regulatory body for American financial markets, the SEC does most of the final regulating on who says what about their financial condition.

Now, here’s what happened.  Banks started selling bonds, backed by mortgages that they had given out.  Many, many of these mortgages were (at one time or another) owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  While housing prices rose, these mortgages were as good as gold.  Traditional wisdom holds that mortgages are the last thing people will default on and, even if they do default, you’ve got a house you can go out and sell to make back the money.  Therefore, the mortgage-backed bonds should be incredibly secure securities – and were rated as such.  They sold at a premium, and everybody was happy.

Except that traditional wisdom only holds out over the long-term.  Over the long term – the life of the mortgage – housing values will rise.  But over the short term, they fluctuate.  Once in a while you hit a dry spell in the housing market – especially if a lot of new homes have been built and sold and flipped so many times that the value has inflated beyond reason.  And that’s the situation we’ve found ourselves in.  Low interest rates and sub-prime mortgages were originally meant to let people who couldn’t buy a house buy one for the first time, or let people who already could afford one afford a larger one.  But, since credit was easier to get in larger and larger amounts, people got a little bit greedy – why should they sell their $100,000 home for a ‘lousy’ $110,000 when they could get $125,000 instead, because the guy who wants it can get that much and there aren’t enough other places in the area he could buy instead?

So you sell the home at a markup… and then *he* sells the home at a markup… and then somebody can’t make their mortgage payment and the *bank* sells the home at a more modest markup, to a guy who fixes the place up and sells it as a *big* markup.

This was confounded by the fact that people were taking out second and third mortgages on their homes, sometimes to fund investments, sometimes to fund home improvements, sometimes because they wanted to buy something big and flashy.  A lot of people treated their homes like credit cards with better interest rates.  This helped fuel the economic boom of the last two decades… but like all booms, it slows down, and nobody was thinking about what they would do if housing values started to drop.  When housing values drop, you can’t take out another mortgage because you already owe more money than the house is actually worth.  Without the steady flow of multiple-mortgage income, the consumer-goods economy slows.  When the consumer-goods economy slows, profits and salaries start to slide back.  When they start to drop, people can’t afford the mortgages they have out, and the banks have to foreclose on the house.  When they do that, the *bank* can’t get all of their money back… and they can’t back their bonds.  Nobody wants to buy bonds that can’t be backed, and to be honest, nobody really wants to sell them, so bond prices stagnate.  But if people have to sell them, then the prices plummet (more on that later).

Now, normally, this all would have taken a long time, probably long enough for housing prices to start ticking back up.  But a time bomb had been set in the mortgages.  Back during the 90’s, under the Clinton administration, the Democrats started pushing groups like Fannie and Freddie to give out more loans to low-income families.  They pushed to expand what could be considered income.  This gives our our little bit of fraud – people were listing unemployment benefits as income to repay a home loan, and welfare checks.  Not the sort of things you want to base a 30-year mortgage on, are they?  But the Democrats actually sued to let them be included.  What this did was that it accelerated the process listed above.  When your income is already on shaky grounds, any hit can endanger your mortgage.  If you already couldn’t afford it, and were counting on ‘flipping’ the house to make some money, dropping prices are disastrous.  And, if you don’t have many roots in the area because you don’t have a job you’re particularly fond of or family and friends you’re especially tied to because you just moved into the area, you might find it more to your advantage to abandon the mortgage *first*, not last.

(Those looking for another voice saying much the same thing, if somewhat more abrasively, may find Ann Coulter’s rant on the subject enlightening.)

So the banks are left stuck holding the bag on a bunch of houses that aren’t worth as much as they used to be, and the people who owned them… well, they didn’t really have all that much equity in them in the first place, so they’re not out too much, just the roof over their heads (not to make light of not having said roof – hopefully they were able to find new accomodations, ones within their current income levels.)  Why is this really a problem?  The banks can just wait until prices rise, which they inevitably do, and then they’ll be fine.

Well… remember what I said about people having to sell their securities that nobody wants?  Banks and investment firms are required by the SEC to maintain certain asset levels.  Not just houses or long-term securities, but liquid assets.  Cash and tradeable securities, things they can use to cover withdrawals.  They also have to hang on to a certain level of combined assets, but the liquid assets is where the dominoes start to fall.

Houses are all well and good, but when I go to the bank I want cash, not a chunk of window moulding appraised at the cash value.  Not only is it easier to spend, it fits in my wallet much better.  So the banks have just traded massive amounts of cash for massive amounts of real estate.  They need to get cash to stay in business, or else the government seizes them and sells them off to J.P. Morgan-Chase at fire-sale prices.  To make matters worse, they already had this problem when they were extending the mortgages – they packaged them up into bonds and sold *those* off to make back cash so they could give more people mortgages that could be packaged up and sold to make back cash… lather, rinse, repeat.  So now they’re stuck with houses.  They’re stuck with interest payments on these bonds.  And, eventually, they’re going to have to pay those bonds off… but the houses backing those bonds, *right now*, won’t make much cash.  The banks start getting nervous and calling in a lot of those mortgages they put out that were ‘interest-only’ – now they want principle, and they want it fast.  Well, that just results in them getting even more real estate, which they can’t sell at a profit, so they sell them at whatever price they can get, pushing the housing prices down even faster (though not *that* fast… funny how they always go up faster than they go down, isn’t it?)  But since the banks were stuck holding the highest amount of paid value on the houses, they also eat the largest losses when they sell at actual market value.

And losses make the market-lemmings start searching for cliffs.  They sell the bank stocks.  They want to sell the bonds, but they can’t get anybody to buy them, so they’ll hold those.  The bank stocks drop, equity in the bank drops, they need even *more* assets… and the death spiral begins.

As for those bonds… allow me to introduce you to the SEC’s latest new regulation related to this.  Last year, they required that investment firms list all their securities at market value.  Even if there’s no actual market out there.  Before this ruling, you could’ve tightened your belt, looked at the execs who chose to invest in these, and said “Bad doggie, no biscuit for you!”  You’d wait until the housing market started to come back up, your assets are worth more than you paid for them, and sell them at a profit.  Now, you have to estimate a price for bonds that nobody wants.  Being good little accountants, you follow the SEC’s rules, and devalue the bonds, despite the fact that they’re backed by assets which will eventually be worth more than the bonds themselves.  This makes your balance sheet look bad – like banks, you have to maintain a certain asset level, and now your assets are on the line.  So you *have* to go out and try to sell these “worthless” securities that nobody wants right now… right now.

“Two moths and a wad of camel spittle” looks bad on the balance sheet, no matter how you slice it.

The bonds are devalued down to pennies on the dollar.  Your assets, formerly on the line, are now well under it.  And… you have to declare bankruptcy, or sell, or otherwise go through a company catastrophe.  The death spiral steepens.

All of this comes back to the market-lemmings.  They see even bigger losses and disasters.  Rather than take a leap off the edge of that nice little table they’ve been eyeing, they decide that it’s time to go for broke and take a swan-dive off Angel Falls.  They sell financial stocks.  They sell bank stocks.  They sell everybody’s stocks.  The stock markets begin to plunge – the lemmings start building platforms on top of the peak and jumping from there.  The markets drop even further.  Finally, you’re at the point where the lemmings are putting on tiny little space helmets and sky-diving from orbit, the regulations in place devalue vast amounts of corporate real estate, and the entire economy tanks.

That’s where it could end up, at any rate.  Fortunately (and this is one of the only times you will ever hear me say this), the government has said they’re going to do something.  They’re going to give the banks and investment firms with these ‘toxic’ bonds cash in exchange for them – the government can hold them until they come due, and make a profit on them.  It might cost $700 billion dollars, but in the long run these actually are safe investments… it’ll just require tightening up the belt, giving the execs stern looks, and saying “bad doggie!  No biscuit!” for a year or two.  Exactly what the companies should have been able to do.  Exactly what they would have been able to do if the SEC, with the best of intentions, hadn’t paved the road to Hell.

And if the lemmings hadn’t stampeded right down it.

So, who’s to blame for the current crisis?

Everybody.

Which means that, just maybe, it’s not that unfair if everybody shoulders part of the cost.

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Who’s Right?

September 27, 2008 at 9:35 am (Politics) (, , , , , )

Phew!  Things have been busy down at the ol’ hermitage, so I’m afraid I haven’t had a chance to post for a while, despite many interesting things happening this week.  Well, time to start scrawling on the walls again….

How many of you listened to the debates last night?

How many of you who listened realized that the fastest way to commit suicide during them might be to devise a drinking game where you take a shot every time you hear the words “That’s not true” from either candidate?

I’ll confess, I didn’t listen to the whole thing (I had errands to run, and lousy reception on the radio where I was running them).  But with what I did listen to, I was struck by the fact that their were three messages you could come away with.

  1. John McCain is old, and has been in the Senate a long time.
  2. Barack Obama’s voice is much easier to tell from Jim Lehrer’s than John McCain’s, and he hasn’t been in the Senate such a long time.
  3. One of the two of them – or both of them – was lying through his teeth for much of the debate, proving that they were fully qualified to serve in the Senate.

I take that last message from the fact that, frequently, one of them would say something, and the other would reply with ‘that’s not true’ or some variant thereof.  So, either the one who had the floor was lying at the time, or the one protesting was.  They couldn’t both be lying about it, could they?  And they couldn’t possibly be telling the truth, could they?  So how do you know who to believe?

Well, here’s the thing.  Most of the time, they were both telling the truth.  And they were both lying.  Not only in the same breath, but in the same words. You see, in the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, “everything I told you was true… from a certain point of view.  Many of the things we accept as truth, are only true from a certain point of view.”

Let’s take this one, for example.

Obama says “If you’re making more than $250,000 a year in taxes, your taxes will go up under my plan.  But I’m going to give 95% of American families a tax cut, the people who need it.”

McCain says “Under Senator Obama’s plan, your taxes could go up if you’re making $42,000 a year.”

Obama interrupts with “that’s not true, that’s just not true.”  Rude, but I’ll let him slide – McCain did it too.

Now… which one of them is telling the truth?  Both of them.

You see, under Senator Obama’s plan, if you’re making $250,000 a year, your taxes will go up, and he’s going to give a tax cut to 95% of American families.  But he’ll also potentially raise your taxes if you’re only making $42,000 a year.  Because, from a certain point of view, you can only be making $42,000 a year at the very same time you’re making $250,000 a year.

Here’s how it works.  Let’s say you run a small restaurant, or other business.  You can easily be making $250,000 a year – gross.  Now, that $250,000 a year is promptly chewed up by the cost of supplies, salaries you pay out, rent on your business, registration… and taxes that you’re already paying.  After all – at that level, if you’re not a corporation for tax purposes, you’re in the 35% tax bracket, and firmly within the realm of the 26% AMT.  You end up taking home about $42,000 a year… net.  So they’re both telling the truth.  By the way.  Tell me – in a typical double-income household (huband and wife), is your shared net income $42,000 a year?  Would you consider yourselves rich?  You’re making just as much as the guy who brings home the $42,000 above, so why not?

But, you say, you’re not making $250,000 a year gross.  You’re probably right, so by that standard you’re not rich.  But, again, it’s all a matter of your point of view – net pay, or gross pay?

Similarly, Senator Obama will give out a $1000 refundable tax credit to 95% of American families.  Why?  Well, because they’re just so wonderful they deserve it, I guess.  Where will that money come from?  The extra taxes paid by all those ‘rich’ people out there.  Whether he ‘raises taxes,’ ‘closes corporate loopholes,’ or does both at once (or, for that matter, whether or not there’s a difference between the two), he doesn’t deny they’ll be paying more.  They’re funding, among other things, that $1000 bucks.  The only way this isn’t a forced financial redistribution is if he plans on making that credit one that you pay back the next year, in which case it really isn’t that helpful.  Is a forced financial redistribution a bad thing?  Maybe, maybe not.

But a lot of the people in that 95% already get a refund back.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t really mind an extra digit on my tax refund, but is it fair to arbitrarily say “since you don’t make as much money as Mr. X, we’ll take his money and give it to you?”

Tax credits are great… when they’re there for a reason.  When you have a tax credit to help people recoup the costs of college, that’s a good use for it.  When you give people credits to make sure their dependents are taken care of during the day so they can work, that’s a good use for it.  You’re using a credit to stimulate specific activity that you want to see.  But just saying “I like you, have some money” isn’t the purpose of a tax credit (that’s what Christmas is for!)

So, who’s right?

They both are.  They’re both telling the truth, and they’re both lying.  Politicians rarely want to get caught in a bald-faced lie – that’s why they’re so very good at twisting the facts.  Perhaps the best recent example of this was Bill Clinton’s infamous line – “That depends on what your definition of the word ‘is’ is.”

Lies cause scandals.  Half-truths, twisted truths, and lies of omission just give jobs to advertising executives.

EDIT:  For further examples, please take a look here.

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Coming down on one side….

September 18, 2008 at 5:04 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve said before that I want to stay neutral here.  But I can’t any more – I haven’t been around here long enough to say ‘vote this way because I say so.’  But while poking around to see what searches brought people here, I tripped over an interesting one – ‘Obama treason.’  Now, why would that lead somebody to this blog?  I’m not sure, it doesn’t pop up in the Google search.  However… well, guess what did pop up.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hi9TDNHvuBZpFsO8ZbiFYsnbIl3A

Doing a bit more research turns up this, from the New York Post.

Both claims are supported by the Daily Telegraph.

Now… I don’t like to support a lot of media sources out there.  The bias involved – on both directions – is irritating.  But when I come across something like this, with three separate sources, I’ve gotta start taking it seriously.  Especially when the defense – from the Obama campaign – is this.

“In fact, Senator Obama had told the Iraqis that they should not rush through a Strategic Framework Agreement governing the future of US forces until after President George W. Bush leaves office, she said.”

While they do follow up with a statement pointing out that Obama says that such an agreement must be reviewed by Congress, the fact remains that he wasn’t advocating they insist on Congress reviewing it (BTW – unless you consider this a treaty, which it isn’t, such review would be… well… unconstitutional.  It’s an agreement related to the strategy to be pursued, which I would think is under the Commander in Chief’s jurisdiction, not Congress’.)

What he was advocating was that they not make such an agreement until Bush is out of office.  In other words, he told the leaders of Iraq that they shouldn’t deal with the current administration.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is – this is despicable conduct for a presidential candidate.

Doesn’t matter who does it.  The fact is that a presidential candidate shouldn’t be screwing around with the operations of the current president, whether he likes him or not, unless it’s in the context of another official position he already holds.  I don’t hear about any other Senators bugging Iraq to not make agreements about how long our troops are there.

Maybe this is change we can believe in.  If that’s the case… I don’t think I want this particular change.

Do you?

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Jesus was a…?

September 16, 2008 at 9:38 pm (Politics, Religion) (, , , , , , , )

If you haven’t heard it from Donna Brazile, I’m sure you have from Tom Brokaw.

“Jesus Christ was a community organizer.  Pontius Pilate was a governor.”

It’s a line that has a nice bit of punch to it, especially if you buy the idea that Sarah Palin was slamming all community organizers when she said that being a mayor “was like being a community organizer, except that a mayor has responsibilities,” and not just one man who apparently thought that being a community organizer qualified him for the Presidency (and two autobiographies before his fiftieth birthday.)

I hate pithy slogans like that, which pack a lot of punch and little substance.  And believe me, this one packs very little substance.  But just for fun, let’s analyze it, shall we?

First off, the obvious implications.  If you just pointed out that “Jesus Christ was a community organizer,” I’d let it slide as an attempt to demonstrate just how offensive her remark had been.  But by following it up with “Pontius Pilate was a governor,” you immediately, and not at all subtly, link it to Palin, the only governor involved here. 

And by linking it to Palin through ‘governor,’ you link it to the only person involved here who was a community organizer – Barack Obama.

So, as a counterpoint to saying that she had more responsibilities than Barack Obama, the Democrats are comparing her to Pontius Pilate, one of history’s more reviled figures, and taking the chance to also compare their boy to Jesus Christ, one of history’s more respected figures.

Even I, a Pagan by faith and choice, find this statement offensive.  Not only because of the attack on Sarah Palin (who certainly doesn’t live up to Pilate’s career history or path), and not only because of the arrogance of anybody claiming that Obama and Christ are on approximately the same level, but also because of the fact that you’re belittling Christ’s actual résumé.

Now, let’s throw out the issue of miracles, rising from the dead, and/or actually being the physical Son of God.  Let’s just look at what Christ actually was.

He was a rabbi – a priest, a teacher, and a healer.  He was also a community organizer, granted, but he was much more than that.  He created a philosophy (and religion) that has endured for two thousand years in one form or another.  He advocated peace in the face of many of his own people clamoring for war.  He absolved the people who killed him of guilt, and ministered not only to his own people but to their mortal enemies.  He took a tax collector – a person often thought of as an enemy collaborator in his time – as one of his disciples. 

As a community organizer and rabbi, he taught a far stronger message of unity and strength than Obama has, one carried out through his actions as well as his words.

Now, all of this is just getting worked up about the statement itself, and not the inanity of the statement itself.  Let’s carry the statement – and linking Christ with Obama and Pilate with Palin – through to its logical conclusion, shall we?  Just for fun.

Christ was arrested by the High Priest’s men, and taken to his house, where he was questioned.  Throughout the (rather brutal) interrogation, he declined to defend himself in the least, according to two of the four gospels.  Instead, he made a non-response that was basically a plea of nolo contendre at the time (“that’s what you say” rather than “uhm, no.”)  According to a third, he actually confessed to the crime of claiming he was the Son of God – blasphemy under Jewish law of the time.

(For the record, yes, that is arguably a case of the Bible contradicting itself… but that’s a subject for another post.)

After this, he was led to Pilate.  There, the High Priest and his men accused him of sedition against the Roman state – a crime punishable by death, which blasphemy wasn’t under Roman law.  Pilate asked Christ if that was true… and Christ responded with the same non-answer as before.  It worked better with Pilate than it did with Caiaphas and crew – he said he found no fault in him, and pretty well bent over backwards to try and keep him out of trouble.  (Luke 23:1 through 23:24)

He offered to release a Rabbi who was accused of speaking out against Rome to the people – something that probably would have raised quite a few eyebrows back in Rome – and instead they told him to release a murderer.  And so, as the law required – as his oath as a governor required – as the very people who hated him as the symbol of their oppression required – he had Christ executed.  (Luke 23:18 through 23:24 – see what I mean about letting emotion rule over thought being a bad thing?)

Frankly, Pilate did more to defend Christ than Christ did, according to the Gospel of Luke.  He only had him executed when threatened with rioting on the part of the people he was supposed to be governing.  Which would have resulted in the Legionairres having to go out and start killing folks.  Which he really didn’t want.

Now, if we’re going to carry the Palin = Pilate/Obama = Christ equation through to fruition, what would that involve?  Hmm….

It would involve Obama being found guilty of some manner of horrible crime by pillars of the black community… Jesse Jackson, perhaps?

It would involve those people trumping up charges of treason against him, and a trial in which he plead guilty, despite the efforts of the Judge and Prosecutor and everybody else in the system trying to convince him not to.  The Judge, refusing to accept that plea, holds the trial, and packs the jury with as many supposedly sympathetic voices as possible, but they still convinct him.

At this point, President Palin (because no governor and no vice president has the authority to do this) offers to pardon him, because she and everybody else on the side of the ‘oppressors’ can see that he’s innocent (a little thick maybe, for not defending himself, but innocent.)

With pen in hand, and about to put the last flourish on her signature and allow him to go free, the public outcry from his own community threatens riots that will require the institution of Martial Law.  Rather than see that happen, she allows the legally required sentence to be carried out, and Obama to be executed.

A rather ridiculous scenario, don’t you think? 

I think rather higher of the black community and their leaders than that… and of Barack Obama.

Still, I think I’ll take the real Jesus Christ over a community organizer.

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Voting to Win

September 15, 2008 at 3:23 pm (Politics) (, , )

“Well, no, I don’t particularly like either candidate, but I’m going to vote for XXXX because I want my vote to count.”

That’s what my Psychology professor said before class one day in late 2000, as the rest of us students discussed the merits of Gore versus Bush versus not voting at all because we didn’t particularly like the Republicrats these days (well, for those of us who could vote – High School seniors don’t always have that option.)  I’d just pointed out that anybody who didn’t like either of the major candidates should consider voting third party… and that’s the response I got (edited because I don’t particularly remember who he was voting for, the robot or the cowboy).

As I argued then (and later, with my own mother), voting for somebody you don’t want to win is the only way your vote doesn’t count.  What’s worse, your vote counts as a negative.  Other people, ticked off at not having any serious choices, instead write in ridiculous candidates (like a friend of mine, who routinely votes for Superman).  Again, it’s a wasted vote, but at least it doesn’t vote in a direction you don’t want the country to go.

Most people don’t believe that a vote for a third-party candidate can win.  Some people still go ahead and vote third-party, arguing that it’s a protest vote.  That’s a step in the right direction, at least.

All I ask is this.  When you go to the polls November 4th, I don’t care if you vote McCain, Obama, Barr, Baldwin, or for somebody else, do the responsible thing – vote for the one you want to win.  Don’t vote against the one you want to lose – Dubya got a number of votes through that sort of logic, and look where that got us (to be fair, so did Gore… helped a lot, didn’t it?)

Vote for somebody who agrees with you on the majority of the issues… not with somebody who only agrees with you that the other guy isn’t the right one.  But how do you discover the point of view of a third-party candidate, largely ignored by the media?

http://www.selectsmart.com/president/2008/comparethem.html

http://www.factcheck.org/ is another good source – it doesn’t include a breakdown of the viewpoints of third-party candidates, but it does help to cut through some of the attack-ad BS from both sides.  If you’re going to vote for a major party candidate, at least be sure you know the truth about them.

Poking around on the net can reveal more good resources too.  Ultimately, we’re in an era where it’s easier to discover this sort of thing than ever before.  If you shop around for your candidate, rather than just voting for one of the main parties or the other, you’ll find you’ve got more options than you’d ever thought before.

And, just maybe, you’ll be one of the early supports of one of our next big parties.  After all – there were times when the Republicans and Democrats were pretty small too.

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On Bias

September 10, 2008 at 9:27 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , )

Bias.  Always a bad thing, isn’t it?  After all, a biased jury convicts poor innocent people of crimes that they couldn’t have committed, just because a biased media spent the last six months of the trial blasting the public with one-sided commentary on the trial.  Even worse is when ‘bias’ becomes an ‘-ism.’  Racism, ageism, elitism, sexism – all bad things.

Or are they?

After all – a bias is merely preferring one thing over another.  I have a bias towards vanilla ice cream and pineapple-coconut cakes.  I have a bias towards Final Fantasy 6 and Resident Evil 4, and against God of War and Final Fantasy 7.  These aren’t bad things… so we call them ‘preferences’ or ‘likes’ instead of ‘biases.’

My point in all of this is that bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just a bad name for something neutral that we often see in a negative light (see also: ‘cliches’ versus ‘traditional plots’ or ‘stereotypes’ versus ‘archetypes’).

Bias becomes a bad thing when it colors your opinions and you don’t acknowledge it.  Well, since I can’t help it coloring my opinions here (as you’ll see soon), I figure it’s best to just come out and admit to them.  Look at it this way – after this, you’ll know to take it with a grain of salt when I come out swinging against the latest comments from the Religious Right.

Bias #1:  Like most people who consistently (and, some would say, Quixotically) vote Libertarian, I support small government.

It means that I think the government should keep its nose out of my business.

The government has the right to stop me from taking actions that pose an immediate threat to the people around me – like driving down the I-Road at 80 mph (though, ironically, it seems increasingly reluctant to exercise that right, to judge by my morning commutes.)

It does not have the right to tell me that I can’t eat butter, because that’ll make me fat and turn me into a drain on society.

It does not have the right to tell me I can’t get married to whoever I want, so long as they are a legally-consenting human adult within that jurisdiction.

You’ll notice that the government, State or Federal, has done (or is doing) both of these things in some places.

Similarly, it’s not the Government’s place to save the world.  They can feel free to say ‘we would prefer that you do this,’ or ‘please don’t do that.’  I’m even willing to let them encourage those steps – place a tax on the vices, or offer substantial tax credits for the use of ‘green’ practices.  But I do not feel it is the government’s place to force the people to behave the way they feel is ‘right.’

Why not?  Because right is ultimately a very subjective thing in a lot of fields.  After all – there was a time when it was ‘right’ to feel that the mentally disabled should be sterilized so they can’t contribute to the ‘genetic weakening’ of the people.  There was a time when it was ‘right’ to consider homosexuality a mental disorder.  There was a time when it was ‘right’ to do a lot of things we consider abhorrent now… and that is precisely why the government shouldn’t have the power to force people to live by the standards it considers ‘right’.

Bias #2:  I support the Constitution.

The Constitution is a wonderful, wonderful document.  It lays out all of these rules for what the government can do with its not-inconsiderable power.  Brilliantly, it also lays out all of these rules for what the government can’t do with its not-inconsiderable power.  If only it would follow those rules reliably, we’d all be a lot better off.

It also has these amazing things called amendments.  A large number of these grant what we call civil rights.  For example, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of (in this order):

  1. Religion
  2. Speech
  3. The Press
  4. Assembly
  5. Petition

All of which means that the government can’t require people to follow – or not follow – the religion of their choice.  It can’t say that the public can’t say or write bad things about it – it also can’t say that the public can’t say or write bad things about other people.  Basically, when they wrote the Constitution, they said very specifically that it’s a good thing that we can disagree, and that Congress (or other branches of the government, it has later been determined) can’t say that we don’t have the right to disagree, publically, and to express our opinions, no matter how vile.  I can say or write whatever I want, so long as I am not committing slander or libel, and so long as I’m not encouraging people to commit criminal acts.

And you have every right to be offended by it, and to argue with me, and to tell me that what I said is offensive.  But you don’t have the right to force me not to say it because you find it offensive (if we did have that right, we’d be an awfully quiet country).

Of course, not all of the amendments were such brilliant ideas – I give you the 18th amendment – but we’ve managed to weed out the rotten ones over the years.

Bias #3:  I support personal freedoms.

In my opinion, the government has rarely, if ever, accomplished something good by banning something.  Prohibition is probably the best example of this – while it sounded like a good idea to ban alcohol, doing so gave us a sustained and powerful organized crime base, which has survived ever since on continued vice laws.  Ironically, considering my preference for small government, I tend to support the idea of the government allowing pretty much everything, and then regulating it so that responsible usage is preferable to abusive usage.  It works for pretty much everything, but that’s a topic for another post.

Similarly, I don’t support banning abortion.  While I don’t particularly approve of it, history has shown that banning it simply drives it underground, with some excessively gruesome results.

Bias #4:  I believe that people of any gender, race, faith, gender identity, philosophy, or body shape have equal rights.

Now, that’s a pretty common one, and one that most people won’t disagree with.  But it includes some things that members of both ends of the political spectrum don’t usually agree with.  For example, I believe that we all have the right to marry one or more people with whom we are in love.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think that the government has any place in regulating marriage – it should be a strictly religious matter, with a secular union available that grants the legal priviliges currently restricted to married couples (that whole ‘separation of church and state’ thing).  But, so long as the government handles marriages, it should offer the option up to anybody.

Similarly, I believe that racists and other people with objectionable views have as much right to speak their minds as you or I.  As I said before, neither the First Amendment nor the Fourteenth grant you the right to not be offended.  If I have the right to say that people of all races are equal, then the KKK has the right to say they aren’t.

I also have the right to go there and heckle the living daylights out of them, but that’s the beauty of the First Amendment.

That’s probably enough for just now.  If I come across others later on, I’ll try to point out where I find something offensive (though frankly, you’ll probably have an easy enough time of picking it up yourselves….)

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