Monthly Archives: November 2011

Fair taxation. Or: Why you should always scratch the surface and ask questions.

So, the congressional super committee has failed. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.

Anyone?

Anyone?

Oh.

The committee failed because Republicans refuse to fairly tax the rich. What’s that? But Democrats wouldn’t agree to smaller government? No, that’s not what happened, pay attention. No offer was ever made to increase taxes or shift the tax burden in exchange for trimming the size of government. The only offers that included some tax increases involved letting the bush tax cuts ride, forever. Those aren’t tax cuts, they’re just different taxes. The current Republican ideology has no space for compromise, they have become a single issue party (and the issue isn’t even abortion anymore!) and seem willing to watch the world burn if they can’t have their way.

Lets talk about a couple of Republican positions:

1. Low taxes

2. Exceptionally low taxes on “job-creators”

3. Small government

These are all really excellent positions to hold. Why? Because they sound great on the surface, and most people don’t scratch the surface. They like to hear Politicians spouting view points that sound sensible, view points that match their own, and all of those Republican positions sound like no-brainers.

Lets talks about why they’re not.

Low Taxes – Clearly this is always going to poll well. Most of us have less money than we would like by a pretty large margin. Everyone wants more dollars in their pockets, but we get taxed for a reason. Taxes pay for a lot of important services like schools, roads, bridges, public transportation, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation programs, prisons, libraries, police forces, fire services, unemployment benefits, etc… Without enough tax revenue governments cannot maintain these programs and when core services fail, communities collapse.

But wait, you say, I don’t have any kids in school, I don’t use Public transportation, and frankly, screw those lazy homeless, I don’t want to pay for their shelters! These are all terrible arguments, they rely on a complete ignorance of secondary effects (not to mention tertiary, etc… when you mess with peoples lives the ripples flow far, and often become Tsunamis).

When you reduce funding at schools you get less teachers per child, less after school programs, the property will begin to deteriorate, new programs and technologies won’t be introduced due to the cost burden. Anyone who believes that one person can stand in front of 30 children and effectively educate them is a fool. A Fool. Children learn in different ways, teachers need to be able to observe individual children closely to make sure they are absorbing the material, they need to be able to work with children individually. When a teacher has huge classes that means the childrens homework and tests get less attention, everything becomes systematic and standardized so the poor teacher can even get everything done. Systematic and standardized are words you should fear hearing anywhere near your child’s education. What they mean is a lack of attention, a lack of adaptability, and a staff too busy to focus and care for your child’s well being. When school buildings and facilities deteriorate students lose pride in their school, they lose pride in their work. Why? Because the evidence of how little they matter to society is there in front of their eyes. Its written clear in the peeling paint, the leaking radiators, the flickering lights. Perhaps worst of all an underfunded educational system cannot move with the times. it cannot purchase the technologies students need to be educated on. Hell, the schools can’t even afford people to explain new technologies, let alone the ability to demonstrate them. The end result? A student body who believes their society does not care about their well being. A student body who is undereducated due to a lack of teacher attention. A student body which becomes a workforce that cannot keep up with the world. When the nation’s workforce can’t keep up with the world your country gets left behind, the economy fails, quality of life will fall. You will be affected.

Public transportation allows poor workers to get to work. If you refuse to fund it they will not be able to reach their places of employment. The result? Businesses will need to hire people who charge more so they can afford a car and gas to run it. Costs on merchandise YOU buy goes up.

Homeless shelters take the homeless off the streets. Well funded programs can even help educate them or get them back into the workforce. Take these programs away and you will have desperate people in the streets. A man who knows he has a shelter to go to and food to eat tonight, even if its just enough, is a lot less likely to mug you or assault you than a man who knows his kid isn’t eating tonight and my isn’t that a warm looking coat you’re wearing. When you take away the safety net for those at rock bottom you create dangerous people with nothing to lose. The result? Your safety and the safety of your family is compromised.

But the Police will help me! Oh, wait, they can’t afford enough officers to patrol everywhere. Someone will be along to stop that man kicking you in the face in about 15 minutes. Ever had your ass-kicked for fifteen minutes? I suspect you couldn’t really distinguish between minutes 3-15 and the entire length of eternity were they lain side by side for comparison.

Taxes pay for important services. The removal of most major services and safety nets leads to ripple effects that will make your life much less safe in numerous ways.

Wait, but isn’t that also true for everyone, all these “Lower my Taxes” people must know something right? The people screaming for lower taxes are typically very rich. they can buy private security. They can buy healthcare for less money than the percentage of their income taxes would take. They do not need a safety net. They can buy all of those social services privately for what they have apparently calculated is less money (I’m skeptical on this. i think it may just be that people cannot wrap their minds around economies of scale, but whatever, lets pretend they’re right for now). They can demand lower taxes because it creates a direct benefit for them to do so. If they can trick people it will hurt into voting with them, all the better. There are, after all, not enough rich people to pass these things by themselves. They need suckers. Don’t be that sucker. The people asking for less taxes are asking for less taxes for the same reason you are, more money in their pockets. Don’t let them trick you into believing it means more money in yours, they’ll leave you to pay the social costs and laugh while your house burns down because the Fire department was busy at another fire across town and they can only afford the one truck these days.

Ask yourself this, why are we looking for ways to cut even more funding to schools without totally destroying them? Why are we looking for more firehouses to cut while still maintaining just enough coverage? Why are we looking to cut workers who build our bridges and highways while those very bridges collapse? Why are we looking for ways to scrape crucial services even closer to the bone while there are people in this country who make in days more money than you will see in a lifetime WHO ARE ASKING TO PAY EVEN LESS TAXES??? We are not talking about a wealthy class crushed by a huge tax burden here. The rich have the lowest tax rates they’ve had since the 1920’s. You know, right before the Depression… After the depression tax rates soared. You know, that whole time period of huge American prosperity and growth, even as we threw billions into the sink of the Cold War. Even with all those billions being spent we thrived during those times of high tax rates. Why? Because when you tax the rich fairly the nation can afford things. When you don’t, it can’t. Period.

Which bring us to another lie: The “job creator”. Republicans will tell you that those who create jobs should pay less taxes. Now, one could make some sort of moral argument to that effect I suppose: That those who create the means for others to grow wealthy need share less of the tax burden. That would be a nice idea were it true, but billionaires don’t make jobs, they make money. They make money in hugely complex financial transactions. They make money on long term bonds. They make money on wild stock bets. They make money on interest. They don’t make jobs, why would they? Making things is such a blasted inefficient way to make money. The best way to make money is on bets and lawsuits against all the bastards infringing on your newly acquired, soon to be abused patents. Jobs? Thats small time stuff.

The people who create jobs are the people who aren’t yet able to compete in the huge financial world of derivatives, securities, and crushing the dreams of little men by taking their homes. They are the people who create and sell products and services that other people want to buy. They are not the 1%, they are not the mega-wealthy, they are merely the very well-off. From a distance nearby foothills may look as tall as distant Everest, but make no mistake, the job creators have money, they do not have Wealth the way the 1% does. If you want to create jobs make it easier to start small businesses. Give tax breaks to companies that hire people as they expand. Give tax breaks a few years after the fact to stop companies from hiring and firing binges. Make companies show results, then give them tax breaks. The current method seems to involve giving tax breaks away to industries that are already doing well in order to make sure they keep up the campaign contributions. Struggling companies aren’t worth giving tax breaks to, they’re struggling to get by, they don’t have any money for campaign contributions! Don’t be silly.

If you want to give the job-creators a break, that sounds awesome. Lets pass a law where companies that demonstrably hire and  retain people get tax breaks. Any GOPers on board with that? Anyone?

Anyone?

::sigh::

Then there’s the myth of small government. Again, it sounds great upon initial consideration, less government = less taxes = better. Thats a bunch of crap though. Republicans don’t want to purge the government of inefficiencies, they want to ideologically purge it of programs which stop their tax cutting rampage. If you want to make government smaller send in people to analyze all the inefficient bureaucracies and begin the long process of changing them, making them more efficient. But you need to send people who actually want to make things better, thats the problem. You have to send inspectors who want the programs to keep existing, not ones who are trying to make them fail. Not people who feel that their ideology overrules the well being of their fellow humans. You also need to send people, of course, who aren’t corrupt, who are willing to make the kind of changes needed. That means making the people being inspected feel safe. You want to fix the country’s budget for the forseeable future? Walk into every wing of government, every program, every bureaucracy and offer people their salary for the rest of their lives if they can explain why their job is totally unnecessary. You’ll never clear out the inefficiencies and waste while people have something to lose, but you could if people felt safe admitting how things really work. The long term result? Far less government spending (over the long haul, in the short term costs would be steady as salaries are drawn), smaller government, more efficient programs, and with no loss of services.

Whenever anyone is asking you to vote for something, ask yourself whats in it for them. I guarantee you that a man with $10,000,000,000 to his name is not going to do a damn thing to fix the economy after you give him the tax breaks to bring himself up to $10,001,000,000. Don’t be so naive.

If you want lower taxes demand that the rich pay their share. If you want job-creators to go untaxed, then demand less taxes for anyone who can prove they’ve created and retained jobs. If you want smaller government do the real work to make it more efficient, don’t just take away programs people need to survive and expect there to be no consequences.

Demand Democracy. Demand Fair Taxation.

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Constitutional Crisis

I think the time has come to talk about the larger issue the Occupy movement has revealed: Americans do not have the rights they believe they do.

The Occupy movement has many detractors. They claim the movement is disorganized. They claim the movement is leaderless (As if this is an issue. Crowd Sourced Leadership is a new concept, and scary for those used to clear directions, but it does seem to function.) They claim the movement is lazy, simply refusing to get real jobs. Ok, lets for a moment pretend that the people who believe these things are right. Lets pretend the Occupy movement are all a bunch of unwashed, lazy students protesting against a financial system which will never change because profits are too powerful a motivator. Let us pretend all of these things are true, because for the moment they do not matter; I am not interested in talking about the Occupy movement at the moment, but rather about the American Government and their reaction to it. For the purposes of this discussion it doesn’t matter if to you the Occupiers are Smelly Students or Radical Revolutionaries because the response to the movement is what you should be paying attention to, because that response will teach you a lot about your country.

Freedoms are complicated. When you grant a freedom (and as always I am wary of the concept that anyone should have the power to give or take freedoms, but I digress) many problems will always arise as a result. When you give people Freedom of Speech it means that you will have to listen to the lunatics alongside the loyal patriots. When you give people Freedom of Assembly it means that they will sometimes choose to assemble in inconvenient places and make a nuisance of themselves. When you grant people the freedom to be free from undue search and seizure it means that, yes, citizens COULD be walking around with backpacks full of drugs or weapons and there’s nothing you can do about it until you have proof. When you grant people the right to bear arms they may bring those arms to places that make you uncomfortable like bars or schools. When you grant the freedom to due process it means you may have to let people you know are guilty go because you have no proof. These costs may seem high to those tasked with protecting freedom, or even to those with the far simpler task of protecting people, but they are the cost of living in a free country.

Living in a free country means that sometimes the bad guy will win because the laws to stop him haven’t been written yet. Living in a free country means letting hate-mongers protest at funerals, not because their doing so is right, but because protecting their right to do so insures that you will still have the same rights tomorrow. Living in a free country means living in a complicated country and having to constantly analyse how you feel about the actions of others. Living in a free country means being angry a lot that others are using their rights in really stupid ways. Or annoying ways, like holding a huge protest right outside your apartment building. Living in a free country means you have to constantly think and constantly  deal with people doing things YOU DO NOT LIKE. That is the price of freedom, and it may seem expensive, but it has nothing on the price of tyranny. You haven’t seen that bill yet, but it has a lot of zeros and a lot of graves.

What the Occupy movement has done, if you’ve been paying attention on the right channels – which is to say not the ones you get on your TV -is revealed how little the Constitution means these days. The complications of freedom are being thrown out in exchange for laws which make things easier for the authorities and easier for businesses but cost the people everything. I’m not going to deny that having a protest right outside may not be so hot for a retail business, and that if I were the manager of that business I would be furious, but the needs of a small number of businesses to make a profit does not and should not rival the right of the people to freely assemble. The first amendment has been bypassed again and again in NYC by Police Officers blocking media access to protests or to arrest scenes. The first amendment has been just straight trampled when it comes to the right to peaceably assemble.

Lets talk about that right for a moment, the Right to Assemble and Petition the Government, a key clause of the first amendment. Americans need to wake up and realize that if the local or federal authorities can shut down a protest, yes, even a protest full of dirty, smelly, lazy hippes (we’re pretending here remember), then THEY THEMSELVES DO NOT ACTUALLY HAVE FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY. The right functionally does not exist. Local authorities are in direct violation of the United States Constitution when they clear out peaceful protests. The First Amendment doesn’t have in it, anywhere that I can find, the note: *As long as said assembly has filed the right paperwork, been approved in triplicate, and does not last for more than a few hours. The first amendment grants the right to assemble, not the right for people you agree with to assemble at times you like, the right for anyone to assemble with anyone else whenever they want. Local governments have stomped all over that right, and love or hate the Occupy protesters if you are an American you should be angry. Right now one of the laws of our land is on the books and being ignored blatantly and repeatedly without action or intervention from the Federal Government or Courts. That should make you angry and afraid.

If you do not agree that people should have the right to free speech, that’s fine, we have a constitutional amendment process by which you can seek to remove it as a law. Thats one of the great parts about the constitution, it planned for the needs of the people to protest abuses of authority and to demand change. If you disagree with freedom of speech there is a legal process by which you may seek to take it away, and that’s all well and good, if that’s what the American people want we can all vote to have it that way. What should frighten you and make you angry is that one of the Constitutional Amendments is being ignored. Not opposed, ignored. When the government is free to ignore its own laws you are no longer living in a Democracy. When the leadership of the nation will not speak out to protest the abuses of the Constitution you should be afraid. That, that is true Tyranny. Not the men who say “I am in charge” and then shoot you for disobeying them, those people are just run-of-the-mill jerks, but men who will tell you the law is one thing while enforcing another, those are men to fear and loathe.

You should be angry regardless of how you feel about Occupy Wall Street because the American government is letting its citizens know, loud and clear, that it has no plans to enforce or obey the Constitution, and that means the law is now what they say the law is in any given moment.

I think its time for a new political party: The Constitution Party. A party which goes to Washington with the same blood lust the Tea Party had for taxes but directed at guaranteeing freedoms. Not with making people use their freedoms a certain way, not with making people follow a particular moral code, but with making sure people have the freedoms the constitution guarantees, with rescinding any and all laws that violate these freedoms, and with educating Americans that freedom is complex. I confess, in my dream world this party would also be pro-people and anti-big-business, it would insist on campaign finance reform, it would insist on reinstituting Glass-Stegall to make sure American’s are free to live their lives without banks suddenly dropping their overdue gambling bills on them, but lets start small, lets start with a political party that goes to Washington to insist on the freedoms we already allegedly have.

Demand Democracy. Insist on the Constitution.

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Gerrymandering: An exciting way to keep your job through lies and cartography

I was just reading this piece by CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/18/politics/gerrymandering/index.html?on.cnn=1 about gerrymandering and it got my blood boiling on the issue.

Gerrymandering as a political practice needs to end. It is a tool which is not in the hands of the electorate and yet allows for huge control over electoral regions. The people in power should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever be the ones deciding this kind of thing. Giving elected leaders tools to maintain their own positions of power that bypass the electorate are not healthy for democracy.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the vile temptation to gerrymander, and people will never stop doing it while its legal because its too powerful of a political tool. When you can redraw districts to make sure that there simply aren’t enough members of the opposing party in it to elect someone else then you have bypassed the purpose of the system. Of course its tempting. Of course I would love it if we just split some big Republican concentrations up by redrawing district lines to force hatemongering, fearmongering, warmongering Republicans out of office and replace them with Pro-education, pro-taxation, pro-infrastructure Democrats. But, I can’t agree that its ok, and the practice needs to end for everyone’s sake. A system used universally throughout the country is needed to place and shape districts. No party or politician should have the power to reshape districts to shape the outcome of elections. That is not democracy, its a farce.

The “culture wars” between left and right have lead to lines in the sand drawn so deep that the country may never recover. The feelings on both sides that they must “win” at all costs to have a culture and society they are happy living in has led to a corruption of democratic ideals that would disgust our founding fathers. They worked pretty damn hard to write up  documents that created a fair democracy and put in place the tools the citizens needed to protect themselves from the inevitable oppressive nature of government, tools that we are throwing away, baffled looks on our faces, too ignorant of their purpose to realize what we’re discarding. Americans have become quick to give away their freedoms in exchange for vague reassurances that doing so will make them safe, or even just allow them to keep living life as they are now. Its time to start demanding that we get a real working Democracy here and stop giving away powers that should be the people’s to elected officials who have proven again and again how little they deserve the trust. Send legislators to Washington, or your state capital, to legislate, not to play games with maps to protect their jobs.

Gerrymandering must be replaced with a system that automatically updates districts yearly based on population concentrations while maintaining simple grid patterns to avoid sneakily cutting townships out of districts they might tip the elections of. An automatic system has its potential flaws too: Districts made up of diverse populations with very different needs for their representatives to pursue, Districts which include small sections of cities that are largely made up of another district, etc… I am not trying to claim that those situations do not create problems of their own, but I would posit that the problems they create and the potential conflicts of interest experienced by Reps who’s diverse constituents may be seeking very different goals are irrelevant when compared to the larger evil of Gerrymandering and the potentials of abuse it brings with it. Districts should be based on population numbers, overlaid onto a simple grid, so that representatives all represent similar numbers of citizens but do not get to dictate which of their citizens they want to be responsible for reelecting them.

How about we all agree that we should live in a real Democracy, and suck it up when the other side is in power sometimes, instead of trading away freedoms and laws which men have fought and died over the centuries to gift to us today?

Demand Democracy. End Gerrymandering.

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Acceleration

 

Society is accelerating. Information is flowing faster and with it comes change. We must build our institutions to be adaptable, not fall for the arrogant trap of believing the way we do something now is the best way to do it forever, or even, for that matter, five years from now. Learning to adjust to the new speed of life is going to be hard for people, people like robust institutions and fear change, but that’s not going to change the reality on the ground. We must build to be flexible.

 

Socialized Costs, Private Profits

People understand Corporate profits, people understand greed, people even understand that a lot of costs of business (such as pollution) get socialized, and they have been willing to accept these things as long as everyone kept smiling and passing some money around the table periodically. The Occupy movement, I feel, is the response to a breaking of a social contract between capital and labour, the contract that says” “You may never be rich, but work for the system and help make us richer and you’ll be able to save hard and own some nice things and take care of your family”. The contract has been broken because too many people can’t put food on plates. Too many people sit on the couch each day because the job market has gotten so bad that even the act of applying for one has become too soul-crushing. The contract has been broken because we’re talking about how many more Fire Houses and Schools we can cut, not about how the very companies Americans just pulled out of the fires of their own creation can turn around and give back to their Saviours. The contract was broken when the whole damn country were made Shareholders while companies were failing, but never got a dime of profits when the money started flowing again (I know many banks paid it back, thats not the same thing). This country shrieks “Socialism” and waves its arms panicking in the air at the faintest sign of a social and economic safety net for everyday Americans, but funnily enough its the “Capitalists” socializing now not just the larger costs of business (Pollution, wear and tear on infrastructure, incorrect pricing of non renewable resources) but also the RISKS of doing business. When profits are up, they pocket them. When profits are down they scream that they’re too big to fail and if we don’t save them they’ll take us all with them. Welcome to the America that spawned the Occupy movement.

This new America is one of broken social contracts and a rich elite who have grown so greedy, yet so powerful, that they can sit there, straight-faced, and tell us that what America really needs to do if they want everyone employed is write some big fat checks for the corporations in terms of tax breaks and loopholes in inconvenient environmental laws. You don’t make money by giving money away, especially not when you are giving your money away to the very people who claim they will hire you. Being paid in your own dollars is not considered profit by anyone save the most desperate and tricksey of accountants. You don’t create a healthy economy by allowing the so called “job-creators” to take away your schools. You don’t create a healthy economy by allowing people who are pocketing millions to tell you that all they really need is a few more millions and THEN, suddenly, they’ll start creating jobs. Giving the rich more money doesn’t help the economy. They ALREADY have money. Why would they choose to spend the latest million on jobs when they spent the last million on a new house for themselves? What drives an economy is demand. The rich do not, independently, create large demand, there just aren’t enough of them. Demand is created by people wanting to buy things and by having the means to buy things. The economy will not get fixed for anyone until large numbers of regular people (“The masses”, the 99%, whatever…) have $ in their hands to spend and enough confidence that their job will still be their tomorrow to spend that money rather than horde it against bad times.

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