Damn Moochers Who Pay No Marginal Income Tax

You know who does not pay INCOME taxes in America? Mitt and Ann Romney. On their 2011 tax return there is no INCOME, so no income tax. All of their federal axes are capital gains and interest. Continue reading

Political Typology Quizzes Annoy Me

I put this on Facebook.  Then, 40 minutes later, I had this stab at an explanation…

According to this: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz I’m a a “liberal.” And in this one I am “solid liberal” or “post-modern” depending on how I answer. http://people-press.org/typology/quiz/. Why do I find myself arguing with lots of liberals then?

I find myself able to take either side in almost all of these forced choice pars in these things.  They are designed to squeeze people into set categories.  Neither one of them even has “progressive” as a political ideology.  I am not sure it is one, but it is worth thinking about. Off the top of my head, an embrace of pragmatism as an approach to knowledge and action is part of being progressive.  Let’s talk about what can work for this problem and not look to “ideology” to decide how we should approach an issue.

Three examples come to mind.

One, schools and religion.  I don’t think banning any whisper of religion from public schools is the best reading of the establishment clause.  As  I get it, even the supreme court recognizes religious expression as a form of culture.  The bright line is coercion or proselytizing.  However, for many schools or other public entities, it is simpler to ban than to handle the nuance of deciding if a menorah, cross, or whatever is clearly cultural as opposed to endorsement of a religion.  To pull it off, you need to trust officials to use judgement.  So, a pragmatic response is to figure out how to balance trusting judgement with means to redress clear violations of religious freedom and the establishment clause.

Second, educational funding.  I had an interesting discussion the other day with a friend and I mentioned that I would rather have MORE diversity among schools, and if a school choice- voucher system accomplishes that, fine.  Basically, focus public education policy on some broad outcomes and free up schools to differentiate and yes, compete, for families and their students.  Among his concerns was what happens if school officials are given too much autonomy and they enact discrimination or other harms.  He is invoking racial segregation under Jim Crow.  I get it; we don’t want to re-create that, but a system where each family and each school can be distinctive is not the same as forcing some to go to inferior schools.  Smaller schools that can create a sense of difference and cohesion will work better and hence a liberal approach of equalizing inputs through enforced sameness is a mistake.

Third, the tax code.  I believe in progressive taxes.  There are two reasons.  One, the wealthiest should pay more proportionally because their wealth is created and supported by more of government spending- courts, police, military, transportation, disaster relief, education (yes, we pay to educate the workers who create value in firms the wealthiest own).  Two, apart from economic fairness, we believe in social fairness.  Capitalism always exacerbates inequality and therefore it is good to tax progressively to create avenues to reduce inequality.  The periods of the greatest amount of activity to reduce inequality in the US, roughly the 1930s to the 1980s, saw the lowest rates of inequality.  Since the onset of neo-liberal economics in the a980s, roughly, economic growth increased along with gross measures of inequality.   Anyway, this is my case for progressive taxation.

However, that does not mean defending the current status quo tax code (at the federal level).  I’ve not done the math or seen anyone else do it, but I can imagine getting behind a simplified, progressive, LOWER set of tax rates.  The complexity of the tax code sucks up a lot of human capital.  Is it necessary?  Well, yes, for me.  I can’t stand doing income taxes.  What would happen if we had federal marginal rates at 0% (for people at living wage or less), 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25%  No other exemptions or deductions.  This would decouple a dynamic national economy, as well as personal financial decisions like getting a mortgage, from the tax code.

It would also obsolesce a chunk of the accounting profession.  But maybe their human capital could be redirected to tasks that they may like more and may create other economic or social value…

But, as to typology and ideology, I’ve never seen a “liberal” politician discuss anything like this.

Torture Still not OK

Short thought.  I posted this on facebook.  I’ll be curious to see what kind of reaction it gets.

Even IF the attack on Osama BL had been 100% due to torturing prisoners, it would not mean a vindication of the torture cheerleaders. Why? 1) It is only a colossal failure of the imagination to think that any action is the result of one and only one course of action. There are always other ways. 2) What price can we put on our national integrity? As John McCain said once: it is not about them, it is about us.

Source for McCain (WaPo article 2005)

Obama Takes Out Osama

Obama Takes Out Osama

John Peeler

A few things are clear in the wake of the stunning news of the operation that penetrated Osama bin-Laden’s hideout outside Islamabad, Pakistan, and killed him in the early hours of May 2.

The first, of course, is the ruthless skill with which the Special Forces carried out a mission that had been meticulously prepared by intelligence agencies. This is a business where we mostly learn about failures like the Bay of Pigs in 1961. This was a success.

Barack Obama and his national security team were effective in leading the operation and in keeping it secret. Too often, especially since Reagan’s adventure with the Contras in Nicaragua, American presidents have bragged about their “covert” actions. The key to the effectiveness of such actions is their secrecy.

Obama may not much like war, but he has shown that if he believes he must wage it, he intends to win it. Liberals who were hostile to the Iraq war, skeptical of the Afghanistan war, and dubious about the Libyan intervention will find little comfort here. But Obama will surely gain among moderates and swing voters. The spontaneous crowds at the White House and Ground Zero, celebrating the death of a sworn enemy, remind us that the scars of 9/11 are still raw, and vengeance still moves many people.

Long-term effects are problematic. Bin Laden was no longer in direct control of al-Qaeda, and Islamist terror has grown far beyond al-Qaeda. The death of Osama bin-Laden will likely provoke a spike in terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, the flickering hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement are dying, and the effort to force Qaddafi out in Libya is stalled. The Afghani government is weak and corrupt, yet repeatedly attacks the United States. The same can be said of the Iraqi government. In short, getting bin-Laden is about the only thing that’s going well in the Middle East. It’s possible, though, that Obama will gain more clout in the region as a result of this success.

None of this will matter to Obama’s reelection unless he can magically accomplish two contradictory goals: get the economy moving again, and get the deficit under control.

Makes Me Mad…”Objectives of the Mission”

Makes Me Mad… short comments on news, punditry or other nuggets of conventional wisdom make me mad enough to stop hollering at the radio/tv/newspaper/screen and write.

Cross-Posted at the CSCC Blog.

I don’t know if the military operations in Libya is a good idea or not.  But in favor or against, I wish the conventional wisdom would give up on the mania over “mission objectives” or “end game.”  This is offered up as serious critique of Obama’s decision to start a new war.   We either see this as a concern or criticism from politicians, or embedded in news articles without any attribution which reinforces the sense that it is an unquestionably valid point.

Here is my objection: wars are messy, complex events.  The mania over a defined mission is some sort of collective learned response to Viet Nam.  That war is commonly seen as a mistake because it went on too long and their was mission drift from supporting the South Vietnamese government (which we either directly or indirectly installed.  Sorry, no time to make myself a SE Asia expert this morning).  Hence, since then, Presidents, congressional leaders, and paid pundits want every conflict or war defined in terms of “mission objectives” and “end games.”  As if this is a board game or a shopping list with discrete boxes we can tick off and then “go home.”

Here are some US-led or US-involved military missions that I would like to know what the “mission objectives” are which, once we ding the bell and get the gold star, we can imagine withdrawing and no longer being involved.

The Korean peninsula

The “War on Drugs” in South and Central America

Afghanistan (did it start in 1979 or 2003?)

Iraq

The Global War on Terror

Patrolling the Red Sea against Pirates

Taiwan

Military/Intelligence Drone operations in Yemen, Pakistan and who knows where else?

My point?  As Tolstoy described it in War and Peace, and I am paraphrasing, war is only clear when seen from the lofty armchair of those not involved.  On the ground it is fog, murk, rattle, and crash.  It is a foolish to act as if there are clean and discrete wars on the one hand and murky, protracted ones with unknowable, uncertain outcomes down the road.  They are all murky, liable to be long, and chock full of uncertainty.

I wish our public conversation could start at that point instead of the public relations blitz that this war is going to be different.  Maybe, maybe, we could then have a more honest conversation about what our gold and blood are paying for.