Thebastidge: 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004
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    Saturday, September 25, 2004

    Marx

    I've got an essay taking place in my mind. It'll be on cultural relativism, once I get caught up.

    I've just been busy with travel, and then illness, and school, and work, and the perennial distractions of the web. Such as this one. I'm told it's a laborious read, but I think I'll have to wade through it.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2004

    The Black Republican

    I read these guys now and then, and this short and sweet post has something important to say about conservatism:

    The Principles of Republican Ideology

    If you don't understand Republicans and Conservatism, it's worth reading, even if you disagree- know your opponent and all that.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2004

    Artwork

    I’m 33 years old as of a few weeks ago, and I’m about to get my first tattoo. At this point, I’ve made the decision, and it’s just a matter of budgeting, because what I want won’t be cheap. I’ve been thinking about this for some time (in excess of ten years) because while the idea of making a statement is interesting, it has to be a statement that I feel comfortable with being permanently a part of my body. Certainly, you can get a tattoo removed, and some day soon, perhaps painlessly and without any scarring. But not at this point. Reality as it obtains right now when I do this thing is what is important.

    It’s not a light decision. I see so many people who (from an arguably valid point of view) disfigure themselves with piercings and tattoos, scarring and branding etc. Then they claim that people unfairly discriminate against them. They rant about ‘judging a book by its cover” and other such nonsense.

    Newsflash for you people: books don’t choose their own covers. Everything about your person is a sort of communication, from your posture to your clothing, tone of voice, facial expression, and yes, the ring through your nose. We’re all evolved to take meaning from visual clues. It’s ridiculous to think people would do otherwise.

    “But I’m not doing this for impressing other people, I do it for myself,” you cry. In a word; bullshit. How often do you spend time admiring the tattoo on your shoulder blade, or lower back? Tattoos may be something that we find interesting, but like our names, they are more for other people to acknowledge than for our own internal use.

    The fact that you have a tattoo doesn’t make you any less reliable, or less of a good person, or anything like that. Alt-lifestyle people are perfectly right in that claim. However, they’ve made a strawman argument by reversing the cause and effect: people who are unreliable and flaky are much more likely to do weird stuff to their bodies. One of the statements you make is that you don’t care about society’s standards of propriety. That statement is about more than just appearance. The more bizarre and unusual the thing you’ve done to yourself, the more extreme the statement, and the more widely it will be interpreted.

    In my local radio market lately, there have been advertisements of the ‘anti-drug’ variety where a teenage voice-over has a monologue about being judged unfairly by their appearance. I have no idea what the relevance of this is, except perhaps to tap into the universal teenage resentment of rules, but I find it extremely annoying. One such advert has a female complaining about being taken for ‘just another pot-smoking teenager’. Well, if you look like a pot-smoking teenager, you’re likely to be treated that way: after all, you made the choice to identify visibly with a pot-smoking teenage culture! Get a clue. And the adults who are encouraging this line of victim-based thinking are to be chastised as well!

    The way you present yourself gives other people clues as to how you regard yourself. It’s that simple.

    So why am I getting a tattoo? I have something to say. It’s that simple. I’ve been getting into my Celtic heritage for some years now. It’s a part of me, and I cannot conceive of a time I might wish to repudiate it. I wear the kilt (Gordon clan) proudly. The tattoo I’m planning will be based upon this theme. On my left arm, I will have a complete wrap around the bicep. On the upper and lower ends, a band of knot-work, and the central theme will be a motif of hounds. Hounds are a symbol of healing, health, and life in Celtic mythology. Beneath the wrap, will be a banner with the clan motto (one of them, anyway) “Bydand”, which means “Enduring”.

    As I’m very graphics-arts challenged, I’m searching for some good examples of the kind of art I’m looking for. The hounds will be elongated and perhaps knotted or wrapped around each other in a pack, as though they were coursing on a hunt. I want to give the impression of movement, of the sort of jostling that a pack of dogs would engage in when they’re excited and focused on a chase. so I'm appealing to my multitude of readers: if either of you happens across something like that online, then I would appreciate it if you were to send it to me.

    Thursday, September 16, 2004

    The 'Vanishing' Middle Class

    Stan Writes:
    I believe it's an economic fact that the rich are in fact getting richer and the poor do seem to be getting poorer. Where do you see this heading in another 20, 50, 100 years? I have a vision of the future where the top 2% of the people have 98% of the wealth in our capitalistic society. Look at the old model of getting rich: being an entrepreneur, inventing something or natural resources. Now look at the way things stand today. You have all the Wal-Marts and Sizzlers putting the local stores and restaurants out of business. Technology is so complex and competitive that a single person or team wont be able to get a concept or product to market - no more Edisons or Bells. You can't mine for gold or drill for oil anymore since the big corporations have that area covered. Most entertainers (especially musicians) and sports players are not what we would consider really really rich - and look at how competitive those markets are. In reality the entertainment and sports industries are simply another funnel for cash to flow from the masses to the elite. Same with the lottery, which many Americans regard as their only way into the upper class.

    Keep in mind that I'm not saying we should go socialist or communist but I think someone needs to look at the big picture - long range. That's something that we seem to have a very hard time doing. I have no idea what the answer is here - but I think it's worth thinking about. Any thoughts on this?

    Well, given that the number of people at or below the poverty level is shrinking and the Poverty Threshold steadily increases, and a large percentage of people in poverty are immigrants, about 2-to-1 over native-born people. And they usually don't stay there after the first generation, with certain ethnicities that value education and assimilation leading the pack, so I'm not so sure this is an economic "fact".

    Census Bureau on Poverty:
    The number of people below the official poverty thresholds numbered 35.9 million in 2003, or 1.3 million more than in 2002, for a 2003 poverty rate of 12.5 percent. Although up from 2002, this rate is below the average of the 1980s and 1990s.

    As I mentioned in other places, most of our population growth is immigration, which obviously drags the average down. Not that these immigrants don't contribute to the economy, it's just that the rate of immigration has been accelerating.


    Update via Econlog:
    it has become harder to stay in the income range of $35,000 to $50,000 is correct, if what you mean by "harder to stay" is that it has become difficult to avoid being squeezed up into a higher category.

    Update via Ace of Spades

    Tuesday, September 14, 2004

    Critical Thinking

    Busy lately writing papers for class- Critical Thinking and Logic. Keeps me pretty focused, so not much going on the blog here at the moment.

    Saturday, September 11, 2004

    Global warming and the Ice Caps

    Ron writes:

    This is a very, very long read. Yet I highly recommend it.
    Normally, I don't pay TOO much attention to the Guardian, but this is a very, very thought-provoking issue.
    It's quite a long read, I recommend the articles "oil and troubled water" and The Drowned World:

    Well, I will read it, though I don't have time right now. But from the quotes he gave, I've got a couple off-the-cuff thoughts:
    albedo:
    The percent reflectivity of a surface. Ice may reflect up to 90 percent of incoming solar radiation (albedo = 90).
    Glossary of Glacial Terms

    At the present, glacier ice covers about 15 million sq km (5.8 million sq mi), or 10 percent, of Earth’s land area. [...] The ice sheet in Antarctica covers 13 million sq km (5 million sq mi).
    Encarta

    This confuses me, because I would've expected the polar ice caps to have been roughly equal, yet this states that Antarcitica is the vaast majority of it, and the rest of the glaciers of Eareth, including the Arctic polar region and all other (moutainous) glaciers are only 2m SQ Km. Or perhaps the article is mistaken.

    So anyway, take a generous estimate, and say that a bit more than 10% of the Earth is covered by polar and other glacier ice. That's an overestimate, but that's okay, because the seriousness of global warming justifies a worst-case scenario calculation. (As long as the assumptions are acknowledged).

    This View of Earth shows us that average albedo is .37. Figure that this includes the relatively high albedo of the ice caps whiuch we've postulaated are disappearing. This would make the average albedo lower, but since 90% of the Earth is NOT covered in ice currently, we're talking about 10% area at 90% albedo changing to some value slightly higher than 37% albedo. Completely discounting the increase in albedo that extra cloud cover would make (because all that H20 is not going to be water, a significant amount will be water vapor), which increase in cloud cover would be significant (see: Nuclear Winter).

    Another factor: Out of this 10 or 15% of the Earth's surface which is covered in persistant ice, how much is polar? 56% of glacier surface is Subpolar: That means that the area with the greatest change in albedo is also the area that recieves the least amount of sunlight (as we all know, the latitudes closest to the poles recieve the leat amount of sunlight, both in absolute time and in absolute intensity, because A: the angle puts the poles mostly in shadow for half the year, and B: the increased angle 'of attack' for sunlight means that a greater mass of atmosphere lies between incoming sunlight and the surface, which attenuates the amount of energy which is actually obvserved at surface level. Additionally, the oblique angle ensures that some light waves are refracted to never reach the surface.

    Age-old question: Why is the sky blue? Answer: Because longer wavelength red light does not refract as much, while shorter wavelength blue-ish light is refracted and scattered toward the surface during the day. At dawn and dusk, the red-ish light is at an angle where is mostly coming straight in, and thus dawn and dusk are redder.

    At the poles, a similar condition obtains to dawn and dusk, where the longer wavelength (less energetic) visible light is the majority that reaches the surface. Bottom line, the poles receive MUCH less energy from the sun than the equator. That's why it's colder there, and that's why even if enough warming happened to melt the caps, which is unlikely in the extreme due to feedback mechanisms in the atmosphere, and which none but the most chicken-little-like alarmist even mention, the increased albedo of the polar regions, which would come down from about 90% to something like the average of the rest of the planet (37%), and would receive a fraction of the solar energy that the lower latitudes receive, would not have an overwhelming effect on warming the planet.

    In fact, the most significant place to measure global warming, would seem to not be the poles, but rather the equator. If tempreatures at the equator start drastically rising, I would see that as being a very alarming sign of the 'cliff' phenomena in global warming.





    Thursday, September 09, 2004

    Leftist Tax Policy (part 2)

    Continuing on:

    Tax Shift #3: From Taxes on Wealth to Taxes on Work
    Between 1980 and today, the main tax on wage income, the payroll tax, has jumped 25%. In the same period, top tax rates on investment income and large inheritances have been cut between 31% and 79%. Taxes on wealth are falling fast with shrinking taxes on capital gains, dividends and estate taxes.

    Let's start with those top tax rates. When Reagan came into office, those top tax rates were up to 70% on income tax. Tax rates on inheritence/estate taxes are still 48% of any amount over $2million (combined for spouses). While a $2M inheritence would be quite nice, and will set up a wise and frugal person for a very nice life, (as long as they stay somewhat productive) it is by no means a concentration of wealth that threatens the stability of our democracy. It's a well-established small business.

    Taxing investment income is another bad idea. These guys are still fighting the class war against the 'capitalists'. Well, "Recent data released by the Federal Reserve shows that nearly half of all U.S. households are stockholders."
    The key reasons for this democratization of the stock market include:

    The popularization of the mutual fund.
    The general reduction in the multiple taxation of savings and investment that resulted from the genesis of the IRA and 401(k) plan.
    The emphasis of the Federal Reserve on price stability that has lowered interest rates, stabilized financial markets, and acted as a de facto tax cut.

    and:
    In addition to providing a basis for investment needed for economic growth, the increase in stock ownership appears to be cultivating a deeper appreciation and understanding of private enterprise. The involvement of new stockholders in the capitalization of the companies that create wealth allows these new investors to have a better understanding of financial matters. Furthermore, it is suggested that broadened stock ownership can erode class conflict, for "as capitalism expands, a lot of 'them' can become 'us.' It [stock ownership] brings us all together as stakeholders-in-common."


    Encouraging people to build wealth rather than consume it, is a good long-term strategy. Stephen Moore of Cato Institute: Repeal the Grave Robber Tax.
    Tax Shift #4: From Corporations to Individuals:
    Since 1962, the share of federal revenues contributed by corporations has declined by two-thirds, while the share contributed by individuals has risen 17%.

    While corporate income tax has been reduced as a percentage, it has still climbed in absolute numbers. Also, income tax is not the only tax that businesses pay. Licensing and operating fees can be signifcant to smaller businesses, and they all have payroll tax to contend with.

    Significantly, the decline in corporate tax contributions is generally not attributed to tax reductions, but to increased sheltering domestically and internationally by companies "increasingly taking advantage of structural weaknesses and loopholes in the state corporate tax systems." According to the Multistate Tax Commission.
    KEY FINDINGS
    Estimated state corporate tax collection losses due to sheltering activity: The estimates range from a low-end estimate of $8.32 billion to a high-end estimate of $12.38 billion.
    Scope of problem: The vast majority of U.S. businesses are not part of the state corporate income tax sheltering problem. Very few small businesses can take advantage of the tax sheltering schemes in question. Additionally, some major corporations choose not to engage in aggressive corporate tax sheltering.
    States with biggest dollar losses: Using the mid-point of the estimates, the hardest-hit state in dollar terms was California, which lost up to an estimated $1.34 billion. Next was Illinois, with a $693 million loss, followed by Texas (a $607 million loss) and Pennsylvania (a $582 million loss).
    States with greatest losses, measured as a percentage of revenue: While California’s midrange loss equates to over 19 percent of its corporate tax revenues, many other states absorbed far greater losses in percentage terms. These included: West Virginia, where the mid-range loss estimates equaled 57.8 percent of collections; Ohio at 56.9 percent, Florida at 48.7 percent; and Mississippi at 43.1 percent.
    Average losses for states: Using the mid-point of the estimates, the typical state suffered a corporate tax collection loss of 31.1 percent. The estimated mid-range losses for states ranged from a low of 10.3 percent for Michigan to 57.8 percent for West Virginia.


    Personally, I think we should tax any company that does business within our borders, just not burdensomely. Note that California, one of the highest tax states was hardest hit- the more incentive we give a company for moving revenue around, the more they will respond to that pressure.
    Tax Shift #5: From Current Taxpayers to Future Generations:
    Current tax policies are fueling the national debt, imposing an average $13,000 in additional debt on each man, woman and child in America between 2002 and 2007 —or more than $52,000 in added debt per family of four.2 Our children and grandchildren will pay for this debt through tax hikes, higher interest rates and inadequate public services.


    Any thinking person is concerned about deficit spending by the government. On of my biggest complaints about the Bush administration is that by co-opting some socialist issues of the Democrats, they're spending us intoa deep hole. The Prescirptiojn drug benefit was the wrong end of the system to try to help people. Socialized medicine and medical benefits isn't the way to go. You get more leverage starting with inputs than trying to re-work a finished product. We need reform of the insurance industry and tort reform limiting punitive damages to reasonable amounts. We need to create a more tiered approach to healthcare, with more widely available lower level services feeding into full service hospitals. We shouldn't be using insurance to pay for preventive healthcare and routine stuff: Insurance is for catastrophic situations. There's alot of room for improvements to the inputs of our whole medical process.

    But what we have here is a group calling for tax hikes now, rather than later. I agree that if it's our burden, we should pay for it rather than later generations- they'll have theirown burdens after all. But what the hell, I'll be paying for the baby-boomer's retirements too, so arguably passing on a portion of the burden is morally acceptable. If we succeed in the war on global terrorism, we'll have achieved a world in which later generations will be better able to recover from debt.

    Eh- it's a little late, and I'm not making as much sense on these last points as I'd wish, so I'll pack it in for now and pick up again later. My weekend starts in a couple-three hours and I should be able to get some more done after some sleep.

    Wednesday, September 08, 2004

    Leftist Tax Policy (part 1)

    Kim writes:

    No such thing as a free lunch, with "tax cuts." People spend money initially, since they have more, and boost the economy for a short period of time. But meanwhile, the budget deficit gets larger, education gets screwed over, and the state and local governments, which are left with less money, end up having to scramble or cut other things.
    and she cites: "Shifty Tax Cuts" from UFE: United for a Fair Economy which is apparently:
    a national, independent, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. UFE raises awareness that concentrated wealth and power undermine the economy, corrupt democracy, deepen the racial divide, and tear communities apart. We support and help build social movements for greater equality.
    Well, they say they've a non-partisan, independant organization. I'll take them at their word, even though their mission statement there definitely has an agenda and a bias (not necessarily an unreasonable bias.)
    This report identifies five key shifts in the tax burden, all of which are underway right now: From federal to state taxes; from progressive to regressive taxes; from taxes on wealth to taxes on work; from corporate taxes to taxes on individuals; and from current taxpayers to future generations.

    Before I get into the meat and potatos, let me ask a question about the first "shift".
    For the fiscal years 2002-2004,state governments closed approximately $200 billion in budget gaps by raising taxes and fees and by cutting services.7 The federal government has so far supplied only $20 billion in direct aid to the states to help them close their budget gaps.

    What is the role of the Federal Government? Is there any reason (in law, in the Constitution, in moral philosophy) that the Federal Government should be generally subsidizing the States? Isn't the Fed's Constitutional role fairly limited?

    "Key Findings:"

    "The Bush Tax Cuts for Top 1% Could Have Bridged State Fiscal Gaps"
    The first issue here is that this completely disregards the question of whether the Fed should cover (possibly) irresponsible spending by the States.

    "Recent Tax Changes Are Tax Shifts, Not Tax Cuts"
    The choice to send nearly $200 billion to the top 1% rather than to state governments highlights just one way in which the federal tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are actually tax shifts, not tax cuts, for the vast majority of Americans.

    Be that as it may, the "choice to phrase this as sending money to the people it comes from" ignores the fact that it's their money in the first place. It's not being 'sent' anywhere. It's being left alone. This may seem a minor quibble, but it is not. There is a huge difference between action and inaction.

    "Most Americans Can Sense These Tax Shifts"
    Only 19% of Americans said in a recent poll that their tax burden had actually been eased by the Bush administration’s economic policies.

    Well, since only a portion of Americans actually pay much in Federal taxes anyway, I can't say I'm surprised. I don't even know that this statistic matters. 25.2 percent of the 129.4 million individual tax returns filed in 2000 (last year this data is available) showed no tax liability. They couldn't possibly have their "burden eased" as they had no burden. A large portion of the rest (according to this link (subscription required) doesn't have a clue where they stand economically or on taxes.
    During the [2000] presidential election, a Time Magazine-CNN poll asked voters whether they were in the top one percent of income earners. Nineteen percent reported that they were, and another 20 percent said that they expected to be there one day.

    The top 1% of taxpayers already pay 37.4% of the total tax collected. Let's put that into a concrete example: 100 people in a room must pay their combined taxes of one hundred dollars, how much should each pay? Well in this scenario, one guy pays $37.40, the next 4 people together pay $19.10 ($4.76 each), 20 people pay $2.03 each , 25 people pay $4 (or roughly $.16 each), and 25 people pay nothing (part of the tax burden is actually being given to these people as rebates on taxes they didn't pay in the first place). Of course, that is taking them as classes. The second and third person will actually be paying more than the 4th and 5th, etc. on down the line.

    37.4% of Federal taxes, in a country of 300 million people, is paid by about 1.3 million individuals. This is not just Hollywood superstars and mega-corp CEO's. The threshold for 5 percenters is $120-something-thousand. For 1 percenters it's $320K-ish. A small business owner might find himself in those percentiles a couple times in his life. That certainly doesn't make him filthy rich.

    From The Tax Foundation:
    Proportionately, the top-earning 25 percent of taxpayers earned more than 65 percent of the nation's income and paid more than three out of every four dollars collected by the federal income tax (77%) in 2001. There were 32.2 million tax returns in the top 25 percent, all with adjusted gross incomes (AGI) over $56,085.

    At the other end of the income spectrum, the bottom 50 percent of the nation's taxpayers (everyone whose adjusted gross income was under $28,528) earned more and paid less. Total income for this group rose from $834 billion to $861 billion. That was up from 13.0 percent of all income in 2000 to 13.8 percent in 2001. Despite income growth, the bottom 50 percent's average tax rate fell from 4.6 percent to 4.1.

    "Tax Shift #1; From federal to State"
    Why is it that a leftist policy wanker, (excuse me, I mean 'policy wonk', of course) will always complain about tax cuts but never about tax expenditures? Are they so sure that there is no waste, no fat to be eliminated from the pork barrel before raising taxes? Are they really that confident in the efficiency of the system? As I said above, is there really a valid point to complaining about shifting a tax burden from the Federal government (which has yet to be explained as being due to any action of the Fed, BTW. It's entirely possible, dare I say likely, that this increase in State tax as compared to Federal is entirely a function of increased State spending rather than a lessening of Federal subsidies- it's just easier to jump on the partisan bandwagon because the 'Bush tax cuts' were so high profile.) Anyway, Annenberg thinks that
    For the vast majority any increases in state and local taxes have not offset the federal tax cuts enacted under Bush, even in the seven states selected by the DLC article.

    In fact, according to the Tax Foundation, combined levels of federal, state and local taxes were significantly lower this year than in 2000, the year before Bush took office. In that year taxes at all levels averaged 33% of income, while this year the average is down to 30%. And contrary to the claim made by the Edwards staff and the DLC article, effective rates of state-local taxes have not increased at all. In fact, they have declined, if only by a tiny 0.2%, to 9.7% of income.

    UFE goes on to say:
    During the summer of 2003, millions of parents received $400-per-child checks from the IRS — an advance payment for the expanded federal child tax credit.

    And then:
    The federal government prioritized wealthy Americans over
    states and ordinary Americans.

    How does that follow? Are wealthy Americans the only ones with children? 40% of Americans pay no Federal tax. and 20% get more back than they paid in (at the expense of others, remember) due to the fact that they have kids.
    the Bush tax cuts have pushed the second-lowest quintile into the negative range, meaning that when they file their tax returns, they don’t send a check, they receive a check (See also "Cautionary Notes for Comparing CBO’s Household Data to Standard Tax Data"). These “refund” checks return every dollar withheld during the year and more, mostly because of two tax provisions, one old and one new. The old one is the earned income tax credit, and the newer one is the child tax credit, first enacted in the late 1990s at $500 per child and now doubled by the Bush tax cut to $1,000 per child.


    "Tax Shift #2; From Progressive to Regressive"
    "Progressive" and "Regressive" are such loaded terms that they really slant the conversation about taxes. Regressive makes it sound dark ages, medieval. Progressive makes it sound forward-thinking and enlightened.

    All progressive means in the context of taxes it that it's a sliding scale where the more you make, the higher the percentage you pay. So the most successful (rich) people are shouldering the majority of the tax burden (discounting corporate trickery for a moment).
    Overall, the tax system is doing little to counteract growing income inequality. In 2000, the bottom 20% averaged $13,700 in after-tax income and the middle averaged $41,900 while the top 1% averaged $862,700


    Seems like a strawman argument. The tax system can't (and shouldn't!) address "income inequality". Not directly anyway. We could give tax credits for education (I believe we already do) but when that bottom 20% is paying virtually zero in taxes anyway, the statement above about "after-tax income" being $13,700 is pretty empty. Oh, I grok their idea that the more-regressive State tax structure takes more out of the pockets of lower-income people, and that shifting the burden of taxes to the more "progressive" Federal tax structure would make a difference in post-tax income. But this "problem" of "unequal income" is such a communist idea that I shouldn't even have to address it.
    Since low-income people tend to spend a larger share of their income on necessities such as food, clothing, gasoline and utilities, for example, state and local taxes on these items end up consuming a greater share of income for low-income people. And some states — such as Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia — actually tax food purchases at a higher rate than income from investments.

    However, are State taxes as 'Regressive' as UFE claims? Most States do NOT tax food purchases. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon have no state sales tax. Of the remaining 45 states, the three listed above tax food. They don't give analysis of how that interacts with the rest of the tax structure in those states. As there is a wide range of consumer items available in every category (unlike in socialist countries that run on communist ideas like the one above, one is forced to add) there is a range of taxes applied to consumer purchases. Will the average consumer make their choices based solely upon their tax burden? Of course not. Most people don't even balance their checkbooks, much less calculate tax on the fly in their heads. But they will comparison shop, and poor people buy cheaper goods, from clothes and cars, to other consumer goods like electronics. Luxury items and conspicuous consumption will still cause wealthier people to pay more taxes.

    What about things everyone needs, you ask? After all, there must be some floor at which point one can't get any cheaper? Aren't there certain things that one cannot avoid buying and paying taxes on that would form a greater burden on the poor?

    Well yes, of course. Nobody said life was going to be easy. However, I'm not concerned with fair- I'm more concerned with just.

    Even so, let's address some of those concerns: Property taxes are 'regressive'. After all, you don't pay more in property tax just because you have more. Or do you?

    If you live in a hovel, a modest home, or a palatial mansion, you pay the respective amount of property tax. A millionaire with a nice home pays more than a trailer park denizen. Renters may have property tax folded into their rent, but most renters do not pay as much in rent, as they would for a mortgage- the proportion of their monthly fees that go to paying their landlord's property tax comes out of his pocket, not theirs. The nicer the place, the higher the rent, but also the higher property tax that the renter does not directly pay. In a major off-set to property taxes, the interest on a mortgage is tax-deductible. The economic decision that the renter makes in not taking on the debt of a mortgage is an individual one that must take into account the transaction and opportunity cost, (even if not so formally expressed).

    Utilities: As power, water and telecommunications are all to some degree fee-controlled and subsidized, I think we can mostly skip this with a quick acknowledgement that more affluent urban areas pay for less-developed rural areas to have affordable service through 'universal service/access fees'. Check your phone bill next month to see what I mean. The phone company makes it pretty explicit that it is not part of their pricing model, but imposed upon them by the government.

    In short, lifestyle has nearly as much to do with state and local taxation as
    anything.

    On the matter of payroll taxes, I find myself mostly in agreement with the authors.

    The payroll tax is anti-business and anti-worker. I'm not so sure that:
    it is commonly agreed that employers compensate for their
    payroll tax share with lower wages for employees so the employee effectively pays
    the total tax
    But it's possible. I do tend to think that's more the
    case in big corporations than in small businesses.

    More on this a little later- gotta catch up with school work...




    Climate Change

    Somewhere else I made a comment to the effect that "the most abundant greenhouse gas is water vapor"

    Adam from Australia wrote:

    You got any source or logical reasoning for that extraordinary statement Larry?

    I'm nothing if not obliging:

    Many gases exhibit these “greenhouse” properties. Some of them occur in nature (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide), while others are exclusively human-made (like gases used for aerosols).

    Infrared (IR) active gases, principally water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and ozone (O3), naturally present in the Earth’s atmosphere, absorb thermal IR radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. The atmosphere is warmed by this mechanism and, in turn, emits IR radiation, with a significant portion of this energy acting to warm the surface and the lower atmosphere. As a consequence the average surface air temperature of the Earth is about 30° C higher than it would be without atmospheric absorption and reradiation of IR energy [Henderson-Sellers and Robinson, 1986; Kellogg, 1996; Peixoto and Oort, 1992]. This phenomenon is popularly known as the “greenhouse effect,” and the IR active gases responsible for the effect are likewise referred to as “greenhouse gases.” The rapid increase in concentrations of greenhouse gases since the industrial period began has given rise to concern over potential resultant climate changes.

    What Are Greenhouse Gases? Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities. Naturally occuring greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.

    Environmental News Network on Water Vapor: "Believe it or not, the most abundant greenhouse gas is water vapor and its affect on global climate is significant."

    I don't know where you get 'extraordinary claim' out of my statements. It's incontroverted, widely accepted fact.

    Adam replies:
    It's a greenhouse gas alright. In that it is a significant part of the atmosphere, and hence part of any greenhouse "effect".

    It's not a problem greenhouse gas though ?

    Lets draw a line here between the benificial greenhouse effect, that keeps us in the temporate climate zone to which we are accustomed, and the run-away greenhouse effect mostly discussed in the "mass media"

    This sounds alot like some lame excuse to ignore climate change by labeling it natural......

    In a conversation on a topic where cow farts get brought up regularly, you don't get to take a miss on acknowledging that the single most significant greenhouse gas is completely natural and unavoidable.

    Let's be clear: ALL greenhouse gases contribute to the state of the atmosphere and Earth's climate. There are no 'good' and 'bad' greenhouse gases, there is no demarcation between 'problem' gases and 'solution' gases. It's the amounts, perhaps even the relative amounts that matter.

    There's nothing inherently wrong with CO, CO2, CH4 (methane) or any other naturally occuring gas including water vapour, in the atmosphere. It's quite possible but not absolutely proven that relatively small elevated amounts could cause the temperature of the Earth to vary.

    Now some gases probably trap more heat per given volume of gas, but even so, with CO2 being a miniscule portion of the atmosphere (0.03%), while water vapor constitutes from 1% to 4% of the troposphere (the layer nearest the Earth's surface), one has to rationally consider the idea that anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gas may be less to blame for observed temperature variation trends than some claim.

    This sounds alot like some lame excuse to ignore climate change by labeling it natural......

    On the contrary, the lame tendency would be to swallow every disaster story, and take every "sky is falling" prophet uncritically.

    There is NO anthropogenic, technology-related excuse for climate change more than 150 years ago, and yet the climate has been through some wierd fluctuations.

    I'm concerned about climate change. Enough to continue to read about it, and try to educate myself about it. Even if climate change is ENTIRELY a natural event, it is worth knowing as much about it as possible. Perhaps we could actually prevent the next (natural) ice age.

    Tuesday, September 07, 2004

    An eye on the hot spot

    I'm kinda busy with school and work, but I have something on taxes brewing. It's taking some research and time, but here's a little something to chew on for now:

    The Middle East Media Research Institute bears paying attnetion to. Campus Watch is another good one. One might want to know a little bit about the Palestinians. Of course some people are not so popular there any more.

    Eye witness reports are always interesting. Multiple accounts are even better.

    Monday, September 06, 2004

    Total War and Our Self-Imposed Limits

    I’ve been avoiding commenting on the recent Russian school massacre because it was just too horrific to let my emotion run free. I find I'm still not ready.

    My friend Bill commented once that:
    It seems clear that targeting civilians is fighting dirty.

    I told him I had to disagree slightly. My reasons why will be clear in a moment, but first I want to comment on how knowledge in a specialized field can often be counter-intuitive, especially when ideology gets in the way. I would recommend anyone who is interested in understanding conflicts which involve civilians read up on 4th Generation Warfare, and also see this discussion of terrorism and Total War.

    But on to my main point: distinguishing between civilian and military is an aberration in history. History started out with 'total warfare'. If you could, if it were possible, you completely destroyed your enemy. You killed all the men, took the women and perhaps the children as slaves, and took all their stuff. Nothing was off limits. This resulted in a lot of waste, as one tribe probably couldn't really gain 100% of the benefit of another's possessions- too much duplication, too much stuff destroyed in the conflict. As political organizations grew bigger, it also became unlikely that one side actually could completely destroy and/or absorb the other. So expectations in war changed. One could actually get some benefit out of war by partially beating the others side and forcing tribute. In an agreement that you wouldn't destroy everything on the other side, they would buy you off. Well, obviously, if we progress to the stage of milking the cow, we learn not to kill it, so the concept of limited warfare was developed. (Obviously, I'm going simplistic here; there are other factors and explanations)

    But significantly, the threat was always there, that if the weaker side didn't submit, they would be utterly destroyed and there are plenty of examples in history where one strong nation made an example of a weak nation by complete and utter destruction, as a caution to other weak nations that might have considered rebellion.

    Moving on to the last few centuries, we had situations where the individual was not an important component of society. One raiding feudal lord might destroy some structures on another's land. He might put some serfs to death if they get in his way, but like as not he wouldn't bother to hunt them down unless he really wanted to destroy his opponents' ability for agriculture. There was no point in terrorizing serfs, as they had absolutely no input into the political process whereby a lord would decide to fight or submit. Add in the rise of the church as a power that transcended 'national' borders (really just fiefdoms at this point) and you have a situation that calls for some restraint in the interpersonal and political dealings of the nobility. More constraints of 'honour' are now put on warfare, limiting the scope even more. It's a progression toward more rules, toward 'Limited War' as a concept. But it's still not a law. It's still up to the commander on the spot to do exactly as they wish. There is still nothing 'morally wrong' about raping the enemies' women, burning cities down, killing agricultural workers. Chivalry doesn't apply to the peasantry.

    On into the modern age. 1700s or so. Professional militaries exist (which hadn't really, since or before the Romans). These professional militaries do professional jobs of killing other professional militaries. The wars are more or less being fought by proxy now. The whole populace is not involved, and the ruler with the deepest pockets can afford the biggest, best-equipped-and-trained army. Technology has forced this change, because with the new weapons and knowledge, it's obvious that people who know what they're doing perform better than press-ganged peasants or dilettante nobles. Well, if you have professional s in charges, doesn't it make sense to keep the non-professionals out of the way? Thus, even more separation of 'military' vs. 'civilian'.

    Come to the latest part of this modern age. There's very little separation between military technology and technology in use in everyday civilian life. Communications- who needed communications before the last century? Nobody- they all lived in the same town, knew the same people growing up, and if you wanted to communicate with someone, you walked across the village and talked to them. Only militaries and government needed runners, and signaling systems, and correspondence. Now I can't even be employed without a telephone for my boss to get in touch with me. Transportation? Same thing. The principles by which military technology run are the same principles applied in everyday life and civilian industry. Nerve gas? Comes from the pesticide industry- literally, pesticide manufacturers created sarin gas. This is a huge change.

    What this all boils down to is that civilian industry and military capacity stem from the same sources. In WWII, 40% of our GDP was diverted to the war/military-industrial/DoD effort (now it's about 5%, and reached its post-WW2 high under Reagan at about 8%). Ford didn't create a new model of car at least one or two years during the war, because they were making jeeps for the Army. The fire-bombing of Dresden (which left nothing but an ashy landscape reminiscent of the moon, where a city often considered one of the most beautiful in Europe once stood) happened because Dresden manufactured ball bearings. The law of war specifically recognizes that any civilian activity which adds to war making ability is a legitimate target. In Iraq we could quite legally have targeted the electric grid, the oil wells, refineries, and water pumping infrastructure, all of it. We didn't- not because it's immoral, but for practical reasons of not desiring Iraqi's destruction, but their liberation.

    Similarly, the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki targeted cities full of civilians. The shock and horror of that bombing caused the Japanese government to surrender months, perhaps even a year earlier than they otherwise would have. By utterly destroying two cities, we avoided having to bomb dozens of others. We targeted their morale, rather than their uniforms.

    Does all this legitimize terrorism? I don't think so. In the cases I've cited, we were attacked first by Japan, and we were supporting legal allies from aggression in Europe. In Iraq, we were just continuing a war that started in 1991 and that had never been legally or satisfactorily finished. In our recent war efforts, we've been taking 'limited war' to an all-new high. Never has there been the possibility of such selective targeting, and never has such consideration been given to sparing the enemy unnecessary loss, so that we might build friendships out of the ashes of conflict.

    As a caution to those of our enemies who might think our compassion makes us weak, let them beware that we are only able to indulge our compassion because we so greatly outclass them in strength and sophistication. If we are pressed too hard, we will not lose, but our ability to discriminate will be lessened, and we will not lose. The worst case scenario for the Middle East would be to press us beyond our ability to limit our response. Pressed far enough, we will be forced to annihilate our enemies, and any unfortunate bystanders who get in the way.

    For those apologists who think that the anger of the third world MUST be somehow our responsibility, I would remind you of this:

    Most of these people are not working with the same moral compass we are. You're talking about people only find an action morally reprehensible when it hurts them or their in-group, but it's perfectly fine to kill and steal from infidels or lesser races or outsiders. Our very tolerance and openness and ideas of what are right and wrong offend many of these people- we cannot be moral in their eyes and our own at the same time, and I'll take my own conscience over popularity any day.

    These terrorist animals in Russia know that what they did was wrong. They only need to ask themselves what they would feel if the situation were reversed, but they will not do so until they are forced to confront the weight of the civilized world bearing down.

    The 3rd world will continue to cry out for revenge until they are educated on what justice is.

    Saturday, September 04, 2004

    Kerry Panders

    Kerry's "Unwavering Commitment to Middle East Reform" (Found via MuslimsforBush.com)

    Well... this is one of the more explicit statement I've seen him make on policy. It's a shame he only makes explicit statements in limited, specific forums. 9 references to allies- that much is consistent in his campaign.

    The part about creating an "anti-anti-semitism" office is just plain pandering to the Jewish vote- as is this:

    we will never compromise America's special relationship with our ally Israel. As president, I will never pressure Israel to make concessions that will compromise its security.


    I'm totally opposed to this Special Office of Jew Protection. Not that Anti-Semitism shouldn't be punished- if it falls into the category of a crime. This is just more of the left's backhanded racism, right in line with so-called "affirmative action", racial "un-quotas" in college, and "hate-crime" legislation.

    I say punish all crime equally. Nobody should get extra for being of some racial or ethnic category. We should all get the best possible protection, as equally applied as possible.

    Later, right after saying he'll be tough with sanctions etc, he claims that he will form:
    an aggressive public diplomacy campaign in Arab and Muslim countries to tackle head-on the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda that fuels ignorance and hatred. This will be a part of an expansive American-led, international effort to promote democratic reforms throughout the Middle East by supporting secular education, business development and educational initiatives. By carefully targeting aid and development programs we can most effectively bolster civil society groups to take action to advance reform

    One quick question, Senator: Aren't Sanctions and Aid the exact opposites of each other?

    Friday, September 03, 2004

    Spreading Democracy

    This is a little dated, but it's been kicking around in my head for a while: Overboard alert! Drezner talks about Joshua Micah Marshall.

    There's an argument out there that the Bush administration's focus on state-supported terrorism is a mistake. That terrorist organizations don't need the support of nations to be a threat, because they are amorphous, diffusely organized, and fueled by other than patriotic ideology.

    I recognize that as a valid argument, but I disagree. Here's why:

    The rule of law and respect for social/civic standards is a 'critical mass' type function. (See Kim Dutoit's "Morality, Manners, and the Law" essay for further discussion of this concept.) Just like children who aren't given a leavening of civilized behaviour in their environment will do a "Lord of the Flies".

    In war, the aphorism that 'armies march on their bellies' is still valid. Logistics is more important than ever. As a terrorist, you can't just pilllage your way to the target. They have to fit in, which means money, a certain amount of training...

    I believe that's why we're seeing more kidnappings lately, where the terrorists (possibly even just bandits with no ideology other than personal gain) require ransom rather than political demands as we've seen in the past.

    The idea that terrorists' effectiveness is dependant upon safe bases, willing sponsors in the arms market, and money funneled from governments (and, to be honest from front organizations that can only exist with the approval of the country they're operating in. We even have this problem here, but as racketeering laws are applied, we're starting to get a handle on them) is a very valid one.

    Once we take away or coerce other governments into denying state sponsorship of these essentially criminal organizations, then terrorism can be reduced to a law enforcement problem. Until then, it's primarily, or at least in large part, a military issue.

    Doltish Polarization

    A friend mentioned this:

    I was reading the 'best of' section of salon's discussion boards, the well, and I came across this post. the woman who posted it puts forward what to me is an interesting theory...


    Nancy Richardson - 09:41 am Pacific Time - Aug 24, 2004 - #8156 of 8241

    For along I have been puzzled about why Wingnuts are the way they are, and I have observed a few things about them which seems to be endemic in their ranks.

    1) No sense of irony. The inability to understand paradox. Extreme discomfort with ambiguity.

    2) Poor critical-thinking skills. The inability to write about what they read with much competence. Unable to sort out the larger meaning of what they read. Tend toward not being about to sort out the difference between the theme of what they are reading, and unimportant details

    3) Lack of imagination, and a singular lack of ability to intuit how to make elementary character judgments.

    4) Lack of empathy. To the extreme.

    5) Dislike of reading fiction.

    6) Absolutist binary thinking run amok.

    7) blah, blah, blah.

    I have always wondered how these people turned out that way ... and though I have seen a bit of absolutist non-critical thinking on the left, I read something today on Atrios, where a troll was unable to understand why liberals like a "fake news show" like "The Daily Show."

    Someone made a remark about "Goodnight Moon" and the person said, "What is 'Goodnight Moon'?" And like a bolt from the blue, it came to me.

    His parents didn't read to him as a child.

    When I was a new mother, and was cramming what to do to make sure my kid was going to be a reader, the advice that was repeated over and over again was, "Read to your kids"

    And I did. From the time he was 4 months old it was ritual with my son, until he started reading independently, to read out loud to him every night. (Actually, it continued until he was 9.)

    Now we see that the most important time in developing cognitive skills is between the ages of 0-5.

    And I am willing to bet, that if you want a kid with an imagination ... and who is able to make character judgments, and who wants to read fiction, and learn to identify with people not like him or her.

    You got to read to your kids. Every night, without fail.



    Too bad her own spelling and grammer aren't better, but hey..that's the frustrated english teacher in me speak.


    To which I replied:


    I've seen almost exactly the same thing advanced from a right-ist perspective.

    1-No sense of humour when it comes to their pet peeves- check

    2- lack of critical thought- check.

    3-Lack of imagination and inability to make character judgments- check and check

    4-Usually, this complaint is broached from the opposite angle- i.e. leftists empathize so much with the opposite viewpoint that they lose their sense of identity and perspective. They sympathize with criminals and enemies more than with victims and patriots. But using the term 'wingnuts' doesn't exactly make a strong case for empathy.

    5- Dislike of reading fiction- I dunno about this, but conservatives generally consider non-fiction more important. If it comes right down to it, which is more important to read, history, or 'culturally-aware' fiction? Personally, I read a LOT of fiction, and especially SciFi or speculative fiction. I think most conservatives would encourage any type of reading as they consider it to be a basic skill that requires practice to improve upon. But if it came down to a choice, it's true that many might consider fiction a lower priority than basic education. I can't tell you how many times I've wished a person I was speaking to had at least cracked open an economics book, just once in their lives.

    6-Absolutist thinking- like what-"all cultures are equally valid" isn't an absolute statement?

    I'm sorry, most of these qualities run equally on both sides of the house- the worst is the second point- fuzzy thinking. Many people I agree with in essence, seem to get there through questionable routes. That dismays me as much as people I disagree with. This obis one more problem that I have with the self-identified 'liberal' side of politics- they don't seem to care about that- only that they get the results they desire through any form of disinformation or manipulation of the media that's necessary. People have to be '(mis)lead to the right decision' rather than informed and persuaded.


    BTW: I never heard of Goodnight Moon, either. Of course I am not a parent. Of course people do grow up reading different children's books. Of course there's probably a million books this woman has never heard of... But I'm sure she has a point in there somewhere.

    This woman makes no empirical case, doesn't even have multiple anecdotes, the least compelling of logical arguments. Merely assertions.

    Polemicists, of either extreme wing of the political spectrum, have more in common than they would be comfortable admitting. The tactics used to 'debate' (ha, really, it's kind of laughable) are so damn childish. Note to the folks in the back of the bus: ridicule is not a valid form of logic, and it rarely convinces anyone except the extremely stupid. If you're ridiculing something rather than addressing the points logically, and drooling simpletons on each side of you are nodding in time, consider the company you're keeping.

    (Note: I don't want to appear completely humourless, and I'm not ruling out actually funny spoofs, satire, and use of sarcasm to make a point. But most of what we see is not any of those things, merely schoolyard gutter-talk and childish rants.)

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004

    No Child Left Behind

    I thought this was some interesting commentary over on Centrist Conspiracy:

    No Child Left Behind Act not so dim

    Because Bush’s team has been less than effective in communicating to the American public exactly what No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is and how it works, I had bought into the Democratic propaganda claiming that NCLB consisted of unfunded mandates and that it unfairly penalized poorly performing schools. I had only a vague notion regarding the purposes of NCLB, and an even murkier notion regarding its actual content. It turns out that NCLB is a system of national testing of schools to hold them accountable to the people. Schools must make “adequate yearly progress” (defined by their state) toward achieving proficiency on each test, and students in schools that repeatedly fail these tests have federal money given to them to provide for a tutoring service or other supplemental service to aid in their education. That in a nutshell is the NCLB.

    Bernard Goldberg's "Arrogance"

    I just finished reading this book (Arrogance on Amazon) on the Liberal bias in American Media. Goldberg has some pretty interesting points to make. He may not be compelling to a hard core left-ist, but then few things would be that contradict that worldview.
    Unlike the mindset he skewers in his book, he doesn't present a grand tapestry of conspiracies in a world too impossibly complex to comprehend, beyond the control of ordinary mortals. Instead, he shows us something every business major is warned about: groupthink strangling the marketplace of ideas. He shows us a closed academic circle (professors of journalism come from the 'approved' ranks of journalists from the 'best' schools), a cloistered environment in the newsroom where isolated "elite" intellectuals are insulated from reality as experienced by the common person, where dissent is not tolerated (indeed, differences of opinion are seen as instability, if not outright insanity) and blatant hypocrisy runs rampant as long as it serves 'the cause'.
    He closes with a few suggestions on how to improve the system, but I believe that by this point shear disgust has gotten the better of him. He tosses off his suggestions with a sort of fatalistic expectation that they won't come to pass. I also think he doesn't go far enough. Like the others of his profession, he may have some blinders on still. I think his suggestions are good as they go- to circulate new blood by hiring journalists from outside the Columbia University good ol' boys club, but publishers should also be hiring people who are not journalism majors at all. They should hire people who have gone through engineering and business tracks at college. People who have experience in actually operating in the world rather than a lifetime of being a supposedly disinterested observer.