Thursday, December 30, 2010

Un-spinning debt and taxes

George Curry makes a pass at correcting some popular misconceptions but can't resist the urge to spin a few things himself. It should be clear that Bush was not responsible for the 2001 recession. However his handling of it increased the national debt, gave a windfall to the wealthy, and did nothing to increase jobs. By the same token, the higher taxes under Clinton provided a real improvement to the government balance sheet and didn't hurt the economy. The tech bubble grew and burst regardless of the tax structures. In my opinion the wealthy are their own worst enemies. By amassing and holding great wealth they eventually tend to stifle broad economic growth. It takes the government to pry that wealth out of their hands and inject it back into the economy where it does good for everyone rather than the few. A proper tax structure can recover amassed wealth who no longer can possess it since they are dead and can encourage the kind of private sector spending that keeps an economy strong.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

IRS Audits Jump By 11 Percent

It's about time. The number of audits collapsed under Bush. Tax laws
need to be more than polite suggestions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What to put in a space capsule

When the nerd herd at Space-X considered what was to be the payload of their first orbital capsule it could only have been cheese--a tribute to the classic Monty Python sketch about a cheese shop that has no cheese.

What to do with an MRI scanner

Capture the moment of birth, of course. By the same token, putting an MRI scanner on the human sex act actually provided researchers with information they hadn't known before.

Seeing things differently

This bit of research shows that liberals and conservatives actually literally see things differently. This leads one to the conclusion that one's political tendencies are more nature than nurture. It would follow that the problems brought upon us by conservatives will always be with us regardless of the logic and strength of the arguments against them.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Moving Forward

Here we are at a celebration in honor of the efforts made by many in working and supporting the local Democratic Party and it candidates.

What is your reason for doing that?

We have organized ourselves together not simply to win elections, however nice that would be. No, there are some fundamental principles which I think we all share that bring us together. I want to focus on just two of them.

First and foremost is the principle of democracy.

In times past, this has been so fundamental that no one gave it much thought as an issue. But today we may at be one of those cusps of history when something as fundamental as democracy itself may hang in the balance. Major corporate interests are now using their financial power to influence voters to vote to help those corporate interests at the expense of our nation as a whole. Our courts are now controlled by people who believe that corporations have the same constitutional right to free speech as natural persons. It is perfectly legal to broadcast outright lies as if they were legitimate news items. The number of truly independent news sources has dwindled to almost nothing. How can we expect to have effective political discourse in this country when all of the reporting is controlled by corporate interests whose primary motivation is profit rather public service?

As democrats we have to believe in the value of democracy. The first principle that governs what issues and candidates we support has to be, “Does this improve or hinder effective democracy?” Right now there are many issues in the political landscape that can be rated by that standard. In today’s situation, we now have to fight to have our democracy restored.

Second, common cause. We are all in this together. For each person who has success in life, our country is better. For each person who deprived of opportunity, our country is worse. We are part of one society and we have moral obligations to one another. We have watched as the vibrant middle class is being destroyed. Wealth has become more powerful than the voice of the people. And it looks to me like the political servants of the wealthy just don’t care how many people have to suffer just as long as they get richer and richer and richer. The under classes are only there to manipulated and exploited. As long as they can get more and more stuff, no one else matters. We are on the way to having two countries, one for the rich and one for the rest of us.

So democracy and common cause. These are what we should be fighting for. And it’s from these two principles that everything else we do must follow.

Elections generate a sense of urgency and money is spent and issues are debated in advertisements. After the elections, those who have worked so hard want to do nothing more than relax. But if we are going to build a more democratic electorate here in Benton County, we must get back to work as soon as we are mentally and physically able.

We are in a fight and what are we going to do about it? My time is limited so I’m just going to mention a few things but there are more.

Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participation sport. When we elect officers next month we can’t walk away and expect those officers to do all the work. We should show up to support them and hold them accountable.

We need to define a new creature. A democrat is not seen as a true Eastern Washington citizen. Instead we are seen as west-side infiltrators. We need to define ourselves as a different type of democrat. One who is seen as a true easterner.

We need to learn to talk differently. This is the old framing game. We need to rise above tit-for-tat knee-jerk reactions. There are reasonable people out there. We have to peel them away from their fear and misconceptions without apology.

We should expose the suffering that is around us. The opposition has worked hard to channel that suffering toward forward the opposition’s agenda. We need to help the sufferers organize so that they can forward an agenda of their own. That would the democratic thing to do. We need to ask ourselves how we can connect better with the working people as well as the unemployed. Too often the party is seen as the tool of elite environmentalists. We should be showing how sound environmental policy is good for workers, their families, and their futures.

We cannot aggravate political divisions with anyone to the point where civil war becomes an option. We also have to guard against being held hostage by that idea. We have to conduct ourselves in ways that disarms those in the opposition who fight to win at all costs. This may be difficult but it isn’t impossible.

Learn to actively proselytize. Align with the truth and publicize the truth. Strictly avoid lies of convenience. They will always eventually backfire. Trust that the truth will eventually win. We must be unrelenting. It’s not because we want to win (this isn’t a sporting event). The fate of our nation hangs in the balance.

What sort of future are we headed for? Are we really all in this together? Or are the rich, powerful, and privileged a special class who is protected from the consequences of their actions?

We are not in this game for an “I told you so” at the end. Being silent and just letting things play out is not an option.

There are no guarantees except one. If enough of us do nothing all, our fears will come to pass. What follows are some things we can do.

Rocking the boat. (from Meryl Runion)
Rock the apathy boat. If someone says they don’t care about politics, rock the boat. Saying you don’t care is like saying you don’t care about how you are allowed to live, what you’re taxed and how those taxes are spent. Not caring about politics is like writing a blank check and giving it to a stranger. It’s like letting your neighbor decide who gets to have your power of attorney over your affairs.

Rock the futility boat. Nothing will ever change. That is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This thing called democracy that we have as our number one principle depends on an informed, engaged population. Despair is not an option.

Rock the unknowable boat. There’s so much spin that it’s hard to tell what is true and what isn’t. If enough people decide that the truth can’t be ferreted out, liars can take over. They don’t have to convince anyone that they are right. All they have to do is create doubt. It is a pass for those who don’t want the truth to be known.

Rock the misinformation boat. I believe it was Mark Twain that said, “A lie can get around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.” The liars are motivated. The truth-tellers need to be just as motivated. The next time you get a bogus email, try sending a correction to 30 of your friends. Speak up or the liars will have the floor.

Rock the immediate gratification boat. We need to take a longer view, longer than the next quarterly earnings like a corporation and longer than the next election. Too many citizens think that as long as the TV works and there’s beer in the fridge, everything in just dandy. Start talking about 7th generation sustainability. Is this just a short-term, feel-good fix? Or is it a permanent change that will take a while to get into place but will last forever?

Rock the “they’re all the same” boat. Some people say that it doesn’t make a difference who is in power. Point out how it made a difference when Bush was in power. We need to tell our friends that if they are upset about the bad things that have happened it is their fault. It’s my fault. It’s your fault. We didn’t speak when we should have. We didn’t seek out the truth when we should have. We left a lie unchallenged. Because people are suffering, politics makes a difference.

Rock the “we can’t talk about it” boat. You’ve probably heard it said that a relationship is only as healthy as the things you can talk about. The same is true for a nation. The things you don’t want to talk about are probably exactly the things you need to be talking about. Strong ideas should be able to stand scrutiny. If someone says that a topic shouldn’t be raised it most likely is because there’s an idea there that is weak and needs to be disposed of.

There are boats that need to be rocked and if we don’t rock them, the people who want to take over the system for their own specific interest will rock them in their direction. Don’t be shy.

Martin Luther King: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Mass flu vaccine production

This technique of using bacteria to grow flu vaccine allows mass production to be ramped up quickly and doesn't depend on a massive supply of fresh eggs. It also provides vaccine for those who have egg allergies.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Chart of U.S. taxes

There's a chart in the linked article. But the points it makes are so good I have to quote them here.
This chart should be ingrained in the mind of anybody who cares about fiscal policy. The main things to note:

•Federal taxes are the lowest in 60 years, which gives you a pretty good idea of why America’s long-term debt ratios are a big problem. If the taxes reverted to somewhere near their historical mean, the problem would be solved at a stroke.
•Income taxes, in particular, both personal and corporate, are low and falling. That trend is not sustainable.
•Employment taxes, by contrast—the regressive bit of the fiscal structure—are bearing a large and increasing share of the brunt. Any time that somebody starts complaining about how the poor don’t pay income tax, point them to this chart. Income taxes are just one part of the pie, and everybody with a job pays employment taxes.
•There aren’t any wealth taxes, but the closest thing we’ve got—estate and gift taxes—have shrunk to zero, after contributing a non-negligible amount to the public fisc in earlier decades.

If you were structuring a tax code from scratch, it would look nothing like this. But the problem is that tax hikes seem to be politically impossible no matter which party is in power. And since any revamp of the tax code would involve tax hikes somewhere, I fear we’re fiscally doomed.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Expiration of Tax Cuts

The Democrats should be reminding folks that the expiration of the tax cuts is a law passed by Republicans. They are the ones responsible for this strange law and Democrats should give them the credit for it. Again and again.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Low Hanging Fruit

In the list of greenhouse gases there is one that has been unnoticed until recently. Certain anesthetic gases warm the planet as much as 1 million cars. Equally effective and less damaging alternatives are available. It should be easy to make the switch.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Problem of Big Banks

If we want to have a strong economy and an efficient banking system we need to break up the big banks and establish some strict regulations
What can be done to remedy the situation? After the Great Depression and the passage of Glass-Steagall, the largest banks had to spin off certain risky activities, and this created smaller, safer banks. Taking similar actions today to reduce the scope and size of banks, combined with legislatively mandated debt-to-equity requirements, would restore the integrity of the financial system and enhance equity of access to credit for consumers and businesses. Studies show that most operational efficiencies are captured when financial firms are substantially smaller than the largest ones are today.
These firms reached their present size through the subsidies they
received because they were too big to fail. Therefore, diminishing their size and scope, thereby reducing or removing this subsidy and the competitive advantage it provides, would restore competitive balance to our economic system.

Honoring the Constitution?

Why is it the people who talk the most about honoring the Constitution are making plans to destroy it? Because it's their standard practice to say one thing and do another.

Arsenic Bacteria With DNA

Other findings have pointed to the possibility that life may not only be common on earth-like planets but practically inevitable. Here on our own planet is an example of how life might evolve under conditions very different from our own.