Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Top 3 Non-Issues of 2008

I took a few days off this week due to some medical issues with a good friend of mine, and related errands. In the course of running around, I got most of my news through radio and and the occasional perusal of The Guardian headlines on my phone. It was remarkable the number of things that occurred in that timeframe, from Hillary's tears floating her campaign through New Hampshire, to Ron Paul's campaign brushing up against the shoals of an ugly death with the recountings of his apparently racist and anti-semitic newsletter being slung at light speed around the blogosphere. Despite the tittilating infotainment that all provides, it was a notable example of some of the non-issues at play this election season.

With that in mind, I wanted to highlight what in my opinion are the top three Non-Issues of the 2008 election year:

1. Tax Reform
As much as I would love to see the system change, the IRS is well entrenched, and the accounting industry stands to lose billions of dollars. Noting the effectiveness of political lobbying on congress, I'd place the odds of a President initiated tax reform of the Huckabee magnitude succeeding at about a gadzillion to one. The only way that true tax reform will occur is if FairTax, or another tax reform organization, is able to be influential enough to swing a few rounds of congressional and senatorial elections. Currently, there's nowhere near enough representatives or senators on board to give this form of legislation any hope of success whatsoever, which makes this a presidential non-issue.

Associated issue:
Tax relief is a critical need, particularly among the middle class, and for entrepreneurs, but a balanced budget is also extremely important. The President has the power to trim some fat out of the nation's budget. Downsizing the bureaucracy and increasing efficiency would allow some savings which can then be passed back to the tax payers. Fiscal responsibility and economic savvy are two traits we need to focus on in our candidates.

2. Gender and Race
It's a truism that I would be castigated for saying: "I voted for John Kerry because he is a white man!" (I didn't vote for Kerry, but for example's sake...). The inverse, for some reason, seems to be acceptable. Do not vote for Hillary because she is a woman. Do not vote for Barak because he is black. If you choose to support these candidates, do so because you have researched their political and business histories extensively, and see evidence that leads you to believe that one or the other is qualified to be the Chief Executive. (I personally think at least one of those two could do a fine job, and that conclusion was based on the message and the qualifications, not on the race or gender).

Associated issue:
Voting against either of these candidates because of race or gender far surpasses the ignorance required to vote for these candidates based on these qualifications. If you are one of those troglodytes from a bygone era who would consider race or gender to be a detracting factor in a candidate, then you're an idiot, and please don't vote at all.

3. Global Warming
Before it even starts, I'll let you know right now, I'm not looking for the comments on this post to be filled with every green party member posting every study and report ever published regarding greenhouse gases, CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and statistics on the number of squares of toilet paper used. The simple fact is this: Climate Alarmism is a profitable industry, but the number of scientists in vocal dissent to the pseudo-science behind it is growing, not shrinking. Basing domestic energy policy on climate alarmism is not only a non-issue, it's a bad idea. The Kyoto Protocol would have cost over half a trillion dollars in GDP impact in the US (PDF), and in best possible results returned practically nothing in environmental impact, while allowing developing countries such as China and India exemptions to rules which would economically strangle the U.S.

Associated issue:
The saddest part of the climate alarmist debacle is that it draws attention away from the real responsibilities of sound environmental stewardship. Has everyone completely forgotten that there is chemical pollution running off into our oceans, bottom dredging that is destroying critical sea bed coral, and private development expanding unchecked and quickly paving over every square inch in America? Environmentalism used to be a whole concept, relating to the preservation of our ecosystems, from the micro to the macro. If you protect forests, you contribute to a better atmosphere. Mitigating human impact to the environment across all fronts has a much more substantial payback in environmental conditions, and mutually beneficial co-existence with nature. The Global Warming groups have hijacked the Green Party, and potential suggested "fixes" for global climate change include pumping pollutants into the atmosphere! Make sure your candidate has a responsible environmental policy that meshes smoothly with sound economic policies, and doesn't base his or her decisions on current media doomsday trends.

Just about everything that you see or hear from the candidates at this point will be non-issues. Campaigns are built around buzz words, slogans, and talking points, and it's rare that anyone of them has enough concentrated time in an uncensored environment to really get a good feel for their real stances on the real issues. To get there, you'll need to dig, research voting histories, alliances, legislation authored, supported, stood against. It's your responsibility as a citizen to be an educated part of the process. Don't let your vote be decided by a non-issue.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Oh That Hillary part deux...(Cicero and Demosthenes)

OK, I have to admit, I love it when I see my blog posts echoed in national media. There's some sort of validation there, despite my contempt for the majority of manufactured stories on non-issues that I tend to see in the MSM. So, when I saw that both my recent post on Obama and the politics of hope, and the first chapter in this topic had been echoed here and here, it was nice to see that some of the same perspectives I have are shared almost verbatim by those hoity toity syndicated types (and by hoity toity, I mean, I'm jealous of the fact those writers collect a paycheck for doing the same thing I'm doing right now).

The Washington Post piece had an interesting take on the differences in message between Obama and Clinton that I want to explore a little more.

E.J. Dionne writes:
"Yet if Clinton's answers come off as well-intended lectures, Obama is offering soaring sermons and generational opportunity. In 1960, the articulate Adlai Stevenson compared his own oratory unfavorably to John F. Kennedy's. "Do you remember," Stevenson said, "that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, 'How well he spoke,' but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, 'Let us march.'" At this hour, Obama is the Democrats' Demosthenes."

Despite Demosthenes dire end, I think the comparison holds some merit, above and beyond what the writer suggests. Demosthenes was thought of as a sincere, energetic, almost perpetually anxious in his passion. Cicero was considered a consummate politician, smooth tongued, and quick to use facetious humor in an attempt to outwit and embarrass his opponents. Demosthenes was a populist success story, orphaned at 12, yet achieving political influence, and a small wealth, by the age of 25. He was imperfect, often considered ill mannered, but persuasive in his speech because his passion for the cause shone through. Despite great accomplishments, he was humble about his political prowess, and thought poorly of others who flaunted it. Plutarch, in comparing the two, said this:

"It is necessary, indeed, for a political leader to be an able speaker; but it is an ignoble thing for any man to admire and relish the glory of his own eloquence. And, in this matter, Demosthenes had a more than ordinary gravity and magnificence of mind, accounting his talent in speaking nothing more than a mere accomplishment and matter of practice, the success of which must depend greatly on the good-will and candour of his hearers, and regarding those who pride themselves on such accounts to be men of a low and petty disposition."

Cicero was indeed, a magnificent speaker, well studied in facts and figures, and nimble of wit and tongue. He was popular among the political ruling class, because he played their game so well. He was less popular among the citizens because he was seen as a politician's politician, snarky and cutting, intellectually elitist and a boorish snob.

The comparisons here are very strong. Look at the core message of each campaign. Hillary's campaign is based on her knowledge, experience (although I can't for the life of me figure out what experience she is referring to), and how she is the candidate for the job to go in and run this show. Obama stays on a populist message of tearing down the walls of power, not providing them new leadership. His platform consistently refers to a return of the power to the people.

Time will tell, however, if Obama learns the lessons of Demosthenes in power. In the end, Demosthenes' struggle from early hardships left him vulnerable to monetary temptation, and his career began to dissolve under accusations of corruption and bribery. Even then, however, he took his fight for freedom to the front lines, traveling Greece and assisting local militias in the resistance to the Phillipic invasion. His actions, even after his power and influence were unrecoverable, are a testament to who the man was at the core.

As for Cicero, his political maneuverings left him for not, when he massaged the law to allow a scruffy youth named Julius Ceasar approach the Senate for Consulship, and the rest is history.

Hillary Clinton is truly a Cicero for our times, self congratulatory at her perceived accomplishments, and a graduate of the Al Gore "Smother them with Tedium" school. She fancies herself the smart kid in the class, and is quick to show it off. Like Kerry before her, she thinks there are enough Northeast Liberal Intellectuals in the country to carry a whole election, and like Kerry, she would hand the win to the Republican party while learning a hard lesson.

Hillary wants to be queen of the current government. Obama wants to return control of that government to the people. Both of those stances come with the possibility of being campaign rhetoric, but given the choice, I like the rhetoric that passionately proposes a return to the spirit of Democracy, and a progressive populist administration.

Which do you prefer?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Fairer FairTax

I spent some time today reading through the extensive literature available at, the tax reformation organization which GOP front runner Mike Huckabee supports as part of his economic policy. I have to say, they have done their homework there to answer questions I had from the snippets I had read about the FairTax plan.

As a general concept, I utterly support the concept of abolishing the federal income tax, and replacing it with a Federal Sales tax. It's a system which has the ability to completely solve all the inequities in tax law which allow loopholes and shelters to be built for the ultra-rich, and place a disproportionate burden on the middle and lower classes. A tax on consumption is the most honest tax possible, and rewards fiscal responsibility, while also drawing revenue on sources currently exempt from the system, such as money earned in illegal operations including drug sales and gambling, and pure cash ("under the table") jobs in adult and other cash heavy industries. It also provides a channel for dealing with the very expensive issue of illegal immigrants who draw from the system without paying into it. Taxation on their consumption allows them to contribute to the system they benefit from.

The biggest concern with any flat federal sales tax system is that it provide true tax relief for the middle and lower class, both in simplification, and in exemption of certain basic goods and services from taxation. In the FairTax plan, this is handled using a "Prebate" system, by which qualified families receive a refund check for the value of taxation up to the poverty line of spending. This is where the plan begins to fail in exactly the same place as previous flat tax legislation attempts.

Any bureaucratic system which must "qualify" who is allowed to receive benefits designed to address socioeconomic inequities will become the failing point for that system, as evidenced by the welfare and social services system. The application, review, and enforcement of those guidelines, which themselves change frequently, lead to massive overhead in administration, and poor service to the taxpayer in question.

Additionally, when parsing the qualifications necessary to be a "qualifying family" (PDF) , I was extremely disappointed to find that the parameters in place to denote qualifications are remarkably skewed in favor of a stereotypical Right Wing Family Values poster. Gay couple? Sorry, you don't qualify as family. Non-custodial Dad who still buys all the school clothes and supplies? Nope, only goes to the custodial parent. Six artists sharing a loft in order to make ends meet and produce beautiful art? Oh, hell no. You don't qualify.

The solution to potential inequities is very simple, and works across the board. The consumption tax must be sliding scale based on product type and cost. This is not as complicated as you might think. Grocery stores are already equipped for the WIC program, which issues vouchers for certain classes of foods up to a certain cost. That value is sorted out during scanning of groceries, and the balance of the bill is paid in cash. In a sliding scale system, uncooked food and household items with a value of less than twenty dollars would be completely tax exempt. A poor family spending twenty five dollars on mostly one and two dollar grocery items would pay no sales tax at all. Additionally, exempt the first hundred dollars on home utilities and car payment, and the first five hundred dollars on mortgage/rent. Add an additional 5% in in taxes to purchases over $25,000. Tie those exemptions and additional levies across the board to the Federal inflation rate, so that the system remains equitable over time.

A pure consumption tax would represent an astounding evolution in fair, simple taxation for American citizens, while remaining revenue neutral. Given the currently untaxed revenues which would be swept in, it actually has the potential to earn more, on lower percentages of taxation. However, there must be an integrated set of exemptions built into the lowest consumption level, that does not discriminate against households which do not conform to a white bread Ward and June Cleaver template. It's the only way any FairTax actually would be.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Oh That Hillary...(untangling the Clinton rhetoric)

I didn't wake up this morning intending to write a pick on Hillary post, but to be perfectly fair, she started it.

I was watching the caucus coverage on CNN this morning, and heard her stumping out at the cauci. It was a perfect example of the two biggest problems I have with her as a candidate:

1. She equates eight years as First Lady with political leadership experience. I don't think we'd accept that qualification for Nancy Reagan, or Laura Bush, and I find it disingenous to the extreme for her to expect us to do so for her.

2. She came out with this gem of a quote:

"It took a Clinton to clean up after fhe first Bush, and it just might take a Clinton to clean up after the second Bush."

Now, first of all, I don't approve of legacy politics. A continuous family line of political leadership just smacks a little to close to monarchic ruling class to me. More importantly, though, the sheer unmitigated rhetoric in this statement just floored me, until I realized what a calculated play it was at manipulating the emotions of younger voters.

She had made economic conditions a repeated point in her speech, and it seemed at that moment to have been the foundation for the Bush cleaning quote. It's pertinent, as well, for when it comes to the most positive indicators of Bill Clinton's terms in office, favorable economic conditions are the strongest testimonial anyone can offer. For those of you who weren't old enough to be politically conscious during the Reagan years, a little clarifying history is in order, so here's an utterly over-simplified crash course in recent economic history, with a pdf full of pretty colored charts illustrating what I'm describing: (you might want to right click and open that in a new window)

Coming out of the oil crisis in the 70's, Reagan inherited a critically high inflation rate, which led to a massive market correction, in the form of a recession, in 1981. He made economic conditions his priority (along with a strong defense, and muscular foreign policy), and was able to create controlled growth with a well managed inflation rate that pulled the country out of recession, and into a strong growth period.

However, as in all things, the economy is based on cycles, known as business cycles. Inflation, GDP, and unemployment will rise and fall over time based on the birth, growth, and death or transformations of the companies which form the framework of our economy. (There's a much more detailed explanation on how the cycles work, related to manufacturing inventory, in the PDF) When the first Bush was elected, he rode the coat tails of the exiting incumbent, but didn't have the economic savvy to well mitigate the coming downturn in the economic cycle. History shows us that this was a short term correction in market valuation, but with his built in reputation of being the weaker half of the Reagan cowboy team, the economic downturn destroyed any remaining public confidence he had by forcing him to break the one economic policy he had stumped with: "Read my lips: No. New. Taxes."

I know, it sounds a bit lame now, but believe me, in 1988, it was bold and daring, cocky, and utterly economically naive and infeasible. One thing that politicians should have learned by now is that if you don't make good on your least common denominator stances, populist support is out of the question. (You hear that, Charlie Crist? "Drop like a rock", buddy.)

So, out with the old, and in with the daring and dashing William Jefferson. The market correction had stabilized by 1993 when he took office, so all Mr. Clinton had to do to win was let it ride. His first term was economically unremarkable, and marked by slight growth. He was globally diplomatic while remaining somewhat of an isolationist in practice on foreign military policy (which explains the lack of strong military response to terrorist attacks during his tenure). However, lo and behold, along came the grand invention of the interwebs, and the economy took off like a shot. Companies were building fortunes on the new technology, and online trading allowed hundreds of thousands of average shmoes to pump and dump their life savings into Wall Street just like the pros. Obscene speculative valuations on companies with seven figures in debt, combined with the tens of millions of dollars controlled by nervous, naive and inexperienced amateur day traders, led to a market so amazingly over inflated that it had nowhere to go but down, leading to the recession of 2001 when the dot com bubble burst.

And who was there to reap that benefit? The second Bush. Amazingly enough, some people were so irrationally and illogically deranged in their anger about the election of Bush, that they tied that recession to Bush himself, as though his evil influence was so pervasive, that in a matter of mere months after he was elected, he had flushed the entire economy down the drain. That mindset exhibits such an utter lack of understanding of the economy as to be mind boggling, especially when coming from otherwise seemingly intelligent people.

If ever there had been a time in the US, since the Great Depression, when some Executive and Congressional oversight of the economy was needed, it was during the Clinton Administration, when some conservatism on growth and valuation could have helped the dot com bubble grow into a full fledged industry a little more slowly, securing itself with strong fiscal foundations, and forcing the superstart ups of that time to earn their keep. Responsible economic oversight would have been the legacy of Bill Clinton, evidenced in a lasting era of prosperity. Instead, Bush the Second inherited the mess left by Clinton the first, and for Clinton the second to refer back to that as an achievement in her campaign rhetoric speaks strongly of her belief in the short memories and attention spans of the electorate.

Bush the second, has indeed, earned his poor reviews on his administration. However, the economy during his administration has made some progressive growth, and picked itself out of the hole left for it by the previous administration. The two weakest areas in the US economy right now are related to hedge funds and the sub-prime industry, both lobbies who have been heavily coddled by the Democratic party.

If that's what Clinton means by "cleaning up after the Bushes", then thanks, but I'll pass. If that's not what she means, then it's just one more example of disingenuousness from a candidate who's built a career on it.

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