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A Semi-Political Rant

5 Oct

I watched the presidential debates last night.  The news media all seem to agree that Romney won.  Actually, I thought President Obama very effectively argued against the positions that Mr. Romney had last week, but Mitt had changed his positions for this debate so the arguments were not so effective.

Actually, what I thought I would talk about was something that both candidates touched on—closing tax loopholes.  Mr. Romney was going to find a lot of savings by closing those loopholes.

I don’t like paying taxes myself.  In fact, I don’t particularly like talking about taxes, but somebody must pay them, and the way taxes are calculated makes a big difference.

I heard of a case in western Iowa just recently.  The rates of property taxes are usually decided by how valuable the land is.  So this land is hilly, and has a lot of old trees on it.  The soil itself is highly erodible and not much good for row crops.  The people who collect taxes changed the way they value the land.  All land now is evaluated on its ability to grow corn.  That increased the value of the land by about a factor of ten, and therefore the property taxes were also increased by a factor of ten.  The farmer had lightly grazed the land, but now feels that he can no longer afford to do that with property taxes so high—he must plow it up and grow corn.  Great ecological damage is done by a simple property tax policy change.

Now what about income taxes?  Usually, income taxes are considered “progressive”, meaning that people who make more annual income pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes.  Is this fair?  Probably—people with more ability to pay are required to pay more.  I am probably in one of the higher income brackets myself.  I pay a higher rate than some people.  The people who complain the loudest seem to be the wealthiest.  I think the United States has a huge number of whiney rich people.  Poor people generally share what they have, while the wealthy complain that the government takes too much.

I think when Mr. Romney is talking about loopholes, he may be talking about deductions.  You can currently deduct the interest on your house.  That policy helped people invest in their own homes.  You can deduct some educational expenses.  If you have very high medical expenses you can deduct part of that.

Here are the two biggest tax loopholes that I think should be shut down:  Capital gains and inheritance taxes should be taxed as income, and not with separate lower rates.

If you are employed, you put in a certain amount of time or effort in order to earn your wages or salary.  You are taxed at a rate proportional to your earnings.  Why should someone be able to inherit a fortune from a relative and pay no taxes on it?  Should someone who works for the same amount of money pay while someone who does not work for it pay none?  Don’t use that ridiculous argument that you are taxing the money twice—you are taxing the individual once.

“Capital gains” is money that is “earned” from an investment. It is taxed at a lower rate than “income.” Again, why should someone who does not do any work, but only invests money, pay at a lower rate than someone who works to earn the money?

Income is income.  Those who work to earn it should not be taxed at a higher rate than those who don’t.

Republican positions favor lower “capital gains” rates and elimination of inheritance taxes, which they call “death taxes.”  Therefore, they favor those who do not need to work over those who do.


Ridges on Coins

5 Aug

You’ve seen them–the ridges that are around the outside edges of coins.


Technically, it is called reeding.  Historically, ridges were put on the outside of coins because the coins were made of precious metals–gold or silver.  Certain people would shave around the edges of the coins and get some of that precious metal.  They were cheating the system–trying to get a little more money from the coin than it was worth, at the expense of the person who got the coin back.

So the mints added reeding.  That was a change to the coin that made it much harder to steal money by shaving the coin.  The theft-protection system was institutionalized.

Most of the debate in the recent election has focused on the economy.  I find that a little sad and short-sighted.  But if we are going to talk about the economy, why don’t we really talk about the economy?

Let’s not only talk about the percentage of people who want jobs and can’t find them, let’s talk about changes we can make to the system to prevent coin-shaving.

There are people who make money by computer programs that shave the daily fluctuations in the prices of stocks and make profit off of that.  That practice introduces a basic instability into the stock market.  Can we instute an equilivent of reeding to that?

If you think about it, there are a number of ways the ordinary citizen can get cheated in the financial sector of the economy.  Are we wrong to expect the system to have institutional honesty?

That’s the part of the economy we should be working on.

Commitment Reform

4 Aug

How many times have you heard about “entitlement reform”?  As in the government creates programs that give things out and people decide they are entitled to them.  Programs like welfare, social security, medicare, and on and on.

Conservative politicians have decided that the government is too big and that we pay too much in taxes.  Part of the problem, according to the narritive, is that all these slackers have decided that the world owes them a living and so they are on the government dole, waiting for their “entitlements.”

The problem I have with that is I think entitlement reform is not really what we are doing.  We are doing commitment reform.

We have a long history of democracy in this country.  Social programs such as social security, food stamps, welfare, etc. were all initiated by elected representatives.  These were things we wanted to do.  Now we may not have done the math right, and we may not have considered the full effects of the demographics.  There may have been unintended consequences of our policies.  We may not want to keep the programs in place or pay so much for them.

But in revising those programs we need to be honest about what we are doing.  We are reevaluating promises we made, and we are deciding which ones to keep.  We may have overpromised.  We may have miscalculated the costs.    We are chosing not to honor those commitments we made in the past.

What Israel Means to the United States

1 Aug

After taking a long break from this blog I think it may be time to pick it back up again.  The politicians are at it hot and heavy.  It is time to throw my two cents in.

Mitt Romney has recently made news with his visit to the State of Israel and his comments about what the appropriate capitol of the state is.  Politicians often argue about Israel as well.  The argument often ends up being about who is the greatest supporter of Israel.  Why is that?

Some have argued that there is some kind of powerful Jewish lobby.  There may be some truth to that–there are some Jewish lobbying groups that have quite a bit of clout.  But I don’t really think that is the center of the argument.

The United States is largely a Christian nation–founded by Christians, still majority Christian and protestant.  The story line of Christianity is all about the difference between Jews and Gentiles (everyone who is not Jewish).  Christians of all lines of thinking (and this includes Mormons) have some kind of image Jewish people.  They are, after all, “God’s chosen people” according to Christian tradition.

So I am a long-time athiest who grew up in a family of Christians, in a small town full of Christians.  Why should how the United States deals with Israel be any different than how it deals with France or Italy?  It shouldn’t, but it does.

“Support for Israel” in some quarters is code for how much a candidate will support a certain type of knee-jerk approach to the world, based on Christian ideas without much consideration of the actual results of the policy.

Do we support Israel?  Is that the Jewish State or the democracy?  Do we support real efforts for peace in that area, or are we going to find the politician with the hardest line of rhetoric and go with that?

We need to re-examine our policies and identify our own predjudices.   Then we can evaluate our policies toward that state.

Jimmy Carter received a lot of heat for his book Peace, not Aparthied.  But I think his approach is much more reasoned than what most politicians are taking now.

Car for Sale

30 Dec

I have a used car for sale.  In the spirit of fairness, I feel that I should disclose a little bit of a mechanical problem with it.  The car turns freely to the right, but is not capable of moving to the left.

If you want to drive straight, you must pull the steering wheel to the left as hard as you can.  If you do that, you will drive straight.  The slightest drift to the right, however, cannot be compensated for.

In order to make a left turn you can turn right 270 degrees.  It takes more room and you might have to make your own path, but it can be done.

No analogy to Grover Norquist and the no-tax pledge is intended or implied.

Stupidity in Politics

21 Dec

Iowa has become the starting point for the presidential campaigns in recent years.  Our caucus system has a lot to do with that.  We sometimes pick the winners, but our biggest contribution is probably our ability to narrow the field.  We eliminate a lot of candidates—therefore, we choose who will be the losers.

I have attended a number of caucuses over the years and have always paid attention to the candidates.  Typically I know who the top ten or twelve candidates of each party are and what they stand for.  I have a tendency to vote for the Democrats, but I have voted for Republicans as well.

In recent years, when the pool of candidates is still fairly large, I have ranked them.  Usually there are five or six Democrats I like and one or two Republicans. 

This year is very different.  The Republican party has become so dogmatic in its approach that the only arguments are over who is the “true conservative.”  I would not be able to vote for any of them over Obama or any other candidate.

The pool is characterized by stupidity.  Their policies are not thought out at all, but are mostly slogans.  Three candidates stand out with their special brand of stupidity, however:

1.  Herman Cain (I know he is out now, but the residue lingers):  There were lots of serious discussions about the loony nine- nine-nine proposal.  That was stupid, and the other candidates diminished themselves by taking it seriously, but that was not his greatest example of stupidity.  When the news reports started coming out about the sexual harassment allegations, his great defense was to repeat “I am not that kind of person—just ask my wife”.  A brilliant man might have had a hard time defending against all of the claims of the women who came out of the woodwork, but Mr. Cain’s defense was just plain stupid.

2.  Rick Perry:  Rick has ads about how he is a Washington outsider and how he is going to cut the pay of Congress, send them home, and make them a part-time Congress.  Come on, Rick—there might be three or four Iowans who think you can do that, but they probably can’t find their caucus locations.  That is really stupid.

3.  Ron Paul:  Instead of owning up to the racist comments made 20 years ago in his newsletters, he claims he is not responsible for the statements because someone else wrote the newsletters.  Come on Ron, it was called the Ron Paul Report.  Get it—“Ron Paul”?  Ron Paul is not responsible for the content of the Ron Paul Report.  Give me a break.  Why do we even treat these guys seriously?

Rick Perry’s T.V. Commercial

23 Nov

Rick Perry currently has a T.V. ad that is showing here in Iowa.  There are two versions of it–in one, he claims to be a common man.  In the other he shows a clip of President Obama making a statement, probably taken out of context,  about how we have been lazy for a few years, and then feigns outrage about Obama calling us lazy.

Then, in both versions of the ad Mr. Perry calls for a balanced budget amendment to the constitution.  He says that if Congress doesn’t agree “cut their pay…send them home.”

Who cuts their pay?  Who sends them home?  I assume Mr. Perry knows that the president can’t. 

I think Mr. Perry is trying to project that he is a “good old boy.”  He expresses what he thinks the voters might be thinking.  He knows that he can’t cut the pay of Congress, and the voters would be very unlikely to as well.

Sometimes smart people project themselves as kind of stupid in order to seem more likeable.  It can work for salesmen.  It may even work for low level politicians.   My view is that it does not work well for someone who is running for the highest elected office in the land.  And it really doesn’t work if people already wonder if you are smart enough to handle the presidency.

Have you really thunk that out, Rick Perry?