Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Doctrine of American Exceptionalism

What’s the best way to be?  Is it:  Better than everyone else?  Stronger than everyone else?  Smarter than everyone else?  More morally pure then everyone else?  Wealthier than everyone else?

The Doctrine of American Exceptionalism offers you the opportunity to be all of the above.  And you don’t even have to try, you just have to be born here, or successfully immigrate and obtain citizenship and preferably white.

You may have heard of American Exceptionalism.  It is a theory that the United States occupies a special role among the nations of the world in terms of its national ethos, political and religious institutions, and its being built by immigrants. The roots of the position have been dated back to 1630 with John Winthrop's "City Upon a Hill" (you may have heard that in a Reagan speech) although some scholars attribute it to a passage of Alexis de Tocqueville, who argued that the United States held a special place among nations because it was the first working representative democracy.

You may have heard conservative windbags like Sean Hannity say things like “how can Obama be an effective president, he doesn’t even believe in the Doctrine of American Exceptionalism.”

You may have heard or even believe that the United States is the greatest country in the history of the world.  For me, it’s the root of the phrase “God bless America.”  Sure, I want God to bless America, but not by destroying other nations at our feet.  For me it’s “God bless America, and everybody else too.”

America may hold a top-of-the-pile position today, and for the last number of decades or a century or two, but it’s not because we are those things I listed in the first paragraph.  It’s because for the most part, we haven’t had a war on our soil that destroyed our entire infrastructure.

If you listen to conservative talk radio or watch Fox News (I’ve decided that Fox doesn’t report the news, Fox reports the truth, see Jon Stewart’s recent interview with Chris Wallace) you’ll hear that we are so much way more awesome than Europe where socialism is.  I’ve had it told to me that we are way more innovative.  Our economy is way better.  And we have all these “freedoms.”

But to be fair, what really happened?  What is really the case?  And why?

Europe has been a little slow.  But if the US had been the location of two world wars in thirty years, we’d have been slow too.  Much of Europe got the living cuss bombed out of it in WWII.  You’ll also notice how little of our famed innovation has come out of the south where the Civil War destroyed all manner of progress.  I live in Arkansas, where there appears to be only one major university.  As far as I can tell, the greatest density of universities and colleges is in the North East and West Coast. 

When Europe got out of WWII, they were so hosed, they had to go about things completely differently.  We were the victors.  Nary a bomb had dropped on our soils.  Soldiers returning from war came back to the new middle class centered plan of the New Deal.  Taxes on the rich were high.  Unions thrived.  We boomed.  Europe on the other hand was hosed.  Hosed hosed hosed. 

They had massive casualties, fire bombed out cities, bridges destroyed, airports with holes all over them and no oil reserves.  Germany had to pay reparations (again) and Britain was so gutted, they had rationing for years afterward.  But they’ve come back.  They have pretty robust economies now.  They have low unemployment, and don’t have nearly the economic swings we capitalists have.

More and more lately, I’ve come to believe that all that stuff they used to tell us in grade school about being the greatest country on earth is a load of hooey.  They tell us about all sorts of advances in technology, medicine and whatnot.  Where is the first mass produced electric car coming from?  Nissan.  Who has the best healthcare in the world?  Not us.  Where was your cell phone made?  Not here.  Where is your job?  Somewhere else.

They tell us that the constitution is a moral document, that God had his hand in its writing like he dictated the King James Version of the Bible.  We got “all men are created equal” you know, except for slaves and whatnot, oh and women, don’t forget women.  And it turns out that many of the founders weren’t Christians, at least not the kind we’re told they were.  Blasphemy of blasphemies, the great Thomas Jefferson cut out all the miraculous stuff from the Bible and republished his own version!

How’s that racism coming along.  Well, there were some of us who were against it for a long time, but we had to have a war over it, oh yeah, and after we whooped Britain in the Revolutionary War, they abolished slavery decades before we did.  Now we have a black radical Christian Muslim president.  Figure that one out for yourself.  How surprising was it that the day after he was elected, gun sales skyrocketed?  The economy is in the ash can, but you haven’t seen any gun stores closing.  Just recently there are people protesting a “mosque” with a domed roof going up near a freeway in Phoenix which actually as it turns out is really a non-denominational church.  Xenophobia - An exaggerated or abnormal fear of strangers or foreigners.  I was listening to “Christian” radio last night.  Their “news” segment consisted of a guy ranting about how important it was to cast extra suspicion upon anyone who was a Muslim for fear of terrorism.

What about on the moral front?  Surely we are the center of morality pure as the driven snow in the world.  Not hardly.  What did we do to the Indians?  We royally screwed them over.  We forced them off their nice land that they had occupied for maybe thousands of years and we concentrated them out in the desert, and Oklahoma.  United States military forces murdered thousands upon thousands of them outright in cold blood.

Then World War II comes along and we have vast resources that we commit to building the atomic bomb.  And then we drop the most powerful bomb in the history of the world on civilians.  What an cusshole thing to do.  The moral high ground is to act in honor and civility no matter how provoked.  Truman could have called up Hirohito and said “Hey, we got a bomb.  We got a big cussing bomb, and we’re gonna drop it in the middle of Tokyo Bay, and then you got 48 hours to surrender or we’re gonna glass your little island.”  But no, we didn’t drop it in Tokyo Bay.  We didn’t drop it in the sparsely inhabited mountains that make up so much of Japan.  We didn’t drop it anywhere where it would do a little damage but make a big point.  We dropped it on civilians who were just trying to get along with their lives.  If we want to be exceptional, we must always hold the moral high ground, and we are so very bad at it.  But they’ve come back.  They’re doing pretty good, and while they are clawing their way to the top of the Environmental Performance Index, we are screwing our way down.  You wouldn’t believe the countries that are beating us now.  Look it up for yourself, we suck (on that index).

Likewise is our dealing with the Middle East.  Understand this.  Islam is a warlike religion with a tribal history.  It has a strong sense of revenge and vengeance and vendetta or whatever you want to call it.  So when we go bomb the towel heads, we wind up the kind of cuss-storm we can’t truly understand.  They’ll wear us down to the last man, the last dollar, the last bullet, the last bayonet because their sense of revenge is far better developed than ours is.  So what are we?  We’re the invaders.  I’m an active advocate of non-violence, but if someone walks into my country, onto my property with violent intent, I’ll be the first one to be slinging lead around.  There’s a different sort of mindset when you waltz into someone else’s country and start shooting.  And we’ve been on the wrong side of that coin so many times, you’ll never see it paid back.  We’d have to be invaded by two dozen different countries before we even start to get even.

And the thing that bugs me the most is when people say that God is the one behind our supposed greatness.  I guess I can blame God for all the above then?  Why does God get blamed?  Why would God bless the good ol’ US of A?  Is it because we’ve been good?  Not that I can tell.  Are we some sort of chosen nation?  I think that one was Israel.  Is it because we’re white and righteous?  There’s a Mormon reference.  BOOM!  The truth is, our church movement is stagnated and beginning to die.  We’re very nearly post-Christian.  And I for one am glad.  Maybe soon we can stop blaming God for how “awesome” we are. 

If we’re a Christian nation, we’re cuss sure a poor example of one.  But I guess that’s just hyperbole.  I don’t believe it.  I don’t have any evidence that shows it to be true.  And I’ve looked.  I’ve read the constitution, God isn’t in there.  He’s in the Confederate constitution go figure, but not ours.  There’s nothing exceptional about the US.  We got lucky on stuff like natural resources.  We killed off all the natives leaving us vast expanses of land.  We haven’t been bombed.  We were immigrated by people willing to work.  But there’s nothing exceptional about us.  We’re human like everyone else.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

White House Gives In On Bush Tax Cuts

Don't give up Obama, let the Bush Tax Cuts die!
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, November 4, 2010

[sarcasm]Now that the Republicans have Won, Abortion will End![/sarcasm]

Before I start, let me assure you that this is my own original political analysis and I have neither seen on TV nor read in any media nor heard on the radio what I am about to tell you.  I just wanted to say that because I get accused of copying Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews and I just want everyone to know that I don't and have never watched their shows.  Not a single time.  I don't even have cable.  I am a democratic socialist.  They are TV pundits.  I am able to make the distinction.  Some are not apparently.

Anyway, my analysis.

I was taken aback by what I heard.  I listened to quite a number of victory and concession speeches.  I listened mostly to republican victory and concession speeches.  I listened to Rand Paul, Christine O'Donnell, Carl Paladino, John Boehner, and others whose names are less recognizable and even less remember-able.  A single issue voter might have me believe that a republican loss would mean a loss for the pro-choice movement.  A republican win should mean victory for the babies!

But none of them mentioned abortion.

Nobody said, "Now that the American people have elected me to office, I will end abortion!"  Nobody said "since our tragic loss, unborn babies all over America will now never see the light of day."  Nobody said anything about abortion.

Not a damn thing.

Not one damn thing.

Because republicans won't do anything about abortion.

Not a damn thing.

It's a hot button issue which they were fortunate enough to have gotten on the right side of 40 years ago.  But it's just a card.  Like a King of Diamonds, or the Ace of Hearts.  It's a card, you use it to make a good hand, then when you won your chips, you shuffle it back into the deck and hope that at some time in the future you can pull it out again and use it to win another hand.  In poker, you play the people, not the cards.

They are playing the people.

Since Roe vs. Wade in 1973, the republicans have held the presidency for like 25 years.  Compare that to 14 for the democrats.  During that entire time, they did next to nothing.  Sure, they campaigned on it like mad, but the weren't playing the cards, they were playing the game, playing the people.  In the same time, they pushed abstinence only education.  Yet, we have the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world!  They started like three wars.  You know what kills more innocent people than abortions?  WARS!!!

The democrats on the other hand want to pass out condoms, a method which tends to prevent a lot of pregnancies.  The democrats typically lift the poor, which tends to prevent a lot of unwanted pregnancies.  The democrats better fund education, education tends to prevent pregnancy.  Democrats want to provide health care, good health insurance pays for contraception, a reliable method of preventing pregnancy.  Democrats want to provide comprehensive sex education, which has the same effect as any other education like I mentioned before.  But most of them still want abortion to be legal.

The republicans didn't mention abortion because they don't care about it.  What did they mention?  They mentioned taxes, budgets, power, majority, taking things back, taking over, guns, and cuts to everything but the military.  But they didn't mention abortion.  They don't care and they won't do ANYTHING!

It's a card, and you don't play cards, you play people.

If you are a single issue voter, you are being played, and quite successfully.  Congratulations.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fair Tax

Surely, you’ve heard of the fair tax.  It’s big in libertarian circles and in many conservative ones as well.  It is an initiative to replace federal income tax with a federal sales tax.  Proponents say that it taxes wealth, that it is progressive on consumption.  A “prebate” would be paid up to the poverty level to compensate the poor.

I have a few problems with it however.

On the surface, it sounds like a great idea.  Think about it, you get a check to pay for the tax up to the poverty level, and if you spend more, you pay more tax.  Buy a Kia, and you pay Kia tax, buy a Bugatti and you pay Bugatti tax.  But it’s not really progressive on consumption is it?   A progressive tax is one that is greater on greater amounts of money.  A properly instituted progressive tax is the only truly “fair” tax.  The “Fair Tax” is a constant 33% tax, and no matter how much you spend, a regressive tax (one that is more advantageous to the wealthy because they have a much greater amount of money to pay it) still is inequitably applied to those less able to afford it.

Let’s take a few minutes to understand the differences between progressive and regressive taxes.  Let’s make up a few people, some hypothetical circumstances, and use them to understand this issue.  They will all live in Oregon so there aren’t additional sales taxes to bother with calculating.

Person A, we’ll call him Abe, is a low wage earner.  He graduated high school but was unable to attend college and now works delivering Xerox copy machine supplies for 25,000 a year.  Scrimping and saving and being a good steward of his money, he is able to fully fund his Roth IRA with $5000 every year.  The current federal poverty level is $11,000 and under the “Fair Tax” plan, he would receive a prebate for the tax he spent on buying stuff with that money.  He spends $5000 per year on rent and various non-taxed payments and spends the remaining money on what he needs to survive.  The money he has to pay taxes in is thus $4000.  With the “Fair Tax” he will spend $23 out of every $100 spent on sales tax and will be paying $920 in taxes.  That figures to be 3.7% of his income.

Person B we will call Bill.  He is an engineer and makes $100,000 a year.  He fully funds his Roth IRA, spends $25,000 on his house which he is buying and will own and on other non-taxed stuff.  He is also able to invest $10,000 which yields a return of 10%.  Like Abe, he doesn’t have to pay taxes on that $11,000 and so he has to pay taxes on $49,000.  Thus he pays a total of $11,270 in tax, 11.3% of his income.

Person C, Cal does pretty well.  He is a CEO of a company and makes 1,000,000.  He lives reasonably and invests 500,000 at a rate of 10% return.  He spends another $200,000 on things that aren’t taxed leaving $300,000 in taxed expenditures.  He will pay $69000 in tax, 6.9% of his income.

Person D, Don does really well.  He is one of those Wall Street CEO’s you hear about and he makes 50,000,000 a year.  He is able to live on about 10% of that a year and the rest is reinvested at a rate of 10%.  He pays tax on that 10% of his income that is spent and will pay $1,150,000 in tax, 2.3% of his income.  As you can see, if Don chose to, he could stop working altogether and live on the returns from his investments at his current level of comfort.

Finally I will tell you about Person E, Ed.  He founded a software company that went huge and he now makes a sh!t ton of money.  He makes 10,000,000,000 but he only lives on $100,000,000 of it in lavish opulent wealth.  He pays 23,000,000 in tax, 0.23% of his income.  Because he is able to invest so much, he gets $900,000,000 from the investments he made last year, increasing his income to 10,900,000,000, and his actual tax rate is 0.21%.

Do you see where this is going?  The more you make, the less of it you need to live on.  I could make a billion dollars a year and still live in my same house and drive my same motorcycle.  I could not do that when I was working for Xerox.  Yes, the poor get a better deal under the “Fair Tax” because they make less, but the poor currently pay virtually no tax, and in truth often get Earned Income Tax Credits.  The “Fair Tax” wants to tax them.  It places a burden upon them they already can’t carry.  I know I didn’t include it, but the rich guys still get the prebates like everyone else!

Regressive taxes work that way.  As you may have picked up in this analysis, high earners can also afford to invest a large amount of their money and through that earn even more.  I can’t do that, I have to spend a quite large fraction of my family income on a house and cars to get to work and school and food, and speaking of school, I have tens of thousands of dollars in student loans still out there.  By the time I graduate, I’m basically going to be a house and a half in debt.
With a single sales tax rate, you can’t make this tax progressive in the long run.  Even if you jacked the “poverty level” up to $100,000, it would still be a boon for the ultra-rich.  Consider this also:  the “Fair Tax” is supposed to increase the rate of investment.  Who benefits the most from increased rates of investment?  A related question: Who would benefit the most from the privatization of Social Security?  The Wall Street people benefit, the ones who already have vast amounts of money and like to play with it in ways detrimental to all of us.  Either way, they win, commoners lose, the middle class pays more money and bears the burden.  Just like today, the tax rate for capital gains is only 15%.  Who makes the most in capital gains but the ones who have capital, the wealthy.  It’s another system, a gift of the Bush Tax Cuts, which empowers the rich to concentrate wealth and allow them to get out the door without paying their tab.  It truly is “redistribution of wealth”.  But the wealth is going upward.

A properly instituted progressive income tax is the only logical solution.  Consider the great age of our country.  The greatest time for the advancement of civil rights, the greatest time for the advancement of workers rights, the creation of social security, Medicare, the EPA and all of that good stuff.  During that time, the top marginal tax rate was between 70-90%!

Libertarian ideas work in a window.  I’ve said that before.  And you must realize, this is a libertarian idea, and it does work, but only in a small window.  That window reaches up to a million dollars or so and down to a few tens of thousand.  But like other libertarian ideas, if you’re on the low end of the hill, the system works against you, and if you are on the top of the hill, the system works in favor of you.  A properly balanced system will work FOR you.

Be concerned about who pushes ideas.  This is not a bi-partisan idea.  This is a conservative libertarian republican idea.  It benefits the insanely wealthy the most, and the commoner the least.  Most right wing ideas do.

Finally, I’m not gonna tear down an idea without offering one in its place.  It’s a modern version of what we had in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. 
The amount of tax on the amount of money made below the state poverty level is tax free. 
The money made between that and 40,000 is taxed at 10%.  The amount made between 40k and 60k is taxed at 15%. 
The amount made between 60k and 80k is taxed at 20%. 
The amount between $80k and 100k is taxed at 25%. 
The amount between $100,000 and $250,000 is taxed at 30%. 
Between 250k and $1M is taxed at 50 %. 
Between $1million and $2 million is taxed at 60 %.  Between $2 million and 100 million is taxed at 75%. 
Finally, the amount above $1 billion is taxed at 90%. 
Additionally, there is no distinction made between earned income and capital gains.  It counts for total income, anything that you get during the year that you didn’t have at the beginning of the year.

This plan represents a pretty decent tax break for anyone making less than $250,000 which is in line with Obama’s current plans, and sets a truly progressive tax system which will make our system work again like the libertarians want it to work now.  It’s not that I think they are lying and want to destroy our economy, I really think they have the best interests of the country at heart, they are simply fundamentally mistaken about the results of their plans.

Now don’t take this as gospel truth, I definitely plan on revising this in the future and making and spreadsheet and all that, but this is just something to show you in which direction we should be going, and how to get to a place where you really can rise above if you put your mind to it.  

Remember, it is far better to make a billion dollars at 90% tax than it is to make 100,000 at 10%.  Higher taxes on the rich is not punishing them for making more money, it’s requiring them to pay for their footprint in the world. 

Equal is regressive.  Equitable is progressive.  The “Fair Tax” is not fair.