May 2nd, 2012


Stephen King: Tax the FUCK out of me!

OK so another rich person has broken ranks and is spitting in the symbolic eye of the GOP, who holds people like him up on a pedestal. 

Only he goes further and shreds Good Old Gov. Christy aka Santa Claus and his "shut up and write a check" dismissal of The Buffet Plan.

And this ain't no fiction, but it is a horror story.

From Comrade King:

Cut a check and shut up, they said.

If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.

Tired of hearing about it, they said.

Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar.

Made in China
Lighter Fluid (Made in China)

The read is entertaining and reinforces some common sense realities (unless you are an apologist for the GOP, where you can take a cue from Christy, and dismiss those not in lock-step with your view).

So, does his position on the fantasy that is 'jobs creation' change anyone's mind? Still want to argue 'trickle down'? I say it, again, like so many other posts this week have shown, we need to either tax the fuck out of the rich, again, or take a big chunk of a billionaire's estate in tax, and put if back into the coffers from whence it beget. So the infrastructure can be maintained for the next generation of billionaires to EARN wealth as opposed to INHERITED wealth.

I'll settle for either.
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The Captain's Prop

Playing with Google

I've got a favor to ask. Right now, click over to Google and search "oil supply." Make sure you type it in verbatim.

Then, share the first web site Google supplies you in a comment below. I'm curious about who gets what results as the top-ranked choice. Trust me, from what I've read this could very well lead to a lively discussion.

Addendum: To comply with Rule 8 (which I was until now unaware; sorry Ab), let me note that this exercise is a completely non-scientific attempt to confirm or deny Eli Pariser's observation from the introduction to his book, The Filter Bubble.

If his observation is confirmed, I posit that a lack of repeatability in Google search results—especially if that lack swings wildly—might exacerbate discussions of topical issues by presenting any given web-based reality through hyper-customized filters, filters of which the user is probably unaware. Individuals would then be able to point to their Google results and scream "See! You're once again proven an IDIOT!!!" to each other; absent knowledge of the filters, each person would be absolutely correct that the other was, indeed, being an idiot.

Later Addendum: Since the Wiki entry on the issue has obviously gotten too much traction to show variance, I'm going to let this sucker die the deletion death and work on another way to show either confirmation or denial of Pariser's observation. Maybe selecting the second or third choice would be better, and maybe something that isn't currently covered in Wiki. Although finding such a beast would be amazingly difficult; why don't they have a Wiki entry on topics not covered in Wiki? People could just check them off as the new entries were written. I mean, duh, seems like a no-brainer, right?

Thanks for your brief attention.

Preventing financial meltdowns.

It's often been said of libertarians that we only tear down in a very ideological and un-intellectual way, and to that the detractors are not entirely without a case. Patrolling the old stomping grounds on the libertarian boards yields no shortage of true believers who rely only upon the mantra and never delving into the nuts and bolts that comes with the territory of actually making a persuasive argument.

[Spoiler (click to open)]I am posting this video in an effort to make an affirmative case for an alternative attitude that doesn't fit into what I would call any ideological model (it should have things in it that are disagreeable to all comers here most likely. I know I myself have to give a lot more thought on the video before I could say I agree or disagree with some specific aspects of it).

I do not know if Tim Harford is a libertarian or not and I don't particularly care. There are some conclusions he comes to later in the video that I can certainly see some of those closer to my end of the political divide might not fully agree with. He does at least make an argument in the following video for a few solutions you don't hear talked about often and hopefully by posting it here it might generate a conversation that isn't the standard one that revolves around all those infuriating mantras and the equally infuriating snarky counter-mantras.

A few ideas I hope to generate discussion around: Things that are complex and "coupled" as the video defines them. The decoupling of complex systems, the extent coupled complexity is harmful, and what can be done to mitigate those problems that can utilize the understanding of complexity to its advantage rather than just adding layers of complexity to satiate the desire for safety, be it in the physical world or the financial one.

For my part, I think that not only decoupling, but methods and ideas the focus on that as well as decentralization and diffusion are at least worth investigating seriously. I also have a preference for the idea (preferable to the one that makes up the current popular ideas of financial regulation) that dealing on an individual level with banks to determine what their institutions' required reserves should be is better than one-size fits all, in the same way I think that dealing with individual student's issues is better than zero-tolerance policies that have zero nuance to them. Many of the complexities, as Harford notes, are there for tax purposes, not structural ones. Again, that doesn't make the financial system not-complex anymore, but it may address some of the ways we end up with dangerous systemic situations that necessarily go beyond the emotional responses to the situation, which while completely understandable, are nonetheless also completely unhelpful on their own.

*Fair warning to the mods- I am not going to be able to be around very much the remainder of the week, but I may still check in to read responses if there are any who make it through the long time the video takes to watch. -

For everyone else, I do hope at least a few of the community takes the time to watch it. It's rarely boring. Harford to my ear does have a way of keeping the listener going. You can even listen to it in the background while doing other things.

5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds

5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds

It appears that even some of our esteemed colleagues from this above-average forum have fallen prey to the tactics described in the linked article. I hope that you can look at yourselves honestly and analyze whether you have succumbed to the lure of popular media and team politics or not. No one can tell you whether you are in the pool with the rest of them, but take some time somewhere along the way and be a little introspective about why you think the way you do and where your opinions are coming from. And keep in mind that the media is not your friend.

Partisan politics is not just a function of certain groups. The media keeps the game going too, mainly to keep the feelings of anger and offense going so that they can make money. (There's some secondary reasons too, of course.) So, is the solution to fix the media or to fix the consumers? Fixing the media isn't likely to happen, as they are just responding to how people work. Fixing the consumers isn't likely to happen as people generally aren't introspective and aren't aware that they are being manipulated, but that is where I do try to put some effort into waking people up (even those who are aware that they aren't aware and don't care to change). Or do you have a third option?

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops condemn Rep. Ryan budget plan....

In a letter written on April 17, 2012, the Roman Catholic Bishops condemned proposed budget cuts to social safety net programs, including food stamps calling the cuts "immoral." On April 4, Bishop Blaire cautioned that “at a time when the need for assistance from [affordable housing] programs is growing, cutting funds for them could cause thousands of individuals and families to lose their housing and worsen the hardship of thousands more in need of affordable housing.” 1. The letter also said such cuts are immoral because they threaten human life and dignity, and any proposed budget should consider how it would affect "the least of these." (Matthew 25).

[More behind here y'all]

Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times Just solutions, however, must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs.2

Rep. Ryan (who is a practicing Roman Catholic) tried last week to justify his draconian budget cuts and political philosophy during an interview on the evangelical Christian Broadcasting Network 3: Ryan claimed Catholic principles formed the basis of his budget:

The preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence.4

The Ryan plan gets nearly 60 percent of all its cuts from programs that help the poor and unemployed, "it would kick millions out of SNAP, (the federal food stamp program) and would gut the Women, Infant, and Children nutrition program. Food stamps lifted millions of women and children out of poverty in 2009, while tax credits and other programs benefiting low-income families (which could be cut by Ryan’s plan to end such credits) kept millions of women and children out of poverty. And it guts Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, ignoring the Church’s teachings on health care." 5

Then the real fun started: Catholic church leaders reacted quickly and harshly to Ryan's justification by using church teachings has been fast and quick. On April 24, over 100 priests and faculty members of Georgetown University called a press conference to condemn Ryan's misrepresentation of Christian values and his profound misreading Church teaching:

Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. We would be remiss in our duties to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.6

The teachers also were quick to point out Rep. Ryan picked a single statement from Pope Benedict to justify his statement, but willfully ignored a large body of church writings, recent statements of several popes and even the Gospels themselves. The current pope, who is no screaming liberal has outright called for redistribution of wealth, a quote that Rep. Ryan is unaware of:

Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty (21).

Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution(36).7

Rep. Ryan tried to brush off any previous connections to Ayn Rand, and been influenced by her philosophy. But he must have forgotten this little speech:

I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff… The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”
- Representative Paul Ryan, February 2, 2005

Last year, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released a report calling for significant world banking system reforms. "It’s a fierce denunciation of the free-market theology embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike, and likely to put more than a few Catholic politicians in the uncomfortable position of either ignoring or downplaying the Vatican’s position on financial reform." 8

I think this is a fantastic turn of events, just a few weeks ago, right wing conservatives were using the Catholic Church as a proxy in the war on "Obamacare," and the church is now taking a very aggressive push-back against one of the fundamental principles of conservative thinking on economics and as John-Paul II called it, "the idolatry of the market." I have personal disagreements on the Church as a practicing Roman Catholic, but the church for me is at its most inspired (literally) when it writes on the fundamental rights and dignity of the poor and on world peace and social justice. "If you want peace, work for justice."


Georgetown University's Father Thomas Reese finds discrepancies between Catholic doctrine and Paul Ryan's fiscal ministry, and explains that in an interview on The Colbert Report (Unfortunately the video will not embed, please click on the image to view it.)

Report by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on the Global Economy. The report calls for major reforms to the world banking system, and calls for a tax on financial transactions to be used in creating social justice for the poor. When Rep. Ryan was questioned about the Pontifical Commission report, he dodged specific answers and finally settled on some sort of moral-relativism.

Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).



1. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops letter "Federal Budget Choices Must Protect Poor, Vulnerable People, Says U.S. Bishops’ Conference."


3. The Christian Broadcasting Network, founded by former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson (he prayed hurricane Gloria away from Virginia in the 1980s.

4. Source:"Paul Ryan Cites Catholic Social Teaching To Defend Budget That Ignores It." by Travis Waldron April 10, 2012.

5. ibid

6. U.S. News article "Paul Ryan's budget plan inspired by Ayn Rand, not Jesus Christ."

7. Faith in Public Life article "Why Pope Benedict Disagrees with Paul Ryan on Income Inequality, Economic Principles" by Nick Sementelli, October 28, 2011.

8. Time magazine article: "The Vatican’s Radical Ideas on Financial Reform" by Amy Sullivan, October 24, 2011.
Quaero togam pacem.

NATO and the Afghan opium

So, Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, and promised bright days ahead. That's nice of course. Some would argue it's meant to give an encouraging gesture to the military who've been stuck there for over a decade, and are feeling a bit strained already. Others would argue it's part of his election campaign, i.e. a populist stunt (although Romney seems to be happy with Obama's visit). Either way, the event warrants some more thinking on the Afghani "issue".

NATO's military operation in Afghanistan was sold as the spearhead of the war on terror, the bad guys in this movie being represented by Al Qaeda and their sinister accomplices around the world. So far so good. And granted, despite the painfully endless duration of this war (now the longest US war in history), and the rising negative attitude of the locals to the actions of the coalition, and the constant problems with the "lesser" allies who don't seem very enthusiastic about sending new reinforcements to the region, as a whole (at least in the words of the NATO leadership) the operation has been viewed as mostly successful. Not exactly Mission Accomplished, but still it has brought some results.

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