Monday, September 27, 2010

Constitution calls for equal treatment, and that includes marriage | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Last year, my first foray into the realm of public political persuasion was an e-mail letter to the editors of my local daily newspaper, the Portland Press Herald.  The purpose of my letter: To rebut an opinion espoused by M. D. Harmon, the social conservative, Christian right representative of that paper's editorial board.  Often his opinions are a lot of dogmatic turd-polishing in defense of positions that seem indefensible to me.

I know, I know: reverting to name-calling isn't particularly productive when trying to have civil discourse... but Mr. Harmon's views, not to mention a certain smugness that seems born of ideological blindness, tend to hit a raw nerve in me.

That, and I have a hard time coming up with a more succinct & accurate term than turd-polishing for his kind of pabulum. At some point, I will have to search the Thesaurus for some less inflammatory moniker. In the meantime, I suspect in private that Mr. Harmon has similarly pejorative labels for my views (what's a modern slang word for heretical sinner?), or worse. So I guess we're even.


Mr. Harmon was crowing about the then recent repeal of Maine's marriage equality legislation via public referendum. He claimed the results were indicative of some sort of tipping point in public opinion & political direction that would surely snuff out the immoral & quixotic [in his mind, anyway] march towards gay marriage rights.

Simultaneously, he was sniffling & boo-hooing about how all his narrow-minded fellow social conservative ideologues were being mistreated by the left, professing that liberals & progressives were unfairly characterizing their position as bigoted. I found this combination of conservative triumphalism & shallow "woe is me" victim-ism too much to bear silently. I wanted to rip this guy a new asshole, which - considering his obvious homophobia - seemed the appropriately ironic outcome.

Apparently, Mr. Harmon's boss doesn't like him any more than I do. They requested I re-write my letter into a full-blown opinion editorial to be published under Maine Voices section of their Sunday sister paper, the Maine Sunday Telegram. They even made me provide sources for statistical claims. Which I provided.

So I wrote this:

You should have seen the comments that the on-line version received. It's too bad the Press Herald's web site doesn't archive them [only the original article is still on-line].

There were a couple of good faith, albeit thinly reasoned, moderate replies who insisted that I was wrong to name their anti-gay marriage stance as bigotry. Their basic argument went something like this:

  • We do not hate gays.
  • We do not intend unfair discrimination.
  • We just cannot fathom the concept of a marriage involving same-gendered persons [usually for reasons of faith]. 
  • Accordingly, we cannot support allowing gays & lesbians to marry.
  •  Thus, because we do not hate and do not intend to be unfair (i.e., no malicious intent), our vote against gay marriage rights is not "bigoted".
When I countered that the definitional characteristic of the word bigot was an obstinate & intolerant devotion to one's own opinions or prejudices, I never heard from then again.

At the same time, not a single commenter even attempted to rebut my Constitutional argument.

I can only assume they concede the point. Or, more likely, they have no real respect for our Constitution. These guys really don't get that fundamental rights are not (or, at least, are not supposed to be) subject to popular vote in a referendum. What are rights, if they are subject to being vetoed by the whimsy of popular vote?

A vast majority of the responding comments were, however, zealous and unabashed taunts & vitriolic gay-bashing. I was stunned at the viciousness & ferocity. Only a razor's edge separated many of them from the recent "All f*ggots must die" remark that one of Sen. Saxby Chambliss' staffers offered up on-line after the successful filibuster of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell vote. And, all the while, professing to be true Christians.

Really? I have trouble reconciling Jesus Christ's "turn the other cheek" morality with the vitriol offered up in defense of their position. I offer a reasoned Constitutional argument as to why their position is untenable, opine that the greater value is equality for all in law, and term their refusal to acknowledge such is bigotry, and their chief reply is intolerant hate-speech. Kinda proves my point.

Why do people who claim to be Christians align themselves with such clear evil?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Left2Right: Anderson on Political Economy

Tea Baggers like to argue, vociferously, that government taxation is somehow an unjust and immoral taking of their private property.

To them, their private incomes & property are theirs (and theirs alone!).  In their eyes, liberals must believe that the government must own all the property to begin with, and could by rights confiscate it from its [apparently temporary] possessors. (Gasp! The dreaded spectre of socialism or communism - i.e., the state owning all the means of production -is raising it's ugly head again! Quick... where's Joe McCarthy when you need him?)

No wonder they hate us so much?

What a bunch of hogwash.  Turd-polishing at it's finest!

In the linked article below, Elizabeth Anderson, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan, demolishes the espoused underpinnings of Tea Baggers' logical & philosophical objections to taxation.  Anderson treats us to a detailed examination, among other things, of John Locke's Second Treatise of Goverment,  which the far right is wont to recite when it suits their purpose. 

No wonder Tea Baggers hate intellectuals so much?

Left2Right: Anderson on Political Economy: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Facebook (1) | Olivia-Graham wedding

I love my kids SOOOOO much!

This my favorite photo from my oldest son's recent wedding. Quintessentially Bozatic. And quintessentially Whiskey-fueled, shark-fighting lucidity.

Facebook (1) | Olivia-Graham wedding: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Now if we all could just pitch in to make this world as promising as our parents want for their children...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Pox on Both Your Houses

Republicons (misspelling wholly intentional), having proven themselves wholly incapable of:
- competent governance,
- serious fiscal responsibility,
- impartial stewardship of the economy,
- intelligent command of the armed forces,
- engaged foreign policy,
- honest defense of the Constitution,
- or anything else that should matter in a representative democracy such as our Constitutional Republic -

... have spent the last two years acting like the spoiled neighborhood rich kid who grew up as only child of overly-doting parents. 

Lacking siblings while simultaneously having had his every petulant demand appeased by libertine custodians, he never learned to share. Inadequately socialized from isolated, privately-tutored home-schooling [likely featuring a religiously-inspired curriculum - God forbid he should endure the purging miasma of a public education], he never learned the social skills or cooperative spirit required to function in society.

So, when confronted by the prospect of being the last one picked for the neighborhood sandlot baseball game, he pouts and throws a temper tantrum, grabs his bats, balls and gloves, declares he's going home and walks off in a huff.

The ball game, of course, has to be canceled, since he's got all the gear.

And this is exactly what the Republicons have chosen to do since Obama was elected President.  They have sat on their hands, and have done absolutely nothing except obstruct, obfuscate and occasionally outright lie to prevent the political process from moving forward.  The rest of us be damned.  That's the plan, anyway.

This petty abdication of responsibility compels me to vow:  Never again.  I don't see how I could ever vote for a Republican again.  The neighborhood brat is never invited to play ball again.

Which leaves me, for the present with only one significant alternative:  the Democrats.

What about the so-called Tea Baggers, er, Party, you ask?

It is not a party at all.  I am not quite sure what it is.

It seems largely ill-informed and intolerant, to the point of seemingly championing ignorance.  How else do you explain the preponderance of 9-11 Truthers and anti-Obama Birthers, Islamophobes, gay bashers and Stormfront racists?  When did ignorance become a virtue?  For that matter, when did fear, intolerance and hate become All-American values?

It professes love for, variously:
- freedom/liberty (who doesn't?),
- the Constitution (ditto),
- low taxes (Here! Here!.. but, lower than what?  And, by the way, why is it that my income, earned as salary by the sweat of my brow in an IT job, gets taxed at a higher rate than income earned by a hedge fund manager or a trust fund baby living off the dividends & capital gains of a legacy that incentivizes dependency far more effectively than any government welfare program?),
- limited government and minimal regulation (ok, but can we maybe at least talk about optimal government/regulation at some point?).

Simultaneously, it uses:
- loud-mouthed bully tactics (remember the town hall meetings during recess on Health Care legislation?),
- threatens violence ("2nd Amendment remedies"), and
- ignores legitimate public/societal needs (almost as if they didn't believe there was such a thing as a "Common Weal", i.e., the Public Good, nor [sometimes] that there are values other than economic ones).

It claims grass-roots foundations, but appears to be largely funded, promoted and guided by a small cabal of small-minded, self-interested turd polishers & billionaire string-pullers. Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, the Koch Bros. Americans for Prosperity; Rupert Murdoch's Fox News & the attendant legion of right-wing sycophant anti-journalists.  Like the bedazzled citizens of Emerald City awed by pyrotechnics, Tea Baggers don't seem interested in looking behind the curtain.

It is certainly angry.  I even share some of their anger.  Some of it. 

But being angry doesn't mean I've lost my mind and decided to toss critical thinking out the window.  
- Christine O'Donnell? (Believes, among other things, that masturbation is adultery, and that US scientists have cloned mice with fully functioning human brains.  'Nuff said.)
- Sharon Angle? (Believes, among other things, that Social Security, Medicare, the Dept. of Education and a large number of other generally accepted governmental functions & programs should be eliminated.)
- Rand Paul? (an ideological Libertarian who refuses to recognize the impracticality and/or of certain Libertarian principles, if they were to be fully implemented & taken to their logical conclusion... ergo, his remarks re: repealing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)
- Joe Miller? (Believes unemployment insurance/compensation is unconstitutional.)
- Sarah Palin ?  (Walked away from her responsibilities as Governor of Alaska, revels in her lack of policy knowledge and/or critical thinking ability,
- Carl Paladino?  (Are you kidding me?)
- Newt Gingrich? (What ever happened to the thinking-Newt?  Now he's a Clash of Civilizations, anti-Muslim warmonger?  Oh, that's right, it's always been culture warrior-Newt.)
- [here in Maine] Paul LePage?  (Creationist, property tax cheat, clearly no ideas of his own [standard Republicon Contract On America playbook], and almost as big a loud-mouthed bully as Carl Paladino.)

From an economic perspective, collectively their policy prescriptions seem to me to be warmed over versions the very same schemes that brought us to this point in the first place.  Or worse (e.g., Occam's Razor-defying Creationism,, Justice-impaired Zero Tax Rate on Capital Gains;  Freedom-challenged No Exceptions Ban on Abortion, Poverty-blind Unfettered Laissez-Faire Corporatism).

The Romans would call it a mob.
And we all know how that ended [hint, in case you forgot: The Dark Ages soon followed.]

At the end of the day, the Tea Party, despite its profuse professions to the contrary, seems very much to me like the Republican Party's illegitimate little brother... with anger issues & inadequate coping skills.

But, I digress:  I wanted to talk about the Democrats.

The Democrats have a long-standing reputation, at least during my lifetime, of being like a herd of cats.  Have you ever tried herding cats?   Not a pretty sight.  Also, they have a reputation for being afraid of their own shadows.  Especially lately.

Now - having been virtually handed a near-certain legislative victory by Minority Leader Boehner's concession that even he, too, would vote for extension of the middle class tax cuts being trumpeted by the Obama administration and allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% to expire, if that were all that were on the table - we learn that the Democrats have decided to call it quits, for now, on taking a vote on just that very issue.


I sent an e-mail to Chellie Pingree, my Congresswoman, asking why.  Are Blue Dogs, who claim to be concerned about the deficit above almost all other issues, really as hypocritical as their Republicon brethren? Also, I gave Chellie a couple suggestions, while I was at it.  I would share it in its entirety, but this is a family blog. Sort of.

Long story made short: 
If the Democrats cannot pull themselves together to extend middle-class tax cuts, while allowing the cuts for the 2% to expire, before the mid-terms, they are done. 

Or, as The Axe, a die-hard Yankees (ugh!) fan & frequent caller to the local sports talk radio show, likes to say:
Done, done!

Pull it together, Dems, or I may start taking a vow against you, too.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stop! Hey... What's that sound? Everyone look what's goin' round...

In the course of my many, sometimes aggravating, discussions with some of my right-leaning, self-identified conservative Republicon friends, the idea of a 'flat tax' often gets floated as a reform to our inefficient & presumably unfair system of taxation.

The idea of a progressive tax has garnered support from economists and political scientists of many different ideologies - ranging from Adam Smith to Karl Marx, although there are differences of opinion about the optimal level of progressivity. Some economists trace the origin of modern progressive taxation to Adam Smith, who wrote in The Wealth of Nations:
The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

My friends don't seem to know this.  Neither the historical origins of progressive taxation, nor the logic involved (nor moral basis, for that matter).  Something I learned in my freshmen Macro Econ 102 course, some 30+ years ago, and which had [apparently mistakenly] assumed was general public knowledge.  Wikipedia has a relatively succinct summary of the historically offered pros & cons here [referenced with all the necessary caveats & disclaimers about Wiki-sourced information].

After I explained the arguments - both pro and con, as best I know them, including economic, political and other behavioral aspects - my friends would always nod in diffuse agreement, smile politely and revert back to explaining why they still thought a flat tax was a good idea.  My powers of persuasion need honing, I guess.

I've always wondered why so many of them seem to think similarly?

Emmanuel Saez, recipient of the 2009 John Bates Clark Medal, which is awarded to "that American economist under the age of forty who is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge", concludes in seminal research on the U.S. federal tax system, that:

[I]n contrast to the standard political economy, the progressivity of the current tax system is not being shaped by the self-interest of the median voter.
How Progressive is the U.S. Federal Tax System? A Historical and International Perspective
by Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez
Journal of Economic Perspectives - Vol. 21, No. 1 - Winter 2007 - ppg. 3-24

[Echos of my mind.  I wonder if Saez & Piketty listened to Emerson, Lake & Palmer in their youth, like me?]

What then IS shaping the current U.S. tax system?

Is the standard political economy model flawed?  Quite possibly. 

Is the median voter ignoring his or her own obvious self-interest?  Very Probably.

If so, has the median voter suddenly become universally altruistic regarding the distribution of relative tax burdens?  Very Doubtful.

One obvious speculation might be, given that:
  • the progressivity of the U.S. federal tax system at the top (e.g., typically the top 1% of all taxpayers) has declined sharply since the 1960s; 
  • [perhaps not coincidentally also a time frame when] the income inequality gap (whether measured on a pre-tax or post-tax basis] has steadily widened to record - some might say obscene? -  proportions, not seen since the late 1920s run up to the Great Depression,  in favor of the wealthiest, highest-earning segment of U.S., 
 ... perhaps the median voter's self-interests are being obfuscated, confused and ultimately overwhelmed by a decades-long campaign of unproven and [perhaps] unprovable claims flowing from these hidden, moneyed interests? 

Somehow the billionaire Koch Bros. & like-minded economic conservatives, through literally years and years of underwriting such innocuous sounding & purportedly independent opinion-shaping institutions as:
- Freedom Works,
- the Heritage Foundation,
- the Cato Institute,
- the Club for Growth and
- Americans for Prosperity
(by no means an anywhere near comprehensive list)

... have convinced the populous at large that reducing the progressivity of the tax system for the ultra-rich [if not eliminating it altogether] somehow produces supply-side economic benefits of such tremendous magnitude that the median voter's self-interest parallels that of Goldman Sachs.

Notwithstanding evidence to the contrary. [A topic for a different blog posting at a later date.]