Tuesday, February 22, 2005

By Request...

Popular demand has requested that I post more often. And by "popular demand" I mean Ben. Thus the title change.

Anyway, my thought of the day is this: does anyone actually believe Bush when he says he harbors no intentions of attacking Iran? Didn't he say that about Iraq too?

Also, why the HELL have we done nothing about Darfur so far? I would think that if there were any situation that called for unilateral military action, this is it. And yet, it seems to be rapidly vanishing from the front page of the paper. Given a choice between bullying Iran and stopping genocide, it's a no-brainer.

Also, Bush's budget. Poor people don't need health care anyway. Let's build more three-billion-dollar bombs. America: Fuck Yeah.

A budget rant will be forthcoming - just thought I'd get that one little bit off my chest.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Indecent Proposals

Blogging from Washington. If you want to see me and/or Danielle this weekend, let me know.

Anyway, in all the hullaballoo this week about Social Security, the death of the former Lebanese PM, and the nomination of John Negroponte for intel czar, two repulsive laws got through Congressional houses by absurd margins.

The first is a law stiffening penalties for "indecency." So, basically, if the FCC doesn't like what you're broadcasting, they can fine you even more for it. That's comforting. I guess 386 representatives - including my own David Price, who I usually agree with on most things - want to do my thinking for me. Hell, I'm not even sure I see the rationale for this law. I just don't understand what's driving this whole "decency" movement - and I'm usually able to at least see the other side of an argument, even if I don't agree with it. Someone please tell me why the FCC should be able to fine a broadcaster simply because they feel like it.

The second is a law that makes it harder for class action suits to be filed against corporations by moving them to overcrowded federal courts. Seventy-three senators voted to "fix" a system that ain't really broke. For every wacked-out lawsuit out there, there's another thirty that have merit that don't get to court. So quit whining, Corporate America.

You know, the biggest problem with torts is that corporations file too many frivolous ones to discourage individuals from challenging them. So to Republicans, and to half the Democrats, the fix is to make it harder for individuals to sue corporations. Yeah, that makes sense. I guess Republicans have had enough of courts holding corporations responsible for their actions. Gotta give those poor mistreated businessmen another free ride. And don't try to use that lame-ass excuse of how excessive torts hurt the economy. That's a load of crap and you know it.

What really annoys me is that there is a section of law that needs to be reformed - patent law. Currently, patents are so easy for Big Business to get that any innovation probably infringes on some patent, somewhere, somehow. As a result, competition and innovation - the twin engines of a capitalist economy - are both stifled. But this issue is too arcane to make headlines, and probably won't get addressed any time soon. So on with the bullshit, Congress.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Scary Fact of the Day

Time published a fact that will send chills down the spine of anyone who cares about our civil liberties:

- 74% of high-school students believe that people should not be allowed to burn or deface the American flag to make a political statement.

- 36% of high-school students believe that newspapers should get government approval before printing a story.

Which raises the question: do they even teach the First Amendment in schools anymore?

The first number I can understand, since September 11 was part of these kids' formative years - hopefully they can temper their emotional attachment to the flag with a healthy dose of First Amendment understanding as the memories of the attacks recede. But the latter number is scary, even if a significant amount of students were just fooling around when they filled in the bubbles.

Your grain of salt for the day: no error margin was listed. It's a USA Today poll, and those are usually +/- 4%.

Your other grain of salt: these kids are in an environment - high school - where authority does control the media. That probably warps the numbers a little bit - we should consider that an unknown number of respondents gave their answers out of sheer complacency. Which is just as dangerous, really.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Best Of Thirteen Sisters...

Beware, good citizens of Virginia - the House of Delegates is trying to get into your pants.

The Virginia House has passed a bill that would make it a $50 fine to wear pants that show your underwear in public. No word yet on how this affects swimsuits, which essentially are underwear. Or the Jefferson Senior Streak. Or if leaving your fly open counts. Either way, should the Senate follow suit, cops will now have an excuse to stare at your booty.

I hear the next bill under consideration is a proposal to change the state motto from "Sic Semper Tyrannis" to "Sic Semper Underwear."

And a word from my father: "Thank goodness, these guardians of the right and holy are able to ignore phony issues like transportation, vehicle taxation, revenue problems and the like and attack the truly important problems."

Here's the Post's Marc Fisher on the issue.

Sweet, sweet Virginia, always keeps an open door...

Monday, February 07, 2005

Tax "Reform"

Another cornerstone of Bush's domestic agenda is tax "reform" - code for another tax cut. It will be given in the guise of the simplification of the tax laws, something that even I admit would be a good thing.

Bush's ideas seem to revolve around a couple of ideas, both of which are bad. The first is a "flat" tax, something that's been kicked around since the Gingrich era and even before. On the surface, this seems fair. Everyone pays a certain percentage of what they make, no ifs, ands, or buts. The rich pay more since they make more; the poor pay less since they make less. Everybody's happy, right?

Wrong. What flat tax advocates fail to realize is that as income decreases, the percentage of your income spent on essentials increases. So taxing someone who makes $20,000 a year and someone who makes $200,000 a year at the same rate is absurd - in the first case, you're taking away money spent on food, rent, water, and other necessary expenditures, while in the second case you're taking away disposable income that would otherwise be spent on luxury items (or saved). A flat tax, then, would hit the poor far harder than the rich, and lead to more income disparity.

Bush's second idea - a national sales tax - would be even dumber. Sales taxes are the ultimate in regressive taxes, since they tax necessary purchases and luxury items the same. Since the poor, by necessity, spend a higher percentage of their income, they will be taxed at a higher rate than those who can afford to save and invest. Fortunately, the idea of a national sales tax seems DOA in Congress.

I agree that the tax code needs to be simplified, if for no other reason than to make compliance a lot easier. However, some semblance of progressivity needs to remain if we are to have a fair tax system. Since I don't believe in disparaging Bush's solution without providing one of my own, I propose the following: a flat tax based on disposable income. "Living wage" information is available for most jurisdictions - these data can be used to calculate the least amount of income necessary to survive for a given family situation in a given place. (Here in Raleigh, it's $11/hour, or $22,000/year, for a single person living alone.) Also, a tax credit (akin to the earned-income tax credit) could be issued to those who make less than a living wage. Any income beyond the living wage is disposable income and is taxed at a flat rate - and no deductions whatsoever.

This system maintains progressivity at the lower income levels while making the tax code a lot simpler. It may not be a perfect idea, but it's a start. Of course, no one with any power to propose such a system would be reading this. But we can dream.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Adventures in Controlling the Media IV

I'm starting to think there could be a book written about the Bush administration's attempts to undermine the idea of an independent press. I also wonder how much of this went on under Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, etc.

Today's installment: seems that one of the White House correspondents who Bush calls on a lot is there because he's a right-wing journalist who asks softball questions. The culprit is Jeff Gannon of TalonNews.com, and his questions involve the occasional reference to Democratic leaders being "divorced from reality" and the occasional comparison of John Kerry to Jane Fonda. And while the most pressing issue here is undoubtedly the scary thought of a John Kerry exercise video (to the left! to the right! to the left! to the right!), it's still worrisome that the Bush White House is so scared of the media that they want to control even the mood in the press room. Seriously, I don't know that there's been any administration this paranoid since Nixon.

The Boston Globe has the story here, but I think it runs out tomorrow and you have to pay for it. A simple Web search on "Jeff Gannon" oughta reveal something, or I can e-mail you the article.