The Tax Game…

Okay, it’s been nearly 40 years since we started to hear all the Brietbull about how lowering taxes on the wealthy will free up money for them to invest and make the world awesome and wonderful for everybody.  We didn’t just HEAR it, though…we DID it.  Well, part of it.  We did the lower-the-taxes part.  We just never got the reinvest-the-freed-up-capital part.  Do you know why?  Because it’s been a lie, all along.

I totally get why rich people want the rest of us to believe this fantasy might have some kernel of truth, somewhere deep in the bowels of the ideology.  They’re rich, they like it, and they want to be richer – which lower taxes on them actually produces.  I completely understand why the corporate media wants to promote the message.  It’s owned by those self-same rich people – who like being rich and want to be richer.

I don’t understand why rank-and-file Americans continue to play along…

In an effort to be a better me, I’m trying to avoid making simplistic intelligence assessments about people…but how would YOU characterize a person who keeps pounding their own thumb with a hammer – despite the pain – just because someone told them it wouldn’t hurt if they pounded their own thumb with a hammer?  Stubborn?  Okay, maybe.  But it’s hard not to make snap judgements about intelligence as a person pounds the bloody, mashed stump that used to be his thumb – again – and, with tears streaming down his face insists it didn’t hurt a bit…

Some of us are capable of remembering a time when we accidentally pounded our own thumb with a hammer and recalling the pain so when someone tells me it won’t hurt if I pound my own thumb with a hammer, I think to myself, “Wait a minute…yes it does.  What YOU mean is that it doesn’t hurt YOUR thumb when I pound mine with a hammer!”

That’s what you might call a “thumbnail” sketch about the low-tax lie…

I’ll say it again: it’s been nearly 40 years!  If the money freed up by low taxes was ever going to start flowing, it certainly should have by now, yes?  So I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and suggest that low taxes on the wealthy doesn’t do anything but make the wealthy wealthier.

As it happens, HIGH taxes on the wealthy actually does what the wealthy always promise low taxes will cause them to do: reinvest.  You might want to read that again.  Certainly, I want you to read it again so I’ll write it again.  HIGH taxes on the wealthy actually does what the wealthy always promise low taxes will cause them to do.

The people who are standing around out there gleefully pounding their own thumbs with hammers and, perhaps, some younger people who have never heard anything other than the Supply Side Brietbull offered by the corporate media are essentially offering what I call a philosophical position.  That’s a position that may seem right on paper, but has no practical application.

What they DO have is charts and graphs and studies and opinions – all generously provided by the wealthy people who want you to believe.  What they DON’T have is any actual proof of success.  I’ll tell you this: I’m tired of arguing philosophical positions.  If there’s no practical application, let’s not waste time discussing it.

To that end, I’ve devised a little game and it goes like this:  I’ll name a place where HIGH taxes on the wealthy has resulted in a stronger society for everyone in that society – INCLUDING the wealthy people, then YOU name a place where LOW taxes on the wealthy has had the same effect.  We’ll keep taking turns naming our places until one of us has to shut their thumb-pounded face, once and for all, okay?  (And let’s not get cute, right?  I’m not asking you to name a place where the tax rate created the perfect utopian society that never experienced one whit of difficulty.  The measure isn’t the “perfect society in every way”…)

And let’s not limit our options.  I’m not trying to be tricky or sneaky, here.   Let’s agree, either of us can use ANY time in history, ANYWHERE on the planet.  Anything beyond that, we’ll have to consider on a case-by-case basis…fair?

Now, remember…I’m naming places and times when HIGH taxes on the wealthy has resulted in a stronger society – better infrastructure, better education, social mobility, and improved financial freedom and opportunity – and you’re naming places where LOW taxes on the wealthy has produced the same results, okay?  I’ll go first.

I name…the United States of America, from the time FDR introduced the New Deal until Ronald Reagan used his professional charm to inflict “Trickle Down Economics” in 1980.

Your turn…

Regarding Measure C, On Rent Control…

I’ll be voting yes on Measure C, the rent control measure here in Santa Rosa, CA.  I’m not a fan of rent control.  Generally speaking, I think rent control treats a symptom and not the underlying problem.  But at some point, if one doesn’t stop the bleeding, there will be no patient to save, you know?

The one aspect everyone can agree upon around here is there’s a housing shortage.  The most popular reason given is lack of building and certainly that plays a part.  The other thing I point to is REITs – Real Estate Investment Trusts.  These are investment vehicles in which people with a little money to invest pool their resources with other people with money to invest and buy up available inventory.  Since REITs use pooled money, they can offer whatever they need to offer to acquire the property and then charge whatever they need to charge to make the investment profitable.

I don’t know who’s going to stop such a process.  A seller receives an offer OVER the asking price, as is, all cash, with a 14 day escrow.  Who’s going to say no?  Is the seller going to “pass” on that offer and take the one below asking in which the buyer still needs to secure funding?  Will the Real Estate agent, who stands to make a killing on the artificially inflated price say no?  How about the bank that gets to charge interest on the loan, will they say no?  Eventually, inevitably, the market, itself, will say no.  If I try to rent my storage unit to a family of four for $5000/mo and I get no takers, I’ll have to change my position.

But in the meantime, how much damage has been done to society?

To be clear, I see the REITs buying single family homes as the driver of the problem but Measure C doesn’t even speak to that issue.  It only applies to apartments and only certain apartments at that.  But as single family homes become unavailable, people are forced into apartments.  The increased demand for apartments created by artificially skyrocketing rents on single family units allows landlords to charge increasingly high rents.

Consider: the average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in Santa Rosa as of April, 2017 is $2,083 a month.  Management companies look to make sure the prospective renter makes three times the rent as a qualifier.  That means a prospective renter needs to show $6,249 a month in income just to qualify.  Let’s carry this out, shall we?  That monthly income amount works out to $74,988 per year.  A full time employee works 2,080 hours a year so in order to rent that 2 bedroom unit, the prospective renter needs to earn $36 dollars an hour. ($36.05, to be exact…)

Is that the guy who washes the cars at the dealerships before going on display?  Is that the server who just handed you a bag of food through a window?  Is it the person stocking the shelves in your local Wal-Mart?  Fun fact: California will push it’s minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour – by 2022!  If they started that today, people would only be $21 dollars an hour short of what they need to rent a 2 bedroom apartment.  How far behind will they be in 2022?  So you see, I could support Measure C just on the math, alone.

But the truth is, that’s not why I’ll be voting for it.  My reason is more…visceral…

See, the Santa Rosa city council saw the problem and tried to implement a solution.  No, it’s not a “solution” so much as a stopgap but they tried to do something.  Then, big moneyed interests got involved and used the proposition process to force the issue to a ballot – but they lied to people in order to gather signatures.  They’ve been lying pretty much every day since, as well.  I get a new, glossy, full-page flyer in my mailbox nearly every day telling me all the things Measure C won’t do.  The thing is, the pretty mailers are addressing issues nobody else is talking about.

Hey, Measure C won’t make the airlines run on time so vote no!
What?  Who said anything about airlines?
Well, measure C won’t make your kid prom queen so vote no!
Prom queen, what?!?
OMG, Measure C won’t stop fourth graders from smoking, vote no!
Nobody said Measure C would stop fourth graders from smoking – that’s not even the point!
Hey, if you think fourth graders should smoke, go ahead and vote yes on C!

If you hate your grandma, vote yes on C…

All right, I may have made up some (all) of those anti-C arguments but the urgings of the anti-C flyers are no more relevant.  There has been a non-stop flood of falsehoods flowing into my mailbox.  Frankly, it makes me a little suspicious.  I have a rule of thumb that, in my humble opinion, always applies.  It says that when a person (or group, in this case) resorts to lying, they’re admitting they know their own position is false.

Of course, none of that matters with today’s electorate.  Huge swaths of Americans have become dumber than bricks and I’m pretty sure all the slick mailers and outright false advertising – that is, all the money poured into this effort – will have the desired effect.

But I’ll tell you this: the truth is, I’m not really voting for or against Measure C.  I’m voting against the lies…

“New” Budget, Same Old Goals…

Well, here come the Republicans…again!  They’ve sort of left subtlety aside at this point and proposed just about every fever-dream concept they’ve ever desired in this new “proposal”.  The more they can offer the privileged elite (increasingly meaning: “themselves”), the better.  The crueler, more vicious they can be to already struggling Americans, the better.  Now, all they need is a name…

You know what I mean.  Somewhere along the way, politicians started naming their bills in ways that were supposed to entice supporters.  Commonly, the names did exactly the opposite of what the bill promised so, for example, you got ‘The Patriot Act’, which did more to undermine the Constitution than any other single law I can think of (in this moment).

But, according to my source – have I mentioned that I have a source?  He/She/It/We/They communicates with me telepathically.  In keeping with the established tradition of giving one’s sources super-duper, clever “code names”, I call mine ‘Behind the Green Door’…

Anyway, based on what I’m getting from ‘Behind’, it’s my understanding that the GOP has realized there’s no need to play the opposite game anymore.  They’ve realized that no matter how completely “Trickle Down Economics” is proven a false concept – no matter how thoroughly it fails –  the rank and file will still line up, again and again, in full-throat support, “Please, sir, may I have another?”

So…at least no more “Breitbull” about what the GOP is planning when it comes to naming bills.  They STILL focus-group test the options to identify the name preferred by the rank and file, though, so they haven’t settled on anything, yet, but my understanding is that the leading candidate for the name of the current budget bill is: ‘Subsistence Living And Vocational Expatriation System’ or SLAVES.

SLAVES have been the goal of conservatives since…well, since we got rid of slaves.  With this new budget proposal, they’re pretty sure they’re taking a positive step in the right – the FAR  right – direction…

A Right to Health Care?

Recently, I’ve seen an increase in the assertion that Americans don’t enjoy a right to health care.  I’ll stipulate that I don’t see anywhere in the Bill of Rights any kind of statement that says anything like, “All Americans have a right to health care”, ok?  Agreed.  But don’t jump to the end.

Starting at the beginning of the Constitution, one discovers the founders expressed their opinion about why this new government should exist in the first place.  They defined, in general terms, their vision of the most basic responsibilities of government.  They wrote:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare (emphasis added), and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Only 26 words into the document it says: “…promote the general Welfare…”

I started thinking about the word “Welfare” as it might have been understood in the late 18th century – as opposed to today’s social safety net.  Checking my (admittedly not 18th century) dictionaries, I found that my American Heritage Dictionary defines welfare as “Health, happiness, and general well-being”.

I turned next to the Internet and the Oxford English Dictionary.  OED is one of the most respected dictionaries of the English language.  Ok, they charge for access so I looked at the Compact Oxford English Dictionary online.  They define “welfare” as “the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group”.

Turns out, one can’t define welfare – as it relates to the human condition – without including health.  Well, in fairness, Webster’s tries.  They leave out ‘health’ and put in ‘well-being’ but when you look up ‘well-being’ in the same dictionary, it specifically includes “the state of being…healthy…”

The Founders were a clever group of guys with a solid command of the English language.  I think they knew what the word ‘welfare’ meant when they wrote “promote the general Welfare”.  They could have written, “promote the general health, happiness and general well-being” but they didn’t need to.  There’s a word for that: welfare.

If one plans to take the position that Americans don’t have a “right” to health care since such a right is not clearly delineated in the Bill of Rights, then one must simultaneously argue that one does not enjoy a right to vote.  Voting, after all, is not spelled out in the Bill of Rights, either.

But whether or not one defines health care as a “right”, certainly the Founders described it as a fundamental function of government and I’ll tell you this: without question, I have the right to expect my government to perform its most basic functions…

(Note: this is a re-post from 2010.  I like to do that from time to time, just to show how the situations change but never change.  This essay had been correct for years before I wrote it and it’s still correct seven years AFTER I wrote it.  Damn.  The “edit” is because I forgot to add this note so I was just basically plagiarizing myself…)

The Trump Somnambulists…

Did you hear the one about the so-called “President” who did something dumb, his people tried to cover his tail, and then he stupidly re-affirmed that, nope, it was the dumb thing?  I was going to use details of actual incidents but decided I like it better this way, with nothing specific and yet, applying to each day of Donald Trump’s maladministration.

Each time one of these little dramas plays out, there’s a blizzard of “When are his supporters going to wake up?” and “I wonder how his supporters feel, now!” posts in social media.  Here are the answers, in order: ‘Never’ and ‘Just fine, thank you’.

It’s important to separate the two different groups who voted Trump.  On the one hand, there are those who cast a ballot for Trump but who, technically, were voting against Hillary.  These are the people who were going to vote third-party or just sit the thing out until Hillary was named the Democratic nominee.  They had been primed by 24 years of anti-Hillary propaganda to hate her on a visceral level.  They weren’t operating with facts but they really had no choice.  I suspect this crowd makes up the infamous “low information voter” group.

Then there’s the “no information voter” group.  You don’t hear much about them but we’re all living under the governance of one member, now.  These people know nothing…or seem to know nothing.  They don’t know history.  They don’t understand current events.  They actively oppose science.  But they vote.

You can’t identify one just by looking at them.  They blend in.  They seem like any other person struggling through the day.  “Competent adults” we call them and when it comes to going to work or paying their bills well…they are competent.  The facade isn’t exposed until you try to talk with one of them and they spew the fake news from the conservative bubble – all the while calling facts “fake news.”

These are the people still showing up at Trump’s campaign rallies and cheering the cluelessness of Chief Clueless.  “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated”, right?  THAT crowd.  The people who REALLY didn’t know healthcare could be so complicated.  These people are not going to “wake up.”  They’re as “woke” as they’re going to get.  They get all the information they want from the Blaze or and the fact that the information never – ever – plays out like they’re told it will never – ever – penetrates.  To them, all else is just “fake news”.

As for the “how do they feel now” part, they’re feeling just fine.  All of this “destroying the country” bit thinking people are worried about is exactly what they wanted in a “President”.  It wouldn’t be fair to suggest they’re eager for the wreckage being wrought.  They don’t actually believe “wreckage” will be the end result.  There’s a very specific reason for this: they don’t know history.  They don’t understand current events.  They actively oppose science.  They’re the “no information” voter and they’ve lived among us going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson.  (Yes, THAT Thomas Jefferson – the one who wrote all the pretty words but didn’t seem to understand the meanings of the words he wrote…)

There are stories about people on the Titanic who started playing with bits of ice on the deck after the ship hit the iceberg.  They had been told they were on an “unsinkable” ship – and they believed it.  In fairness, they didn’t know about the gash in the hull but even if they had, they would have remained carefree.  It was an unsinkable ship!  I imagine that as Captain Smith strode aboard for his last voyage, he believed he was boarding an unsinkable ship, as well, and the only thing that convinced him otherwise was the actual sinking of the “unsinkable” ship.  It takes that kind of sudden information storm to change a preconceived notion but that “sudden information storm” can almost always be labeled “too late.”  My bet?  There was some number of people who wouldn’t believe the ship was sinking even as it slipped beneath the waves, taking the “faithful” with it.

So, please, stop asking when they’re going to wake up.

They’re not…

When Rome Looked Like the US…

Fortunately, I’m good at depression.  I mean, I’ve been practicing for years.  After awhile, you don’t really expect to feel…anymore.  You work out ways to get through another day without spewing – to the extent possible – your internal darkness around everywhere.  People prefer jokes and smiles.  I can do that, normally.  But it’s got me today.

I spend a lot of time with history.  I spend a lot of time paying attention to the “doings” of politics.  I’ve been watching a war play out daily in this once great nation for something like 35 years and I pretty much see the end-game in progress.  It’s the war between the “haves” and the “have-nots” – a class war the “haves” initiated with the “election” of Ronald Reagan and the “have-nots” didn’t even know they were – or should have been – fighting.

One can see the parallels in this once-great nation to two different periods in time: France, just before their revolution and Rome, just as the Republic failed and shifted to empire.  Neither period proved beneficial to the increasingly impoverished masses.  In BOTH cases, the rich were doing just fine.  Too fine, some might say.

Today, I’m more focused on Rome.  Most people know about the Roman Empire.  Many people don’t realize the empire was born a Republic.  They even had a Senate.  Today, history understands Julius Caesar as Rome’s first Emperor but nobody called Caesar the Emperor at the time.  The people of Rome, the work-a-day folks going about their business, didn’t even realize a change had occurred.

Caesar maintained the Senate.  He even allowed for the presence of dissenters, so long as there weren’t so many as to create actual dissent.  The creep of empire was relatively slow.  Romans didn’t go to sleep in a Republic one night and wake up in an empire the next morning.  That’s not how it works.  It’s a slow but steady movement away from the norms of Republic to new “norms”.  Things that aren’t supposed to be…but are anyway.

Things like enriching oneself and family by not only accepting but openly requesting emoluments from people who have business with the ruler; “tributes”, let’s call them.  Systematically replacing people trying to do the Republic’s work with toadies who will do as they’re told and NEVER counter the ruler is another step in the parade to authoritarianism.  A larger governing body – in Caesar’s case, a Senate – that refuses to stand up to the abuses of the ruler in order to protect their own positions, or in the belief that they’re doing so, until it’s far too late.

Yes, the Roman Senate eventually stood up to Caesar but the damage was done.  Rome maintained the trappings of a republic but was never a true republic again.

As it stands right now, it seems like the American Congress is going to support Trump regardless of how outrageous his or his family’s behavior becomes.  It appears, to me, like the transition is pretty much complete.  It all LOOKS the same.  We still have a Congress but they’re clearly not going to challenge Trump.  We still have a “Supreme Court” but they’ll keep making decisions that serve the privileged elite at the expense of the masses.  For many of us, the day-to-day realities of just getting through will seem unchanged.

In France, once the aristocracy had just gone too far for the masses to tolerate, the people rose up in one national riot and began lopping off heads – some deserving, some…not so much.  Maybe the same thing will happen here so the US won’t get hundreds of years as the dominant empire of the day.  But a Reign of Terror as the “hopeful” offset to brutal empire?

I’ll tell you this: I find it all pretty depressing…


On Climate Change…

I don’t debate climate change anymore.  There are several reasons.  Among them is the basic fact that I’m not a climate scientist.  I don’t have the education to make determinations about the data – how it was collected, how it’s interpreted, what adjustments may have been made and why.  That’s all science stuff best left to climate scientists.

That leaves me to make determinations based on things around climate science.  For example, the US military makes adjustments for it.  They don’t make adjustments lightly.  Businesses are taking into account – even fossil fuel businesses.  Rising oceans have already caused the evacuation of at least one island nation and the water regularly encroaches on Florida, things like that…

But there are things, as well.  I was once in a Facebook “discussion” with someone who offered me a link to a blog post with what he claimed included 800 links to peer-reviewed, climate science denial papers.  I guess the sheer weight of such a post had run off many of his opponents in the past but I did something he apparently didn’t expect; I looked at the links.  Turns out, each link went to what is called a manual redirect page – with a link right back to the original post!  It wasn’t a post with links to 800 different papers, it was 1 link 800 times.

Think about that.  Somebody took the time to set up 800 fake blog pages, each with a link right back to the originating page.  I even noticed that the project had apparently fatigued its creator.  At first, each faked “blog” page had a paragraph or two.  Then the content dwindled to a line or two.  Then just a single sentence.  After awhile, only the circular link.  800 fake pages.  800 circular links.

That’s no “accident.”  It’s not an “honest mistake.”  That’s not somebody who “should have looked more carefully”.  That’s a clear intent to deceive.  (These are the same people who insist that the number of hurricanes hasn’t increased, all the while hoping you don’t notice what’s happening with the overall number of “Named Storms” – tropical and subtropical storms that don’t quite make it into the “hurricane” category.)

In a circumstances like that, I resort to my standing rule of thumb that says that the person who knowingly attempts to deceive is tacitly admitting foreknowledge that their position is false.  It’s a good rule.  It serves me well.

But probably the single most important factor, for me, is that whenever I’m talking to someone who denies climate science, I know I’m talking to a conservative.  That shouldn’t be the case.  Science doesn’t draw neat little lines between political positions.  Do you remember those graphs that show the intersections of two groups?  It’s usually two circles pushed together until they overlap with a little shaded area in the middle.  The circle on the left might be, say, the population of New York City and the circle on the right might be the number of people who speak French.  Push the two together and you can see, graphically, the number of people in New York City who speak French.

Well, if you label the left, red circle “Conservatives” and the right, slightly smaller, yellow, circle “People who deny climate science” and start pushing them together, the yellow circle will slide all the way into the red circle, leaving an orange circle with a slim red “halo” around the side (because not even all conservatives deny climate science).  Then we can see, graphically, that the population of people who deny climate science is made up entirely of conservatives.

But I’ll tell you this: that’s not how science works…