Date ►►► March 31, 2011

The Pension Suspension Is Killing Us!

Hatched by Dafydd

Budget negotiations between California Democrat-retread Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislative Republicans have collapsed. (Surprise, surprise on the Jungle River Boat ride tonight.)

Brown recognizes (or claims to recognize) that the biggest problem in the Leaden State (formerly the Golden State) is too darned much spending; yet for political reasons -- mainly because his own Democratic Party would never accept such a solution -- he doesn't want to close the "$26 billion abyss" in the budget on spending cuts alone. So in addition to proposing some cuts ($11.2 billion, or 43% of the deficit), Brown also seeks to extend a series of "temporary taxes" due to expire this year.

And therein lies the dilemma: Under California's constitution, raising taxes requires a 2/3rds vote in both chambers. But despite Democratic gains in the 2010 elections, the current party mix is as follows:

Lead-in paragraph:

California State Legislature party division
Chamber Democrats Republicans Votes needed for
Democrats to raise taxes
State Senate 25 (62.5%) 15 (38.5%) 2 more votes
State Assembly 52 (65.8%) 27 (38.5%) 1 more vote (or 2, if vacancy filled)

In other words, Democrats alone do not have enough votes to extend those taxes; and so far, the Republicans have held firm, casting not a single vote for the extensions. Besides, again for political cover, Gov. Brown wants the state's voters to approve the tax extension (that is, the tax increase from what current law mandates starting in July). Thus, what the Democrats actually want to pass is a bill that would place on the June 7th, 2011 state ballot an initiative to extend the temporary, two-year tax increases imposed in 2009 for an additional five years. That ballot currently has only local issues; but the legislature can put statewide legislative initiatives onto the ballot if they act by tomorrow, Friday, April 1st, I believe.

(Does anybody doubt that in 2016, Jerry Brown, if he's still governor, or any other Democrat will demand that we "extend" the tax increases for an additional five or ten or twenty years? "With such a whopping huge deficit in 2016," he or she will wail, "we mustn't even think about tax cuts for California fat cats!")

However, at the moment, the Cal-GOP legislators won't give Brown his initiative, either. Nor is it even likely to pass, even if Democrats find a way to shoehorn it onto the June ballot:

The bigger problem is whether Democrats could drum up enough votes among a cash-strapped electorate to pass a tax increase, especially without the backing of any Republican lawmakers.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll released March 23 showed voter support for the proposal waning. While 66 percent of likely voters agreed with the plan in January, only 51 percent still thought it was a good idea by March.

The survey also showed likely voters divided on how to balance the budget, with 41 percent saying they preferred a mixture of cuts and tax increases, and 40 percent favoring the so-called “all-cuts” solution.

“They seem to be convinced it will not pass,” said Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book in Sacramento. “They’ve probably got internal polling data saying that if they don’t have Republican votes, voters won’t pass it.”

That's a fifteen-point drop in support for the tax extensions in just two months. Most Californios understand that there are three proximate causes for the reality-warping state deficit... and "undertaxation" is not among them:

  • The refusal by Democrats to rein in spending on so-called "entitlements," most especially including unfunded public-employee pension plans.
  • A stifling regulatory regime, still expanding, that is tying down California businesses like the Lilliputians tying down Lemuel Gulliver with a million regulatory threads... to the point where, as Robert Anton Wilson put it, "Everything not compulsory is forbidden; everything not forbidden is compulsory." And in fact, some forbidden things are nevertheless compulsory, as regulatory worlds collide.
  • One of the most business-hating tort environments in the United States suing more and more local companies out of California and into Oregon, Nevada, and other nearby states.

By an amazing coincidence, the three most potent, greedy, and narcissistic special interests within the California Democratic Party are public-employee labor unions, who demand that all pensions and benefits be sacrosanct, no matter how big a hole they blow in the state budget; ultra-liberal government regulators, appropriators, and other rent-seekers, who think Capitalism is out of control and needs to be under the thumb of the State; and plaintiff civil trial-lawyers, who loot the state to the tune of billions of dollars by filing bogus class-action lawsuits and ridiculous personal injury, medical malpractice, and consumer product safety claims (the only lawsuits they seem to have no interest filing are claims of legal malpractice).

And by a second amazing coincidence, those issues are precisely the Rubicon that the Democrats in the state legislature will not cross: public-employee pensions and benefits, regulation and welfare entitlements, and tort reform. Hence the "unexpected" collapse of budget negotiations.

Long term, the biggest problem is probably pensions; in February of last year, the American Enterprise Institute published a detailed calculation of just how much unfunded liability public pensions have dumped on the states, and specifically on California in the present case:

As the largest state, California not surprisingly has the largest absolute public pension funding shortfall at $454 billion, followed by New York with $284 billion and Illinois with $208 billion. Figure 4 shows the market value of unfunded pension liabilities by state.

In case you're interested, here's "figure 4":



Unfunded public pension liabilities by state

Republicans have specifically targeted out-of-control public pension plans, and that is one of the shoals upon which negotiations foundered:

The GOP had pushed for pension reform for public employees, a hard cap on state spending, and a loosening of the state’s regulatory climate. Democrats said the Republican demands were unreasonable, while Republicans blamed the state’s public-employee unions and trial attorneys for sinking the negotiations.

“As a result of these groups’ refusal to challenge the status quo, it has become clear the governor and legislative Democrats are not in a position to work with us to pass the measures necessary to move California forward,” said Republican state Sen. Anthony Cannella in a statement.

So there we are. The California budget is shattered by a budget chasm the size of the Valles Marineris on Mars. The deficit is primarily fueled by public pensions, overregulation, and a trial-lawyer's wet dream of a tort system. But the Democrats utterly refuse to touch any of those three causes, because they would have to defy the most powerful and aggressive special interests within their own party.

The Democrats' solution? Balance the budget on the backs of California taxpayers: When liberals are in charge, Econ. 101 is invariably trumped by Politics 101.

In the end, California voters will have their say; and Gov. Jerry Brown will very likely have to find a way to close the gap without raising taxes that are already unconscionably high. But how long will those same voters who reject tax increases and endless spending nevertheless keep reflexively reelecting the party that is completely and impulsively defined by the mantra "tax, borrow, and spend?"

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 31, 2011, at the time of 7:33 PM | Comments (0)

History Repeatedly Repeats Itself...

Hatched by Dafydd

...The second and subsequent times as increasingly unfunny farce:

Justice Department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment in their handling of a voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party by dismissing three defendants in the case, says the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

In a letter this week, the OPR said its seven-month inquiry “found no evidence” that the decision to dismiss the case against the New Black Panther Party and two of its members was “predicated on political considerations.”

So the utterly untarnished and consistently credible Justice Department, after dismissing a civil-rights complaint against the Black Panthers that the former had already won in court, thoroughly investigates itself -- and lo!, discovers itself to be clean as a baby's behind. Who could possibly argue with that?

Yet this spotless self-report gives me the repeated opportunity to quote the late, great Robert Anton Wilson (channeling Lemuel Gulliver), here for the eleventy-second time:

And so... these Learned Men, having Inquir'd into the Case for the Opposition, discover'd that the Opposition had no Case and were Devoid of Merit, which was what they Suspected all along, and they arriv'd at this Happy Conclusion by the most Economical and Nice of all Methods of Enquiry, which was that they did not Invite the Opposition to confuse Matters by Participating in the Discussion.

(From "The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi;" p. 85, Right Where You Are Sitting Now, ©1982, And/Or Press, Inc. -- first printing.)

It's a thing of wonder to have an administration so devoid of corruption, as innocent as Caesar's newborn wife, that every department, agency, and committee can investigate itself with complete credibility. Bully for Obamunism!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 31, 2011, at the time of 1:25 PM | Comments (0)

Date ►►► March 30, 2011

A Question That Deserves an Answer

Hatched by Dafydd

Today's Libya news is not good:

Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces recaptured a strategic oil town Wednesday and moved within striking distance of another major eastern city, nearly reversing the gains rebels made since international airstrikes began. Rebels pleaded for more help, while a U.S. official said government forces are making themselves harder to target by using civilian "battle wagons" with makeshift armaments instead of tanks....

Airstrikes have neutralized Gadhafi's air force and pounded his army, but his ground forces remain far better armed, trained and organized than the opposition....

Gadhafi's forces also have adopted a new tactic in light of the pounding airstrikes have given their tanks and armored vehicles, a senior U.S. intelligence official said. They've left those weapons behind in favor of a "gaggle" of "battle wagons": minivans, sedans and SUVs fitted with weapons, said the official, who spoke anonymously in order to discuss sensitive U.S. intelligence on the condition and capabilities of rebel and regime forces.

Winning!

Obviously, it's still a volatile situation, and the rebels might yet rally and regain the upper hand. But we must grab the bull by the tail and look the facts in the face: There is a very real possibility that Gaddafi's forces will finally crush the untrained, unled, poorly armed uprising.

Whither then? Commander in Chief Barack H. Obama has very few options, given his prior performance (or nonfeasance) and emphatic pronouncements, including his speech a scant two days ago:

  1. He could intensify the bombardment and target military facilities across Libya. (Which I say he should have done from the git-go -- strike not just tanks but bases, government buildings, gasoline refineries, and the homes of top members of the government, including You-Know-Who.)
  2. He could arm the rebels; but given that many of the rebels are radical Islamists who hate America -- and evidently some are even full-blown members of al-Qaeda -- that might raise opposition to the Libyan adventure to a fever pitch, and it could create huge problems over the next two years.
  3. He could rescind his heartfelt pledge to protect and preserve Muammar Gaddafi's life at all costs; but then he would have to spin like a whirling Dervish to explain why yesterday's war crime is today's U.N.-authorized, kinetic military action.
  4. He could change his mind even more profoundly and order American boots and rifles on the ground. But a full ground invasion would require weeks to prepare, and Qaddafi would almost certainly have won by then.

    We could instead use small groups of special forces to get an attack rolling more quickly; but strike where? Raid what? Capture who? Unless we seized or killed Col. Q. almost immediately, our Arab "allies" would likely flip on a dime and condemn the entire operation, pull out their own forces, and of course leave us vulnerable to IED and terrorist attacks. Plus, our Western allies would probably get cold feet as well.

    And how could Obama possibly avoid the obvious and odious comparison to George W. Bush, and the highly successful operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the dog's breakfast of a collapse in Libya?

  5. Or the final Obamic option: After the president dithered for weeks before deciding to do anything; after he waited to get approval from the U.N., but then completely bypassed our own Congress; after he flung our forces into aerial attacks and killed many civilians along with the bad guys; after he made a huge point of renouncing American leadership and handing the operation over to NATO; after he went on television and unconvincingly explained why he thought this war kinetic military action was so vital to America (if not us, who? if not now, when? if not about me, then why bother?) -- Barack Obama could simply declare defeat and go home.

    That is, he could start a war few seemed to want, prosecuted it in a pathetic, faint-hearted, and fumbling way, and then run away, leaving Muammar Gaddafi even stronger and more despotic than ever. Heck of a job, Barack! I'm sure that will do wonders for his plummeting poll numbers.

    Other dictators (e.g., Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad) would be emboldened and would regain their vicious and bloodthirsty Libyan ally; the entire situation in the Middle East would become decidedly worse and more deadly for the West, and for America in particular.

See, this is the sort of Hobson's-choice we get (and deserve!) for electing the unexamined presidency in 2008; for allowing jingoisms like "Hope" and "Change," which sound vague but are in fact meaningless, to displace experience, gravity, competence, and coherence; for opting to roll the dice on a complete unknown, an unseasoned "playground president," rather than demand the same standard of disclosure, openness, access, and investigation that we have always insisted upon in previous Presidents of the United States: We got us an incurious, incompetent craven in the White House at a time of grave national peril. (Of course such a president creates his own tsunami of grave national peril.)

I mentioned the contrast with the two wars of the preceding administration; let's make that comparison.

George W. Bush took both major wars seriously: He consulted extensively with Congress, including the minority Democrats. He sought and received authorizations for the use of force from Congress on both occasions. He went to the U.N. and, as Obama did, obtained a UN Security Council resolution that could be read as authorizing both wars; but he had an actual strategy for both the initial invasions and the occupations of both countries -- the first worked brilliantly, the second not so well. He knew how many troops he would have to commit and had at least somewhat of an idea how long it would take. He certainly had a firm set of victory conditions in mind, and thus we always knew whether we were winning or losing at any given moment.

Finally, Bush leveled with the American people, persuasively explaining the rationale for the wars and what we the people could expect.

Obama has done none of that. He more or less stumbled into the war like tripping over a drunk, finding himself thoroughly entangled with incoherence and befuddlement before even realizing it. He has no plan, just a series of negatives which boil down to a steadfast refusal to do anything that might actually win the war. And he's doing everything imaginable to convince us that he is no leader and doesn't even want to be one; he prefers that NATO -- meaning France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany's Angela Merkel, and Canadian Gen. Charles Bouchard -- take command, with American forces just following their orders. Thus Obama hopes to avoid at least some of the blame if things go dreadfully wrong... which his own fecklessness makes much more probable.

And suppose they do go dreadfully wrong: Losing a war in such an embarassing manner would not only flip the 2012 election once again, making it likely that any vaguely competent-sounding Republican would beat the Obamunist at the polls, it would damage American national security for years to come.

For that reason, even if victory would slightly help the Obama administration, we should still fervently hope that some miracle occurs to transform our president from a mere community organizer sinking in the deep end (or more recently, "an errand boy for grocery clerks") into a reasonably competent warrior.

Either that, or we must hope that one of our allies, who stands to lose as much as we if Qaddafi wins this war, steps up and grabs the reins. But my God, what a position to find ourselves in: Praying that the flibbertigibbet French swoop down and save our bacon!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 30, 2011, at the time of 6:16 PM | Comments (2)

Date ►►► March 29, 2011

The Playground President

Hatched by Dafydd

Friend Lee is a big fan of organized sports; for example, he follows professional, college, and even high-school basketball (though his first love is tennis) in a way that is totally alien to me. Some years ago, F.L. said something that had never occurred to me, but which upon reflection made perfect sense: It would be almost impossible for a phenomenal basketball player, like a Michael Jordan, to come up through the normal school ranks without serious fans of the game being aware of him long before he became a star.

There was one exception, however, and that was if the phenom did not play in high school or college but instead came from "the playground." Such a player might be overlooked even by rabid basketbrawl fanatics until he exploded onto the pro scene.

I was intrigued by the unknown but brilliant playground player and recently began mulling it in the realm of presidential politics. By "brilliant," I specifically mean a genius at getting elected; and by a "playground player," I mean a candidate who flies below the radar until he suddenly bursts, fully formed, onto the scene and captures the nomination and presidency.

The most recent example is, of course, Barack H. Obama himself. While I confidently predicted that Sen. Hillary "Fist Lady" Clinton would never, ever be the Democratic presidential nominee, I admit I had no idea at the beginning of that electoral cycle that Obama would be, in that sense at least, the One. I was sure some better known candidate would move in when Hillary began to falter and take the nomination. There were many possibilities: Former V.P. nominee John Edwards, former Gov. Tom Vilsack, Gov. Bill Richardson; I was shocked that none of them could gain any traction at all, and that in the end, Obama would win the brass ring.

Despite 2008, the phenomenon of the playground president, where a nominee seemingly comes out of nowhere, is vanishingly rare nowadays; usually, both parties nominate well-known politicians:

  • 2004: Incumbent George W. Bush vs. very well known Sen. JFK II.
  • 2000: Former Vice President Algore vs. popular TX Gov. GWB.
  • 1996: Incumbent Clinton vs. Senate Majority Leader Blob Dole.
  • 1992: Little known AK Gov. Bill Clinton vs. Incumbent GHWB.
  • 1988: Former VP GHWB vs. very well known MA Gov. Michael Dukakis.
  • 1984: Incumbent Ronald Reagan vs. former VP Walter Mondale.
  • 1980: Incumbent Jimmy Carter vs. extremely well known former CA Gov. Reagan.
  • 1976: Incumbent Gerald Ford vs. fairly well known GA Gov. Carter.
  • 1972: Incumbent Richard Nixon vs. well known peacenik, Sen. George McGovern.
  • 1968: Former VP Nixon vs. extremely well known Sen. Hubert Humphrey.
  • 1964: Incumbent Lyndon Johnson vs. even more extremely well known Sen. Barry Goldwater.
  • 1960: Two powerhouses: Nixon and the first JFK.

There's actually a good reason why we have so few playground presidents: In order to win the nomination, let alone the office itself, a candidate needs staggering sums of campagin funds; in order to get such vast sums, most people need millions of donors; and in order to gain that many donors, a candidate needs a huge level of political celebrity prior to the campaign itself. Ergo, most candidates are already quantities well-known to the electorate.

There are some exceptions to the political-celebrity rule:

  • Type I: People who are already famous in a field outside of politics.

Such alternative celebrities can sometimes generate the necessary campaign contributions and mass support, but they must have gravitas and leadership -- which is one reason why nobody whose celebrity has come primarily from the entertainment world has ever won the presidency.

Picture a military hero, like Dwight D. Eisenhower, or a humanitarian activist and long-time cabinet member, like Herbert Hoover. But of course, both were extremely well known long before their winning candidacies, both were widely expected to win as soon as they announced; and neither was a bolt from the blue, which is the phenomenon we're exploring.

  • Type II: the ultra-rich celebrity candidate who can self-fund his own campaign and don't need no steenkin' donors.

Donald Trump fills that role for the 2012 election. If Trump were to win the nomination, and especially if he beats Obama, I would definitely call him a playground president and wild long shot... but I don't expect him even to come close in either venue.

  • Finally, there is Type III: the successful businessman who isn't a huge celebrity, but who exudes an odor of quiet fiscal competence.

Note that Type III only plays well in an election that is (nearly) all about the economy -- like 2012.

He would have to be seen as fiscally conservative and socially middle of the road; seen as a uniter (whether he turns out to be isn't relevant to the election itself); a non-ideologue; and definitely not a flamboyant, larger than life personality -- that's Type II, not Type III. Rupert Murdoch would be a distinct possibility this year, were it not for the fact that he was born an Australian; and if Mitt Romney hadn't served as Governor of Massachusetts, with the concomitant and faintly damning track record, he would be another strong possibility.

The first two types of playground candidates would already be very well known today, though not in the capacity of politician. The only plausible example that springs to my mind is Gen. David Petraeus; I believe that if he retired from the Army and declared himself a Republican candidate for office, he would brush the other GOP candidates aside and then prevail against Obama himself. (If Petraeus ran as a Democrat, I doubt he could unseat the sitting POTUS in the Democratic primaries.) I can't think of any other celebrity who would have both the heft and the bottom to mount a serious and effective "outsider" campaign.

But what about a Type III playground presidential candidate?

He would have to be staggeringly wealthy but not too famous (else he falls into the Type II "Donald Trump" category instead).

He would have to come from the financial sector, not simpy an industrialist or technologist, like T.J. Rodgers (Cypress Semiconductor) or Bill Gates (Microsoft); his entire selling point would be that he can fix the economy.

He would have to be statesmanlike but not come across as a political insider (else nobody would trust him).

I cannot think of any financiers who fit that bill -- but of course, by definition, he wouldn't be well known and could easily fly below the radar until he outlasts the other candidates in his party. Still, it's dicey right now, as nearly every famous financier has weighed in either for or against the Obamic stimulus bills, which makes him an ideologue of necessity. Maybe after a few electoral cycles, when we haven't a recent memory of a wildly divisive fiscal policy to use as a mental litmus test.

Alas, I'm sorry to say that I suspect the next GOP candidate will have to be a white male with a Western European sounding name. Obama represented a breakthrough milestone -- the first serious black presidential candidate; and typically after such a bold result, voters retreat to the tried and true, especially when the "other" is viewed as a fatally flawed president, wildly partisan and stunningly inexperienced... which Obama is increasingly viewed as on both left and right. This is another reason that Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal would be wise not to run in 2012; it's a tough sell to elect the first female or the first Indian president right after the first black president.

Given the unlikelihood of Petraeous deciding that now is the time to mount his white horse, I fear we're going to be stuck with one of the usual suspects on the GOP side -- probably a current or former governor -- and of course Barack Obama on the Democratic side. This means that Obama starts a floor of 50% support. This is not an "anybody but the incrumbent" election, as it was in 1976, 1980, and 2008; Obama will only lose to a brilliant and aggressive campaigner. That gives the edge to someone like Haley Barbour or Tim Pawlenty.

But still there is always that lightning-bolt chance of a playground presidential candidate; and if he appears, then all bets will be at sixes and nines.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 29, 2011, at the time of 7:12 PM | Comments (2)

Date ►►► March 23, 2011

How to Blight a War

Hatched by Dafydd

First off, I must point out that I am not a military expert; this isn't a MilBlog; I don't have any experience commanding troops in battle; I was never Secretary of the Navy; I never taught at Annapolis, VMI, or even Wellesley.

Still, I think I'm on pretty safe ground in saying that an American military establishment that allows itself to be dragged willy-nilly into a war in North Africa; rushes to obtain United Nations support but pointedly refuses to ask Congress for authorization; loudly announces it won't use ground forces under any circumstances; makes conflicting and incomprehensible pronouncements of victory conditions; admits it has no idea how long it will take to win -- or even what "winning" means; pushes itself into control of the air strikes, drops a bunch of bombs in seemingly random locations, and then announces after a few scant days that it has become bored and restless and wants to cede control of the entire operation to some other country and just MoveOn... I think it safe to conclude that said military establishment is in total collapse.

Have I exaggerated Barack and Billery's Wacky Adventure? Have I misstated the sequence of events? I stand willing to be instructed in what really happened -- which must surely be less insane than it looks to us, the observing, here in Sector 001.

Here is the always reassuring Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense to presidents, prime ministers, and the crowned heads of Europe:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged Wednesday that there is no clear end to the international military enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, and says no one was ever under any illusion that the assault would last just two or three weeks.

He added that the U.S. could turn over control of the operation as soon as Saturday, but could not say how the coalition operation might be resolved.

I feel better already. I'll have that drink now, if you please.

I have read that it's the soaring gasoline prices that may well drag Barack H. Obama to defeat in 2012; yet I cannot help but suspect that this Libyan lunacy, as it shreds whatever credibility remains of the President's national-security strategy after two long years of imperialist Obamunism (seems like twenty), will be even more devastating to his diminishing reelectoral chances. Is there anybody left in the country (besides Garth Brooks) who doesn't look upon our Island King of the Peacock Throne, and laugh, laugh -- until he cries, cries?

America is going to be a long time living down the national, self-inflicted humiliation of November 4th, 2008.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 23, 2011, at the time of 3:19 PM | Comments (8)

Date ►►► March 18, 2011

Obamunism in Black and White

Hatched by Dafydd

Riddle me this, as Frank Gorshin was wont to say: Why is anybody surprised that President Barack H. "Lucky Lefty" Obama has "talked the talk" but hasn't "walked the walk" -- on Libya (or the deficit, or ObamaCare, or oil prices, or fill-in-the-blank)?

What job has he ever held that required him to act, make a decision, or stand up for principle?

In a quarter century of employment, Obama has been:

  • 1983, age 22 -- An employee, job undetermined, at Business International Corporation, "a publishing and advisory firm dedicated to assisting American companies in operating abroad."
  • 1984, age 23 -- An employee of the New York Public Interest Research Group; I assume NY-PIRG is similar to CalPIRG, where I worked one summer; the main business is begging people to contribute to the PIRG.
  • 1985, age 24 -- Director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP); as a "community organizer," his job was to "work with and develop new local leaders, facilitating coalitions and assisting in the development of campaigns." (Action, action, action!) During this time, Obama also worked as "a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute."
  • 1988-1991, age 27-30, Harvard Law School -- Obama worked summers at the law firms of Sidley Austin and Hopkins & Sutter as a "summer associate"... which generally means doing research in the law libraries, general scutwork, and perhaps writing small legal documents under heavy supervision by actual attorneys at law. He was also "an editor" at the Harvard Law Review, and later was elected its president.
  • 1991-1992, age 30-31 -- Received a two-year academic sinecure at University of Chicago Law School to finish his first book, eventually published in 1995 as Dreams from My Father.
  • 1992-2004, age 31-43 -- lecturer at University of Chicago Law School.
  • 1993-1996, age 32-35 -- associate at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, "a 13-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development."
  • 1996-2004, age 35-43 -- counsel at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland. There is little indication what Obama actually did at this law firm; however his level of activity may perhaps be guessed by the fact that he allowed his law license to lapse in 2002, and evidently didn't even miss it his last two years at the firm.
  • 1994-2002, age 33-41 -- "served" on the board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago ("a private independent foundation in Chicago, whose goal is to increase opportunities for less-advantaged people and communities in the Chicago metropolitan area, including the opportunity to shape decisions affecting them,") and the Joyce Foundation ("a charitable foundation based in Chicago").
  • 1995-2002, age 34-41 -- "served" on the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (president and chairman of the board until 1999, age 38); his primary job was to funnel nearly $50 million from the Challenge charity into "educational" programs developed and pushed by Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers and his radical cronies.
  • 1997-2004, age 36-43 -- elected one of Illinois' 59 state senators (four terms).
  • 2005-2008, age 44-47 -- elected junior U.S. Senator from Illinois (one third of one term).
  • 2009-?, age 48-? -- took the oath of office as President of the United States.

I ask again: Which of Barack Obama's various jobs (prior to the presidency of the United States) required, encouraged, or even allowed him to act, decide, or take a stand on principle? He has never in his entire life run anything larger than the staff of a junior senator. Why is anyone surprised that he simply hasn't that capability within him?

If a man spends the first 25 years of his life faithfully cleaning up after the elephants at the circus, why would anyone think that in his 26th year, he should be promoted to star aerialist on the flying trapeze?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 18, 2011, at the time of 10:35 PM | Comments (0)

Date ►►► March 17, 2011

Libya vs. Wisconsin: Mob? or Uprising Against Tyranny?

Hatched by Dafydd

I was listening to and reading the propaganda of the protesters in Wisconsin before they upped stakes and skedaddled, and the one slogan that irritated me the most was, "This is what democracy looks like!" -- applied, in a burst of unnoted irony, to a rent-a-mob's attempt to shut down the state legislature.

On the other hand, the rioting and now combat against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and previously against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, really do look like democracy in its nascence to me. So what is the difference? What is a simple way to sort whether violent protests constitute the birth of democracy or of mob rule?

I see a very simple test, derived from the rule enunciated by Ann Coulter anent the potential need for a union. Last month, the hot-right chick wrote:

The need for a union comes down to this question: Do you have a boss who wants you to work harder for less money? In the private sector, the answer is yes. In the public sector, the answer is a big, fat NO.

I understand the distinction the blonde bombard is making, though I still disagree with her formulation; if you have a boss who wants you to work harder for less money, your best bet is still Capitalism: Get some "hand" in the game by making yourself a more valuable employee, then negotiate a raise or promotion.

Still, the Coulterism is succinct and full of pith, easily adaptable to the distinction between Libya and Madison. Let's phrase it thus:

  • If you're protesting because neither election nor even dissent is allowed, then what you have is an uprising of freedom.
  • If you're protesting because you lost the election -- then what you have is an anti-democratic, totalitarian front.

See? Politics needn't be abstruse or recondite. Betimes the most basic rules are best.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 17, 2011, at the time of 5:06 PM | Comments (1)

Date ►►► March 13, 2011

Nuke Kooks

Hatched by Dafydd

A friend of mine from college days is simply salivating all over Farcebook about the possibility, which seems to excite him no end, that Japan might suffer a nuclear disaster, as the Fukushima Daiichi (Fuku-I) power plant suffers twin meltdowns.

I think his idea is that this event will surely cripple the nuclear industry... and maybe it will force the entire world to dismantle all the nukes! Perhaps we can replace them with bird-friendly windmills.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT, 95% Dem), who should know better, opines that the Fuku-I crisis should lead us to "put the brakes on" building new nuclear power plants:

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., says the administration should assess the scenarios that led to the serious Japanese reactor problems before issuing permits for new U.S. nuclear power plants, Politico reports.

"We’ve got to quietly -- quickly put the brakes on until we’ve absorbed... what’s happening in Japan," Lieberman said Sunday on CBS’ "Face the Nation."

(He also says, "I don’t want to stop the building of nuclear power plants;" handsome is as handsome does.)

So let's assess the reasons for the meltdowns and see how they could affect us. I think it fair to say that if the fifth greatest earthquake in recorded history happens to occur eighty miles offshore of a nuclear power plant, triggering a thirty-foot wall of water that directly strikes the plant at 500 miles per hour, then there is a pretty good chance the reactor may be damaged.

Likewise if a previously undetected volcano erupts nearby, showering the plant with lava; or if a meteorite strikes it dead-on; or if aliens from Arcturus ("fourth brightest star in the sky!") shoot it with a death ray. And there's really not much you can do about any of these, other than dismantle all the nukes and shiver in the freezing dark.

(Imagine how many people would have died if the Fuku-I site had been a high-rise apartment complex instead of a nuclear power plant!)

All right, Joe, we've assessed the scenarios. And now, since nothing could have withstood such a tsunami -- and since tsunamis are completely unpredictable more than a few hours in advance -- let's just get back to the business of building a massive number of new nuclear power plants... preferably Generation IV plants, like integral fast reactors and pebble bed reactors (or at least Generation III+), none of which, I suspect, would have melted down the way the ancient and aging, 1960s technology, boiling-water reactors at Fuku-I have done.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 13, 2011, at the time of 1:29 PM | Comments (4)

Date ►►► March 10, 2011

A Conspiracy of Dunces, Dolts, and Dullards

Hatched by Dafydd

It all started with the programmers at TV Land, and no one had less excuse than they. For God's sake, they show nothing but reruns -- all right, a couple of original series now and then, and recently a few cheesy movies -- but near the entire product on that cable channel comprises half-hour sitcoms and hour-long TV dramas. How on Earth can they so continually run overtime? It's inexplicable and inexcusable.Dullard

But the half-hour show that is supposed to start at 8:00 pm starts at 8:13 instead, and it ends 34 minutes later. The hour-long retread, which fit fine in its alotted 60-minute time slot fifteen years ago, manages to straggle across the finish line five or six minutes later than the proverbial hour; and that's even taking into account the fact that they long since began snipping off the end credits in favor of debasing the final minute of show with a squozen picture above, and below a rolling credit stream that crawls upward faster than the speed of light.

Worse, even though they must know they're blowing over their time slots -- they cannot possibly be ignorant of time, the single most valuable asset in television production -- though they must understand that by squishing in three or four or five extra commercials they're going to run overtime, and over-overtime, and overnth-time, the sons of bachelors and female hounds often don't even bother updating the schedules they submit to cable and satellite services! So when you set your DVR or VCR to record a show, lo and behold, the recording cuts out when the schedule spuriously claims it should, while the program itself dawdles along home like a reluctant eighth-grade boy, scuffing its shoes, stopping to poke a contemplative finger in a picket-fence knothole, and loitering below the window of the high-school girl, hoping she'll forget to close the blinds before disrobing. Or so you must suppose; you'll never know whether the show continued on or not.

Then every so often, they play "catch-up": They block out an hour-long time slot but insert only a half-hour long program... which of course, even with the late start, ends eighteen or twenty minutes early. With the next show starting directly after it, at least a quarter hour before its scheduled commencement. I don't now which is more infuriating.

I got so sick of missing a program's dénouement and sometimes even the climax that I've taken to tacking on an extra five minutes at the beginning and ten at the end, in the pious hope that they won't be more egregiously off the rails than I've allowed for; mostly it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I got used to the errant ways of TVLand, thought it a rogue station, the nail that stands up. But now the same lackadaisical, devil may care attitude towards punctuality has started to spread, like mildew or dry rot, from one channel to the rest. And just today, I was shafted out of the final minutes of the excellent Helen Hayes movie What Every Woman Knows (1934), which ran on Turner Classic Movies. (I should say which overran on TCM). TCM!

Here I am, sitting forward in my seat, as the movie passes to its grand emotional resolution... and as abruptly as some joker slamming your book three pages from "The End," I'm staring at a frozen image and a menu demanding if I want to start anew from the beginning, erase, or record to videotape. I quickly flipped the guide back to that movie's listing; yes indeed, it was housed in an hour and a half time slot, from noon to 1:30 pm.

I grabbed my Maltin: What Every Woman Knows -- 1934 -- ***½ -- 92 minutes.

That's ninety... plus two. 120 seconds longer than an hour and a half. A lot can happen in 120 seconds: A woman can get pregnant in 120 seconds; a stock can rise or fall 15% in 120 seconds; a fast-attack submarine can launch a missile in 120 seconds; a man can die of cell-phone absorption in 120 seconds.

I reckon it's an alien concept to programmers that a viewer might actually want to see the entire movie, even the last 120 seconds; evidently, that's the time when decadent movie programmers customarily display their sophistication and superiority by waddling off to pop yet another bowl of popcorn and make snide, MST3K-like asides, to which their slouching cronies howl like spotted hyenas and bray like beaten donkeys.

(Me, I'm the kind of guy who sits through the entire end credits, even in a movie theater. And I don't talk even during the coming attractions, not even sotto voce. Heck, I've been known to walk halfway up the aisle and push my way across thirty assorted feet, just to grab some movie talker by his smelly, vomit-flecked shirt and tell him if he doesn't shut his yap I'll be pleased to rip his head off and shove my Jujubes down his neck. I take movies. Very. Seriously.)

If I can no longer rely even upon TCM, my Gibralter, my Rushmore, my Jerry's Deli, then the world has been turned head over teakettle.

I despise this sort of slipshoddery, this complete lack of concern for doing a job well. These shows are every one of them known quantities; they are old; they have kicked around since before I was born; they have kicked around since before my father was born, in the case of the Helen Hayes flick. They know exactly how long they run; if nothing else, haven't they a Maltin?

Knowing that key fact, they should be able to shoehorn any program of any length into a listing with a realistic and accurate time slot. How hard can it be? What could possibly go wrong?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 10, 2011, at the time of 7:57 PM | Comments (9)

Date ►►► March 9, 2011

The Pulse of the Axis of Evil

Hatched by Dafydd

Nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons (NEMPs): In a single explosive EMP flash, detonated 400-500 km above the surface and thus impervious to most of our ballistic missile defenses (BMDs), we could lose nearly the entire communications network -- including broadcast television and radio, cable and satellite channels, shortwave and microwave broadcast, and cell phones (which are simply UHF radio phones); all modern unshielded electronic devices -- including computer microprocessors, the internet, hard drives, video- and audiotape, televisions, radio receivers, radar installations, missiles that use sophisticated guidance systems, and microprocessor implants in cars, microwave ovens, thermostats, and the like (some vacuum-tube technology would be spared); and even the nationwide power grid.

All it takes is an enemy ruthless enough, and little-enough concerned about retaliation, to get his hands on such a device, mount it on a missile, and "pull the trigger."

And according to ABC News, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is just this close to developing an NEMP; and North Korea has already used non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons (NNEMPs) against American and South Korean forces in the Korean peninsula... and shows interest in exporting such weapons to radical Islamist countries and organizations:

The North is believed to be nearing completion of an electromagnetic pulse bomb that, if exploded 25 miles above ground would cause irreversible damage to electrical and electronic devices such as mobile phones, computers, radio and radar, experts say.

"We assume they are at a considerably substantial level of development," Park Chang-kyu of the Agency for Defense Development said at a briefing to the parliament Monday.

Park confirmed that South Korea has also developed an advanced electronic device that can be deployed in times of war.

The current attempts to interfere with GPS transmissions are coming from atop a modified truck-mounted Russian device. Pyongyang reportedly imported the GPS jamming system from Russia in early 2000 and has since developed two kinds of a modified version. It has also in recent years handed out sales catalogs of them to nations in the Middle East, according to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo.

(This post is dedicated to all those on the Left -- and the "Realists" on the Right -- who mocked George W. Bush for including North Korea with Iran and Iraq in his original "Axis of Evil" speech.)

Detonating an NEMP high above North America would devastate not only power and communications but the economy (obliterating internet-based financial transactions and electronically stored financial data), transportation (disrupting electronic monitoring and control of everything from traffic signals to freight-train switching to commercial air traffic control), and even our military, much of which relies heavily on GPS navigation and site determination -- though United States forces do still train extensively in low-tech navitation and warfare. The electromagnetic pulse would wash across the entire continental United States, plus the southern part of Canada and northern Mexico, like a tidal wave of voltage-lava, melting all the circuits in its path unless specially shielded.

Such a strike would be utterly devastating, resulting in trillions of dollars in damages... and tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths, both direct (from crashes) and indirect, from loss of medical records, the inability of emergency services to respond to life-or-death situations, utility and power shutdowns, and economic dislocation. Recovery would likely take decades. And there is absolutely nothing we can do at this time to prevent or even mitigate it; shielding every electrical circuit in the U.S. heavily enough to resist an NEMP would dwarf the cost of all natural disasters and terrorist attacks of the last century combined.

A nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack starts by detonating a nuclear warhead in the high atmosphere; this produces a burst of gamma radiation, which triggers beta rays -- that is, high-energy electrons moving at more than 90% the speed of light -- between 20 and 40 km altitude. The gamma radiation is deflected at right angles by the Earth's magnetic field to create an oscillating electric current in the atmosphere. And this oscillation in turn generates a pulse or burst of electromagnetic energy. [Beta-ray correction per commenter Count to 10 on the Hot Air rogues' gallery cross-post. Thanks!]

When this EM firestorm strikes the surface, it will have a peak power density of 50,000 volts and millions of megawatts, easily enough to fry most modern transistors and microcircuits. Since the pulse from detonation to peak value takes only 5 nanoseconds (five billionths of a second), and the entire first component (E1) of the EMP effect is over at about 1 microsecond (one millionth of a second), protection technology -- designed for much slower lightning strikes -- generally cannot react quickly enough to save the delicate printed circuitry that run our electronic devices these days. Any modern device without thick passive shielding will likely be destroyed or severely damaged.

There are additional secondary effects of an NEMP, dubbed E2 and E3, that are respectively similar to lightning strikes (E2) and electromagnetic storms caused by very severe solar flares (E3); surge-protectors can ordinarily handle those -- unless they are compromised, damaged, or destroyed first... which is exactly what phase E1 of a Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse attack accomplishes. Thus the E2 and E3 phases are often much more devastating than are natural lightning strikes and EM storms.

So far, the North Koreans have not detonated any NEMP device; the EM pulses they have used to jam or damage our GPS and other electronic devices are non-nuclear, and their range is much more limited; but the principle is the same. NNEMP weapons (non-nuclear) use a non-nuclear method to generate the initial burst of energy, generally chemical explosives; the energy front is sent through wave-shaping circuits or microwave generators, thence through an antenna:

This is the second time North Korea has sought to interfere with military communications. Pyongyang is thought to have been behind a failure of GPS receivers on some naval and civilian aircraft during another joint military exercise in August.

South Korea's minister of defense at that time had reported to the Congress, warning that the North poses "a fresh security threat" capable of disrupting guided bombs and missiles by sending signals over a distance of up to 60 miles.

However Russia, which sold North Korea the non-nuclear devices that it has used against South Korea and its allies (including the United States), also has an arsenal of the nuclear version; the only force we have to rely on to safeguard against North Korea getting its hands on an NEMP is the basic "decency" and "good sense" of Putin's post-Soviet paradise. Color me unreassured.

The effect of an NEMP detonated over the United States would be catastrophic; but what would be our response? More appropriately, what are we doing to prevent it from happening in the first place?

I'm sure nuclear scientists have tackled the technological aspect of the threat; but we could also begin shielding vital systems, switches, and lines; infiltrating our own Korean-speaking and -looking agents into the DPRK to find out how far they've gotten, rather than overrelying upon intelligence-sharing from the Republic of Korea (South Korea); and even using backchannel communications to warn North Korea's sponsors (mainly Russia and China) that if Kim Jong-il actually utilizes one, we will consider it to be a nuclear attack on the United States -- and we will respond appropriately, both against North Korea and anyone we believe helped them. Or might have helped them.

Obviously, much of the anti-EMP research is heavily classified, and I have no idea how far we've gotten. Is there a wide-area techie defense against an electromagnetic pulse? But I'm far more worried about the political aspect: Simply put, I do not trust the Obama administration to do anything effective on either front. I don't believe they are taking the threat seriously; President Barack H. Obama surely believes that his peerless "smart diplomacy" with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, coupled with his slavish kow-towing to Red China and Russia, will induce the DPRK dictator to back away from his threats to wipe America out via a nuclear EMP.

And even if Kim -- or his looming successor, Kim Jong-un, a.k.a. "Lil' Kim" -- committed the unthinkable against us, what would the Obamunist do about it? He has shown himself incapable of responding to a military threat, incompetent at running a war, and averse to the point of revulsion to defending the United States or retaliating upon our attackers. More than likely the president would issue a very stern diplomatic communique through the proper channels (once radio communications, television broadcasts, word processors, and teleprompters were brought back online); file a criminal and civil complaint in the International Court of Justice at the Hague; and furiously tingle his bell.

And even more likely, that is what Kim believes Obama would do (and not do); which makes it ever so much more probable that North Korea will go right ahead and use the first NEMP they acquire against us... or at least threaten to use it unless Obama capitulates and gives Kim -- well, whatever he demands, again and again. Nothing works better than nuclear blackmail, when you have an anti-American coward and weakling in the White House.

If there is a God, and if He believes we're on His side, then let's hope He ensures that the DPRK does not get a nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon; at least not until we have a president who takes seriously the primary duty of the office: to protect American territory, the American people, and America itself from violent attack by foreign princes and terrorists.

Otherwise, "American exceptionalism" will take on a new and very tragic meaning.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 9, 2011, at the time of 7:58 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Date ►►► March 6, 2011

Everything That's Wrong with the Partisan Media in a Nuthouse

Hatched by Dafydd

The AP story is about the trial of former French President Jacques Chirac on corruption charges. Here are the first two paragraphs:

After years of claiming presidential immunity to avoid legal proceedings, Jacques Chirac is finally facing a court.

The former president, a bugaboo for George W. Bush during his rush to war in Iraq, on Monday becomes France's first former head of state to go on trial since its Nazi-era leader was exiled.

Talk about snide, irrelevant, and erroneous side comments! Cushlamochree, why not go all the way? The former president, a bugaboo for would-be fascist dictator and mastermind of the fake 9/11 attacks George W. Bush during his attempt to become mafia boss of the entire world, on Monday becomes France's first former head of state to go on trial since its Nazi-era leader was exiled.

One presumes the "reporter" of this piece (of something), Jamey Keaton, was thinking about that "rush to war in Iraq" that occured scant hours after the September 11th attacks. You remember how that went: As the World Trade Center buildings are still collapsing -- after the controlled demolition planted by Bush's men in black -- the Bush administration pronounces the slander that benign Saddam Hussein is behind it all. Within a couple of days, Bush the Lying Tyrant preemptively and unilaterally invades Iraq, killing more than 1,200,000 innocent Iraqi civilians and looting the country of all its oil, then installs a puppet government controlled by the Jewish Lobby. America commits the greatest crime against humanity in all history, all alone with no allies, while the rest of the world stands appalled, wringing its hands in anguish.

Yeah, that's how I remember it, too.

The entire issue of Bush's "rush to war in Iraq" never appears again; there is a partial reference at the very end... but the word "rush" is replaced by a more neutral term:

In his term, Chirac was perhaps best known internationally for vocally opposing Bush's drive to war in Iraq, and earlier, for resuming French nuclear tests in the South Pacific and recognizing the French state's responsibility in the Nazi deportation of Jews during World War II.

My guess is that Keaton has no idea there is even any controversy about Bush "rushing" to war in Iraq; in the intellectual trickle he swims in, he has literally never heard anyone question the thesis that we accused Hussein and invaded Iraq right after the 9/11 attack (or fraud). The real history has long since fallen down the memory hole at the Associated Press. (Heck, among a batch of liberal science-fiction writers I know, history had already been rewritten by 2004, the year after we actually invaded Iraq, and nearly two years -- plus one war -- after the terrorist attack that slaughtered three thousand innocents.)

There is the left-liberal mindset on public display: It must be true, because it would be so perfect (for our Bush Derangement Syndrome) if it were true! Just as it must be true that the "Teabaggers" are just racists upset that we have a black president, because it would be so ideologically perfect if it were true. It must be true that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is trying to crush the workers, because it would so perfectly fit our class-warfare fairy tale if it were true. And anthropogenic global climate change must be true, because it would be so useful to our anti-technology Ludditism if it were true.

To a certain extent, we all remember things not the way they happened, but they way they ought to have happened; yet liberals, socialists, and Progressivists drag this ordinary human failing down to unexplored depths of mental degradation.

If you asked Keaton why he felt compelled to shoehorn that gratuitous and inappropriate slur into a completely unrelated story, he would look puzzled and say, "What do you mean?" In the first place, since he believes the foolish accusation himself, he doesn't see it as a slur; and in the second place, liberalism itself preaches that it's never inappropriate to smear the Right; after all, haven't you ever heard RadFem Carol Hanisch's maxim that "the personal is political?"

In the long run, I refuse to believe that an ideology so innately based upon delusion and fear will survive. But "the long run" may be very long indeed by the measurement of ordinary lives: Pre-Enlightenment totalitarian Christianity lasted for seventeen centuries, while Islam is still going strong after more than thirteen. I hope that doesn't augur another millennium of liberalist lawfare and eccentric economics!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 6, 2011, at the time of 11:58 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Date ►►► March 3, 2011

There's Gotta Be a Better Way

Hatched by Dafydd

...But if there is, I'll bet we never implement it.

I just finished our taxes (federal and California). Here are the numbers...

No, not our gross, adjusted gross, or taxable incomes, our tax liabilities, or our refunds, you stretch-eared peddlers in gossip! Who would be reckless enough to post something like that on the World Wide Wikileak? No -- I mean these numbers, the really important ones:

  • Federal tax return: 11 forms, schedules, and whatnot totaling 16 pages.
  • California tax return: 20 forms, schedules, and suchlike totaling 26 pages. (Larger because the state return requires most of the federal return as an appendage.)

...And we are thoroughly middle-income, with a job, a mortgage, a small business, and with some charitable donations. As Jerry Pournelle is wont to say on the spur of a hat, ye flipping gods!

Note that neither total includes all the various worksheets required to calculate the amounts that must go on each form. Those are extra: You have to fill them out, but you don't necessarily send them in (though some you must).

All I can say is... thank goodness for Turbo Tax. I'm sure other tax-preparation does just as well; but why in the world should ordinary people with ordinary tax returns be de facto required either to purchase and learn how to use such software or else hire a professional tax preparer to run the program for you? It's unconscionable.

Apart from the money -- we pay far too much in taxes in the United States of Appropriation -- the sheer complexity of our income-tax system swiftly approaches actual tyranny: When ordinary, reasonably well educated adults cannot fill out a required (on pain of incarceration!) form without microprocessor hand-holding or a paid guy with a green eyeshade; when the forms are so voluminous and confusing that costly mistakes are almost guaranteed; when there are so many rules and regulations that ordinary blokes live in dread of the Infernal Revenue Service "reinterpreting" them our of their refunds (and conceivably into la calabooza), then the tree of liberty has rotted away, and the world has gone utterly mad.

Remember that the Boston Tea Party was not over the size of the tea tax but the process that enacted it; there is nothing absurd about a people revolting over the process of paying it, as well. For many of us, the angst of calculating Uncle Sugar's extortion payment is as bad as the actual amount of squeeze we must cough up.

For the sake of our nation's sanity, we must find some way to simplify the taxing system. There are of course several ways to do so; the European taxing model generally comprises only two simple steps:

  1. Tell us how much you earned last year.
  2. Send it in.

That's simple enough, but I'd tolerate a little more complexity than that just to avoid having to learn how to speak with a comical accent.

Many countries' system is even simpler, comprising but a single step:

  1. Here is allowance we have allotted you, Comrade. You have problem with that?

But surely there must be a happy medium somewhere between one line and 42 pages of detailed accounting gibberish.

Some advocate a national sales tax to take the place of the income tax, but I'll tell you what would actually happen if we tried it: For the first eight or nine iterations of the bill, it would replace the income tax; but then some Democrat would propose an amendment, swiftly adopted by all the power-mad statists in Congress... and the final bill as enacted and signed would give us -- a national sales tax in addition to the bloody income tax! The putative "Fair Tax" is right out, in most people's opinion (including mine).

So let's consider the "flat" tax instead, so-called because everybody would pay the same flat percentage of his income: How much did you make? Pay us X% of that amount, whether you're Rupert Murdoch or Schneider the building super. In the pure form of the flat tax, there are no exemptions or exceptions; in a modified version, which is what flat-taxers mostly push, the first X dollars are exempted from the tax, in order not to tax paupers.

As our first rough, back-of-the-thumbnail calculation, note that the Gross Domestic Product of the United States is around $14.7 trillion, while the total tax revenues for the country is about $2.2 trillion. Last year, 42% of taxes collected came from personal income taxes, while 9% came from corporate taxes, for a total of 51% or $1.1 trillion; call this the Earnings Tax, or ET. (The rest was Social Security-like taxes, 40%, and excise, estate, and gift taxes, 9%.)

The GDP represents what we collectively "earn," while the ET is what would be replaced by a flat tax. Simple division indicates that, in order to make the pure flat tax revenue-neutral (collect about the same as the present system), the percentage would have to be about 7.5% taxed on all income, no matter how it was earned (wages, business income, dividends, investments sold for profit, rents and royalties, everything.)

But suppose we have a modified system instead, one that exempts the first, let's say $15,000 of every person's income; so a family with two earners would get a $30,000 exemption, and so forth. We would clearly need a higher percentage tax on the rest of income.

How much total would be exempt from the flat tax? Again, the roughest of calculations suggests it would be the first $3.4 trillion of GDP (I multiplied $15,000 by the number of adults in the U.S., about 228.2 million). Thus the rate of the modified flat tax on the taxed portion of GDP ($11.3 trillion) would be about 9.7%. Even that rate doesn't seem that bad.

Three major caveats, however:

  • We arbitrarily picked a floor exemption of $15,000 per person; if instead we picked $18,000, that would change the tax rate for a modified flat tax to roughly 10.4%... so the floor exemption dramatically affects the tax rate.
  • These numbers are static; they don't take into account how changing the tax system from massively complex to fairly simple might energize the economy. This would increase the tax base, thus allowing us to decrease the rate, assuming Congress doesn't mind letting people keep more of their own money. (And while we're on the subject of Utopia, maybe they'll all simultaneously stop selling their souls for campaign funds and demagoguing issues for political gain, as well.)
  • We assumed the flat tax would be revenue neutral, but there is no reason to "lock in" the high taxes we have today. We could also take the opportunity to reduce taxes. (And maybe we'll invent Star Trek replicators next Thursday after lunch, and we can all have a free lunch.)

But those changes probably wouldn't budge the meter that much. If every money-earning entity was taxed at the same rate, it should be do-able at about 10%. But remember, that's 10% of the total income (line 22 of your Form 1040) minus the exempted amount (the $15,000 per person) -- not 10% of the "taxable income," as currently defined, or even the "adusted gross income," both of which are artificially reduced by a lengthy series of dubious and increasingly improbable deductions, exemptions, credits, shelters, alternative accounting practices, loitering, malingering, disturbing the war, and mopery with intent to gawk.

Even with all caveats and roughness accounted for, it still seems plausible; and it would certainly make life simpler for most taxpayers, though it might lead to serious unemployment among accountants and tax preparers. Looking at my own return, under the system above, I would pay about 20% less; richer people and businesses would pay somewhat more; but they would save on the cost of preparing their taxes, complying with the tax laws, and no longer having their own economic activity distorted by the tax code (that is, the government would no longer be able to control people's behavior by monkeying with the tax code). I call that a win-win.

But this is sheer folly; we're never going to change, for the simple reason that every jot and tittle of the tax code, no matter how goofy, was put there due to intense lobbying and campaign-cash pressure by some powerful special interest; and that interest will fight hammer and tooth to keep it, no matter the cost. Having such strong financial interests in every syllable and punctuation mark of the tax code, the lobbyists will always have far more incentive to fight to keep it than the general public has to fight to eliminate it; thus each deduction will abide: They are the eternal earmarks of the tax-evading nomenklatura.

So in the end, I'm left where I began: Thank goodness for Turbo Tax!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 3, 2011, at the time of 2:32 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

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