Friday, December 23, 2005

Top Political Plays of America's Founding Fathers

In honor of the countdowns of the best and worst of 2005, I present the top political plays of America's Founding Fathers, in no particular order.

This week's play comes from an exchange, over breakfast, between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. When Jefferson asked over the breakfast table why a second legislative chamber had been created, Washington asked, "Why did you pour coffee into your saucer?" "To cool it," Jefferson answered. "Even so," said Washington, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."

Next week: James Madison.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Winter Solstice Holiday Greeting To All

To all of our loyal PeP bloggers out there please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

In addition, please also accept our best wishes for a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make this country great (not to imply that this country is necessarily greater than any other country or area of choice), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual orientation of the wishers.

This wish is limited to the customary and usual good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first. "Holiday" is not intended to, nor shall it be considered, limited to the usual Judeo-Christian celebrations or observances, or to such activities of any organized or ad hoc religious community, group, individual or belief (or lack thereof).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Bid for a Better Life

For the first time in months I've had the leisure to watch TV. I've been following the coverage of the NY mass transit strike on MSNBC and Fox. It is remarkable how little time they devote to informing their audience of the actual demands of the Transport Workers Union (TWU). One clear avenue to end the strike, capitulating to the demands of the Union, is a discussion that is not even broached on television. On television, Bloomberg and almost all ordinary New Yorkers are portrayed as the good guys, just trying to get to work, enjoy Broadway, and eat at fancy restaurants in Manhatten. Whereas Roger Toussaint, the leader of the Union, is described as "radical" and "militant," thuggishly making "greedy" and "illegal" demands. Ironically, the more the media capture New Yorkers walking to work or wherever, the less disruptive seems to be the strike (especially for viewers that have never been to NYC). Let them walk, run and bicycle!

From what MSNBC and Fox have run, Toussaint and his supporters are black, while Bloomberg and his groupies are white. Ya think this has something to do with how this is playing out? This is clearly also a racial conflict. And it brings to mind the wisdom of Malcolm X: When someone disturbs you in the middle of the night to alert you to a fire in your house, don't blame the messenger. Today, unfortunately, we see that there is fire in New York, and the talking heads want to discuss the prospects of fines and jail-time for the messengers. This does not help anybody.

I support the transit workers asserting themselves as strikers, making a bid for a better life. I think it is wholly in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s non-violent disobedience to unjust laws, with the full awareness and acceptance that one may have to spend time in jail, as MLK did. Emphasizing the "illegal" nature of such activity is immature and besides the point. To seek justice one is required to break unjust laws. For now, at least, it seems that Bloomberg has the good sense not to throw the Union leaders in jail, for he knows that that will not do anything to change the conditions that lead to the strike in the first place. Agreement on a contract is in the best interest for all parties involved.

What little time they give to Toussant is most telling. In a 10 second or so sound bite, he said, to paraphrase, "Bloomberg, a billionaire, is calling us greedy? Come on." He's got a point. Moreover, as a non-New Yorker, I was surprised to discover that Bloomberg doesn't even live in Brooklyn, making his heavily televised walk among the people to work quite theatrical. As one TWU supporter said in an article, he must have been driven with his entourage to the Brooklyn bridge, so that he could then fashion himself as a victim, together with the other walkers, of evil thuggish strikers ('Look what they've done, those bastards'). A good political move, to be sure, but otherwise ridiculous.

You want me to buy the argument that the government's hands aren't dirty? To be sure, the strikers are responsible for their actions, but let's be just in our attributions of responsibility and consider why transit workers would demand better pensions, etc., in the first place. Greedy people do not strike; desperate people do.

Santa=Satan, Pope Santa=Pope Satan

Now, I am all about the new Pope. The "Tyranny or Dictatorships of Relativism" is Money stuff. Though, like my fellow contributor Anti- I do have reservations about some of his recent penumbras and emanations (P.S. I have no idea if that is the proper usage but it sounds really cool). But come on, where is his P.R. man on this one. He looks like a little Elvish Satan in this photo. Somebody is going to burn in hell.

Brokeback Mountain and Gay Ninjas

It is oscar season and Hollywood has come out with a movie about gay cowboys. I love Westerns. I really do. Frontier Justice, a rope and a post. Good stuff. Further, anything with horses really gets me going. There was this crap movie recently with Viggo Mortensen in some desert horse race. I ate it up. The movie's title was "Buttercup" or "Hidalgo" or something. It was the horse's name. And this horse was fierce. But I have to say, while I will watch Brokeback Mountain pursuant to my cyber obligations of staying informed of all trivial matters of public discourse, I am not excited about watching Brokeback Mountain. In my neck of the woods, Gay is like the new Black. It just isn't that taboo. In fact, people are always pestering me about my uptight heterosexual ways (not only do I date females, but only one at a time-as they say in Blog Speak--GBS(Guilty of Being a Stiff)).

So there are two things that will annoy me about this movie (though, I have given myself permission in advance to change my mind).

1. Every liberal columnist under the sun will bitch and moan about how homophobic middle Americans are as evidenced by low box office revenues for brokeback mountain.
2. In a conventional sense, the movie will suck.

First, it is a proven fact that if this movie were about Lesbian Cowgirls (and they happened to be hot- think Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Alba, meeooowww!) this movie would be Titanic big. So I am not going to discuss thing#1, but thing #2 is of vital importance to me. My criteria for a good Western is that (1) at a minimum it has to have some bitchin' action scenes and (2) that it has an interesting plot (whatever that means, really, criterion 2 is not necessary if criterion 1 is fully satisfied). Westerns really lend themselves to satisfying the fomer criterion. Cowboys do all types of cool shit: they lasso everything (steers, bad guys, women, twinkies, whatever); they shoot everything (buffalo, indians, other cowboys, beer cans); they shoot and lasso things while riding horses. Badass. (Note: actually my favorite thing is when you see people on the caboose of a train and they are shooting herds of buffalo and you see the buffalo start tumbling over the fallen buffalo. That's really cool!) So if Brokeback Mountain does not prominently feature lassoing and shooting while riding horseback, it will be a crap movie, at least in my view and that of many other red-blooded males (read:none of the PeP contributers except for Dingo). It will also reaffirm Gay stereotypes. And we can't have any competition there can we Mr. Kressley(Queer Eye reference for you squares that aren't hip to it).

If the only thing this movie has going for it is two guys bitching and moaning about their feelings for each other, of course it won't do well. Chick Flick, much. If the idea is to show that even a rough and tumble cowboy can be gay, at least make him look like a cowboy as opposed to a member of the Village People. Have him kick ass and ask questions later, and show incidentally that he digs on men and has relationship difficulties or other fru fru elements. I just wish that Western movies was one genre that could transcend the mundane and PC debates about sexual orientation. Cowboys deserve that much.

On another note, I want to offer this movie concept to any filmmaker, free of charge, that is how much I believe in this idea (and my ideas are gold-Schindler List, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Gone with the Wind, major cred). GAY NINJAS. Ninjas are cool, Samurais suck. If you watch Samurai movies they are always deliberating on ethics and philosophy and saying stuff like "woe is me, I am a badass and have to kick ass and ask questions later but am leery of disturbing the natural balance of wood and steel" or some other crazy shit. Ninjas are stealth, they have killer outfits, and they kill people. I really think the Army should investigate, 1, the possibility of deploying Ninjas in the Iraqi theatre, and, 2, whether or not an exception can be carved out for ninjas that happen to be gay. I suppose one of the basic problems is that if you know the ninjas are gay already that sort of obliterates the don't ask, don't tell stuff. So, it may be best to deploy an army of Gay Ninjas through the NSA or CIA. Just some thoughts.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Kristof Throws Down the Gauntlet

Nicholas Kristof gives Bill O'Reilly a Christmas cause:

So I have a challenge for Mr. O'Reilly: If you really want to defend traditional values, then come with me on a trip to Darfur. I'll introduce you to mothers who have had their babies clubbed to death in front of them, to teenage girls who have been gang-raped and then mutilated - and to the government-armed thugs who do these things.

You'll have to leave your studio, Bill. You'll encounter pure evil. If you're like me, you'll be scared. If you try to bully some of the goons in Darfur, they'll just hack your head off. But you'll also meet some genuine conservative Christians - aid workers who live the Gospel instead of sputtering about it - and you'll finally be using your talents for an important cause.

So, Bill, what'll it be? Will you dare travel to a real war against Christmas values, in which the victims aren't offended shoppers but terrified children thrown on bonfires? I'm waiting to hear.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wealth and Taxes

Recently under the comments of a previous post I was referred to as a "Debbie Downer", so in response I have decided to write a post that does not pertain to homophobia, war or genocide.

I was recently forwarded an article last week entitled Tax Cuts for the Wealthy: Appearances v. Reality. The premise of this article argues that even though taxes on the wealthiest one percent of Americans has steadily dropped since 1980 from 70% to the 23.3% today, the total percentage of the tax burden paid by the wealthiest one percent has risen. The author claims that this is suppose to demonstrate that those who argue against tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans “at some point must decide what really matters to them -- the appearance of soaking the rich by imposing high statutory tax rates that may cause actual tax payments by the wealthy to fall, or lower rates that may bring in more revenue that can pay for government programs to aid the poor?

But the underlying purpose of tax cuts is not to get more money for the government, the purpose is to increase economic growth for all Americans, and that was the reasoning that Bush and other presidents before him have used to explain why tax cuts are necessary. But it is impossible to see whether or not they were successful in their endeavor without looking at the disparity between the richest and the poorest, they are intrinsically connected and to look at one without looking at the other is impossible.

My argument is that the article’s thesis is flawed because it fails to take into consideration the increase wealth disparity that has occurred over the past 25 years. The fact that tax cuts have resulted in more revenue from taxes doesn’t really mean anything except that the tax cuts benefited the wealthiest Americans and had no real effect on the poorest Americans or the average American.

If the goal of tax cuts was simply to increase government revenue then that would be fine, but that has never been the reason for implementing tax cuts, and by looking at the data and increases in wealth historically throughout the past 25 years it is obvious that tax cuts have benefited the wealthiest Americans while doing little for the average American.

While the divide between the wealthiest and the poorest has continued to grow, there has been no real significant change for the average American. Adjusted for inflation the average annual income from 1970-1998 has only increased 9.3% over the past 30 years, from $32,522 to $35,864, compared to an increase of 395% for the wealthiest Americans. (Gutman)

The article’s thesis argues that people who are critical of tax cuts and argue that they only benefit the wealthiest Americans are wrong. When in actuality you can see that over the past 25 years the wealthiest Americans have reaped almost all of the economic gains. Many who support tax cuts argue that when the economy grows that everyone benefits, but this data shows that only the wealthiest people benefit and everyone else basically stays the same. The argument that a rising tide (economic growth) raises all boats does not hold true. The data proves that a rising tide only raises the yachts that are able to take advantage of it and the average American does not benefit. (Click here for more data concerning wealth and income inequality)

Now let me give an example. If you line up the wealthiest 1 percent in a line starting with the richest and working your way down based on wealth, you will see that over the past quarter century the line up has not really changed, what has changed is that the amount of wealth these individuals have gained has increased at an amazing rate. While at the same time the benefits of a growing economy have yet to benefit the average American, therefore demonstrating that although tax revenue from the wealthiest 1% has increased with tax cuts, the actual economic well being of the average American has failed to grow at even close to the same rates, thus the tax cuts are still just a sell out to the wealthiest Americans.

Now I am aware of the counter argument to all of this which was very well stated by a conservative friend of mine, and for reference later in this post I will refer to this as the “conservative argument”. He wrote, “Tax cuts for the wealthy benefit the poor more than they do the wealthy. A rich person will be rich whether you take 90% or 20% of their income. However it is what you do not see at the surface of this scenario that benefits the working class and the government. The rich person has no incentive to build a factory when the income generated from the factory will be taxed at a high rate. What is seen is the high tax rate, what is unseen is the economic activity that is not generated. With a lower tax rate the rich person will have incentive to build a factory. The rich person benefits with a profit, the workers get jobs and income, and the government collects taxes on the factory income and from the workers.”

I understand this argument and I am not arguing that expansion of business does not occur. What I am arguing is that the expansion rate of business is not at all in line with the enormous increases in the concentration of wealth.

Here is how I see the problem. Take for example Wal-Mart, last year their net income increased 8% to $7.64 billion. Now Wal-Mart took some of that additional income and invested it in opening new stores, which under the “conservative argument” creates new jobs and helps the poor. But at the same time they created new jobs that did nothing to decrease the divide between the poor and the rich. Instead it created jobs that still offered full-time wages that were barely enough to live on. So yes according to the “conservative argument” it did create new investment, the problem was that the investment only created new jobs that required people working them to stay at a low economic level.

Then compare that to Costco. Last year Costco increased their net income by 13%. With this increase they plan to open 30 new stores in 2006 creating numerous new jobs. Thus they are following the “conservative argument”. The interesting thing about this is that Costco pays wages that are 40% higher then Wal-Mart and they provide affordable healthcare coverage to 90% of their full and part-time workers. Add onto this that Costco has a turnover rate that is five times lower then Wal-Mart and that they promote almost 100% from within. Therefore a company that offers good wages keeps their workers and then promotes their workers up, therefore giving every worker the ability to move up income brackets and live a more prosperous life. This sounds great.

The problem with this, according to many Wall Street analysts, is that by having Costco offer such high wages and benefits they are taking away from money that should be going back to shareholders in the form of increased investment in expansion projects or dividends. However, if Costco would follow the advice of analysts they would be perpetuating the problems of an increasing divide between the wealthy and the poor since most of those who are investors and shareholders are already in the upper percentage of wealth. But by continuing their current strategy they are actually helping to fill the gap between the poor and the rich, while at the same time operating a profitable and competitive business.

That is how I think this issue needs to be addressed. I am not necessarily arguing that we should hike the hell out of taxes on the wealthiest Americans, I would actually be in favor of cutting taxes if that was coupled with legislation that also forced companies to adopt wage and promotion policies like Costco is currently using. The problem is that most companies are not following this policy at all and instead strictly adopt a policy that makes increasing shareholder wealth the main priority and ignoring the stakeholders and society in general who are not shareholders. And when the priority is increasing shareholder wealth at the cost of workers and the general public then the policy only perpetuates the disparity of wealth between the poor and the rich.

I am too cynical to think that companies would be willing to adopt these policies strictly because of market pressure, so that is why I think that there needs to be legislation that forces companies to do so. I would argue that something has to be done or else in 30-50 years the distribution of wealth in this country will be similar to current distribution in Latin American countries, and I don’t know anyone who thinks that would be a positive thing.

So those are my arguments, but I am by no means an expert on anything I just spoke about so please chime in all of you loyal PePers and let me know what you think.

Christmas: the only time "deck" is used as a verb

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The World at War

The Strib has an article outlining the secular war on Christmas, or at least the people who pretend that there is such a thing. Mostly, it's about people getting angry that stores say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." This is cause for concern, as it means that certain companies are striving for inclusiveness rather than kowtowing to the majority.

Happily, many Minnesotans are intelligent enough to realize that there are people in the world other than themselves. Rev. Frank Nelson of Woodbury Baptist: "Christians should not impose their beliefs on an entity like business. ... We are not a Christian culture. We have a culture with lots of traditions."

Happy Holidays, PePers. I love you all.

By "Body Farm," I of course mean "Stench Village--with Corpses"

According to the Strib, and Iowa professor wants to use three acres of prime Iowa farmland for forensic anthropology research. He wants to see how bodies decompose in diverse conditions, in "a car, a trunk, or in the front seat[.] Underground, aboveground, and in the water[.]"

He's written grant proposals and is hoping the federal government will give him some cash. The locals, of course, are not ecstatic.

Money quote 1: "Wow. ... I'm shocked," [the County Board Chairman] said. "We're a conservative kind of county, with conservative values, morals. I don't know how that would play out here."

Money quote 2: "Right now, the only smells we got there is hogs and cattle. And now you're talking about human parts. I don't know."

I'm not sure what conservatism has to do with learning how the body decomposes, but I am sure that hogs and cattle do not smell good.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What Holocaust?

The new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues in the fine tradition of Middle Eastern Leaders (dictators) in denying the holocaust. This follows a recent statement about wiping Israel off the map. A novel take on the "Charm Offensive".


Did anyone else read this in Citypages? There was a concert, a shooting, and all hell breaking loose. In essence, a little bit of violence, a little bit of cursing, a lot of pot smoking and the money quote:

"Shotgun, bitch!" "Shotgun, bitch!" "Shotgun, bitch!" shouted the woman in back.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Sad Anniversary

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor which led to one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Over the course of nearly 25 years the Indonesian military slaughtered over 200,000 East Timorese which equals about 1/3 of the East Timor population.

Recently released documents show US officials were aware of the invasion plans nearly a year in advance. They reveal that in 1977 the Carter Administration blocked declassification of a cable transcribing President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger's meeting with Indonesian dictator Suharto on December 6, 1975 in which they explicitly approved of the invasion, one day before the invasion took place.

During the nearly 25 year occupation 90 percent of the weapons used by the Indonesian military to carry out the massacres were provided by the United States. Military support to the Indonesian government was still being provided until 1999.

There were numerous UN declarations condemning the invasion of East Timor, similar to those declarations condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. But US pressure on the UN blocked any enforcement of these declarations and US support for the Indonesian dictatorship continued.

It was also announced a few weeks ago that the U.S. will resume military assistance to Indonesia, which it has not done since 1999.

I would encourage everyone to watch an excerpt from the documentary “Massacre: The Story Of East Timor”, which does a great job of documenting a number of the human rights violations and massacres committed by the Indonesian military during the 25 year occupation of East Timor. The excerpt is about 15 minutes long.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Creationists: Please stop talking about "gaps" in theories

Swiss cheese has gaps. The GAP is also a clothing store. Scientific theories do not have gaps. To be sure, practitioners like to talk about their well-knit theories, which invites the attack that the theory in question is riven with holes and gaps. But this is nonsense. And here is how faithful PeP readers can arm themselves against it.

1. State what a "gap" in a theory means: "the gap only reflects, at most, a limitation now existing but in the future to be done away with."

2. Pre-empt the reply that the "gap" proves the theory to be bankrupt: "even if it is true that science has not yet offered an explanation for X, you cannot derive a positive conclusion from this negative fact. Existing ignorance does not justify the assertion of the existence of another region, not very precisely defined, of a different nature wherein supernatural explanations hold sway."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Our Beloved Congress

You know, some days I get confused. I think, "There's a war going on in Iraq, another in Afghanistan. Our educational system has not exactly been stellar the last few years. Poverty is still around. A California congressman was just found guilty of taking bribes in exchange for favors that he could only grant if he were able to get other people to grant him favors. Our budgets are larded with pork barrel spending. Congress sure has a lot of work to do."

Then, I notice that they are planning to look at the BCS system. And I think, "Thank God for Congress, the one body in our nation that really takes a look at the big things before setting its eyes on the minutiae."

Of course, my thanks is obviously well-founded, since they've also looked at horse racing and, everyone's favorite, steroids.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Revisiting Freakonomics

The source of Bill Bennett's foot in mouth moment is resurfacing in the news and the blogosphere. Freakonomics, the controversial book by U. Chicago Economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner created an uproar by asserting that the legalization of abortion was the primary driver behind the reduction in crime in the U.S. over the past decade or so. A working paper produced at the Fed in Boston is now challenging Levitt's findings. Warning! the following links are centered around debating the assumptions of applied econometrics, in plain english, BORING! Nonetheless, to revisit an interesting debate:

Freakonomics Blog (Levitt's Blog)

A Wall Street Journal Arcticle (Naturally a bit presumptive)

Steven Sailer: the Freakanomics Stalker