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Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Think I Am Alone This Political Year

I have no excitement about any candidate. Sometimes we have to pick the lesser of two evils. This year we are forced to pick the lesser of two evil positions. There is no candidate for which I can display more than 50% agreement. Maybe I am missing something, but I think it is more because I have become so hardened to the political rhetoric that means nothing. At the moment, everyone is staying as close to both sides of their parties as possible, and not wanting to alienate anyone.

For me to be excited about a candidate, I need one who:

1) WILL secure the borders. Our nation is so large that there is no way to completely stop every single determined person from getting in across one of our borders. However, there are entire criminal enterprise built around exporting people to America. This is not only an economic problem, but one that is a serious national security gap.

2) Supports and WILL reduce government spending. The GOP is as bad as the dems on this issue. I tire of the NEA grants and bridges to nowhere. I worked for the government, and I know first hand that the procurement and purchasing system wastes about 40% of every dime spent. To purchase lysol for an office: $8.00. I am not kidding. Did you know that many government offices RENT furniture instead of purchasing it? I worked in an office where the annual rental of furniture was over $50,000. We rented for FOUR YEARS. We probably could have purchased it all for $60,000. This is a post-it note on the budget, I know, but it is an example of the outdated and out-moded and just plain negligence on the part of congress to deal with real issues. We need less involvement in professional sports and a little more attention to what they should actually be doing on the hill. If you don't expect them to be responsible with your money, why do you elect them? Just to posture for your pet cause?

3) Recognizes that radical Islam and this war on terror SHOULD last for several generations. I warn you now that as soon as we can leave Iraq, people will be so delighted and at the same time so short-sighted that we will not pursue any of the other problems such as Syria and Pakistan. This is an effort that should continue, both diplomatically and militarily. (Off point but on topic - I bet you have no idea how many U.S. troops were killed in Iraq in December. I bet there has been NO report of this number lately, because while it is news it isn't news that fits an agenda. They loved to tell you when the number was over 100, but not now that the violence has been largely quashed. To save you the effort, the number is 23. in the month of the second most important Christian holiday, in a country where two years ago we were clueless, the numebr was 23.)

We can actually look at Hezbollah and HAMAS for some counter terrorist strategies. My graduate thesis included this concept, and I could have written another hundred pages. These groups do more than conduct terrorist operations; they have political and social wings that drive the public support. In the world of terrorism, the most important level of support is passive support. That is the population as a whole that supports the efforts of the group. These two organizations recognized that a long time ago, and have capitalized on it. We need a multi-faceted strategy that included humanitarian efforts, diplomatic efforts, and military pressures.

4) Begins a real effort at tax reform.

5) Finds a realistic and responsible answer for health care/insurance. I am not ignorant of the outrageous cost of health care and insurance. I am aware of the correlation between poor health, death, and the quality of care based on the ability to pay. However, imposing fines and making me a criminal because I don't sign up for a federal health insurance plan is not the answer. Forcing a huge tax increase so that I have to pay for my own insurance and then everyone else's insurance is not the answer. We need work, not words and ideas that make people feel good.

6) Has the mindset that we need strong minds on the U.S. Supreme Court (USSC) and nominate Justices that apply the rule of law and don't become creative with the U.S. Constitution. You would think that many USSC sessions are a deleted scene from the movie "National Treasure" and they look for the invisible ink between the lines. This has to stop.

These are my biggest concerns. Notice that these issues deal with the "general welfare" of the people and not any particular pet cause that I support. There is nothing about special rights for groups, no socially conscious issues like three toed tree sloths and their shrinking habitat because someone cut some trees in Arkansas. These are things that affect us all, and have languished because of politics for a long time.

What are your main interests in a candidate?

11 Posts From Readers:

ECOPHOTOS said...

Robert, I leave tomorrow for Savannah to spend time with my daughter who is coming home from Iraq. I would like to participate in this thread, but won't be back until late January.

Nevertheless, here are some quick thoughts. When one says, "I am conservative," I think it is important to be more precise. One recent article spoke of three constituencies within the Republican Party - neo-con, neo-social conservative, and fiscal conservative. Not all are compatible.

Neo-cons, for instance, are not fiscal conservatives (although they say so at campaign time). In fact, I would argue that neo-cons are not conservative at all (if you look at the biographies of William Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, for instance, they were yesterday's neo-liberals and socialists).

In fact, the classifications get more complex. At last count, there are perhaps 20 different flavors and varieties. Perhaps the labels are not important, but they are a historical reference point.

But what concerns me now are not the Heinz varieties of conservative or liberal, but how we will govern in the future. The rancor and paralysis of the past 7 years are truly disturbing, and I like the themes of bipartisanship sounded by Huckabeee and Obama.

Of the six issues that you identified, I can probably find common ground with you, or at least a workable consensus, on at least four of them. But I will have to save these thoughts until I return.

Robert (Conservative Commentary) said...

I am glad to hear your duaghter is returning unscathed. Again, I would like to convey my appreciation and gratitude for her service.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the post. When you return you will find that your comments generated a distinct post on my definition of myself and my personal conservatism.

Safe travels.

ECOPHOTOS said...

There was an incident in the State of Florida that made national headlines a few weeks ago, a 70-car pile-up on Route 4 leaving four dead and numerous injuries. Not reported in the national news was a grim reality: There were only two law enforcement officers on duty at the time. Why? Budget cutbacks allocated only one State Police Officer per county.

I mention this incident in the context of taxation and ask this question: What do we value as a society? Or to rephrase the question, what is the public willing to sacrifice in terms of public safety, education, health care, and other essential services in pursuit of lower taxes?

Having lived in London in the 1980s where the Value Added Tax (VAT = sales tax) was 17%, and having lived in Paris in the 1990s where the VAT was 22%, all this on top of income taxes approaching 50%, I do not understand prevailing attitudes at all.

Bottom line: Americans have among the lowest tax costs in the world; yet clamor for even lower taxes. There is an aura of unreality in our public dialogue fueled by political chicanery and opportunism.

There are three ways to tax citizens: 1-regressive, 2-flat, and 3-progressive. In recent years, there has been a shift away from progressive taxation to a more regressive system. Warren Buffet states that he pays a 15% tax on $50 million annual income whereas his secretary earning a tiny fraction pays a marginal tax rate of 33%. This is an example of “regressive” taxation.

Should persons earning less income pay a higher marginal rate compared with persons earning far more? Please note: There are over 1,500 taxpayers earning over $200 Million per year paying the same 15% rate. Is this fair?

Lets look at the so-called “flat” tax. In concept, it would charge all citizens, regardless of income, at a constant rate. This sounds equitable on the surface, but lets look at the details:

Suppose, for instance, your family earns $60K to $80K in annual income. The first $20K is below the poverty level and hardly covers your basic needs; thus you need the next $20K just as badly as the first $20K. For a family of four, the next $20K is just as important as the previous $40K, and so on. Indeed, lower taxes can make an important difference in quality of life for income earners in the $60K to $80K tax brackets.

But what about those earning $10 Million a year or more? How much more than $500K or $1 Million a year is really necessary for economic survival? There is no evidence to support the view that “trickle-down” economics (defined as giving tax breaks to the wealthy in order to create jobs for lower income earners) is a viable theory. In fact, experience has shown that wealthier income earners pocket their tax windfalls … resulting in no job creation at all.

Lets look at economic performance for the past 7 years. For the middle class, real wages adjusted for inflation have declined by over $2,000 per year, and meaningful job creation has been virtually stagnant.

Another term for “trickle-down” is “supply-side” economics. The term “supply” suggests that there must be “demand” for the theory to balance. But if middles class wages are declining and job growth remains stagnant, the concept of “supply” becomes meaningless if there is less “demand” due to less income.

Another effect of taxation that I have observed over the years is that cuts at the federal level usually result in higher taxes at the state level. Why? The federal government merely shifts the burden to states, a cheap and easy political solution. And when states lower taxes, the burden is shifted to the counties.

Point: Be careful what you ask for. One way or another, you will pay taxes no matter what your politician says (unless, of course, you start cutting essential services). So the question remains: Do you want public safety, education, health care, or are you more interested in beer money? Most importantly, do you want a tax system that meets your needs, or the needs of those who really do not need another tax windfall.

Finally, the most provocative question of all: Are you willing to accept more public debt in exchange for your tax cut ... debt that your children and grandchildren will be forced to pay back?

What are your thoughts?

Dora said...

Ecophotos is spot-on, I just have a couple of things to add.

You can think of taxes as revenue/earnings, and government spending as your personal expenses. Do you spend more than you earn? If you do, you're taking out loans, or have massive credit card debt. Who's going to pay that debt? You can file for personal bankruptcy, and a country can do that do (see argentina, see Orange County for an example of a county), but is that what we want?

Supply-side economics really doesn't have any proof of working. Bush's top econommic adviser, N. Gregory Mankiw, was previously an academic and a writer of economics textbooks. His book Introduction to Economics was my first economics textbook. He had 2 pages in the book about the Laffer Curve/supply-side economics, and he wasn't a fan of it at all.

Another effect of taxation that I have observed over the years is that cuts at the federal level usually result in higher taxes at the state level. Why? The federal government merely shifts the burden to states, a cheap and easy political solution. And when states lower taxes, the burden is shifted to the counties.

Ecophotos is talking about a vertical shift in taxation. There is also a horizontal shift. States with higher state taxes (NY, CA, MA) can cover more of their own needs, so when they pay in $1 into the federal cookie jar, they get back only $0.70 of that dollar in federal spending. But states with low or nonexistent taxes, who have the same needs as every other state, end up benefitting and getting back $1.30 for every $1 they pay in. In essence, high-taxing states end subsidizing the low-taxing states.

tates Receiving Most in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:
1. D.C. ($6.17)
2. North Dakota ($2.03)
3. New Mexico ($1.89)
4. Mississippi ($1.84)
5. Alaska ($1.82)
6. West Virginia ($1.74)
7. Montana ($1.64)
8. Alabama ($1.61)
9. South Dakota ($1.59)
10. Arkansas ($1.53)

States Receiving Least in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:
1. New Jersey ($0.62)
2. Connecticut ($0.64)
3. New Hampshire ($0.68)
4. Nevada ($0.73)
5. Illinois ($0.77)
6. Minnesota ($0.77)
7. Colorado ($0.79)
8. Massachusetts ($0.79)
9. California ($0.81)
10. New York ($0.81)

[Source]

Robert (Conservative Commentary) said...

I think that we have to change the paradigm. Before I begin, please don't take my comments as condescending or lecturing. I will try to give my opinions with the basis for them.

First, I believe that we should look at the definition of "fair" as it is portrayed in politics. In my personal life, I refuse to allow my children to use this word, after about the age of 10. Life isn't fair, your team gets bad calls on the field, and there is always someone who will give you the short end of the stick.

Instead I prefer the concept of equity. Here is an example of what I am talking about. Let us say that I take my son for a haircut Saturday morning (which I have to do, he is becoming shaggy and I let it go a few weeks too long this time) and we stop to get candy or lunch. Is that fair to my other children who are at home? No. One child got something that the others didn't. However, when I take my daughter somewhere alone and she gets something, that isn't fair either but it is equitable. They are all treated the same. I think the same concept should apply to taxation. Everyone should be treated equally.

I have never understood the rationale that because someone has a higher level of income that there should be some arbitrary line where government can deem it excess and therefore public money. If I make 15,000 a year or 250,000 a year, it is the fruits of my labor and belongs to me and no one else. Who are you (as the government) to say what I am allowed to keep?

Government is greedy and has an unquenchable thirst for more. I do not agree with the position that there must be debt to give a proper tax rate. There are untold billions of dollars that can be cut. The Department of Education? useless. Welfare and other programs? Useless. The safety net should be a last resort effort to feed and house families. Not something relied upon for generation after generation of a family.

The procurement system of the U.S. government is an example of insanity. I am not kidding that the government pays $8 a can for Lysol spray. I can tell you many stories about what I have purchased and how I was legally bound to purchase it from a aprticular vendor for a particular price, when I could have walked in to Walmart and gotten it off the shelf for half the cost and in half the time. When you hear of government contracts that are absurd, don't look at the individuals doing the spending, look at the Congressional mandates and you will see that more than likely there was a rule that was being followed. I don't mean the corruption stories, I mean the legitimate purchases done with wasteful spending.

Trickle down works, and it is the only model where everyone benefits from success. The problem with the decline of the middle class, if you actually believe that is happening, isn't from tax rates but from excessive taxation, unions, and burdensome over regulation by the federal government.

So the question remains: Do you want public safety, education, health care, or are you more interested in beer money? Most importantly, do you want a tax system that meets your needs, or the needs of those who really do not need another tax windfall.


I want a tax system that meets the principle of equity. I have health care, education, and safety. I don't drink much beer, but I get the point. I want a system that does not punish me for success. I want a system that allows me to provide for myself and doesn't force me to rely upon assistance from the government. I want to know that if I work my tail off to reach the 500k salary level that my family will see the results of that effort, not the government. It does not bother me a bit what wealthy individuals pay in taxes. I think a flat 15% rate is more than the government should take from anyone.

There is a point at which people just have to cope with reality. One trooper per county is not uncommon anywhere in the United States. I have no desire to see a uniformed police officer parked on every mile of highway around the clock. In your example, in addition to the troppers there were county deputies and city police officers who assist.

There was a time in this country prior to 1913 where the government did not have income taxes. It is government's responsibility to be fiscally responsible with what they receive. I find it reprehensible that when the government wants to spend money that they turn to the taxpayers not with a request, but with a gun to get what they need.

Bottom line? We have to conquer our debt, but no one wants to address it. We need for the government to scale back spending and live on a budget. I have to do it and I am teaching my teens how to do it. I have no problem paying taxes and I am not a tax protester who believes that taxation in and of itself is illegal or immoral. If you look at the post above this one it defines what I want from life. In those pursuits I use government services such as education and roads and law enforcement and national defense. I bear responsibility to fund those things.

I do not, or should not, bear the burden for a bridge somewhere in Alaska, or to support urinating in jars containing a crucifix. I should not support the Department f Education who educates no one and never has done so. In fact, the education standards are slipping each year.

My daughter takes AP English. They are doing less work, both in quality and quantity, than I took in a regular english class at the same age. However, they spend entire weeks during the year preparing for a standardized test that I could have passed in the
8th grade.

I don't know how to wrap this up well, as there are a thousand things I could say on this subject. Let the discussion continue...

Robert (Conservative Commentary) said...

Dora, you posted while I was typing. Thanks for your comments.

I live in Alabama and it irritates me that we are on that list. Unfortunately, there is a contest to see which federal representatives can bring home the most bacon. Alabama has had a state budget surplus for years, but now that the economy is slowing, is facing an 800 million dollar cutback next fiscal year. Could it be that we squandered the surpluses over the years on things that didn't require spending? We should have stopped taking federal dollars when we could support ourselves.

The only debt I have is my mortgage and my student loans, both of which are "good" debt, as opposed to shopping sprees on credit cards. My monthly budget allows for a mortgage payment, student loan payments, and expenses such as utilities and such. I know that I cannot afford to take on a vacation home on the Gulf, so I don't. Unfortunately, the governemnt will and then turn to the taxpayers and take more. I don't have the liberty of doing that with my employer.

Sometimes I have to tell my children NO when they want things. My daughter had to cope with getting a Samsung MP3 player instead of an iPod. Government needs to adopt the same sense of responsibility.

Dora said...

I have never understood the rationale that because someone has a higher level of income that there should be some arbitrary line where government can deem it excess and therefore public money. If I make 15,000 a year or 250,000 a year, it is the fruits of my labor and belongs to me and no one else. Who are you (as the government) to say what I am allowed to keep?

It's actually based on the economic principle of dimishing returns. Suppose you start with 1 dollar. You get 1 dollar. You have 2 dollars, you have increased your wealth 100% percent. You get another dollar, you have increased your wealth 50%. You get another dollar, you have increased your wealth 33%. So every subsequent dollar actually increases your wealth less and less.

And now for the spending side -- with $10,000/year, you are below the poverty line and cannot afford basic necessities. With $20,000, you're doing better. With $50,000, you're doing pretty well. Another $10,000 isn't going to improve your standard of living as much as going from $10K to $20K did. At $50K, another $10 has diminished returns.

The Department of Education? useless. Welfare and other programs? Useless. The safety net should be a last resort effort to feed and house families. Not something relied upon for generation after generation of a family.

I think these are both Republican myths -- the generations of people on welfare, and how living on welfare is just great.

Trickle down works, and it is the only model where everyone benefits from success.

I would honestly rather not argue this point. To me, believing in supply side is like believing in creationism.

The problem with the decline of the middle class, if you actually believe that is happening, isn't from tax rates but from excessive taxation, unions, and burdensome over regulation by the federal government.

But the tax rate has gone down over the last 50 years, as has the influence of unions, and federal regulation. So that doesn't make sense.

I do not, or should not, bear the burden for a bridge somewhere in Alaska, or to support urinating in jars containing a crucifix.

Well, then perhaps Alabama should separate from the union. You live in a society. You benefit from living in a society, from the economies of scale and the vast opportunities it provides you with. You owe something back to that society. Your state benefits from being part of the US by that mere fact. Isn't that worth something? Are you not your neighbor's keeper, in some way?

I live in Alabama and it irritates me that we are on that list. Unfortunately, there is a contest to see which federal representatives can bring home the most bacon.

A contest? Among whom? Who elects these Republicans who pork-barrel?

Plus, Alabamans have some of the lowest indicators for health and wellbeing in the country. Your low taxes are not doing your state very much good.

Robert (Conservative Commentary) said...

I will have to comment on seeveral of these items later, but the supply side employer expects me to go to a few meetings now....lol.

I will say two quick bites: One, Alabama tried to seperate from the union before and it didn't fly.

I never said that welfare was great, however the government placing a process by which people are encouraged to live off assistance is true. From my law enforcement years I have personal knowledge of people who are the 3rd and 4th generation living in the same public housing unit. Something is broken somewhere, and it isn't because I don't pay enough in taxes.

I owe some responsibility to the society at large,a nd specifically said so. However, I do not owe the people of Alaska a bridge, nor do I owe the world of art a mason jar full of urine.

The tax rate has gone down and I benefit from it! If this were 1977 I wouldn't own a home, therefore I wouldn't pay property taxes and would not spend money to repair things or improve my home.

Republicans are just as bad as dems for pork spending. I have never said differently.

The health of Alabamians has little to do with tax rates and more to do with the fact that we love everyting fried, even our veggies....

Back later, have to go and earn...

Dora said...

I never said that welfare was great, however the government placing a process by which people are encouraged to live off assistance is true. From my law enforcement years I have personal knowledge of people who are the 3rd and 4th generation living in the same public housing unit. Something is broken somewhere, and it isn't because I don't pay enough in taxes.

Okay, so what would you do if you were in charge to fix this problem?

People often propose eliminating welfare, etc. to "motivate" the poor to stop being poor. Not only is that incredibly heartless and incredibly unChristian, it also doesn't work. if you look at the poverty rate for the last 50 years, it has gone down significantly, even though we have instituted all sorts of social programs, social security, war on poverty, etc. etc.

So, I am very interested to hear what you would do, if anything, if you were in charge, about all this social programs and the poor stuff.

ECOPHOTOS said...

Oh dear, what did I get myself into (taking a deep breath).

Thus far, what I find in this comment thread are a lot of myths and misconceptions based on misinformation and a few errors of omission. Let me pick through this piece by piece.

Robert: Government is greedy and has an unquenchable thirst for more.

Actually, government is not an anthropomorphic entity and is, therefore, incapable of “greed” or other human attribute. Greed is manifest in the body politic, those who covet power, those who seek to influence government for their own self-aggrandizement, and those willing to trade power for currency.

Robert, you and I can agree with vehemence in our hearts about fraud and waste in the current system, like the so-called “Bridge to No Where.” Regrettably, your ire is misplaced. It should be directed against those who abuse the system, not the system itself. When a murder is committed, do you blame the shooter or the gun?

Recently, Barak Obama lauded Ronald Reagan for having a “transforming” influence on American politics. Now, Mr. Reagan was a very gentlemanly leader and a strong voice during the Cold War, but he was, nevertheless, a man with strengths and weaknesses just like any other. Mr. Reagan’s weakest suite was economics, and the country has paid, and continues to pay, a heavy price for some of the worse misconceptions in history.

A few quick points: During the 1980 primary season, George H. W. Bush (aka Bush Senior) ran against Mr. Reagan. During the campaign, Bush Senior coined the term “voodoo economics” to describe Mr. Reagan’s economic proposals. History supports Bush Senior but no longer supports Mr. Reagan. Lets look at the record:

Mr. Reagan’s tax cuts, coupled with record levels of deficit spending, ran up the largest public debt in our nation’s history. George Senior assumed office in 1988 and was forced to raise taxes (despite his famous campaign mantra: “No new taxes”) just to stem the flow of red ink.

In 1980, Mr. Reagan ran on a platform of “get government off the backs of people.” A very worthy goal indeed but in practice, deregulation of the savings and loan industry resulted in one of the greatest financial fiascos in history. The S&L crisis cost American taxpayers over $700 Billion in bailouts. One lesson learned from the Reagan era is that government regulation is not always a bad thing.

In fact, the current crisis in secondary mortgage markets, those threatening to drag our economy into recession, is virtually a replay of Reagan-era economics, as if we have learned nothing from history. Like the S&L crisis, mortgage markets have become an unregulated bubble waiting to burst, and it is middle class Americans who will, again, carry the burden.

Robert: Trickle down works, and it is the only model where everyone benefits from success. The problem with the decline of the middle class, if you actually believe that is happening, isn't from tax rates but from excessive taxation, unions, and burdensome over regulation by the federal government.

My problem with this statement is that it is a slogan with no underlying econometrics to support it.

I need to take a break now but will return to this thread later.

Dora said...

One more thing I'd like to chaulk up to deregulation is Enron. Back in 1993, new laws were passed to reduce the number of shareholder litigations against corporations -- these lawsuits kept various corporate interests in check, such as suing for fraud, mismanagement, etc.

Only 8 years later, Enron happens, and we now have Sarbanes-Oxley, a much strictre regulation.

Even the mortgage-backed security crisis of today can be traced back to when the federal government decided to allow investment banks to securitize mortgages according to their own rules.

i'm not saying that deregulation is always bad, or that regulation is always good, and to have a free economy, we have to live with these kinds of crashes because they are the price for freedom, but it's still something to consider.

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