Saturday, April 18, 2009

Irony #1: billionaire-subsidized "populists"

First off, a quick note: Last year, I was one of the main pundits on "Life After People," the top-rated show ever to run on the History Channel.  Now comes "Life After People: The Series"... starting 10pm this coming Tuesday... on History.  I’m in some of these episodes, too.

Also: one of you regulars (TwinBeam) offered the following, down in comments: “What should we call our economic crisis?
1929 - 1933 : The Great Depression
2008 - 20?? : The Lousy Depression
Just thought we should start thinking about a name for this dog, in case it sticks around...

T’would be funny, if it didn’t hurt.

And who could let this pass without comment? Texas' Republican Gov. Rick Perry's praise for his state's tea party protestors, accompanied by not-so-veiled references to a potential Lone Star State secession.

Um... weren’t these the super-patriot flag-wavers, just three months ago?  Isn’t this the very same thing we saw in 1861, when Jefferson Davis - who had only a few years before given a speech declaring undying, perpetual loyalty to the USA “right or wrong” - flounced away into treason, before Abraham Lincoln had a chance to perform even one official act? Without even giving Lincoln a chance to negotiate?  Small surprise, actually.  Scratch a redneck “patriot” and you’ll find a fellow who has fantasized, all his life, of riding with Nathan Bedford Forest.

But no, incredible, staggering hypocrisy is NOT the most astonishing thing.

After the rallies, Perry downplayed his secession comments, amending them ] in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, to say: "I'm trying to make the Obama Administration pay attention to the Tenth Amendment." The so-called Tenth Amendment Movement, asserting the rights of the states to claim all powers not granted specifically to the federal government, has been grist for conservatives for more than a decade.

No, what is more mind-blowing is the inability of Democrats to even glance toward hypocrisy as the killer issue.  For example, by pointing out that “states rights” were stomped flat under Bush and that Obama has cut loose the federal handcuffs from many state initiatives....

... or, with Fox News running all these “anti-tax tea parties” how trivial it would be to point out that Fox is largely owned and controlled by two foreign billionaires, one of whom almost hand created Culture War while the other is a Saudi prince and fourth-richest man in the world?  The notion that such people could get away with using populist, anti-elite rhetoric and sentiments to herd tens of thousands of fools into the streets, in order to demand more tax cuts for the very same oligarchs who drove our economy into the tank... that would be positively weird.  But the fact that Democrats seem unable to grasp this nettle and find the right polemical tools to turn the resentful populists on their masters... that part is simply beyond all understanding.

One polemical antidote may be suggested by the wry satire of Stephen Colbert.  What if some people began showing up at these trumped-up “populist” rallies, offering  big posters with the following messages, held-high, perfectly straight-faced.





Any other suggested “Colbert-Style” signs to wave at Fox-run rallies?  Only remember to be prepared and thorough. Stay in character! Because stations other than Fox will zoom in to interview you!  So have some good Colbert-ish patter ready.  Like about how America has been going down the wrong road ever since those pathetic leftists, Adam Smith and Thomas Paine preached against aristocracy.  Decry the flat social structure of the 50s-70s as socialism. Poker faced, demand that we keep going down the road pushed by Fox -- toward feudalism.

Also in the news... In 2010, incumbent Rick Perry will face a challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, in what is likely to be a . Strains are showing between rural social conservatives, who back Perry, and big-city Republicans, whose concern about changing demographics have helped motivate their support for Hutchison.  In any event, one can hope this may lead to the Republicans staging their own “Miracle of 1947.

Oh, finally. Re those “tea parties” on tax day... Just a month after the birth of my first child, I made yearly a practice that I began back in the 1970s and that I recommend to all Americans, who both love their country and want to see the next generation less-burdened by the wastefulness of ours.  Beyond honestly and carefully paying whatever taxes that I owe, I also send a small and entirely separate donation to the U.S. Treasury, to be applied against the National Debt.  It isn’t much - a gesture - but it seems a good way to express not only faith and commitment, but also rejection of the Cult of Selfishness that got us into this mess.  If you feel as I do, then send your check (made out to US Treasury) to the Treasury Dept: Bureau of Public Debt, PO Box 2188, Parkersburg WV, 26106-2188. Send enough so that their time logging it and sending a thank you note isn’t a net loss to our kids, okay?  And feel free to use this, next time some ranting flag waver fool tries to “out-patriot” you.   It leaves the “tea-baggers” staring, slack-jawed.  Some of them even shamed. (Of course, tutoring at a homework club accomplishes much more...)

President Obama said he would seek a reform of the U.S. tax code, calling the current tax system is a "10,000-page monstrosity." But that promise has been made by others before.  Whenever somebody proposes tax simplification, we run up against the fact that every “simplification” would gore somebody’s ox.  The more code-trimming you do, the more people will scream.

In fact, I know a simple way the tax code could be trimmed by perhaps 70% or more, without much political pain or obstructionism! Because I designed the method to be mostly politically neutral.  It does not aim at some utopian fantasy (like the Flat Taxers rave about.)  It gores very few sacred cows, and would be cheap and easy to implement. And almost guaranteed to work! (Only accountants should hate it.  Yet, to the best of my knowledge it has never been tried, or even proposed! Alas.

How? It is easy enough to create a program that would take the tax code and cybernetically experiment with zeroing-out dozens, hundreds of provisions while sliding others upward and then showing, on a spreadsheet, how these simplifications would affect, say, one-hundred representative types of taxpayers. The key innovation would be to program in boundary conditions to this experiment.  The top first condition would be “no losers.”  Let the program find the simplest version of a refined tax code that leaves all 100 taxpayer clades unhurt.  If one group loses a favorite tax dodge, the system would seek a rebalancing of others to compensate.  No human being could accomplish this, but I have been assured by experts that a computer could do this in a snap. If the iterative search finds a new, much simpler structure that leaves none of the 100 groups more than 5% worse off than they currently are, then who is going to scream?

Oh, cheaters will scream.  And of course, after simplification would come some genuine tax policy shifts that DO advantage some and disadvantage others.  Like all of you, I have my favorite injustices I’d love to see redressed, behaviors disincentivized, business ventures stimulate...

 But, by starting with “no-losers,” you can use politically neutral optimization routines to find a much simpler system, trimming and slimming the machinery to use the fewest moving parts, in order to achieve the same job it is doing right now.  The, and only then, will it make sense to argue about steering the vehicle in new directions.

Re a common theme of mine -- the fact that oligarchy has always been the worst enemy of freedom, whether it wears raiment of the left or right -- someone wrote in: “The deeper point here is that elites will tend to form in any society regardless of the economic model they follow or the political doctrine they ostensibly espouse. Those familiar with George Orwell's 1984 may recognize this if they recall that the "forbidden book" featured as criticizing the totalitarian regime of Big Brother was titled "The Theory of Oligarchical Collectivism." Note that Orwell, who to the end of his days considered himself a man of the left, placed oligarchy as a qualifier ahead of collectivism.

“The tragic experiences of the 30's and 40's taught Orwell that the economic determinism of the left was hopelessly flawed by its failure to come to grips with reality of the oligarchic impulse. Perhaps the last thirty years, culminating in the crisis of international Capital (ie, oligarchic corporatism), will teach us the same lesson regarding the economic determinism of the right.”

Vital stuff to remember.

Another matter: The US government is to increase security at the country's border with Mexico in an attempt to combat drug cartels, the White House has announced. Let me reiterate.  Democrats talk tolerance and promote it... but also put far more boots on the ground, at the border.  Clinton did it, Obama is doing it.  Bush savagely cut the Border Patrol.  Will any Democrat or liberal pundit, ever, stare this fact in the face and talk about it?

More reader comments: ”If a corporation is deemed “too large to fail,” then it may be necessary to incur the moral hazard and terrible public expense in order to save it.  On the other hand a clear price for saving it should be to break it up, into units small enough that later failures won’t threaten the public with grievous harm.  Breakup of near monopolies into smaller, more agile units should be a price of saving them.”

Another reader wrote in to comment on how I have been describing the abandonment of Adam Smith by the right. That icon and co-founder of modern capitalism is now an embarrassment to the oligarchs who control today’s conservatism, since Smith called oligarchy the very worst enemy of free enterprise.  

So who has replaced Smith in the hagiography of the right?  Glenn Beck has been ranting lately about Thomas Paine. True, Paine railed against abuse of authority. But the truly heinous betrayal of Paine, by Beck & co., can be seen by actually reading Paine’s pamphlets, instead of turning him into a strawman.  In fact, Paine despised aristocratic oligarchy even more than Adam Smith did and far more radically.

Seriously, read up about this.  Even those Founding Fathers who were aristocrats shared much of this radical attitude.  Today, every last one of them would be laughing at the teabaggers.

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