mardi, décembre 28, 2004

I'm Back

Hello readers! Okay, okay, hello reader (sigh).

I'm back!

Our DSL was down (chronically) here at Chez Duf, so I finally convinced Mrs. Duf to get cable. We also have cable TV now! But we got the basic package which is pretty much our old channel with good reception. Good bye rabbit ears! No, I'm not kidding.

I have not been able to post because I've been on vacation, away from work (not that I would ever post at work, tee hee, ha ha, ho... hum...), and with no access to the internet. It will take me all day to catch up on my regular blog stops.

But now, I'm home with nothing to do but kick it with TinyE, load my iPod (that's right, she bought me an iPod and let me get cable - NOW who runs the house - don't tell her I said that though, okay?) and clean house. Expect some posting activity dear reader. Expect some posting activity.

vendredi, décembre 17, 2004

In Memory of Janice Bradley

Last night, approximately 100 people gathered in Minneapolis to hold a memorial to the 104 homeless people who died in Minnesota last year.

Many of them were nameless, and people carried signs that read "Man - approximate age 41." Or "Woman - approximate age 53. "

Imagine for a moment what it is like to die without your name.

But not all of the people who died were unknown. And the story of one of them, Janice Bradley, touched me very deeply. Like me, she attended the University of Kansas. She was a parent, and she was not too much older than I am now. She died after being hit by a car in a parking lot. She was 41.

Please listen to the audio link connected to the story of her remarkable and tragic life.

As I heard her story on the radio, I was driving home in my Subaru, a bit peeved because my seat warmer seems less robust than it was last year. Suddenly, I cared a little less for my stupid creature comforts and felt ashamed.

I wish I could have done something. I challenge myself to do more, even as I understand that homelessness is a complex problem, not solved with just money and shelter.

Today, connect with Janice.

If you are a graduate of the University of Kansas, if you are a parent, if you are a veteran, if you are a Native American, if you've ever struggled with substance abuse, if you have siblings, if you've known what it's like to have success in your grasp and lose hold of it, then connect with Janice today.

Connect with her if you are none of those things. Connect by realizing that somewhere, there is someone who is suffering and who is or was a lot like you.

Challenge yourself to reach out.

Do one thing in Janice's honor today.

jeudi, décembre 16, 2004

Vasectomies Banned in U.S. (in Related News, Vikings to Face Chiefs in Superbowl XXXIX)

On my way to work this morning, I came up with an analogy that I thought I would vet here.

What if the U.S. government banned vasectomies?

Think about it this way. It would amount to preventing approximately half of the population from engaging in a procedure regarding their reproductive rights and their reproductive future. The government could use religion or morality as a basis for this ban. The government could then regulate men's bodies in the same way some would have it regulate women's bodies, and people who needed the procedure for medical reasons (partner's health cannot support an additional pregnancy for example) could just tough it out and hope for the best.

Do you think it would ever lead to men going to back alleys for vasectomies performed by hacks who don't follow recognized sterilization protocols?

Logic buffs are asking, what about the law of the excluded middle? Aren't you essentially arguing that a statement that is not false (the government should not control the reproductive destinies of its citizens) must always be true? Yes, of course, this is a weak analogy. And yes, while we're at it, this whole argument is reductio ad absurdum.

Let me officially recognize that the big difference between abortion bans and vasectomy bans is the fetus. Vasectomies are distinguishable from abortions because vasectomies are intended to prevent pregnancies and not to terminate them. And I don't mean to be dismissive here, but I wanted to focus on some other aspects of the great debate. The idea of the government telling me what I can and cannot do with my body is not absurd. It's frightening. How might we respond if the government decreed that henceforth there will be no more C-sections?

I've always felt that science would solve the abortion debate (and it's getting close with the post-coital pill which prevents an unfertilized egg from dropping (a no brainer) or prevents a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the womb (not so much a no brainer for foes of reproductive rights)).

At any rate, if Roe v. Wade (note photo of ponderous woman on link) is overturned, I think, out of fairness, vasectomies should be banned for all men. Let's go ahead and ban hair implants for men too. Oh, and while we're at it, let's go ahead and ban boxing. Or am I getting greedy?

mardi, décembre 14, 2004

The Recommendation is Death

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear." Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

Here is something, that I think you just can t understand
(How I could just kill a man!)
And you wonder why and how it is I could just kill a man
(How I could just kill a man!)
You see, in these streets I pack my heat cuz should it be for real
(How I could just kill a man!)
And if you think you wanna come and test me, then come deal with my steel
(How I could just kill a man!)

Cypress Hill "Here Is Something You Can't Understand"

The Scott Peterson trial is concluded. The jury has recommended that Mr. Peterson be given the death penalty. He will be sentenced by the judge in February. Given the (near non-existent) rate at which judges overrule jury sentencing recommendations, it is safe to expect that he will be condemned to his death.

Faithful readers of this web log will not be surprised to learn that the entire staff here at iliveinminnesota opposes the death penalty. We even oppose it for guys like Scott Peterson who kill their pregnant wives. We regard the jury’s conclusion here as a sad day for American justice and as the continuation of a very dark period in our nation’s history.

In 1976, when the Supreme Court (by a 5 to 4 vote in three cases, Gregg v. Georgia, Jurek v. Texas, and Proffitt v. Florida) advanced its 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia (striking down all federal and state death penalty statutes as arbitrary and capricious) by ruling that the death penalty was permissible if the criminal trials were bifurcated to first determine guilt and then to consider whether mitigating circumstances were present to justify the death penalty.

Without getting into the specifics of why I oppose the death penalty (someday I will do a series of posts on the subject), I want only to argue today that Scott Peterson should not have been given the death penalty.

His crimes were heinous. I don't understand why a person would kill another person, and I do not have the ability to understand why a man would kill his pregnant spouse. As a husband and as a father, I am sickened by Scott Peterson’s crimes. I pity him, the family and friends of his wife, his family and friends, and the community where the crime took place. What Scott Peterson did is indefensible and completely repugnant. Don't want to be a father? Rabbitt, Run!

What I do not believe is that he is such a threat to society that he must die (and here let’s acknowledge that he will live on death row in California for a very long time – he may die of natural causes there. Apparently, there are 600 plus death row inmates in California, and 10 have been executed since 1976). It is quite enough, in my view, to segregate him from society for the remainder of his life. With the exception of revenge, nothing at all is served by killing him.

This point is underscored by what I learned from the three jurors I saw today on Good Morning America (how clever am I? “Today” on “Good Morning America” – get it?). The jurors essentially eschewed all traditional arguments supporting the cruel and unusual penalty of death (deterrence is the most popular (but we all know the death penalty does not deter crime), cost of life in prison is another (but we all know execution is more expensive than life in prison)) and recommended that he be killed because he didn’t cry in the courtroom. They wanted more (visible) remorse and they didn’t get it, so juice ‘im.

At the risk of sounding overly logical, the Supreme Court’s goal with Furman v. Georgia was to make the application of the death penalty less arbitrary and capricious. But it still is both things. I’m left with the feeling that had Mr. Peterson cried more, he would have been spared. That sounds arbitrary to me. There are other cases – I recall one where a man killed two people then stayed in the same room with their dead bodies to eat their lunch. The jury was troubled by that, as much if not more than the killing itself, and felt the man should die.

We draw a lot of bizarre distinctions where the death penalty is concerned. I heard just the other day that 15 times in Minnesota last year a spouse killed another spouse. We all know that domestic abuse is a pandemic in America. Now, while that does not excuse or justify Mr. Peterson’s actions, it does allow us to challenge whether his crime is really exceptional enough to deserve this punishment. Yes, this is an ugly and difficult argument to make, but divorce it from the Peterson case for just a second. Every five minutes or so, someone is murdered in America. Not all of those murderers are sentenced to death. Spousal abuse and spousal murder is not rare in the United States and yet not all who commit spousal murder are condemned to death.

So…what is it that makes Scott Peterson different? His wife was pregnant (this is the only factor that has any merit – if we want to decide that killing a pregnant woman is a mitigating factor justifying the death penalty in all cases, then we should do it – even though the death penalty itself is wrong, at least that mitigation would make sense. Consider the other reasons…). When she was missing it was national news. We were shocked when we discovered he was a suspect. And, if I can draw a serious conclusion from a joke in the Jon Stewart book – ...America, A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction, she was white and pretty and middle class (or more) and young and excited to be pregnant and her husband cheated on her…to state it frankly…it was sensationalized and a lot of America could identify/sympathize with her.

Let’s change the facts a little bit. What if Scott Peterson were a minority and walked into a crack house and killed his moderately homely pregnant wife – also a minority (but let's still say she was excited to pregnant) - along with three others then dumped their bodies into Lake Erie - and denied it. Does anyone think that Scott Peterson would get the death penalty? Anyone?

Does the sensationalism around the trial mean that Scott Peterson should die? To me, the answer is no. In fact, to me, the decision here really illustrates how arbitrary the application of the death penalty is. Let’s recognize capital punishment for what it is: a cruel and unusual punishment and the furtherance of a sad era for our nation.

I take solace only from this: I know in my heart that we will evolve as a nation and that some day, future generations will look back on this time with amazement. Not only did we elect a moron President (only once yes, but still), we also sanctioned state-run murder to serve our basest urgings.

vendredi, décembre 10, 2004

Chewable Bite: Up Armor This!

Before I get to the Chewable Bite - let me say I've been down with the pertussis, and it's good to be back! Pertussis is no joke, friends. Not even a little bit funny. Well, okay it's a little funny, but not rubella funny.

Let me also say happy birthday to Mrs. Duf...looking good at 29! I got you a crown roast of pork(24 rib). Bon appetit, eat them in good health, and many happy returns of the day.

Chewable Bite: Sometimes You Get the Shrapnel, Sometimes the Shrapnel Gets You, or May You Always Get the Commander in Chief you Deserve (an essay in 250 words or less)

“You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have,” said the Chicken Hawk to the soldier. Now run out there and get some shrapnel, son! We promise you’ll be a hero with substandard benefits when you get back. Hey, gotta keep taxes down.

With that quote, Rumsfeld made subtle reference to the Clinton administration. We should have kept post Cold War military spending in the stratosphere (like Star Wars). Look, no more scapegoating Clinton! The lack-of-preparedness buck stops with Bush. It’s called accountability!

The beauty of going to war because you want to is that you can go when you are ready. This is especially true when your war enemy (Saddam) is not linked to your actual enemy (Osama). Eradicating bad men can always wait (see, e.g. unchecked despots everywhere). I’ve never trained at the War College, but logic suggests - get your troops, your armor covered vehicles, your Kevlar, your weapons, your plan to win the peace, and your exit strategy, and THEN go to war. Am I micro-managing?

We all remember two things: (1) the Generals looked Bush in the eyes and said we were ready. (2) the whole Bush team predicted a cakewalk. Who needs armor and Kevlar at a parade celebrating occupiers…er…um…liberators?

So here’s the quote rewritten by the crack staff here at iliveinminnesota: “You go to war with the Commander in Chief and Generals you have, not the one’s you might want or wish to have.”

vendredi, décembre 03, 2004

Tax Equity to the People with No Delay

One area where I really geek out is tax equity and tax justice. Deb, focusing on corporate tax policies, posted on it recently. Bush used tax cuts as a big part of his campaign message, and I was pleased to see that so few voters (5%) based their decision on taxes (and even more pleased that 43% of those who voted with taxes as their number one issue voted for Kerry).

I’m working on a post that discusses the misconceptions of the Bush voter (my last installment in the What Did We Learn series). While it focuses on Iraq, it serves as an apt example of how misinformation influences voting behavior. Tax Equity is another example.

Voters in the top quintile who supported Bush for tax reasons make the most sense. They are selfish and wrong, but at least they make sense. If you are in the top 20%, and you want a bigger cut than the middle class or the poor, hey, Bush is your guy. As you go down in quintiles, support for Bush makes less sense for tax voters.

Citizens for Tax Justice, a great organization with a great web site, published, some time ago, an analysis of the 2003 Bush tax cuts. By quintile, they found the estimated tax savings to be as follows:

Lowest quintile (average income $9900)
Tax savings = $6

2nd quintile (average income $22,000)
Tax savings = $99

3rd quintile (average income $36,600)
Tax savings = $289

4th quintile (average income $59,800)
Tax savings = $657

Next 15% (average income $103,000)
Tax savings = $1,841

Next 4% (average income $217,000)
Tax savings = $3,524

Top 1% (average income $1,082,000)
Tax savings = $30,127

Here’s the percentage of the overall tax cut divided by quintile:

Lowest quintile 0.1%

2nd quintile 2.1%

3rd quintile 6.2%

4th quintile 14.2%

5th quintile 77.3%
(next 15% = 29.7, next 4% = 15.2, top 1% = 32.4)

Here’s the percentage that each quintile’s taxes decreased:

Lowest quintile, = .00006% decrease
2nd quintile, = ½%
3rd quintile, = .007%
4th quintile, = 1%
Next 15%, = 1 and 3/4%
Next 4%, = 1 and ½ %
Top 1%, = 2%

What does all this mean?

First, Mrs. Duf and I have an extra $30,127 dollars each year to spend here; creating jobs and growth like crazy.

Second, the middle class did not get as much relief as it could have. If you are in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th quintile, bounce your tax savings against your increased health insurance costs, your passed-along costs for education, and your decrease in government services and see what happens.

Third, don’t kid yourself, somewhere your tax burden has grown. Either your state taxes, your property taxes, your sales tax or your sin tax has gone up.

Fourth, Bush essentially cut taxes on employment-based income moderately, but really (1) eliminated personal income taxes on dividends and (2) reduced capital gains taxes on sales of corporate stock. These policies disproportionately favor the wealthy.

Fifth, the dollar you get back is worth less because of a weakened dollar – softened up by the ever increasing deficit. All of it's happening faster than you can say raise the debt ceiling. Debt ceiling? What debt ceiling?

Sixth, the myth that these tax cuts will be reinvested by the very wealthy to the benefit of everyone is just that, a myth. What is really happening is that you are allowing them to keep more capital from investment income. In reality, dividends are typically reinvested; they are not spent on the goods and services that create jobs and growth. A good name for this legislation is “The Put My Financial Advisor in a Corner Office Act of 2003.”

To illustrate my point, here are two randomly chosen families:

The first family, GWB and LB, reported income in 2003 of $822,126
They paid $227,490 in taxes, or 27.7%
The President’s tax cuts lowered his own (oops) taxes by $30,858
Reduction of the top rate on dividends saved him $2,696 in taxes on $10,959 in reported dividends.

The second family, DC and LC, reported income in 2003 of $1,900,339
They paid $241,392 in taxes or 13.1% (not too shabby; to be nice I’ll volunteer to pay 13.2% from now on)
The Cheney’s (oops) total income excluded $627,005 in tax exempt interest, $279,012 in long-term capital gains, and $84,132 in dividends.

Concluding questions:

If you are in the lowest four quintiles, do the tax cuts really make a big difference in your life? If you make $60,000 a year, does an extra $55.00 per month change anything for you? At 37,000, what changes with your extra $25.00 per month? Even for the highest 1%, making $1.9 million a year, does having an extra $30,000 matter to us? Not really. We just bought Mrs. Duf some Sable fur sunglasses to match her Sable hat and her Sable purse.

So, to conclude…Besides a record-setting deficit and weak dollar (as to the weak dollar, listen to this), what do the tax cuts really do for Americans? If tax cuts must be given, is it not better to return more money to the middle and lower classes?