vendredi, juillet 29, 2005

Though I Side with Carnegie on the Justification, I Know for Sure that I Side with Roosevelt on the Policy

So much to talk about these days:

The London arrests (can we have them go get Osama, dang)
The London shooting of the innocent Electrician guy.
The Space Shuttle Program
Bolton the Terrible may also be Bolton the Perjurer…Hmmmmm…
The Minnesota Twins (sigh…it was a good run)
The fact that I just hit the 100 mile mark on my bicycle (and I’ve only had the cyclometer for two weeks; yes, I’m still fat, but…to be fair, it took more than two weeks to get fat)
My tendency to crave attention and praise
The fact that I’m eating a Dilly Bar as I type this (totally serious)

Instead, I’d like to talk about the estate tax.

Roosevelt formally proposed a federal inheritance tax in a message to Congress on December 4, 1906. His reasoning is quite different from Carnegie’s. Carnegie thought that the wealthy had a particular obligation to the poor. Roosevelt thought that the wealthy had a special obligation to the government itself. “The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the State, because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government.” The wealthy individual needs to pay for the “protection” that the State provides for his or her property ¾ a military force that defends private property from foreign threat and a legal system/police force that protects private property from domestic theft. Roosevelt is echoing Adam Smith’s observation in the Wealth of Nations: “It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of valuable property can sleep a single night in security.”


The estate tax hits 1% of households.

The House voted to repeal it.

The Senate has blocked past efforts, but will vote on it soon.

Bush has indicated he will sign it.

Bush is in the top 1% of households.

Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

The estate tax produces approximately $85 billion in revenue each year.

If you repeal it (hold on, now, I’m fittin’ to decipher) the government will lose approximately $85 billion in revenue each year.

One Minnesota scholar wrote a letter to the editor arguing, “no problem, we could offset the lost revenue with a reduction in spending.”

That scholar might not understand that we are in a war (which tends to impact government spending by…well…making the government spend more).

I would also direct the scholar’s attention to the reality of current government spending (we’re seeing record deficits!).

On an unrelated note, the Energy bill contains between 3 and 15 billion in tax cuts for big oil (depending on whom you ask it’s either bad or comically bad).

On another unrelated note, gas prices are very high; and big oil is seeing record profits.

On a further unrelated note there is a provision in the Energy Bill to get an additional $1.5 billion to an oil and gas company that just happens to be in the home district of The Just and Honorable Tom DeLay (man, oh man, if I had a hammer!).

But sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

On another unrelated note, there were reports last week that the gap between rich and poor has widened to a point not seen in 6 decades.

Let ‘em eat pork?

On a fourth unrelated note, only an absolute idiot pays the estate tax.

Here’s my reasoning, first, you have to be in the top 1% of household in terms of net worth. Those folks tend to be fairly savvy (but not always). Second, in spite of your savvy, you have to decide not to do estate planning (with a professional) at all. Third, in other words, you have to pretty much be willing to pay the tax and do it out of the kindness of your heart. Or you have to write your own will and completely blow it. Or you have to forget. Or you have to die on the way to your estate planning appointment, or you have to accidentally sign the documents with invisible ink, or…

Here’s a helpful hint/public service announcement: just to be on the safe side, if your net worth exceeds $500,000, then spend a few hundred bucks and hire someone to do your estate planning.

I’m told that there are some family farms with a net worth that qualifies them under the tax. Well, there are lots of simple options for these folks too. For example, for about $50 (in most states) you can incorporate. Oh, there’s lots of ways to avoid the tax, you just have to be willing to try.

By the way, has anyone ever seen a family farm lost due to the estate tax? Anyone? Anyone? If you want a crisis on the family farms, I’ll give you one: kids don’t want to farm their parents’ land. There’s a crisis for you.

Last, commentators and proponents of repealing the estate tax love to argue that “even though it doesn’t impact the average family, Americans favor repealing the death tax because they see it as fundamentally unfair to tax people when they die.”

Wow, that’s genius.

Did you catch it?

First of all “it doesn’t impact the average family.” Hmmmm…okay…unless our taxes go up to offset the lost revenue, or unless the deficit grows at a faster rate.

Second, you have to admire the guts in calling it a death tax. We’re taxing you because you died. Almost makes it sound like they’re taxing gasoline. Not quite. It really is more of an inheritance tax. So, the widow J.P. Moneybags has $300 million dollars and 3 kids. She decided not to take advantage of any of the thousands of laws that already exist to make sure that her heirs and assigns aren’t taxed to the poor house and left to soldier on with only about $180 million bucks. After a night of caviar and champagne, poor J.P. buys the farm when her mink stole gets caught in the door of her Bentley and strangles her to death. She is laid to rest in an exclusive cemetery with all the modern conveniences. Her mausoleum is a spacious 1200 square feet and made out of granite that was raise and cut by migrant workers. As she is lowered to the ground, no tax follows. As J.P.’s estate is resolved and money is about to be transferred to the three kids – BAM, then comes the tax, and instead of getting $100 million each for winning the birthplace lottery, they get $60 million. And, just to carry on the absurd hypothetical to its practical conclusion, what do you think each heir has after about 5 years of sound financial planning? That’s right…about $100 million. Pardon me…it’s just that I get so upset…the tears are real, friends; the tears are real. Death tax or estate tax, granted, it’s a subtle distinction, but the real-life differences are profound. In the real world, the transfers tend to take place before J.P. dies. It’s how all the Walton kids got so dang rich (well, that and union busting).

Third, as long as we are eliminating unfair taxes, can we get rid of all regressive taxes and those stupid airport convenience fees and bizarrely usurious rental car taxes? In other words, in a world where the working poor pay taxes, I’m not sure my war against tax injustice begins at the J.P. Moneybags level.

My whole point is…what is my point? Oh yeah, my whole point is that repealing the estate tax is largely symbolic. One more gift to the rich from our friend W.

But the implications to the middle class are not symbolic. In fact, they’re very real. No one should imagine that Bush is going to repeal this tax on the upper 1% and then tax the upper 1% somewhere else. It ain’t gonna happen. It ain’t. Someone will pay the freight. All we’ll know if Bush signs the repeal is that it won’t be paid by the wealthiest.

[Closed Circuit to my readers whose net worth is not in the top 1%: watch your wallet!]

In conclusion, here’s a (dated, but) wonderful article on the estate tax.

mardi, juillet 26, 2005

If There Were World Enough and Time..., or: And This Doesn't Include All the Fortunes I Have at Home

So much to write about (labor unions splitting, the non-repsonse to terrorism in Iraq that happened close in time to the terrorism in England, Lance winning seven, a great editorial in our local paper about the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the death of American poetry, etc.), but so little time.

So, while work simmers down, here are all the fortunes from fortune cookies that I keep pinned to the wall of my

Great minds talk about ideas. Small minds; things. Average minds; people.

Never throw good money after bad.

Good things are coming to you soon.

Big words often hide small ideas.

You cannot slide uphill.

Suffering is caused by attachment to impermanent things.

You never hesitate to tackle the most difficult problems (pause for laughter from every person who knows me even a little tiny bit).

Your meal wasn't great? Well maybe you have a hunger that food can't satisfy.

Through greater effort and hard work a precious dream comes true.

Good habits are sustainable.

Your path is arduous but will be amply rewarding.

You will be coming into a fortune (I'm waiting).

Next full moon brings enchanting evening (Feh!).

You will soon be involved in many gatherings, parties and communications.

Many joys await you because you are young at heart (a.k.a. immature).

You will have great success.

You will have wealth.

You will have good luck in your personal affairs.

A man travels far in search of happiness and returns home to find it.

You are the life of any party.

Boy did you eat quickly What was THAT about?

Ignorance never settles a question.

Listen not to vain words of empty tongue (at a Native American Chinese restaurant I guess).

As you slide down the bannister of life, may the splinters never point your way (at an Irish Chinese restaurant I guess).

You will enjoy good health.

Good books are friends who are always ready to talk to us.

[Speaking of which, I'm reading "A Moveable Feast" right now, and I really, really like it. It appeals to my love of all things Hemingway, and to my gossipy side. Wait, does that mean I like to talk about people? Oh, drat]

jeudi, juillet 21, 2005

"I Believe that Children Are Our Future..."

Not to be David Downer or anything, but…

The news is not good for the children of the World.

Yesterday, as I was getting ready for work, I heard a story on NPR (or Minnesota Public Radio) which indicated that child poverty in the United States increased to 17% (from, if I remember correctly, 16% last year). This data was issued by the Federal Government, but I cannot find the source anywhere on the web.

What I did find was this report from UNICEF.

Here are the highlights:

More than 1 billion children are denied a healthy and protected upbringing as defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

There are seven basic deprivations, and here is how many children are impacted by each one:

640 million children do not have adequate shelter
500 million children have no access to sanitation
400 million children do not have access to safe water
300 million children lack access to information
270 million children have no access to health care services
140 million children have never been to school
90 million children are severely food-deprived

In the last decade, in 11 of 15 industrialized nations, the proportion of children living in low-income households has increased.

Since 1990, 3.6 million people have died as a result of armed conflict. Half of them have been children.

In addition, children are:

recruited or abducted as soldiers
victims of landmines
forced to witness violence and killing
orphaned by violence
targets of sexual violence

In a typical five year war, the mortality rate of children under five increases 13%.

There are 15 million AIDS orphans worldwide.

mercredi, juillet 20, 2005

Nonchalant Duf

Bush has selected his nominee. And though I’d rather write about this book (sweet, succinct, sublime, superior and scintillating) or this movie (deliberately paced, yes, but vastly underrated and absolutely excellent) or the patio project that is underway in our backyard, or the poem I wrote on Monday (the ending is clichéd, but it still has promise) or my utter and inalterable hatred of the New York Yankees, I’ll write instead about abortion.

Here are the truths as I see them:

Eliminating abortion is impossible. It will never happen. Never. Ever.

Reducing abortion as much as possible is an admirable goal; held by both the pro-choice community and the anti-choice group.

Energy spent making abortion inconvenient would be better spent in making it less necessary.

Say what you want about abortion these days, it is safe and legal.

The anti-choice movement lacks imagination, and could direct its energy in ways that, instead of making abortions difficult to get, would make them less common, but it chooses not to do it. People like Eric Rudolph exemplify this lack of imagination at its most extreme. The same logicians that give you "killing abortionist will prevent abortions;" give you "making abortion illegal will prevent abortions."

In fact, many actions of the anti-choice community lead to more abortions (anti-choicers are sometimes anti-birth control too, they sometimes support messages that prevent adequate education to teens on health and sexuality, they often oppose legislation that would make RU 486 (which, depending on when it is taken is not an aborting pill, but a pill that prevents conception) available, they sometimes work as (or support) pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control and other lawful medications, they march at clinics and injure or kill those who work in them, thereby inspiring scores of people to support women, to provide those services, and to make abortion available in rural communities).

The Supreme Court, over the course of the next several years will probably restrict abortion (a.k.a. make it more inconvenient) and may overturn Roe v. Wade. They may, in fact, make abortion a state-by-state issue. This will make abortions more difficult for women to get. Also, this will stimulate the travel industry in progressive northern and coastal states.

Making abortion illegal in the United States (were that ever to happen) would have little or no effect on the abortion rate. It will have a significant impact on the setting for abortions - they will move from clinics and hospitals to less sterile environments.

Interestingly, countries where abortion is illegal, on the average, have a higher abortion rate than countries where it is legal. Source. Here’s another source focusing on the importance of education to the teen pregnancy and abortion rate.

This will make it a hassle for middle class (and wealthier) women to have abortions, but they will still have them. It will make it much more difficult for lower income and poor women to have abortions, but many of them will still have them.

But lower income and poor women will have them in unsafe conditions.

It will also undermine our ability to track the rate of abortions and monitor how successful we are in our efforts to reduce the number of abortions. Abortions will go underground.

Women will be harmed by limitations on this health right. Hospitalizations for abortion related injuries will increase (see the Source cited above; in countries where abortions are illegal, they track abortion rates in part by tracking the number of abortion related hospitalizations (nice)).

More practical and effective means to limit the number of abortions will continue to languish in obscurity.

For some reason this morning, on learning of Bush’s nominee (My flight got home late last night, and I missed the hoopla), I was phlegmatic. I’m getting to the point where I really feel that the only way we are going to make a return to intelligence and compassion is to let stupidity have its day. There are some conclusions that are inevitable, but we can ignore all that and just imagine that everything is wonderful. You want to make abortion illegal? Okay fine. And yes, the world will be better as a result. Zillions of babies will be saved (hooray for us!); go ahead and believe that (in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary). You want to make physician assisted suicide illegal? Go ahead. We won’t have to worry about incarcerating the dead for violating the law because they’re dead! Instead we'll lock up their grieving relatives! And besides, when it’s illegal, no one will ever choose to hasten their inevitable death and there will be the yippy bippy skippy culture of life all the time unless someone tries to buy uranium in Africa even though they didn’t, in which case it’s the culture of war comin’ at cha (but fear not, we’ll be welcomed as liberators!). yeah, right! While we’re at it: Karl Rove and Tom DeLay are patriotic; Judith Miller and Paul O’Neill are traitors; the war is just; we are winning the war; democracy is going to spread in the Middle East; there were weapons of mass destruction and our good and noble President saved us from eminent attack from a credible and formidable foe; there’s nothing wrong with a little torture - besides, it’s all going to lead to freedom (or is it liberty?); the economy is good; it’s okay when pensions are stripped from people who worked decades to earn them; the government should do nothing about it (because what’s good for corporations is good for the citizens too); Terri Schiavo could follow balloons and was going to make a return to health; we need to post the ten commandments in public places; allowing same sex marriage will lead to our ruin; it’s good to cut military pay; the House energy bill is a great idea; the Kyoto protocols are a bad idea; even though the government published statistics today that are to the contrary, child poverty is not increasing; even it if was (which it isn't) that’s no big deal; and, we all just need to keep believing life is good, and we are heading in the right direction and our leaders have our best interests in mind. Whatever. Have your day. Ruin everything and call us later when you can’t drink water or breathe the air or get your child out of the military or get your pension, or make a living wage.

Okay, so maybe phlegmatic is not the right word.

mercredi, juillet 13, 2005

If You Were in One of Those Huge Row Boats and Needed to Go Faster, Would You Ask 1 in 5 People to Row Harder?

Here’s a list of things I don’t like:

Our President’s priorities (notice the crafty word-smithing to avoid indefinite incarceration as an enemy combatant).

The priorities of the Minnesota Governor (worst ever; man, he’s horrible; I plan to work aggressively against his campaign; he’s just plain lousy)

Cigarettes (and within that, people who litter by throwing cigarette butts all over my precious land – they’re scourges, all!)

The person who egged my wife’s car last night (that’s unnecessary – oh, and watch your back).

Here in Minnesota, our Governor is proposing a 75 cent per pack cigarette tax (er…fee) to address the revenue problem that we don’t have (according to our horrible worst-ever Governor with no redeeming qualities, we have a “spending problem” that we must address by increasing revenue through more gambling! No, I didn’t make that up, and yes, I vomited while typing that and yes vomitice is easier to clean up than dried-on egg). Anyway, I don’t like this governor.....'s proposal. Here’s why.

First, let me start by saying I hate smoking (not just cigarettes).

Second, let me say that I’m a hypocrite.

Third, let me say that I’m a hypocrite because I enjoy the occasional cigar, which makes me a smoker*. There, I said it.

Now let me say that I was thinking about it this morning, and here are my guiding principles with respect to tax (er…fee) policy. And yes, I’m serious, I was thinking about tax policy this morning while scrubbing dried egg off our low mileage 1998 Toyota Corolla LE (don’t hate).

First, within a geographic area, taxes which impact all citizens a little bit should be favored over taxes which impact a few citizens a lot. For example, I prefer an income tax to a cigarette tax.

Second, within a taxed group, if disparities must exist, additional burdens should be shouldered by those best able to bear them.

Third, if user-based taxes are deemed necessary, the following factors merit consideration:

a. the number of people in the population who use the taxed item (toilet paper taxes are better than yacht taxes).

b. the impact to low-income communities (a mink coat tax is better than a milk tax).

c. the potential to re-direct social behavior through the tax (a gas tax is better than a vitamin tax - an egg tax is always a good idea).

d. tea should never be taxed; it’s touchy – people tend to flip out.

Fourth, I think it is appropriate for governments to consider their rank among other similar governmental entities, but I would not prioritize it with my other criteria. If Minnesota has the highest corporate tax and wisconsin (our neighbor to the east) has the lowest, that will have a negative impact on Minnesota’s ability to attract and retain corporations and industry. This is true even though Minnesota is superior to wisconsin in every single way. It is appropriate to consider such things. When I say similar governmental entities, I mean two things. First, a state should consider where it ranks in comparison to other states not in comparison to other counties. But I also mean that a state should compare itself to similar states (unemployment rate, population, density, median income, size, overall economy, etc., etc., should all be considered. To state it bluntly, Connecticut should not compare itself to Mississippi).

Fifth, the impact of taxes on the larger economy should also be considered. For example, a 25% sales tax is a bad idea.

So, back to the cigarette tax. By my way of thinking, it is not a good idea. Let’s apply my tax principles, shall we?

First, I did some research, and I found that as of 2002 (the most recent data I could find) 21.6% of Minnesotans are/were smokers. Applying my policy that it is better to tax everyone a little bit than tax a few people (21.6%) a lot (75 cents per pack - $273.75 per annum for a pack-per-day smoker), you can see it does not square with ILIM tax policy.

Second, low-income folks are more likely to smoke than high income folks. My research shows that 32.9% of low income persons smoke, versus 22.2% of folks at or above the poverty level. So, this tax (unlike my fabled mink coat tax) has a disproportionate impact on the poor.

BTW, here is some more data to geek out on: (1) families with the highest income levels reduced smoking 62% from 1965 to 1999; while low income families decreased only 9%; (2) 36% of Medicaid recipients are smokers; (3) 31% of adults who did not graduate from high-school are smokers; 12 percent of college grads smoke, and 7 percent of folks with a graduate degree smoke.

Third, as already established, 21.6% of Minnesotans smoke. We got nothing on Kentucky (32.4%), but Utah (12.7%) and the Virgin Islands (9.4%) make us look really bad. Connecticut (19.3%), Massachusetts (18.9%), New Jersey (18.9%) and California (16.4%) round out the top five and mean that 4 of the top 5 are blue states (the bottom twelve are all red states – I just love fueling that blue/red feud – well and culture wars in general)! BTW, number 6 is D.C. with an unimpeachable 20.3% - but D.C. is more of a cigar town (interpret that as you will).

Where was I? Oh yeah, so, we have a tax burden, but we are only asking approximately 1 in 5 folks to lift it.

Among those 1 in 5 (the 21.6% of Minnesotans who smoke), a good portion of them are not well-positioned to shoulder the burden because their income is low.

And though some smokers will quit and therefore there is a potential to re-direct social behavior with the tax (er…fee), there is the equal likelihood that a black market will emerge or that users will buy cigarettes online (here's one dopeman), or from Indian Casinos, or in neighboring states. And say now, in America, after all this time, can we just stipulate that cost alone will deter very few addicts – after all, history teaches us that the jonesing junkie will get fixed. You dig?

This tax (er…fee) if passed, will give Minnesota one of the highest cigarette taxes in the nation. It will give us the highest such tax in the upper Midwest. But, truth be told, I don’t really care what our rank is.

I do care that we have a budget deficit, and instead of sharing the burden as a state, we are allocating it to a small (and downtrodden) community - a community that cannot, across its ranks, bear the burden well. I care that we do this in spite of ample other ways to raise revenue (no, no, no, not racino!) - ways that are not nearly as regressive. If we need more revenue, and apparently we do, then the best way to raise it has to be more egalitarian. Let’s all lift the burden together - let's all row harder.
If all else fails…well then…I say we apply ILIM tax policy number six and (when in doubt): Tax the Rich!

*Smokers are defined as those who currently smoke every day or some days (whatever that means) and who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime. Under that definition, I am not a smoker. I usually smoke about six or seven cigars a year (and that number might be inflated – let’s call it four per year, shall we?). At the present rate, I'll be a smoker in 2023.

mardi, juillet 12, 2005

"So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye", or If It's Going to be Ugly and Bloody...

An article about them.

My favorite quote from the article:

"If it's going to be ugly and bloody, nobody wants that."

Their official website.

I wish them all the best. I honestly hope all like-minded people end up in the same state (and that it's not Minnesota). For my part, I will work toward secession without conflict.

My one request: please leave Hilton Head out of it. Thanks, and bon voyage (we're happy for you)!

Treason and Treachery in All the Wrong Places, or: There is a Traitor Among Us - Quick Don't Do One Darn Thing!

After months of official denials that Karl Rove had anything to do with ValeriePlameGate, it turns out that Karl Rove outed a spy who was working on National Security matters. I just wanted to write that out loud. Are you shocked?


Hello Americans? Is this on?

How about this (I'm told that sports analogies are a great way to communicate)...

ILIM Presents...
The Parable of the Quarterback and the Running Back

During a critical juncture in a critical game, the quarterback handed the ball to the running back and then the quaterback (who always claims to love the team and who displays proudly the team banner and even has the team sticker on his Escalade) tackled the running back for a loss. The team was forced to punt and eventually lost the game, ending its chances to make the playoffs.

In the analogy above, the White House is the quarterback, and American intelligent efforts are the running back. See the quarterback and the running back are on the same team, and well...

...oh forget it...

Quick question(s): why is Karl still walking around the White House? Are ther other traitors walking around there too? How many traitors does President Bush take council from? We know the President associates with countries that support terrorism, is it such a crime to associate with known traitors?

On an unrelated note, here are the words of the day.

Treason (tree - zon) n. treachery toward one's country or its ruler.

Treachery (trech - uh - ree) n. (pl. -eries) betrayal of a person or cause, an act of disloyalty.

I guess my point is that this might be an appropriate time for every person who waives the flag, has the flag on their car, has the flag in their yard, or has a yellow sticker on their bumper express some outrage or something...whatever.

Here in Minnesota, at least once a month there is a letter to the editor saying that anyone who questions the war hates America. Meanwhile, we have double-crossers* like Rove walking around like they're God's gift to America. Those same letter writers are out of ink I guess.

Here's how it nets out: if you say you're patriotic and you work for a man who seems to be both patriotic and Christian (you can tell because he talks about both all the time) and you commit treason, it's okay.

But if you question the war, even if you do it out of patriotic love for what America could be, you and your whole traitor family should move to Canada and never come back. WE DON'T NEED YOUR KIND HERE!!!

Okay, I got it. Well...


I don't got it.

Because of Karl Rove (who is a traitor) Plame lost her career as a covert agent. The espionage work she had underway and future efforts were likely compromised. The White House promised a diligent search and outrage and terminations. All three promise remain to be filled. Now we know a key part of the story and...


there is only silence.

Folks, this is a big deal. It's a really big deal. Can something happen? Can we articulate a response of some kind? Can we decide at long last that we're sick of charlatans and that we want more than empty words? Can we demand that our "leaders'" actions match up with all their fancy words? Can we demand accountability? Please? Just one time? Please?

All I ask is for half the zeal we exhibited in impeaching a (noble but weak) man just a few short years ago. Just half of that zeal directed to Rove and Bush and all those phoney traitors. Just half. We can pretend that we care more about national security than we do about infidelity. C'mon, it'll be fun. Just half...


* = double-cross (dub - el - kraws) v. to deceive or cheat a person with whom one pretends to be collaborating. double-crosser n. See, e.g., The Parable of the Quarterback and the Running Back

vendredi, juillet 01, 2005

Man Oh Man Oh Man

So, when there's talk about a guy like Rehnquist retiring, my biggest concern is that a notorious conservative will just be replaced by a notorious conservative who is young. It's not a lost seat, but it is a seat that was at least old.

Now with O'Connor announcing her retirement, progressives are in big trouble. O'Connor could be counted on to be moderate on issues like abortion, the death penalty and even property rights. She will be replaced (not with a moderate) but with a notorious conservative - only younger.

I often disagreed with O'Connor, but I always felt she was her own woman and that she offered opinions based upon sound legal reasoning, and not, as many of her fellow conservative colleagues have done, based on ridiculous concepts and outlandish ideology.

I cannot tell a lie, this is the most significant impact so far of Bush "winning" a second term. The impact of his appointments (undoubtedly conservative and undoubtedly selected to advance ideology) will have a long-term and profoundly negative impact on American jurisprudence.

The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm still reeling.