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thesquanderer's Journal - Archives
Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion: Presidency
Thu Jul 28th 2011, 05:58 AM
In presidential campaigns of the past, out-of-the-mainstream candidates Jerry Brown on the left and Steve Forbes on the right had unexpected moments in the sun, largely due to their promotion of some variant of a flat tax. If Obama wants to do something bold with U.S. economic policy, this could be a real opportunity.

The key thing about some version of a flat tax isn't the flatness per se, it's the elimination of tax breaks (i.e. deductions).

Tax breaks are what make ostensibly more progressive schemes (like the current one) actually less progressive, because they provide so many ways for the wealthy to pay a lower effective rate than the non-wealthy.

Tax breaks are perhaps the biggest driver of corruption in our system, as so many lobbyist efforts and campaign dollars are ultimately targeted at getting preferential tax treatment for some company or industry.

Tax breaks are what make people (correctly) think our system is fundamentally unfair, as it is filled with loopholes for those of means.

So let's say personal income tax was a flat 15%, with, say, the first $20,000 of income not taxed at all. (The actual figure of how much would not be taxed is a variable I'll get back to, but for now, I'm just using this for illustration.) No deductions. And let's similarly make the corporate tax rate also a flat 15%, but taxed from dollar one, where corporations would pay that tax on all income except they would not pay income tax on money paid out to employees, contractors, or stockholders (all of whom would get W2 or 1099 forms and pay tax on that money themselves); and the companies would not pay income tax on money paid out to suppliers for inventory that they either sell or incorporate into the manufacturing of an item that they sell. No other business deductions.

Deduction elimination sounds conceptually painful for many people and companies, but if you only pay 15%, deductions are not "worth" so much anyway. It is ultimately a good trade-off for creating a more fair and less corrupt (and corruptible) system; and it is still somewhat progressive, arguably more than today's system once you factor in deductions, since income below a certain threshold is not taxed at all.

For now, the amount of income that is not taxed (which I arbitrarily pegged at $20k above) could be adjusted to whatever number makes the system revenue-neutral with the current scheme... because the only plans of ANY type that could possibly get Republican support today must be revenue-neutral on the income side. In the future, since there are no deductions or subsidies to play with and no "loopholes" to close, the only ways to adjust the plan are simply to alter the level at which tax kicks in, alter the 15% to some other figure, or at some future date, perhaps add a surtax on personal incomes over $250k or whatever. But no matter what, a great step will have been taken toward a more fair and less corrupt system. That might not have been Obama's initial goal in these negotiations, but it would be a very positive outcome.

It is an idea that has been shown to be popular with democrats, republicans, and voters. Republicans even get a version of their wish to tax all corporate income at the 15% capital gains rate. Of course they would rather not give up deductions to get it, but it is a negotiation after all. If it were revenue neutral, it would be a tough policy to argue against. It doesn't immediately solve the problem of adjusting revenues and expenditures, but the two parties are too far apart to properly address that anyway, and in the future, at least it could be adjusted from a more comprehensible, more fair, and less corrupt system from the start.
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion: Presidency
Sat Jul 16th 2011, 08:50 AM
You want tax brackets to be indexed to inflation to avoid "bracket creep."

Social Security gets adjusted upward based on cost of living (maybe not as well as it should, but that's another discussion.)

It does make some sense for government provided health assistance to the elderly to be similarly indexed to life span.

When Medicare was begun in 1966, average life expectancy for a newborn was about 70. Today, it's about 79. Clearly it is more expensive to provide health care for an average of 14 years rather than for 5 years (and futurists are predicting that average life spans approaching or even exceeding 100 may not be all that far off, but let's even leave that out for now).

Medicare is currently expected to become insolvent in 2024.

An entirely new single payer system for all would be better. But we don't have that. Until we do, to the extent that we need the current system to work at all, some kind of age-eligibility adjustment based on changing demographics does not seem so unreasonable.

If, for example, they raised the eligibility eligibility age by 2 months each year for the next 12 years, that would change the eligibility age from the current 65 to 67 by the year 2023, and at least that would head off the 2024 crisis... and people would still be getting more years of medicare coverage than was anticipated when the program was begun in 1966.

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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion: Presidency
Wed Apr 27th 2011, 08:04 PM
Donald Trump to the people he hired to track down Obama's birth history:

"You're fired."
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion
Wed Dec 15th 2010, 11:41 PM
From the New York Times:

Federal prosecutors, seeking to build a case against the WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange...are looking for evidence of any collusion in his early contacts with an Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking the information.
Since WikiLeaks began making public large caches of classified United States government documents this year, Justice Department officials have been struggling to come up with a way to charge Mr. Assange with a crime.
Justice Department officials have declined to discuss any grand jury activity. But in interviews, people familiar with the case said the department appeared to be attracted to the possibility of prosecuting Mr. Assange as a co-conspirator to the leaking because it is under intense pressure to make an example of him as a deterrent to further mass leaking of electronic documents over the Internet.

By bringing a case against Mr. Assange as a conspirator to Private Manning’s leak, the government would not have to confront awkward questions about why it is not also prosecuting traditional news organizations or investigative journalists who also disclose information the government says should be kept secret — including The Times, which also published some documents originally obtained by WikiLeaks.

“I suspect there is a real desire on the part of the government to avoid pursuing the publication aspect if it can pursue the leak aspect,” said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia law professor and former federal prosecutor. “It would be so much neater and raise fewer constitutional issues.”

It's official. Instead of going after someone who broke a law, the U.S. is simply going after someone they want to go after, and trying to figure out what law they can use to do it, in such a way that they don't also ensnare people they don't want to go after.

If this doesn't sound like some stereotypical third world corrupt government, I don't know what does.
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Sun Dec 12th 2010, 08:09 PM
I've heard the argument... The "$250k+ crowd" includes lots of small businesses who, with lower taxes, would be able to afford to hire more people.

But if a business is making a lot of extra profit which they fear may be largely taken in taxes, they can *always* use that money to hire someone instead, and then it's not profit and they don't pay taxes on it. Quite to the contrary of what they say, what the tax cut for the wealthy does is assure that the wealthy can keep the extra profit even if they *don't* hire anyone, whereas otherwise, hiring someone would indeed be a way to "avoid" paying the extra tax. So the cut does exactly the opposite of what lawmakers suggest.

This is in addition to the other well known facts that prove the rationale false... that many of these tax reductions are too small to pay even one person's salary... and that businesses don't avoid hiring because they don't have enough capital, they avoid hiring because they don't have enough customers. Especially in today's economy, not too many businesses would say "I could sell a lot more of my product/service if only I could afford to hire more people." And, by the way, that instance is exactly what banks and venture capitalists were invented for.

If we want to give small businesses money to hire people or buy machinery, then let's give them breaks specifically for those things, instead of giving them money they can keep regardless of what they do with it. Oh wait, yeah, they already *have* breaks for those things. So tell me again why we have to give them this tax cut?

The whole thing makes no sense, and the fact that "respectable" people keep saying these things makes me feel like I'm living in an Alice in Wonderland world.
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Thu Sep 30th 2010, 06:49 AM
I just got an email from my employer, saying "With the beginning of the new insurance laws, Aetna is dropping small businesses in New York as of this Friday, Oct 1." So I am being moved to an Oxford/Liberty/United Healthcare HMO, and don't know yet if I'll be able to continue seeing my current doctor. (Though the plan is $100/month cheaper than what I had.)

Has anyone else here run into something like this?

What happened to "if you like the plan you have now, you can keep it?" I realize that was Obama's way of saying that the government isn't going to force you to change, but the end result of enacting policies that may prompt carriers to change what they offer is that, in effect, they are indeed forcing me to change. The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

I know the party line is that what we got, while not not as good as single-payer, is still better than what we had, and I'm sure in many cases it is, but at the moment, it doesn't look that way for me.
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Thu Feb 25th 2010, 10:40 AM
At Politco, today, Carrie Budoff Brown has written a featured article, titled "The Big Bipartisan Lie." It begins:

If President Barack Obama really wanted to show he’s serious about winning over Republicans on health care reform, he could offer up some key concessions at Thursday’s summit, like caps on malpractice awards or allowing insurers to sell across state lines.

These concessions have already been made! The senate and house plans already included the ability for insurers to sell across state lines, and Obama has already said he's willing to consider tort reform in the context of getting a passable bill.

Both the Senate and House bills included the provision for selling across state lines, despite the fact that Obama specifically argued against in when McCain supported it in one of their debates.

More recently, when Obama addressed the Republicans in Baltimore, he said, "from the start, I sought out and supported ideas from Republicans. I even talked about an issue that has been a holy grail for a lot of you, which was tort reform, and said that I'd be willing to work together as part of a comprehensive package to deal with it. I just didn't get a lot of nibbles."

The Democrats have made *exactly* the concessions that the author of this piece says they haven't. Her analysis is either uninformed or disingenuous.

And of course this doesn't even count the concessions made from the outset, like refusing to fight for a public option.

But that's not all. Besides suggesting that Democrats need to do what they have already done in order to show their bipartisanship, what is her suggestion for what the Republicans should do to show theirs?

if Republicans wanted to reciprocate, they could at least acknowledge the congressional scorekeepers are right – the Democratic plans cut the deficit in the long term and rein in health care costs.

That's right. In order to be bipartisan, she suggests, Democrats must change positions, while Republicans merely have to agree to stop lying about the Democrats.

Since when has telling the truth been a concession?
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Fri Dec 18th 2009, 12:15 AM
As David Zephyr pointed out in this thread, the current heath care bill has a provision allowing people to buy insurance across state lines (as described in the LA Times article here). The problem is that, once insurance can be sold across state lines, insurance companies will gravitate to the states that most favor them and least favor the consumer.

In fact, before the election, this is exactly what McCain wanted, and Obama opposed.

From the second Obama-McCain debate ( transcript here):

Don't we go across state lines when we purchase other things in America? Of course it's OK to go across state lines because in Arizona they may offer a better plan that suits you best than it does here in Tennessee.

Obama's response?

And the reason that it's a problem to go shopping state by state, you know what insurance companies will do? They will find a state -- maybe Arizona, maybe another state -- where there are no requirements for you to get cancer screenings, where there are no requirements for you to have to get pre-existing conditions, and they will all set up shop there.

That's how in banking it works. Everybody goes to Delaware, because they've got very -- pretty loose laws when it comes to things like credit cards.

And in that situation, what happens is, is that the protections you have, the consumer protections that you need, you're not going to have available to you.

That is a fundamental difference that I have with Sen. McCain. He believes in deregulation in every circumstance. That's what we've been going through for the last eight years. It hasn't worked, and we need fundamental change.

(As an aside... it was kind of funny that he kind of stumbled in the middle of the Delaware credit card analogy, apt as it may have been, probably because he knew to instantly water down the criticism there lest it backfire on his VP candidate!)

Anyway, this point was also made more recently by administration spokesman David Axelrod, seen in this CNN video, where Wolf Blitzer argues for insurance across state lines, and Axelrod says that's not what the administration wants.

And of course, earlier in the campaign, Obama debated Hillary Clinton, who wanted a mandate requiring everyone to buy insurance. Obama's response then?

Number one, understand that when Senator Clinton says a mandate, it's not a mandate on government to provide health insurance, it's a mandate on individuals to purchase it. And Senator Clinton is right; we have to find out what works. Now, Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20 percent of the uninsured because they have concluded that that 20 percent can't afford it. In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can't afford it, so now they're worse off than they were. They don't have health insurance and they're paying a fine. In order for you to force people to get health insurance, you've got to have a very harsh penalty,

(full transcript here)

Yeah, everyone's talked about change we can believe in, but the real question is, what does Obama really believe in? I realize no president is going to get everything he wants in a bill, but he hasn't even raised a note of concern about these things which he thought were so important last year. It seems like when Obama talked about the importance of change, he meant that he'd keep changing to what his opponents wanted, giving up so easily. Then there's the Afghan surge, no change in Iraq... and don't get me started on civil liberties and presidential authority... wiretapping, etc.... A little McCain, a little Hillary, a little Bush... Where's last year's Obama?
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Wed Oct 28th 2009, 09:51 AM
The government is considering sending a $250 check to every social security recipient. The common case against doing so is well explained here:

But moreover, I think that a stimulus program should not send checks to anyone. Regardless of whether it's Obama's proposed $250 to seniors, or the Bush $300+ that went to everyone.

Instead, if the government wants to give money away to individuals for the express purpose of stimulating the economy, it should send debit cards rather than checks.

Checks will often be deposited and saved. Or used to pay down existing debt. These are both worthwhile things, and can both help individuals who need help... but they do not accomplish the goal, they do not serve the purpose for which the money is being send out in the first place. For it to work as stimulus, the money must be spent. On new consumption. And quickly.

So I would suggest payments in the form of debit cards, with some additional twists:

* the debit cards should expire in a short time... say, 60 days. That way the stimulus happens when needed; and any money not spent within that time would automatically return to the government's coffers, unspent and available for future programs, debt reduction, whatever. There is no stimulus benefit in giving this money away to people who are not going to spend it right away.

* the debit card should have higher value when paid with a physical swipe through a card reader. For example, a $50 debit card purchase might only reduce the card's balance by $25 if physically swiped (essentially turning, say, a $100 debit card into a $200 debit card, if all of its purchases were made through card readers). This would encourage people to spend their stimulus funds locally, to help increase the ability of the stimulus to help all communities and help people where they live. After all, local economies are not helped when stimulus money is spent at
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Wed Sep 30th 2009, 11:20 AM
Check out /

You can upload any face into the scarecrow's, and watch it sing "If I Only Had a Brain" -- but the funny thing is, if you don't want to upload anything, you can pick from one of their 8 pre-selected faces... one of which is George W. Bush! (As far as I know, the others are all anonymous models, and there is no Obama option.)

It is amusing to watch W sing "If I Only Had a Brain" -- but I'm also surprised that Netflix was willing to be that political. I imagine someone will complain to them about it. Two points for netflix! (At least until someone higher up in the company realizes what some graphic designer did...)
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Wed Jul 15th 2009, 08:23 AM
Something is very fishy.

We did not need a secret group to try to find, capture, or kill Bin Laden or others high in his organization. The entire CIA and the entire military apparatus of the country was already authorized to do that. Since there are perfectly legal, legitimate organizations who would have been well within their purview to implement plans to get Al Queda leaders, why would we need a secret group for this purpose?

If Cheney had some ideas of his own, he could have implemented them through existing intelligence and military channels to which he would have had access and authority, even to create Top Secret missions for these groups, whether directly or through Bush. Since these groups were essentially available to Cheney for any legal goal, why would he need a separate secret group?

Secret groups would exist to be able to do what CANNOT be done legally. Since going after Al Queda leaders was a legal and public position of the U.S., there would be no reason to have a secret group charged with doing it. The administration even boasted when it got some of these guys, and would have boasted if it had gotten Bin Laden. You don't need a secret organization to do things you intend to boast about. You need a secret organization to do things you want to be able to deny ever having a hand in.

The only other possibility I can thing of for a secret group would be if the purpose were legitimate but the means and methods were not. But this would not seem to be a reasonable explanation in this case. What means for getting a leader of AQ could be illegal, that they weren't *already* doing through existing channels? I mean, they had already authorized illegal wiretapping and torture, they had already approved rendition and secret prisons, all apart from Cheney's secret group. So clearly, no such secret group was needed to accomplish this legitimate goal by questionable means. The secret group, then, must have had some other purpose.

I don't know what Cheney was trying to do with this secret group, but its purported goal of getting Al Queda leaders doesn't make sense to me.
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Fri Apr 03rd 2009, 10:26 AM
If you define the success of a war as having met the principal task you set out when you went in, then this clip shows that Powell would consider it a failure.

In his interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC (clip at about 6 minutes, 30 seconds in at ), he says:

Our principal task--even though it's been, I think, missed in recent reporting--we went in there and after we got rid of the Taliban government because they wouldn't turn over al Queda, we then focussed on going after al Queda and the Taliban.

<snip - talks about the need for the subsequent reconstruction there, and the efforts they made, then continues...>

But we did not eliminate al Queda, we did not eliminate the Taliban. Could we have, if we had more forces? That will be discussed and debated for years to come.

(Note that the official transcript ( / ) messes up the punctuation. If you read the transcript, it sounds like he said our principal task was the reconstruction of the country. But if you hear him speak the words in the clip, it is clear that the "principal task" phrase refers to the words that came afterward, not the words that came before. Punctuation can change everything...)
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We may not be able to vote for the program itself, but we can vote to at least get Obama to talk about it.

The White House is allowing people to post questions for Obama to answer, and according to CNN, "Obama has promised to answer the most popular questions through a live video stream on beginning Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET."

I've never asked for a K+R before, but if we can all go to /

and click on the Health Care Reform topic, maybe we can all help make Single Payer the number one question in the category, which, hopefully, will prompt Obama to talk about it.

Currently, you have to scroll down just a little... the most popular Single Payer question is the fifth question down, with 3081 votes. It is perhaps not the best question posted on the topic, but it is the one with the most votes, so it's the one to vote for, the one with the most chance of getting to the top, and therefore, hopefully, getting answered. The current first-place question has 5669 votes to get it to the top... it's a long shot, but if everyone who reads this and cares about it votes, maybe we can help get Single Payer into first place in the category.

As Howard Dean and others have been saying, without a Single Payer (Medicare-like) option in the new health plan, it won't be true reform. Obama knows this... let's make sure he knows we know it too!
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Posted by thesquanderer in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Fri Nov 28th 2008, 08:49 AM
This sounds brilliant to me.

offer a 50 percent rebate check to every purchaser of a new, American-made car produced by any auto company that signs up for a voluntary restructuring program with the federal government. The rebate would be paid by the Treasury Department, and then exchanged for preferred stock in the company that produced the car.

* Giving people a major incentive to buy a new car *now* would be a huge economic stimulus.

* Getting all those unsold cars out of inventory would solve the immediate problems of the car companies.

* Tying the program to a restructuring would address the car companies' longer term issues.
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As I commented elsewhere, Obama has stated his priorities of the economy, Iraq, health care, and education. But right up there has to be addressing the Bush administration's assault on civil liberties and excessive use of secrecy... or someday there may be no democracy left to defend.

Cause for optimism in today's New York Times...

Mr. Feingold has been compiling a list of areas for the next president to focus on, which he intends to present to Mr. Obama. It includes amending the Patriot Act, giving detainees greater legal protections and banning torture, cruelty and degrading treatment. He wants to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to restore limits on domestic spying. And he wants to roll back the Bush administration’s dedication to classifying government documents.

more at
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