Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Struggling to make ends meet on $300K

I've got to hand it to Republicans: the way they've managed to pull the wool over the eyes of their supporters all these years by painting themselves as "ordinary folk" staving off the pernicious cultural assaults of powerful, disconnected, liberal "elites" is quite remarkable. Why, just the other day we had Karl Rove describing Barak Obama, who was raised by a single mother who relied more than once on food stamps to make ends meet as "...the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by." What makes the GOP's seeming ability to fool all of their supporters all the time so remarkable is that, just as you have operatives like Rove pushing the "liberal elite" shibboleth, you've got columnists like Donald Luskin writing this sort of thing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal:

...the most alarming thing about Mr. Obama's proposal is that the $250,000 threshold, above which the payroll tax would be applied, refers to household income, not individual income. So it's quite deceptive when he claims that the $250,000 threshold will "ensure that lifting the payroll tax cap does not ensnare any middle class Americans."

Suppose your household consists of you and your spouse, each earning wages of $150,000 per year. Currently, you are each subject to the payroll tax up to $102,000 of wages, so together you are taxed on $204,000. Under the Obama plan, you'd be taxed again on another $50,000 of wages.

At the current payroll tax rate of 12.4% – 6.2% from wage-earners and 6.2% from their employers – your household would be looking at a tax hike of $6,200 per year. You probably didn't consider yourself rich before, and you certainly won't after paying that tax bill. (emphasis added)

There's a scene in the film "Raising Arizona" in which Nicolas Cage's character meets a man in prison who, in recounting his family's sad story one evening, notes: "...and when there was no meat, we ate fowl and when there was no fowl, we ate crawdad and when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand," to which Cage replies incredulously "You ate SAND?" And the man answers matter of factly "That's right." Now, 'till this moment I've never felt a particular connection to this man's story, but perhaps I should reassess that judgment. After all, the $300,000.00 in yearly wage income that Luskin regards as a mere pittance seems like a veritable fortune to me. And if tacking on a 1.09% tax hike turns you into a bona-fide pauper, then I seem to really have missed the boat. I must be the guy who cleans out the pauper's latrine for a living.

Of course, there will be those who try to argue that Luskin's salary expectations might be a bit skewed by the fact that he's the chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC and used to be vice chairman and chief investment officer for Barklay's Global Investors. But don't let those titles fool you. Don's a Republican, which means he's a regular guy... like you and me... and not some haughty, distant, liberal elitist peering down scornfully on the rest of us from his lofty perch on Mount Perrier. Heck, Luskin's probably never even dated a movie star or paid more than $360 for a bottle of wine or owned more than one yacht at a time. And that's more than you could say for most Democrats.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Drop in the bucket

While it's nice to see a Republican candidate at least acknowledging that global warming is not a communist conspiracy theory, John McCain's most recent proposal to help wean the country from our addiction to fossil fuels must be seen for what it is: a thoroughly inadequate case of too little, too late and completely lacking in vision or ambition.

PHOENIX (AP) — John McCain hopes to solve the country's energy crisis with cold hard cash.

The presumed Republican nominee is proposing a $300 million government prize to whoever can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology. The bounty would equate to $1 for every man, woman and child in the country, "a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency," McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday at Fresno State University in California.

Indeed, it is "a small price to pay." It is a very small price. Consider that while this project equates to "$1 dollar for every man woman and child in this country," we have already spent about $15,000 for every man woman and child in this country fighting a disastrous and misguided oil war in Iraq that McCain supported and voted for.

True vision is going to require that we do a whole lot more than that. Indeed, one wonders what the point is of the prize McCain is offering, given that the market impact of such an invention would likely far overshadow the prize money in question. Such batteries would quickly make their way not just into hybrid cars, but also notebook computers, portable electronics, backup power supplies, toys... you name it. $300 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the profits one would earn from marketing such an invention. Indeed, government money would be far better spent correcting instances of market failure (providing seed money for projects that investors find too risky, or subsidizing building and operating costs for a hydrogen infrastructure that private investors are not willing to build until there are enough hydrogen powered cars to support it.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The End of Racism Part XVLII

From this story, and this website (click image to enlarge):

Redefining Words

A nice observation from Andrew Sullivan:

What's staggering to me is the moral relativism of these men who report to a fundamentalist Christian. You cannot compromise on the meaning of the word "marriage". But "torture"? No problem.


Is the U.S. the new North Korea?

Has George W. Bush turned the us into the next North Korea?

Consider this article from The Guardian detailing the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Korean spy agencies in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War:

Five Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korean spies at the height of the cold war returned to Japan yesterday to be reunited with relatives they have not seen for almost a quarter of a century.

The five, the only confirmed survivors among 13 Japanese nationals North Korea has admitted abducting in the 1970s and 80s, arrived at Haneda airport in Tokyo yesterday afternoon on a government-chartered plane. They will spend about two weeks in Japan before returning together to North Korea.
... after years of denials, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, told Mr Koizumi during bilateral talks in Pyongyang that his country's special forces had indeed kidnapped Japanese and used them to teach their language to spies.

And this article in Salon detailing U.S. kidnappings and imprisonment of innocent men in the mids of the Bush Administration's declared "war on terror":

Sami al-Haj, the Al Jazeera camerman who was encaged at Guantanamo for years until being recently released, was simply traveling with an Al Jazeera reporter from Pakistan into Afghanistan to cover the U.S. invasion for his news network when he was stopped by a Pakistani immigration officer, turned over to the U.S., kept in an underground Afghan prison for six months, and then basically disappeared off to Guantanamo, where he remained for years, interrogated not about Al Qaeda, but largely about the operations of Al Jazeera...

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri -- the computer science graduate student at Bradley University, in the U.S. on a student visa -- was arrested at his home in Peoria, Illinois where he lived with his wife and five children, charged with credit card fraud, only to then have his trial canceled at the last minute by George Bush, who declared him an "enemy combatant" and ordered him into military custody, where he remained for years with no charges.

Canadian citizen Maher Arar was also detained at the airport -- on a stop-over at JFK Airport on his way back from a family vacation to his Ottawa home -- and then sent to Syria to be tortured for 10 months, only for it to be discovered thereafter that he was completely innocent, that U.S. officials apprehended the wrong man. German citizen Khaled El-Masri was snatched up while on vacation in Macedonia, accused of being a Terrorist, shipped around to multiple countries, denied access to the outside world, tortured by the CIA for months, only to be released once they realized it was a case of "mistaken identity." And the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Lakhdar Boumediene, was a Bosnia citizen, living in Bosnia, who was arrested by Bosnian authorities at the request of the Bush administration, investigated, and determined by the Bosnian Supreme Court to be innocent. But upon his being released, U.S. forces inside Bosnia immediately seized him and shipped him to Guantanamo.

The parallels are disturbing. In both cases we have a sovereign government whose intelligence agencies, in the name of furthering national security, kidnap foreign nationals, often on foreign soil, and imprison them thousands of miles from their native country. They are refused any right to habeas corpus, are in many cases imprisoned in complete secrecy, denied any contact with their families and loved ones back home.

Yes, there are differences, of course. And defenders of the Bush administration's lawlessness would no doubt argue that, while the U.S. may have mistakenly imprisoned innocents on certain occasions, the North Koreans knew exactly what they were doing when they snatched innocent Japanese citizens and spirited them off to North Korea to train its spies in the language and customs of their mother country. But the parallels are also striking, and don't speak well of what our nation has become under the leadership of George W. Bush. The kidnapping of foreign nationals by secret operatives working on foreign soil, the secret prisons, the refusal to allow detainees to challenge the legitimacy of their imprisonment; it is all very disturbing. Worse yet, it is worth noting that there is little evidence that North Koreans tortured the people they kidnapped, unlike what U.S. interrogators are reported to have done or facilitated through the practice of "extraordinary rendition" for interrogation to other nations with long histories of torture. The North Koreans may have assassinated a few of their kidnap victims to steal their identities which is, of course, reprehensible and a gross violation of all norms of law and human decency. But then, so is the extraction of information and of signed confessions under torture.

Is the U.S. equal to North Korea in criminality? Certainly not. But when it comes to the kidnapping of foreign nationals and this Administrations' utter contempt for the notion that such prisoners have any rights to due process under U.S. law, the Bush Administration walks hand in hand with the criminal regime of Kim Jong Il.