Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Watch Planet 3799 Novgorod Destroy America

Haha! You fell for the clickbait, America! Now I have hijacked not just your computer, but you!!! It was almost as easy as hacking a Diebold voting machine!

Planet 3799 Novgorod is in control. America, land of the dream, is about to wake up. Brittle, hollow America. My attack is primed and ready. I am about to make America crumble like a chocolate Father Frost at New Years.

Home of the brave? But you are so afraid! It is because you have lost your core. Or did you ever have one? Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness? Slaver hypocrisy then and irredeemable racism now. Crumbling like a hollow chocolate figure.

America, so willing to let mercenaries do your fighting and dying! Freedom isn't free? What is the cost of freedom to the average American? There is no cost! Only the cost of shopping for new shoes! America, so proud of your past, so ignorant of it, and so proud of your ignorance!

America, so deluded that you think firearms in the hands of the unorganized mass of people will protect you from tyranny! You will be the terrain of tyrannical anarchic mobsters when I am done with you.

America, so sure that freedom of speech will advance the truth, and so allergic to advancing the truth! Prodigal Son of the Enlightenment, you have blinded yourself to the need to render unto Caesar. You have no journalists anymore, just hyper-partisan dabblers in clickbait, toying with untruths for the entertainment of the gullible mass.

Your great faith in democracy boils down to one thing--belief in voting and then being left alone. No belief in governing. No belief in participation. No belief in shared sacrifice. Certainly no belief in paying your fair share of taxes. When I am done with you, you will make Greece look like Denmark.

You want the benefits of the government without wanting anything to do with it. Congratulations, your democracy has achieved rottenness! Ordinarily a country is like a house; everyone must work to keep the house in good shape. But you are all great pretenders that a government means nothing, so the house is falling down.

So now you stand to elect as president someone who completely represents you: an ignorant moocher who is totally fine with other people doing all the work for freedom. Someone with zero experience or respect for the work of government. Someone who "loves the vets" even while he did everything in his power to keep from becoming one himself. Someone who polls his audiences to find out what he should believe. A confidence man with no principle. "He speaks his mind," his admirers say. He has no mind. It's all hot air. "Putin is not in Ukraine. Oh, Crimea is in Ukraine. Well, if I'd been there blah blah blah." A hog caller of ignorance. Who, fortunately for us, plays right into our hands. He is our guy. He believes NATO is a liability. We will be glad to help him clear it off the books.

You deserve him, America. I want you to have him, so that you will finally lose in the world. You will learn how it feels to lose. You will be the clown of the world. You will forsake your allies for the gutter of idiotic nipple-gazing and History will sweep your hollow bones out to sea.

So how do I do this? I remove the last shred of rice from the dolmata covering the privates of your alabaster democracy god! Here are just a few tactics (and we have legions): hacked voting machines, character assassination, revealing the inner workings of your sausage factory. Simple. Your shallow, sanctimonious faith will crumble like rotten marble. Or like shards of white chocolate, which I prefer.

No one will know. Over here we are very clever, smart, and well-trained. And loyal. Loyal to the motherland. The motherland is coming back. Knowing that your so-called democracy has finally reached its rotten end, the rotten end of too many hyenas feeding on the same corpse so now they turn on each other. America, where there is no patriotism, only partisanship.

I almost feel sorry for Mrs. Clinton. Almost. To her it's like a bazaar. Can she lead? If not now, when? Why is she not out there confronting the exaggerated stories of her dishonesty? Why is she not on the barricades saying that all those things people are saying about the emails and the Clinton foundation are inconsequential, teeth-rotting candies of politics. You want real life, don't you? There is real substance to be had! There is the economy (stupid)! There is the future of the infrastructure! There is the future of the future! There is to be figured out how to keep people working in a world of robots! There is drama in the mighty salvation of a deluded people!

But no. A bang and a whimper. I almost feel sorry for pitiful Mrs. Clinton.

America, the motherland wins either way. That is the only way to play:
  1. If Clinton wins, it will look like she stole votes and won by fraud. But she will not have done it. We will have done it. We will have done it knowing Americans don't practice what they preach. It is not so hard over here in the motherland to practice what we preach because there is no pretending of life to be otherwise. America! Land of the dream! You are about to wake up. Presumption of innocence? That is such a joke! If Clinton benefits, it will be her fault! Twitter and Facebook will cook Clinton's goose! And then all the monads with guns will come out in their disorganized glory and then Obama will declare martial law and then oh boy.
  2. If Trump wins, it will be shown that he cannot have done it without our help, although of course Mr. Election Is Rigged--who will foment armed revolution if he loses--will put one shoe on the other foot and the other in his mouth in his efforts to pooh-pooh any such findings. But the absolute best part will be his frothing followers congratulating and thanking the motherland for beating Clinton! Think what this means, America: Russia has not only penetrated the vaunted American democratic armor and shattered it from the inside, it has also transformed super-patriots into traitors. It doesn't get any better, not even if the Cubs win the Series.
America! Land of the dream. You are about to wake up. The day after election day I will be eating your chocolate marble parts like it was the best New Years Day ever.

You can have your computer back now, America. But you are still too late. We have you. Planet 3799 Novgorod is in control. Happy chocolate Father Frost on your rotten alabaster penis.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fair Share America #2: Skin in the Game

If you're an American citizen reading this, think for a moment of your civic obligations to the nation. By that I mean the specific actions that Uncle Sam requires of all Americans.  Not the so-called "civic duty" things you can do if you want to, like voting. I mean things you have to do or Uncle Sam will put you in jail.

While you're thinking, consider this quote from a future history of an alternative past:
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the USA was emotionally united as it had not been since World War II. But emotions being the fragile and fickle things they are, there was no guarantee that the feeling would produce long-standing unity. Seizing the opportunity, President George W. Bush, together with leaders of both parties, used as a model the citizen militia of revolutionary days and prepared legislation that established a Homeland Service Department in which all American citizens were obligated to serve.  "All of us are American citizens," Bush told his countrymen and women, "and all of us, as American citizens, must do our part to protect our country and our way of life." Overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress, the result was a program--carried out, as was the old militia, in cooperation with the states--that dwarfed any civil defense or public works program ever before attempted in the United States. Everyone between the ages of 16 and 75 worked one week a year doing jobs such as screening airport baggage, patrolling harbors, rebuilding infrastructure, and assisting in daycares, schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. It took a while to work out the kinks, but by the beginning of 2004 the program settled into the same kind of routinized regularity that characterizes Social Security. Among the many positive ripple effects of the program were a sharp rise in voting to the regular 96-97% participation rate seen today (2046), a return to the citizen militia administered by the states within Federal guidelines, a consequent downsizing of the professional military, universal healthcare, a guaranteed income for all, and a decrease in the size of the Federal spending to the point that the national debt was retired in 2037.
The road not taken. We don't even imagine that such a road exists, even though it is not such a far-fetched extrapolation from the thinking and the experience of the Founding Fathers.

Why can't we think along these lines? As the nation has gotten wealthier, the more it has liquidated (meaning monetized) civic participation--the more professionalized civil service has become. Once upon a time the national defense was the responsibility primarily of a citizen militia, which, when there were no Indian wars to fight, built roads, put out fires, and performed police services. Those days are long gone. The army became a standing, professional one, and the work of the public became the job of professionals.

Not that this is necessarily or always a bad thing (says the former civil servant), but it has meant the complete alienation of civil work from the body of the citizenry to the point that we have forgotten that it's possible and sometimes desirable to do things another way.

The answer to the opening question of this blog? Pay your taxes (or at least file). That is all Uncle Sam demands from everyone in the way of service. Uncle Sam is a money machine.

Why would we want to revive this idea of civic obligation? Jon Stewart has come out in favor of a civil service year (and here is an organization promoting the idea). He says "we've lost something." Presumably he means universal service through a military draft. Well, actually, since the draft only applied to young men, we never had it in the first place.

His point (if he thought it through :-)) is more "we need something." The something we need is for Uncle Sam to require something of us other than money. If Uncle Sam is only about money, then inevitably those with more money are of more civic value to our dear Uncle.

If Uncle Sam is also about service, and if the service comes from all of us, then civic value attaches to us personally. There will be an end to monetized alienation, and the return of the prodigal will be cause for celebration.

Let the Follies commence!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fair Share America #1: Taxes

Here's the meme that set me off:

Math checks out? What math? There is no math here. There is a mean-spirited gripe from
  1. someone ("we") who has a problem with democracy (never mind the fact that the 47% only comprise a little over 1/3 of the people who bother to vote);
  2. someone who seems not to know that, in our democratic republic, the people who do the actual voting for such legislation as federal tax rates are elected representatives in Congress, where the majority of members are millionaires;
  3. someone who conveniently leaves out the fact that the 47% who are employed pay a federal payroll tax on all of their wages (unlike very wealthy people);
  4. someone who conveniently forgets that retired people living on fixed incomes (Social Security, savings, and pensions) are among the 47%; and
  5. someone who can't be bothered actually to get the facts or do the math about progressive taxation in the US.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., famously said that taxation is the cost of civilization. Nobody likes paying taxes, but there it is. Of the two great ineluctables, I'll take taxes any day over death. If we have to pay taxes, it seems only ethical that the tax burden should be shared equitably.

In considering the nature of that burden, we can't determine fair levels of taxation without looking at the total picture of income. The total picture of income starts with gross income and then takes out all taxes: state, local, federal.

Here is a useful breakdown from the Center for Tax Justice. It's a little old (2011) but still useful for the sake of this discussion. The "after-tax" and "% paid in tax" columns are mine and show the results of simple calculations.

                  AVG. INCOME ($)  TAXES ($)    AFTER-TAX $     % PD. IN TAX
Lowest 20%       13,000                 2,262               10,738                       17.4
21-40                  26,100                 5,533               20,567                       21.2
41-60                  42,000               10,584               31,416                       25.2
61-80                  68,700               19,442               49,258                       28.3
81-90                105,000              30,975                74,025                       29.5
91-95                147,000              44,541              102,459                       30.3
96-99                254,000              77,216              176,784                       30.4   
top 1%           1,371,000            397,590              973,410                       29

Notice the percentage column. They are perhaps a little on the low side in 2016 numbers: reported a national average of 31.5% in July, 2015. However, for the sake of this discussion, it is safe to say what TaxFoundation said: that the average American pays "nearly one-third of their income in taxes."

But wait! What about poor people! They pay way less, as a percentage, than the upper income brackets! Is that fair?

Realistically, in the case of taxing lower incomes, it's more a "blood from a turnip" situation.

Take a look at the after-tax column. This is the disposable income available to pay to live. The average national cost of living is $3,258 per month or almost 40 thou a year. The bottom 60% don't make that much. There's simply no sense in asking them to pay more in taxes. The money's not there.

Where's the money? It's obvious where the money is. The money is at the top. And if you look at the disposable income for the top brackets, it's more than generous. Subtract the average cost of living from the disposable amount in the top 10%. Then go ahead and subtract something for college tuition. Then whatever you're left with, try factoring back in compound interest for some investments. The money gap gets wider and wider, not even taking into account how favorable the economy has been in the last 30 years to those in the top 10%.

So the question about fairness becomes one about capability: Who can best afford to give Uncle Sam the money he needs? To anyone claiming "Socialism!" or "Income redistribution!" there is a simple, conservative answer going all the way back to the Founding Fathers: civic obligation.

Unless they want to live in a broken-down nation of paupers, those with the lion's share of the money have a duty to pay the lion's share of the costs of government. As we have seen, they are in fact doing so, and it is right that they do so. So why complain about the 47% all the way to the bank, to their child's Ivy League university graduation, or to the country club?

Wealthy people feel taken advantage of. "Look at this, all my hard-earned money being used to pay for too much government, and all those poor people not paying a damn thing and living off my money in the form of welfare."

(In fact, redistributing income through something like a basic income plan would be the quickest way to reduce the size of government and eliminate welfare. But there's not much of that kind of thinking going on. A pity: Democracy would allow for it.)

The gripe is worth listening too, untrue and mean-spirited though it may be, because it points to something that really should be an area of concern: the distribution not so much of who pays taxes, but of who performs works of civic obligation. Which will be the topic of Fair Share America #2.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Yes, Donald Trump, the system is rigged. But not in the way you think.

If Trump has a mantra, it is "the system is rigged." I think he's been saying this longer than he's been saying "crooked Hillary."

Recently he said, "I'm afraid the system is gonna be rigged," presumably in November. Soon afterwards he said there is nothing to stop people from voting 10 times, which of course means "it's rigged."

Trump is following the advice of shadow paranoid mastermind Roger Stone, who publicly advised him to fight voter fraud by talking about it immediately. He needs to start saying, look, I'm ahead in Florida now, so if I lose Florida in November and Hillary is elected, it will be proof of voter fraud. And then, says Stone, look out: the election will be illegitimate, there will be widespread civil disobedience, and the government will be shut down.

And this: "When I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath."

That's a weird clarification. If there is a distinction in there somewhere, I'd bet it's lost on Trump.

Because Trump's not real good on making distinctions. Let's look at this issue as an example. If we're going to have a bloodbath because of voting in Florida, we need to be accurate as to why.

"The system is rigged"--which Trump says over and over and over--is not the same as "there will be voter fraud."

All "systems" are, by definition, "rigged." This is a neutral statement. The word "rigging" comes from the system of ropes and pulleys that enable sailing vessels to function. When it is applied negatively, it still has to mean a system that has been set up, in advance, to produce a certain result. Loaded dice, marked cards, and a magnetized roulette wheel are rigged systems that the croupier Trump might be familiar with: they are systems that, by design, are "rigged" to produce certain results favorable to the player who knows the rigging apparatus in advance.

The electoral college system is a neutrally-rigged system. Sure, there are unintended consequences (the total popular vote decision might not match the electoral college decision), but it is rigged to work the way it does.

A good example of an unfairly rigged, loaded-dice/marked-card electoral system is the one widely in place in the Southern states during the Jim Crow era. That was a system rigged in advance to enable manipulation by local registrars in order to keep African-Americans from voting.

Or--even better because of the mechanical way it tries to "design" the electoral system for partisan advantage--is the classic, still-robust rigging that is the gerrymander.

Over and over and over, however, Trump's complaints have nothing to do with this kind of rigging. For example, the 2016 Louisiana GOP primary came in for "the system is rigged" condemnation--meaning it was rigged in advance to keep him from picking up delegates--when in fact it was the system working the way it was designed, according to rules that were in place well before the race began. The same thing is true of the Democratic primary: Trump's siren call to disaffected Sanders voters was the same old "system is rigged" mantra, when in fact the superdelegate system so problematic for Sanders supporters was neutral, as outsider Barack Obama demonstrated in 2008. Nor did the Wikileak DNC brouhaha expose a rigged system. It exposed operators within the system expressing personal opinions and suggesting how voters might be influenced, but no rules were changed, midstream, to prejudice the outcome.

Contrary to Trump's claims, the primaries were not systems rigged nefariously to deny votes, in advance, to any particular person.

Is the general election system rigged to deny Trump votes? Take Roger Stone's example, Florida. Its state administration is Republican and Trump-leaning. If anyone should have cause for worry, it would be Hillary Clinton.

Voter fraud? Sure, it's possible, but all studies that I've seen say that it is rare and not of a scale to influence the outcome of a presidential contest. Elections are closely watched. Any suspicious activity would be immediately reported. If a presidential contest were compromised, Roger Stone's bloodletting would not be necessary. The rigged system would crank out a decision, as it did in 2000, when law-abiding citizen and good loser Gore conceded.

Trump's claim that nothing prevents people from voting 10 times is one more example of how little he knows about civic reality. What's more likely is that states with ID requirement designed to prevent multiple voting will be punked by people with driver licenses and residences in multiple states. I'm guessing Trump will poll well among people with multiple residences.

This kind of potential fraud is an unintended consequence of the Constitution's conferring voting control to the states. We have a patchwork system for enabling voting, when we should have a national one. We are American citizens, after all.

The system is rigged.