Archive for September, 2008

Democrats vs Plutocrats

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Let’s take a look at the competing proposals for dealing with the financial meltdown:

Democrats (and some moderate Republicans, and apparently the administration):

  • Buy out failing companies with up to 700 billion dollars of taxpayer money
  • Give taxpayers equity in those companies (i.e. partially nationalize them)
  • Put caps on executive salaries at those companies and prohibit golden parachutes
  • Change bankruptcy laws so judges can extend homeowners’ mortgage terms

Meanwhile, the Republican hard core wants to:

  • Cut the capital gains tax (who makes up the resulting revenue shortfall? Guess.*)
  • Ensure fat cats who buy failing companies against loss (Guess who pays for that.)
  • No help for homeowners, no regulations on executives

So let’s see.  Either we spend taxpayer money to acquire financial interest in the companies, and eventually (if things turn around) get money back to help finance our government, or we use taxpayer money to make the rich richer.

Why would the Republicans prefer the latter scheme?  If they were honest, it’s just self-interest, but how can they justify it?  They can’t pretend this is free-market capitalism, in which the Invisible Hand can do no wrong; it’s government intervention either way, and the difference is who winds up owning the capital.  In essence, they’re saying you can’t trust the officials elected by jerks like me with money, you can only trust the same greed-addled plutocrats who got us into this mess in the first place.

Honestly, how can that party pretend to be anything but a shill for the rich? Why would anyone making under about $600,000 a year vote for them?

*Remember, if we cut the capital gains tax, we’re going to fund the government somehow. Either we raise your taxes, or we just run a deficit and transfer the cost to the taxpayer as a decline in the value of the dollar.

A less cheery side note about the Altenburg Fair

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

I’ll just paste the text of the letter I wrote to the local paper:

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For many years I’ve enjoyed going to the East Perry Community Fair in Altenburg.   The authentic rural atmosphere is a nice contrast with the larger, more commercialized SEMO district fair.   This year, though, I was disappointed to hear the announcer at the mule jump make a very mean-spirited joke:  A local farmer sees someone dipping water out of a cow pond with his hand and drinking it.  In German, he warns the man that the pond water isn’t safe to drink.  The man explains that he’s a Muslim, and speaks only Arabic and English, so if the farmer doesn’t speak Arabic, he should speak English to him.  The farmer tells him in English “Use both hands, you’ll get more.”   

It’s not a particularly funny joke, and especially not to any of my Muslim friends, as the point seems to be “Ha ha, we hate Muslims.” 

I have always encouraged newcomers to the area to attend the Altenburg Fair, for a taste of real Southeast Missouri life.  After this year’s fair, though, I think I’ll have to warn them that they’re likely to encounter some real Southeast Missouri intolerance as well.

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The Altenburg Fair

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Once again, it’s my favorite local event of the year — the East Perry Community Fair, better known as the Altenburg Fair.   I hate the SEMO regional fair, which has a zillion rides and carnies and country music groups and generally awfulness.  But the Altenburg Fair has two rides, a miniature golf course, and booths from places like the local hardware store, where they give away yardsticks.  Most important, they have the Mule Jump.

Mule Jump at Altenburg Fair 2008

In this event, the owner leads his or her mule into the U-shaped enclosure.  The mule must come to a stop, and then jump over the barrier.  Each round they raise it an inch or two.  The mule above, Bucky, won the smallest size category, and is shown clearing the bar at 54 inches.  It was above his ears when he was standing in front of it.

This kid, Preston, kept losing control of his mule Sarah.  They didn’t win, but he’ll be back next year.  You can tell.

Altenburg Fair 2008

Afterward we got a beer or two.  Robin had a brat and a ribbon-fried potato, I had a fried fish, and Sophie had a pulled pork sandwich.  Sadly, we didn’t get around to the Pickle on a Stick booth.   We did have a look at the prize produce, though.

Sophie with the big 'ol pumpkins

Good times, as always.

What’s the matter with America?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

The Freakonomics blog at the New York Times has a really interesting post today, which I’m going to steal from rather shamelessly here, but with a different slant in analysis.  It reproduces this graph from the Washington Post:

This compares Obama and McCain’s tax plans.  It’s interesting to see this redrawn so that the bars are proportional to the fraction of taxpayers in each bracket — note that the wealthy (over $600,000 annual income), who benefit most from McCain’s cuts and lose most from Obama’s, represent less than 1 percent of the population.

It’s even better to look at this graph, showing the proportion of total tax dollars paid:

Note here that you can see where the money comes from for Obama’s plan; it’s close to revenue-neutral, as the rich pay a large proportion of total tax, and their tax hike pays for cuts for most everyone else.  Since we all help to build the society that makes it possible for the rich to be rich, that’s fair enough, and they can best afford to spare it.

McCain, on the other hand, gives the biggest cuts to those wealthy families, and winds up with a big drop in net tax income for the country.  This will necessitate cuts in government programs, including ones that would benefit the lower and middle classes further.

The depressing thing is to look at any of these graphs and realize that about 80% of families would be better off under Obama’s plan.   If people vote their own interests — if they even vote the interests of the majority — then Obama should lead overwhelmingly in the polls.  In fact, it’s more or less a tie.

The book What’s the Matter with Kansas, by Thomas Frank, examined this phenomenon — that the middle class and much of the rural white lower class now vote Republican rather reliably, despite the obvious pro-corporate and pro-upper class policy bias of that party.  Why?  The Republicans have made a concerted effort ever since Reagan to ally themselves with social conservative views, although they’ve done little to enact policies that would further them.  McCain used to honestly reject such pandering, but once he had a serious chance at getting nominated, he started cuddling up to the religious right, even to the extent of choosing Sarah Palin as VP candidate.

I don’t think it’s all “values,” though, that causes people to vote for the Republicans against their own interests.  I saw a study some time ago where people were asked what level of income they expected to achieve in their lifetime.  50% of the sample expected to be in the top 1% of earners before they checked out.  This is the Republican party’s popular appeal in a nutshell.  I’m going to win the lottery, I’m going to be a star NFL quarterback, I’m going to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  And therefore, I don’t want the government raising taxes on the super-rich, because I intend to be one someday!   The fact that 49% of that sample is doomed to be disappointed just doesn’t sink in.  If you can’t admit you’re middle class, policies that favor the middle class won’t appeal to you.

*Sigh.*

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Update:  Turns out that a lot of political scientists say that Frank’s thesis doesn’t hold up when you look at the data — the evidence indicates that the more money people have, the more likely they are to vote Republican.  Doesn’t seem to be the case around here, but I have to say I haven’t collected data systematically.

Where have I been?

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Yes, I know, dear readers (all two of you), I haven’t posted lately.  I’ve been wasting all my time on Flickr.   It’s mainly because I got a new camera.  Several years ago I bought a pretty nice film camera, a Pentax Z-30, and two autofocus zoom lenses for it.  Then I got a digital camera, and pretty soon the idea of film seemed pretty pointless.  Just recently I realized that they make Pentax digital SLR bodies that would work with my old lenses, and convinced myself to buy one.  I love it.  So anyway, I’ve been taking lots of pics and posting them to Flickr, and commenting on other people’s pics, and bla bla bla.

Today I was out in the back yard with my 75-300 mm zoom and a close-up ring, looking for bugs on the sedum flowers.  Along came a painted lady butterfly, so I started taking some pictures of it.

Unsuspecting Painted Lady

While I was moving around, I startled the butterfly, and it flew right into a garden spider’s web.  The spider pounced on it and had it all wrapped up in 30 seconds.  Needless to say, I took a bunch of Wild Kingdom shots.

Painted Lady in the web

So, that’s what I’ve been up to.  Oh, and I also have half-time release from teaching for a new job as director of the Center for Writing Excellence at Southeast.  But I’ll talk about that later.