Thursday, April 16, 2015

Just Needs To Be Said: Almost Every American Pay Their Taxes And They DON'T Complain About Paying

With all the Republican/Libertarian anti-tax rhetoric in the media, it might surprise most Americans to realize that most Americans (hi, everybody) don't mind paying taxes in the first place:

That Americans hate taxes has become a truism, but it’s not true. Although they disagree sharply about how tax money should be spent, most Americans actually take pride in paying their taxes. Taxpayers in the United States are unusually honest and reliable compared to those in other countries. And, increasingly, Americans are voting for tax hikes.

I can speak with anecdotal evidence here.  Libraries are one of the last places that carry printed tax forms for the public to use (Post Offices used to, but for some reason stopped).  Every year I've gone through the hassle alongside other librarians to get the basic 1040s and the specialty Schedules out on racks and tables for people.  Except this year: due to budget cuts and Congressional delays, the IRS only sent out just the basic forms, AND no instruction booklets.  Everything had to be done online.  The only complaints I got this year were that we didn't have the instruction booklets, or that people uncomfortable with computers had to go online to do their taxes this time.

I have rarely, if ever, gotten complaints about filing taxes, period.  Everyone coming in over the years griped about the complexity of the calculations, or the number of papers they had to file, or the lack of time they had if needed forms were late.  I can't recall the last time I had someone rant about the unfairness of the taxing itself.  Maybe those people weren't coming in looking for forms to begin with.

My anecdotal evidence fits well with the real evidence that Vanessa Williamson brings up in her Atlantic article:

...In national surveys, over 95 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “It is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes,” and more than half see taxpaying as “very patriotic.” One man from Ohio called it a responsibility to “the Founding Fathers.” A former Marine said taxpaying is “the cost of being an American,” while a man from California said tax avoidance is the equivalent of “shorting the country.”
The feeling is bipartisan. Surveys show that Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to agree that taxpaying is a moral responsibility. One woman in Kansas called taxpaying “a responsibility that we have to our country as citizens” because “the country has to be taken care of.” She is a Christian conservative active in her local Tea Party group. While Tea Party activists and other staunch conservatives object to paying for “the Obama agenda,” as she described it, they regularly use the status of “taxpayer” as shorthand for being an upstanding, contributing citizen.
You might wonder if these attitudes are nothing more than a nice sentiment, but Americans put their money where their mouths are, so to speak. Compared to 14 European countries, Americans report the highest willingness to pay taxes, and the United States has one of the highest rates of tax compliance in the developed world. One might credit this to fear of the IRS, but economists have concluded that high-compliance rates in the U.S. cannot be explained solely by the level of enforcement...

As another point about the IRS, they really don't enforce that much to begin with.  Audit rates are hilariously low.  I'd like to think most Americans know that the odds of getting into trouble with the taxman is rare compared to getting into trouble with the boss if you skip work to go fishing (note to boss: I don't fish, I swear).  The only ones who do get into trouble are the few who try to game the tax system in the first place.

If there's any complaints about our taxes, it comes mostly from the ones who pine for a flat tax or a sales tax over the income tax system we have.  And they're idiots.  The rest of the complainers are the ones who want to shrink / kill government in the first place, so going after our government's means of raising revenues is their agenda.  And they're con artists/frauds.

Real American pay real taxes, because guess what?  We're citizens.  We view the paying of our taxes as our commitment to the nation, to our communities, to our own well-being.  We are - each of us - aware that our taxes go towards such things as roads, clean air and water, regulated utilities, schools, libraries, small loan programs for business start-ups and large loan programs for higher education.  Most of us don't sign up as volunteers to serve in the military: paying for that military with our taxes is our commitment to our soldiers, to their service and direct sacrifice.

Real Americans only complain about how the tax revenues are being wasted, which is a reflection on the lousy approval numbers for a dysfunctional Congress, or they complain about how the tax burden should involve the rich.

What's sad is that there are ways to increase the uber-wealthy individuals and corporations into paying their honest-to-God fair share of the tax revenues without affecting the economy, but we can't pursue a single method because the modern Republican Party is too beholden to those uber-wealthy individuals and corporations who are un-American in their desire to avoid their responsibilities to the United States.  Per Weissmann's Slate article:

Let’s say your only interest is in maximizing the amount of revenue the Feds collect. Conservative guru Art Laffer became famous for pointing out that, at some point, raising taxes becomes counterproductive, because people either stop working or find ways to hide their income. Thankfully, we’re probably nowhere near that point. In their most recent work on the subject, co-authored with Harvard University’s Stefanie Stantcheva, Piketty and Saez conclude that governments would net the most money from a top marginal rate somewhere between 57 percent and 83 percent (that includes state taxes, too). Why the range? The three researchers acknowledge that, when taxes go up, the rich seem to earn less on the job. If you think that’s entirely because they choose to work less, then 57 percent is your number. However, Piketty, Saez, and Stantcheva argue that lower taxes don’t seem to spur executives and other highly paid professionals to work harder so much as they encourage them to bargain harder for extra pay, whether it’s from their board of directors or their partners at a law firm. Negotiating a bigger paycheck for yourself doesn’t actually add anything to the economy. So, if you believe taxes simply discourage that kind of tough bargaining without making star workers much less productive, then 83 percent is your figure.

It's a debate to consider, whether we should impose higher rates.  And it's not like everyone is arguing the top tax rate should go as high as 89 percent or anything, but even talking about bumping the top rate from 39 percent up a full percentage to 40 percent (still way lower than 89 and lower than the 57 percent Weissmann's article hints should be the range) is cause for riots in the halls of Congress for some reason.

In fact, Congress is passing a bill that practically guts the estate tax for the very rich families of our nation.

...Certainly, it’s hard to see how anyone can possibly believe that the Republican Party, which fetishizes low taxes for the rich above all other priorities, truly cares about wealth inequality; but perhaps this is one of those times when the mere pretense of caring signals that they understand how badly their reputation of callous disregard for everyday Americans’ economic security has hurt them.
In any case, this shallow attempt at appearing to give a damn was short-lived. This week the GOP is voting, as they always do, to ensure that the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune won’t be faced with the terrible responsibility of having to pay taxes on their inheritances...

To clarify about what's at stake here, via The Hill:

Under current law, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that 5,400 estates will have to deal with the tax over the next several years, out of the well over 2 million deaths that occur annually.
That’s because individuals with estates valued at less than $5.43 million this year, and married couples with estates worth less than $10.86 million, are exempt. The 2013 “fiscal cliff” deal set the current parameters, which also include a 40 percent rate and linking the exemption parameters to inflation.

Notice how many people this spares from taxation?  Roughly 5,400 families.  Depending on the actual number, we're still in the low tens-of-thousands affected.  This is out of roughly 317 MILLION Americans.  We're not even talking 1-Percenters, we're talking a percent of a percent.  And the current cutoff of $5 to $10 million as the exemption?  How many people do YOU know are over that rate to qualify paying for the estate tax?  We're talking about a tax that affects a very minor portion of the population.  And a tax that is littered with enough loopholes - means of hiding the overall value - to avoid paying a full rate.

And THIS is what the Republican Congress is fighting to pass?  Nothing about eliminating taxes for middle-class families in the millions across this nation.  Nothing about the regressive tax burdens that are shifting onto the majority of poorer Americans.  They want to save the kids of the insanely wealthy.  Who will still be millionaires and billionaires even after they pay the estate tax anyway.

So like I said in the blog article title: ALMOST Every American Pay Their Taxes.  And ALMOST Every American Doesn't Complain About It.

Just the insanely wealthy greedheads and their Republican suck-ups refuse to pay their taxes, and then complain about it.

Remind me which side are the Real Americans again?

When Your State's Governor Just Wants to be a Dick

This is not going to end well (via the Tampa Bay Times):

Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he will sue the federal government for allegedly coercing Florida to expand Medicaid.

I've made it clear before I am not a fan of Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott.  That said: MOTHERF-CKING SONOFAB-TCH.

On two points:

  1. Scott has already decided not to expand Medicaid coverage for Florida, much to the dismay of 800,000 residents and their families who could benefit and much to the dismay of health care providers like nursing homes and hospitals that could see improved revenues.
  2. Lawsuits can be complete wastes of taxpayers' money, considering that what Scott is suing over are changes to other Medicaid programs that haven't been decided yet by the legislature.

Back to that Times article:

The legal maneuver, which comes amid a tense standoff between the House and Senate over Medicaid expansion, was simultaneously lauded and lambasted. It also complicates negotiations over this year's budget.
The agency targeted by the lawsuit — the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS — is still deciding whether to renew a $2.2 billion program called the Low Income Pool that helps Florida hospitals treat low-income patients. And if no LIP dollars are awarded, Florida could be looking at a $1.3 billion budget gap.
The suit, which has yet to be filed, is only the latest round in an ongoing feud between Scott and CMS in connection with the LIP.
The program is scheduled to expire in June under an agreement between Florida and the federal government. Federal health officials have said they are open to negotiating a successor program, but no deal has been reached.
The negotiations took a turn Tuesday, when CMS told Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration that any decision regarding LIP would be tied to whether the state accepts federal Medicaid expansion money — a politically charged policy option Scott once supported, but now opposes.

Scott's contention is that the federal agency is trying to force Florida to accept the Medicaid expansion against the earlier SCOTUS ruling that said that was illegal.  But what's really happening here is that Scott is making it harder for the state legislature to pass a deal on Medicaid and save its budget:

In Tallahassee, Scott's announcement Thursday exposed the deepening divide between the House, which opposes expansion, and the Senate, which supports expansion and has proposed a plan to extend the LIP program.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said Scott was making an important point: "You can't force the state to take on Medicaid expansion."
Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said he wasn't sure if the move was political posturing or if Scott had standing to bring the lawsuit.
"But if they think the federal government has stepped out of bounds, they've got an obligation to defend the state of Florida," he said.

If the legislature fails to pass a deal on LIP, we're seeing a situation where a lot of health care providers lose funding, families lose support... and sick people who could get (and stay) healthy suddenly facing death.  One-point-three billion dollars is a lot of money to find for funding, and the state would either have to make drastic cuts in other social services that are ALREADY cut to the bone or else take a huge cut to health care.  The alternative - raise taxes to generate state revenues to fill the gap - is unthinkable to Republicans controlling this gerrymandered politically-rigged state.

Rick "I'm Trying to Scam Companies In Other States to Move to Florida As It Turns Into a Dystopic Toxic Swamp" Scott is just doing this purely on partisan obstructionism.

To every Floridian who voted for this fraud, burn in hell.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Anniversary: Lincoln's Passing to the Ages

April 14th, 1865, there was another performance of Our American Cousin at the Ford Theater.  Abraham Lincoln had seen the play before but was in the mood for another night out with the wife.

The play itself doesn't translate well into the modern age.  It trades on the satirical views of Americans as simple-minded and vulgar, but also honest and blunt about the hypocrisies of European manners.  The selling points were the various ad-libs allowed to the minor characters such as Lord Dundreary, whose mixed-up bad homilies became known as "dundrearies"

But it was popular for the day, and akin to the modern audience's willingness to watch a half-decent Adam Sandler repeat on the Comedy Channel, Lincoln and others would re-watch repeat performances.

Lincoln was in a good mood anyway.  The war effort was winding down as Lee's surrender was the death-knell of the Confederacy's fighting spirit.  While the ongoing efforts to plan a reconstruction to bring the rebel states back into the Union were looking messy, there was a lot to look forward to.  He had plans to travel the length of the nation, to be the first President to view the Pacific coast from California, to be witness to the efforts of rebuilding the United States through Homestead-granted lands and pioneering citizens (in more fanciful what-ifs, Lincoln could well have visited San Francisco and met the Emperor Norton: there's evidence the two had exchanged letters...).

Unfortunately, the word that Lincoln would attend that evening's show got to an actor (I refuse to name him, although it's already too well-known) familiar to that theater (he was not a member of the cast) who also happened to be a Confederate sympathizer with a local circle of allies.  Seeing an opportunity to avenge a defeated Confederacy, he schemed a quick plan to act out his fantasies of being a national hero at the deadly expense of the nation's leader.

Which becomes one of the most macabre jokes in American history: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?


The loss of Lincoln at the key moment of our history becomes one of the disasters that haunt us to this day.  Instead of a Republican with pragmatic and long-range visions of the national dilemmas over race and poverty leading our nation, we ended up with a Democrat in Andrew Johnson whose political ambitions drove him to institutionalize racism and allow the Southern political powers to retain control.

As much as we need to remember Lee's surrender at Appomattox, we need to remember how the loss of Lincoln tainted our nation's chances to build a stronger Republican that lacked the racism and hatred we cope with to this very day.



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Predicting Character: The Hathos of Hillary Clinton

"Hathos" is a rare word, relatively recent in origin, and doesn't have an official definition in a lot of dictionaries (Merriam-Webster and OED don't recognize it).  It's a portmanteau (not the luggage, the second thing) of two words "hate" and "pathos."  Pathos is "a quality that causes people to feel sympathy and sadness."  Hate is "a very strong feeling of dislike."

Put together, Hathos is "enjoyment derived from hatred of a person or thing."  To Andrew Sullivan, it's "an attraction to something you really can't stand; it's the compulsion of revulsion."  It's something like "Love to hate," similar to Schadenfreude (malicious joy at the suffering of another), but with a more genuine revulsion as Schadenfreude still leaves a person with a regret of having maliciously enjoyed another person getting chewed up by Fate.  In some of my writings against the likes of Rick "No Ethics" Scott or Sarah "Quitter" Palin, I may have been using hathos instead of schadenfreude.  My bad.

Hathos is a very political word in an age of mudslinging and fearmongering.

It is a word that fits Hillary Clinton as a subject of other people's hate to a tee.

Today is the day she officially announces her 2016 campaign for the Presidency.  Per Washington Post:

The announcement - designed to be as low-key as anything involving Clinton can be - will start with a video and social media push. Then, starting as early as Tuesday, she will visit Iowa and other early primary states to meet and greet voters in restaurants and other modest venues.
A former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, Clinton enters as the prohibitive favorite among Democrats while also polling far ahead of any potential Republican rival now on the scene.
More celebrity than politician, Clinton is almost universally known. Nearly every American already has an opinion of her, whether good or bad.

Every part of that coverage - the parts I highlighted in bold - aptly defines the undercurrent of snark, dread, and enjoyment the mainstream media has about Hillary's move.  Enjoyment to be had because the media lives for conflict, controversy, a reason to get up every morning to anger up their viewer/reader base into watching more outrage.  Another word the mainstream media likes to use describing Hillary is "polarizing", and in all the wrong ways.  But also the dread, because there is something about Hillary that makes her uncomfortable to support as a political figure.

Even I share in that dread.  What I wrote about her back in 2008 when she campaigned among the other Democratic candidates then still applies.  I will highlight my own hathos in bold as well.

Hillary Clinton (Clintonland) (current note: arguably she'll represent New York, where she served as Senator, but this underscored for me the fact Hillary was too nationally known - too politically connected across the nation - to where she is for all intents her own corporate brand)
PROS: She's Hillary Clinton. Who else is as ruthless, driven, capable, prepared, as she is? There are remote tribes in the Kalahari that know who she is. There's a massive campaign machine behind her, there's a thousand cameras on her, there's a million people voting for her. Simply because of who she is. There are enough voters who can compare her husband Bill's 8 years in office to Bush the Lesser's 8 years in office, and who will think things were better then and overlook the blemishes now.
CONS: She's Hillary Clinton. No other candidate brings as much baggage as her. While the Republican Mudslinging Machine is gonna trash any Democrat that wins the nom, Hillary will be their biggest, easiest, most desired target. Any other Democrat could keep the GOP dispirited and divided: Hillary would unite them, and give them enough motivation to win. There is also the growing ennui of having another Clinton in the White House: a dueling family feud between Bushes and Clintons. Not so much Scandal Fatigue, which is obvious, but simply Clinton Fatigue, that we've already seen this TV show before. Some voters will think she's already been President (twice). And speaking of Scandal Fatigue, there are questions about where Clinton is getting her money from. Clinton is also ruthless to the point of savagery. Clinton's camp is willing to pick up on a nasty Republican slander on Obama, underlying how desperate she is to win. And despite all her political skill, if you ask any of her supporters, they can't tell you what she's FOR (other than being President). Nearly every other popular candidate, especially Obama, can be seen as running for someTHING. Hillary doesn't. For all her power and reputation, there's no PASSION for the office...

Things have changed between 2008 and 2016.  Eight years can be an eternity in a political lifespan, and situations Hillary's been through can well have altered her world-view and character.

Since I'd written those words, Hillary lost that primary to the eventual winner Obama.  She spent the following four years serving as Obama's Secretary of State, which obviously beefed up her resume for 2016 (since running in 2012 against the incumbent would have been too spiteful even for her, see I'm still writing with the hathos, I'm not bragging I'm just being aware of it).  Her tenure as Secretary had its low points (not in my humble opinion, because I don't emphasize BENGHAZI to the point of parody the way her enemies do) but she also presided over a relatively effective yet low-key period in the department's foreign affairs.  This is from professor Walter Russell Mead, guest writer at the Post:

...Just as the best lawyers aren’t the ones with the most famous courthouse victories but those who quietly keep their clients out of trouble and litigation...
...How did Clinton understand the interplay of America’s power, its interests, its resources and its values? Was she able to translate that vision into policies that won enough support throughout the government to be carried out? Was she able to gain or keep the president’s confidence, and was the State Department under her leadership able to hold its own in the bureaucratic battles of the day...?
First, Clinton is what I call a Hamiltonian, believing that America’s interests are best served by an adaptation of traditional British strategies: sea power, commercial expansion and a focus on strategic theaters in world politics. She thinks that Asia is where America’s interests are most vitally engaged for the long term, and she consistently argued for a greater focus on the region in our foreign policy...She also shares the optimism about America found in the Methodist religious tradition in which she grew up. The spirit of the 19th-century missionaries who fanned out across the world to promote development, human rights, and social and economic reform lives in her and shapes her basic thoughts about what American power is for. For some realists, “global meliorism” — the belief that U.S. foreign policy can and should try to make a better world — is a dirty word. For Clinton, it is a bedrock conviction. “We are the force for progress, prosperity and peace,” she said during a remarkable speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in early 2013... 
...While she did not win all the battles she fought — the president resisted her counsel on Syria, and she failed to persuade him to back Richard Holbrooke’s diplomatic efforts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region — she managed the relationship successfully and won his trust, to the point that the president wanted her to stay on the job well into his second term. This outcome was not a given; Clinton’s association with Obama began in their bitter 2008 Democratic nominating contest, and her success at building a strong relationship with a president not known for embracing new friends or Washington insiders testifies to her formidable interpersonal skills...
...Clinton was an influential secretary of state and a savvy manager with a clear agenda that, at least in part, she translated into policy. So how did it all work out?
The answer: Historians will probably consider Clinton significantly more successful than run-of-the-mill secretaries of state such as James G. Blaine or the long-serving Cordell Hull, but don’t expect to see her on a pedestal with Dean Acheson or John Quincy Adams anytime soon.
She weighed in hard and strong in favor of the president’s risky but ultimately justified decision to attack Osama bin Laden’s last refuge. The focus on Asia — relabeled a “pivot” before it became a “rebalancing” — reinvigorated America’s Pacific alliances but also elicited a more aggressive China, which has taken a harder line with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam since the pivot began. The “reset” with Russia enabled concrete cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program and at the United Nations (notably on the resolution authorizing intervention against Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi), but it would be hard to argue that Washington and Moscow have ended up in a good place...

It's neither a harsh critique nor a hagiography: Mead clearly points out where policy efforts led to backlash... but then again every foreign policy has a give-and-take as other nations react then act on what a major player like the U.S. is doing.  The key takeaway from Hillary's tenure as State Secretary is that during her service our nation's foreign relations with other major powers improved after the disasters that were the Bush the Lesser years.

If there is anything else to take away from this, in my estimate, is that the harsh view of Hillary's ambition needs to be taken down a notch (just the one for now).  Rather than sabotage Obama's agenda from within (in any noticeable way, ach I gotta stop doing this): Hillary worked with the administration, followed through on input, provided input on her own that the others accepted as honest counsel, and performed with enough savvy to leave her tenure on relatively successful terms.  The thing I'd say about it was that she had "mellowed," having turned away from a previous documented behavioral norm of undercutting others or pursuing an ambitious agenda that made her reputation so dreaded in the first place.

Hillary is coming back into the Presidential campaigning as one of the most-written about political figures of our time.  There are autobiographies/memoirs aplenty - from which we shouldn't make observations, as memoirs are always self-serving and contain many glaring omissions - and a ton of political hit-jobs and hagiographies from which we can't rely on much either.  Hillary-hate has existed ever since 1992, when the Republicans campaigned as much against her than campaigned against her husband - the actual candidate and eventual President - Bill Clinton.

Are there any reliable sources of Hillary's life - her childhood and formative years - to which we can apply James David Barber's techniques of figuring out Hillary's world-view and her likely Presidential Character?

For that, you'd have to go through the hundred or so books written about her, about Bill, and about them as a team (the Clintons essentially guarantee a successful publishing industry just by standing there, that's not hathos by the way just a sarcastic complaint against an obsessed wingnut media).  For a quick link here to my blog with something (relatively) reliable online, I went with Peter Beinart's "Unified Theory of Hillary" article for the National Journal:

The more I read, the more I became convinced that she possesses some of the qualities most necessary for presidential success. But if she struggles, there's reason to suspect it will be for the same reason she appears to have struggled with the D.C. bar exam in 1973. She's terrific at developing and executing a well-defined plan. She's less adept at realizing that a well-defined plan is not working and improvising something new. Single-mindedness is both her greatest strength and greatest flaw... (note: this is italicized for emphasis but not for hathos, I'm bolding any hathos for the purposes of this blog entry)

It's telling that Beinart's primary impression of Hillary is that she could be the "Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama's John F. Kennedy."  Because for the seven people who've kept up with my blog, you've read my Barber-inspired reviews of both LBJ and Obama and you know my views on Obama being Active-Positive... and LBJ being Active-Negative.

Back to Beinart:

...In her recently released papers, Hillary's late friend Diane Blair recounts a 1994 conversation in which Hillary was "furious" that Bill "can't fire people, exert discipline, punish leakers." Throughout his presidency, Bill had trouble making decisions, in part because he had trouble telling people things they didn't want to hear. By contrast, Hillary, even as an undergraduate at Wellesley, was "notably direct in almost everything she did," Bernstein writes. (Including her famed decision to approach Bill in the Yale Law School library after she spotted him eyeing her.)
...Hillary will never be the orator Obama is, and how well she'd rally the public to her side in policy disputes is an open question. But inside the Beltway, she'd likely do a better job of both rewarding her friends and making people fear being her enemy... ...Bernstein quotes Bob Boorstin, who oversaw communications for Hillary's health care task force, on how Bill and Hillary differ: "He gets angry, and he gets over it. She gets angry, and she remembers it forever." In HRC, Allen and Parnes point out that, in 2012, Bill Clinton repeatedly intervened in Democratic primaries to help candidates who had backed Hillary against rivals who had backed Obama—thus reminding Democrats that even when Hillary loses, opposing her carries a price...

Beinart goes into detail about how Hillary's dedication and focus can translate into legislative success, and then highlights how the biggest defeat she suffered - the failure to get any health care reform passed in 1993 when Bill made her the chair of his administration's efforts - had little to do with such efforts.  Her existing management skills - which required secrecy, control of the message, failure to accept or acknowledge input from outside her committee - ran against the more complex, messier stage of national politics:

At task force meetings, Bernstein notes, participants were forbidden from copying draft documents or, in many cases, even taking notes. The secrecy alienated not only members of Congress, health care activists, and the press, but key figures in the Clinton administration as well. Hillary and Magaziner both knew a great deal about health care policy. But neither knew as much about health care politics as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, or Office of Management and Budget Director Leon Panetta. Yet because of the task force's secrecy, and because they feared directly confronting the president's wife, Bentsen, Panetta, Shalala, and others in the administration often felt marginalized. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder document in The System—their indispensable book on the health care battle—Clinton officials angered by their lack of influence repeatedly leaked damaging information to a press corps angered by its lack of access...

This is where irony is more painful than hathos.  And this is where Hillary's reputation as a control freak - and the hate-fest from the Beltway media elites - gets its foundation.

Beinart's article doesn't delve much into Hillary's childhood, which is where Barber would prefer us going to establish Hillary's world-view, but her performances as an adult and as a leading national figure are already well-documented enough to get an idea what her views are.

A consistent behavior that emerges with Hillary is a Compulsive trait, intelligent and focused but also calculating and inflexible once a course has been plotted.  Hillary won't be anywhere near a Bush the Lesser in terms of inattention, but she won't be anywhere near the political game-player Obama is (whose failures are not so much aloofness that Beinart implies in his article, but from open obstruction with a Republican faction that chose to deny Obama any legislative victories that history would view favorably).

In this regards she mirrors Lyndon Johnson moreso than other past Presidents who were Active-Negatives in their own ways. Unlike Nixon who was self-destructive in his quest for personal crises, unlike Hoover who avoided a more aggressive reform effort believing himself limited in power, Hillary Clinton would be a major backer of legislative efforts that would ensure her legacy while having the political skills - knowing objectives, knowing the political players who can get things done - to get them passed.  Her faults will most likely fall along the same faults LBJ's were: any failures or rejections would be taken as personal defeats, with a creeping series of defensive layers piled up in an Us vs. Them mindset - to where valued critical voices within her circle would get sent in exile - that would make her administration inflexible to ongoing crises.

If Hillary's got positives, they are mostly in the comparative sense.  Where I wrote that Hillary's got baggage (true), I should note that this time most of her opponents (especially the Republican potentials) are bringing even bigger, messier personal issues than she has.  In terms of appealing to average voters, Hillary wins in double-digits mostly because of how terrible, ill-informed, tone-deaf the entire Republican Party leadership (and their platform) is today.  In the matter of dynasty vs. dynasty, the most dreaded of campaigns between the Clinton and the Bush, the current polling shows Hillary stomping on Jeb 55 percent to 40 percent.

This is because in spite of Hillary's own personality, in spite of the lack of progressive support from her own party, in spite of the hatred the Far Right has for her, in spite of the hathos, Hillary represents a Democratic Party platform that's currently pro-immigrant, pro-gay marriage, pro-women, pro-finance reform, pro-jobs, pro-health care, pro-let's not start more wars.  While Hillary's voting record - and past inaction for gay rights (Don't Ask Don't Tell) - may still be a problem, Hillary can easily argue her positions have evolved much the way the Democrats' positions evolved (even Obama evolved on gay rights issues: when he did, you could see the narrative shift tilt the nation towards a civil rights victory), and the regular Democratic voting base will forgive her.  The only sticking point will be her Iraq war vote, and her refusal to admit it was a mistake when it mattered.  After two terms of Obama struggling with the entire Middle East, the Democratic voters will give her a pass as long as she avoids taking the Far Right position of "Bomb Everybody".

That noted, Hillary doesn't have to stand much FOR anything so much as allow her Republican opponents to stand AGAINST everything, which they are doing on their own in rather obvious and self-destructive ways. (This is hathos directed at the Republicans, so there)

For all of Hillary's Active-Negative traits, they pale in comparison to the entire Republican Party, where each major candidate is pretty much Active-Negative themselves and backing a more Compulsive, bitter, self-serving agenda far worse than anything Hillary stands for.  Compared to the entire GOP line-up, Hillary's practically an Active-Positive.

In simple math, all Hillary has to do is win electorally the same states Obama did in 2012 (Obama only lost two states - Indiana and North Carolina - from 2008, still allowing him a clear electoral victory to match his popular vote).  As of right now, none of the Blue states look primed to switch over to vote as Red states to the GOP (not even Florida, where the massive South Florida immigrant voting bloc will swamp any support regular state voters might have for Jeb... and Jeb's not that well-liked to begin with).  If the Republicans nominate a clear anti-immigrant candidate or an openly gay-bashing social conservative who can (and probably will) say the dumbest things about sex, Hillary could arguably win over previously Red states wavering on the demographic tipping points.

Another advantage Hillary currently enjoys as a candidate is that among the Democrats, she's it.  There are few current rivals or opponents on the stage able to steal away the disgruntled progressive supporters that are eager for a "true" Leftist visionary to lead us all to a happy utopia (this is why the "Draft Warren" efforts will not stop until Election Day 2016 itself, and yes, that bold hathos is my disdain for the obsessive Democratic voting bloc that would rather not vote for a sane pro-government candidate all because Hillary is "Centrist", and allow an obviously insane anti-government Republican win the White House and doom us all.  I will keep calling you cowards, Democrats, when you keep refusing to use your electoral advantages - there are more of you than Republicans - out of spite).  While other names are out there - and some are arguably solid candidates like O'Malley, more on him when I get the chance - there are none that are as charismatic as Obama was when he challenged Hillary's supremacy in 2008... and won.

Hillary has the advantages of 1) getting the best campaign managers now unlike 2008, and 2) being the best candidate to run on incredible legacies, BOTH Bill Clinton's lasting legacy of a popular Presidency AND Obama's current legacy as a popular President.  Yes, Fox Not News, Obama is still popular at this late stage of his administration, Obama is still viewed a success in spite of Dick Cheney's hate, and he's never dipped as low as your boy Bush the Lesser.  One of the historical lessons taken from Gore's failure to win in 2000 - other than "never use a butterfly ballot" - was that he ignored the evidence of Bill Clinton's continued popularity - he bought into the Beltway mindset that Bill's sex scandal was toxic - and refused to use that legacy to win over voters.  Hillary won't be running from Obama's successes she will be using them to prop herself and the Democratic Party, and can easily keep the voters Obama earned in 2012 to win in 2016.

I just hope to God the Vice-President she chooses is a Passive-Positive.  She'll go crazy if the Veep is Active-Positive, and will likely suspect anyone Active-Negative to the point of paranoia...  Ahem, just saying.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I Survived MegaCon 2015 But I'm Not So Sure It Survived Me

It has been a long day.

Previous experience reminded me to get to Orlando early, monstrously early, and this time I got there by 6:30 AM well before traffic got to be a nightmare.  There are no two ways about it: either get there too early and sit and wait in the hall, or else get there too late and sit in traffic.

This time I went fully dressed as a Jedi.  Whereas I wandered the Tampa Comic Con without the robe/cape and chest pad, this time I got safety pins to help keep the chest pad in place and I also dared the sweat factor the robe would inflict.  I only hope my deodorant held out.  If any other MegaCon attendees can note the bad body odor, I apologize if I doth offend...
I also spent the money to buy a working lightsaber.  I saw these at the Tampa Con in August and envied how eye-catching they were.  Also gave me a good excuse to get into saber battles with Sith Lords.

Other Jedi Knights were cool, though.

The crowds were massive as always.



They at least moved the convention back to the larger West Concourse.  Last year's stay at the South Concourse was more compact, less navigable.  Except that we STILL have the artist alleys walkways too narrow for people to pass.  Dammit, convention managers, give us another four-five feet with designated traffic lanes!

I was perusing the artists this time to see about... well, got a project in the works to have a comic-con at the library I work.  I'm stuck on a name, but I'm leaning towards Barto-Con (Bartow Con is... meh.  Bart-Con is too Simpsons, not sure about Bart-i-Con).  I don't think Barto-Con is taken.

Here's some of the artists' and artwork links I looked at.  Top of the list is Mike Maihack: I mentioned before I love his work with the Batgirl/Supergirl fanart.
Yes, bought the print, he finally had it for sale.
There were a lot of artists I looked at, but oh no a lot of the ones I think would fit a library con scene are out-of-staters!  :(

On the bright side the Mandalorian Mercs have local chapters (Buurenaar Yerda in FL)!
The Mercs had this set-up for fans to pose.

Hanging out with the bounty huntress!
Besides all the walking and strolling and side-stepping and ankle-bending, the other thing about cons is getting the chance to roll with your krewe.  Most other cons I haven't been able to (I've solo'ed far too many of them), but this time I got to hook up with an old friend.

Mike was my college roommate back in the honors dorm at U Florida.  I hadn't seen him since... good lord, graduation year which is 1992.  He's been all over since then, civil engineer for the Navy during a few tours in the global war, stationed in San Diego for awhile (He got to take his kids to the SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON, the lucky SOB), moved back to his hometown of Orlando for local work.  We'd kept in touch via Facebook, realized MegaCon was a good chance to meet up and re-acquaint.

He's gotten grayer (kids will do that to you) and I've gotten fatter (chocolate will do that to you).

Hold on.  Another Sith Lord walked by.


No fair. Sith Lords get to Force Choke for the win.
Some of the other things to do at the con is sit in on discussions and Q & As, but the only one worth my interest was one on Writing: Character Development with Bill Hatfield, Glenda Finkelstein and T.S. Robinson.  I didn't find out until later that more discussions worth my interests were scheduled for Sunday (argh) and I only had the One Day Pass for Saturday.  As for the Writing presentation, like last year's it was STANDING ROOM ONLY, YE GODS.  Writing's a popular topic, and MegaCon organizers need to figure on giving the presenters bigger rooms to use. (MegaCon also needs to see about wider lanes for artist alleys, better parking, get the city/county to install some elevated rail lines to ease congested traffic, and...)

That's because, as mentioned before, Saturday is Cosplay (costume) Day.




Pity, I didn't see any Mulders or Scullys in honor of The X-Files coming back.  I'm getting aware of the fact some costuming efforts take months of planning...

So that was pretty much MegaCon this year.  Next year is later (last weekend in May?!) and is seemingly booked to four days (Memorial Day weekend, eh?).

Thing is, I am retiring the Jedi outfit.  That cloak/robe/cape was too much tripping over.  I couldn't navigate stairs wearing that thing.
Jedi Be Tripping

Next year I'm going as Batgirl.  At least that outfit has a snap-on cape.

Oh, and one more thing.

I always roll with the best.
BREEP VEEoooOOP


Thursday, April 09, 2015

Anniversary: Appomattox Surrender Day

On this day in history 150 years ago, April 9 1865 in the United States, we were finishing off a bloody war between the states.

The southern slave states that rose up in rebellion in 1860 had pretty much gotten their asses kicked.  It took four years of hundreds of thousands of corpses and amputated wounded, but the Confederacy was down to a few straggled divisions.  Their best commander, Robert E. Lee, was doing his best to get his army back out into a battlefield, but was trapped at a place called Appomattox Court House and had almost no supplies or soldiers to continue on.  Faced with the reality fighting was no longer an option, Lee answered his opponent General U.S. Grant's letters for a full surrender.  By that afternoon of April 9, Lee signed formal papers on the terms of surrender: by all accounts more generous terms given by the winning army, as Grant was following Lincoln's instructions to be "gracious" in victory.

Lee's surrender of the Virginian army under his direct command wasn't the actual full-out end of the Civil War, as there were still other (some larger) Confederate armies on the battlefields in North Carolina and the West.  But Lee was the top general of the southern armies, and the political leadership of the Confederacy was pretty much fleeing for their lives leaving Lee in charge: when he fell, the rest pretty much had nothing else to do but surrender as well.

And it's on this anniversary date that we do need to take up writer Brian Beutler's idea of making this day a national holiday of remembrance:

This week provides an occasion for the U.S. government to get real about history, as April 9 is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The generous terms of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House foreshadowed a multitude of real and symbolic compromises that the winners of the war would make with secessionists, slavery supporters, and each other to piece the country back together. It’s as appropriate an occasion as the Selma anniversary to reflect on the country’s struggle to improve itself. And to mark the occasion, the federal government should make two modest changes: It should make April 9 a federal holiday; and it should commit to disavowing or renaming monuments to the Confederacy, and its leaders, that receive direct federal support.

We really do need this because we've got entire generations of Americans who seem to forget that the Confederate South LOST the war, that the South got its COLLECTIVE ASS kicked from the Mississippi to the Potomac, that the Southern argument for the primacy of slavery and the perpetuation of race hatred were the arguments of LOSERS and fools.

I'm not mincing word here.  The whole "Lost Cause" mentality that has driven the likes of the KKK and 100-plus years of Jim Crow segregation and an additional 50-plus years of far right wingnuttery has poisoned our national landscape.  We've got idiots in power and idiots in the streets running around acting and talking like the ideas of Jeff Davis and Edmund Pettus and other pro-slavery firebrands meant something.

The real end of the Civil War hasn't happened yet.  We're still fighting the same ignorant haters as before, the same elitist upper-class barons who'd love to bring back cheap labor to the point of slavery itself and are eager to wipe out every civil liberty gain this nation's achieved since 1865.  Back to Beutler:

People of good faith can argue over whether these kinds of symbolic concessions (as opposed to the concrete ones, which consigned emancipated slaves to a century of sanctioned depredations) were wise or necessary means to the end of preserving the Union. Some of them weren't concessions at all, so much as insufficient commitment on the part of Northerners to the livelihood of blacks in the South. "[A]s Northern Republican Party became more conservative," historian Eric Foner wrote recently, "Reconstruction came to be seen as a misguided attempt to uplift the lower classes of society." But 150 years on, we know that subjugation is a moral obscenity, and that there's no valid modern argument for spitshining the Confederacy. 

One way to end the fighting is the reminder, the historical FACT that Appomattox happened, that the South LOST, that the Lost Cause itself is a bullsh-t ideology.

Dear Southern Conservative Far Right WingNuts Who Want to Take the United States Back to 1850:  YOU LOST.  YOU GOT YOUR ASSES KICKED.  YOU SEE THAT AMERICAN FLAG, THE STARS AND STRIPES?  GUESS WHAT!  WINNERS WAVE THAT FLAG.  WE PLANTED IT ON THE MOON, FOR GOD'S SAKE.  WE BEAT THE NAZIS UNDER THAT FLAG.  WE BEAT THE COMMIES WAVING THAT FLAG.  WE'RE AMERICANS GODDAMMIT SO STOP IT WITH YOUR WHINY "OH BUT WE WANTS TO HATE TEH BLACKS" BULLSH-T. /rage

Appomattox Surrender Day.  The day when every Confederate flag waver ought to hide in shame like the fools they are.

(Granted, this isn't as eloquent as Beutler makes it, but my points are valid).

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Predicting Character: The Fuzzy Vision of Rand Paul

It's a pun, maybe analogy, don't think it's metaphor for Rand Paul's background as an ophthalmologist. 

Anyhoo.

The GOP primaries pick up another upper class twit for the campaign clown car as Rand Paul is apparently announcing his attempt at garnering more media exposure today.  With him jumping in, we should see a massive onrush of additional petitioners for the 2016 primaries.

So... what does Rand Paul bring to the debate floor that's different from the rest of the GOP field?  What is his Presidential Character going to be if he - Gods, the old and the new, help us - makes it all the way to November 2016 with a win?

Reviewing character means reviewing Paul's background, his childhood and education.  It also means bringing up his father, politician Ron Paul.  Ron's own convoluted attempts at Presidential campaigns have a direct influence on anything Rand tries (from that New Yorker article):

It would be impossible, however, to describe Rand Paul’s politics without indicating his father’s influence. Paul is sometimes portrayed as a political neophyte, a small-town doctor who won his Senate seat in 2010 when the Tea Party erupted in opposition to Obama’s Presidency. But he grew up steeped in the libertarian political philosophy beloved by his father, and he worked as a strategist on Ron Paul’s many political campaigns, watching as his father’s ideas helped to shape the Republican Party and give rise to the Tea Party. Rand, though, also learned from his father’s political rigidity. Ron Paul never was able to graduate from the lower chamber or to expand his appeal beyond hard-core supporters; Rand won a statewide election on his first try. As a member of the House, Ron voted as an ideological purist, opposing most spending bills and nearly any foreign intervention; Rand has shown a willingness to compromise. “Ron was always content to tell the truth as best he understood it, and he saw that as the point of his politics,” Jesse Benton, a close friend and political adviser to both men, said. “Rand is the guy who is committed to winning...”
Rand grew up the middle child out of five, with an affluent family - Ron Paul had a career as a doctor before politics - that mostly avoided politics although Ron avidly followed the libertarian/objectivist teachings of the likes of Ayn Rand.  Back to that article:

It was Richard Nixon who unknowingly persuaded Ron Paul to enter politics. In 1971, the President fully uncoupled the dollar from the gold standard and attacked inflation with wage and price controls. Paul was aghast, and, in 1974, he ran for Congress. Rand, who was then eleven, became more involved in his dad’s political career than any of his four siblings. “Everyone was interested, but Rand would take it a step forward,” his mother said. Paul agreed: “I was probably more interested in going to the rallies, listening to speeches and the politics and the philosophy."

It's telling to note how Ron Paul's monetary policy obsessions with the gold standard is the basis of most of his political philosophy.  It should be noted how the gold standard is dangerous in its own way, and that a lot of Ron's fears about paper currency haven't really come about.  But it has a serious influence on the Paul family philosophy, both pare and fils, so it can't be discounted or ignored.

Rand's political activism doesn't seem to have kicked into interest in holding office itself until his father's revived efforts in 2008, after which the rise in anti-government values in the Republican Party (the Tea Party movement)  made it feasible for Rand Paul to run as a challenger for a Senate seat in Kentucky.  He beat the preferred Establishment candidate easily in the primaries, which meant a relatively easy general election win in a reliably conservative Red state.  And from there, the immediate talk was of Rand inheriting the libertarian banner from his father - as Rand's more compromising belief structure makes him more marketable - as that faction's best chances of reaching the Oval Office.

In short: Rand Paul and his father Ron essentially make up a mirror opposite of another political clan, the Bushes.  Where the Bushes are old-school conservative, pro-business, pay-your-dues Establishment types, the Pauls are more doctrinaire, still pro-business but more proactive.  Does that translate into Rand Paul being a true alternative to this year's Bush candidate Jeb?

To be honest, no.  Outside of foreign policy, where Rand's isolationist streak makes him different from the neocon "Let's Bomb 'Em" platform the Bushes have been stuck with since 2001, there's very little difference between Rand or Jeb in one serious regard.  Both Rand and Jeb will doom the federal budget and the overall economy: Rand through massive spending cuts, and Jeb through massive tax cuts.  And both will deregulate everything to the level of a Gilded-Age "Anything Goes" corporate corruption that we've seen leads to things like the Great Depression and the Great Recession.

So, to give Rand the final assessment:

Rand Paul - Senator, Kentucky
Positives: Brings with him a libertarian fanbase that will guarantee interest and turnout.  Does have enough differences in ideology from the other announced and potential candidates to stand out in a crowded field.  May be a genuine reformer on such issues as criminal justice and civil liberties.
Negatives:  Has little in the way of legislative success to hang a hat on. Having run as - and coming from a fervent anti-Establishment political family - Rand will have few intra-party backers for party support.  Comes at the American electorate with budget plans that cut far harsher than the standard Republican platform, which can destroy the very people Paul supposedly defends and won't appeal outside of the "drown that small government" crowd.  Is a standard bearer for an ideology - libertarianism - which isn't as popular as its followers believe it to be.  And for all his civil liberties creds he sucks up to a pro-religious movement that wants to take civil liberties away over issues of sex, health care, and minority rights.
Chances: Suspect.  Being an obvious anti-Establishment candidate doesn't automatically make him the Not-Jeb candidate the voting base would eagerly embrace.  In terms of dictating the debates or moving the goalposts, he's already weakened his positions to appeal more to the Far Right (religious) than to any libertarian (secular) voters, meaning he's already losing ground.  There's the possibility Rand could bolt if the GOP primaries don't pan out, and take a nomination with the Libertarian Party anyway.
Character Chart: His biography and political history point to someone ambitious for the White House but not as intelligent or politically savvy as other candidates.  He does show the ability to think "outside the box" compared to other right-leaning Republicans, but he's never followed through or shown any consistency (anything that threatened his potential candidacy was swiftly taken out of view and ignored).  He doesn't seem to have done much in building up a power base or set of allies within his own ranks, even though his personal Congeniality by most accounts is genuine.  In terms of viewing political power as an effective tool, Paul's world-view of "smaller federal government" fits well into the Negative's world-view against public office, and for personal self-gratification.  Thing is, I can't tell if his running for the Presidency is more out of a sense of Duty to his father's legacy - which would make him a Passive-Negative - or a more ambitious sense of Compulsive self-reward that would make him Active-Negative.  Since this IS the modern Republican Party - where only Active-Negatives survive and thrive - I'm leaning for the A-N trait.

P.S. It's telling that an anti-education candidate like Rand Paul has a problem hiring people who can even spell "education".


Monday, April 06, 2015

Does Anyone Leave Comments Anymore...?

It can't be that hard to post a comment here, is it?

If you're having problems leaving a comment, leave a comment uh send me a Tweet at @PaulWartenberg.

If you can't tweet but can leave a comment here, leave me a comment here about you not being able to tweet.

You could try email with p dot warten AT gmail dot com.  No spam though, my filters are up.

Either It's Another Crazy Day in Florida, or Jeb Bush Is Just That Desperate

Dear Jeb Bush:

Why?

Former Florida Gov.  Jeb Bush (R) listed himself as "Hispanic" in a 2009 voter registration form, The New York Times reported Monday.
The Times posted its copy of the registration online, and the expected presidential candidate appears to have filled out the Hispanic circle next to the "race/ethnicity" field.
"A Bush spokeswoman could offer no explanation for the characterization," the paper's Alan Rappeport wrote.


A follow-up comment from Jeb's spokesperson labeled this as a paperwork error, that the wrong checkbox was selected.  That is likely, as the Hispanic box is next to the White box on the ethnicity row on the registration form.

And for additional consideration, Bush did marry a Hispanic woman and in a way his own family can consider themselves Hispanic.  But Jeb himself, the scion of WASP parents with enough Anglo heritage to be whiter than Wonder bread, does not count.

What's potentially telling is how Jeb Bush has been maneuvering the political stage to make himself not only the Establishment candidate for the Republicans in 2016, he's been positioning himself as the "appeal" to Hispanic voters that the Republicans desperately need to actually win the general election (as it stands, Hispanic distaste of the GOP's anti-immigrant platform ensures that at a national level the Republicans will not win the White House in the next election cycle).

Dudebro, lemme just point out one thing.  You, Jeb Bush, are NOT pretty fly for a white guy.