Monthly Archives: February 2013

Once upon a time, in a land where reasonable people could reasonably disagree…


It’s all the rage, right?  Everyone is talking about it, and I should, too?  Yeah, I suppose.  Thing is, I really don’t want to.  I’m really bored with it.  {{Insert shocked face here}}  It’s been talked to death.  It looks pretty certain to happen at this point, and no one in a position to change that really seems to have any interest in doing so.

{{Insert dark, scary music here}} The Sequestration

In theory it is an across the board equal cut in spending.  The reality is very different though, and this space is dedicated to real and accurate information.  So, let’s start with that, shall we?

First, it is not, across the board.  “OMG!  Good golly, Miss Molly!  It’s not?!”  No, it’s really not.  There are a whole list of programs that are exempted from the cuts entirely.  There are another list that are under special rules about how they will be impacted by the sequester.  “But, the local news/CNN/NBC/FOX/Obama/Boehner said …”  Look, I really couldn’t care less, what they told you, or what you heard about this being “thoughtless” or “across the board”.  They are usually FoS, right?  Haven’t we demonstrated that often enough?  Let’s go to the source, shall we?

According to the Congressional Research Service, in its Budget “Sequestration” and Selected Program Exemptions and Special Rules report prepared for congress and dated January 10, 2013

The following are selected programs and types of spending identified in Section 255 as exempt from sequestration:

  • Social Security benefits (old-age, survivors, and disability) and Tier 1 Railroad Retirement benefits.
  • All programs administered by the VA, and special benefits for certain World War II veterans.17
  • Net interest (budget function 900).
  • Payments to individuals in the form of refundable tax credits.18
  • Unobligated balances, carried over from prior years, for nondefense programs.
  • At the President’s discretion (subject to notification to Congress), military personnel accounts may be exempt entirely, or a lower sequestration percentage may apply.19
  • A list of “other” budget accounts and activities; readers should consult the statute for a complete list. A few selected examples include
    • activities resulting from private donations, bequests or voluntary contributions, or financed by voluntary payments for good or services;
    • advances to the Unemployment Trust Fund;20
    • payments to various retirement, health care, and disability trust funds;
    • certain Tribal and Indian trust accounts; and
    • Medical Facilities Guaranty and Loan Fund.
  • Specified federal retirement and disability accounts and activities (consult the statute for the complete list).
  • Prior legal obligations of the federal government in specified budget accounts (consult the statute for the complete list).21
  • Low-income programs, including
    • Academic Competitiveness/Smart Grant Program;22
    • mandatory funding under the Child Care and Development Fund;
    • Child Nutrition Programs (including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Food, and others, but excluding Special Milk);
    • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP);
    • Commodity Supplemental Food Program;
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the TANF Contingency Fund;
    • Family Support Programs;23
    • Federal Pell Grants;
    • Medicaid;
    • Foster Care and Permanency Programs;
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps);

and

    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  • Medicare Part D low-income premium and cost-sharing subsidies; Medicare Part D catastrophic subsidy payments; and Qualified Individual (QI) premiums.24
  • Specified economic recovery programs, including GSE Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, the Office of Financial Stability, and the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
  • The following “split-treatment” programs, to the extent that the programs’ budgetary resources are subject to obligations limitations in appropriations bills:
  • Federal Aid-Highways;
  • Highway Traffic Safety Grants;
  • Operations and Research NHTSA and National Driver Register;
  • Motor Carrier Safety Operations and Programs;
  • Motor Carrier Safety Grants;
  • Formula and Bus Grants; and
  • Grants-in-Aid for Airports.

Sorry that’s so long, but it’s taken directly from the report (page 9) and I think it is important to see it in its entirety, because as you can see, you have been being fed lies no matter which news outlet you’re listening to or which political talking head you are wanting to believe.  Also, note that it is not the entire list of programs that are exempt.  It is only a partial list of “selected programs”.  The people who are in the position of supplying live, reliable data to those who go out and spin the tales are telling them that these programs are exempt from the cuts.  Please re-read that sentence.  Let me summarize it for you.
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Fallacious Arguments on a Slippery Slope Lead to Foolish Appearances


There are many foolish arguments made every day and in so many contexts. Arguments in the supposedly “reasoned” sense.  Not arguments in the childish, “No, you didn’t. Yes, I did” sense, though we do see plenty of that, as well.

So, for example, we see the “Criminals don’t obey laws” argument against any sort of gun control, and this is supposed to stop the discussion, because there are supposedly enough laws already.  Of course, this is stupid.  The basic fallacy is in the construct itself.  They are criminals because they didn’t obey the laws.  Not vice versa.  This is not a stereotypical chicken verses egg argument.  No, what little validity in it is that once one has started to break some laws it does psychologically become easier to break some others, but this is neither a straight line progression, nor is it a complete break such that all lines are broken.

The old saw that, “There is no honor amongst thieves” is a bunch of hooey that really only serves to make sanctimonious do-gooders feel superior because they are following the laws that they have laid down upon everyone else.  There is actually a great deal of honor among those who would break the laws of the “upper world”.  To live in the “under world” that we have created, requires that one be very honorable, because to be without honor, is often to be dead very quickly.  Particularly if one is floating around anywhere other than the basic get along stream of junkies.  Outside of that, one’s word is more important than in almost any other realm you can imagine in this western world, and the consequence is not just being shunned.  The consequences can be dire.  But, I am straying into the psychology of criminology and the anthropology of the underworld far more than I intended to, and more than is required to make the point.  The point is that, in that world, the ability to count on someone’s word is more frequently literally a matter of life and death, whereas in the “upper world” it is, the vast majority of the time, all talk.

I saw a piece this week that made me think about this again.  It was beautifully written and, yet, all too many people will dismiss it.  A short little piece posted by Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker.  A Letter from Kim Jong-Un pretty wonderfully highlighted another couple stupid arguments being made in this same context.

In the immortal words of my dad, the glorious Kim Jong-il: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”

and

If you join today, we will waive the initiation fee and send you this bumper sticker: “Nuclear weapons don’t kill people. People kill people who don’t have nuclear weapons.”

My grandfather used to say, “Locks only keep honest people out.”  To some extent that’s true.  However, the other side of that is that it makes it more difficult, and to parody the right-wing’s arguments, “We keep our money locked up, don’t we?”  Gah!

So, what then are the answers?  We need to stop the bullshit arguments.  We need to have a real, adult conversation.  We need to have a multi-dimensional approach.  The real answers are going to start at home.  Start with teaching our children to be responsible, caring, compassionate, human beings that contribute to society rather than just looking at society, the world, and each other in terms of what they can take from it.

In a legal sense though, there are things we can and need to do:

    • Strengthen and enforce the laws which are on the books already.  The so-called gun show loop holes.
    • Require universal background check regardless of how or where the gun is sold.
    • Issue FEDERAL licenses to purchase a gun.  This should probably come in categories, much like a driver’s license.  I would have this run through the Health and Safety, and do whatever reorganization would be required to make that happen.

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Educate and grow! Indoctrinate and stall!


 educate

Pronunciation: /ˈɛdjʊkeɪt/

verb

    give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to (someone), typically at a school or university: she was educated at a boarding school

Here is today’s shocking truth for you.  Some of you will know this consciously.  Others will know it subconsciously.  Some will deny it strenuously.  View it how you may, it is a sad, truth.

indoctrinate

Pronunciation: /ɪnˈdɒktrɪneɪt/

verb

    teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically: broadcasting was a vehicle for indoctrinating the masses

Most parents, hell, most people in the world, and in particular in America do not really want to teach their children.  They damn sure do not want other people’s children taught!  They want them indoctrinated.  They want them to be indoctrinated in very specific ways.  In the same ways that they were.

I admit it.  There was a period when I had to overcome it myself.  My oldest son was around 3 when I realized it.  I even verbalized it to his mother.  I told her, “You know, it isn’t that we don’t want our kids to be indoctrinated.  It’s just that we want them to be indoctrinated in the same beliefs that we hold dear.”  It was the beginning of an internal dialogue that went on to break through that particular log jam in my own head.  Fortunately, he was young enough, that I don’t think he suffered too much for it.

Anyway, that is the point, isn’t it?  For most people, they never really look past the, I want my child to believe the same as I do.  I have consistently taught my kids, to think for themselves.  I have been writing this with the hopes of educating, and yes, convincing, you, but in each and every case, I have presented evidence and arguments, and asked that you think for yourselves.  At no time would I ask that you simply take my word for it.  Take what I say and verify it.  Go do your own research.  It’s out there.

When it comes to my children, beyond the basics of parental responsibility (chores, teaching modern hygiene, safety, etc), I expected them to think for themselves.  Absolutely listen to me, but question it.  Go out and research it.  If you can show me where I am wrong, go ahead.  Please do.  I will admit it.  I am okay with that.  I would rather admit that I am wrong, learn from it and move on.  In fact, I made it a point to let my kids see me admit I was wrong when I was.  I thought it was a valuable lesson for them to see.

And, that is what is missing from many people, but in particular what is missing from the right wing as a rule.  For example, despite the overwhelming mass of evidence over the last 40 years, not to mention all of the previous experiments with it, they continue to insist that supply side economics works.  Despite all the collapsed sectors of the economy where they had to violate their own expressed principles and step in to prop up those sectors in order to not have them drag down the rest of their carefully constructed system of wealth redistribution, they continue to insist that this focus on moving more and more wealth in to the hands of fewer and fewer people works.  In fact, they want to do so at a faster and faster pace.  They continue to insist that not only should we not raise taxes, but that we need to cut spending.  But, the only places that the far right wants to cut spending, of course, is on the backs of the poorest of our citizens, and on what’s left of the middle class.  They want to cut the very programs that are most needed.

They also, of course, say that they want to cut the programs that actually pay for themselves.  How ironic, no?  (Again, this is why I have previously said that Conservatism is no longer a philosophy.  It is a religion.  It is no longer based on thought and reason, but rather on belief, superstition, and indoctrination. “accept a set of beliefs uncritically”)
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Check Please


Tax season has officially begun.  W-2s had to be sent out by January 31st.  The IRS began accepting e-filed returns on the 30th.

Let the whining begin.  The weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  The woe is me that always comes when most people are asked to fulfill the responsibilities that correspond to the possession and exercise of rights.  Especially in a society that is all about, “What can you do for me?”

Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.

This is taken from what is typically considered one of the greatest inauguration speeches, and one of the finest speeches ever given, period, and yet, this concept is so foreign to Americans today.  Today this would have so many screaming, “Socialist!  Communist!” even though most of those would have no idea what those words even mean.

When President Kennedy said them at the beginning of his term, he was rallying the country together following a contentious presidential race during the Cold War, and yet it was a time that was less divided that we now find ourselves, in many ways.  It was a time when we still had something that resembled a liberal base in America.  And, it was a time when, while people may not have liked it, they at least didn’t consistently shirk their responsibilities quite so much as they do now.

Can you imagine what FAUX News, Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh would have to say if the POTUS were to use that line in a speech?  If he were to say that echoing Kennedy, it would be bad enough, but try to imagine the reaction, if Kennedy had never said it, and Obama were the first president to say it.  I can imagine drowning in a sea of the foam coming from their mouths.

One of the defining features of the shift to the right over the last 40 years is a decline in personal responsibility.  We see it in so many ways.  When Kennedy gave the aforementioned speech, the top marginal tax rate was 91%.  It had been since 1946.  Unlike modern conservatives, when the conservatives of the past took us to war, they actually paid for it instead of borrowing “against our children’s future” to borrow a phrase, and then blaming the black guy, oops, I mean the next guy.  You see, when we started to gear up for WWII, the tax rates started to go up.  I’ll spare you the full re-cap of the tax rates, as I’ve written on that previously, and you can read more about that here, if you would like.

The real point is this; it’s time to pay up.  We want the benefits of a society that includes the safety and benefits of a “civilized society” provided by decent roads (we’ll ignore the disintegrating infrastructure, for now), police and fire safety, public water, electricity, food inspections, courts, and the list goes on and on.  But, so many of us are looking to someone else to foot the bill.  Okay, so that’s not entirely unreasonable.  No one wants to pay more than their share, but if we’re going to live in this shared society, then we all have to be willing to pay at least our share.

It is just the same as jury duty.  If we want to have a functioning and reasonable jury system where, again to steal a phrase from the currently raging gun argument (I won’t call it a debate because that would imply more civility than most of it has), one is to be “judged by 12 rather than carried by 6”, then there has to be those 12 to serve.  Yet, the vast majority of people bitch and moan and look for every excuse possible to get out of jury duty if they receive the summons.  “Oh, I can’t do that!”  Really?  So, it’s just not important enough to you?  Granted, that too needs to be revised.

Of course, these things are tied together in another way.  That is, financially.  I really do understand the working stiff who can’t afford to take the day off of work, because his or her job isn’t going to pay them for not being there, and the jury pay is a ridiculous amount.  Typically, it isn’t even enough to pay for the parking, much less enough to make up for the loss of pay for going.  Unless you are fortunate enough to work for a company that does compensate for jury time, then that is a legitimate issue.  It is one that should be made up for by the state.  We can afford to pay our legislators, most of whom are worth millions, hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, but we can’t afford to compensate our jurors at even minimum wage for a job that is at least as important?  No, in part, we can’t because we do not have the money for it.  In part, we do not have the money for it because we do not collect sufficient taxes, and thus, we come back around to what is important.
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