Archive for the ‘Coffee-Tweaked Thought of the Moment’ Category


True Colors

April 26, 2010

If you’ve ever doubted the true colors of Republican leadership, it’s pretty neatly summarized in this recent gesture to block any and all financial reform legislation advanced by the Democrats.

“I believe that 41 Republicans right now are going to stand together,” Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said of Monday’s planned 5 p.m. test vote on the Senate floor. “I wish we’d stand together, period,” he added, noting that such unity would give GOP members “more negotiating power and more clout.”

Because, you know, sticking together come what may, despite apparent differences (and in some cases bald contradictions), is all that matters. Sticking together would, without question, give them more negotiating power and more clout. Of course, that’s not (or ought not to be) the objective of people who write public policy.

Cynicism about policy couldn’t be put any more succinctly.



April 16, 2010

Hybrids be damned. Travelers? Turn back. The earth goddesses of Iceland will be conducting a small-scale geoengineering experiment for the next several days. But look, I’ve noticed a curious similarity with regional goings on. Here’s the statement from the World Health Organization:

In Geneva, meanwhile, the World Health Organization said people with respiratory problems should “limit their activities outdoors or stay indoors” if ash started falling from the sky.

Seems innocent enough, until you compare it to a recent statement by our University Chancellor Phil DiStefano regarding another smoke-related event:

“Those with medical conditions affected by smoke should communicate with their supervisors and consider leaving the Norlin Quad area by 3 p.m.”

Oh dear. I’ll be teaching my undergraduate class a few hours before this “event.” We’ll see how that goes.

Anybody have any links to posts on the projected climatic effects of this curious volcanic eruption? Is it just the case that there it happens to be in the path of US-Europe air traffic, or is it the case that this one is particularly sooty?


Money IS Water

April 15, 2010

Prof. Brad DeLong has an interesting post over at his house in which he assesses the state of affairs after Copenhagen. I strongly recommend that you head there and read it. I’ll just post a few things because I only have ten minutes. Here are his suggestions, sans justifications (in green):

  1. Pour money like water into research into closed-carbon and non-carbon energy technologies in order to maximize the chance that we will get lucky—on energy technologies at least, if not on climate sensitivity.
  2. Beg the rulers of China and India to properly understand their long-term interests
  3. Nationalize the energy industry in the United States.
  4. Restrict future climate negotiations to a group of seven—the U.S., the E.U., Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil—and enforce their agreement by substantial and painful trade sanctions on countries that do not accept their place in the resulting negotiated system.

Here are my preliminary, unadulterated, and unedited thoughts:

First off, stop with the ridiculous metaphors. Money is water. Love is a rose. Happiness is a warm gun. But yes, I agree, we should pour money like sugar into alternative energy technologies.

Second, who is he kidding? True Americans won’t countenance begging. It’s beneath us. Instead, we should make China and India beg us to teach them their long-term interests. We can do that using torture devices, like gags, which I recently discovered was the most-searched-for term on my blog.

Third, “nationalize the energy industry”? Ruh-roh. He’s a socialist-cum-fascist. I can hear the Tea Party rapidly dunking their bags of Earl Grey.

Fourth, “restrict future climate negotiations to a group of seven”? Ruh-roh. He’s an imperialist-cum-totalitarian. I can hear Bill Kristol rubbing his hands together, stroking his kitty, and cackling.

(Sorry for the insincere remarks. I’m deeply in the weeds here with a few things I have to attend to, but once I get a little window, I’ll read through his post more thoroughly and earnestly. For now, I’d be curious to hear what others think.)


Blue Light Special

April 14, 2010

Tax day is upon us, and thanks to the diligence of my dear wife, my family has finished our taxes, just in the nick of time! Woo hoo.

One thing that’s been irking me, however, has been the recent observation by many outlets that 47% of America doesn’t pay any federal income taxes. For reasons that escape me, and for reasons that escape John Stewart, this topic has become a talking point of the right wing punditocracy. I’d like to assess the claim a bit below. For now, however, watch as Stewart masterfully disassembles it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Like Stewart, I guess I see things the other way. I agree that 47% is a terrible number, but not because the poor aren’t taxed enough, nor because we should tax the rich less; nor even because we should tax the rich more, at a more progressive rate… but rather because it is a reflection of an outrageous wealth discrepancy. People should be making more money in this country — not necessarily because they deserve to make more money, but because there’s a lot of money floating around here. Many of the people in that 47% range are hardly making any money at all. 50% of the US population holds only 2.5% of the wealth. The other 50% of the population have 97.5% of the money. The top 10% have 70% of our wealth. The top 1% have 34%. Here, check out this chart:

Think about that.

That’s not unfair. That’s ridiculous. So yes, the wealthy pay more in taxes… because they have almost all of the friggin’ money. More importantly, they are enabled to have all of that friggin’ money because there is a massive apparatus enabling them to retain that money. Even if we were to tax the bottom 50%, we wouldn’t collect very much.

Since my wife recently quit her job and has returned to school, we’re a one income family this year. As a result, we paid a very small sum in federal and state income taxes. It wasn’t zero dollars, but it wasn’t very large either. It works out to less than $100/month.

For that I get a standing military, a police force, a fire department, a public education system, a system of libraries, a space agency, a federal highway system, an enormous management infrastructure, an educated workforce, peace of mind, and quite a bit more. For $100/month? I’ll take it. Sure, there are property taxes and sales taxes to factor in too, as well as medicare and social security, but all around, I’d say it’s a pretty good deal…

Though counterintuitive, taxes aren’t in place to take money from the wealthy, but rather to secure wealth that the wealthy have been able to accumulate. As soon as my wife is done with her schooling, we’ll once again re-enter a higher bracket. When that happens, we’ll once again pay our heavier taxes, grudgingly, but knowing that it goes to enable us to live our exceptionally lucky lifestyle.

Which leads me to ask, what the hell are those in the tea party so upset about?

More after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry ?


Cheater Alarm

April 11, 2010

A warning to any readers who are (a) involved in a relationship and (b) on a diet. Depending on the nature of that relationship, and depending also on the nature of that diet, it may be worth bearing in mind that under no circumstances should you purchase a bag of Sunchips. In principle, their new “100% compostible” bag is well-enough intentioned, but Christ if it doesn’t wake the neighbors when you dig in at midnight. Spare yourself the pain of an embarrassing pants-down explanation. Go with Pringles, Twinkies, or a quieter indulgence. Carry on.


From Fact to Opinion

April 8, 2010

Andrew Revkin kicked off his new column in the opinion section of the NY Times today. Probably not a tremendous change for regular readers of the blog, but it may signal a shift toward integration of reasoned and level-headed argument into his otherwise straightforwardly descriptive pieces. Carry on.


Green Gone Wrong

April 3, 2010

Looks interesting:

Now, along comes Heather Rogers, who warns about the dangers of buying into this mind-set with “Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution” (Scribner, 272 pages, $26). She says green capitalism is actually undermining ecological progress.

Ms. Rogers is a muckraking investigative reporter who is also the author of “Gone Tomorrow: the Hidden Life of Garbage.” She says corporate America has led us into thinking that we can save the earth mainly by buying things likecompact fluorescent light bulbs, hybrid gas-electric cars and carbon offsets.

“The new green wave, typified by the phrase ‘lazy environmentalism,’ is geared toward the masses that aren’t willing to sacrifice,” Ms. Rogers complains. “This brand of armchair activism actualizes itself most fully in the realm of consumer goods; through buying the right products we can usher our economic system into the environmental age.”



March 30, 2010

While I often say that graduate school cured me of my fiction affliction, and my wife will attest that it did — I read a fiction novel now about once every several years, in contrast to my several books a month during and immediately after undergraduate college — this new novel from Ian McEwan looks mighty interesting. Here’s a write-up. Might well pick this up as soon as the semester draws to a close.


Taxes with a Capital Tea

March 25, 2010

I’ve just stumbled on this informative analysis of activists in the Tea Party Movement, written by economist Bruce Bartlett and published in Forbes magazine. He and former Bush speech-writer David Frum — just today ousted by the American Enterprise Institute for suggesting on Sunday that health care was the GOP’s waterloo — conducted a survey of a recent Tea Party event. I recommend reading the whole article, but here are a few interesting excerpts:

The first question that was asked concerned the size of government. Tea Partyers were asked how much the federal government gets in taxes as a percentage of the gross domestic product. According to Congressional Budget Office data, acceptable answers would be 6.4%, which is the percentage for federal income taxes; 12.7%, which would be for both income taxes and Social Security payroll taxes; or 14.8%, which would represent all federal taxes as a share of GDP in 2009.

Tuesday’s Tea Party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times as high as they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944.

So this group, at least, has an inflated sense of how “socialistic” the US government is.

To follow up, Tea Partyers were asked how much they think a typical family making $50,000 per year pays in federal income taxes. The average response was $12,710, the median $10,000. In percentage terms this means a tax burden of between 20% and 25% of income.


According to calculations by the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional committee, tax filers with adjusted gross incomes between $40,000 and $50,000 have an average federal income tax burden of just 1.7%. Those with adjusted gross incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 have an average burden of 4.2%.

I find these numbers a little startling myself, but I believe they’re accurate. Apparently even I am susceptible to populist libertarianism. Finally, there’s this:

Tea Partyers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today, and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.


As noted earlier, federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president. And given the economic circumstances, it’s hard to imagine that a tax increase would have been enacted last year. In fact, 40% of Obama’s stimulus package involved tax cuts. These include the Making Work Pay Credit, which reduces federal taxes for all taxpayers with incomes below $75,000 by between $400 and $800.

According to the JCT, last year’s $787 billion stimulus bill, enacted with no Republican support, reduced federal taxes by almost $100 billion in 2009 and another $222 billion this year. The Tax Policy Center, a private research group, estimates that close to 90% of all taxpayers got a tax cut last year and almost 100% of those in the $50,000 income range. For those making between $40,000 and $50,000, the average tax cut was $472; for those making between $50,000 and $75,000, the tax cut averaged $522. No taxpayer anywhere in the country had his or her taxes increased as a consequence of Obama’s policies.


Ripping “The Ethicist” to Hell

February 25, 2010

Looking for amusement? Read this developing string of responses to Randy Cohen’s infinitely inane column “The Ethicist.”

Carry on.