Friday, December 17, 2010

"Fear the Boom and Bust" a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I stumbled on an interesting portmanteau today: "Liberaltarian." As in a "liberal libertarian." In researching the origins of the term and what it's supposed to mean I found this interesting article* from 2006. It's an interesting read in light of the time in which it was written, when the Democrats took control of Congress from the GOP.

It suggests a possible fusion of libertarianism and liberalism with some very interesting ideas--compromises really--but, obviously, that didn't happen, not then anyway. Instead, libertarians floundered--as they have for decades--until we got the tea party which was subsequently hijacked by the GOP. What remains to be seen is if there will be a split within the GOP between neocons and libertarians or if there will be a fusion between the two.

Dare one speculate that in the long term a fusion between liberalism/progressivism and libertarianism would be more practical than a fusion between libertarianism and neoconservatism? Such a fusion would provide an appealing alternative to whatever comes out of the GOP/Tea Party amalgamation over the next two to four years.

The Democratic party is just as rudderless as the GOP and could lose control of both the Senate and the White House in 2012 because of their lack of leadership. Might the Democrats, when they are once again the underdogs, take a page from the tea party playbook? Might we see a spate of "Liberaltarians" running on Democratic tickets?

Ultimately, I think a fusion (or fusions) of some sort will be the only way libertarians will get anything that they want--compromise is built into our system of government after all. I seriously doubt they have the political chutzpah to pull it off on their own.

*There is one sentence in this article that stands out to me because it is patently false: "...most Americans are fully capable of saving for their own retirement needs." This was delusional even in 2006 before the recession hit since wages for working people have been flat for the past 30 years unable to keep up with inflation causing people to save less and go into debt with credit cards and home equity loans. 401Ks have also proved to be volatile.

Monday, October 25, 2010

2nd Amendment questions from a voter

Mr. Puente,

Greetings. I am a Utah 3rd district voter and a gun owner. I'm trying to gather information on where all of Utah's 2010 candidates for public office stand on a couple gun issues. I would therefore like to ask for your cooperation in briefly answering the following questions:

1) To what extent do you support civilian gun ownership?

I believe in the natural right of all individuals to protect themselves and to have access to the tools that allow them to do so including firearms insomuch as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same.

2) What are your views on gun restriction laws and in particular "gun free zones"?

Such legislation does not prevent crime or deny criminals access to such weapons. They only infringe upon the natural rights of law abiding citizens to acquire and legally use such firearms however they please--again, as long as they do not use those tools to infringe on the rights of others. I do not support so-called "gun free zones" and find the very concept asinine.

3) What policies, if any, will you support to change current laws regarding conceal/carry permits?

I personally do not own any firearms so I'm not that familiar with conceal/carry laws. I have used firearms recreationally on occasion and as part of my training when I served in the U.S. Navy and, frankly, I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if my life depended on it. I have no issue with any law abiding citizen who chooses to own a gun for their protection--including the right to carry a concealed weapon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Campaign for Liberty Questionnaire for Federal Candidates

I actually missed the Campaign for Liberty's deadline for this questionnaire but I still feel a certain obligation to answer the questions, even if it's only on my blog.

A few thoughts on the questions before I proceed: I couldn't help but notice that the options that were given me on the form were only "Yes" or "No" and I was not allowed to explain any of my answers. The wording of the questions was also peculiar in that they alternated between asking if I "support" something or if I "oppose" something. The reason for this is because "Yes" answers are preferable to "No" answers in the eyes of the Campaign for Liberty. Look at the answers given by candidates and you can see that the "Y"s are in green and the "N"s are black. This makes it easier for people to make quick--albeit superficial--judgments about where the candidates stand on the issues.

Well, I am NOT a superficial candidate and I do not believe that there are simple answers to any of the issues facing our country so I'm going to do what the Campaign for Liberty wouldn't allow me to, offer more than a simplistic, one-word answer to these questions.

1. Will you cosponsor and call for roll call votes on Ron Paul’s Audit the Fed bill, designed to bring transparency to the Federal Reserve (H.R. 1207/ S. 604 in the 111th Congress)?

Absolutely! The Federal Reserve has been given so much power that it operates practically as a fourth branch of our government and the people of the United States deserves to know what they're doing and how they do it.

2. Will you support legislation removing capital gains and sales taxes on gold and silver coinage?

Sure. Considering the concerns that more and more Americans have about our currency, I see no reason to give people such a break on investments in solid commodities like gold and other precious metals.

3. Will you vote to oppose any legislation that allows the federal government to prohibit the sale, use, or carrying of firearms?

Sure. This country has enough firearms legislation. We don't need to bog down the system with more restrictions. If people want to own a gun, let them. It's their right.

4. Will you support a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution that includes hard spending limits and allows for no increase in taxes or other federal revenue enhancements?

I do NOT support a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Government needs the flexibility to run budget deficits during emergencies such as wars and times of economic crisis. Considering rates of inflation and other financial variables I can't support hard limits on spending or limiting Congress' Constitutional authority to levy taxes.

5. Will you support legislation that forbids U.S. troops from serving under United Nations command?

In principle, yes. But is legislation actually needed? The command authority for U.S. Troops lies solely with the civilian government of the United States--or am I mistaken?

6. Do you support and will you vote to protect states asserting their rights under the Tenth Amendment?

Yes. I honestly can't think of anything else to say about this. :-)

7. Will you oppose Big Labor’s Card Check bill and any other legislation designed to empower union bosses?

No. I do not buy into the belief that unions are "bad." Unions helped create the middle class in this country. My dad was a union man and his union took very good care of him, enabling him to earn a wage that allowed him to support his family and own a home. Considering the fact that union jobs have decreased considerably over the last generation--coupled with stagnant wages for working Americans--I find the idea that unions are hurting business is asinine. I discuss my position on unions in more detail in a separate blog post.

8. Do you support U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations?

No. I think there needs to be a forum for international dialogue and the U.N. serves in that capacity sufficiently enough.

9. Will you support the American Sovereignty Act to restrict the Executive’s ability to forge international agreements that lessen our sovereignty?

This is kind of a trick question because it basically repeats the last question. I could see someone reading it and simply answering "Yes" out of fear of Executive power and "lessening our sovereignty." Of course, when one actually looks up the "American Sovereignty Act," it's primary purpose is to get the United States out of the U.N. which I do not support for reasons expressed in my answer to the previous question.

10. Will you oppose using U.S. forces to occupy a foreign nation without a declaration of war?

Considering the fact that every conflict the U.S. has participated in since World War II has been with only tacet approval of the Congress without a full declaration of war, I can honestly answer this question with a yes. I also find it interesting that it specifically speaks of U.S. occupation and says nothing about air or missile strikes.

11. Will you oppose any attempt to nationalize our health care system, including any sort of public option for insurance?

I think I've been pretty clear on where I stand vis-à-vis healthcare reform. However--despite the fact that healthcare reform legislation has been passed without a public option, making the latter part of the question moot--I don't care for the wording of the question because there are different definitions, especially political ones, for "nationalizing" healthcare. Republicans are convinced that the healthcare legislation signed into law in 2010 is "socialized healthcare" when, in reality, there's very little socialization about it. Is an individual mandate and so-called health exchanges--consisting of private insurance companies--really socialistic? I don't think so. Especially when one considers that the legislation that was passed has more in common with the Republican alternative to Hilary Clinton's healthcare proposal than it does a truly nationalized system like the UK's NHS--and the US's VA healthcare system--let alone a single-payer system like Medicare or the aforementioned "public option."

This is what healthcare reform comes down to for me. The legislation signed into law by President Obama doesn't go far enough to truly reform the system that we have now. I support measures that leave healthcare in private hands but eliminates the profit motive without creating any new government programs.

However, should the U.S. government choose to implement a single-payer system in the future, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. Is that a "nationalized" healthcare system? Technically, no. I already use a system that is owned and operated by the government, the VA healthcare system, and I can testify that such a program wouldn't be a good idea to implement for civilians in the U.S. I discuss the concerns of constitutional authority in regard to government action regarding healthcare but I would not object to a legal interpretation that says the federal government has the authority to implement a single-payer healthcare system--or public option--under the general welfare clause. Some self-annointed constitutional purists might object to such an interpretation, arguing that the founding fathers didn't interpret "general welfare" in such a way but that would be misleading. Even the founding fathers had differing opinions on how the general welfare clause was to be interpreted, some stating that it refers to the welfare of the states and others the welfare of the people.

12. Will you oppose so-called “Cap and Trade” legislation?

No. Considering the fact that cap and trade legislation has been implemented successfully in the past to curb sulfur-dioxide emissions, I have no problem with implementing similar legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions. I have no issue with a carbon tax either. Curbing our nation's dependence on fossil fuels is essential to both our environmental and national security interests and the sooner we start weaning ourselves from oil, coal and gas in favor of nuclear, wind and solar energy, the better.

13. Will you vote to eliminate the IRS?

And replace it with what? There must be a means to collect taxes. Give me an alternative to the IRS and I might support eliminating it.

14. Will you vote against any budget that increases our debt?

In the middle of the worst economic crisis in generations when depleting tax revenue is going to increase the debt anyway, what sense would that make? How about pulling all our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq immediately, shutting down overseas bases that serve only to subsidize the defenses of foreign nations and cutting our bloated defense budget instead?

15. Will you oppose federal power grabs like roving wiretaps and warrantless searches, and oppose Patriot Act renewal that includes such items?

I never liked the Patriot Act to begin with so how about we just repeal the damned thing?

16. Will you oppose any legislation that requires states and citizens to participate in a National Identification Card program?

This I can answer with a resounding YES! I already have a perfectly valid state-issued ID and a social security card. I don't need anything else cluttering up my wallet.

17. Will you oppose the so-called “NAFTA Superhighway” and any move toward a North American Union?

I'll go with a "Yes" on this question. Does anyone seriously think that we need a "NAFTA Superhighway"? We already have interstate highways that effectively connect the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Instead of making new highways, how about we just maintain and upgrade the ones we already have? As for a "North American Union," that's pretty much been taken care of with NAFTA as it is and I'm not even too crazy about how that's worked out for us. We certainly don't need a new currency, especially when one considers that the U.S. dollar is a de facto international currency as it is.

18. Will you support legislation that ensures Members of Congress have at least 72 hours to read any bill before it is allowed to come to the House floor?

Yes! Does this really need an explanation?

19. Will you oppose all tax increases?

Considering the fact that most budget items are sacred cows and even penny-ante earmark appropriations are pork in the eyes of their critics and "vital public programs" in the eyes of their sponsors, tax increases are all but inevitable. The fact that our nation is trillions of dollars in debt because GOP policies that gave tax breaks to rich people and spent money as if it grew on trees, the time is going to come where people are going to have to bite the bullet and actually PAY for the government they put into power.

20. Indicate the tax cuts you are willing to vote for:
[ ] Across the Board Income Tax Cut
[ ] Capital Gains Tax Cut
[ ] Business Tax Cut
[ ] Estate Tax Cut

Again, I was given check boxes and not allowed to explain or justify any choice I would make. So, here goes:

I do not support an across the board income tax cut. We got that in 2001 and again in 2003 and look where it got us. I'll support extending the bush tax cuts across the board for a few years but then I'd come right in with a millionaires tax because they can afford it.

I do not support capital gains tax cuts, especially for people who accept stock in leu of a salary. Why the hell should some overpaid CEO only pay 15% on his income just because it isn't in the form of cash?

I do support tax cuts for businesses but only as incentives for investing in domestic production or for corporations that choose to reorganize as mutual companies and cooperatives.

The only people who complain about estate taxes are people with actual estates--i.e., the super rich. This nation is in debt, it needs revenue and the super rich have enjoyed their wealth on the backs of the middle class for too long. Politicians like to call the estate tax a "death" tax because it's so scary and absurd sounding. Well, Benjamin Franklin said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes and no one can avoid either of them. Why should we make exceptions for millionaires?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Questions from a voter

Mr. Puente,

Could you please provide me with your position and opinion on the following topics....


For my opinion on the abortion issue, I'll direct you to the following posts on my blog:


I support a terminally ill patient's right to die with dignity. If there is absolutely no quality of life for an individual who is suffering from the pain and agony associated with measures taken to extend their life despite the fact that their illness is terminal, if that patient should choose not go on with treatment and put an end to their needless suffering, I see no problem with allowing them access to resources to reach that end. Let there be no misunderstanding however that the decision should be that of the patient and no one else.

Fetal Stem Cell Research

I have no issue with fetal stem cell research.

Human Cloning

I'm okay with research into therapeutic cloning where specific kinds of human tissue can be cloned to create replacement organs but I am probably just as creeped out by the concept of cloning an entire human being as most people.

Homosexual "Marriage"

I have a personal definition of marriage that is consistent with the teachings of my religion but I don't think it prudent or even legal for me or anyone else to try and force that religious definition onto other people who don't share my religious views or choose not to adhere to any religion at all. I recognize that the definition of marriage as a civil contract between two individuals is subject to evolve and include relationships that fall outside of "traditional/religious" contexts. Since the rights of religions to define marriage and its practice are protected by the First Amendment, there is no need to codify any sort of additional protections for those religions and their adherents; to do so would be redundant considering the scope of the First Amendment.

That being said, I believe in equal rights for everyone regardless of age, race, religion, creed, color, sexual orientation or gender identity. I have been a strong supporter of the Common Ground Initiative and the organization Equality Utah. I also support the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law in October of 2009 and coincidentally opposed quite vocally by my opponent, the incumbent Congressman Jason Chaffetz. I am opposed to any sort of legislation that would attempt to exclude a minority group from equal protection under the law. This would include the unfair restrictions placed on homosexual members of the U.S. armed forces under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and any amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage based on a religious definition instead of a legal definition. I also voted against Amendment 3 to Utah's Constitution in 2004.

As I stated in a video blog post on this topic:

Hospice Patients Alliance Q&A

Do you support physician-assisted suicide?

I support a terminally ill patient's right to die with dignity. If there is absolutely no quality of life for an individual who is suffering from the pain and agony associated with measures taken to extend their life despite the fact that their illness is terminal, if that patient should choose not go on with treatment and put an end to their needless suffering, I see no problem with allowing them access to resources to reach that end. Let there be no misunderstanding however that the decision should be that of the patient and no one else.

How do you plan to protect the elderly if health care is to be financed through cuts in Medicare?

That is a complicated question and I do not have the answer to it. Suffice it to say that the costs of Medicare are tied directly to the costs of healthcare in general. I think that our government owes it not only to the elderly but to all Americans to do everything it can to put into place policies that will bring down the costs of healthcare such as removing anti-trust exemptions that insurance companies have been abusing for years, passing legislation requiring that all health insurance companies operate as non profit corporations, mutual companies or cooperatives to ensure premiums are used to pay for treatment and not pad the pockets of executives or inflate share prices--I think that health insurance should NOT be a publicly traded commodity. I think the federal government should do all that it is constitutionally permitted to in order to make sure that people can be treated for their illnesses and not be financially crippled for it.

Do you favor restricting access to health care for the elderly that they presently enjoy?

Absolutely NOT.

Would you vote to change the current healthcare law to better protect terminally ill patients and the elderly?

I find this question to be somewhat vague. Protect them from what exactly?

How do you plan to protect them?

Again, if I knew what I am supposed to protect them from, I could more easily answer the question.


I've been answering a lot of questions from a lot of people and organizations. When it comes to questions from organization that have a specific political agenda, I find a number of their questions to be leading, biased and even manipulative. I do my best to answer them all honestly but I won't allow myself to be manipulated into answering vague questions that often serve ambiguous agendas and clandestine interests. -JLP

Deseret News/KSL Candidiate Questionnaire‏

1. What is your top priority for the United States?

The issue that's at the top of my priorities is bringing about publicly funded elections. Until special interests are put into check in Washington, no other issues will matter. Efforts to reform them in the current political environment will be undermined by meddling lobbyists and their corporate backers to make sure that whatever laws are past will work to their advantage and not for the public good. America has had enough of Government working for corporations and special interests at the expense of the people. There is legislation in Congress RIGHT NOW to bring this much needed reform to Washington. It's called the "Fair Elections Now Act" (H.R. 1826 & S. 752).

2. Describe your solution to the U.S. illegal immigration problem. What specifically should be done about the over 10-million illegal immigrants who are now in the United States? Do you favor or oppose some kind of pathway to legal status for the current illegal immigrants?

The solution to illegal immigration lies in enforcing existing labor and immigration laws. The first and most effective step is to crack down on U.S. companies that hire undocumented workers illegally and penalize them for it. Our government has been turning a blind eye to this--the core of the illegal immigration problem--for far too long. Once American companies stop hiring undocumented workers then the flow of illegal immigrants will simply go away. If there is no work for illegals then they will stop crossing our borders.

As for the illegal immigrants who are here now, one suggestion that I find appealing is to give illegal immigrants a year to leave the country peacefully and they can take with them any property they have acquired since being here. If the political will exists to more stringently enforce existing immigration laws to arrest, process and deport illegal aliens, I can get behind that as well. It must be understood that taking these measures will not be cheap. Part of the costs can be covered by confiscating money and property held by illegals and fines imposed on the companies that hire them but I doubt that will cover all the expenses. There will most likely need to be funding allocated by congress to shore up the resources of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to carry this out.

If Congress collectively lacks the political will to enforce these laws but can somehow get it together enough to enact legislation to provide legal status for otherwise law-abiding undocumented workers, that's something that I could get behind as well. Even Ronald Reagan supported amnesty for illegal aliens as a practical alternative.

3. Do you support the Affordable Care Act (health care reform)? If not, how would you fix America’s health care crisis?

I stand strongly against the Federal government interfering in matters it is not Constitutionally authorized to enter into. Thus far, early court challenges to the ACA have been defeated with rulings that state that the legislation is NOT unconstitutional. While the ACA is certainly flawed legislation and there are elements that I would like to see repealed--like the individual mandate--other elements I think were a long time coming and acceptable but more needs to be done to fix our healthcare system. I think that there are other solutions that the federal government can implement to make genuine healthcare reform easier to achieve such as removing anti-trust exemptions that insurance companies have been abusing for years, passing legislation requirement that all health insurance companies operate as non profit corporations, mutual companies or cooperatives to ensure premiums are used to pay for treatment and not pad the pockets of executives or inflate share prices--I think that health insurance should NOT be a publicly traded commodity. I think the federal government should do all that it is constitutionally permitted to in order to make sure that people can be treated for their illnesses and not be financially crippled for it. If anything, the federal government should do what it can to help individual states implement healthcare reform that meets the unique needs of each state and not try to implement a federal catch-all system that might work for one state, be overkill for another or fall short of the needs for a third.

4. What can be done to improve the U.S. economy? How will you help?

Short answer, put people to work. 70% of our economy is driven by consumer spending. Over the last 30 years wages for working Americans has stagnated and the only way they've been able to keep our economy going has been to go deeper and deeper into debt with credit cards and drawing on the equity in their homes. This was unsustainable. The housing bubble burst, most people can't get credit anymore and people who manage to find work are working two and three jobs just to keep their heads above water. I am not opposed to government expenditures to rebuild our nations infrastructure in oder to put people to work so they can start consuming again. Our government also needs to enact legislation that encourages the private sector to bring jobs back to the states--for example, we should amend our current trade policies to require that our foreign trading partners pay their workers better wages so that US firms don't automatically shut down American factories in order to take advantage of obscenely cheaper wages overseas. As a nation, we should also make access to higher education easier for all Americans. We've all seen the statistics: the more education a person has, the more successful that person is. Give everyone equal access to higher education and you make it possible for those people to have access to better paying jobs. Policies also need to be implemented to ensure that incomes keep pace with economic growth. One part of that equation that I'd like to see implemented would be to tie Congressional salaries to the median income of the nation. Were that to be implemented now, the salary of a freshman representative would be cut by almost two thirds. If Congress wants to give itself a pay raise, then they should enact laws that enable an increase in incomes for the average American worker. There are many other solutions to this very complicated problem and I'm willing to explore all possible solutions.

5. Utah is famous for its beautiful landscapes. What will you do to protect and promote these areas?

Everything I can to keep greedy industrialists' hands OFF of them. I was at a meet the candidates event where a candidate for public office spoke of $1 trillion in natural resources that exist under the Grand Staircase National Monument. What good is accessing those "natural resources" if, in the process, we destroy a beautiful natural formation that can bring in MORE revenue to our state over the longterm through our tourism industry? We need to remember that there are long term benefits to protecting our landscapes that are more important and ultimately more profitable for tourism than short term profits for other industries.

6. What are your views on federal funding for embryonic and adult stem cell research?

I have no problem with federal funding for such research.

7. Are you willing to work with members of other political parties to accomplish changes in Washington?

Absolutely. The behavior of party politicians over the last few years has been childish to say the least. I would personally like to see Americans giving party politicians the boot in favor of independent representatives. Party politics is destroying this nation and has destroyed the democratic process that we claim to hold dear. The duopoly of Democrats and Republicans has done everything it can to shore up their own political power at the expense of the public good. To quote the one truly independent president this country has ever had, "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism... and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty." -George Washington, 1796

8. What are your views on nuclear testing?

We don't need it. We already have enough nuclear weapons to destroy our planet several times over. We don't need to test new ones.

9. When you are forming an opinion on an issue, who do/will you ask for advice and information?

I will first request input from my constituents and follow that up with non-partisan experts in the field of that particular issue.

10. What is the one personal trait/characteristic that you want voters to know about you, and why is that important in this race?

I want voters to know that I am uncompromised by special interests. It's important because special interests are running and ruining this country and until the voters elect public servants that are committed only to the interests of the people, nothing in Washington is going to change.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Your share of the average disability payment

ATTENTION: Anyone who is resentful of persons on "Disability/SSI" who receive a stipend from the government due to their inability to work after having paid into the system.

Some numbers:

There are approximately 5.18 million recipients of disability payments in the U.S.

The average disability payment is almost $500 month.

There are roughly 138 million taxpayers in the U.S.

$500 x 12 months = $6000 in disability income a year (well below the poverty line. These people are NOT exactly living high on the hog).

$6000 ÷ 138 million taxpayers = $0.00004347826087 per disabled person per taxpayer per year. That's a little over 4/1000ths of a CENT per year to keep 1 disabled person from being homeless.

Collectively it comes to about $225 a year per taxpayer (that's considerably less than the average tax refund) to support all the disabled receiving SSI (which is barely enough to keep their heads above water). One should also not forget that part of the qualifications for disability benefits is that one has to have paid into the system as well. That's the social contract. Pay into the system and it will be made available to you if you should need it.

A lot of people like to complain about the "welfare state" and how Social Security is a "burden." When times are tough, as they are now, people make use of the social safety net, when times get better, it balances itself out quite nicely.

The solution to our government's fiscal problems is not going to be found in gutting the social safety net. It's going to be found in adopting policies that make it easier for people to become more prosperous on their own. Once that is accomplished, tax revenue to the government will rise and enable the social safety net to remain in place for those who need and qualify for it when they hit hard times.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Max Blumenthal goes inside the Tea Party

This program leans heavily to the left but it's kind of interesting. Blumenthal isn't the most charismatic on camera personality but I agree with his observations about the tea partiers that
"I think these people are hurting economically, a lot of them are, and they're seeking solutions in irrational ways and they're blaming forces that have nothing to do with their pain... but there is a grass roots rage. The question is, how can that rage be channelled into something positive that can bring a genuine populist movement that's multiracial and multi-political together and direct it against power?"
I would prefer it if he had said "apolitical" instead of "multi-political" as political factions are a major part of the problems this country faces and often the very obstacle that stands in the way of solving those problems.

Another observation made by Blumenthal regards the origins of the tea party movement:
"This tea party movement says that they're libertarian but they're clearly authoritarian. When they talk about getting the government out of their lives, they're just talking about lowering taxes even though it wouldn't actually benefit them--it would only benefit the rich--but they're happy to have the government in the bedroom."
Diehard tea party advocates would probably bristle at that accusation of authoritarianism but I think that Blumenthal is identifying the fact that this movement--which had libertarian roots--has been hijacked by right-wing extremists and the most conservative operatives of the GOP base who are in fact authoritarian when it comes to things like civil liberties, LGBT issues, prohibition and foreign policy. These are "values" that are embraced by Republicans, not true libertarians who don't think that it's government's place to infringe on those very rights that Republicans fight so hard to control.

That being said, I invite you to watch this program and, as my late mother would say, take it for whatever it may be worth--and as long as it's still online. I doubt there's permission to host the whole program here.

Max Blumenthal goes inside the Tea Party from Ram Bam on Vimeo.

FYI: The video file is 40 minutes long but the program itself is only 28 minutes. Then there's 12 minutes of blankness. You can skip that part. ;-)

Here's an extended scene hosted by

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bishop brags about earmarks that he voted against

So, Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah's 1st congressional district issued a statement dated May 28, 2010, in which he brags about a great deal of money that he earmarked for Utah in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 5136).

Now, I have no problem with his earmarks but he went on to say that when the bill was in committe, the "[bipartisan] process produced a decent bill, and I supported it.”

I imagine a lot of people might read right up to that point where he says, "I supported it," and infer that that equalled a "Yes" vote on the bill.

And they would be incorrect. As the entry on shows: Bishop voted "No."

Bishop's web site did not make this very clear. After his declaration that he "supported it," Bishop--in the final paragraph--complained about the process on the floor of the House and said that by adding language in regard to "don't ask, don't tell" the Democratic leadership "took a bipartisan product and turned it into a partisan tool. It didn’t have to be this way.”

But he didn't say that he voted against the bill. Why? Because it would be contradictory to his earlier statement that he "supported it."

I wanted to get clarification on this little matter and, thankfully, the name and phone number of a Bishop staffer was provided right at the top of the page: Melissa Subbotin 202-225-0453

This is the gist of our conversation:

Me: Why doesn't Congressman Bishop say on his own web site that he voted no on the final bill, H.R. 5236?

Ms. Subbotin then proceeded to give me a civics lesson about the committee process and the debate on the floor and how things change. I found it a little condescending so I continued...

Me: I understand how the process works but I would like to see a statement on the Congressman's website stating that he voted NO on the bill.

Subbotin: He supported the original bill.

Me: But he voted NO on the FINAL bill.

Subbotin: You're implying that we're intentionally trying to mislead something.

Me: I feel misled.

Subbotin : Well, you shouldn't feel misled... We don't say that he didn't support the final vote.

(I had to think about that for a moment and she's right: They didn't say that he didn't support the final vote... that's the problem.)

Me: I feel it's disingenuous for you guys to brag about all this money coming to Utah and not say that he voted against it because it implies that he voted FOR the bill.

Subbotin : Okay.

Me: I'm asking that you put a statement on the web site that says that Congressman Bishop voted no on the final bill.

Subbotin : Okay... We'll take your request into consideration.

Me: (laughing) Thanks for blowing me off.

Bragging about all those earmarks certainly implies that Bishop wanted the bill to pass. That the evidence shows so clearly that he voted NO says something entirely different.

I just checked before hitting the "Publish Post" button and it appears that Congressman Bishop's staff has updated the web page to show that the Congressman voted NO on the final passage of the bill. Looks like they're going to embrace the doublethink. ;-)

I wonder if Subbotin Googled me and discovered that I'm running for Congress in district 3?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Don't ask Chaffetz if he's a bigot... He won't tell you.

"The only reason they would be doing that is for pure political points. I don't think that is the way you run your military. It sends the wrong signal." -Jason Chaffetz

If the incumbent congressman Jason Chaffetz spent less time fine tuning his gaydar and more time focussing on issues that actually mattered, I wouldn't be challenging him for his seat in Congress. Jason has a proven track record of embracing institutionalized bigotry against homosexuals. He's been pissing his pants over the citizens of the District of Columbia who dared decide for themselves to recognize same-sex marriage since he was elected to represent them... No, wait a minute. That's not right. Chaffetz WASN'T elected to represent the District of Columbia, he was elected to represent Utah's District 3. So why would he stick his nose in the bedrooms of people that he DOESN'T represent? Oh yeah, because he's a self-righteous bigot.

Now Chaffetz is pretending to know how to run the military. This from a guy who never had the balls to wear the uniform of the U.S. military to begin with.

Speaking as a veteran of the U.S. Navy for five years, I have an insight into the military that Chaffetz lacks. What it all boils down to is this:

Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are trained to follow orders. Trust me, the solution to allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military is as simple as issuing the following order: "Homosexuals may serve openly in the military and it is up to the rest of the men and women in uniform to keep doing their jobs regardless."

You'd be surprised how effectively that works... that is if you didn't already look into how allowing homosexuals to serve in the military worked out in other countries, like the U.K., France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Demark, Spain, Germany, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Israel, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Austria... the list goes on.

We don't need to "study the issue" because all these other countries have allowed homosexuals to serve, studied the impact of that service and have come to the same conclusion. It doesn't matter.

Ours is a professional military and professionalism means being able to work with anybody regardless of their politics, religion, gender or even their sexual orientation. The fact that Jason Chaffetz doesn't recognize this is testament to his ignorance and lack of respect for our men and women in uniform--some of which are forced to lie about who they are because bigots like Jason Chaffetz are too self-righteous to embrace the American value that all men are created equal. In Chaffetz mind, some are obviously more equal than others. Namely wealthy heterosexual Republicans.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Counterpoint: On Utah Copycatting Arizona's attack on "Ethnic Studies."

I recently subscribed to a blog called the "Voice of Deseret" written by a self-described "Utah expatriate." VoD came to my attention when they objected to me calling Jason Chaffetz--at various times--"an uninformed horse's ass" and "...a megalomaniacal, narcissistic douche bag."

I've since agreed to be less crass in my characterizations of the lying, hypocritical ignoramus that currently represents Utah's 3rd District.

VoD has written a post about legislation in Utah that mirrors a law recently passed in Arizona banning ethnic studies classes.

I'd like comment on a few of the remarks VoD made in their analysis:
On The University of Utah's ethnic studies program: "... you'll note that there's no provision for European-American ethnic studies."
That's like complaining because there's no "White Entertainment Television" to go up against Black Entertainment Television (BET). White people don't need a "W-E-T" network because white people have been dictating most television programing since Nazi Germany broadcast the 1936 Olympics. (That's not Godwin's law creeping in, that's just history)

European-American ethnic studies courses already exist. European-American ethnicity is the DE FACTO paradigm through which the American education system is filtered. Most American text books are written largely from the point of view of "European-Americans" AKA "a bunch of rich white guys."

VoD also mentions new Arizona guidelines "...prohibiting a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
  • Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  • Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  • Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  • Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."
I have a question for VoD, Have you--or anyone for that matter--verified that there even exists an ethnic studies class at an accredited school that actually "Promote[s] the overthrow of the United States Government" as part of its curriculum?

When one considers the reality of racism that has existed and still exists in this country,, how can one NOT expect a certain degree of resentment toward a race--even one's own--just from taking a general studies--i.e. European-American--history class?

Has VoD ever taken an ethnic studies class? They aren't designed for a particular ethnic group. They exist for students of all backgrounds to better understand the American experience from the point of view of the many ethnic backgrounds that represent the population of the country. When one considers the rich ethnic tradition of our nation of immigrants, I can't think of anything more valuable to understanding our nation's history than to understand from the points of view of EVERYONE involved, not just the one ethnic group (European-Americans) that have had the greatest advantage over others for the past 500+ years.

And there is nothing wrong with celebrating one's ethnicity and feeling a certain solidarity with others who share a common heritage. There's nothing endemic to American culture that requires one to pretend that their ethnic roots don't exist or that they should be shunned and forgotten.

Vod goes on to say:
"This was necessitated by the fact that many ethnic studies classes had been hijacked by anti-racist white progressives and actual non-white racists who taught that the United States committed "genocide" against the American Indians... [this] trivializes and minimizes real genocide committed in Europe and Asia during the 20th century..."
I guess VoD has an issue with the definition of the word "genocide." Considering the fact that it's a relatively new word in the English lexicon, there are varying definitions--many of them legal definitions--but I say let's take it to the source.

Raphael Lemkin, the person who coined the term in 1944, defines genocide thus:
"By 'genocide' we mean the destruction of an ethnic group . . . . Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups..." (Axis Rule in Occupied Europe ix. 79)
One of the things that modern genocides all have in common is that they occurred within a relatively short period of time but Lemkin points out early on that "Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation..." When we consider the degree of territorial, cultural and populous expansion of European settlers--and the concurrent displacement and decimation of native Americans--over the first 400 years of American history, it's difficult not to couch the plight of native Americans in terms of genocide. VoD might argue that there was no "final solution" to rid the Americas of its native inhabitants. Apparently he's never heard of the Indian Removal act of 1830. No, it didn't try to legalize the deliberate murder of native Americans but it did codify an agenda of removing them from the land they called home for thousands of years and many of them did die in the process. Perhaps VoD has never heard of the Trail of Tears. How far removed from the ethnic ghettos of Nazi occupied Europe are American indian reservations? How many wars against native Americans were waged for the sole purpose of acquiring the land they occupied? Native Americans have been scapegoated and vilified as much as any other "ethnic" population by so-called European-American settlers and yet they were here first. We should also consider the cost in human lives that were the result of this treatment of native Americans. The European holocaust took the lives of approximately 6 million Jews and that is considered genocide. The destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire witnessed between 1 and 1.5 million Armenian deaths and that is called a genocide. Around 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda and that too is considered genocide. Estimates of native American deaths as a result of European colonization range in the millions. That sounds like genocide to me. It may not have been state-sponsored murder but the results were largely the same.

VoD goes on to point out that the Arizona law does "NOT" restrict "Courses or classes that include the history of any ethnic group and that are open to all students."

Has any ethnic studies class actually discouraged students from participating in said class because of their race? I doubt it. I always understood that unpopular courses get dropped from the schedule. Excluding ANYONE from attending based on anything other than a lack of required academic prerequisites would be seriously counterintuitive to anyone who wants the core message of their agenda to be available to a broad audience.

Let there be no doubt that this latest law in Arizona, like the "Papers, please" law that's garnered so much more attention, isn't based on concerns about the quality of public education, it's based on racism.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stonewall Shooting Sports of Utah - Policy Q&A

1. What would you do if you are elected to protect the equal rights of gay Utah citizens?

I believe in equal rights for everyone regardless of age, race, religion, creed, color, sexual orientation or gender identity. I am opposed to any sort of legislation that would attempt to exclude a minority group from equal protection under the law. This would include the unfair restrictions placed on homosexual members of the U.S. armed forces under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and any Constitutional amendment to define marriage based on a religious definition instead of a legal definition.

I have a personal definition of marriage that is consistent with the teachings of my religion but I don't think it prudent or even legal for me or anyone else to try and force that religious definition onto other people who don't share my religious views or choose not to adhere to any religion at all. I recognize that the definition of marriage as a civil contract between two individuals is subject to evolve and include relationships that fall outside of "traditional/religious" contexts. Since the rights of religions to define marriage and its practice are protected by the First Amendment, there is no need to codify any sort of additional protections for those religions and their adherents; to do so would be redundant considering the scope of the First Amendment.

2. What would you do if you are elected to protect the firearm rights of Utah citizens?

I believe in the natural right of all individuals to protect themselves and to have access to the tools that allow them to do so including firearms insomuch as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same. I do not support renewing the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (AKA the Federal Assault Weapons Ban). Such legislation does not prevent crime or deny criminals access to such weapons. They only infringe upon the natural rights of law abiding citizens to acquire and legally use such firearms however they please--again, as long as they do not use those tools to infringe on the rights of others.

I personally do not own any firearms. I have used them recreationally on occasion and as part of my training when I served in the U.S. Navy and, frankly, I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if my life depended on it. Having been diagnosed and treated for clinical depression over the years, I never thought it wise for me to own a gun but I have no issue with any law abiding citizen who chooses to own a gun for their protection and recreation and everyone that I know who owns a gun is a law abiding citizen.

3. What have you done so far to protect these rights?

For starters, when I joined the Navy in 1993 I swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States which includes the Bill of Rights and that oath carried with it no expiration.

Where the rights of gay Utah citizens are concerned, I have been a strong supporter of the Common Ground Initiative and the organization Equality Utah. I also support the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law last October and coincidentally opposed quite vocally by my opponent Congressman Jason Chaffetz. I also voted against Amendment 3 to Utah's Constitution in 2004 defining marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman. While I do embrace that definition of marriage personally and religiously, I think that the legal definition can be much more flexible without infringing on the rights of individuals and religions to retain their traditional and doctrinal definitions for their own purposes.

Regarding gun rights, since I do not own a gun I never considered joining any firearms organizations like the NRA or GOA and living in Utah with a long standing tradition of hunting and its pioneer heritage, I haven't felt compelled to speak out on any Utah-centric gun issues except for the recent proposal to celebrate the life of hunting rifle manufacturer John Browning concurrently with Martin Luther King Jr.--a man who was killed with a hunting rifle (not built by Browning). That struck me as just plain distasteful.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On GOP manipulation of the tea party "movement"

I don't subscribe to the so-called tea party "movement." It's roots were noble and honest enough but it has since been overrun by extremists and I simply don't deal in extremes.

Another reason why I don't ally myself with the tea party is that they're allowing themselves to be manipulated by Republicans. Who's making speeches at these rallies and the so-called Tea Party Convention? Republicans. Who are the tea partiers' biggest cheer leaders? "Conservative" talk radio and Fox News--echo chambers of Republican rhetoric. This isn't what the tea party was supposed to be about.

What was started as a Libertarian demonstration has been usurped by the GOP for the sole purpose of returning control of the government into Republican hands. I can't think of a single self-respecting Libertarian that actually wants that to happen. But why has the tea party allowed itself to be so manipulated? Well, what has been absent from all of the histrionics emanating from the tea party? Answer: Any call for the election of independent candidates for Congress, the Senate or the White House.

Tea partiers are fearful, and no organization knows how to capitalize on fear like the GOP. For all their vitriol over business as usual in Washington and their distrust of government, the tea party is so desperate for leadership that they'll even turn to business-as-usual Republicans simply because they're telling the tea partiers what they want to hear.

I'm curious to see how this all plays out. Will the involvement of the tea party serve to marginalize the Republicans even further? What will the tea partiers say if the GOP regains control of the government and fails to deliver what the tea partiers want?

The pendulum has been swinging between the Republicans and Democrats for years and nobody is ever happy with what either party brings to the table. How many more times does it need to swing from one side to the other before people realize that we have the option of removing the pendulum altogether and electing individuals to public office instead of party loyalists?

Discrimination against reservists

I've been talking with a gentleman by the name of Ron Hendry who's son, Chris, was the assistant manager for a store called Furniture Row. Chris recently joined the Army Reserve and informed his employers that he would be leaving for basic training in 6 weeks. A day later Chris was fired because he “Lacked focus.”

It's illegal to fire a reservist because of their military obligations. Furniture Row might be trying to skirt this law by firing Chris before he goes to basic training but the timing of their decision, so soon after Chris gave them the courtesy of letting them know that he wanted to serve his country part-time, makes it painfully obvious that reservists are not welcome as employees.

Let there be no doubt that this is discrimination.

Ron is asking that people spread the word about what his son and many reservists have to deal with and to e-mail the following members of Furniture Row's corporate staff:,,,,

Ron would also appreciate being CC'd any correspondence at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On Opinion Polls

People like to reference opinion polls because poll numbers carry with them a certain air of authority.

Of course an old idiom from my high school debate days was that statistics can prove anything. Place one foot in a bucket of ice water and another in the middle of a campfire and--statistically speaking--you should feel comfortable.

I also used to work for a company that conducted "research" through polling where I learned that more often than not opinion polls have leading questions to ensure that who ever is sponsoring the poll gets the results that they want.

For example, if Candidate A voted to approve the federal budget which includes funding for the National Endowment for the Arts which then gives money to a state arts council which in turn issues grants to a number of artists and one of those artists takes a picture, paints a painting or writes a novel that one person finds offensive you will see the following question in the survey:

"Candidate A voted to fund offensive art. Does this make you...

"A) More likely to vote for him

"B) Less likely to vote for him or

"C) Makes no difference to your vote."

Most people who get that question are going to pick B. It doesn't matter that the Candidate has no say in how the NEA, a state arts council or even an individual artist spends their money. The question isn't designed to rate public opinion, it's designed to manipulate it.

We see all these poll results on healthcare but we never see the questions that are being asked.

Do the polls that say Americans are against healthcare reform ask specific unbiased questions like:

"Are you in favor of a public insurance option?

"A) Yes. B) No. C.) I'm not sure"

or do they include a rhetorical label and skew the question to read:

"President Obama wants to put a government official between you and your doctor with a socialist government-run healthcare system like they have in countries like Britain and Canada. Do you support this?

"A) Yes, government-run healthcare is fine by me.

"B) No, I'm a patriot who believes in Capitalism.

"C) I don't know but it sure sounds scary."

The possible answers to the biased survey are exaggerations but the style of the question is typical of the surveys I conducted and I hated it because I knew that the people I was interviewing weren't being asked their opinion, they were being manipulated.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Workers' Rights

One thing I have never understood is the attitude among some working class people of vilifying organized labor. The arguments I keep hearing have to do with "unreasonable demands," "unfair union dues," "increased cost of goods and services," etc.

In reality though, throughout my lifetime, the power of labor unions has been severely undermined to the point that modern-day criticism of organized labor is severely misplaced. When the federal government has become so compromised by corporate interests that the federal minimum wage can't be reasonably called a living wage anymore then why shouldn't workers in any industry be given the tools to negotiate better wages, meaningful benefits and good working conditions, particularly workers in industries that can afford to treat their workers better without having an adverse effect on the costs of their products or services.

I know many small businesses owners who are uncomfortable with the idea of raising the federal minimum wage--especially in difficult economic times; but these business--many of them family operations with a small employment base with flexible working conditions--wouldn't need to concern themselves with legislation designed to work on behalf of employees for large corporations. The businesses that fight the hardest against unions and do everything they can to denigrate the proud tradition of organized labor in this country belong to the aforementioned industries that can afford to treat and pay their employees better but opt not to in the interest of padding already inflated profits--to say nothing of disproportionately large compensation packages for their executives.

Companies like Walmart, Home Depot, Loews, Office Depot, Starbucks, even Whole Foods--all Fortune 500 companies--are among the loudest detractors of organized labor and all can afford to pay and treat their employees better but choose not to.

My father was born in San Fernando, California in 1924 but only a few years later his family returned to Spain just in time for the civil war. At tender age of 11, after his father died, Dad had to quit going to school and start working to support his family. He experienced working conditions first-hand that weren't far removed from those of slave-labor as he grew up in Spain under the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. It was only the knowledge that he was an American citizen that gave Dad the courage and motivation to overcome a great deal of personal, physical and economic adversity to join the U.S. Navy during World War II so that he could just have a chance to return home to the States and bring his family back with him.

Dad wasn't a man with a particularly sophisticated skill set like that of an electrician, auto worker or meat packer. Nor did he have the skills to work in management but with only a rudimentary education and a strong work ethic he became a simple grocer working in the produce sections of grocery stores in the Los Angeles area for 34 years.

Go to your local grocery store today and talk to an employee in their teens or twenties and ask them if they can imagine working in that particular job for the majority of their adult life. I've asked them and their response is usually to roll their eyes or laugh because they know that they can't raise a family or buy a house with the wages they earn in that job. When I tell them that my dad did the same job that they did for 34 years, their jaws drop and they ask, "How could he stand it?" My answer: He belonged to a union and that union looked out for him and his co-workers to make sure that they got a wage that they could live on. A wage that they could raise a family with. A wage that allowed them to become home owners. And there's no reason why people working those same jobs today shouldn't be given the same respect, benefits and living wages that men like my dad earned for his honest labor.

It's because of Dad's experience with his union, an organization that looked out for his best interests--and by extension those of his family--that I support workers rights in this country . One's level of education or limited skill set should not preclude one's ability to earn a living wage for honest work that will enable them to raise a family and own a home.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Looking around from the center

There's something to be said for the point of view held by those of us in the political middle. There's balance here. A perspective that cannot be appreciated by those who have chosen to ally themselves with a particular faction--especially those who take extreme positions within said faction.

From time to time, I've referred to something called the Nolan chart. It's a diagram attributed to David Nolan--founder of the modern Libertarian movement--in which the traditional "left/right" political spectrum is replaced by a two-dimensional plane with four corners representing four distinct areas of political and economic thought. Occupying two opposing corners are the traditional schools of American politics, "Liberalism" and "Conservatism." The other two corners are occupied by "Libertarianism" and "Statism"--though the "Statism" corner has been labeled at various times as "Populism," "Communism," "Fascism," "Socialism," "Collectivism" and many other "isms" that have been imagined to be the polar opposites of "Libertarianism."

Nolan believed that "Conservatism" focussed too much of its attention on economic freedom at the expense of personal liberty and that "Liberalism" had the opposite problem, focussing its energy on personal freedom while suffocating free enterprise. Libertarianism claims to value both economic and personal freedom. Its philosophical opponent, "Statism," valued neither, suppressing both personal and economic liberty for the sake of the "State," "Collective," "Populous," "Community," etc.

My position on the Nolan chart is in the center (though not the exact center). I value individual liberties and can appreciate the benefits that can be enjoyed within a free market system. One might conclude from this statement that I lean toward libertarianism in my political philosophy and one wouldn't be entirely wrong.

However, when it comes to economics, I do not believe in laissez-faire capitalism--a completely unfettered, unregulated economy. I'm too familiar with human nature not to expect people to do everything they can to satisfy their natural sense of greed up to and including taking unfair advantage of other people. To borrow a phrase from a libertarian friend, the government's role in the economy is not to run it but to establish the rules under which it operates. Well, rules need to be enforced--policed, if you will--and this is often referred to as "regulation." I have no problem with this. What I do have a problem with is the notion that there is something inherently noble about the free market system. That free enterprise can be counted on to solve all of our problems and police itself when unethical practices erupt. This is a foolish notion. The free market can be counted on to do only one thing and that is what's most profitable. And what's profitable isn't always what's right. Take a look at what the free market has done to healthcare in this country. People who purchased health insurance in good faith are having their coverage dropped when they try to make a claim. Why? It's not because the insurance executives want to hurt or even kill people, it's because claims hurt profits. The insurance company executives are simply looking out for the interests of their shareholders. That's their job. And as long as the rules that are in place allow them to drop coverage when a claim is made or deny it based on preexisting conditions, they will continue to do it. Healthcare legislation that is currently festering in Congress addresses these very issues because insurance company executives have made it abundantly clear that as long as the law doesn't require them to behave differently, they will continue to act in the interests of shareholders at the expense of the health--and sometimes the lives--of their customers.

Now, while this causes the blood of ethical people to boil, I want to go on the record as saying that this does not mean that the free market is "bad" or "evil." The free market is amoral. But it does lend itself to working in the interest of those whose goal in life is the acquisition of wealth and often, as has clearly been demonstrated time and time again, people will go right to the edge of the law in their quest for more and more wealth and they will always make sure that their actions are "technically legal." Some laissez-faire capitalists like to claim that it is regulation that causes unethical behavior because it presents a temptation to do what is wrong and to skirt those laws. I find that to be a ridiculous notion. Especially when one considers that laissez-faire capitalism is a purely academic concept. For as long as economies have existed, there has always been some form of regulation to keep it in check with the values of the people participating in it.

While I wouldn't call myself a statist, I don't think that government is inherently evil. The vilification of government is quite popular these days with the "tea party" movement. But, like the free market, governments are neither good nor evil, they are amoral--Merely a collection of laws and buildings. The people who run government, however, are imbued with a moral compass, whether that compass is pointing due north or running on an ethically challenged tangent determines what those people in government do with the public's trust. I don't automatically assume that government can't do anything right but in reality there are some things that the government manages without much complaint from the people. The government maintains our roads and highways. It insures that our water supply is clean and flowing. I enjoy making use of public parks and libraries. I rest easy at night knowing that there are police officers and firemen on watch to keep the peace and ensure our safety. Whenever I see these Tea Partiers on television complaining about the government, all I can think of are the government services that they probably take for granted. It's important to note that many of the services that I referred to are provided by state, county and municipal governments and a lot of vilification is being directed at the Federal government. Well, I agree that the federal government is bloated and wasteful and there are a lot of things about it that need to be fixed, privatized or dissolved but, again, I do not share the sentiment that it is inherently evil, nor do I think that those who run it are evil, regardless of which major political party is "in control." They might be wasteful, incompetent, feckless, even stupid... but not evil. And the federal government isn't entirely useless, we've just kept demanding more and more from it than it was ever intended to provide and to add insult to injury, we've all been too selfish and unwilling to pay for it. And since our government is a reflection of those who give it power then when we point at it and complain, ultimately we're pointing at ourselves. Regardless of whether or not we voted for the latest gaggle of idiots in office is irrelevant, they represent everyone, not just those who voted for them and, as such, we all need to accept the responsibility, dare I say, collectively.

One thing that I've noticed in the political discourse that I've observed and participated in is that those with the most extreme views seem either unwilling or unable to even comprehend the possibility that other factions have their good points. Extreme "conservatives" are convinced that nothing good can come from "liberalism." Extreme "liberals" look at "conservatism" and see nothing but the absolute worst in humanity. "Libertarian" extremists seem to view any form of government action as a direct attack on their personal freedom and might even consider complete anarchy as preferable to even the most rudimentary government body. Extremists are so far removed from the plane that they can't get a clear picture of just what it is they say they are against. And being unable to see clearly, they are left only with their imaginations which leaves them little more to think about the other factions than their worst possible and most paranoid nightmares.

That's why I like it here in the middle. I have a better view of all the political philosophies than I otherwise would, were I to ally myself with any one of them. I don't concern myself with the extremists in the corners--they're often completely out of touch even with their own parties--because the people that I can connect with are those who occupy sections that approach the center. It is from this perspective that I can see the value--the good points--of each of these political philosophies. The straight-talk and vehement commitment to personal liberty held by libertarianism. The practicality, caution and sobriety of genuine Conservatism (not to be confused with the paranoid, self-serving, power hungry "neoconservatism" embraced by the GOP). The optimism, sense of working for the public good and championing the downtrodden that Liberalism USED to stand for. And yes, respecting the need for a participatory government that serves the people and protects our rights.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

On taxes and the redistribution of wealth

Some people take an extremist view that taxation is tantamount to stealing.

This view is often justified by statements like the following: "Right now very little of anything the government spends our money on represents anything that I want."

In a participatory government, in particular a Democratic-Republic like ours, the government is a proxy of the people. As such, the government we elect represents all of us and the wants of the minority are deferred to the will of the majority but we are collectively responsible for the effects of actions taken by our government.

Whenever I hear political demagogues talking about "taking our country back," I cringe. Take it back from whom? Ourselves? Such rhetoric is little more than political sour grapes over the result of a lost election.

Another extremist view is that taxation takes money from those who work for their income and gives it to those who don't--the Robin Hood hypothesis. "Those who don't" are often defined as people on "welfare." And "welfare" is itself defined as free money for poor people who refuse to work for a living.

Speaking as an individual who was, at one time, a welfare recipient, I can assure you that for most recipients welfare is NOT a lifestyle choice. Americans are, by nature, a very proud people. The idea of turning to ANYONE for help--their family, their church or their government--is a difficult, painful and often embarrassing decision to make precisely because of the stigma associated with seeking assistance in a culture that prides itself on what is fast becoming the mythos of the "self-made man or woman."

Are there people who take unfair advantage of welfare--or Churches or their families? Yes, but they do not represent the majority of those seeking help. Often it is those that need help the most who are shamed out of seeking it. This results in increased rates of poverty, homelessness and other burdens on society that aren't as easily quantifiable as the budgets for welfare programs.

Our society also has programs for Americans with disabilities. Individuals who are unable to maintain employment because of debilitating conditions, often physical but also psychological and emotional. Are there people who take unfair advantage of those programs? Yes, but--again--they do not represent the majority of those participating in such programs. A stigma also surrounds applying for disability programs, especially for those with chronic mental illness and personality disorders simply because those individuals--while physically able-bodied--are unable to maintain steady employment because of psychological diagnoses that can only be determined by mental health professionals but aren't always obvious by simply looking at them.

Taxation in our country does not automatically take from the rich and give to the poor. If that were the case then your average tax payer would have a guaranteed tax refund that they wouldn't have to itemize or defend. This is simply not the case. There are in fact a great number of flaming bureaucratic hoops that need to be jumped through in order to qualify for government assistance.

The reality of the government's practices in the redistribution of wealth actually takes an approach that is the polar opposite of the Robin Hood hypothesis as we witnessed in October of 2008 when the financial markets were "threatened by imminent collapse" and tax money collected from the majority of Americans--the "poor" or "certainly not rich"--and was given to major American banks under the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) without so much as a memo indicating where it should be spent. The financial market didn't exactly collapse but the lending pump--which the bailout was supposed to prime--didn't exactly start flowing with credit either. But executives of those banks--many of them the architects of the financial crisis itself--received multi-million dollar bonuses to the genuine outrage of the American public and imitative political theater of politicians on the Hill, many of whom are on the take for campaign contributions from lobbyists for the financial industry. Most of that bail-out money has in fact been repaid--a detail many "conservative" critics of TARP fail to acknowledge--but the government robs from the poor and gives to the rich in other ways that no one seems to know about or at least care to acknowledge. I'm speaking of course about CORPORATE welfare. Farm subsidies, payment on government contracts long since cancelled, no-bid contracts to private corporations in war zones.

Another way that the poor are placed at a disadvantage in relation to the rich--if not specifically "robbed" by them--is simply through the many loopholes that exist within our tax laws.

Ben Stein once wrote, "...the rich pay a lot of taxes as a total percentage of taxes collected, but they don’t pay a lot of taxes as a percentage of what they can afford to pay, or as a percentage of what the government needs to close the deficit gap."

In the same article, he quotes Warren Buffett, "There’s class warfare... but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” To illustrate this, Buffett compared his income and taxes to that of his staff and "It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office. Further, in conversation it came up that Mr. Buffett doesn’t use any tax planning at all. He just pays as the Internal Revenue Code requires. 'How can this be fair?' he asked of how little he pays relative to his employees. 'How can this be right?'”

Many "conservatives" don't hide their secular worship of wealthy people like Buffett, holding them aloft as if wealth is a direct measure of wisdom, justice and one's favor in the eyes of God because they are so "blessed" with their wealth and yet there he is, one of the wealthiest men in the world pointing out the lack of fairness that his class takes advantage of over the rest of us.

Many argue that a flat tax would be "more fair" but as long as big businesses can afford to hire legions of lobbyists to influence legislation that favors Wall Street and the wealthy, even the most "fair" flat tax would be riddled with loopholes to allow the most wealthy to keep doing what they're doing now to avoid paying their "fair" share under a so-called flat tax.

I don't think a flat tax is necessarily the answer--at least not one that's flat across the board. What needs to happen first is to close a lot of loopholes that allow the wealthiest people to get away with paying less than their middle-class counterparts. For example, if a corporate executive waives a $1 million salary--taxed at 35%--in favor of $1 million worth of company stock that he sells 13 months later, instead of taxing him only 15% in capital gains, it should be taxed at 35% since he accepted that stock in exchange for his services to the company. That stock is his income thus it should be taxed as income.

Many "conservatives" like to argue that taxation is a disincentive to work and they often cite a quotation attributed to Ronald Reagan to defend their argument:

“The more government takes in taxes, the less incentive people have to work. What coalminer or assembly-line worker jumps at the offer of overtime when he knows Uncle Sam is going to take 60 percent or more of his extra pay?” -Ronald Reagan, circa 1982

Let's think about that for a minute. If the 40% left over is more than what he's already making before taxes, he just might jump at it.

A coal miner in 1982 made around $13/hour. Assuming a 40-hour week, a couple weeks vacation and a handful of sick days, that coal miner might be bringing home $25,000 in 1982 which put him in a tax bracket of 32%. The top tax bracket that year was 50% and applied only to people making more than $55,300, more than TWICE the average income of a coal miner.

In 2008, a coal miner might take home $43,000 a year. Again, around the middle of the tax bracket paying 25%. The top bracket is only 35% and it doesn't kick in for an individual until he or she clears $372,950, over EIGHT TIMES as much as our coal miner makes.

My point is, coal miners and assembly-line workers--i.e. average Americans--don't have to worry about paying 60% in federal income taxes. It never ceases to amaze me how the extremely wealthy can convince the middle-class and the poor to feel sorry for them because they live in a higher tax bracket and yet the "super-rich" pay less as a percentage of their total income because they find all sorts of interesting loopholes to keep from paying it.

Let's put the Robin Hood myth to rest once and for all: The redistribution of wealth doesn't come from taxation, it occurs prior to it. If we were to bring back the highest brackets of the 80s (45%), 70s (70%) or 50s (90%), more wealth would be made available to more people because those higher brackets would encourage the wealthiest people NOT to acquire so much wealth to begin with (seriously, there comes a point where simply having more money doesn't really affect one's quality of life or one's ability to take care of one's family). Let's say the top bracket alone was raised from 35% to 45% on individuals making $372,951 or more. The bracket right below that is 33% for $171,551-$372,950. A difference of just $1 in a person's salary can mean a 12% difference in their rate of taxation. That's a difference of nearly $45,000 in taxes one wouldn't have to pay by simply earning $1 less in income. So where does it go? Back into the company one works at, enabling said company to grow, create more jobs and offer higher wages for lower earners who would still be taxed but in lower brackets, ensuring that they retain their buying power--lower earners spend more of their income than the wealthy.

The "Greatest Generation" paid over 90% in their top bracket for decades and did so with very little complaining. The 'tax as disincentive' argument is baseless. Reagan's analogy fails for reasons illustrated above. If Rush Limbaugh had to pay 75% of his income in taxes, he'd still be worth $100 Million. Sean Hannity, $25 Million. Glenn Beck $12.5 Million. Bill O'Reilly: $2.5 Million. Would a higher tax bracket really take away the incentive these men have to work?

I'm all for tax relief, but only for those people who actually spend money and deserve a break and that's the poor and the middle-class--though lately it's getting harder and harder to distinguish the two. My solution is to take the lower brackets and flatten them to 15% across the board for anyone making $0-$9.9 Million--more accurately, $9,999,999.

You might ask, Why so much? Why that particular number?

Let's face facts, a million bucks isn't what it used to be and small business owners, the people who employ most of the work-force, are middle-class Americans--many of them paper millionaires who can do a lot more good for the economy with a tax break than Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg who all do just fine no matter what shape the tax code takes.

Why all of those nines? Because middle-class millionaires are defined as anyone worth more than $1 million but less than $10 Million and $10 Million is where I draw the line between the "Rich" and the "Super-Rich."

As for people making $10 million and up? Tax the hell out of them. What you get won't be a disincentive to work but a disincentive to earn more than they need. Incentivizing people to earn a lower salary ($9.9 million a year hardly puts anyone in the poorhouse) keeps money out of any one person's bank account and invests it into business, job creation, the economy.

Question Time

What is your political philosophy?

I'm a political centrist on the Nolan chart. I'm neither a statist nor fully libertarian in my philosophy. The terms "conservative" and "liberal" have lost nearly all meaning to me in modern political discourse since most people who apply those labels to themselves can't reconcile their rhetoric with the very meanings of those words. I have given up on political parties as I fear that George Washington's warnings about the dangers of political factions have become a reality.

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty." -George Washington, 1796

How do you interpret the Constitution?

While I have read the document, I have not gone through it line by line interpreting every article, section and clause. As matters of Constitutional importance come up, I do feel it is important to turn to history and understand the context in which the Constitution was originally written. There are some clauses that stand up better to the tests of time than others, such as the Bill of Rights. There are also sections of the Constitution that have been completely ignored in public discourse and in the passage of federal laws, such as Public Law 62-5 which limits the number of Congressmen in the House of Representatives to a completely arbitrary 435. The United State Constitution makes it clear that "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand..." With a population greater than 300 Million souls, the United States House of Representatives should be seating over 10,000 Congressmen. Utah alone should be represented by 91 delegates to the House instead of only three. This law, nearly 100 years old, has undermined that document to near-catastrophic ends and yet has been largely unchallenged. The only legal way to change the number of Representatives in the House is through a Constitutional amendment but Congress itself has bypassed this process illegally and hardly anyone is even aware of it.

The question of whether or not the Constitution is a "living" document I think is answered by the fact that it includes within its articles, instructions on how it can be changed.

What are your views on what constitutes a just war?

War should always be avoided and used only as a last resort in response to a direct attack on our nation by another nation-state and in response to a similar attack on an ally as defined by a specific international treaty such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Unfortunately, since World War Two, this definition has rarely been met in our conflicts with other countries. The two most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been a mixed bag. I feel that the war in Iraq is illegal and we should never have entered into it. I felt that there was legal justification for the war in Afghanistan, which was entered into with support from NATO under Article 5 of that treaty. Unfortunately, the political priorities of the previous administration crippled our efforts in Afghanistan because the war that the Bush administration really wanted was with Iraq which had more to do, in my view, with a vendetta against Saddam Hussein by George W. Bush than any supposed threat posed to the U.S. by the nation of Iraq. At this point I think that our military presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq should come to an end as quickly as possible. The situation in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan may be better suited to more clandestine tactics and operations carried out by special forces.

How do you feel about United States foreign policy?

The last eight and a half years have largely been an embarrassment. The United States has only recently begun to regain its moral standing in the world after the horrendous actions and consequences of the previous administration's "cowboy" diplomacy. While I do not support a policy of political and economic isolationism by any means, I do think the time has long past when we should have started to rethink our priorities as a nation both militarily and economically.

Do we need military bases in foreign nations anymore? How much of the deterrence afforded us by land-based military facilities can just as effectively be maintained through the use of aircraft carrier battle groups? I think this question should be asked on a case by case basis in regard to our foreign military presence. Some military facilities may be more easily replaced than others by Naval forces keeping our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines out of harms way until absolutely necessary.

On the economic front, our nation has allowed itself to be spoiled by a combination of unfettered greed and the desire to get "the best deal possible" on goods and services and the global economy has been more than willing to accommodate us. Unfortunately, our pursuit of these deals has lead to the decimation, to put it mildly, of our own economy and our ability as a nation to produce goods and services for ourselves. Again, I do not advocate an isolationist view but something must be done for our nation to regain its economic independence for the good of our population. Moving away from a model that relies on consumption for 70% of our economy would be a good start. This can be accomplished through a number of steps like tariffs on imported goods, incentivizing the retention of domestic production capacity and investing heavily in raising our education standards.

What do you consider to be the natural rights of man concerning life, liberty and property?

I think no other document than the Bill of Rights can more eloquently answer that question.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Anglə "On Jason's 'Climate Tax' Pledge"

I posted this in May of '09 but it clearly demonstrates what a sheep Chaffetz is.

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Wholly owned subsidiaries of the insurance industry."

I don't care for the current healthcare legislation as it's written but I'm not going to lose any sleep if it passes. Despite Weiner's passionate declaration that the GOP is "a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry," don't be fooled into thinking that the Democratic Party isn't just as compromised. The healthcare industry is playing both sides against the middle. They're bribing the GOP to kill reform at the same time that they're bribing the Democrats to make reform work in their favor.

Ms. Maddow is correct in her analysis that for-profit insurance companies can't be blamed for doing everything they can to turn a profit. That's how for-profit insurance works. I think that the profit motive should be removed from healthcare altogether. Legislation should be passed requiring health insurance companies to operate strictly as non-profit corporations, mutual companies and/or co-ops to ensure that premiums are used to treat sick people and not line the pockets or stock portfolios of insurance executives.