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May 31, 2006

Taxes and Hank Paulson as Treasury Secretary

In reading the American Prospect's generally favorable take on the nomination of Hank Paulson for Treasury Secretary, a man for whom I have a lot of respect from working peripherally with him on The Nature Conservancy, I noticed this:

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2003, Paulson heralded Bush's tax cuts and said the notion that reforming dividend taxes “somehow favors the wealthy at the expense of the poor hearkens back to an earlier era when only the rich held equities.” Yet according to the Tax Policy Center, nearly three-quarters of the benefits of Bush's capital gains and dividend tax cuts will go those earning over $200,000 and nearly half to those earning more than $1 million each year.

It occurred to me that a pragmatic, progressive update to the tax code could quite reasonably include progressive taxation for unearned income (dividends, etc.) as well as for income: a lower rate on dividends for lower income people, but a higher rate for higher income people -- this would continue to support middle income investment and encourage savings while also recognizing that we shouldn't penalize work (income) compared to investment.

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Re: Whose Afraid of the Big, Bad Left?

Recently I posted an entry (Re: Centrist Democrats Urge Party Policy With Muscle) decrying some of the DLC and PPI attitude that falsely reinforces the Republican idea that there is some leftist policy movement of “non-interventionism” neo-isolationism.

Suzanne Nossel posted Whose Afraid of the Big, Bad Left? 10 Reasons Why Progressives Shouldn't Be which does a thorough debunking of this false DLC/Republican positioning, with these 10 points:

1.  Talking up a hawk-dove progressive rift plays right into conservative hand
2.  9/11 and Globalization Dealt a One-two Punch Against Isolationism
3.  Talk of isolationism today is greatly exaggerated
4.  Being anti-war doesn't mean being anti a strong defense and an aggressive foreign policy
5.  Iraq is not Vietnam
6.  The left want to win as badly as anyone
7.  They learned their lesson the hard way with Ralph Nader
8.  Isolationism is Not a Factor in Policy Circles
9.  Ordinary voters can understand the basis for anti-war, isolationist sentiment
10.  By Fearing the Left, we Risk Losing Sight of What the Left May Have Right

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May 17, 2006

Re: U.S. Political Debate Stuck in 'Mob At The Gates' Story, Real Story Is 'Rot At The Top'

[Comment posted re: Frameshop: Let's Change the Story! - U.S. Political Debate Stuck in 'Mob At The Gates' Story, Real Story Is 'Rot At The Top' 5/17/2006]

I have admired Robert Reich’s formulation for some time, and having contrasting examples for the current situation is helpful!

I think it also helps to look under the covers of why one story or the other is preferred. The Republicans like the Mob At The Gates story lines because if feeds the conservative personality type of the (Lakoffian family metaphor) “strict father”. That is, the Mob At The Gates enhances a sense of fear and enahnces the sense of a need for authoritarian control and willingness to give up many other things (fiscal responsibility, civil rights, etc.), which are Republican traits.

To have stories that effectively counter that, the stories need also to reinforce the progressive personality type that “we’re all in this together” (or in the parallel Lakoffian family metaphor terms, the “nurturant parent”). Many of your counter stories of Rot At The Top do that nicely.

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May 16, 2006

Re: Saying No to Bush's Yes Men

[Re: Saying No to Bush's Yes Men, NYT 5/16/2006]

Bush has, I think a straightforward model:

  1 - loyalty is more important than qualifications
  2 - hire “good people” (for definition, see #1) and let them do their work
  3 - only make the “big decisions” and don’t micromanage (per #2)
  4 - destroy the opposition since by definition they violate rule #1
  5 - announce decision and repeat message until done

This model depends on being a good judge of people who can replicate the model underneath them, assuming loyalty somehow leads to good people since loyalty is #1 instead of quality of the people.  But then again, he isn’t a good judge of people, so it would be foolish of him to put that first.

This has obvious limitations to the rest of us, but it does have the virtue of being internally consistent, political and authoritarian, so a good match to Bush.  I think he's unlikely to change soon.

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re: Big Brother's LIttle Brother

[Comment re: Big Brother's LIttle Brother in the Huffington Post 5/16/2006]

When George W. Bush says, “we're not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans,” he reminds me of Richard M. Nixon saying “I am not a crook.”

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Re: Science and the First Amendment

[Re: Science and the First Amendment in The Nation 5/16/2006]

Excerpts from a great piece by a science teacher about what keeps her going in the fight with the right over teaching science:

The past five years have shown me that the Constitution is valuable only insofar as people are willing to stand up for the rights it protects. Our freedoms are guaranteed only as long as ordinary, everyday people are willing to claim them--indeed, to insist on them.

... freedom of religion is the bedrock foundation of liberty in this country. If we allow certain special-interest religious groups to co-opt the public school science classroom, to use it as a vehicle for converting children to religious views their parents don't hold, if we allow them to spout outright lies about the nature and content of science, what do we really have left? If you can lie about science and get away with it, you can lie about anything.

... The lies about science are not limited to evolution. .... Lies about stem cell biology, lies about global warming, about clean air and water, lies about sexuality, about conception and contraception, lies about the effects of hurricanes on metropolitan infrastructure.

... it really is fair to forbid teachers to lie to students, to prohibit school boards from using the power of the state to convert children to other peoples' religions.

... But it turns out that standing up for freedom and democracy is a lot like doing science. You start with noble principles and do the best you can, but when you get right down to it, you spend a lot of time dodging elephant dung.

Defending the Constitution is a messy business, but is it worth it? You betcha. Our future depends on it.

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May 15, 2006

Comment re: Shareholders Must Stop Holding Their Tongues

[Comment to Shareholders Must Stop Holding Their Tongues on 2/15/2008]

Shareholders should be outraged by the amount of their profits paid to executives, such as the $400M retirement package.  That $400M is the equivalent of sacrificing a 200 person R&D lab for 20 years work that could instead by building future value. 

Another way to put it in perspective is that the $400M could provide retirement of $125,000/year for life for over 100 employees.

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May 14, 2006

Why sell off federal land?

(This is a bit dated ... I forgot to post it.]

Why is Bush proposing to sell federal forest land, since the total dollars are that substantial?  It is political.  Here in the west, in a certain group strongly advocating the end to increased public ownership of lands including at time private (land trust) ownership as “taking land out of production”.

By proposing this, he makes a graphic statement to that group that he is on their side and the uproar opposing it just shows how he's sticking up for them in the face of opposition -- it reinforces the Republican western rural base while dividing America by not developing a real solution to the conflicts in the West.

Just part of the effort to stir up the base leading into the 2006 elections.

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May 12, 2006

Re: Centrist Democrats Urge Party Policy With Muscle

Re: Centrist Democrats Urge Party Policy With Muscle:

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) strategy is clear: it is more important to create distance from the rest of the party, even if it requires making false distinctions, than to demonstrate differences from Republicans.

Rather than develop a Democratic Party consensus on national security policy, Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) (the DLC think tank) used a recent news conference to adopt Republican demonization techniques ... against their own party to create a false left-right divide they could then position themselves in the center of.  The basic idea they used was to adopt the Republican talking point that Democrats are “isolationists”, which they rechristianed “non-interventionists” (and claimed includes people like John Murtha, etc.!)

To be clear, this is not Bill Clintonian “co-opting” of the other side's issues, but rather is actually adopting the Republican talking points to denigrate and isolate their own party:

...the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank associated with the Democratic Leadership Council ... challenged Democrats to resist policies advocated by what they called the “non-interventionist left” wing of their party while vigorously challenging what they call the “neo-imperial right” viewpoint of many in the Bush administration....

PPI President Will Marshall said that Democrats should embrace internationalism .... that includes championing freedom and democracy. “We can't abandon [support for] democracy simply because the Bush administration has embraced it or misappropriated it,” he said.

Did you get that?  He implied that Democrats are abandoning freedom and democracy!

Progressives, “the left” and Democrats already champion freedom and democracy.  What they don't believe is that you can bomb countries into democracy.  There is widespread support for the American action taken in Afghanistan, but not in Iraq -- it isn't a question of “non-interventionism”, it is a question of appropriate intervention.  It doesn't require “nuance” or a “muscular” middle to understand the differences.  There is a division between the DLC and the rest of the party over accountability, not just in the past but also for on-going use of American money and lives.

What's bizarrely sad is that the DLC are so desperately studying their “triangulators” to find/create a center, that they’ve gone completely off the deep end in trying to create a false “middle” that they actually accused their own party of abandoning support for democracy!

The news conference was to promote the book (With All Our Might) that PPI are publishing, in which they claim to be

proposing a comprehensive agenda for winning the war against jihadist terrorism -- an agenda rooted in the tough-minded, internationalist tradition of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy.

Ironically (putting aside the demonization of their party), the positioning as “tough-minded” is appropriate and a good move:  What this (“tough-minded” ) is about is finding messaging to counteract the idea that liberals are “soft” on national security.  This has been the weak point for years for Democrats, partly self-imposed, partly by constant drumbeat of false positioning by the right.

Being a “tough-minded national security liberal” is the liberal counterpoint in the national security arena to Bush's “compassionate conservative” effort to blunt the image of conservatives as uncaring on social issues.  This is an important bit of work to be done in recalibrating what voters associate with the Democratic Party WRT national security.

In terms of articulating an actual national security strategy, the book is a collection of essays, and it isn't clear if it is a coherent, prioritized national security philosophy that could be communicated outside the beltway thinktank consultancy.

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May 11, 2006

Breaking the Al-gebra movement

[Circulating on the internet and email...]

At New York's Kennedy airport today, an individual, later discovered to be a public school teacher, was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set-square, a slide rule, and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney-General  Alberto Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious al-gebra movement. He is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

“Al-gebra is a fearsome cult,”  Gonzales  said.  “They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer, Isosceles, used to say, 'There are 3 sides to every triangle'.”

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, “If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes”.

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