Sunday, January 5, 2014

Conservatives Fail at Facts: Part Infinity

This picture showed up in my facebook feed today as one of my friends shared it.  First off, this is probably fake.  But in a way that is incidental to the more relevant fact that over 200,000 people 'like' this and it's pernicious overtones of conformity. 





















In case you can't read it [sic]:

THE BEST EVER LAYOFF LETTER !
No wonder this guy is the boss, he is sharp! You can't be any fairer than this guy...

Dear Employees:
As the CEO of this organization, I have resigned myself to the fact that Barrack Obama is our President and that our taxes and government fees will increase in a BIG way.  To compensate for these increases, our prices would have to increase by about 10%.  But, since we cannot increase our prices right now due to the dismal state of the economy, we will have to lay off sixty of our employees instead.  This has really been bothering me since I believe we are all family here and I didn't know how to choose who would have to go.  So, this is what I did.  I walked through our parking lots and found
sixty 'Obama' bumper stickers on our employees' cars and have decided these folks will be the ones to let go.  I can't think of a more fair way to approach this problem.  They voted for change... So I gave it to them.
I will see the rest of our at the annual company picnic." 

 Let's take this point by point:

"...our taxes and government fees will increase in a BIG way."

Corporate tax rates are at historical lows; there really isn't any way around this.  In fact, according to the Wall St. Journal, the effective corporate tax rate in 2011 fell to 12.1%, which is the lowest since before World War I.  

See that spike in 1987? Reagan must have been a socialist!

In addition, Obama, in the run-up to the 'fiscal-cliff', supported reducing the top marginal corporate tax rate of 35% to 25%.  That didn't happen, so the top marginal corporate tax rate is still at 35% today.  In other words: nothing has changed.

So, it should be very obvious that taxes for this guy's company shouldn't have increased in a "BIG way".  Maybe his accounting department is just incompetent.

"...due to the dismal state of the economy"

It would be nice to know what metric he is using to make this assertion, but assuming this letter was fairly recent to the May 2013 facebook posting, we can make several statements that don't bear out this claim:

Since Obama took office, the S&P 500 more than doubled:

..and the jobless rate has fallen to the lowest point in 5 years.  Oh and let's not forget who was in charge in the run-up to and during the great real-estate and financial bubble of 2008 that put the economy in such lousy shape when Obama took office.

So again, I'm very interested in knowing what about the economy is "dismal".  And what a jerk for not even backing up this claim, which is the basis for firing 60 people.

"I walked through our parking lots and found sixty 'Obama' bumper stickers on our employees' cars and have decided these folks will be the ones to let go."

How capricious and vindictive.  If you really have to shed staff, it might be wise to keep the top performers and let go of those with questionable performance. I can hear conservatives now snarkily quipping how Obama supporters would obviously be the lowest performers.  But this "CEO" doesn't even pretend to be making rational and fair business decisions; this is his convenient way of punishing those with an ideology that differs from his. 

And that is the real point of what disturbs me about this - so many people apparently think an acceptable way to deal with others with different ideas is to purge them.  This seems to be a common thread for conservatives these days given their antipathy to non-white voters, women,  and non-Christians.  Essentially, whether real or not, this purported layoff letter in many ways represents a modern conservatives utopia where everyone looks and thinks like them so that their insularity isn't questioned. Quite an utopia. 


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Random Bible Verse of the Day: Genesis 1:1

It's been a while since I did a Random Bible Verse of the Day post, and now I'm feeling shameful and unfit for a loving, benevolent Dog.  Let's get back on the crazy train of popular Bible verses to see what pablum the masses are lapping up these days.

Hmm well we've hit the #1 verse (John 3:16), #2 (Jeremiah 29:11),  and #3 (Romans 8:28).  I'm going to skip #4 because its so banal and move right to #5.   Genesis 1 verse 1, come on down!
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Really, this is the fifth most popular verse?  I mean in one sense, given that it is the very first of the Bible its kinda weird that it isn't higher.  But the content itself is so lacking in content that you have to wonder what is it about this verse that is so popular.

But of course, we all know why this is such a popular verse.  It's a comforting reminder to those that don't like the implications of the fact of evolution that their god is behind everything.  In a way, its purpose is to affirm the existence of a god and that this god has agency.  And a god with agency is critical to the attendant myths of original sin and Jesus the savior of human sin.

This notion is the very foundation of any religion.  And not even for religion, but most if not all cultures have some creation story as a means of attempting to explain its place in the cosmos.  Its no surprise that such stories focus on humans, but perhaps the ubiquitous obsession with where we fit in the universe is, even in those cultures that deny it, a tacit recognition of our insignificance relative to the vastness of space.

In my former life as a moderate Christian, I never really thought much or drew much inspiration from this verse.  So I wonder, if on a day-to-day basis, believers feel the need to re-read this to comfort themselves...

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Stupidity of a Syria Strike

The Obama Administration really wants to bomb Syria, ostensibly for its use of chemical weapons against its own people.  And of course a good number of Congress people want to bomb Syria as well for reasons ranging from loyalty to Obama on the left to good old fashioned imperialism on the right.

And then there are the citizens that see this issue as a proxy for conservatives versus liberals, rather than a policy decision that should be weight by the costs and benefits.
“I thought he didn’t like Democrats. Why is he all of a sudden backing the president?” she said.
Of course, such partisanship is endemic to Obama era conservatives.  Obamacare being a carbon copy of Romney care doesn't make a bit of difference to them, only their ability to identify with the politician personally.

But this is getting away from the purpose of this post.  So despite the public being overwhelmingly against bombing Syria, Congress may still vote in favor of it.  And even if it doesn't pass Congress, Obama may still go forward with it.

And the Congressional Budget Office isn't even capable of forecasting what a strike would cost with so few details as to the scope of the attack even though Secretary of State Kerry has said it would be "unbelievably small and limited".  Thanks for the details.  Though according to defense and national security sources for the DailyMail, a 90-day engagement could cost between $5-21 billion.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Juicy, Oblivious Irony

The continued exposure of the US Security State and the blatant Constitutional subversion as revealed by Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald highlights not only the abuses explicitly exposed, but also the hypocrisy of Official Washington from mainstream 'journalists' to the Obama administration.

One facet of that hypocrisy smacked me in the face this morning while reading a Yahoo news article when I read this passage [emphasis added]:
The government's forensic investigation is wrestling with Snowden's apparent ability to defeat safeguards established to monitor and deter people looking at information without proper permission, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the sensitive developments publicly.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Road to Equality is Paved with Millions of Pebbles of Support

Last week's Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and DOMA were positive in their ultimate effect on marriage equality (despite the narrowness of each and the problematic reasoning that got the positive result in the case of Prop 8).  And despite the narrowness of each ruling, it is clear that public opinion of marriage equality is moving in the right direction and at a rapid pace.  

A 2013 poll by ABC News and the Washington Post found that 58% of Americans support legalization of same sex marriage.  In 2004 public support was at 32%.  That's pretty dramatic change in public opinion and there's no reason to believe it won't continue to rise.  And while there might be an upper limit to public support in the short term, at some point public support will reach a 'critical mass' where opposing and/or not supporting marriage equality will be politically problematic.  Its possible that we we are in the process of crossing that fuzzy threshold.  The Supreme Court rulings will likely serve to further legitimize the idea of marriage equality (to say nothing of the fact that the court basically punted and that the Supreme Court should hardly be seen as a beacon of justice, ironically enough).

But this brings me to the point of this post, which I have actually been meaning to write since the court started hearing arguments back in March on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases.  This is when the facebook meme of posting the graphic to the right went viral.  It was rather refreshing to see so many 'friends'  expressing support for equality.  

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Don't Debate, It's Impolite!

I happen to follow the Progressive Secular Humanist Examiner page on Facebook, which I would encourage any like-minded people to do so as well.  A couple days ago I saw a post from them, however, that is the kind of thing that really bugs me.  Here it is:


Fortunately the commenters realize the bullshit this post is spewing.

F that.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Nature isn't Patentable!

Quikkie post to ease back into the groove...

Yesterday the Supreme Court unanimously (!) ruled that human genes can't be patented.

Previously some corporation had patented the BRCA1 gene that is used to determine the risk of breast cancer.  No, not the method of determining whether this at risk gene was present, but the very DNA itself.

Sound bizarre?  Good, you are thinking human being. I'm not a patent lawyer, but that seems to me like patenting hunter green (not the name, but the actual light frequency that produces 'hunter green').  I wonder if they could hypothetically sue individuals for creating that gene since it is property of a corporation?

Anyway, this was preventing other companies from developing their own methods of detecting cancer. And its kind of ironic that patents are supposed to encourage competition, but prior to the Supreme Court ruling, such a patent was undeniably stifling competition, essentially creating a de-facto monopoly.

Now the cost of getting tested for risk of breast cancer should drop and more people's lives will be saved.

Yay for such a strong decision by an other wise split court.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Please Remember That Funding Terrorists is Illegal...mmmk?

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

When I saw the Salon.com headline NFL under scrutiny for “gay checking" - NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told the NFL's Roger Goodell to investigate, I was initially glad to hear that the NFL was getting some real pressure on this.  After all, what the hell does one's sexual orientation have to do with whether or not you can run fast or catch a ball?  It doesn't.  But NFL recruiters are concerned with gays because hyper-pseudo/faux-maculinity (of which homophobia is an integral ingredient), is a defining characteristic of football culture.

But as I read on, I felt nagged by something that I couldn't quite put my finger on.  The AG writing to Commissioner Goodell:
We ask that the league immediately issue a statement that any form of discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation by league teams or players against potential recruits or players constitutes a violation of state, local and, in some cases, contractor law and will not be tolerated.
There it is.  We ask.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Vitamin C Megadosing & the Nobel Disease

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

Anyone that has ever been to one knows that the gym locker room is a curious place as one often over-hears others' conversations (not to mention the strange predilection for some guys to feel compelled to walk around in nothing but a t-shirt).  

Last week I overheard two strangers talking about the cold season and how its especially bad this year.  Then one of them offered a solution: megadosing on vitamin C.  Oh boy, here we go; some dumbass is going to start offering some dubious medical advice to a stranger (at least I assume they're strangers to each other as one guy asked the others name when they departed).  His protocol was to basically take about 30,000mg of vitamin C over the course of the workday.  First you start out taking 500mg; an hour later, 1,000; another hour 2,000; and keep doubling until you get up to 16,000mg.

Sounds brilliant, right?

My favorite part was when he said "Yea man, its intense.  The thing is, you just gotta get through the nonstop diarrhea for about a day and you'll be good." 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Penn Sate and Steubenville, OH - Not So Different

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

The fallout from the Sandusky scandal and the ensuing Penn State coverup continues.  Pennsylvania's Governor, Tom Corbett, has filed suit against the NCAA claiming that the sanctions it levied against Penn State were "arbitrary and capricious" and that the "punishments threaten to have a devastating, long-lasting, and irreparable effect on the commonwealth, its citizens, and the economy."

This is a very curious lawsuit in my unprofessional opinion since as far as I can tell, the economic impact resulting from the sanctions is the primary complaint and basis for the lawsuit.  This is curious because that is precisely what the intended impact was.  Sanctions without any detrimental effects would fail to adequately punish the institution that so blatantly covered up child rape in service of its football team, not to mention that it would fail to serve as a meaningful deterrence to other would-be obfuscatory institutions.

Additionally, it seem that detrimental effects to the economy shouldn't be a sufficient standard for a state to claim a liability.  For starters, there should be consideration to the ethical underpinnings of what is causing the detrimental economic effects.  For example, if an economy was highly dependent on slave labor, would the eradication of slave labor be cause to award damages to the state that had previously benefited from such a practice?  I think most people would agree that that would not be sufficient.  Detrimental economic impacts directly resulting from the actions of an organization should not be the sole basis for awarding damages.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bill Gates Didn't Say That

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

Over the past few days I've seen the revival of a quote attributed to Bill Gates giving a commencement speech to a high school.  It seems that this trope has been going around the intertubes for over a decade, originally as part of an email chain.  Here's what's been making the rounds on Facebook (including the pic):




Bill Gates recently gave a Commencement speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Pragmatism and Hope: Wingnuts Losing their Nuts?

 Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com


With President Obama's re-election, the hard wall of reality has met the Republican party ideology head on as GOP leaders are rethinking their strategy in alienating huge constituencies (hispanics, women, the middle class) in order to satisfy what essentially amounts to the old white guy voting block.  It is quite striking to see a party, for which the immediate reaction to Obama's first term election was to make a hard right in order to oppose all items on the White House agenda, even if it had been on the GOP agenda in some form (cap and trade vis a vis global warming or healthcare reform), moderate even a little on core issues.  With the rise of the Tea Party in the mid-term elections, this apparent shift in the wake of Obama's re-election is not what I had expected.

For example, take Sean Hannity, Fox News arch-conservative pundit, who has done a virtual 180 on the issue of immigration.  Within two days of Obama's re-election, Hannity said "...if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, it’s first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done, whatever little penalties you want to put in there, if you want, and it’s done."

Even Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who has lived in constant fear of the Tea Party wing over the last two years has taken a softer stance on immigration saying, "A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."

Today, former Bush adviser Linda Hughes laid the smack down hard on old white guys pontificating on rape:
[I]f another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue. The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments like the suggestion of ‘legitimate rape.’”
Sing it sister.

And yesterday, influential conservative pundit Bill Kristol went on "Fox News Sunday" and said something that is anathema to the Grover Norquist era-GOP: raise taxes on the rich.
It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires … It really won’t, I don’t think. I don’t really understand why Republicans don’t take Obama’s offer
and
Really? The Republican Party is going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic and half of whom live in Hollywood and are hostile?
 We will see how this plays out when the new Congress convenes in January.  Will this break from party orthodoxy have a ripple effect on other pragmatic party leaders that are truly interested in solving the debt crisis, or will Grover Norquist and the Tea Party caucus assert its clout and kill a debt solution that includes tax increases to for the wealthy?

One of the provisions of the Bush tax cuts that will expire if Congress does nothing by the end of the year, is the capital gains tax rate of 15%.  If Congress extends the tax cuts, the long-term capital gains tax will increase to 20%.

One of the arguments for a lower long-term capital gains tax compared to regular income is that it discourages 'locking-in' gains.  That is, if you don't get any benefit from holding on to an asset for a while, you'll be more likely to sell it when it has appreciated in value to the point where the upside risk is lower than the downside risk (i.e. you believe it will fall in value before it rises value).  For example, if you buy one share of ABC stock at $10 and it runs up to $100 in the next three months, you will probably be inclined to sell and lock-in your $90 profit.  Yet, you will taxed at the short-term capital gains rate, which is whatever rate your normal income is taxed at.  So it may be more than twice the long-term rate.  In the example above, other investors are probably thinking of selling as well.  So if everyone starts selling to lock-in their gains, without the incentive of a lower tax rate for holding, there may be increased volatility in the market. (Of course, in this example, even with the lower tax rate, you may well be inclined to take the higher tax rate anyway.)

Assuming that reduction in volatility is a desirable outcome (and I think it generally is, although I can think of some counter-arguments), I agree with the principle of providing an incentive to hold assets for some pre-defined duration; one year seems reasonable.


Source: Congressional Research Service
But I think a better way to approach this would be to provide a dis-incentive to short term trading of assets that would be subject to capital gains tax.  Of course, the current structure was proposed and passed by the wealthy for the wealthy.  Why?  Because a) those in power are much wealthier than their constituents and b) wealthy people benefit most from favorable long-term capital gains treatment.  But why should the m(b)illionaire's source of income be taxed at a lower rate than the rest of us?

Another common trope to justify a lower long-term capital gains tax rate is that it leads to increased productivity, saving and investment.  This is the central tenant of supply-side economics, that when the rich do well, the mana trickles down to the rest of us in the form of higher employment.  Yet, the data does not support this hypothesis.  Instead, in a 2012 report, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service concluded that
The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie.
Source: Congressional Research Service
So if lower taxes for the uber-wealthy doesn't have a measurable effect on economic output, and given the fiscal crisis facing the nation, the solution to maintaining the incentive to hold assets seems apparent.  Tax long-term capital gains at the same rate as normal income (which, btw, also needs to be reformed), and tax short-term capital gains at a higher rate to discourage speculative investments that lack a the fundamental financial merits to be held past one year.

But while that may discourage speculative investments by the wealthy, a flat, say, 50% for all income brackets would stunt the growth of those in the bottom brackets that may otherwise be on trajectory to enter higher brackets.  And yet, we want to maintain the dis-incentive to hold assets for the short term. Perhaps one way to deal with this is to peg the dis-incentive to the normal income rate.  That is, if your marginal tax rate is 20% and the dis-incentive is 50%, the tax rate on your short-term gains would be .2*1.5 = .3.  You would pay 30% on short-term gains.  Alternatively, if your marginal tax rate is 40%, a 50% increase would set your short-term tax rate at 60%.

I have little hope that my proposal or anything close to it would be adopted any time soon, but the shift in rhetoric and policy stance by conservative leaders gives me some hope that incremental progress is achievable.






Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Keep Your Politics to Yourself: A Guide to Facebook

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

You know what kills me?  When people put up political talk on Facebook.  Seriously, what makes you think I'm interested in your political views?  Here's a clue.  I'm NOT.  I don't care if you're the goddamned President of the Fucking Universe, I don't want to hear about your politics on Facebook.  Go hold a rally somewhere in he middle of central bumblefuck with all your glossy-eyed acolytes and get your rocks off.

But not on Facebook.  Facebook is for faces...as in pictures.  And don't get all cute with me and start posting pictures that express a political opinion.

Listen.  I know you think you have important things to talk about like 'global warming' or 'traditional marriage', but the truth is, I couldn't give a shit less if the ocean swallows up Florida or if gay marriage makes you want to get a divorce.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Endorsement (if not a vote) for Jill Stein

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com 

I know, the title is bound to annoy people, but I'm still not sure who I will be voting for.  Of course, it won't be Romney, but I have been swayed over the past week or so to the possibility of voting for Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.

But that slightly mischaracterizes the choice.  A vote for Jill Stein isn't really a vote for "Jill Stein".  Its a protest vote.  Its a message to the democratic party that progressives aren't buying the President's assault on civil liberties, his passiveness on climate change, his indifference to the growing economic inequalities, or his slightly less bad foreign policy of endless war that may or may not involve attacking Iran ('may not' isn't an option for Romney).  Its a vote for the long haul and a tacit acceptance that the situation may worsen considerably in the interim.  In fact, for some, that may be precisely the strategy: to hope for an epic backlash once the effects of the GOP's regressive policies begin to be felt.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Debate Reform: iPads

Cross posted at AtheistHobos.com

[Update: Gawker has a story about debate conspiracy theories of covert communications, including one about Romney pulling out a cheat-sheet.  My only objection to this is that it should be specifically sanctioned and both candidates should be able to communicate with their staffs. Bring it out in the open and level the playing field.]

I didn't watch the Presidential Debate Wednesday night, but from the accounts I've read, Romney lied his ass off, and Obama sat there and took it, failing to challenge or counter Romney's claims.

We've kind of seen this disregard for facts in GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan's convention speech.  It was so blatantly false that former Bush political strategist, Michael Dowd, was compelled to comment that "At some point, the truth should matter".