Friday, December 05, 2003

Good post by Andrew Sabl on How I Became a Clark Supporter.

His basic points:
My support for Clark has not come naturally.......But I figured I owed the largely unknown candidate a chance. Being a professor, I decided to read his book, Winning Modern Wars.

1. Clark is an intensely patriotic internationalist.

2. Clark is essentially a pre-Sixties Democrat

Clark's main position on the culture wars is to find them (a) baffling and pointless and (b) a right-wing conspiracy to distract middle-class white guys from their declining living standards and an economic policy that gives everything to the wealthy.

3. Clark believes in fighting the war on terrorism -- hard, continually, smart, and to win. And he makes an excellent case that Bush's policies are guaranteed to fail at this.

4. Clark clearly casts himself as the person making policy, not one of the people debating it.

5. Clark doesn't think the personal is political.

6. Remember that the Army is Biosphere II: a piece of Sweden stuck inside a country that's becoming Brazil.

It's been said that Clark wants America to be strong at home so it can be strong abroad, not the other way around. It's true, and a bit jarring. But given Clark's clear conviction that Republican policies are undermining our economic security and the culture of opportunity that makes us so attractive abroad, this actually works better than I initially thought it could. (Look for Clark to do very well among Latinos, and immigrants generally -- or kids of immigrants, like me. He understands the American Dream, and how Republicans are running it off the rails.)

There's a reason Rove didn't return his calls.

Bottom line: Clark is a throwback, a Rip Van Winkle, a pluralistic, optimistic, Greatest Generation-style politician lost, like Howard the Duck, in a world he never made. He's further outside the mainstream political culture than can possibly be imagined. This is what makes him so striking, so hard to parse, and so clearly the best candidate.

Being a patriotic internationalist and a New Deal Democrat, looks like I'm gonna need to read that book.

Go search Google for the words "miserable failure".

Do it right now. I'll wait.

Public Nusiance slams The Nation for a hitpiece they've published about Wesley Clark by (surprise) an apologist for Milosevich.

It's worth reading to see some shoddy "journalism' get ripped to shreds.

Great quote from Richard Posner in reviewing a book on Wild Bill Douglas:
We now know that a high percentage of successful and creative people are psychologically warped and morally challenged
Worth keeping in mind.

The Continuing Decline

This quote from a recent New Republic scared the hell out of me:

The pollster is the one who has first-line responsibility for message development.

This may be hopelssly naive of me, but isn't the fucking candidate supposed to have first-line responsibility for message development? After all, he's the one running for office; he's the one who's asking us to trust him; and he's the one who's gonna be voting in Congress.

I really couldn't give a damn if pollsters are telling politicians what clothes to wear, how to cut their hair, or even where to go on vacation. It just really pisses me off that they're the ones deciding where a candidate stands on things like war in Iraq and national tax policy.

Every blogger I read could tell you where he stands on almost any important issue of the day, and anyone who can't has no fucking business running for political office.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

More Fallacies

Commenter Mark stated something else that's become "conventional wisdom":
Businesses don't pay taxes. They pass it along as they would any other cost to the consumer.

This is partly true, but mostly false. It doesn't take into account the true nature of markets. It depends on the nature of the business. A corporation that does cost+ government contracts will, indeed, just build the cost of any taxes into what it charges. A corporation selling in a competive market will not be able to do so.

It's important to remember that a business is trying to maximize profit, not sales. Businesses do not, for the most part, look at their costs and use that to determine what's the least they can sell a product for. They do the opposite. They look at the potential market, and determine what's the most they can sell a product for without crippling their market share.

It can be a quite complicated task, involving which costs are sunk, and the elasticity of the market for the product. But businesses will almost always price their products to maximize profits, even if this means losing some sales to competitors.

A record company can burn, package, and ship an additional CD for a little under a dollar. If all they cared about was maximizing sales, they'd sell their whole catalog for a dollar apiece and have much higher sales than they do now. They don't do that because they can sell the same CD for $15 and make a lot more money with lower sales. If they could raise the price on CDs to $20 without killing sales, they'd do it already without waiting for costs to increase.

In this example, we could slap a $5 tax on all CD sales and CD prices wouldn't rise anything close to $5 (they would likely rise, but not by nearly that much). The record companies would accept lower profits from absorbing a good bit of the tax rather than having to accept much lower sales (and even lower profits) from a price increase.

The important thing to remember is Businesses already charge as much as they can get away with in their particular market. A corporate tax increase would change the formula somewhat, as would any increase in costs, but it would not be passed along to consumers dollar for dollar. Some would be absorbed through lower profits, and some through attempts to lower other costs.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003


There are certain preconditions for a stable democracy:

1) There must be widespread literacy (but doesn't need to be 100%)

2) There needs to be a reasonably sized middle class, most of whom work for the private sector

3) There needs to be enough respect for political institutions and the rule of law that unfavorable election results will still be abided by

4) There needs to be a military/police presence strong enough to preserve order, but professional enough not to interfere in the political process

5) There need to be strong social conventions in place that will prevent an ethnic or religious majority from imposing its will completely onto minorities

If you'll notice, unfortunately, only #1 is met by Iraq and Afganistan isn't close to any of these standards.*

I said long before we invaded that a best case scenario in Iraq would be a relatively benign Constitutional Monarchy. If you can look at the revenge killings, assasinations, and threats of imposing religious rule by force that constitute debate in present day Iraq and see the roots of a functioning democracy, I want some of what you're smoking.

*Somebody is gonna accuse me of ethnocentristic bigotry for laying out what I see as prerequisites for a functioning democracy that don't happen to apply to every place on earth. So be it. If I'm wrong, point me to a functioning democracy (not a sham, not tribal or religious rule in disguise, nor one constantly interrupted by military coups) that doesn't meet my requirements. If I'm right, it really doesn't matter if it's ethnocentric or not.

Monday, December 01, 2003

You should check out this article by Robert Kaplan on what the world has in store for us in the near future (spoiler: bloodshed, turmoil, hatred) and this one on how we should use our temporary supremacy (and Kaplan does make the point that America's ascendancy is likely to be even briefer than that of any previous power to dominate the world).

I do wish that he'd pointed out that using influence to help big corporations make a few short term bucks is an incredibly fucking stupid use of our power. Kaplan just assumes that we're looking long term at the sort of world our kids and grandkids will inherit from us, instead of confronting the fact that many American decisions are made from the crassest of short term opportunism. He is, however, a damned good thinker on what that world will likely look like and how we can help shape it.*

You should also read James Fallows' article from last year on the sort of long term commitment rebuilding Iraq will take.

*As always, just because I recommend reading something doesn't mean I agree with everything the writer has to say. It just means that his insights are worth contemplating. I assume that anyone who's made it this far has the capacity for critical thinking.

Taking on the Fallacies

A commenter to a previous post took exception to my contention that Bush was running almost solely on Sept 11th as an issue. He also repeated a fallacy that has become "conventional wisdom", that Bush's tax cuts helped everyone who pays taxes.

Well, allow me to retort.

There are millions of American taxpayers who pay thousands of dollars each in payroll, sales, and property taxes, yet pay no "income" tax. In fact, the majority of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes. As Bush's tax cuts have affected only income taxes, inheritance taxes, and corporate taxes; they have not, in fact, benefitted everyone who pays taxes. Ignoring the fact that most people pay less in income tax than in other taxes makes it easier for the Bushies to pretend their policies benefit us all, but that doesn't make it true.

The explanation for all this is simple: payroll taxes have no deductions and no refunds. They are assessed on every dollar of earned income, from the first dollar. Someone who only makes $10,000/year will likely pay little income tax, but will pay the same percentage of income in payroll taxes as someone making $80,000/year, and a higher percentage than someone making $200,000/year (as the amount of income subject to payroll taxes in capped at just below $90,000). Of course, those who make millions a year off investments but have no earned income will pay no payroll taxes at all (and get a lower capital gains rax rate, to boot).

Sales taxes, of course, are even more regressive. The lower income a person is, the higher a percentage of that income he likely spends on stuff subject to sales tax (especially in states like my own, in which groceries and other necessities are not expempt from taxation).

Do the Bushies really think they're being honest when they tout a mean tax cut of a few hundred dollars per family as averaging in the thousands per family once they've avergaed in all the billionaires?

A flat tax cut of, say, $1000 per family (regardless of income) taken out of either income or payroll taxes would have cost far less than the Bush's plan, and would've helped far more people. Of course, they knew this going in. The intent was never to help the most people possible, it was to cut taxes for the wealthiest by any means necessary.