Taxes, politicians, and you

The short of this post is: self-governance is good, ad hoc problem-solving has unintended consequences, and we Americans have a habit of supporting people making their own decisions when we feel like we might also make a decision like that. It’s a long post. Watch it.

So, this item recently came across my FB news feed.

582332_4642142530396_1012942845_nCharley Reese’s Final column!

A very interesting column. COMPLETELY NEUTRAL.
Be sure to Read the Poem at the end..

Charley Reese’s final column for the Orlando Sentinel… He has been a journalist for 49 years. He is retiring and this is HIS LAST COLUMN.

Be sure to read the Tax List at the end.

It goes on for a while, and ends with a list of taxes. A long list of taxes. Then wraps up with this…

Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, & our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

What in the heck happened? Can you spell ‘politicians?’
I hope this goes around THE USA at least 545 times!!! YOU can help it get there!!!



And I had … thoughts. Which I shared there, but also want to make sure I don’t lose track of… so here they are.

Let’s consider only the last item on the list, worker’s compensation tax. And the claim that none of these taxes existed 100 years ago. And the claim that we had no national.

And the idea that politicians are responsible for this list of taxes.

I’m pretty happy workers compensation exists, and the roots of it extend back to the mid-19th Century. Nothing happens all at once. Ideas get brought up, iterated, and if they survive, become increasingly common. People come up with ideas, and politicians eventually use the tools of self-governance to implement them.

100 years ago, in the wake of WWI, we did, indeed have national debt (and we did in 2013, when this post in this form started making the rounds, too, though it was significantly smaller prior to the war).

100 years ago, we were in a pre-Great Depression era. The reason it was called the Great Depression is because there were regular depressions throughout the country in the 18th and 19th Centuries, in addition to recessions. After the Great Depression, though we have had recessions–some severe, we haven’t had another depression. The closest we got was the Great Recession of the GWB era ( more than 60 years later; I don’t personally blame GSB for the Great Recession, though the Republican-led Congress didn’t really do enough to reign it in quickly).

I just don’t think we can look at America in the pre-WWI era and make any meaningful comparisons to the America of the post-WWII era, in terms of the working economy. Middle class 100 years ago? How could we make meaningful comparisons to an era with cars started with hand cranks and tri-planes? How can we meaningfully compare Gilded Age prosperity to today?

And if we can, how can we possibly disentangle the way things actually are from the economic structures that today developed with, built up by generations past dealing as best they can with the problems they faced? And that is a workable definition of politics, and the people to implemented those macro-scale solutions are called politicians. I am not arguing that things cannot change going forward, but I for one would not trade today’s economy or my life station for what was going on macroeconomically 100 years ago.

And… because I wan’t clear enough (what’s the sarcasm font for that?)

Partly this is a result of ad hoc problem solving.

Here’s a societal problem–getting everyone fed. There are basically three mechanisms in America for dealing with societal problems. One is the market, which works well if giving money to businesses to implement the solution is workable (say, grocery stores for food distribution). One is private do-gooder organization, which works well if the area the organization is working in has surplus wealth and surplus time to implement a solution to market failures (say, food banks in food deserts because there isn’t enough household wealth to sustain near-by grocery stores, but enough people can access more distant ones to donate to those in need). The last one is government (say, FEMA food and bottled water when a natural disaster hits).

But suppose the societal problem is that the market just can’t afford to run telephone lines (or, in the modern context high-speed internet lines) into rural communities? The market has already failed, do-gooders run into the same large-scale constraints because you can’t donate your surplus telephone wires or fiber optic lines. So government step in to solve that narrow problem: how to pay for telephone infrastucture fairly? An obvious solution is to add a surchage (call it a tax) to the phone service in areas where economies of scale mean a market exists, and siphon a bit of that market activity into rural areas–telephone service is a public good in terms of emergency response, and it’s good for a local economy, and it’s nice to be able to call people and chat.

And so on. Each problem that government takes on because ‘the market’ or the local population cannot solve it on its own through private initiative (this is code for class and race equity) generally comes with its own special funding tag. Call it a tax, or a service fee, or a user fee. And there are a lot of them, there’s not doubt about it. But it’s a big country, with a whole lot of people, and wide, wide disparities in financial resources, time, and natural environments that make this sort of transfer fair. People can live where they want to live, and generally, as Americans we accommodate those sorts of personal choices–so people live where there’s no economical model to run phone service, or in areas prone to flooding, or where industrial disinvestment has sucked the job opportunities away from communities. And rather than saying “suck it up, and just keep moving away from places ‘we’ think it’s inconvenient to live,” we celebrate that sort of attachment to place, and then make ad hoc political decisions to tax certain things to pay for supports for that.

Which I know you already know, but it’s a quiet day where I am… so here’s all the words. 🙄

So. That was long.

Joker in Marvel’s NYC


Maybe Daredevil. Joker has to aggregate a lot of small resources (a lot a lot–project management might be his superpower), including a lot of small corruptions in order to do his thing. And he seems to like his thing to happen in an urban environment. That sort of network on that sort of scale seems to be DD’s business. And DD is good at it, which would irritate the Joker enough that the other NYC heroes might recede into background noise for him.
Just a thought from my FB life…
Image source: Lange’s Sports Connection and Comics FB Page.

These are the Voyages of the Starship Voyager


Many years ago, when I wasn’t watching much TV for reasons like–I didn’t have a TV, I was reading a lot, and I don’t know what all because it doesn’t matter, really–I missed out on a lot of Star Trek.

I did not watch the end of The Next Generation. I totally missed Deep Space 9, because I was in a Babylon 5 social group. I am unsure if I was even aware of Voyager for the first several years of its run. I did watch the premier of Enterprise, but it wasn’t fully engaging for me at the time.

Now, with Netflix streaming, I have worked my way though all the Star Trek shows (including the original series and the animated series) while washing dishes at night, and just recently started Voyager. Again. For, maybe, the fourth time. (As I write, CBS All Access has run a couple of seasons of Discovery, is about to launch Picard, and I think I heard something about maybe a third new show. Some day I’ll get up to these shows, too.)


Voyager. I never got past the premier. I thought I has seen about three pretty lousy shows. Turns out all of them I remembered were all stuffed into the premier.

But the show is better than that. After a forgivably rocky start (any new show, even a Star Trek, has to find its legs), it settled into a pretty good science fictional show. If it compares with any previous, it compares with the animated series. And it compares pretty well.

There are a lot of aliens. There are strange mysteries to solve. There are episodes where certain Star Trek-y things happen. There are episodes where these characters have problems only these characters can have.

The writers come up with good solutions (there is always technobabble, of course). And, in a nice move, they don’t linger at the end of the episodes. The problem is solved, maybe there’s a thematic button, maybe not, and the credits roll. Character development happens over the course of episodes, but we are not sucked into a soap opera degree of continuity.

If it’s a little thin, that’s OK. This show isn’t about exploring the depth of some sort of multi-decade conflict. It’s not about expanding the scope of Star Trek‘s world. It’s just about putting some ordinary Starfleet officers into extraordinary conditions, and having some adventures along the way.

It’s a good show, well done. That’s enough.

Dalí Les Dîners de Gala by Salvador Dali

What can you say about Salvador Dalí that nobody has said before?

Time’s up! But–did you know about his cookbook? 136 recipes, 12 chapters, so much food to cook (real food, not melty clocks!).

You will be busy for weeks making this food, pouring over the text and imagery, and then sharing your discoveries and creations with loved ones and co-workers.

Get this for fresh recipes for your all your potluck party contributions, or get it for the gourmand in your life!

Who Will I Vote For?

Before I get into the who, here are some why

I’ll vote for someone who I think can work the levers of government. A year ago I worked for a major party during election season, and in the early parts of that, the party primary for governor was going on. Some of the people I called would ask who they should vote for in that election, or–more subtilely–who I was voting for.

I was not going to tell anyone the answer to either of those questions. Firstly, my job was to get people out to vote, not to tell them who they should vote for. The primary was contested between three people. There were a couple of men with some very appealing-sounding ideas. Very Bernie-like. And a woman with a boatload of experience, and some ideas not as far along the progressive dimension as the men. This set of options clarified for me my current selection standards.

One of the men appeared, to me, to be an untrustworthy loon. It seemed clear to me that he couldn’t govern his way out of an open shoebox. The other guy had a little bit of experience in government, and would be working with a legislature controlled by the opposing party. I live in a state with term-limits for state legislators, which means that the legislators are ignorant about solutions until they have been in office long enough to be ineligible. The most they can know is how to use the rules of their office to do things. But the things they do is controlled by professionals within the fields they are trying to legislate about. “Professionals within the field” are also known as lobbyists. Or activists, depending on if you agree with them, I suppose.

So, which candidate to choose? The one with good ideas who can outmaneuver the opposition, rather than the one with better ideas who will be stymied at every turn.

Another factor of relevance is this: former legislators have experience with writing laws, which is good. And, in an era when we should dial back the Imperial Presidency, having the legislature performing legislative control over what the executive can do, and having an executive with some sympathy for that, is a good thing

Moving a current legislator into the executive comes with a cost, though. Congress is narrowly divided, and incumbents know the job better than new-comers (and are more likely to hold the seat, in a squinty-eyed partisan view of things).

So, what candidate to choose? It’s not a great thing to lose a current legislator, all things being equal. All things are never equal, of course, so probably “on balance” is a better way of looking at it.

So… look for a series of posts looking at the various Democratic presidential primary candidates. I’ll probably wait until, like, January of next year before making an actual selection, though.

Blue Feather. Mobile by master of balance Alexander Calder

Obviously, in November of next year, it’ll be “not-Trump.” Because that fascistic power-lusting fellow, and–possibly worse–his hangers-on, should be nowhere near the levers of power.


Just the Facts

With a little bit of opinion…

Today, I was sitting in a lobby. Waiting my turn, all cool, like, we’re each going to get our turn at the thing. So we’re each waiting our turn, and it’s going very … calmly.

Then a lady, maybe 70 years old or so, sitting at the other end of the lobby from me pulls out her phone, and, being a modern cell phone, we can all hear the ringing as it waits to connect to wherever she’s calling. Then the robovoice, which we can also all hear, identifies the name of the place where we all are. But we’re at a place with several branches, so whatever. We’re all going to get our turn. Then things go silent, but we’re all sort of watching her pushing icons on her phone. Not the office staff. They’re solving technology problems which appear to be contributing to the fact that we’re all calmly waiting our turns, rather than already being on our way. They’re pretty calm, too. I’m impressed by that.

Then the woman at the far end of the lobby hangs up.

We’re all sitting there, waiting our turn. Then we hear beeping from the office, a different beeping than previously heard. Paper shlides out of a machine, and an office person grabs it.

Silence. Calm waiting. Calm problem solving.

The woman at the far end of the waiting room calls out, “did you get my fax?”

The office workers call back, “yes, thank you!”

The problems got resolved. We all got our turn, and everyone was calm.

And an elderly woman used her up to the minute cell phone to fax her paperwork to the office about twelve feet away from where she was sitting.

Alpha and Omega: Harry Turtledove

9781980039334_400I just finished listening to the audio book edition of Alpha and Omega by Harry Turtledove. A tight, unrelenting book, masterfully handling multiple points of view. Turtledove eases you into the world of the book. This is a thriller set in Jerusalem, all right. Then, with a couple of explosive events–one literal, one archealogical–he begins bending the character’s reality, while keeping the reader believably grounded in early 21st Century realities. Turtledove succeeds in his story by fully committing to the miraculous nature of the events of the narrative, and by fully committing to the humanity of all the characters–be they secular journalists, the mashiach, Christian televangelist, or Muslim leader, among many others.

The audiobook reader, George Guidall, keeps things moving, alternating smoothly between the many POV characters, men and women, old and young, and a variety of accents while never being show-offy.

Order the audiobook or print edition from The Bookman.


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