Congressional Industrial Complex

April 29th, 2013

Here’s an example of crazy spending:

Army says no to more tanks, but Congress insists

“Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.

But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.””

I can’t even call this the “military industrial complex“, because the military doesn’t want it.  This is more like the congressional industrial complex.

The problem isn’t that more tanks will be bad.  I’m sure that they’re amazing tanks.  The problem is that spending $436M on tanks that will serve no useful purpose and will require a lot of maintenance and upgrades means that we’re not spending $436M on something else.  Like education, or infrastructure, or paying down the debt.  And this is only just one very visible example of this.  There are countless other examples that I’m sure result in much larger aggregate spending.

This is why we need to get money out of politics as much as possible.

It’s easy to see why Jim Jordan and Rob Portman support building more tanks, because the tanks are built in their district.  They’re representing their voters.  But I suspect that a large part of the other 266 votes needed for this are won by General Dynamics spending $11M in lobbying last year.  An $11M investment for a $436M contract – not bad ROI.  Add to that all the lobbying and campaign contributions from the legion of more than 560 subcontractors, and you can understand why this passed.

There is an argument that we need to keep General Dynamics and these subcontractors in business so that we maintain the tooling for building these tanks, just in case.  There is a kind of naive logic to it.  But it assumes that the only way to maintain the tooling is to use it, and that clearly isn’t true.  Tools last longer when you don’t use them, and maintaining tools that you don’t use is much cheaper than maintaining tools that you’re using.  Putting them in mothballs would keep the tools ready at a much lower cost.  And we’re only talking about the tools that are unique to building tanks.  Most of the tools are general purpose, like lathes and drill presses.

The real problem there is that these businesses have become over-dependent on building tanks.  We do need to pay them something to maintain their tooling, but they need to develop other lines of businesses and more flexible skill sets so that they aren’t so dependent.  But they’re like addicts, and we keep giving them their fix.

Now imagine the situation if we eliminated campaign contributions, and gave congressmen a stipend and required them to stay out of industry for five years after leaving office.  In other words, imagine greatly reducing the allure of lobbyist money.

Suddenly General Dynamics and those 560 subcontractors are only as strong as the voters in their businesses.  Representatives in districts like Jim Jordan and Rob Portman will still have a lot of voters to pay attention to, but in other districts with smaller number of voters dependent on building tanks, representatives will be more willing to consider the other ways that $436M can be used.

In other words, imagine a system that is run by the voters, for the voters, based on the number of people who support something.

Capital Gains

January 21st, 2012

I’ve been thinking about capital gains lately.

When you sell something for more that you bought it for, the profit is capital gains.  It puts money in your pocket, so it’s also income, and we tax it.  But we tax it differently than income from work you did, like making something or doing something for someone else.  In fact we tax it about half as much.

Why?  Well the theory is that by taxing it less we encourage people to buy things that they think they can sell at a profit later on.  And the theory is that those things probably include a lot of investments in companies, and that investment helps those companies grow and give people jobs, and that grows the economy as a whole, and we all benefit.  The hope is that investment in new companies – venture capital – is especially good for the economy.

That’s the theory anyway.  But if you didn’t buy stocks or bonds, or invest in companies, then that investment might not have created any jobs.  Buying gold at $1400 and selling it for $1700 doesn’t employ anybody, but we still give you a huge tax break.  Even if you did buy stocks or bonds, the chances are very good that the companies didn’t get a dime of investment from that.  They did once, when the stocks and bonds were first sold, but when you bought them they had probably been trading for years.  And there’s a decent chance that the stocks or bonds that you bought weren’t in US companies and didn’t help the US economy anyway.  So even though you’re profiting from capital gains that didn’t help the economy, we still give you a huge tax break.

Those tax breaks aren’t free.  We could all wish for a Neverland where there were no taxes at all, but the fact is that we want to have police, and fire, and defense, and roads, etc., and all of that costs money.  So people who get that tax break pay less of their income, meaning that people who made something or did something for someone else have to pay more of their income.  We penalize people who work, in order to encourage people who buy and sell things.  Is it worth it?  Do we really want to discourage people from working?

Maybe, if it grows the economy for everyone enough.  But a very large percentage of capital gains does not grow the US economy.  It grows the economies of other countries, or it doesn’t grow anyone’s economies, depending on what it was that you bought and sold.

But what would happen if we actually limited the capital gains tax break to things that will help the economy?  Wouldn’t that focus that investment better?  Things like:

  • Investment in new US-based companies
  • Investment in new issues of stocks and bonds from US companies

And since that would increase the tax rate for a lot of capital gains income, let’s lower the tax on people who make things or provide services.  You know, the people who actually are the economy.  I think that we want to encourage those people too.

Still here, continued

May 24th, 2011

So now he’s saying “Oops, I forgot to carry the one. It’s really October 21st.

Like someone said, stupidity is an endless revenue generator. Any business plan that is built around harnessing stupidity should be funded.

This is all sadly predictable. Let’s see, if we demonize schools, teachers, education, and learning in general, and instead we lionize blind faith, mythology, and being uneducated, what will happen? “That nerd has a bunch of numbers that say that this is a bad idea, but my gut tells me we should do it.” For example, the leaders of that church in Florida who burned Korans – they boast of the fact that they are educated in neither the Koran or the Bible, and instead say “Our faith is simple”, as if that’s a good thing. I’m pretty sure that in their mind, being uneducated is a good thing in general. The numbers of people who believed this doomsday preacher’s prediction tell me that they aren’t the only ones.

Is civilization going forward, or backward? Is man evolving, or devolving? Are we not men?

Still here …

May 21st, 2011

Well despite all the warnings from Christians, everyone seems to still be here. I can really only draw two conclusions from this:

  1. Everyone on earth, including all the Ministers, Pastors, whatever, are way too sinful to qualify for rapturing
  2. This is yet another example of how delusional these people are

Between the two, I’d definitely prefer the sinful theory. Sinful people are just human, but delusional people are dangerous.

Donald Trump

April 30th, 2011

Don’t be fooled, Donald Trump is a stalking horse.

I’m reasonably sure that in his ego-maniacal mind he’s a real candidate, but then so was Ralph Nader.  The difference is that the Republican party and its propaganda wing and the are treating Trump like he’s a serious candidate.  The reason they’re doing that is because he’s their stalking horse.  He’s there to make the other crazies look sane by comparison.  Next to Trump, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, or Mike Huckabee look like frickin Adalai Stevenson.

About halfway through the primaries, once they’re ready to anoint a front-runner, you’ll stop hearing anything about Donald Trump whether he pulls out of the race or not.  If he’s gotten any traction in the early primaries, look for a more extreme candidate from the Republicans.  If he falls flat, look for someone who appears to be more mainstream.  His results will help them gauge the mood of their base, and his wackiness will legitimize the other wackos.  That’s how The Donald fits into their plans.

Digplanet

April 29th, 2011

You might have noticed that I’ve been using a lot of links to Digplanet in my blog posts.  There’s a reason for that – I’m the main guy behind the creation of Digplanet, and it’s at a stage where I’m pretty happy with letting the world see it.  Check it out, browse around, search, and try the tabs.  Oh, and you can jump into Digparty from there too.

Royal Wedding

April 29th, 2011

I’m sorry, but I can’t look at the hubbub over the royal wedding without thinking about the injustice of the wealth and privilege behind it.  Yes, I’m sure that personally they’re both very nice people, probably, how would I know really, but UK taxpayers are spending something like $30,000,000 on their wedding at the same time that they’re laying off thousands of middle class employees.  Why?  These are already both extremely wealthy people – he’s the Duke of Frickin’ Cambridge for crissakes – don’t you think that they could pay for their own damn wedding?  What’s wrong with these people?  Maybe take the fabulousness down a notch if times are tight.  I mean, the UK taxpayers already float these people about $42,000,000 a year, not counting the security they also provide.  Or how about this – a nice simple ceremony and donate the money to charity?  You know, there are actually some people in the UK suggesting that maybe they could replace the monarchy with a democratically elected head of state – what a barbarous idea!  Clearly it could never work.

Are Corporations and Unions Equivalent?

April 28th, 2011

In discussions about money and politics in America, corporations and unions are often mentioned in the same breath.  Many people seem to feel that corporations are largely conservative or Republican supporters, and unions are assumed to be liberal or Democratic supporters.  So the reason for mentioning them in the same breath is to suggest that each party’s supporters should be treated the same when it comes to granting or denying the right to participate in elections.  Republicans get corporate support, Democrats get union support, and everything is fair.  Right?

For the moment, let’s ignore the question of whether corporations really do support conservatives and/or Republicans, and vice versa for unions.  That’s a whole discussion by itself.  Instead, let’s look at the two players here, corporations and unions, from the perspective of Democracy.  Who are they?  Should they be allowed to participate in elections in a Democracy?

Corporations are businesses that are owned by both businesses and people who buy shares.  The money that they pay for their shares goes to help finance the business.  Their only goal is profit for the shareholders.  Shareholders are not personally liable for the debts of the corporation, which has led to corporations being treated under the law as “individuals” who pay their own taxes.  Recently, corporations have also been granted the right of unlimited financial participation in US elections, although they have not yet been granted the right to vote (see Citizens United v US).

One key point here is that shareholders can be US citizens, or they can be foreign citizens, foreign businesses, or even foreign governments, and in practice the percentage of US corporations that include foreign shareholders is very high.

So when we granted corporations the right of unlimited financial participation in US elections, we were also granting foreign citizens, foreign businesses, or even foreign governments unlimited financial participation in US elections.  Interesting idea.

What about unions?  Unions are groups of people who form their union in order to work together for their own benefit.  There are employee unions, consumer unions, sports unions, taxpayer unions, student unions, and even credit unions.  Unions are run democratically, voting for officers and major decisions.  Union members are all human beings, and nearly all members of US unions are US citizens.  Unions were also granted the right of unlimited financial participation in US elections, but in some sense since their members are citizens they already had that right.

The word Democracy means the rule of the people, and the US Constitution begins “We The People” for a reason.  Financial participation in elections is a substantial and important part of the democratic process.  Are groups of owners seeking profit, including foreigners (corporations), really equivalent to groups of citizens seeking mutual benefit (unions)?

Sterling Archer – Spy, Bon Vivant, Ego Maniac

April 27th, 2011

Sterling Archer is my kind of guy, in a theoretical sense.  In real world he’d probably be a real pain in the ass, but in the world of ISIS he’s brilliant.  There’s no real doubt that he’s going to be obnoxious, he’s Sterling Fricking Archer for crissakes.  There’s also no real doubt that he’s up for anything, as long as it’s sophisticated, solipsistic, and probably foolhardy.

BTW, Cheryl/Carol Tunt is really hot.  There’s just something about that girl, probably her voice.

The Universe, Creation, and God

June 27th, 2010

Like a lot of people, I’ve always wondered about how the universe was created, and where it came from.  Was it created by a God?  Was it created by an accidental quirk or fate?  Was it created by evolution?

Well awhile back an answer hit me that has stuck with me, and the more I consider it the more sense it makes to me.  So, I thought I would put my thoughts down in bits and share them with you in my ground-breaking series of diatribes (inspirational seminars and prayer meetings coming soon).

The Universe, Creation, and God – Part 1 >