Zera's Blog

A Citizen's View from Main Street

Mitt Romney Makes ‘Redistribution’ Argument, Bolstered by Fox News, Conservative Media


Redistribution is a fact of life. The tax code, by it’s very nature, redistributes wealth. It has to, in order “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States“.

The real question is: What kind of redistribution works best for the country?

The republicans have embraced upward redistribution, a strategy that is decimating the middle class. In a consumption economy, this is fiscal suicide.

The Democrats embrace a strategy that funnels more money back into the economy, empowering demand and driving sustainable growth. This is a strategy that built the United States into the superpower it is today.

This image depicts the Territorial acquisition...

This image depicts the Territorial acquisitions of the United States, such as the Thirteen Colonies, the Louisiana Purchase, British and Spanish Cession, and so on. Possible Errors There is a concern that this map could have errors. For discussion, please see the talk page. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a strategy that predates either modern political party. From the Louisiana Purchase to the Alaska Purchase, tax money has been used for expansion from the very beginning. Land given to farmers and ranchers, schools and land grant colleges.

And the transcontinental railroad, much of it wasted by corporate greed.

The G.I. Bill helped create a golden age of prosperity, even as the rich were heavily taxed.

State agricultural colleges and their extension services made farmers more productive. Hydroelectric dams, the interstate highway system, NASA, DARPA…all created opportunities or entire new segments of the economy.

We would not be who we are if not for the kind of government spending that republicans are opposed to.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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September 20, 2012 Posted by | Direction, Governance | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The overlooked part of AZ-SB1070


When the law first hit the news, I took a look at it to see just what was going on in it. What I found were a few things that never made it into the news.

No commercial value, I suppose.

There are what I consider to be serious flaws in the law that go beyond the partisan problems, though they are certainly partisan in origin. Flaws that are just plain bad law.

A person who is a legal resident of this state may bring an action in superior court to challenge any official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state that adopts or implements a policy or practice that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law. If there is a judicial finding that an entity has violated this section, the court shall order that the entity pay a civil penalty of not less than one thousand dollars and not more than five thousand dollars for each day that the policy has remained in effect after the filing of an action pursuant to this subsection.
11-1051(G)

Public employees and officials are given a degree of immunity (“Governmental Tort Immunity“) from prosecution so they can do their jobs in good faith without constantly worrying about lawsuits and liabilities. It protects the ability of government to function, and taxpayers from potentially large legal and penalty costs.

I see three problems with this section:

  1. This gives standing for unaffected third parties to sue “any official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state”. It gives any angry vigilante the right to sue any political subdivision, whether he/she lives in the jurisdiction of that subdivision or not. Whether or not he/she is personally harmed or merely irritated.
  2. At a minimum, every lawsuit would cost the taxpayers in legal expenses. If convicted, the taxpayers would be on the hook for the civil penalties. Further, the penalties begin at the time of accusation, not conviction. This complicates things because there is no clear understanding of what might be penalized until and unless there is a conviction. By the nature of the law, this is more likely to be an error of omission rather than commission – which means that inaction, or insufficient action, is what would be penalized. How do you quantify an non-event?

    A bill of attainder (also known as an act of attainder or writ of attainder) is an act of a legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without benefit of a judicial trial.

    Not quite, but not far off.

  3. Revoking governmental tort immunity cannot help but distort how governmental units function. The threat of potential lawsuits would require new and costly insurance. A case under this law could take months to litigate, even without appeals. It could financially ruin a small unit of government like a small town police department that can’t keep police on the streets in the first place, even if the lawsuit failed.

The costs may be recovered if the lawsuit fails:

The court may award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to any person or any official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state that prevails by an adjudication on the merits in a proceeding brought pursuant to this section.
11-1051(I)

This has problems of its own:
a) The costs are up-front. A small unit of government could go bankrupt defending itself before it could recover the costs of a bad lawsuit.

b) Recovery depends on the ability of the accuser to pay. It could take months, years, or forever.

c) Recovery depends on “an adjudication on the merits”. That sounds to me like the taxpayers would eat the legal costs of cases resolved by negotiation or on technical grounds.

This overrides:

Continue reading

June 28, 2012 Posted by | Legislation, Strangelove | , , , | Leave a comment

Becoming Aware of Civic Unawareness


education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The United States was founded on the premise that the people could rule themselves without theocracy or aristocracy. Government of, by, and for the masses – int the rich and powerful. It is called The Great Experiment, and its success depends on a well-educated electorate. Sufficiently educated to understand not only  the system that we have, but why we have it and how it works. And how it doesn’t.

The preparation of the voter so that he might express his opinion by means of the ballot, thus insuring political liberty, was one of the main goals of Jefferson’s plan for education which asserted four basic principles:

  • that democracy cannot long exist without enlightenment.
  • that it cannot function without wise and honest officials.
  • that talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition.
  • that the children of the poor must be thus educated at common expense.

http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/winter96/jefferson.html

Jefferson believed the elementary school was more important than the university in the plan because, as he said, it was “safer to have the whole people respectfully enlightened than a few in a high state of science and many in ignorance as in Europe” (as cited in Peterson, 1960, p. 241). He had six objectives for primary education to bring about this enlightenment and which highlighted what he hoped would make every person into a productive and informed voter:

  • To give every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business;
  • To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing;
  • To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;
  • To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;
  • To know his rights; to exercize with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;
  • And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.

The state of Jeffersonian enlightenment in the realm of civic responsibility and the promotion of a healthy democracy is deplorable. The country is full of jingoists and poser patriots, passionate to defend what they do not understand – and are therefore easily mislead.

We have been encouraged to value wealth over community, and the accumulation of wealth over patriotism. Citizenship has ceased to be a code of honor and is now reduced to simply a legal status.

The problem of civic illiteracy is not something new, but it is finally getting periodic bursts of recognition.

Asserting that democracy is not inherited at birth but rather learned in school, O’Connor founded the educational nonprofit group iCivics in 2009 to secure America’s governance and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor seeks to reverse America’s decline in civics

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Plans are being developed to “address the problem”. I say that with a hint of sarcasm because they are still treating it as a mere lesson to be learned. I think the solution will need to stress participation as much as scholarship.

May 29, 2012 Posted by | Education, Elections, Governance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

South Carolina Voter ID Law: Justice Department Blocks Controversial Legislation


"Certificate of Election of John Jay as G...

John Jay election certificate

At the beginning of our country, all you had to do to prove you were a citizen was to swear to it. Word of honor was enough. Neither the states nor the central government recorded or tracked births. Then it required an oath. Then a court. And a witness. Then it went too far, with intelligen­ce tests and poll taxes. Rules and laws were used to manipulate elections instead of protecting our suffrage rights. In the past year, we have seen a major return to such voter suppressio­n.

Protecting rights is a trade-off. Rights are not absolute, or free. In Federalist 2, John Jay said:

“Nothing is more certain than the indispensa­ble necessity of government­, and it is equally undeniable­, that whenever and however it is instituted­, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.”

The goal is to protect the most rights while ceding the least. Given the scarcity of fraud and the large number of disenfranc­hised, the voter ID laws are the embodiment of bad government­.

Promoted as a way to protect the integrity of the election process, they accomplish the opposite. They are designed and intended to disenfranchise voters who are not likely to vote for conservatives.

In short, voter ID laws create the very problem they profess to fix – the manipulation of elections – and they do it deliberately. And with extreme partisanship.

December 24, 2011 Posted by | Elections, Legislation, Voter ID | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eric Cantor Admits That Fair Tax Act Is Based On A Fraud


Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia

Image via Wikipedia

The FAA shut down over House Republicans’ insistence on including anti-union provisions in the agency’s re-authorization bill and the airlines are poised to collect $1.3 billion or more of extra profits in forgone taxes. With the FAA unable to collect the $28.6 million a day in aviation taxes it usually takes in, some of the […]

This has become a most interesting situation.

CANTOR: And what airlines have done is have stepped in and said, well, if we’re not going to pay that money to the federal government, we’re going to keep it towards our own bottom line. And I guess that’s what business does.

This is not just an admission that businesses are predatory, but that conservatives approve of it. But where does the Fair Tax Act come in? Because the Fair Tax is based partly on the premise that 23% of the price of a product is due to business taxes, and if the business is relieved of that tax burden it will reduce the price 23%. Cantor has just admitted that businesses won’t do that, because keeping the money (or as much as they can get away with) is how business works.

via Eric Cantor Defends Airlines Pocketing Taxes During FAA Shutdown: ‘That’s What Business Does’.

September 3, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, GOP | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Great Flabbergasting”: Rachel Maddow’s (Surprising) Blind Spot



“disingenu­ous” is the word I have been looking for. Yet I remain flabbergas­ted at the disingenuo­usness of the republican party. It shows utter contempt for the democratic process, the foundation of our national identity.

“A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation­.”
~ James Freeman Clarke, Sermon

By their own admission, republican­s have been focused on the next election since the beginning of Obama44. This has directly resulted in bad policy and bad government­.

It is hard to believe that conservati­ves care about this country. They seem to believe in something that few people would recognize as America, or want to live in.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

August 23, 2011 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

112th Congress HR2417 – Better Use of Light Bulbs Act


This Bill has already failed, but it illustrates how the priorities of the republicans stray from the priorities of the country. It also serves as a commentary on the technical competence of knee-jerk legislation.

The Bill:

[Congressional Bills 112th Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
[H.R. 2417 Introduced in House (IH)]
112th CONGRESS
  1st Session
                                H. R. 2417
To repeal certain amendments to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act 
  with respect to lighting energy efficiency, and for other purposes.
_______________________________________________________________________
                    IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
                              July 6, 2011
Mr. Barton of Texas (for himself, Mr. Akin, Mr. McClintock, Mr. Flores, 
   Mr. Hultgren, Mr. Turner, Mr. Wolf, Mrs. Lummis, Mrs. Capito, Mr. 
Scalise, Mr. McKinley, Mr. Burgess, Mrs. Blackburn, Mr. Goodlatte, Mr. 
 Poe of Texas, and Ms. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas) introduced the 
   following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and 
                                Commerce
_______________________________________________________________________
                                 A BILL
To repeal certain amendments to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act 
  with respect to lighting energy efficiency, and for other purposes.
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the 
United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
    This Act may be cited as the “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act”.
SEC. 2. LIGHTING ENERGY EFFICIENCY.
    (a) In General.–Sections 321 and 322 of the Energy Independence 
and Security Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-140) are repealed.
    (b) Application.–The Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 
6201 et seq.) shall be applied and administered as if sections 321 and 
322 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (and the 
amendments made by those sections) had not been enacted.
SEC. 3. MERCURY-CONTAINING LIGHTING.
    No Federal, State, or local requirement or standard regarding 
energy efficient lighting shall be effective to the extent that the 
requirement or standard can be satisfied only by installing or using 
lamps containing mercury.
SEC. 4. STATE REGULATION.
    No State or local regulation, or revision thereof, concerning the 
energy efficiency or energy use of medium screw base general service 
incandescent lamps shall be effective.
SEC. 5. DEFINITIONS.
    In this Act, the terms “general service incandescent lamp”, 
“lamp”, and “medium screw base” have the meanings given those terms 
pursuant to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6201 et 
seq.), as applied and administered pursuant to section 2.
                                 <all>

Analysis

Section 1:

A cute use of an acronym, but it does not really apply to the Bill. The Bill is about choice, not best practices.
HR91 and S395 use the same name.

Section 2:

A sweeping statement that a section of law is repealed does not actually modify the law. Rather, it complicates the law with conditional statements. This bill creates the very same burdensome bureaucratic rat’s nest legal code that everyone wants to simplify and streamline. The final modifications of 42 U.S.C. Chapter 77 (a.k.a. 42 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.) are not specified here, but left vague and open to interpretation. This bill represents the legislative laziness that creates problems and drives up legal costs.
What they should have written might have looked more like:
 (a) In General.–Sections 321 and 322 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-140) are repealed.
 (b) Application.–(precise instructions on how to unwind 110-140, Sec. 321 and Sec. 322)
 (c) Rulemaking.–(precise instructions on how to unwind rules required by or based on 110-140, Sec. 321 and Sec. 322)
 (d) Expenditures.–(precise instructions on how to remove funding for programs enacted by 110-140, Sec. 321 and Sec. 322)

Section 3:

This section is curious for a few reasons:
  1. With the development of full-spectrum LED lights, this section is rendered useless. LED lights can meet any requirement of standard that florescent lights could. The exception would be for ballast requirements that have nothing to do with bulb choice.
  2. Supposed protection from mercury in the bulbs (less than a thermometer’s worth) would be more than offset by the extra coal ash generated. Coal ash contains mercury, some of which goes into the air. Light bulbs containing mercury must be recycled, they cannot be put in the trash. The whole mercury-in-landfill argument is false.
  3. It explicitly prohibits state or local government from setting a higher standard. Setting a minimum national standard is one thing, preventing the states from improving on it is another thing entirely.

Section 4:

Another mindless anti-state/local sovereignty restriction. Interestingly, it may also be anti-innovation.
“There’s a massive misperception that incandescents are going away quickly,” said Chris Calwell, a researcher with Ecos Consulting who studies the bulb market. “There have been more incandescent innovations in the last three years than in the last two decades.”
and
“Due to the 2007 federal energy bill that phases out inefficient incandescent light bulbs beginning in 2012, we are finally seeing a race” to develop more efficient ones, said Noah Horowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Constitutional Authority Statement:

By Mr. BARTON of Texas:
H.R. 2417.
Congress has the power to enact this legislation pursuant to the following:
This bill is enacted pursuant to the power granted to Congress under Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution.
U. S. Const., Art I, Sec. 8, clause 3:
[The Congress shall have Power] “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;”
I might add:
U. S. Const., Art I, Sec. 8, clause 18:
[The Congress shall have Power] “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”
Seems to be an incomplete Authority without the power to write the laws that exercise the allotted powers.
I would also like to note that this Bill was written under the assertion that the Federal government lacks the authority to write the law it is attempting to repeal, while using the same allegedly non-existent Constitutional Authority for this Bill.
It has been estimated that this Bill would directly cost consumers $6-12B in additional energy costs in order to feed anti-government sentiments. The indirect costs of additional air pollution and energy-dependence have not been calculated, to my knowledge. This is a very high cost for no purpose other than partisan politician gain.
{UPDATE} The republicans seem to have found a way to temporarily defund enforcement.
Oooopsy. GOP attack on light-bulb efficiency irks manufacturers

July 18, 2011 Posted by | Legislation, Strangelove | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Koch Brothers, Grover Norquist Split On Ethanol Subsidies


I would like to throttle back the ethanol subsidies, though not eliminate them completely­. But not for the reasons the Koch brothers give.

The campaign to promote corn ethanol drove up the price of corn, which benefited the corn farmers. It also encouraged new businesses and job creation, as well as diluting our dependence on oil for transportation.

But at a price…

As demand for corn skyrocketed, the price also rose. Because the price went up, more fields were planted with corn. More corn fields meant less fields devoted to other grains, which led to low supply and high prices for other grains. That raised the price of foods derived from grains and food animals fed on grains.

In short, it drove up the price of food. Worldwide.

What would I do?

1) Cap corn ethanol at 10% mixture.
2) Keep subsidies for small “blenders”­, but greatly reduce or eliminate subsidies for the rest. (research would be required to determine a proper threshold.) Betraying the small startups would hurt the government­’s ability to lead the economy into the future instead of letting it decline in the past.
3) Bring oil speculatio­n back into regulated markets, where they belong. I would tax windfall profits of oil speculator­s by at least 50% – their pursuit of profits severely hurts the economy.
3a) If (3) is not feasible, then bypass the market entirely by having the federal government buy directly from the producer on contract and sell at a slight profit to the domestic market. This is probably the best option for the country (and the world).

And the Koch brothers? They are the evil behind the high price of oil speculation. They’ll survive:
http://thi­nkprogress­.org/repor­t/koch-oil­-speculati­on/
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

June 16, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Economics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gainful-Employment Rule – What Do We Think


Barnard College, 1913 (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Gainful-Employment Rule: What Do We Think?.

“Programs must fail for three years out of four before they are completely cut off from student loan or Pell Grant money. No programs will be ruled ineligible until 2015.”

I find it interesting that conservatives who want government to be run like a business reject the idea of evaluating a supplier based on return-on-investment criteria.

I don’t think there is a business in the world that would contract with a third-party supplier with such a parasitic and ineffective business model as some of these for-profit institutions embrace. Nor would I expect any business to be so lenient with failure.

“”We’re focusing on improving (for-profit programs) rather than closing them. Students would be better off if their programs were stronger rather than closed down,” said James Kvaal, a DOE official, during a conference call with reporters.”

Just the opposite of the approach republicans take toward public schools.

When it comes to funneling taxpayer money to private businesses, republicans are clearly selective about running government like a business.

“The controversy over the “gainful employment” rules highlights an important reality — mainly that the federal government is actively creating rules that will prevent many people from obtaining skilled employment or improving their job status.

The whole issue of higher education regulation is a debate worth having. There is widespread opinion that the federal government has once again overstepped its bounds. That’s why I’m looking forward to taking a close look at how we can improve higher education without selectively imposing draconian regulations that hamper innovation and job creation while reducing student choices.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.

The catch is that for-profit colleges are the only ones deliberately bilking the taxpayers and impoverishing their victims. You have to concentrate regulations on the bad actors in order to minimize unintended consequences.

And the truth is that we cannot afford the economic consequences of predatory for-profit colleges. The high cost of an honest college education already limits the disposable income of college graduates to a degree that weakens the economy. The problem becomes enormously worse when the education is worthless. The Congresswoman merely seeks to complicate and muddy the waters.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | Education, Regulation | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Primary Election 2012: Conservative Fears Of Permanent Welfare State May Create Wild Ride



More lies and fear-monge­ring. What a surprise.

Worried about democracy? Check out the flood of voter disenfranc­hisement laws written by republican­s under the banner of “voter ID”. Check out their economic assault on possible liberals – like unions, the poor, and seniors. Their goal is to eliminate the Democrats as a viable alternativ­e by crippling their funding sources.

But the worst may be the “Emergency Financial Manager” laws. If you really want to know who threatens democracy, ask the residents of Benton Harbor Michigan, who have already had their elected officials removed from power.

The republican assault on democracy is far more organized, deliberate­, and immediate than any hypothetic­al future loss.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

May 12, 2011 Posted by | Campaign Finance, Direction, Elections, Voter ID | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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