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Insane Musings

This Has Been Bugging Me
Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Free Press
Thomas Jefferson said,
"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."
Indeed, throughout history and strictly before what we today consider Democracy, great thinkers, philosphers and statesmen were adamant on their opinions of the importance of a free press. Take this quote from Junius (I can't find an approximation of its date),
"Let it be impressed upon your minds, let it be instilled into your children, that the liberty of the press is the palladium of all the civil, political, and religious rights."
I agree. Say what you will about the press - that it's overly-liberal; that it's overly-conservative; that it's overly-commercial. But a free press and the struggle for freedom to report, discover and account has been at the heart of many a revolution and movement and has signaled great changes throughout the history of the available printed word. It causes accountability across the board. A reporter may hold a public official accountable through the press. The reporter herself may be held accountable for incorrect or unsubstantiated reporting. But an accounting is demanded and met through a free and unfettered press.

Our founding fathers understood this. They had seen and experienced repressions and controls that taught them what was non-negotiable, and freedom of the press was one of these. I am deeply troubled by the juxtaposition of a variety of seeming smaller issues occurring today. The first would be the possibility that two reporters, Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine, will be forced to reveal their sources in the Valerie Plame issue or face jail time. A reporter's source is their stock-in-trade. The Watergate scandal would have never been brought to light without confidential sources. It doesn't matter that we don't like what we find - the point is that, through the press, we can peel back the layers and find what we don't like. To compel journalists, legitimate journalists, to reveal their sources or face jail time is a deliberate attempt to erode the power of a free press.

The second issue I raised in my earlier post and it regards Jeff Gannon, the White House Correspondent to the newly-created Talon News. The real issue with that is the security breach. But an equally important issue is the question of whether or not Mr. Gannon was planted, or at least allowed access that should have been denied due to his likelihood to ask "softball" questions. Now think about the President's capaign events throughout the 2004 Presidential campaign: tightly controlled as to access, structure, who would ask questions, whether or not questions would be approved prior to their asking, etc. All carefully controlled and staged. Add to that revelations that radio talk show host Armstrong Williams acknowledges having accepted money from the Department of Education to promote "No Child Left Behind".

It seems to me that this Administration sees the free press as a nuisance, not a treasure. They miss the larger point, I think, in being hesitant to allow uncomfortable questions to be posed. There would be no Presidency or Democracy without the integral role of those who told the truth and spread it through reporting. It keeps people honest and accountable and, although there's a lot of trash out there, any one of us can check for ourselves and form our own opinions, thanks to our free press.

I don't know what worries me more - the Administration's seeming willingness to cast this aside, or the press' relative lack of outrage at these increasingly regular attempts at manipulation, control, and supression.

posted by RenaRF @ 12:34 AM, ,

Things on my mind
Friday, February 18, 2005

National Sales Tax
This is a pseudo-response to Appalachian Intellectual, who pointed me to information on a National Sales Tax. I appreciate the reference information and have skimmed it (can't profess to have read it in-depth just yet).

I understand the benefits of a national sales tax strategy, and I understand as well the poverty-level adjustment to address the regressivity of most sales taxes. My concerns are really outside of the letter of the national sales tax as laid out in the link you provided (and which I have re-linked above for anyone else who wants to check it out). First, I don't buy the (in my opinion) secondary point that the site makes that income taxes somehow lead to exports on jobs. The exporting of jobs is a complicated issue and eliminating income tax would in no way eliminate job exportation. Our trade policies (for example, a willingness to import goods from countries where human rights abuses occur in the workforce) as well as our internal wage and worked policies (unions, minimum wage, etc.) and our lack of willingness to control the cost of benefits contribute much more to the average cost of workers in the US vs. overseas. Eliminating an income tax isn't going to keep jobs in the US - if only it were that simple.

Another issue I have is with the very consumption-orientation of a national sales tax as the sole means of financing the Federal government. Understand before I say this that my educational background is economics, so I think like an economist when these issues arise. Economies are, by their nature, cyclical. We'll have cycles where consumption is high and not very price-sensitive and we'll have other cycles where consumer confidence and therefore consumption is relatively low even as prices and employment remain stable. That puts the government is a position of being dependent on the consuming (and not saving) nature of the average American - makes them almost invested in the idea. The US government should not be as volatile as the average consumer goods markets - it would create havoc and instability and would dramatically affect our ability to compete economically with other nations as well as secure credit when required in more difficult times. It's just too narrow an approach with too much exposure from my perspective. Sorry to disagree so strongly, but there's so much about it that is wrong that I can't possibly put myself behind it - though I do appreciate the opportunity to learn about it, and thank you for that.

The "Jeff Gannon" Files
Is it only me who is watching the Jeff Gannon issue with such shock? I'm stunned in some respects that the MSM hasn't grabbed ALL the details of "Jeff Gannon" more feverishly. For those who don't know, quick overview:

"Jeff Gannon" (this turned out to not be his real name) was getting daily White House press passes to attend White House press briefings. The White House exclusively vets who receives any kind of pass, permanent ("hard") or daily. The guy worked for Talon News, and online news service now known to be underwritten and directed by the founder and financier of GOP USA. Further, talon News hadn't been in existence for more than 90 hours prior to "Jeff Gannon" receiving his credentials. That's an eyebrow-raiser right there. Then "Jeff Gannon" lobs his very softball question at the President of the United States and the gloves are off - as near as I can tell the reason why it drew such attention was because it was factually incorrect. One thing leads to another and it's discovered that "Jeff Gannon" is a pseudonym, that his news organization is a GOP mouthpiece, and the humdinger: "Jeff Gannon", aka Bulldog2, was, as recently as 2003, an gay prostitute. Here's the best part: some bloggers out there have diligently searched and discovered archives of his "escort" ads and associated pictures.

I don't have an issue with his being gay or even with his having been (being?) a prostitute. I do have an issue with his having so easily made it through the credentialing process. It smacks of "shill" and at least begs the question as to whether or not the White House is seeding its briefings with "friendlies". When you add to this the other recent information about radio personalities and others being paid by the administration to advocate certain programs, you have to wonder how deeply they are manipulating the press and whether or not this is ethical. I've never much respected their willingness to speak when they feel like it and fall mute when they don't, but if they're deliberately skewing news coverage and attempting to make it look legitimate, it's a whole new level of abuse.

It will be interesting how this plays out. My prediction is that it will continue to pick up steam - blogs like Daily Kos and others have gotten hold of it and continue to turn over new information on "Jeff Gannon". The White House and others will, when they feel the time is right, vilify the liberals for persecuting "Jeff Gannon" because he is gay. They'll try to take the gay issue and (seemingly) gay advocacy for themselves in an effort to try to baffle us with bullshit and get our attention away from other more potentially costly questions - who gave this guy credentials and why? Why would you give a gay prostitute access to classified information on the Valerie Plame case? Don't lose sight of these real questions no matter how deep the BS becomes.

posted by RenaRF @ 4:37 PM, ,

The DNC my response to a fellow blogger's comments on a national sales tax
Friday, February 11, 2005

Well, it would appear that my blog has been discovered by at least one other blogger on this site and we are in a politically friendly (albeit generally oppositional) discussion on a few subjects. Check out his blog here. Since I'm using really good stuff to reply on his site, I figured I'd post over here for a bit. ;-)

The DNC and Howard Dean

I'm not in a discussion with anyone on this issue, just wanted to editorialize a bit while it was fresh on my mind. I am a Democrat and would characterize myself as a liberal (proudly). I was not, however, a Deaniac. I think he's smart, I think he's interesting, and I think people of a variety of political bents listen to him because he doesn't pull any punches. I do think, however, that he's left of my viewpoints. I was not in support of our invasion of Iraq. Having gone through the process, however, and thusly invaded, I don't think it's right on either a moral or political basis to "pull out". I never thought that message would resonate in the 2004 campaign. Most Americans recognize that a course taken cannot be
untaken. On a personal level, I don't confuse the "war effort" with the "warfighters". Persons in service to our country, following orders and potentially paying the highest price are to be revered and respected. Always. Period. They didn't choose to invade Iraq. That responsibility lies with the Administration and the Legislature. I won't go into that angle in this post - suffice it to say that summarily pulling out of Iraq, leaving a country we turned on its head with no assistance and in chaos would be repulsive and decidedly unAmerican.

Having said that, I think the choice of Howard Dean to lead the DNC is both surprising and potentially invigorating. Now is the time for Democrats to stand for
their values - to draw a line in the sand and not compromise and not abandon Democratic principles. If nothing else, Howard Dean won't shy away from a fight and Democrats are standing together as they seek to recapture, election by election, the hearts and minds of Americans. While I may disagree point by point with some of Mr. Dean's views, I can't argue that he has them and will defend them. I hope the same for his abilities when defending those of the larger Democratic party.

Tax Reform
Every time we, as a nation, start discussing "tax reform" and "tax simplification", the specter of a national sales tax arises in some quarters. I am not an advocate of excess on any front. Excessive taxes are bad. Excessive tax cuts are bad. Excessive protectionism is bad. Need I go on? I don't believe that the wealthy in this country should bear an excessive tax burden. However, I
do believe that those who benefit most, financially, from being an American owe a fair share back to the system which enabled their success. A national sales tax works in complete opposition to that basic belief in that it is wholly regressive. If, as some espouse, a national sales tax would simplify the tax code, then the logical conclusion is that there are NO exceptions to the sales tax. Use as an example two identical people. They live in the same area, are the same gender, and buy the same amount of products. They both have the same basic needs (ala Maslow's Hierarchy) - food, clothing, shelter, safety, etc. The only difference between these two individuals is their income. One makes four times as much as the other. Yet, by this example, they pay EXACTLY the same amount of taxes. The person with lower income has less disposable income left to save, to send their children to college, to pay for healthcare and for anything unanticipated which comes their way. They can't realistically stop eating to save that money. They can't realistically wear fewer clothes to save that money. The person with the higher income effectively gets a tax break with this example that allows them to get further and further ahead while the person with the lower income can't ever seem to come out on top, widening the class and income gap.

Why should someone who makes $37,500 a year pay roughly the same in taxes as the person who makes $150,000 a year??
If you say, then, that the solution is to exempt necessities, then you have to legislate what constitutes a "necessity". Is ground beef a necessity but steak not? Are bananas a necessity but kiwis not? Is a car a necessity vs. a luxury? If you buy your clothes at Wal Mart are they tax-exempt vs. buying them at The Gap? Is a home made out of brick a luxury compared to one with aluminum siding? You get the point - it's trading one series of complications for another in an effort to keep the system fair. And that, by its nature, is essentially unfair.

We are a nation of optimists. People come here because they believe that if they work hard they can secure a better future for their children and generationally improve ownership, investorship, and entrepreneurship. Not true with a regressive tax system, though.
A more reasonable approach is a flat tax on income. The percentage would be the same, no exceptions, no credits, no exemptions for individuals or corporations. That would be simple, and proportionate. There are even models out there that show how it could work. You might think that it requires a high percentage that disproportionately burdens the lower income brackets, but that doesn't need to be the case with the closure of high-income and corporate tax loopholes and shelters. I'm not a fan of the "loophole pander" - there are a lot of credits and incentives, both corporate and individual, that are frivolous and frankly unethical. But there are others intended to stimulate very noble items: fuel efficient cars, for one. Energy-efficient corporate innovation, for another. Volunteerism and charitable giving.

The net result is that a national sales tax is regressive and unfair and therefore unconscionable. A flat tax rate, while simpler, is trading simplicity against innovation, inventiveness, and giving. The tax code
can be simplified but it will never be simple. And, as long as we allow lobbyists and special interests to corrupt our political system, it will never happen. The answer to a great deal of our ills is to rid the political system of special interest money and let public servants return to that for which they were elected - to serve the public.

posted by RenaRF @ 4:06 PM, ,

New Year, New Threats, New Reasons Why Bush Must Go
Wednesday, February 09, 2005

We've all figured by now that I was a John Kerry supporter. I genuinely liked the man - call me crazy, but studious and detailed are qualities I admire in a leader (arguably) of the Free World. I also still believe that there were widespread election problems, though not rising to the level of fraud or deliberate manipulation. Rather, voting in the US is riddled with problems and has been for as long as we, the public, have failed to make accountability and reform an issue. This works in the favor of any victor in a political race - Republican, Democrat, or Other. The 2000 election and, to me, the 2004 election represented an opportunity to get these issues addressed - plus, my guy lost so why not amplify the opportunity?? :-)

I've entitled this blog 'Insane Musings' for a reason: its intent is to follow the rather random pattern of my thoughts without very much cohesion. There's a lot I can cover now that we're post-inauguration and the new "agenda" has been laid out (sort of).

First, if the Democrats run Hillary Clinton, I'll have to have a meltdown. I do NOT like her, which is unfortunate given that I would love to see a woman make a viable White House run. Just not
any woman, and certainly not Hillary Clinton. I was discussing this issue with a mixed-political friend; Republican-leaning, but also likely to swing to a Democrat where it makes sense. I couldn't put my finger on why I don't like her; couldn't find a word or a phrase with encapsulated my distaste; he said, "she's disgusting". That summed it up perfectly. She stands for nothing, as far as I can tell, except whatever is expedient to get her to the next level in her political career. Rather than see her as a woman who loves her husband and chose to stand by her man throughout his indiscretions, I see her as a woman with nothing but contempt for her husband who bore up because of the political advantage the Clinton name provided. She went state-shopping when she set her eyes on the Senate, and has repeatedly waffled at every controversial issue commensurate with the polls. A recent example: at a speech in New York, she gave a very pablum answer to the issue of Roe v. Wade and choice. Choice is an issue she has always held firm on until she sensed some softening in the electorate in their opinions towards the issue. In an effort to appeal less "left-liberal" to the red states (and in preparation, presumably, for a 2008 Presidential run) she abandoned a woman's right to choose in her language and posture. She doesn't stand for anything and for that, she is simply disgusting.

What I also don't understand is why the Democrats repeatedly fail to learn from the success of its opponents. The Republicans have shown the efficacy of choosing a candidate early and backing that person straight through to election season. This is what Democrats should be doing now, and if I had my druthers, I would get behind Evan Bayh, a moderate red-state Democratic senator with all the right experience to make a credible run. I'd choose Virginia's Mark Warner as a running-mate, an astute business man with a track record on budgets and domestic issues. Barack Obama is a compelling figure and masterful speaker, but I think any upping of his status with such limited experience (ala John Edwards) prior to 2012 would be foolhardy.

I have more more more on my mind these days. Condoleeza Rice's language and invective when discussing Iran, general plans to combat terrorism, the disaster that is the "domestic agenda", and the persistent lies that continually emerge as the President and his executives speak about the agenda and the facts upon which it is based.

The uninitiated may get the idea that I hate the President, think he's a liar or dishonest or what have you. That's quite inaccurate. On the contrary, I think Mr. Bush has integrity on the level of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. I don't think he says or does anything he doesn't believe in deeply - I would never label him as bowing to political expediency. My issue with him (in a severely abridged fashion) is that he lacks intellectual curiosity. What they tell him is what he takes to the bank with very little in-depth questioning or intellectual gamesmanship. This makes him a convicted, respectable myopic in my book, and it means that any decision he makes or path he undertakes runs the risk of being entirely the
wrong thing to do without any contemplation of alternatives, downsides, or upsides. I'll take a person who enjoys a bit of mindplay in his/her own decision-making because that's roughly the way I approach the important things in life - define the best outcome, anticipate the worst outcome, set a minimum acceptable outcome and manage towards the best knowing that falling somewhere slightly short of that is still not disastrous and an overall favorable outcome has been achieved. This requires some mental gymnastics and does not have to take inordinate amounts of time. It's a way to avoid tunnel-vision and to anticipate at least pieces of the unexpected and not be caught flat-footed. Finally, being a Democrat does not equate to valuelessness. I am a good neighbor, a volunteer, a person who believes strongly in public service for the sake of the greater good, a responsible homeowner, investor, employee and friend. I am also pro-choice, I believe in balanced budgets both for myself and for my government, and I think it's the responsibility of government to realize that economies, and therefore the fortunes/misfortunes of citizens are cyclical - the government's role is to care about all of its citizens and remain vigilant in helping those in need and demand more of those who prosper. I don't want to give frivolous dollars to that fringe that is simply not deserving; but I also don't want to kick aside those who are in an effort at smaller government. Finally, I want a government that doesn't spin or gloss over facts to me and my fellow citizens to achieve some end that they have determined is required. I can evaluate what I think is good for me; I don't need my government mandating it. And that's today's musing.

posted by RenaRF @ 5:47 PM, ,