Monthly Archives: November 2012

Daniel Altman Proposes an Alternative to Federal Income Tax

The one theme that underpinned the last election cycle was the state of the economy.  Slow economic growth has plagued the United States, and in fact many countries around the world, ever since the financial crisis and the global recession that followed.  But why hasn’t a country as large and economically diverse as the US been able to pull itself out of this fiscal funk?  One compelling argument, highlighted in this report form the IMF, claims that inequality is the reason.  According to the CIA World Factbook, the US is ranked 42nd in the world in income distribution — worse than Burundi, Ivory Coast, and India.  This ranking is not arbitrary and such a massively skewed distribution of income can have strong economic repercussions.  According to the IMF report:

A 10 percentile decrease in inequality (represented by a change in the Gini coefficient from 40 to 37) increases the expected length of a growth spell by 50 percent.

That is a huge reaction to a small stimulus, and one that the US could use right about now.  So, how do we go about solving our income distribution problem?  Economist Daniel Altman has an idea:  tax wealth, not income.  In a recent oped for the NY Times, Altman laid out his plan repeal the federal income tax and replace it with a tax on overall wealth.  According to Altman’s plan, families with less than $500,000 in total wealth would pay a rate of 0%; that rate would jump up to 1% for those in the $500,000 to $1 million range, and 2% for those with $1 million or more in total wealth.  According to Altman, under such a plan:

[T]he majority of American families would receive an enormous tax cut. Some would owe only payroll taxes (for Social Security and Medicare) and state and local taxes every year, and others would pay less in wealth tax than they did in income tax. Taxes on earnings, capital gains, dividends and interest, all of which may distort decisions about working and investing, would disappear.

Altman readily admits that his plan is not without it’s complications, but nothing that could not be worked through with careful planning.  At any rate, it is an interesting (if not entirely new) idea and Altman makes a good case for it.  Read the article in its entirety here.


Dan Drezner Tweets Glenn Beck, Hilarity Ensues

If you are not already doing so, you need to follow Dan Drezner on Twitter.  Actually, back up.  If you are not already, you need to be on Twitter.  Stop what you are doing and join the social media craze that has already become passe.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  You done?  Good.  Now, you need to follow Dan Drezner on Twitter.

For those of you not familiar, Dan Drezner is a blogger, teacher, foreign policy wonk, and zombie lover who keeps things pretty damn entertaining in 140 characters or less.  And while these are all good reasons to follow the man, his latest exercise in twitteration is reason enough.  Drezner recently announced that he would be reading Agenda 21, the latest novel “by” Glenn Beck (quotations due to the fact that Beck did not write the novel, but simply paid for the right to present it as his own, more on that later), and that he would be live-tweeting excerpts and commentary as he goes along.

The novel takes it’s name from a United Nation’s proposal that was adopted in 1993.  This non-binding plan of action was developed as a way to assist in planning and organizing development at the local, national and global levels in order to ensure a sustainable economic, social and environmentally sound future in the face of overpopulation and dwindling natural resources.

Of course, in the world of Glenn Beck, a man who hocks gold and end of days survival kits to those susceptible to his fear mongering, such a non-binding plan is really nothing more than a way for the UN to assume command of the global structure of power and leadership in order to bring on a dystopian society in which all people are subjugated before the authority of the global order.  Naturally.  Drezner’s first few tweets on the book have been quite humorous and, given the material he has to work with, I am really looking forward to keeping up with his progress.

I also recommend checking out what Sarah Cypher has to say about Agenda 21 over at Salon.  Cypher had the pleasure of editing the book as written by its original author, Harriet Parke.  This was before Beck bought the rights to the material and left his mark all over it.  Cypher’s article offers some great insight into the intent and impact of the eponymous UN plan, as well as how, by simply implementing his brand, Beck managed to alter the tone and implication of the book’s central theme to fit his agenda.

If the previous works that bore Beck’s name are any indicator, Agenda 21 will probably end up being a best seller.  Luckily, thanks to Dan Drezner, you’ll be able to enjoy the best parts for free, and probably be better for it.

George Bush, the GOP’s new rising star?

Daniel Politi authored an interesting story that was posted over at Slate this weekend.  The newest up-and-coming star of the Republican party appears to be George Bush.  No, this is not a case of one of the previous incarnations making a come back.  This is a brand new, possibly improved member of the trusty Bush clan.

George Prescott Bush, son of Jeb, grandson of George Herbert Walker, nephew of GW, has filed the necessary paperwork to run for land commissioner in Texas, no doubt a starting point for higher political aspirations.  Bush’s planned arrival on the political scene and, if previous family successes are any indicator, his potential for advancement could not have come at a more opportune time for the Republicans.  According to Politi, “George P. Bush is Hispanic, speaks fluent Spanish, has served in Afghanistan in the U.S. Navy, and has worked at recruiting young voters.”  For a GOP that dismally failed to capture both the Latino and youth votes this year, Bush represents the necessary new direction for a Republican party that needs to get younger and less white in order to stay competitive while national demographics continue to shift.

But how will Republican voters, and the rest of America, react to yet another George Bush angling for political power?  It is certainly not fair to judge George Prescott on the record of his one term grandfather or his uncle, who so embarrassed the GOP that he has been AWOL for the last two election cycles.  But in politics, image can often times be more important than substance.  Perhaps it would be advisable to drop the George and just go by Prescott.  Sure, that is a name for an old, rich, white guy, but that’s a stigma that every Republican has to overcome.

An Emotive Review of Hitchens’ “Mortality”

Regular readers of this blog (yes, both of you) know that I am an admirer of Christopher Hitchens.  Much like a Jehovah’s Witness, I feel as though I have been let in on a great and redemptive cosmic secret, and as such I am required to share it with all (okay, both) of you.  Unlike a Jehovah’s Witness, I am far too lazy to come to your homes and tell you about it personally, hence the blog.

And so here I am, once again heeding the call to spread the gospel of Hitch (ironies abound!).  A good friend, great human being, and aficionado of fine malt-based beverages wrote a very personal  review of “Mortality” that I would be remiss not to share with you.  Please check it out here.

So, What’s Next?

I did not want to get out of bed this morning.  Not because I was afraid that a secret Marxist, anti-colonialist, Muslim, whatever was still the President.  Or that he was set to be replaced by a man with a Cold War mentality and magic underwear who adheres to a belief system that claims that blacks are cursed.  No, I was just really tired.

But now that I’m up, mobile, and more or less awake, I have finally been able to take a look at the particulars of Obama’s reelection victory.  While the overall margin of victory was a bit surprising, considering how narrow the polls were leading up to the day, this election seemingly lacked the punch and consequence of the 2008 and 2010 affairs that saw great upheavals in the White House and in Congress.  This morning the incumbent is still Commander in Chief, the GOP still controls the House, and the Democrats have maintained a narrow majority in the Senate.

What does this mean for the Republican party?  In the two years following President Obama’s election in 2008 the Republicans worked tirelessly to motivate their base and galvanize their most extreme elements in repudiation of the President and the Democrats, leading to a huge turnover of seats in Congress that allowed the Republicans to take the majority in the House of Representatives and greatly narrow the Democratic majority in the Senate.  Now in 2012, with a sputtering and sluggish economy, high unemployment, and an uncertain security situation abroad, the GOP was in a prime position to carry that momentum forward and improve upon the position they put themselves in 2 years ago.  But they just couldn’t get it done.

Why not?  I have no doubt that there will be a flurry of explanations and excuses offered up in the coming weeks, many of them (okay most of them) coming from people more intelligent that I, but it appears to me that many voters are simply turned off by the ultra-conservatism that has become a prevalent part of the GOP platform.  It is no secret that the GOP has moved strongly and steadily to the right ever since 2008, a phenomenon that was punctuated by the success of Tea Party backed candidates in the mid-term elections of 2010 and lead to a pattern of obstructionism in the House and Mitch McConnell’s top priority in the senate.

But in 2012 the electorate has given the election to the Democratic incumbent (by nearly 100 electoral votes as of this writing) and the Democrats have earned a net gain in seats in both chambers of Congress.  This gain of seats for the Democrats is evidence of a  repudiation of ultra-conservatism in Congress and is highlighted by the defeat of Tea Party incumbents Allen West and Joe Walsh, and the fact that Michele Bachmann‘s fate came down to the wire despite the fact that she grossly outspent her opponent this election cycle.

So what’s next as the Republicans look forward to 2014?  After seeing gay marriage legalized in three out of the four states that had it on the ballot and recreational marijuana legalized in two out of the three states with it on the ballot, after giving up ground in Congress (especially losing key Tea Party favorites), the abject failure of of the ultra-conservative primary campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and the disappointing general election showing of Mitt Romney, is it not clear that the GOP needs a new game plan?  The momentum of the push to the right is petering out.  It’s still there, but no where near what it was two years ago, and it likely will not be there again.  It would appear that the best course of action for the GOP is to throw it in reverse, pull back towards the center, and seek electoral victory via a successful policy record enacted through bi-partisan cooperation.  American voters are realizing that the obstructionism and backwards social policies that have been the backbone of the Tea Party movement and have informed the policies and actions of the GOP as of late are not the way forward for the country.  Republicans need to realize this too, and soon.

Perhaps Lindsay Graham, Republican Senator from North Carolina, said it best:

“If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough, I’m going to go nuts.  We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”

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