Thursday, March 26, 2015

Eat less, share more; or New doesn't always mean better.

The Washington Post reports the following:


When shared on social media, this photo was accompanied by
the tag, "You've been making rice the wrong way."





Hmm. I think it would seem intuitively obvious that reducing the food value of "the lifeblood of so many nation's cuisine" is an idea whose time should have come and gone without much fanfare.

I know that news has become a business, and it's all about the eyeballs and the clicks. Nevertheless, I find the tag, "You've been making rice the wrong way" to be incredibly condescending, from people who have no discernible  right to a claim of superiority. There's an entire world of possibilities to consider when thinking "outside the box". Their "solution" solves a problem for one person, and inefficiently at that. The same problem can be solved in a way that benefits many people having more than one problem among them.


To deliberately make food less nutritious is, IMHO, silly.

Instead, eat less rice. Feed the hungry with that which you did not consume, and prepare it in such a way that they get the maximum benefit from it. For the record, "eat less rice" = "more rice to go around". You don't get fat and others don't go hungry.



I take strong exception to the statement, "You've been making rice the wrong way". I respond to the authors with this counterproposal: "You haven't been thinking the right way, about people other than yourselves. Get on the ball. There's a whole planet full of people who aren't YOU. Stop eating like a glutton and share."

I should note that this isn't limited to the rice. The article decries the fact that potatoes have the "right kind" of starch (i.e. indigestible) until they're cooked. Then, horror upon horror, they become digestible. I think these people have a very poor comprehension of what constitutes the "right kind" of starch. When it comes to diluting the food or feeding the world, I'm in favor of the world.

----

A friend of mine notes that he wonders whether trying to be "sneaky" in reducing the calorie value of what you ingest actually works, or whether it will just make you look for those missing calories elsewhere. It's a fair question, in more ways than one. Not only might you look for those calories from unhealthy sources, but you're also training your body to accept a certain quantity of food as "enough". That might be true when you're cooking the rice, but only then.

Milestones

Yesterday was my weirding anniversary. I have been marred for twenty years. Actually, more than that, as this is the third time I've been marred. I keep coming back for more. That's what makes it weird, I suppose. A friend wanted to know how my worf and I have stayed together so long. Since I've done this three times, I've got a pretty good idea what works and what doesn't. Basically, to make a partnership last, it helps if you're both too broke and lazy to file for da force, which is a legal judgement forcing one of you back onto the street.

I've never filed for da force, as I believe that when one is marred it should be for life. However, I've also never been forced onto the street. Both of my previous worfs were made to leave, even though they were the ones who filed. I guess this means they weren't very good at filing, which is surprising, since they were both secretaries of sorts.

In a few days it will be my twins' worthday. That's the day, once a year, when you assess a person's worth. Then you pay tribute to that person based on how much you value them. This tribute often takes the form of gifts and celebration. As this will be the nineteenth such occasion for my twins, we're reaching a cusp. For many people, at this stage, it means negative returns. In other words, you start having to pay in, in the form of rent, instead of getting free room and board. This is particularly true of people who aren't going to college, since we all know they're not worth as much. We charge them for living. Of course, even when they pay in, they commonly get a little something back on their worthday... think of it like a tax refund.

Often this tipping point of paying vs. getting comes shortly after one's degradation day, which is when you stop going to school. Your most important degradation day comes at the end of high school. This is a matter of proud achievement: people often send invitations to friends and family members and expectantly ask, "Are you coming to my degradation?" After your degradation, if you don't go to college, you're sold into slavery and must work for your keep. My twins' high school degradation was last year, but they put off their judgement by attending university.

You can put it off your degradation even longer than that by pursuing a higher degree, if you can stand the heat. I have a nephew who is a Ph.D, which means "doctor of pH" (he's a chemist). To do this he had to defend his feces, which is something produced by all doctoral candidates. Apparently, doctors don't like it when anybody tries to take their shit. This again is surprising, as they don't seem to mind spreading it around.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

They Have An Actual Name

OK, so I saw this today on Facebook.

Seen on Facebook. Reproduced under Title 17 Fair Use for
political editorial comment.

First Impressions

They're called "orchards".

They're all over the place in Florida, as I found out in the mid-nineties when I went to live there. Fortunately I went house-hunting down there at the right time of year... October. The grapefruit and orange trees in the back yard of one of the houses I looked at were well past their harvest date. The ground was littered with rotten and rotting fruit. It was slimy. It stank. It attracted flies and worms. Of course the real estate agent smiled and extolled the benefit of free fruit. I talked to the neighbors, and of course, they confirmed that the year was typically a whole lot of "ain't no fruit" followed by sudden frenzied "WTF am I going to do with all these *&$#&$& oranges?!?!" followed by garbage collection.

I didn't rent the house.

My first thought here was that I didn't really want to throw a damper on the ardor for this arbor, but a modicum of realism is called for if it's not to be shouted down as a gift from Satan shortly after it's planted. As a matter of necessity, to successfully feed anyone it would need to be a farm, no matter how they dress it up.

My parents owned a farm...it isn't "Free".

Again, that's not to say, "don't do it"... rather, it's to point out that the organizers seem to be asking the City to go to a lot expense for something that will bear fruit and/or nuts and feed people for a few weeks out of the year. IF their goal is actually to feed people and not simply stroke their emotions, they will do very well to investigate whether a "food forest" is the best and most efficient way to do that year-round.

So I decided to look into it some more.

The Beacon Food Forest Project 

A bit of web searching found the project. http://www.beaconfoodforest.org/ Go to the website and explore a bit, because it's an interesting thing they're doing here. 

Here's the actual site plan for the Beacon Food Forest project in Seattle.
From beaconfoodforest.org. Reproduced under Title 17 Fair Use for political commentary. I'd have linked you straight to their graphic if it weren't so insanely huge. It takes ages to load and might cause a memory overflow.
My first impressions were based on the misleading infographic and what I already knew of forest gardening, which is a low-maintenance method of landscaping with a "natural" rather than "tended" appearance.  This project has little to do with forest gardening. As you can see, it's not particularly dense as forests go, it's not really an example of forest gardening. It's basically a city park with fruit trees and a reserved section for garden plots. It looks to be expensive in that way that only someone on the West coast could claim it's not. That expense is hidden behind donations (a-ok!) and government grants (not ok). To me, it resembles an art project as much as a serious attempt to feed anybody. To some extent it's the vegetable equivalent of a petting zoo. That in itself isn't a problem either, but it does show that their logic is buried under mounds of emotional manipulation that should never be necessary.

As far as I can tell, the term "food forest" is very fashionable right now because it's really marketable among seven-year-old kids. And let's face it, most of the website's materials are about emotional marketing. And as it is in part an educational endeavor, a lot of it is targeted at about a seven-year-old emotional level. But I'm an adult. I like to teach children new things, such as "the proper name for a 'food forest' is 'orchard'," so my grandchildren don't descend into the world of Idiocracy. I like things to make more than emotional sense.

Fortunately this does, though I have to supply my own arguments to some extent. It's not going to feed people year round, but you don't right now... improvement is better than no improvement, and half a loaf is better than none. It will be labor-intensive, but the splitting up into multiple plots spreads it around, and enough people of Seattle seem willing to do it... for now. I know from experience that farming is difficult, but as people drop out others should replace them.

If they're willing to work at those plots and give the food away then more power to them. This must be done altruistically or not at all if the "free food for anyone and everyone" communistic goal is to be achieved. In other words, you can't complain that 'vultures' descended on your crop and carried away the literal fruits of your labor. Under a 2010 ordinance Seattle residents can already farm on their own property if they would rather raise the food for personal use or sell it (see below), so the only thing that bothers me is the funding model.

To me, public support means I either worked at it with my hands or I donated towards it directly. PBS gets public support from viewers like me. To community organizers, though, public support is code that simply means, "don't complain when we ask for government funding", and that's exactly what it looks like here, to large extent.

The fact of the project doesn't bother me, I'd support such a thing in a heartbeat. If the goal were primarily feeding people I'd find it far more efficient to support professional local farmers who do that well, 24/7, and deserve to get paid for it. But as noted this has educational benefits as well as access to arable land for apartment dwellers and others who would like to garden but haven't the space.

The fact of the government funding bothers me immensely, and not least of all because it undermines the entire premise. "Free to anyone and everyone"?  Wrong. Paid for by everyone at gunpoint.

Like I said, I'd donate in a heartbeat, willingly. But I hate being robbed and then being told that the things purchased with my money are "free". That's a bad way to build trust. The most likely response is, "If you're robbing me already, why should I donate anything else?"


--==//ooOoo\\==--


This 2010 story is far more exciting to me, and I'm using this story as an example because it's also in Seattle. I wouldn't want you to think I have it in for them...
SEATTLE – As part of the 2010 Year of Urban Agriculture, the Seattle City Council approved Council Bill 116907 that supports the rapidly growing local food movement. The ordinance updates the City’s Land Use code governing urban agriculture uses, including allowing "urban farms" and "community gardens" in all zones, with some limitations in industrial zones. Also, residents will now be able to sell food grown on their property.
Idiocy commonly abounds when it comes to government and homeowner association restrictions on urban gardening, and the many government impediments to selling or distributing the results.

Kudos to Seattle for lowering some of those barriers. I only wish they weren't doing it wrong. This being the purported "home of the free", we shouldn't pass laws to permit people to grow food... we should instead eliminate the absolute insanity represented by laws and regulations that prohibit it! No one at any level of government should have that authority. 

NO ONE.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

She's a Witch!

In an earlier post I quoted someone who used the phrase "bronze age foolishness" with regard to Christian morality. Most Christians are gentiles, held to two over-arching commandments, to love God and to love their neighbor. Most Christians are not Jews; and the strictures of laws upon them are not those of the Old Testament.

Having pointed this obvious thing out, I managed to "offend" someone who chooses not to listen fairly. Or more accurately, they have chosen to be offended after expending quite a bit of effort to mentally substitute their own reasoning for my statements. Apparently, the source of this offense is that I have failed to mention that I secretly want to persecute them.

I think it only fair that they be offended for the right reasons, and I herewith set out to cause such offense right now. And lest you be kept in suspense, I'll tell you in advance that the person is a witch.


First Things First

First of all, let me re-iterate that it is not an insignificant point that the Torah (the Law of the "old testament") is for Jews. Pious Jews are not one bit concerned with what other nations do any more than the normal concern that any thinking, feeling person has for another. The Torah was given by God to the Jews who are bound by the Covenant. Everybody else... well, less is expected of them. And to be perfectly honest, that includes Christians. This was an important point of the discussions between Paul and James in the New Testament. Jews do not proselytize. They have been surrounded for all of their history by neighbors who do things that warrant death if done by a Jew; yet there have been no Jewish Crusades. Since the original conquest of Canaan, Jews do not gird themselves with armor and visit death upon their neighbors for their iniquities. And even that is historically debatable; a popular theory is that most of the people who became the Jews were originally Canaanites, such that the "conquest" was figurative. Since that time Jews have have mostly girded themselves with armor to defend their lives and land.

So the obvious and easy way to avoid the obligations and proscriptions of Old Testament law is to simply not be Jewish.

This applies even to the Sabbath, and it's not just Christians who interpret it this way. Naturally, you're still subject to the civil and criminal laws of wherever it is you live. Since a good deal of these are universal among human societies, there is quite a bit of overlap. So if you're not actually living in Israel, stop fretting over the Torah.

It's not mere interpretation. Jews have had thousands of years to think it out. Though a Jew can't work on the Sabbath, they can hire goyim who may do work for them (within strict limits). Jews can't even own chometz (leavened foods) on Passover, but they can be "sold" to gentiles and bought back later. In short, I'm not making this up... that's the way it actually works.


Foolishness?

Secondly... and this whole section is an aside... it's worth looking to see whether this "bronze age foolishness" is actually foolish. So let's pretend for a moment that we're all party to the Covenant.

We'll begin by looking at the "lex talionis" (the principle of "an eye for an eye"), which is often held up as some draconian barbaric practice.  In fact, it's exactly the opposite. Look at the alternative; the oft-praised Code of Hammurabi. In this code, punishments were not proportional to the crime. For instance, false accusation was punishable by death, with your assets forfeited to the accused and not your heirs (law #2). However, according to the Torah, the punishment must be appropriate to the crime... and no more.  An eye for an eye; not your head for my eye.

The Torah applies to pauper and king alike (Num 15:16). Contrast this with the code of Hammurabi, which prescribes unequal sentencing based on social class.

Furthermore, in the Torah, punishment is met upon the perpetrator. In Hammurabi's code, if you are a builder whose sub-standard construction kills the owner's son, then your own child is put to death. (law 230); whereas the Torah states that if a man's ox kills someone it is the ox that dies... unless the owner had previously been warned it was a danger, in which case it is he that is at fault. (Ex 21:28-29)

In the Torah, punishments are obviously figurative, intended to illustrate the principle of equal justice, and Exodus makes this clear. In every case where Exodus says that a case will be "brought before God", this means before a judge (judging is part of a priest's job description). The judge may choose to offer to impose a fine, even in the stead of the death penalty (Ex 21:30), and this was commonly done.

Slavery was a fact of life in the Middle East: but in Exodus 21 there are laws to limit the term of slavery to seven years; and to punish owners and to free slaves in the event of grievous mistreatment. The fact that there was slavery at the time might bother you less when you realize that there is no imprisonment as a punishment in the Torah. In practice, a poor man might sell himself as a slave to provide restitution or avoid death (Ex. 22:2-3); or it might be a sentence imposed by the court. But it was, as mentioned, limited in scope, the purpose of which is to provide restitution. I would readily submit that Jewish slavery was a much better alternative than the system of glutted prisons and recidivism that our modern "progressive" system has produced... which really isn't that progressive. It hasn't been missed by some people that prison is in fact institutionalized, government-sanctioned slavery.

There are a lot of restrictions and laws in the Torah; but typically, those who most heavily criticise them for "bronze age foolishness" haven't actually read them and placed them in context.


And then there's this:

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Ex. 22:18 KJV

Well, that's not exactly what it says. Just as "thou shalt not kill" actually reads "thou shalt not murder" in Hebrew, this one reads,

"Thou shalt not permit a sorceress to live." (Ex. 22:18 RSV)

This is Lucrezia Borgia.
Guess what she wasn't?
(via Wikipedia)
At least one witch believes both of these to be mistranslated, pointing out that the word in the Septuagint is pharmakos, which they take to mean "poisoner". And they take exception to the "to live" portion, preferring to translate the whole verse as "You shall not sustain (do business with) a poisoner."

As translations-of-translations go, this sucketh the large egg. It ignores that pharmakos is homonym which also carries a meaning close to Hebrew. And not only does the original Hebrew use a word meaning "to live", but it also describes the person to be left in not-living-condition as kashaph (transliterations vary) which describes "one who whispers magic" in the sense of actually practicing magic... a sorceress. This is consistent with related languages, and also with other Hebrew words using the same roots. So the protestations of modern-day revisionists who claim it says other than what it says should be discarded. But what it doesn't say is "witch". There wasn't really a word for that. It's certainly intended to mean someone who practices sorcery. So it's exactly what it looks like... an admonition to kill sorcerers.

This is a mutant, not a witch.
(via Flickr)
Does that describe my friend the witch?

No, not really. Most modern "witches" are more properly "Wiccans", and while this is certainly a religion, there's no Biblical proscription against other religions. You can worship as you like so long as you're not Jewish. The Bible's level of tolerance for that is well-established and legendary. Even though Christians are called upon to proselytize, they're forewarned that not everybody is going to listen (Matt 13). Christians are also called upon to love even their enemies (Matt 5:43-48) and there's no qualifier that says, "if they belong to your church".  So whether read by Jew or Christian, the verse certainly doesn't call people out just because they call themselves witches or because they practice some other religion.  The real question is, "Do you practice magic?" (And not sleight of hand, either)

This is a witch.
(Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
I don't really care about your belief. You can believe yourself to be a witch all day long. You have all the freedom in the world to follow whatever points of theology you can, with whoever among your craft you can find to agree with you. Or by yourself. Actually, nobody cares, for the same reason as above. The question is still, "Do you practice magic?"

Likewise, nobody cares about your delusions, misapprehensions, aborted attempts, selective memory, and ontological biases. For the last time, "Do you practice magic?"

Obviously, taking somebody's life is a pretty Big Deal. Surely, if someone were to accuse you, I'd want to see some real proof before I go off sentencing you to oblivion. If anyone of any or no religion were to make the claim that you were a kashaph, I'd want them to produce that evidence.

Now, if you were to persist in insisting that you're exactly what the Bible is talking about when uses the word translated in the KJV as "witch" or "sorcerer", then show me some objectively verifiable demonstration of the awesome witchly powers which you would necessarily claim to have. Quite frankly, I have yet to see anything of the sort, despite the fact that it would be an astonishing and wondrous demonstration that I would be most eager to witness. So give me the same evidence that I would demand of any person who accused you. Just step right on up and toss a few enchantments at the camera for us. Demonstrate not mere ritual, but the effects of said ritual. Prove that you're an actual card-carrying, spell-wielding, effective practitioner of actual honest-to-Murgatroyd MAGIC. Then -- and only then -- let's talk about whether you should be suffered to live.

Otherwise, I have no interest in imposing the death penalty on some harmless nut who's at best delusional and at worst a mere petty fraud. Nor am I obligated to meet your expectations and persecute you simply because you chose a religion for which you seem to feel as though you deserve some measure of persecution. I'm perfectly content to let you fantasize in peace. At the same time, I feel no need to mollycoddle you simply because you have the right to believe whatever you like. Your right to believe does not obligate me to treat the subject as though I believe. Nor am I obligated to curb my writing or my speech to avoid bruising the feelings of someone who goes to great effort to be as offended as possible no matter the provocation... particularly not when I'm writing with no thought of you whatsoever. You'll just have to just have to enchant yourself a thicker skin.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Two Muslims - Lost in Translation?

Some time ago I wrote a rather LONG post explaining why you can't apply moral equivalency comparisons between Islam and Christianity based on Old Testament scripture. For reference, here's a link:


I should re-iterate what's in the "Ground Rules" page. This is a moderated blog. All comments are presented to me for approval before posting. Sometimes, this is to prevent offensive comments, though I can't remember having done that before. This time it's for a different reason.

Yesterday I received two comments from Muslim readers congratulating me on the clarity of that post. Normally I would say "thank you!" and approve the comments. However, I'm not doing that in the present case. Here's why:

The comments are from Middle East Muslims and it's evident to me that they do not speak or write English fluently. Normally that wouldn't bother me either. They SAID they liked it. The weird part is, I don't know whether that's because they did, or because of flawed translation software (Google Translate or equivalent). I suspect it's the latter, because my criticism "above the fold" was pretty subtle. I just laid it out and invited people to make up their minds.

I was trying my best to be even handed about it and present Islamic arguments precisely as I have seen sheiks explain them to other Muslims. Now, these guys seemed to think it was exactly what I did.

BUT... my audience is not Muslim. One of my points is that the arguments that are solidly pro-Islam to a Muslim are exactly the opposite to us kafir ("infidels"). I firmly believe that to be the case, as when a sheik patiently explains that death is the "best possible punishment" for certain crimes, such as apostasy (leaving the religion). Fundamentalist Muslims firmly believe that without any twinge of guilt because they believe Allah has ordained it. Christians find the suggestion abhorrent because they believe God would never ordain such a thing since the advent of the Messiah. Atheists would also find the suggestion abhorrent because no one has the right to curtail another person's life for something as deeply personal as a religious choice.

My problem is not that, having presented both sides fairly and inviting you to make a choice, they of course chose Islam and wrote to tell me how well I explained it. My concern is what this might mean to them if they made this statement of agreement accidentally. They may not actually agree with what I'm actually saying, in which case they may be surrounded by others who would be greatly offended if they were to catch on that I am definitely not pro-Jihad. These commenters may be very nice people whose only faults may be not knowing English very well and having violent friends. I don't want anyone to be injured or lose face simply because they accidentally agreed with me.

On the other hand, it's possible that they do agree with me (God bless them). If so, withholding their names and website information could be the greatest favor I can do for them.

To those commenters: I don't know whether you sincerely agree with me, or even intend to. If you do, I appreciate your moral support. If you don't, I hope I've just saved you from some embarrassment, or worse. The next time you see a Christian being persecuted, remember that it could be you. If you would rather clarify your thoughts, please try commenting again.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tax Breaks Are Not "Expensive", Forbes

Forbes recently published the following:
The 15 Most Expensive Tax Breaks
The January 2013 fiscal cliff tax deal raised tax rates for the wealthy, but Washington continues to look at limiting tax breaks – either to raise more revenue or to reform the tax code and lower tax rates, or both. Here are the 15 most expensive “tax expenditures” benefiting individuals, based on the Joint Tax Committee’s estimates of what they’ll cost Uncle Sam in 2013 through 2017. The list includes not only deductions and income exclusions, but also refundable credits and subsidies that are wholly or partly delivered through the tax code and IRS.

 The entire article is based on that premise that they will "cost Uncle Sam". Here's a newsflash for the experts at Forbes:
The money that is retained by the people 
belongs to the people.
It is not Uncle Sam's to "give", and it is not an "expenditure" of the governments. Unrealized income is not, not, not an expense. Presenting it in those terms is a clear indication of anti-Constitutional bias of the author, atypical of Forbes magazine. They are in practice simply parroting the Administration's own anti-capitalistic rhetoric. So let's acknowledge the puppetry and address the Administration's points. Click through the header so Forbes will get a visit and can't bitch about losing traffic. Then read this point-by-point list, reproduced here under Fair Use under Title 17 for the purpose of critical analysis and political commentary:
1. Employer Paid Health Insurance 
Five year cost: $760 billion
If a company provides you with health insurance or health care, it can deduct the cost from its taxable income. But the value of the premiums or care is not counted as income to you, even though it may now, confusingly, show up on your W-2 (in box 12, Code DD). Beginning in 2018, the value of certain high-cost “Cadillac” health insurance plans will be subject to a premium tax, but even that tax won’t be levied directly on individuals.
It is absolutely astonishing that a deduction for healthcare is listed here. Of course, the Administration would prefer to BE the sole payer of health costs through heavy taxation, rather than allow the free market to work. If you spend more on better insurance, reducing the burden on the government, the government taxes you for it; and the government itself defines "premium". There is no possible universe in which that does not exactly equal the government deliberately undermining free enterprise and the use of private insurance.

Bottom Line: You are responsible for your health, and should be encouraged to spend wisely toward the same, using your own funds. "Safety nets" are for those who can not; not for those who will not. The government doesn't need to tax income that was expended for insurance, because the government has no role in paying for the services that you purchased on the free market. The Administration's argument translates to their desire to simply steal your money and lie about its use.
2. Lower Rate For Capital Gains, Dividends 
Five year cost: $616 billion
Qualified corporate dividends and capital gains on stock and certain other investments held for more than a year are taxed at a top 20% rate, compared to a 39.6% rate for ordinary income such as salary and taxable bond and CD interest. Among the biggest tax expenditures, the benefit of this one skews the most to the rich.
This is fomentation of class-envy, and nothing else. Private-sector innovation and competition are fueled by investment. This is why capital gains must be held for a time before realizing the lower rate. If they were taxed at the same rate as ordinary income, you might as well cash them in, removing them from the investment pool.

Bottom Line: This skews to investors, because investment is a necessary component of a free-market economy. Without this, investors would cash out early, which wouldn't harm them at all, but would greatly retard the economy.
3. State And Local Tax Deductions
Five year cost: $431 billion
Taxpayers who itemize can deduct state income or sales tax, plus taxes on personal property. The tally for that is $278 billion. Itemizers can also deduct real estate taxes on their homes – another $153 billion over the five years.
The Administration would like to tax the money you've paid in as taxes.

Bottom Line: There is no intelligent reason whatsoever to tax your taxes.
4. Mortgage interest deduction
Five year cost: $379 billion
Taxpayers can deduct interest paid on mortgages totaling up to $1.1 million used to buy or improve a primary home and a secondary or vacation home. A yacht with a berth, galley and head can count as a second home. The $379 billion doesn’t include other breaks for housing, such as the exclusion from income of up to $500,000 per couple in capital gains from the sale of a principal residence, which will cost $130 billion over the next five years.
Once again, we see class envy's ugly head. A yacht counts as a second home because it's factually a home. People live on yachts.

Bottom Line: The hidden bulk of the iceberg of this deduction goes not to rich fat-cats, but to millions of working men and women who are buying homes. It's there to encourage home ownership, and that's a Good Thing(tm). The Administration decry its application to certain people not because it's bad or unfair, but because those people have money that the Administration would like to steal.
5. Tax Free Medicare Benefits
Five year cost: $358 billion
All Medicare insurance benefits are excluded from taxation. To the extent that the value of that insurance exceeds the premiums senior pay and the amount they have contributed in Medicare taxes during their working years, the value of Medicare is considered untaxed income to them.
We tax people so as to cover healthcare insurance which they otherwise couldn't afford in their old age. Some people receive more than they paid in, but that's the way insurance normally and necessarily works. It is, in fact, a defining characteristic of insurance as opposed to a pre-payment plan. Insurance is not only a bet; it's a distribution of risk.

Now wrap your head around this: having received the money and re-distributed it (not to the patients, but to the healthcare providers), the Administration would like to tax the patients for the value that was paid to the third party. These are the same patients who are old enough to receive Medicare benefits and are typically living on a fixed income. Incidentally, taxes on that same money are already paid by the healthcare providers, because it is their income.

Bottom Line: "the value... is considered untaxed income...". Is considered by who? Answer: by the people who would rather have the money themselves.
6. Workplace Retirement Saving Plans 
Five year cost: $336 billion  
This number includes the exclusion from taxable income of employer and employee contributions to 401(k)s and other employer sponsored retirement savings plans, as well as the exclusion of earnings in these accounts. It doesn't include the additional $64 billion cost for retirement plans for the self employed or the $212 billion cost for traditional, employer paid “defined benefit” pensions – the kind that pay a set amount each month.
Retirement savings are tax deferred to encourage people to save for their own retirement. Indeed, there is no need for the government to tax this income at all, as it reduces the need for the government to step in and care for those people who did not so save. All government taxation should have a direct purpose; and "the money exists" just isn't good enough.

Bottom Line: This is more empty class-envy rhetoric; this time focused on the gainfully employed and responsibly self-employed. The Administration has no objection to you being wholly dependent on the government.
7. Earned Income Credit
Five year cost: $326 billion 
This credit is available to low income working families; the maximum credit in 2013 for families with three or more children is $6,044. The credit is refundable – meaning families can get back more from the credit than paid in taxes. Of the $326 billion, $283 billion will be made up of such refunds.
The EITC is money the government provides you for being poor and having a job. That's it. It's difficult to make ends meet, so if you get a job, the government gives you money, redistributed from the wealth collected from other taxpayers. For instance, if you have a low-paying job at McDonald's and you've got a family, you get up to $6,000 a year that you didn't earn... something that the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd never figures into their calculations. Mainly that's because it's given in a lump sum once a year as a tax "refund", and the recipients blow it.

Now you need to do the same "wrap your head" exercise you did with the concept of taxing Medicare. This is money collected from taxes, redistributed. It IS taxes. The Administration would like to tax taxes.

They could do the same thing by reducing the EITC (which to the average Joe means "I get less back in taxes") or by lowering the statutory minimum wage (which likewise leaves the average Joe less cash in pocket). Of course, these things are political suicide, because people would notice. "Earned Income Tax Credit" isn't descriptive in any way, but sounds vaguely technical and unfair, so it's easy to slide by low-income working families that it primarily targets.

It's also possible to do the same thing by raising the minimum wage; but be advised that should this happen, the EITC should be done away with. The guy who's been working several years and has gotten several raises doesn't get or need that credit; and when you're suddenly raised to his level you shouldn't need it either. It then goes from being non-taxable "free money" to taxable income, and you'll see less of it. Welcome to wealth.

Bottom Line: It's best to work and earn your own way. What Uncle Sam giveth, Uncle Sam taketh away. If you're getting an EITC, you're now "rich" because you're working and not on the dole; though really, you are.
8. Child Credit 
Five year cost: $292 billion  
This $1,000 credit for each child under 17 begins to phase out once a couple’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $110,000 or a single parent’s MAGI exceeds $75,000. The credit is partially refundable – meaning families can get back more from the credit than they paid in income tax. Of the $292 billion cost, $154 billion comes from such refunds.
A credit is not a "refund". The shoddy thinking that results from shoddy language was evident when we saw that people blow their Earned Income Tax Credit because it's considered a "refund" when in fact it's supplemental income. It makes people who receive thousands more than they're taxed complain about the taxable part of their income because they mistakenly believe it's their only income.

Having and raising kids is expensive. Parents -- real parents -- make hard sacrifices for their children. The government promotes the "it takes a village" mentality by making sure that it does take a village. So they rob Peter to pay you for having children.

Bottom Line: There is no reason that anyone else should pay you child support for children they had no part in creating. You should have the number of children you can afford. If the government pays for your kids, it's difficult for you to argue that you should be the sole arbiter of how they are raised. The administration would like to buy your sovereignty, and you've been happy to let them.
9. Capital Gains Excluded At Death 
Five year cost: $258 billion  
When you die the basis of your assets is “stepped up” to their current market value. That means heirs can sell right away without owing capital gains tax and that the unrealized appreciation in assets held until death is never taxed.
Your heirs do not buy their inheritance. When they acquire it, it's worth what it's worth. They don't pay capital gains because they realize no capital gains, and that's just reality. However, they do owe inheritance taxes based on the present value.

Bottom Line: The Administration would like to tax the same assets twice: once as capital gains, and again as inheritance. Why? Because you have money that they would like to steal. There's no social purpose for the confiscation.
10. Insurance Exchange Subsidies 
Five year cost: $238 billion  
Under Obamacare, beginning in 2014, families that buy insurance through state health insurance exchanges and earn up to 400% of the poverty level will be eligible for refundable tax credits to subsidize the cost of insurance premiums that exceed a certain percentage of their income (the percentage rises with income). The credits are “advanceable”—meaning they can be delivered through insurers in the form of lower premium payments.
The federal government shouldn't be offering insurance exchange subsidies in any case. Under the ACA ("Obamacare") this is at the option of the various states. There is no statutory authority under which permits the federal government to supply the subsidies. But let's pretend for a moment that this is not as blatantly illegal as it obviously is...

This is another case of the government giving money collected as taxes to someone else, where it is already taxed as income, then wanting to come back to you and tax you for the value that was given to the third party. As you can see, they do this a lot, hoping that you won't notice.

Bottom Line: It's wrong every time they do it. Again, the exact same result is achieved by lowering the "benefit". But politics trumps intelligence on Capitol Hill every single day, and the current Administration has no respect for the laws passed by the representatives of the People.
11. Charitable Deductions 
Five year cost: $224 billion  
This includes the cost of itemized deductions for contributions to social welfare charities ($178 billion), as well as health ($30 billion) and educational institutions ($16 billion). Since donors who don’t itemize get no tax break, more than half of the value of this deduction goes to those with income above $200,000.
Couched in the commentary is the hogwash off-hand class envy implication that the rich (who indisputably do the lion's share of charitable giving, and therefore itemize) unfairly benefit from the deduction that is there to encourage them to make the charitable contributions that they subsequently make.

It's just a fact that the Government deals with social welfare poorly, inefficiently, with far too much bureaucracy. In a world where the government is tasked with promoting the "general welfare", it makes plenty of sense to encourage people to support charities to lessen the dependency of the poor on inefficient government programs.

Reality: The Administration would like to take credit for your charity by claiming it as their expense, while at the same time suggesting it should be taxed (which would remove any credit they might claim). All together now: Unrealized income is not an expense. This enables them to promote the populist fiction that it is "the rich" who are sticking it to them.
12. Interest On Municipal Bonds 
Five year cost: $217 billion  
Interest earned on state and local bonds is tax free, although individual taxpayers don’t get the benefit of all of this subsidy, since they accept lower interest rates on muni bonds than on taxable bonds. The $217 billion includes $192 billion for state and local general purpose bonds and $25 billion for various “private activity” bonds that are exempted from regular tax but subject to the alternative minimum tax.
It seems that the Constitutional mandate to "promote the general welfare" wasn't much of a consideration when compiling this list.

Municipal bonds pay a pittance; but they're considered a safe investment because it's "the government", and you're not likely to lose. (Remember, investment is about profit AND loss.) People think of "the government" as something monolithic, but it's not. Your city, county, state, and federal governments are all separate. Nevertheless, the federal government is composed of lawmakers drawn from your localities, and it's in the interests of their constituents... "the People"... that they serve.

Bottom Line: It's in the interests of the People to encourage investment in local governments. Municipal bonds are sold to fund specific local projects that are quite frankly none of the federal government's business. As such, the federal government has no claim on these funds and should never tax them.
13. Employer Paid Pensions 
Five year cost: $212 billion  
This cost  is for traditional defined benefit pension plans, which, along with the cost of this break, are in decline. Employers can deduct their contributions now, but workers aren't taxed on their pensions until they retire and start receiving income from them.
Employers deduct the expense when the expense is incurred, and workers are taxed on the income when the income is received.

Reality: this isn't a problem, it's a pure example of fairness. Furthermore, it's none of the government's business.
14. Cafeteria Plan Benefits 
Five year cost: $193 billion  
Through what are known as Section 125 cafeteria plans, workers can elect to divert what would have been taxable salary into tax free benefits, such as group-term life insurance, extra dental or vision care and flexible spending accounts for medical and child care expenses. This cost doesn't include the estimated $29 billion Uncle Sam will lose from tax exclusion for parking and public transit benefits. 
Everything previously said about medical spending (particularly in item 1) applies here.

Bottom Line: It's still your health and your responsibility. The government still does not supply these services to those who purchase them, and therefore has no claim on that money. Universal taxation for healthcare makes sense to those who want a single-payer system, but that's not what we have.
15. Untaxed Social Security benefits 
Five year cost: $180 billion  
Anywhere from 0% to 85% of Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits are included in taxable income, with the percentage rising as the taxpayer’s total income rises. The amount that isn't taxed and exceeds a beneficiary’s payment of Social Security taxes during his working life is counted as a tax expenditure.
As before... counted by who? Just because you choose to "count" something as a tax expenditure doesn't mean that it is. Social Security (in the United States) is not a retirement account; rather, it is social insurance. Don't believe me? It's listed in your payroll deductions as FICA, which stands for "Federal Insurance Contributions Act". If you're self-employed it's called SECA, which stand for Self "Employed Contributions Act".

As this is structured as "insurance", and it is administered by actuaries; then yes, sometimes people get out more than they paid in. Again, there's nothing wrong with that: it's the way insurance works. Some people get out less than they paid in. But there is no purpose whatsoever in taxing money that was collected as taxes and then paid back out. The exact same purpose can be accomplished by reducing the benefit. However, this (again) is political suicide. Politicians would still rather pay out the benefit, then play the class-envy card by pointing out how "unfair" it is that some people aren't paying taxes on some "income"; although they worked and contributed all their lives, with this stipend representing the many years when FICA taxes were deducted from their earnings.

Bottom Line: The Administration never tires of double taxation. And they never tire of finding creative ways to gain your permission to steal from you.

Wrap-up:
These are the kinds of games that the government plays with your money once they wrest it from you. They tax you, "give" it back to you, and then claim that the returned money is your "income". It happens over and over.

Outside the realm of taxation, they engage in licensing: that is, taking freedoms from you and then selling them back. (Example: You fished in a pond as a child. The government passes a law making it illegal to fish without a license. The government sells you a license. Meanwhile, the government never had jack shit to do with the pond or any fish in it.)

The government routinely over-spends money on things that it has no business spending money on in the first place. Our problem is not now, nor has it ever been a problem of under-taxation. It is wholly a problem of overspending.

Taxes should never be enacted except with precise, definable purpose. Those purposes should be limited and within the authority invested in Congress by the Constitution. Yet we repeatedly witness a trend toward taxing everything imaginable simply because it exists. This is ridiculous, by which I mean "worthy of ridicule". Meanwhile, you are increasingly restricted from acting on your own behalf for your own benefit. The right to the "pursuit of happiness" lies discarded and disused. "Don't pursue your happiness," we're advised, "vote for us and we'll give it to you."



Friday, January 30, 2015

There's No Right To Work

President Obama's nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, is confused as to the "rights" that are properly possessed by foreigners who illegally violate our borders.

This is in part understandable, as her questioner, Mr. Sessions, is more than a little confused as to the concept himself. My thoughts today touch on how the words we employ affect our comprehension.


EVERYONE has the same rights. That's why they're "inalienable". They're not bestowed upon you by the government. The problem is that few people recognize the distinction between "rights" and "privileges".

You might argue that it's semantics, and the unfortunate thing is that we have allowed it to become so. It's not a trivial difference, and it underscores the importance of getting the language right. We do ourselves no favors as individuals or as a nation when we let privileges become rights or grants become entitlements. Yet we do it all the time, to our detriment.

Voting, for instance... that's a privilege, not a right. It's reserved for citizens in good standing, which is why felons may be disenfranchised. When you claim that voting is a right of citizenship rather than a privilege and obligation, it quickly becomes confused with those inalienable rights due to all people. Muddy language leads to muddy understanding, to the point where elected politicians would cede control of elections to non-citizens, effectively ceding sovereignty. The slippery slope is real, and visible. Idiot lemmings are already sliding down it.

Mis-labeled "right to work" laws notwithstanding, working is also a privilege, not a right, even for citizens. It's why your employer can fire you... he doesn't owe you a job. It's why you can be denied employment by the state. Child molesters can't work with children; doctors and lawyers (and many others) must be licensed, etc. Even if you're self-employed, nobody has to buy your efforts, and you serve at the pleasure and forbearance of those customers who keep you self-employed.

Work is not a right for anybody, and quite frankly, your life gets a whole lot easier when you realize what a privilege it is to be able to serve others and you act accordingly. It changes your entire outlook. Clear language leads to a clarity of purpose; and in this case, makes you more employable.



In the case of illegals, they are plainly illegal, and should go through the same channels to acquire the privilege of working in this country as were used by the millions of legal immigrants. Either that, or they can go home and exercise the privileges that they already have there.

This single comment of Lynch's isn't as damning as many on the Right claim. In the clip above she's merely indicating that people should pull their own weight. That by itself is reasonable. The problem with it is that they should be doing it in their own country. She blythely states, "...if someone is here, regardless of status, I would prefer that they be participating in the workplace than not...".

Well... no. I would prefer that visitors not participate in the workplace. Visitors should visit, then go home. Certainly you would agree with this in principle, rather than implying (however obliquely) that you'd rather have every Disneyland tourist pressed into a job than not.

She doesn't mean that, of course, despite the words she used. And these aren't tourists we're talking about. They are would-be immigrants. We  have laws that spell out rather completely the procedures required of immigrants. Rather than effectively argue that they be changed, and support the proper legislative process; the President appears to believe he can "selectively enforce" them. By this he means "ignore them". I disagree. It is his primary job to defend our nation's Constitution and provide for the common defense of its citizens. His job description requires him to secure our border. To that end, I prefer that people who are not visitors be here legally.

That's not an anti-immigration stance. Rather, it's simultaneously a pro-immigration and pro-security stance. It's a pro-American position which reserves permanent residency in this country to those who were born into it or who swear to abide by its Constitution. It's the same position taken by the other countries on our planet regarding their borders and privileges of citizenship. It's the porous border mentality that is logically unfit and needs serious explanation.



It's a matter of legality and constitutionality. When Senator Ted Cruz asks if selective enforcement of laws is unconstitutional, we learn that "unconstitutional" is far too nebulous a concept to be nailed down by a brilliant legal scholar like Lynch. (for the record, selective enforcement is a far cry from prosecutorial discretion. Presidents are allowed the latter within limits). Cruz's hypothetical is interesting in that skirts the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. That amendment requires that each State treat its citizens equally under the laws of that State. It doesn't place that requirement on the Federal government. As this is a matter of interpretation, and therefore fluidity, the question is a fair one. The reigning interpretation is that such selectivity is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment's mandate of due process.

But beyond that, Cruz is asking whether a President can choose to treat States unequally despite the clear intent of Congress that the law be equally applied. For instance, can the President choose not to enforce laws in a specific state? The correct answer really shouldn't be difficult. Those laws duly passed by the representatives of the People in Congress should be enforced as they were intended, and are not subject to the whim of one man.

Nevertheless, despite numerous pointed requests, no actual answers were offered. Such answers as we got indicate that Lynch would at least consider the constitutionality of the violation of equal treatment of States under Federal law. And it's Lynch's circuitous answers in their entirety and in context that cast some doubt on her suitability to be Attorney General. As this Congress seems to value answers far less than displaying skill in avoiding them, of course she'll probably be approved.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pick One


Be very cautious of anyone who tells you that they want a world where people live in harmony.

You can have Harmony or Tolerance, but never both. For tolerance is only possible where people are allowed to disagree; whereas harmony only exists where opposing views are not tolerated.

In a land of harmony you have no assurance whatsoever that the prevailing view will be yours, whereas in a land of tolerance you can rest assured that you will not be persecuted for your beliefs.


DISCUSSION

I posted this to Facebook where the hoped-for discussion took place. Since they didn't post here in comments, the comments I'm reproducing them here without identification, along with an expansion of the more terse answers I gave. I'm not reproducing them all, as there was overlap. I may paraphrase, and if I got something wrong in spirit, feel free to comment and correct me below.

The first commenter thoughtfully considered my metaphor:
"Well, at least musically, harmony implies a level of both difference and agreement. Total agreement of sound with no difference is just plain old, boring unison. Total difference of sound with no agreement is dissonance. So harmony implies a set of "rules" to limit the acceptable differences, and how they get resolved. 
"So in this metaphor, tolerance is like atonality: dissonance is just as acceptable as consonance. Of course, not many people actually enjoy listening to atonal music for very long. Interesting..."
He should have finished the metaphor. Harmony further implies that everyone is playing the same song. If you're a fan of baroque, you might want to ponder those that pick the tune, and consider how likely it is that your tastes are represented. 

I, for one, like the idea of writing my own tune.

Moreover, dissonance has value, and is used in some compositions by choice. So yes, it is acceptable. Not only that, but in a free society, dissent (for which dissonance is an analog) is not only acceptable, but encouraged. We have exceptions to copyright law reserved specifically for parody and commentary because we value the right to disagree. The value to society is immense. Dissent tells us where the problems exist.  It is purely for the protection of dissent that the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment exists. There's no need to safeguard the rights of those in power.

But he knew that. And he brings to mind a point regarding "acceptable differences". In politics, a huge fuss is made over opinions that are acceptable or unacceptable. It is not enough to be tolerant; one must be "accepting"... which is simply another way of saying "intolerant of those who do not agree with this opinion/lifestyle/etc." I may give a specific example or two in a while.

Another thoughtful comment:
"If, at a minimum, everyone agrees to disagree, one can have both harmony and tolerance. Otherwise one encounters the conundrum of how to tolerate intolerance."
Not really, no. The phrase exists to mask the fact that these are mutually exclusive concepts. "We agree to disagree" is just an inefficient way of saying "we disagree". 
"It's far more harmonious than it might be."
That's a measure of tolerance, not harmony.

You need neither agreement nor permission to disagree with someone. Each person has a right to an opinion. As in inalienable right, the kind that is bestowed by no other person.

Furthermore, it's condescending to say to someone, "we'll have to agree to disagree" as if you had a controlling interest. They will agree with you or not as they wish. When you offer your stamp of approval of their disagreement, you tacitly claim that you have the authority to do so. There are few better ways to piss off those who jealously guard their independence and are paying attention.

But the phrase is more insidious than that. While you're assuming approval authority over their opinions, you're simultaneously fishing for their approval of yours. Not only should you not need it; they're under no obligation to provide it. Should they give it, then that is an endorsement of the validity of your position. Though it's weak as endorsements go, it blunts the emotional pain of having an opinion someone else doesn't like.

Reality check: the fact that you have a right to be wrong doesn't make you right when you exercise that right (and I blame the English language for any lack of clarity in this sentence)

In other words, you may believe whatever you like, but that doesn't keep you from being wrong. I've mentioned this before in the context of science vs. pseudoscience... not all opinions are created equal. Some are bolstered by fact, evidence, logic. Others are spun out of dreams and wishes. You have a right to them, but don't expect me to endorse them with useless empty platitudes of "agreeing to disagree." Likewise, I expect you to stand by your opinions when you know them to be right. I could be wrong, but you might have to work at convincing me with evidence and logic. You're not going to do that if you're flapping around in the breeze.
"I disagree."
And I tolerate that.
"I guess my point is that I see the potential for something I see as harmony in a tolerant environment, even in the absence of total consensus."
That used to be called "disagreeing without being disagreeable", which describes Tolerance; and as phrases go is a big step up from "agree to disagree". I noticed the hedging here, but someone else beat me to it:
"Well agree doesn't mean unison, right? Two people agree on a stance for different reasons or agree on a course of action for fear of the alternative rather than because they hold the same view point."
My take on it is this: 

Of course there's potential for agreement even if it's not total. In any large group of people, there will be substantial consensus. But there will also be disagreement. It's not potential; it's unavoidable. And the real test is how we treat those whose opinions we find offensive

Here in America there's a growing tendency to sue; to vilify; to ruin the lives of people who don't know you, weren't thinking about you, and don't give a shit about you for the supposed "crime" of holding an opinion of which others choose to take offense. To my mind, that can't be right.

You have choices: you can tolerate opinions of others or you can force them to hide or abandon those opinions. The use of force, including the force of legal action, doesn't make you right. Usually it just makes you both wrong.

A third option is segregation, which is how we get national borders, and frankly, I'm OK with those, too, when they're by choice, not force. I like the idea that when the differences are great, people can pick up and move to a place here other people do endorse their choices. If communism works for you, you should be in a communist country. There's no need to transform yours if there's already one out there that fits. Pick One. On a smaller scale, the United States is full of states that should be distinct in many ways, while adhering to the same Constitution. Pick One. I think that those who try to erase those boundaries are misguided, to put it politely. Vive la diffĂ©rence.

I'll get to examples later. For now, the final word is this contribution:
"There's no Museum of Harmony. Your Honor, the Defense rests." 
There is, however, this: [link]. And of course, there's the Harmony Museum, which totally not what he's talking about.