Monday, December 24, 2007

I (the Opposite of Heart) Huckabee

Ah Mike Huckabee. Politics' nicest douche bag. Huck's risen to the top in Iowa recently, almost entirely based on his performance in the YouTube debate, when people thought to themselves, "Wow, he's the least retarded guy on stage!"

Only three problems. One: He's a hard-line social conservative. Two: Somehow, he's a former Christian pastor, yet he's proud of carrying out the death penalty.

And three, the one that I really can't believe, the one that's the craziest of all: He supports the Fair Tax.

Actually, I'm never calling it the "Fair Tax" again. "Fair Tax" is one of those word games politicians like to play to sell ideas that are actually really good for their rich and/or corporate overlords to dumb schmucks who don't follow politics. It sounds a lot better to call something the "Fair Tax" than the "23% Sales Tax." But 23% Sales Tax doesn't really roll off the tongue, so I'm going to call it, "The Schmuck Tax."

The Schmuck Tax, as you know if you followed that link, is a crackpot plan to eliminate the IRS and income tax as we know it, and replace it with an exorbitant sales tax, that would probably actually need to be higher than the 23% figure Huckabee is tossing around. This idea is absolutely insane.

On the surface, it has its selling points - no more IRS, no need to call the accountant, and hey poor people, want a prebate? Huh? Huh? Tasty prebate for the poor person! C'mere, boy! ThasagoodDestitudeAmerica, you're a good Destitute America, yes you are.

But those "benefits" are all shams. The schmuck tax would create enough problems that you'd need a brand-spankin'-new IRS-type body to deal with them. You wouldn't need an accountant at tax time, but you'd have to be much more rigorous in budgeting your money. The prebate is a shameful deception, designed to make uniformed poor people believe the schmuck tax would help them, when really, it would destroy them.

The schmuck tax is in fact nothing short of a boldfaced attempt to soak the poor. Think back to High School Economics for a second (yes, I was awake for some of it), and you'll remember that poor people spend a higher percentage of their income than rich people. In fact, the percentage you save is directly proportional to how much you make. So, the poorer you are, the more of your income the schmuck tax is going to take from you.

This gets even crazier when you realize that right now, 27.6% of federal tax revenue comes from the richest 1% of the populace. With one fell swoop, the schmuck tax would not only make their rate the same as the poor's, but ensure they had to pay it on less of their income. This would be, make no mistake, the biggest tax cut in US history for the rich. That 27.6% of tax revenue meanwhile would shrink drastically, meaning either less wealthy people would pick up the slack, or the government would go bankrupt.

But wait, we're not even to the craziest part yet! The Huckster says the following to support this crackpot scheme:
"What we would do with the fair tax is to eliminate all the taxes on productivity, which means you could earn anything you want," Huckabee said. "You wouldn't be penalized for saving, earning, for having a capital gain, making an investment."
First of all, I have always hated this bullshit line of conservative reasoning, that we need to keep taxes low to give people the incentive to make money. As though there are vast swaths of people going, "Oh, why bother making money, I'll have to pay taxes on it." People have plenty of incentive to make money! You know what the incentive is? Money!

But what Huckabee's not saying, but is completely obvious, is what you are penalizing people for doing: Spending.

The schmuck tax, by its nature discourages spending. Economics time again: Spending makes up 2/3 of the fucking economy! When people spend money they are helping the economy. The people they give the money to then go out and spend it themselves. Again, simple high school economics. Spent money keeps on getting spent and helping the economy. Saved money sits there and does nothing. Housing won't send us into recession unless it makes people spend less.

So we want to pass a tax that makes it so that normal Americans have to carefully weigh each purchase, because only when they buy something do they have to pay the government? Really?

This would be an unmitigated economic disaster. It would bring our country to its knees. It would benefit the rich only until the bottom went out of the economy, which would happen pretty quick.

Why is the Huckster getting away with this insanity? Please, dear god, tell me that the American people aren't so stupid that they'll fall for something this crazy just because you call it the "Fair Tax" and make some halfway decent quips about the IRS.

What?

Really?

Fuck.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fun With Head Scarves, also Smokers, and Missed Opportunities

Starting with the quick news, then moving to the rant. Ready? Good:

> Okay, here's my problem with stories like this. Is there anyone who said, "WHAT?! Diabetes? That's it, I'm quiting." What you think after shrugging off, lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and yellow-stained teeth, Type 2 Diabetes is going to be the straw that breaks the smoker's back? Really?

> When I saw this story, all I could think was, "Man! Why didn't we do more things like this when we were minors?" From over here, being pre-18 seems sort of like a license to dumbass doesn't it? Oh sure, we all dumbassed some, but who among us had the balls to prank call the President. Via the Secret Service, I might add. You really need an anti-guidance counselor when you're a kid, to sit you down and say, "Listen, you only have three years until they wipe your criminal record."

I think my favorite part might be when he says it wasn't too hard getting through Secret Service phone screening because he had Wikipedia open. That killed me.

>When the gang rape victim was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison, I almost posted. I was a bit late to the show, and what I had to say was pretty politically incorrect. Now, there is this.

This story has not gotten major play outside of Canada yet. I'd like to think that's because the it's based mostly on conjecture, but probably it just hasn't been noticed. Murders happen every day, donchaknow.

Before we go any further, I should say that yes, this is somewhat irresponsible journalism, and everything that has sprung up around it is irresponsible journalism. Mostly, people are reporting gossip as news here. We can't be sure why this guy killed his daughter, or even if he killed his daughter, although when a guy calls 911 and says that he just killed his daughter, you do get a certain smoke/fire correlation.

But here's why I'm writing about this: In some ways, it doesn't matter whether Muhammad Parvez strangled his daughter Aqsa because she wouldn't wear a head scarf, or because she wanted to listen to rap music, or whatever other reason. I mean, absolutely the motherfucker should be in jail for the rest of his life if he did it, regardless of why. But what I think is most interesting about this story, and the gang rape victim story, is that they are somehow working their way into a news narrative.

News is, for the most part, a pretty arbitrary beast. What comes to the fore is what is sensational and interesting. Most murders aren't news. Stacy Peterson's disappearance is a national story garnering months of articles and coverage. Soldiers who die in Iraq are lucky to get a line or two in that day's Iraq roundup.

But every so often, a bunch of stories start to coalesce, and soon you have something more than a story. You have a topic. When that happens, the hungry media searches out anything and everything, important or not, interesting or not, that serves the larger narrative, which inevitably turns into an issue. Global warming, immigration, you get the idea. Both those problems had been around forever, but suddenly they're news.

You see where I'm going with this. For a very long time, the West has sat and shrugged about the way the Muslim world treats women. In Iran, they recently had police perform a dress code "crackdown," rounding up and arresting women who they felt were dressed too immodestly (among other things). Adultery is punishable by death. Brothers, husbands and fathers often take matters into their own hands, like this charming Canadian gentleman might have done, and that rape victim's brother tried to do.

Now, the cynical part of me says there's not a lot we here in the West can do. I mean, we're not going to start a war, or GASP endanger our precious oil supply with real economic actions against Muslim countries. And anyway, Muslim countries are only a symptom here. The disease is Orthodox Islam's view of women. It may not be PC to criticize a religion but I'm going to. If a grown woman wants to wear a beekeeper suit for religious reasons, fine. Good for her. But saying a woman must, that she can't drive, or vote or what have you - that's no different from apartheid, no matter how you're justifying it. You have a right to your beliefs up until your beliefs require that you oppress others. After that, fuck you and fuck your beliefs.

(Of course, there's a goodly number of people who would literally want to kill me for saying that. But hey, at least I never named a teddy bear Muhammad. It is apparently acceptable to name a person Muhammad even if he later kills his daughter with his bare hands, but not a teddy bear, which might make the prophet look bad. But I digress.)

Anyway, there may not be a lot we can do politically about this. But part of me wondered what would happen if this became one of those topics. What if the global media was snapping up stories about Muslim abuse of women the same way it was snapping up stories on climate change? Wouldn't major religious leaders sort of start to feel embarassed? Wouldn't they have to keep making statements like, "We do NOT condone violence against women"? Might this not eventually start working its way into sermons and the like?

I know that most Muslims are like everyone else not particularly inclined to violence or nastiness or hatred, and it's only the religion's most extreme wing that does this stuff. Look at the way the British Muslim community dealt with Teddy Bear Gate for example. But it is still a problem, and it's a problem that will and can change, just the way apartheid ended, just the way women got the vote here, and everything else.

That is, with the help of the news.

Monday, December 10, 2007

While the newsroom has a hernia, I might as well update ye olde blog thing.

> Libby Drops Appeal! I gave this a red headline, and frankly I'm not sure why. Whoo hoo! Libby is officially a convict! That's totally going to hurt him when he applies to work at Blockbuster. You know, at least until Bush pardons him at the end of his term.

My favorite part is the lawyer's ridiculous attempts to make a victim out of Libby. Oh dear! Did you know this trial was too great a burden for his poor wife and kids? I mean, I know how they feel. When my dad kept fighting his conviction even though he'd already been let off the hook by the President, I know I was heavily burdened. I'd wake up at night screaming, "Why god, why?!" For a while, I could barely keep down solid food.

> Speaking of utterly ridiculous things, time for your Chavez update! We've all seen our share of crazy things done by foreign leaders. But it's tough to get crazier than making your own time zone.

You read that right. Hugo Chavez has ordered every clock in Venezuela turned back 30 min. Apparently, this is a jab at the United States. I think when Hugo Chavez orders his coffee in the morning, he believes he is insulting the United States. "Yes, I want two creams - two creams, I say! And no sugar! HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT MR. BUSH?!"

> While we're in our seemingly daily "crazy shit done by dodgy foreign leaders" segment, I feel obligated to bring this Pakistan story to your attention. Not because it's anything earth-shaking or anything, but because it contains the following amazing quote:
Musharraf also defended his recent actions, and scolded those outside Pakistan who he said do not grasp the enormity of the country's problems. "They appear to be thinking that in the developing countries there is no law and there is all dictatorship," he said.
Man, do I feel dumb for appearing to be thinking that. Where in the world would I have gotten a crazy idea like that?

> Scary thing? I was planning to include this very technology in a comic book soon, believing I'd conceived a pretty nifty piece of imaginary-yet-plausible tech. Now, it's a real world terrifying piece of privacy invasion poised to drive us all insane.

Don't you love science?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Elderly, White People, and Other Stories

My regular readers probably know that I'm not a big fan of organized religion. Mostly because my "regular readers" also double as my "friends" or "relatives."

So I was sort of surprised when I got so ridiculously enraged by this story about the Episcopal church.

Quick recap: The Episcopal Church raised waves when it - horror of horrors! - consecrated an openly gay bishop. That pissed people off so much that the Anglican Church (which the Episcopal Church is apparently part of or something) threatened to schism from them (but didn't.)

So now, an entire diocese in California of all places has broken off. I guess I'm surprised at that, but it's not what made me mad. What made me mad was a section that has since been removed apparently from the Reuters article I wrote my summary based on. From my memory the quote was something like this:
The vote was taken with clergy standing on opposite sides of a gymnasium. Then the lay-person delegates got up from the bleachers and walked to the side they were voting with. The delegates were overwhelmingly white and elderly.
I swear to god, I'm not making up that last sentence. The whole section is gone now, but it was there, I promise you.

There was just something ghoulishly infuriating about these old white men standing up and being counted, believing that their church was going the wrong way because it didn't hate gay people enough. This image just made me want to throw my laptop against the walls. I imagined their weird thought process, their simple belief (I imagined) that Church was going the wrong direction with all this treating the gays like equals business. Sure, love them like Jesus said, but for Christ's sake, they're avowed sinners!

But amateur mind-reading and rage aside, it made me realize something: Gay rights are going to win. Because old people die.

I know, not the most politically correct thing I've ever written. But hear me out. It's certainly true that old people are as different from one another as everybody else. I am positive there are many old people who are just fine with gay rights.

But I'm also pretty sure that those people are in the minority. Don't believe me? I found this in 2 seconds on Google. Don't click it though, or you'll give Fox News a pageview. Here's the upshot:

Two political scientists who analyzed two decades worth of Field Polls on the subject found that age was the strongest factor influencing whether someone opposed gay unions, with people born in the 1970s and '80s more than twice as likely to support them as those born before 1940.

See?

My thinking is, the older you get the more change you've had to watch in your life. You grew up in a different time with different value structures, and they've just been pushed too far. If you were born in the 1940s, black people still had to use the colored fountains. Now, we have something called the "internet" and men want to marry men. Probably, this is harder for you to accept than it is for me to accept, I get that.

But that changes. Our parents grew up in a world that was for black people much like this world is for gay people. There was a move to give them rights, but some people opposed it. Younger people, who had less prejudice, eventually won out, and taught (most) of their kids that black people were just as good as white people. Now those same people, our parents, are having a wee bit of trouble with the whole gay thing.

Most of us don't.

And they're going to die before we do.


> Hey remember that post I did about Chavez's crazy election non-fix? Whoops...

Seriously, how badly do you have to be losing to say, "You know what, I was going to fix this, but damn..."

> And now your crazy story of the week - Man fakes his own death, then gets sick of being dead and turns up pretending to have amnesia.

That link is just to the latest story - there've been loads of them, and frankly, you can sort through them yourself. My favorite part is that he faked his death in a canoe, then moved to Panama to set up a canoe resort. As his 80-year-old aunt said, "You couldn't make this up."

Here's my crazy thought though:

This guy got away with this for five years, and only gave up because he retardedly turned himself in.

What if there are, unbeknownst to us, people who this has worked for? We'd never know right? If this guy doesn't turn himself in, he's still dead to the world, right?

There could be hundreds of them. Out there. Somewhere.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Elections and Quasi-Dictators Edition

Voters went to the polls in two countries yesterday, and one of them shocked the hell out of me.

Let's start with the one that didn't surprise. That would be Russia. When they threw Gary Kasparov in jail for four days, you really learned all you needed to know about Putin's view on an open society.

When word broke that Putin had won yesterday's election, I began the countdown to election tampering allegations. If you had "under 24 hours later" in your office pool, congratulations.

These elections were basically a joke from the start. Even if government officials didn't rig the vote (and they probably did), the main opposition party was "disqualified" by the election commission, and the media, which is all either brazenly state owned or quietly state influenced, hadn't exactly been giving equal coverage to all sides.

That story originally contained a quote from Kasparov - who by the way, has to be the coolest dude in international politics - saying that Putin was "raping the democratic system." Maybe that's a little sensationalist, but it's also true. Putin is putting on a democratic dog and pony show that masks a defacto dictatorship. Elections are little more than a cheap ploy to add a veneer of respectability in the international community.

Probably Putin does have some popular support in Russia, but as Kasparov said when he came on Bill Maher's show, "How would you know?"

> So that's business as usual for these things. And it's the usual business I was expecting in Venezuela too. Didn't work out that way.

To recap: Chavez was holding a referendum vote that would have legitimized a constitutional amendment abolishing his term limit and basically making him a real, live communist dictator instead of a sort-of communist dictator. I expected him to win by the exact 10 points he was predicting, and I wasn't planning on believing a word of it. I'd have taken under 12 hours in the pool for complaints of tampering.

Instead, Chavez lost by one point... and took it calmly. This frankly astonishes me. Maybe Chavez isn't such a bad guy?

Of course Chavez is a pretty bad guy, prone to, say, shutting down media outlets that dislike him and making weaselly statements like "Whoever votes 'Yes' is voting for Chavez and whoever votes 'No' is voting for George W. Bush." Which is a statement so brazenly misleading, I'm surprised an American politician didn't say it. But at least he doesn't rig his elections. Or if he does, he sucks at it. These are good things to know.

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