Well, I’ll be Duct

I wonder if all the people rushing out to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting are the children and grandchildren of those folks who paid thousands of dollars to build bomb shelters in their backyards in the 50's.

As a former CBR officer trained in Fort McClellan, I think that trying to protect yourself from chemical or biological attacks with duct tape is one of the most ridiculous ideas I've heard lately, and there are plenty of ridiculous ideas coming out of Washington DC these days.

Do you think there could be any connection between the increased beating of war drums trying to generate enthusiasm for America's upcoming invasion of Iraq and the high alert the Bush administration has placed the nation on?

When people are scared enough that there is a run on plastic sheeting and duct tape, you know they're scared enough to want to go after Sadam and Bin Laden, don't you? What better way to drum up support for a war than to tell people that they're in imminent danger.

While it's probably prudent to always have an emergency kit available, I would argue that you are in less danger from a terrorist attack than you are from a possible chemical spill from an industrial plant, a derailed train, or an over-turned truck.

Don’t Point that Cannon at Me

Bill Moyer's Now continues to be "must-see" TV for me. Tonight's show focused on proposals coming out of the the Justice Department, proposals that would make the measures enacted in the original USA Patriot Act mild by comparison.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, these proposals have been kept under tight wraps. Only Republican House Majority Leader Dennis Hasert has received a copy of the new proposals. Now if the thought of an ex-gym teacher being the only member of Congress to have oversight over the Justice Department doesn't scare you, you can probably stop reading this entry right now.

The scariest of these proposals is the ability to make "secret arrests," something never before allowed in America. People would just suddenly disappear without any official notice. This might not be all bad if it could somehow make Attorney General Ashcroft or President Bush disappear, but it seems unlikely that such stalwarts of freedom would be affected by such laws.

Instead, it seems far more likely that those opposed to Bush and Ashcroft's assault on the Constitution would be likely candidates of being disappeared. I'm surprised that Moyer and his guest from the obviously unpatriotic Center for Public Integrity weren't disappeared before tonight's show.

If political events continue in this vein, I may have to adopt Raye's methods of dealing with the news.

Fighting the Good Fight

If I were to allow myself, I could easily get depressed over the current state of the nation.

I accepted that we were going to fight a war I did not believe in when Congress gave the president the power to attack Iraq with little more than a murmur months ago. It's cheering, though, to see people protesting in the streets of Portland again.

I accepted that the Republicans care as little about the environment as they do about the health of those who cannot afford medical care. I'm cheered, though, by the corresponding rise in action among environmental groups. The increasing number of internet sites that encourage citizens to write congressmen will give those of us concerned with the environment increasing opportunities to talk to our congressmen.

I accepted that the Democrats have taken the worst beating in my lifetime in the last election. I'm cheered, though, by the fact that they haven't given up hope of regaining the congress and that I've been inundated with fund raising letters from the Democratic party, both at the national and local level.

I'm even more cheered by the attempts of the local Sierra club to leverage email and the net to encourage their members to get more politically involved. I might even break all my rules and actually go to a meeting.

If these people can get me to attend a "political" meeting, there may be hope that they can energize others who have been less opposed to taking political action.

I'm equally cheered that Shelley , among many others, hasn't given up the good fight.

Taxing Upward Mobility

A recent article in the Christian Scientist Monitor called “'Upward mobility' in real decline, studies charge”reminded me how many Americans equate “democracy” and “capitalism.” These are probably the same Americans who are sure we live in a democracy, whereas, strictly speaking, we live in a Republic, not a democracy.

Personally, I suspect that unfettered capitalism is more likely to lead to an oligarchy than to a democracy. In fact, if recent statistics are to be believed, America is moving away from a mobile society where people rise or fall based on merit to a society where people’s fate is largely determined by their birth status, not merit. One has to ask whether democracy is truly possible in such a society. Certainly, equal opportunity would have to take on a new meaning in such a society.

Some argue that taxes attempt to promote the kind of society that America wants. For instance, taxpayers are allowed to deduct the interest and taxes on their home because lawmakers felt that owning a home was an essential part of the American dream. Recent tax breaks for educational expenses and more recent breaks on savings all attempt to promote positive behavior.

If the purpose of taxes is to promote positive behavior, one has to wonder what kind of behavior the government is trying to promote by getting rid of the inheritance tax.

As far as I can see, repealing the inheritance tax because it is an unjust “death” tax will tend to buttress, not bridge, the divide between the “haves” and “have nots” discussed in the Monitor article.

The inheritance tax was originally seen as a way of insuring that America was not burdened with a permanent aristocracy the way Europe was. Yes, the richest families have found ways to get around most such laws, but at least the laws tried to level the playing field.

Today’s aristocracy is based on inherited wealth rather than on inherited titles, but the end result is not too different. If such wealth is allowed to build without any legal restraints, the divide will continue to widen and true democracy will become less and less viable.

How Much will the Dividend Tax Cut Save You?

Although I don’t consider myself a tax expert, friends sometimes ask me what effect proposed tax relief would have. Lately several have asked me what effect cutting the dividends tax will have on them.

My answer is that unless they own individual stocks it will have very little effect upon them. Yes, some people will gain small amounts on their mutual funds. My wife owns about $140, 000 in mutual stocks and we would have saved $48 last year if dividends hadn’t been taxed. Since not many of my friends own that much stock outside of their retirement plans, I imagine their savings would be even less.

I doubt that a tax saving of $48 would have engendered the kind of enthusiasm we see for this particular tax cut. I suspect it is those with millions of dollars in stock investments who’ve pushed for these cuts. Spending the $48 I saved last year is hardly going to spur the economy. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that it is the rich and the super-rich who are likely to gain any real benefit from this tax break and who will, if you believe the trickle-down theory, spur the economy to new heights.

Since all of my stock is tied up in my 403b, it’s doubtful that I would see any real tax benefit at all. I imagine that most of the 50% of people who own stock, if we are to accept those Republicans statistics, own it indirectly through their 401k, 403b or other retirement programs. They will gain very little benefit, if any, from this tax cut. After all, nothing is taxed until they pull their earnings out after retirement, and then it’s all taxable, isn’t it, even those untaxed dividends.

What the tax break will undoubtedly do, though, is to push the tax deficit up, further endangering the Social Security fund and Medicare. Taxpayers might ask themselves who will rely more on those funds in the future, themselves or those who want the dividends tax eliminated?

Taking the Offensive in Europe

Apparently not satisfied with merely causing a split between long-time allies American and South Korea, Bush administration officials seem to be going out of their way to alienate our allies in Europe.

As reported in this Christian Science Monitor article, that master of the obvious lie, Secretary of Defense Rumsfield seemed to go out of his way to offend Germany and France:

Echoing Mr. Bush's irritation with Germany and France in particular, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday denounced their opposition to war as "old Europe." He said the two countries didn't represent all of Europe: "Now you're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe," he said. "If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the East," the CBC quoted Rumsfeld as saying.

I must admit that I find it difficult to understand what administration officials hope to accomplish by labeling Germany and France as “old Europe.” These are, after all, important trade partners, if nothing else. Do they really believe that countries like Hungary and Yugoslavia are going to replace Germany and France as customers and trade partners?

Does the Bush administration feel its attempts to cut dividend and inheritance taxes will build such a strong American economy that we will no longer need to trade with anyone other than England and Australia?

With few signs that the economy is going to rebound in the near future, it increasingly looks like the Bush administration is gambling that a victory in Iraq will lead to their re-election. They appear desperate to start our war with Iraq as soon as possible, whether or not UN inspectors can find evidence to support our claims that Iraq is readying weapons of mass destruction.

The real question is how long it will take the next administration to undo the damage this administration has done to our foreign relations. This adminstration seems as intent on squandering any good will the Clinton administration gained in the world by using our powers to gain peace as they have been to spend budget surplus that Clinton's policies accumulated.

Making the World Safe for Christians

It just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it? If I were to choose a theme song for this administration, it would have to be: "Who Let the Idiots Out." It's hard to imagine an action less likely to actually find terrorists while still managing to offend the greatest number of Muslim immigrants. You'll have to read the Yahoo articleto see whether you agree or not. Damn, I might have to donate to the ACLU, yet, this Christmas season.