Saturday, October 27, 2012

Should We Tax the Rich?

The central tenet of Obama's economic platform is to raise marginal rates on the wealthiest 2% of Americans. There are many reasons why this may or may not be a good idea, or a "fair" one.... but let's just assume that it is, and it was implemented. Below is a thought experiment that examines whether this idea even holds water as a plan to reduce the national debt under current spending levels.

The exercise is a basic one... and relies on easily provable demographic facts about our country, as well as well documented phenomena about tax avoidance under given tax regimes. The conclusion: this is not enough. Even if we could somehow take every single penny from the top 2% (while preventing them from moving to the Barbados) we would not have even covered half of the deficit.

Americans deserve a better plan than this - they deserve to be offered a plan which actually presents a solution to our debt crisis. It stands to reason why the Obama camp has offered this plan, though. Why? This is an easy sell. 312 million people in this country would see no tax change if this plan were implemented. In the meantime, we've provided an incentive for the most innovative and resourceful men and women of our country to be less so, as they will not be rewarded as much for the efforts. It is debatable whether this is a reasonable price to pay if this in fact fixed our problems..... but it clearly doesn't. As a recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out, which gave similar estimates as to its implications, the $72 billion that this plan proposes to save is "a rounding error" in the grand scheme of the deficits that we are currently facing.

It's not the class warfare or the populism that bothers me when I hear in every Obama campaign commercial or stump speech that "we just want the wealthiest to pay a little more," it's the undeniable fact that the "arithmetic," as Bill Clinton would like to say, just proves that it doesn't come close to addressing the issue.

Friday, August 31, 2012

How I Know Benjamin Harrison From A Fellow Miami Alum.

 How I Know Benjamin Harrison From A Fellow Miami Alum.
It was a fall morning in Oxford, and as I strode along the Slant Walk the Beta Bells rang out nine times in the chilly November air, indicating I was going to be a few minutes late to my morning class. Just a few short years before, my fellow alum Benny no doubt strode down the same iconic pathway past the Phi Delt gates and the Poli-Sci building which bears his name to this day. You see, Benny and I have a certain affinity for one another, given we went to the same university... all of the pundits, authors, and commentators can say what they want about him, but you really have to have studied in the same general area of him sometime after he did to really grasp his true beliefs and character. Yes, Benjamin Harrison and I both went to Miami University - thus my credibility for all that follows here is established (thanks COM 131).
OK, now some may say that our 158 years of separation implies that Miami was a different place back in the Gilded Age than it was during the time following my matriculation as an undergraduate student, but these people are no doubt unaware of our alma mater's opening lyrics: "Old Miami, New Miami" - you know what that means, right??? Miami never changes. Old Miami IS new Miami. Benny Harrison knows this, Wally Szczerbiak knows this, and of course, the most famous of all Miami Alums who is making a splash in current day politics, Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, knows this. Now that I have silenced all of my nay-sayers, I'll get on with my point.
In the time that big Benny has left Miami, many who did not really know him have pontificated on his accomplishments, they have written books about him, they have even attempted to paint pictures of him - well let me just say this: all you "historians," "accomplished portrait artists" and "experts in your field" really know nothing about my fellow alum, Benny Harrison. I'll bet you did not know that we call him Benny. I'd even bet you guys don't even know the name of Miami's football stadium. You probably think it's "Miami Florida Hurricanes Field" or something, don't you? No. Miami was a University before Florida was a state, Buck-o!! Well, Benny and I know what the stadium is called. In fact, I can still see him there, cheering in the bleachers for the 'ol Redskins as they drive down the gridiron in hopes for their next bowl title - not literally "see him" in the sense of using my eyes... I mean see him in that we shared such a common experience that I may as well have seen him... it's called "imagery", folks.
The thing about Ben is that he so exemplifies typical Miami students across the ages that you really need to have spent four years at his alma mater to know what makes him tick.  Some may remember him as a typical tariff hiking, big spending, protectionist, Gilded Age Republican, but those people probably never took Zora Thurston's history class at Miami. Credible academics the world over can't stop writing about how right I am about this. It's all about thinking critically and understanding context. Most if not all historians who have published books about Harrison just don't know the context, that's all. They have never spent those long nights partying uptown into the wee hours of the morning on "Misogyny Monday", "Tipsy Tuesday", "Wild Wednesday", "Thirsty Thursday", and "Find Yourself Waking up in McCollough Hyde Friday" (Just to ensure that I have not just ruined my credibility as an intellect by appearing like a binge drinking, womanizing college student, I'd like to remind you I have two degrees, and darn near graduated with honors). Thorough examinations of the Harrison administration, in fact, reveal that he had these nicknames which have been in the Miami vernacular for years embroidered on a set of Oval Office couch pillows. That's right, Benny was just like the rest of us Miamians: He worked hard, and he played hard - if you think that his protectionism and tariff hiking only prolonged America's rise to global prominence in an ever increasingly globalized society, you are forgetting that Benny was a product of his time. He wasn't going to be the first bearded old white man in history to tell middle-class Americans working in the auto-factories of Detroit that their jobs were in jeopardy because we can get cheaper tires by importing them from Shanghai... no, that's not the Benny I know; 'ol Ben knew how to play the game.
So for all of you historians out there who think you know Ben, all I have to say is please refer to the following YouTube video which he has dedicated just for you. That's right: you don't know him at all. But I do. I spent TIME at Miami and know the likes of the man who became our "Michael Jordan" president. Before you write some blog, publish some book, or paint some "official White House portrait," consider the fact that you don't know him at all, because you did not go to Miami. I did. He and I are kindred spirits, and although I truly know nothing about his administration or policies, I can envision myself alive during his time, standing in the Oval Office while he receives Otto von Bismark of Prussia, who looks down at the embroidered pillows on the couch and in his broken English with a skeptical lifted brow asks, "What's up with that, man?" Benny looks at me and with a wink and slight grin just says, "Nothing Otto, nothing..." Ben and I know. And that's all that matters.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Game Changer

No metaphors are perfect when attempting to describe or clarify a situation, but they often help. Jesus used metaphors to explain things His disciples, and often even with His clarity and Godly talents of speaking, they just confused the heck out of them, causing the Savior to have to just lay in out in good ol' plain Aramaic. Somtimes they do help us grasp the heart of an issue which may otherwise just be a little to abstract to understand. Well dog-gonnit, I've got one that's darn good, and it involves our recently named presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and the Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff.
Rooted in our country's constitution is the principle of civilian leadership of the armed forces. Our founders knew that if generals controlled foreign policy, their esoteric views may distort the true national interest. History would indeed be very different if this check were not in place. World War III, for example, may have started in the winter of 1950 with MacArthur's nuking of China. Operation Iraqi Freedom may have been rendered moot with Stormin' Normin Schwarzkopf's victorious march into Baghdad in 1991 to topple the Hussein regime once and for all. But alas, for better or for worse, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces during both of these times was not a seasoned General of the Army, he was a polititian, with a much broader view of the situation than the men calling the shots on the ground. There have been several occasions when these brilliant military men of great accomplishment saw their successes sweep them into the role of commander-in-chief through their popular election as president: Washington, Taylor, Grant, Eisenhower -  to name a few. With the glaring exception of the first man in this list, these men did not make extrordinary presidents, as tacticians don't often make great polititians. I suppose all of the B.S. in politics tends to not jive well with a man who is accustommed to his success being evaluated by how many of his enemies he was able to have killed. 
Take a look at the picture of this man. General Martin E Dempsey. West Point grad, served in Desert Storm and went on to command all of CENTCOM, overseeing Baghdad during the time in which insurgency was reaching its peak. He then went on to be nominated as as Chief of Staff of the Army, before assuming the role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Dempsey is decorated with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star with “V” Device and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Action Badge, and the Parachutist Badge. Translation: this guy is a badass. See all the color on his chest? That means he's been around... and I dont mean in the Jersey Shore sense, I mean in the sense that you could probably count on one hand the people in the active military that have seen more or accomplished more than him. So what does this all mean? All of this knowledge, experience and ability, while it has given him the ability to think globally about all of our armed forces (hence his appointment as Charman of the Joint Chiefs), still wouldn't necessarly make him an effective commander-in-chief, let alone a great civilian leader. His views of the world are still esoteric -  framed by a lifetime of leading men to battle, planning and executing military operations, and ensuring that a mission is accomplished with speed, efficiency and effectiveness. There have been dire times throughout history, however,  in which men with military backgrounds have been effective national leaders: Winston Churchill many times outright overruled his top admirals and generals in the field on matters of tactics. Having gained a discerning military perception through his backgound in the Royal Navy, Chuchill had a global yet incredibly specific way of thinking about things . If we somehow had plunged into a new global war in the late fifties which required moving masses of armies around the world for battle, I could think of no better commander-in-chief than Dwight Eisenhower or Winston Churchill (granted, a war during that time would have probably involved wholesale nuclear exchanges, for this no general or leader would have been prepared). They could have stepped into a job for which their specific knowledge of war would have been incredibly useful - if you're going to have two world wars in as many decades, you may as well have the guy that won the first one for you take care of the second one, right? Unfortunately when Ike did step into office, it was duing a time in which knowing more than any man alive about amphibious operations and commanding mulltinational forces across mulitiple continents didn't do him much good. Hence as a president, he'll have to settle for a legacy as a highway-builder, not a world-saver.
Enter Paul Ryan. Political Science and Economics Major at Miami University - he received the best formal training in economics and politics that money can buy. That's right, chew on that Univeristy of Chicago and Harvard. Mr. Ryan is the Chairman of the House Budget Committee and easily the most outspoken congressman on the Hill when it comes to the budget.  He's advanced ideas that could bring spending to levels that would be sustainable over the long term, allowing us to get out of our current "throw money at anything that moves" strategy of economic stimulus. His plan (perhaps to his own detriment) also addresses the "third rail" of American politics: entitlement spending. Any responsible budget must address how the current exponential spending growth for entitlment programs is unsustainable in the long run. Like his ideas or not, he's talking about it. Anyone who isn't talking about it (almsot everyone else), isn't capable of proposing a credible budget for the next decade.
Our country has big, big problems right now - the consequences of our problems lie a decade or two down the road, which is why no one is doing anything about it now. Just look at these trends. Notice the change in slope of the line every eight years. That's no accident folks -  and the slope has never been steeper than the last four years. If you follow that little line four more years out, it doesnt fit on the graph - were talking about moving that y-axis mark to... oh probably closer to the 25 mil mark. And no, that's not 25 million, it's 25 million million... that's right, 25 trillion dollars. Our national debt in four years under the current trend. See the problem, now? We need to change the slope of the little blue line, fast. Whether or not you think that means raising tax rates on the super rich is enough to do it is up to you, and hopefully that's a conversation we'll be having this fall.
Were in a crisis situation right now with the trajectory of our deficit spending. If that chart doesn't convince you of that, I dont know what will. We need leaders that have the capability of thinking incredibily specifically of how to solve this problem - numbers crunchers, budget gurus, Miami economics majors... dare i say. We need people capable of fundamentally changing the way our government conducts fiscal policy and revenue allocation. Someone that has sat in Laws 100 and daydreamed about how they are going to change the world one day for the better. If Paul Ryan doesn't fit this description to a tee, I don't know who does. He's the Dwight Eisenhower to your World War III beginning in 1958, no nukes invloved... the Aroldis Chapman to your bottom of the ninth, one run lead, any month but July and not in Ohio (did you know that the guy hasn't given up an earned run yet this year outside of Ohio? Whee doggy he's good... but I digress). We NEED to have this debate this fall - and I don't care if you are a Democrat, Republican, or anything in between, Paul Ryan's message is essential to getting that converstion going.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

La Vida Colorada

The rooftop is cold and inhospitable in the wind and stinging rain, but I grip my Titan and can't help but smile as I watch the storm front roll in off of the front range into the city.

"That's what I love about Colorado," Adam says, " it never forgets to remind you how wild it is."

Although Wash Park is now home to tens of thousands of hipsters, yuppies, and stay-at-home moms, this was once the land of the Arapaho. It was once the land of gold prospectors making the three day's journey to Central City and Black Hawk up Clear Creek Canyon - although I make this drive in 40 mintues flat every day and the mines have long since closed, ambitious (or perhaps delusional) gold "sluicers" still attempt to pull what's left of the dust from the creekbed today (one reported to me that a full day's sluicing is usually rewarded by about $50 in gold - thats about a paper clip's worth). Sure, every place in our country has its history, but Colorado seems incapable of hiding its feral past.

I still find myself hesitantly looking over my shoulder when I hear a sound in the brush while fly fishing in the stream running through Lair of the Bear, pondering for a moment why it is that the place was given its name. The idea that I could be killed by a snake while walking barefoot in my mother-in-law's back yard sometimes gives me pause. A wrong move on Floyd Hill going to work in the morning could send me careening down a mountain ravine that would make Gabe Walker blush (go ahead and Google that one, don't be embarrased).

God did not intend for certain parts of His creation to be tamed by humans - and although we've done our best to tame Colorado, it's clear that we still haven't managed. This is a land that attracts people from all over the world - they come to live here not for the great job prospects, the vibrant city life, or the fantastic standards of living. No, they come because there is something about waking up under the Rocky Mountains that makes one feel that they are still living in the wild west.

Sometimes, tragic events around the world, or even right here in our city, challenge the idea that God is good, or even that He exists. Colorado is one of those places that with one looks west, it's hard not to be convinced. As a great Colorado lover once said, " You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply." 

Yes John, I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky too.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Remembering 12

In memory of those 12 who died in Aurora early yesterday morning. Please pray for peace and for healing of the victims' friends and family, as well as those still in nearby hospitals.

Alex Sullivan
Micayla “Cayla” Medek 
Jessica Ghawi “Redfield
John Larimer
Veronica Moser
Matt McQuinn
Gordon Cowden
Jesse Childress
Rebecca Wingo
Alexander Teves
Alexander J. Boik 
Jonathan T. Blunt

Cayla Medek
Jessica Ghawi
Alex Sullivan

John Larimer

Veronica Moser-Sullivan
Matt McQuinn

Gordon Cowden

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Keepers of the Bridge

Ivanka was pleasant enough. She smiled a lot and made sure to explain the aging relics of the Ottoman Empire as the van rolled northwards into Bosnia and Herzegovina. The ride was long, and  I could not help as the van sat peacefully at the border crossing to think of the 600,000 Bosnians who for fear of their lives and in search of a new home had crossed in the opposite direction only 15 years before. What Ivanka did not explain were the burned out buildings which dotted the countryside, still standing as a reminder of the recent war. Our destination of Mostar derived it name from the phrase "keepers of the bridge", referring to the Stari Most, or "old bridge", which spans the Nerveta River in the city's center. The bridge was built in the 16th century, and survived long enough to support Panzers during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia - only to be destroyed in 1993 by Bosnian Croat artillery fire.

As we walked though Mostar, I felt that there was some tension which pervaded the city that was very real, yet carefully hidden. Ivanka, herself a Bonsian Croat refugee, mentioned that she would not be surprised if there was war again here in the next decade - yet walking though the city, with its touristy shops and pleasant exterior, one would never guess. Looking closer, there was something different about this city than any other I had been to: the dust on a life and death struggle between two groups of people who still live there today has barely settled. Yes, every tourist shop had copper Turkish coffee pots of all sizes as our tour guide was sure to explain, but I couldn't help but notice that every shop also sold little trinkets - airplanes, belts, cars, jewelry - all made out of AK-47 shells. As if embracing the sad reality that war is what now makes Bosnia famous, locals who still bear the scars of bombshells and shrapnel try to sell what once made them afraid to go into the streets as knick-knacks for tourists to take home with them - the same tourists from countries whose governments did not have the courage to lift a finger as the Serbian army began to give meaning to the term ethnic-cleansing.

We crossed the Stari Most, the beautifully rebuilt replica of the bridge which now stands over the rubble of its older brother at the bottom of the Nerveta River, and came to a vantage point so that the group could take photos. Looming above the city was a ridge which served as the high ground from which the Croats  bombarded the bridge and the Muslim side of town. Our Croat tour guide paused and pointed in the direction of the ridge.

"Finally..." I thought, "He is going address the sad reality of what happened here."

I wondered how he was going to explain the shelling of the bridge, given that it was his people that were responsible for its destruction - for some reason I felt that would require a fair bit of tact.

Instead, he told a joke about the ridge and we moved on for lunch. You have to pay a little extra to get the whole story, I guess.

It's not surprising that, especially in front of tourists, those that lived here portray a sense of optimism, and a desire to move beyond the past. People do not take vacations to be reminded that humans, from time to time, pick up arms and do their best to kill their each other. I didn't expect to get a full history lesson on a war which only recently ended from a tour guide whose people were the aggressors, but it was chilling to hear Ivanka say, "yesterday, we were fighting in the streets.... today, we are fighting in the parliament.... tomorrow, who knows."

As I write, the trial of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb General who was tasked with ridding his country of Muslims and became infamous for directing the Srebrenica massacre, has just gotten underway. It's hard not to think that it's possible to be sub-human, or something of the sort, when one watches this man chuckle and beam with pride as he watches videos of himself congratulating his men after they have just murdered thousands of men and boys for the crime of being born the wrong race.

Walking out of  the city, we passed some graffiti which would have seemed normal if not for one thing: the language in which it was written. On the Bosniak side of the river, inconspicuously tucked behind a table of souvenirs, was a rock that read, "Don't Forget" in English. Written in the language not of the locals who assuredly do not need this reminder, but of the passersby and tourists, who see the blown out buildings and after their quick tour which pretended they weren't there wonder... "What happened here?" The grave yard at the corner of town in which nearly all the tombstones are marked with a burial date of 1995, and even less with a birthdate before 1975, stands as a reminder of what they don't want us to forget.

 My wife and I arrived back to our apartment in Dubrovnik before sundown - plenty of time to freshen up from the long day and find a nice seafood restaurant overlooking the Adriatic in time for dinner. The town which felt so foreign just a few days ago strangely felt like home after having been to Mostar. At dinner, we watched as the lights in the harbor began to come on and fisherman tied down their boats for the night.  I thought of the bullet holes, AK-47 shells, and cemetery of teenagers, but quickly found my mind wondering to wineries and the beaches on Korcula Island, tomorrow's destination. One cannot dwell on such horrors when they are on vacation.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Good Things Come to Waiters (and Waitresses)

You're probably familiar with the saying "good things come to those who wait," the phrase made popular by a UK ad campaign for Guinness in the 1990's (if you think I'm wrong about this... check Wikipedia, sucka). Well, in this vein, all of my once loyal and diligent reader(s) (thanks mom(s)!) are about to be blessed with a good thing: the slated resumption of my blogging activity.

This first post in months is simply to explain a little bit about what to expect, and give somewhat of a foundation going forward. As anyone who has visited my blog before may notice - it is now a very much abridged version of what it once was, a shadow of its former self, as it were. The blog's original intention  was to be very much of a "no holds barred" forum topics- with the intent of ruffling feathers and hopefully beginning good discussion/arguments. Well, after some practical examples of how this may not be a good idea, I've scaled back a bit - I will no longer be name calling, inciting revolution, claiming that God is on his way back on a space ship behind an asteroid to redeem the faithful, or any of the usual things I did before. I've decided that this is not the proper forum for things of this nature, as if I am going to get into a heated debate about Che Guevara's hidden intentions when he started his famous t-shirt screen-printing company, I'd rather be close enough to my adversary to actually physically hit him (or her) in the face if I begin to lose the argument - I've never been one to hide behind cyber-space to avoid a good fight.

I considered maintaining a shadow identity and continuing to to blog in that vein (and even did so: like any patriotic blogger, I  Googled "signers of the Declaration, and picked an obscure fellow from New Hampshire to be my moniker... this was such a great idea that the main character of an entire television series could be designed around this premise). But alas, I realized that I just plain did not have the energy or willpower to continue along in that former fashion. So unfortunately, William Whipple will probably remain in historical obscurity for ever, having been known only for scribbling his name on some old document 200 odd years ago, rather than being the pen name of an up-and-coming 20-something blogger, whose wife falls asleep when he attempts to talk world events with her so is forced to write about them on the internet instead and isn't quite sure how to get a long thought across in a grammatically correct way without creating  a run-on.

So here it is. What you Cant Talk About at the Dinner Table 2.0. The originally intent of the title, to imply controversy, no longer necessarily applies - but now that I'm married and have learned a few more of what sophisticated people call, "manners", I've learned that, controversy aside, it isn't necessarily polite to talk through the entire dinner anyway, especially during the eating portion, due to reasons including the generation of projectile food material from the mouth and simple common courtesy. So think of the new title more in that regard: courteously restrained, yet a step forward and not backward (hence 2.0). Enjoy, and as always, I encourage any discussion/comments/questions that may arise as you being to immerse yourself in 2.0 - although if you have a passionate disagreement you would like to air, I would rather meet you in an alley behind bar in a shady part of town, and I'm bringing my roll of nickels.