Friday, November 05, 2010

Denial or Delusion?

For whatever reason, Obama won't admit that the country rejected his agenda on Tuesday. In his post-election press conference, he danced around the question at least five times.

Ben Feller at AP: Are you willing to concede at all that what happened last night was not just an expression of frustration about the economy, but a fundamental rejection of your agenda?

President Obama: I think that there is no doubt that people’s number-one concern is the economy...

Savannah Guthrie:Just following up on what Ben just talked about, you don’t seem to be reflecting or second-guessing any of the policy decisions you’ve made...

President Obama: ... I think that over the last two years, we have made a series of very tough decisions, but decisions that were right in terms of moving the country forward...

Savannah Guthrie: Would you still resist the notion that voters rejected the policy choices you made?

President Obama: ... I think that what I think is absolutely true is voters are not satisfied with the outcomes... The fact is, is that for most folks, proof of whether they work or not is has the economy gotten back to where it needs to be. And it hasn’t.

Well, he almost got it there. Note, though, that while he says "most folks" don't think his economic policies have worked, he himself doesn't seem to believe that.

Mike Emanuel: ... I’m wondering, sir, if you believe that health care reform that you worked so hard on is in danger at this point, and whether there’s a threat, as a result of this election.

President Obama: ... I think we’d be misreading the election if we thought that the American people want to see us for the next two years relitigate arguments that we had over the last two years.

Ed Henry: You just reject that idea altogether that your policies could be going in reverse?

President Obama: Yes.

He repeatedly refused to admit that his policies have failed and the American people have rejected his agenda. Even this zinger from Peter Baker - who used Obama's own words against him - didn't seem to sink in.

Peter Baker: Thank you, Mr. President. After your election two years ago, when you met with Republicans you said that, in discussing what policies might go forward, that elections have consequences, and that you pointed out that you had won. I wonder what consequences you think this election should have then, in terms of your policies.

So, is he in denial? You may think so; but this interview with Al Sharpton before the election shows that he knew exactly what this election was about.

OBAMA: But the key is to make sure everybody understands this election is important. My name may not be on the ballot, but our agenda for moving forward is on the ballot, and I need everybody to turn out.

Well, the American people agree. Your agenda for moving forward was on the ballot and we voted strongly against it. But, like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, President Obama will continue to fight on, considering his missing arm "but a scratch." That's not denial, that's delusion... or worse.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Representation Without Taxation

According to this The Tax Foundation, more than a third of tax filers had zero or negative tax liability in recent years - significantly higher than the 50 years between 1950 and 2000. I guess the Bush tax cuts went to more than just the rich...

A recent The AP Article reported that almost half of US households had zero or negative tax liability in 2009. Included in the group of non-payers would be a family of four earning $50,000 with the standard deduction and two minor children.

The gripe behind the original Tea Party in Boston was "taxation without representation." Now, some 237 years later, we have the opposite problem - representation without taxation. Almost half of the population doesn't pay federal income taxes but greatly influences how (and how much) tax money is spent.

Without diving into the merits and shortcomings of progressive taxation in general, it is clearly not a good idea to have too many people with no direct interest in fiscal responsibility. Think of it this way: if you go to a restaurant and have to pay for your own meal, you may order the shrimp basket and a glass of water. If the restaurant manager announces that the richest people in the restaurant will be charged for everyone else's meal, you may instead order the lobster feast and a bottle of Dom Parignon.

It is no wonder, then, that non-payers tend to vote for Democrats who support increased handouts and entitlements like Health Care Reform and try to convince voters that tax cuts unfairly benefit the rich.

All is not lost, though. A recent Gallup poll showed that the modern Tea Party is a fairly representative cross section of the citizenry with regard to age, education, employment and other common demographic identifiers.

The stage is set for another ideological battle this November. Will Democrats convince us that HCR won't break the bank; or will the Tea Party's message of limited government and fiscal responsibility sway voters to elect conservatives? This layman is cautiously optimistic that the pendulum will start to swing back to the right.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fun With Charts

The President recently asked people to start using a new Twitter icon to publicize the progress made by the stimulus bill. The icon is a bar graph that shows the number of jobs lost by month for the last year of the Bush Administration and the first year of the Obama administration.

While most of us look at it and see a typical V-shaped recession curve, President Obama color codes the bars with the downward trend in red (blamed on Bush) and the upward trend in blue (credited to Obama).

I decided to create another icon using the same metric going back to 2004. The first three years of quarterly data are in red (credited to the GOP Congress) and the last three years in blue (blamed on the Democrat Congress).

My point is only this: charts can be used to say just about anything. Feel free to use this one to mock those using Obama's.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Avatar: Great Movie, Irrelevant Message

I went to see Avatar because the special effects looked awesome and the sci-fi space fantasy story looked interesting. I was disappointed by neither (although, I found the 3D more distracting than enhancing). The CG was flawless and the world of Pandora was an engrossing tsunami of visual stimulation. The plot was predictable, but very well conceived and well paced.

The device used to create Avatar’s intriguing fictional story line – exaggerate an otherwise negligible element, extrapolate the consequences in the absence of natural controls and see where it takes you – has been used by many authors. Isaac Asimov explored a future where an exaggerated desire for safety and convenience with no regard for the consequences resulting in robots that protect us through subjugation. Climate "scientists" model a world where CO2 has an exaggerated warming effect while nature’s dynamic checks and balances are simplified and marginalized resulting in a fanciful tale of higher seas, intensified natural disasters, drought and famine. Both are fascinating works of fiction.

Avatar employs this method by exaggerating corporate greed and diminishing moral checks and balances – the result is attempted genocide and environmental destruction to obtain an extremely profitable resource. Throw in some “soldier falls in love with primitive native girl” from Pocahontas, some “spiritual planetary being” from Final Fantasy, a dash of “mind connection, biotechnology and cool military equipment” from The Matrix and a hint of “single-minded enemies vs. balanced, dynamic heroes” from Star Trek and you’ve got yourself a great movie.

As with most stories there is an intended “message.” In Avatar, James Cameron wants us to decry greed and imperialism that “tends to destroy the environment.” While I agree that in the fictional world of this movie this scenario is plausible and abhorrent, in reality, I don't accept the analogy that the American Military-Industrial Complex is as evil as the corporation in this movie, nor is it headed there; so, the “message” is irrelevant. It’s like saying, “stop murdering your neighbors and burning their houses down so you can have a bigger back yard.” Well, I’m not and I wasn’t planning to; so, whatever.

The left:
is getting all fired up about a “liberal message movie” making a big impact. They think conservatives are greedy imperialists that have no regard for the environment or other cultures and believe the record breaking turn-out implies that all those people agree with them. The audience finally sees what evil, greedy bastards we are and will now rise up and defeat conservatism once and for all.

The right:
is getting all fired up about our characterization of the left being vindicated. We think that liberals are arrogant socialists that fraudulently exaggerate every issue to attack capitalism and destroy personal liberty. Hollywood is constantly interjecting its liberal agenda into entertainment media and James Cameron’s has finally admitted what the right has known all along.

If Cameron’s goal was to transform the political landscape and shine light on the evils of unchecked capitalism, this movie was an utter failure as both sides are standing their ground and declaring victory. If, on the other hand, his intention was to earn money like a capitalist by selling a ground breaking special effects movie and wisely exploiting free press by sparking political derision, then it was an overwhelming success to the tune of $1 billion and counting.

For this layman, it was a great movie that earned my money at the box office and probably will again when the DVD is released. Since I don’t accept the political premise, it was purely a work of fiction with a noble, but irrelevant message. James Cameron, you have my condolences… or congratulations.