Tag Archives: Obama

The millionaire tax, American- and French style

(originally written Apr 19, 2012.  Part of my Great Upload of 2013.)

The American “millionaire tax” plan

At the moment, Obama is facing stiff resistance from his proposal to tax all income above $1,000,000 per year at a rate of 30%.  This, despite the support of one-time world’s-richest-man Warren Buffett, who wondered in a NY Times editorial last year why he, a billionaire, paid a lower tax rate than his secretary.

(Answer: most of Buffett’s income comes in the form of capital gains taxed at 15%, which is lower than income tax rates paid by all but the lowest-paid labourers.  A similar situation exists in Canada — capital gains are taxed at half the rate of actual work.)

The French “millionaire tax” plan

As has become the regrettable pattern, Obama’s proposal sounds nice on the surface, but pales in comparison to others being bandied about.  A French economist suggested his country raise the top rate from 40% to 60%; and, not to be outdone, Francois Hollande, the leader of France’s Socialist Party, proposed 75%.  :)  And get this — with the election imminent, Hollande is topping the polls!!

Of such things, the new leader of Canada’s NDP, Thomas Mulcair, can only dream.  ;)

France being France, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for Hollande to win the election and runoff.  In 1988, the year after Reagan gave his famous “tear down this wall” speech in Berlin, and with Glasnost and Perestroika in full effect in the Soviet Union, France re-elected a Socialist as President.  Yessir, the French rabble takes marching orders from nobody.  :)

In May 1968, student protests there went viral and culminated in a general strike by two-thirds of the working population, causing President de Gaulle to flee the country, fearing revolution.  (Not an unreasonable fear; in the prior two centuries, the country had gone through four revolutions and two empires, and was on its fifth republic.  They even found the time to restore the monarchy once!)

In the snap election a few weeks later, in a display of that characteristic French je ne sais quoi, voters gave de Gaulle a landslide majority, having decided that he was actually better than the alternative, after all.  (When they say a week is a long time in politics, kids, this is exactly what they mean!)

Millionaire surtaxes in general…

In broad terms, surtaxes on the very highest incomes tend to be difficult to implement, because the 0.001% who live in “Richistan” tend to move between countries in a game of tax whack-a-mole.  Aiming at the top 0.1% or even 1% is probably more productive, as they’d be more likely to look for tax loopholes, than move to the Cayman Islands.  And that at least creates jobs for accountants and lawyers.  Plus, there’s more of them.  ;)

This makes me wonder if, for all the global advantages English brings us internationally, it becomes a disadvantage, here: Canadians can move to most parts of the US without suffering much culture shock.  Britain and Australia would be bigger cultural leap, but most of us would still have “home-language advantage”.

For the uberrich Swede, Norwegian, German or French person to emigrate to a lower-tax zone though, they’d have to leave their social circles, adapt to a new culture, and manage day-to-day in a different language.  And if they wanted to stay close to home, their selection would mostly be limited to countries they’ve historically invaded, or countries which have invaded them.  (It’s awesome, the kinds of elaborate theories you can come up with, when you don’t bother to back them up with data!  But in this case the Wall Street Journal provides some cover for the idea that even if the well-off say they’ll leave, they usually don’t.  Reminds me of a certain someone at work, actually…  ;)  )

On this side of the pond, no one really raises a fuss about our cousins’ invasions (1775, 1812) or the fact that we burnt their White House in revenge (1814).  So for well-off Canadians, border-hopping mainly means cheaper home, gas, dairy, phone, TV and internet costs.  ;)  That, and having to put up with heathens who don’t know that some words aren’t meant to be pronounced “abowt”.  ;)

Newsflash: Canadian PM’s American Idol supports Stephane Dion-esque carbon tax shift

Note: for non-Canadian readers (or, indeed for Canadian readers who don’t follow politics) Stephane Dion was the milquetoast who led the Liberal Party of Canada to its then-worst-ever federal election result in 2008.  He ran on a campaign of a carbon tax shift (“The Green Shift“), for which the Conservative Party mocked and savaged him.

We’ll get to Stephen Harper and his erstwhile idol after the jump, but a bit of background discussion is necessary to provide a proper context…

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Mitt’s bad day (wasn’t nearly as bad as the dinosaurs’)

As expected by everyone outside the American right-wing echo chamber, Obama handily defeated Romney in the US election.  In the weeks leading up to the election, pollster Nate Silver (who posts at the New York Times) came under such ferocious criticism from Fox News & friends, for purportedly “skewing” his results to inflate predictions in Obama’s favour, that you’d think he was a climate scientist!  That wasn’t just my left-leaning impression, either.  David Frum — former George W. Bush speechwriter David “Axis of Evil” Frum — tweeted to that effect!

As it turns out, it was the American right which was diddling the numbers in their favour, much as they do with climate data as it arrives.  (This is known as the “down the up escalator” technique.)

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It’s been interesting following the chatter this election cycle, as people wondered whether Obama could win the white vote; whether half-white and already-once-elected incumbent President Obama, could win the white vote.  (As it turns out, Romney got a higher percentage.  It was pretty obvious he would, given the data from the 2008 Obama-McCain election.  Obama got 50% of the white vote outside the American South, but only 30% of the white vote in the American South.  That doesn’t look suspicious at all…!)

Perhaps Chris Rock’s outreach efforts to white voters helped Obama carry the day.  (He left it to the Jay-Z fan club to rally the home crowd.)  :)

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Things really went grim for Mitt when some investigative reporting showed that while Solyndra-type failures represented 8% of government energy-startup-company investments, when Romney headed Bain Capital a full 22% of its investments went under.  (Admittedly, Bain’s specialty was the business equivalent of organ harvesting.)  I guess that’s why people say government shouldn’t pick winners and losers — when they do, they make the private sector look bad.  ;)  There’s some highly enjoyable Daily Show coverage here (it’s about 2 minutes in).

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Of course, as bad as Tuesday was for Mitt, on the “bad days” scale, it was pretty mild.  Consider the dinosaurs.  One of today’s leading theories — based on extensive computer modelling — suggests their extinction happened in one day.

While the dinos may have been in a bit of a decline for several million years prior  (an “evolutionary recession”, perhaps?) the 15-km-wide asteroid that hit them is thought to have hit land, with the heat causing continental-scale forest fires.  A huge plume of debris is then thought to have entered low orbit, spreading across the world’s skies before falling back to earth several hours later.  And like all space objects re-entering the atmosphere, the friction of re-entry caused it to burn up, giving off tremendous heat.

The calculation is that this would have been the equivalent of putting the planet in a pizza oven for several hours.  Land surface temperatures would have risen far, far above boiling around the world, and the top few inches of ocean water could have been vaporized.

The boiling temperatures would have killed off any dinosaurs not already affected by the forest fires; and taken out most of the terrestrial plants, too.  Mammals are thought to’ve survived because our long-ago mouse-like ancestors lived in underground burrows and were able to escape the heat.  Birds also survived because their common ancestor also used  underground burrows.  (Hmm… maybe those hobbits are onto something.  :)  )

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By this theory, the sea life extinction would’ve happened in the subsequent years, as sulfur-aerosol dust clouds dimmed the sun and reduced photosynthesis.  Then as the aerosols fell to earth, they’d’ve turned into sulfuric and sulfurous acids (H2SO4 or H2SO3) which would’ve acidified the oceans, killing off shell-based creatures and hitting the food chain for a double whammy.

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Next update soon.  I gotta start looking at basement suites.  ;)

When billionaires brawl… (some US election thoughts)

So, the US elects its next President (or re-elects its current one) today.  One hopes that our southern cousins avoid the fiascos of 2000 and 2004.

As all but the young recall, the 2000 Gore vs. Bush US election hinged on Florida, where George Bush’s brother Jeb was governor.  Before the election, Republican operatives had conducted a voter purge to illegally remove thousands of people from the voters’ lists — conveniently, people who overwhelmingly tended to vote Democratic.  After the election, a Supreme Court voted 5-4 that rejected votes shouldn’t be re-examined and where appropriate, added to the tallies.  Two judges on the majority had been appointed by Bush’s father, George HW Bush, who chose not to recuse themselves from the judgement.

The voter purge, incidentally, was a feature story by the investigative journalist (and Canadian!) Greg Palast in December 2000 in the online magazine Salon, and was televised in early 2001… on the BBC.  It never aired in America.

In the 2004 Kerry vs. Bush election, Ohio went Republican after condemnable measures by the Republican state government to suppress voting in Kerry-leaning districts.  (Astonishingly, the state even limited the access of international observers.)  It couldn’t’ve hurt that the private-sector companies which owned and operated the voting machines, were Republican as well.  To quote from the blistering Harper’s story, None Dare Call it Stolen:

In Butler County the Democratic candidate for State Supreme Court took in 5,347 more votes than Kerry did. In Cuyahoga County ten Cleveland precincts “reported an incredibly high number of votes for third party candidates who have historically received only a handful of votes from these urban areas”—mystery votes that would mostly otherwise have gone to Kerry. In Franklin County, Bush received nearly 4,000 extra votes from one computer, and, in Miami County, just over 13,000 votes appeared in Bush’s column after all precincts had reported. In Perry County the number of Bush votes somehow exceeded the number of registered voters, leading to voter turnout rates as high as 124 percent. Youngstown, perhaps to make up the difference, reported negative 25 million votes.

Yes, the roughly 60,000 voters in Youngstown, Ohio cast roughly four hundred negative ballots, each.  When a mandatory hand recount of 3% of Ohio’s precincts showed discrepancies between the manual totals and the computer-generated ones, by law full recount should’ve been performed, but one wasn’t.

Bush’s margin of victory in Ohio was 100,000, for a 51% to 49% advantage in the vote totals — which may or may not have been bigger than the effect of the manipulations outlined above.  We’ll never know whether Bush would’ve won the state without performance-enhancing help, but the Simpsons’ Mr. Burns commented a few years ago that at least Bush won the second time around… unless people found the missing ballot boxes.

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Fortunately, Obama seems to have a big enough lead in 2012 that these kinds of electoral chicanery crimes won’t change the outcome — though one can’t fault Mitt Romney for trying.  He’s got close ties to Hart InterCivic, which provides voting machines for Ohio.  Fortunately for the optics of the situation, Hart only counts a small percentage of Ohio’s total votes.  Organized voter-intimidation and -disenfranchisement tactics will probably have a bigger effect, but again not big enough to remove Obama’s apparent lead.

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Obama regains “Eye of the Tiger” in 2nd Presidential Debate

I missed the first Presidential Debate last week, but gathered from the chatter that Mitt Romney stole a round from a woefully-underprepared President Obama.  The commentary gave the sense that Obama prepared for the event in the way Apollo Creed prepared for the fight in the first Rocky movie.  As Apollo’s trainer told him after the champ got knocked down the first round, “he doesn’t know it’s a damn show, he thinks it’s a damn fight!”

Media leaks even suggest that Obama actually thought he won the debate for most of the next day, until some metaphorical kid burst his advisor-bubble with a “hey, the emperor is naked” moment.

I saw portions of the second Presidential Debate yesterday night, in which “2008 Obama” reappeared, thoroughly out-debating and out-classing Romney, whom the moderator caught in a massive factual error (see about 1:20) – Romney insisted it took Obama two weeks to call the attack on the American Embassy in Libya a terrorist act, whereas Obama had in fact called it an “act of terror” the next day.  Ah, the perils of relying on Fox News for one’s facts.  :)

Returning to that first Rocky movie, Obama pummelled Romney the way Apollo pummelled Rocky in Rounds 2 through 14.  For you cultural orphans who haven’t seen the movie — it was the 8 Mile of its day! — this video clip provides a good summary.  The rest of the movie is largely filler.  :)

And incidentally, on the topic of 8 Mile, in its climactic rap-battle Rabbit disses arch-nemesis Papa Doc’s privileged upbringing, saying (in a totally NSFW clip):

I know something about you, you went to Cranbrook – that’s a private school!  

Given that Romney actually DID go to Cranbrook as a kid, bullying a gay classmate no less, it’d be beyond awesome to have Obama use that as a one-liner in the last debate!  :)

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Combined with Joe Biden’s casual beat-down of Paul Ryan in the Vice-Presidential debate, things are looking up for the Democrats.

Unfortunately, the outlook is more nuanced – negative, even – for progressives.  The American right-wing has moved their goalposts so far to the right, Obama inevitably looks good by comparison.  As such, he gets support from American liberals (think New York Times readers) and the American left (think Michael Moore).  Back in the day, it was said that Bill Clinton was the first black President, because of the extraordinary support he enjoyed from the African-American community.  Future historians and students of politics might well call Barack Obama the first black Republican President, because he’s basically governed as a moderate Republican.  Despite high hopes, BHO has fallen well short of FDR.  And in some key ways, he’s indistinguishable from GWB.

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Commemorating Joe Romm’s “Language Intelligence”

Joe Romm‘s book Language Intelligence is now out in the US (but maddeningly, remains unavailable in Canada).  Early reviews proclaim it as both a rhetorical masterpiece, and a masterpiece on rhetoric.

To commemorate the book in my small way, I dug up a piece I wrote for a competition on Dr. Romm’s blog, Climate Progress.  In 2009, he asked readers what they’d have Obama say, if they could write the energy and environment portion of his inaugural speech.

I made a couple light edits; some phrases sounded a lot better three years ago than they do now.  Regrettably, Obama’s “yes we can” is among them.  It rings hollow in 2012, given that his governing philosophy has largely been “no we can’t” — no we can’t switch to single-payer, universal health coverage; no we can’t prosecute financial corruption; no we can’t pass a climate bill; and so forth.

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