Acts of Kindness

So my uncle has cancer. A particularly nasty one, but he somehow caught it early, and so he’s on the good side of a nasty probability curve. They’re well-off, and live near New York, so he’s getting treatment that’s at the edge of the state of the art.

Once a week he gets chemotherapy now (down from once a day), and once a day radiation therapy. For the last three days, I’ve driven him in, to give my aunt a break and to get some time with him one-on-one.

And I’ve been introduced to an amazing community, and to the very best of human nature.

It turns out that the appointments are at set times, and so he’s always there with the same group of people and their caretakers, and they have a kind of a club. He had to introduce me when we came in, and I sat with the other patients and caretakers and listened to them talk, because they do talk a lot.

And I’m stunned by something, by the grace and kindness and care that they take with each other. My aunt and uncle have a place in Mexico where they usually go for the winter; they’re working to get some of the other snowbirds to bring back a drug which one of the patients – a tow truck driver with lung cancer – needs, and which costs $60/dose here (he needs two a day). It costs $18/dose in Mexico.

Several of the people are in pretty bad shape, and everyone hovers around them, tending.

One women – swollen from steroids, I’d guess, dopy from painkillers and with some kind of neurological effect which makes it hard for her to move – came in. They’re Hispanic, and based on their clothes, not rich. Apparently their car broke down and another couple – just back from an around-the-world sailing trip – loaned them one. Kindness, care, and politeness mask the fear and concern.

The Hispanic woman’s husband dressed her for the cold this morning, tenderly pulling her coat on as she sat in her wheelchair, arranging her hat on her head, and then kissing her before he rolled her out.

I’ve seen this before, in parents of ‘special needs’ kids playing baseball.

It crushes me a bit that I don’t see it every day.

A Twofer!

Jim Capozolla, of Rittenhouse Review, has laid down the gauntlet to Wonkette (the new Washington gossip/lifestyle blog from the vast Denton Empire) and her fans over a bit of snark she wrote; he says link to her and be forever banned from links from him.

That’s a simultaneously chickenshit and stupidly arrogant thing to do. I’ve certainly had my share of disagreements – some less than pleasant – with folks on the blogverse, and a notion like that would never occur to me.

A Cold Reception

I’m visiting family in NYC, and (did I mention that it’s cold?) since they are arch-liberal Democrats and have TV, we’re spending the night watching the post-election TV after going out to dinner (did I mention that it’s damn cold?).

I’m impressed that Dean could mount such a strong comeback…but then he gets up and makes his speech.
He harks back to the united country of the early 70’s, and the hope brought by affirmative action, and the civil rights struggle…which suggests that in his rarified circles of Park Avenue and Aspen that he went through a different 70’s than I did, in which those struggles led to deep divisions which are as yet unresolved.

It’s an interesting side note that he’s spending so much time and focus appealing directly to what I called ‘the fantasy ideology of the Democrats‘ – the last great pure victory, which was the Civil Rights movement.

Sadly, it is a fantasy ideology, and it’s certainly not a winning electoral strategy, particularly when tied to a tin tongue such as Dean displayed today. He defended quotas, and then shouted out to his peeps from San Francisco – I mean come on, guy, 75% of the country wants to saw San Francisco off and tow it out to sea. I mean c’mon, guy, weren’t there any volunteers from Nebraska or Ohio you could point out? And I’m the guy who keep defending redistribution, and has some affection for affirmative action, and I was wincing when he stood up and defended – to huge cheers – quotas, abortion rights, and rights for gays. To some extent, I believe in all those things. But I’m also aware that those are serious issues on which people who ought to support the Democratic economic and other policies choke.

Hey, Howard, remember your ‘Confederate Flag’ speech? Those guys just wrote you off. And, simply put, there aren’t enough folks like my aunt and uncle to replace them.

Kerry’s speech was decently Presidential, and while he seemed less awkward than Dean, there’s still something missing for me.

But I think he’s got the high ground, particularly given Edwards’ poor showing, and the fact (as noted by CNN) that Kerry won among both voters angry at Bush and those opposed to the war – which should have been Dean’s core constituents.

Bummer about Edwards, though. And is it cold, or what?

CotC – A Counterpoint

Calpundit has a great post up on the issues of income inequality and the root of his (and my) concern about it.

So even if you don’t think that economic equality is any concern of the government, you should still be concerned about our ever more squeezed middle class. They are the engine of economic growth, and if we continue to pursue policies that ignore them the entire economy will pay the price. We need to start paying attention before it’s too late.


There’s a lot of pressure for us to quickly implement direct democracy over in Iraq. While I’ll qualify this by noting that I haven’t read the details of the proposals, I’ll toss out one quick question, assuming that it means what it sounds like – a direct national vote for a legislative and possibly executive body.

One question that’s been nagging at me, and I’ve expected my blogging betters to have raised:

We don’t have this here in the U.S., as Al Gore’s supporters know to their peril.

And as creaky and Rube-Goldbergesque as our multitiered republic may be, it seems to have worked pretty well, in defending varied and conflicting interests.

Any reason why that would be a bad idea over there?

And can anyone point me to the nitty-gritty of what’s being proposed – past the Guardian and CNN stories?

Is it War Yet?

So here’s the question for the day:

Are we at war?

It’s important to me, since I’m spending a bunch of time digging into the Democratic field and trying to see if I can support one of them, and if so, who.

Today, I had two ‘blips’ that made me pose this question. A column in the LA Times Opinion section, by one of their military correspondents, and something in our Technorati listing (note the new UI, and that it seems to work consistently now!).

Phaedrus (cool pseudonym, BTW) writes:

Truth is, there isn’t enough real risk to even be asking the question. Truth is, the Bushies are deliberately exaggerating the risk as a means of manipulating the people. They’re psychological terrorists their own damn selves. If right wingers would stop acting like incredibly cowardly wimps, we could get back to trying to act like a democratic nation. I don’t have much hope.

In the Times, William Arkin criticizes the Democrats from the left:

From none of the candidates have we heard anything approaching a strikingly new vision of how the United States should think about national security in a post-Cold War era marked by terrorism. And that’s not because no such vision is conceivable. Rather, it’s because the major Democrats … like a herd of dairy cows trundling across a pasture … have unthinkingly fallen in behind the tinkling bell of establishment assumptions about the world and how the United States should deal with it.

With so little argument on the broad principles, it’s no wonder Bush feels he owns the national security debate, especially at a time when America is “at war.”

And to me, that is precisely where the Democratic candidates for president, including Dean, have failed: They have not challenged the central premise of the Bush doctrine on national security — the endlessly repeated assertion that the United States is “at war.”

Initially, the “war on terrorism” was a figure of speech — like the “war on poverty” and the “war on drugs.” To the extent that the “war on terrorism” has become more than that, it’s because the Bush administration has elected to initiate military action in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and other countries of Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, the Caucasus and elsewhere.

If the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon can be likened to Pearl Harbor, there has been nothing to match the subsequent wholesale advances of Japanese forces across Asia. And there has been no mobilization of American society — except for how the Bush administration allowed Al Qaeda’s puny army to keep the American public spooked and worried about the future.

Wow. Pretty strong words. The suggestion, as I understand it, is that the conflict we find ourselves in is a creature of our own making – that we’re sending troops to battle the phantoms of our own fears.

He’s suggesting two theses with which I disagree pretty strongly: First, that ‘Al Quieda’s puny army’ posed no real threat to us; and second, following from the first, that our military actions abroad are starting a war where there was none before.

But Americans need to seriously consider whether the long-term threat to our civil liberties is justified by the protections we may (or may not) be afforded against terrorist attacks. Reasonable people could argue for different strategies. There are alternatives that might be equally effective in reducing threats but less alarming to the public, less divisive among our allies, less go-it-alone, less in-your-face. Subtler strategies are possible. Borrowing a page from stealth technology, for instance, the United States could lower its profile as a target even as it strikes at the heart of specific terrorist groups. There’s nothing soft or dovish about the punch of a Stealth B-2 bomber; it’s just harder to strike back at.

Well, we probably agree that the Homeland security steps taken by this administration (and largely planned in the last Congress) do more to limit our civil liberties than they do to limit our exposure to centrally-planned, large scale terrorism. His last notion, that somehow America can “lower it’s profile” in a world where its existence is seen as a triumph of mercantilist colonialism is kind of a challenge, and calls out for elaboration. I’ll assume that we embrace Kyoto and push away Israel; hand over our troops to the ICC (which recently was offered a case that the British use of cluster munitions in Iraq was a war crime). But maybe he means something else…and I continue to fascinated by the left’s support of covert action and assassination (‘Subtler strategies…’) in this conflict.

“As commander in chief of the U.S. military, I will never hesitate to send troops anywhere in the world to defend the U.S.,” Dean says. He might as well be Bush if this is what he really thinks.

I’m inclined at this point to toss the author out as someone I should read with a serious eye. If the President of the United States isn’t supposed to send troops anywhere else in the world to defend the U.S., what’s the point of the job? To appeal to the U.N. for assistance, like the Rwandans, so that a decade later, they can hold hearings on what went wrong?

In the end, it comes down to the Democratic Party assertion that it could run the same war and execute many of the same policies more competently. “Me too” didn’t work for Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. And Franklin D. Roosevelt argued successfully during World War II election campaigns that it was unwise “to change horses in midstream.”

Today, Democrats need to ask themselves: If we are in fact “at war” and facing such high stakes, why would the American public want to risk changing the White House leadership now?

Seeking a penetrating answer to that question might be good politics. It would certainly be a public service.

Here’s the $64,000 question, indeed.

I strongly dislike most of Bush’s domestic policies, and think that he’s doing substantial damage to our economy and polity by implementing them. In a world where 9/11 had never happened, I wouldn’t for a moment be considering supporting him.

And I’d be looking at other issues in choosing someone in the Democratic field than “do they have a coherent response to this?”

So here’s my research and thinking project for this week, as I’m travelling:

Is my perception that this is a serious war wrong?

Obviously, I don’t think so, but every so often it’s good to check.


* The Times gave a bio of Arkin: “William M. Arkin is a military affairs analyst who writes regularly for Opinion. E-mail: warkin@igc .org”. I went over to the website, and you should too, to help put some perspective around his writings. I’m still going to chew on the question, however.

* Calpundit responds.

Road Trip!!

I’ll be in New York from Tuesday to Thursday of next week, then in Washington (hopefully meeting Scott of Demosophia) and Charlottesville until Sunday.

I hear rumors that the serve alcohol on the East Coast, and that you, oddly enough, serve pizza without goat cheese and BBQ chicken on it.

Drop a note if you know of such a place to be found in my travels.

I’m A Liberal, Not An Idiot

My favorite whipping journalist – no, sorry, I shouldn’t say that, that’s really an insult to journalists – Steve ‘300K‘ Lopez, of the L.A. Times, is all over a plan by a couple of state college professors to get rid of the deficit by having a couple of rich people write checks and make it go away.

[Update: Patterico has exactly the same post. We’ve never been seen together, you know…]

While many of my friends have some of the same fantasies about their credit card bills, and I recall Richard Condon had a great line about it in one of the Prizzi books – the one where he’s remade as a Park Avenue WASP and run for President (now there’s a candidate I could back!! Which one is the Mafia hit man candidate, that’s what I want to know…), it’s somewhat more problematic where I live, in reality.

300K says in his January 11 column:

California, after all, is in the middle of the pack in state and local taxation, and we’ve got personal wealth like nobody’s business.

The state has 95 of the country’s 400 billionaires, and their net worth is $102.9 billion, according to figures sent to me by Bill Wong, chief of staff to Assemblywoman Judy Chu. It’d be chump change for them to loan us the $15 billion, interest-free.

In 2000, according to Wong’s numbers, 784 Californians with incomes above $200,000 paid no income tax at all. What’s the point of having an action hero as governor if he isn’t going to track those people down, put them in headlocks and grab their wallets?

Two professors … John Bachar of Cal State Long Beach and Paul O’Lague of UCLA … sent me a proposal that would raise enough money in two years to wipe out all our bills, and it wouldn’t cost 97.3% of Californians a nickel.

And damn, does he love that idea. He goes on to extol it more in his Jan 21 column:

…let me give you the background.

“When we heard Arnold Schwarzenegger say the only way to do this was with a $15-billion bond measure, we wanted to come up with an alternative that wouldn’t substantially change the lifestyle of any Californian,” says Paul O’Lague, who teaches molecular biology at UCLA.

O’Lague and his pal John Bachar, who teaches statistics and probability at Cal State Long Beach, have been studying income taxes and wealth distribution for years, and hosting salons to hash out their ideas.

They came up with a proposal that puts a surcharge on California residents with an income above $200,000, including a joint filing in which husband and wife make that much combined.

The surcharge would start at 0.5% for light heavyweights making $200,000, and climb to 7% for bombers hauling in $5 million a year or more. All told, this $200k-plus group accounts for just 3.1% of all tax returns, but has 35.9% of total personal income in the state.

The surcharge would generate a fat $13 billion a year, because California has more millionaires per capita than any state. (And Golden State billionaires, who account for more than one-fifth of the nation’s billionaires, have a net worth of $102.9 billion.)

“How much money can you spend on yourself?” asked Bachar. He echoed his colleague’s point that for the state’s aristocracy, the hardship of a surcharge could mean having to settle for a $9.5-million mansion instead of a $10-million estate.

Now let me point out two teeny problems with this notion. The first one is theoretical, but has been pretty well borne out in recent tax policy history. I’m willing to spend all the money I can raise by taxing you, and maybe a little more. When it doesn’t cost me anything, why not? The notion that the variable tax burden can be shifted to someone else – whether higher income taxpayers, or those who make their living from wages and not dividends – makes raising those taxes and spending pretty damn attractive.

To put it terms that 300K might understand, it’s like giving your kid a credit card you make the payments on. it might work out, but in most cases, it will end badly.

So the politics of it get messy.

And then there’s the little problem that it doesn’t work.

Somehow, the Sacramento Bee got Dan Weintraub, and we got stuck with 300K. It’s just not fair. Here’s Weintraub’s Sunday column on the subject:

Why should we care?

Because California’s skewed income distribution, combined with progressive tax rates, means that the people at the very top of the income heap pay a very high percentage of the personal income tax collected in this state.

Their extraordinary, onetime income surge at the end of the last century provided most of the new tax revenue that legislators and former Gov. Gray Davis used to raise teacher salaries, increase welfare benefits and expand eligibility to state-provided health care. But the decline that followed also accounted for most of the revenue drop that contributed to the state’s fiscal crisis. And as of the most recent tax year, they hadn’t hit bottom yet.

The million-dollar earners peaked in 2000, when 44,000 of them — about enough to fill your average baseball stadium — reported incomes totaling $172 billion and paid more than $15 billion in taxes. The tax take from that relative handful of returns accounted for more than one-third of all income tax paid in the state.

The next year, the number of returns reporting incomes that high slumped to 29,000. Their combined income also declined, by nearly half, to $95 billion. And here was the killer: Their tax liability dropped from $15 billion to just under $8 billion.

The money lost to the treasury that year would have been enough to pay for the state’s entire commitment to higher education, or most of the cost of the Medi-Cal system that provides health care to six million of California’s poorest residents.

The volatility in income and behavior mean that it’s damn hard for the state to rely on stable revenues from the ever-shrinking group of people deemed rich enough to be taxed. When I talk about behavior, I mean two things: many of them move away (cf Jim Clark), and most of them (even me) can ‘engineer’ their income around tax policy to minimize taxes.

Now, remember that I’m the guy who explicitly supports redistribution. I have no ideological bias against the idea that the rich should pay proportionately more, even a lot more. But I have this funny quirk. I believe that whatever the tax policy is, it has to work. That’s because I’m a part of the future Party of the Sensible, one that believes that policies should be judged on more than their good intentions.

I dinked around with an idea which I may try and get into the Hope Street competition if I can get some time to do research (or if I can find a volunteer to help out).

Sales taxes are anathema to progressives, because they are inherently regressive…lower-income household have to spend most of their income to survive, and so wind up paying a far higher percentage of their income in sales taxes. But they are stable, and more importantly, they are the means whereby those who earn in the cash economy contribute their share. Simply put, we ought to bump the state sales tax by a fairly significant amount, and rebate it back to lower- and middle-income taxpayers, possibly by covering some portion of their payroll taxes with it. Note that some burden will fall on lower- and middle- income taxpayers; that can’t be avoided, although it can be meliorated. Further note that those who live in the cash economy – who include illegal immigrants – will be disproportionately affected. Good; they need to pay their share, too.

Here’s a set of notions that might actually work:

1) Raise sales taxes statewide by .5%;

2) Arrange for the state government to pay 100% of the payroll taxes to the Federal Gov’t equal to that on the first $24,000 of income of California workers, phasing down to 0% at $36,000 – paid for from the sales tax revenues.

3) Add a state payroll tax that starts at the income levels where the Federal taxes end;

4) Devise policies that reassess commercial property held in corporations or partnerships when 51% of the corp or partnership changes hands;

I need to do the math more exactly, but it seems that we’d pick up a few billion in more-stable state revenues that way.

And it wouldn’t result in a policy that resulted in a very few high-income taxpayers being the sole revenue source for the state.

Spirit Of America: After-Action Report

Well, I’m tired!! A late night last night, and then up at 4:45am to get on the road to Pendleton.

And a great day packing swag for Iraqis.

I want to publicly thank Jim Hake of for pulling this together, and more, for letting me do this. I can pack medic bags in my sleep now…and I’m looking forward to doing it again.

The crowd was far larger than I feared (am I the only one who worries for the first 20 minutes of my own party that no one else will show?), but still smaller than I hoped. I’d guess there were 20 volunteers, matched by an equal number of green-uniformed Marines, who ranged from a petite (really, she was like 5’1″, there’s no other word) blonde woman to a guy who had to be 6’4″.

Both the Marines and the volunteers were amazing; energetic, always moving, swarming over the piles of stuff and reducing them to a stack of stuffed school bags and a pile of empty boxes. The Marine commanders, a Top Sgt. and Col. (I’ll keep names out of this for now, but may add them in later) were impressive to me – arrogant as I am – because of their obvious intelligence and attention. They missed nothing the whole day. My cohort – the Chaya Venice-lunching crowd – doesn’t understand the energy and intelligence that those who run the military have and that they somehow unlock in these kids. Or maybe it was always that way, and we just didn’t know.

Celebrity sightings included Jim Hake, Lt. Smash (who thinks the frisbees will have the biggest impact), Da Goddess Her Own Self (who has a renewed appreciation for camouflage – and look what she’s done to the place over at cat-hating Acidman’s!!), and Gerard Van der Leun, who kept me in stitches the whole day.

But the accomplishment will show up on Gerard’s blog, when he posts the picture he took (I spaced and left the camera home) of the giant pile of kits of medical equipment stretching across the yard toward the containers.

Each kit was sadly less complete than what I carry in my car (OK, they have a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff). But in many neighborhoods, they may well be most of the medical gear available to the families and kids who live there.

Kids who will now have school supplies (and frisbees!!).

And the Marines – the U.S. Marines – will have given it to them. I think stuffing bags and helping that happen is worth spending a day away from billable work to do.

And I’m dying to do it again.