Taxes, climate and more political notes

I am finishing that article on  the NSA/Prism brouhaha, stay tuned. Also coming: my reactions to Ironman 3, Atlas Shrugged 2 and the coming sequel to “300.”

In mental formulation — a story on how banking secrecy affects developing nations, especially after honest governments realize how much wealth was squirreled away by former kleptocratic rulers. The archetypes would be Fernando Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.  It has been asserted that this category of cryptic wealth is vastly larger than the sums that are at-issue for US and European tax authorities. Indeed, that may be the underlying reason why the Swiss and other banking havens… oh, but more on that later. (Unless I am bribed into silence, that is.)

Meanwhile, so much has been going on, regarding space and Mars, starships and SETI and human immortality, that I’ve neglected the process we’ll count on to get there. For all its gruesomely corrupt “sausage-making” qualities, politics is what must keep civilization running and to pay for all of that other good stuff.

So let’s turn (briefly) back to that dismal but necessary domain, with a grab bag of political perspectives.

== Letting good news affect Culture War? ==

FederalBudgetDeficitFirst, I’ve long predicted this. The U.S. federal deficit is shrinking rather quickly — both in absolute dollars and as a share of the overall economy. The Congressional Budget Office projects it will drop below 4 percent of GDP next year and below an easily bearable 2.5 percent in 2015. This, after four years in which deficits were called a far more desperate danger than joblessness, or than decaying American infrastructure, or the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

The economy is paying a price for that deficit obsession, in slower growth. Even some conservatives are now warning that austerity has gone far enough.  Oh, but if we do turn the corner in both the deficit and economic growth, where will the angst-ridden doomcaster go, to groan that we live in hell-on-earth?

Well, well, you needn’t worry. For example, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) said in 2010 that he opposed action to remedy or palliate climate change because “the Earth will end only when God declares it to be over.” He is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. Think this is an anomaly?  Have you seen some of the things said by the top three majority members of the House Science Committee? But this study by the University of Colorado is especially disturbing.  It found that belief in the imminence of  biblical end-times correlates very strongly with – and is a major motivating factor behind – resistance to curbing climate change.

Not all Republicans are like this! Take for example Ray Canterbury, a GOP delegate in the West Virginia state assembly, who has asked the state board of education to include science fiction novels in the middle school and high school curricula.  This article in the Guardian goes on to interview both James Gunn and me on the topic.  And kudos to W. Va Delegate Canterbury!

Nevertheless, he needs allies… fellow adult and forward-looking republicans who will join in rejecting the GOP’s current fetish with anti-intellectual hatred of all things smartypants.  Were he alive today, William F. Buckley would be at the forefront, helping with the resurrection of a different, more venerable and grownup conservatism. In fact, something like it already happened once, long ago. See The Miracle of 1947.

Oh… but lest you assume that I am solely motivated by party loyalty – (in fact I am a registered Republican who gives keynotes at Libertarian events) – let’s turn to an example of cosmic stupidity on the other side.

== Madness affects both parties ==

Seriously, what better proof could there be than this: California State Senator Leland Yee (D-SF) wants to legislate against 3D printers, proposing background checks, serial numbers and registration. All because roughly 1 part in 100,000,000 of the US civilian arsenal was crudely made on a 3D plastic printer.

”Terrorists can make these guns and do some horrible things to an individual and then walk away scott-free”.

Brrr… Just because this kind of mania is more common on today’s right does not mean we should ever lower our guard against stupidity on the left.  Take, as another example, the imbecilic low-level partisan “civil servants” in the IRS who thought they were helping their side by engaging in ham-handed (and inevitably caught) bias in vetting political groups for tax exempt status.  Mind you, I’m dubious that any such group should be so favored.  But Jon Stewart was especially caustic in his appraisal of this doltish, and possibly criminal, abuse of government authority. (More on this below.)

Frankly, I hate having to do all my political shopping from one store. Heck, Jerry Brown is doing great, here in California, but the Illinois democrats bug the hell out of me, and I miss the intellectual challenges I used to get from giants like Buckley and Goldwater. Even if one side is crazier right now – (and boy has it gone plumb loco-insane right now) – we have to stay wary in all directions.

== A Republican Party in disarray… ==

Former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole (whom I always found respect-worthy) recently told Republicans to put a “closed for repair” sign on the door until 2014 so that the party can develop a “positive agenda.”  Dole said that he doubted that he and even former President Ronald Reagan could survive in today’s Republican Party. Dole told Fox News host Chris Wallace that “there was no doubt about it” that Republicans were abusing the filibuster because motions for cloture had increased from seven in 1969-1970 to 115 in last year’s 112th Congress. “There’s some cases where it’s probably justified,” the war veteran explained. “But not many.” (For clarification: cloture votes are the tip of the iceberg. In fact, there has been more filibustering since Obama entered office than in the entire previous history of the USA.)

Speaking of grownup Republicans, one of my heroes, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates (a GOP member who served both Presidents Bush and Obama, out of love of country (and who may have saved us all, under the drunk-stumbling W-regime) is interviewed about Benghazi and the Arab Revolutions. Read the views of a genuine adult.

As an example of the dysfunction, see how the state GOP in Alaska is dissolving into civil war between party oligarchs and Tea Party “reformist” grass roots rebels who – crazy or not – have a perfect right to wrest control by popular – albeit crazy – mandate.

== And Political Miscellany ==

JEFFERSONRIFLEMoving farther afield, here’s an interesting take on the ideas underlying my “Jefferson Rifle” proposal for a cogent compromise on Gun Control. One that will protect basic gun rights better than the amazingly frail Second Amendment… while also helping to solve the tsunami of violence that will turn public opinion away from the NRA.

Whatever your position along the stupidly lobotomizing “left-right political axis” you have to find it disturbing when extremists of either wing take pains to suborn and control mass media, using the newspapers and other sources we used to trust, in order to push a relentlessly singleminded and one-sided agenda. Growing up in Los Angeles, I have always had tons of respect for the LA Times. And I join in opposing sale of the Times and the Chicago Tribune to the Koch Brothers. Sign the petition.

The Witchita Kansas Eagle ran an article chiding rural Kansas voters in one of the reddest counties in America for parroting fierce anti-tax and anti federal doctrines while accepting three dollars from the US government for every two dollars they put in.  Red radicals recently pushed through an end to the state’s progressive income tax which will now result in the court-required burden of maintaining schools and roads to fall on home owners.  How long do you think it will take for folk in such counties to realize – as their grandparents did, around 1933, that they’ve been had? (Answer: longer than you would have believed humanly possible.)

While we are in Kansas – and yes, this is a satire site – still, why does it read so realistic?

 A fascinating tell-all from within Fox News:   Joe Muto was “a liberal mole within Fox News,” working especially with Bill O’Reilly – who happens to be the one human being I respect at that circus. Bill is an extreme polemic, but of the older school, that relishes argument, not a festival of lies. This excerpt from Muto’s bookAn Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight Year Odyssey inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media – makes fascinating reading, offering insights into the most profitable enterprise on television and one of the most influential engines of propaganda since the secessionist southern press of 1861.

goldwaterEarlier, I referred to old-style Republican grownups like Buckley and Gates.  Now let me turn to the archetype of them all, calling up the ghost of Barry Goldwater —

Again, what we are currently experiencing is not normal U.S. politics. Rather – as I’ve said repeatedly — it is phase three of the American Civil War.

== At the opposite extreme ==

 In an effort to curb Western influence, China’s leaders have reportedly banned the discussion of seven subjects in university classrooms, including press freedom, universal values, and the historical mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party.  Chinese professors and political analysts said a recent directive from Beijing to universities indicated an awareness among the country’s leaders that the government is losing its ideological grip over students and younger faculty members.

While many faculty members said they had not been briefed by university administrators about the taboos, and in some cases had never heard of them, several professors said university leaders had instructed them at the beginning of May to avoid the subjects in class. According to academics who have been told about the list, the other taboo topics are judicial independence, economic neoliberalism, the wealth accumulated by top government officials, and civil society.

Alas.

 CONCLUSION

Do we have any hope at all, with such sensible folks along every patch of the political spectrum?  And other fools seek to scream for attention to the stars above! Depressed, I keep going back to Poul Anderson’s great Novel BRAIN WAVE and dream that Earth will enter a zone of space where minds work a bit better.  Or else, maybe someone will invent a pill. Please.

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