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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Why Not Pay Higher Taxes?

November 26th, 2011 - 3:22 pm

The usual liberal complaint against the conservative opposition to higher income taxes is greed and the better-offs’ self-serving reluctance to pay their “fair share.” But while perhaps true in some instances, I don’t think that is an accurate writ against most of those in that now demonized $200,000 and above categories who resent forking over more. Rather, here are a random 12 complaints that I hear from those who become furious about preposed higher income tax rates:

1) The Entire Bite

The most common lament is that taxes are already too high for those who either chose not, or do not have the resources, to find loopholes. I know that pre-Reagan top-bracket rates were often between 70%-94%; but few paid at those rates given the myriad of former deductions. At first glance, 33-35% federal top rates do not seem that steep; but income taxes do not fall in isolation. Many of the higher-income payers are small business people and self-employed professionals, who pay 15.3% in FICA and Medicare taxes on a sizable and growing portion of their income. And that portion and the rate itself always go up, never down. In 2013 a surcharge will hit those in the now near “criminal” $200,000 and above brackets. Many of the top incomes (believe Sen. Schumer, not me) fall in high-tax states like New York and California, where state income taxes can hit 10%. Add in property taxes on homes and businesses, and it is not hard to envision a theoretical 50% + rate, or over half one’s income. So, the conservative asks, at what total rate would local, state, and federal governments be happy — 60%-70%-80% of annual income?

2) Inequality?

Liberals reply that income inequality is worse than ever. (Note here in their own lives they have no problem with other “merit”-based inequality: e.g., Why can’t Johnny Depp turn down a couple of roles so other less fortunate actors could star? Why doesn’t Cornel West at last break up his endowed mega-salaried professorship into three or four lectureships for the struggling part-timers? Why doesn’t Maureen Dowd go down to one column every other week to allow less compensated New York Times op-ed writers a chance to catch up? In other words, why not back off from the trough and let others have a go?) But back to income inequality: some of those figures are not just attributable to the proliferation of $200,000 orthodontists, but to factoring in the mega-fortunes of a Johnny Depp ($50 million last year in income alone) or a Warren Buffett. The onset of a globalized market allowed a new top bracket to make tens of millions of dollars, a world away from the lesser professional. There is no aggregate homogenous group of “the wealthy.” My big-farming near neighbor (500 acres in vineyard plus), who probably nets $300,000 on a rare good raisin year like this one, is a world away from the late Steve Jobs or the thousands of million-dollar-plus incomes in Silicon Valley. This incongruence is not a rhetorical point or special pleading, but evident through the president’s own rhetoric: “Millionaires and billionaires” is a deliberate attempt to weld two disparate groups together — one making 1000 times the other (if the president is talking of annual income), or one worth 1000 times more than the other (if the president is talking about net worth). But is the Menlo Park bungalow owner who teaches at Foothill College and might be “worth” $1 million (given housing inflation) really comparable to Meg Whitman? Mr. Obama knows that there is not enough of the 1% of the 1% to come up with enough revenue to cover his new $4 trillion in debt, but does he think that by going after the top 5% or 10%, well, there just may be?

3) Wise Spending?

Then there is the manner in which the collected money is spent. It is not true to say Great Society programs have not helped millions, but it is legitimate to ask “at what cost?” came the expansion from a safety net to a sort of guaranteed livelihood. The spread of food stamps to almost 50 million recipients, the increase in unemployment to 99 weeks, the plethora of housing, health, and education supplements — all that creates not just necessary charity, but a mechanism for millions to find an alternative lifestyle, where subsidies, occasional cash, off-the-books work, and “other” activities can supplant work. Mindless “Black Friday” splurging is not just done by the well-off. Once legitimate questions have simply became taboo: “Do you make enough to support that additional child? Do you really think you needed to buy that flat-screen TV? Do you avoid alcohol and drugs?” To inquire like that is to earn liberal invective, but not to is intellectually dishonest. The number of generally fit men my age (e.g., 58) in my small community that, I know personally, are not employed full-time, and have not been so for years, is in the dozens. They are not starving. Obesity is the plague, not malnutrition, as the first lady understood.

4) Always More Spending?

Generally as revenues increased, spending on social programs and entitlements far outpaced them. We have almost doubled federal spending since 2000. Deficits widened despite (until the recent recession) constant annual gains in revenue. In the conservative mind, the higher the taxes, the more likely it is that millions will disconnect from the private sector and dream up ways of spending hundreds of billions on entitlements and billions on those who administer them. Whether the top rate is 35% or 50%, the deficits will probably be the same, given trends in spending. (Yes, I know a Republican Congress forced the Clinton administration to accept spending caps in exchange for higher taxes; but try that now [e.g. back to the Clinton tax rates and freeze spending at 2011 levels] and the deficit is still there.)

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The Fannie and Freddie University

November 20th, 2011 - 11:52 am

It’s More than Just PC

The traditionalist critique of the university — I made it myself over thirteen years ago in the co-authored Who Killed Homer? — was that somewhere around the time of the Vietnam War, higher education changed radically for the worse. Note I am talking mostly about the liberal arts. America remains preeminent in math, physics, hard sciences, medicine, and engineering, subjects that are largely immune to politicization and race, class, and gender relativism. The top students, and often the more hard-working, gravitate to these fields; indeed, in my general education courses on the ancient world, I often noticed that math and science students did far better than did their sociology or anthropology counterparts.

Such excellence in math and science explains why the world’s top-rated universities in all the most recent rankings are overwhelmingly American. (Indeed, liberal arts professors piggyback on such findings and often, in a sense quite fraudulently, point to these polls as if to confirm their own superiority.)

I spent a great deal of my life in the university as a student and professor and now as a researcher. Higher learning in the arts and humanities has enriched American life for 200 years. Small liberal arts colleges like Hillsdale, St. John’s, St. Thomas Aquinas, and dozens of others continue to be models of enlightened learning. But all that said, increasingly public universities and the larger private institutions have become morally and fiscally bankrupt. Here are some reasons why.

Monotony of Thought

By 2011 we all know that faculties are overwhelmingly liberal. That in and of itself would not be so alarming if they were not activist as well. By that I mean academics are not just interested in identifying supposed past American sins, but also in turning disinterested instruction into political advocacy, especially along race, class, and gender lines. Rosie the Riveter, the Japanese internment, and Hiroshima all deserve study, but they are not the sum total of World War II. Today’s average undergraduate may know that African-Americans were not integrated into American units during World War II, but they have no clue what the Battle of the Bulge, a B-29, or Iwo Jima were. They may insist that global warming is real and man-caused, but would have trouble explaining what exactly carbon is.

The effect of politicized learning on the quality of education was unfortunate in a strange sort of cyclical fashion. The more “–studies” classes saturated the curriculum, the less time there was for classical approaches to literature, philosophy, language, or history. The more the profile of the student body became more important than its preparation, the more these classes had to be watered down, as if thinking the right thoughts could justify the absence of the old rigor.

Deans begin quoting the ethnic profiles of the incoming classes, the supposed expanded diversity of the faculty, their own commitment to various progressive causes, and kept absolutely mum about the average GPAs and SAT scores of the new student body or the content of the new curriculum. And why not? No provost was ever fired for having fewer students graduate with less skills; many were for not “reaching out” to “underrepresented” groups.

A Blank Check

We know all the other pathologies of the modern university. Tenure metamorphosized from the protection of unpopular expression in the classroom into the ossification of thought and the proliferation of the mediocre. Faculty senate votes did not reflect raucous diversity of thought among secure professors, but were analogous to Saddam’s old plebiscites in their one-sided voting. Tenure created the notion of a select cloister, immune from the tawdry pursuit of money and neurotic worry over job security so true on the crass “outside.”

Campus ethics and values were warped by specialization in both faculty instruction and publication. The grandee that butchered a graduate class every semester was deemed more valuable to the university than the dynamic lecturer who enthused and enlightened three undergraduate introductory classes each term — on the dubious proposition that the former serially “published” peer-reviewed expansions on his dissertation in journals that at most five or ten fellow academics read.

Not teaching at all was even preferable to teaching very little, as a priestly class of administrators evaded the “burdens” of instruction. The new bureaucrats were often given catchy titles: “Assistant to the Provost for Diversity”, or “Associate Dean for Cultural Studies”, or the mundane “Special Assistant to the President for Internal Affairs”, in the manner of late Soviet apparatchiks or the power flow charts of the more mediocre corporations. Although the faculty was overwhelmingly liberal, it was also cynical, and understood that the avalanche of self-serving daily memos it received from the nomenklatura need not be read. I used to see entire trash cans filled each morning with reams of xeroxed pages, as professors started off their days by nonchalantly dumping the contents of their mail slots. Most of the memos read just like those “letters” congressmen send to their constituents, listing a dean’s or vice-provost’s res gestae and detailing how they were “working for you.”

Lala Land

Self-invention proliferated. Under the system of “faculty governance” (analogous to carpenters assuming the roles of the contractor and architect), curriculum, hiring, promotion, and firing were managed by peers. An article “in progress” or “under review” was passed off by committees as good as published (And why not? You, in hand-washes-hand-fashion, might be on the other end of a faculty committee and need the same life raft someday). Linda Wilson-Lopez, a third generation one-quarter Mexican-American, was deemed as much a victim as if he she had just crossed the Rio Grande. Old white guys in their sixties, who were often hired sight unseen in the early 1970s, suddenly demanded diversity hires — with the assumption that when the music stopped in the 1980s they had already found chairs and the new discrimination did not apply to the already tenured. (Had affirmative action involved replacing sixty-something, full-professor white males, it would have had a very different reception). Proposals for envisioned research on sabbaticals were as common as post-sabbatical reports of actual work were rare.

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The Imaginarium of Barack Obama

November 16th, 2011 - 8:44 am

The presidency of Barack Obama is full of funny things that need not follow any sort of logic. Images and ideas just pop in and out, without worry of inconsistency, contradiction, or hypocrisy. It’s a fascinating mish-mash of strange heroes and bogeymen, this imaginarium of our president.

In the imaginarium there are no revolving doors, earmarks, or lobbyists. So Peter Orszag did not go from being OMB director to a Citigroup fat-cat. Once chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel did not make $16 million for his well-known banking expertise. The more you damn the pernicious role of lobbyists and the polluting role of big money, the more you must hire and seek out both. Public financing of campaigns is wonderful for everyone else who lacks the integrity of Barack Obama who understandably must renounce such unfair impositions.

Those who now vote against raising the large Obama debt ceiling are political hucksters and opportunists; those who not long ago voted against raising the smaller Bush debt ceiling were principled statesmen. “Unpatriotic” presidents borrow $4 trillion in eight years; patriotic ones we’ve been waiting for can trump that in three.

Catching known terrorists and putting them in Guantanamo is very bad; killing suspected ones by drone assassinations — and anyone unlucky enough to be in their general vicinity — is exceptionally good. Tribunals, renditions, preventative detention, and all that were bad ideas under Bush-Cheney, but could become good ideas under Barack Obama, the law professor who often sees no need to follow the law when an immigration or marriage statute is deemed regressive.

A million Iranians protesting a soon-to-be-nuclear theocracy is false revolutionary consciousness and to be left alone; a few thousand Israelis wanting to buy apartments in the Jerusalem suburbs is subversive and worthy of presidential condemnation. And when atoning for supposed American lapses, what better place to begin apologizing than in Turkey, the incubator of the Armenian, Greek, and Kurdish mass killings? We need to deny history to make the case that America is not exceptional, and to invent it to persuade us that the Muslim world is extraordinary.

Twenty-four months of a Democratic Congress, and over $4 trillion in spending, resulted in 9.1% unemployment and near nonexistent growth. Yet the culprit for the current situation is ten months of a Republican-controlled House that has yet to approve another $500 billion of borrowing. In the imaginarium, just a little more of the massive amount that has failed will not fail. But if the Republicans are to be blamed for not wanting to waste the last half-trillion, are the Democrats to be praised for borrowing the first wasted $4 trillion?

In the imaginarium, all sorts of demons and devils can unite to derail the brilliance of Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan. ATMs have for the first time after 2009 begun to eliminate jobs. But then so did the Japanese tsunami and the EU meltdown. The DC earthquake did its part, but then so did climbing oil prices and the Arab Spring. Of course, the ghost of George Bush floats over all the present mess. Economic gurus like Austan Goolsbee, Peter Orszag, Christina Romer, and Larry Summers used to write brilliant essays of what would work if they were to be in charge, and now write brilliant essays about why it did not work when they were in charge.

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The News Behind the News

Here are some things in the daily news that do not quite make sense.

I.The Joe Paterno Implosion

To the outsider, it is inexplicable how a coach/former coach like Mr. Sandusky could serially molest boys, even after the crimes were known to many of the athletic staff, apparently at one point even to the campus police, and many in the higher administration.

We are supposed to assume that over decades Joe Paterno had no inkling that his most trusted coach was a pederast/pedophile in a gym-like environment where male youth were ubiquitous? An athletic program is a sort of petri dish for the bacillus of the pederast.

What was going on? Did the campus community close ranks, in the manner of the Catholic Church, to avoid the tabloids, and in fact did so successfully for years? Was the attitude that a ten-year-old who was sodomized in the shower was expendable, given the careers that might otherwise summarily end? If Paterno reported the matter to officials, and even to campus security, and nothing followed, was he not curious as to why that was so?

Did the alleged pervert demonically masque some of his lust in the context of locker-room frolicking to fool his colleagues, as if his groping was just “horseplay” and then by design would escalate at the opportune moment? The Penn State community must have informally considered Sandusky a mere in-house embarrassment? But if so, what a travesty, given the predator’s proverbial ingenuity in finding new victims, and the raw calculation that others were to suffer to protect the reputations of university grandees. So Paterno et al. resigned, but far too late; the tragedy was that it came only after so many new victims.

II. The Herman Cain Mess

If one were to believe some of the narratives about Herman Cain, what exactly is he guilty of? Buffoonery? Lying? Assault? Bad manners? Perversion? Nothing at all? We are never quite told in any meaningful detail.

1) In regard to the current five complainants, is Cain a married roving eye? A sort of unfulfilled man, eager to flirt and fantasize, or, to quote Jimmy Carter, to lust in his heart? That is, did he vent his sexual frustrations, by occasional loose talk, but draw the line by eschewing classical sexual harassment of the casting couch sort that leads to intercourse? Note that no women have come forward in the last, say, ten years. Did age and cancer change Herman Cain? But from what to what?

2) Is Cain a crude groper? A sort of Strom Thurmond or sex-poodle Al Gore? Are there third-party witnesses who can attest that Cain grabbed thighs? If not, are we back to he said/she said? Are we once more to ponder what is “sexual harassment”? We can all agree it surely is the gross quid pro quo, ‘screw’ me for your job. But is it also the asymmetrical relationship between the man with power and the woman subordinate without so much of it? (If we think Cain’s tête-à-tête evening with Ms. Bialek was stupidly above and beyond the call of duty, what in the world was hair over the eye Sharon Bialek thinking in scoring a private coffee break/dinner with CEO Herman Cain?) How odd, that in the age of trashy media sex and crass overt nudity, we act as if we are in the age of Puritanism. In 2011, a coffee break will be both more overtly sexual (even a group discussion of last night’s sitcoms would ensure that) and yet prudish (as in one false slip, a bad joke, a crass compliment can become 14 years later a sexual harassment charge).

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Occupy What?

November 4th, 2011 - 11:35 am

Playing With Fire

Occupy Wall Street follows three years of sloppy presidential name-calling — “millionaires and billionaires,” slurs about Las Vegas and the Super Bowl, profit-mad, limb-lopping doctors, introspection that now is not the time for profits and at some point we should cease making money, spread the wealth, punish our enemies, and all the old Obama boilerplate. Someone finally got the message about the evil 1%.

When Ms. Pelosi and President Obama voice support for the protestors, we enter 1984. Does that mean that the Pelosis now pull their millions out of Wall Street, that the First Family eschews the 1% at Martha’s Vineyard and Vail? That Obama turns his back on Wall Street cash, and, for once, accepts public funding for his 2012 campaign? Postmodern class warfare is an insidious business, and hinges on its advocates not looking in the mirror.

No wise politician should invest in the bunch like those rampaging in Oakland. Their nocturnal frolics are a long way from Woody Guthrie’s Deportee, the Hobos’ “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” and the world John Steinbeck fictionalized. It is the angst of the wannabe class, overeducated and underemployed, which chooses to live not in Akron or Fowler, but in tony places like the Bay Area or New York, where annual rents are far more than a down payment on a starter house in the Midwest. Being educated, but broke and in proximity to the wealthy of like upbringing and background, are ingredients for riot.

I saw videos of youths burning things in Oakland, but was told that it “was a small minority” and atypical of the protest. Not long ago I saw no clips of anyone spitting at black congresspeople wading into the Tea-Party demonstration, but was told they did and that it was typical of tens of thousands of racialists on the Mall.

But Some Are Less Equal Than Others

I don’t think the protests are really much over the Goldman Sachs bailout, or jerks like revolving-door Budget Director Peter Orszag starting back up at Citigroup, or Solyndra crony capitalism. Apparently, most middle-class and upper-middle class liberals—many of them (at least from videos) young and white—are angry at the “system.” And so they are occupying (at least until it gets really cold and wet) financial districts, downtowns, and other areas of commerce across the well-reported urban landscape. As yet there is no definable grievance other than anger that others are doing too well, and the protestors themselves are not doing at all well, and the one has something to do with the other. I am not suggesting union members and the unemployed poor are not present, only that the tip of the spear seems to be furious young middle class kids of college age and bearing, who mope around stunned, as in “what went wrong?”

Then there is a wider, global phenomenon of the angry college student. In the Middle East, much of the unrest, whether Islamist, liberal, or hard-core leftist, is fueled by young unemployed college graduates. Ditto Europe in general, and Greece in particular: The state subsidizes college loans and the popular culture accepts an even longer period between adolescence and adulthood, say between 18 and 30 something. Students emerge “aware,” but poorly educated, highly politicized, and with unreal expectations about their market worth in an ossifying society, often highly regulated and statist.

The decision has been made long ago not to marry at 23, have two or three kids by 27, and go to work in the private sector in hopes of moving up the ladder by 30. Perhaps at 35, a European expects that a job opens up in the Ministry of Culture or the elderly occupant of a coveted rent-controlled flat dies.

Students rarely graduate in four years, but scrape together parental support and, in the bargain, often bed, laundry, and breakfast, federal and state loans and grants, and part-time minimum wage jobs to “go to college.” By traditional rubrics—living at home, having the car insurance paid by dad and mom, meals cooked by someone else—many are still youths. But by our new standards—sexually active, familiar with drugs or alcohol, widely traveled and experienced—many are said to be adults.

Debt mounts. Jobs are few. For the vast majority who are not business majors, engineers, or vocational technicians, there are few jobs or opportunities other than more debt in grad or law school. In the old days, an English or history degree was a certificate of inductive thinking, broad knowledge, writing skills, and a good background for business, teaching, or professionalism. Not now. The watered down curriculum and politically-correct instruction ensure a certain glibness without real skills, thought, or judgment. Most employers are no longer impressed.

Students with such high opinions of themselves are angry that others less aware—young bond traders, computer geeks, even skilled truck drivers—make far more money. Does a music degree from Brown, a sociology BA in progress from San Francisco State, two years of anthropology at UC Riverside count for anything? They are angry at themselves and furious at their own like class that they think betrayed them. After all, if a man knows about the construction of gender or a young woman has read Rigoberta Menchu, or both have formed opinions about Hiroshima, the so-called Native American genocide, and gay history, why is that not rewarded in a way that derivatives or root canal work surely are?

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