An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

redgreenLast night, a majority of you, through your action or inaction, elected Trump. I don’t fully understand why, but it kinda doesn’t matter now. That’s done. Water under the proverbial bridge. No backsies. Besides, whatever your motivation, the reality is that you elected Trump’s policies and visions. Further, you swept in a single party to control the White House, Congress, and in short order, the Supreme Court. So there’s little to hinder Trump delivering on what he’s promised… and soon. After all, Trump has been very plain about how much will change on Day 1 or in the First 100 Days. Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but he’s easily got 2 years of pretty unchecked reign to get his agenda on track. He’s got no excuses, so buckle up.

I admit, I don’t really get how a lot of the tactics he’s proposed achieve his goals. Granted, his plans are bit thin on details, but it’s early. And besides, what the hell do I know? I thought I’d be waking up to President-elect Clinton this morning. But in broad strokes, in terms of end objectives, I really do hope he achieves what he’s said.

I’m looking forward to the return of high-paying blue-collar manufacturing jobs, the demise of ISIS and terrorism in general, a better way to keep Iran from nuclear tech, less foreign military deployments, 5% GDP, healthcare that will be so much better than Obamacare, lower taxes, no federal deficits, reductions in violent crime, better educations for our kids, having the VA fixed and providing for our vets, restructuring all our international trade deals and alliances to our benefit, saving Social Security, and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. It’s ambitious, but if Trump can make even a dent in a significant part of that list without cratering the economy or the environment, sowing civil unrest, or disenfranchising any segments of US citizens, then I’ll be first in line to eat crow.

Conversely, if Trump’s plan for America leads to some substantive combination of a tanking economy, spiraling debt, cuts to essential government services, debilitating trade wars, actual wars, civil unrest, higher unemployment, increased terrorism, loss of personal freedoms, or runaway environmental crises, then that’s on you. You own that. History will make you accountable.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna sit back and let this play out. Just try to keep in mind that this is what you wanted. And remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together now. Don’t fuck it up.

Six Degrees of Adolf Hitler

HitlerKevin Bacon is so yesterday. If you’re an aspiring political pundit, Hitler is the game. Former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire, Judd Gregg, is the latest to step into the ring.

Writing in The Hill this morning, Gregg draws a wobbly late-night drunkard’s path from “Progressives” to “Wealth Redistribution”, makes a beeline to “Socialism”, a word that appears in the “National Socialism Movement” in Germany that was later shortened to “Nazism”, and by golly, there’s your “Hitler”. A perfect six hops, proving conclusively that Progressives are as bad as Hitler.

What more is there to say? I mean, you can’t argue with that sort of air-tight deductive power, can you? Surely, Sherlock Holmes himself (assuming he was smoking some seriously good shit in that bad-ass pipe of his) would concur.

I’m arguably a bit manic about this at the moment because it’s the second “slippery slope” argument I’ve seen in the last 48 hours. The other was John Goodman’s essay defending inequality. In Goodman’s case, he had the good sense to avoid Hitler, but he did manage to wend his way from a rise in the capital gains tax rate to 28% all the way to full on communism.

Fer cryin’ in yer beer, do these guys apply this sort of convoluted logic to their everyday lives? Do they really think if they don’t get rid of cable their house will explode?

The crime is that there should be a serious debate here. There are solid arguments for and against various plans to modify the tax code. There are pros and cons to changing the minimum wage. And there are pluses and minuses to socializing various functions and services in society. Further, these are complex interwoven policies. You can’t address them in a vacuum. Rather they need to be considered holistically with other policies to further specific goals.

But silly arguments like these do not advance the discourse. Life is lived in the grey, not at the extremes. If you want to model your world using ideological purity rather than data and reason; if you want your emotions to swell at the sound of soaring rhetoric and nationalist pride; if you want to rationalize the “other” as the root of your plight; then maybe you should be following… HITLER. {FTW}

GOP senators to feds: Leave the Internet alone

12217_large_neutral-bits.pngIt’s this sort of thing that really pisses me off. The intention is exactly right. The Internet should be free of interference. It should continue to be accessible by anyone, empower content and service creators, and foster innovation. Yet excluding all government regulation of the Internet is exactly contrary to achieving that goal.

In fairness, the issue of Net Neutrality is a bit complicated.  Most people don’t know how the Internet works. And this leaves open the opportunity to exploit that lack of understanding through politi-speak gems like this

“There are exceptions of course, but far too often, when you hear someone say, ‘We need regulations to protect the Internet,’ what they’re actually saying is they don’t really trust the entrepreneurs and Internet technologists to create the economic growth and to increase public welfare.”

Net Neutrality regulations don’t stifle entrepreneurs and technologists. Rather, they keep the network available for them. Net Neutrality reigns in big ISPs from exploiting their effective monopolies for increased profit and offering preferential treatment for other large companies who can afford to pay to play. It protects the consumer and the entrepreneur from big business.

In a very real way, keeping the government from regulating the Internet is simply paving the way for a few large private business to regulate it. There’s no way that ends well for small businesses and consumers.

All regulations are restricting someone else’s freedom. That doesn’t make them all bad. Net Neutrality regulations are all about preserving the freedom of the Internet. If you would rather trust AT&T, Time Warner, Verizon, and Comcast to keep your network a free and open egalitarian network… you’re more than a little naive.

Being Poor Ain’t What It Used to Be

Income with and without the EITCIt’s worse. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Faithful reader and economics enthusiast Brian K. recently posted an article from the NYT from economics professor David Neumark explaining that the minimum wage situation isn’t as dire as it seems. He asserts the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) helps offset most of the losses to minimum wage in constant dollars.

The professor’s math holds, and in fairness, I was unaware of how much of an advantage the EITC is to low income families. This does take a lot of the wind out of the oft-touted argument that in inflation-adjusted dollars, the minimum wage has declined dramatically over the last several decades.

But the story isn’t quite done there. First, the EITC does very little for families without kids. Granted, families without kids have lower expenses, but an apples-to-apples comparison of childless adults across the decades still shows a substantial decline income across those same 25 years.

Still, let’s focus on Professor Neumark’s standard family of 4. Further, let’s compare that family’s minimum wage income against the U.S. Census Bureau’s Poverty Threshold. And let me preemptively concede that this poverty threshold is an imperfect measure of whether or not a family is “poor”, but whatever its imperfections, it should be consistently imperfect across the years such that it can be useful in a historical comparison. Further, while food stamps and other non-cash subsidies are not included in these thresholds, tax burdens/credits (including the EITC) are in there.

The table below calculates the number of full-time minimum-wage jobs required for a family of 4 to hit the poverty threshold in both 1976 and in 2012.

Year Min Wage Hrs/Yr Annual Wages Poverty Threshold Jobs Required
1976  $         2.30 2000  $         4,600.00  $                   5,815.00 1.26
2012  $         7.25 2000  $       14,500.00  $                23,492.00 1.62

The results show that since 1976, almost an extra half of a job is required just to his this meager threshold. That’s a 28% labor increase required just to achieve the same standard of living.  So while Nuemark’s assertion that real wages have remained flat when adjusted for inflation and taxes may be accurate, it does not take into account that the actual cost of getting by has climbed faster than inflation.

Let’s look at the current “family of 4” situation a bit differently. Harlingen, Texas is consistently deemed the cheapest place in the country to live. If minimum wage constitutes a living wage anywhere, it should be there. However, MIT’s living wage calculator for the Harlingen area estimates that our family of 4 needs a gross income (before taxes, including the EITC) of $36,088 to make ends meet. This calculator assumes minimal costs for food, housing, medical, and transportation needs. It further assumes there are no child care expenses, meaning the parents’ work schedules have to be opposite enough for that to work. And it provides a meager $176/month for “other” expenses outside the 4 basic categories. This expense model hardly qualifies as living comfortably, and yet it requires 2.5 minimum-wage jobs to achieve this standard of living.

That 2.5 job requirement may be partially offset by SNAP (Food Stamps) and other subsidy programs, but considering there’s no child support in the mix, and that runs about $700/month for two kids I would argue that subsidies might at best balance out the missing child support.

So hopefully we can now agree that getting by on your own while working a minimum wage job sucks a lot more now than it used to. And while trying to raise a small family on minimum wage jobs has not seen a commensurate increase in suckage over time, it still draws a mighty vacuum.

The plight of the working poor is a lot like the climate change issue. You can choose to ignore it or claim it doesn’t exist, but it’s going to continue to grow and eventually bite you in the ass whether you believe in it or not.

Guns and Tyranny

Disarm the NationIt’s rather naive to think fear of an armed citizenry is all that’s standing between democracy and tyranny. That is simply not the world we live in anymore.

Yet wall posts, like the one at the right, from the ironically named Facebook page Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, attempt to link gun control to the rise of a second Hitler. Never mind that the Europeans have had much stricter gun control laws during our lifetimes, and democracy hasn’t fallen there.

However, the gun control debate aside, the notion that in this modern world we live in, tyranny would come via militaristic control is a complete failure to understand our country, and moreover, the goals of those who would seek to control it.

Guns are messy solutions what with all the noise, and the bleeding, and the dying. Marketing is the key to power. You need to sell people on the idea they must give up their freedoms to ensure their safety, and even pay for the privilege. How much better is it when citizens willingly yield their power and their wealth as opposed to having to take it at gun point?

Consider that the people being whipped into a frenzy over the relationship between guns and tyranny are largely the same people who have been sold on the ideas:

  • There’s no reason to worry about the government monitoring you if you have nothing to hide.
  • Net Neutrality is anti-capitalist, and Internet censorship is essential to protect the children.
  • Torture is effective, and detainment without due process is warranted when our safety is at stake.
  • Additional funding for the largest military the world has ever known is essential.
  • Hobbling or dismantling social safety net and insurance programs is the key to prosperity.
  • Making the rich richer will ultimately benefit us all.
  • Government subsidies of exiting corporations like Hollywood, big oil, and pharmaceuticals is essential to the economy.
  • Government investment in new technology like green energy, genetic research, and other “disruptive” advancements is wasted money.
  • Government regulation should never impede profit.
  • Unionized workers are the reason manufacturing jobs went to China.

Desperate people are far more compliant and easy to control. If you are scared, broke, hungry, and/or sick, getting you to trade your long term interests for satisfaction of your short term needs becomes child’s play. Snake oil salesmen enrich themselves by playing on your fears, your needs, and your hopes. And you thank them for the privilege of buying into the illusion.

The snake oil salesman doesn’t care that you have a gun. In fact, he may be glad that you do. Because he knows he controls your mind. And won’t it be handy for him to have armed minions at his call when the rational people finally try to run him out of town?