Monday, May 26, 2003

Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day, and that has something of a special meaning in my family. My father served two tours in Vietnam, as a marine. All 6 of his brothers served in the millitary, either in Korea, Nam, or both. Somehow, they all made it back in one piece. That was one of hte miracles my family was lucky enough to encounter in the armed services. The second was the story of my oldest uncle, Ray. Ray started in the army, and eventually became a Green Beret. Between his service in Korea and Nam, he managed to spend time with all 6 of his brothers (Paul, Jerry, David, Leo, Rich, and Joe - my father). I'm not quite sure how he pulled that off..but somehow, he found time to take leave and bring one of his brothers with him 6 seperate times. 3 of my uncles have since passed for other reasons, sadly - Paul, Jerry, and David.

My father has a hard relationship with his military past. He is proud of how he served, but there is much of it he isn't ready to deal with. He has been diagnosed with fairly severe post-traumatic stress syndrome....enough that he qualifies for partial disability, and may soon qualify for full disability. He still gets flashbacks...I witnessed one particularly bad one when I was living with him as a teenager (my parents are divorced, and I lived with my mother for most of my life, but I spent almost a year living with my father). He has storys about the friends he made over there....the friends you make in combat, with whom the bonds grow pretty strong. Several of them never made it back. He can't bring himself to travel to the Wall in DC, yet. He wants to, badly...but he can't. I hope one day he will be able to

I'd like to share one of his stories, as best I remember it.

My father is not a tall man. He'll tell you he's 5'4", and that's what his military records say, but my mom thinks he snuck an extra inch out of them somewhere, because he's never beem taller than 5'3" since she met him. For a time over there, he was in a small makeshift base...I'm not quite sure why. He was lucky at this base, because he wasn't quite the smallest person there. There was another little guy there, who's name escapes me. Everyone called him Mouse, or Rat, or something like that. Him and my dad became pretty close. They built their hooches pretty close. Artillery and mortar shelling was something of a way of life over there. But one night, they found their target. My father awoke to an explosion...an artilery shell had hit the camp. When he got out of his hooch, he discovered that his friend's hooch was just gone...there was just a small, smoking hole. My father's hooch was unscathed. Mouse had been in his bed when the shell hit. My dad says they didn't find even a piece of him. My dad pretty much lost it at that point, and couldn't go on.

My father did two tours in Nam because of what happened when he came back from the first one. He was in NYC with a friend of his who had also gotten sent home. They tried to find a restaurant to eat in, because they had quite a bit of money (combat pay and all), and wanted to enjoy a good meal, something that's hard to find in the mud of Vietnam. He and his friend were turned away from every place they wanted to eat, simply because they were Marines, and anyone associated with the military was unwelcome. The two of them ended up buying some food at a market and barbecuing it in Central Park. He decided to go back that day. I can't say why, exactly. When he came back after the next tour, he stayed...eventually, he met my mother, and so on and so forth.

So, on this memorial day, I'd like to give thanks to those like my father, my uncles, and Mouse, who served with honor and pride...you may never get the hero's treatment so many of you deserve, but, god willing, you will never be forgotten.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Look ma, I'm posting

I really need to get better about this. Oh well.

Kevin Drum had an excelent post/comments debate about concepts like "fair taxation" and "income redistribution". I myself posted, but I'd like to go into my post in some depth.

The main arguments presented were either that A) Income redistribution is only fair if it's moving money from the top down; and B) Income redistribution is always wrong - the rich earned their money, and those who aren't rich don't have a right to any of it.

These arguments are both wrong, sort of. The first is wrong because fairness isn't the best justification for income redistribution to be top down. The second is wrong because income distribution is a given - that's what taxes are, and it's what government does...so you have to decide who's income, and where it gets redistributed to.

So, those out of the way, there's 2 really good reasons for income redistribution to be top-down. One is an issue of benefit analysis, and the other is a simple economic matter. We'll deal with the latter first, since it's the big one, and the one everyone who wants to see social programs saved (and maybe increased) should be shouting from the rooftops.

So here's the economic reason. It's pretty simple, actually. It's all about the middle class. Right now, income distribution is getting completely hosed...and it has been for 2 decades or more. Instead of a nice, fat middle, you get growth at the top and bottom, and shrinking in the middle. The long term economic health of the country is inexorably tied to the middle class. Without an educated, secure middle class, the rich people have no one to hire. Without a middle class, there's far less consumer spending, which can lead to deflation, and even a liquidity trap (which we're potentially heading towards now...check out Paul Krugman's excelent column on just that topic). Things like that lead to economic colapse, or very close to it. If that happens, the poor (who have the numbers) will take power back, either by election (see: FDR) or by force (see: Argentina, Lenin). Assuming force can be avoided, which is obviously what one would hope for, it's going to end up in the situation the US saw durring the period 1935-1955. Marginal tax rates on the top 1% (the highest tax bracket) were at 91%. The first Bush and Clinton both raised the top tax rate, and it was only at 39 and change when George W took office. That 39% was in place for almost all of the 90s boom. So obviously, that tax rate isn't a serious hurdle in the path of entrepenurial efforts, like most Reaganites claimed. While some may think they're too high (and that's arguable, to a degree), every rational person would agree that 91% would be way too high. But that's a risk we're running if the middle class keeps getting smaller and the poor keep getting more plentiful and desperate.

So, we've got a situation where the middle class is shrinking, the wealthy are becoming more and more wealthy, and the poor are becoming more plentiful. How do we fix that? Well, we look at the market. Right now, the problem isn't on the supply side. The problem is on the demand side. Why? Because the people who create demand are poor, and can't afford to spend the money they do have because they're in debt. So you shift some of the tax burden to the wealthy (temporarily...we don't want to push too hard, or we'll go too far and hurt the supply side of the equation). Beyond that, we deficit spend to create jobs. That's how you boost the demand side. Create government jobs, and lower the taxes on the consumer classes. We'll get back to this point shortly.

The second argument, the benefit analysis, is fairly simple, but harder to convince people with. The rich have benefited way more than the poor have from the american social systems. They get an educated, secure work force, a stable economy, etc. It's reasonable, but it's harder to argue (because not everyone sees it as reasonable, and other people just aren't reasonable to begin with)

So, as I mentioned, there's pretty much a set of rules for dealing with a decline in demand. But Bush, on the other hand, is pushing through a heavily pro-wealthy tax agenda (also known as supply-side). There's times for supply side. This is not one of them. The estate tax (or "death tax" as he called it) was a tax on the excessively wealthy family estates, so as to force the children of the wealthy to at least earn some of their money. It's an atempt to reign in any concepts of aristocracy in this country. And, to be fair...if your parents got rich, you have as much right ot that money as I do if I hit the lottery. You got lucky. You didn't earn the money, and your parents didn't earn it for you specifically. If your family is that wealthy (and we're talking multi-million dollar estates), you've gotten enough of a step up. The dividend tax cut is the same way. Dividends are something that you pretty much have to be wealthy as hell to get that money. It's a return on stock investments. But 401k dividends are exempt already...and most non-wealthy who own stocks only have their 401k plans as stock ownership. His other incentives are all fairly heavily weighted to the supply side. It's the wrong half of the economy to work on, but ideology has pushed him and his advisers to ignore the demand side entirely. It could end up being the straw that pushes us over the edge, and into a full fledged depression.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Hrmm

Sorry for the disapearance. Been an odd few weeks. I missed lots, and I'd love to cover it all here, but there isn't much that Atrios or Matt or any of the other links on my little blogroll over there hasn't covered.

I'm gonna try to be around more, but no promises. It was easier to post every day when I wasn't working.

Anyway, Just figured I'd toss this out there. If you get HBO, you really should be watching Russel Simmons Presents: Def Poetry Jam. It's great And if you catch a rerun of the episode that just aired, you'll get to see Smokey Robbinson absolutely throw it down for black america. Hopefully, it'll come out on DVD in the near future.

Sooner or later, I'm moving to NYC, just to be closer to stuff like that. There ain't much in the way of art out here, in the suburbian outposts wedged between Worcestor and Boston. Unless you count the graffiti in Framingham, but most of that is crap anyway.

On the political side, this is worth checking out.