I know there are Donald Trump supporters out there. I don't have the right to say much about them, as I don't know any of them, not even on Facebook. I do know some Bernie Sanders supporters, and the passion with which they believe in him. I'm going to go out on a limb, however, angering them all, I'm sure, and say that both camps have much more in common than they will ever believe.
They don't care much about history, economic theory, or diplomacy, and they are each pushing for paths that can take our country down, fast. What they do know is that things are badly wrong, and they're rightfully upset about it. Never mind that they think it's different things that are wrong.
The "anything is better than what we have" mentality really doesn't know—or doesn't believe—how bad things can be. (See above comment about ignorance of history—and of many other present-day cultures for that matter.) All the same, it doesn't do well for any political party to ignore the needs and frustrations of the people until so much pressure builds up that all hope of rationality is gone. This is what gave us the Affordable Care Act instead of a reasonable, workable, affordable approach to health care. (Have I mentioned that the Swiss health care law both works and is only sixty-some pages long? Though even they admit to being dependent on American pharmaceutical innovation that may well be on its way out now.)
Porter found this article that explains Donald Trump's popularity, and importance, better than anything I've seen yet: "Donald Trump is Shocking, Vulgar, and Right: And, my dear fellow Republicans, he's all your fault.
Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? ... Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation. ... Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed.
Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.
On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.
When was the last time you stopped yourself from saying something you believed to be true for fear of being punished or criticized for saying it? If you live in America, it probably hasn’t been long. That’s not just a talking point about political correctness. It’s the central problem with our national conversation, the main reason our debates are so stilted and useless. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t have the words to describe it. You can’t even think about it clearly.
This depressing fact made Trump’s political career. In a country where almost everyone in public life lies reflexively, it’s thrilling to hear someone say what he really thinks, even if you believe he’s wrong. It’s especially exciting when you suspect he’s right.
Now if only someone will do the same thing for the Democrats and Bernie Sanders.
I wrote this in response to someone's Facebook discussion, and put too much time into it not to save it here. The subject was the very survival of America, and one optimist had said, "Doom and gloom speak just because the candidates of your choice aren't winning. People have been saying for over 200 years that the country is doomed if so and so gets elected to office. Well the country is still here and alive and well." This was my response:
It is true that of the presidents I have experienced, the ones I thought were good people (Carter, Bush II) turned out to be terrible presidents, and the ones I thought were nuts (Reagan, Clinton) turned out much better than I could have imagined. Sometimes good intentions aren't enough, and sometimes people rise to the office. And good and bad luck have more effect than we admit.
Our recent trip to the Gambia convinced me that the best equipment in the world will not survive ignorance, abuse, and lack of regular maintenance. I worry not only for the United States, but for all of Western Civilization. It is under attack from all sides, from the Terrorists Formerly Known as ISIS to American college campuses. We whose mighty heritage this is have not done well in keeping it clean and oiled. Instead of fixing the broken parts, we trash them. Our children have no idea how to keep this great gift of the ages in working order. The beliefs that massive debt (personal and national) is okay; that name-calling is rational discourse; that our own failures are actually someone else's fault; that success implies not hard work but ill-gotten gains; that poor, even immoral, choices should not have consequences; that those who disagree with us are somehow subhuman and deserve whatever we can heap upon them—these attitudes, much more than whoever gains the highest office, are what will bring us down.
Sure, there are still pockets of resistance, but they're getting smaller and weaker. There's still hope—but only, I think, if we realize, as the great Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
C. S. Lewis called it chronological snobbery: the idea that present ideas and attitudes are superior to those of the past simply because they are more recent. Historian Paul Bartow calls it historical presentism and has written an important commentary ("The Growing Threat of Historical Presentism") on its contribution to the fracturing of American society and the disintegration of civil discourse. (H/T Lenore Skenazy)
James Madison’s fears of mob rule and majoritarianism is a well explored topic. Suffice it to say that in Federalist 10, he wrote to the citizens of New York that “measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”
This overbearing force today comes in the shape of tyrannical college mobs who demand any affiliation with people they don’t like be permanently removed. ... Not surprisingly, these mobs have neither a factual or nuanced historical understanding.
All of these protests of historical occurrences are symptomatic of a deeper, more grievous problem, that of historical presentism. This is defined as the application of contemporary moral judgments or worldviews to the past. Any trained historian knows that this is among the easiest traps into which one can fall.
The task of the historian, or the modern university student for that matter, is not to descend from on high and mete out judgment. ... When one studies the past, it is meant to be a deeply introspective experience. The goal is to enter into conversation with historical figures, to understand their world as fully as we can, to learn from them, and to let them challenge our worldviews.
These are dangerous times for the study of the past. Historians can no longer afford to sit idly by as uninformed or misinformed tyrannical mobs seek to stamp out the history they do not like. It is a threat to the preservation of the past. It is a threat to free speech. It is a threat to proper historical understanding.
It is a threat to the very existence of civil society.
It's also very bad manners.
Frankly, he didn't look like the kind of man I'd bother to speak to at a gas station just off I-95 in Virginia. Grizzled, rather the worse for wear, probably living a hardscrabble life—at least judging by appearances. But there was a Confederate flag in his truck's front license plate holder, and it made me smile.
I'm a Northerner by birth and upbringing, and even though I've lived almost half my life in Florida—well, from Central Florida you actually have to travel north to get to the South. So I have my full share of prejudices, and there are days when encountering such a man might have scared me. But today, as we passed together through the convenience store doors, I remarked, "I've never been a fan of the Confederate flag, but I've always been a fan of the underdog, and today your truck made me smile. Thank you." The man gave me a gentle smile of his own, and a kindly (maybe even relieved) twinkle touched his eyes as he responded simply, "thank you."
I may not live in the True South, but multicultural Central Florida has helped me lose at least a little bit of my uneducated and frankly self-righteous and snooty attitude towards its people. And to appreciate that neither side in the Civil War had a monopoly on righteousness, self-sacrifice, and courage; that atrocities are carried out under the flags of many nations and many causes; that thinking you have the right to deride someone for his ancestors only means you haven't looked closely enough at your own; and that attempting to erase history is the mark of a totalitarian state.
The brouhaha that has erupted over Confederate flags and monuments to Confederate soldiers made me realize that our country is not as far from the iconoclasm of Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS) as we'd like to think. It makes me grateful for one man and his truck, refusing to bow to the forces that would obliterate his past. One does not learn from history by forgetting it.
And so, bizarre as it might seem, the Confederate flag brought me a little closer to another human being today, one who I would otherwise have treated as beyond the pale. And so I salute that old Virginian, and sing with Robert Burns,
Then let us pray that come it may, As come it will for a' that, That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth Shall bear the gree an' a' that. For a' that, an' a' that, It's comin yet for a' that, That Man to Man the warld o'er Shall brithers be for a' that.
Side note: Immersion in the works of George MacDonald has been of great assistance in understanding and appreciating Burns.
And for your listening and viewing pleasure, the whole song, with pictures of Scotland.
It's extraordinary how often otherwise civilized people think it's not only their right but their duty to criticize the size of other people's families. I freely confess to doing so myself on occasion, though I do try to limit my comments to general cases, not specific people. Maybe it's because the only remaining area of our sex lives where criticism has not been taken off the table is its fruit (or lack thereof).
Most annoying are the self-righteous critics. You know, the ones who insist that sweet little baby you just gave birth to will destroy the ecological balance of the world. Or those who praise God for the gift of antibiotics and other life-changing interventions while solemnly intoning that your use of birth control betrays your basic lack of trust in God's plan for your family. There are valid points lurking behind both of those extremes, but there is room for such a wide range of disagreement that prudence and courtesy—not to mention the love we owe our fellow human beings, and the good ol' Golden Rule—call us to admit that the size of other people's families is no one's business but their own.
That said, I recently found a Front Porch Republic article that explicates one of the negative side effects of the recent trend toward small families. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but will quote here as much as I think I can without raising the ire of the copyright fairies. (More)
I'm still enjoying the Life of Fred math series, as you can see from my booklist; I hope to finish all that the Daleys have before I leave here. Despite what the author claims, it's not really a complete curriculum, but it's a fun supplement, it covers a lot of math, and there's really nothing like it. It covers a lot more than math, too, as five-year-old math professor Fred Gauss makes his way through his busy days. For obvious reasons, the following excerpt from Life of Fred: Jelly Beans caught my eye:
It is not how much you make that counts; it is how much you get to keep. Taxes make a big difference.
In the United States, the top federal income tax is currently 35%. The top state income tax is 11%. The top sales tax is 10%. TOTAL = 56% (56 percent means $56 out of every $100.)
In Denmark, the top income tax is 67%, and the VAT (which is like a sales tax) is 25%. TOTAL = 92%.
If you want to keep a lot of the money you earn, Switzerland's top income tax rate is 13%, and the top VAT is 8%. TOTAL = 23%.
Yes, it's an over-simplification (the book is meant for 4th graders), but it certainly helps distinguish Switzerland from Sweden.
It's still worrisome that our president does not consider directing the education of one's own children to be a fundamental human right, but today I'm offering thanks and respect for the Department of Homeland Security's decision to allow the Romeike family to stay in the U.S. "indefinitely." (Previous posts here and here.) That decision is not as satisfying for legal precedent as a positive court decision overturning the administration's efforts to deport the family—on the grounds that Germany's heavy-handed anti-homeschooling laws are not sufficient reason to grant asylum—but the Supreme Court refused to review the case. The TSA's decision, while still leaving the Romeikes in a somewhat tenuous position, at least also leaves them safe in their Tennessee home.
This past weekend we had a very encouraging shopping trip, and as an inveterate non-shopper, I don't say that often. This time we ventured into a part of town we rarely visit (though after this experience it may happen more often) and most notably went to our IKEA for the first time.
At the risk of exacerbating the Switzerland-Sweden confusion, I'll mention that going to IKEA was like a mini visit to Janet's apartment, though sadly lacking in grandchildren. There are many similarities in the stock between this and the IKEAs I've been in in Switzerland, and I kept exclaiming, "Look, that's their silverware drainer / toy bins / easel!" "That's the exact train piece package I bought over there!"
Although the purpose of the trip was merely exploratory, we did end up buying several items, and what both surprised and thrilled me was where they were made. Yes, there were certainly plenty of items with the "Made in China" label, but we also easily found products from India, Bulgaria, Latvia, and other alternative sources, and even the occasional "Made in USA." Later in the same trip we were happy to buy a teapot made in the Czech Republic from Crate and Barrel.
To judge by what's available in most stores, China has a monopoly on production these days, and their reputation for product safety and factory working conditions is terrible. Even if their record were pristine, I'd still be concerned about their control of the market. (Microsoft, Apple, and Google make me similarly nervous.) I don't boycott Chinese products, but I'm a lot happier to see more variety available. Is India any better? I don't know, but until proven otherwise I'll take the chance, and I'm certainly happy to buy from countries with European Union standards.
The Occasional CEO has an interesting take this morning on our obsession with the "original intent" of the Founding Fathers when the Constitution was crafted. It confirms my long-held belief that the most amazing thing about the Constitution is that it has worked as well as it has for all these years. Imperfect as it may be, a compromise that no one was happy with, it serves well as an anchor to restrain the human tendency to be "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness."
(I would have written about this even if I couldn't have used Eric Schultz's cool image above, which is originally from uvamagazine.org, but I think it captures the obsession neatly.)
The founders, Wood concludes, succeeded so well in promoting democracy and equality among ordinary people that that’s precisely what they got. Neither Washington, who led the common man in battle, nor Adams, who represented him in court, had any illusions about human nature, preferring a strong national government (led by a wise elite). Jefferson, the great champion of the common man, could not have tripped over more than a few common men in all his years in Paris and on his great plantation, so when he finally understood late in life [who] they were and what they were like, he was dumbfounded. (That's why, when we quote him, we use the early stuff.)
By 1820, the great experiment had spun wildly out of control, far beyond the vision or comfort of its creators.
[T]here was one Founder who would today be fundamentally comfortable and happy with the results of the great American experiment. Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson’s lifelong enemy, was an immigrant, an opponent of slavery, a proponent of a large standing army, and (like Adams and Washington) had serious doubts about democracy. He was the only Founding Father who understood finance, banking, capital creation and fundamental economics, the only one who truly comprehended the Industrial Revolution. He believed America in time would become more urban and industrial, more hierarchical and unequal. ... Hamilton was the true genius of Republic 1.0—and, as sometimes happens, almost none of his coFounders understood what he was doing.
I took the Front Porch Republic out of my news feed, not because what they had to say was bad, but because it was too good. I was spending 'way too much time reading, and composing comments in my head—whether or not those comments ever made it into print. But then they started sending me their weekly updates....
Here's a good article on immigration. Normally I don't read about the topic, because it's so inflammatory; too many people, as they say, are enjoying the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. This one is different, as are most FPR articles, whether I agree with them or not. For one thing, he lambasts both the Republicans and the Democrats. ("[A]s with nearly everything in establishment Republicanism, even when they are sincere they are still lying"; for the Democratic skewer, see below.) For another, he acknowledges three points that I've long thought critical to the debate:
- Immigration in sufficient numbers inevitably and irrevocably transforms a culture; if we try to ignore or deny this and don't take steps to defend and preserve that which is good about our specific culture, it will be overrun just as surely as imperialism destroyed the native cultures of its colonies.
- We are repeatedly told that we need more immigrants because there are not enough Americans who are willing/qualified to do the jobs. Whether it's a factory owner crying that he'd go out of business without illegal immigrants (shades of pre-Civil War Southern plantation owners' insistence on the necessity of slavery), or companies pushing for more H1-B visas because they can't find enough Americans to do their high-tech jobs (meaning, qualified Americans are asking for higher salaries than Indians and Moldovans)—the bottom line is not that Americans can't or won't do the jobs, but that we value low prices more than fair wages.
- We feel a need for large numbers of immigrants because our own birth rate is too low. This reproductive minimalism is both an expression of our lack of appreciation for our own culture, and a great factor in its demise.*
I wonder if it is even possible to debate immigration honestly. The Democratic party has bet big that the continued use of contraception among white Americans and the admission of peoples from the Latin south will, in the long term, tilt demography permanently in favor of its version of the welfare state, and, consequently, its sustained power. Moreover, the turning away of Americans from marriage and the having of children suggests a lack of investment in, an apathy regarding, the future character of their country. It is no more surprising that Americans should be resigned regarding the future of their culture than it is that Americans should desire immigrants to labor for the welfare state in lieu of the children who could have been. These trends are a tacit vote of assent to the Democratic strategy vastly more significant that any election-day tally. Further, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be capable of giving voice to a genuine love of country: one that does not base itself on being a jingoistic bully abroad, but rather on a reverent care to preserve and cultivate what we have, here, now, at home.
*I commend our children for their valiant countercultural efforts, aka grandchildren. Switzerland also needs help in this regard.
The Romeikes have lost the latest round in their fight to keep from being sent back to Germany, where homeschooling is considered a sufficient reason to take custody of children away from their parents. The ruling is being appealed.
On the bright side, the court did rule that "parents do have a right to direct the education and upbringing of their children." However, they also said,
“Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures the United States Constitution prohibits,” the court ruled. “But it did not.”
[Attorney Michael] Farris said he finds great irony that the Obama administration is releasing thousands of illegal aliens—yet wants to send a family seeking political asylum back to Germany.
“Eleven million people are going to be allowed to stay freely—but this one family is going to be shipped back to Germany to be persecuted,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Actually, it makes plenty of sense—if you consider only political expediency. Immigration "reform" that supports an economy fueled by slave labor is considered a politically savvy move, while offending an important ally—Germany—is not.
I've often wondered why tolerance is considered such a high principle these days. Granted, I have many qualities that cause those around me to exercise forbearance; nonetheless, I hope for more in even a casual relationship than mere tolerance. I'd rate our various neighborly relationships, for example, as great, good, casual, and tolerant, with the last being better than "nasty," but nothing to brag about.
Perhaps the preaching of tolerance comes because we have failed so badly at love. Tolerance—at best—says, "I disagree with you, but it doesn't matter." Love says, "I disagree with you, and it does matter, but I love you, and I choose to believe the best of you. I will pray for you, encourage you, and seek out ways to work with you that do not violate my conscience. I will be alert to any lesson God wants to teach me through you."
Lowering the bar is not the solution. Redefining a C as an A rarely inspires higher performance. Besides, we're not doing so well at tolerance, either. With a hat tip to VP via Facebook, here's a lighter moment dedicated to all who have been slammed by the unloving who preach love, or by the intolerant who preach tolerance.
For your amusement only, since I don't know the details of these tax numbers. Highest bracket? Average tax rate? What other taxes do citizens pay? But you can be pretty sure that other people have worse tax sitations than we do. (Click image for a clearer view.)
I’m sure there are more than a few problems with the President’s budget proposal, depending on one's point of view, but I'd like to comment on three that I think particularly egregious. What we think of most issues depends, of course, on whose ox is being gored, and I’m not immune to that problem. However, here are three provisions that I think are pushing our society as a whole in a decidedly wrong direction.
- Not indexing Social Security benefits to inflation, but to another index that rises more slowly. While most people are upset because this would significantly reduce benefits (how else can it significantly help the budget?), and of course this matters to me as well, because we’re reaching the age where we’ll be depending to some degree on those checks. But that’s not my primary concern, which is that it would reduce the incentive for the government to curb inflation. We’re already in the precarious position where inflation benefits the government in the short term—as it does most debtors. This provision would make inflating our currency still more attractive, as the more the money inflates, the less retirees will receive in real income.
- Limiting retirement savings. Most importantly, this discourages saving. Americans are already very bad at saving money; despite what the advertisers will tell you, this bodes ill for achieving a stable, healthy economy. IRAs and other tax-deferred savings plans have been a good incentive in the right direction. Note: these accounts are not tax-protected or tax-free, as some articles are suggesting. The tax is merely deferred until the money is withdrawn. Under the President’s proposal, "[s]uch accounts would be capped at $3 million in 2013 dollars—which officials say is enough to finance a $205,000-a-year income." Do you believe that? I don’t. As my husband said, "I’d like the person who made that calculation to sell me a 30-year annuity backing up his words. I dare him to guarantee a 6% return." I doubt there’s anyone who would take that bet, unless he’s pretty sure we’ll have either a very strong economy or rampant inflation (see #1 above).
- Limiting charitable tax deductions. Capping the charitable deduction at 28%, while increasing the top tax rate to nearly 40%, will without a doubt decrease charitable giving in an age when it is increasingly needed. Insist all you want that "real philanthropists" will give to charity no matter what, the truth is that the charitable tax deduction is more than just an incentive: it means we have more money to give. And as the Forbes article (link above) points out, "the Obama charity tax increase implicitly assumes, under cover of 'fairness,' that Washington will do a better job spending the money than private donors will. But by encouraging philanthropy, we encourage imagination and innovation—in ways the political process, more likely to be constrained by conventional wisdom, will not." What's more, the charitable tax deduction is a great investment for the government: At the margin, forgoing $40,000 in tax revenue generates $100,000 in charitable donations. Perhaps most worrisome of all is that encouraging citizens to turn over their charitable responsibilities to the government hinders the development of a just and caring society.
While it is clear that we need both spending cuts and tax increases to tackle our financial problems, not all cuts, and not all taxes, are equally valuable. Put another way, some are more harmful than others. These three proposals are a threat to the long-term health of our country.
Two years ago, Stephan wrote an excellent summary of why Americans overseas bear an unfair and disproportionate tax burden. It's still true, and you can help by e-mailing the House Ways and Means Committee by April 15—if you don't need all that time to prepare your own taxes, that is. You could also, of course, e-mail them with your own thoughts about tax reform in general. That's too much for me to contemplate at the moment, so I settled for writing on this subject. Here's one of my two letters, minus a few details. You'll note I cribbed a good deal from Stephan's post.
I am writing to ask that the International Taxation Committee of the Ways & Means Committee for Tax Reform seriously consider the proposal of the American Citizens Abroad (ACA) for reform to residency-based taxation (RBT). (http://americansabroad.org/files/6513/6370/3681/finalsubrbtmarch2013.pdf)
The current policy of citizenship-based taxation is unique among developed countries: all others levy taxes based on residence alone. As I understand it, this taxation by citizenship is intended to prevent very wealthy Americans from avoiding taxes in the USA by moving abroad. But do you remember when tuna fishing nets inadvertently caught and killed porpoises as well? There are several unintended, unfair consequences of this tax policy for ordinary, non-wealthy US citizens abroad Here are a few examples:
- The USA taxes its citizens abroad based on their income converted into US dollars. You might earn the same salary in year one as in year two, but be forced to declare an increase in income of several thousand US dollars because the dollar was devalued in that period
- If you are hired as an expatriate by a large company, you cost the company more in expenses and tax attorney fees, which makes you less attractive for hiring. This competitive disadvantage of its citizens is damaging to the US economy, particularly in this climate of globalization.
- US citizens abroad run the risk of unintentionally becoming criminals because of the complex tax laws and agreements. The US tax code is complicated for US residents; it is worse as a citizen abroad. Additionally, IRS personnel rarely are able to answer questions you might have, so even if you try your best you run a very real risk of unintentionally running afoul of the IRS.
- US citizens abroad are being denied basic local banking services. Many local banks altogether refuse dealings with anyone liable to taxation by the IRS rather than running the risk of being sued.
- Because “any United States person who has a financial interest in or signature authority or other authority over any financial account in a foreign country, if the aggregate value of these accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year,” must file an FBAR, an American overseas may be denied employment or promotion since US tax law could require disclosure of the company account to the IRS.
Even though I, myself, reside in the United States, I am affected by this unjust form of taxation. My American daughter and her American family are currently living overseas and thus are hurt by the problems above. Furthermore, I have been unable to open a simple bank account in her town in which to keep a small amount of funds to use while visiting them. The banks will not open accounts for Americans because IRS rules require them to break their own rules to do so.
A move towards a residence-based system would it be simpler and fairer for Americans living abroad, and would strengthen America’s global competitiveness.
Please consider the RBT proposal submitted by American Citizens Abroad (ACA). (http://americansabroad.org/files/6513/6370/3681/finalsubrbtmarch2013.pdf)