10.29.08

I love it, but it scares me.

Posted in at 15:29 by RjZ

Obama – Hope Poster

Originally uploaded by spaceninja.

Have you seen one of these posters already? There’s a big one of these hanging in the window of Mt. Sun Brewery, but that’s not the first place I saw one. A great looking poster and it’s hard to deny the simple and effective message.

I guess, since it was produced by the same folks how make those OBEY Giant images (an equally effective image), that I shouldn’t be so surprised that it looks like, well, propaganda. I think many of those parodying the poster agree.

Much of the graphic design around Obama’s campaign has been so far beyond political campaigns. From the flag-O (showing a ‘new’ horizon) to their frequent use of simple tag lines such as ‘change’ and ‘hope’ all in beautifully simple Gill Sans font. It’s a pleasure to see such consistent, and attractive design. I wish it didn’t freak me out.

What’s bugging me is these things remind me of Soviet propaganda posters and cults of personality that often go along with it. The Obama campaign can’t be blamed for good graphic design and the folks at OBEY Giant can’t be blamed for their artistic inspiration, but I just hope people don’t start celebrating the our new leader as if he were anything more than the executive of our great system, whose successes and failures are as much due to him as to all the members of congress, the courts and even the citizens.

It’s bad enough that religious extremists in the United States might really believe that God intervened to keep George Bush in office. (No, really, follow the link.) Even McCain, in one of his early negative ads, tried to attack Obama’s fame. After seeing this poster, I can sympathize a bit more. It better not be time to replace one demagogue with another. Like I said, I love the poster, but, um, it scares me.

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10.28.08

A libertarian defends the regressive tax rate

Posted in Society at 17:49 by RjZ

Alright, neither liberals nor conservatives can argue much; McCain and Obama certainly are both for a regressive tax system. Listen to them both address the issue. But I think it raises some eyebrows among libertarians that I might think a regressive tax is not without merit. Of course, the goal should be to reduce taxes and therewith the size and reach of government, but one reason, rarely mentioned, why it is quite reasonable for the rich to pay a greater share is quite simply that they get more value for their money.

The rich use the infrastructure to a greater degree. They drive more on the roads, they water their lawns, the police protect their wealth. The very poor may not even be able to afford to ride the bus, don’t have a lawn nor any wealth to protect. The rich have more assets to protect from foreign invaders and would lose a great deal more if our system were to come under the control of others. Rich businesses reap huge benefits when the military works to restore peace and stability in a region and encourages business. The rich enjoy the benefits of the department of commerce’s efforts to develop business with allies.

Is it socialist to expect the rich to pay a greater share of their income as tax than the poor? Absolutely not. In a small, efficient, working government, they get good value for their investment and they get more benefit than those making less money. Even in a poorly functioning government, the rich still enjoy more benefits from the government in terms of preserving their wealth, even if it has required them to pay for welfare and other more socialist programs which they may not support.

An exact reckoning of how much tax money goes to defending the wealth of the rich (along with the safety of the poor!) may be difficult, but few would dispute that they have more to lose.

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10.26.08

Taxes have always spread the wealth

Posted in , Society at 8:37 by RjZ

Oh please. Ms. Sarah Palin is out of the trail misleading voters about economics: “Barack Obama calls it ’spreading the wealth.’ Joe Biden calls higher taxes patriotic. Joe the plumber said it sounded to him like socialism. And now is not the time to experiment with that,” If she were saying that she was opposed to taxes completely since they spread the wealth, I might find some agreement there. But she’s not, and the McCain-Palin administration would most certainly continue taxing people. Taxes have been regressive, taxing the rich in greater proportion to the poor, for decades and decades and Mr. McCain has voted right along with this policy. This makes him (and virtually everyone else in government) just as much of a socialist as Mr. Obama.

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10.24.08

What’s he watching?

Posted in Society at 11:09 by RjZ

I waiting for another plane ride and I got to thinking about censorship. I tried to do some quick research on it, but the free WiFi internet access in the airport blocked my search. Airlines, now working on offering WiFi internet access on airplanes, are considering the same blocking of sites that may contain ‘adult content’.

Sure, I understand how awkward it might be having the stranger sitting next to you downloading porn while you fly over the heartland, but that doesn’t mean I understand why they bother to block it. What’s stopping him (or her!) from just sliding a DVD into their computer and watching the stuff in front of everyone? I couldn’t find any airline policies forbidding this (perhaps because my search was blocked). Although I bet that they do. Quite a reasonable choice too, it seems, ‘indecency’ and all  (it’s hardly a hardship; my seatmate will be comfortably at home or in a hotel soon enough.)

So why do we block these sites and searches? I can only assume some shortsighted, narrow-minded folks are responsible; claiming something like ‘we’ve got to keep our kids safe.’ Block them at home where you can’t keep an eye on your children 24 hours a day (although I’m sure those same folks will try) but why even waste our time and money when your local coffee shop, airport and airline may already have policies, which they’re entitled to have, that forbid you from viewing this stuff out in the open.

Adult DVDs or even R-Rated movies are not forbidden on personal computers and DVD players, so downloading porn needn’t to be either except for the bandwidth concern, and providers can easily limit how much bandwidth you may use. There’s really little point to blocking this stuff, even if it does seems a ridiculous place do it.

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10.16.08

Colorado Amendment Crib sheet, Conclusion

Posted in Society at 8:45 by RjZ

Alright, clearly there was a bit of a theme in my rant about (most of) the Colorado Constitutional amendments on the ballot. No, No, No, No, and more No. It’s an easy crib sheet at least, but why I am I so opposed to these changes? I alluded to it a couple of times in the individual explanations but it amounts to this; these amendments show a basic misunderstanding of the point of a constitution, at least the one on which Colorado’s is modeled: the United States Constitution.

The Constitution is supposed to be a framework for government. So: here it is, outlined by and for the people, what we think our government is going to be allowed to do. If it ain’t in there, they may not assume it’s their prerogative! Contrary to how many politicians act this days it’s not a list of what they can’t do and if we the people forgot to mention it, off you go, do whatever you wish. It’s do this and no more, for everything else, try keeping your mouth shut. Make laws, so long as they don’t conflict with this framework and restrict people’s freedoms.

The Constitution is and should be a living document. That’s why the federal one has a chance for amendments at all. But there aren’t many (27) and it’s over twice as old. Nearly every amendment to the U.S. Constitution (except prohibition, later repealed; some technical ones regarding the government itself and how long someone can be president; and this crazy idea about income tax)  expanded the rights of the people. That is, they told the government, the specific folks using the Constitution, more about what, explicitly, must be assured for every individual citizen. None of the amendments were new laws. We have a legislative body complete with checks and balances for that.

On purpose, it’s a difficult process make amendments to the U. S. Constitution. Legislators have to pass a proposed amendment with a two-thirds majority and then three-fourths of the states must approve it. This strong foundation for the government is not intended to sway back and forth with the winds of popular culture and mob rule. 

Meanwhile, in Colorado, and some other states, any one with enough signatures can decide to rewrite a part of our government’s very framework. There is a reason we elect people to government and even pay them. So that they will be professionals who read and understand all the ramifications of a new law. Of course, they are people too and we shouldn’t necessarily trust them to do the right thing, but laws can be eliminated and the bums can be voted out. I don’t trust our politicians, but I can hope they spend more time studying bills than I do. To be honest, I don’t trust the average person I meet, who’s more interested in Bronco’s games or his next rock climbing route, than reading the fiscal impacts of new laws. And who can blame them?! Unlike our legislators, they’re not being paid for it! [By the way, I am glad if you read all of my crib sheet post, but I don't expect you to actually vote like I've suggested. Read the blue book and decide for yourself! Why would you trust me after all?]

In general, even on the good laws being proposed, amending the constitution is a dangerous and inappropriate way to govern that weakens our system and increases its complexity needlessly. If you only scanned my two previous posts, live in another state, or don’t have enough time to read every detail of the propositions, it’s a pretty safe bet to vote “NO” on constitutional amendments! We have a legislator, how about we keep them busy!

There are amendments like 46 which prohibits Colorado governments from providing preferential treatment. This one actually does increase rights for people and is the kind of thing that actually belongs in the Constitution. However, just so we’re clear, it also ends Affirmative Action. Another post could discuss whether Affirmative Action has worked, or is still necessary, but I decided to leave that one up to you without my comments. 46 shows how this whole process is fraught with problems. Everyday folks worrying more about filling up their gas tanks are faced with seeing through the who-could-argue text of the amendment and deciding whether or not to end another policy in which they may very well be in favor without even realizing it. 

These things are written by people who want them to pass. They seem innocuous. You may very well want some of the stuff they’re recommending to be done by government. But the world is full of unintended consequences by well meaning people.  It’s unlikely the amendment process is the best place for them, and if you don’t know, vote no.

Whatever you do, please vote!

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10.15.08

Colorado Amendment Crib sheet, Part 2

Posted in Society at 14:54 by RjZ

Where were we? (It may be better to read part 1 first, but that’s up to you.)

Where were we? Ah yes, amendment 54 proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to eliminate “at-will” employment. It’s pretty likely that if you are a United State’s citizen reading this, you work in an ‘at-will’ environment where your employer can fire you, for any reason, any time they wish, and where you can quit, any time, for any reason you wish. In spite of that clause in your contract, most of us would go ahead and give our employers two weeks notice and most employers even pay a severance when they fire people. The proposed change would still allow employers to fire someone for cause, for incompetence or because they just need to lay people off.

Proponents state that this change would simply put into law practices followed by good businesses. So why do we need it? The same proponents say job seekers will be attracted to those companies that offer a secure, just-cause positions. Great! So why don’t we let those companies who think this is unimportant fail because they don’t attract the best employees?

This ineffective amendment will increase lawsuits, accomplish little that isn’t already in place, and is probably not worth the time I’ve already spent on it.

NO on 55!

Amendment 56 proposes changing the Colorado Constitution so that employers in small business will have to provide health insurance. Honestly, I wish I knew where this employer provided health insurance idea came from. Many in the United States are envious of the European system. In that system, whole classes of people, typically based on their professions, are entitled to buy into group insurance plans. Engineers can buy into one plan, auto mechanics into another. If you’re an unemployed auto mechanic, you can still buy auto mechanic’s health insurance (this is, in the European case, in addition to the state provided health insurance, but you’re required to buy it if you make over a certain amount of money. It’s not a perfect analogy, alas.)

In that system, people have access to group plans, and the self-employed, under-employed, unemployed are not out of the loop. Better still, businesses do not have to trouble themselves with activities that have absolutely nothing to do what their primary focus: making, servicing, selling, promoting their special widgets™. Contrary to proponent’s arguments that “Businesses are likely to benefit from higher productivity and fewer days lost to illness when more employees are insured.” (which is, of course, true, but hardly the responsibility of the employer) growing a business is a frightening burden for many small owners that suddenly have to offer extensive insurance coverage to their employees. And yet, many do… because they want to attract the very best employees, but unfortunately with such an amendment, they’d all be the same and there’d be no advantage for them any more. Continuing our flawed employer provided health insurance means perpetuating one of the problems we have with health care in the United States.

NO on 56!

Amendment 57 will change the Colorado Constitution to gut workers’ compensation. Well, actually, that’s not what it says of course. What it really wants to do allow employees to be able to get more than the workers’ compensation laws already allow them. Here’s what’s currently allowed injured employers:

• reasonable and necessary medical care, at no cost to the employee;
• tax-free payment for lost wages up to two-thirds of the injured employee’s salary; 
• payment for permanent disability and disfigurement; 
• vocational rehabilitation; 
• funeral expenses; and 
• death benefits for surviving dependents.

Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Some of the things that amendment 57 will add: “future monetary losses, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life….” As a rule, I am not for tort limitations; people should be allowed anything they can reasonably get through our legal system. But, just so we’re clear, this will break a working system and cost a fortune, making money, above all, for lawyers who will represent claims of “inconvenience and loss of enjoyment.” Philosophically, I should vote yes, and I probably will, but I’d really rather this doesn’t change, so I’d be happy if you voted:

NO on 57!

Amendment 58 is probably the most complex one on the list. It will change the Colorado Constitution to increase the tax on extraction of oil and natural gas and spend that money on lots of things we’d really like. There’s not much wrong with the concept here. Personally I am all for removing the tax credit that companies enjoy and severance taxes in Colorado are lower than other oil and gas producing states.

The question I have is how this amendment distributes the money received. Here again, we send legislators to Denver only to tie their hands on how to budget, and what to do. I completely understand the fear that our government officials won’t do the right things, but if we’re seriously concerned with that, then we shouldn’t be raising more taxes so that they have more money (and therefore power). On this one too, I am quite conflicted. I want to get rid of that tax credit, but not if it means giving more power to the legislators, which apparently the writers of this amendment were afraid of doing as well, since they tried to spell everything out. 

In the voting booth, I am going to have to assume that a process that is voted on once and then codified into the near permanent law of the Constitution, is probably not the best way to get rid of this damn tax credit. If you don’t mind this and vote yes, I won’t complain, but I’ll still be voting:

NO on 58!

Amendment 59 is not likely to make me any friends either. It proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to eliminate the tax payers bill of rights (TABOR) and spend that money on pre-school through 12 (P-12) education. Motherhood and apple pie, right? Spend more money on education? Hard to go wrong with that one.  This one did though. People complain about TABOR because it has us with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes. Our government is required to both reduce spending and return any extra money to the taxpayers, but at the same time increase spending for P-12 education to keep up with inflation (also known as Amendment 23).

I don’t think this challenging requirement is as crazy as it sounds though. Put another way, our current Constitution says that the people of Colorado value education and want to make sure that it is paid for, no matter what, and that the costs stay keep up inflation. If other things must go, so be it, but education is important to us. The change we have before us eliminates this foot on the brake, foot on the accelerator problem by simply stripping it (Amendment 23) out, in hopes that this tax increase will cover it. (It’s not called a tax increase by the way, it’s an elimination of rebates. I don’t know about you, but when my Colorado State Tax bill is larger thanks to eliminated rebates, I would call that a tax increase. Still, they’re right, the money comes only when there is extra cash that would be rebated. I am not sure what education is supposed to do during these tough times.)

What really happens with this proposed change is that some money is set aside for education (good) freeing up more money for other programs (bad) without any limits to the size of government (really bad) and it does so without even the current guarantees we have to ensure that education would remain well funded into the future. How is this a good thing?

Another way to look at it is that loads of people hate TABOR because it limits how many pet programs can be inserted into government (whether they belong there or not, see elsewhere in these two posts) and it’s easiest to get votes when you promise something. So, people who hate TABOR (they’re entitled to hating it, I don’t know enough to judge it in it’s entirety) decided to wrap an amendment to eliminate it in something people can’t vote down, education funding. I’m with most Coloradans. Education funding must remain a high priority for our future. That’s why I am opposed to amendment 59.

NO on 59!

Whew! That’s enough of that (although there are few more referenda there as well) and I haven’t even addressed all of them. Did you notice the theme yet? See the next installment coming right up….

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Colorado Amendment Crib sheet, Part 1

Posted in Society at 9:06 by RjZ

Colorado has 14 amendments up for a vote. It’s one of the longest list of public referenda in the nation. I thought I’d make a cheat sheet for those wise folks who want to vote just like I would. All none of you.

I’ll spare you the details of each amendment, but you can follow along by reading Colorado’s blue book here.

Amendment 46 wants to change the Colorado Constitution to prohibit discrimination. Sounds innocuous enough, but this may be the hardest one on the ballot. How about we come back to it. We’ll skip a couple for now; I’ll explain later.

47 wants change the Colorado Constitution to prohibit requiring employees to join unions. This seems reasonable enough. If you’re pro-union, you can certainly understand that it might not be OK to force people to join one, even if they don’t want to. I think it’s pretty ridiculous that companies and unions get away with this. Still, isn’t this something unions negotiated with the companies they serve? Those companies do not have to require new employees to join a union, yet some do! Why would they do this of their own free will? Well, because the unions collectively negotiated that all the fine folks they represent might just quit working unless the companies were willing to so. It’s blackmail, in my opinion, and it really is only intended to strengthen the union, but those companies can walk away any time they want! They continue to support such rules because they think they can’t live without the union.
In other words, this amendment wants to weaken unions and strengthen corporations. Regardless, what business is of the government how companies wish to run (so long as they’re following the laws and not hurting anyone.) If you think that’s really the government’s right, then great, we should pass a law. What need would there be to change the constitution to implement such a thing.
NO on 47!

Definition of a person, #48. Some crazy chick wants the Colorado Constitution to define a person as starting the moment of conception. But she’s a law student, so she writes up this way too simple little amendment and plenty of people without the slightest concept of what impact this would have on our legal system jump on the anti-choice bandwagon.

Problem is, in addition to being a bit silly and against a significant number of people’s idea of when life really begins, this change to our constitution would bring undue burden to so many people. Do we really need to have doctors worried about being sued on behalf of the person by inducing an abortion in a woman 20 minutes pregnant after being raped? This list of frivolous, confusing lawsuits goes on and on. If you’re pro-life, great, make a better law that wouldn’t cause a woman who bought a pregnancy test and then has an accident guilty of reckless endangerment.

NO on 48!

Amendment 49 seeks to change the Colorado Constitution to prohibit public employee paycheck deductions. OK, first, does anybody really care? Second, why should government employees have such different standards than private employees? Because of conflicts of interest of course. We don’t want folks with government connections demanding deductions for their pet projects. So, instead of prohibiting corrupt behavior of a few politicians specifically, we take the ham-handed approach of permanently altering our Constitution in such a way that eliminates employee choice, even for those things they might quite reasonably want to do. Sorry we’ve decided for you, regardless of how sensible the deductions were or not. Hey, there might be a conflict of interest.

NO on 49!

Amendment 51 will change the Colorado Constitution to raise sales tax a tiny bit to benefit folks with developmental disabilities. Here’s a contentious one. It’s so hard to vote against helping truly disadvantaged people that there seems neither any reason nor any way this won’t pass. Here I’ll quote from the blue book:

Decisions about how to spend state tax dollars are best made through an open and deliberative process that considers the needs and priorities of the entire state. Amendment 51 permanently raises taxes without any discussion about whether the measure raises an appropriate amount of money, how the new money can be spent most effectively, or how the needs of people with developmental disabilities compare with other needs in the state. The new money must be spent on services for people with developmental disabilities even if the amount raised exceeds what is legitimately needed to provide services, which could lead to wasteful spending while other needs remain underfunded.

OK, I am not saying we shouldn’t spend money on people with developmental disabilities. We can afford to help them, along with the homeless, war veterans, you name it. Indeed, we already do help all of these people. Personally, I’d like to know where we draw the line? Shouldn’t we raise taxes for babies with cancer, women who can’t have children, families of people addicted to alcohol, folks who overspent on their McMansions (wait, we’re doing that last one…)

Still, forget all that. Even if you believe that this particular cause seems to be beyond the role of charities. Even if you somehow think the State government will be better at distributing your money than a charity specifically working for the needs of developmentally disabled people. There are still dozens of ways for legislators to budget for this expense, if the voters truly think it is the best way to spend their money. They can do so without permanently ear-marking the cash, regardless of its effectiveness, by changing the constitution. Without knowing how much is necessary and what needs are over time. Without deciding that this particular special interest (worthy as it may be) is more important than all others, like say, a efficient enough public transport system that would not only help everyone, but even those people who can no longer afford a car because they are struggling to take care of their disadvantaged family member. Get your legislator to pass a law to effect the budget if this is important. Meanwhile, look up your local charity and spend. Call your friends and get them to do it too. The money will be better spent anyway. OK, I’m sure I’ll make friends here, but: 

NO on 51!

52 will have us change the Colorado Constitution to require a portion of severance taxes to be spent on highway projects. Have you noticed a theme yet? It should be coming into focus. Um, why do we even have state legislators? I mean we spend a lot of money on those folks, their staffs, the pretty offices and the fine buildings in which they work. And yet, at the same time we don’t trust them to actually look at the budget and decide what to spend money on. Many of us want them to spend less money and do less, and yet we spell out exactly what they must collect and how it should be spent, not withstanding the changing issues that the world faces. In other words, does it make sense to codify in our constitution spending for highways if we might get lucky and be able to use the money for, I don’t know, monorails next year? We may want to spend this severance tax on highways, I am not opposed to that, but this isn’t the way to do it.

No on 52!

53 will change the Colorado Constitution to hold business executives themselves accountable when their business break the law. This is such a good idea that it’s already the case. Federal law, and some state laws, already hold executives accountable for the actions of their businesses. Now, to be honest, I don’t know to what extent our current laws do and how this law changes that. Proponents say it will fill gaps and opponents say it will create new ones. I read the text, but I’d have to have read the details of our existing laws and constitution in order to be absolutely sure who is right. I don’t think I am the best person to do this, and, unless you’re a lawyer who is familiar with this stuff, you’re probably not either. Which is why I wonder if it’s OK that we should be voting on this at all.

No on 53!

54 prohibits government contractors from contributing to political parties. Which, given the likelihood of corruption seems like a good idea. The problem here is that first, it’s a free speech issue; why shouldn’t I be allowed to give to a political candidate if I believe she is the best one for the job and if she is required to announce where she got the money (anything over $100,000 must be declared)? Second, proponents say this law adds transparency to the process, but opponents point out its broad scope and how baroque it will make government contracting. How do these subtle issues even get on the ballot for us once a year political professionals? 

No on 54!

Oh my, is this a long post, and that’s only half of them! I think we’ll take a break for now. While I’m off spouting about the rest of the amendments, see if you can see a theme here. Hint, the constitution is supposed to be the basic structure and framework for our government, not a giant, million word document dealing with the vagaries and details of every day legislation.

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10.10.08

I should have over spent

Posted in at 10:26 by RjZ

I am not weathering this financial crisis very well. Alright, that’s not true. For the moment, it’s done absolutely nothing to me except on paper. But I still think I didn’t plan well enough. What I should have been doing all this time is spending money instead of saving it.

Take, for example, candidate McCain’s recent proposal: “under the plan, the government would buy up bad mortgage loans, converting them into low-interest, FHA-insured loans. To qualify, homeowners would have to be delinquent in their payments or be likely to fall behind in the near future.” So, I would have been able to enjoy a government insured low interest loan if only I had the forethought to fill my home with all sorts of toys like widescreen televisions and jetskis. If I were running out of money right now, the government would prop up the loan I could no longer afford!

I think I better go buy something!

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10.03.08

Why debate when you can have a public funded commercial?

Posted in at 9:55 by RjZ

Mrs. Palin made prefaced one of her speeches answers the last nights’ vice presidential debate by saying “I may not answer the question the way you want to hear, but I’ll talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record”

If actually debating mattered; if answering questions and sharing opinions and insights on how you would govern were important; if giving United States citizens the confidence that faced with the challenges of an unscripted world where thinking on your feet mattered, then Mrs. Palin’s comment would be wrong.

Still, being likable and folksy and not elitist and just plain getting your script talking points message accross, these are successful at winning elections. Undoubtedly, she did a great job.

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