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Thursday, April 3, 2014
Can Liberals and Conservatives Ever Agree?
Liberals and Conservatives will probably never agree.  They might as well stop trying to convince one another.  Logic doesn’t work.  Facts don’t work. 
 
Egged on by the media in a constant chase for ratings, the two sides engage in a never-ending cycle of “gotcha.”  But no amount of arguments by either side will ever convince the other that their position on the issues that separate them is not the right one. 
 
Each is irrevocably convinced of the merit of its beliefs about values, ethics, morality, government, religion, that is, G-d or no G-d, education, national defense, energy, protecting the environment, economics, taxation and so on, ad infinitum. 
Both claim that the other side distorts the facts or just plain lies to support its arguments.  Who is to be believed in what has become the continuous propaganda war that is waged daily in the media, on the Internet, with email messages, the endless stream of communications that has become the hallmark of modern societies?
 
So, why do they bother to keep trying?  Neither side will ever convince the other, but they persist. What is it that they really want?  Is it just about political power and control of government?
 
Both sides assert that they target those who occupy the center of the political spectrum, reported to represent about one-third of the voters, but everyone knows that when the Left and the Right argue their respective positions they are primarily
“preaching to the choir,” who occupy the more extreme philosophical positions of their groups.
 
People tend to be more liberal when they are young, usually because they generally don't have a realistic appreciation of the costs and motivations associated with correcting the inequities and injustices they perceive. They are often more sensitive, perhaps less cynical than their elders, and want to improve conditions. But they are also less experienced, have not seen as many ideas tried and fail, and they have less understanding of human nature. They also usually have more faith in the "system,” as in government, and in the ability of those in power to make decisions for the many and to enforce them fairly.
 
As they gain experience and added years, people tend to become more conservative. It is only in their more mature years that they may have supplemented their education with sufficient experience to begin understanding the benefits of our nation’s capitalistic philosophy, and I suppose some of its limitations. Young people generally take too much for granted, but ultimately most of us eventually learn that nothing in this life is really either completely "black or white," or free.  Columnist Thomas Sowell, who started out as a Marxist, supported this when he said, “There was no book that changed my mind about being on the political left.  Life experience did that – especially the experience of seeing government at work from the inside.”
 
Most political beliefs are actually shades of gray, with questions and arguments on all sides of the issues.  All systems of government are predicated on economic philosophy. In the final analysis, it is the means by which a society organizes its productive capabilities and distributes that productivity that is really the underpinning of its political system. People somehow seem to separate politics from production (business, economics and property rights) in their minds. They aren't separable.
 
Perhaps the primary difference between the political beliefs of the Left and the Right is their respective philosophies about human nature - about how people’s behavior is influenced or motivated. The Left generally believes it is wrong for individuals to accumulate what they consider to be “excess” wealth or to have income in “excess of their needs.”  In the extreme, their concept is that each individual should be able to take those things from the system that s/he "needs", while contributing "according to his (her) ability".
This is usually interpreted to mean that everyone should receive the same material benefits from the available resources and that those resources are finite, that there is only “so much” to go around, and that people can be convinced to put personal gain or advantage aside and act altruistically.
 
Those on the Left also believe the economy is a zero sum game.  If someone wins (earns or profits more than others), someone else loses.  On the other hand, those on the Right believe that additional “capital” is created by increasing or improving productivity and providing incentives.  Their concept is that when someone wins, usually by providing a product or service that others need or want - the income or capital of others is not diminished, but that more is created.
 
On the Right, they also believe that it is simply human nature for people to act in their own self-interest.  That self-interest is what motivates their behavior and that the economic system works best when it is structured around that reality.
 
“The success of the Plymouth colony can be attributed to the wisdom of the colonial leadership to recognize a failed experiment when they saw one. That experiment was socialism.  And, the rapidly approaching outcome was starvation, economic regression and total failure of the colony. “From each according to their ability and to each according to their need” simply did not work and could not work without government coercion.”
(From The Rant.us by Tony Ruboletta, Failed Experiment and Failing To Learn, 7/22/04).
 
The short answer to the question, “Can Liberals and Conservatives Ever Agree?” is no, not on their core beliefs.  Not only do they occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum, their core beliefs and worldviews are 180 degrees apart. 
However, what they often manage to do is compromise to achieve certain of their respective goals.   The saying, “Politics is the art of compromise,” is correct.   Just remember, you rarely convince the other side of the correctness of your beliefs about economics or human nature.  Only experience does that.
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
 
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Thursday, April 3, 2014
Cow Chips To The Rescue
It wasn’t very long ago that environmentalists and global warming advocates were warning us about the dangers of cow flatulence, that it is causing or at least contributing to global warming. 
The U.N. even got into the act, issuing a report that concluded cow flatulence is a greater threat to the atmosphere than automobiles.
 
It has been estimated that 9% to12% of the energy that a cow consumes is turned into methane, which is released either through flatulence or burping. A huge number of factors affect methane emission, including diet, barn conditions and whether the cow is lactating, but an average cow in a barn produces 542 liters of methane a day, and 600 liters when out in a field.
 
All this methane can add up to a significant amount. For example, Australia's 140 million sheep and cattle are estimated to produce one seventh of that nation's total greenhouse gas emissions, and America’s 100 million cattle are major contributors to the problem in this country.
 
Is this a valid theory, or was the idea just floated as a trial balloon to see if it would gain legs, as they say in the media biz?  Whatever the case, it didn’t stay in the news for long.  Perhaps because it never seemed to get past the LOL (laugh out loud) phase. 
 
A good example of the humor provoked by this issue, along with a healthy dose of common sense, was found in Jill Fallon’s post (December 14, 2006) to her Estate Vaults.com website, where she said, “We have met the enemy and it moos? 
Apparently the beasts of the field do nothing but wander around all day asking their brethren to ‘pull my hoof’.  Every time a cow feels a small sense of relief, a polar bear goes through the ice,” she added.
 
Cecil Adams, in his Straight Dope Classic, “Do cow and termite flatulence threaten the earth’s atmosphere?” dealt with the cow flatulence concern as far back as March 1989: “Now, you're probably saying, what the hey, cows have been around forever,
how come all of a sudden they're a threat? All we know is this: atmospheric methane has been increasing at the alarming rate of 1 percent a year, and something's got to be causing it. The world cattle population is thought to have increased in the last decade, and Lord knows the Brazilians don't feel like taking any more heat for torching the Amazon.
So hey, let's blame the cows.” (straightdope.com)
 
In other words, we have another largely insoluble problem that threatens to end life as we know it. Or do we?
 
In another example of jumping to conclusions without having all the information, in this case about cows, their manure is also considered a good potential source of energy, and many farmers are using the methane gas it produces to develop their own power source.
 
So, which is it: cow flatulence is causing global warming or cow waste may help save us from ourselves by providing a new energy source?
 
A recent Reuters story reported, “On a dairy farm in the Golden State’s agricultural heartland, utility PG&E Corp began…producing natural gas derived from manure, in what it hopes will be a new way to power homes with renewable, if not entirely clean energy…
As cow manure decomposes, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide…Enter the Vintage Dairy project…methane can be captured and treated to produce renewable gas.”
 
“To tap the renewable gas from cow manure, the Vintage Dairy farm first flushes manure into a large octagonal pit, where it becomes about 99 percent water.  It is then pumped into a covered lagoon, first passing through a screen that filters out large solids
that eventually become the cows’ bedding….The covered lagoon, or ‘digester,’ is the size of nearly five football fields and about 33 feet deep.  It is lined with plastic to protect the ground water…The end product is ‘close to 99 percent pure methane’
according to BioEnergy Chief Operating Officer Thomas Hintz…” 
 
Once it is treated, enough gas to power about 1,250 homes “is injected into PG&E’s pipeline, where it will be shipped to a power plant in Northern California.”  (“California cows start passing gas to the grid,” by Nicholas Groom, Reuters, Mar 4, 2008)
 
Talking about cow flatulence may be good for laughs, but it turns out that it really is serious business, after all.
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Overcoming Adversity
A recent Sacramento Bee article about Sacramento volunteers helping to make Sheila Granda’s house wheelchair accessible,” caught my attention. It’s a remarkable story about helping others, but what really got my attention is the fact that, although this 33-year-old woman, was “left paralyzed from the neck down in a 1997 rollover accident at the age of 17, a few months before she was supposed to start college,” she subsequently managed to overcome
her handicap and become a lawyer.
 
“‘We never thought I’d get out of the hospital after I was injured,’ said Granda, who works for the state Department of Health Care Services. Those first three to five years, we did not know what would happen if I lived, if I’d have any quality of life at all.’”
 
Sheila Granda is not the only example of people who manage to overcome adversity and lead productive lives.
 
Following are some other examples of people who also managed to overcome their disabilities:
 
Charles Krauthammer: An American Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, political commentator, and physician. His column is syndicated to more than 350 newspapers and media outlets. He is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, a weekly panelist on the PBS news program Inside Washington, and a nightly panelist on Fox News's “Special Report” with Bret Baier. 
 
Krauthammer was raised in Montreal, Quebec, where he attended McGill University and obtained an honors degree in political science and economics in 1970. The following year, he was a Commonwealth Scholar in politics at Balliol College, Oxford, before returning to the United States and entering Harvard Medical School.
 
During Krauthammer's first year of medical school, he was paralyzed in a diving accidentand was hospitalized for 14 months. However, he continued his medical studies and graduated with his class, earning his MD in 1975. From 1975 to 1978, Krauthammer was a resident and then a chief resident in psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
 
Steven Hawking: Afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Hawking is considered one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists, originally positing the theory of “Black Holes” to explain the creation and expansion of the Universe. His speech is generally unintelligible, and his caretaker must interpret his sounds, but in spite of his handicap, he managed to write one of the definite works on physics.
 
Irena Sendler: One of the many heroes and heroines of WWII. A woman of uncommon principle and courage who, for two years during the Nazi occupation of Poland, helped rescue some 2,500 Jewish infants and children from the Polish Ghetto, often hiding them from the Nazi guards, risking her own life in the process.
 
Muhammad Ali: The most famous African-American of his time, Ali is still among the most widely recognized faces on the planet. During the Vietnam War, he refused to serve in the United States Army, on the grounds that considered himself to be a conscientious objector. He was prevented from fighting for three-and-a-half years, but ultimately regained his title in 1974, defeating the then champion, George Foreman, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Today, at age 72, as he is dealing
with the ravages of Parkinson’s disease, Ali is a living example of character and grace.
 
Helen Keller: When she was 19 months old she contracted an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last very long, but it left her deaf and blind.
 
Her parents were advised to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, which was then located in South Boston. The school's director, Michael Anagnos, asked former student Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired and only 20 years old, to become Keller's instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship, Sullivan evolving into governess and then eventual companion.
 
Keller wrote a total of 12 published books and several articles.
 
One of her earliest pieces of writing, at age 11, was “The Frost King” (1891). There were allegations that this story had been plagiarized from “The Frost Fairies” by Margaret Canby. An investigation into the matter revealed that Keller may have experienced a case of cryptomnesia, which was that she had Canby's story read to her but forgot about it, while the memory remained in her subconscious.
 
At age 22, Keller published her autobiography, “The Story of My Life” (1903), with help from Sullivan and Sullivan's husband, John Macy. It includes words that Keller wrote and the story of her life up to age 21, and was written during her time in college.
 
In 2908, Keller wrote “The World I Live In,” giving readers an insight into how she felt about the world. “Out of the Dark,” a series of essays on Socialism, was published in 1913.
 
© 2013-2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Spending Our Way To Prosperity
Turner Catledge, a journalist during the Roosevelt era, described the pattern used by the Roosevelt administration to sell his legislative proposals to the public as follows: “First there is the early ‘idea’ period, when either the President or some group of his associates hatches the rather rough for of what is to be attempted. Then there is the selling stage, in which the person or the group who thinks up the idea has to ‘sell’ it to the other. There follows in third place the ‘method’ stage when the modus operandi is evolved. The there comes the final ‘publicity’ stage when the program is announced and the argument is submitted both to Congress and the public in behalf of its adoption.”
 
Sound familiar? It should. It’s the tried and true formula that was used by Obama and his administration to panic the public into accepting the so-called stimulus package at the time it was wending its way through Congress.
 
Economist Walter Williams observed: "The stimulus package being discussed is politically smart but economically stupid. It's that bedeviling, omnipresent Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy problem again. ... A far more important measure that Congress can take toward a healthy economy is to ensure that the 2003 tax cuts don't expire in 2010 as scheduled. If not, there are 15 separate taxes scheduled to rise in 2010, costing Americans $200 billion a year in increased taxes. In the face of a recession,
we don't need that."
 
And, columnist Michelle Malkin noted: "Bashing Rush Limbaugh last week, Obama urged GOP lawmakers to ignore the voices of obstructionism and sign on to his behemoth stimulus package: 'We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done.' ... History has shown us that 'Get Things Done' is mindless liberal code for passing ineffective legislation and expanding government for government's sake."
 
In an open letter disseminated by the Cato Institute, two hundred economists stated, "More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. More government spending did not solve Japan's 'lost decade' in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today."
 
In short, the stimulus package was hyped as the way to spend our way to prosperity. The president told us that if we didn’t act immediately, the nation would never recover from economic condition at the time, which he characterized as the worst economy since the Great Depression. However, if it is really possible to spend our way out of a recession, why isn’t the economy perpetually strong?
 
People who have held positions of responsibility know that that panicking in an emergency does not solve anything. As a matter of fact, it makes things worse. Panic keeps people from thinking clearly and acting without sufficient facts, especially in complex situations that present a variety of alternatives. And, the worst situation of all is when leaders panic.
 
President Obama’s image has been that of a cool customer who keeps his head under pressure. Yet, he has repeatedly appeared in press conferences and public appearances, telling us that the situation with the American economy was so urgent that if we did not act immediately, we would never recover. 
 
I don’t see that as leadership. Under pressure, true leaders try to keep everyone else from over-reacting and losing control.
 
Unfortunately, the initial response of the Bush administration was also to overreact and hastily push through the $700 billion bailout package, then immediately spend $350 billion without any accountability. 
 
It’s clear that it did not work, yet we are being told that we need more of the same. The reality is that no one in either the Bush or the Obama administrations provided any clear information about how the causes of the financial crunch that brought the economy down can be fixed, because they don’t know. 
 
For my part, I would prefer to see our leaders try to keep the public calm while they go about the business of methodically working to restore the economy.
 
The American people, who generally have more sense than their political leaders, appear to agree. A Gallup Poll found that 54% of Americans either wanted to see major changes to the current stimulus plan, or they rejected it outright.  Other surveys also indicated that public support declined rapidly.  
 
Politicians can call it stimulus and they can call it change, but it's just more of the same old tax and spend approach.
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Wednesday, March 5, 2014
“Alleged”
“Alleged” has become perhaps the most overworked word in the American lexicon. No longer used just to protect the rights of an accused when referring to a crime, it has become so ubiquitous that it is often used even when commenting about someone who has actually been convicted of a serious crime, such as rape or murder.
 
The media now use the word routinely in reporting the news, often when it really should not apply.
 
For example, the attempted terrorist bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 and the statements by the Obama administration, including the president himself, highlight the degree to which Political Correctness (PC) has overrun our culture: “A person was detained by customs at Detroit Metro Airport on Friday following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's alleged [emphasis added] attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, according to a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” 
 
It was an “alleged attack” notwithstanding the fact that the man seriously burned himself in the act and was clearly attempting to blow up the airplane as it was landing.
 
The definition of alleged is: “Represented as existing or as being as described but not so proved; supposed.”
 
For example, an “alleged” burglar is someone who has been accused of being a burglar but against whom no charges have been proved. An “alleged” incident is an event that is said to have taken place but has not yet been verified.
 
In their zeal to protect the rights of the accused, newspapers and law enforcement officials sometimes misuse “alleged”. Someone arrested for murder may be only an “alleged” murderer, for example, but is a real, not an “alleged”, suspect in that his or her status as a suspect is not in doubt. Similarly, if the money from a safe is known to have been stolen and not merely mislaid, then we may safely speak of a theft without having to qualify the description as “alleged”.
 
In recent years it has become common for speakers to include “allegedly” in statements that are controversial or possibly even defamatory. The implication is that, by saying allegedly, the speaker is distancing himself or herself from the controversy and even providing protection against possible prosecution. However, the effect created may be deliberate. The use of “allegedly”
can be a signal that, although the statement may seem outrageous, it is in fact true. 
 
For example, he was “allegedly” drunk at work. Conversely, it is also possible to use “allegedly” as an expression of ironic skepticism: He's “allegedly” a hard worker.
 
Writing in the Kansas City Star, Derek Donovan, said “I am often puzzled by the Star’s use of the words ‘alleged’ and ‘suspected’ in connection with crimes that have been committed. My OED defines ‘allege’ as ‘claim that someone has done something wrong, typically without proof.’ In many cases, the perpetrator is caught in the act of committing the crime. There is no doubt that this person committed the crime. When then does The Star refer to this person as the alleged or suspected perpetrator?...I agree that these references sometimes seem a bit ludicrous, as in a case earlier this year where a man was apprehended while holding a purse he had apparently just stolen a block away. He was called the ‘suspect’…
 
Steve Buttry commented in ‘The Buttry Dairy (October 26, 2012),’: “When it comes to language choices, I try to decide matters based on accuracy. This is why I want to call on all journalists and news organizations to stop using the term “alleged victim,” especially in stories about sexual abuse (almost the only type of stories where it appears)...It’s a blame-the-victim term we should banish forever from the journalism lexicon. You want to know why? Here’s the second definition of ‘alleged’ at Dictionary.com: doubtful; suspect; supposed.”
 
“And here’s a fact about victims of sexual abuse: Their stories are almost always credible. So, in most cases, alleged victim is not only insensitive, but inaccurate.”
 
“(The first definition for alleged, “declared or stated to be as described; asserted,” is accurate, but if people could read a second definition as the meaning,
we should look for a more accurate word.)”
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
 
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Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Asset Forfeiture Laws Are A License To Steal
A few years ago, a notice in one of Santa Barbara’s local newspapers highlighted an issue that has been on the back burner of public awareness for far too long: asset forfeiture laws. 
The notice listed thirteen cases in which the District Attorney had instituted proceedings to forfeit assets that had a total estimated value of $161,409.
 
The California Attorney General’s office reported that a total of 3,988 forfeiture proceedings were initiated in 2004, valued in excess of $28 million. In that same year, 3,512 forfeiture cases were completed and over $22 million disbursed. 
 
Where does that money go?
 
In California, 1% is distributed to a non-profit entity for the purpose of training prosecutors in asset forfeiture laws and 10% goes to the prosecutorial agencies that prosecute the various forfeiture actions, 24% goes to the State General Fund
and 65% is distributed to the state and/or local law enforcement agencies that participate in the seizure. The local jurisdictions are required to put 15% of any money they derive from this source into a special fund for the “sole purpose of funding
programs to combat drug abuse and divert drug activity.” The remaining 85%, or 55% of the total, can be used as they see fit.
 
How many people know they can lose their car, home, boat, airplane or other property if it is connected with certain types of illegal activity, even if they are completely unaware of it (say, in a situation that involves a tenant)? 
 
The problem has become so egregious that in some instances, such as certain environmental or drug laws, the element of criminal intent is not even required to charge someone with a crime or confiscate their property. 
 
Media Awareness Projectreported, “Another Forfeiture Outrage: The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that police may keep the $124,700 they seized from Emiliano Gonzolez, an immigrant who by all appearances was attempting to use
the money to start a legitimate business.”   In spite of the lower court’s ruling that Gonzolez’s witnesses “were credible enough” to convince it that he was telling the truth, on appeal he lost the lifelong savings he, “his friends, and relatives had pooled
to start a business. No charge and no conviction were necessary.”
 
The aspect of this case that was particularly absurd is the fact that the “money,” not Gonzolez himself, was found guilty of drug crimes. Unfortunately, when it comes to asset forfeiture laws, turning logic on its head is nothing new.
 
In an Institute for Justice article, Tim Keller offered the following observations:
 
“Civil forfeiture actions, which arise from a legal fiction that treats inanimate objects as if the objects acted to assist in the commission of a crime, can be filed even when the property owner is never charged with a crime. Under Arizona’s forfeiture law,
prosecutors and police keep confiscated assets – giving them a direct financial stake in the outcome of forfeiture proceedings….”
 
“…Arizona law enforcement agencies at both the state and local levels have generated $64.5 million in revenue from forfeiture cases. For many agencies forfeitures constitute a sizable percentage of their budgets. For example, in 2002, the Arizona
Attorney General’s office obtained more than $2 million in forfeiture revenue, most of which went to pay for regular salaries as well as overtime pay and medical benefits. Statewide, nearly one out of every five forfeited dollars spent (almost $11 million)
went directly into the pockets of prosecutors and police in the form of employee compensation.”
 
The Institute for Justice also reported on a New Jersey case in which Carol Thomas of Millville, N.J., had her 1990 Thunderbird seized because her 17-year-old son was arrested and pleaded guilty to selling marijuana to an undercover officer while using
her car without her knowledge or consent. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office pursued confiscation of the car in a separate civil action, even though no drugs were found in it and it was clear that she was not aware of and did not consent to her
son’s actions.   The Institute for Justice won the return of the car and Ms. Thomas, who was a seven-year veteran officer with the Sheriff’s Office at the time, subsequently left the force and went on to fight abusive forfeiture laws.
 
In a 1992 Policy Analysis report, the Cato Institute noted that in the seven years between 1985 and 1992 the total value of Federal asset forfeitures increased over 1,500% - to over $2.4 billion, including over $643 million for the Department of Justice
in FY 1991 alone. 
 
Asset forfeiture has clearly become big business.
 
Writing in Libertarian World, James Bovard noted: “Mass confiscation has become politically fashionable. Politicians and the courts have created an overwhelming presumption in favor of the government’s right to seize control over private land, private
homes, boats, and cars, and even the cash in people’s wallets.”
 
Although asset forfeiture laws date back to antiquity and to early customs law in America, its use increased during prohibition and subsequently, beginning in 1970, when Congress enacted legislation to seize property of Mafia organizations. 
The use of these laws has become increasingly popular and, as current statistics reveal, they have become a major source of funding for law enforcement.
 
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of asset forfeiture laws is the fact that they are enforced largely under the radar of public awareness. We rarely see or hear anything about them in the media. The biggest problem is the perverse nature of the incentive
that has been created for law enforcement to confiscate private property, sell it and distribute the proceeds to their own agencies. 
 
Nice work if you can get it. That is, taking and selling the property of others and putting the proceeds in your own pocket (budget).
 
I have never seen or been able to find any details about the application of asset forfeiture monies to government budgets, i.e., city, county, state, or Federal. How are these funds used? 
 
If the various government entities are budgeting the cost of operating law enforcement agencies adequately, asset forfeiture should be treated as cost recovery, not as a source of extra money they can spend as they wish with little or no accountability.
 
© 2011-2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Should The Income Tax Be Scrapped?
There has been a lot of talk of late about drastically changing the nation’s income tax system, including getting rid of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 
Many people feel this is long overdue, while others believe such a dramatic change is too extreme and favor a general overhaul of the existing tax laws. 
Still others like things the way they are and prefer that nothing be done at all.
 
Before deciding whether or not the income tax and the IRS should be scrapped, we should also consider whether or not the present tax system is “fair” and, if not, what would be more equitable. 
Although arguments about this subject have raged back and forth for years, generally focusing on making the “rich” pay their “fair share,” we rarely hear specific facts about who actually pays most
of the income tax, or the least.
 
The Federal income tax, currently as high as 39.6% of “taxable income,” is increased by as much as 13.3% in state and local income taxes, plus another 6.20% and 1.45% in social security and
Medicare taxes, which makes the total tax burden for some taxpayers almost 61%, not including excise, sales and property taxes, along with a host of other taxes, assessments and fees too numerous
to mention. By contrast, medieval serfs were required to give only one-third of their production to the lord of the manor, and they were considered slaves. 
 
While those who have lower incomes pay the least, with tax rates that range from zero to 15 percent, they are also subject to Federal payroll taxes of 7.65%,
in addition to various state and local payroll taxes.
 
Because the same income is frequently taxed more than once, the effective cumulative tax rates are often much higher than most people realize. A simple analysis graphically illustrates the point:
 
If you track a $1,000 of corporate profits to a shareholder, the end result might be something like the following:
 
First, at the corporate level, the $1,000 may be taxed at around 35%. That leaves $650 available for dividend distribution. Those shareholders who receive a dividend and are in the top tax bracket
would pay 35% in Federal income tax on the $650 dividend income (married, filing jointly), leaving $257.40 to spend or save. If that money is saved and becomes part of the taxpayer’s estate, and
assuming the estate is taxed at the current maximum rate of 40%, it would be reduced by another $102.46 in Federal Estate Taxes, leaving a balance of only $154.
 
Thus, a $1,000 in corporate earnings, after passing through three levels of taxation, could conceivably end up being whittled down to $154. The original $1,000 of corporate profit would
have been assessed a total of $846 in taxes, or a whopping 84.6%. Is that the “fair share” that many politicians keep saying the “rich” should pay?
 
Facts generally don’t seem to matter much in these highly politicized arguments, but to properly frame the discussion, the following information should be considered (Source: Rush Limbaugh’s website):
·        Only half of all taxpayers pay 97% of the income tax (Federal). Putting it anotherway, half of all wage earners pay no income tax at all. 85% of federal income taxes are paid by the top 25%
of income earners.
·        The top 1% of wage earners (the “rich”) pay over one-third (39%) of the total Federal income taxes collected. (Up 2% from 2000 when President Bush took office).
·        The top 5% of wage earners (the “rich”) pay over half (54.36%) of all Federal income taxes.
·        The top 10% of wage earners (the “rich”) pay almost two-thirds (65.84%) of all income taxes, and
·        The top 25% of wage earners (the “rich”?) pay almost 84% of the total Federal income taxes received.
·        The Wall Street Journal reported, “In 1980, when the top income tax rate was 70%, the richest 1% paid only 19% of all income taxes. Now, with a top rate of 35%, they pay more than double
that share.”
 
And what percentage of all the income in the United States is earned by these groups?
·        The top 1% earn 16.77% of all income.
·        The top 5% earn 31.18% of the total income.
·        The top 10% earn 42.36% of the total income, and
·        The top 25% earn 64.86% of the total income.
 
So, although only 1% earn 16.77% of all the income, they also pay over one-third (39%) of the total income taxes collected. The top 5% earn a little over 31% of all the income but pay more
than half (54.36%) of the nation’s total income tax bill. And, while 25% earn about 65% of all the income, they pay almost 84% of the total income taxes.
 
It’s clear that the income tax burden is heavily skewed against those with higher incomes, some would say punitive, while almost half the filers pay no income tax at all.   
 
Just how much should the “fair share” be? Should the top 5% or 10% of the wage earners pay 80% of the income taxes? Or 90%? And, is it “fair” that almost half of all wage earners pay no income tax at all? 
 
When the 16th Amendment to the Constitution established the Federal income tax in 1913, the intent was to tax only the very rich. Rates began at 1% and increased to 7% for taxpayers with income in excess of $500,000. Less than one percent of the population paid any income tax at all, compared with almost 50% of taxpayers paying as much as 35% of their taxable income today. 
 
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median annual household income in the United States is roughly $50,000 per year. A Gallup poll found that those below $50,000 per year typically said they would
need to earn $100,000 or more in annual income to be rich. Those at or above the $50,000 level typically report they would need to earn $200,000 a year to be rich, which expands to $250,000 among those
well above the U.S. median income ($75,000 or more in annual household income).
 
Everyone would undoubtedly agree that taxes are necessary to operate the government, provide police protection, defend the nation, build roads, fund essential programs such as education and health care,
etc., etc., so the issue is really how to do it, and this invariably comes down to the question of whose ox should be gored, not what is “fair.”
 
We may have reached the point where changing our system of taxation is so long overdue that something more than tinkering is necessary. Three alternatives have been proposed: the Flat Tax, a national
sales tax, and ad valorem taxes. Politics aside (if that’s possible), perhaps we should examine these alternative options more closely.
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
Posted at 21:37 PM By admin | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (1)



Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Dating back to 1791, the 8th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees protection against “cruel and unusual” punishment and further provides “that excessive bail ought not be required,

nor excessive fines imposed…” (albany.edu, Chapter 9).

 

Capital Punishment

The death penalty in the U.S. has evolved from a form of punishment that was not initially considered “cruel and unusual” to the point where it is now viewed as such by many people.  In the U.S.,

the manner of execution has moved from hanging and the firing squad to the electric chair, the gas chamber and ultimately, in many states, to lethal injection.

 

“…The U.S. public still favors the death penalty by a 65 percent-to-30 percent margin, according to USA Today/Gallup polls of the last three years, but that is down from 80 percent that supported

capital punishment in 1994...Since capital punishment was reinstated three decades ago,  nearly 900 of the 1,056 executions carried out through 2006 were by lethal injection.  It is the primary or

exclusive form of execution in 37 of the 38 states with capital punishment (Nebraska uses the electric chair).” (stateline.org, Jan 17, 2007).

 

Lethal Injection

A USA Today report noted, “A federal judge ruled…that Tennessee’s new lethal injection procedures are cruel and unusual punishment, interrupting plans to execute a killer…” who beat an elderly

woman to death during a burglary in 1983.  “The protocol ‘presents a substantial risk of unnecessary pain’ and violates death row…inmate’s constitutional protections…The new protocol, released

in April, does not ensure that inmates are properly anesthetized before the lethal injection is administered…which could ‘result in a terrifying, excruciating death.”

(usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-09-19-tenn-lethal-injection)

 

Justice Delayed

The oft quoted adage, “Justice delayed is justice denied” (William E. Gladstone, British statesman and Prime Minister, 1868-1894), now pretty much applies to our entire system of capital punishment -

with death row inmates languishing in prisons for years on end while the legal process takes its ponderous course - in spite of the fact that the public continues to favor the death penalty by a margin of

better than two-to-one. (en.wikipedia.org

 

Abolishing The Death Penalty

“Many countries have abolished the death penalty, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, almost all of Europe and much of Latin America…111 countries either do not have or do not use the death

penalty. Many other states retain it, especially in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Caribbean and the United States…In most countries that have capital punishment, it is used to punish only murder

and/or for war-related crimes.  In some countries, like the People’s Republic of China, even non-violent crimes, like drug and business related crimes, are punished with capital punishment.”

(en.wikipedia.org)

 

Splitting Hairs

However, the arguments for and against capital punishment notwithstanding, splitting hairs about whether the condemned should or do suffer any pain whatsoever are irrational in my view.  It’s a position

that I believe is taken for purely tactical reasons, that is, merely to make the death penalty unenforceable by defining it as “cruel and unusual.”

 

Dead is dead, whether by a bullet to the back of the head, the guillotine or lethal injection. No one can say for certain just how much pain or suffering may be experienced at the moment of death, and

I suspect that most if not all of the 65% of Americans who favor capital punishment do not particularly care how it is carried out.  Arguing about which method is least painful seems nonsensical to me –

especially when the individual involved is someone like Ted Bundy, the BTK killer, Jeffrey Dahmer or any of the many other serial killers who murder innocent people without giving any thought to the

pain and suffering they caused in the process.

 

In the final analysis, belief in capital punishment seems to be more an article of faith than it is a matter of facts.  Both sides tend to give credence to the specific arguments that support their respective

views.  A leading news analyst often says that he is against capital punishment but that those who are convicted of “capital crimes” should be sentenced life in prison at hard labor, as in breaking rocks. 

 

© 2007-2013 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
Posted at 21:34 PM By admin | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (6)



Friday, January 17, 2014
Is There Any Good News?
Is There Any Good News?
 
I received the following note about my articles from a friend, who had the following request: “Harris, I know that you, more than most, do your homework, do extensive research
and you have many informative sources to dig out even the smallest data to confirm and support your submitted facts. With this in mind, could you please double your efforts and
try your mightiest to find any good news, that is, if there is any? I’m starved for anything that will cheer us up and make us look forward to the future.”
 
With my friend’s entreaty in mind, I googled “good news” to see if there was anything that might cheer him up and, to my surprise, my search generated 5.2 million references in just
23 seconds. It’s truly mind boggling!
 
Following are ten of the first references that popped up, all of which looked interesting and worthwhile:
·        goodnewsnetwork.org
·        goodnewsmag.org
·        good-news-magazine
·        www.dailygood.org
·        goodnewsblog.com
·        goodnewsbroadcast.com
·        heroicstories.com
·        greatnewsnetwork.net
·        greatnewsindia.com
 
It turns out that there is so much good news it’s almost overwhelming, which raises the question: Why don’t we hear more about it? 
 
The answer seems fairly obvious: bad news sells and good news doesn’t. 
 
Tragedy, disaster and fear attract the eyes and ears of readers and listeners, and advertising rates are based on the number of eyes and ears that the various media attract, so that’s what we get.
 
Here is just a sampling of just some of the good news that my brief search surfaced:
 
Lady Liberty's Crown Opens to Tourists, First Time Since 9/11: July 4th marked the first time visitors could tour the crown of the Statue of Liberty since it was closed following the 9/11 attacks.
240 visitors per day will now be able to reserve a spot in line to climb the 354 steps to the top. But everyone can tour the crown from home by taking the new online virtual tour.
(goodnewsnetwork.org)
 
Simple lotus meditation exercise for your inner harmony and happiness…(goodnewsdaily.com)
 
Teachers. You Made A Difference Awards: No less than 13 educators, one from each school district, in Licking County were honored with the “You Made A Difference” teaching award as given
out by students. (goodnewsblog.com)
 
“Good News Broadcast has a mission to find, receive, create and broadcast to the world, life-affirming, thought-provoking, educational news, entertainment and events; content that is non-violent,
non-sectarian, non-political. We elicit the positive side of news from the world's public, media and journalists in order to generate compelling domestic and international stories.”
 
“A driver's headlights quit on the highway at night. Another driver slows, turns on his brights, lights her way for over an hour to her exit... then turns around to drive back to his original destination.” 
(heroicstories.com)
 
“Scientists, doctors unite to fight malnutrition. In a new fight against worldwide hunger, a doctor who has long treated malnourished people is working with plant scientists trying to improve the
nutritional content of food.” (greatnewsnetwork.com)
 
“…the story of a school and a college which rose from the dust. ..Way back in 1938, the Hindi School at Ghatkopar was one of the only two of their kind in Bombay [now Mumbai]. It was in
doldrums when a young postman, Nandkishor Singh Thakur, pledged to give his spare time to the school.” (greatnewsindia.com)
 
I’ve decided that I’m going to check at least one good news website each day before looking at any of the dozens of emails that flood my inbox every morning. 
 
It seems like a good way to start the day. 
 
Perhaps if we all did this it would give us a better perspective on the world and offset some of the bad news that seems so overwhelming at times. It certainly couldn’t hurt.
 
Good luck, and happy good news hunting.
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
Posted at 22:16 PM By admin | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (0)



Friday, January 17, 2014
Walmart’s Health Insurance
A January 2014 Washington Examiner article was headlined: “Surprise! Walmart health plan is cheaper, offers more coverage than Obamacare.”
 
“For many years, the giant discount retailer has been the target of unions and liberal activists who have harshly criticized the company’s health care plans, calling them ‘notorious for failing
to provide health benefits” and “substandard.”
 
“But a Washington Examiner comparison of the two health insurance programs found that Walmart’s plan is more affordable and provides significantly better access to high-quality medical
care than Obamacare.”
 
“Independent insurance agents affiliated with the National Association of Health Underwriters and health policy experts compared the two at the request of the Examiner.”
 
After reading the article, my own reaction has been “Why am I not surprised?” 
 
Following are some of the highlights of the comparison:
 
“Walmart offers its employees two standard plans, a Health Reimbursement Account and an alternative it calls ‘HRS High’ that costs more out of employees pockets but has lower deductibles. 
Blue Cross Blue Shield manages both plans nationally.”
 
“Also offered is a Health Savings Account plan that includes high deductibles but allows tax-free dollars to be used for coverage.”
 
For a monthly premium as lows as roughly $40, an individual who is a Walmart HRA plan enrollee can obtain full-service coverage for about $160 per month.”
 
Unlike Obamacare, there are no income eligibility requirements. Age and gender do not alter premium rates. The company plan is the same for all of Walmart’s 1.1 million
enrolled employees and their dependents, from its cashiers to its CEO” [Emphasis added]
 
“A Journal of the American Medical Association analysis from September showed that unsubsidized Obamacare enrollees will face monthly premiums that are five to nine times higher
than Walmart premiums.” [Emphasis added]
 
“JAMA found the unsubsidized for a nonsmoking couple age 60 can cost $1,365 per month versus the Walmart cost of about $134 for the same couple.”
 
“The medical Journal reported a 30-year-old smoker would pay up to $428 per month, in contrast to roughly $70 each month for a Walmart employee.”
 
“A family of four could pay a $962 premium, but the same Walmart family member would pay about $160.”
 
“Low premiums are not the only distinguishing feature of the Walmart plan. The retailer’s employees can use eight of the country’s most prestigious medical facilities, [Emphasis added]
including the Mayo Clinic, Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic.”
 
“…the real difference between Obamacare and Walmart can be seen in the levels of day-to-day access to doctors and hospitals [Emphasis added]…the BlueChoice exchange network
for President’s Obama’s hometown has very limited hospital participation. ‘In downtown Chicago, the key is the number of hospitals: 28,’ he said.”
 
“Walmart also offers a free-preventive health plan that mirrors the Obamacare plan. Its employees can take advantage of a wide range of free exams and counseling, including screenings for correctal
cancer, cervical cancer, chlamydia, diabetes, depression and special counseling for diet and obesity.”
 
“David Todd, an independent insurance agent based in Little Rock, Ark., also compared the health plans for the Examiner…Todd pointed to stark differences between the government plan and
Walmart. ‘If I buy a family plan on the exchange, it’s still $1,000 a month. And I can buy this for…[$160] on Walmart.” [Emphasis added]
 
“Walmart also gives cash to its employees for any health care expense. The annual payments run from $250 to $1,000 and are given at the beginning of the enrollment year in an account that can only
be used for health care expenses.”
 
“Walmart employees pay as little as $4 for a 30-day supply of generic drugs and only $10 for eye exams through a separate vision plan.”
 
After listening to weeks of back and forth debate and downright arguing about Obamacare, I have concluded that no one, including Obama himself, really knows how it is going to work. It seems that
the President has been creating his signature legislation on the fly, by continually making changes to the program without returning to the legislative for their approval, which many observers believe is
unconstitutional.
 
Perhaps we should just contract the entire Obamacare mess out to Walmart and let them use their demonstrated corporate management skills to develop a sensible health care plan for the nation. 
 
Whatever they come up with is bound to be an improvement over the health plan that has been developed by Kathleen Sibelius and the Department of Health and Human Services to date.
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
Posted at 22:12 PM By admin | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (0)



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