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Mixed Feelings

Posted by Janus on Sunday, May 2, 2010 in Civil Rights

The core principles of conservative philosophy are at odds on immigration.Here’s kind of my deal on the whole immigration thing: We should welcome those who earnestly wish to live in our country and contribute to our society in a positive and meaningful way.

Here’s part of my other deal on the whole immigration thing: Laws, regardless of why they were passed, are meant to be followed. Law and order is right and good and must be maintained to protect and perpetuate society as we know it.

Here’s the crazy thing: America as a nation is 180 degrees bass ackwards on not just one but both of these general principles.

We have laws that are bad and rather than repealing them, we’re simply ignoring the law. Believe me, I understand the logic. “We don’t like it so we’re not going to do it.” I get it. It makes sense, but it’s also completely unacceptable. We are, ostensibly, a nation under the rule of law. When we ignore those laws, we undermine our nation. If you’re one of those revolutionary whack jobs, that might be okay, but for me, I kinda take issue with that. If you don’t like it, repeal it, resign, or shut the hell up and do your jobs.

So, in my opinion, the boarder control laws in this country are all kinds of jacked up.

I, personally, live in one of those so-called “sanctuary cities”. I’ll be blunt: the American way of life is not under attack, Mexican drug cartels don’t rule the streets, and while our schools aren’t the best, it’s hardly the fault of foreigners taking over our country. I don’t know a single person out of work because immigrants are taking their jobs. I dare say that cheap labor makes our lives better – the only real places that have a large quantity of non-English speaking workers are janitorial services and hard labor. The bottom line is if you don’t speak English, your job choices are rather limited.

If you’re in any danger of having your job stolen by someone who doesn’t speak English, you might want to have stayed in school and gotten that GED. Even Taco Bell doesn’t hire people who can’t take orders. Let me take this one step further and say this: I’m a bottom line kind of person. I don’t care what race you are, where you’re from, or even what you do on the weekends. Jobs need to be done by people who can do them well. It’s not just good for business, or the economy – on the balance it’s good for society in general. My life is better when the services I require are performed by people who are best qualified to provide them. If that job can be done by a foreigner, the job is going to get outsourced. The decrease in cost results in an increase in efficiency, which results in increased productivity, which results in a world that is, on the whole, more prosperous than it was before.

I really don’t care if you’re a Mexican. I don’t.

On the other hand, I don’t really support drug smuggling, fugitives fleeing to escape justice, weapons finding their way into the country, or simple good old fashioned tax evasion. We need to control our border. It is the duty of the government to protect its citizens. Period. End of discussion. And if dangerous elements are using the border to circumvent the law, then we have to crack down on that.

Hard.

I don’t care if we have to turn all 1,969 miles of the border into Berlin Wall 2: The Other, Other Iron Curtain. I really don’t.

America is a sovereign nation. Our borders belong to us. It is our God-given right to control them and to decide who passes through them. Our laws are to be followed, our borders respected, and our people secure. If it takes declaring war on the cartels, North Korea-style isolationism, and every tank we own garrisoned in downtown Laredo, so be it.

But we aren’t targeting dangerous people or enforcing our laws. We’re going after ordinary, hard working people when we bother to go after anyone at all.

I have mixed feelings about Arizona’s anti-immigration laws. They’re frustrated by a federal government that has completely dropped the ball on the border situation. I can sympathize with that. They’re taking matters into their own hands and, like what so often happens when we take matters into our own hands, things are just completely out of control.

They’ve managed to go off on a tangent, turning a bad situation into a completely insane situation.

We tend to do this a lot in life. We start wandering down a dark path, lose sight of where we’re going, and then fail to see the forest from the trees. We, as a society, have to strive to make life better for ourselves. The whole point of controlling the border is to make life better. In the end, this law is all about looking for foreigners. Ultimately, we’re all immigrants, making us all potentially illegals. Does treating every person in the state like a potential criminal make life better?

This isn’t a manhunt. It’s a witch hunt. That is, unless there’s some way of telling who is and isn’t an American just by looking – and if lawmakers in Arizona think that’s possible, there’s something far darker and far more sinister than illegal immigration going on.

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Faith In Mankind or Something

Posted by Janus on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 in Morals and Values

Somewhere in all of this I've found a faith, of sorts.I am, at my core, something of a doubter. It’s not that I don’t believe, or that I won’t believe, it’s just that I tend to need, at the very least, some kind of plausible reason for why things are the way they are. “Just because” isn’t a statement of fact, it’s a statement of ignorance. “Tradition” isn’t a reason, it’s an excuse.

In a short, I don’t believe in things I can’t explain. In an odd sort of way, this persistent doubt has lead me to find a faith of sorts.

I refuse to believe the world is filled with stupid people. Some people are completely beyond help – a fact that explains a great many things – but there had to be enough sharp, motivated, and collected individuals out there to get us this far. Society, and especially modern society, just wouldn’t be possible without thoughtful people to carry on.

The world is not filled with evil people. Yeah, there are a few bad apples, but if the world was out to get us we would be genuinely screwed. Anarchy would reign, you couldn’t walk down the street without getting mugged, murderers would be hiding at every turn, everyone would make minimum wage (Who am I kidding? We’d be slaves.), and Lady Gaga would be the only thing played on the radio. Ever.

We’ve obviously not descended into hell and we aren’t exactly paragons of truth and justice either. People slip up from time to time. No one’s perfect. The world is, in fact, filled mostly with people just minding their own business trying to get from day to day and live their lives in some semblance of peace and normalcy.

Can you call that faith in mankind? I guess, just like society, it is what it is.

We’ll just have to muddle through somehow.

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Playing The Hand We’re Dealt

Posted by Janus on Thursday, December 17, 2009 in Foreign Policy

Conservatives going all in in 2010.I’m sitting down at a game of hold ‘em, one on one with another player.  On the table are three spades, giving the other player an obvious flush draw.  I’ve got two pair and he just slid a modest stack of chips into the pot.  Any bet I make will be a semi-bluff.  At this point, there’s the very real (and very likely) possibility that I’m in over my head.  Of course, in the other player’s mind, the odds I have the better hand are just as likely.  Even if he hit a flush draw, he doesn’t know if I have a better high card.

Do I fold, call, or raise?

At this point, personalities mean a great deal.  Is he aggressive?  Does he play tight?  Does he fold easy?  Will he call anything, just to keep me honest?  Is he rash enough to go all in, just because?  Am I willing to risk it?

Often times, politics is a lot like a card game; two men staring across the world’s stage waiting to see who will blink first.

What kind of player you are matters a great deal.  The other players will adjust their strategies based on their observations about you.  You have to adjust your strategy when dealing with different players.  Knowledge is useful, experience is key, and instincts are everything.  You have to have a feel for it.

Richard Nixon carefully cultivated his international image.  He called it the “Madman Strategy.”  It changed the equation.  It sent a simple message.  He will call you.  He will always call you.  Don’t raise.  Don’t ever raise.  He’s always all in.  He’s insane.  He’ll do it.  He’ll totally do it.

He wanted the Russians to know he was insane.  He wanted them to know he was a madman.  He wanted them to know that if push came to shove, he’d ride the bomb all the way down.  He ordered diplomats in the service to “leak” stories about just how crazy he really was.  The Russians didn’t dick around with Richard Nixon.

Knowing your opponent is just as important.  What kind of cards is he holding?  Is he aggressive?  Tight?  Does he bluff often?  When called, does he fold?  Are you really going to have to play the hand all the way out?

You are who you are.  Certain people play a certain way and make certain decisions.  We all know this.  I’m going to do what I’m going to do and there isn’t a whole lot else that goes into it for me.  The trick is to cultivate an image that lets you get away with it.  Some people play conservatively and are considered nervous or skittish.  Another person can play the exact same way and be called tight or prudent or cautious.  Some people are big bluffers you always call.  Some people are aggressive bullies you have to watch out for.  Same play style, different image.  Sometimes it’s not even about what you say, but how you say it.

President Obama seems to have missed this lesson in life somehow.  He is perceived as weak.  He is always talking, rarely doing, and when he does it’s always seen as backing down.  Even when he announced he was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the narrative was not “strong leader announces troop surge.”  The narrative was, “weak president surrenders to demands for more troops.”  He isn’t reconciliatory.  He’s an appeaser.  He isn’t bowing to show respect – he’s just making a sign of submission.  He isn’t seen as owning up to the mistakes of the past and taking responsibility for them.  He’s seen backpedaling on the previous administration and distancing himself from his predecessor.

Other people see this.  It has not escaped their notice.

When you stare across the table at a weak player, there is only one play: raise.  Every time.  Every play.  Raise.  Even if you don’t have anything, you have to raise.  He’ll blink every time until he’s sure he has a full house, and then you just lay down the hand, coming out well ahead in the chip count.

I think that by and large, most actors on the world’s stage are rational people with a relatively level head and a healthy sense of self-interest, but even the most rational of people will jump at the chance to score a few points when they see an opportunity.

In Obama, they see opportunities.  Lots of them.  And they’re calling.

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Where Do We Draw The Line?

Posted by Janus on Thursday, November 26, 2009 in Fiscal Policy

Where is the line between want and need? I ask because it seems to be a critical question when we discuss tax rates and taxation in general.

I was having a conversation with someone the other day and she took a very moderate position when it comes to taxation. “We shouldn’t be taxing people who genuinely need every dime they earn, but I don’t have a problem taxing people who have more money than they need.” Honestly, I find it hard to argue with that logic. It seems pretty reasonable to me. I vaguely agree, in theory.

But here’s where the conversation broke down: Where do we draw the line between need and want?

To survive, we really only need food, water, and protection from the elements. Pretty much everything after that is just a want. That said, we both agreed that that wasn’t enough. Neither of us were willing to believe that anyone who was better off than a homeless person living under a bridge who couldn’t afford more than KFC for lunch was taxable. You had to have, at the very least, an apartment, and a car, and air conditioning, heating, a computer, some kind of education, and maybe the ability to send your kid to daycare so you can hold down a steady job. We even agreed that a night out, even if it’s just dinner with friends, was something everyone really needs to be able to have now and then.

But no one really needs any of that. So where IS the line?

Value question: If everyone should make enough money to have a car, what kind of car is “needed” and what kind of car is just a luxury expense? You can’t tell me that a brand new Mercedes is needed. You can’t tell me that a 10 year old Ford is a luxury item. Now let’s say we’re talking about a 2 year old Honda Civic. Hardly a luxury, but also probably more than you need to survive. Are we taxing people who make enough to buy that particular vehicle?

Okay, now let’s flip the question a bit. Let’s say you can’t afford a car because your housing costs are too high. Or let’s say you can’t afford rent because your car payment is too high. Should we be taxing you because you make enough to afford your basic needs (I mean, it’s YOUR fault you made bad decisions) or should we take pity on you because you can’t pay your bills (I mean, if you get taxed to death, you’re going to get evicted or repossessed, or both!). Or worse yet, let’s say you live in an area with a higher cost of living – in the middle of a crowded city, for instance. You have to pay more than other people for your apartment and your car has to jump through more hoops to stay legal. Do you pay the same amount as someone who lives in the country where property is worth ten grand an acre and who can pass inspection with a pickup from the 1980s?

Can we safely rule out entertainment from people? I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets stressed out at work. If I didn’t head out with my friends or get a date with my girlfriend on a regular basis, I’d blow my brains out. Is that a want or a need? Should I be taxed more?

Now let’s say I go out to a decent restaurant instead of going for pizza. Am I in the tax bracket now? How about a nice restaurant? How about a 5 star sushi bar that serves Kobe beef and cocktails frozen in liquid nitrogen?

I deserve the right to drive out of town to see my family on Christmas. Do I need that or do I want that? How about Thanksgiving? Easter? Grandmother’s birthday? How about going out of town to see a friend? Going out of town to go to a concert with a friend? Going on a road trip? Flying out to New York? Flying out to New York for a week? Aspen? Flying out to New York to take a cruise to England and then pall around in Europe for a while?

Where do we draw the line? At what point do we say, “You don’t NEED that. You just want it.”
Assuming you can even come up with an answer to that question, assign a dollar amount to that lifestyle. Now do it for everyone in the country, regardless of where they live or what their family life is like or what their needs happen to be.

I’m not an unreasonable person. I do happen to think that we need taxes and that, yeah, some people are in a better position to sacrifice than others. I don’t think it’s fair to ask people who have nothing to give more to the government. But I don’t necessarily think that there is a right answer in all of this. It’s subjective and everyone’s going to come up with a different answer.

I tend to err on the side of caution. As someone that runs a conservative blog, I honestly believe we should tax as few people as little money to accomplish the most good without stealing from people and wasting public funds. Translating that desire and that agreement in principle into an actual system isn’t so easy.

Part of the reason tax increases are so burdensome is the choices the government has to make to get them to work. When you increase taxes, you have to pick a person, or a group, or a thing. Those taxes are going to hurt them. They’re going to affect the lives of others. Can they handle it? Are they burdened enough already? Is this going to be the proverbial straw?

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More Non-Tax Taxes

Posted by Janus on Tuesday, November 10, 2009 in Fiscal Policy

If you're counting (and every good conservative should be) this is the 4th tax hike passed by the house since January.We’re beginning to see a pattern here. Although the actual tax rate has not increased, many of of us will be paying more in taxes next year. Earlier this week, with the passage of the health care bill from the House, the Democrats managed to cram through another tax-hike-that-isn’t-a-tax-hike that directly targets middle- and lower-class Americans. How you ask? If the bill passes, the tax bracket you belong to will no longer adjust for inflation.

What’s that mean? If you make the same amount of money from one year to the next, your buying power actually slightly decreases due to inflation. Because of the way the economy works, goods gradually increase in price (actually, with our current monetary policy, there won’t be anything gradual about it, but I digress). If your pay does not increase to match the inflation rate, you are actually taking a 2-5% pay cut every year, because the same money buys less goods and services than it did the previous year.

To solve this problem, we get cost of living increases – again, usually in 2-5% increments. Tax brackets, to be fair, scale in a similar fashion. If you’re not as wealthy as you were last year, you shouldn’t be taxed as much.

House Democrats have, in their proposed health care bill, decided to stop adjusting tax brackets for inflation. This means that if you make the same amount of money this year as you did last year adjusted for inflation, you will eventually go up to the next tax bracket – which will increase your tax rate.

The kicker in all of this is that the wealthy can’t go up another tax bracket, but if you’re a lower- or middle-class guy, you have two options: pay a higher tax rate or slowly lag behind in earning power until you simply can’t pay your bills any more. There are 6 different tax brackets in the current tax code. People making $200,000 a year are already in the highest tax bracket – they can’t be pushed into a higher bracket by inflation.

You know who can be? Us little people.

If you’re single and you make 30k a year, you’re taxed at 15% before social security and medicare/aid and deductions. Five years from now, if you don’t accept a cost of living increase, you’ll be making the equivalent of about 27k a year a year. If you accept the cost of living increase, you will be in the next tax bracket, being charged 25% before medicare/aid and deductions.

If you’re counting (and like anyone who runs a good conservative blog, you know I am) Democrats have proposed or already passed bills that will increase your taxes by:
· Capping charitable donation deductions to 28%, reducing the amount of aid that can be distributed to low-income and jobless Americans.
· Taxing carbon, which is created mainly through vehicle emissions, industrial production, and energy creation, which will mainly tax people who have to commute to work, destroy low-skill jobs, and increase the cost of heating, air conditioning, and consumer electronics which punishes lower- and middle-class Americans.
· Giving us the option of either buying overpriced health insurance (whose price will skyrocket even further with this bill) or charging employers an 8% payroll tax and then force employees to either purchase said insurance or charge them a 2.5% surtax; a cost that will be passed on to employees and result in lower wages, more layoffs and – let’s face it – is a thinly disguised tax on every American making more than 20k a year.
· And now, by ratcheting up the tax rate for all Americans as inflation slowly drives them into new and higher tax brackets.

But, to be fair, taxes aren’t going up.

… seriously, how do you say that with a straight face?

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