Finial Itinerary…

OK, it’s official, the tickets have been bought and confirmed. Looks like I’m going to have a bit of an adventure just getting there. Turns out that I have cut out one leg of the trip. Originally I was supposed to go from DC to NYC, to Germany, to Dubai, and then Yemen. I managed to cut out the whole Germany connection and save a bit of money too. I have longer layovers though. 12 hours in Dubai and 36 hours in NYC. Turns out that I’ll get to see NYC before I go overseas after all! The plane arrives at JFK at 8:30ish in the morning. I don’t leave until 11pm the next day. Maybe I’ll hook up with my stepsister Coleman or some of my other friends up there. I’ll be in Dubai from about 8:30 pm till 7:30 AM the next day. Once again, gotta be something I can do instead of hanging out at the airport.

A little airport purgatory is well worth the savings I got on these tickets. I can stay over there for an extra month with the money I saved, not a bad trade off eh? BTW, Economy Travel has about the best prices on international flights that I can find. Well worth checking out.


Hell has frozen over…

Well not really, but I did buy a digital camera… I really wasn’t going to be able to go on my trip without one. It’s a Sony W100. Why that one? Well, my basic philosophy is that all of these cameras are the same crap with different controls. This one is pretty small, has a larger sensor than most (though it’s still tiny), and a decent lens. What really sold me on this one was the fact that I can put a 4GB (or maybe even larger) card in it. Why on earth would I want to take 1000 pictures at 8 MP? Well, that’s nice, but I’m more interested in the 51 minutes of video that I can do (or 1 and a half hours with more compression). I took a look at some pictures tonight and while decent for an 8mp digicam, my 35mm beats it handily not to mention the larger film. The video adds another aspect to my fun though. There’s no way I’m buying and taking a video camera with me, but this little (and I do mean little) thing will be a lot of fun. Plus I’ll be able to post pictures pretty quickly. To me it’s just another camera, good for some things and pretty bad at others. Luckily I have cameras that excel where this one falls short:-)

Had a few moments of concern when I brought it home. Whenever I tried to load the pictures and video onto my computer, it would freeze up. And I mean badly, there was no recovering from this, I had to shut down and restart the computer. Turns out that I can’t download through a hub (even a powered one). When I hook the card reader directly to the computer all is well. Weird, but this is how I’ll use it with the lap top.


Flag amendment stalled

Thank God! Adding a constitutional amendment to ban a particular type of speech really gives me the heebie jeebies. The debate was ridiculous too. One Senator (from Alabama I think) made the comment that we wouldn’t want the Washington monument or the capital building defaced either, so why not protect the flag? Umm, because there’s more than one flag? Seriously, that was the level of debate in the Senate for those for the amendment.

What really makes me worry is that banning the burning of a flag seems like a pretty arbitrary thing to me. I really don’t understand all the angst over this. No one is asking anyone to like the act. Maybe I’m a little out of touch, but I feel like flying the confederate flag is much more offensive than burning the current one. Not that I’d advocate the banning of that or anything, but people’s priorities seem a bit out of whack. Thankfully, the measure doesn’t look as though it’s going to get through the senate, we won’t have to worry about this until next year…


Bought the tickets (finally)

I gave up on the travel agent. He seemed nice enough, but he didn’t want to take my money for some reason. After two weeks of not getting anything, I bought some on my own. Total price came to around $1300. Not too bad really. Of course the return date is in march. I figure that I’ll either want to get out of there by then or I’ll want to stay longer than 1 year. 1 year is the maximum length for a round trip ticket (that’s what I’ve been told at least). I can still extend the ticket up to a year for more money, but I just assume use that money towards my one way ticket back. I’ll be leaving on October 29th and getting there nov. 2nd. There are long layovers in NYC (at JFK) and Germany, a shorter in one in Dubai. I’m not too worried, I just assume spend some time in airport purgatory in order to spend another possible month in Yemen… That seems to be the difference in price with the long layovers.


Minimum wage stuff

There’s been some rumblings recently about raising the minimum wage to somewhere around 10 bucks an hour. Not surprisingly, I don’t like the idea. Low or no skilled workers could find themselves priced out of the market. I have been heartened to hear that people are actually addressing the standard economist complaint about wage floors, that they create unemployment. Sadly, the specter of higher unemployment is, as usual, being dismissed. There is even a couple of papers that people are pointing to that show that a higher minimum wage actually creates more jobs. That’s fine, just ignore the hundreds of papers that argue the opposite. Let’s try this, if raising the minimum wage laws creates more jobs, then let’s raise it to $85 an hour. That’ll make everyone quite a bit richer and employment will rise too! It’s funny how everyone can see the problems with a really high mandatory wage but choose to ignore it when we talk about smaller amounts. Folks, there has got to be consequences to raising wages whether we are talking $85 an hour or $10. There can’t be any debate about that, what can be argued is the impact it has on both the overall economy and particularly the low skill workers. Here’s the kicker, the low skill worker, the one on the margin of being employed or not, will feel the effects of this law much more than the 98% of the workers that currently make more than the minimum wage. If he is barely employable at 5 bucks an hour (think ex-cons, high school dropouts, and mentally challenged people) , he will have real trouble finding a job at 10. If you really want to help the people at the margins of society, allow them to work for whatever they can, as they acquire experience and skills, they can demand more money. Pricing people out of the labor market dooms them.



Anarcho capitalism, utopia, and the death tax

Here’s a comment on a quote of mine.

“The government should never be in a position to dictate to a person what they have to do with what they own.

I believe that this statement sums up your whole argument and it seems, your philosophy. In short, taxes should be voluntary. Lets just sit back and watch the money roll in… Step Right Up…who is going to donate first?”

The first part is what I wrote and the second part is the incredulous response from a friend of mine (Randy, is that you?). In truth, I do feel that all payments should be voluntary. We should only pay for what we want to pay. No government or organization should be able to force to support something we don’t want to support. That situation would be a true free market economy, everything that is provided would be paid for by the people who consume the product or service. It would be strictly voluntary, so we would be free to do what we pleased in any aspect of our lives. This is the credo of anarcho-capitalists. It has a lot of appeal but unfortunately it is an utopian ideal. I don’t see any possible way that it can work, just like any other utopia.

There exists a continuum between the utopia I describe above and the utopia described by Marx and other collectivist thinkers. The difference is in who gets to decide how goods and services are made and provided. Marx envisioned a cooperative approach, where all the labor and means of production are shared equally between everyone. Fascists believe that all people and resources should be aimed at the government’s primary aim. Both Fascists and Communists are collectivist philosophies and living under them is almost exactly alike. Anarchists see a world where everyone is looking out for themselves. Neither end of this spectrum is workable in my mind, but there is a lot of ground in between.

What is appealing about the Marx approach is that it seems much more “fair” than the capitalist approach. People should share resources, no one should get ahead of anyone else. Fascism can also have some appeal, as long as the government has the “right” ideas at it’s core. Sounds good, but there’s a problem. Every government that leans this way is at best inefficient and wasteful (think modern day France and Germany) or generates history’s most infamous leaders. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, or any current thugocracies you care to mention in the third world. What nation has thrived trying to protect workers and limit how much money one can make? How many have gone bankrupt (both morally and financially) doing the same?

The cold, hard facts are that when governments lean towards collectivist thinking, freedom and standards of living tend to decrease. Where would you rather live, the worker’s paradise of North Korea, or South Korea where those nasty capitalists have ensured that there are no more famines. Take a look at China and India. They still have a very long way to go, but when they opened up their markets to competition and reduced governmental meddling, their economies made enormous gains. They shifted in the continuum towards the capitalist end and away from collectivist thinking. New Zealand has made a remarkable turnaround as well as Chile, also by making the same shift.

Like I said before, I don’t think that either end of the spectrum is workable, so that means that choices have to be made. Whenever we can shift towards capitalism and away from collectivism, I’m all for it. History has shown that it helps, that growth is the result. This government is firmly in the middle of the continuum, but it is quite a bit more liberal (in the original sense of the word) than most other countries. It’s no surprise that we are one of the most prosperous nations too. Getting rid of the death tax is a very small step away from collectivist thinking, but it’s a step in the right direction. We’ll never achieve utopia, but we can make it as nice as possible…


Music on road trip

One of my favorite pastimes when traveling is radio hunting. I surf and surf looking for those great songs. On the way out to W. Virginia I didn’t have very much luck, but it did bring back some memories. All I could find was asshole redneck rock. This is the stuff that all the rednecks listened to when I was growing up. I heard Ted Nugent (Cat Scratch Fever), Judas Priest (Hellbent for Leather), and Rush. Not a great way to start the trip and it had the unfortunate result of me singing all the Judas Priest songs I know in the shower the next morning. I hate it when I get songs stuck in my head…

The way back was a different story, lots of good tunes. Caught part of Little Steven’s radio show (which I can’t remember the title of right now) and it has to be the best mix of good music I’ve ever heard on FM. He went from the crystals to the Ramones to an obscure Aerosmith song from back in the day (Remember walking in the sand or something like that…). I also managed to find an independent station playing old school country, like from the 50’s to the 70’s. Good stuff. Add some organ music from a composer I’ve never heard of, and you’ve got a great night of listening to music. Made the trip back seem much shorter.


Went to W. Va…

Just for a day though. It was really nice up there, we went on several chair lifts to the top of some mountains and got some really amazing views. Gotta say, a nearly deserted chair lift is one of the nicer ways to get up and down a mountain. Really quiet, and a great way to enjoy the scenery. It was good to see all of my step people (on the Stearns side) too. I had originally planned to stay most of this week, but I used up the rest of my vacation time going up to my grandmother;s funeral. Still, it was nice to get up there, the road trip did me good.


More death tax stuff…

Following a link supplied in a comment on my last mention of it, I found the father of Bill Gates offering some arguments for the death tax here.. I’d like to look at them a little closer…

“In a time of budget deficits, repealing the tax would provide a $1 trillion tax break over 20 years for those best able to pay taxes. That would force less-wealthy people to pay more. The tax falls only on estates of at least $1 million for an individual or $2 million for a couple, and the exemptions will rise through the years.”

Actually, instead of “forcing” other people to pay more, it should “force” congress to spend less. By the way, that 1 trillion dollar break sounds impressive, until you realize that the government will collect over 40 trillion in tax revenues over that same time.That represents a 2.5% discount, surely they can cinch the belt tighter by 2.5%? Any time someone says that it’s better for the government to have money instead of citizens, I am reminded of how little people really think about what they are saying.

“Tax opponents were asked to find a farm that had been lost because of the tax, Collins said, and “they could not find a single example.”

Fair enough, no farms were lost. But it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that people on the margin would be hurt pretty badly if they wanted to keep their parent’s business. Why should they have to suffer at all?

“The tax is a powerful incentive for the wealthy to put their money into foundations and other charities, because contributions are fully deductible. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, which sponsored Wednesday’s appearance, released research estimating that repeal would cost charities $9.6 billion a year nationally and $196 million in Minnesota, based on 2001 giving and bequests.”

If we are to believe this figure, we have to keep it in perspective. For the sake of argument we’ll assume that all that money would indeed be lost to charities. Does the phrase “The ends do not justify the means” mean anything? Sure. they give the money to charities, but only to avoid giving it to the government. The assumption is that they’d rather give it to their heirs but they are forced to do something else. That isn’t right. The government should never be in a position to dictate to a person what they have to do with what they own.

“Huge wealth — perhaps $41 trillion — will transfer from one generation to another in the next few years, and young heirs would be able to “get up in the morning and do anything they want to do,” said Gates, who is cochairman of a foundation that has given away billions of dollars of his son’s wealth. “Is it a good thing for those kids?”

Here’s a thought, it’s none of your fucking business how somebody decides to provide for their kids. Christ Almighty, it doesn’t get any clearer than this… We know what’s best for your kids, and the government should force you to do what we think is right. Hello? Fascism anyone? Mr. Gates only has to look at his son to get an idea of what a fabulously wealthy person might do, it certainly hasn’t hurt Bill Gates’ charitable streak to have so much money, are his kids such bastards that they’d stop doing that?

“And people who made fortunes through advances in technology, much of it government funded, have an obligation to give back.”

Umm, isn’t the reason that they are fantastically rich because they have provided a product or service that everyone uses or likes? The government and everyone that uses that product has made lots of money with it or otherwise enjoyed it. Seems to me that they have done their job and they have been paid for it. Nobody “owes” anything to anyone.

In short, monetary arguments about the death tax are silly. It represents a tiny fraction of the tax revenue collected, but it represents a decent chunk of any estate that is affected by it. There is no moral justification for this. The forcible taking of money and/or property from your heirs is pretty low. The fact that the people affected are “rich” does not change the morality of the situation, no one has any right to take money from someone without giving something to them in return. Why robbery of the rich is condoned I’ll never know or understand.