Extended quote of the day

Damn, do I wish I had written this post of Kevin Drum’s.  Whole thing is great; here’s what I love:

Democrats have some things they want to do, but in addition to satisfying their own interest groups they have to settle for third or fourth best policies because Republicans have simply decided they don’t care about anything except tax cuts for the rich, hating gay people, and bennies for favored industries. In the middle of a massive recession they opposed a stimulus bill. In the aftermath of a financial crisis they opposed a financial reform bill. In the face of skyrocketing healthcare costs they demagogued modest cuts in Medicare spending. They spent months negotiating a spending bill — transparently, openly, via the ordinary committee process — and then killed it just because it would annoy Harry Reid. Global warming is a hoax, gay recruits will destroy the military, and creationism is an appropriate topic for high school biology classes. Our infrastructure is crumbling and our schools are mediocre, but the creeping encrustation of government prevents anything serious from being done about either. We’re in hock to Middle Eastern theocracies for our oil, and the laughable answer from the right consists entirely of nukes and a bit of marginal extra drilling around the periphery of America. An arms control treaty that could have been negotiated by Ronald Reagan himself is unsure of passage because too many Republican senators deem it unsafe to risk the wrath of Fox News or their tea party constituencies.

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The evolution of language

Okay, so Google’s got this really cool new tool that tracks the usage of words or phrases in books over the past 90 years.  If I was more creative with what words to try out I could spend a lot of time with this.  Fortunately for me, I’m not.  Though here’s one pretty cool graph that looks at our evolving language about homosexuality:

[I see that it’s hard to read the key, but not the chart: blue= gay, red=lesbian, yellow=queer, green=homosexual]

Tech lessons

Very cool article in the Times about a month ago on Ten Lessons learned from years of being a Tech Columnist.  For some reason, I found this one especially interesting:

Some concepts’ time may never come. The same “breakthrough” ideas keep surfacing — and bombing, year after year.

For the love of Mike, people, nobody wants videophones! When we’re on the phone, we don’t want to have to be presentable. We want to put away dishes, roll our eyes at other people in the room, pick our noses. Sure, when we want to see the new baby, we’ll use Skype or FaceTime. But not for everyday calls. If you try to sell us a special phone that has a camera and screen, you will fail.

At this point, video phone technology could easily be in every home, but the simple fact is– Skype lovers aside– people just don’t want it.  I’ll be really curious to see if the time truly never comes on this.  Anyway, the whole column is really interesting and definitely worth a read.

Estate Tax

Obviously, a lot of talk going on with the Estate Tax at the moment.  Ezra Klein was kind enough to run an Estate Tax Primer.   Here’s the key portion:

The basic insight behind the estate tax is that wealth concentration is a problem. That was true in 1916, when the tax was enacted, and it’s true today, when it’s being neutered. As Ray Madoffexplains, the going theory came from Louis Brandeis, who said, “We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy, but we can’t have both.” Andrew Carnegie himself testified in favor the estate tax’s creation.

The way it works is simple enough. There’s an exemption level beneath which estates are not taxed, and a tax rate that applies to every dollar the estate is worth above the exemption. In 2001, we had a $675,000 exemption and a 55 percent tax rate. So an estate worth $700,000 would take a 55 percent tax on that final $25,000. The estate tax’s levels, however, have been changing because the Bush tax cuts — as you can see in the table on the right — have been phasing it out. In 2002, it was $1 million, and 50 percent. By 2009, the exemption was up to $3.5 million, and the rate down to 45 percent. And in 2010, the estate tax was repealed.

With all the Republican propaganda about a “death tax” in recent years, I have to wonder what pathetically low portion of Americans actually understand just how few Americans this tax actually affects (and it sure isn’t undermining family farms).  Meanwhile, Kevin Drum (backed up by some dubious polling) suggests that Americans are just naturally opposed to the Estate Tax:

Like it or not, I think that most people simply have an instinctive feeling that you should be able to bequeath your money to whoever you want. If most bequests went to, say, political parties or yacht harbor upkeep groups, things might be different. But as long as most bequests go to family members, you’re dealing with a very deep, very primitive protective instinct that most people sympathize with no matter how rich you are. After all, I feel that, and I don’t even have kids.

Drum may be onto something, but with so few Americans understanding how the Estate tax works (i.e., exempting that million dollars or more means a very small percentage of Americans will ever be affected) I think its hard to know how the public really feels.  I’d like to see a survey question about the Estate Tax following a clear explanation of how it works.  Of course, that would be interesting, nothing more.  In the real world, politics are shaped by how people think the Estate tax works.

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