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A few days ago, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ) was shot in the head at point-blank range by Jared Loughner. After shooting her, Loughner continued shooting, eventually killing half a dozen and wounding a dozen or so. When he stopped to reload, bystanders tackled him and he was arrested.

Notebooks and scribblings belonging to Loughner show first, that he is a disturbed young man, and second, that he was targeting Giffords. He referred to her by name and wrote of his assassination plans.

Did the violence-laden rhetoric of current political speech play a role in Loughner's actions? Many think so. In particular, Sara Palin's map of Democratic "targets" has been criticized; this map showed several Democrat-controlled districts in crosshairs, and Gabrielle Giffords was mentioned by name as a target. "Don't retreat, reload!", tweeted Palin. Other republicans spoke of "second-amendment remedies", and said "if ballots don't work, bullets will". Right-wing radio and TV pundits used equally explicit language as they exhorted their listeners to "take out" opposing political figures.

But then, in the tradition of a cover-up being worse than the original problem, Palin denied that the imagery was violent at all. The map symbols were not crosshairs, they were "surveyor's marks". Reloading was simply a metaphor for trying again. Palin went on the attack, claiming that accusations of any contributory blame in her direction were ludicrous and reprehensible, and constituted "blood libel" (sic). The only person to blame was the deranged individual who pulled the trigger. Anyone who suggested otherwise was trying to curb Palin's God-given (not to mention First Amendment-given) right to free speech, and probably hated America.

I joined several discussions of these events in various forums. Few seemed to actually get to what I feel is the core of the matter, so I decided to address it here.

I see the problem as one of judicious use of speech. Politicians and TV/radio pundits have a bully pulpit; people listen to them. They have influence. Those who have widespread influence have the right of free speech, but also have the responsibility to anticipate possible repercussions from that speech. The more prominent the public figure, the more responsibility.

Palin did not pull the trigger. A nutjob did. He is the guilty party. But could Palin and other media figures have reasonably anticipated that the use of violent imagery in their free speech might influence the unbalanced? That is the core of the accusations against Palin. Many feel that she should have known, and so shares part of the blame.

I'm no fan of Palin (to put it mildly), but I'm not quite willing to assign her blame for these killings. But I AM willing to say that her ill-advised words and metaphors have contributed to the atmosphere of violence currently surrounding political discourse. She should take responsibility for THAT, and tone down her rhetoric.

Perhaps Palin didn't realize that some people can't distinguish metaphor from exhortation. Perhaps she didn't realize that her words were influential (ha!). But now that the concept has been raised, she can no longer claim ignorance. She, and all public figures, have a responsibility to use their influence judiciously.

Henry II, in a drunken rage, yelled "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" and the result was the murder of Thomas Becket. Henry later wept for his friend, and claimed he had not intended his knights to commit murder. History nonetheless judges him as the guilty party.

Because, as a monarch, he should have known some toadies might act on his words. Because, as a monarch, he had a responsibility to speak judiciously, even when drunk.

It's been 840 years since then, and today it is not Kings and Barons who have influence and power, but rather media figures and politicians. But the principle remains. Noblesse oblige.
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This is a letter that I just sent to Congresswoman Olympia Snowe of Maine.

She is a Republican, but has a long history of not blindly following the Republican leadership. For this, she is facing accusations of being a "RINO" (Republican in name only) and the Tea Party has her in its sights. The Democrats also campaign against her, because even though she is usually a voice of sanity and willing to compormise, she is nevertheless a Republican.

I disagree with many of her opinions, but I respect her integrity.

Job creation and support of small business is, as you say in the Snowe Report, of utmost importance.

According to the news, the Obama administration wants to extend the tax cuts, except for the over-250K income category. Republicans have refused to go forward without including that tax cut category, and gridlock has resulted.

I conducted a survey that concluded that extending the over-250K tax cut will not help small businesses, but will instead actively hurt them and prevent job creation.

I contacted the owners of several local small businesses and said, "Suppose last year you made 250K in business profits. This year you are going to make 300K, an extra 50K. If the tax rate doesn't change, what will you do with the extra 50K?" Nearly all my respondents said they would either buy stocks or buy something like a fancy multimedia center. The effect of either of these on the local economy is minimal.

Then I said, "What if the extra 50K were taxed at a higher rate. What would you do then?" Three quarters of my respondents said that they would avoid the extra tax by putting it back into the business -- e.g,. either buying equipment or HIRING WORKERS.

This is in direct contradiction to the arguments I hear from the Republican side of the aisle. I have run the results by a tax accountant, and he agreed that the scenarios were reasonable and the results were what he would expect.

Do not take my word for it. The survey is very simple. I urge you to send your staffers to make a similar survey, and I trust that if their results match mine, you will vote accordingly.

I have the highest respect for you, simply because you do not let yourself be blinded by political dogma, but instead vote your conscience. You stay true to the needs of the people of Maine. Thank you for that.

This is obviously not a full-blown argument about how she should vote with the Democrats and not stand with the Republicans on insisting on extending the over-250K tax cut. I figure she's heard all that before. My point was simply that the Republican argument that the extension was necessary to support small business and create jobs was based on faulty reasoning.

Oh yes -- and, as any small business owner can tell you, income tax is assessed not on gross receipts, but on receipts minus expenses -- on profit. So you can always lower your tax by simply putting more into the business. Some politicians seem to be ignorant of this basic fact.
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We should create in the federal business tax code something equivalent to the personal tax exemption for dependents. For each employee who is a) an American citizen, b) paid over 20K a year and c) receives health insurance benefits, the business gets one exemption.

Businesses often claim that employees are "assets", but that's not how they are treated in bookkeepimg. Jobs are the most important thing a company can provide for a community, but all too often jobs are sacrificed in the legal obligation to maximize shareholder profits. This change could help reverse job hemorrhage and make the requirement for businesses to provide health insurance less onerous.

If you think this is a good idea, please pass the idea on to your congressman. I've written mine, but it needs more than a lone voice. Thanks.
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(The Socrates Cafe on NPR has this as a question this month. Because of the format of that discussion, I am trying to be somewhat provocative; this is meant to be part of a conversation, not my final considered word.)

In short, no. Not as we wage war today.

The theory of the Just War requires that first, there be a just cause. It cannot be just to recapture property or punish wrongdoers; it must be to prevent imminent danger to innocent life.

Second, all other means of solving the problem must be exhausted or shown to be ineffective.

Third, there must be serious prospects of success; the cause must not be futile.

Forth, the damage (including disorder afterward) caused by the war must not be greater than the damage caused by the original threat.

There are some situations that meet the first criterion; genocide in Darfur comes to mind. There is an immediate danger to innocent life. But those are not the situations we as a nation choose to involve ourselves in, or if we do, it is with measures that fall short of war.

We have a lousy record of meeting the second criterion. Political posturing is not the same as seriously attempting to negotiate or avoid war. Serious attempts to "exhaust all alternatives" would include actions that might cause us to lose face. But a Just War is waged to save lives, not face.

The third criterion requires that we have a clearly defined goal, and that we will know objectively when we have reached that goal. That goal should be just so much, and no more, than is needed to correct the original danger to innocent life. Again, our history is not good in this regard. Our so-called "war on terror" does not and cannot meet this criterion.

Lastly - and the real reason I answered "no" at the beginning -- when the theory of Just War was formulated, war was waged with swords. It was possible to restrict damage to combatants and prevent innocent deaths. This is no longer possible. Today, "collateral damage" in the form of innocent deaths is an accepted part of war. As long as that is true, war cannot be waged according to the criteria of a Just War.

Check the Wikipedia entry for "Just War" for more on the theory.

Note that, in true Socratic fashion, this question really hinges on "What is War?" Under "exhausting alternatives", would a well-planned police action count as war? How about an assassination? They are violent measures, but might more easily meet the third and fourth criteria.
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I think I just got some validation of my common-sense (as opposed to book-learned) economic ideas.

I've mentioned to various economists over the years that credit cards increase the money supply. This is usually part of a conversation about how raising interest rates is actually inflationary, despite the orthodox economic stance that you control inflation by raising interest rates. The economists I've talked to have usually looked a bit uncomfortable, but declined to explain why I'm wrong.

But I recently heard on the radio an economist talking about the recent crisis. He was asked "but where did all the money go?" His answer was money was not actually disappearing, but that since loans were not being made, the money no longer existed in essentially two places and this had the effect of shrinking the money supply. Aha! The flip side of that remark is that loans, including credit card usage, increase the money supply, as I've been saying for years.

Suppose I buy something for $100 and charge it. Now I have the goods worth $100, but the credit card company also has an asset (my loan) worth $100 on their books. That extra $100 has been created, just as surely as if the bank had a printing press in the basement. The money supply has been increased.

So the Fed doesn't really control the money supply; banks and credit card companies do. Increased money supply is both inflationary and results in a higher standard of living; the second is desirable but the first isn't.

Now if I don't pay my bill, the bank adds interest. I might spend as much as $125 for goods worth only $100. This doesn't represent any additional goods. That extra $25 doesn't need to be backed with bills; it's just made up. Once again, that increases the money supply and is therefore inflationary, but it doesn't contribute to a higher standard of living (it doesn't represent either goods or labor). The bad without the good.

Therefore, to control inflation, the interest rate should be lowered, not raised. The traditional theory of raising interest rates to lower inflation is based on the idea that debt is always discretionary. The reality today is that it isn't. Students graduate from college with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. The average credit-card holder has $6000 in debt. Here in New England, an average worker with an average salary has to borrow money to pay the winter heating costs. Debt has become a normal and unavoidable part of the consumer economy.

One way to control the money supply would be to stop lending and wait for all the loan balances to be paid off. To really stop creating money, we would also have to stop charging interest. Ultimately, everything would be on a cash basis, and the Fed would have complete control of the money supply.

Without meaning to, this is what we have fallen into (except the stop charging interest part). But the sudden change has caused economic chaos, so the government is frantically trying to jump-start the lending process again.

An alternative, albeit still cataclysmic solution might be to assess the actual size of the money supply, adjust salaries and prices so that consumers would not find it necessary to borrow money, and then severely limit access to credit. That solution would put us back into the monetary state of the fifties or sixties, when consumers did not routinely use or need credit. This might not be a bad thing, but it would be incredibly hard to transition to from today's state (witness today's economy).

But the real question is, what does the government want the economy to do? Is it really necessary to control the money supply? If not, why not; if so, why? The "free market" favors unrestricted access to credit (ie an unregulated money supply) but it also doesn't "care" about either workers or consumers except as variables in an equation. I would posit that the first responsibility of government is to care for the populace.

I don't mean 'care for' in the sense of 'meet all their needs'. One also cares for the populace by creating a situation in which they can thrive. Politicians can debate the merits of encouraging people to make and keep as much money as possible versus an obligation to provide health care, jobs, or retirement.

But it is people who must thrive, not the abstract concept we call the "economy". We should never lose sight of that.
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The Republicans continually assert that increasing taxes on the upper tax bracket would hurt small businesses, reduce investment, and lose us jobs. This assertion has gone unchallenged. But it doesn't make sense to me.

Tax is on profits, not receipts. I file a Schedule C. Any investment I make in the business is deducted from my gross receipts before tax is calculated. The easiest way for me to reduce my taxes is to increase investment in my business. Therefore, increasing tax on the highest tax bracket is likely to increase, not decrease, business investment.

But wait -- if the business owner takes the profit, he's going to invest it, right? Well, no. Not in his business; if he did that it wouldn't be profit. And not in other small businesses, because the ma-and-pa businesses under discussion are not publicly traded.

And if he uses his profit to buy stock it doesn't contribute to business investment or productivity. "Huh?" you might say. But unless the stock is newly-released stock, the money paid for it doesn't go to the company. The money just churns back and forth as stock is traded, but nothing goes back to the original company.

Contrast that with what happens when a lower-income person is taxed less and has extra money. That person is much more likely to spend it on goods and services. This increases demand and directly stimulates the economy. If the money is not immediately spent, it is likely to go into the bank, where it is then available for local small-business loans - again, a greater stimulus than stock investment would be.

So increased taxes on high incomes does not hurt small businesses; on the contrary.

I ran this by some economists - not particularly liberal ones - who said my reasoning was essentially correct. I don't know why the Democrats aren't presenting it like this.
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OK. Today is the "Pulpit Initiative" sponsored by Ralph Stanley and the ADF (Alliance Defense fund). Haven't heard anything yet on the news on how it went off. But we'll see. Maybe it just fizzled. Actually, I hope so.

The Pulpit Initiative, for those who haven't heard, is blatant preaching from the pulpit on behalf of a particular political candidate (wanna guess which one?). The ADF claims this is a First Amendment issue; they want "to restore a pastor’s right to speak freely from his pulpit without fearing censorship or punishment by the government. " (

No one is trying to censor or punish pastors. That is a complete misstatement of the situation.

The 1954 Johnson act bans non-profits from intervening in politics. They can speak on political issues; that's fine. The line is drawn at actually endorsing or condemning a particular candidate. If any non-profit 501c3 (not just a church) crosses this line, they can lose of their IRS tax-exempt status. There is no felony or misdemeanor here. No one would be arrested. It is an administrative matter, a loss of privileged status.

But this loss of a privileged status is being cast as a 'punishment'. Stanley says it infringes both freedom of speech and separation of church and state. 

Pastors can say anything they want, as private citizens. And, if they are willing to forgo their privilaged status, they can also say anything they want from the pulpit. But when they act like a political action committee, they are subject to taxation as a PAC. Donations are not tax-deductible and the church organization will have to pay taxes like anyone else.

Neither religious expression nor free speech is really the issue -- seems like a transparent economic motive to me.

Several of the pastors interviewed on this issue seem to think that the tax-exempt status of churches is enshrined in the Constitution. It isn't. Nothing in the Constitution addresses taxation of churches, or any exemption for churches. The IRS itself only dates from 1913. Where does this idea come from?

The Constitution does have the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." This was ratified December 15, 1791.

The Johnson Act applies to any organization which wishes to enjoy tax-exempt status. It does not single out churches, nor does it in any way "prohibit the free exercise" of religion; it just defines the IRS requirements for the special privilege of tax exemption.

I used to be treasurer at my church, and currently chair the Finance committee. And I know that we have never, since the 1600s, ever paid property taxes on the church building. So there is some sort of tax exemption that has "always existed". But if we are going to go back to colonial times, we should look at the whole picture.

Many of the first colonists were religious fanatics who chose to be governed by a theocracy. (The Taliban would be a good modern analogy.) The church was the government, and the government collected money via church tithes. The English had an official State Church but the Puritans felt that the government was not church-centered enough. They elevated the church above secular government. For example, you could not be a member of the governing council unless you were a respected member of the church (essentially a church elder).

The new Jerusalem couldn't last, however. Roger Williams and other religious dissidents broke off to form a separate colony which was the first to explicitly guarantee religious freedom and tolerance. Churches were no longer the seat of government, but they were often the largest buildings in the community and served as community gathering spots. Church property was not taxed, but their previous direct support was taken away. By providing services, they essentially paid tax "in-kind".

How does property tax exemption relate to separation of church and state? And should it continue?

State-level exemptions for church property exist in all 50 states, but in some states they must be applied for, and in many jurisdictions the exempted property is narrowly defined (for instance, the church itself is exempted, but not a parish hall, etc.).

Recent court decisions have been interesting. In 1970, an athiest (I believe) named Walz sued the Tax Commission of the City of New York, saying that the church tax exemption violated the the"no establishment" clause of the first amendment. The court ruled that while a direct tax subsidy would be a violation, a property tax exemption was not, since it did not give money to churchs, it merely abstained from demanding the church support the state.

In 1972, the tenth Circuit Court stated this more strongly: "tax exemption is a privilege, a matter of grace rather than a right." In 1983, the Supreme Court stated that "Both tax exemptions and tax deductibility are a form of subsidy that is administered through the tax system. A tax exemption has much the same effect as a cash grant to the organization of the amount of tax it would have to pay on its income."

The stage is set for another lawsuit. I think with the 1972 and 1983 clarifications, there is a very good chance that a suit claiming that tax-exemption constitutes a tax subsidy which violates separation of church and state would fly. And judging by the comments I've read about the Pulpit Initiative, this would be welcomed by major segments of the population.

Our church has always avoided taking federal monies, because with federal money comes federal oversight, and the church believes in social activism which often runs counter to the government's stances. If tax exemption is ruled to be a federal subsidy, I don't think a heck of a lot would change. We would need to come up with the money for property tax, which would admittedly be a burden, but so are the higher fuel prices this year, and the need for a new roof. We would just have to suck it up. Would donations go down if they were not tax-exempt? Probably not to a significant extent. Basket donations are anonymous, and few donors give so much that they are issued documentation for their taxes. I think that most people give because they want to support the church, not because they want a tax deduction.

Some religious sites are claiming that taxation would constitute government control over a church, since the power to tax implies a power to regulate and possibly to destroy. But I think they are confusing the church as a religious body with the physical property of the church. My church has very little organization, and what it has is all volunteer. Our entire budget is probably lower than the threshold required for reporting to the IRS. If necessary, we could meet in private houses, and while it would make some of our outreach efforts more difficult, it would not compromise our religious beliefs.

Other churches have multimillion dollar stadiums to accommodate thousands of people, or run television studios as part of their mission. Is that structure required for their religious beliefs, or is it merely an organization founded on religious beliefs, which could fulfil its mission just as well if it were commercial and paid taxes?

This Pulpit Initiative might backfire. The easiest way to free preachers to campaign from the pulpit is to remove the one thing that prevents them from doing so -- the tax-exempt status of churches.
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On Friday, I heard one of the wikipedia founders mention that Sarah Palin's wikipedia entry had been extensively edited in the week or two before the announcement of her selection by McCain. The person doing the editing had signed in with a false name, and the changes were favorable, so wikipedia suspected something not-quite-right was up and they froze the entry.

This, of course, piqued my curiosity and went to see what wikipedia had to say. Many people do not know that wikipedia keeps a log of changes, and you can pick a date to compare the current entry to. I chose a date at the end of July. The changes mostly consisted of making her image more polished.

==Beauty Queen==
For instance, regarding her beauty queen experience: "In 1984, Palin competed in the Miss Alaska contest after being chosen Miss Wasilla that year" was changed to "In 1984, Palin won the Miss Wasilla beauty contest (playing the flute), then finished second in the Miss Alaska pageant,at which she won a college scholarship and the "Miss Congeniality" award." This makes it seem less like a meat market and more like a talent contest and scholarship opportunity.

==Wrongful Dismissal Suit==
The story of how she fired Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan was also cleaned up a bit.
In July, Palin fired Commissioner of Public Safety, Walt Monegan. He claimed he was fired over his reluctance to fire an Alaska State Trooper involved in a divorce and child custody battle with Palin's sister. In the earlier report, Palin said he was fired so the department could move in a "new direction". There is an investigation into the matter, with a report due in October.

The edit added that Monegan was dismissed for "performance-related issues", and says Palin offered him an alternative position as executive director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which he turned down. Regarding the charge of inappropriate pressure, Palin has apparently "discovered" that, unbeknownst to her, her staff had contacted Monegan about two dozen times on this matter. She has hired counsel.

Not exactly a positive spin, but the newer article goes on to say that Kopp, the man Palin chose to replace Monegan, resigned only two weeks later when it was revealed that he had received a letter of reprimand for sexual harrassment in his previous position.

An article in the Anchorage Daily News on the 2006 gubernatorial race was quoted.

On marijuana: "Palin said she has smoked marijuana -- remember, it was legal under state law, she said, even if illegal under U.S. law -- but says she didn't like it and doesn't smoke it now."

On Abortion: "In 2002, when she was running for lieutenant governor, Palin sent an e-mail to the anti-abortion Alaska Right to Life Board saying she was as "pro-life as any candidate can be" and has "adamantly supported our cause since I first understood, as a child, the atrocity of abortion.""

On Gay Marriage:"...she supported the 1998 constitutional amendment.[banning gay marriage and defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.]
Elected officials can't defy the court when it comes to how rights are applied, she said, but she would support a ballot question that would deny benefits to homosexual couples.
"I believe that honoring the family structure is that important," Palin said. "

The rest of this is all in the current wikipedia article.

==Autocratic Management Style==
Palin has a high-handed, centralized approach to governing. When she became Mayor, she fired most of the people in town government who did not support her, including the Wasilla police chief, librarian, public works director and finance director. She also tried to get books that she found objectionable removed from the library, but when the town residents pushed back, she let it drop and rehired the librarian. After that, she instituted a policy requiring department heads to get her approval before talking to reporters.

She did something similar when she became governor. She fired a number of people who had been recently appointed by the outgoing governor.

I do not like this. It sounds like more of Bush's "I'm the decider -- and to hell with you" mentality.

As mayor, Palin was very successful at lobbying for and getting federal funds earmarked for projects in Wasilla. She got nearly 27 million dollars in earmarked funds -- not bad for a community of less than 7000 people.
She ran for governor on a "build the Gravina Island bridge" platform, but when the bridge became known as the "bridge to nowhere" Congress changed the earmark to be for general infrastructure. Palin chose to use the money to continue road construction to the bridge location while investigating less-expensive alternatives to the bridge itself. Eventually, she announced that she was stopping work on the bridge. This earned her brownie points as an anti-earmark fiscal conservative, and brought her to McCain's attention. On accepting McCain's nomination, she said "I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere". This upset political leaders in Ketchikan, including Palin's campaign coordinator there, Mike Elerding, who is quoted in wikipedia as saying, "She said 'thanks but no thanks,' but they kept the money."

Palin is also on record opposing the listing of the Polar bear as an endangered species, and for extending the practice of shooting wolves and bears from airplanes.

What exactly is Palin's experience?
Two terms as city councilor, Wasilla AK (population 6715)
Two terms as mayor, Wasilla AK
Unsuccessful bid for Leutenant governor, 2002
Successful bid for governor, 2006. Outgoing governer Murkowski in midst of a scandal.

As governor of Alaska, she is Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard. McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds gave this as an example of foreign policy experience. However, the commander of the Guard, Major General Craig E. Campbell, said that Palin plays no role in national defense activities relating to the Guard. Palin visited the Guard in Kuwait and in Germany; other than to Canada, that seems to have been her first trip out of the US.

==Probably Irrelevant but Interesting==
Todd, Sarah Palin's husband, is a four-time champion of the Iron Dog, the world's longest snowmobile race. Todd also has a native (Yup'ik) grandmother, which makes his and Sarah's children one-eighth Alaskan Native. Haven't heard that talked up at all.

We will see what we will see.


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