Jon Stewart’s view on taxes

While flipping channels tonight, I came across a segment of the Jon Stewart Show where Mr. Stewart claims John Boehner referring to taxation as theft showed a lack of understanding of the United States Constitution.

Here’s a link to the full clip.

I’d be open for Mr. Stewart, or the writer of that joke, to point me to the part of the Constitution he believes Mr. Boehner doesn’t understand.

Article I, Section 8 of the CoTUS gives Congress the power to ‘lay and collect’ taxes. However, it does not say that taxes are not theft.

I’ll give Mr. Stewart the benefit of the doubt that he is referring to meaning of theft as the unlawful taking of another person’s property without their permission. Since the Constitution makes taxing power lawful, then (I’m guessing) Stewart believes taxes are not theft.

However, some folks believe the more salient meaning of theft is the part where another person’s property is taken without their permission. In that view, many taxes are theft.

I’d rather have elected officials who see taxes the way Speaker Boehner sees them than the way Mr. Stewart sees them.

Stewart was miffed that Boehner’s (what he thought was a) “mistake” didn’t get media attention, while President Obama’s lack of understanding of Star Wars and Star Trek did.

Maybe others in the media were concerned that Mr. Boehner’s view on taxes would make sense to people, especially folks fresh off their 2% payroll tax holiday.

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Who are the bad guys?

I watched Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Sith with my son over this holiday break, again.  It’s been awhile since he’s seen this episode.  It’s interesting to see what new things he notices when he sees it again.

In this episode, Chancellor Palpatine announces in the Senate chambers that he is dissolving the (democratic) Republic to form the (tyrannical) Empire and everyone applauds.

Padme Amidala (mother to Luke and Leia Skywalker, and naive pawn in Palpatine’s rise to power) says:

So this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause.

My son asked, “Why are they clapping for the Empire?  Isn’t the Empire bad?

I told my son that they don’t yet realize how bad the Empire is.  And, I also mentioned that’s exactly what frustrates me about politics:  People clap for the bad guys and never realize it.

Star Wars Geek Friday

Palpatine

Tyrants aren't often this ugly

Those familiar with the Star Wars universe know that episodes 4 through 6 were produced and released in the 70s and 80s and episodes 1 through 3 were released in the late 90s and 00s, making for an interesting way to tell a story.

As I’ve watched the whole series over again and again with my Star Wars-crazed kid, I’ve noticed some elements worth mentioning because they bear some resemblance to real life.

First, the story of Palpatine’s ascent to tyrant and his consolidation of political power is really well done and vastly under appreciated.  He led both sides in a war meant to soften political opposition to his consolidation of power.

He used the war he created to get the other Senators to vote him emergency power, promising to return it when the conflict was over.  He never relinquished that power.

I was reminded of this storyline this week when I heard talks of granting the President emergency power to raise the debt limit.  The parallel is stark.  Palpatine created the emergency to get the Senate to grant him emergency power.  Obama created the spending emergency, both by spending a bunch and by waiting until the debt limit was about to be reached before trying to do something about it, to get politicians talking about giving the President emergency powers to raise the debt limit.  Though few people draw this connection.

In fact, when the Senate does vote to give Palpatine those emergency powers and applauds his acceptance speech, the unwitting pawn that granted Palpatine’s first step of his ascent, Padme Amidala says:

So this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause.

Second, if you watch the series from Episodes 1 through 6 in order, you will notice that Episode 4, Star Wars, picks up about 25 or 30 years after Episode 3.   In Episode 3, Palpatine and Vader take control of the galaxy and begin their reign.  Episode 4 begins after 25 or 30 years of that reign.

You will also notice that the technology in Episode 4 is rudimentary compared to the technology in Episode 3.  This is a common criticism of the series.  Star Wars was 30 years after Revenge of the Sith and the technology looks so bad.  After all, the fastest ship in the galaxy, the Millienium Falcon, was a bucket of bolts.  I personally think that criticism is unfounded.

While the appearance of the technology is a natural artifact of producing Episode 4 twenty years before Episode 3, it also bears a striking parallel to reality.

Once the galaxy comes under top-down control, there’s a really good chance that the state of technology would go backwards.  In his book, The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley wrote this about China:

China went from a state of economic and technological exuberance in around A.D. 1000 to one of dense population, agrarian backwardness and desperate poverty in 1950.  According to Angus Maddison’s estimates, it was the only region in the world with a lower GDP per capita in 1950 than in 1000.  The blame for this lies squarely with China’s governments.

To be clear, China’s governments became top-down empires, much like George Lucas’ Empire (except they didn’t have space ships).  So, even though the lapse of technological innovation derived from the production schedule of the movies, it fits.

Fatal Flaw of Centralized Power: Star Wars Edition

I think it’s a nice bit of commentary that proponents of centralized power like Emperor Palpatine or Darth Vader have such a penchant for big, planet destroying weapons like the Death Star.

The Death Star had several fatal flaws.

First, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  While the Death Star is big and powerful, it’s only one weapon.  With so much of the Empire’s resources wrapped up in it, all the opposition has to do is destroy one weapon to seriously weaken the Empire.

Second, it’s one weapon with a fatal flaw. In a universe with people who can use the Force, don’t build a space ship the size of a small moon with a lone, unprotected vent to the main reactor core.  C’mon.  Perhaps the Emperor thought he had eradicated the Jedi, so he got sloppy.

Third, don’t piss people off.  Fear is usually a good motivator.  But, there’s a tipping point.  If you push folks too far, like blowing up an entire planet full of life to make a point about your might, those who remain may stop fearing and rebel.

Moral Relativism on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”

If you watch the Clone Wars or haven’t seen Episodes II and III of the Star Wars there are some spoilers below.  Fair warning.

I love to watch the Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars with my son each week.  The series tells the story about what happens between Episode II of the Star Wars movies and Episode III, when Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader.

In a recent episode, the Republic is defending a planet that’s on the fence between Republic protection (the “good guys”) and Separatists (the “bad guys”).  In the fight, they discover a large animal that was thought to be extinct, the Zillo Beast.  The Zillo Beast appears to be the last of its kind and its body is covered with impenetrable armor (perhaps to be used to cover the Death Star?).

The inhabitants of the Zillo beast’s planet want it dead because they know the harm it can cause.  Mace Windu, a Jedi master (good guy), doesn’t want to kill the beast.  He wants to take it somewhere it can live freely.  His defense is based in principle – it’s not right to kill a creature for no reason.

The Chancellor (official head of the Republic government and secretly calling the shots of the Separatists in order to consolidate power into a dictatorship) wants the creature to figure out the secrets of its armor.  However, once the beast becomes to be too much of a burden to keep alive, the Chancellor orders its death.

Anakin’s wife, Padme, a Senator in the government and ally of Windu wants the creature’s life spared, asks for Anakin’s support during discussions with the Chancellor and is disappointed when Anakin doesn’t give it.  Anakin explains, “you have to admit, the Chancellor makes some good points.”

This is a clever bit of writing.

This episode showcases the difference in the mindsets that lead to the eventual consolidation of power and dictator rule.   The Chancellor has no principles except the ones he makes up on the fly to achieve his desired ends.

He wants the armor to help him “end the war” (i.e. consolidate power) and whatever harm caused to an innocent creature is a cost that’s worth it for the greater good.  He takes a utilitarian approach to assessing the cost-benefit of the situation.

Anakin, who will eventually become the Chancellor’s henchman in the dictator-led Empire, accepts the greater good argument and doesn’t have any qualms about principles like his wife and fellow Jedi.

Lesson: Beware the moral relativists.   Look, we all rationalize to some extent, even the good Jedis.  But, there are lines (principles) that some won’t cross and others will as long as there is a relative argument for it.  Watch out for those guys, because at some point you might find that you are the cost that is worth the benefit.

Warren Buffett is finding that out right now.  Warren Buffett was Democrat supporter in 2008.  I wonder if he regrets his decision?  From today’s Wall Street Journal, Berkshire Presses Lawmakers to Roll Back Proposed Curbs, Avoiding Potential Hit.  Buffett, billionaire, estate tax supporter, business philosopher and down-to-Earth-guy wants some special provisions in the financial regulation bill to save him some dough.

The White House has been trying to kill the Berkshire provision on the grounds that it would weaken the government’s ability to regulate the enormous market for derivatives.