Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tales of Divisiveness - and the drug high of indignation

Anyone who spends ten minutes around me knows that I appreciate good argument. Heck, Contrary Brin is about having fun by sniping "yeah, I agree with some of that... but here's an exception!" even at your own favorite doctrines. The truest sign of sapience -- I believe -- is an eager willingness to at least notice the group-think errors of your own side.

So why am I down on the divisive mania that has swept the world -- and especially America -- in an era that clearly has many reasons for hope?  Because so many of our bickering feuds are not about positive-sum argument, aimed at persuading the other side to budge, possibly even learning from your opponents. In the tales that follow, below, you'll see example after example where sanctimonious intransigence... the drug high of indignant purity... has poisoned the natively American genius at pragmatic negotiation and compromise and attention to the corrective force of evidence.

Let's start with a letter from one of my favorite politicians -- a courteously parsed, yet-devastating single page from California Governor Jerry Brown -- sent to Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, in response to Carson's snarky dismissal of "scientific evidence for human generated climate change."  The calm maturity of Brown's response is matched by his intelligence, curiosity and hatred of cliched dogmas... yes, including some dogmas of the left. One reason he is so loved in moderate, pragmatic California.

Hence my attempt to stir a groundswell, arm-twisting Brown into the Democratic Party's presidential debates.  To be clear, I don't think Jerry even wants to be president!  But just being in the debates for 6 months would let him shake up all our rigid doctrines, calcified positions and wretched, sourpuss gloom. He -- and we -- would have so much fun!   

== Separating Church and State ==

With his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver is on a hot burn as, week after week, he takes on sacred cows. This time? Televangelist churches, and boy does he turn them a well-deserved inside-out.    

Oliver makes it hilarious! But there is a sober side. For example… how could we reform this outrageous system? Some years ago folks in Colorado got a measure on the ballot to end church tax-exemption.  It started out popular, but the counter-campaign shrieked about how the state could then crush religion, contrary to the Constitution.  Indeed, the first U.S. Chief Justice said “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” 

So in fact, I favor a compromise. Here it is.

Next time a church tax reform measure comes up, include a floor exemption that utterly protects the basics -- a local church of sincere parishioners and the pastor they can barely afford to pay. Here’s how.  Any church gets a property tax exemption allowance of two square meters of floorspace, plus $200 of income per unique parishioner (who is not a member of any other church) up to 200 members. Also, the pastor’s first $20,000 of pay is tax exempt. 

Not high enough? We can dicker over where the lines are drawn, but let’s be generous, so that the state has given religion the benefit of the doubt and so that local, modest places of worship remain (practically) untouched. And richer churches still have that floor, before their far greater incomes start to be taxed, helping to pay for the roads and hospitals and fire and police protection they use, just like the rest of us.  

Further, while funds spent evangelizing are not expensed, actual, charitable good works are. (In fact, I'd make church tithing only a "charitable deduction" for the first $500 or so. Come on!)

That floor-exemption will mean that poor churches are no longer the inherent allies of the televangelist charlatans. Indeed, it drives a wedge between former allies. And it makes the next reform referendum something with a fighting chance.

== And Election politics ==

Ah gerrymandering! Are you proud to be affiliated with cheaters? For example. Business owners try to remove all voters from business district but they forgot one college student! In Columbia, Missouri, the city council created a special 'business' district. This district would be allowed to vote to create a half cent sales tax to pay for local improvements rather than using property tax increases. There is a special rule that says if no registered voters exist in an area, the property owners are allowed to vote BUT one U of M student registered at her CoMO address. And the county clerk has certified that she is the sole voter allowed in the up coming poll. Now the owners are barred from voting. They will have to raise property taxes on themselves (if they want those district improvements) and raise them even more to pay off the debt they incurred to finance this deal. 

This is a familiar thing in California, where most aspects of elective politics have improved markedly, but these legacy “cities” and “districts” have an olden-times grandfathered ability to basically run their own cloistered mafia dens. Did I say we were perfect? But such miscreants are in our crosshairs.

== Back to the Civil War ==

Been doing some reading.  Apparently it is simply untrue to let Robert E. Lee off the hook because he freed his own slaves.  In fact, he owned only a few and as executor of his father-in-law’s will, he delayed freeing that man’s slaves, as required, until 1862, in the middle of the Civil War.  In several writings he did express dislike for slavery on general principles. But he was at best passive and desultory in execution.

Was the Civil War about anything other than slavery?  This video by a West Point colonel-historian examines the issue in devastating detail, with colorful illustrations. He is direct, firm, and clear.  There is no excuse for romantic-nostalgia for treason, when the core and only reason for that treason was so despicable.  Yes, the rebs fought well.  Respect that! But there is no other basis for respect for the Confederate side of any phase – even the current one – of our ongoing Civil War.  

(One critique.  Col. Ty Seidule does not mention the fact that Southerners or their sympathizers actually ran the U.S. Federal Government for most of the thirty years preceding Lincoln’s election in 1860, running roughshod over “states rights” in many matters, such as the Fugitive Slave Act which, in 1852, unleashed swarms of southern irregular cavalry raiding parties across northern states, crashing into homes and dragging neighbors off, into bondage.)

== Did I speak in praise... ==

...Of California?  Well, the Golden State giveth and taketh away.  Sanity, I mean. For example, we know Carly Fiorina very well, here, and rejected her Senate bid by a tsunami. With zero palpable successes to point to, with only failure and collapse ensuing from her time running Hewlett-Packard, what you are left with is slickness ... and sadness for anyone who is fooled. Oh, she seemed so expert when she recited a memorized list of how many Marine battalions and Army brigades we need... and how I wish someone in the press had asked her to define the difference? A delicious gotcha that would have been. An 'oops" of the first order.

Of course the ultimate silliness is for any Republican to claim credibility when it comes to national defense.  At the end of the Clinton Administration, 100% of major US military units were rated 'fully combat ready.' By the time GW Bush left office, not a single major army or marine unit was so rated... half teetered on the edge of frayed and shattered uselessness. Nearly all have now regained that status under Obama... with the irony that Dem presidents treat the military well, yet never brag about that fact. (Since it could miff the lefty-activist wing.) And hence none of you even knew this stark but devastating comparison.

But you will!  Keep dropping by here.  There are plenty of surprises. Just keep this in mind. Some things that are true are also opposite to popular "wisdom."  

It will be an interesting 14 months.


sociotard said...

Continuing on from my earlier bit about Mr. Martin Shkreli and his extortionate use of Daraprim, a doctor on another forum had this to say:

"I should note though, that this is a US problem, not a global one. It doesn't happen in other developed countries. Fixing the problem requires two things the US healthcare industry will fight to the death: pricing transparency and open markets."

Definitely sounds like something for Mr. Transparency to talk about.

Toldain said...

If you want to fault Lee for passivity and an odd sort of weakness, I'll credit that. But let's remember that this was his wife's estate, and freeing all those slaves would have a very dramatic impact on her life and lifestyle. Of course, the Civil War itself did her worse than that.

His biographer Elizabeth Brown Pryor, in Reading the Man says that while Lee inherited slaves from his own mother, it isn't clear what happened to them, they aren't mentioned at all in important documents from the time. It may well be that he manumitted them, and not Anna's, out of a sense of responsibility to Anna and to the estates, which had been poorly managed in the time leading up to his father-in-law's death.

Lee has been quoted as saying that slavery was bad and would end "when God wills it". Which is a roundabout way of saying, "I'm too weak to do this on my own".

Sadly, he was also quite clearly a white supremacist, signing statements after the war to the effect that the black man was inferior to the white man and should thus not have an equal part in all civic life.

Nevertheless, I sort of love the guy. He was an engineer and a devoted family man, and someone who really tried to stay out of politics.

Jumper said...

Pastors are not exempt from Federal income tax now, I believe. I don't know about state income taxes.

David Brin said...

Sociotard: "Mr. Transparency" despises market-manipulating thugs… and especially those who manipulate people's fears and /or basic needs. The public response to this fellow sets a limit -- but only on the visibly outrageous, not the far more common and numerous cases of market manipulation that are clever and subtle enough not to call attention to themselves.

Alfred Differ said...

I never saw the argument that the Civil War was about states rights until I was well past public schooling age. It was a southerner who suggested it to me, so the first time I heard it I was struck by it as an attempt to escape the moral implications. History has since proven it is a bit of both. My friend was essentially arguing that it was a state's right to defend ALL of its institutions, so the federals were breeching a right they considered as fundamental not unlike we do with freedom of speech. Does a state have the sovereign right to defend EVERY one of its institutions in our Union? He argued they do by the original Constitution. I argued it was a moot point since enough people disagreed that they were willing to slaughter each other on the battlefield. With a federal victory, the states lost any CLAIM to such a right. End of story.

Of course things like that don't end until all the supporters of one side are dead. The meme has to die for conflict to end. We demolished any formal recognition of such a claim because slavery either had to go or take over completely. At least one state was going to have its rights violated. The meme still lives, though. My friend still believes his state should have such a right recognized by the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Hitler loved dogs, was a vegetarian and doted on his wife. But at the end of the day, that didn't make him a decent human being. I know Lee isn't Hitler, but admiring a guy because he is faithful to his wife, loves his children and dogs, or went to university is setting the bar low.

History is full of people who loved their family but butchered people in their day jobs. Some are products of their time, and some are hypocrites, and some are monsters.

BTW, I would suggest "When God wills it." is really code for, I like the system, and won't do a thing to change it, but I can salve my conscious by saying I oppose it, without actually doing anything to stop it. Lee used his intellect to fight those who did want to stop slavery.
Lee said one thing but did the opposite. There is a word for people who do that.

Paul451 said...

From the last thread...

"We should hold is suspicion any and all proclamations of pure and enraged principle, unless those stances can also point to:
1. correlation with positive real-world outcomes over long time spans, and
2. an inherent ability to keep re-evaluating, adjusting and backing out of errors."

I'd suggest that no "pure" principle can be trusted. Under any circumstances. Purity of principles is designed to take the human out of the loop, to make us stupid.

Dawkins made a comment about religion: (paraphrasing) "There are good people and bad people. Good people will want to do good things, bad people will want to do bad things. But it takes religion to make good people do bad things."

I disagree that it's just religion that does this. It's the "purity" of the principle. Whether religious purity, or ideological, or even Constitutional. To argue against Dawkins, people have to point to "impure" religions, or to the harm and madness of "pure" non-religious ideologies.

Zero tolerance, in the recent "hoax bomb" case, is an example of a policy that turns all teachers and administrators (and police, and judges) into morons. There are smart/considerate/kind teachers/etc and dumb/abusive ones, zero tolerance policies are designed to turn all teachers/etc into dumb/abusive once. Removing discretion removes humanity, removes the capacity to be good, smart, considerate and kind.

(I realise your point "2" is an attempt to get around the evils of "purity".)

Speaking of purity...

As I've mentioned before, in arguing with us over the meaning of "coercion", you are facing the wrong direction and arguing with the wrong side.

We are dealing with people who are wrecking our system because they use your ultra-narrow definition of "coercion" and then claim that no other wrong is possible. Therefore no other behaviour, no other evil, is possible. Therefore any "coercion" used to prevent another abhorrent behaviour is more evil than the behaviour being prevented.

Countering that argument, and preventing the acts of those people to harm our society, are more important than any argument over linguistic purity we might have with you.

So I would suggest that you pick another word for the narrow version of "coercion" that you want to define, and leave the rest of us with the broader one... Because our fight is more important than yours.

Tom Elliot said...

"Miffing the lefty/activists" is never a consideration for Democratic politicians because there is no cost for miffing them ever paid(until maybe this year) The reason you don't hear about how well the Democrats treat both the military and veterans is because a narrative driven media does not accept any narrative where Democrats are at all helpful or beneficial to the military. It simply never enters their minds. So the media blindly accepts whatever negative narrative the Right passes on to them.

I know you try hard to shoehorn in some critique of the left in your posts, even when none are really warranted. When the left does something worthy of criticism in a way that has any impact on policy please, by all means, critique away. But you have to dig deeply into a small slice of the far left to find anything to really critique and even those criticisms are mild. But that particular part of the left is completely powerless, unlike the crazy counterpart on the Right which is represented by multiple clowns at each Presidential debate.

David Brin said...

Tom while I agree with you that the magnitude and lethality of the madness is vastly worse on the Entire right (of today) than the Far Left, I can certainly take umbrage with ny attempt to make me give that wing of lunacy a free pass. I spent too many years on University campuses where screeching leftist bullies would interrupt every attempt at earnest philosophical or political argument with tirades and threats and even physical violence.

The harm they did was far out of proportion to every "victory"... eg driving men like Wolfowitz, Perle etc off campus (where their colleagues had moderated them) into faux "academic" "Institutions" like Heritage and AEI, where they became Bush court jester-intellectuals, concocting neocon-Straussian rationalizations for monstrous violations.

Yes the Straussians were worse than the pathetic campus screechers, because they had power and money and could do harm. But those screechers I knew would gladly have done mountains of harm, even set up re education camps, if they could. Again, I knew many of them. Many. And I will ALWAYS be wary of that wing, even as I must ally myself with them against the greater (current) danger of the revived Confederacy Treason.

The difference between the DP and the RP is that in the latter the lunatocs and cynical manipulators run the asylum, while among dems, it is still moderate-pragmatic liberals and not true leftists who run the party. Anyone who does not grasp the HUGE differences between liberals and leftists.. and it is not a matter of passion or degree... is ignorant. Alas,that includes most americans.

Read my missive on immigration and why the dem leaders are never up front about is with the rank and file. The DP actually funds the border patrol BETTER than goppers do! Because illegal immigration hurts unions and gives republican lords cheap labor to bully. Dem pols have boosted LEGAL immigration (exactly what Trump says he favors!) Heck look up my essay and open your eyes. Neither side speaks frankly to itsbase.

locumranch said...

Just as the Iraqi Conflict was about Oil rather than WMDs & Democracy, the First US Civil War was "about" Federalism rather than Slavery:

(1) The January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the Southern States that were "in rebellion" against the Northern Union; (2) it did not abolish slavery in the Federal North, nor did it apply to border slave states who remained loyal to the north (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky & Missouri); (3) Slavery remained legal in the Northern US until the 13th Amendment Slavery was formally ratified in December 1865; and (4) Slavery STILL remains legal in the US "as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted" as evidenced by (5) an oppressive US Penal System of which California is an especially egregious offender.





In contrast, the Second US Civil War will most certainly be about Slavery as the rural, red, resource-rich states rebel in the face of an increasingly urban, corporate, blue autocracy which has been busily criminalising constitutional amendments 1 thru 10** in a transparent attempt to legalise wage (debt) slavery & circumvent the 13th amendment by invoking the above-noted criminal exception.

**Amendment 1 has been voided by hate speech & diversity laws which violate religious integrity, silence dissent & compel involuntary participation in the progressive agenda; Amendment 2 has been voided by the ATF & other federal regulations that seek to limit individual & state rights to 'bear arms' & form militias; Amendment 4 has been voided by the 'transparency' of the electronic information age & civil forfeiture laws; Amendment 5 has been voided by Title 9 which requires educational institutions to punish male mating behaviours based on hearsay; Amendment 6 & 8 have been voided by an increasingly monetized US legal system; Amendment 7 has been willfully ignored in almost EVERY case of divorce & common law; Amendments 9 & 10 were voided by Union victory in the first civil war; and Amendment 3 will be voided (soon) as a matter of course.

Our constitutional government has been well & truly wrecked by those self-same progressives who justify unconstitutional actions as a means of "preventing the acts of those people (who would) harm our society" -- whose "society" pray tell? -- and coercion is as coercion does, especially when those who object to the new unconstitutional conformity will be assimilated (forcefully) by progressive Borg collective.


Paul451 said...

Re: Religious tax exemption

If you can't get a change that treats not-for-profit and charitable churches like any not-for-profit social club or charity, you aren't going to get any compromise, whether it's your plan or another.

Makes it a bit pointless creating such a plan, you have zero chance of it ever being heard.

Re: Prager University video (about the Civil War.)

Dennis Prager is a paranoid, neo-con, Straussian, conspiracy nut. He established his phony "university" to push his neo-con agenda against progressive (aka "fascist") America. Not the best person to promote, even if he picked the right side of that one issue.

Re: Dems vs Repubs and the treatment of the military. Myth vs reality.

We have the same phenomena in Australia. Under the conservative government, morale in each branch of the military plummeted to levels lower than at the end of the Vietnam war; with correspondingly high rates of suicide and discipline issues. Mistreatment of respected officers, politicisation of senior appointments, silencing of voices within the military, and massive lies told about military operations, both over the invasion of Iraq and especially a local border protection scandal during an election campaign. During that election, the conservative government overwhelmingly lost at every polling place near a military base (we don't count service votes separately), yet they were returned to government in part because of the public perception that they were better at running the military, better at border protection, etc than the centre-left party.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "the first time I heard it I was struck by it as an attempt to escape the moral implications."

That's because it was as an attempt to escape the moral implications.


* "Dawkins made a comment about religion: (paraphrasing)"

That's not Dawkins, that's Steven Weinberg.
Nowadays, Dawkins' comments are mostly stuff like "Dear Muslima" or "Are you really sure Ahmed Mohamed made a clock?"

Duncan Cairncross said...

The Dawkins comment reflects a gap in some peoples understanding of what it takes to actually MAKE something
Dawkins is a smart man but I suspect that he has not made anything physical with his own hands

Making a kit - or stripping down and rebuilding an existing unit are both learning experiences and entirely appropriate for a school kid

You don't leap from doing a bit of research straight into creating a new gadget, you work your way up - stripping and rebuilding things, making kits, following instructions, replicating other designs
Then you can create something novel

The physical world is not like the world of writing - you can't get it about right -
From Kipling's The Secret of the Machines

But remember, please, the Law by which we live,
We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive.
If you make a slip in handling us you die!

Dawkins - like many intellectuals does not understand this

Howard Brazee said...

I love it when someone campaigns based upon "States Rights", except where the states aren't doing what they want (marijuana).

Or when someone campaigns against "Big Government", except where Big Government is doing what they want (kill Muslims).

Or when someone campaigns about "Christian Values", while having values as opposite of those of Jesus Christ as shown in the Bible as it is possible to be.

raito said...

The flaw in the plan seems to be that it will now be required to track who is a member of which church. And somewhat that there is an advantage (to someone) to attending only 1 church.

Who;s going to track membership? More bureaucracy?

Alex Tolley said...

Perhaps Gov. Brown could send a letter to Marsha Blackburn (R), second highest ranking member on the House energy committee. Not only is she a a climate denier, no evidence will persuade her otherwise. She also denies evolution.

Maybe it's time to demand competency tests for legislators for the committees they sit on?

Alex Tolley said...

Re: Taxing churches. I don't see how your plan makes much difference. If the donation is to be taxed, the church can just ask for larger donations to cover the tax. You might just as well stop charitable donations as a deductable from personal income tax.

The problem is one that can be solved by jiggering with the tax system, but one that needs more definition of what a church is and what is allowable. For example, I would demand that any request for seed-corn money be accompanied by a disclaimer that this even works (the church would have to prove that their congregation has as a whole become richer after donating). Perhaps that this is for "entertainment purposes only" as with psychics.

Hammer this home enough and a fraction of believers will stop donating and start asking questions.

Not that the state isn't exempt from some opprobrium with lotteries. They skate pretty close to irresponsibility IMO.

Alex Tolley said...

I thought Oliver's send up of televangelists was spot on. I think he makes the best case for changing the rules as to what constitutes a church. But even if churches were not exempt, exactly what sort of effect would taxation have, unless it was steeply progressive? (And if I was a televangelist, I would even use this to urge my congregation to give more, because that evil, secular state was trying to stop Jesus from doing his work on Earth). It is hard to change the minds of believers, both religious and political.

A.F. Rey said...

On an off-topic, wierd note, some citizens of Coranado (next to San Diego) are up in arms about painting more bike lanes on their pristine streets.

As one resident put it, “It’s very similar to personally taking all three of my daughters to a tattoo parlor and having them completely body tattooed.”

Did I mention it is a very upscale community in San Diego? ;)

Alex Tolley said...

@A F REy - I liked this tweet “You are covering Coronado with [bike lane] paint stripe pollution,” said a local motorist as he pumped particulate emissions into the air.

Even better if the driver was in a VW.

When I lived in Bermuda, the roads had no stripes and tourists had to rent scooters. Every year there were cases of "road rash" (being scraped along a coral limestone wall) and a couple of deaths. Keeping scooters and the car and truck traffic separate might have been a good idea at the cost of some white paint and reflectors.

sociotard said...

Next time a church tax reform measure comes up, include a floor exemption that utterly protects the basics -- a local church of sincere parishioners and the pastor they can barely afford to pay. Here’s how. Any church gets a property tax exemption allowance of two square meters of floorspace, plus $200 of income per unique parishioner (who is not a member of any other church) up to 200 members. Also, the pastor’s first $20,000 of pay is tax exempt.

I am uncomfortable with the gubmint tracking who attends which church.

Really, property taxes should apply to religious institutions equally. Small congregations usually have to rent their space anyway, and if you rent you're automatically covering your landlords tax, which is really the same thing. Unless landlords get a break for religious use? Does that happen. No idea.

Fox said...

I wish I could find the article, but I read somewhere (several places actually) that if churches in the US were taxed just like any proper business that the revenue alone would be enough to feed all the starving children, and house all the homeless. Also there would be a little extra to spare on top of that.

SteveO said...

Update on the "one voter" Gerrymander:

They found others in the district, by the way. But they are at least reacting to voter concerns now.

matthew said...

I am uncomfortable with the government giving any special treatment to a church. Freedom from tax burdens is a huge special treatment. No free rides simply because a group claims to have a mystic purpose. Simple answer = tax 'em all, no matter the size. If a church is doing "charitable work," then the arm of the church doing the work gets to be incorporated as a separate non-profit entity, and held to the same standards as other non-profits, including the loss of non-profit status if they are caught preaching or being preferential to parishioners.

locumranch said...

This just in!! California pays prison labour $2/day to risk their lives & fight wildfires**, begging the solution to the whole problem of self-important, over-paid & undeserving republicans, professionals, medical providers, evangelists, god-lovers & even the random scientist ...

Criminalise the whole bunch, lock them away & only let them out to perform their socially-designated tasks while offering them mere pennies for their efforts.

The Progressive Utopia: Brought to you by Federal Corporatism, the 13th Amendment & Modern Slavery.



Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

@Paul451: Heh. The reason I am facing in your direction is you are here. The reason I am demanding linguistic adjustments is I’d like to ally with your side, but I won’t until you all stop harming your own arguments. Imagine a world where those cheaters found you were agreeing with them on the narrowness of a particular term. They would feel like they won something, right? Now imagine hitting them for the other evils they do. Sure… they will try to reject your secondary argument, but they can’t brush you off as easily if you’ve already patted them on the back for not doing the other evil. If you expand the definition of the first evil AFTER they’ve already met you part way, they are going to argue you are doing the slippery slope thing… and they’d be correct.

I’m going to stick to my narrower definition because I know from experience they nod their heads at me when I use it. They don’t reject me outright. They listen to my complaints later when I ask why they would avoid this one evil and not another.

You are welcome to waste your time, but I won’t help you do it. You have a better option available to you.

TheMadLibrarian said...

The prisoners who go out to fight fires
a. get training above and beyond being shoved at a firebreak with a shovel in hand
b. are volunteers. Not all are selected.
c. are paid more than $2/day, according to the article
d. get additional benefits, like sentence reduction
Additionally, prisoners have always been asked to do work while incarcerated; it is allowed by law. Usually it's manual labor, but sometimes inmates man phone banks for customer service (I'm a little bit iffy about that last).

"That word you keep using; I do not think it means what you think it means."


Alfred Differ said...

I suspect some of them would be okay with customer service work. Who ever manages their team better have some special procedures for handling PII and dealing with data longevity after a service, but it IS a decent way to break into the work force later. Low pay, burger flipping type of job... but it ain't a crime. 8)

Deuxglass said...

I am a bit surprised again that the cornerstone of Br. Brin’s tenant of the Transparent Society, namely the use of citizen groups to rein in the elites, is in the news and no one here has picked it up. The International Council on Clean Transportation which looks to me as a very good example of of one as Dr. Brin’s citizen groups was the origin that brought a major international corporation to its knees for illegal and immoral activities. Please, can anyone explain this oversight?

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. The cynical response is 'One instance is no assurance.' Our hosts polite response is usually 'I never said it would be easy.'

I suspect we are going to get something like his transparent society and that he will get little credit for predicting it. We will slide into such a set of traditions without really realizing we have. Successful traditions do not require their participants to understand how they came about or even that they did.

For example, a low tech tradition that offered our medically ignorant ancestors at least some protection against certain diseases was the practice of serial monogamy. Did they think of it that way? Pfft. 8)

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
"If the donation is to be taxed, the church can just ask for larger donations to cover the tax."

I'm not sure why everyone thinks that ending the specific tax exemption for churches inevitably results in churches having to pay tax. We already have tax exemptions for not-for-profit social clubs (equivalent to a small church), and for charities (the activities of a larger church). They're all under tax code 501(c)(3) along with churches. (And if you remove religious orgs from 501(c)(3), they could just re-register as a social or political org under 501(c)(4) or (6) respectively, where the rules are often softer than the 501(c(3) church exemption. If I was a drug cartel trying to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money, I'd set up a web of 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) "social organisations".)

Unless people are talking about ending the entire 501(c) tax exemption code for all organisations - charities, unions, political parties, social clubs, county fairs, research institutes, etc - I really can't see why you'd specifically target the religious exemption. Personally, and I say this as an atheist, I'd be more interested in the US ending the tax exemption for political lobbying and advertising than worrying about a few corrupt televangelists.

(Likewise how is evangelising and "ministry" work any different from the PR and lobbying activities of an environmental (Greenpeace) or animal rights group (PETA), or from a political lobby group, chamber of commerce, etc, pushing their agenda.)

Re: Bike lanes.

"White paint and some reflectors" isn't going to stop riders being pushed against a wall. You really need proper lane separation., ironically, from Coronado.

Re: One-voter gerrymander.

I like that they have now "discovered" 13 more voters. How do you "discover" registered voters? You guys have one messed up electoral system.

"Now imagine hitting them for the other evils they do. Sure… they will try to reject your secondary argument, but they can't brush you off as easily if you've already patted them on the back for not doing the other evil."

That's extraordinarily naive. The people I'm talking about already argue that there are no other evils except "coercion", as narrowly defined as possible. That's why they define it so narrowly.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

Maybe it's time to demand competency tests for legislators for the committees they sit on?

Republicans specifically appoint heads of committees and departments whose mission is to subvert the organization's function or to shut it down entirely.

It's a feature, not a bug.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - I agree with you on the issue of tax status games. Changing the tax rules is almost pointless. This is one area where Pigou taxes just won't work.

Alex Tolley said...

here is a nice example to shows that at least someone else understands teh issue of power in transparency.

Gaius Publius: Will Senator Whitehouse Renew His Call for RICO Prosecution of Climate-Denying Companies like Exxon?

Note the last para:

Don’t be confused. It’s going to take force to defeat the fossil fuel companies. We’re not in a debate with them, we’re in a battle. It will take an exercise of power to make the Kochs and the Exxons stand down. Battle means weapons — the weapon of public opinion, yes, but stronger ones too, the strongest we can find.

What is going to make transparency work is exerting power over the transgressors. Harper valley PTA tactics won't work.

In the VW case, note that the EPA was able to do something as it regulates the manufacturers' vehicles for US use. The "citizen organization" couldn't do anything.

VW will not be "brought to its knees". It will likely get a fine in the $1-3bn level. Remember GM conspired to keep faulty ignition switches in vehicles that actually killed people. They got a fine of $900m. A slap on the wrist with no individual responsibility. bankers have been given slap on the wrist fines for egregious behavior, but no senior banker has even faced trial, let alone been jailed. Put a few bank CEOs in [real, not Club Fed,]jail, and that will sharpen the attention of the rest.

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - time to remove that "feature", then. :)

Paul451 said...

New Pluto image batch, including one of a new type of terrain that the Pluto-geologists (hadeologists?) can't identify any analogue for on Earth, Mars or any of the icy moons. It's similar to dunes, but... not. They're calling it "snakeskin":

(The flat "frozen lakes" in between the snake-skin hills are interesting too.)

locumranch said...

Paul451 made a very important point which you're all overlooking:

Q: How is evangelising and "ministry" work any different from the PR and lobbying activities of environmental organisations that advocate climate change theory?

A: There is no appreciable difference. They are same-same: Both are convinced that they possess revelatory truth; both attempt to prothelytise, expand their influence & self-perpetuate; and both assume that they are incapable of error.

All Hail Al Gore, the Infallible, the Pope of Climate Change, and his many disciples, including NOAA, Dewy, Cheatem & Howe.


Paul451 said...

Naturally Locumranch ignores the four other examples I gave.

Just scans for keywords, blurts out a reply. Insect-like stimulus/response mechanism. No human in the loop.

Deuxglass said...

Alex Tolley,

It was the European wing of The International Council on Clean Transportation (a very well established and respected NGO) that decided to test diesel cars with the goal to prove that their engines were better in CO2 emissions and decided to test it in the US simply because the US has the highest standards. They were surprised that the VWs were so obscenely out of the norms. They then went to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and showed them their results which definitely showed something was really wrong. CARB tested and it was they who, by careful investigation, discovered the software cheat that VW was using. At that point CARB went to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and we know what happened afterward. Faced with overwhelming evidence VW didn’t even try to contest it but quickly admitted to serious breach of law. The point I want to make is that it was The International Council on Clean Transportation, a citizen group, who was the origin of this whole process.

VW will not die. It is in that to-big-to-fail category but the company is taken a tremendous hit. Its stock is down 35% in just a few days and top men have been fired with more to come. I don’t know how much their fine will be but I am sure it will be big enough to make sure VW or any other car company will not try to anything like that again. By law the fine could go to a maximum of $18 billion if the EPA wants to go that far. In addition European governments and others around the world are now investigating VW guaranteeing further fines will come. VW is in deep trouble make no mistake. As a side note BMWs cars were tested at the same time and passed with all colors showing that the technology for clean diesel exists but apparently VW preferred to cheat and transgress the law to sell their diesel cars rather than actually make them clean.

To be effective a citizen group necessarily will require an organization and human and financial resources in order to tackle elite individuals and companies. Without that then they are only a bunch of people bitching about something in a forum nobody cares about with no power to change things. A citizen group doesn’t need to be super-rich. The International Council on Clean Transportation’s budget is actually quit small but they were able to do great job anyway. If the ICCT is not an example of a successful citizen group then I don’t know what is.

Alex Tolley said...

China is building a reputation engine. can you say "censorship"?

China Is Building The Mother Of All Reputation Systems To Monitor Citizen Behavior

Laurent Weppe said...

"China is building a reputation engine. can you say "censorship"?"

It goes farther than that: censorship is about stopping the memes that displease the Powers That Be from Spreading. Here we reach the next level: using technology in the hope of enforcing conformism.

Of course, such cyber-stasi if implemented will end up costing so much resources and alienating so many people (expect many good, obedient subjects of the regime to become false positives as a result of unforeseen kinks in the algorithms, which won't be corrected because authoritarian states never acknowledge their mistakes) that it will just hasten the regime downfall and increase the likelihood that it will be a bloody one.

Alex Tolley said...

@deuglas .

I think we may be arguing at cross purposes.

I see the overall process as:
1. Observe a problem
2. Run process to fix problem
3. Problem resolved by changed system

The ICCT have done part 1. This has been the traditional role of NGOs, investigative journalism, etc. It now includes camera evidence from smart phones.
Part 2 required the EPA. Part 3 is still to be resolved in the VW case.

Part 2 requires some sort of coercive action by an authority or institution with power. We usually rely on the courts and regulatory agencies to handle that. Sometimes that doesn't work, as in the case of the NSA just ignoring the courts.

My issue is that some people seem to think part 1 magically leads to part 3 by some sort of hands off "invisible hand" mechanism. But as Adam Smith noted, when businessmen meet it is often to collude to bilk the buyers. Our modern versions are "self regulation" and buying the legislators to make favorable laws, like TTP and TTIP. The arch Randian libertarian, Alan Greenspan thought banks would self-regulate, and finally admitted he was wrong after the 2008 financial meltdown. Self regulation doesn't work well, but it seems attractive to those who want small government. Even regulation needs a watcher to watch the watchers. As we've seen with the SEC, Ms White has been completely captured by the Wall Street banks and refuses to let her agency actually do its job. Exposing more abuses won't change anything without some coercive power being used.

So my issue is how to get part 2 to work effectively and not be derailed, so that we get to problem resolution that is acceptable to the citizenry, not the [bad] actors. We'll see how the VW case pans out. However even though they are a foreign company, they won't get the maximal fines or anything near it. (The BMW division appears not to have been involved based on tests of their cars).

Alex Tolley said...

@ Laurent. Agreed. I see this as classic "1984". Chinese self censored before. Now it will be massively multiplied. US citizens self censor much more than they think, which is exactly how the authorities like it - the citizen doesn't even realize it because it is so commonplace.

No doubt the Chinese authorities see this as "transparency" (one way of course) and that if you have nothing to hide (about criticizing the government), it won't be a problem for you.

Alex Tolley said...

One thing I find interesting in this election cycle is that no matter how revolting the statements from the leading candidates, the more they rise in the polls. There seems to be a significant fraction of the US population that agrees with what they have to say. The US loves to say that the US could never become like interwar Germany, but it looks increasingly like some fraction of the population does.

Jumper said...

Few would argue vociferously against taxing non-religious non-profits, if they were all taxed equally. That is indeed the difference.
On taxing religion, I suspect we here are sort of attempting to re-invent the wheel in our discussion. I think the IRS has a long history of experience, and if I'm not mistaken, they spot check sometimes and have requirements for what constitutes an actual religious tax exemption for an organization, such as "do they have regular actual church services" and whatnot. And as I mentioned the rules on individual pastors the IRS has this
but I don't understand their exclusions on housing provided.

Jumper said...
I see, it is the church that cannot claim to be paying the pastor, for example, $100,000 a year in "housing allowance" when the pastor lives in a $40,000 per year (fair market value) situation.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul451: That's extraordinarily naive. The people I'm talking about already argue that there are no other evils except "coercion", as narrowly defined as possible. That's why they define it so narrowly.
Not really. I’ve no doubt the people you describe exist. I’ve met some. I also have no doubt there aren’t many. Their strength comes from alliances. The people you describe will try to convince their allies they hold the moral high ground. Our task is to cast doubt on that belief. As for the few left who will fight you no matter what, I have no qualms with punching them in the nose (or worse) to remind them that their tiny minority doesn’t get to dictate the moral code we use.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: You are just showing your lack of knowledge regarding science. I forgive you, though. Most of us don’t teach it properly to the pre-meds. We teach it as dogma far too often.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

Congratulations on being named the Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Bard College. The list of conferences you will give look extremely interesting. Will they be recorded and is there a way to participate from afar?

Alfred Differ said...

It looks to me like the ICCT group is an example of a successful citizen group AND shows how we expect government to play a healthy role in a transparent society.

matthew said...

I often wonder if locumranch is, in fact, a quite normal person role-playing one of David's aliens from "Existence." Cosplay trolling, to coin a term.

Or maybe he is an AI and this group is a Turing test. Try this one -
"You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?"

SteveO said...

Appropriate posting for Boehner's retirement announcement. A conservative driven out by the loonie right fringe.

The beginning of the end of the Republican Party as a national party? Not good for the US long term.

Tacitus2 said...

I have always respected Boehner. Now that he is retiring Dr. Brin is allowed to say something nice also.


Alex Tolley said...

@matthew - that was an empathy test. I wonder how many enthusiastic followers of the Republcan presidential candidates would pass it today?

Alex Tolley said...

When is Nehemiah Scudder going to throw his hat into the ring? He seems to have missed the 2012 election.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Nehemiah Scudder = Ben Carson

locumranch said...

I can't be an AI because I have clear childhood memories. In particular, I remember a spider that lived outside my window: Orange body, green legs. I watched her build a web all summer, then one day there's a big egg in it, and then the egg hatched, a hundred baby spiders came out... and they ate her. ;)

Boehner is running for Vice President.


Tim H. said...

Western (More or less) civilization is already moving towards lower carbon use, not as fast as some would prefer, but even if Al Gore had "Done a Cameron", it's not stopping. if the recession ever ends for the 99%, the new goods will be more energy efficient than the old.

LarryHart said...


I have always respected Boehner. Now that he is retiring Dr. Brin is allowed to say something nice also.

I'm waiting to see what he gets done in Congress without having to worry about maintaining his speakerhood. I may have some very nice things to say about him in the next few weeks.

Tony Fisk said...

@matthew: [you]->strawmanned([me], when=[you]->made([me]->flip([the tortoise], [its]. back))];

Paul451 said...

Boehner is running for "high-paid lobbyist". He can't burn too many bridges on his way out the door or it reduces his value to his new employers. Don't expect any sudden budget deals with Dems and moderate Repubs against the extremists.

[Aside: High functioning alcoholics are weird. Never understood how they get into positions of power. Wealthy bored socialites, has-been celebrities, those I understand. But Speaker of the HoR? How?]

LarryHart said...


That's true, but it's the establishment Republicans he can't burn bridges with, not the Tea Party. I'm watching for some payback.

DavidTC said...

Brin, you need to do a lot more research on how not-for-profit's (NFP) taxes actually work.

Firstly, there *is no* religious exemption to taxes. Churches are under the 501(c)(3) NFP status, aka a 'charity', just like your local museum or literacy organization. There is absolutely no difference, and the IRS does not care if they are religious or not. They do not pay corporate income tax and donations to them are tax deductible. And states exclude them from property taxes because they are NFP, not because they are churches.

Or is the idea we're going to start taxing NFP museums and theatres based on *their* floor space vs. membership numbers?

That raises problems...for example, a lot of museums have a 'board/membership' structure where the board is the entire membership, which means they have only like 11 members. And now you can't be a member of the local church *and* a member of the charity that runs the local homeless shelter?

Also, I'm a bit confused by the idea that only the first $20,000 of employee pay would be tax exempt. If you work for a NFP, you pay personal income tax on that income just like everyone else. None of the pay is exempt.

Do you mean that the NFP would have to pay corporate income tax on it? That's a pretty damn weird version of the tax code, because right now, even for-profit corporations *do not* pay corporate income tax on employee pay. Corporate income tax is a's actually corporate *profit* tax. Corporations are allowed to deduct, basically, everything, including employee pay, and really end up only paying income taxes on the profits they distribute to their owners (Which NFPs can't do), and any money they haven't spent at the end of the year. (Which NFPs don't have to pay taxes on, and is really the sole advantage to them in the tax code.)

The problem here, and it's a general NFP problems instead of just a church problem, is NFPs that pay extremely large salaries, and also provide a lot of perks for specific higher-up employees. Charities that don't actually do *any* charity, and exist mostly, it seems, to have employees who get paid. Or for the fun of their members.

What we actually need is some sort of 'What benefit is this charity providing to the community, vs just the members and employees?' The problem is...that's *really* hard. A church is going to argue that *church services* are the benefit it provides...and church services are, in fact, open to all. (In fact, a church has a better claim there than a NFP museum or theatre that charges at the door.) The fact the benefits *mainly* accrue back to the members is just because no one else takes advantage of them. (And with membership usually being free, unlike with most NFPs, there's even less to complain about.)

Here are some of my ideas:

First, create a status 501(c) status besides (3), or fix 501(c)(4). The difference is that donations *to* a (3) are tax deductable for the donator...and there should be some harsh rules that require a (3) to actually do *charitable* work...and spreading their own message shouldn't count as charitable. It should be possible to fall out of (3) one year, and have to work your way back into it.

Aka, if the IRS determines you're mostly in it for your own members, you have to show you're not...or you can join the unions and secret societies and hunting lodges *elsewhere* in the 501(c) codes. Still don't pay corporate taxes, but the personal tax deduction is gone until you start doing some *good* with that money.

Second, and this is a state thing, create a cap on the amount of property tax that is exempt. Basicing it on the members is probably not a reasonable idea, but I don't see what's so bad about an absolute value, or something tied to property values.

Third, require salary justifications above a certain point, based on the job duties of that person. Salaries should be roughly in-line with other NFPs.

DavidTC said...

Oh, and I had to leave this out because I ran out of space, but, yes, the ministerial housing allowance thing is nonsense. It's one of the few things that only seems to apply to religious NFPs, and it is easy to abuse.

There is actually no justifiable reason for it to exist...presumably, *all* people who are employed at *all* non-profits have to have housing, so why do only churches get an exemption, and only for 'ministers'? (At least in theory...the courts said that everyone a church wants to call a minister is one, under the same 'must be an ordained minister to marry people' nonsense that has a trivial work-around.)

I can see some sort of income tax exemption to benefits for people who live *on-site* in a NFP. I think a priest that lives in the back of a church maybe shouldn't have to pay income tax on the hypothetical amount of 'housing' he receives. *Maybe*. Actually, no, but that's not really the issue here.

Ignoring that, churches certainly shouldn't be able to just *give* ministers money that they use for anything (Even if it legitimately paying for housing!) and yet the ministers don't have to pay taxes on it. *Everyone else* has to pay taxes on money their employers pays them, *even if* they spend that money on housing, so why do ministers get some special exemption?