Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Who Owns the Past?
... Most nation states have cultural property laws that restrict the international movement in archaeological artifacts found within their borders. But some antiquities are undocumented, lacking evidence of archaeological circumstances or removal. In the current debate over the acquisition of undocumented antiquities, the world’s archaeological community has allied with nationalistic programs of nation states.

Nations can and do bring charges of possession of, or conspiring to possess, stolen property against people and institutions holding objects covered by the relevant ownership laws, as seen with the Republic of Italy’s charges against the former J. Paul Getty Museum curator, Marion True, or Peru’s charges against Yale University with regard to contested Machu Picchu artifacts. More often than not, such laws are perceived as free of politics – the stuff of objective, reasoned best practice and indifferent government regulations

Nothing could be farther than the truth.

Government serves the interest of those in power. Once in power, with control over territory, governments breed loyalty among their citizens, often by promoting a particular identity and history. National culture – language and religion, patterns of behavior, dress and artistic production – is at once the means and manifestation of such beliefs, identity and loyalty, and serves to reinforce governments in power.

Governments can use antiquities – artifacts of cultures no longer extant and in every way different from the culture of the modern nation – to serve the government’s purpose. They attach identity with an extinct culture that only happened to have shared more or less the same stretch of the earth’s geography. The reason behind such claims is power.

At the core of my argument against nationalist retentionist cultural property laws – those calling for the retention of cultural property within the jurisdiction of the nation state – is their basis in nationalist-identity politics and implications for inhibiting our regard for the rich diversity of the world’s culture as common legacy. They conspire against our appreciation of the nature of culture as an overlapping, dynamic force for uniting rather than dividing humankind. They reinforce the dangerous tendency to divide the world into irreconcilable sectarian or tribal entities. ...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Two-Income Tax Trap
...Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi compare two middle-class families: an average family in the 1970s versus the 2000s (all dollar values are inflation-adjusted). The typical 1970s family is headed by a working father and a stay-at-home mother with two children. The father's income is $38,700, out of which came $5,310 in mortgage payments, $5,140 a year on car expenses, $1,030 on health insurance, and income taxes "which claim 24% of [the father's] income," leaving $17,834, or about $1,500 per month in "discretionary income" for all other expenses, such as food, clothing, utilities and savings.

The typical 2000s family has two working parents and a higher income of $67,800, an increase of 75% over the 1970s family. But their expenses have also risen: The mortgage payment increases to $9,000, the additional car raises the family obligation to $8,000, and more expensive health insurance premiums cost $1,650. A new expense of full-time daycare so the mother can work is estimated at $9,670. Mother's income bumps the family into a higher tax bracket, so that "the government takes 33% of the family's money." In the end, despite the dramatic increase in family income, the family is left with $17,045 in "discretionary income," less than the earlier generation.

The authors present no explanation for why they present only the tax data in their two examples as percentages instead of dollars. Nor do they ever present the actual dollar value for taxes anywhere in the book. So to conduct an "apples to apples" comparison of all expenses, I converted the tax obligations in the example from percentages to actual dollars.

In fact, for the typical 1970s family, paying 24% of its income in taxes works out to be $9,288. And for the 2000s family, paying 33% of its income is $22,374.

Although income only rose 75%, and expenditures for the mortgage, car and health insurance rose by even less than that, the tax bill increased by $13,086 -- a whopping 140% increase. The percentage of family income dedicated to health insurance, mortgage and automobiles actually declined between the two periods.

During this period, the figures used by Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi indicate that annual mortgage obligations increased by $3,690, automobile obligations by $2,860 and health insurance payments by $620 (a total increase of $7,170). Those increases are not trivial -- but they are swamped by the increase in tax obligations. To put this in perspective, the increase in tax obligations is over three times as large as the increase in the mortgage payments and almost double the increase in the mortgage and automobile payments combined. Even the new expenditure on child care is about a quarter less than the increase in taxes.

Overall, the typical family in the 2000s pays substantially more in taxes than the combined expenses of their mortgage, automobile and health insurance. And the change in the tax obligation between the two periods is substantially greater than the change in mortgage, automobile expenses and health-insurance costs combined.

This suggests that the most important change in the balance sheets of middle-class households over the past three decades is a dramatically higher tax burden caused by the progressive nature of the American tax system....

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Judge sentences Snipes to 3 years for tax convictions
...But U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges said Snipes exhibited a "history of contempt over a period of time" for U.S. tax laws...

...Prosecutors said Snipes' case was important to send a message to would-be tax protesters not to test the government.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The drug abuse of John F Kennedy
...In his riveting volume In Sickness and In Power, former Foreign Secretary and medic David Owen reviews the health and medication of leaders over the last century. The chapter on Kennedy is jaw-dropping.

Owen starts by convincingly asserting that Kennedy was much sicker than is commonly appreciated and certainly much sicker than was appreciated at the time. His Addison's disease was very debilitating and needed constant attention....

...Central to Owen's account is the idea that the administration of drugs to Kennedy for these various ailments was out of control.

In particular, without the knowledge of his other doctors and at the same time as they were giving him other drugs, he was being tended to by Max Jacobson, a doctor known as "Dr Feelgood" because of his reputation as a provider of amphetamines and pep pills. In time Jacobson's drug treatment became almost a recreational drug for Kennedy. Jacobson was later struck off.

Owen shows that is quite likely that Dr Feelgood, specially flown to Vienna, injected Kennedy with intravenous amphetamine just before he met Khrushchev....

Understanding Privacy -- and the Real Threats to It
...Whether it is anti-privacy regulation, data collection required by all manner of government programs, or outright surveillance, the relationship of governments to privacy is typically antagonistic. Privacy thrives when aware and empowered citizens are able to exercise control of information about themselves. Thoughtful policymakers should recognize the detrimental effects many programs have on consumers' privacy and respond with proposals that reduce the role of government in individuals' lives.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Cigarette tax hurts the poor, but it's justified
...And it is well-documented that cigarette taxes reduce disease and death by making smokes unaffordable to the poor. So we do this for their own good....

The Most Expensive Ingredient in Cigarettes
...So a pack of cigarettes that would cost, say, $4 without taxes will cost New Yorkers more than $9, most of which will go into city, state, and federal coffers. In other words, the government will be taxing a product disproportionately consumed by poor people at an effective rate of more than 100 percent, reaping bigger profits than anyone else from a business it simultaneously condemns as the foremost threat to public health. It can get away with this punitive levy because the people it's bleeding are an unpopular minority with little political influence. And what do we call this policy? Progressive.

Threat to Homeschooling
The cat is finally out of the bag. A California appellate court, ruling that parents have no constitutional right to homeschool their children, pinned its decision on this ominous quotation from a 47-year-old case, "A primary purpose of the educational system is to train schoolchildren in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare."...

VA employees rack up $2.6 billion in credit card charges for veterans care
Veterans Affairs employees last year racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in government credit-card bills at casino and luxury hotels, movie theaters and high-end retailers such as Sharper Image and Franklin Covey — and government auditors are investigating, citing past spending abuses.

All told, VA staff charged $2.6 billion to their government credit cards.

The Associated Press, through a Freedom of Information request, obtained the VA list of 3.1 million purchases made in the 2007 budget year. The list offers a detailed look into the everyday spending at the government's second largest department....

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Most Expensive Ingredient in Cigarettes
...So a pack of cigarettes that would cost, say, $4 without taxes will cost New Yorkers more than $9, most of which will go into city, state, and federal coffers. In other words, the government will be taxing a product disproportionately consumed by poor people at an effective rate of more than 100 percent, reaping bigger profits than anyone else from a business it simultaneously condemns as the foremost threat to public health. It can get away with this punitive levy because the people it's bleeding are an unpopular minority with little political influence. And what do we call this policy? Progressive.

New Deal Nostalgia
...By 1880, a little over fifty percent of the U.S. population was farming, but the proportion declined to seventeen percent in 1940 and then to about two percent today. The decline to 17 percent in 1940 was largely due to New Deal policies to industrialize agriculture. What happened to those who would have become farmers? Were they no longer needed? Growing food remained and will remain a necessity, but large corporations took over the land and displaced individual farmers. Patriotism -- in the form of allegiance to a distant government, with its flag and other symbols, with its wars in distant lands -- has filled the black hole left by the loss of land and a way of life they loved. New Deal policies were themselves designed to end subsistence farming. Farmers could have survived with government assistance, but the New Deal allowed banks to foreclose and destroyed surplus food production to maintain high prices, while people were starving. The government could have bought and distributed the food they destroyed ("dumped in the ocean," my father used to say). Then the Dust Bowl refugees were put to work picking cotton and fruit for agribusiness in California, the Northwest, and Arizona, driving out the Mexican farm workers, until the United States entered World War II, and the Dust Bowl refugees went to work in the war industry. All those angry ex-farmers and wannabe farmers making bombs and fighter planes, whole new generations following in that nasty work, a good many other of them serving in the military, now a business, not a civic duty. They get to drop the bombs and man the guns on the tanks that the others manufacture. Subsistence farmers, small farmers, like peace -- not war that takes away their young sons, and now daughters. Getting rid of them, reducing them to a tiny minority, has made military recruitment and passive acceptance of war much easier than during World War I, when farmers rose up in rebellion, as did workers, against a "war for big business," which all modern wars are....

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Nightmare of the New Deal
...Shlaes begins diabolically, telling the heart-wrenching story of a young teenager who killed himself so that the rest of his impoverished family might have a little more to eat. Naturally, the reader starts to think, “That miserable bum Hoover — why didn’t he do something to improve conditions in the country?!” Then Shlaes springs the surprise: the event actually took place in late 1937, after Roosevelt had been president for nearly five years. The little-known truth (although painfully evident at the time) is that economic conditions had improved only slightly during Roosevelt’s first term and took a nosedive in the latter half of 1937, giving the nation a depression within a depression. While the United States had suffered through recessions in the past (always, Murray Rothbard has shown, owing to monetary bungling by the government), not one had lasted more than two years. Instead of hastening the normal recovery, the efforts of Hoover and Roosevelt had managed only to deepen and lengthen the misery while transforming the nation in terrible ways....