The New Terrapin Gazette
Number 207 15 May, 2011
Two things suffuse my mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe, and all the more frequently and persistently as I contemplate them: the starry firmament above me and the moral law within me.
How Should One Think About Obama?
Conspiracists love to make connections, linking individuals they don’t like with each other and claiming relationships that cannot be solidly demonstrated. This methodology has been used to “prove” such fables as Jewish manipulation of the world economy (a fantasy usually starring the Rothschild family), so it does not rate very high with historians (see the footnote). Many claim it’s just slander and libel depending on the fallacy of guilt by association. Look closer, and you find the polemicist is aping the work of genuine scholars. That, he feels, will lend credibility to his eccentricities.
It was to be expected that this mock scholarship would be used against Obama, and here is an example of it.
The question is, how valid is this sort of argumentation in specific cases? The answer should make everyone in all political camps uncomfortable, for there are conspiracies, and there are secret alliances, and there are the plots and long-term plans of zealots to contend with. Yes, sometimes the conspiracist is on target. He may have detected something overt like Zionism, or Abolitionism, or The Women’s Christian Temperance Union and Prohibition; he may have linked a number of wealthy Southerners to various clerics who preached The Old Testament as a divine endorsement of slavery, a link which would help to explain the creation of the Confederacy. On rare occasions, he uncovers a genuinely covert operation run by a few revolutionaries or criminals.
To be sure, sometimes the conspiracist’s best effort misses the truth by a wide margin. The world still has no proof that the USA kept Admiral Kimmel’s headquarters in Hawaii ignorant of the Empire of Japan’s planned attack, even though the Japanese code had been cracked. Truth is almost always stranger than fiction, and full explanations are hardly ever available for the catastrophes of history.
At once the basic question arises: how, exactly, are you supposed to proceed when you research claims of conspiracy? What can you do to uncover something that was deliberately hidden, given the fact that you can not be sure that anything was actually hidden by anyone?
The question has a closely related parallel: how do you look into the politics and intentions of a person who may be trying to deceive you? It’s like trying to expose a spy — and remember, you don’t know that there even is a spy.
The effort usually begins with a background check. Records are searched, and the subject’s claims checked for truthfulness about events and chronology that are unrelated to the central issue; you are looking for credibility itself. Too, the investigator looks for gaps in the record, times and events that appear vague or out of character, possibly unexplained or contradictory. That’s all fundamental. Well….
Honestly now, wouldn’t it be interesting to know what the intelligence services of China, Russia, France and Great Britain have looked at in order to understand Obama, and wouldn’t you love to know what their conclusions are?
If that thought leads you believe The New Terrapin is hinting that Obama might be part of a communist or Islamist plot, you might want to revisit all the items in which this newsletter has attempted to explain who and what Obama is. Why not inspect the methodology employed to come to the conclusions published here, and see how rational it is? (Back issues you request will be sent in a timely fashion — nobody here will try to ignore, disavow or eradicate commentaries that have proved embarrassing.)
The New Terrapin remains more puzzled by Obama than satisfied that it comprehends his background, history, motives, instincts and predispositions. It’s probably best to say simply that he’s a doctrinaire collectivist of a particularly cynical sort, add a few things about his lack of experience and passenger status in elective office, and let it go at that. Or…?
No, that’s not quite all. In truth, there is also something alien about the man. That whiff of the outlandish fueled the “birther” nonsense. Perhaps it’s the zeal with which he retains his economic ignorance and authoritarian/multiculturalist reactions.
Whatever the hint of foreignness might be, to many, Obama makes sense only as an outsider. Hence the attempt to link him to all manner of goofy gurus, radicals, extremists, nuts and shadowy cabals — often using that addlepated preacher Wright as corroborating evidence. You will recognize the technique as similar to the way the left blamed Leo Strauss for inspiring neoconservatism, except that in Obama’s case, there is no obvious Svengali.
The fuss created by conspiracists has pushed the collectivists into “explaining” Obama’s bitter critics as deceitful racists. Some probably are; some fake racists have been spotted — agents provocateurs trying to discredit the Tea Party Movement. Could it be that virtually everybody misunderstands and demonizes everybody else, resulting in some incredible oversimplifications?
Well, yes. But that’s not all. In The New Terrapin’s view, it makes no sense for a politician to encourage the kind of speculation about himself that currently surrounds Obama. Entirely too little is known about the president, and that’s his doing. Before the election, this newsletter advised him to open up the record, produce his birth certificate, and tell the world who he was and is. His reticence is a mistake because it only raises more questions.
That’s a pity. The US electorate would like to look up to its leaders, and that is a difficult thing to do when their biographies appear sanitized, censored, contrived and even hidden. There will, in other words, be no shortage of conspiracist nonsense swirling about Obama.
Footnote — This reminds of the remarks of Sam Harris: “…intelligent dissent has its limits. People who believe that the earth is flat are not dissenting geographers; people who deny that the Holocaust ever occurred are not dissenting historians; people who think that God created the universe in 4004 BC are not dissenting cosmologists; and we will see that people who practice barbarism like ‘honor killing’ are not dissenting ethicists. The fact that good ideas are intuitively cashed does not make bad ideas any more respectable.”
Deceit, Pure And Simple
You probably remember the Newsweek claim about the Koran in the toilet. It was an example of the magazine’s bias or carelessness or wishful thinking, or whatever you want to call the editorial policy there. Well, here’s another instance of purposive inaccuracy: the rich, it is claimed, pay a lower percentage rate of taxes than do the workers in the middle class. That’s because the ultra-rich get their money from capital gains (taxed at fifteen per cent) while salaried folks get their money from wages (taxed much higher than fifteen percent if the salary is decent). Unfair! Note carefully how Newsweek puts it:
(The very wealthy often) have most of their wealth tied up in stock. Many of the super-rich see virtually all their income as capital gains, and capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate — 15 percent — than ordinary income. When Warren Buffett talks about paying a lower tax rate than his secretary, that’s because she sees most of her pay through a paycheck, while the bulk of his compensation comes in the form of capital gains and dividends. In 2006, for instance, Buffett paid 17.7 percent in taxes on the $46 million he booked that year, while his secretary lost 30 percent of her $60,000 salary to the government. (Emphasis added.)
The full truth differs from this account. First, the Newsweek distortion implies that income from wealth “tied up in stock” is taxed at fifteen percent. That is a lie. The fifteen percent rate applies only to profits made from the sale of stock that was owned for at least one year; only when the money that stock represents is untied is it taxed. Second, all of Buffet’s income that comes from dividends paid by stock he owns is taxed as ordinary income, not as capital gains, yet the article implies that “capital gains and dividends,” which constitute most of his holdings, are lumped together for tax purposes. Read it again, and you will see the that an ambiguity in the text is crafted so that the reader is permitted, even encouraged, to assume an untruth.
Be clear on this: the only way you can get the lower capital gains tax rate is by selling specified investments for more than they cost you to purchase, and after holding them for at least one year. That’s not what Newsweek tells you.
Not to belabor the point, but to preclude any possible misunderstanding: if Buffet and his secretary both own shares in a company, and the company pays a dividend to its shareholders, both he and his secretary will pay income tax (not capital gains tax) on that income. Newsweek not only did not make that clear, it implied otherwise.
Note, by the way, that when the capital gains tax goes up, revenue to the government from that tax typically falls (because the tax is a penalty on investment, which causes people with money to invest to put their checkbooks away), while lowering the tax typically increases revenue. Low capital gains taxes encourage investment, which tends to drive up employment, economic expansion, and the number of choices available to the consumer.
Newsweek mentions none of these economic facts. Instead it implies that the capital gains tax is unfair (that repeats the president’s view), graciously allows the reader to consider the rich as exploitive and greedy, and without explicity doing so, suggests that a correction of tax policy is in order.
That, Pilgrims, is propaganda at its most skillful. Without making any suggestions, demands or denunciations, the author tells you what to think and why, and what to do to make the world a better place. He focuses your sense of fairness and permits you to become angry at the villains who are, he implies silently, victimizing you and other decent people.
Well. The New Terrapin suggests that if you want to benefit from a low tax rate, invest — but don’t pick any losers! Remember, if you find a good investment, you have to sell it to realize cash from it and get that windfall taxed as capital gains; there goes your investment. Now you have to find another winner. That’s why successful investing is difficult. It’s also essential to the economy.
Remember all this the next time you consider using Newsweek as a source of accurate information. Why be skeptical? Because, to put it politely, the magazine is run by unethical editors who will mislead, misinform and deceive you in the service of their collectivist, anticapitalist, bigoted promotion of class envy and hatred.
There are things we know to be true, and sometimes…we are right. Do view this twelve minute video. It is a devastating debunking of lies that are commonly taken as fact. After seeing it, your opinion of the mass news media will be tempered with rational skepticism. Highest recommendation!
The Tea Party is not a creature of the GOP. And is the overwhelmingly white Tea Party demonstrably, ipso facto, racist? The New Terrapin’s music critic responds: “I have been to who knows how many Grateful Dead concerts, and I almost never saw a black face anywhere in the crowd. Yet anyone who claims the Deadhead community was made up of bigots is either deliberately ignorant or irrational. The throng was a gathering of superannuated hippies, stoners and free-spirited music lovers, not KKK throwbacks. Most racially-conscious people of whatever sort can’t stand the Dead because they and their fans were literally beyond stupid things like race and class. That crap just gets in the way of the music.” Meaning: it’s not the perceptions of the people in the crowd that matters — it’s the perceptions of the people who choose not to join the crowd. Though welcome to the party, they select themselves out.
Regular readers know The New Terrapin approves of correct English. Monstrosities like “morph” (used as if it meant “to change”) are rejected by literate speakers of English. Change, however, is occasionally to be welcomed, and especially so when it is rational, informed and a distinct improvement. Here’s an example.
Sure, Syria is and long has been a stereotypical cesspool of Arab dictatorship, bloody-mindedness and horror. But what, exactly, does the USA want to do? What can it do?
If you are interested in the decisions that lay behind the US invasion of Iraq, you might want to see this video clip.
Related, sort of: you say you want to close Gitmo, toss W in the slammer, get out of Afghanistan no matter what, and beg the forgiveness of the Muslim world? You say everything Wikileaks has revealed only proves you correct? OK, great, but do yourself a favor, Bunky — read this before you say more.
Obama the liar.
From The New Terrapin’s Aww, Poor Baby file comes this whine over the mistreatment of a “wingnut” weblogger by a Google employee. The suits at Google will be displeased. The moral of the story: don’t mess with the citizen-journalists. You are going to lose that hand if you keep using it to make obscene gestures, Fool!
“Holder has repeatedly claimed the first time he or President Barack Obama heard about the program was on the news.” He can stonewall without doing much harm to himself, because he has already lost the political right and center, and the left will not abandon him. That reflects very badly on the ethics of the left.
Thermonuclear fusion, if it can be made to work, will replace all existing means of generating electricity. Several teams are working on it and making progress.
A tip of the hat to reader JY for his skeptical, cautious note that there’s a fascinating tale circulating furiously in “wingnut” circles that details the incompetence of Obama — as fully exposed in the killing of Osama bin Laden. (The proximate but not original source of this report seems to be this website, but the story is on many weblogs and a Google search using the terms “As for Jarrett, her concern rested on two primary fronts. One, that the military action could fail” will give you dozens of URLs where you can find the full story.) Democrats and “Progressives” note: this tale certainly may be a fake, but it does present Hillary as a superb executive who is more than qualified to be president. It also argues that the Democrats in high office (with the notable exceptions of Valerie Jarrett and The One) are patriotic, smart, efficient, clever and very effective. They are claimed, in other words, to be able to govern brilliantly, and they should be given a chance to — which means the nation has to set Obama aside and let Hillary be president. The “wingnuts” don’t quite grasp that aspect of what they are circulating. Is the tale a leak from someone in the State Department? Possibly, or maybe it comes from a Hillary admirer not in government who has been tipped off. The major webloggers and the mass media won’t touch this possible/probable hoax, but you can enjoy it as a guilty pleasure, thanks to The New Terrapin. Just remember, it’s not verified and not verifiable; most authorities would declare it a fraud. The New Terrapin insists it is stunningly clever at worst (it is superbly crafted for maximum credibility). But it certainly won’t be swallowed whole by a rational news-hungry observer. Have fun, Pilgrims!
What happens when a government program runs head on into a “raised consciousness”? Rough times for everybody, that’s what. If there’s a lesson here, it may be that a bureaucracy is slow to adopt shifts in the public perception of right and wrong.
The financial crisis that hit the USA was caused by the fact that too many worthless mortgages were being traded as if they would be repaid, and were being used as collateral for loans. Bad paper based on worse paper somehow eluded detection by Barney Frank and many others. How did the financial market get started lending money to people who could never pay it back? Political pressure. Like this. Now the federal government is back at it again, insisting that the banks write more bad paper. Lesson not learned. And why not? Because this is what collectivist governance is (Maxine Waters can tell you all about that — ask her about “redlining” and how government should help the poor), and because insiders can make lots of money in a hurry and get out of the house of cards before it collapses. Insiders like Jamie Gorelick and Franklin Raines, both of whom walked away rich after enabling a financial catastrophe they should have prevented (and would have prevented, if they were principled/competent). The first victim is common sense, the second is financial prudence, and the third is the economy (which includes the poor folks the collectivists say they want to help). The parasites don’t care because they keep their winnings and/or their seats in Congress.
Ponder, if you will, the means and consequences of collectivist governance. Note that it always creates powerful, connected and financially-interested supporters, so when you try to stop what is actually corruption, you walk into a buzz saw. Abuses like these could not possibly exist in a libertarian political climate.
Here’s an example of thinking the unnecessary: ruminations on justice and the killing of Osama bin Laden; the essay is what reasonable people say when responding to the multiculturalist/anti-USA view that somehow bin Laden was murdered. Recall the adage, “When arguing with an idiot, do not forget that the idiot is similarly engaged.” Bin Laden was not murdered. Che Guevara was. That does not mean that Che should have been left alive, and it certainly does not mean that an ethical problem should exist for those who know what Che was. The rule: good people need protecting, bad people may need killing. Life is tough. End of report.
Obama’s immigration shell game is a cynical ploy reeking of demagoguery.
The masthead includes a quote from the works of Immanuel Kant.
The staff of The New Terrapin Gazette expresses its sincere gratitude to the many people who have gifted the world with Arch Linux, Emacs, Screen, and Chromium.
Publisher: The Eagle Wing Palace of The Queen Chinee