Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Who's on First

Imagine a tyrannical corporate CEO, someone who wants more money for himself no matter the cost.  It would be pretty easy to imagine someone like this embracing the concept of Libertarianism save for its one saving grace - that people are free to spend their money with other people.  That is, if they don't like what the corporate tyrant is doing, they can simply shop somewhere else. 

(That assumes, of course, that the tyrant isn't one of many tyrants all doing the same thing, or that the tyrant hasn't formed a monopoly on a vital service or good).

Integral to fighting that tyrant and preventing him from abusing his power, then, is people actually learning about what he is doing, and that relies desperately on the free trade of information - that is, that:
  1. People are able to discover what is happening
  2. People are able to communicate that discovery widely
It's for that reason that our founding fathers created the First Amendment, which, among other things, guarantees both freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  It is notably our press that is able to make discoveries and communicate those discoveries to people, but when the press fails (as it so often does), people themselves are able to communicate - whistle-blowers within organizations can tell those outside, people can organize boycotts against companies they take issue with, and so on.

Such a tyrant would, necessarily, need to attack the First Amendment in order to expand his power. 

We've been seeing that happen from both the right and the left, lately, and in some very insidious ways.

First, we have the advent of "fake news."  Though we have long been aware that news sources were not always reliable, in the age of Facebook their power has risen exponentially.  On both sides of the aisle, they rouse the fervor of their readers by publishing stories that have a morsel of truth, but they couch that truth in a bed of lies and half-truths, all of which sound reasonable enough to the person reading.  They take advantage of the human tendency to accept things which confirm our beliefs, known as "confirmation bias."  When we are presented with some argument that sounds plausible, we don't tend to investigate it further, because we already know that it's right (even when it's not).

Fake news is a war against the First Amendment, however, for two reasons: First, because when we encounter fake news from the other side, we have a tendency to want to outlaw it, recognizing it as lies and seeking ways to protect ourselves from the fallout of fake news (namely, rising anger from the opposition and new arguments to deconstruct and prove false); Second, because fake news distracts us from real news.  It provides an echo chamber that reinforces lies and blocks out facts.  On our opposition side, it presents us with those arguments that we have to now deconstruct before we can start dealing with facts. 

But we also have a war on the First Amendment from people getting upset with how people use the first amendment - and again, this is not one-sided.

For liberals, the most clear example are the cries to outlaw the burning of the American Flag.  Though burning the flag is tasteless to most of us, we must accept that the flag is, at its heart, a symbol, and burning the flag is also a symbol - a symbol sometimes of hatred against America and an embrace of what we might consider "anti-American values," yes, but a symbol sometimes of disgust with certain things that America has become.  America in many ways embraces lies and half-truths, promotes and values those views, makes policy decisions based on them.  Let us not forget that for most of America's history, America embraced the belief that black people were sub-human, that they were not as capable as white people at understanding math, literature, and science, that they were good only for their muscles.  This was a lie, but America based huge legal structures such as slavery on it.  Many of those structures still exist today.  The flag not only stands for the America that offers hope and love and opportunity for those who have had none, for the "American Dream," but also for those racist structures that it built so many of those dreams upon. Burning the flag for many is a protest against that version of America, and someone can still hold great love for the country while protesting those structures. 

That said, there are other, less toxic examples.  Taking a knee during the national anthem, for instance, is seen by conservatives as disrespect for the flag, and through it disrespect to those who have died for the nation, even though taking a knee during the anthem was designed specifically to show respect for those who have died while still disrespecting the national institutions of racism that are being protested.  Again, though, you can only learn that information if you can accept news from outside of your echo chamber.

For conservatives, though, there are also clear examples.  For instance, when Loretta Lynch started looking into whether climate-denying scientists could be charged with fraud.  Conservatives say this is an attack on their freedom of speech - and they wouldn't be wrong (provided she had actually charged them with fraud, which she didn't). 

As much as we sometimes hate it, the freedom of speech and freedom of the press are often used by our political enemies to extreme effect - but it is their right.  The more we fight against it directly, the more we chip away at our own rights and protections against tyranny.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Taking Back Oklahoma

Election day was pretty lousy for those of us on the political left in Oklahoma.  While nationally Democrats picked up a few seats in the senate, mitigating the potential damage of a Trump presidency (we only need one dissenting vote in the Senate from the Republicans to block any nominations/confirmations), here in Oklahoma we lost several seats in both the House and the Senate, and lost some elections where the Democratic candidates had raised significant war chests and had a huge amount of ground support - candidates like John Waldron.

The problem is as it has been for the last several election cycles - Republican support in the state is at an all-time high entirely due to religion.  People associate Christianity with the Republican Party, and literally believe that it's a sin to vote Democrat.  When you really believe, or are even given pause to consider, that your immortal soul will burn for eternity in Hell if you vote for a single candidate with a D next to their name, you really have no choice in the matter.

If Democrats want to win in 2018 or 2020, that perception has got to change.

Democrats have for too long tried to win the war purely on ideological terms.  We tend to go overly analytical on all issues, and don't stop to consider how people feel about said issues.  Of course abortion should be legal, because women are human beings and human beings deserve body autonomy.  But your "body autonomy" argument falls flat to someone who thinks that an unborn fetus was put in a woman's womb directly by God.  You cannot hope to challenge such an argument with science.

To that end, I'm going to work on publishing articles now on religious justifications for various stances; however, we need to start now on the work of advertising the religious power of our positions.  We need to take out billboards with black backgrounds and white letters attributing statements to "-God" and make them say things like,

"Love your neighbor as yourself."
"The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt."
"Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
    but whoever is kind to the needy honors God."
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Victories We Can Get

Last night's election of Trump is a horrible tragedy.  His threats - to nominate conservative Supreme Court justices who would overturn gay marriage, to round up illegal immigrants, to force Muslims to wear identification - should be taken as very real threats to minorities, as well as to American freedom and democracy. 

That said, it is not quite the victory he thinks it is.

I don't think it's fair to call all of his supporters "racists" - at least, not in the form of the word they probably imagine.  Racism comes in varying degrees along a spectrum, and at one end are members of the KKK and the Nazi party.  Many in the US see this section of the spectrum as "racism" and everything else "not racism," but those of us dedicated to fighting against racism of all forms see it everywhere across the entire spectrum.  Still, by calling people "racists" or by saying that their rhetoric is racist, we unintentionally label them as being equal in kind to the KKK - which they aren't.  They're clearly better than that. Let's call everyone in the middle of this spectrum "racish" - that is, sort of racist, but not so violently racist.

When you're racish, you don't question whether things you say are racist, unintentionally or not.  You may make racist jokes, and you think they're funny, and all the while wink and nod and say, "but of course not all people of that race are like that" - even though the joke is only funny if some part of you really does believe that.  Because you don't consider yourself racist, you also don't think that racism is a problem in America, and you don't sit down with members of minority communities to ask them if racism is still impacting their lives - because of course it isn't, it's not a part of your America, in your mind.

This, I would say, is the reality for the vast majority of white Americans.  More than likely, the vast majority of people who voted for Trump last night fall into this category.

This is all to say - they didn't vote for him BECAUSE he's a racist, or because of his racist rhetoric; rather, they ignored his racist rhetoric because it didn't fit their definition of racism, which of course doesn't exist in America.

The same parallel can be made for sexism.  His supporters are sexish, not sexist, and they ignore his sexist comments because they don't fit their definition of sexism, which of course doesn't exist in America.

So, what else did they vote for him for?

Most, it seems, voted for him because he's anti-establishment.  That is, he is a political outsider, someone who doesn't follow the normal rules of politics. 

Hillary, conversely, represents everything the establishment has to offer.  She is part of a political dynasty and wielded complex political forces like a hammer to smash Bernie in the primaries and to repeatedly bash Trump during the general.  Many people, even on the left, noted that electing her felt more like a coronation than an election.

Now, many of us tried to fight back against that idea that being part of the establishment is somehow bad, but even for us it was half-hearted.  Yes, having political experience is a great thing.  We need to have a president we can trust not to turn an ally to an enemy or accidentally start WW3; however, we also hate it when people get elected to office over and over again, when it feels like the entire process gets stuck in a quagmire because everyone in Washington has lost their idealism and is simply churning on the same old worn-out talking points.  We note that everyone in office has a vested interest in simply staying in power, not with rocking the boat and doing meaningful things.

This is why Trump supporters often use the hashtag, #DrainTheSwamp.  It refers to getting corruption and establishment politics out of Washington.  For some reason, they think Trump is the person best suited to accomplishing this.  And they think this will happen even though they elected the very same Congresspeople and Senators that had just been in office.

This anti-establishment fight is one we on the left can get behind, too.  We need to remind Republican voters in 2 years that the swamp they seek to drain is the very one they elected again.  We need to use their hashtag against them.  You want to upend the establishment?  Do it everywhere.  Do it in your state.  Do it in your county.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Christian Case against 776

On Facebook, I'm seeing a lot of arguments that are similar to the following:
or

This kind of sentiment seems to be the basis for Oklahoma State Question 776 - a law that, in effect, says that nothing can be considered cruel and unusual punishment when it comes to the death penalty.  This is designed to protect Oklahoma when it executes an inmate using a bad combination of drugs, a combination that could cause the inmate to writhe in agony for 40+ minutes, as in the case of Clayton Lockett.  (Side note: The Atlantic has a marvelous write-up on that execution.)

I've written about Lockett's execution previously, so I'll skip any talk about the case or the concept of execution, and jump right into this idea of suffering as it pertains to the Bible. 

Many people quote the Torah:
 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
    by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
    has God made mankind. (Genesis 9:5-6)
(That passage always invokes the Boondock Saints police station scene for me)
Or:
But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:23-25)
As if to say that God is on the side of visiting punishment like-for-like upon those who have committed crimes, without remembering the words of Christ, who took this passage from Exodus and turned it on its head:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
(Matthew 5:38-45)
Jesus was all about forgiving those who committed harm, as He proved when He was executed.  Here he is, on the cross, and he prays:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Earlier, when Judas leads men to arrest him, and Peter cuts off one of the men's ears, he tells us that he is perfectly capable of seeking retribution:
Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53)
But Jesus is not alone in these sentiments.  Paul echoes them:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)
And here, Paul is quoting Proverbs 25 (for the last part) and Deuteronomy for the first part:
"It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
    In due time their foot will slip;
their day of disaster is near
    and their doom rushes upon them." (Deuteronomy 32:35)
Vengeance belongs to God alone, should He desire to take it; we, however, are called upon to love our enemies, and we know of love from Paul that it is first "patient" and second "kind."

As for me, I do not believe in the death penalty excepting where an inmate might ask for it (it might be kind if an inmate is suffering in prison); but that said, it is far more kind to execute someone through non-painful means, even if that means we have to be patient and wait for a better drug cocktail to become available.  Love demands we do these things for even those who have committed ghastly murders.

The alternative is that we become just as violent and horrible as those who we seek to execute.  We become Pontius Pilate rather than Christ crucified.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The New Republican Arguments for Trump

This is a decidedly NSFW article, as you might imagine...

Since tapes were released of Trump saying he likes to grab women "by the pussy", major Republicans have been fleeing the sinking ship of Trump left and right.  Many of the everyday people who support Trump, however, have been doubling down on their support, as we would expect.  Here, then, are some of their biggest arguments:

This is a Tu Quoque fallacy, which is Latin roughly for "You too."  Imagine using this defense against someone when you've been accused of murder.  "Did you kill Mr. Soandso?" The prosecution asks, and you say, "Well sure, but you killed a man once, too!"  See how ridiculous it is?  In this case, you're both wrong.  If I had said anything vulgar about someone, I was in the wrong as well.  That doesn't justify Trump's statements, it merely shows that I am an equal offender if I made such statements, too.

This argument pops up in lots of different ways.  For instance, one go-to for many Trump supporters - and, indeed, for Trump himself during the debate - is that Hillary Clinton's husband is worse.  This comes from two distinct groups - three women accusing Bill Clinton of wrongdoing, and one woman who is generally universally acknowledged to have had an affair with him.  We'll come back to the former group in a moment, but the latter group brings up some interesting arguments. 

I cannot bring up the exact text now, because Facebook removed it, but one person complained that Clinton had sodomized an intern with a cigar.  While Clinton has not acknowledged this, and there is no physical evidence supporting the claim, the intern in question was Monica Lewinsky, who claims that her relationship with Bill Clinton was entirely consensual.  That means, if he did sodomize her with a cigar, that was her choice to participate.  (A note: the Starr report refers to Clinton inserting the cigar into Lewinsky's vagina, which is not "sodomy" by most definitions.)

As for the other three women, they are Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey.  All three allege that Clinton made unwanted sexual advanced on them - Jones that he exposed himself to her, Willey that he groped her, and Broaddrick that he raped her.  In all three cases, there was not enough evidence to go to trial for criminal misconduct, though Clinton did settle a lawsuit with Jones. 

These three issues are major, and we shouldn't be quick to dismiss them.  But, with that said, at this point they are allegations, not confirmed attacks.  If we accept allegations as true, then we have to do that for both Clinton and Trump - and Trump has his own share of rape allegations.  In such a case, we cannot say either one is better or worse, but rather that they're both horrible people.

To me, the point that swings the balance is the fact that, again, these are allegations, and have not been proven in court yet.  Given that, we can't say Clinton or Trump are worse on the allegations alone; therefore, we have to go to other sources.  For only one of the two people do we audio where he brags about molesting women. 

"But this was ten years ago," some Trump reporters will say, "and he has become a Christian since then.  That means he is forgiven, and we need to forgive him, too."

A person's religion is a deeply personal thing - what a person claims to believe cannot be examined with a microscope.  As such, we only have Dr. James Dobson's words that Trump has accepted Christ - words he later recanted - and similarly we have both Bill and Hillary's claims to Christianity.  By any measure, if we must forgive Trump, we must also forgive both Bill and Hillary for any perceived wrongdoing.

For most Evangelicals, there is a belief that sin can only be forgiven if:
  1. The sinner is a Christian (apparently a checkmark for all three people);
  2. The sinner seeks forgiveness; and
  3. The sinner turns from his or her sin.
That's important because Trumpeters will argue that Hillary has never asked for forgiveness for Benghazi, nor has Bill sought forgiveness for his alleged attacks on women.  Hillary has shown remorse for Benghazi, calling it her "biggest regret" and taking responsibility for it, but that isn't good enough for many people.  As for Bill, it's impossible to apologize for something you never did - and since he maintains his innocence, any apology would be an admission of guilt that could open him to severe criminal liability. 

But let's talk about step 3 of that - the sinner must turn from his or her sin.  This means not trying to deflect blame, as Trump immediately did, and it means ending the sin that started this - a fundamental disrespect of women.  A person cannot love another person and hold such disrespect in their hearts that they would joke about sexually assaulting said person.  Trump shows in more recent quotes that he is still the same person.

At the same time as the comments of groping came out, we were offered audio of Trump saying that he goes backstage during the Miss America pageant specifically to try to catch the young women and teenage girls nude.  And then there are all of his other comments about women, especially those that he tweeted at 3am on the night of the first debate, long after his supposed conversion to Christianity.

"Yes," the Trumpeter might say, "but Trump is a baby Christian.  Give him time to fix these things."

You're absolutely right.  But a baby Christian is never put in a position of power over other Christians!  A baby Christian is someone the author of Hebrews describes as follows:
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:12-14, NIV)
 Indeed, when we elect elders in the church, this is how we are taught to do so:
an elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.  Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:6-9)
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.  They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.  They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. (1st Timothy 3:1-10)
These descriptions do not sound at all like Trump.  With the exception of the obvious focus on gender, they sound marginally more like Hillary (she has long been the wife of only one husband, and has shown herself not to be quick-tempered or unfaithful, is temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, gentle, able to teach, and not quarrelsome).

So electing a "baby Christian" who hasn't mastered these things is not only setting the country up for failure, it's setting that Christian up for failure.  The job of the president is a big job that is very taxing on a person.  A man or woman should already have a strong moral compass before taking on the job, and it's clear that Trump is not there yet.  Maybe he will be, some day, but not if we elect him now.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Regress

I thought I ought to write a blog post on the topic of Oklahoma State Question 779, the one-percent sales tax that promises to raise teacher wages by roughly $5,000 per year.  If you would like to read the full bill, it is available on ballotpedia.org.

Many people are for this bill for some very good reasons; however, there are better reasons to oppose the bill.

Before we get into that, however, let's talk about the current crisis in Oklahoma.  According to teacherportal.com, Oklahoma has the 8th lowest starting salary for teachers out of all states, and the 3rd lowest average pay.  The result is that teachers are leaving the state for higher paying jobs in neighboring states.

And this year, in light of reports like that, Oklahoma legislators made drastic cuts to education funding - so drastic, in fact, that they were the biggest cuts made by any state, almost 6% larger than the next worst on the list.

The problem is two-fold: First, our state faced a record budget shortfall this year, which forced drastic cuts to a variety of programs to stay afloat; Second, planned increases in the education budget, even before those cuts, were not large enough to keep up with rising costs.

So the next question is, how did we end up with a huge budget shortfall?

A lot of it has to do with the cost of gas right now.  When you see prices at less than $2 for a gallon of unleaded, that seems like it should be a great thing - it helps you meet your own budget obligations much better, after all.  However, the price represents huge losses for oil and gas companies, companies that have to compete with oil shipped in from the Persian Gulf.  OPEC largely controls the price of gas thanks to the sheer volume of oil produced in that region, and as they've increased production in recent years, the price of gas has fallen.

The move by OPEC was seen largely as a way of eliminating competition, as The Economist reports: "When, in November 2014, Saudi Arabia forced OPEC to keep the taps open despite plummeting prices, it hoped quickly to drive higher-cost producers in America and elsewhere out of business."

But if we think back just before this price glut, part of the reason OPEC was seeking to eliminate American competition was the fact that at high prices, we were experiencing an oil renaissance.  As Luc Cohen and Joshua Schneyer report,
Before the recent 60 percent decline in oil prices, a drilling bonanza minted millionaires and billionaires in Oklahoma. The boom turned sleepy Oklahoma City into a thriving hub for drillers like Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy and Continental Resources - the troika that lobbied hardest for the tax-break extension. The rebuilt downtown hosts top notch dining, hotels, arts venues, and a top NBA basketball team.
That was a golden time for oil businesses basing operations in Oklahoma, and we can see evidence of the bonanza in the vastly increased number of earthquakes:

Originally from USGS, now available on Wikipedia


That chart was done in February of this year, so the chart is incomplete for 2016; however, the oil price glut began in 2014.  Rather than reducing the number of quakes in Oklahoma, as you might expect if oil companies are truly going out of business, it has increased that number.  That likely indicates that the amount of drilling in the state has gone up (earthquakes in Oklahoma are caused by the injection of wastewater, water that is used in the process of fracking for oil; thus, an increase in earthquakes indicates an increase in wastewater injection, likely the result of increased use of fracking).

So, what's happening?  Companies are drilling more for oil now than ever before.  However, their profits are slimmer - they are making less per gallon than they did before the price drop.

And that's the real impact of the OPEC change - as Cohen and Schneyer note, Oklahoma drastically reduced taxes on oil and natural gas during the big boom years, as though expecting the price of gas to remain perpetually high forever.  In contrast, other states have much higher rates - they point to North Dakota, a state with a 11.5% oil and natural gas tax. Ours is around 1 to 1.5%.

These states are doing much, much better financially.  North Dakota, interestingly enough, raised its spending on teachers by 31.6%, and Alaska was second in increases at 16.4% (Alaska is another state that makes a killing on taxing oil and natural gas).

And now, with the price glut, North Dakota also has a stockpile of money that cushions the blow.

It's like the Biblical story of Joseph, who, interpreting the dreams of the Pharaoh, stockpiled food ahead of a famine.  When the famine hit, other countries who weren't prepared for it begged Egypt to tap into their stockpile.  That's what Oklahoma has to do now - beg for resources from the federal government, while North Dakota (Egypt in this story) weathers the storm just fine.

We didn't learn from the book our state is so quick to erect monuments to.

Oil and natural gas, however, are not the entire reason for the budget crisis.  They are responsible for some 400 million of the 1.3 billion we found ourselves in the hole, but the rest was all our legislature.  Despite a strong economy and budget shortfalls, the state continues to cut taxes further, and while most of these were built into the tax code before the shortfall started, legislators have refused to put any safeguards into place (and sometimes eliminated them completely).

Case in point, our top tax rate.

As the Oklahoma Policy Institute reports, the top tax rate continues to fall:

As they note, this affects the budget in a big way:
The annual cost of cuts to the top personal income tax rate enacted since 2005 is $1.022 billion, according to an analysis conducted for Oklahoma Policy Institute by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-partisan national research organization. This amount includes the reduction of the top income tax rate to 5.0 percent from 5.25 percent that took effect in January 2016.
One billion dollars.  That plus our losses in oil and natural gas easily add up to well more than the 1.3 billion dollar budget shortfall.

The result is that we've slashed the education budget, and now legislators are asking us to fix it through a sales tax.

Note that the income tax that lost us 1 billion is part of a progressive tax - that is, as people make more money, we expect them to pay a larger share of their money back to the state.  That helps take the economic burden off the poor, but it also makes sense for a variety of other reasons I won't go into here.

Sales tax, by contrast, is a regressive tax - that is, it makes more of its money off the poor.  There's a simple reason for this, and we can use simple logic to suss it out.

Imagine a person who makes $20,000/year.  Such a person pays rent, car repairs, food, clothing, and so on out of that income.  Their budget is extremely tight, with little room for spending on niceties.  They tend to save very little money, and when tragedy hits, they are more likely than average to have to go into debt to deal with it.

Now imagine a person who makes $40,000/year.  This person still pays rent, car repairs, and so on, but has a little bit more wiggle room.  In fact, such a person could theoretically live on the same budget as the person making $20,000 - the only reason they might not is if they spend more on a house, more on a car, more on clothing, and so on.  Because their expenditures are more by choice than necessity (that is, if necessity strikes, they can cut back), they are more likely to save, and less likely to have to go into debt to deal with tragedy.

And as income increases, those trends continue - the expenses get bigger, but the person can choose to save a larger portion of their income.

Second, think back to our two people - the $20,000 and $40,000 person.  The car that the $20,000/year person gets is likely used, because he or she can't afford the monthly payments on a new car.  The car that the $40,000/year person gets might be new, or at least recent enough used to be like-new.  That newer car, on average, is going to need much, much less work than the older car.  As a result, the person with the newer car ends up spending much less of a portion of their income on the car than the person with the old car will.  The person with the old car, additionally, is worrying constantly about the car breaking down, as such a breakdown might lead to expenses that person can't afford, leading to greater stress (and greater health problems) for the person with the older car.

This means that a person making more money not only can buy nicer things, but have them for longer, thus reducing their expenses.  This is a well-known phenomenon.

Thus, people who make less spend a larger portion of their income in ways that can be taxed.  A person making $20,000/year might spend $20,000/year on taxable items, such that a 1% increase in taxes represents a $200/year increase in their expenses.  A person making $40,000/year might only spend $39,000/year on taxable items, such that a 1% increase represents a $390/year increase - which is less than 1% of their income.

Rather than being progressive, the tax is regressive.

So the result of all of this is that Oklahoma legislators have given huge tax breaks for the most wealthy residents (both in income tax and oil tax), and are asking us to fund the shortfall caused by those tax breaks by increasing taxes on the poor.  They are trading progressive taxes for regressive taxes.

And this, my friends, is wrong.

While we need the money, we cannot let our legislature get away with selling our children's future away for higher corporate profits.  We cannot approve of their ridiculous tax mistakes by fixing them on the backs of those who need public education the most.

This might be OK if we were doing this only temporarily as a stopgap measure; however, this amendment changes the state's constitution. It makes this law in perpetuity. Constitutional changes are notoriously hard to repeal. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

That English Vocabulary Size test is wrong

You've probably seen it shared on Facebook, with a graph that looks like this:
www.arealme.com

A 50-question test that purports to tell you how large your vocabulary is based on a smattering of words and your ability to identify synonyms and antonyms of said words.  As with all such tests, it's really just a chance for you to feel superior to other people by posting your scores and comparing them with your friends.

But is it even remotely accurate?

In short, no.  In long, nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

To explain why, let's take a look at the words we're given:
Word Comparison type A B C D
Love Synonym Left Life Live Like
Much Synonym Less Many Rather Deal
Child Synonym Kid Chill Call Forget
Large Synonym Tiny Faded New Big
Deal Synonym Sale Recoup Claim Plea
Companion Synonym Fool Mirror Entrapment Partner
Trash Synonym Crack Squeeze Punch Junk
Above Synonym Pierce Slow Over Work
Specify Synonym Designate Capitulate Arcane Assail
Fall Synonym Spit Squeal Drop Succeed
Old Antonym Tell Small Age New
Yes Antonym Notice Yep No Nice
Come Antonym Try Most Go Live
Fly Synonym Hop Peer Drink Soar
Active Antonym Unable Passive Inability Disagree
Dangerous Antonym Silly Careless Safe Sadness
Distant Antonym Disease Flex Obey Near
Narrow Antonym Scold Punish Near Broad
Separate Antonym Weak Ordinary Unite Break
Normal Antonym Doubt Standard Protracted Extraordinary
Spade Synonym Shovel Needle Club Oak
Done Synonym Embellished Squeaked Finished Talk
Beg Synonym Implore Recant Fancy Answer
Lax Synonym Negligent Mindful Neurotic Delectable
Quash Synonym Evade Enumerate Assist Defeat
Minor Synonym Crude Trivial Presidential Flow
Drab Synonym Admissible Barbaric Spiffy Lackluster
Related Synonym Steadfast Pertinent Alien Intrinsic
Annoying Synonym Facile Clicker Counter Obnoxious
Incipient Synonym Galling Nascent Chromatic Capricious
Foul Antonym Repelling Nasty Fair Dirty
Compensate Antonym Underpay Coordinate Extortion Hooking
Acquiesce Antonym Inept Resist Gentle Irascible
Adamant Antonym Disdain Adjunct Vacillant Aerate
Alienate Antonym Reunite Away Sluggish Aggressive
Avulse Antonym Suture Aver Timid Dry
Catalyst Antonym Current Damp Nadir Prevention
Amorphous Antonym Allay Abridge Inimical Definite
Aggrieved Antonym Recalcitrant Buoyant Warped Exacerbate
Apologist Antonym Physicist Critic Fidelity Canon
Widow Synonym Sire Fiend Spank Dowager
Omen Synonym Opulence Harbinger Mystic Demand
Querulous Synonym Fugacious Vapid Fractious Extemporaneous
Hightail Synonym Abscond Report Perturb Surmise
Gargantuan Synonym Promiscuous Niggardly Equestrian Titanic
Avarice Antonym Deny Dependence Generosity Yoke
Alacrity Antonym Intimate Provoker Soother Sluggishness
Altruism Antonym Apocrypha Noisome Egoism Extraneous
Affinity Antonym Disperse Antipathy Needy Warped
Baneful Antonym Blighted Jejune Inveigled Salubrious

I've bolded, italicized, or underlined words as follows:
If I've bolded the word on the left if the word did not have an answer listed on thesaurus.com (that is, none of the words on the right matched the list of synonyms or antonyms for that word)
In that case, I've italicized a word on the right that most likely fits the definition.
If a word on the right IS listed as a synonym or antonym, I've bolded that word instead.
Finally, if there could be multiple answers, I've underlined possible alternatives (leaving words bolded if they are listed as a synonym or antonym).

As you can see, we already get into trouble with the sixth word, "Deal."  This word has a few basic meanings:
Noun:
  1. a usually large or indefinite quantity or degree ...
  2. the act or right of distributing cards to players in a card game ...
Transitive Verb:
  1. a. to give as one's portion :  apportion ...
    b. to distribute (playing cards) to players in a game ...
  2. administer, deliver ...
  3. a. sell
    b. trade
Intransitive Verb:
  1. to distribute the cards in a card game ...
  2. to concern oneself or itself ...
  3. a. to engage in bargaining :  trade ...
    b. to sell or distribute something as a business ...
  4. a. to take action with regard to someone or something ...
    b. to reach or try to reach a state of acceptance or reconcilement ...
(definitions from merriam-webster.com, heavily edited to remove characters that were screwing up my html)
So you could determine that the synonym for Deal is "Sale" under the belief that the action being described is the "sell" action described by both the transitive and intransitive verb definition 3, but you just as easily could decide it is a "Plea" as part of the act of bargaining (intransitive 3a).

"Related" similarly has two possible answers - "Pertinent" and "Intrinsic".  While "Pertinent" is listed as a synonym on thesaurus.com, "Intrinsic" could be as well.  "Related" has a definition as follows:
...belonging to the same group because of shared characteristics, qualities, etc... (Merriam-Webster.com, "Related" simple definitions).
Those shared characteristics and qualities could be "intrinsic" - that is, they are "belonging to the essential nature of a thing : occurring as a natural part of something" (Merriam-Webster.com, "Intrinsic" simple definitions).  Things are often related by their intrinsic qualities, as in the case of relationships between members of a species.

The worst offender, however, is the last one: Affinity.  It is defined as:
  1. relationship by marriage...
  2. a :  sympathy marked by community of interest :  kinship...
    b (1) :  an attraction to or liking for something...  (2) :  an attractive force between substances or particles that causes them to enter into and remain in chemical combination...
    c :  a person especially of the opposite sex having a particular attraction for one...
  3. a :  likeness based on relationship or causal connection...
    b :  a relation between biological groups involving resemblance in structural plan and indicating a common origin...  (Merriam-Webster.com, again heavily edited)
What we're looking for is the antonym of that.

If we were to negate each of those, we would find that 2b(2) becomes a repulsive "force between substances or particles" - causing them to disperse.  My guess is that it's looking for "Antipathy" - "a strong feeling of dislike" (Merriam-Webster.com, simple definition), as that runs better as an antonym to what we might consider the "colloquial" definition, but clearly both words are appropriate.

Regardless, the test is trying to guess your knowledge of a language based on a very tiny sample.  Worse still, the first 30 of those are relatively easy - that is, they're words that are very common in the language.  It's only the last 20 that really test your knowledge (beyond the silly "Deal" problem).  This is not remotely large enough, as different schools would teach different words to different people.  It might represent a significant sampling, but all it could do is tell you how well you place as a percentage of the population, and NOT how many words you know.