Archive for October, 2011

Troops out by the end of the year means troops back in a few years

Overnight, US President Barack Obama announced that US troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year.

The announcement, in the White House briefing room, came after the president completed a secure video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
[..]
Officials had been discussing with Iraqi leaders the possibility of several thousand U.S. troops staying beyond 2011 to train Iraqi security forces. However, Iraqi leaders had refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution, something that was seen as a deal-breaker.

Talks with the Maliki government did not begin in earnest until August of this year. The White House had authorized the ambassador there to negotiate the possibility of up to 5,000 trainers remaining — though Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commanding general, had requested upwards of 15,000.
[..]
Capitol Hill sources indicated Friday that, while the troops will come home, the standard presence of Marines will be kept to guard the U.S. Embassy there.

(h/t For FOX News: Fox News’ Ed Henry and Jennifer Griffin, and The Associated Press)

Given that Iraq won’t permit US troops to stay and won’t give them immunity from prosecution, I understand why they’re being pulled out…but I don’t think Iraq is either safe enough or stable enough on their own just yet. That said, Obama should have disagreed with Al-Malaki and either continued negotiations now or later, based on the advice he has received over and over again from military and intelligence leaders.

Iraq is not a safe place just yet. It is getting there and we are making wonderful progress, but there are still some very unsettling influences over there which have enough power to wreak havoc without the presence of US and other international troops. Give it five or ten years and I expect that we’ll all be back there fixing a whole new mess as a result of this withdrawal.

I find myself with furious agreement with a couple prominent Republicans on this. First up, from the above article, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

“I respectfully disagree with President Obama. I feel all we have worked for, fought for, and sacrificed for is very much in jeopardy by today’s announcement. I hope I am wrong and the president is right, but I fear this decision has set in motion events that will come back to haunt our country,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement.

And secondly, Minnesota Congresswoman and Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann (currently my second pick behind Herman Cain):

“Today’s announcement that we will remove all of our forces from Iraq is a political decision and not a military one; it represents the complete failure of President Obama to secure an agreement with Iraq for our troops to remain there to preserve the peace and demonstrates how far our foreign policy leadership has fallen. In every case where the United States has liberated a people from dictatorial rule, we have kept troops in that country to ensure a peaceful transition and to protect fragile growing democracies. We will now have fewer troops in Iraq than we have in Honduras – despite a costly and protracted war.

“President Obama’s decision represents the end of the era of America’s influence in Iraq and the strengthening of Iran’s influence in Iraq with no plan to counter that influence. We have been ejected from a country by the people that we liberated and that the United States paid for with precious blood and treasure. The administration claims that we got exactly what we needed, but today’s announcement demonstrates otherwise. The United States needed a working democratic partnership in Iraq and we should have demanded that Iraq repay the full cost of liberating them given their rich oil revenues. I call on the president to return to the negotiating table with Iraq and lead from the front and not from weakness in Iraq and in the world.”

(h/t MicheleBachmann.com)

As I’ve said before, when you go in to a war, you have to be in it to win it. We are making great strides in Iraq, but the job is not done. We should not be leaving yet, and if this situation remains unchanged (I can’t see Obama changing his mind on this one…I think he is beyond caring how bad the polls are now and just wants to finish implementing his ideology before he gets booted out of office by either the 2012 election or a Democratic Party Primary challenge) then I fear that we will have to do all of this hard work all over again in a few years…and if that happens, then what do we say to the families who lost loved ones fighting for something that we are apparently not fighting for any more? And what about the poor people of Iraq who are just starting to get back on their feet? I suppose that if they agree with their Prime Minister, then they are just as responsible for whatever happens…but this seems like such a bad idea on so many levels.

And just when I thought we might be getting a handle on the Middle-East…I have long thought that the Middle-East would be the flashpoint for the start of the next world war, and now I get to worry about that all over again. We need to stay in Iraq at the moment, for their sake and for our sake. It is Obama’s job to convince the Iraqi parliament of that…I can’t say that I’m surprised that he got that wrong, just like almost everything else he has ever done in government.

Samuel

October 22nd, 2011 at 08:19am

I support 9-9-9, but can I support 9-0-9?

I have to admit that I am quite enjoying watching the Republican Presidential candidates battling it out for the nomination at the moment. There have been some very interesting moves, some interesting policy ideas which have spawned further policy ideas from other candidates, some “moments of truth” where my thoughts on certain candidates have been confirmed, and the utter frustration of watching Mitt Romney and Rick Perry battle each other in to oblivion and irrelevance. On the latter two points, anyone who claims that Ron Paul is coherent clearly lacks even basic knowledge of the English language; and while I have my differences with both Romney and Perry, I wish one of them would just drop off so that the current crazy battle could cease and the other one could spend some time actually talking about policies.

Right now, my preferred candidate is Herman Cain, mainly on the back of his 9-9-9 tax reform plan where he would throw out the existing federal tax code (side point: I was amused by the infantile David Gregory on NBC’s Meet The Depressed being unable to understand the difference between state and federal taxes) and replace with it a flat 9% business income tax, a flat 9% personal income tax, and a 9% national sales tax.

There are five things I like about this plan:
1. It replaces a gigantic monstrosity of a tax code with something which is simple, eliminating most (if not all) of the existing loopholes and removing the need for much of the IRS bureaucracy in the process.
2. At the moment, the top ten percent of income earners in the US pay the vast majority of the tax bill, and 53% of the population pay ALL of the income tax bill. This is a serious impediment to the willingness of the high income earners to earn more and employ people, and an impediment to the low income earners to enter a job where they would start paying income tax. Making the income tax 9% across the board would eliminate all of these impediments and spur economic growth.
3. The payroll tax disappears. A gigantic expense for businesses in employing people disappears.
4. The national sales tax means that a decent chunk of the tax bill moves away from incomes and move to consumption, which means that to a large extent, people are responsible for choosing how much tax to pay by virtue of how much they spend. It also means that more money is available in the form of incomes due to the lower tax burden on incomes, meaning that people will have more money available to spend, again spurring economic growth.
5. The whole plan, with all of that economic growth, is designed to provide the federal government with roughly the same amount of tax revenue as it currently receives. In the short term, this makes it much easier for the federal government to reduce its debt without needing to cut spending as quickly as it needs to do under the current tax code, and in the longer term makes it more likely that tax rates will be able to go down (not up as certain sections of the media want to claim) as combined economic growth and lower government spending (both of which are in Cain’s plans) would mean that the federal government would need less revenue as a percentage of national incomes…which in turn leads to more economic growth.

I like the plan and think it would do wonders for the economy and the people, and given that I also like most of Herman Cain’s views and ideas, it’s fairly obvious why he is at the top of my list of preferred candidates at this time, however something happened overnight which made me stop and ask a few new questions.

Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan will be 9-0-9 for the poorest Americans, the candidate said Friday, in remarks that appeared designed to blunt recent criticisms that he would raise taxes on those of modest means.

For people living under the poverty line, “your plan isn’t 9-9-9, it’s 9-0-9,” Mr. Cain said in a policy speech in Detroit. “Say amen, y’all. If you are at or below the poverty line…then you don’t pay that middle 9” – i.e. the individual flat tax.

(h/t John D. McKinnon, Wall Street Journal)

First of all, I ask how “poverty line” is defined. One of the big issues with the current tax code is that 47% of people pay no income tax, meaning that middle and high income earners are left to foot the bill. Given that virtually all jobs are created by high income earners, this is an impediment to the economy. How much of the population would be considered to be “at or below the poverty line”?

Secondly, 9-9-9 was designed to provide the federal government with approximately the same amount of revenue as the current tax code, albeit with a simpler and more economically-friendly (now there’s a term we should hear more) way. Giving some people 9-0-9 will obviously produce less revenue for the federal government. How much less? And where is this shortfall made up? If the answer to the second question is “spending cuts” then I’m happy with that.

Thirdly, taxing income once it gets over a set threshold produces a disincentive to ever earn an income which is over that threshold. What is the plan to overcome this? For example, if the cutoff rate at which taxes go from 0% to 9% is $20,000 and the tax remains is a flat tax and not a progressive tax, then people earning $20,000 are worse off than people earning $19,999 as people earning $19,999 would pay no tax and would keep their entire income, but people earning $20,000 would pay $1,800 in tax and would therefore only keep $18,200. In fact, people would have to earn $21,979 in order to take home more than people earning $19,999 ($20,000.89 would be the net income of someone earning $21,979).

At low levels, this might not be a huge disincentive to earn more, but it’s still a disincentive. If the proposal is to make the first X amount of income a “tax free” amount and just tax the rest, this solves the problem entirely, unless of course the plan involves a tax free threshold until people reach certain income levels, in which case the disincentive would be shifted to a higher (and arguably more economically dangerous) level of income and we would be seeing the start of a whole new progressive tax, which I would be unable to support.

At this time, Herman Cain’s website does not explain the details of this, which I find a tad odd given that he noted on Twitter that this announcement is the “last part of my 999 plan for Revitalizing America”. That said, his website does tend to be a little bit behind the eight-ball on his announcements, so I’ll give him a little time to publish the details. I do eagerly await those details though as my ongoing support may hinge on some of them.

Samuel

October 22nd, 2011 at 07:52am

Adult offspring living with their parents

An email to 2GB’s Warren Moore in response to an interview he had on the subject of children who continue to live with their parents well in to their adult years

G’day Warren,

I’m 24 and still living at home for both convenience and economic reasons. I get along just fine with my parents and enjoy their company, and it’s reciprocated…and then there’s the dog who I wouldn’t want to leave as she gets in to her senior years.

I’m paying board at a rate which is probably about what I would be paying if I moved in to a share house with friends…but I’ll be honest, I don’t really want to live with other people my age. If I were to move out, then I would be moving out on my own. I’m saving towards that goal and it will happen eventually, but I think this works both ways. My parents have been good to me and have allowed me to stay in their home…and one day if it’s necessary when they’re older, I will allow them to move in with me.

For the moment though, unless I leave town, it makes no economic sense for me to move out until I’m in a better position to get myself set up to at least a half-decent standard of living.

Regards,
Samuel Gordon-Stewart
Canberra

3 comments October 21st, 2011 at 04:28am

Strange things happening over at 2UE

Or to be more precise, their friends over at Fairfax Radio Syndication are indicating that changes are afoot.

As many of you would be well aware, 2UE’s Michael Smith has taken 2UE to court in an effort to prevent them from firing him. The exact details of this seem to change from one court session to the next, but it all started back when an affidavit about Julia Gillard’s relationship with a conman was the big story of the day and resulted in The Australian retracting an opinion piece by Glenn Milne, and Andrew Bolt almost quitting the Herald Sun. Smith was going to air an interview with the author of the affidavit, however to date that interview has not met the airwaves.

For the entire duration of the Smith V 2UE legal matter, 2UE have retained Michael Smith’s name in all of their on-air promotions. They continue to air promos mentioning Smith as part of the “new lineup” of 2011. They continue to show Smith’s name and face on their website and on the giant billboard they set up down the road from 2GB’s studios. Fairfax Radio Syndication have even kept the listing for Smith’s show on their website.

However, over the weekend, this has changed. 2UE continue to name and promote Smith, but Fairfax Radio Syndication do not. Both entities fall under the ownership of the Fairfax empire. Interestingly, Fairfax Radio Syndication have retained the listing for Stuart Bocking’s night show.

If I were to read in to this, I would suggest that this means that a settlement has been reached between Smith and 2UE over the weekend, and that Smith will be leaving 2UE with an official announcement to be made shortly. Stuart Bocking, who has been filling in for Michael Smith, will return to his night show, and someone else will take over the afternoon timeslot. Also of interest is that Fairfax Radio Syndication’s information about New Day Australia no longer mentions Mike Jeffreys (host of the weekday edition, who has been filling in for Bocking) and instead says that “Our presenters are no strangers to a news/talk/entertainment format”. Perhaps this means that Mark Kennedy and Tim Shaw will continue to host New Day Australia on a rotational basis and Mike Jeffreys will move elsewhere in the schedule. If this were to happen, my hunch would be that Mike will move to Drive, replacing Paul Murray whose ratings probably haven’t met expectations, and Paul will move to afternoons where he would be freer to utilise his more humourous style.

Of course, it’s also possible that Fairfax Radio Syndication just don’t want to make it look like they’re offering a program which hasn’t really existed for many weeks…but then, why would they leave Stuart’s listing up?

Ahhh 2UE, “where we guarantee you won’t have the faintest clue who will host which show next week”.

Samuel

October 17th, 2011 at 06:47am

Voluntary Student Unionism repealed

One of the great victories of the Howard government was the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism, which removed the mandatory burden of students of having to fund student unions. These unions, while they had their uses, were primarily in the business of providing services that could not survive if people had to choose to pay for them…in other words, services that the vast majority of students either didn’t want, didn’t need or didn’t have the time to use because they were busy mixing study and a part-time job (what I would call “keeping society’s wheels turning”). Worse still, these unions were almost all involved in a myriad of political activities on behalf of their mandated members who, in many cases, wanted nothing to do with the political activities due to disagreeing with the political stance of their union.

The act of making it voluntary to be a member of a student union meant something radical happened. The unions no longer had a guaranteed income and suddenly had to become responsive to the needs and wants of students in order to survive. The services and retail outlets that they ran had to do the same. A myriad of services and political activities which were unwanted by the vast majority disappeared. It gave students the right that everyone should have…the right to choose with whom they wish to associate, and it provided students with the ability to make it abundantly clear what they did and did not want out of their student union.

Around the time that this all happened, I recall the Canberra Institute of Technology got around the VSU legislation by deciding that they weren’t charging a “union fee”, but rather an “association fee”, and they knew that what they were doing was illegal but thought they would get away with it anyway. The primary role of this association seemed to be to provide discounted coffee to students at a rate which costed more in “association fees” than it did in coffee discounts…and we all know that the majority of the price of a cup of coffee is profit anyway, so goodness knows where this money all went, although I know that I saw some of it on display in the Never Ending Garema Place Protest About Anything And Everything that seemed to be in Garema Place all the time.

I don’t think CIT got away with keeping the fee in the form they did back in 2006, but it hardly matters right now, the point is that it was a useless black hole of student funds.

Fast forward to this year, and guess what happened in the Senate last week. While everyone was busy focussing on the Carbon Dioxide Tax in the House Of Representatives, a little law passed through the Senate which effectively repeals Voluntary Student Unionism. We are now back to the bad old days of forcing students to fund unions.

The story didn’t get a lot of media attention…in fact you could say that it really slipped under the radar. The Bendigo Advertiser had a decent writeup of the story with a quote from third-year student Ms. Jessi Muston

“I don’t think every student should have to pay. We’ve organised funding and sponsorship and I think that was a good experience,” she said.

And she is right. If there is a service that students want, need and desire, then they will be driven enough to organise the funding for it one way or another…whether that be by asking other students to pay for it or by arranging sponsorships by local businesses is up to them, but that’s the beauty of the free market. If people value a service, they will make it work. People should not be forced to pay for services just because a committee has decided that they will be the services that are offered this year.

Incidentally, at the time of writing this post, the poll on the Bendigo Advertiser’s article showed that 58.4% of respondents do not agree with compulsory student unionism.

The Australian also had a decent article on the matter with a quote from the always sensible Senator Brett Mason (Liberal-Queensland).

But opposition tertiary education spokesman Brett Mason complained that increasing numbers of students were of mature age and part-time and did not have the time or the opportunity to make use of campus services.
[..]
“We have over one million students [who are] forced to pay for services most students don’t want, or can’t use, and political activity they don’t approve of,” Mr Mason said.

Precisely my point.

It was a bad day for students when this legislation passed the Senate last week. It’s just a shame that almost nobody knows that it happened. This was a big deal back when the Howard government introduced voluntary student unionism back in 2005 with passionate arguments from both sides of the debate, and yet right now we are hearing silence. This might not be as big a deal as the Carbon Dioxide Tax, but it’s yet another example of the Rudd/Gillard government attempting to undo all of the progress which was made under the Howard government…people deserve to know what is being done legislatively by their government, because if people don’t know, how can they voice an opinion?

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you like, but I do not think that the timing of this legislation passing the Senate while everyone was focussing on the other house of Parliament is a coincidence…and I wonder what else has been slipped through without anyone noticing.

Samuel

October 16th, 2011 at 08:13pm

We can’t stop the tax from getting through the parliament, but we can repeal it

The passage of the Carbon Dioxide Tax through the House of Representatives yesterday was a travesty and a major blow to those of us who don’t want the tax, and also those who simply want the Prime Minister to follow through on her pre-election promise that she would not introduce the tax. The tax will pass the Senate thanks to the numbers held by the Labor and Green parties, and sadly there is nothing that we can do to prevent that.

This is a blow, a big one at that, but is not defeat. If anything, this should make those of us who are opposed to the Carbon Dioxide Tax stronger in our resolve. The only way to get rid of this tax is to have it repealed, and the only way to do that is to vote this government out in a large enough margin so that people who pledge to repeal the tax can take control of both houses of Parliament. In particular I am thinking of Tony Abbott and many (but not all) of his Liberal/National Coalition colleagues, and various others such as the Climate Sceptics Party.

We must stand up for what we believe. We must do so at the ballot box. One way or another, the people will have their say on this tax (for a second time, we rejected it overwhelmingly last time and I hope the same happens next time…it will actually mean something next time). I believe that it is vital for the future of this country that this tax is repealed, and I hope that the Australian people continue to see it that way at the next election.

Yesterday was a bad day, but a predictable impediment. Today we regroup and refocus our efforts on what needs to be done to get rid of this tax. The road ahead is long, but repeal is very achievable…don’t let Julia Gillard make you believe otherwise, rather make sure that she knows that her tax can and will be repealed, and that her attempt to reshape this nation will not survive.

We must be strong. We must continue. We must repeal this tax.

Samuel

October 13th, 2011 at 06:03am


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