Shocked and Persuaded

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Separating Fact From Fiction

Back Off Westboro Baptist Church

Last year we had a group of visitors here in Burlington from Topeka, Kansas affiliated with Fred Phelps‘ Westboro Baptist Church. For those not familiar this group you may be familiar with some of their pleasant slogans such as “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God For Dead Soldiers”, “Thank God for 9/11”, “Thank God for IEDs”, “Fags are Beasts, “God Hates Jews”, “Fags Doom Nations”, etc, etc. The list is long and oh so thoughtful. When this group came to Burlington they brought with them their signs and their children to protest Vermont being “most ‘gay’ friendly spot in DOOMED america.” This was not the first time they visited little ol’ Vermont they came a couple of years earlier to spew nonsense during the funeral of a Richmond man killed in Iraq by one of those IEDs they like to scream about so much.

During their most recent visit the anti-Westboro contingent was large, persistent, and peaceful following them from Montpelier to Burlington and all around town just letting them know we didn’t agree with their tactics or the hateful rhetoric that came forth from their mouths and those of their children. BUT I don’t know one person involved in the Burlington section of the anti-Westboro crew that thought they didn’t have the right to say what they wanted wherever they wanted. As common defense of Howard Stern goes: If you don’t like him change the station?

Read the rest of this entry »

Fun and Games Fueling Education

So I haven’t been posting in a while as I am looking for a job and working on a book. Anyway I have been playing around with what I am calling a “War Games Tax” that I describe below and it is one that if anyone reads this post I would love for you to pass it on to your congressional delegation. After reading it you are welcome to comment and I would be happy to share my data with anyone interested in this idea that I don’t think to many people could argue with. Cheers and I hope you enjoy the read!

I have been working some calculations trying to get at how much general education revenue could be conceivably generated if we taxed what I will broadly call “war games”, which include at this point “Call of Duty: Black Ops (PS3 & X360)”, “Halo: Reach (X360)”, and “God of War III/God of War Collection (PS3). All of these are top sellers for Activision (Call of Duty), Microsoft (Halo), and Sony Computers (God of War). Their average annual revenues are in toto $1.23 billion with “Halo” at $686 million leading the way and “God of War Collection” bringing up the rear at $29 million annually (Fig. 1).

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Not a bad profit margin don’t you think? More importantly I was thinking that if there are so many people with the bravado to fight wars via their video consoles they wouldn’t have a problem paying a heavy tax on those games, which could be used to fund educational programs throughout the country. So I went about trying to gather up as much high-quality data as I could get on dollar sales, weekly units, and in order to come up with a progressive “War Games Tax” I used iCasualties data on a per 100,000 person basis across all fifty states+Washington, DC (no US territories due to high concentration of troops stationed there). I then used the per capita data – with Vermont being the highest (2.568) and Utah the lowest (0.486 per 100,000) – summed those values and converted them into percentages. I then multiplied the $1.23 billion figure across tax rates of 35%, 25%, 10%, and 5%, with the per 100,000 percentage conversions used to multiply across tax rate scenarios. If you do that the numbers are pretty staggering.
Lets just focus on Vermont for a second as a teaser for what we could extract from this pseudo-war profiteering that doesn’t get nearly the coverage that the explicit profiteers do. Vermont would be able to rely on an annual tax revenue of (Fig. 2):
1. 22.4 million at 35%, 14.9% of FY 2011 budget deficit
2. 16.0 million at 20%, 10.7% of FY 2011 budget deficit
3. 6.4 million at 10%, 4.3% of FY 2011 budget deficit
Or
4. 3.2 million at 5%, 2.1% of FY 2011 budget deficit
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While none of these numbers is eye watering they are not trivial either, with the top rate accounting for nearly 15% of the FY 2011 budget deficit. This is not a progressive or regressive tax idea, rather it is an anti-predatory tax idea with the folks that so flippantly turn on their video consoles to play the latest virtual War On Terror paying the heaviest price. What is wrong with that? New England alone would generate:
1. 55.3 million at 35%, average of 3.5% of FY 2011 budget deficit
2. 39.5 million at 20%
3. 15.8 million at 10%
Or
4. 7.9 million at 5%

So as you can see this is not a panacea but is a step in the right direction AND unlike the much maligned soda-tax proposed by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson in NY I would argue that there should be less resistance to a tax that takes money from people that like to play video games about war but wouldn’t be caught dead signing up to go to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, etc etc and puts that money in to the educational infrastructure of this country. I would like to see someone rail against this idea in public with the lights and cameras on.

Footing The Bill

Anyone want to? Wanna really pay the price for war(s)? Nope!

How much would you pay for the life of one of this country’s active duty men or women? Below I discuss what our government has decided their worth (Hint: Its less than the cost of two movie tickets!). Read the rest of this entry »

Fallen Update

The Department of Defense has identified 1,162 American service members who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations. It confirmed the death of the following American last week:

KING, Brandon M., 23, Pvt., Army; Tallahassee, Fla.; 101st Airborne Division.

According to icasualties.org:

Iraq = 4,4412 US, 179 UK, and 139 Other > 4,730 Total

Afghanistan = 1,188 US, 322 UK, and 436 Other > 1,944 Total

The dial continues to move in the wrong direction in the latter and it is speeding up! GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN MR. PRESIDENT!

Fallen Update

The Department of Defense has identified 1,082 American service members who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations. It confirmed the deaths of the following Americans this week:

NEENAN, Brendan P., 21, Specialist, Army; Enterprise, Ala.; 82nd Airborne Division.

RANKEL, John K., 23, Sgt., Marines; Speedway, Ind.; First Marine Division.

iCasualties.org to date:

Afghanistan = US 1,108, UK 294, Other 416 = Total 1,787

HOWEVER if we look at some data compiled by Iraqi Body Count we see that the costs are being forced asymmetrically upon the Iraqi people. Now whether you believe in this endeavor or not a 23:1 Iraqi Civilian to US troop casualty ratio should not be acceptable. I mean leaving aside those of you with no pulse (i.e., Dick Cheney and Donny Rumsfeld). The data below demonstrates a disturbing trend albeit one that appears to be waning for the time being. However, that is only because the fight has shifted to Helmand and Kandahar in Afghanistan not because the war against terrorism is getting cleaner and more accurate or precise.

We are talking about over 101,036 civilians killed in Iraq alone and that doesn’t account for the poor access to data and medical records, which would most assuredly push this number up by at least 5-10%. It also doesn’t account for the even worse data for Afghanistan, which I am trying to find and will post here when I do. We have dehumanized Iraqis the same way McNamara, Johnson, and Kennedy dehumanized the Vietnamese. It is a shame this is what we have to do in order to kill someone. Doesn’t take much guts and it doesn’t take much planning just a complete and utter disregard for the human condition.

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Fallen Update

The Department of Defense has identified 4,391 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war and 1,070 who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations. It confirmed the deaths of the following Americans yesterday:

Iraq

CULVER, Ronald W. Jr., 44, Major, Army; Shreveport, La.; Second Squadron, 108th Cavalry.

Afghanistan

BARTON, Christopher R., 22, Pfc., Army; Concord, N.C.; 101st Airborne Division.

iCasualties.org to date:

Iraq = 4,400 US, 179 UK, 139 Other = Total 4,718

Afghanistan = US 1,085, UK 288, Other 414 = Total 1,787

DOD-iCasualties to date:

Iraq = 9

Afghanistan = 15

Misdirected Attention

From an interesting article by Joschka Fischer on Project Syndicate:

In Iraq, the question of power-sharing between Sunnis and Shia has neither been resolved or secured institutionally in such a way that would definitively prevent a slide back into civil war after the majority of US troops withdraw in 2011.

Quite simply the reply to this is that while Sunni v. Shia may be the short-term cyclical conflict of most importance it is clear from this reader’s perspective that the long-term structural problem is the Kurdish Northeast (Large concentrated oilfields) v. the predominantly Arab rest of Iraq (Small dispersed oilfields). The Trigger Line as this separation is known will prove a chronic issue and one that no amount of troops, drones, or Maliki/Obama DoubleSpeak will resolve.

Nuance is the name of the game in Iraq and the quicker we in the US brush up on it the quicker we will be equipped to hold our politicians feet to the fire on the off chance they show their faces around town. I would imagine the heat will turn up even more when water becomes more restricting…Again a short-term cyclical (Oil) v. long-term structural (Water) paradox, only this one will be a matter of life or internal combustion. In the words of Hindu priest Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati “Without electricity, you can survive. One can’t survive without water…”

Fallen Update

iCasualities is reporting 4,390 and 1,042 in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.

The UK is at 179 and 281, respectively, while “Other” is at 139 and 400.

The Department of Defense has identified 4,381 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war and 1,026 who have died as part of the Afghan war and related operations. It confirmed the deaths of the following Americans:

Iraq

BLOUNT, William A., 21, Pfc., Army; Petal, Miss.; First Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, Second Brigade Combat Team.

COLLINS, Robert W., 24, First Lt., Army; Tyrone, Ga.; First Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, Second Brigade Combat Team.

Afghanistan

BORIO, Roberto E. Diaz, 47, Sgt., Army; San Juan, P.R.; First Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.

LACKEY, James B., 45, Senior Master Sgt., Air Force; Green Clove Springs, Fla.; Eighth Special Operations Squadron.

VOAS, Randell D., 43, Maj., Air Force; Lakeville, Minn.; Eighth Special Operations Squadron.

Iraq 4,379

The Department of Defense has identified 4,379 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war. It confirmed the death of the following American yesterday:

KRUIZE, Kurt E., 35, Sgt., Army; Hancock, Minn.; 367th Engineer Battalion.

Fallen!

The Department of Defense has identified 4,378 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war. It confirmed the death of the following American yesterday:

PACLEB, Raymond N., 31, Pfc., Army; Honolulu; First Battalion, 487th Field Artillery.