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Comment: Re:This was no AP. (Score 1) 327

by jfengel (#48252327) Attached to: LAX To London Flight Delayed Over "Al-Quida" Wi-Fi Name

It depends on how you count the return. The US GDP is still going up. Perhaps it would be going up faster if we weren't jumping at our own shadows, but it doesn't appear to be bankrupting us.

We do a much better job at it ourselves. A graph of GDP shows only one visible hitch, the 2007 crisis. That had nothing to do with terrorism, unless you want to call the widespread fraud by the major investment banks "terrorism" (and I bet you could find some people to agree with you if you wanted to). It certainly wasn't Al Qaeda's fault; any hitch in the graph around September 2001 is lost in the noise.

Comment: Re:Chance? (Score 1) 972

by jfengel (#48244057) Attached to: Creationism Conference at Michigan State University Stirs Unease

Here's the problem; I *have* heard all of their arguments before. There's not going to be anything novel here. This is pretty well-trodden ground.

That's not a formal proof. It's an allocation of my time and resources. They can generate new conferences faster than you can refute them. "You can't dismiss me until you've heard MY version of this old argument, and you can't know that it's the same thing until you've heard it" gives them an infinite lease on my time.

So I'm not going to "hear them out". Somebody, I imagine, will, because an odd number of people seem to enjoy re-fighting this. And if they manage to derive an argument with a shred of merit, I suspect it will get back to me. If it takes a long time to do that, well, that's how it is with all ideas. Valid ideas stand the test of time; truth lends them durability because it can be independently re-discovered.

That means that I don't have to give them any time to consider their ideas. And for them to insist I do is dishonest. Any argument they might have to make has to begin with "OK, I understand why you consider the rest of my ideas idiotic, and your reasoning was sound," because it is. Until then it's just more deranged babble.

Comment: Re:Misleading- Good will is common accounting (Score 1) 255

If I'm following the discussion (and thanks so much for this; I was hoping somebody would explain the concept), the value of goodwill depreciates over 15 years, yes? And you can deduct that as you would the depreciation of a physical asset.

Is that reasonable? On the one hand I could see it. If Coca Cola were to stop doing whatever it's doing to build up goodwill, the value of the brand would decrease over time. The number is arbitrary but that's just the consequence of trying to codify a tax system; buildings and machines don't break down on a fixed schedule either. It does "depreciate".

But on the other hand, it feels like it's an incentive to invest in intangibles rather than tangibles, which doesn't seem like it's as productive for the economy. I know that intangibles produce jobs; that basketball team is selling entertainment, and keeping people employed from the players to the peanut vendors. But entertainment dollars are fungible; how much of Coca-Cola's goodwill produces additional jobs via additional soda sales and how much of it is just devoted to putting dollars in their pockets rather than Pepsi's owners?

Comment: Re:Wonder if their time hasn't already passed... (Score 1) 167

by jfengel (#48214835) Attached to: Ello Formally Promises To Remain Ad-Free, Raises $5.5M

In the case of a general social networking tool, there kinda can be only one. People won't check every site every day, and the one they check most often will be the one with most of their friends. If you have "Ello friends" and "Facebook friends", odds are you'll visit one site much less, and your friends there will drift further away.

There's room for various niche sites, but they need a differentiator. I can imagine Ello wanting to be the social networking site for those who want privacy, but strikes me as being kind of counter to the point of social networking. People go to Facebook *because* it violates their privacy. It does so a bit more than most realize, perhaps, but really they only seem to notice the monetization of their lack of privacy, rather than the lack of privacy itself.

Comment: Re: Nah, this is just stage 1 (Score 1) 324

by jfengel (#48205185) Attached to: Hungary To Tax Internet Traffic

Other factors have kept inflation low for quite some time. The Treasury and Fed have been pumping money in at a rather alarming rate, and the inflation rate remains in the target range. Occasional spikes in oil prices notwithstanding, it's been under 2% for most of the last few years. (The September figure was 1.7%; the average for 2013 was 1.5%.)

I don't understand how we're currently having falling unemployment, low inflation, a record GDP, and a booming stock market. Some of that, of course, is dubious statistical measures, but they're the same measures we've always used (more or less). All that fiat currency should be producing huge amounts of consumption and inflation, and it isn't.

I've got a sneaking suspicion that we're looking at another crunch over the next few years as the Baby Boomers start to collect Social Security in earnest, though the first wave of it is already 67 years old. That has already caused us to to briefly deplete the Trust Fund a few years ago, and its growth has leveled off. That's gonna be bumpy.

Comment: Re:Actually... (Score 1) 58

by jfengel (#48203831) Attached to: First Evidence of Extrasolar Planets Discovered In 1917

He was the one who kicked off European colonization and exploitation of the place. Other Europeans who came made only a tenuous foothold. Columbus was the one who said, "There's a place over there, and it's worth living in and taking stuff." He's the reason Europeans in general came to know about it.

It's not entirely out of keeping with other uses of "discover". The OED's first definition is "To disclose, reveal, etc., to others". The fact that it's first is historical, rather than a matter of present usage; the present use "to find out" is also very old. But it also includes notions of "finding out for oneself", i.e. not necessarily being the very first.

All told the OED gives over a dozen different shades of meaning for "discover", and I don't think this one is entirely wrong. It can be misleading, since as you say there were already people there and other Europeans had lived there, but he was an important "first" whatever word one applies.

Comment: Re: Nah, this is just stage 1 (Score 1) 324

by jfengel (#48203687) Attached to: Hungary To Tax Internet Traffic

Still, the Trust Fund seems like a rather odd concept. It's a government promise to pay for... something it had already promised to pay, namely Social Security benefits. If the Trust Fund runs out, it's still on the hook to pay those benefits.

The program was intended to be pay-as-you-go. The SSTF was supposed to be a way to save against the Baby Bust being unable to pay for its parents, but where can you really save that kind of money? No bank can handle it; it would badly skew any stock market you tried to invest with. Effectively, they just dumped it into the general Treasury coffers, where it was all spent. The Boomers are starting to demand it back, and the burden falls right in the place the SSTF was supposed to avoid, their children.

The net effect was just to establish a highly regressive tax (since Social Security money is capped) that Reagan used to pay for a massive expansion of the US Government, doubling spending during his time in office. I used to think the SSTF was just a bad idea, but I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that it was a deliberate attempt to screw over the poor and the Gen Xers.

Comment: Re:So what qualifies? (Score 1) 489

by jfengel (#48187871) Attached to: In UK, Internet Trolls Could Face Two Years In Jail

In Germany, it's written all the way into the Constitution. The very first article reads (in official translation), "Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority." The second article, about personal development, specifically limits it to development that doesn't contradict the previous part.

That doesn't make the definitions any more concrete, but it does suggest that it's a country which takes it seriously, and the requirement pervades the rest of the national law. I don't know if that can be adopted into a country like the US, where a great many people want their First Amendment rights to trump everything else. I can even see the case for it. It's just that I hear it defended most vocally by people who aren't in a position to be harassed and don't see the way it can interfere with the rest of their lives.

Comment: Re:Let me get this right (Score 1) 839

by jfengel (#48172091) Attached to: Bill Gates: Piketty's Attack on Income Inequality Is Right

They say that, but I don't believe it. The FairTax still needs to be computed, since some transactions are subject to it, and others aren't. The "prebate" system is begging to be gamed.

It seems to me that they're comparing an existing system which has decades of accumulated cruft to a brand new one which will accumulate equal amounts of cruft. I'm all for sweeping out the existing system just to reset the cruft counter to zero, but there's nothing special about the FairTax that achieves that. Nor does it particularly explain how they're going to deal with the unfairnesses that come from removing deductions that people counted on to make long-term purchasing decisions. That's a problem any new simplified tax code would have to deal with, but the FairTax doesn't even make for a clear way to phase things out because of the shift from income to consumption as a basis.

Mostly, though, I think it's disingenuous of them to claim benefits that could apply equally well to any new tax code, and to claim that the cost will be zero when that's clearly not the case.

Comment: Re:Let me get this right (Score 1) 839

by jfengel (#48162365) Attached to: Bill Gates: Piketty's Attack on Income Inequality Is Right

The "FairTax" isn't an income tax, but a sales tax. That's how it gets around the complexities of determining income.

And replaces them by the difficulties of determining a "sale". Stock sales aren't sales, for example. Neither are business-to-business sales. Only end consumer consumption is a "sale". (And it introduces vast new ranges of fraud. "Oh, we didn't eat that food. It was purchased by The Jones Household, Inc, which is a corporation and therefore not subject to tax.)

Making a progressive sales tax is harder than making a progressive income tax, because it's collected by each merchant, and there's no single record of how much you've paid so far. And the sales tax is very regressive, since poor people spend all of their money, while the wealthy make "investments". (Buying a house is a sale; buying a factory is an investment.) They combat the obvious regressiveness of it with a "prebate", a kind of guaranteed poverty-line income. (And a whole new realm of opportunities for fraud.) That means that the poor pay less. And the wealthy pay less. So to take in the same total revenue, the tax on the middle class goes up.

There are reasons to do a consumption-side tax, and it can be implemented more or less coherently with a value-added tax rather than a sales tax. (You set money aside every time you receive it, and pay it every time you spend. The net effect is that if you buy something and sell it at a higher price, the net tax is only on the profit. It applies on every single transaction, which is a lot of overhead but it eliminates a lot of meaningless distinctions.) It's still regressive, which can be fixed by a progressive income tax on high-dollar earners. I suspect that's what Gates is calling for. It's very different from the FairTax.

There are problems with that as well; there's problems with any tax system. But it's not the obvious attempt to shift the burden to the middle class, as the FairTax is.

Comment: Re:Let me get this right (Score 2) 839

by jfengel (#48162265) Attached to: Bill Gates: Piketty's Attack on Income Inequality Is Right

Exactly. The FairTax is highly regressive, because it taxes spending. The poor spend all of their income; the wealthy don't. It tries to make that less obvious with its "prebate", sort of a guaranteed minimum income, which removes some of the burden from those below the poverty line.

If the burden isn't on the poor and it's not on the wealthy then it *must* rest on the middle class. Proponents seem to want to play a shell game, but the fact is that if you want to remain revenue neutral, somebody is paying. And if it's not revenue-neutral, then the deficit must go up, because shifting the income side doesn't change the spending side.

The thing I find most distressing is that it's not the tax brackets that make taxes difficult. Computing the brackets is simple arithmetic. The difficulty comes in computing what counts as income, what we want to exempt, and the myriad tax breaks we use to nudge the economy. It would be easy enough to design a progressive income tax that doesn't have all of those features, and it would be at least as simple as the FairTax (without its ludicrous and fraud-prone "prebate"). But of course they're not really about simplicity. They're really about shifting the burden away from the rich.

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.