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VAT is not the same as “soaking the rich”

Barack Obama is suggesting the Value Added Tax (VAT) as a revenue option for those of us just livin’ it up on our stagnant salaries.  Yep, we just have tons and tons of disposable income, what with gas at $3.00/gallon and excise taxes on our frugal health bennies and our kids’ college funds running on empty.

How many times do we have to go through this with our cowardly and craven politicians?  We want you to SOAK THE RICH. That is what you were elected to do in 2008.  We are sick of squabbling over the shrinking slice of pie that the bonus class is throwing us.  The day after Goldman-Sachs announced it’s whopping $3+ billion quarterly profit using money that we, the taxpayers, gave it through TARP, is not a good time to bring up the idea of a VAT.  If the country is broke, Mr. Obama, perhaps you should stop asking the vast majority of rules playing and responsible taxpayers to pony up.  Stop looking down the food chain at the plankton.  Look upwards towards the sharks if you need to recover the money.

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about countries that actually have VATs, like some European countries.  In those countries, health care doesn’t mean that only consumers need to cut costs; doctors, insurance companies and hospitals share that burden too.  In those countries, the trains run on time and there are plenty of them.  In those countries, the gifted student doesn’t have to pray for a scholarship because higher education costs are a tiny fraction of what we pay here.

Listen up, Barry,  I’m not a gullible TeaPartier who is against government spending and reflexively anti-tax.  I am a middle class, well paid (but not TOO well paid), well educated, FDR Democrat in the burbs.  You know, one of the voters your party is losing at an accelerated pace these days?  I have no desire to live in GlennBeckistan where we stomp all over the poor and newly unemployed for being a burden on us.  But enough is enough with the taxes.  I’ve got a kid to put through college if I can keep her from losing her mind in a regular classroom after the devastating budget cuts New Jersey is going through right now. (Have you seen what a private school costs these days?  Of course you have, but to those of us NOT making a $400K salary every year, our gifted girls are stuck in public school)  Your job is to make government work for me, not make it worse and then take more of my money to cover your backers’ gambling debts.  Don’t piss us off.

I’m getting really sick and tired of hearing the rich whine about things like how bad our internet security is because they pay taxes and dammit, they deserve better treatment!  No, *I* pay taxes and I deserve better treatment.  I pay enough in taxes every year to keep a family of four above the poverty level.  Now, I don’t mind doing it because *someone’s* got to do it.  But my patience is wearing thin.  I can’t afford to pay for everything myself and I make too much money to qualify for any benefits.  Maybe that’s how it should be.  But if I am expected to have a social conscience, I think it’s only right to expect the same from the people pulling in millions of dollars in bonuses every year. Morality is not just for the average Joe.  If noblesse oblige doesn’t come naturally, it should be compulsory.  If I were a Democrat right now, I’d tax the living daylights out of any banker who received a bonus from Bank of America, Citibank and Goldman Sachs.  That right there will get you two more years.

So, before Obama even thinks about a VAT, he’d better go away and think harder about SOAKING THE RICH.  And don’t come back until you have a plan to do it.

Nope, don’t even go there.  Talk to the hand.

Wednesday News

Good morning Conflucians!!

It’s hump day and I’m getting a slow start. Let’s throw out a few things going on to get the ball rolling.

A study finds that bureaucracy is linked to a nations growth. Yep, it’s a good thing:

“Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work,” said Albert Einstein, sharing a popular view about bureaucracy grinding progress to a halt.

But it now appears that the organizing functions of bureaucracy were essential to the progressive growth of the world’s first states, and may have helped them conquer surrounding areas much earlier than originally thought. New research conducted in the Valley of Oaxaca near Monte Albán, a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in southern Mexico, also implies that the first bureaucratic systems may have a lasting influence on today’s modern states.

The research by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate, is published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“The earliest evidence of state organization is contemporaneous with the earliest evidence of long-distance territorial expansion,” said lead researcher Charles Spencer, curator of Mexican and Central American Archaeology at the AMNH. “This pattern was consistent with the territorial-expansion model of primary state formation, which I have proposed in a number of publications over the years.”

Spencer’s territorial-expansion model argues that states arise through a mutual-causal process involving simultaneous territorial expansion and bureaucratization. Spencer’s model breaks with previous ideas that suggest states rise through a protracted, step-by-step process–first the state forms, then an organizing bureaucracy takes hold, and sometime later, the state begins to expand into other regions in an “imperialistic” fashion, thus giving birth to an empire.

The PNAS paper compares Spencer’s work in Mesoamerica with archaeological data from five other states most anthropologists recognize as the only other locations of true primary state formation in history: Peru, Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and China. Primary states are first-generation states that evolved without contact with other pre-existing states. In each case, Spencer’s territorial-expansion theory holds. But he says more research needs to be done at the other locales.

“This result may provide a cautionary lesson as we think about international relations in our contemporary world,” said Spencer. “Since the bureaucratic state as a political form originally evolved through a process of predatory expansion, we should not be surprised if states continue to have predatory tendencies, regardless of their particular ideologies.”

Spencer said his research results could be seen as reason to support development of international organizations such as the United Nations to serve as a check on the expansionistic tendencies of individual states. “But, the administration of those organizations is also likely to be bureaucratic, so we should be watchful for predatory behavior from them as well,” he said.

Paulson’s going on the defensive about Goldman Sachs:

John Paulson hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing. But the hedge-fund billionaire has gone on the offensive to reassure investors that his huge firm will emerge unscathed from a case that has drawn him into a political and legal vortex.

The steps, including a conference call with about 100 investors late Monday, come amid indications from some clients that they might withdraw money from his firm after a lawsuit brought by the government against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. related to an investment created at his firm’s request.

Investors have indicated they are concerned that scrutiny over the firm’s deals may spread, including to overseas regulators. They said they wanted to protect themselves in case new information emerges that could damage the hedge fund, they say. Another issue, they say: The legal case could simply prove a distraction for Mr. Paulson.

“Some of the callers asked pointed questions, almost like a court inquisition, but most people were supportive,” said Brad Alford, who runs Alpha Capital Management. “I felt reassured that he did nothing wrong.”

“It’s not a rush for the doors,” said another investor in Paulson & Co. who has communicated with larger Paulson investors since Friday, when the government unveiled its Goldman case.

Mr. Paulson sent a letter to investors Tuesday night saying that in 2007 his firm wasn’t seen as an experienced mortgage investor, and that “many of the most sophisticated investors in the world” were “more than willing to bet against us.”

And so it begins.

The supreme court naming game continues:

The Big Three. Most press attention has focused on three folks: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, and Chicago-based federal judge Diane Wood.

Obama looked at those three last year when he nominated Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and those were the names that surfaced right after Stevens announced his retirement on April 9.

The Expanded List. In the days since Stevens’ announcement, other possible candidates began popping up. Among them: Former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears; Montana-based federal judge Sidney Thomas; and former Yale law school dean Harold Koh.

The Politicians. Former President Bill Clinton and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy — who will be at today’s White House meeting — have urged Obama to consider someone with a political background. They said elected officials would have a better understanding of how court decisions can affect everyday Americans.

Potential political names include homeland security Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Both were considered for the high court slot that opened last year.

What’s your guess?

The Anti-Counterfiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been released. Here’s some analysis:

Under ACTA, ISPs are protected from copyright lawsuits as long as they have no direct responsibility for infringement. If infringement merely happens over their networks, the infringers are responsible but the ISPs are not. This provision mirrors existing US and European law.

Two key points need to be made here, however. First, the entire ISP safe harbor is conditioned on the ISP “adopting and reasonably implementing a policy to address the unauthorized storage or transmission of materials protected by copyright.” (This is much like existing US law.)

An earlier footnote found in a leaked draft provided a single example of such a policy: “Providing for termination in appropriate circumstances of subscriptions and accounts in the service provider’s system or network of repeat infringers.” In other words, some variation of “three strikes.” That footnote is now gone from the text entirely.

New to this draft is an option, clearly targeting European law, that would explicitly allow Internet disconnections. Countries will be allowed to force ISPs to “terminate or prevent an infringement” and they can pass laws “governing the removal or disabling of access to information. So, basically, Internet disconnection and website blocking.

The option also allows rightsholders to “expeditiously obtain from that provider information on the identity of the relevant subscriber” and it encourages countries to “promote the development of mutually supportive relationships between online service providers and right holders.” This option has not been approved by all ACTA members.

The ACTA draft also makes clear that governments cannot mandate Internet filtering or affirmative action to seek out infringers.

Second, the ISP immunity is conditioned on the existence of “takedown” process. In the US, this is the (in)famous “DMCA takedown” dance that starts with a letter from a rightsholder. Once received, an ISP or Web storage site (think YouTube) must take down the content listed in order to maintain its immunity, but may repost it if the uploader responds with a “counter-notification” asserting that no infringement has taken place. After this, if the rightsholder wants to pursue the matter, it can take the uploader to court.

This will strongly affect countries like Canada, which have no such system.

While the ACTA draft adopts the best part of the DMCA (copyright “safe harbors”), it also adopts the worst: making it illegal to bypass DRM locks.

ACTA would ban “the unauthorized circumvention of an effective technological measure.” It also bans circumvention devices, even those with a “limited commercially significant purpose.” Countries can set limits to the ban, but only insofar as they do not “impair the adequacy of legal protection of those measures.” This is ambiguous, but allowing circumvention in cases where the final use is fair would appear to be outlawed.

Fortunately, a new option in this section would allow countries much greater freedom. The option says that countries “may provide for measures which would safeguard the benefit of certain exceptions and limitations to copyright and related rights, in accordance with its legislation.”

(Emphasis mine.)

There’s more analysis in the article, and more to come.

Looks like the people behind that hitler movie that is used in so many fun parodies on youtube has ordered that all the parodies be taken down. Lots have. Here is EFF’s complaint about the takedowns:

One the most enduring (and consistently entertaining) Internet memes of the past few years has been remixes of the bunker scene from the German film, The Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich (aka Der Untergang). EFF Boardmember Brad Templeton even got in on it, creating a very funny remix with Hitler ranting about troubles with DRM and the failure of DMCA takedowns to prevent fair uses. (Ironically enough, that video resulted in the Apple Store rejecting an EFF newsfeed app.)

In a depressing twist, these remixes are reportedly disappearing from YouTube, thanks to Constantin Film (the movie’s producer and distributor) and YouTube’s censorship-friendly automated filtering system, Content I.D. Because the Content I.D. filter permits a copyright owner to disable any video that contains its copyrighted content — whether or not that video contains other elements that make the use a noninfringing fair use — a content owner can take down a broad swath of fair uses with the flick of a switch. It seems that’s exactly what Constantin Film has chosen to do.

This is hardly the first time that Content I.D., has led to overbroad takedowns of legal content. Copyright owners have used the system to take down (or silence) everything from home videos of a teenager singing Winter Wonderland and a toddler lip-syncing to Foreigner’s Juke Box Hero to (and we’re not making this up) a lecture by Prof. Larry Lessig on the cultural importance of remix creativity.

YouTube users do have options for response (read our “Guide to YouTube Removals” for details.) But YouTube’s procedures for “removing” videos have created considerable confusion among users, and it’s a fair bet that most YouTube users aren’t aware of their ability to “dispute” these removals. Others may be leery of exercising the dispute option. While the risks may be low, our broken copyright system leaves users facing the prospect of paying outrageous statutory damages and even attorneys’ fees if they stand up, fight back and, despite overwhelming odds in their favor, lose. It’s a gamble many people just aren’t willing to take, even when their works are clear fair uses.

If copyright owners want to block remix creativity, they should have to use a formal DMCA takedown notice (and be subject to legal punishment if they fail to consider fair use), rather than a coarse automated blocking tool. That is one reason we called on YouTube to fix the Content ID system so that it will not automatically remove videos unless there is a match between the video and audio tracks of a submitted fingerprint and nearly the entirety (e.g, 90% or more) of the challenged content is comprised of a single copyrighted work. That was over two years ago, and YouTube told us then that they were working on improving the tool. If YouTube is serious about protecting its users, it is long past time for YouTube to do that work.

That’s a few of the things going on today. Please chime in with other things you’re finding.