Random Rants, by Thomas Andrew Olson

Friday, April 28, 2006

"Fear Tower" breaks ground

After 4 1/2 years of stupid wrangling by greedhead developers and posturing pols over the fate of "Pataki's Pit" - known to the world as the former site of the World Trade Center - an "agreement" has finally been reached to allow construction to proceed - the construction of an architectural abomination ironically named the Freedom Tower.

Despite polls taken over the last several years, encompassing New Yorkers, the state as a whole, and even nationwide, which show overwhelmingly the public's desire to see the Twin Towers rebuilt taller, stronger, and more defiant, the Ground Zero Cabal have chosen to ignore the will of the people - Pataki, to revive his Presidential aspirations, Bloomberg, to cement his own legacy, and Silverstein, to avoid losing everything. So in the Twin's place will grow an abomination that isn't even fully useful, with only 60-70 stories of office space - the rest of the 1,776-ft monstrosity will be an empty shell. But perhaps that emptiness represents the brains of those who dreamed it up in the first place.

The original design was rejected for looking like a "dunce cap"; plus, many complained about security issues. This gave false hope to Twin Towers restoration advocates. Unfortunately, they didn't realize the fix was in. The Freedom Tower was merely redesigned - now, it looks like a large headstone at a grave site - with an empty dunce cap on top.

This is an utter, unredeeming tragedy. Rebuilding the visually imposing Twin Towers on the ashes of the old would have served not only to inspire the nation, but it would have disheartened America's enemies. They would have been our way of saying "you can knock down our buildings, but not our spirit".

The biggest impression the Twin Towers gave the world wasn't their size - they were only the "tallest buildings in the world" for a short time after completion. Rather, it was the uniquely American audacity to build TWO of them on the same piece of land. A far more challenging and bold task, to be sure, but this was a country still known for boldness in the mid-1970's. Even today, many countries have sent instrument packages to the Moon, but only America sent men. Which feat impresses more?

The single tower design was described by another writer last year as a "symbolic deficiency", and that's a very apt description. It will fill the sky with empty space, when once we filled it with people. Instead of challenging the world to rise to that level of achievement, we have chosen instead to lower ourselves to the level of others, then congratulate ourselves and scurry away like frightened rabbits.

The Freedom Tower will only symbolize the freedoms Americans have lost, given away for the false god of "security". Perhaps this is what Americans deserve after all.

And perhaps the America that is symbolized by that monstrosity will also one day collapse, of its own weight, as a failed culture that turned its collective back on the very things that made it great.

May the new America that rises from those ashes regain the boldness and can-do spirit of its forefathers, and, as a symbol of that restoration of freedom, build those towers anew on the empty shell of the Freedom Tower, which I predict will never be fully completed by the 2012 projected date.

Monday, April 17, 2006

So....who owns it NOW?

THIS guy has got to be driving Cary Sherman to drink.

Sherman, of course, is the RIAA's chief water carrier and point man on the music industry's war against its own customers, in defense of a failed business model.

Sven König just might be the guy who puts a final wooden stake in the heart of current digital copyright law.

So what's the big deal? König's new software, which he calls "sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ", can reduce any digital input - audio or video - into small component pieces that can be stored in a database, then repurposed, merged, reformed into anything the artist pleases. You can take your own guitar composition, record it in Garageband, mix it up in bits with other riffs you've collected over the years from Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimmie Paige, to create your own unique recording.

This is a tool that will blow the roof off recording, as artistic renditions can be crafted that are unique in and of themselves, but can also use borrowed bits from other people's renditions; and those bits can be used in ways not intended by the original artists, some of whom, like Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray, have been dead quite awhile.

So...who "owns" the result? If König produced a recording this way, and claimed it was his own "original" composition, does he have exclusive copyright? Or will Sherman try to lobby Congress for new laws forcing him to either remove the bits or pay RIAA a residual every time that piece is downloaded from ITMS?

The issue may rest on the concept of what constitutes a copyrighted musical work - is it the song as a whole, or every bar of the song? (Trust me on this, Sherman will claim it's every bar.)

But this software has already passed the legal sniff test, according to König, as yes, it could potentially enable copyright violation, but it's not the primary purpose of it.

Radio DJ's do these contests all the time where they play one bar of a hit song or blast from the past, then challenge their listeners to ID it for cash or prizes. It usually takes a few phone calls. So Sherman may have some trouble making his case. Personally I think the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, where music is concerned, but if someone can monetize this technology, and create a whole new genre of music as a result, "vive le difference". But the question of who gets paid (if anyone) could be the source of tens of millions in legal fees for the next decade.

Friday, April 14, 2006

An Uncomfortable Truth?

According to an article in CNN-Money today, Nor'easters get an extra day to file that dreaded 1040, because of one major IRS service center in Massachusetts, and an obscure policy regarding the 15th falling on Easter Weekend. So they're closed Monday, apparently.

Of course, it makes no difference to me. I personally think the whole thing is a scam and a fraud. Do I file? Sure - but that doesn't mean I believe for a moment it's my legal duty. It's just that the cost of not doing so is too high at this stage in my life.

Nevertheless, the media, the IRS, and H&R Block all have a big stake in preserving the status quo, so the propaganda machine cranks up full tilt this time of year. During the month of April, class warfare is also at an all time high, as the Powers That Be realize that taxpayers divided by income status will never unite to take down the System.

Here's what we all need to understand about the Income Tax:

There exist some very smart and principled people out there, who have spent (and risked) much of their lives in pursuit of an Uncomfortable Truth - they claim that there is, in fact, no actual law that requires US citizens who derive their incomes solely from sources within the United States, to declare that income on a form and pay income taxes.

These people derive their arguments from several different paths. Some take the "redress of grievances" approach, others claim the 16th Amendment was never legally ratified, someone compares income taxation to racketeering, and another school claims that a careful analysis of the IRS Code, and specific subsections thereof, conclude that while some income might be arguably taxable, the average income of the vast majority of working Americans is not.

I'm not going to go into the details of those arguments here - I gave you the links. You know how to use Google. You can look at/find the information yourselves and make your own determination. What I DO find interesting, however, is the government response to these anti-tax arguments.

Seems to me that, if these guys were simply uninformed nut jobs trying to weasel out of ponying up, a simple "showing of the law", in black and white, would've silenced all the critics decades ago. I mean ANY law. The tax code underwent significant revamping in 1913, 1922, 1937, 1954, and 1986. Show me any piece of legislation, written in any of those years, passed by a sitting Congress and signed by a sitting President, that mandates all citizens earning income in the US to file tax returns, and authorizes the IRS to enforce this through regulation. If they would just do that they would have a slam dunk. Lock 'em up, steal their stuff, end of story.

But the IRS never does that, and they never have. In response to reasoned, simple, non-threatening inquiries from taxpayers concerned about proper legal compliance, the IRS responds by first sanctimoniously declaring such inquiries "frivolous", then following up with citations of dozens of regulations and court decisions serving only to confirm that such inquiries are frivolous. The letter usually ends with veiled threats of action for non-compliance with tax "laws", none of which are ever mentioned.

My issue with all this stems from the core concept that "regulations" themselves are not LAW. "Court decisions", despite what some judges may believe, are not in and of themselves LAW. Regulations are written by bureaucrats as rules of conduct to enforce compliance with a law. Court decisions - again, at least in high-falutin' theory, Roe v. Wade notwithstanding - are supposed to be interpretations of a LAW applied to an individual case.

But both situations require at least ONE LAW - again, written by a legislature and signed by an executive - as a fundamental basis. The fact that the IRS will harass, threaten, arrest, try and imprison anyone who questions the tax "laws", but without ever citing a specific tax law themselves, as the authority for those actions, I think speaks volumes. Perhaps the tax protesters do have a point. They must feel like Galileo did when confronting the Catholic Church for heresy - or, perhaps more to the point - Giordano Bruno.

Because, like Bruno, anyone attempting to put the issue on public display, like Irwin Schiff or Larken Rose, ends up tormented, arrested, tried and imprisoned, their lives ruined for daring to speak an Uncomfortable Truth. (Of course Bruno was burned at the stake. Yet it is true that people have died as a result of IRS collection actions - some by direct confrontation, and others by suicide.) The irony is those convicted are not convicted of any actual violation of a specific tax law. It's always something around the fringe, like "willful failure to file", "obstruction of justice", or "selling an illegal tax avoidance scheme"

The real issue then, on Tax Day, is not the questionable legality of the income tax itself, but to what cruel, ruinous lengths government will go to perpetuate the illusion. That a government supposedly "of the people", established to protect the rights of all citizens equally under the law, behaves in precisely the opposite manner where taxation is concerned (just ask Walt Anderson).

We have been saddled with the income tax for so long now, that people have convinced themselves that it would be impossible to live without it. Neocons wouldn't be able to buy bombs for the Middle East and liberal-dems wouldn't be able to give away the farm to undocumented workers, without first extracting the cost in Other People's Money. And if you're a pol and can't give away unearned goodies, how are you going to buy votes every other year?

But, as Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) reminded us the other day, less than half the total tax collected in the US comes from the income tax. We could eliminate it tomorrow, and live solely off tariffs, excise, etc. if only we were willing to reduce government spending to 2000 levels. That's right. Y2K. Not 1970. This is not a huge chunk. Dr. Paul rightly posits that the more important problem is out of control government spending. Set that right, and we could certainly live within our means without an income tax, and all the lobbying, class warfare, and corruption that it brings.

But there is no one in Congress (besides Dr. Paul) with the courage to make that happen. They're already gearing up for hurricane season, and telling Ben Bernanke to keep the presses warm.

Taxes, defined

This is a piece that seems to go 'round every year about this time. No one will confirm authorship, but no one disagrees with the substance!

How Taxes Work . . .

This is a VERY simple way to understand the tax laws. Read on -- it does make you think!!

Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1, the sixth would pay $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18, and the tenth man — the richest — would pay $59.

That's what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement — until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language a tax cut).

"Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20." So now dinner for the ten only cost $80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six — the paying customers? How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his "fair share?"

The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, Then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man who pointed to the tenth. "But he got $7!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man, "I only saved a dollar, too . . . It's unfair that he got seven times more than me!".

"That's true!" shouted the seventh man, "why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison, "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS short of paying the bill! Imagine that!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore.

Where would that leave the rest? Unfortunately, most taxing authorities anywhere cannot seem to grasp this rather straightforward logic!

You can get the whole story about this at Snopes.com

Thursday, April 06, 2006

America's immigrant solution: A gift from the past

I should begin by saying that – assuming the stories I was told concerning my heritage are correct – my great-grandfather would technically be considered an “illegal immigrant” by today’s standards. Fearful of not having the necessary “papers” upon disembarkation from the transport ship at New York’s Battery Park in 1888, worried that he might be sent back to Sweden, family legend has it that my progenitor, Karl Johanas Olson, literally jumped over the side as the ship docked, late at night, with what little baggage he carried. His first steps on the shore of the New World no doubt had a squishing sound, as water was squeezed out through the tops of his shoes.

118 years ago, however, it was a very different world. The great wave of immigration that characterized the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was dominated by Europeans. They sought new lives and opportunities, to be free from the political, economic, and religious oppressions raging in Europe at that time. As their parent cultures were not all that dissimilar from the dominant one in America, their biggest concerns involved learning a new language (English), earning their keep, and keeping their families housed, clothed and fed.

They knew the risks. There were no guarantees, or safety nets. There was no welfare state Free Lunch. But they made the journey anyway, giving up everything and everyone they knew for a fresh start in the New World. As the American industrial economy boomed, there was always a shortage of available hands to do all the work, ergo immigrants of that era could rise as far and as fast as their individual skills would let them. But the rules of life were more straightforward and manageable back then. There was not yet a web of strangulating bureaucratic regulations, to define and guide one’s entire existence from cradle to grave, along with egregiously high taxes to pay for it. So the rags-to-riches stories of successful immigrants, immortalized by writers such as Horatio Alger, were too numerous to describe.

There was no government run assistance program, the only such services being delivered by private church networks, so immigrants were expected to make it on their own. In many cases, they came to America at the behest of relatives that had preceded them many years before – hence the biggest “safety net” for immigrants was family. My great-grandfather’s brother-in-law owned a farm in Bemidji, Minnesota. Somehow Karl made it there, rejoined his wife and infant son (who had preceded him by a few months), got himself a grubstake, and soon had a farm of his own. Karl worked hard, owned land, and paid his taxes, although it was unclear whether he ever took the step of becoming a US citizen. But perhaps it didn’t matter, as in those days, taxes and government interference in people’s lives were still minimal, and in northern European culture, getting emotionally hot and bothered over anything, let alone political issues, was considered poor form.

My grandfather, having grown up on that Minnesota farm, set out on his own at a very tender age, along with his older cousin, at the turn of the twentieth century. Ironically, one of his first jobs was with the Canadian railroads – no one was checking for green cards up there, either, apparently. People just found work where they could, settled down and made lives for themselves, and no one asked a lot of fool questions about one’s “legal right to work here”. In fact, there was a lot of legal ambiguity concerning citizenship, much of which wasn’t addressed until after World War II. It wasn’t always the case that children born here of non-citizens were considered automatically de facto US citizens. That is a relatively recent development. My grandfather himself was born in Sweden, and brought over as an infant – but he never became a naturalized US citizen until into his sixties.

The real problem with immigration today is that we’re – once again – asking government to solve a problem that government itself created. Any government that would arrogate to itself sole responsibility to solve all the problems of crime, drugs, poverty, terrorism, and postal delivery, to name only a few, is of course going to bungle immigration completely and utterly, as it has bungled everything else it has touched over the last 140 years.

Every attempt government has made to “solve” a social problem just leads to inconveniencing and imposing unnecessary costs on the vast majority of law abiding US citizens. Remember the last time they tried “immigration reform” in the ‘80’s? The result of that was the dreaded I-9 form. This was supposed to be the totally bulletproof solution to protecting American jobs from those dreaded “illegals”. Today billions of dollars of productivity is lost by the private sector economy just to comply with the paperwork American citizens must file to prove they are such every time they take a new job. But somehow, “illegals”, and those who hire them, cleverly manage to avoid this requirement. So if the regulation is clearly a failure, why not admit such and repeal it?

But just because I’m criticizing government policy and attitudes doesn’t mean I’m willing to let everyone else off the hook for the difficulties we face. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that large numbers of Americans are themselves whining to Big Uncle to “do something” – an attitude 100 years in the making, one fostered by government itself, in the zeal of the political class to be Santa Claus. Stop whining, put down the remote and the cheese doodles, and do something locally.

I’m not all that happy with the Latino demonstrators, either, and all their waving of Mexican flags. While the proposed new legislation would criminalize all “illegals” and those who hire or even assist them in any way, and is a bit overboard in that regard, it didn’t help the immigrant cause to essentially declare that their true allegiance is to Mexico, and they don’t give a damn about our laws, our culture, or our language. So if that is the case, why should we care about their problems, either? And why are we letting them in our hospitals and educating their kids for free?

Perhaps they figure that since they trim our hedges, clean our toilets, harvest our veggies, raise our kids, build our homes and fix our cars, that we fat, stupid Anglos can't get along without them; hence they have every right to parade in our streets and demand the same "rights" that citizens get, like health care, drivers licenses, public schools taught in Spanish, and even voting rights. But, all that aside, what they're really doing is agitating for the unabashed right to stay here forever, claim all the privileges of citizens, and to hell with our laws.

I’m not a fan of current immigration laws – but for the time being those are the laws we have, and until American citizens – by way of their Congressional representatives – change them, those wishing to enter this country to work and live should be expected to abide by them. The brutal fact is there is a long line to get into this country legally, and millions are jumping in ahead of the line. Any proposed “guest worker” program would reward this unacceptable behavior.

It is argued that without such a program, and by kicking out undocumented workers, it would create huge distortions in certain areas of our economy, particularly agribusiness, construction, and service trades. I would submit that the distortions already exist and have existed for decades, hardwired in place by those same industries’ desire for a cheap labor force, unconstrained by present US labor laws covering wages, benefits, taxes, and working conditions. We would just be “normalizing” things.

I don’t want to hear nonsense that “undocumented’s” do work that Americans won’t do, or that they pay taxes and try to fit in. The truth is that most Americans won’t do work for the sorts of low wages, lack of benefits, and poor working conditions that undocumented’s have historically been willing to accept, which is actually a black mark on the employers who exploit this. Undocumented’s are largely paid cash under the table, so they don’t pay taxes either. But given the low wage rates, they would probably get a full refund even if they did pay in. And forget about “assimilating” – many immigrants from Latin America won’t even try to learn English, and the social engineers of states like California encourage this, as they pray to the false god of “multiculturalism”.

So what do we actually do? First, we need to limit or sidetrack government’s role in this and begin stepping up to the plate ourselves. If people are coming here without documentation to work, that’s one thing, if the jobs are available and the area is short-handed. But if they’re coming here just to head right for the welfare office and the free hospitals and schools, they’ve now crossed the line into “trespass”, and should be deported accordingly.

Local citizens of those areas should find creative ways to pick up the slack themselves - the INS won't have the resources. This is why I watched with interest those "Minuteman" groups who began to patrol parts of the border that INS couldn't effectively cover, capturing on camera, people running accross the border at night. It’s not right that Mexico and other countries attempt to export their own internal social and economic problems over our borders. We have enough freeloaders who were born here – we don’t need more.

My great-grandparent’s American experience, the typical experience of millions of immigrants to the US in those times, bequeathed us the keys to a potentially successful immigration “policy” today: We’ll hold open the door, if you are willing to (1) accept the dominant Anglo-Saxon-Germanic-Euro-culture of your adopted country, (2) learn its dominant language (English), (3) be willing to earn your own keep and be self-reliant, as any government-funded “safety-nets” are/should be reserved for US citizens, (4) pay the requisite taxes, obey local laws and respect local customs, and (5) have the willingness to take the necessary steps to becoming a US citizen.

That’s it. No need for walls, green cards, “guest worker” passes, Spanish-only schools, or arresting church members for giving voluntary assistance to “illegals”. By the same token, we wouldn’t be handing out goodies on the taxpayer’s dime, like health care, to non-citizens – private charities would have to pick up that slack, if so inclined. In fact, this particular policy may actually help stem the tide of Mexicans flooding over the border – once they understand the gravy train left the station, that flood may slow to a trickle.

And then smugglers like "Jose" will be forced to find a different line of work.