SOPA/PIPA – Why is everyone talking about it?

I realized today that there are people who are still unaware of the SOPA and PIPA acts currently trying to make their way through Congress. While it’s hard for me to imagine, apparently there are people who still just watch CNN and so have no idea this exists. To those people, here’s the moral of the story: government does scary things when you are not watching.

People far better at this sort of thing have said everything there is today in all sorts of ways, so rather than discuss the details of what this will do and why you should care, here are some of the more excellent sources I’ve seen:

Now let me tell you why I care.

I believe that the internet is probably the single most game-changing invention in the last hundred years – maybe more. It’s radically changed the way human beings interact with each other, given humanity new access to information and communication that was before undreamed of. The last time there was a game-changer this big, it was Gutenberg and his printing press allowing people access to literature they’d never dreamed of.

Like the DMCA before them, SOPA and PIPA seek to give the American government more and more power and control over what can and cannot happen on the internet. It’s done in the name of “fairness” and “copyright” (an abused term unto itself!) and the phrasing is so poor and permissive you’d think they were trying to upset anyone who’d read the bill. It was written by lobbyists for organizations like the RIAA and MPAA, whose histories show them to be firmly entrenched against progress or free speech, and more than willing to use outright lies to extend their spheres of influence. SOPA and PIPA are two sides of the same ugly coin, and as long as people remain unaware of what is going on, politicians will keep grabbing at power in this arena, because the lobbyists are paying them well to do so.

I have yet to meet someone, even trolls on internet forums, who think SOPA is a good idea. The closest thing I’ve heard to support from anyone outside Washington is, “I hope it will pass so that people get pissed off enough to start a revolution.” I’m a pessimist when it comes to politics, but I don’t want a bloody revolution. I’m not even looking for a candidate to make things better at this point – I’ll gladly settle for someone who won’t make things worse. Stopping SOPA and PIPA are part of that agenda, for me.

For the record, Gingrich and Paul both oppose SOPA.  Romney and Santorum both have given wishy-washy non-answers when asked about it.

Last night’s Republican debate

As seen on Youtube:

Mitt Romney: Looked great, even though I disagreed with him. Nobody touched him, and the moderators gave him softball after softball. Going after him on the contraceptives issue even allowed him to play the “voice of common sense” – something he is the last person on stage to deserve. However… only he could somehow turn the phrase “Constitutionalist” into a slight.

Rick Santorum: Came off as a petty jerk on a couple of occasions. He needs to stop that. Also, he got a nice soundbite on his “Americans don’t believe in ‘class'” bit. Otherwise he kept the “W”-esque party line carefully, and got some great shots in on Obama. I don’t know that he gained many supporters, but I doubt he loses many either.

Ron Paul: Clarified a couple things for me personally, otherwise, nothing surprising. What was surprising was how many attacks were made on him. I wish he’d spoken a bit more clearly, but his points were made, and directly.

Newt Gingrich: Contributed very little of relevance. Seemed more just an example other people used. One thing that I did think was interesting was that he seemed to be the only one to address his local audience primarily over the national one, using specific examples on occasion.

Rick Perry: “I would send troops back into Iraq!” Bye, dude. You were doing alright until that one.

Jon Huntsman: Surprisingly sensible, and funny too. Too bad he’s irrelevant at this point.

The moderators were embarrassingly bad, and didn’t even try to appear neutral or unbiased.

Post-Iowa thoughts

So, Iowa has come and gone, and we have some fairly interesting results, in my opinion. Looks like Santorum and Romney came out essentially dead even with Paul in a close third. As I write this, the winner’s not yet decided, but really, it doesn’t matter in the overall picture. Romney surprised no one, Santorum suprised a lot of people, and Paul did exactly what the polls said he would.

Now, Iowa has a pretty good record of showing who’ll be the nominee historically on the Democratic side  – but on the Republican side, they picked Huckabee (34%) over McCain (13%) in 2008, and Dole (37%) over Bush Sr. (19%) in 1988. They did get Dole right in 1996 and Bush Jr. in 2000, but if we go back further, they were wrong on Reagan as well. So we can’t really say that, at least recently, this is going to make a huge impact on the chances of those top 5 in regards to November’s results.

What it does do, however, is cut the field to five, and the hopeful field to four, since this was Perry’s best-polling state out of the first five. Bachmann and Huntsman are done, though I’m sure Bachmann will squeeze a few more dollars out of her supporters before tapping out, and anyone hoping for Cain to come back can fuggedaboutit. I think the most surprising thing to me is how strong Santorum polled – I suppose he’s the one receiving the majority of the “oh please don’t let it be Mitt” vote. Romney actually pulled the exact same showing as he did last year, which can’t be an encouraging start in his camp, given he has the huge advantage in name recognition and time spent.

But that Ron Paul… he over doubled his result from last year and came dangerously close to taking it. That’s a bit surprising to me, given how hard the media’s tried to ignore the guy. That said, he was polling ahead of both Romney and Santorum yesterday, though by a narrow margin, which means he’s not grabbing much of the undecided vote. He ended up gaining about 1% in the actual vote, where the other two made up about 6% each – that could be a problem for him going forward. Now, he’s currently polling second in New Hampshire, behind a heavily-favored Romney and just ahead of Gingrich – Santorum is only polling at around 3% there right now

Now assuming Paul stays steady, this makes me think that he may hold on to a strong position as he’s still polling top three in the next few states to hit their primaries, where Santorum and Perry are both doing terribly. Unless Santorum sees a big swing in those states soon, I’d expect Romney, Gingrich, and Paul to be the frontrunners by the end of the month – and given the media’s treatment of Paul thus far, that means we’ll be hearing a lot about Gingrich and Romney.

As it is, I’m already starting to consider Paul the least of the available evils – somewhere I didn’t think I’d see myself a few months ago. Oh what interesting times these are.

Tonight’s debate

Well, Perry looked almost as tired, but twice as petty. Cain really didn’t look any better, and Romney unfortunately came out looking fairly strong – if only in comparison. Romney, Cain, Santorum and Perry all had more than their share of yelling over each other and talking out of turn like spoiled children. Santorum actually just looked like a jerk the whole time. Gingrich looked and sounded confident, as did Paul, but I doubt either will have much of a chance. I am starting to get that sickening gut feeling that Romney will be our candidate, which means Obama will probably get a second term after all.

So… now I break out the whiskey and go back to reading. Stupid politics.

Another election, another economic plan

The way I see it there are currently four potentially viable GOP candidates to challenge Obama in 2012: Romney, Cain, Perry, and Paul.

Of that group, Romney is essentially a Democrat, and is easily the most liberal of the group, so I have a hard time taking him seriously, much less supporting him. Paul has a lot of great ideas and ultimately I think is the “most right” of the bunch when it comes to how things should be, but therein lies his problem – his idealism gets in the way of practicality, which makes him both naive and politically unfeasible. Would I support him over Obama? Absolutely. But do I think he’s the best man to run against him? No.

So that leaves Cain and Perry, the two candidates who piqued my interest back when they announced and haven’t done anything yet to send me running for the hills. In the last debate, I wasn’t particularly impressed with either – Cain seemed too aggressive, even angry at times, and just kept hammering “999” like a traveling salesman. Perry, on the other hand, looked unsure of himself and entirely uncomfortable the entire time – certainly not the image of a calm and confident leader.

The big issue of the election, though, is the economy, and that’s what sets the two apart most clearly – now, that is, that Perry’s unveiled his plan. Cain’s plan is simple, and we’ve heard it often: 9-9-9, which is a tax reform plan that he suggests will be enough to get businesses revitalized all on its own. The basic idea is that he reduces income taxes to 9% for both businesses and individuals, and adds a 9% national sales tax. This would replace the entire mess of a tax code we have now. The good news: it would abolish the death tax, capital gains tax, and payroll taxes, and simplifies the paperwork significantly – no deductions, no special interests, just 9%. It’s an attractive suggestion.

But I don’t know if it’s worth the tradeoff. First, the income tax as it is now will lower the tax burden on those making a lot of money, and increase the tax on those making a little – and it also means that the 48% of the country not paying any taxes at all would have to start. This is obviously politically unpopular, but it could be manageable IF prices came down as a result of the changes, which would make things more affordable for those with a lower income, or if wages increased significantly and quickly as a direct result. But, I don’t know if that’s likely to happen, due to the third “9” in his plan.

That “9,” his national sales tax, is very nearly a VAT, though it technically isn’t one in the proposed form. A Value Added Tax is a special type of sales tax that is collected at each step of a product’s lifespan – from the sale of the initial raw material all the way to the finalized product’s purchase by the consumer. Each step adds a significant increase to the price of any given product, and the more complex the product, the larger the effect it have. Because it is built into the price, it is nearly impossible to determine how much of a product’s price is based on the tax and how much is based on the market – and then you add another tax on top of that “final” price. Europe has been doing this for a while now, and it’s driven their tax revenues through the roof.  If Cain’s sales tax becomes a VAT, it’s very hard to see how this will not add a massive burden to the average consumer – and ultimately, Cain wants to shift the entire tax burden onto this part of the plan.

Let me add that I do like the idea of moving taxes off of income tax entirely, doing away with that in favor of a national sales tax – I think the FairTax plan is still the best one I have heard, and that is where Cain wants to ultimately end up. His initial 9-9-9 plan is a transitional plan. The problem is that he wants to start the Federal sales tax BEFORE eliminating the income tax. Without cutting off the income tax as a source of Federal income, he leaves open the possibility of it remaining open indefinitely, and alongside a new revenue stream – the sales tax. We’ve all seen that governments are loathe to give up ways to take our money, so I’m not inclined to ever trust one to do so willingly. That makes this plan have a huge potential to backfire and make things worse, instead of better. Cain suffers in that regard from a bit of the Ron Paul naivete, I think.

So let’s look at the Perry plan, then. His focuses less on taxes and more on encouraging job creation. He wants to cut EPA regulations that are stifling current projects and open more projects in the energy sector, allowing drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, alongside expanding projects in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania while encouraging exploration in western states. Now the beautiful thing about this plan is that it is something that can easily be implemented quickly, and would immediately turn into rapid job growth. A lot of these projects are literally waiting on the government’s approval right now, and have thus far been turned down – Perry’s answer is to, basically, finally say yes. So he ignores the problems with the complicated tax code – not ideal! – but instead focuses on immediately getting jobs going by dialing down the regulation and opening up the markets that we’ve thus far kept closed. This is, I think, the best approach for our current situation.

Moving away from our current tax structure toward the FairTax is something I’d love to see happen, but I think our current economic situation is too precarious to undertake that particular journey right now. We need to get people working again, and quickly, and I think Perry’s plan stands a better chance of making that happen.

Given that, I’d say at this point my support is with Perry right now. I’d love to see Cain as his running mate, though, if for no other reason than to make sure Cain’s insistence on a reformed tax code stays firmly lodged in Perry’s ear.