I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Week 12

253 this week. First down direction in three weeks. I'm cautiously optimistic I'll make it to 250 for next weeks final weigh in. We're having good weather from now until then, so I've got many, many miles of walking ahead of me for the next few days. Walking really seems to be the key to losing weight. I think my eating habits help me keep off the weight, but my biggest weight loss weeks almost always correspond to weeks where I've gone hiking, even if it's only a two or three mile loop along the Eno. My walking slacked off a bit in November, partially because I was aggressively trying to get to 50k words on my new novel, partially due to bad weather, and partially due to multiple family events. But, I hit my word count goal last night and the forecast is for lots of sunny days in the mid sixties from now through next Thursday. I really couldn't ask for better conditions to make this happen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How tax cuts led to higher spending

As a libertarian, I'm a firm believer in smaller government. I'm not sure we need our military spread out across the world; I'm not even certain we need a standing army at all. I definitely think that the federal government takes on too many financial responsibilities that would best be run at the local level, like welfare and education. (Is there any evidence that the federal war on poverty launched in the sixties has decreased the number of poor people? Have all the mandates and incentives and college loans thrown into education actually produced a more educated public?) And, of course, I think the government interferes far too much in the free market. Why do we subsidize corn and milk production? Why do we keep throwing money into amtrack trains that run half empty everywhere but large northeastern cities? Why put even a dime into public radio and television in an era of 900 TV channels and the near infinite diversity of internet radio? Why do we subsidize drug cartels by driving up the price of their products?

But, I'm also a realist. Libertarians have been making a case against big government for many decades and the public has soundly rejected us at the ballot box. PBS is a trivial government expense, representing about .0001* percent of the amount we'd need to cut to balance the budget. Yet, even that trivial proposed cut resulted in a public outcry, and the candidate who championed it went down in flames.

One reason that the public is so supportive of federal spending is that, for the most part, they don't pay a lot of taxes for it. Romney was right that nearly half of Americans don't pay income tax, though, I will note, he wasn't proposing to raise taxes on this half of the public. The republican insistence to never raise taxes has, perversely, likely led to a far higher level of public spending than we would have had if they'd insisted from the age of Reagan that every budget be balanced. The case against PBS and Amtrack and farm bills and foreign occupations would be easier to make if more of the public actually saw a relationship between these political choices and decreasing paychecks.

By insisting on low tax rates while allowing spending to rise, we've been engaged in a Keynesian stimlulus that's now creeping into its fourth decade. The economy has grown thanks to these low tax rates and debt driven spending, but growth has failed to lift us out of the budget hole. Even the brief budget surplusses of the late 90s were a result of structural overtaxation for Social Security. The real budget if social security taxes and spending had been excluded would still have been in deficit.

There was an argument for many years that budget deficits would "starve the beast," and keep the growth of the federal government under check. Instead, the beast is fatter than ever, downright obese. The looming "fiscal cliff" is scary to me not because the tax hikes are so harsh and the budget cuts so draconian, but because they are so inadequate to the task of putting our nation back onto a responsible path.

Yes, raising taxes enough to balance the budget today would be a serious blow to the economy. But, it seems pretty obvious to me that continuing our policy of low taxes is only going to allow the government to grow ever more bloated. If conservatives and libertarians truly want to usher in an era of smaller government, then it's time for taxes to rise to a level where voters feel some discomfort. We index Social Security benefits to rise each year with inflation? Fine. Index the payroll tax each year to rise by the same level. Worried that people would just find ways to hide income in order to avoid income taxes? No problem. Shift more taxes to consumption. Let the tax on gasoline rise to a couple of bucks and put a pie chart on every gas pump showing what percentage is going to roads, to defense, to schools, etc.

Would this work? I honestly have no idea. As far as I can tell, the states with the highest levels of taxation, like California and New York, seem to be the states with populations most supportive of government spending. So, perhaps there would be a surge of support for more government spending, on the theory that we deserve it since we pay our taxes. (This is why Social Security is impossible to cut; all working people see the tax coming out of their check each week and aren't going to let the government screw them out of their money by cutting benefits.) But, I'd rather have taxes and spending in balance, with the current generation paying for what it spends, than our current policy of spending without constraint and shifting the bill to future generations. That's not only unwise, it's downright immoral.

This is our spending. We own it. It's time to pay for it.

*A completely made up number. If you want the actual percent, google it, but the point is, it's tiny.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Weeks 10 and 11

Can you say plateau? I was flat week ten at 254, then went up to 256 the Friday after Thanksgiving. But, the last three weeks had my wedding anniversary where we got to eat the wedding cake top we'd saved, plus two thanksgiving meals, one with my family and one with hers. It was just one never ending obstacle course of calories.

I'm bumping up my treadmill time to 45 minutes a day to try to get past this. My final weigh in for the weight loss competition at work is Thursday after next. I think I still have a shot of getting to 250 by then. I'm certain I can get back to 254. My toughest competitor at work also gained weight over Thanksgiving, so I just might stand a chance at winning even at 254.

Friday, November 09, 2012

A Libertarian Perspective on the Presidential Election

My goodness, what a great gnashing of teeth in some quarters that President Obama has been reelected. Reactions have ranged from agonizing soul-searching of what went wrong, to finding straw men to blame for the loss (Liberal media! Voter fraud! The Takers!) to outright ranting of how the republic has reached its final days and America is fated for a long, agonizing decline.

My own view is probably most closely aligned with the last one... but I've felt that way since the 1980s, save for a brief surge of optimism in the late 90s. And, I would have felt that way if Romney had won instead of Obama.

I know it's trite to say that there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. But, from my perspective, there's very little difference between Democrats and Republicans. Both parties have demonstrated a devotion to unrestrained use of the national credit card. Both parties have demonstrated a willingness to throw away American lives in wars of dubious value to the security of this nation. Neither side has shown a surplus of respect for individual liberties. Neither side has shown much respect for capitalism, with both parties allowing large financial institutions to loot the national treasury.

It's true that Obamacare is a monstrosity of paperwork and complications that will likely make health care more expensive, more opaque, and less responsive. But, as someone who has had many chances to witness the workings of the modern health care system, I can testify that the system before Obama was elected was a morass of paperwork, outrageous costs, opaque billing, and frustrating wait times. Last year when I developed my thyroid problems, I had no existing family physician, and most doctors offices I called to see if I could get a checkup quoted me wait times of several months before they could see me (though I did eventually find one that saw me after a wait of merely several weeks). I honestly don't know what the answer would be to improving our health care system, but I also know I certainly never heard even one sentence from Romney, McCain, or Bush that indicated that they had any better ideas than Obama did.

As for issues of national defense, as the foreign policy debate indicated, there was no discernible difference between Obama and Romney, because there is no important difference between Obama and Bush. As for Obama's horrible mishandling of the attack in Libya and what I feel is an ongoing cover up, I'm happy to admit that heads should roll for this. But, the magnitude of Obama's negligence in this situation is pretty small potatoes compared to the magnitude of Bush's deciding to invade a foreign country to protect the world from weapons of mass destruction that turned out, in retrospect, to be figments of the imagination. Four thousand Americans and a minimum of a hundred thousand Iraqis have perished because Bush made poor decisions. Compared to four US deaths, it's difficult to get too worked up by the right wing outrage machine.

Returning to fiscal matters: Obama has been absolutely horrible on the federal budget. But, I never heard any serious plan from Romney to fix things. I'm all for cutting funding for NPR, but that's just drops in the deficit bucket. I don't believe that marginal tax cuts have the stimulative effect that Republicans seem to believe it. Much of the Obama stimulus was tax cuts, as was Bush's stimulus, and his budgets weren't balanced either. It was difficult to take Romney seriously when he swore not to trim even a dime from the military. Ryan's supposedly serious budget plan promised to balance the budget by 2040! Talk about political courage!

My biggest regret of the Obama reelection is that we will probably wind up with at least one more youthful liberal Supreme Court Justice. It's not that I'm a 100% fan of the conservative wing of the court, but at least they seem to acknowledge that the government has some constitutional restraints.

But, there are positives to Obama's victory as well, from my perspective. The cause of gay marriage will be able to advance in a more friendly environment. The children of illegal immigrants can live their lives in slightly less fear of deportation. Atheists won't be dismissed as unpatriotic and unworthy of belonging to the greater American family.

So, take heart, Republicans. The nation you will live in for the next four years is pretty much the same nation you would be living in if your guy had won. Democrats, don't gloat too much. Life under Obama is very little different from life under a 4th term of George W. Bush. Yeah, liberals can cherish small victories, and Republicans will have many chances to fester with outrage, but, from a libertarian perspective, it's pretty much all the same.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Week 9: 30 pounds!

Made it! And now I really need new pants.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Week Eight

257. So, so close to being down 30 pounds from my starting weight. I'm going to try to be aggressive this week with exercise to try to hit that milestone.

My need to buy new clothes is getting a little ridiculous, though I continue to hold out, not knowing where my weight loss will end. Pants that were to tight on me two months ago are so loose they fall off if my belt isn't completely tightened.

I confess, though, that today I gave in to temptation and ate some french fries. I had a broiled fish platter for dinner, and it came with either fries or a baked potato. I figured I'd just nibble on a couple of fries. Nope, all of them gone in about two minutes. Oh well. Nothing 45 minutes on the treadmill can't negate.