On That GOP Health Care Bill, and Tax Breaks

First, my initial thoughts, as rendered on Twitter.

Now, let me talk a little bit more about the part where I say “rich people don’t miss their taxes,” since I think there are people who may be reasonably skeptical about this. Warning: I’m going to talk about my money. Then I’m going to talk about other people’s money.

To begin: I pay taxes on a quarterly basis, because I’m self-employed and the IRS, alas not entirely unreasonably, questions whether self-employed people will keep track of their money for a full year in order to pay off one big tax bill. So every quarter, I pay taxes. And in each of those quarterly tax payments, I pay in taxes roughly what I grossed (and definitely more than I netted) in income from the entire four-and-half years of my first job out of college, working for a newspaper. Add up my yearly tax bill, and it’s close to what I grossed my first ten years of being a professional writer — and there was never a time in there I didn’t do okay; it was a solid continuous progression up the middle-class income ladder.

So these days, whenever I see how much I pay in taxes annually, my first thought is always something like HOLY CRAP that’s a lot of money. I could totally use that! As someone who grew up poor and has worked his way steadily up the income ladder, it’s a freakin’ huge amount in terms of the raw dollars.

And then I pay my taxes and I discover that anything I would have used that ridiculous wad of tax money for, I still have enough in my net income for. I literally cannot think of a thing I want — or need — that my post-tax income can’t handle. Because as it happens, even with federal, state and local taxes, my tax burden is reasonable. I don’t pay taxes in 1980, when the highest marginal federal income tax rate was 70%; I pay taxes in 2017, where top federal tax bracket maxes out at just under 40%. With state and local taxes, I would have to break a sweat to have a total tax indebtedness of 50% — but I don’t come anywhere near that, because like lots of people in my position I have a very smart accountant who finds me lots of deductions.

So even with literally the full (pre-deduction) tax burden someone in Ohio can pay — we max out all the marginal rates — there is more than enough left over for pretty much anything that we want to do, individually, as a couple or as a family. We save a lot, invest a bunch, and thus take that money out of the short-term income pool we use for bills, household spending and, uh, “consumer activity,” and we’re still just fine, thanks. I suppose it’s possible that we could spend so much of our post-tax income that we’re left with little or nothing and thus would wish we had some of the money that we paid in taxes back into our hands, but speaking from experience, this takes effort, and some willful stupidity about your money. Yes, I’m looking at you, Nick Cage and Johnny Depp. But if you’re not the sort of person who spends $30,000 a month on wine, you’re probably going to be fine.

We do just fine. The other people I know who have similar or better incomes than we have also do just fine. The ones I know with substantially better incomes than we have are also doing just fine. No one at my income level or better actively misses the money they spend on taxes, because they’re still rich after they pay taxes.

Would I like to pay less in taxes? When I look at the raw number of dollars I send to the IRS, sure. When I think about the actual impact on my day-to-day life having that money would make, versus the actual and positive impact on the day-to-day life of millions of other people, when people like me pay our taxes? Nope. I have certain (in more than one sense of that word) opinions about how those taxes I pay in should be used, and whether they are being used effectively, and whether I’m getting value for what I pay, to be sure. Those are different issues, however.

Cratering health care for millions in the United States (and crippling Medicaid in the bargain) in order to give people like me a tax cut means that we are taking something from people who need it, often desperately, to give something to people who don’t need it and may not even notice it in any substantial way. In the House version of this legislation, you have to make more than $200k to get any tax benefit from it; people with incomes between $200k and $500k a year would get a tax break of $510 on average. $510 is not a lot to get in return for asking millions of other Americans to be potentially priced out of health coverage, have lifetime insurance caps reinstituted, be denied for pre-existing conditions, get sicker and die earlier. And the roughly 95% of Americans who don’t make $200,000 a year won’t even get that.

Rich people don’t need any more tax cuts. They’re doing just fine. They will continue to do just fine. And no, their tax burden isn’t onerous. Trust me, I know. I live that tax burden daily. It doesn’t hurt. What does hurt is knowing that people I know and care for will likely die sooner and sicker than they should just so someone like me gets back a few more dollars they won’t notice. Don’t come at me with “but the rich earned those dollars.” Dude, I earned my dollars, too. I earned them in a country that helped me get where I am in part through taxes. I earned them understanding that getting rich came with an obligation to the society I live in and benefit from, an obligation discharged, in part, by paying a perfectly reasonable amount of taxes.

The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “Fuck you, I got mine.” It was, and should have remained, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. We’re all Americans. We all deserve the blessings this country can provide. This one is willing to pay his taxes for the benefit of the many.

More Fireflies

I’m getting a smidgen better at taking pictures of these little glowy dudes. The secret, which is not a secret at all, is long exposures on steady platforms, and low ISO settings so you don’t blow out the picture. This one, which is actually a detail of a larger photo, is a 20 second exposure at ISO 250 at late dusk (close to 10 pm here because it was literally the night before the solstice), so the sky was darker than it is here. I used the birdbath in the front yard as a platform.

I was focused on the fireflies but as you can see a little here, and rather better in the photo linked above, I caught some stars in there too, as well as twenty seconds of their movement across the sky, which was apparently just long enough to catch some streaking. I think this is pretty cool.

I’ll probably post one or two more firefly photos before the season is done. I think they’re pretty.

Putting the Head On Cover Here, Because Why Wouldn’t I

I mean, I was happy to give Entertainment Weekly an exclusive for a day, but now this cover needs to here at home.

Also, I really like it. Credit to Irene Gallo, Tor’s art director, and Peter Lutjen, the cover designer (he also did the design for Redshirts and Lock In). Tor always does right by me in terms of covers, and this is no exception.

Head On Cover Reveal + Excerpt at EW.com

You know, just in case you’re curious. Here’s the link.

Fireflies, 6/16/17

Every year we have fireflies in our yard, and every year I intend to go out with a camera and take a picture of them, and then I always forget. Not this year! Last night and went and made a first attempt. It turned out… adequate! I need to take a longer exposure, I think, and put the camera on a tripod. But as a proof of concept, this will do for now. Also, now I know how to take a long exposure on my camera. Go me.

Sunset, 6/16/17

Here you go. After this week, you deserve a good one. Have a great weekend, everybody.

New Books and ARCs, 6/16/17

Just in time for the weekend, this collection of very excellent new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Let us know which of these trigger your “I gotta have that” reflex, down in the comments.

How to Get an Old Man’s War eBook Free (in the US/Canada) Through June 21st

Just join the Tor.com eBook of the Month Club! It’s that simple.

You ask: “But how do I join the Tor.com eBook of the Month Club?” Well, here’s a link! (Note: After June 21st 2017, you can still sign up for the club, but Old Man’s War will no longer be on offer. Sorry.)

You also ask: “But why only the US and Canada?” The answer here is: That’s where Tor has the rights! Other publishers have the rights elsewhere. And they’re not part of Tor.com’s eBook of the Month Club.

You also also ask: “But I already own Old Man’s War and have incorporated all its teachings into my personal worldview. What now?” I say: Then let your friends who have not read the book and might be interested in it know that it’s available for free for the next few days. That’s right, share the joy of John Perry, Jane Sagan and the Colonial Union! I mean, I’m not saying go door to door asking people if they’ve heard the good news about the Colonial Defense Forces. But, if someone says “I don’t know what to read next,” this is a good thing to slip into conversation.

You also also also ask: “But, Scalzi, you’re giving away your classic of modern science fiction for free — how will you feed your adorable family and pets?” Well, you know. I’ll find some way. Selling blood plasma, perhaps. And anyway, Old Man’s War has done well by me for the last dozen years. I can occasionally let it go as a freebie for a couple of days to bring in new readers. If they like what they read, I have 11 other novels (including five more in the OMW series) they might be willing to pay for after that. It’s worked that way before, anyway.

So, go on — enjoy! And tell a friend or two.

New Books and ARCs, 6/14/17

Personally I find it reassuring that no matter what, new books and ARCs keep coming along. Here’s today’s stack. What here is on your own personal “to get” list?

In Lieu of Me Having Anything Particularly Cogent to Say This Afternoon, Please Accept This Picture of a Cat

She looks pensive, doesn’t she.

New Books and ARCs, 6/12/17

Hey, do you like books? 

(This is a rhetorical question. If you are at this particular site and don’t like books, I really don’t know what to say to you.)

Here are some new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound in the very recent past. See anything you’d want to add to your TBR pile? Tell us in the comments!

Comey at the Senate

Hey, Scalzi! It’s me, your fictional interlocutor!

Oh, God, you again.

You know why I’m here!

This is about the James Comey testimony yesterday, isn’t it?

Correct! 

*sighs*

Fine, let’s do this.

James Comey testimony! Your thoughts!

Well, assuming Comey was truthful and reasonably accurate in his testimony, and to be clear I suspect he was, then it basically tells us what we already knew, which is that Donald Trump is a lying liar who lies, and that he rather stupidly tried to intervene in the Michael Flynn/Russia investigation, and in a way that’s very probably actual obstruction of justice. And he implied another thing I suspect most of us already knew, which is that the Russians have their hands up the asses of a whole lot of people in the Trump administration, including very likely Jeff Sessions. So, I can’t say that I was entirely surprised by anything Comey said, but it’s gratifying to have it in the congressional record.

Do you still think James Comey wasn’t very good at his job?

Kind of? I think what his testimony solidified for me is that James Comey was probably pretty good at the day to day minutiae of his former gig, and also that within the context of that gig he was pretty ethical. But I also think he made some high-profile bad calls, and that very same desire for ethical action caused him to exacerbate rather than mitigate some of those bad calls.

At this point I’ve gotten used to thinking of Comey as something of a tragic figure, whose greatest virtue — a desire to act ethically and above the usual boundaries of politics in the execution of his duties — ended up precipitating a national and global crisis. Because make no mistake that we have a President Trump in large part because of him. I suspect that eats at him even if he believes all his actions during 2016 were ultimately correct and appropriate, as the head of the FBI.

(This is not to say a President Hillary Clinton would not have had her challenges. But only a fool or a committed partisan (and there’s some considerable overlap there) at this point believes a Clinton administration would have been the gross and obvious ethical Superfund site the Trump administration has been from day one.)

Let me put it this way: I think Comey could have made better decisions in his role as FBI director. I also think his testimony was probably, pun intended, unimpeachable.

But Trump says Comey’s testimony vindicated him!

Sure, but Trump says a lot of stupid things, doesn’t he? If by “vindicated” he means “established him as a liar and obstructor of justice,” then yes, he’s entirely vindicated. Otherwise it’s just Trump lying as fast as he can, which pretty much goes to Comey’s point directly, doesn’t it.

Trump’s lawyer says he going to file a complaint against Comey for leaking. Thoughts?

I mean, okay, but so what? First: Comey, then a private citizen, giving a friend a non-classified memo recounting a conversation he had with the president, and encouraging the friend to share it? That’s not actually a leak, now, is it? Comey was already out of a job. Also, filing a complaint will do what, precisely? Is the Department of Justice going to fire him again? A double-secret firing? It doesn’t appear that Comey did anything illegal, and complaining to the Department of Justice about it seems likely to result in exactly one thing: The lawyer complaining to the Department of Justice about it. Like many things Trump does, this is a lot of noise and movement but no actual result.

And I suspect the Trump people know that’s all that’s going to come out of it, which is why Trump and his party pals, like Corey Lewandowski, are mostly resorting to asserting that if Comey were a real man, he would have talked to the press himself rather than having a pal do it, harumph, harumph. Which leads me to two thoughts. One, I’m sure James Comey is gonna stay up nights worrying what an asshole like Corey Lewandowski thinks about him, vis a vis manhood or anything else. Two, this is (one reason) why the Trump people are stupid: They’ve confused successfully executing on a strategy with weakness. It doesn’t matter whether Lewandowski thinks Comey is “man enough,” because no matter what he or Trump think about Comey’s manhood, Comey’s actions resulted in Robert Mueller appointed as a special investigator. Which is to say Comey was man enough to dunk on Trump.

Thoughts on the senators who questioned Comey?

I felt sad about John McCain, who was clearly not all there. Otherwise I think the GOP senators spent a lot of time trying to convince themselves and others that Trump saying “I hope” didn’t mean he was really trying to obstruct the investigation, and to blame Comey for not forcefully telling Trump “No, what you’re asking for is totally illegal” in the moment. On the former, Comey pretty much demolished the “I hope” argument by quoting Henry II with regard to Thomas a Becket, thus sending a thrill through the hearts of history nerds everywhere, and on the latter, here, read this by Ana Marie Cox, which is entirely on point. The Democratic senators were more on message, as is to be expected.

What about Loretta Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton? The GOP senators seemed very interested in that.

Sure, anything to take the conversation away from Trump and obstruction of justice. I get why the GOP senators wanted to talk about that, even aside using it as a way to run down the clock on Comey’s testimony. But here’s a thing, which is that Hillary Clinton’s not the president, whereas Trump is. So I think most people are a smidgen more interested in what he’s up to, than a woman who is no longer Attorney General talking to the husband of a woman who is not sitting behind the Resolute desk in the White House. Maybe that’s just me.

So do you think this is finally it? The thing that gets Trump impeached?

Trump’s not getting impeached.

But… obstruction of justice! 

The House is as likely to vote to impeach Trump on this or indeed any other illegal/unethical thing he’s actually currently doing as I am to sprout a peach tree out of my tailbone. This is your occasional reminder that today’s GOP has no moral or ethical center, and apparently works under the belief that the entire point to the life of the average American citizen is to fork over their progressively declining wages to large companies to make the very rich that much richer. Trump’s helping with that goal, so why would they get in the way with that? Trump could tromp into the White House rose garden, club Sean Spicer to death live on Fox and Friends, and then skull-fuck the bloody corpse, chortling about his electoral college victory all the while, and all you would get out of the GOP is Paul Ryan’s patented little grimace, and the general argument that it’s the president’s prerogative to skull-fuck the corpse of any of his staff, so why is the mainstream media making such a big deal about it.

So, yeah. Don’t pick out your glittery impeachment pants just yet. You’re gonna have to wait for 2019 at the earliest for that.

Also, for the record: I do not endorse anyone, including but not limited to the President of the United States, doing anything to Sean Spicer to bring about his death or even his mild physical discomfort, in the White House rose garden or indeed anywhere else, much less then skull-fucking his corpse, bloody or otherwise, on live or recorded television, streaming on the internet or even in private. Please do not kill Sean Spicer, ever. He’s already dead inside. That should be enough for anybody.

So what do we get out of the Comey hearing?

You get the satisfaction out of confirming that Donald Trump is a real piece of shit both as a human being and as a president. Congratulations!

Late breaking news! Trump calls Comey a liar!

This is a surprise?

He says he’ll testify under oath about what Comey said!

Who said that?

Someone on Twitter!

Oh, okay, then.

You seem skeptical.

Even if Trump did promise testify under oath (which, if his personal lawyers are competent — big if — they would never in a second advise he ever do ever in the history of ever, ps: never ever ever), and he somehow didn’t back out of it (which if his lawyers are competent they would try to get him to do), the chances he wouldn’t lie his ass off even under oath is pretty slim, because he’s Donald Trump, and what he does is lie his ass right off. Because he’s always done it and it’s worked so far, up to and including getting him into the White House, so why change strategies?

Look: No one — no one — believes Trump more than they believe Comey. The best you can say is his partisans either don’t think it’s important that Trump lies out of his ass all the time, or they’re confident he’ll just keep getting away with it. So, sure: Get Trump under oath. He’ll lie. And when he lies, because why shouldn’t he, it’s always worked before, let’s see what happens then. Let’s see what the GOP says about it then.

Uh… that seems to be ending on a down note, there.

You’re the one asking questions, man.

But, fine. Look: Scamperbeasts!

Thank you. I needed that.

I know. We all did.

Is This the End of Our Hero, Coke Zero?!??!!??!?

Someone just tweeted me, “What do you think of them axing Coke Zero?”, which was not the first thing I wanted to read when I woke up this morning. But rather than panic and set fire to everything in my house at the thought of only having vile Diet Coke to drink when I crave brown, flavored carbonic acid, I went looking for reputable news sources for information. And indeed, it looks like plans are under foot Down Under:

Coca-Cola is getting rid of Coke Zero, starting in Australia.

The U.S.-based soft drink giant is retiring its zero calorie drink and launched a new “no-sugar” variant down under called Coca-Cola No Sugar. AdNews reports the soda will replace Coke Zero and the company claims it tastes even more like original Coke.

The “best tasting no sugar Coca-Cola we’ve ever made” will officially launch in Australia next week with a black color design similar to Coke Zero, which will be gradually phased out. A website already features the new tagline “Say Yes to No Sugar.”

I read several other news reports on this as well, and the upshot of this is, a) they’re road-testing a new version of no-calorie Coke in Australia and New Zealand, b) it’s supposed to taste more like original Coke than even Coke Zero, which is made using the original Coke formula (Diet Coke is the New Coke formula), c) it will co-exist with Coke Zero and Diet Coke for a while in the market, d) and if successful will replace Coke Zero, because apparently half of consumers had no idea Coke Zero had no sugar.

It’s that “no sugar” part that’s apparently important, because these days, or so the news reports suggest to me, sugar is in bad odor as being the worst possible thing you can put in your body short of heroin, a proposition I’m not convinced of, but then I’m kind of a sugar fiend, so I may be biased. By calling the new product Coke No Sugar, Coke is making it clear there’s, uh, no sugar in it. So, good for hyper-literal branding, I guess. I think “Coke No Sugar” is kind of terrible as a brand name, and suspect that if consumers didn’t know Coke Zero had, you know, zero sugar in it, the problem was marketing, and not the branding per se. Mind you, if memory serves, the whole point of Coke Zero marketing in the early days was to hide from dudes with fragile masculinity the fact that they were drinking a diet beverage, which is why the word “diet” was never put anywhere near the product dress. So again, I’m not sure consumers are 100% to blame here if they didn’t catch on about the zero sugar thing.

Be that as it may, as a devoted fan of Coke Zero, how do I feel about the possible rise of Coke No Sugar and the commensurate possible fall of Coke Zero? Bluntly, as long as my no-calorie Coke options are not limited to Diet Coke, which tastes like scorched battery acid and regret, I think I’ll be fine. I didn’t become a fan of Coke Zero because I was beguiled by its manly, diet-obfuscating branding; I became a fan of it because it’s derived from the taste profile of original Coca-Cola, which is what I wanted and wasn’t getting with New Coke-derived Diet Coke. So: Coke No Sugar apparently tastes closer to the original formula than Coke Zero? Groovy, I’ll give it a shot.

However, I’m not going to worry about Coke Zero vaporizing just yet. Coca-Cola does a whole lot of brand tweaking around the world to figure out what it wants to do; see this from last year in the UK, in which Coke Zero became Coke Zero Sugar, again, one assumes, to accentuate the “no sugar” association, a branding initiative which never made over to this aide of the Atlantic. Australia and New Zealand are the test markets for Coke No Sugar, in other words; if it’s wildly successful then they might transplant it to the US as well. If it’s not, well, then it’ll join Raspberry Coke and C2 in the sloshy Coke trashbin of failed Coke products (note, however, you can get raspberry-flavored Coke from the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, i.e., the most miraculous machines that humanity has yet invented and which verily I want in my own home. Also, I guess you could replicate C2 if you wanted by mixing one half original Coke and one half Coke Zero, but why would you).

In short, it doesn’t look like Coke Zero is dead quite yet. And if it eventually dies because its replacement tastes more like original formula Coke than it does, then I feel it will have completed its mission with honor and can rest well. Until that nebulous, unspecified future, however, I’ll keep sucking it down.

New Books and ARCs, 6/8/17

You look like you might be interested in a big stack of books and ARCs, so, hey, here’s a stack matching that very description. What moves you in this stack? Tell us in the comments!

This is a Terrible Pun and I’m Ashamed of Myself for Thinking of It

But not so ashamed that I won’t share it. And so timely:

You’re welcome.

The Dispatcher Wins the Audie Award for Best Original Work

Breaking my week-long hiatus here, but I think this is a pretty good reason: The Dispatcher won an Audie Award! It won in the category of Best Original Work, one of the three categories it was nominated in (the other two categories were Science Fiction and Excellence in Marketing). The “Original Work” category is for works that were created as “audio first,” as The Dispatcher was, so I’m especially delighted that The Dispatcher won in this category; it means it worked in its intended medium.

I’m thrilled that it nabbed the Audie and and to say thank you to people who helped get this story to where it is today. First off, to Steve Feldberg and his entire crew at Audible Studios; Steve asked for an audio original from me just as I was thinking of writing up this particular story, so well-timed on his part, and otherwise the folks at Audible simply knocked it out of the park in terms of production and marketing. Thanks also to Ethan Ellenberg, my agent, for guiding the deal to its fruition. And of course, thanks to Zachary Quinto for his profoundly good narration, which I am very sure was the element here that clinched this Audie win.

Here’s a link to the now award-winning audio version; there’s also a print/ebook version if you prefer.

Also, if you’re curious, here’s the complete list of 2017 Audie Award winners, which includes my friends Kameron Hurley (winning for Excellence in Design) and Tavia Gilbert (Best Female Narration). Congratulations to everyone who won!

Okay, resuming the hiatus. See you all again on Tuesday.

One Week Break

Hey there, folks — I’m going to take off until next Tuesday on account of work and travel. Yes, travel, again, to BookCon in New York, and also to the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley. I’ll be on one coast one day and the other the next. And they say the age of the jet setter is behind us. It’s not! It’s just the jet setter will be smooshed into an economy seat. Ah, the romance of air travel.

In any event, see you next Tuesday. Be decent with each other until then, okay? Thanks.