I disagree with Hightower.

What you will find here is: a centrist's view of current events;
a collection of thoughts, arguments, and observations
that I have found appealing and/or amusing over the years;
and, if you choose, your civil contributions which will make it into a conversation.

He not busy bein' born, is busy dyin'. - Bob Dylan

Please refer to participants only by their designated identities.

suggestion for US citizens: When a form asks for your race, write in: -- American

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lincoln as critic

People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Libya 5

This is going to be the short version.
I thought Obama did pretty well in the speech last night.
I would like to hear more about the following:
1. He said that he had consulted with the leadership of the Congress. Has Congress indicated whether it was enough?
2. I really wish he hadn't said (last week) "Gaddafi has got to go."
If the US president says somthing like that I don't think it works to walk it back to "ought to".
3 I wish this intervention were based on the interest of our Allies in S. Europe who would face a flood of refugees if things go bad.
4 If it is based on humanitarian grounds, then there is no limit to our obligations.

Monday, March 28, 2011


In mathematical research even a failed attempt at solving a problem may increase your understanding. A better understanding of something that doesn't work may lead to something that will.

There are many other places where this "rule" applies.

Two of the best known promoters of this idea were
Thomas Edison: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
Henry Ford: Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.

Oh yes, the YA chess coach says:
To improve your game, play stronger players and study your losses.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The living Constitution

Rachel Maddow was on Bill Maher's show last February 28th where she argued that we should use an interpretation of the second amendment that would allow the outlawing of guns.

Ms. Maddow believes in the "living constitution" and she thinks that the living constitution has outlived the second amendment.

Nowadays when people say that they believe in a "living Constitution" what they mean is one that lives up to their expectations of what it ought to say and has outlived those parts of it that they don't like.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

government services

The receivers (most of us) want more government than the providers (taxpayers) are willing to pay for.

The solution is borrowed money.

The agents who have facilitated this delusional shennanigan are the politicians.

The technique that has been used is to tell people that the small amount that they have paid into things is sufficient to provide for the larger amount that they will take out. It is not.

Yes, I understand what Benjamen Franklin called the miracle of compound interest. When I say "the larger amount" I mean after the miracles are factored in. It is still not enough.

The right's solution to this problem is to say that they will not ask those who have money (most of us) to pay more. The left's solution is to "hope for a big check."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Was George Right?

"Iraqi democracy will succeed, and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran, that freedom can be the future of every nation," George Bush 2003 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3248119.stm

filibuster 2

I have changed my mind on the filibuster.

I can see a value to having a rule which allows a very distressed minority to slow something down and make sure that it is considered thoroughly. But there is a limit after which you are "obstructing democracy."

So I would like to see the Senate filibuster rule changed to something like the following:
Recall that cloture is a vote to limit debate on a bill to a specified amount of time. The filibuster rule requires 60 votes to pass a cloture motion. (Apparently they now have a twist where you don't even have to take the cloture vote, you just have to have 60 votes to even bring something to the floor.)

For a particular bill: In the first instance cloture requires 60 votes, the second cloture vote requires 57, the third 54 and the fourth 51. Some fixed period of time, say 1 week, must intervene between each pair of votes.

The first level of reasoning for this is the March 14 post repeated below.

Our government was constructed to handle what was a cross between a confederation and a nation. It was designed to move slowly in a world where very little was expected from government. Therefore it was given very little money.

We long ago gave up the confederation part of that mixture and became, more or less, a nation. Governments, here and around the world, are now expected to do much more for the people, and do it quickly, than they once were. Our American governments are now spending 40+ percent of GDP.

Is it possible we should review how we are doing things?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rights and Powers of states

"States Rights" has a very bad public relations problem. It is hard to make an argument based on it because it was used to defend secession and then the American Apartheid. Noone that I know wants to defend either one of them. The fact that it has been ill used does not reduce its validity, but it does reduce its viability.

But there is a curious thing about states rights. Their source is the 10th amendment which says:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The thing that strikes me about this is that the word rights does not appear here. So maybe you want to make your arguments along that line based on the "state powers" that are in the 10th amendment.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

immigration - chances this year

I suppose that it is too much to ask that the DsandRs do something about immigration.
Too much to ask the Ds to give up what they see as a good electoral issue.
Too much to ask the Rs to give up all that cheap defenseless labor.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

US sovereignty

There are those who think President Obama is hell bent on destroying the US as a superpower. I do not count myself as one of those individuals. For those that do, this article by Ben Stein will certainly not improve their opinion of the President. http://spectator.org/archives/2011/03/22/one-world-government-obama

The decider

Happy anniversary to my wife!

At our house we have divided up the decision making and it works really well.

My wife makes the small decisions and I make the large decisions.

She decides where we are going to live, where we go on vacation, and what kind of car we buy and little things like that.

I decide the big things, like immigration policy, the national debt, and how much America should contribute to the no-fly zone over Libya.

Romney and the individual mandate

The individual mandate (IM) is the requirement that the individual purchase health care insurance or pay a fine.
Here are the facts as I understand them:
1. Romney's healthcare law in Massachusetts included an individual mandate.
2. Obama's healthcare law contains an individual mandate.
3. There has been a major legal attack on Obama's healthcare law which argues that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
4. Many people see this as a major problem for Romney.

The argument is that any Rep. candidate must oppose the IM.
Romney cannot oppose the IM because his program contained one.
Therefore Romney has a big problem.

I don't see it.

As everybody (except Nancy Pelosi) knows the Federal Government is limited to its enumerated powers. The states have the power to do anything that is not prohibited to them. That is, the states' powers are open ended.

The IM lawsuit says that the enumerated powers of the Feds as specified in the constitution do not include the power to require an IM.
But the lawsuit does not say that STATES do not have that power.

It seems to me that Romney can simply argue that he believes that this is a legitimate state power but not a federal one.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ferguson's six killer apps

In 1453 Christian Constantinople fell to the Islamic Turks, which ended the Byzantine Empire again.

I once read (I don't remember where) that if an alien had come to visit the earth shorly after that event and had been asked which of the existing cultures in the world would rise to domination, he would probably have not chosen beseiged Europe.

Niall Ferguson (The Ascent of Money)has offered up a "simple explanation" for the rise of the West in his book Civilisation: The West and the Rest. His answer in summary is that they had six "killer applications": competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic.

They are open source apps which is why the "rest" are catching up.
This "rise of the rest" was as certain as the rising of the morning sun.

Fareed Zakaria points out in the Post American World that this is not necessarily a "decline" of America. But it does require that we revise our way of thinking. We should aspire to be the first among equals.

PS Medicine is part of science and competition, consumerism, and the work ethic are parts of capitalism. So maybe he's really got 3 killer apps: democracy, science, and capitalism. That probably wouldn't sell as well in certain circles.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

unions and the census

While I am not enthused about public employee unions I do believe that a large part of the solution to the shrinking middle class is unions. In particular service workers unions. Yes, I know (and have for a long time) that if the Walmart people get a union and make more money, then Walmart stuff is going to cost me more. I find that an appropriate way to "transfer the wealth" from the "well paid" information workers to ill paid service workers. I do not think it will work nearly as well if we go that other route and tax the former and send a check to the latter. We should do something. What state are you living in if you have no middle class? A prerevolutionary state.

For those who do not know a "right to work" state is one which is less friendly to unions.

With all that in mind you can see why I was not happy when I compared the map of the right to work states with the chart of 2010 census and upcoming reapportionment of the House of Representatives.

The pertinant data point is 9. That is the net gain in members of house that will go to the right to work states from the more union friendly states.

I do not see any way to escape the conclusion that: people are going from union friendly states to right to work states. Add a bit of theory: People move from one state to another, primarily to get work. I find myself coming to the conclusion that right to work states are growing jobs and union friendly states are - what is the right verb here - jobs.

Can anybody offer me a more union friendly explanation?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Libya 4

On March 2 I said here:
"... this seems quite different from Yugoslavia during the Clinton administration. The Europeans appear to be stepping up a lot more here than they did then. I think that it is a good sign that others are doing something instead of talking about what we should do.

I do think that we should participate in the world's dealing with these kinds of things. But it should be by doing our fair share within the appropriate international organization. That is a much better way to deal with things like this than to have unilateral intervention by the US."

It appears that this is what we are doing and I believe that it is a much better way to do things. It also, quite appropriately, includes support (hopefully with money attached) from the Arab League.
It is slower than would have been desired, but you don't want the World's war machines to go into action too quickly. Perhaps that can be safely improved with experience.

One more thing. We are involving ourselves in Libya this little and this late, at least in part because we are already involved in two wars in the Middle East. One should be careful about getting into these small wars because you can never be sure of what may be coming down the pike. That is one more argument against having gone into Iraq.

chances of tackling the debt this year

Hope springs eternal

With the report of Obama’s debt and deficit Commission last winter, a few people showed some signs of seriously tackling the debt problem. Now a “Gang of six” has undertaken to present a real proposal on fiscal matters. It is led by Sens. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican. In addition to Chambliss and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who are personal friends of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the Gang of Six includes Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a close adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate and a close Obama ally. Warner is the former governor who famously balanced the Virginia budget. That description (from the Washington Post) suggests that the people who can pull off a deal are all well represented here.

So get that football up there, Lucy, and let’s have one more run at it.

PS Two days after this was written 64 senators sent Obama a letter on this matter.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Healthcare 2 - another view

Vince offered a different point of view on national health care the other day. Since the original post was so long ago June 11, 2010, I thought that I would just put Vince's comment up here as a new post.

There is a central point that is generally ignored by those who favor National Heath Care. Here, a maxim from the philosophy of Libertarianism is needed.

There can never be a right to health care. Any so-called right whose implementation is dependent on the seizure of money or property from one man to another can never be right. It is nothing less that inflicting slavery and tyranny upon one man from another.

To put it simply, if you come to my house carrying near lifeless, sick child in your arms, I will do my best to give what I can and seek to raise the rest from the voluntary charity of others.

But if you come with the determination to take by force, if necessary, what is needed to save that child, you are no better than a common thief and robber and should be treated accordingly.

Despite the slow poison of government interference, (i.e. Medicare and Medicaid), what is left of the free market in medicine in this country has produced the highest quality medical care in all human memory.

Problems of access can only be solved by the slow elimination of all price distortions of government granted health care and a return to the original principles of the free market.

If you scoff at what you might say as simplistic solutions, go to the Cato Institute. There you will find detail plans, showing what a true free market in medical care would look like.

Vince, March 16, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Factcheck should check facts

As someone who is very concerned by the fiscal situation I am especially distressed when someone overstates the problem and, thereby, undermines the credibility of the problem and the efforts of those who are trying to deal with it.

A primary question in the discussion below is whether the money paid into Social Security was borrowed by the Federal Government and is now in a trust fund or whether the money was simply "taken by the government and spent on something else." The answer to that question is determined by whether the SS trust fund is considered to be part of the national debt. If the SS money is part of the national debt then it was borrowed. If the SS money is not part of the national debt it was "taken." In fact, the SS money is part of the national debt.

The following is from an article in FactCheck by its director Brooks Jackson.

After opening with: "Some senior Democrats are claiming that Social Security does not contribute "one penny" to the federal deficit. That’s not true. The fact is, the federal government had to borrow $37 billion last year to finance Social Security, and will need to borrow more this year. The red ink is projected to total well over half a trillion dollars in the coming decade."

Much further down in the article the author admits:

"When Lew says (in another article)Social Security is "entirely self-financing," he refers to the trust funds that have built up assets of more than $2.5 trillion over the years. That’s what the rest of the government has borrowed and spent on other things. Those trust funds and the future interest payments will keep benefits funded at promised levels for years to come, it’s true."

But then he goes on to say: "But unless the government raises taxes or cuts other spending substantially, the government will need to borrow more from the public to finance its obligations to the trust funds."

This is a mindboggling distortion. It will not be a new obligation to pay those benefits. The US owes SS this money. When it pays those things it will be reducing its obligation to the SS trust fund. It will be borrowing from one source to pay a previous loan from another source. It does this every day when it sells some treasury bonds and retires (pays off) others. IT WILL NOT CHANGE THE BOTTOM LINE IN THE AMOUNT OF THE NATIONAL DEBT.

So Harry Reid is right when he says that these payments will not increase this year's deficit.

When Jackson says in the opening paragraph that the US borrowed 37 billion to finance SS it is flatly not true. They borrowed 37 billion to pay off 37 billion of what they owed to SS.

Now a couple of observations: Long term there are still some SS problems.
When the government shifts to borrowing from outside of SS it will put pressure on the bond market and perhaps serve to push interest rates up.

Finally, to those who think that the government shouldn't have borrowed the SS money in the first place, I would say, "What else would you have SS do with its money?"

Added 3-18-11 Charles Krauthammer disagrees.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

James Madison

On this day in 1751 was born an American, James Madison, who was the principal author of the Constitution of their new government.

He made an observation (that long ago) which might explain why American business is sitting on an estimated two trillion dollars in cash rather than verture with it into the market.

"What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?"

Evan Bayh goes to Fox

There was once a college dean who argued to his math dept that they should relax their standards a bit and go for larger enrollment. He thought that once you get more students in your classes, then you can go for quality.

Is it possible that that is what FoxNews has been doing? Now that they have gotten their numbers up, they are ready to focus on quality – which in the news industry would mean the addition of intellectual diversity and more quality?

Or is it just that Evan Bayh is making the best deal that he can to get back some of the money he has lost by spending all of that time in public service.

In any case here's to Evan Bayh, a center left guy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NATO is the military arm of Western Civilization.

Historical: Washington at Newburgh

By William Calhoun

The inside cover of the U.S. Army's Field Manual-1 addresses the role of the military in a democracy by recalling the story of George Washington's speech at Newburgh, New York. After its victory at Yorktown in 1781, the Continental Army moved into quarters near Newburgh to await a final peace settlement. With no war to unify them, the states had begun defaulting on their commitments of support to the weak national government while corrupt war suppliers drained the treasury. The Continental Congress could not raise the funds to provide pay or pensions to the soldiers who had fought the war, some of whom had not been paid in several years. Many officers feared that Congress would simply disband the army and default on its promises. As the FM-1 notes, "by the winter of 1782-83, tension within the Army's formations had reached a dangerous level. The future of the republic was in doubt."

Unsigned papers began circulating throughout the army's restless camp. One paper ignored General Washington's authority by calling a mass meeting of officers. Another fiery appeal stated that the author had lost faith "in the justice of his country." A group of officers sought to compel Congress to settle its debts through veiled threats of armed action. They attempted to enlist their victorious commander-in-chief to support their plot, but he refused every appeal, and the mutinous officers began to make signs of taking action without him. On March 15, 1783, Washington entered the officers' assembly and warned them of the momentous danger inherent in their plot. He seemed to be having little effect until he retrieved a pair of spectacles from his pocket to read a letter from Virginia congressman Joseph Jones. Jones had recently written to Washington of the huge fiscal problems Congress had to solve before they could justly discharge the claims of the army.

The officers were surprised to see Washington momentarily fumble with spectacles he had received only the month before. None of them had seen their general and hero in his eyeglasses, and he seemed to age before them. But his off-hand comment, made to put them at ease, confirmed again the personal character that had sustained the Revolution. "Gentlemen, you must pardon me, I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind." The assembled officers were caught off guard emotionally. As Richard Kohn wrote in his book on the creation of the American military establishment, Eagle and Sword, years of frustration, recent rumor and conspiracy, and "then the unbearable strain of confronting their beloved commander seemed to hang suspended in that one moment." In his remarks, Washington had "stood them at the abyss, forced them to face the implications of rash action—civil war, treason, and the undoing of eight years' effort." Kohn concludes that "the contrast with this simple gesture, an act that blended Washington's charismatic influence with the deepest symbolic patriotism, was overpowering." The stress, the majestic bearing of the commander-in-chief, his appeal to duty, and then the very human act of their 51-year-old leader now worn by years of war destroyed the cabal and quelled the incipient rebellion. Some officers openly wept.

Washington biographer James Thomas Flexner has dramatically referred to this meeting at Newburgh as "probably the single most important gathering ever held in the United States." Kohn has noted that the Newburgh conspiracy was the closest an American army has ever come to revolt or coup d'etat, and it exposed the fragility of civil-military relations at the beginning of the republic. Had the army cast off civilian control at the critical moment of the nation's birth, a national military establishment as we know it today might have been impossible for generations afterward.

The army's Field Manual-1 further observes that Washington's willing subordination, of himself and the army he commanded, to civilian authority established the essential tenet of that service's professional ethos. His extraordinary understanding of the fundamental importance of civil preeminence allowed a professional military force to begin to flourish in a democratic society. All of our military services are heir to that legacy.
For more see additional details.

Washington's Newburgh Address
March 15, 1783
By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together. How inconsistent with the rules of propriety, how unmilitary and how subversive of all order and discipline, let the good sense of the army decide.

In the moment of this summons, another anonymous production was sent into circulation, addressed more to the feelings and passions than to the reason and judgment of the army. The author of the piece is entitled to much credit for, the goodness of his pen; and I could wish he had as much credit for the rectitude of his heart; for, as men see through different optics, and are induced by the reflecting faculties of the mind, to use different means to attain the same end, the author of the address should have had more charity than to mark for suspicion the man who should recommend moderation and longer forbearance, or, in other words, who should not think as he thinks, and act as he advises. But he had another plan in view, in which candor and liberality of sentiment, regard to justice and love of country, have no part; and he was right to insinuate the darkest suspicion to effect the blackest design. That the address is drawn with great art, and is designed to answer the most insidious purposes; that it is calculated to impress the mind with an idea of premeditated injustice in the sovereign power of the United States, and rouse all those resentments which must unavoidably flow from such a belief; that the secret mover of this scheme, whoever he may be, intended to take advantage of the passions, while they were warmed by the recollection of past distresses, without giving time for cool deliberative thinking, and that composure of mind which is so necessary to give dignity and stability to measures, is rendered too obvious, by the mode of conducting the business, to need other proof than a reference to the proceeding.

Thus much, gentlemen, I have thought it incumbent on me to observe to you... upon what principles I opposed the irregular and hasty meeting which was proposed to have been held on Tuesday last, and not because I wanted a disposition to give you every opportunity, consistent with your own honor, and the dignity of the army, to make known your grievances. If my conduct heretofore has not evinced to you that I have been a faithful friend to the army, my declaration of it at this time would be equally unavailing and improper. But as I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common country; as I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you on public duty; as I have been the constant companion and witness of your distresses, and not among the last to feel and acknowledge your merits; as I have ever considered my own military reputation as inseparably connected with that of the army; as my heart has ever expanded with joy, when I have heard its praises, and my indignation has arisen when the mouth of detraction has been opened against it, it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the war, that I am indifferent to its interests. But how are they to be promoted? The way is plain, says the anonymous addresser. "If war continues, remove into the unsettled country; there establish yourselves and leave an ungrateful country to defend itself."--But who are they to defend? Our wives, our children, our farms and other property which we leave behind us? or, in this state of hostile separation, are we to take the two first (the latter cannot be removed) to perish in a wilderness with hunger, cold and nakedness? "If peace takes place, never sheath your swords," says he "until you have obtained full and ample justice." This dreadful alternative of either deserting our country in the most extreme hour of her distress, or turning our arms against it, which is the apparent object, unless Congress can be compelled into instant compliance, has something so shocking in it, that humanity revolts at the idea. My God! what can this writer have in view, by recommending such measures?. Can he be a friend to the army? Can he be a friend to this country? Rather is he not an insidious foe? Some designing emissary, perhaps, from New York, plotting the ruin of both, by sowing the seeds of discord and separation between the civil and military powers of the continent? and what a compliment does he pay to our understandings, when he recommends measures, in either alternative impracticable in their nature? But, here, gentlemen, I will drop the curtain, because it would be as imprudent in me to assign my reasons for this opinion, as it would be insulting to your conception to suppose you stood in need of them. A moment's reflection will convince every dispassionate mind of the physical impossibility of carrying either proposal into execution. There might, gentlemen, be an impropriety in my taking notice, in this address to you, of an anonymous production; but the manner in which that performance has been introduced to the army, the effect it was intended to have, together with some other circumstances, will amply justify my observations on the tendency of that writing.

With respect to the advice given by the author, to suspect the man who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance, I spurn it, as every man who regards that liberty and reveres that justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must; for, if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us. The freedom of speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent, we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter. I cannot, in justice to my own belief, and what I have great reason to conceive is the intention of Congress, conclude this address, without giving it as my decided opinion, that that honorable body entertain exalted sentiments of the services of the army, and from a full conviction of its merits and sufferings, will do it compleat justice: that their endeavours to discover and establish funds for this purpose have been unwearied, and will not cease till they have succeeded, I have not a doubt.

But, like all other large bodies, where there is a variety of different interests to reconcile, their determinations are slow. Why then should we distrust them, and, in consequence of that distrust, adopt measures which may cast a shade over that glory which has been so justly acquired, and tarnish the reputation of an army which is celebrated through all Europe for its fortitude and patriotism? And for what is this done? To bring the object we seek nearer? No, most certainly, in my opinion it will cast it at a greater distance. For myself, and I take no merit in giving the assurance, being induced to it from principles of gratitude, veracity and justice, a grateful sense of the confidence you have ever placed in me, a recollection of the cheerful assistance and prompt obedience I have experienced from you, under every vicissitude of fortune, and the sincere affection I feel for an army I have so long had the honor to command, will oblige me to declare, in this public and solemn manner, that in the attainment of complete justice for all your toils and dangers, and in the gratification of every wish, so far as may be done consistently with the great duty I owe my country, and those powers we are bound to respect, you may freely command my services to the utmost extent of my abilities.

While I give you these assurances, and pledge myself in the most unequivocal manner, to exert whatever ability I am possessed of in your favor, let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which, viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained. Let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress; that, previous to your dissolution as an army, they will cause all your accounts to be fairly liquidated, as directed in their resolutions which were published to you two days ago; and that they will adopt the most effectual measures in their power to render ample justice to you for your faithful and meritorious services. And let me conjure you, in the name of our common country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the military and national character of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the man, who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our country; and who wickedly attempts to open the flood-gates of civil discord, and deluge our rising empire in blood.

By thus determining, and thus acting, you will pursue the plain and direct road to the attainment of your wishes; you will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice. You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings: and you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind--"had this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pi Day incomplete

Today is pi day, when all of us math types say a little thank you for Pi.

What is pi?

sclerotic government

Our government was constructed to handle what was a cross between a confederation and a nation. It was designed to move slowly in a world where very little was expected from government. Therefore it was given very little money.

We long ago gave up the confederation part of that mixture and became, more or less, a nation. Governments, here and around the world, are now expected to do much more for the people, and do it quickly, than they once were. Our American governments are now spending 40+ percent of GDP.

Is it possible we should review how we are doing things?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New world order: stability or rise and fall?

Consider the following thought experiment.
Suppose we could be assured that there were going to be no major wars in the future. Small stuff maybe, but nothing like WWII where the major powers go after each other tooth and nail.

Now in that environment which of the following is most likely:
A. The nations of the world would trend toward comparable levels of economic well being.
B. Various nations would "rise and fall" in the sense that some would have more economic success than others, but the arrangement at any one time could not be expected to continue indefinitely. A country's rise would be economic not military.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

winning and losing in Wisconsin

Yesterday, Governor Walker signed into law the the bill that limits the ability of public employee labor unions in Wisconsin. The defeat of this measure was the objective for which the 14 Democratic State Senators fled the state and stayed away for several weeks. Alan Shields, liberal columnist, and others are now busy explaining how the unions won(sic) in Wisconsin.

It reminded me of the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic primary. Gene McCarthy (my guy) ran against Lyndon Johnson, a sitting president, and shocked many people by getting within 7 points of winning. This was viewed as a major upset and it was said by many that McCarthy had "won" the primary.

Johnson observed that the really nice thing about the New Hampshire primary was that anybody could run and everybody could win.

PS Johnson did later withdraw. But McCarthy did not get the nomination, which went to Lyndon's preferred replacement - Hubert Humphrey.

PPS Johnson withdrew with a very Shermanesque statement:
"I will not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

PPPS If Gov. Christie really wants to get rid of those questions about whether he will run, it is quite easy actually. Just mimic Sherman:
"If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve."

Friday, March 11, 2011

down the middle

Here is another example of a centrist positions.

I agree with the left that we should modify the system so that it divides the pie of wealth in a fairer manner.

I agree with the right that you have to make sure that you have a pie that is big enough to be worth dividing.

I will support whichever one is willing to move off of their absurdities* in order deal with the impending debt disaster.

[11 AM 3-11] If neither party will act, then I will support a new party.

* The Ds think we are not spending too much money and
the Rs are unwilling to pay for the government.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

NPR again

I contribute annually to NPR.

NPR, NEH etc should really be supported by endowments so they can be independent. As long as they are supported by the government they are going to have a bias.

If NPR would drop the 10% of its budget that comes from the government and move more toward the center, then I would increase my contribution by $100 per year.

Some of you think I should state what I think are centrist positions. This is one.


Vietnam was a battle, which we lost, in the Cold War, which we won.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

debt train

The Rs are proposing that we reduce this year's deficit by 60 billion dollars. The Ds propose that we reduce it by 6 billion. To put these proposals in perspective keep in mind that the deficit (one year) is about 1.6 trillion. That is 1,600 billion.

So. Imagine we are on a runaway train that is going 160 miles per hour and you have two engineers. One proposes to slow the train by 6 miles per hour and the other proposes to slow the train by 6/10 of one mph.

What should we do?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Addition to the Monthly Candidates

Read George Will's take on the Republican Candidates.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stewart, Pensions, Bonuses and Bailouts

John Stewart had a piece last Thursday night on certain contrasts in people's attitudes in different circumstances.

He had a bunch of people on who felt that since some pension funds were underfunded the pension contracts that had been made will just have to be modified (= reduced). He then went to some other people who had argued (a while back) that the bonuses that had been promised to the bankers who had received bailout money were CONTRACTS and could not be abrogated.

It was persuasive, but omitted a couple of points. One was that the bonuses were a "bad taste in the mouth", but the unfunded pensions were a fundamental cause of the problem. On the other hand the bonuses were going to the people who had contributed to, if not caused, the problem. It was the government representatives (politicians) who made the promises to the pensioners, and not the pensioners themselver, who were at fault in the other case. No I don't think that it is important that the workers pushed for benefits. That is what they should do. The folks who were irresponsible were the ones who agreed to deliver that which they could not deliver.

It is very much like that old saying about selling short in the market:
He who sells what isn't his'on. Must buy it back or go to prison.
But none of those government officials will be going to prison.

Lastly, I have not seen Stewart depart from the media's main way of handling the bailouts. They do not distinguish between the government's giving, loaning, or buying: just call'em all "bailouts". They also seem reluctant to point out that alnmost all of that money has been returned.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Towards the end of 2010 with all the discussion about the extension of the Bush tax cuts, I was in the camp of those who wanted congress to let the cuts expire on the top earners - especially when numbers rolled out about how much would be added to the deficit if the cuts were extended for all.

Now, as I file my taxes I am elated to find out that I will receive a measly $600 refund. I suppose that makes me part of the problem.

Historical - Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

Setting: March 4, 1865
The previous Nov Lincoln defeated General McClellan, the peace candidate.
It is more than 2 months since Sherman completed his march to the sea and a few weeks before Lee's surrender at Appomattox. It is clear to all that the war is won.
Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
Saturday, March 4, 1865
At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

activist judges 2

In the third quarter of the 20th century, activism became part of the liberal tradition on the court, with Roe v Wade being the primary example. (I am prochoice by the way, but I wish Roe v Wade had been argued on the basis of the Ninth Amendment.) This is typically justified by arguing that the Constitution is a “living document”. Actually, it is a living document, with its changes coming in the form of amendments. But that is not what they mean. Getting an amendment passed is too hard, five justices is much easier.

Nowadays when people say that they believe in a "living Constitution" what they mean is one that lives up to their expectations of what it ought to say and has outlived those parts of it that they don't like.

There are two parts to the defense of this view from charges that it is activist, that is that it finds in the Constitution what one wants to find rather than what is there. I think that they are both powerful arguments in the public mind, but they seem to me to be examples of Argument by Confusion.

The first part is to say that there is no such thing as activism. As the Chief Justice of the KY Supreme Court said at one meeting that I attended: “If someone calls something an activist decision that just means that they don’t like that decision.” This argument is essentially an attempt to ridicule the notion of activism.

The second part is to offer an alternative definition of activist: an activist decision is one that overturns a precedent or a law. This definition is easy to apply. Of course, it is in conflict with one of the main functions of the Court which is keeping the other branches inside the bounds of the Constitution. This is perhaps a temporary argument to protect what the previous liberal courts have decided such as Roe v Wade. An example of that view can be found in activist judges
Notice that the second definition of activist allows the Court to create all sorts of law while not being classified as activist.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Libya 3

OK -I agree that it was a bit strange that other people were evacuated by warships and airplanes while ours were brought out late by a rented ferry.

Also on Libya (2-24-11)I kinda got carried away a bit because of the reaction of the media to the event. I should have remembered Shaw's observation: "Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization."

But my main reaction is delight that this seems quite different from Yugoslavia during the Clinton administration. The Europeans appear to be stepping up a lot more here than they did then. I think that it is a good sign that others are doing something instead of talking about what we should do.

I do think that we should participate in the world's dealing with these kinds of things. But it should be by doing our fair share within the appropriate international organization. That is a much better way to deal with things like this than to have unilateral intervention by the US.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2012 Candidates - March 2011

2012 Candidates - Monthly update
Here are some possible candidates for the major party nominations for president in 2012.
The numbers in parentheses are my wild guesses about the percentage chance that each of them has, at this point, of getting the nomination.
My principal reaction to each is listed afterword. If you will point out stuff to me I can improve this description over time.

Obama (99) I would consider him.

Mitt Romney (26) I would consider him. He has a flip flop problem in some quarters. The Romney health plan in MA is similar to Obama’s national plan. Some say that it is therefore a contradiction for Romney to oppose Obamacare is. I think not, since a state does not have the same limitations on it that the Federal Government does – i.e. enumerated powers. (Yes, I do know that references to the Constitution are sooooo old fashioned.)
Mike Huckabee (21) - Fails the YAMSLT*.
Sarah Palin (21) - A lightweight. Fails the YAMSLT.
Mitch Daniels (16) - I would consider him. Very straight forward.
Tim Pawlenty (8) - I would consider him.
Newt Gingrich (4) - I would have considered him.
……… I do not like his position on Park 51 – not only that they should not, but that Muslims do NOT even have the right to, build there.
Rick Santorum (1) former PA Senator - Too far right for me. Fails the YAMSLT.
Bobby Jindal (1) Fails the YAMSLT.
Jim Demint (1) - Too far right for me
Jon Huntsman (1)
Haley Barbour (0) -probably self removed by his citizens council remarks.

John Thune -Says he’s not running.
Mike Pence – Says he’s not running.
Chris Christie – Says he’s not running. I would consider him.

Q.1. If the budget for program X has a built in annual bump up of 11% per year and you reduce that bump up by 3% so that the budget for program X actually grows by only 8%, then the change in the amount spent for program X is most accurately labeled as:
a) an 8% decrease, b) a 3% decrease, c) a 24% decrease, or d) an 8% increase.

Q.2. Can we eliminate the deficit by making a modest increase in the tax rate for those in the top 1 percent of income earners?

Q.3. Do you believe in Evolution?

Q.4. Do you oppose teaching mythology in science class?

Desired answers: 1. d, 2. no 3. Yes, 4. Yes .