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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Elizabeth Warren

Ms. Warren has been a Law Professor at Harvard, the University of Texas, and elsewhere; was a member of the Obama Administration; and is currently a candidate for the US Senate from Massachusetts.

In a recent discussion she said
"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody."

Warren rejects the concept that it is possible for Americans to become wealthy in isolation.

"You built a factory out there? Good for you," she says. "But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did."

She continues: "Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

This was brought to my attention by Gib.

For one presentation of the other side go here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

pension plans

How did so many state governments and companies get into the desperate situation of huge shortages of funds to pay pensions?

One part of it goes like this: The managers (corporate in the case of industry and politicians in the case of government) wanted to please their employees. They didn't want to spend the extra money though. So they hit on a bargain of the sort that appeals only to those whose approach to problems includes a willingness to avoid the issue. They promised the employees generous pension plans.

This would work fine if the company required (of themselves and/or their employees) that they put enough money into the retirement fund to pay for those benefits. Then there would be no misleading, no shortfall, no problem.

But, you guessed it, they were (and are) not doing that. That is a good part of why GM got into trouble, and Wisconson, and NJ, and California. (Also Greece, ...)

Why were they (execs and union leaders) willing to do that to themselves, their employees and us? Well, I won't speculate on their motives, but it sure gave them all an easy way out of dealing with their problems.

That gave the employer happy workers and more money immediately in company (or government) coffers. It was short term and carries a price later, but it made it appear that they were doing better than they were.

The employees also got the illusion of having more money immediately too. How? They saw their retirement as being taken care of and reasonably concluded that they didn't need to save as much as they might have. This made them feel that they were doing better than they were and so they spent more than they might have.

The sad part is that the day of reckoning for this kind of hustle is way into the future. When that point arrives you have a different set of managers and union leaders who didn't cause it and so they feel abused. The workers had a contract for (and paid for part of) that pension. If it is cut, then they feel abused.

It is the kind of sad thing that you expect from irresponsible people not organizations that are run by people who are supposed to know better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

bloomberg's ideas

I have a pretty surface level knowledge about all the economic intricacies of the immigration debate, but NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed some ideas in this speech that seem to make some pretty good common sense.

Never let a crisis go to waste.

It would appear that the Republicans have taken up Rahm Emmanuel's maxim that you should: Never let a crisis go to waste.

The current financial crisis was exploited by the Democrats to obtain the passage of Obamacare.
Now the Republicans are exploiting it to force cuts that they always wanted to make anyway.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

political extremes

Revised 9-27-11
The reason that the center appeals to most of us (who are in it) is not that the partisans advocate stuff. Our problem is that each side has a mythology and its followers actually believe that mythology which is why they act so strangely.

The Rs believe this stuff about all problems can be solved by lowering taxes.
The Ds believe that if they put enough time between them and the day of reckoning then the existence of the day of reckoning is just propaganda.

For a better presentation of this thesis see Brooks's piece in the NYT.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kinds of immigrants

If you are listening to someone talk about immigration, take note of whether they distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. That will tell you a lot.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

measures of the center

As folks get more and more fed up with the extreme partisans in Washington it is becoming fashionable to think of oneself as a centrist. But if the only people on your right are William F Buckley and Genghis Khan or if the only people on your left are Eugene V Debs and Mao Tse Tung, then I think it is a stretch to call yourself a centrist.

Here are a couple of tests to determine whether you are a centrist.

A) My liberal friends think that I am conservative and my conservative friends think I am liberal.
(If you do not have friends on both sides, then a) that is unfortunate and b) you are probably not a centrist.)

B) For another, perhaps more objective, criterion I would suggest the questions:
1) Which candidate did you vote for in all of the general presidential elections since you became eligible?
2) Which candidate did you vote for in the last five general presidential elections?

For me the answer to B is: All (12 in my case): D-9, I-1, R-2 and in the last five: it is D-2, I-1, R-2.
This could be summarized by looking at the sequence: DDDD DDDD DIRRD
I suppose that marks me as someone who was a liberal in youth who is moving to the center with age. That is a well known path.

I think of myself as a center left person.

(For more on this click the centrist label below this post.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

taxing the rich

I do want to raise taxes on the rich. But I am very much opposed to a tax at this time on ONLY the very rich.

It doesn't affect me directly. (I won't qualify for it.)

But the thing is that I think that those of us in the middle are also going to have to pay more to get the country back on track. In particular, I think that we should return to the Clinton tax rates of the nineties. (Maybe, because of the recession, not right now.)

If you BEGIN that return to the Clinton tax rates with a tax on the rich, then when you get ready to get serious about our problems and go the rest of the way and return to Clinton rates on the rest of us(where the real money is) you will have a problem. Because then (I can hear them now) you will be raising taxes "only on the middle class and letting the rich off scot free."

I'll leave aside my disappointment that Obama has abandoned the attempt to solve our problems in favor of a 14 month presidential campaign.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Grand Bargain

If one accepts that it is the Republicans who are the ones being obstinate, then how should Obama proceed?

Here is a good description by Friedman of what I wish that he would do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Palestinian State

I think that all sides (except Hamas, Hezbollah, and some extremist Israeli groups) have agreed that a two state solution is the way to go.

So what is wrong with the Palestinians going straight to the UN and asking for one?

Of course, I wouldn't see anything wrong with requiring that, in order to get it, they be required to accept the right of Israel to exist.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fair – the meaning of

It seems to be a quite empty word. I looked it up in Webster’s and found that it means equitable and that equitable means fair. Thanks a lot.

The meaning of fair is, of course, important because it is currently being claimed that America’s wealthy are not paying their fair share of taxes. I don’t know what that means.

I suspect that at some point, early in life, most of us experienced an event that gave us a sense of fairness. Perhaps being forced to give half of a candy bar to a sibling, letting someone else choose the TV channel half of the time, or taking equal turns on a see-saw.

So how does the fairness concept apply to taxes for individuals that have different earning levels? Here is what I think would be fair. Everyone should pay an amount of tax such that after paying this tax they have the same remaining purchasing power as every other American.

I don’t, of course, believe nor advocate that at all. But what I do believe is that we should drop the fairness pretense and simply admit that we want to tax the rich because, to quote Willie Sutton, “Because that’s where the money is”.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vietnam 2

A lot of people will tell you, some seem happy about it, that we lost the war in Vietnam.

No one would say that Robert E. Lee's victory at Chancellorsville meant that we lost "the Chancellorsville War". It is recognized as the loss of a battle. The Union won the Civil War.

Since then wars have become larger and so have the battles. The Allies lost the Battle of France in WWII. No one said that they lost the "French War". Similarly the Allies won the Battle of Britain.

It seems to me that the conflict in Vietnam was part and parcel of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It lasted 45 years and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and an American Victory. Consider the following thought experiment. If it had not been for the Cold War, would we have been in Vietnam? I believe that the answer is clearly no.

Therefore, the argument should be about why we chose to fight a battle on such "bad ground" as Vietnam was. But Vietnam was not the "war that we were fighting", it was only a part of the larger Cold War.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

liberal math

In his September 15, article Dr. Krugman makes some good points about the safety net and advocates some things which have broad support, even among many who do not consider themselves to be liberals.

One of the things that I find distressing about some liberals is that they don't seem to understand that people do not trust them anymore. Particularly the numbers that they put out when they say what such and such program will cost.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Because the Government Knows Best

"We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money," Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Mr. Chu made the statement above during a discussion about the mandated phasing out of incandescent light bulbs. Energy conservation is, in my opinion, a topic that should be a government concern.

How I waste my money is NOT.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Roman gods

The ancient Romans were very tolerant of religious diversity and believed in many gods .
About the validity of the gods it was said that:

The people thought that they were all equally true.
The philosophers thought that they were all equally false. and
The politicians thought that they were all equally useful.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We need a ten year plan.

I recommend this article by Lawrence Summers.

Here is his central theme: "If a moment when the government can borrow for 10 years at less than 2 percent, when unemployment among construction workers is well into double digits, and when the price of building materials is depressed is not the moment for infrastructure investment, it is hard to imagine when that time will come."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Years of Shame

Paul Krugman's column in the NYTimes is reproduced below for your convenience.

September 11, 2011, 8:41 am

The Years of Shame

"Is it just me, or are the 9/11 commemorations oddly subdued?

Actually, I don’t think it’s me, and it’s not really that odd.

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

I’m not going to allow comments on this post, for obvious reasons."

End of Krugman's piece.

Comments will be allowed on Yellowarmadillos.

I will go first.

I think that the value of most of the liberal criticism of Bush's handling of 9-11 things can be summed up in two facts.

One: Obama promised that he would close Guantanamo Bay Prison within one year.
Two: He did not close it in 32 months and, apparently, will not close it all.

These and the column above lead to two observations:

1. Governing is harder than campaigning.
2. Obama can be taught and Krugman cannot.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Long term debt

We have not had zero national debt in this country since the Jackson administration in 1836.

The really important thing about that debt is not the numerical size of it but rather the relative debt (= the debt as a percentage of GDP). For the US to owe $14.3 trillion is a problem, but if Nebraska owed $14.3 trillion it would be a hopeless disaster. That leads us to the one encouraging thing about the national debt: you don't have to pay it off. You can reduce the importance of the debt by simply reducing it as a percentage of GDP. If the economy grows and you have zero deficits, then the relative debt will decrease to the point where it is not as significant. You can "grow the debt down". That is you can grow the economy and reduce the relative debt. That is why it is not "trillions and trillions of debt" that should worry us but rather a debt that is a high percentage of GDP.

(Government debt and personal debt are not the same but comparisons can help in understanding.) It is a bit like the first house I bought for $32,250 when I was making about $15,000 per year. With a horrendous interest rate of 12.75% my payments were about $350/month or $4200 per year. (We also borrowed the down payment so the calculation is for both which totaled the value of the house.) That debt service ate up 28% of our before tax income. It was a burden. However, as time went by, my income increased and it was about $42,000 per year by the time we moved out of that house. That same $4,200 per year in payments was then only 10% of my income.

We are now facing a relative national debt that looks to be growing well into the danger zone. So how did we get here? Well, there are two sides to every story.

First, for those who weren't there, in the old days everybody knew that "up to 250% of your family income" was the standard for "how much house you could afford." Notice that our debt in the previous example was 215% of our income (=GDP). That was well within the standard. Of course, that was before Congresscritters Barney Frank and Chris Dodd decided that connecting "how much house you can afford" to your income was discrimination against people who did not have enough income to buy as much house as they wanted (= "had a right to"). How did they implement that? They provided government drop off points, called Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for bad mortgages. Enter a nationwide bunch of "bankers" who abandoned their integrity and made loans that they knew were no good because they could sell them immediately to someone who would ... sell them to willing (semi-government) receivers at Fannie and Freddie.

Immediately after WWII the war had pushed our national debt to about 120% of GDP. By Ronald Reagan's presidency we had "grown it down" to about 35%. During the 12 year Reagan-Bush administration the country went on a binge of deficit spending that drove it back up to about 70%. During the Clinton administration the Democrats, who believe in more taxation, combined with the Republicans, who believe in less spending, and leveled it out. Then came the Bush 43 and Obama administrations and the bill came due for all of those "socially desirable" loans that had been made. We are currently approaching a debt level of 100% of GDP. Curiously enough, that is not the main problem. In the interest of making all of us happy the government has promised us all that we will have benefits from SS and Medicare that exceed the amount of revenues that they have provided to pay for them. How much is that shortfall? That is, how much is the debt already scheduled to increase? Nobody knows for sure. Estimates run from another 100% of GDP to another 300% of GDP making the real prospective debt somewhere between 200% and 400% of GDP. How much is safe?
Again nobody knows for sure? Remember the powerhouse that Japan was going to be about 20-25 years ago. Their debt got to around 200% of GDP. They are down and are likely to be down for quite awhile.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Obama's speech 9-8-11


From President Obama's speech.

I'm all for doing what he proposed. But ...

Maybe I'm suffering from Obama fatigue or something, but I don't like these kinds of arguments.

"Pass this jobs bill, and the typical working family will get a fifteen hundred dollar tax cut next year. Fifteen hundred dollars that would have been taken out of your paycheck will go right into your pocket. This expands on the tax cut that Democrats and Republicans already passed for this year. If we allow that tax cut to expire – if we refuse to act – middle-class families will get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time. We cannot let that happen. I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away."

I think that this says: pass this bill, it includes a taxcut. If you don't pass this bill, you will be raising taxes. This is so sad.

"How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip? What kind of country would this be if this Chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? How many Americans would have suffered as a result?"

consider: He seems to be saying you guys need to get rid of your principles they are just "some rigid idea about what government could or could not do"? I don't believe Bush 43 ever described the liberal opposition to the Patriot Act is such insulting terms.

"We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. But in the middle of a Civil War, he was also a leader who looked to the future – a Republican president who mobilized government to build the transcontinental railroad; launch the National Academy of Sciences; and set up the first land grant colleges. And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set."

He is quite right here. Lincoln dealt with an existential threat to the country and made many long term innovations in other areas at the same time. But you have to be careful when you drag up the biggies, because that also invites a comparison. I suppose it goes like this: In the middle of a recession caused by a very serious financial crisis Obama proposed a short term jobs program to ease the recession and ignored the long term money problem.

What the country needs is a grand compromise which calls for the necessary sacrifices.

What did Obama ask for?

Lochner v New York

To see a conservative view of this decision go to George Will on Lochner.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How do they sound?

Ray Charles (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004) was an accomplished musician considered by some to be the greatest of the age. He was both black and blind. On one occasion a black colleague of his objected to some of the musicians that were playing in Ray's band because they were white.

Ray responded, "They don't sound white."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Seneca: "Piso's justice"

In De Ira (On Anger), Book I, Chapter XVIII, Seneca tells of Gnaeus Piso, a Roman governor and lawmaker, when he was angry, ordering the execution of a soldier who had returned from a leave of absence without his comrade, on the ground that if the man did not produce his companion, he had presumably killed the latter. As the condemned man was presenting his neck to the executioner's sword, there suddenly appeared the very comrade who was supposedly murdered. The centurion overseeing the execution halted the proceedings and led the condemned man back to Piso, expecting a reprieve.
But Piso mounted the tribunal in a rage, and ordered the three soldiers to be executed. He ordered the death of the man who was to have been executed, because the sentence had already been passed; he also ordered the death of the centurion who was in charge of the original execution, for failing to perform his duty; and finally, he ordered the death of the man who had been supposed to have been murdered, because he had been the cause of death of two innocent men.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Obama’s foreign policy

What I hoped would be characteristic of Obama’s foreign policy went something like this.
1. Be strong where US security is involved.
2. Be reluctant to interfere inside other countries even “for their benefit.” Use all other available means first.
3. If you must go in, then go in carefully and get a lot of other countries to go with you so that it is (and appears to be) a world action.
4. Lay the groundwork for reducing the military budget (I would hope to about 3 % of GDP) AND reducing the military mission by a concomitant amount.
and finally I hoped that he would:
5. Agree with Walter Lippman’s belief that: Foreign Policy is bringing into balance the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power, with a comfortable margin of power in reserve.
Consider that dictum in light of the fact that, in the last 60 years, our GDP has dropped from 50% to 25% of the world’s GDP. Then begin moving us away from the (unsustainable) KATN (kick ass and take names) U S foreign policy and toward the next proper (and sustainable) American role in the world: that of being first among equals.

So how is he doing after 31 months in office? Well, we have some examples. This is very preliminary and therefore subject to change – probably they will not go quite as well as I hope they will. So with that caveat

In the war in Afghanistan he upped the ante and increased American forces. How it will end is not clear. But he has showed himself willing to be quite aggressive in the war widely believed to be justified for American security. As aggressive as, say, Bush 41 was.

When the pirates had Capt. Richard Phillips as a hostage Obama directed the military to take them down directly and totally. They did it with coordinated gunfire that left 3 dead and one captured. I don’t think he checked with Congress about that and I’m glad he didn’t.

In Iran I suppose that he judged that our intervening would not increase the chances of a good outcome. Obama resisted the urge to get us involved in what could easily have become our third simultaneous war with Muslims. In Egypt there was a very strong institution, the Army, which had a positive attitude and appears to be able to handle that transition without any outside help. In both of these examples I think that what Obama understands (and some of his detractors do not) is that if we jump into these situations early in a big way we will cripple the revolutionaries because they will be labeled as U S stooges (= traitors).

In Libya where, again, we could not afford another war, somebody(?) got NATO (usually thought of as an extension of the US military) to undertake a very effective action in that country. That somebody got those folks in France, whom some ridicule as “cheese eating surrender monkeys”, to take a leading role in that action. His detractors call that achievement “leading from behind”. Finally in Syria, Obama waited long time before ordering US sanctions on Syria. Some people thought it was an outlandishly long time. However, the great majority of Syria’s oil is sold to Europe. Obama and Europe have been doing a dance the last few months while they took turns increasing the pressure in Syria. The real potential for pressure in this case lay with the Europeans. Perhaps he is, again, getting the world to take a larger role. It might be appropriate here to recall Harry Truman’s observation that, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

These things are consistent with moving the U S role in the world from KATN toward first among equals.

So I will give him at least a B.

PS Napoleon famously said, “If you set out to take Vienna, then take Vienna.”
Obama’s corollary is: “If you set out to get bin Laden, then get bin Laden.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

2012 Candidates - Sept - 2011

Here are some possible candidates for the major party nominations for president in 2012.
The sequences in parentheses are my wild guesses about the percentage chance that each of them had monthly, Jan-current month, 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.
The YAMSLT test can be found here.

Remember I am not a professional at this, just an interested citizen.

Barack Obama (99) I will consider him again, but he is worrying me.

Mitt Romney (25-25-26-24-25-30-30-33-35) I would consider him. Some say he has a problem in that 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. I think not and I now think he can make the case.
Rick Perry (x-x-x-x-x-06-22-25-30)[[ 9/1/11 9:30 PM CST. Sorry I let the date slip up on me and this was presented without last minute editing. I would just change it but there have been comments so I need to keep the old version which is struck out and new version is in italics.]] Seems more and more like a candidate. Would be a strong one. Is a strong candidate. But is America ready for another brash Texas Governor? Is his jobs record that good? If he enters,it will quickly become a two person race: Romney-Perry.
He may be a strong candidate. There is a chance he will implode. The main questions are: Does he pass the YAMSLT test? Is America ready for another brash Texas Governor? Is his jobs record that good? If he holds up it is a two person race: Romney-Perry.

Michelle Bachman (x-x-x-01-01-10-20-13-20) A lightweight. Fails YAMSLT
Ron Paul (x-x-x-x-01-02-03-05-8)

Jon Huntsman (x-x-1-1-01-05-06-01) As I know him more, I like him more. I would consider him. Seems like serious people take him seriously. I don't see how he wins the nomination though.
Herman Cain (x-x-x-x-x-x-01-01-1) Has a long way to go to be a serious cand.
Newt Gingrich (4-4-4-4-03-03-01-01-1) - I would have considered him but he abandoned the 1st amendment. ……… 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 (x-x-x-01-02-01-01-01-1) - Too far right for me. Fails the YAMSLT.
Sarah Palin (20-20-21-16-16-19-3-01-1) - She is playjng games. Fails the YAMSLT.
Tim Pawlenty (05-07-08-16-14-20-25-15-1) - I would consider him. A serious person. Apparently did not pick up Daniels's support.
Gary Johnson (x-x-x-x-01-01-01-01-01) Will highlight the drug prohibition issue.