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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

on the fragility of democracy

A has had an extended discussion with B over the thesis: A democracy cannot last long beyond the point at which the public realizes that it can vote itself money from the public treasury. Bankruptcy will follow not long after that."

The latest (and perhaps last) episode in that discussion was about B's claim that the recent payroll tax reduction was a beautiful example. The Rs were reluctant last fall and voted only for a two month extension. They took a major beating in the polls later and in Feb they reversed themselves. (A few politicians on each side pointed out that this was coming from SS which already is short of long term money, but most said this is what people want so, bingo, the govt. handed the people $160 billion dollars that it doesn't have.)

A blames the politicians for anything that is bad in that. B argued that we can't blame the politicians because we are the ones who are insisting that they give us these things. A's position was that it was the job of Congress to refuse to give us what we demanded when it was bad for us. B then claimed that that was contrary to the bedrock principle of democracy and A said that they would not discuss this topic in the future.

I would point out that if you have a moral populace, then they will not go for this easily. But if you have them pay for a bit of what they are going to be getting, then they will become self righteously indignant in demanding what is "owed" to them. They will do that even if they know that they do not have a clue about how to calculate how much is "owed to them" as a repayment for what they actually paid into the system. Recall the ad by the old people telling politicians what would happen to them if the pols tried to reduce the medicare that "they had paid into", and the one about the little old lady being pushed over a cliff, and the riots in Greece when reality caught up with them.

When our entitlement bubble bursts, it will not be pretty.

Other versions of this proposition are:
Benjamin Franklin: "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." [added 3-2-12 - a questionable quote - see comment 3]
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Santorum and Kennedy

I understand that Santorum has disagreed with John Kennedy's argument that the separation of church and state should be absolute. He then went on to say what he thought an "absolute separation of church and state" would mean. To him it means that no discussion of public policy could involve religion. All public policy debates would have to be secular in nature. It seems to me that in his mind that would mean that you could not even ask the question of whether the C Church should be required to buy insurance. You could only say "should an organization be required to buy insurance for employees". With that definition of separation of church and State I don't think I would go along either. But most of us don't use that as a definition of SOCAS. We use one that even Santorum might very well agree with.

So I would say he flubbed it by assuming that we all agreed about what SOCAS means when he should have talked about definitions. I think that most people would say that they agree with an absolute SOCAS, but they mean something much less dramatic that his version.

He shot himself in the foot with that one. That is why I think he will collapse. The only question is whether it will happen before or after the Rs have made their choice. I think it will be before.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

the latest Koran Burning

I don't have a problem with an apology for a mistake (the Koran again) but I do hope that it was noted that a) it was not intentional and b) the Koran's in question had already been desecrated by having notes written on them by the inmates who had been given the books by their captors.

If that was the case. Was it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

the payroll tax cut

Well I've been thinkin' for some time how odd it was that I hadn't seen anyone in the media who was noticing that the "payroll tax" that was just passed was being paid for out of the SS trust fund. That is all of that money that we are not paying in payroll taxes is money that will not go into the SS trust fund.

Finally though someone did mention it. I'm sure there were more, but to their credit the list included Tom Harkin D Iowa and Joe Manchin D WV who were willing to point out that this was reducing the time until SS does not have the money to pay the promised benefits. Benefits and taxes were supposed to be adjusted as needed to keep SS solvent for 75 years. That was so you could fix the problems way ahead of time which would make them relatively painless. According to the SS annual report it was good until the early 2030s before this tax cut. Let's see 2033-2012 = 21.

But the politicians (read we) have adopted a tried and true method of getting the people to steal from the future to put more money in our pockets today. They just took another huge chunk out of it with this taxcut. But not to worry. Someone asked Democratic Minority Leader Pelosi about it and she said that SS could handle it. Let's see, is 21 close to 75?

I guess, as they say, its close enough for government work.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

centrist 6

I am again asked to explain what I mean by saying that I am a centrist. In a world where both sides of the aisle have apparently begun to believe their own propaganda I can give a brief approximate answer.

The left, led by Obama says that we can get all of the money that we need to operate the government by a modest increase in taxes on the rich.

The right, led by various people says that we can get all of the money we need to operate the government by cutting tax rates.

In this context, a centrist is someone who recognizes that both of those beliefs are nonsense and we are all going to have to pay to get out the hole that we are still digging.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Birth Control Mandate 2 - Cynical(?)

In the comments on Birth Control Mandate 1 I suggested that Obama did this "as a base rousing action. A chance to change the topic of conversation from money to culture wars issues."

Bruce suggested that this was cynical. I think that raises a good pair of questions:

A. Is it cynical to think that Obama did this thing as a political ploy? Consider Clinton's Sister Souljah moment in 1992 which was a similar gambit. No, I don't think that it is cynical that I believe that politicians try to manipulate our emotions in order to get our votes. I think that it just means that I watch these guys.

B. Would it be cynical of Obama if he did this thing as a political gambit*? Well by doing this he has firmed up an important part of his base and thrown a monkey wrench into the Republican nomination race. Notice how much the Rs have dwelt on it and that Santorum, the quintessential R social issues guy, is now at the front of the pack. This is a great issue for Santorum in the primaries, but a disaster for the Rs in the general.

With a bit of luck Obama may have induced the Republicans to nominate Santorum!!

I don't think it is cynical of Obama, I think it is clever.

* The word "gambit" is particularly appropriate here because, in chess, a gambit is the giving up of something - usually a pawn - in the expectation of getting a lot more back later. In the political case you take some temporary heat for some bigger gain later.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Americans Elect

I wonder if the YA community thinks that this whole Americans Elect thing will actually go anywhere? I am doubtful.

For a while I thought that Jon Huntsman might end up being the AE candidate, but he was so quick to endorse Romney that it seems highly unlikely. Is there a serious person out there who would consider bucking their party in favor of an internet primary?

I am trying to come up with a few potential candidates, but am not having much luck. Maybe NYC mayor Bloomberg? I don't know. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

best statistics question ever

By way of Raymond Johnson, the best statistics multiple choice question ever written on a chalkboard. Try not to think too hard.

If you choose an answer to this question at random, what is the chance you will be correct?

a) 25%

b) 50%

c) 60%

d) 25%

To see it on the blackboard go to best-statistics-question-ever .

Friday, February 10, 2012

Birth control mandate

I'm really having a hard time following the birth control mandate question.

A friend told me that she had read some of the comments on a blog and that it was depressing how simplistic the writers (on both sides I think) were about the topic and that none of them thought that it was complicated at all.

Well that's the way blogs are I thought, but then I listened to Senator Boxer and pro and con views on PBS last night and they took the same view.

"This is not a religious issue it is a health care issue," Boxer said.

Then on PBS:

"Of course it is a religious freedom issue since the government is forcing the Catholic Church to do something that is contrary to its fundamental beliefs."

The other side says, "I see it as a health care issue. I don't see it as a freedom of religion issue." Poof. (She was Methodist.) She showed no sign of ever having contemplated any religious aspect of it. She apparently believed that the freedom of religion argument was sufficiently dealt with by saying: I don't see it that way.

It reminds me a bit of the water boarding question. Some were horrified that the Government would water board a known terrorist for information. It was clearly a civil liberties issue they said. [later that day: I am told-not civil liberties rather international law. The point is the same] The other side took the view: I see it as a national security issue. I don't see it as a civil liberties issue. Poof.

Same song, second verse. Strange thing though there has (I think) been a bit of a role reversal. Those who worried over the water boarded terrorists are not the same group as the folks who are now decrying the coercion of the Catholic Church. In fact ...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

An apology(?) tour

Romney is now speaking about Obama's "apology tour" and arguing that instead of apologizing for America, Obama should be apologizing to America.

Maybe that works. I did not think that it was an apology tour, I thought it was a reality tour. An attempt to let the world know that he recognized that this was not the fifties or sixties. That he knows that the US GDP is no longer half of the world's GDP, it is now only one fourth of the world's GDP. We no longer dominate the world. But if we have enough sense we can still be the first among equals for a long time. But to do that we cannot continue to act as if we are the the elephant in the room.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Trump again

If Trump had any class at all he would have imitated what the John Birch Society did when they wanted to support for Barry Goldwater in 1964. They had enough sense to know that their reputation was very right wing and their support might have a negative effect.

The story was that they notified Goldwater that they would either support him or oppose him which ever he thought would help him the most.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Pro Choice

Right to have an abortion – Liberals Yes, Conservatives No

Right to not join a Union – Liberals No, Conservatives Yes

Go figure - I have no problem with the position of liberals or conservatives on either issue. I do have a problem with the rational that both/either group puts forward to support their position on both/either issue.

On the abortion Issue the only issue for me is at what point in the development of a human being do we extend legal protection of life.

On the closed shop (union membership required) issue I find it surprising that Americans will tolerate mandatory membership as an employment requirement.