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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gay Marriage 2

The “mess” referred to below includes:  a) the fact that (for example) a gay couple who is legally married in say MA does not have SS survivors benefits because of DOMA, b)  whether a gay couple married in one state can have their marriage recognized in another state.
Prediction:  What will the Court do?
1.  They could declare that “the equal protection of the laws” principle of the 14th amendment prohibits any restrictions of the rights of persons to marry.  This would include disallowing DOMA and removing from states the right to exclude homosexuals in their definition of marriage.  The conventional wisdom is that the courts want something less profound than this and that they will not do this.  Nearly impossible.

2.  They could declare DOMA unconstitutional and reaffirm the right of states to define marriage, leaving a mess.  Surely not. 

3.  They could declare DOMA unconstitutional and reaffirm the right of states to define marriage. Most likely.  Hopefully they would also direct the Federal Government to review its laws regarding marriage (Social Security et al) and to clean up the mess “with all deliberate speed”. 

4.  They could do 3 with the caveat that the Federal Government can, if it chooses, take to itself the right to define marriage and revise the laws relating to marriage accordingly.  Unlikely. 

Two and 3 are my least favorites.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Gay Marriage

First I would like to describe what I think the possibilities are and some of the consequences of some of the approaches that the court might take.
1. To “simply say that marriage is a matter for the states” is not possible because it is not “simple”.  Suppose a gay couple, married in another state, now lives in a state which does not recognize gay marriage.  That state is obligated by Article IV section 1 of the U S Constitution (Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.) to recognize the couple’s marriage.  However the state does not allow its own gay couples to get married so it is now in trouble with the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws” clause.  So the Court may allow California’s prop 8 to stand, but if they do then they ought to do more.
2. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was, in part, to respond to 1. and it excludes the Federal Government from obligations that might follow from different laws about marriage in the states.  So, instead of SS giving marital rights to same sex couples in states that have gay marriage and not giving marital rights to couples from states that do not, the SS just ignores any rights that such couples might claim. 
3.  In one sense, the simplest thing for the Court to do would be to declare that “the right to marry is fundamental” and the 14th amendment (… No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.  …) prohibits any restrictions of the rights of persons to marry.  This would include disallowing DOMA and removing from states the right to define marriage.  There are technical difficulties with this approach.  One would be about people being related to each other.  That is probably easy.  A second would be that if the Court declares, as some current commercials advocate, that a person should be able to marry anyone that they love, then the door is open to polygamy (and polyandry).  The court will not extend the rule to polygamy.  If the court went this way they would probably handle this exclusion (polygamy) issue by saying that “everybody knows that marriage is between two people”.  “Everybody knows” is not generally regarded as a powerful legal argument and in particular the Court would have just rejected the “everybody knows that marriage is between a man and a woman” argument.  There would be a logical coherence objection for the court here.
Another objection is that it would be a very far reaching decision.  The judges seem to be looking for a less profound resolution of the two cases.
4.  One last thing.  The “logical coherence” problem in the last point is a problem for a court, but it is not a problem for a legislature which is not under the same logical restraints as a court.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

One Third of the Population

In the late ‘50s and early ’60 approximately 80% of Americans voluntarily went to a designated location and swallowed a vaccine soaked sugar cube on 3 consecutive Sundays.  The result is that polio in the US was virtually eradicated due to the Sabin Oral Sundays (SOS) initiative.

In 2008, according to the CDC, approximately 110,197,000 people in the US had sexually transmitted infections (STI).  That is 1/3 of the population!  Admittedly a few STIs are not curable and some require long term treatment, however many of them are indeed curable with a single treatment.

If everyone with, say, gonorrhea were treated on three consecutive Sundays wouldn’t the disease be eradicated?

Questions – Would an SOS type initiative be appropriate to address STIs?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


When I was 10 years old in the the fifties I would have qualified for most of the "ists" around.

I made progress on sexism first and racism second.  The hardest has been an acceptance of homosexuality.

Tomorrow - The Supreme Court and gay marriage.

Cyprus 2

A few days ago in Cyprus Tom discussed Bernanke's quantitive easing.

To find reinforcement for his view check out this article in the NY Post.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Has there been inflation recently?

But the other question raised by Tom (on the March 21 post)  is also a very good one.  Has there really been low inflation?  You can check prices and see.  I will look at only one commodity.

In the flight to safety of the last 10 years the items chosen have been dollars and gold.

Eight years ago gold sold for $400 an ounce.  For the last two years it has ranged from $1600-1800 an ounce.  It has doubled twice in 8 years.  That is a doubling time of 4 years.  By the rule of 72 (which works for interest rates as well as inflation rates) - "Doubling time" X "inflation rate" = 72.  You get 4 X "inflation rate" =72.  By that measure the rate of inflation for dollars has been about 18% per year.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why is there not more inflation?

The title is very similar to a  question asked in the comments on the March 21 post.  I think that there are 3 reasons:

In 1983 I traveled by train from Greece to Austria which meant I went through Yugoslavia, a communist dictatorship.  It was a night trip and I was not allowed to get off of the train.  It was scary. I met a man who immediately recognized me as an American (I had gotten used to that by then.).  He waited until no one else  was near and opened his billfold and showed me in the hidden pocket several $20 bills.  He was clearly very proud to have that "real money" in a currency that had not been destroyed by politicians.

The first reason that the value of the dollar is still holding up is nervousness.  Since 2008 people have been nervous and when people get nervous there is a "flight to safety".  Even if it is pressed hard by deficit spending and "digitizing money" (what used to be called printing money) the dollar has a long history of stability and modest inflation which leads to confidence in it.

The second reason is that the dollar is the world's reserve currency.  That means that the world needs a lot more dollars than it does euros.  It uses dollars like gold.  That means we could digitize money for a lot longer than say Britain could.  But that also means that if the worm turns and people do lose confidence, then there are an awful lot dollars out there that people might lose confidence in.  That suggests the consequences (the crash) would be much more dramatic for an inflated reserve currency than a  inflated regular currency.

The third reason is that the government is lending itself money.  The Fed is not just digitizing money, they are also buying treasury bonds from the Treasury.  That is the Fed (one arm of the government) is lending money to(buying bonds from) the Treasury (a second arm of the government).  Why?  That keeps demand for treasuries high and therefore interest rates low.  Therefore, inflation low. ( If a bond is desirable you will take it at a lower rate and pay a higher price for the bond.  If it is not desirable then you will want it less and require a higher rate of interest and pay less for the bond.  If US bonds are scarce, then the price goes up and the interest rate goes down.  If the Fed is buying them, then that will make them more scarce.)  This is a bit more sophisticated than just digitizing money because by buying bonds the Fed is digitizing money and keeping track of how much it has digitized.

Those are the things that I think are keeping "inflation" low for the time being.

How will we know when the shell game is up?  When the interest rates on treasuries start to go up.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


As part of a bailout package for Cyprus it was proposed that the government confiscate money from private bank accounts to finance the bailout package.  To say that the citizens of Cyprus were not happy would be an understatement.

The talking heads on US news channels were quick to point out that that “would never be attempted in the US”.  Too late, it has already happened.  

Language is important.  We (the US) recently experienced our 3rd round of “Quantative Easing”.  QE is truly a case of “ex nihilo” (out of nothing).  QE is the process whereby the Fed simply creates a balance on a Central Bank’s books.  Create is the key word.  They simply change the numbers in the computer.  The Banks can then use this “money” to buy back bonds.

So if the QE money was created from nothing why does it have value?  As has been pointed out on this blog money is fungible.  When added to the US money supply the QE money draws value from every other dollar in existence.  That includes the ones in your pocket, your investment portfolio and to relate this back to Cyprus it draws value from every dollar you have in the bank.

In a real way the US government has already done what has been proposed for Cyprus, we (the US government) just called it QE instead of calling it a confiscation of money from your bank account.  Genius.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Shelby County vs Holder 2

In Shelby County vs Holder 1, I said that I think that the central question here is this:  Does the danger of systemic voter suppression currently warrant the continued disparate treatment of some states and units?

Are the units that now have to obtain preclearance in order to change their voter access laws still in need of the added scrutiny that preclearance provides?  Consider the evidence in the 2006 United States Commission on Civil Rights, which reported that in "the 10 years prior to the review, the overall objection rate (to preclearance requests) was so low as to be practically negligible, at less than 0.1 percent.[15] "

That does not seem like a frequency large enough tojustify the government placing a substantial impediment on those states and units.  So I would say no.  That does not justify treating states differently.

Does this mean that I think it was wrong to have imposed Title 5 in the first place?  No.  It was probably appropriate then.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Is Obama winning?

According the media the President has been beating the Republicans pretty badly for the last two years.  He recently had a bad week or two but the theme in the press has been clear the president has been winning:  "He won the election so they have to come to him."  The fact that the Republicans had also won an election - for control of the House of Representatives - seems to get overlooked.

I disagree with the notion that the president is doing so well.

I do not doubt that he won in the first two years of his first term with the AHC act.  Since then, however, the issue has been taxes.  During George Bush's eight years taxes were cut to a level which meant that the Federal Government's income was several percentage points of GDP below previous levels. The CBO estimates that if the Bush tax cuts had been allowed to expire in 2013 the government's income would have gone up by  $423 billion per year.  The part that Obama actually got from the "rich" is only about  $60 billion per year.  It would appear that Obama was unable to reverse most of that tax cut. The level of government that Obama wants will require even more taxation than the Clinton level provided and he has gotten us only a small portion of the way back to even those levels.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Shelby County v. Holder - part 1

The 1965 Civil Rights Act was a major milestone in the modern effort to establish voting rights in the US.  It essentially ended the systemwide voter discrimination laws that existed in the South (and elsewhere, but less frequently) at the time.  It was the law that President Lyndon Johnson said would lose the South for the Democratic Party for a generation.  Perhaps he was too optimistic.  The South has already been Republican for more than 1 generation.  Some would say the change is because the Republicans joined the South in its the racism.  Others would say that once the Democratic party was no longer willing and able to aid and abet the South in its maintainance of white supremacy, it still took a generation or so for the region to come into the modern age.

In order to ensure that new maneuvers would not conjured up to deprive certain citizens of the right to vote, Title 5 of the 1965 Civil Rights Act provided that certain states, counties or other subdivisions could not change their voting laws without preclearance by the Attorney General or the DC District Court.   The states which suffered this disability were those who had a record of denying voting rights to certain citizens.
While it was mainly the states of the old confederacy at the beginning, some of them have been removed and some other states and political units have been added.  However, it is still mainly in the South that preclearance is required.

 It is an important principle that the federal government treat each state equally.  It is also an important principle that no state be allowed to deprive its citizens of the right to vote.   Title Five's preclearance requirement for change leaned heavily toward the second priciple because it was the one that was most at risk at that time and the states were abusing their rights by making discriminatory voting laws.  That is (presumably) why it was deemed Constitutionally acceptable.

In 2006 Congress reauthorized Title 5 as it had several times before.  In the case, Shelby County v. Holdercurrently before the Supreme Court the county claims that Congress exceeded its authority by doing that.

I think that the central question here is this:  Does the danger of systemic voter suppression currently warrant the continued disparate treatment of some states and units?

It should be noted that if Title 5 is excluded, it does not mean that units would be allowed to discriminate.  It would shift the burden of proof from the unit to those who claim that discrimination has occurred.  That is, it would be the same as in other states.

Whether these preclearance units have had a change of attitude or whether they are now lurking in the shadows waiting for a chance to deprive someone of voting rights is a question to which I will give my answer later.  However I will say now that perhaps evidence of what they are now doing should play a role in deciding the answer with respect to Title 5 of the Civil Rights Act.   According to Wikipedia:  In 2006, the United States Commission on Civil Rights reviewed the Justice Department Preclearance record and found that the percentage of DOJ objections to submitted changes has declined markedly throughout the 40-year period of the Act: from 5.5 percent in the first period to 1.2 percent in the second, and to 0.6 percent in the third. Over the 10 years prior to the review, the overall objection rate was so low as to be practically negligible, at less than 0.1 percent.[15] The Commission's two Democratic members dissented from the report, charging that the Commission had "abandon[ed] the field of battle."[16]

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Budgetary science

I don't know if you are aware of it or not, but the Democrats are the party of science and rationalism.  The Republicans are the party of creationists and emotion.  This is widely known and needs no evidence.

Obama announced recently that he "Won’t ‘Chase a Balanced Budget Just for the Sake of Balance’".

The implication being, I suppose, that there is no inherent value in balancing a budget. Balancing the budget is just an emotional goal set up by those who do not understand that, if you have good intentions when you spend money that you don't have, then everything will work out in the end.  You can ride the edge of disaster indefinely.

Unless      a)  interest rates go above the current phenomenally low level, or
                b)  there is ever in our future another recession.

Of course the "dismal science" of Economics assures us that both will happen.

Pi Day

So this is Pi day.  March 14 AKA 3.14 which is not a bad approximation of pi.

You may think that I'm joking, but over at the math department they are celebrating. 

Monday, March 11, 2013


When I was young I used to wonder why the young drove so fast and the old drove so slow.   It seemed to me then that it should be the other way around since the old had so much less time left to them.

Later I came to realize that the old people knew from experience that it didn't make that much difference if you saved 42 seconds.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Obama beyond the pale 2

The second occasion in which I believe that Obama has gone beyond his authority is in his announcement that he would cease to enforce some of the immigration laws.  I agree that the laws are pretty bad, but he has taken the job of seeing that the laws are faithfully executed. Three years ago he deferred to the will of Congress when they declined to adopt the "Dream Act".  Now he is not willing to do that.  Now he just acts as if the Dream Act had passed.

It has been claimed that this is just "prosecutorial discretion" which doesn't work since the occasions are neither "rare" nor "close calls".  Therefore, he has, de facto, just rewritten the immigration law and that is the job of the Congress.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Losing America

On December 14, 2012 we said, in Unions - some thoughts, that:  If people who work hard for a living can't make a decent life, then we have lost America.  Jon Stewart raised another aspect of this problem the other night.  

His point was:  Since we are abandoning fixed benefit retirement plans (pensions) the everyday guy is more and more facing the necessity of dealing with a 401 K (a retirement plan in which you put in money and your employer  puts in money and the account belongs to you.)  If the account runs out before you do, then you do without.  Stewart's point and concern was that this makes it incumbent upon regular folks to become acquainted with long term financial instruments (other than home mortgages) and that is unfortunate.

Perhaps we could create an independent agency which could operate for the government and the people a collection of relatively safe invesment tools.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rand Paul's Filibuster

In a previous post, Beyond the Pale with Obama, Feb. 5, 2013, I explained why I disapprove of the president's drone policy.

Consequently, while I don't have exactly the same objections that Rand Paul has, I am pleased with what he is doing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


If, as Dick Cheney said, Reagan proved that deficits don't matter, then why not borrow the money from the Federal Reserve (i.e. print it) and send ever person in the country $10,000 per  month?

If, as liberals say, there are no negative consequences to minimum wages, then why not make it $40/hour?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tax rates

Does anyone know the rationale for taxing capital gains at a lower rate than earned income?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Racial entitlements

How should I have responded to the following question:

"When the whites become a minority (projected to be in 2043) won't they want some racial entitlement congressional districts set aside for them?"

Friday, March 1, 2013

Maxine Waters

"over 170 million jobs that could be lost" (from sequestration)  Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA