Saturday, November 22, 2008

Homosexuality and the Age of Obama

I haven’t pissed anybody off in a while, so let’s get to it. The title should be ignored. People in the media just like to say - "The Age of Obama," so I thought I'd give this post that title. Rather, we discuss here same sex marriage.

One of the positions taken by politicians on the left and right that just baffles me in this supposedly enlightened age is the whole same sex marriage thing. You can figure where I sand by that first sentence. I’m going to address those of you who almost instinctively say “no way” in a bit. First, a little pretext.

All of the candidates (Obama/Biden, McCain/Palin) were for same sex rights, but, against same sex marriage. Out of the 18 even marginally serious candidates who campaigned, I don’t remember any of them being for same sex marriage, although I may be wrong about that on the Democratic side (not sure how Kucinich stands). It is almost certainly right to say that none of the Republican candidates favor it, as, holding such a position would be absolute political death in that party. As for the Democratic candidates, it probably would not be death; it might even be applauded by some of their constituency, but, in a general election it would be perceived as working against them.

As a rule, Americans seem to be somewhat more against the idea than for it. Just using an ABC/Washington Post poll from January, 2008, as example:

55 percent were against legalizing same sex marriage, with only 41 percent to make it legal. 51 percent were for civil unions, though, with 46 percent for it. Only 38 percent were for amending the constitution to outlaw same sex marriage; with 58 percent in favor of allowing states to decide.

Of course, there was a split between different groups. For example, percentage-wise, a fair amount of women were in favor of legalizing same sex marriage than men -45 to 38 percent; Republicans were for more against it 72/24 than were Democrats 46/50. While conservatives were only a little differentiated than Republican, liberals were far more in favor of it, 69 (spare me the joke) percent favoring it. However, self described political moderates were 52/44 against. While unmarried people were virtually split for/against, almost two thirds of married people were against it. Not surprisingly, self described evangelists were even more against it – 81 percent and those without religion for it, but not as fervently – 66 percent.

As we all know, in several states the judiciary, or, at least some judges, have determined that it is legal as a consequence of the equal protection clause in their constitution. However, in California, known for its liberal judges, the same electorate that went 61 percent for Obama, went somewhat above 50 percent (exact number is unclear as of yet) in favor of basically making the popular statute defining marriage as between a man and a woman, into a constitutional amendment, thus superseding the case law which overturned the earlier statute.

A few weeks ago I was driving home and thinking about the same sex debate. For me, it is simple. My thought at that time was that this is what happens when the government continues to entangle itself in religious matters. A few days later I was conversing with the husband of a relative who suggested that the best way to handle it – although unlikely to ever happen – was to make civil unions the legal institution for everyone , and have marriages be a religious or otherwise philosophic commitment. His thought was a more developed version of mine and I adopt it despite its improbability. I call it the Littlefield solution after its originator (with apologies to all other of those who have thought of it).

The first thing I want to deal with is the idea that it is impossible for a man and a man or a woman and another woman to marry. My friend from Montana, who has been so nice to me in commentary lately, will hopefully bashe me over this issue. But, here I stand. "Marriage," "marry," "married," etc. are words. Words have meanings assigned by people. Their meaning changes all the time. I won’t bore you with many examples, but, everyone with a tad of knowledge about language understands that words are endlessly mutable. That’s not only how we get one language descended from another, but dialects and even different ages of a language (Old English, Middle English, Modern English). My favorite is the word “nice,” which used to mean what we would call “not nice”.

Those few of you who read this blog regularly or periodically know (I mean, I hope), whatever my own biases, I at least try and understand the opposing positions, even when I prefer one over the other. But, the argument that I can only see as “it’s our word and you [gays] can’t use it” is just meaningless to me, and not worthy of the many bright people I’ve heard rely on it. They see a familiar world passing and are uncomfortable with it. They want Thanksgiving to be with Uncle Frank and Aunt Geraldine, not Uncle Frank and Uncle Morris.

If marriage right now means between a man and a woman in the majority of people's minds, we all know that in other countries, and in groups within our own country in past times, it has also meant between a man and one or more wives, and, even in some few cultures, a woman and one or more man.

I’m not arguing that words have no meaning at all. That is the default argument I sometimes hear in response to my own. Of course they have meanings. Usually, more than one and a range of meanings. But, they are hardly immutable. They can mean one thing in one place and a different thing in another. They can change from year to year. You know, I remember playing football as a kid and being pleased that someone said to me after I ran for a touchdown, "Who do you think you are, OJ?" That was a compliment then. Today, it would not be a compliment (unless they were praising me for getting away with murder).

Words have the meaning assigned to it by a group of people at any given time. If today it means between a man and a woman by a majority of Americans, and it still does, just think 30 years ago how many fewer Americans would have accepted the idea of marriage between people of the same sex. Possibly a small minority.

The same can be said for what now, almost no one would exclude -- interracial marriage. It is only since 1968 that marriage came to include, in some states, marriage between people of different races.

In fact, just look at California and Massachusetts, two states which recently allowed same-sex marriage. In 2000, when California passed the proposition that marriage was only between a man and a woman, it did so by 61 percent of the vote -- a significant majority. This year, when the constitutional amendment was voted on, it was only a little over 50 percent, not much of a majority. In Massachusetts, when same sex marriage was allowed as a result of judicial decision,
a poll showed that 53 percent opposed it and only 35 percent approved it. That was in 2004. The very next year, polling showed 56 percent approved it -- a 62 percent increase - and only 37 percent disapproved. People get used to most changes in word meanings very quickly in the age of media, never mind Obama.

Many opposers of gay marriage argue that it will degrade marriage. One gay man (and when I use the term in this article I am including bi-sexual - so, sue me) I know loves to say to people who argue so that he is sorry about their marriage. However, when I relayed that to a second man, as conservative as the first was liberal, he said that it was a ridiculous argument -- that it was in general that marriage would be degraded. But, I would argue, for that to be true -- doesn't at least one actual individual marriage have to be degraded? And, if at least one, then many of them to call it a general condition. Where are these marriages? Are we going to start blaming Mary and Tom's divorce on Kerry and Sheila's marriage?

The so-called "great compromisor," Henry Clay once said in a popular 1839 speech: "[T]he liberty of the descendants of Africans in the United States is incompatible with the safety and liberty of the European descendants." I hope and believe that most of those opposed to gay marriage because they believe it will degrade heterosexual marriages, would see the fallacy of the Clay opinion, and its analogy to gay marriage. Then again, I have long ago given up the idea that any analogy will be accepted by someone of an opposing opinion if they can come up with a hair's breadth of difference factually (although that difference is precisely what makes it an analogy). Such is life.

I disagree with Mike Huckabee, who recently said that the unlawfullness of gay marriage is not a civil rights issue. If there is a substantial right available to others deprived to someone because of their inherent status, then there must be a good reason to deprive them of it for the sake of society, or, it is a violation of the idea of equal protection. I say idea of equal protection, rather than the constitutional provision, because, we have yet to have a determination legally as to equal protection at the U.S. Supreme Court level, although, obviously, some high state courts have spoken to the issue.

However, I agree with Governor Huckabee that gay rights cannot not be said to be on the same level as that which blacks went through to gain their civil rights, although I believe there was a time it was. While there may be occasional violence against gays because of that status, it is relatively rare.

I live in a very conservative town in rural America, and, the idea of gay marriage is fairly unpopular here, or, so I have been told by gays. But, there is some prejudice of this sort all through America. It is installed in us when we are young. Yet, I know gays who walk through town here hand and hand. Some may not like them, but they have not attacked them and I have not heard any suggestions that they should. Of course, there are instances of violence directed against gays because of who they are as there are with other "minorities" (a word so splintered now it has almost no meaning except not a white male), but I do not think it is equivalent, or, even close to the black civil rights struggle. Still wrong, but many things are wrong. And, of course, I think a beating or murder of a heterosexual man is as horrible as that of a gay one.

A young gay man I know snarled at me the other day for saying as much as I say here because of a recent killing of a man in Syracuse, New York for the "crime" of being a gay (although actually, it turns out, it was a transgendering woman). I was told I was very insensitive. I disagree. Of course, that is horrible and the monster who did it should get life. But, there's a difference between a moron occasionally killing someone because of prejudice, and the police hosing blacks, or, blacks being refused access to public transportation, hotels, bathrooms, etc. That young man can walk into almost any hotel in the country hand and hand with another man and get a room.

However, it is not fun feeling persecuted and some people take it worse than others. I am a member of at least two minority groups, but have never felt particularly threatened, even on the one or two occasions when I was actually threatened. But, the two gay men I spoke to recently both think that Huckabee is "almost" calling for a Kristalnacht against gays. That is absurd, if you listen to what he says (he even believes in civil unions), but they seem to believe it and to be genuinely angry or afraid. On the other hand, it is true that there are many people who think little of them just because of their sexual predilictions and I don't intend to minimize that.

If you aren't pissed off at me yet, and would like to be, keep reading.

It is interesting to me though, in speaking with one of the above referenced gay men via email I suggested that men or women who sleep with grown pubescent teenagers who are technically under the legal age of consent, have a greater violation of their civil rights because they actually prosecuted and can go to jail for having consensual sex with someone completely capable of having it; they are even put on a sexual predator list. He said that was not the same thing because they are sleeping with someone under the age of consent. I don't see the difference. Until a few years ago, what gay men did was a crime too. Just because something is illegal doesn't make it wrong. The age of consent is an artificial boundary. For crying out loud - my mother was 16 when she married my adult father -- was he a pederast? Of course not.

For those of you ferociously angry with me, I'm not suggesting its okay for adults to sleep with young children and I am disgusted by any kind of non-consensual assault, but, I do not believe that late teenagers are innocents preyed upon by adults all the time. Sometimes it is the opposite. Fine them if you must do something, but no jail. And, I am talking about a criminal standard. I personally don't think it is a good idea for young girls to sleep with anyone. I just don't believe it should be a crime. Where the age cut off should be, I haven't totally figured out, but it is definitely not 17 or even 16. I know that if there is a God who created men and women, he (or she) already determined that it is puberty.

And those who think it is worse for, say, a 65 year old man to sleep with a 16 year old girl, than it is for a 19 year old man to do the same; you are exhibiting agism, no differently than you would be if you felt that older people should be refused work they are just as capable of doing as younger people just because of their age.

And now, dear reader, as the Emperor in Star Wars, Episode VI said: "Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's all about the pictures

I don't know. I wrote one and a half articles this week for the blog and neither satisfied me, so I'm changing course. One was just some thoughts and the half was political philosophy. Did the research, but didn't really write it. The first was too whimsical for my mood and the second, well, I've been writing too much of that lately. And, if you look at the subtitle to my blog, it's My thoughts - what else? So why don't I just write about what's been on my mind -- THE PICTURES, BABY.

It has been unbelievable around here lately here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I've been promised by any number of locals this Spring/Summer, that if I thought it was pretty then, just wait until the Fall.

As happy as I am with these photo's, I have to admit, they don't do it justice. For that you need eyes and 360 views. Even the colors, bright as they seem here, are much richer still in person. But, they are still amazing.

Here's my secret for taking great pictures in four easy steps. Get a good camera, find something pretty, point the camera and click the big button on top. I can't beleive people actually call themselves photographers and make money off this. I mean, did they create the light and the leaves.

These first few are of the mountain in my backyard and most of the shots are standing there going, wow, look at this. The first is almost a Rorschack test. I know it sounds strange, but I see kissing.


























I moved to this new place a little uphill from the old ones, but my views improved dramatically. As soon as I moved in I made it a point to remember to look outside for the sunset every night when it was setting over the distant mountains southwest of me. Most nights, it was a very good idea.














Three things make a great sunset - not too much sun (too glary), clouds (reflection) and offsetting stuff (like mountains or water [more reflections]). Clouds though, are definitely my favorites. Check these babies out.



























Sunrises are kind of nice too. I love this one on the left as the sun came over a lake near the the strangely named Peaks of Otter (there are no otters around here).














Some required animal shots and then were almost home.














Just some fall stuff and we are done.
















Monday, November 17, 2008

Ivy League Follies

TOP SECRET TRANSCRIPT OF PRESIDENT BUSH AND PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA’S FIRST MEETING

Bush: Barack. Please sit down. First, let me congratulate, y’all.
Obama: Thank you, Mr. President.
Bush: Now you call me George. We’re on the same team.
Obama: I appreciate that. You know what I want to know first?
Bush: Of course I do. Same thing I wanted to know when I first got here. No, there are no aliens at Area 51.
Obama: That’s disappointing.
Bush: We keep ‘em here in the White House basement next to Cheney’s cage so he can throw rocks at them.
Obama: My cousin is locked in the basement?
Bush: Sure is, ever since the whole shotgun thing and if I were you, I’d lock your friend Joe the Biden down there too. There’s a whole lot of problem gone for you right there.
Obama: Wait a minute. Go back. There are space aliens in the basement?
Bush: Oh, space aliens? The space aliens we keep at Guantanamo Bay. But, that’s not important right now. The important thing is that I know you fully understand the main purpose of this office.
Bush/Obama together: The Harvard/Yale Full Employment Act (sound of palms slapping)
Obama: Can we do the count?
Bush: You do the call and I’ll respond.
Obama: Okay, outgoing president.
Bush: That’s me. I’m a little bit Haaaahvad, a little bit Yale!
Obama: Incoming President.
Bush: You. There’s Hahhhhhvad in your past.
Obama: Bill Clinton.
Bush: Wild Bill’s a Yalee. Throw in Hillary for good measure, too. Another Yale grad.
Obama: Clinton’s predecessor.
Bush: That’s my pop. A Skull n’ Bones Yalee!
Obama: The Supreme Court.
Bush: Ummm, six Hahhhhhhvads and two Yalees!
Obama: Wait, that’s only eight of nine.
(Barely audible sound of beer can opening)
Bush: I know, but Cheney says that was Ford’s doing. He nominated that old guy, Stevens, in ’75.
Obama: But, Ford was fromYale! What was he thinking?
Bush: What can I say? But you’ll get to put in another Harvard guy soon enough. If you get to pick four or more of them, make sure you give us another one fromYale, though.
Obama: I love it. While the press is all focused on politics as usual, I’ll slip in more Harvard alums. Frankly, I could care what he believes as long as he’s wearing crimson underwear.
Bush: Careful, Barack. It could be a woman. You want the press jumping down your throat so soon?
Obama: Ooops. Please don’t tell Michelle I said that.
(Barely audible sound of fist bump).
Bush: Now, let’s look at policies. We got the Iraq problem.
Obama: I’m on it. Don’t worry. We’re not leaving until Bank of America, McDonalds and Burger King all have franchises.
Bush: Good. You got it. Now, we also got the Iranian nuclear problem.
Obama: You old dog. You can say “nuclear” perfectly well.
Bush: Of course I can. You think after eight years I couldn’t learn how to say it? I just like messing with the press’s heads. Gets them all excited and they don’t pay attention to what you are talking about.
Obama: I have to remember that. Say, you know how I sometimes flatten out the end of “America.” Maybe that will be my thing. Sort of hypnotize them with it.
Bush: Now you’re thinking. Hey, one last thing. Take this.
(barely audible sound of paper being opened)
Obama: What’s this?
Bush: That’s bin Laden’s address. If there is some big problem you just can’t handle, you may have to send Petraeus over with some boys to take ‘em out. But, this is our big show, so make sure you only use it when there’s a real crisis that you have to get the country’s mind off? Personally, I never had to use it.
Obama: But why didn’t you play this card last month when the economy was collapsing.
Bush: Because, my friend. That’s was McCain’s problem. (undesignated sound of beer can opening and an “aaahhh” sound). And he’s not even Ivy League. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to start writing Scooter Libby’s pardon papers. He’s another Yale boy, you know.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What are they thinking ? The current "bailout" legislation.

I said last week that I was done with politics for a while. I meant it. Can’t even watch Morning Joe anymore. But, I was talking about politics as in -- who gets elected. But, political issues are fair game and this one has me riled up. Let me say this about the current newly enacted law, sometimes known as the bailout, which contains TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program --

-- it’s horrible. Keep reading.

Note to conservatives. This Act is pure socialism. By definition, it is giving the government ownership of the means of production. You are supposed to be the “socialism doesn’t work” party. It is your president and administration who put forward this terrible law. Your namby-pamby vote against this legislation followed by your capitulation was less than stirring. I happily say all this even though my presidential candidate was for the plan (then again, they both were). Admit that those of you who voted for it made a mistake and you want to do away with it. Apologize because it will look like you wanted it for your president and not the other team's president.

Note to liberals. You don't like to be called socialists, but, theoretically, at least, you are closer to the line than conservatives (who often go down that path too, usually in thetorical disguise). It was your party that primarily supported this terrible bill even though it came from a defeated lame duck Republican president. Undo it. You have this power starting in January. Of course, I say this is vain, because not for a second do I think that Obama or any incoming president is going to work to lessen his party’s grip on power. Throw this monkey off your back and I will be very impressed.

Note to both parties. Socialism isn’t bad just because it is not OUR way of doing things. It is bad because it is anti-freedom, anti-efficient and unfair. It does not work.

The truth is, I find already that folks I personally know who are often fairly partisan on both sides, seem to see this legislation as socialism and way, way past a de minimis exception that some believe is necessary in a modern society.

Blog readers who have suffered through my occasional auto-biographical remarks know that I started life in a very liberal family and bought the all liberal all the time philosophy until the 80s when I realized the world didn’t actually perish after a Republican administration and that maybe not just my own family held the keys to wisdom. Sometimes before my conversion to political independence, I did have more than a little pinko in me. Communism didn’t sound good, but socialism did. Some of my political beliefs were na├»ve and foolish as they almost unerringly will be when you have allegiance to one party or philosophy and its dogmas. I needed educating. But, even then, I had some core beliefs that haven’t changed. People need to be as free as possible. We should try and be the most militarily powerful country in the world as well as the most educated. Um, that’s about it. Oh, tv series should be canceled after 8 seasons max, but, that is really an article of faith for another post.

So that we can all be arguing on the same page here – I am complaining that the new legislation, sometimes referred to as the "bailout," which gives the secretary of the treasury the power, somewhat unchecked, to buy private financial institutions in the government's name under the guise of buying their troubled assets, is pure socialism.

By socialism I mean the classic definition -- the government owning the means of production (I won’t even get into the spreading the wealth issue, but it is similar). There can be no realistic argument but that this legislation allows is the government to own the means of production. They can dress it up anyway they like, that is what this is. Remember that saying that kept popping up during the election – you can put lipstick on a pig, but . . . .

One of the books I read trying to educate myself was F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which I actually remember reading for the first time sitting in some library or another, although for the life of me, I can’t tell you which one. I do remember being bored and forcing myself to read it though. My initial reaction was that it made some sense, that socialism probably did not work after all, but, I was still emotionally tied to being a proud liberal, and I punched a lot of holes in it as to what I though must be exceptions. After all, I thought, any book that inspired Ronald Reagan could not possibly inspire me. Years later, I bought a paperback copy and suffered through a second reading. I did get a little more out of it and decided he knew some things I didn’t.

I’m not a retro-Reagan believer at all. Although there were some things he did that I liked (firing the striking FAA strikers and building up the military, to name two) I still believe that his administration was the beginning of the great ramping up of ideology and partisanship that found it’s fruition in the current administration. I also wasn’t as charmed as most people with his personality. He really wasn’t that funny to me. But, that might be because I didn’t like his policies. I find that when people are partisan, they often dislike the looks or personalities of their adversaries.

With the financial crisis now looming and then the idea proposed that the government should directly interject itself in the economy in terms of buying and selling companies, picking winners and losers, etc., I thought I heard Hayek whirling in his grave (1992) and went to the shelf and picked it up again for the third time. Not only did re-reading it seem to confirm my views that this new law is just a big mistake, but, I realized that the previous readings of his work had long sunk in; that is, his book was very instrumental in forming my thinking and I claim no originality. I’m liking it more the third time around.

Conservatives who read it will hopefully remember the best part of their political philosophy. Liberals reading it will hopefully see that Hayek (not even an American) has no interest in the petty partisan politics that both parties care about these days in America, and, that if already not anti-socialistic, will become so. That's my plan, anyway. Hayek doesn’t call any names. Actually, he is nice even to the German culture (not Hitler, anti-semitism or Nazis) and he wrote this during WWII. All I’m trying to say, sports fans, is that being against socialism should not be a partisan belief.

I don’t do book reports (usually, don’t hold me to it), so, you’ll have to read Hayek yourself if you are interested. And, unfortunately, although he was a clear writer he was not a particularly exciting one. I will not try to give a one paragraph summary of the book (I think I’ve tried that before here and was unsatisfied). That would do the same justice as one can do to the Grand Canyon by verbally describing it to someone for a few seconds. Instead, I will throw a few quotes at you from the book that which, at least, will be like trying to describe the Grand Canyon with a few photographs. Not enough, but at least something:

“[T]he socialism of which we speak is not a party matter, and the questions which we are discussing have little to do with the questions at dispute between political parties. It does not affect our problem that some groups may want less socialism that others, that some want socialism mainly in the interest of one group and others in that of another. The important point is that, if we take the people whose views influence developments, they are now in the democracies in some measure all socialists. If it is no longer fashionable to emphasize that “we are all socialists now,” this is so merely because the fact is too obvious. Scarcely anybody doubts that we must move toward socialism, and most people are merely trying to deflect this movement in the interest of a particular class or group.”

Sound familiar? Isn’t that what the argument is about right now even if we are past the point where we call it socialism (we substitute things like Keynesian economics, pragmatism, necessity, etc.) Who gets the use of our tax dollars, or, the tax dollars that goes into paying back the trillion or so dollars we need to borrow to do this? Main Street or Wall Street? Rich people or poor people? Supply side economics, which I have never bought into, can be as socialistic as welfare. Socialism is now so ingrained in our heads that we do not recognize that it is what it is. The fact that our founders (some who were repulsed at even the idea of a national bank) would have been absolutely dumbfounded by this approach probably isn’t important, as, we are dumbfounded by many things they did, starting with slavery and maybe ending with state religions.

Probably, we have been whirring down this socialistic slide since 1913 when the income tax was finally and permanently instituted. It seems to me that this legislation is a real gathering of speed down that slide.

Paying off the debts of those who took mortgages that they didn’t know if they could repay, or, banks which invested badly is a terrible idea. Not only because it is grossly unfair to those who aren’t getting paid for their lack of sound investment, but because, ultimately, it doesn’t work. Leave aside that we just added another trillion to our debt that we can’t pay back.

Back to Hayek:
“Though in the short run the price we have to pay for variety and freedom of choice may sometimes be high, in the long run even material progress will depend on this very variety, because we can never predict from which of the many forms in which a good or service can be provided something better may develop.”

We can never predict. That is the key here. Whenever I hear that so and so is very smart and that’s why they’ll be able to figure this out, I laugh (or feel like crying). As Hayek points out, no one, no one, no one, is so smart as to be able to do this. This collective wisdom is a bedrock principle of our country.

Hasn't Paulson already proven this just a few weeks into his powers? Just prior to the crisis he pronounce Fannie and Freddie sound. After declaring the need for 700 billion for one reason, he now claims that the facts have changed and that he needs it for something else. What has really happened is much simpler; he predicted wrong. Not because he is stupid or uneducated or anything else you want to throw at him. It's because you can't predict. George Soros can't predict. Even Warren Buffet can't. Buffer wrote recently in an op-ed: "Let me be clear on one point: I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now." To be fair, he said other things more positive about the market eventually, but the above is the important part for my purposes.

If we bail out GM, then we are not bailing out the small company which is trying to compete with GM. We are not bailing out the American employee of even the foreign automakers who have plants here and actually provide jobs. If we give money to all automakers, then we are unfairly using our national resources in their favor and hurting the airline industry and the farmers, even the great wheat conglomerates, and every other group which is not so benefited.

What would happen if we let our fundamentally inferior car manufacturers fall. Would they disappear? Possibly. Or, would they just file for bankruptcy and re-structure, for which our law already provide? Or, would they be forced to do things differently, become more efficient? Would other companies with new ideas come in and buy them out at a good price? Why should we let Hank Paulson, and no one doubts his sincerity, make these decisions? Or whomever Obama puts in power afterwards? Those “geniuses,” as they will necessarily be described, are no more capable of this than you or I are. Why do you think so many fail at investing? No one can really reliably predict these things. The best investors will tell you that they lose more than they win unless it is a very bullish market or they buy short in a very bearish one. They have just learned techniques to hedge against their mistakes and to cut their losses.

I haven’t talked to many people about this, just a few, but they seem to agree on one thing, whatever their political beliefs. That some economic pain, maybe a great deal, is necessary to fix this so that it happens less frequently in the future and with less pain. This is just a basic tenet of life. You have to learn to do things better by making mistakes and taking the consequences. Unfortunately, we have seen the opposite becoming a basic tenet of American life, including child raising - you can’t punish your child because somehow, it’s not right. What have we learned by all this? You better be one of the in-group and you will get the benefits that go along with power. The government will decide which companies live and which fail. If I was a financial institution, I'd almost want to fail.

More Hayek:
“The cry for an economic dictator is a characteristic stage in the movement toward planning" [which leads to economic failure and totalitarianism]. Quoting yet another economist, he went on: “‘It is now several years since of the most acute of foreign students of England, the late Elie Halevy, suggested that, ‘if you take a composite photographs of [a list of promoters of totalitarian government], I think you would find this common feature—you would find them all agreeing to say: “We are living in economic chaos and we cannot get out of it except under some kind of dictatorial leadership.”’”

Isn’t that what we have met with in Paulson? And, again, I’m not suggesting that he is totalitarian in outlook or wants anything but the best for our country. Nice man. But, we all know what the road to hell is paved with -- neither Paulson nor anyone else in government should decide who succeeds and who fails. And

“The idea that there is no limit to the powers of the legislator is in part a result of popular sovereignty and democratic government . . . It may well be that Hitler has obtained his unlimited powers in a strictly constitutional manner and that whatever he does is therefore legal in the juridical sense. But who would suggest for that reason that the Rule of Law still prevails in Germany?”

One of the basic premises of Hayek’s work is that socialism presents a psychological problem. We are slowly conditioned to hand over our freedom to the government one step at a time. It is strange that many people who would be so furious if the government intruded into their bedroom or their business (more than it already has) have no problem with the government picking winners and losers.

Are we going to continue to even try to be a nation of laws or one where our class status determines our success?”:

“The important question is whether the individual can foresee the action of the state and make use of this knowledge as a datum in forming his own plans, with the result that the state cannot control the use made of its machinery and that the individual knows precisely how far he will be protected against interference from others, or whether the state is in a position to frustrate individual efforts.”

It is not that Hayek suggests at all that we shouldn’t have laws. Far from it. We need laws for many reasons, predominantly though, to make sure that we can freely live our lives without unfair interference from others. But, he does suggest that the laws should simply provide that basic framework so that we can do what we want to do without unduly interfering with others. In fact, he believes in regulations necessary to prevent fraud and other unfair competition. But, the laws should help us compete economically, not hinder us.

How can any individual know in advance what the law provides when Paulson is so empowered to buy any business he thinks necessary to save the economy and litigants must prove that he abused his power, was arbitrary and capricious or acted unlawfully. These are extremely hard standards to meet. True, the government already has tremendous power to take property under the takings clause of the constitution (eminent domain) so long as the property owner is compensated, but, the owner can always litigate the matter before it is taken. Here, the secretary is given the power to take, and, the litigation will come after a de facto seizure. Judicial power to limit the taking ahead of a judicial determination is virtually nill.

As Hayek takes pains to make clear, he is not saying that socialism will always lead to totalitarianism, but it is the surest path there. He is saying that over time it produces a psychological change in citizens who get used to giving up liberty to the government for convenience or security. Those who employ it will eventually get unintended results they will not like very much. In a title (drum roll) it is the Road to Serfdom.

We’ve already gone too far along this road. Time to go back home.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Political update for November, 2008

You know, I’m almost willing to join a religious institution to say – THANK GOD, IT IS OVER. No more angry emails calling fine people like the four candidates names, or, otherwise demeaning them, no more raised tempers, no more watching commentators issue supposedly journalistic opinions with all the fairness of a group of four year olds deciding who is going to be first in line. I have not yet heard any person I know say they are not glad it’s over.

Predictions

I started watching this campaign in Fall, 2006. For fun, I made some predictions as to what would happen. Before I recount my mistakes, I’m happy to say that I was right about some of them – that McCain would win the Republican nomination, that Huckabee and Romney would be players, that the Democratic race would be between Clinton and Obama, with Edwards being out early, and that the other jokers on both sides just didn’t stand a chance.

In retrospect, of course, correct predictions look obvious, but back in ’06, Huckabee was a virtual unknown, McCain was facing very stiff competition from Giuliani and Romney in particular (and was almost out of it at one point), Edwards was considered a leading contender and belief in Obama was, at best, limited until the Iowa primary just this year.

Where was I wrong? I had a great deal of trouble deciding if Clinton or Obama would get the nod, but, long after I decided that McCain would be the Republican nominee, I determined that Clinton would just prevail over Obama. I don’t feel real stupid, because she sure made it interesting for longer than many thought she could or should and I see few out there who did predict his success. My best prediction, as I felt alone outside of the Clinton team, was that she would win New Hampshire. Not that it matters much anymore, but when you lose the big enchilada, you are grateful for small victories along the way.

And, of course, I was dead wrong that McCain would beat whoever the Democratic candidate at the end. I was counting on his having a competent campaign. There seems to be a consensus among everyone that it was not. Obama may have run the best, most efficient, most on message campaign ever (at least in the media era) and McCain one of the worst losing ones, possibly worse than Kerry’s 2004 effort.

Here’s my smattering of unorganized thoughts on the election:

Racism: The ding donging that racism is dead, that there will never be another contest in which the Wilder effect occurs, is overstated. Obama is a unique person with unique qualities. For one thing, he is bi-racial. For another, his education, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc., lean on his white side, enough so that there was an argument in the black community (initially) about whether he was “black enough” to deserve the mantle of black candidate.

I like Obama personally. What’s not to like? He is dignified and cool, seems almost unflappable, has a dry sense of humor and deflects negativity like no one you’ve ever seen. But, particularly in the primaries, I was not pleased with the accusations of racism, not just from his supporters, but from his staff as well, of white liberals like the Clintons and Geraldine Ferraro. Now, I understand that different people have different sensitivity to racism but, I didn’t read the codes like they did. Unjustifiably calling someone a racist is pretty close to being a racist in my book. It’s an ugly word and too freely flung about.

I congratulate McCain, although he ran far to negative a campaign for my tastes, for so strongly insisting that racism not play a roll in his own campaign, that there were no accusations by Obama’s team during the general election (some of McCain’s supporters are a different story). However, when McCain asked him to challenge the statement of civil rights’ icon, John Lewis, that McCain’s campaign reminded him of George Wallace’s, Obama refused. That did not impress me at all.

However, it was not in Obama’s interest to level charges of racism in the general election, because moderate conservatives and independents whose votes he wanted were not as comfortable with such accusations. There was one blip when McCain referred to him as “That one”. I guess some people see it as code for “boy”.

McCain: I still like the guy. Absolutely my favorite politician. But, he deserved to lose in the political sense. It’s his campaign and you can’t blame the advisors. Ironic that everyone was so impressed with his concession speech. They really shouldn’t be. Most losing candidates make their best speech then when the pressure is off and they can be humble and a little more honest.

Bush: This was not a referendum on Obama at the end. It was a referendum on Bush. “A third Bush term” resonated with enough independents to make a difference, and frankly, I am impressed that McCain even got 46% of the vote, given his own clinging to Bush policies at times.

Palin: The media found its fall gal, as it did with Gore in 2000, Dan Quayle in ’88 and others. More than anyone, she became a lightning rod for angry attacks – pig, hater, religious freak, stupid (idiot and moron, too). I’ve heard them all. I don’t think she is the most educated candidate, but, it seems to me she made less foolish mistakes than Joe Biden. Personally, I like to ask people to who call her an idiot if they think they are as accomplished as she is. And though rumors are running amock now about her lack of geography knowledge, I would love to give a pop quiz to journalists who hold themselves so high and mighty. Want to bet many could not find Singapore or Guyana on a map.

People watched CBS’s Couric interview with her, cut up into 5 days, and saw each day getting worse, until the last one just made them cringe. It wasn’t that her answers were wrong, she just wouldn’t answer a question (my belief, it was on orders), and it just got painful. It painted her for the whole election.

This was not the same person who I saw making speeches all over the country, often without a prompter and more mellifluously (my favorite word, although one I believe I never actually used in a sentence before) than the others. McCain frequently misspoke during speeches, Obama stuttered and Biden often sounded quite wacky, but Palin speaks without an ummmm, which I wish I could do, and usually in full sentences. However, I expect for a while when people think of her they will think of the Tina Fey version. There are more outright lies about her out there than for any other of the candidates. Possibly it is still happening.

I have more to say about her, because other than Obama, she is the new face, but I’ll save it for another time. But, I am not her water carrier. I reserve opinion on the whole ethics scandal (which I do think is overblown in its importance) and her in general. Unfortunately, campaigns are the worst way to get to know anyone.

Biden: As Palin took the abuse, Biden got the media pass. He could say that the vice president’s duties were defined in the wrong article of the constitution and no one blinked. To the contrary, when Palin said the Vice President ran the senate, she was castigated. He could say that the U.S. and France chased Hizbollah out of Lebanon and no one cared, even though it never happened. He could make his gaffe about the world testing Obama when he became president, he could just go off on tangents during speeches which boggled the mind (one I remember was on whether sisters with sisters were tougher than sisters with brothers) and there would be no comment on the media.

Kerry: The winner of who I am maddest at after this election? Not Obama and McCain, both who ran the usual highly negative campaigns, but John Kerry, who, I admit, I was never impressed by and could not vote for in ’04 even though Bush had performed so badly in his first term. Here’s why. Personal friendship means something to me. McCain and Kerry are long time friends. Kerry even asked McCain to be his VP choice. While McCain said no, he took a lot of heat for standing up for Kerry during the swift boating. It is one of the things I love about McCain. But, when McCain became the candidate, Kerry took some unkind cuts at him. I don’t care if he says McCain is not as good a choice as Obama or that he disagrees on policy, but his character attacks on McCain after McCain stood up for him, were just childish and spiteful.

Joe Lieberman: I was never a big Lieberman fan because I am a little concerned with his insistence that we need more religion in politics. He also seems to have some first amendment issues, although I also tend to think many politicians do. But, I like that he came out for his friend, McCain, despite Lieberman’s still caucusing with Democrats and I like his hawkish views. Mostly, I like it when any politician crosses lines, either in affiliation or policy. It says to me country over party. It is what attracts me most to McCain and some of that rubs off on Lieberman.

But I’m a weirdo. Most people like one party better than another and hate it when someone on their team takes the other team’s side. That’s why a number of Democrats/liberals I’ve heard speak about him wish him not well. Now that the Democrats don’t need him so much, his fate as to his chairmanship lies in Harry Reid’s hand.

Full power: Thanks to the excesses of the Republicans when they had both houses and the presidency, the Democrats find themselves in the same position. Already I have heard talk that this will be forever, just as there were Republicans making that prediction 6 years ago. Wrong. Inexorably wrong.

This is already the big question -- will he govern from the center or left? The real battle here is not conservative versus liberal. The conservatives will do what all parties out of power do, make nuisances of themselves as best they can. That’s to be expected. Any conservative not expecting a liberal administration can start screaming now. The real fight for Obama is between him and Pelosi and Reid.

I don’t expect Obama to be Lyndon Johnson, although I think he is much tougher than many conservatives expect, but he has to find away to dominate the agenda and concentrate on the things he was elected for – the economy (does anybody care that much about Iraq anymore?). When the Democrats came into congress they had their agenda and it was understandable they made that 100 day push. But, if they decide, as say Tom Delay did in ’04, that we have all the cards so lets do whatever we want – well, you see where Tom Delay is today. On the sidelines.

Economy: This is Obama's first test and he is already backpedaling as fast as he can. However, we get what we deserve. Almost all our politicians do that and we never call them on it.

We got a short bounce in the market after the election, and then, it crashed again. Sad when a nearly 500 point drop is not much reported on. In recent volatility terms, it is not that impressive. My own spidey-sense tells me that the economy is going to get worse. Someone who reads this blog and will hate being quoted told me that A bulk merchandise seller on Long Island, BJs, is laying off workers as we head into the holiday season. Can that possibly be a good sign. Here’s a paragraph from a newsletter by a trading guru, Dennis Gartman:

“We note than that The ISM non-manufacturing index is now at its lowest level ever in the decade + of its existence. GDP will be negative for the 4th quarter, and the only question is how negative? We'll be surprised if, when all is said and done, that the economy in the current quarter has not fallen by at least 3.5%.. if not more. Ask the local automobile dealer how his business is? It is not good; indeed it is horrible. Ask the dry cleaner; ask the retail dress shop owner... indeed, even our friends in orthopaedic surgery tell us that their business is off materially as bad knees, sore shoulders, hurting hands remain bad, sore and hurting because those suffering can't afford the "co-pays" beyond their insurance payments.”

I only give you a little taste of it. Manufacturing is down as well and every other indicator which we'd like to see up.

2008: Govern as a moderate, communicate with the public, undue the worst of the Bush excesses (secrecy and over-classification, signing statements, rigged military tribunals, Afghanistan) and keep Pelosi and Reid from trying to turn us hard left and you will probably get my vote next time. Cave to them, and govern left and you will probably lose it (unless the Republicans put up somebody more unsuitable).

What could be more fair?

I'm done with politics in this blog for a while, I hope, unless something interesting comes up. I may do a Bush retrospective at one point, but, as I said before THANK GOD IT'S OVER (and pray they don't start running for the next one the day after the mid-term elections start).

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .