No surprise that the Obama stimulus projects aren't working and people are starting to get fidgety. That fact seems to have penetrated even the political armor of some on the left, according to recent polls, who in increasing numbers are questioning the logic of borrowing more or creating more money. If you are a Democrat or liberal or even an independent willing to give it Obama's plan a try, you may still have resistance to believing this. So, take the word of Paul Krugman, who presents himself as a liberal. Many on the left see him as the last word on economics in the private sector, particularly since he won the Nobel Prize.
Krugman's NY Times' column of 7/2/09 acknowledges that the jobs aren't coming although he believes that the plan hasn't been given enough time. Also not surprisingly, he wants more spending, not less. It seems to me that we've had enough of these experts - and I include the so called "geniuses" of the Bush administration along with the "pointy heads" of the Obama administration - telling us that the things that make no sense are the only things that make sense. It's part of what got the economy in such trouble - the belief that we can make money and even lots of money, by financial systems which seems to create money from nothing.
The history of stimulus approaches to failing economies seems to be, as far as my limited education tells me, one of failure, both here in the United States and abroad. With respect to the New Deal, we must remember that many of Roosevelt's large federal economic laws were found unconstitutional, leading him to his unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation allowing him to pack the Supreme Court with additional New Deal judges, and that after 1935 he never passed another major one. Towards the end of the decade, as I never tire of repeating here - his own secretary of treasury emphatically admitted that spending didn't work.
And although I won't repeat my prior screeds on the economy, I did revisit them myself (my personal favorite on 11/13/08) to see if I've evolved or changed my opinion so far (nope). But, looking back I wonder how it is that I haven't taken whatever cash I have and put it under my mattress given the bleak future I see. No doubt, right now I believe the conservatives have a better economic theory than the liberals, however much they mucked it up when in power themselves. Lefties who are still glowing in the bask of their president being elected and predicting the end of the Republican party had better take a look at recent changes in the polls already and consider how fast they can put their plans in place before the economy so tanks that the right is given back control of the house of representatives (it is much harder to change the senate as only one third of them face re-election every two years except for seats opened by death and retirement). Listening to them, I can still remember how many believed the same of the Democratic party only two short years ago.
But, I will briefly restate my basic economic premises in another way, and will probably continue to do so so long as the government won't give up this insanity. It was, after all, a long time coming and with constant complaint that the Bushies finally figured out a few years ago what everyone else knew - that the plan in Iraq wasn't working and a change was needed. Don't expect Obama and Co. to be any less dense with the economy. It would mean admitting they were wrong.
- Economists can explain what happened economically in the past with some success. They have no greater ability to predict the future than Nostrodamus did. If you believe Nostrodamus could in fact predict the future, you should disregard everything I write on every subject - for among my base philosophy is that "magical" thinking doesn't work, and that our collective way of thinking is consumed with it.
- Our economic problems are cultural, involving greed following uncommon success, a desire to live over our head, lack of individual planning, the belief that things too good to be true are true including that value can be created by everyone saying it is so - like with housing or stock market bubbles - and confidence that our government leaders "know" what they are doing and have our best interests in heart as opposed to just achieving political control, to name a few.
- F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom seems to accurately describe how a socialistic system could arise in a Democratic country- not by military takeover, but a slow surrendering of individual rights to the government; by the same government swerving from the law (such as by "bailouts," picking economic winners, taking over control of the economy, and other post hoc changes) under the guise that "we have no choice" and, when the economy continues to fail, sory, but now we really have no choice. Indeed, that is exactly what Krugman and others like him seem to be saying. "We're not climbing out yet? Keep digging and someone hit those guys trying to build a ladder over the head with a spade".
- Even when government is completely screwing up, the economy can move on its own and the worst thing that can happen right now is a recovery, which will not be permanent, but encourage more bad planning and economic policy.
My short term recovery plan, as it stands now is as follows:
- end the bailouts now;
- stop all stimulus activity that is not directly related to producing jobs such as infrastructure projects; don't use it to stop companies from failing - that's why we have bankruptcy. No company is too big. How else are we going to get people to be careful with their money. If we don't let businesses fail when they should (and it seems like they do anyway after they take our money) then we can't learn how to avoid the problem or fix it;
- put in a regulated voluntary assistance health care plan, essentially allowing a fixed amount of charity to go directly to alleviate healthcare cost by giving donors a tax credit (I posted on my plan on 5/28/09 to thunderous non-support);
- reduce individual and payroll taxes across the board. Why not at least try that before the government spends money it can only get from its citizens;
- completely throw out the budget and start over. I'm for PAGO except in cases of national emergency;
- let's suffer through the problems of business failing and people losing their houses; the economy will find a botton level and start to build again. That might sound Hooverish to you, but I'm far from convinced that this wasn't the better approach after all.
My long term plan calls for political change that people probably aren't ready for yet but I think it's necessary:
- severely reduce non-military government employee pension plans and restructure how they are done (no one should be well off on just a government pension and they should never approach an actual salary - the country can't afford it). If you don't like that, it started happening already all over the country the last few years;
- make retirement from government at age 65, and not after 20 or 25 years. We all want to retire young, but we can't;
- amend the constitution so that no one can serve in congress for more than a combined twelve years;
- restructure the congressional rules, including by constitutional amendment if necessary, so that the political parties cannot control it exclusively and cannot raise their own salaries and benefits. I'd severly reduce their benefits to a reasonable amount related to their duties, do away, or greatly reduce their pensions (politics might be a career, but being in congress shouldn't be) and cut back their medical plans to the same level as most people can get;
- completely get rid of any congressional privileges once they are out of office (like going on the floor of either house), have complete transparency of their lobbying and financial activities once they are out of office for five years, starting now, and have complete and immediate transparency of earmarks (which aren't all bad, but need to be watched);
- require a full senate up and down vote on all presidential nominations, again by constitutional amendment if necessary, within no more than two months after nomination or they are presumed valid unless they are later voted down within four months;
- revolve committee chairpersons every two years max; require members presence on committee or the senate floor while in session with little exception (some for temporary illness, deaths in the family, etc. - if you can't be there long term for any reason they lose the seat, which was never theirs to begin with;
- limit personal fundraising appearances and electronic calls while congress is in session. I don't care if that hurts their chances of re-election; they spend the majority of their time raising money; they are being paid to work, not run again;
- modernize the parliamentary procedure. No more "laying bills on the table," and similar archaic jargon new members have to learn over time; get rid of bogus voice votes where the congressperson's staff are screaming out votes for them and the acting president automatically declares that his/her side won; no more quorum calls to delay votes, etc.;
- last, have state judicial ballots made without reference to political parties. An independent judiciary is always a good thing. Party allegiance is not.
Of course, since you need congress to do almost all of that, forget it. It's not happening. But, it should.
The Senator from Minnesota
Al Franken's rise to the Senate was delayed much too long and states should put in procedures to expedite finding a winner. I take nothing from Coleman in his right to contest the election, but, enough was enough. There was no credible argument in his favor from the beginning. As Gore learned, sometimes you just lose by a little bit.
Naturally, I'm concerned at the power this gives Democrats now. The way that congress has designed itself, political parties have the power, not the people who send their representatives there. The one power a minority has to stop a bill (good or bad) from going forward is by the filibuster power of the Senate (the House has a different system and the minority party, shy even one vote of a majority, is virtually powerless, and both parties abuse that power) and now, with the Democrats having 61 votes, it barely exists except in theory.
Middle class people on the left who have the illusion that their party cares about them more than Republicans do are in for a rude awakening. Political parties are there to serve themselves, not you. If by hurting the economy they can ensure their continued power, they will. The same is true of the opposition. If by hurting the economy they can win power, they will. If you disagree, what in our history tells you this is so?
I thought Franken was funny back when he was on Saturday Night Live and looked forward to his appearances. I have read through some of his books and still believe he is funny - when he is writing, that is. I have heard him on radio and seen him debate and find him not very funny personally. In fact, he is a bad debator who would not have won this time except for the anti-Bush sentiment.
If he will take my advice, he will not try and be funny in the Senate. He's going to find them a tough audience. Besides, his senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, is much funnier than he is. Seriously, she is very funny.
Ricci v. DeStefano
Having just posted on another Supreme Court case I will restrain myself here. This was the case where test scores for promotion in a Connecticut fire department were thrown out so that more minorities could be promoted.
I'm glad for the decision. It was, not surprisingly, a 5-4 decision, with Kennedy writing the opinion and as always, providing the swing vote. It is really his court, regardless of the fact that we always call it the Robert's Court after the Chief Justice. Only Obama has more power in America than he does and that will not change with Sotomayor taking Souter's seat. Kennedy is still the one whose vote you need to win in tough cases.
Fortunately, Justice Kennedy is a good man to have this power. While he is economically and culturally more conservative than liberal in his votes, he is apparently motivated by other things, and his jurisprudence is much more consistent than the right wingers who hate him for voting with the left sometimes would have it. I hope to find time to read Helen Knowles' The Tie Goes to Freedom which discusses his decisions and ascribes to him a modest liberatarianism. I don't think I see that, but I've listened to her on C-Span and she has some argument. I see him more as a humanistic conservative. Naturally, I don't always agree with him - sometimes I vehemently disagree. But, as far as I am concerned, he is the only one on the court who is not substantially a prisoner of ideology.
If in America, a civil service test (or the like) can really be thrown out on racial grounds, as happened to these white Connecticut firemen, then we have a racist system. Since I criticized Justice Thomas a little (praised him too) in the last post for a partially extreme position in a 4th amendment case, I throw him a bone by mentioning that his dissent in the last big affirmative action case hit it square on the nose when he asked if we had determined that we were going to act unconstitutionally for 25 years (what the majority opinion written by Justice O'Connor had said) until we feel blacks have caught up economically. I recognize that many on the left feel that the law was so unfair to blacks and other minorities for so long that we must rectify it by giving them certain advantages. I sympathize with that history, but disagree with the solution. I am not against all of what might be called affirmative action (I have no problem, for example, with some advertising which encourages minorities to apply) but am definitively against quotas, set asides, preferences or anything which would allow merit to be set aside in favor of skin color or genes.
I am doing here what I often criticize, looking at a case purely politically rather than analytically, but, as I've also said, people prefer that, and I can't go on and on about everything. I've never had a comment complaining that I've been too brief on any subject ("Please, Sir, pontificate some more").
I've posted on my response to the health care crisis, and, realistically, it is not something that would be considered. For one thing, no one in public life has considered it. With respect to what's going on in congress, I have three thoughts.
First, the idea of a public sector alternative is not a good one, if the government is the insurance company. Naturally, government has all the advantages and there could never be fair competition. It would merely be a slow, and maybe a quick way, of driving out private health insurance companies. That might sound like fund now, but wait until government is the monopoly choice. Like with taxes, the prices would go up and up.
Second, one of biggest health care problems people face is non-coverage of prior health problems by new insurers. That means any time gap in coverage can be a huge problem, perhaps even fatal to a person. Without wanting to require it of health insurance companies, we need to address this problem, and, if possible, to eradicate it without killing the industry. I don't have an answer but I suspect that giving insurance companies some tax benefits by not having this exclusion in any of their policies might be an answer, but, you could talk me out of it if you can point out a good reason it shouldn't be the case or present a better solution.
Third, another big problem is faced by the unemployed or self-employed individual who needs health care. This should not be difficult to fix. I note that New York manages to have a public health care policy which is managed by the health insurance companies, not the government; they must all provide the same services, but can charge whatever they like for it. There is a potential anti-competitive edge to this, but, so far, I don't see any sign that it has hurt the insurance companies and the prices do vary considerably (why anyone would take any but the cheapest I can't conceive).
Sex and the governor
Dear Governor Sanford,
As a citizen of the United States who has railed against the idea that sexual unfaithfulness means unsuitability for serving in government, and as someone who had previously liked and respected you, I now ask you to stand up and say either -
"I resign my office as governor of South Carolina," or
"I am a complete hypocrite but, as such, will not resign my office."
Very truly yours,
The worst thing that the Republicans ever did, in my lifetime and memory, was the unmitigated political attack on President Clinton, wherein they sought to unseat him for his sexual hijinx. However much individual Republican members of congress protested that it was was about lying under oath, honor, trust, etc., it was pure hypocrisy, and I enjoy it whenever a politician is shown to be a hyprocrite in this regard, whether Newt Gingrich or John Edwards.
I liked Mark Sanford well enough when I heard him speak last year and I liked his attempt to avoid taking stimulus funds from the federal government this year. I would have been pleased if he had been selected as McCain's running mate, although I suspect his affair would have come out much faster and possibly hurt McCain in the long run (not that he didn't have other problems).
I'm happy the governor is suffering for his sins. Why not? He was adamant that Clinton must go and has elsewhere commented that those who commit adultery can't be trusted. Why should he be an exception? Hypocrite, hypocrite, hypocrite.
There are probably other good reasons Sanford should go, of course. It looks like he apparently used State funds to pay for at least one trip to Argentina to see his girlfriend. Naturally, all this adverse publicity has set him back on his heels and he is saying some strange things, like Maria (the girlfriend) is my soulmate, but he is going to try and fall in love with his wife again, and, mentioning that he has been "inappropriate" with other women as well. As, Maureen Dowd wrote recently, his wife should make sure the doors are double locked. How embarrassing for their kids. Besides, hasn't he ever seen a movie? People would have rooted for him if he did it the right way.
I understand men who fall for younger and more attractive women (I wouldn't say Maria's among the most beautiful women in the world, but she is much more attractive than his wife in the conventional sense). I love it when a man who wanders from his marriage uses "soulmate" to describe the woman he's interested in, as if its just a spiritual connection, when it inevitably turns out that she is much younger and sexier than the wife. Although I am generally in favor of people keeping committments to their significant other (who isn't?), I have long ago come to believe that being dishonest with your other half does not necessarily mean you are dishonest in any other way, although, of course, that's possible too. Cheating is a human weakness that some flounder with and others don't. Some who don't are right on the fence and just need to meet the "wrong" person. Don't get me wrong. It is better to be faithful and honest and all that good stuff. Divorce or breaking up should always be an option before cheating and shouldn't result in death to your public life. But, I have known too many people I like and trust who have not met even their own personal standards in this regard (even adulterers usually think it's wrong to cheat, in general) to think its okay for them but no one else, based on whether I personally know them. It's a personal problem that should be dealt with personally, not legally and not even socially.
The adultery laws, still out there thanks to the cowardice of public officials, rarely, but sometimes enforced, should be repealed by state governments. The last two times I've read of them being enforced, it was against public figures and used as an example. That's not a good reason to enforce a law. Those who decide not to vote for someone because they cheated on their wife should think twice because it probably makes them a hyprocrite too. Chances are, they excuse it for those on their side but find reasons not to when its the other side. I had to laugh recently when a conservative friend told me that adultery was a liberal problem. That was just before Sanford, but after Ensign. Neither side can declare victory here and it is just foolish to believe that our political views will govern a politicians' ability to resist temtation.
And it leads to ridiculous situations like this one. If Mark Sanford fell in love with someone else while he was married, he should have been able to say so, divorce his wife, bring his girlfriend here (legally, of course) and date her, live with her or marry her while still governor. You don't stop being a person just because you are elected to office. If our forefathers could be womanizers, why can't modern politicians?
But, of course, Sanford is part of the problem, a complete and utter hypocrite when it comes to this, and he deserves what he gets. I hope he is hassled about it enough to resign and the same for any politician who shares his opinion that adultery means you can't serve. But, I also hope that we have had enough of this nonsense, and that some brave cheating politician comes forward before the press or an acquaintance ousts him and sets a new standard. After all, we have now elected a divorced president and even one who admittedly did drugs. We can handle it.
Hard to find that kind of courage in politics, so, don't count on it.
The girl does know how to make an entrance and exit.
Sarah Palin being selected by John McCain was not a huge surprise to anyone who was following the election closely. Her name had been bantered about. I had dismissed her towards the end because there was an ethics investigation pending. McCain, seemingly impulsively dismissed the investigation and, in the end, was proven correct in his decision not to worry about it too much when it was dismissed just before the election.
However, as they bungled most of the campaign, they seemed to bungle the way they handled that as well. Originally, SP had been given great credit for her handling of the investigation, with high marks from the investigator for cooperation. That changed dramatically as the McCain team weighed in. Obstruction, not cooperation, became the rule. And, obstruction leads people to believe in guilt. I was, rooting for McCain, pleased when the report was favorable to her for the most part. But no one seemed to care. For by then, SP had had her reputation so tarnished by her opposition that nothing could save it.
In the end, I don't believe the choice of Palin had much of an effect on the election. Anecdotally, I can tell you that with few exceptions (I can think of one), those who told me they were thinking of voting for McCain but changed their mind when he selected her, had never voted for a Republican before. No doubt they didn't like her - what liberal would want to vote for a strong conservative - but I think they were probably not going to vote for McCain anyway. We'll never know. Anyway, the Bush factor, the economy and the horrible campaign choices by McCain were certainly much bigger factors.
SP is not someone I would choose for president, but we so rarely get a candidate we really like, McCain being the first one for me ever except to some degree - Bill Clinton the second time around and that was more due to his mistreatment by Republicans. But, despite that, I have never seen such media abuse of a candidate as I did with Sarah Palin (not that she helped much). She was targeted and ridiculed more than Dan Quayle, Al Gore, John Dean and Mike Dukakis (yes, contrary to conservative claims, Democratic candidates have been very roughly handled by a predominantly liberal media).
I believe the key factor in Palin hatred was a reverse discrimination. The left, who you would think was a natural audience for a woman candidate was furious with the choice of one so far right. She violated the cardinal principal - she was pro-life.
I had many email exchanges with friends and family during the election. There was vituperation on both sides - McCain seen as a Bush clone and even an incompetent pilot (I'd love to see his critics get in a plane again after going down in one) and Obama portrayed as the Manchurian candidate. But both of these ridiculous charicatures devolved after the election, where as Palin hatred did not abate.
Palin was portrayed - and the left believed - that she was anti-woman (trying to force them to pay for their own rape kits - a falsity) and leading death to Obama chants (some correspondents told me they saw this on u-tube themselves - those videos all magically disappeared, of course, and the secret service report investigating the claim by one reporter who alone heard a third person scream out "Death to Obama" could not be corroborated by a single person standing near him (and, yes, I read the report, which was posted on the web)). It didn't matter. When the media wants you dead, you have little chance. And when the other side finds a way to successfully ridicule you, you are double dead (the John Dean yowl being a great example).
Not that she did not help it herself. Her interview with Katie Couric could have been a home run, but was a disaster. There was no attempt by Couric to get Palin. But, she appeared like a deer caught in the headlights, not even able to answer what newspaper she read. I have no doubt she had advisors in her head telling her "commit to nothing" but ultimately, it is the candidate's decision to make and she flunked.
Although she would not be my candidate, I find Sarah Barracuda fairly harmless. I am never offended by pro-life people. If there is one demonization I will never understand, it is pro-choice hatred for people who are trying to save lives. Although I am not against abortions in the first few weeks, I am not offended by those who believe a life is a life at any stage and you can't draw a line (you certainly can't draw one but arbitrarily).
And, although an atheist, and aware that we are the single most unpopular group in America (much more so than even gays according to years of polls in terms of who people would automatically not vote for president) I found her religious bearing non-offensive. She was portrayed by many as a religious zealot who would try and force people into her religion. She said all the right things as far as I remember, and I would not even have a problem if she wouldn't vote for me because I am an atheist. There are lots of people who I wouldn't vote for because of religious extremism, but she certainly wasn't one of them.
Of course, no one really knows why SP decided to quit being governor. Does she want to get out of politics or is she planning a run for president in 2012. I am guessing, but I think she is leaning towards the latter. It doesn't matter, because I don't think she will get the nomination (I was right about McCain, but wrong about Obama, who I thought would lose to Clinton). Too many Republicans, mostly moderates, will doubt her ability to win. The more right wing Republicans will have other choices without her weaknesses.
And, unless she suddenly becomes a stateswoman, I don't see her as impressing a lot of people with her knowledge and abilities. Although she showed leadership ability before running for VP in cutting spending and going after those in her own party (a big plus for me), she never really impressed anyone except with her looks. Of course, it is not a level playing field. Joe Biden, who I personally like, made far more mistakes of facts than she did in their debate and was overwhelmingly seen to have won. His buffoonery before and after the election is always dismissed as if he is a lovable but strange uncle. "That's just Joe." SP will never be given that leeway. She is too tarnished.
But, she will try and she will fail. Although a deep conviction as to the existence of God has been key to winning American presidencies, that does not seem to be the country's mood. And, if I'm completely wrong and she emerges in 2012 as the candidate for the Republicans, she will almost certainly fail.
Then again, a lot can happen in three years (terrorist attacks, wars, economic disaster, personal scandals, etc.) and we've all been wrong before.
- 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 . . . .