Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Celebrity


Some wag once said: “A celebrity is someone who is famous for being famous.”  The most famous such “celebrity” in today’s America has to be Kim Kardashian.  Let there be no doubt, Ms. Kardashian is quite beautiful and quite sexy.  But 100,000 to 1,000,000 American women are as desirable as she is, so why is she famous and they not?  What did she do to become famous?  Another perfect example of this kind of celebrity is Paris Hilton, great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, founder of an international hotel chain that bears his name.  Ms. Hilton can barely be called pretty, much less beautiful.  So what she did do to gain fame?  She put herself in the way of paparazzi until they noticed her barely bizarre behavior.  Kim Kardashian was smart enough to know who to latch onto.  There is the reason for Kardashian’s celebrity, she was a hanger-on of another “celebrity.”

So, what do really famous people do?  How do really famous people become famous?  Easy, they do something!  They achieve something (beyond looking good).  Bill Gates, Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak, Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, Muhammad Ali, Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama, even Donald Trump, they all did something and you all know what they did.  And you all know that they put in thousands of hours preparing for their achievement before they began to attract even a small measure of fame.  What did Kardashian do to get where she is?  Nothing, really.  She grabbed onto another celebrity’s coattails.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Taxes, Again

When will I stop writing the same damn thing about taxes?  When enough Americans really GET what I am trying to say.  Voting for the guy who promises to cut your taxes is the same thing as voting to have a (bigger) Budget Deficit, which is the same thing as voting to explode the National Debt.  There is a reason that we have a nearly unimaginable $20 trillion National Debt: for 35 years we have not raised enough taxes to cover what we as a nation have bought.  Voting for a tax cut is the same thing as choosing not to pay down your unpaid credit card balance, the same thing as choosing not to pay for what you bought last month.  This essay will examine the sometimes surprising consequences of low tax rates, which include that they don’t make us happier and they don’t make us more free either.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Day After

It's official: President-Elect Trump!

Note to the reader: I began this post the day after the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency became clear.  Watching the results as they unfolded on Tuesday night was unsettling.  I did not vote for Hillary Clinton (of COURSE I voted!  And if you have read me at all, you should know that I consider our de facto two-party system an abomination) but the idea that Donald Trump might become President was very … troubling.  Never in our history, at least in MY lifetime, has a candidate been so unfit for the job: personally, politically, internationally and ethically.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Electoral College


I have never written about the Electoral College before because I was not sure that I disapproved of it.  Its initial reason for being was to give the small states some extra power, which when one considers states instead of voters is not necessarily a bad idea.  It also undercut a direct democracy, which all of our Founding Fathers wanted to do.  Of course, the reason that folks want to do away with it today is that it is not “one person, one vote,” which bothers me some but not that much as I think that some folks ought not to vote at all (yes, there is someone out here who does NOT want everyone voting, at least not until they are prepared to vote, are responsible enough to vote).

Building the Wall


I sometimes wonder just how long Americans can be so stupid, so foolish?  Which Americans?  All of us.

Why do Mexicans and other Latinos risk life and limb to get to the United States?  Is this a difficult question?  Because there are jobs to be had, low-skill jobs, jobs that can be performed by persons who do not speak English, jobs that pay less than any Minimum Wage (if any are in effect in that state), jobs that pay so little that they can’t even compete with Unemployment Insurance or Welfare, but finally jobs that pay MORE than illegals would be paid if they stayed in their home countries.  Laws that penalize illegal immigrants are also written to penalize the companies that hire them, but these sections of the law are rarely enforced or the penalties are so slight that it is just a small cost of doing business.  If we really wanted to end illegal immigration at the source, we would come down on those who hired them, those who want them here in the first place.  We don’t need a wall, all we need is to end the incentive to come here.  This problem suffers from the same bad thinking as illegal drugs law enforcement: we go after the users who are really victims, instead of the suppliers, the really bad guys who profit from the illicit trade in drugs.  95% of law enforcement’s time and treasure is spent chasing the little fish while the big fish swim away free, and fat!

Why do we do this?  Because someone, not the illegals, are making out just fine.  And because they have their own lobbyists.  And the lobbyists have their own Congressmen.  There are winners in this game, and they ain’t the illegals.

Implement an honest minimum wage, enforce it, and illegal immigration dies over-night.

But then, you’d have to pay more for your vegetables and your fruit, wouldn’t you?  OK.  But you can’t complain about both without being a run-of-the-mill hypocrite.  You want cheap produce?  Stop whining about illegal immigration.

Build a wall?  No offense, President-elect Trump, but what a dumb idea!  No matter who pays for it.

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

The Pro-Life position believes that a) human life begins at conception, b) abortion is a sin, and c) the sin of abortion should always have criminal consequences – a prison term – for the aborting woman and/or the aborting physician, at the national or state level.  The Pro-Choice position is indifferent about a) and b) and is only really concerned with c), the question of the criminalization of abortion (should a woman have a legal right to choose, or not, an abortion, free of legal restraint?).  For modern Americans, the Supreme Court decision, Roe v Wade, defines the Pro-Choice position, as women are free to have an abortion for the first 90 days after conception (even though any state may criminalize abortion 90 days after conception, and the federal government will criminalize abortion 180 days after conception).  Roe v Wade does not “approve” of abortion any more than the repeal of Prohibition approved of the consumption of alcohol; it only made it legal, i.e., an act without legal consequences.  Pro-Choice people do not “like” abortion, they just want it to be safe and legal.  The key distinction between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice is: do you want to imprison the woman who has an abortion in her first 90 days?  If you do not, you agree with Roe v Wade and you are really Pro-Choice, even if you call yourself Pro-Life, even if you vote Pro-Life.  I will wager that there are millions, if not tens of millions, of Americans who call themselves Pro-Life but who are really Pro-Choice.  But I have no hard evidence to back me up.  

The politics of abortion, complete in one paragraph of 265 words.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Businessmen Presidents

This post is not about President-elect Trump but it was in part inspired by him, and by the next most recent Republican candidate for President, Mitt Romney.  This post is about businessmen as Presidents.
 
There have been only seven presidents who came from the world of business.  In chronological order, they were
  1. Warren Harding (Republican, President 1921-23)
  2. Calvin Coolidge (Republican, 1923-29)
  3. Herbert Hoover (Republican, 1929-33)
  4. Harry Truman (Democrat, 1945-53)
  5. Jimmy Carter (Democrat, 1977-81)
  6. George H W Bush (Republican, 1989-93)
  7. George W Bush (Republican, 2001-09)
Most of these businessmen-Presidents had some serious public service careers before they became President. 
  1. Harding had spent 2 years as the Lt. Governor of Ohio and 6 years as Senator from Ohio. 
  2. Coolidge had been a Mayor, a state Senator, a Lt. Governor, a Governor and a Vice-President (in all, 13 years) before becoming President. 
  3. Hoover spent 7 years as our Secretary of Commerce. 
  4. Truman had been the Presiding Judge of Jackson County, Missouri for 8 years, U S Senator for 10 years, and Vice President for a few months before ascending to the Presidency. 
  5. Jimmy Carter had been a state Senator for 4 years and a Governor for 4 years before running for the Presidency. 
  6. George H W Bush was a Congressman for 4 years, Ambassador to the UN for 2 years, Director of the CIA for 1 year, and Vice President for 8 years. 
  7. George W Bush had been Governor of Texas for 5 years before taking on the mantle of the Presidency.
Donald Trump is the first businessman elevated to the Presidency with no public service on his résumé whatever.  The others with the least public service were George W Bush with 5 years, Hoover with 7 years, and Harding and Carter with 8 years each.
 
There is an absolutely fascinating Wikipedia entry entitled Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States.  These are “scholar surveys,” not the results of popular polls (which are included in the wiki article).  Become familiar with it.  They rank (the aggregate ranking) these businessmen-Presidents thus (out of 44 Presidents): Harding 42, Coolidge 30, Hoover 32, Truman 6, Carter 27, Bush Sr 22, and Bush Jr 34.  With the single exception of Harry Truman, Presidents with business backgrounds do not fare well as President when ranked by professional historians.
 
What can we make of all this?  We can wish Donald Trump well in his tenure as President of these United States.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Strong Dollar -- A Socratic Dialogue



“A strong dollar is a good thing, right?”

“Yes, sure.”

“Wrong.  But I think that you meant to agree with the statement, ‘a strong dollar is good for America, good for Americans,’ right?”

“Yes, exactly, that is what I meant to agree with.”

“Well, wrong there too.”

“A strong dollar is not good for us?  It is only common sense that a strong dollar will benefit Americans, so why not?”

“Well, a strong dollar benefits some Americans and it burdens other Americans.  For example, a strong dollar encourages American travel overseas, as our dollar will go farther than normal.  So, it also benefits the travel industry that specializes in foreign travel.  But it hurts American tourism as now our tourism is more expensive for foreigners.  In addition, a strong dollar benefits firms that import foreign merchandise as these items are now less expensive.  But it hurts exporting companies who sell American products that are now more expensive overseas than normal.  A strong dollar benefits retailers like Walmart that sell cheap foreign-made products, now even cheaper, and if those cost benefits are passed onto consumers it benefits them, too.  On the other hand, it hurts companies that manufacture goods for a foreign market and it also hurts workers that are employed by these companies.  In short, a strong dollar benefits foreign tourism, exporting companies, and consumers, while it hurts American tourism, importing companies, and workers.  And it huts individual workers more than it benefits individual consumers, because there are fewer workers to absorb the loss.  One last thing: as a strong dollar sends dollars overseas, a strong dollar is more likely to induce a recession than a weak dollar.  OK, get it?”

“Ouch, that is complicated.”

“Yeah, but it is common sense, once you really think about it.”

“I guess so.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Being a conservative in Donald Trump's America



I feel your pain, bro, I feel your pain!

with a special nod to conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election Night 2016

Here is THE way to watch the Presidential returns Tuesday night.
  1. New Hampshire (4) is an early indicator state, especially if it goes to Trump, as Clinton is favored slightly.
  2. Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16) and Virginia (13) all lean to Clinton; if Trump wins any of these states, it will be very meaningful.  Similarly, Georgia (16) and Arizona (11) both lean to Trump; if Clinton wins either of these states, it will be very meaningful.
  3. Finally, Florida (29), Ohio (18) and North Carolina (15) are the most important toss-up states.  Trump needs them more than Clinton.  Indeed, if Clinton wins Florida, it may be all over.
  4. Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight predicts 299-238 for Clinton; RealClearPolitics predicts 272-266 for Clinton.  I have no pony in this sorry race, but if I had to bet I'd wager a small amount on Clinton.
Have fun!  And may the better (for America) candidate win!

  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Two Trillion Galaxies

I have a friend who has a very nerdy geeky friend.  In short, he likes numbers.  It seems that whenever a new factoid with a number gets into the news, this fellow likes to play with it.  So, I decided to ask him to write up his reaction to the latest numbers news.  So, here it is, with some slight editing to make it easier to understand.
A few weeks ago, astronomers announced that our (observable) universe contains ten to twenty times as many galaxies as they thought it had (a galaxy is a collection of stars held together by the center of gravity of the galaxy.  Our own galaxy, called the “Milky Way,” contains some 200 billion star systems (a star system is the star at the core, all its planets, asteroids, comets and other junk that is held in place by the star’s gravity)).  And our galaxy is an average galaxy.  Galaxies are HUGE affairs (the Milky Way is some six hundred quadrillion (600,000,000,000,000,000 = 6 * 1017) miles in diameter), and each galaxy is mostly empty interstellar (between stars) space.  Just weeks ago, astronomers believed that the count of galaxies within the observable universe was some 200 billion (200,000,000,000 = 1011) galaxies, roughly the same number as the number of stars in the Milky Way.  Now they believe that the universe contains 2 trillion galaxies, ten times as many.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Our Lying Politicians

Years ago, when my daughter was just getting used to college in a western town, one of the first things that she noticed – that made such an impression on me that I remember it to this day – was that her classmates there did not mean what they said.  She was used to peers who said what they meant, who said stuff that they would deliver on.  Like, “let’s meet at the Shack at 5:30 this afternoon” or “let’s talk at 8:30 tonight.”  She observed that her college classmates said what they said just to fill the vacuum of “it’s my turn to say something” without worrying much about what they said, and without intending to follow through on what they had carelessly promised.

I understand that it is easier, more polite, and more socially productive to say “see ya later” than it is to say “hey, you are not really my best friend and I don’t really care if I never see you again.”  I understand that if we always told the truth – the raw (and impolitic) truth of the moment – we’d have nary a single friend left in the world.  At least, that is the way some of us think, and act.

Which leads me to ask the following question: How hypocritical of us is it to demand of our politicians what we don’t demand of each other – to tell the unvarnished truth – what we don’t even demand of ourselves?

And here is a follow-up question: is the “unvarnished truth” always “politically incorrect”?  Can’t the truth be civil?  Must it be inflammatory and crude?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Stop the TPP

Initially, as a loyal member of President Obama’s administration, Hillary Clinton was for the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership).  She changed her tune as a result of primary battles with Bernie Sanders, who strongly opposed it.  What will she do should she become President?  Who knows?  But here is one man’s views on this controversial treaty.

The issue is not trade.  Trade goes on, willy-nilly.  It is the lifeblood of the world’s economy.  Without trade, you will only have what you can produce yourself.  Trade is not the issue.

Friday, September 23, 2016

On the Presidential Election of 2016

Anyone who has read my book or read a serious number of my blog posts knows that I tend to avoid writing about "politics" or the art of winning elections or the Page Six of our democracy.  I am content to leave this chatter to those who are amused by it.

But I DO have opinions.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Income Inequality

All four (yes, four) Presidential candidates have mentioned “Income Inequality” as an important campaign issue.  Some seem to grasp what it means, but few have discussed its causes and none has proposed specific ways to address it.  Here is what Hillary Clinton has to say, here is what Donald Trump has to say, here is what Gary Johnson (Libertarian candidate) has to say and here is what Jill Stein (Green candidate) has to say.  If you read what they wrote on their campaign’s web sites, you will notice that none of them really addresses the issue head-on.  On the other hand, one-time Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders did address the issue head-on.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Kaepernick Kerfuffle

Yes, I confess, I had to check the spelling of his name!

And the other word – if you don’t know it, look it up, it’s a good word.

For
Colin Kaepernick is an NFL quarterback – for the San Francisco 49ers (for those who know what he does but not whom he does it for).  He has drawn attention to himself lately, by not standing for the singing of the National Anthem at a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers.  And it seems that everyone is weighing in with his 2¢ worth.

So, here is my 2¢ worth.

Did he break a law?

No.

Should his action have been against the law?

No, as he was exercising his right of free speech (yes, some actions are considered “speech”), a right that we hold very dearly in this land.  There are few things more precious to Americans than those rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

American Exceptionalism, Revisited

I have written that, while we are an exceptional country in many ways, it is boorish if not wrong-headed to go around crying “we’re no 1!”  I have also written in the same place that there is no other place in the world where I had rather been born.  We are special!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Be Fruitful and Multiply

The Holy Bible, in the King James version, quotes the Lord God as saying “be fruitful and multiply” seven times (always in Genesis).  He speaks to the animals (Genesis 1:22), to the first male and female human beings even before they are named (Genesis 1:28), to Noah about animals (Genesis 8:17), to Noah and his sons (Genesis 9:1 & 9:7), to Abraham about Ishmael (Genesis 17:20), and finally to Jacob (Genesis 35:11).  God urges His line to “be fruitful and multiply;” but He is done urging it even before Moses rescues the children of Israel from Egypt.  Maybe He meant it as an eternal commandment (for everyone, for Jews), and maybe He didn’t.

Jonathan Swift believes that the poor, at least, should be fruitful and multiply.  In his “A Modest Proposal,” he advises the poor that their children can help them climb out of poverty – by selling them to the highest bidder, as servants or as meat (sic!).  But of course this is Swift at his bitterest and most satiric; he doesn’t really mean it.

Finally, in order to have a successful national retirement system, where able-bodied men and women all contribute a part of their wages into the retirement system for the elderly, the greater the number of young people there are, the easier it will be to help the large number of elderly to live with some dignity.  So, for the sake of Social Security, they should “be fruitful and multiply.”

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Democracy Movement

The Democracy Movement is a war over democracy in America, whether we shall have it.

The Democracy Spring event in Washington, DC in the spring of 2016 was not the opening salvo of the Democracy Movement, it was merely a sign of where we are today.

The Democracy Movement began in earnest as a response to the infamous Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, a decision that declared, not for the first time but in no uncertain terms, that corporations were natural persons under the Constitution and therefore entitled to Constitutional rights and protections, and that money in unlimited amounts was protected speech.  As this decision undermined what we all were brought up to believe – that we are a democracy, that We the People rule, and that we are all created equal under the law – a movement broke forth to correct this insult to our collective identity.  And for lack of a better name, this is The Democracy Movement.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Some Observations about American Economic Growth

They say that the first million dollars is the hardest.  Each successive million dollars of gross revenues is easier than the previous million dollars; growing from $1 million to $2 million is easier than earning the first $1 million, and growing from $10 million to $11 million is easier still than growing from $1 million to $2 million (all examples of simple $ growth).  The reason is easy to understand: whatever it is you’re doing, doing it again is easier; practice makes perfect (and after a while it is just more marketing).  On the other hand, it is easier to grow your business by 10% while your business is still young.  For example, growing from $10 million to $11 million is easier than growing from $100 million to $110 million is easier than growing from $10 billion to $11 billion (all cases of 10% growth).  The same is true of stock prices.  Adding $1 to a stock price of $10 is harder than adding $1 to a stock price of $100 (simple $ growth).  But growing the stock price by 10% from $1.00 to $1.10 is easier than growing it 10% from $100 to $110.00 (%age growth).  All “mature” corporations had their most explosive %age rates of growth (gross revenues or price of a share of stock) while they were young.  And what is true about the rate of a corporation's growth and the increase in the value of a share of stock is equally true of a nation’s economy – its GDP – which is pretty much the aggregate of millions of companies big and small; it is easier for a GDP to grow from $1 trillion to $1.1 trillion than it is to grow from $10 trillion to $11 trillion (10% growth).  All “mature” economies had their most explosive rates of growth while they were young; mature economies do not grow as fast as youthful economies.  China, with its 7% rate of economic growth, is not a “dynamic” economy, it is a young economy; the U.S., with its 1% to 2% rate of economic growth, is not a “static” economy, it is a mature economy.  And it is “stuck” with the fact that a mature economy does not grow as fast as a young economy.  Changing the party of the occupant of the White House will not change that.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Messing with the Right to Vote

OK, I can hear some of you already: “That Ben Paine, he is totally off his rocker; his idea is bad enough, but publishing it is a sure sign of really losing it!”
OK, what’s it all about?
Democracy!  And who has the right to vote.
You have heard me say that a democracy is the ONLY way to go; any other form of government – oligarchy (rule by a few) or monarchy (rule by one) – is a form of tyranny, because no matter how benevolent they may be, they are NOT self-rule, they are NOT We the People ruling ourselves.  And you have heard me say that everyone should exercise his right to vote, it is his civic duty, it is the least he can do!  But I’d like to impose some conditions on a citizen’s right to vote.  Just to make things interesting.
Democracy has flaws, fatal flaws.  Pretend: a 20km (12½ miles across, more than 3 times the area of Manhattan island) asteroid – a killer asteroid – is on a collision course headed for Earth.  It is a month away but astro-physicists all agree that its probability of hitting the Earth is just about 100%.  Word gets out and people panic, not everyone but many.  "We had better do something, and fast!"  But some folks just don’t believe the scientists, they suspect foul play, some kind of ulterior motive on the part of the scientists.  And they are persuasive, to some, to many.  “God would not do this to us” or “I can’t see it with my telescope” or “it will hit the ocean and cause a few tidal waves, no big thing.”  Putting aside the fact that our democracy is a representative democracy, and our representatives might pay attention to the scientists and get to work on a solution, a real (direct) democracy might paralyze our decision-making.  At this point, I would ask you: is a real democracy prepared for this kind of event?  Do we really want to have the people vote on the expertise of the experts?  Now obviously, our democracy doesn’t fight its wars by plebiscites, or initiatives or referenda; we have a chain of command with a commander-in-chief in charge and generals on the field.  But some wars take time – like the battles over Climate Change – and how the people think and feel is taken into consideration by politicians.  Every day that goes by is another day wasted, another day closer to “it’s too late, we are doomed.”  That is what happens in a democracy when you have a long-term problem and short-term thinking: infinite delay until time runs out.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Study of Gun Violence in the USA

I am going to talk about guns in a way you have never seen before, so hold on.

Part I: Perspective

But first, before we examine how guns impact our society, let’s get some perspective, some unusual but useful perspective.
Item
World[1]
USA[2,3]
Total Current Population
7,434,000,000
320,000,000
Annual Births
144,000,000
4,000,000
Annual Births Rate
1.94%
1.25%
Annual Deaths
60,000,000
2,600,000
Annual Deaths Rate
0.81%
0.81%
Annual Net Gain
84,000,000
1,400,000
Annual Net Gain Rate
1.13%
0.44%

Our (the USA) average life expectancy is 78.8 years.  This ranks us 33rd in the world, following Japan (83.7 years), Switzerland, Singapore, Italy, Spain, Australia, Israel, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, France, Canada, .., Sweden, Norway, …, Greece, UK, but you get the picture.[4]  We’re doing something wrong.  And deaths by firearms don’t make the difference (My suspicion is that, as America may be the most competitive country in the world, it is also the country where stress is most prevalent.  And while stress cannot be found as a cause of death, it may bring on a cause of death earlier than it might otherwise.).

And now a brief look at the principal causes of death in the USA: cancer; chronic lower respiratory diseases; accidents; stroke; Alzheimer’s; diabetes; influenza and pneumonia; kidney diseases; suicide.  The last of these, suicide, comes in at some 40,000+ / year.[5]  And homicide, by guns or other means, doesn’t make the top ten.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Fighting City Hall

In the first few sentences of the very first essay (A Citizen’s Manifesto) in my book To My Countrymen, I suggest that a good citizen doesn’t run away from fighting City Hall, that he indeed engages City Hall when he must, and that he wins – every time.  I wrote this essay two decades ago, and I meant it to suggest that part of our collective powerlessness is our own doing.  If we aren’t willing to fight for what we want, it is our own damn fault that we don’t get it.  And that when we do fight, we always win (yeah, and I know that the fight takes time and effort, and sometimes persistence).

The Libertarian Creed

I have a friend who is going to vote the Libertarian line this election cycle, and I applaud him for it – over the wrong-headed protests of those who mindlessly chant “you're wasting your vote.”  He is right to vote third party, and I have argued the point over and over again in my book To My Countrymen, because we must break the stranglehold of our antiquated and mischievous two-party system.

The opening words of the 2016 Platform of the Libertarian Party of the USA are these: “As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others (shades of Ayn Rand).”  And “We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.  …  We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”  Damn, sign me up!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Judicial Review

The pre-eminent job of the Supreme Court is to decide whether a particular law is Constitutional.  This is what we have been taught for well over 50 years so it must be true, no?

No!  That is just so much bull-shit!  The Supreme Court is the court of last resort; it is the last place that an unlucky defendant can go for JUSTICE!

Deciding what law may or may not be Constitutional is called “judicial review.”  In Constitutional circles, the very idea that judicial review is a Constitutionally enumerated power of the Court is controversial.  John Marshall, in Marbury v Madison, 1803, asserted the Court’s power of judicial review, and he did so in a way that compelled his enemies to accept his decision.  So, we have over 200 years of the Court’s right to the power of judicial review.  Yet there are still scholars who claim that judicial review is not Constitutionally sanctioned as a power of the Court.

Pro-Life

As abortion is one of America’s premier divisive issues, Americans should be pretty clear what “pro-life” means.  But I am not so sure; I think that there is a lot of confusion about who really is “pro-life.”

To start, I think that we can all agree that “pro-life” begins with an agreement that life begins at the moment of conception, that a soul is created in that instant.  But from there on, things get interesting.
  1. Are there not women who call themselves “pro-life” because they personally would never (with the possible exception of rape and incest) ever have an abortion themselves?  But they understand that this is only THEIR preference, they don’t have an opinion about what other women may or may not do, they just know that they would never have an abortion.
  2. Then there are those who take that one step further and believe that it is wrong to have an abortion, not just for themselves but for all women.  This group considers abortion a sin, but they stop short of wanting criminal penalties for the act: it is WRONG but “government stay away, it is none of your business.”
  3. And finally there are those, men and women alike, who go the last step: they believe not only that abortion is wrong personally, wrong universally, a sin universally, but it is also a crime, the crime of murder of an unborn human being.  And they believe that a woman who aborts an unborn child should be charged with a crime (there is a sub-group here that wants to charge the aborting doctor with the crime; the woman is innocent, she is merely the doctor’s victim.  But this is rank hypocrisy so I will not say anything more about it), the crime of murder.  This last group wants to roll back Roe v Wade; the first two groups don’t think about Roe v Wade, or if they do they don’t much care.

In the first instance, abortion is a matter of personal preference.  In the second instance, abortion is a philosophical and religious scruple.  In the third instance, abortion is a matter for the law.  In the first instance, for that kind of pro-life person, what another woman chooses is no concern of theirs.  In the second instance, abortion is a sin but that kind of pro-life stops short of recommending prison as an answer. 

But what about the other side, who is a “pro-choice” person?  Does a “pro-choice” person advocate that all pregnancies should be aborted?  Of course not.  Does a pro-choice person LIKE abortions?  Putting aside what that even means, it is clear that many pro-choice people are repelled by the act of abortion, they want nothing to do with it.  The only thing that all pro-choice advocates advocate is that the act of abortion should not be criminalized, that abortion is not murder in a legal sense.  Whether they share any other philosophical or religious scruples with each other is unknown; what is known is that they don’t want a woman who opts for an abortion to be charged with a crime, the crime of murder.

As we ought to be able to see, from a legal perspective, the first two kinds of “pro-life” people are on the same side as “pro-choice” people.

Politics does not concern itself with people’s individual preferences or philosophical or religious scruples.  Politics DOES concern itself with the law, with what actions the state will not tolerate.  For many people, the opposite of “pro-life” must be “pro-death,” and who in God’s name is pro-death?  And for many their religious scruples compel them to call themselves “pro-life.”  But politically, I wonder just how many Americans who call themselves “pro-life” really make common cause with folks who call themselves “pro-choice”; they don’t LIKE abortion, but they don’t want the all-powerful state to take any punitive action.  I wonder.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Political Death Wishes

As of today, April 15th, 2016, Real Clear Politics (Averages for the past month) has Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by 49.0% to 39.1% (a spread of 9.9%) and Ted Cruz by 46.0% to 42.6% (a spread of 3.4%).  It also has Bernie Sanders beating Trump by 53.4% to 37.1% (a spread of 16.3%) and Cruz by 50.6% to 39.4% (a spread of 11.2%).  Finally, it has John Kasich beating Clinton by 47.3% to 40.6% (a spread of 6.7%) while Sanders beats Kasich by 45.9% to 42.6% (a spread of 3.3%).

If these comparative figures hold through the Republican Convention in the week of July 18th, 2016, three months from now, it would be a Republican death wish for them to nominate Trump or Cruz, anyone but Kasich.  Of course, they might make the argument that their guy will destroy Clinton or Sanders in the debates, but how often have debates mattered at all?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Universal Suffrage

“Universal suffrage” means everyone has the right to vote.  Everyone a) who is a citizen, b) who is at least 18 years of age (and c) who is not a felon (serving time) (a state by state requirement)).  Universal suffrage does not imply that a “democracy” prevails, because democracy means “the people rule.”  And while the people do choose their leaders, their representatives, their public servants, those who they choose seem more beholden to their “funders” – their significant campaign contributors – than to those who elected them to office in the first place.  This is a huge problem, of course.  It is the core of everything that I write about, that our democracy is a sham.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fiscal Responsibility

The idea of “fiscal responsibility” is a pretty simple thing: the government pays for what it buys, or it buys no more than what it can pay for (and sometimes it even saves some monies that were collected from taxpayers, and applies them to pay down the National Debt a little).  Fiscal responsibility disappeared during the Reagan years (I know – you don’t believe me; look it up) when the conservative goal of “making government smaller” ran into a wall of Democrats who refused to slash their own precious programs; but Republicans went ahead and cut taxes anyway.  So, they accomplished half of “making government smaller” (the cutting taxes part); while they put the other part (cutting spending) on hold indefinitely.  The result was predictable and has come true with a vengeance for some 35 years: out of control deficits and an exploding National Debt.  This is NOT fiscal responsibility, it is fiscal IR-responsibility.

Republicans have called themselves the party of “fiscal responsibility” for decades, while they have called Democrats the party of “tax and spend.”   This is what Republicans like to say, and it used to be true, some forty or fifty years ago.  But it has not been entirely true for decades.  Democrats may still be the party of “tax and spend,” but Republicans have become the party of “spend and charge it.”  They vote to fund government programs, even though they know they will not raise enough taxes to pay for them.

During the first six years of the George W Bush administration, Republicans had the votes in Congress (and the White House) to cut “unnecessary and wasteful” programs, programs they found unnecessary anyway.  Not once did they vote to cut programs in a way that made a real difference, but they did continue to vote tax cuts (especially for folks who didn’t need them).  Huge deficits resulted, and the National Debt exploded (and you thought that was Obama’s doing!).

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lame Duck

Within only a few nano-moments of Justice Antonin Scalia being pronounced dead, the august Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of the great state of Kentucky announced that he would not allow the President’s nomination to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court to come to the Senate floor for advise and consent.  Putting aside his obvious-to-nearly-everyone-in-the-country political reason that the sitting President is a black Democrat whom he has battled from the gitgo, he asserted that President Obama was a Lame Duck President, and that it was therefore the President’s job to wait for his (Republican) successor to nominate the next (conservative Republican) Associate Justice, some eleven months and change from now. 

Unprecedented?  Yup.

But let’s spend a few words talking about his reason for delay: President Obama is a "lame duck" President.  But he is not a lame duck President.  He will become a lame duck when his successor is in place (look it up!), the morning after Election Day, Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, more than eight months from this writing.  (Lame duck Presidents use this two and a half months’ time to help transition the President-Elect into office.)  Allowing for definitions to change (because Mitch McConnell is a powerful man), we might choose to see the lame duck period as the time that a sitting President in his second term has to contend with a Senate and a House of the other party, that is since January of 2015 – more than a year ago – or, worse, since the day after Election Day in 2014.  Is McConnell really saying that?  That President Obama has been a lame duck for the entire last half of his second term, that he should sit on his hands for two years, or go on extended vacation in Hawaii, with full pay?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Sample #4

Democracy

Democracy – rule by the people – do we really live in a democracy?

Well, we live in a representative democracy, where we elect representatives to act on our behalf; to that extent we do live in a democracy, a representative democracy.

But fewer than 50% of Americans even vote.  Do we live in a democracy only for those who vote?  Only for those who make their preferences known?

When the people do not know the issues, do not even know what the parties stand for or if they are living up to their own standards, do not know fundamental facts about our country and its political system, is that really democracy?  When the people are ignorant, can they really rule themselves?  Is a Talk-Show host really in charge?

Most voters vote for the incumbent (the Devil they know) or the candidate who has spent the most money getting himself elected (typically the incumbent).  Then legislation is written to satisfy that portion of the body politic, the portion that pays for it.  To that extent, we live in “the best democracy that money can buy.”  And where does that money come from?  Who, after all, has millions, and tens of millions, of dollars to throw at a favored candidate?  At five-hundred-thirty-six (435 Congressmen, 100 Senators, 1 President) favored candidates?  Not me, not you.

In theory, when our elected representatives do not represent us, we throw the bums out.  But we do not.  We re-elect them or we elect those from the party we threw out of office the last time.  Nowhere, in our Constitution or anywhere else, does it say we have a two-party system, that we must choose the lesser of two evils.  But that is what we do, and we complain about the results, and then we do nothing to change it.

It has been said, cynically, that “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”

We tell pollsters over and over again that we are not pleased with what our government is doing (80 – 90% of Americans are not happy with their government, are not happy with the actions of those they voted into office).  Then we boast that we have the best form of government in the world.  This is called a “disconnect.”  We have systemic problems with our form of government, and we know what they are (too few vote, voters are ignorant, big money is really in charge, our two-party system does not work), but we do nothing to change them, and we even fight wars to export our great system of popular rule to the rest of the world.

Don’t tell me “it’s in the Constitution, there’s nothing we can do about it.”  First, none of these problems is mandated by the Constitution; and even if they were, the framers were very careful to include a way to amend the sacred document.  The Bill of Rights – our sacred Bill of Rights – was the first round of amendments to the original Constitution (if James Madison had not guaranteed a Bill of Rights to the so-called Anti-Federalists, the Constitution would never have been ratified).  It is in your hands to change the Constitution, if that is what is needed.  

And don’t tell me that you work too hard to be able to participate in your nation’s government.  It is because you have not participated that we are in the hole we are in, and the hole will only get deeper as you continue to ignore your civic responsibilities.

This is democracy?  Is this what you thought it meant when you were young – and wiser than you are now?  This is your democracy; you have nobody to blame but yourself.

Do something!

Sample #3

Liberals and Conservatives

The word "liberal" means free-thinking, generous, tolerant, open-minded, innovative, progressive.  The word "conservative" means restrained, cautious, moderate, conventional, respectful, traditional.  The younger mind tends to be more liberal, reckless, open to adventure; and the older mind tends to be more conservative, cautious and safety-minded.  Heaven forbid that we had a political system that honored one stage of life and slighted the other.

In the American political sense, Conservatives have stood for Faith, Divine and natural law; Liberals for Reason and secular law.  Conservatives have stood for a natural hierarchy among men, Liberals for a philosophical equality of men and women.  Conservatives have stood for collective values, Liberals for individualism (this has changed hasn’t it?).  Liberals look toward an untried tomorrow, Conservatives to a safer simpler yesterday.

Liberals have championed Democracy’s promise that the little guy may better himself and is entitled to equality before the law; while Conservatives have stood for Law and Order, property rights, and an aristocracy based on wealth and merit.

The Conservative spirit is best imagined as the House of Lords, a body of polite feudal Aristocrats; the Liberal spirit as the House of Commons, an arena of rowdy Jacksonians.

A society that is pure Conservative stagnates from unquestioned values; one that is pure Liberal falls apart from a lack of definition.

Liberalism without Conservatism has no heart; Conservatism without Liberalism has no brain.  Or the other way around.

My political philosophy is really an amalgam of these two great impulses.  There are times that demand change; there are times that call for caution.  These times demand change (cautious change!) because the status quo is unconscionably unfair and because it is recklessly headed to disaster.  Not a resolution anyone wants, Liberal or Conservative.

from 2005

P.S.
The liberal spirit says “full speed ahead.”  The conservative spirit says “first, do no harm.”  When the FDA steps in and makes sure a drug is safe before allowing it to be sold to tens of millions of Americans, that is conservative in spirit.  Anti-trust laws that break up companies that have become too big and too non-competitive are conservative in spirit.  Indeed, all regulation – regulation for the sake of public safety not the regulation that mega companies write into law – is conservative in spirit.  Yes, I understand that this flies in the face of our understanding of today’s political labels.  But today’s parties have degenerated into tents of special interests, often at war with each other; they surely do not represent consistent political philosophies. 

Sample #2

Preface

I will piss you off, I guarantee it.  But I do not want to lose you, on that account, before we even begin our journey together.  No matter if you are conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic, Libertarian or Green, Independent or moderate or undecided – something I say will strike you the wrong way.  Nonetheless, I beg your indulgence, as the message of this book is too important to be left to those who agree with me 100% (not even my own family).  Whether you admire President Reagan or not, I will ask you to consider his words and for the rest of this book to give me the benefit of the doubt that I am not a “traitor,” that I am a patriot – one who truly loves his country – every bit as much as you are.

Trust me when I say that the core messages of this book are neither liberal nor conservative, neither right nor left, neither Republican nor Democratic.  I do, however, want you to come away from this book with two basic lessons: first, the big issues really are non-partisan (non-partisan, not bi-partisan), they transcend party and ideology, and they need brains and muscle from both sides of the political spectrum; and second, the other side (liberal, conservative, whatever) is not made up of total morons or yahoos; both sides have their geniuses and their fools.

So, please, when I begin to irritate you, take a deep breath and plow on; give me the benefit of the doubt that there may be issues that transcend party differences and that they are at least as important as the issues that divide us.

The fight that I will ask you to engage in is too important to be left to one political ideology to the exclusion of the other, or to the party faithful of both major parties for that matter.

My book is not addressed to party leadership; frankly, they are in the way of real progress.  It is you that I want to reach; it is you who are essential to fixing what’s broke.

Thanks in advance for taking this on.

Sample #1

How to Read This Book

This book was written for Americans who are too busy to read 50 books a year.  It was written in a conversational style, an informal chat between me and you.  It was written to be digested any way that you like.  You want to begin at the beginning and read it straight through?  OK, but don’t expect to get the plot any better than if you read it wherever you happen to put your thumb.  Read it from the middle out?  OK.  You can read most of the book’s short essays in less time than you can hold your breath (“on your mark, get set, inhale.”).  You can read one while you’re taking a coffee break, while you’re grabbing a bite, or even while you’re sitting on your throne.  I have provided a check box (⎕) following each essay’s title for you to mark (√) an essay as “read.”  Or you could pencil a number in the check box for the number of times you have read that essay.  Or a number for how well you liked it.  Or a “Y” or “N” for whether you agree.  Or “*” for “I want to read this one again and tell all my friends about it.”

Please do not read this book while your significant other (or a friend, or a work colleague, or a family member, or even a complete stranger) is sharing your space with you; in other words, don’t be rude.  And if you do get upset with something you read, please do not throw this book – or the mobile device you are reading it on – across the room, as it may hit someone.  I am not responsible for such outbursts and their unhappy consequences; you are.

Now, before we start.

My book consists of many essays distributed more or less randomly so that you have to read the whole thing in order to get the greatest benefit from reading it.  It consists of essays of the following types:

On subject (the mess we are in – in mostly broad and some fine brush strokes – what needs to be done to clean it up, and what role you can play to help)

Informative / instructive (the folks my book is aimed at have had little time to indulge the luxury of following the daily grind in Washington, DC; a significant chunk of my book is my small attempt to help them catch up)

Exposé (politicians and talking heads – radio and TV “pundits” – don’t speak plain English, they speak George Orwell’s “doublethink”; their job is not to inform you, it is to get you to follow them with as little critical thought as possible, and I want to expose the underbelly of what they say)

Provocative / challenging (I want to disturb your peace of mind, I want to shake you up, I want to make you think new thoughts, I want to channel your anger toward productive action; if your source of “news” is Fox News or MSNBC, you live in an Echo Chamber, where you listen to people who say what you already know; I want to shatter your Echo Chamber, I want to make you think)

Interesting (if what I say is not interesting, you will chuck my book before wasting any more of your precious time; whether I have been informative or challenging or anything else will not matter if I am not interesting)

“The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”
– President Ronald Reagan

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Chutzpah

If you are from New York, if you like New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Miami, or Philadelphia, if you live in a city with more than a handful of Jews, you probably know what "chutzpah" means.  In case you don't know the word, here is a perfect example of it: Ted Cruz panhandling folks he has just maligned!  And, by the by, if you are wondering what "New York values" really means, it's code for Jewish values.  Like chutzpah!  Way to go, Ted!