2011-07-31

Union Hysteria

President Obama called the bill an “assault on unions.” Democratic state senator Lena Taylor compared Scott Walker to Hitler. But the results of the changes in Wisconsin were not nearly so terrible.

From the Weekly Standard:
On June 29 at 12:01 a.m., Koczela could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The budget repair bill​—​delayed for months by protests, runaway state senators, and a legal challenge that made its way to the state’s supreme court​—​was law. The 27 teachers on the chopping block were spared.

With “collective bargaining rights” limited to wages, Koczela was able to change the teachers’ benefits package to fill the budget gap. Requiring teachers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward pensions saved $600,000. Changes to their health care plan​—​such as a $10 office visit co-pay (up from nothing)​—​saved $200,000. Upping the workload from five classes, a study hall, and two prep periods to six classes and two prep periods saved another $200,000. The budget was balanced.

In Brown Deer and school districts across the state, Walker’s budget repair bill, known as Act 10, is working just as he promised.

Were the unions and their supporters who stormed the capitol and those senators who left the state simply overwrought in their rhetoric, incapable of understanding the proposed fixes or stumping for their special interest? Will there be any apologies and realizations that the anger was all on one side on this issue?

From the Washington Examiner
But after the law went into effect, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, school officials put in place new policies they estimate will turn that $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. And it's all because of the very provisions that union leaders predicted would be disastrous.

In the past, teachers and other staff at Kaukauna were required to pay 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance coverage and none of their pension costs. Now, they'll pay 12.6 percent of the cost of their coverage (still well below rates in much of the private sector) and also contribute 5.8 percent of salary to their pensions.

But when the Milwaukee teachers’ union president Bob Peterson was asked “You have a choice: layoffs or pension contributions. Do you see that choice? Why did you make a choice of layoffs?” when collective bargaining resulting in layoffs, the union president said, "I didn’t lay off anybody,”

Who was it in Wisconsin that kept teachers employed, pensions in place and the fiscal house in order? The union assaulting Hitlarian governor? Or the union?

2011-07-28

Arctic Thawing

The Arctic seems to be warming up. Reports from those who sail the seas of the eastern Arctic, all point to a radical change in climatic conditions, and hitherto unheard of high temperatures in that part of the earth's surface.

…so little ice has never before been noted. The expedition all but established a record, sailing as far north ns 81 ° 29' in ice-free water. This is the farthest north ever reached with modern oceanographic apparatus.

He says that he first noted warmer conditions [four years ago], that since that time it has steadily gotten warmer, and that today the Arctic of that region is not recognizable as the same region of [54 years ago] to [five years ago].

Many old landmarks are so changed as to be unrecognizable. Where formerly great masses of ice were found there are now often moraines, accumulations of earth and stones. At many points where glaciers formerly extended far into the sea they have entirely disappeared.

NOAA source document

Turns out this was in 1922.

Notable Quotable

The most basic fact of life is that we can make our choices only among the alternatives actually available.

2011-07-27

Conversation With a Liberal

My wife got a taste of this rhubarb on Facebook. She took umbrage with the mean-spirited comments that some of the FB'ers had posted. Her interaction with JG is particularly depressing. Even when confronted with his boorish behavior, JG did not feel the need to retract or apologize and he just kept on with his angry, mean, name-calling ways.

This was class warfare alright – between the classy and the classless.

The format places the initials of the poster first followed by their comment.

---
BJ
Don't like gay marriages? Don't get one.. Don't like cigarettes? Don't smoke them.. Don't like abortions? Don't get one.. Don't like sex? Don't have it.. Don't like drugs? Don't do them.. Don't like porn? Don't watch it.. Don't like alcohol? Don't drink it.. Don't like guns? Don't buy one.. Don't like your rights taken away??? Don't take away someone else's! Pretty much sums it up.

LJ
So simple

JR
Don't like democrats but we got them hmmm

LPS
Don't like thinking... be a Republican -- or join the Tea Party.

JR
Don't like the constitution be a democrat if you like high taxes

AD
Don't like Republicans but we got them hmmm.

AD
Don't like the constitution or the country to be for everyone be a Tea Partier.

LPS
I just want the rich guys to pay their fair share and give up the breaks Bush gave them...Those of us in the lower brackets never get breaks.

JR
We will trickle down takes time

LPS
been waiting 30 years --since Reagan When does it start? I only have about 20 years left.

LJ
LPS you be so smart!!!!

CB
Don't like thinking..be a Republican? Really? Are Democrats so much smarter and enlightened? There are no intelligent Republicans? Right...Republicans can't have a differing opinion than a Democrat without being insulted. Is this 2nd grade? Wouldn't it be more constructive to deal with issues than character assassination?

BJ
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." ~Spock

SMJ
Case in point... When you over simplify the things that are important to people you marginalize them. When you marginalize them it is the fastest way to both alienate them and mobilize them against you. Try talking to people beyond your comfort zone and looking for common ground even when it is your hardest and most exhausting choice. Most importantly, strive to listen even more than you desire to be heard.

LPS
Now THAT's a smart response. Patience works for me.

JYR
Dont like the way things are going? Take the fucking discussion off facebook. Or any other platform. Have intelligent civil discourse face to face and thoughtfully consider each others opinion. This is the worst (and Im also guilty of this from time to time) place to try to 'convince' the other side of your opinion.

JYR
and take a civics lesson. read your non revisionist, non palin/bachmann/santorum history

LPS
Thank you.

MR
Politics... -steps outside-

JG
@ CB; no, there are no thinking GOPers left -- the Christian Right and the Tea Party has driven them to extinction. I'm not in the business (literally) of trying to convince Republicans that they are wrong or idiots just for giggles, but instead crushing them as a political party. The Fundies and lunatic Libertarians with their selfish and morally bankrupt Lord of the Flies philosophy has set this country down the path to ruin. It is not over simplification to say that the GOP is full of stupid, ignorant, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, war mongering, hypocrites.

CB
@JG; Wow. I'm a Christian. I'm on the right. I think there are many valuable ideas being moved forward by the Tea Party.

But I guess that makes me a stupid, ignorant, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, war mongering, hypocrite. This makes it easy for you. You don't have to engage any ideas. Just call a name, turn and walk away.

Is your behavior considered progressive and enlightened? Why is it considered progressive to dismiss via demonization rather than agree to disagree and try to understand what may have caused the conservative to conclude what he has concluded? Do you believe there are any good conservatives?

Liberals frequently extol themselves as intelligentsia that are capable of nuanced thought while noting that conservatives are simpletons who see everything as black and white. Your comments don't seem to support that story line. Not a lot of compassion, nuance or deep thought there.

If you resort to name calling or character assassination when your ideas are assailed, you confirm that you are not interested in sustaining a conversation, but rather demagoguery.

I think you are probably a good person who simply has different values than I have. You think I am some sort of barbaric, horrible person. If I am a mixture of the names you called me, then I truly would be horrible. And if you want to walk those comments back and say that is only the leadership, then you are only left with thinking I am profoundly stupid or deluded if I support conservative ideas. Either way, you have a very dim view of those on the other side of the aisle.

Is dismissing the decency of those you differ with intellectually engaging or is it an intellectual retreat? Is announcing that no discussion shall occur on a matter intellectually stimulating or is it demagogic? Is dismissing the character of those you disagree with as stupid, mean spirited, selfish, greedy, hateful, nativist, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, bigoted, intolerant, fascist and hypocritical an attempt to avoid thoughtful interaction or contempt for their decency?

You don't need a great deal of thought to argue from a position of name calling. You just need to point out how bad those on the right are. After all, one doesn't need to engage in meaningful conversations with Ku Klux Klanners, neo-fascists or environmental despoilers. Are there any names that could be used for those on the left? Or does it just go without saying that all the evil and stupid is on the right?

It's easier to just dismiss all of those you disagree with as stupid. A Republican president doesn't have to be thoughtfully challenged. Just call him a monkey, a lackey, a cretinous penisless worm, a 9-11 conspirator, Presidunce, Duh President, Oaf of Office, Flubya, Dumbya and DUHbya. (All names used by the left.) And print bumper stickers that say Buck Fush.

A bigot is defined as a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance. You might spend some time in introspection contemplating this word and its meaning.

MR
-pokes head in- ... hello BJ's friends.

JG
CB, the problem is that the GOP has allowed itself to be taken over the Fundie crowd that, contrary to the Constitution, seeks to to implement social policies that would deny fellow Americans fundamental rights. Republican economic policies (the L Curve and allowing "free-market capitalism" aka "fat cat capitalism" to run unfettered, aka "fat cat capitalism") have nearly destroyed the economy on the whole, and have savaged the middle class. Republican foreign policy has gotten us into two wars we cannot win. The libertarian God Squad nexus is the most dangerous political alignment in our nation's history, short of the assholes of the Confed States of America (who are the progenitors of the post-1972 Republican Party). Are there good conservatives? Sure, but their voices are drowned out in the current GOP. I stand by my comments that GOPers are selfish (the very nature of Libertarianism), nativist (look at the immigration issue), sexist (nothing like making fun of the FemmaNazis), homophobic (we must preserve the "sanctity of marriage" and discriminate against our fellow citizens), stupid (generally GOPers have lower levels of education than Dems, so stupid is probably wrong, but ignorant and intellectually lazy will work), Islamophobic (the Muslim Center blocks away from Ground Zero), and bigoted (I've heard Republicans in private within the last week use the words "nigger" and "faggot"). I started as a Republican way back in the day, and I have seen the moderate wing of the Republican Party destroyed. The GOP is on a path of self-destrcution, and because its leadership is all those things (selfish, etc), it's doomed.

2011-07-25

Rationing Healthcare and Physician Assisted Suicide


Healthcare is rationed everywhere either by procedure/law or by exclusion. "Death panels" can take the form of a government committee or lack of access. Most people don't want to grapple with whether a people/nation can afford to give them or their family members unlimited care.

Nobody wants to deny their own mother every chemotherapy treatment known to medical science, but they don't want a group of bureaucrats doing it either. And when an insurance company is forced to make these hard decisions, many grumble about how selfish and mean the insurance company is.

In a world of limited resources rationing will occur. There just isn't enough wealth available to pay for it all. And if rationing is controlled by a NIMBY mentality where nobody is willing to settle for something less than unlimited care for themselves or loved ones, then healthcare will bankrupt the country – whether it is socialized or private.

Somewhere in all of this is a discussion about physician assisted suicide. On a continuum that ranges from unlimited care to maintain life, to palliative care, to withholding certain care or procedures, to physician assisted suicide, to euthanasia - is a public policy that is both moral and responsible. The only reason we can have such a discussion is because technology allows us to do many great things. However, this ability has the potential to bankrupt the economy if it is unconstrained. Modern medicine is able to prolong life well beyond the point of natural death. And societies must wrestle with whether dramatic life extending techniques should be used in every instance just because those techniques exist.

One side of the argument says that we are playing God if we pull the plug. But a lot of God-like behavior had to occur in order to make the plug possible and bring us to the point of considering whether we should unplug. And left to a more natural course devoid of the God-like intervention of medicine, death would have taken the decision from us. It is only because man has miraculously intervened that the God-like decision to withhold some measure of the life-giving force of medicine must be made.

The Damoclean decision about withholding care is the unavoidable consequence of the awesome ability to give care and give life. Only by forgoing the life giving power of modern medicine and relinquishing the God-like ability to give life can one avoid the difficult decisions associated with withholding care.

It may be morally satisfying to state absolutely that we must do everything we can to save a life. But this is a decidedly utopian position. And here on non-utopian Earth, trade-offs must be considered and difficult decisions must be made – especially when there are competing goods such as prolonging a life and economic viability. It is reasonable to argue about how much of one thing or the other should be traded in order to craft a policy, but it is foolish to ignore the costs associated with unlimited care.

It is not greedy, selfish and heartless to consider the financial impact of the pure and morally satisfying position. Just as one might argue that it is immoral to tax an economy so heavily that production slows to the point that there is nothing left for anyone including the poor (killing the goose that lays the golden egg), demanding unlimited medical treatment may be similarly myopically immoral. This permutation of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" could bankrupt an economy thereby reducing or jeopardizing care for all. It is exceedingly morally responsible to consider the ramifications and costs of any policy.

This isn't to say that the decision to move from the sustain-life-at-all-costs position is not difficult and morally vexing. Those that object with dignity, sanctity of life and slippery slope arguments are wise to do so. It is no insignificant matter to note that those who supported abortion with "safe, legal and rare" arguments did not anticipate (or were not honest about their intentions) that "rare" would come to mean that one third of all pregnancies would end with an abortion. Calling attention to this real-life example of a good intention gone bad is noble and comes from a place of heartfelt concern for the cultural and moral character of our society. It is not unreasonable to believe that some mission creep might occur with any end of life legislation and those who are raising these concerns are illuminating issues that must be considered.

When the issue of health care rationing includes end of life discussions it is important to not collapse the continuum of issues and inappropriately conflate issues – that is, physician assisted life denouement is not euthanasia. But a society must think long and hard about whether this is a slope they want to traverse. There may be good reasons that sanctity of life has been so tightly woven into our cultural fabric.
Dick Lamm has a nice piece in the Post on this issue.

Founding Fathers and Slavery

Did the Founding Fathers work against slavery? Thomas Fleming has an answer.

2011-07-24

Political Manuever

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America ’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Government can not pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. Increasing America ’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.
Sen. Obama, Congressional Record, S.2237-8, 3/16/06
Both President Obama and Harry Reid now state that their past positions on the debt ceiling were merely political stunts.

Senator Obama

Harry Reid


The President said:
I think that it's important to understand the vantage point of a Senator versus the vantage point of a...President. As President, you start realizing, "You know what? We-- we can't play around with this stuff. This is the full faith in credit of the United States." And so that was just a example of a new Senator, you know, making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country.

Was it OK to "play around" with the full faith in credit as a Senator? Does he now think an apology to the former President and the American people is in order?

2011-07-22

Right Wing Myths

The following article was forwarded by a friend. The article is reproduced in its entirety with my comments embedded.

Deconstructing Right-Wing Myths About Socialism, Capitalism, and Who The ‘Job Creators’ Are

Conservatives have taken to a new spin on truth, by refashioning definitions of words and terms in order to provoke new connotations. Socialism is now defined as a government take over, Capitalism is now defined as patriotic, and the wealthy are now defined as job creators. But simply redefining these words will not change their true meaning, it is only myth making.

If the author is suggesting that these ideas are new, he is right if by new he means since 1776 when Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations. Or the years preceeding this milestone, since surely the ideas were floating around prior to Smith writing them down. And the author's rebuttal of the ideas is not new since the most thorough and enduring critique of the results of capitalism was given by Karl Marx in the late 19th century.

Just because the author disagrees with some aspects of Capitalism does not render the ideas mythical. Just as there is value in some aspects of socialist commentary, so there is value in certain capitalistic aspects. Polarizing the issue will create more mythical dogma than an honest discussion of controlled vs. free economies.

Surely the author is aware that the US economy is a mixed economy. The markets are not "free" in the sense that they are unregulated. A quick examination of the Federal Register will disabuse the reader of any notions that the economy is not at least well regulated and possibly highly or over regulated.

Socialism does not mean the abolition of a free market society, nor does Socialism call for a government takeover of all industry; that is Communism.

It is refreshing to see a reasonable definition of Socialism presented. The classic dictionary definition does identify the "collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." Those on the left in America tend to use this as evidence that the policies pursued by those on the left are therefore not Socialist. However, the term has somewhat evolved over time and the author makes an important distinction between Communism and Socialism. A better definition may substitute "the most important industries are owned or controlled by the whole community" for ownership of means of production. Certainly Europeans understand this concept since they have parties with the word Socialist in the title and yet they are not advocating the total takeover by government of the means of production. It is possible to regulate or administer industry to the point that Socialism is achieved without actual ownership by the government.

It is difficult to have meaningful conversations about anything if the definitions of terms cannot be agreed upon. To be sure, the right wants less government control moving toward the ideal of capitalism and freer markets while the left wants more government control moving toward the ideal of socialism and egalitarianism. As the author so adroitly points out later in the article (a point that I incessantly make with the hope of fostering meaningful interactions by de-fanging both sides of the issue), "Capitalism is neither right nor wrong, it is simply an economic term." Similarly, socialism is neither right nor wrong, it is simply an economic term. If economic concepts and models cannot be summarized into generalized terms, what hope is there of discussing anything? Growth in thought and understanding cannot be achieved if we must restate a thesis in its entirety and are not allowed to use terms that generally encapsulate an idea or body of ideas.

Therefore I applaud the author’s candor and willingness to view the terms as descriptors rather than pejoratives.

Socialists acknowledge the limitation of a free market and believes that some industries should not be run for profit. Police protection, fire protection, prisons, education, health care, parks, electricity, water supplies, waste and sewage removal, and roadways are just a few examples of industries which should not be run for profit. The reasoning behind this belief is when these industries are operating for profit, not only will prices rise, but corresponding services would then be reserved only for those who can afford them.

This assertion does not account for competition, price setting and other market forces. Certainly, if a producer of goods is solely motivated by profit and is a price setter, this could lead to ever escalating and out of control prices. However, these are two assumptions that are not borne out by experience.

An understanding of price setters and takers is necessary. A company that is able to dictate the price its customers pay for goods and services is a price setter or price maker. All other companies that are competing in a similar market where similar products are readily available elsewhere are price takers. For example, a company that is selling computers cannot set the price arbitrarily high if others are competing for a market share. If it does, it will not sell units because the consumer can go to the competitor and receive a similar product for less. Therefore, the first seller is forced to lower prices to a market clearing price. That is, a mutually agreeable price is reached between buyers and sellers. This price is determined by the cost of manufacture, the perceived value of the product, profit, etc.

Any company that is producing something will necessarily maximize profits for the shareholders. However, this is limited by how much a buyer is willing to pay. If a TV manufacturer decides to include a 100% profit in the price of its TV, the buyer may decide that the added value of having a TV in the home is not worth the price. This desire to price set is mitigated by the market when another company sells the product cheaper – maybe deciding to produce the product with less profit. The second company can undercut the competition and gain a larger portion of the market share. This will have the effect of driving down prices at the first company if they want to stay in business.

Price setting generally occurs with monopolies, companies that are producing something that is so unique that there is no competitor making a similar product, collusion, etc. For these reasons and others, governments are likely to be price setters. (e.g., government monopolies are often established by law for various reasons.) The only relief for the consumer is for him to not purchase the product or service. However, since governments tend to control necessity items and/or items that are mandated by law, the consumer is not as free to make value/price considerations.

The author’s assertion that operating for profit only results in higher prices disregards market forces and empirical evidence to the contrary. It could be just as easily asserted that the monopolistic, regulatory and price control characteristics of government lead to higher prices.

Or more succinctly, no one person should be able to profit over running services, in which everyone benefits from.

The assertion here focuses on "no one person." Corporations do employ CEOs and the like, but shareholders make up a much larger portion of those benefiting from the profits of an organization. The elderly woman who holds stock in her retirement account for a corporation is certainly hoping for profitability to sustain her retirement.

And where does this line of reasoning stop? How is “in which everyone benefits from” defined? What portion of society must benefit to qualify? Certainly the author would therefore condone the socializing of the production and distribution food, heating and air conditioning, automobile, energy (including oil, gas, coal), and many other goods and services. All one has to do to turn control over to government is make the case that “everyone” benefits.

One excellent example of Socialism in action is demonstrated in our banking industry. While most banks operate for the profits of their CEOs,

If the author believes that the sole reason to exist is to operate for the profit of the CEO, there is no refutation possible for this belief. Certainly some take advantage of systems and try to get as much money as possible from the system, this does not therefore justify the tarring of an entire industry. Just as some lawyers appear to be heartless, soulless people that would sue their own grandmothers, this does not therefore mean that all lawyers are evildoers. Most people try to maximize their take for their efforts. Labor unions do exactly this when they lobby to mandate certain rules in the workplace. This does not necessarily obviate their efforts or necessarily make them evildoers.

credit unions are owned and operated by the people. The profits which are not imparted upon CEOs are reflected back to the customer in higher interest rates for investments and lower interest rates for loans. It may be important to point out that credit unions did not run the same risks as banks when our financial bubble burst, and thus did not need to request nor receive any TARP bailout money. Nor have the credit unions contributed to the faulty foreclosures as our banks have.

The credibility of the author is at risk if he is making the case that profits were the primary reason for the "financial bubble." I am no fan of extremely high compensation for executives, especially if it comes by deliberately and intentionally manipulating accounting to hit earnings targets so that senior management can maximize the bonuses and other executive compensation they receive, at the expense of shareholders. But this is exactly the source of the $90M received by Franklin Raines while he was in charge of Fannie Mae. And his support and implementation of policies to ease credit requirements on loans that Fannie Mae purchased from banks that were "a notch below what our current underwriting has required" may have contributed at least as much to the foreclosure problem as his extravagant $90M bilking of borrowers and the $400M civil fine paid by Fannie Mae.

Furthermore, the author has unwittingly made a good case for not socializing banking. He appears to be arguing that by removing bureaucratic control and decentralizing the decision making by placing it in the control of those who are most interested in conservative and judicious use of the assets - the consumer - that tragedy can be averted.

Another example is found in health care. The free market creates for-profit businesses ranging from medications, medical testing, medical treatments, medical research, to hospitals. None of which have lowered the cost of health care through innovation or through competition.

Absent a parallel universe, how can this statement be made with certitude? The medical cost issue is complicated, messy and needs an intervention. However, to assert that competition and innovation are not fostered by free markets strains credulity. Does competition and innovation bring about the lowering of cost in any other arena? Are groceries cheaper, better and more available because of competition? Does this inability of the market to reduce prices only exist in healthcare? And if so, why? It may not exclusively be the free market aspects that are messing up the healthcare industry. Could regulation and rule making play any role? It is likely not all one thing or the other. This is an incredible statement for the author to make.

This is because the demand of which is a basic necessity, or in other words is non-negotiable. Like clean water, oil, and electricity, humans cannot survive without such products or services. The demand of which is a constant, therefore they are not subjected to the Keynes supply and demand curve. When prices go up, demand does not lessen beyond a certain threshold. Americans may forgo a pleasure trip to conserve on gasoline consumption, but their demand for gasoline to take them to and from work is non-negotiable. Where the free market brings economic ups and downs which effects everyone, Socialism believes that there is a limit on the protections a free market provides. And quite simply, some things should not be run for profit, especially at the expense of everyone else.

The author’s primary objection appears to be profit. Profit in and of itself is not evil. I am sure the author allows that some profit is good. Labor unions want profit for the workers. They certainly want profit for the union itself, at the expense of everyone else. That profit is useful since much of that profit is used to influence elections in the form of political contributions and donations that help to elect politicians that create laws that ensure higher profits for the union members and therefore for the union.

This fixation on profit alone is fallacious. Is the author contending that the elimination of profit equates to the elimination of wrongdoing, waste, fraud, incompetence, and a whole host of other human frailties? The Franklin Raines debacle recited earlier should demonstrate that the ability of a company to make a profit is not the sole source of the author’s discomfort since Mr. Raines conducted his dealings in a quasi-governmental organization, under the watchful eye and collusion of OFHEO officials, and is a fellow of the left. If anybody should have been able to avoid this sort of exorbitant behavior, it should have been Mr. Raines and especially the co-conspirators at OFHEO. Failed human character might be a better place to point one’s finger.

If bad character is universal, it will crop up in corporations and government with similar frequencies. If not, are we to believe that something draws the seedy crowd to the private sector with greater frequency? Is it profit? But many would argue that power is more alluring even than filthy lucre. Is power as intoxicating to the politician as profit is to the businessman? And as corrupting?

Would the author argue that only the righteous enter politics while the immoral enter the private business world? Does this explain why, as the author proffers, if profit were removed and the government produced and distributed “some things” that prices would lower and quality rise? How is this squared with all the waste and fraud that leaders say they will excise from Medicare and Medicaid programs in order to lower costs and fund increases in benefits? Since profit couldn’t have produced the waste and fraud, from whence did it burst forth? It is a silly notion to think that corruption, greed, avarice, vice, et al. can be expunged from humankind by simply removing profit.

The Founders sought to minimize corruption and other vice by encouraging healthy religion to attack the moral problems of humanity. This is made clear from statements such as this one by John Adams:

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.”

If the left wants to argue that religion is an antiquated method of moral conditioning that is no longer needed, that is fine. But moral conditioning will need to continue somewhere and somehow. The author is engaging in it when he makes moral judgments about profit. The reality is that if religion is not heavily relied upon as a co-worker in forming a good, just and moral government, then the government itself will have to take on the role of moral conditioner by imposing moral codes in the form of laws. If religion ceases as the primary agent of moral conditioning then government must take up the task. The moralizing of the left about not using government to legislate morality is hard to understand when the only avenue allowed by leftward policy is to have the government fulfill that role and, in fact, legislate morality. (This brings up interesting church and state discussions.)

Merely removing profit from the economic equation will not prevent bad bahavior.

Furthermore, when the author states that “some things should not be run for profit,” who shall decide which things are profit worthy and which aren’t? And if it is immoral to allow profit for this select group of chosen tasks, why would it be moral to allow any industry to function with profit?

Capitalism is an economic term for the free market system which is structured upon the accumulation of money, where the means of production are privately owned and operates for profit. Capitalism is neither right nor wrong, it is simply an economic term.

As noted earlier, kudos to the author for de-fanging the terms and allowing the use of terms as descriptors and not as pejoratives. Similarly, it is OK to discuss aspects of the left in America as socialism in the modern, European socialist sense. It is also OK to discuss the writings and ideas of Marx and draw comparisons between some of his work and aspects of the American left. His ideas are legitimate explanation of a particular political economy. Referencing his work is not intended as an attack of character but rather a reference to a concise explanation of a particular political economy. To note that the left shares the Marxian maxim “From each according to his ability. To each according to his need.” is not to attack the motive and worth of the person of the left, but is rather a concise statement of a fundamental belief and value held by the left. Why isn’t this association embraced and acknowledged by the left just as the right acknowledges Smith’s enlightened self-interest? Why does the left consider somebody that they largely agree with on economic matters to be taboo?

Nor is Capitalism patriotic!

If patriotism is defined as “a feeling a lot of love, respect, and duty toward your country”, then both sides of the issue can of course be patriotic. But, the Howard Zinn view of America, which is widely taught in schools using his textbook “A People’s History of the United States,” is that America has done more bad than good in the world. He thinks that the the policies and values of the Founders would better be replaced with democratic socialism.

It is hard to imagine a person loving and respecting a country that he believes has done so much evil and deserves such widespread condemnation. Could it be said that conservatives are in love with what America has been and would like to preserve its better aspects while progressives are in love with what America could be if it were fundamentally changed? Fundamentally changing America was, after all, one of President Obama’s campaign slogans. Should a conservative be faulted for taking the President at his own word?

Of course liberals can be patriotic. And conservatives that pretend that patriotism is the exclusive province of conservatism are over stating, or perhaps simplifying, an argument. But in light of much of the self-flagellating and America bashing of the left, there might be some nuance here that should be considered and understood. It seems clear that somebody who thinks America is exceptional is in love with Americanism. It is not so clear that the person who is highly critical and angry about American injustices is in love with Americanism.

And, of course each side is going to view support of their preferred political economy as more patriotic since, ostensibly, they support that economic model because they think it is more fair, just, right, better than the other and better reflects American values. And believing that something is a better option certainly would lead to a feeling of love, respect and duty toward the society that it supports.

A system which encourages the accumulation of wealth does not salute a flag, nor is it loyal to a native country. This market system crosses state and national borders in order to provide larger profits for business owners. If labor costs are cheaper overseas, then it is capitalism which will drive businesses out of our country.

The alternative to this is to prevent businesses from seeking cheaper alternatives in other countries. Again, the author assumes that profit is the only criteria considered by businesses. Walmart is a testimony to what the consumer prefers - lower prices. Laws can be passed preventing Walmart from seeking lower costs by mandating that all products sold on their shelves must be produced in America with higher labor costs, but the price of everything will increase in spite of any profiteering that may occur. Profit aside, this protectionist concept will increase prices and defeat the author’s intent. Additionally, forced increases in labor costs imposed by unions have the effect of driving industry overseas to cheaper labor markets in an attempt to control costs. Again, this can be prevented, but at a cost.

If a company finds it cheaper to produce a dangerous product than it is to produce a safe one, it is capitalism which will produce the most profitable option without consideration of customer safety.

Companies that produce unsafe products do not stay in business very long. So any profit realized will be short lived. This line of thinking assumes that businesses are so corrupt or inept that they will continue to produce unsafe product thereby jeopardizing their future profit in spite of what consumers want. This is not to say that unsafe products are not produced by business. They certainly are. But it is not capitalism that is the root of this behavior. Many government bureaucrats have accepted or approved inferior work on the taxpayer's behalf.

Capitalism only seeks profits

This is a trite and irresponsible comment. Would the right be correct to say that socialism only seeks to destroy prosperity?

and will by nature migrate operations towards areas which promotes greater profits. Capitalism has no allegiance to any one country as it operates in a global economy. Again, capitalism has no allegiance with patriotism. Where would a business find themselves most profitable? Would they find a country with extremely lower labor costs to be more profitable for manufacturing than a country with higher labor costs? Would they find a lower taxed area more profitable than an area with high demand for their products? But most of all, wouldn’t it be more patriotic for an American business to spark demand in order to operate, manufacture and sell their goods or services inside America, as opposed to overseas?

This might be ideal, but some onus must be placed with the consumer. Consumers are at least equal players in this interaction. The author will later make the case that consumers are in fact the job creators by creating demand. These demand creators also demand lower prices. And because consumers prefer lower priced items, market feedback pushes business to meet that need. If the author's later argument with regard to job creation is to be taken seriously, then the consumer must be at fault here, not the business that is simply responding to the consumer's demand.

I wonder if the author is in favor of lowering the price of prescription drugs? Or re-importing them from Canada? If so, he is violating his own prescription for lowering prices and counter-acting profit. The prices are higher in America in part because the companies are covering their costs. Other countries don't respect patent law and reproduce the drugs in defiance of the pharmaceutical companies that spent all the money to develop the drug. Profit is part of the equation, but does the author wonder why the pharmaceutical companies aren't sticking Canada with the profit? And if safety is a concern, is the author prepared to trust China with the production of his medicines or would he rather pay a higher price to pay Americans to produce quality drugs. Using the author's reasoning, that would also be more patriotic.

The wealthy are not necessarily the job creators. Poor and desperate innovators have sparked many new business ventures despite their lack of wealth. Many small businesses began out of practically nothing, but only an idea executed inside of their garages. The fact of the matter is that neither wealth nor lower taxes create jobs; only demand creates jobs. This little tidbit of truth is lost in translation when the wealthy are deemed as “Job Creators”. This ploy is used to promote additional tax breaks for those who already have enough and while promoting cuts in public services on those who do not have enough.

When the luxury tax was imposed on yachts and the rich stopped purchasing yachts in America, who lost their jobs? The non-wealthy yacht makers. This is job creation from the demand side. When those garage businesses want to expand their idea and employ the masses, where do they acquire the capital? Even universities must find a sugar daddy to fund their research. It cannot be done without wealth. So those that are good at creating wealth should be encouraged not vilified.

Another tidbit of truth which is diluted in this argument is the inequality of income between the workers and the owners. A manager typically earns 343 times more than an average employee. And while 88% of domestic profits go to corporate bank accounts and CEO bonuses, only 1% of these profits gets applied towards labor. The business owner shoulders no responsibility for producing any product or service.

This reveals a profound lack of understanding about what it takes to run a business, oversight of capital and the difference between physical and intellectual labor. If this statement were absolutely true, wouldn't some good leftist have slapped his forehead and fired all of this needless overhead and let the business run itself? This is not acknowledging the enormous risk of ownership nor the intellectual contribution. Does the author suggest that since Stephen Hawking does no hard labor that his contribution is meaningless? Or that he has no responsibility for producing any product or service? Or that Hawking should not be compensated at a higher rate for his specialized labor?

Rather the business owner invested their money (and in most cases time) into a business which is productive.

Well, when the business is successful. What about the multitude that try and fail? And lose their life savings? Just investing cash does not a successful business make.

Productivity is a result of the balance between the investors, the managers, and the workers. It is a symbiotic relationship, which many Americans cannot conceive of. For where would any business be without any one of these three elements? Despite conservative talking points, even the lowest of employees is an invaluable asset to a business. In a restaurant, an effective business owner knows that the dishwasher and busboys are just as important to their operation as their managers and customers. If you remove the dishwasher and/or busboys from the equation, the business suffers. Yet an effective manager can be absent from their responsibilities and the operation should not be sacrificed.

This is an amazing statement. It is hard to imagine that the author has ever worked in the private sector. But even if he hasn't, even in government good managers are hard to come by. In the case cited, a busboy is an example of low skilled labor. And yes, even though the busboy is integral to the success of the company, the pool of potential candidates for this job is almost limitless. Accountants, however, are not so plentiful. Supply and demand alone suggest that a busboy can be hired at a lower rate than a skilled manager or accountant.

And again, if the manager can be AWOL with no impact to the business, why hasn't somebody other than the author figured this out? Certainly a greedy business owner would realize that he could add the cost of the manger to his profit margin if the manager is as useless as the author suggests.

So which employee should be valued more than the other, the laborer, the manager, or the investor? The answer is neither of the three. For without one, the other two would not have a business operate or a job to tend to. Yet the argument goes that only the wealthy create jobs. Without enough demand, even these jobs won’t last very long.

We should not tax our job creators in a time of economic recession. But we have misidentified exactly who these job creators are. When our recession is being prolonged out of a lack of demand, it is not the business owner who can create jobs. But rather it is the customers who spurn on demand who create jobs. The businesses who pocketed great sums of cash during our economic catastrophe will still be there when we come out of it without the need to create more jobs. But these businesses will find themselves with greater profits when demand picks up again, and that is what will create jobs. So let’s not overburden our true job creators, the customers. In order to spark higher demand, we must effect the largest target market we have at our disposal. It’s not the wealthy who can spark this demand; they only constitute up to 2% of our populace.

It is comforting to see the admission that the wealthy are at most 2% of the population. This group already pays about 38% of ALL income taxes. Even if all of their money were taken, there would not be enough to cover the current levels of indebtedness. And, even though, according to the author, this group doesn't create any jobs, they are free to move their wealth when taxation becomes too onerous. And if that 2% is as worthless and parasitical as the author suggests, it may be an advantage to have them all leave. But then, who would we tax when the group that currently pays 38% of the entire tax burden - and the group who legislators wish to further tax in order to get them to pay their "fair share" - is gone, or stops investing because it makes no economic sense to risk their wealth?

Rather, we should focus our attention on the other 98% of our populace, our struggling middle class and poor. Henry Ford believed that his product meant nothing unless there were customers who were able to purchase it. In order to ensure his company’s success, he paid his laborers more than other businesses, so they may buy his cars. This enabled his employees to comfortably afford to buy Ford products. This sparked higher demand, which in turn produced higher job growth. Which led to Ford’s success story. Henry Ford did not believe in paying the least amount possible for labor, eliminating the minimal wage, or acquisitioning higher profits. Instead he realized the symbiosis between business and labor and between the business and its customer.

He also said "We try to pay a man what he is worth and we are not inclined to keep a man who is not worth more than the minimum wage." His view of symbiosis was largely merit based and did not shrink from releasing those that did not meet his needs for production.

Good businessmen will treat their staff kindly and the best they can. The decision is the business owner's, but I agree with encouraging businesses to treat the employee as good as possible. This leads to satisfied and happy employees. With this aspect of Ford's - and the author's - ideas, I agree.

As for the input of an owner, Ford disagreed with the author's sentiments when he said, "The hours of labor are regulated by the organization of work and by nothing else. It is the rise of the great corporation with its ability to use power, to use accurately designed machinery, and generally to lessen the wastes in time, material, and human energy that made it possible to bring in the eight hour day." Ford thought there was some worth to his input as an innovator, manager and organizer and that the business would not simply run itself with the addition of unending waves of labor.

Ford is a great case study to help understand the difference that an observer's ideology can make. Ford had some good and some bad in what he did. Owing to his ideology, the author is going to see much of what Ford did as supportive of leftward ideals. Everyone does this - me included. We interpret the world through our understandings, beliefs, desires, ideology, etc. Any successes on the part of Ford are going to be chalked up to adherence with the observer's ideals. A leftist and a rightist are both going to look at the same evidence and come to much different conclusions because of their different view of humanity, incentives and other factors.

As the author noted, this doesn't make either one correct or incorrect. But each side does have real and significant ideas on what motivates people in a political economy and the proper role of government. Although it is not likely that ideologues on either side will be persuaded by the other's recital, each side should strive to present their ideas in a rational and respectful way. And for this the author is to be commended.

It is good to understand where each side disagrees with each other. Understanding ideological differences brings clarity to the discussions. And that is a good first step.

2011-07-18

Lower Taxes

There is always an argument about whether or not taxes should be raised or lowered. It is very important to understand the terms when discussing this topic.

Tax
The money that we pay to the government that is used to provide public services and pay for government institutions.

Tax rate
The ratio (usually expressed as a percentage) at which a business or person is taxed. For example, you might be in a 15% tax bracket which means that 15¢ of your next dollar will be taken in taxes.

Revenue
The actual dollars collected through taxation.

Tax Capacity
The capacity, or amount, that an economy can be taxed before revenues drop because of disincentive.

Discussion about taxation is important. There are deeply held beliefs on both sides of the aisle. It can be useful to look at the different beliefs side by side.

Liberal Conservative
Wants a safety net. Wants a safety net
Defines the amount of taxation based on the perceived need. Defines the amount of taxation based on what the economy can afford.
Envisions a predefined or relative desired standard of living for the citizen and anything beyond that is seen as excess and open to high taxation or confiscation. Believes that high earnings are OK as long as they are legally and ethically obtained.
Sees welfare as mandatory. Sees welfare as charity.
Believes society has a moral obligation to provide assistance to the poor and unfortunate and that government is the correct vehicle for this giving. Believes society has a moral obligation to provide assistance to the poor and unfortunate and that churches and private sector charities are the correct vehicle for this giving.
Strives for equality of outcome. Strives for equality of opportunity.
Believe that incentives do not matter. That is, if the earnings of an individual above an arbitrary threshold are taken through taxation, the person will continue to work just as hard for others as he does for himself. Believe that incentives do matter. That is, if the earnings of an individual above an arbitrary threshold are taken through taxation, the person will not continue to work just as hard for others as he does for himself.
Uses an static scoring model. That is, there is a linear relationship between the tax rates and tax revenue. Uses an dynamic scoring model. That is, behavioral responses preclude a linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenues.*
There is enough money held by the rich to pay down current deficits. There is not enough money held by the rich to pay down current deficits.

*The following videos are very good at explaining how a dynamic model affects how one views the relationship between tax rates and tax revenues:
Static v Dynamic Vid 1


Static v Dynamic Vid 2


Static v Dynamic Vid 3


It is possible to raise tax revenue by lowering tax rates. During the Reagan administration, two things happened: tax RATE cuts and the elimination of certain tax loopholes, preferences, and exemptions. The rate cuts incentivized economic growth by not taking large portions of the next dollar earned. By eliminating many of the loopholes, preferences, and exemptions the tax base, or number of people paying taxes, was increased. These two concepts together had the effect of RAISING revenues.

The dynamic model acknowledges that incentives matter. The static model says that incentives don't matter and that production and capital investment will remain unchanged even if tax rates change.

2011-07-13

Lockbox Letdown

Maybe the lockbox doesn't really exist after all? IBD discusses it.

Obama beat everyone, however, with his scaremongering claim that Social Security checks are at risk if he doesn't get his way on the debt ceiling. "I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on Aug. 3 if we haven't resolved this issue," he told CBS News, "because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it."

Wait! What happened to Social Security's "guarantee"? You know, the iron-clad assurance of Social Security benefits in exchange for paying into the program your whole working life? It's something Democrats constantly talk about, particularly when attacking Republicans who propose privatizing the program.

Also, Taranto on the issue.

2011-07-12

Voter ID in Mexico

The Pueblo Cheiftain editorializes on voter ID.
But we don’t think such laws are aimed at potential Democratic votes — Latino or otherwise — but rather at attempts to subvert the election process. And it would be good for those critics to look southward.

In Mexico, to cast a ballot, the voter — all of the voters — must prove citizenship and eligibility by presenting the federally issued Mexican voter ID card, which not only bears the photo of the registered voter, but a fingerprint, a barcode and a holographic image to deter tampering.

After having voted, the voter’s finger is dipped in ink to prevent repeat voting.

Gotcha!

American Bridge 21st Century is looking to catch politicians acting badly.  At least as they see it. 

It is very depressing that destroying those that they disagree with, not ideas, is what animates this group.  If this is the zeitgeist, then only Jesus Christ can run for office.

2011-07-10

WWJD

There is a lot of WWJD talk being used to justify policy these days.
While Jesus may not have specified specific tax brackets, He was the first recorded advocate of a progressive income tax.

Obviously, He [Jesus] would take from each according to their ability to pay. That is the clear, Christian, philosophical basis of a progressive income tax.

Jesus Christ's instructions to you could not be more specific. You can follow Christ's path to righteousness or you can follow the path of the damned. The choice is yours.
What would Jesus do this weekend?
In Matthew 25, which is to my recollection, I've only read the Bible four times, but, the only time when the Disciples actually sat down with Jesus and said, "How do we get into heaven?" And He said, "Here's the list. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked." The modern equivalent would be, you know, house the homeless. "Heal the sick. Visit those unjustly in prison."
Jesus taught we should sell our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor...

Are they advocating for a religious state? One that operates straight from the precepts of Jesus? A theocracy? Christian Sharia law?

Ken Shepherd at NewsBusters does a good job of deconstructing O'Donnell's sermon.

There are a few assumptions that go into these presentations of WWJD that preordain the conclusions drawn by those cited above:
  1. That Jesus was directing his comments to the state not the individual.
  2. That the state is the singular method of helping the poor and Christian charity.
  3. That those who don't think that the government should be the charity arm of the Christian church are mean and selfish.
  4. It is OK for to judge the motives and eternal salvation of limited government capitalists and the rich.
  5. There is no room for alternate interpretations.
  6. The separation of church and state is only meant for 'those other guys.'
...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
~ Thomas Jefferson
Those represented in the links above might believe that Jesus mandates that the government be a branch of the church, but this strains credulity since they are all people of the left. Traditionally, those on the left interpret Jefferson's statement to the Danbury Baptists to mean that even a creche cannot be placed in front of a government building or that circumcision is a primitive religious rite that should not be subsidized. Surely, if placing a creche in front of the courthouse next to Santa and his reindeer creates church/state entanglement, using the government to carry out a central doctrine of the Christian church is problematic. In the past, the left was satisfied with merely taking the responsibility away from the church and making it their own without the pretense of religiosity. Apparently that was then and this is now.

In his discussion with Thom Hartmann, Eric Sapp notes that hypocrisy is the only "sin in the New Testament that gets the divine death penalty." One wonders if Mr. O'Donnell will spend 10 minutes Bible thumping to his fellow sojourners on the left about how hard it is to get through the eye of a needle and sure fire methods of avoiding God's wrath, including "Give up everything. Those are the words of Jesus Christ. Give up everything."

It would be the Christian thing to do.

2011-07-08

Debt Reduction

How long would it take to pay down the debt by using corporate jet and oil company tax increases?  Charles Krauthammer has done the math.

Ayn Rand and Jesus

Eric Sapp/Thom Hartmann wrestled with the idea of whether one could like anything that Ayn Rand had to say and still be a Christian. It was a discussion aimed at those swing voters who do not have a fixed notion of what they think the role of government should be with respect to charity.


Sapp summed up his thesis by stating:
People who say, "well, I'm a Christian and I can follow Ayn Rand." Well, by definition you can't, because Ayn Rand taught you can't follow her and follow Christ.
What an amazingly puerile, vacuous and facile statement. To be sure, there are problems with the Objectivist philosophy. Ayn Rand's view of the world relies too heavily on individual integrity to work. There are dark and ugly traits in man that will prevent the absolute capitalism that she envisions. The corrupt and lazy would certainly ruin it for the rest.

Conservatives and Christians who gravitate toward the works of Ayn Rand connect with the descriptions of individualism and small government. Sapp and Hartmann's black and white, unnuanced view that one must either take all of Rand's philosophy or none of it is childish. This manner of thought might also prevent Christian progressives from supporting any governmental social programs since such policies fall within the bounds of Marx's teachings.

One would think that these gentlemen of the left would laud the 'big-tent' inclusivity of Christian conservatives that can find some common ground with an unabashed atheist.

Sapp said that he is hoping to engender discussion with the ad campaign by revealing that the fruits and roots of the Republican budget are rotten and not in keeping with Matthew 25 (if fruits are actions, then roots are motives), and that Republican politicized policies are rotten and based on a totally anti Christ message. Surely he doesn't hope that those who see the ad will then vote Republican after considering the anti Christ nature of Republican policies and the evil motives and trickery of those making that policy. He fully intends to persuade those who may have voted Republican to support the Christ centered, kind policies of the left that are in keeping with Matthew 25.

Another subtext in their argument assumes that the vehicle for Christian charity is the government. They offer no Biblical justification for this. It is just assumed.

What is particularly odd about this is that normally those on the political left are hypersensitive to any commingling of church and state. It doesn't seem to bother either of them that the leap from caring for the poor to having the government be the purveyor of that care clearly violates the cherished notion of separation of church and state. If they embrace the idea of the separation of church and state, they should recommend that Christian charity be done by the local churches. If, however, they desire that the government perform this directive of Jesus, then they should acknowledge that they do in fact want to legislate morality and have the government perform their religious duty on behalf of the church.

Sapp and Hartmann must explain how making laws imposing the religious ideals expressed by Jesus either does not establish a religion, or does not prohibit someone from exercising his religious choice (if, for example, his religion does not mandate that he give charity). One suspects that the argument in favor of government imposed religious belief in this case might sound similar to conservative's maintaining that a national day of prayer is not tantamount to government establishing a religion. However, since a day of prayer does not require input from anyone and the imposition of Christian charity mandates the taking of another's earned income, one might expect a more thoroughgoing and rigorous apologetic by Sapp and Hartmann.

However, they might argue that the concept of charity can exist outside of the religious dogma of Christianity and therefore isn't exclusively a religious teaching but rather a universal ideal. Of course, if this is the case for charity, it is also the case for the ideals that religious conservatives identify with in Ayn Rand's writings. Just as an atheist is not compelled to eschew the economic policies of a devoutly religious liberal, a religious conservative does not need to be bullied into abandoning ideas about limited government because the atheist Ayn Rand also shared those beliefs. And the thoughtful person is able to discriminate and is in no way obligated to accept or embrace every idea promulgated by any author. In other words, they are free to eat the hay and leave the sticks.

The throw the baby out with the bathwater approach suggested by Sapp and Hartmann is so inane that it hardly merits a response. But they present it in such a smooth and confident manner that is passes as sophisticated thought. Presented without critical review, this argument will likely persuade some voters who are not secure in their own world view.

Just as honorable liberals can favor a political economy that seeks equalization of wealth through redistributive policies without embracing the uglier aspects of Communism, so a conservative can favor a political economy that seeks competitive markets with minimal government intrusion without embracing the uglier aspects of Objectivism.


Chuck Colson video on Atlas Shrugged

BreakPoint Commentary

American Spectator
It's touching how liberal, religiously pluralistic groups like Faithful America and American Values Network are suddenly very concerned that Christians specifically remain faithful to the Bible and to Jesus. Their respective boards are populated with activists and clergy not themselves known for careful adherence to Christian orthodoxy.
The Atlantic
But calling Ayn Rand "brilliant," as Rush Limbaugh is quoted doing, or labeling yourself "a fan" of her work, like Rand Paul, doesn't mean that you embrace every tenet of her philosophy, never mind her every statement about Jesus Christ or the Christian religion.
Eric Sapp in The Huffington Post
It uncovers the heartless GOP and Tea Party wolves who've been parading around in sheep's clothing among the Christian flock, leading them astray.

2011-07-04

Independence Day

Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors; and capacity, if wisely improved, and faithfully guarded, of transmitting to their latest posterity all the substantial blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of liberty, property, religion, and independence.
~Joseph Story

It is unfortunate that Indepedence Day is often reduced to fireworks and barbeques.

America is a collection of humans facing an ideal. No person, and therefore group of people, is perfect. And we will never be perfect. But we establish ideals to guide us and act as guardrails for our behavior. Just because the humans within the system of ideals have stumbled along the way, doesn't mean the system is faulty. Those that are constantly judging the American system by the behavior of some of the participants seem short sighted to me. Complaining that Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite for having written that all men are created equal and yet held slaves in a time when no other system existed seems to miss much of the nuance of the times.

Would they rather that he and the other founders not have made the statement at all, thereby lengthening the emancipation timeline? Or do they expect perfection from everyone at the end of their pointed finger while forgetting that they themselves may fall short of ideals from time to time? Dr. King, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are all imperfect progenitors of the American ideal. So are you and I. It is hard for me to imagine that those that think in this way will ever have a spiritual leader, mentor, or country to which they look up to since they will forever be fixated on the imperfections of those who aspire.

America aspires.

Most nations are formed by tribalism – association by ethnicity or race. In America the association is based on ideas. Look around and try to identify an American by race and you will quickly see the living example of America's motto, E pluribus unum – from many one. Research how cultures that respect familism prosper if you don't think this is huge.

In America, anyone can voluntarily join the country based on shared ideals. Where you come from does not matter. What matters is where you are headed.

What does an American look like?

The American founders established some ideals. Those ideals were good and they are still good to this day. Part of the American ideal says that every human being is precious irrespective of your origins. Tribalism is no longer the criteria for citizenship.

The founders asserted that every human being is created in God's image and therefore is infinitely precious. That their rights come from a creator not from the creation. That some other human is not the grantor of your rights.

This country created something new.

It is easy to forget the ideals or to believe they are something else. Many are busy twisting and bending the ideal into an ugly cousin of itself. Why not allow the ideal to stand? Can we celebrate the ideal while striving to better our fellow man?

Maybe this 'cup half empty' attitude comes as a result of birthright. We forget to teach the next generation about the ideal and how each and every one of us is responsible to lend a hand in making progress toward that ideal. Sometimes I wonder what this country would look like if US citizenship by birth was not allowed for anyone – that each of us had to return to our ethnic tribe and then apply for US citizenship. Would gratitude be more prevalent? Would we be better at imparting patriotism and the American story to the next generations? Would we be more willing to give than receive? Are those who grapple to get in more appreciative?

Do we look a gift horse in the mouth?

America was and is an aberration in the world. America can and does die for other's liberty like nobody else on this planet. America is unique and should be treated as a precious gift to humanity. Each and every American should express gratitude for the luck of being born into it.

America is bigger than you and it is bigger than me. Let's humble ourselves a bit in remembrance of all those that have participated in this idea that is America.

Let's not take for granted the extraordinary experiment that is the United States of America.

2011-07-01

Cigarette Moralizing

Government Selects Graphic Photos to Deter Smokers

Since moralizing is to be foisted on cigarette companies, should photos of naked obese people be put on fast food packaging; horrific crash scenes on cars and alcohol; aborted fetuses at planned parenthood; horribly mamed and disfigured burn victims on your electric bill and at the gas pump; and awful tooth decay on candy an soda?

How can it be legal to force a producer of a legal product to place messages against the use of its products on the packaging? If anti abortion activists pulled this stunt it would be called legislating morality. What is it called when anti-smoking zealots do it? Goodness? And if so, why wouldn't it be called goodness if anti-abortion activists did it?

If morality is defined as principles of right or wrong behavior – and it is – then much of the law is legislated morality. Anti-slavery, abortion, flag burning, choice of light bulbs, taxation, welfare, corporate welfare, same sex marriage, education, environmentalism – the list is endless - are all impositions of morality.

But there are a fair number of people who think that the imposition of their mores is anything but legislating morality. If we ever say "such and such is right (or wrong), there should be a law," we are imposing our moral views on others.

Other than an opinion about the rightness and wrongness of the issue, on what basis does somebody tell another person that they have earned enough money? On what basis other than morality would money in excess of some arbitrary number be taken? And if we should decide to make a person work for the benefit of others because it is virtuous to help our fellow man, at what point does that become immoral? If we demand the work without payment wouldn't that become slavery? Wouldn't that be immoral? Similarly, if I demand payment without working would that not be theft and immoral? And is everything short of slavery moral? Why are minimum wage laws imposed? Why do workers unionize and expend such effort to secure higher wages and benefits? To satisfy their greed? Or because they think it is wrong to deny workers the fruits of their labor? And other than calling to some sense of morality, what does "doesn't pay their fair share" mean? Is fairness a moral concept? So clearly taxation, minimum wages and worker rights laws are legislating morality.

If limiting access to abortion is legislating morality, then limiting access to guns is as well. Whether or not one believes that either is a murderer's tool or an individual's right to choose.

Laws are the codification and imposition of mores on the public at large. Laws dictate our preferences for behavior to our fellow citizens. I am a bit perplexed when those who are busy lobbying for the imposition of their sense of right and wrong deny that they are legislating morality.

Using one accounting of the California cigarette tax as an example, the taxes on a pack of cigarettes were doled out as follows:

$0.10 to the general fund;

$0.02 to the Breast Cancer Research Fund;

$0.25 was divvied up between:
-tobacco-related health education programs and disease research;
-Medical and hospital care and treatment of patients who cannot afford those services, and for whom payment will not be made by any private coverage or federal program;
-and programs for fire prevention; environmental conservation; protection, restoration, enhancement, and maintenance of fish, waterfowl, and wildlife habitat areas; and enhancement of state and local parks and recreation.

$0.50 to programs that encourage proper childhood development, including the development of professional and parental education and training, informed selection of childcare, development and education of childcare providers, and research into the best practices and standards for all programs and services relating to early childhood development.

So by my reckoning, 71.2% of the money is used for non-tobacco related stuff. Some portion of the remaining 28.7% was used for tobacco-related health education programs and disease research – not care and treatment of tobacco related illness. The balance of that 28.7% was used for non-tobacco related stuff (unless some portion of the second item included some smokers that happened to be poor, without health insurance and did not receive any other federal public assistance thereby qualifying for that portion).

Again, there is a moral component here. Every tobacco user is compelled to contribute to these nice programs, but should that be the purpose of this sin tax? Is it moral to saddle tobacco users with a portion of the cost of maintaining fish, waterfowl and wildlife habitat? Especially since lower income people make up a higher percentage of smokers?

The point is that somebody thought it was ok – nay right and proper – nay nay moral – to take a portion of smoker's income to fund state parks. That is the imposition of moral conduct on, at least, the smoking population. (That is, if you agree that spending money on parks is a good thing.) Maybe a more moral position would have been to use all of the money to help defer the medical costs associated with smoking. At least it would have been relevant.

I'm just not certain that this is a right (read: moral) way to get the money for fish. And if the argument is "who cares what the money is used for as long as we use the tax system to eliminate the evil of smoking," then I am even more dubious. If the product is so detrimental, make it illegal. That would be more honorable by my way of thinking than using the tax code to eliminate morally objectionable behaviors. Or apply all of the tax as a user's fee to cover the cost of medical care for smokers.

Do you really want those that you don't agree with using the tax-it-out-of-existence device to go after something you agree with? Or would you rather they use moral suasion and not use the tax code to impose their ideas?

There is nothing wrong with being animated by moral concerns – we should all be. I am just lobbying for telling the truth about our intentions. I want to impose my sense of right and wrong on the political process and so does everybody else.

Many people try to frighten Americans by saying that some want to impose their morality on others. No kidding. All participants in politics want to impose on others as much of their morality as possible. To the degree they have their way, it will be through democratic processes. And one or the other's morality will prevail, and be imposed.