Category Archives: politics

Independence Day

Admittedly, my snarkish language on politics paints me as an ultra liberal ideologue.  But the truth is I hate the hyper-partisan environment created by Washington to win elections and cable news to sell airtime.  And the message they convey – that we’re the greatest country in the history of mankind but really, totally, completely screwed – is one of inherent incongruity.

What’s worse, politics has become less of what people believe, and more and more what’s wrong with what other people believe.  It’s no longer necessary to present your own real ideas and solutions; rather you can win much more easily by just saying how terrible the opponents’ is.  This is all to apparent in the “we love the Constitution, and you’re not us, so logic follows you hate the Constitution” talking points of the Tea Party.  But the far right is nary the sole offender; indeed there is some truth to the GOP rhetoric in Congress that Obama and the Democrats, if they hate their budgets so much, should publicly release a counter budget.  Of course, that doesn’t make any political sense.  If most Americans hate, for example, that Ryan’s budget is going to shred Medicaid and that is a boon to your poll numbers, why release a budget proposal which undoubtedly is also going to contain some unpopular proposals?

I hesitate to say politics is the worst it’s ever been, or the most toxic, or the least functioning.  The predominance of extraordinary hyperbole and complete loss of context is part of what’s created this environment.  But it does seem to be that politics has mostly devolved into, “My position is . . . wait, what’s your position?  I’m against that.”

Perhaps the most disheartening truth is that releasing a budget would not be bad for the right and the center . . . but bad for the base.  By showing what they want to do, they’re in effect conceding to all the things they had to give up.  And in today’s hyper-partisan political makeup, compromise is no longer a satisfactory option.  A perfect example is this past year’s budget.  A compromise was reached, money was saved, a shutdown was averted.  Everybody should have been happy.  Instead nobody was, because even though everybody got something they wanted, nobody got everything they wanted.

This isn’t unique to the budget; it permeates American politics.  The starting points have moved from what we agree with to what we disagree with, whether it be the budget, or tax subsidies, or environmental issues, or abortion.  Ideas opponents agree on are actually more toxic than those mostly favored by the minority extremes of both wings.

Maybe this year will be different.  Maybe this year political ideology will play an important role in pragmatic compromise, instead of dictating the end result of any debate.  Because if we can’t do something as basic as making sure we’re able to pay the bills we’ve already voted to pay, how long can we honestly continue to blindly accept the nationalistic mythology of historical exceptionalism?

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Cantor: Unemployment Is the New Mark of Fiscal Responsibility

Today Twitter (specifically, GOP Representative Judy Biggert), in all its social media goodness, alerted me to “You Cut”.  You Cut, put in place by Eric Cantor, is admittedly a brilliant idea.  By allowing average Americans to come up with and vote on ideas to cut the federal government, it’s the GOP’s ingenious plan to expand democracy by decreasing its largest propagator.  As an added bonus, it combines two of American’s favorite pastimes:  irreverent online polls and complaining about Washington.  Who couldn’t love that?

You Cut is, evidently, over a year old, so I guess I’m a little late to the game.  Though I’m not exactly its target demographic.  Still, I signed up for Judy Biggert’s twitter feed for a reason, so I guess I should pay more attention.

Anyway, this, er, “round” there are three options on the table.  They all mostly sound like partisan political fodder at first glance, but one of them – eliminating the Economic Development Administration – was recommended by Obama’s Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Commission, making it a bit hard to argue against; while the other – terminating the Weatherization Assistance Program – is presented as a way to eliminate fraud and misuse in the federal government, which I think everybody can agree is a goodly goal.  Of course, one could argue it’s possible to eliminate the fraud and misuse without terminating an otherwise useful program, but I digress.

The third option was to “reduce the number of federal employees by 10 percent through attrition”.  Not saying that this, um, “round” is fixed, but this option was not only listed first, it claims a savings of over 30 times the other two options combined.  So the more cynical amongst us might ever so subtly suggest that this was the preferred, uh, “winner”.  And why wouldn’t it be?  After all, “the failed 2009 stimulus bill showed that government-funded employment is no substitute for real market-driven private sector job creation”.  I guess that’s debatable, but what’s not debatable is that the private market has not been able to create jobs, whereas the federal government has provided much needed relief to the nation’s unemployed.  How do I know this?  Because Eric Cantor said so:

“Since the economic downturn began in December of 2007, the private sector workforce has shrunk by more than 6 percent. Over the same period, the federal government’s workforce (excluding Census and Postal workers) grew by nearly 12 percent, adding 230,000 new federal employees, to a total of more than 2 million workers.”

So how does that stump speech go?

“Remember how the economy sucks and people can’t get jobs?  Private sector jobs decreased by six percent.  Six percent!!  About the only place where it’s been easier to get a job is the government, which has actually increased its work force, providing much needed employment to 230,000 workers.  That just doesn’t seem right.  After all, with the budget crisis being what it is, it’s simply more responsible to pay unemployment premiums than full salaries for the nation’s out-of-work.”

Of course, Eric Cantor would never actually say that.  I mean, can you see the second in command of the House Republican majority using the word “sucks” in a speech?  Oh, my whimsy has once again gotten the better of my sensibilities.

These are not lower-income, underpaid, scratching-to-survive jobs perpetuated by the “food stamp President,” either.  These are solid, middle class jobs with good benefits.  The kind that support the backbone of America.  The kind that provide real spending power to boost the American private industry while also contributing meaningfully to US tax revenues.  These are jobs people want and can’t find.  I know there’s an argument that maybe these jobs are too middle class, though that evidently doesn’t apply to people who work for Eric Cantor.  And certainly I don’t mean to imply that the federal government should overtake the private sector as the main engine for job growth; it shouldn’t even come close.  But one has to wonder how, with all the employment problems we already have, the US economy could handle arbitrarily jettisoning one of the best job markets.

Now, in fairness to Eric Cantor, he says he wants to lower the employment by attrition, so it’s not like he’s proposing to lay a lot of people off.  At least not directly; “reductions can be made . . . by hiring only one new federal employee for every three federal workers who retire or leave federal government”.  The “leave federal government” part is open to interpretation.

And he does stake a pragmatic claim alongside the overtly partisan rhetoric:  “Government spending to support federal jobs has a crowd-out effect on private employment.”  Which is true.  As any captain of industry will tell you, it’s just so hard finding good help these days, what with the federal government eating up so much of that 9% unemployment rate.

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John Bolton Goes Nuclear

John Bolton had an interesting op-ed in the New York Times, today, decrying the ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known as the New START Treaty.  For those of you who forget who John Bolton is, he’s the brilliant international strategist who said that the United Nations should be eliminated . . . right before becoming the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.  He also has the world’s coolest mustache.  (No, seriously.  That’s not a jab.  I really, really love that moustache.)

So the article is titled “Why Rush to Cut Nukes?”  And immediately I’m thinking this would be some fun dissertation on the security that nuclear warheads provide.  For the record, I disagree with the sentiment, but also recognize the historical veracity of the claim and find the argument quite fascinating.  However, his sole argument against nuclear disarmament, whose brevity cannot be overstated, is that Russia still has quite a bit more than the United States.  He ignores that America’s nuclear weapons are stronger and far more numerous than we could reasonably use, but that’s not an especially damning omission.

No, that would be his arguments against the Senate’s “resolution of ratification” adopted by the Foreign Relations Committee.  Evidently, “the Obama administration’s main strategy is likely to emphasize . . . that resolution, which supposedly addresses concerns about missile defense and modernization of the nuclear arsenal.

“The Foreign Relations Committee’s resolution contains various ‘conditions,’ ‘understandings’ and ‘declarations’ holding that New Start doesn’t ‘impose any limitations on the deployment of missile defenses’ or dilute Congress’s aspiration to defend the nation from missile attack. A second understanding exempts conventional weapons systems with a global reach. A third affirms Congress’s commitment to the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.”

The problem, according to John Bolton, is that this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.  The language is what the language is, and these are “mere policy statements that attempt to influence future treaty interpretation.”

Fair enough, except, in the next paragraph, he tells us that the President’s “understandings and interpretations of treaties typically have (and should) predominate.”

Got that?  So we shouldn’t enact the treaty because the interpretations which Obama has endorsed don’t mean anything, and Obama is free to act upon the treaty in whatever way he chooses.  Evidently, the interpretations he endorses are different from those he, you know, endorses.  I believe in the world of international diplomacy they call that the “Pants on Fire Colloquy”.  Of course, Bolton could be saying that, constitutionally, Obama can’t do what he wants when it means ensuring adequate national defense, but he’s given free reign over all the stuff he wants to do to weaken it.  Glad to know.

As an interesting side-bar, the Senate and the President can’t interpret a treaty anyway they want (except when they can), but Bolton is evidently free to do so.  He contends, “Its preamble accepts an unspecified ‘interrelationship’ between nuclear weapons and defensive systems.  Politically, even if not in treaty language, the Russians get what they want:  no significant United States efforts on missile defense.”

Nice.

By the way, another reason to be fearful of New START’s long term effect on the country’s defense capabilities?  “[A future] President can, after all, completely withdraw from a treaty on his own.”  Not sure how that proves his case, but I guess if he’s willing to throw me a bone I might as well take it.

Oh, and evidently the Continental Congress of 1789 specifically warned us against nuclear non-proliferation.

To be fair, he thinks the treaty could be amended to make it palatable; but first it needs to eliminate restrictions on nuclear launching devices and Congress should approve the development of additional nuclear warheads.

However, in its current state, this piece of legislation is a travesty of international diplomacy (something which I think we can assume he is very, very familiar with), and “the Senate should heed the will of the voters and either reject the treaty or amend it so that it doesn’t weaken our national defense.”  Which is fair.  I don’t know about you, but if I heard one more political campaign rant about New START last October I was going to have a fit.

What a complete tool.

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Political Depression

Don’t have to go very far in this article to show what’s truly wrong with America.

I think anyone who claims Hitler would be better than Obama should visit a concentration camp.  Then stay there.

The struggle in America seems to be less and less a political struggle, and more and more a cultural one.  I get tired of fighting a group of people (and this in no way extends to all on the right) who would prefer to turn back the clock 100 years (in some cases, 138 years) and attempt to continue America’s global dominance merely by strict militarism (ironically, a view much more in common with the USSR’s global strategy than anything the “socialist” left might propose).  A group of people whose politics is governed by hate; hatred of the poor, hatred of the blacks, hatred of the gays, hatred of those who may want to come to America from the south for economic prosperity (while in the same breath complaining that the evil commie left would destroy the desire of those same people to come here in the first place).

A whole segment of our population has political motives whose best strategy for staying in power are the economic oppression of their citizens and the suppression of minority (read:  black) votes.  Meanwhile, while forcing Constitutional dogma which never existed, they willingly engage in a massive religious autonomy movement.  Personally, I’m becoming intolerant of the intolerant.

As I was watching the typical Martin Luther King Day fare, it occurs to me the 1960’s were a study in contrast between both the great things and the terrible things this country is capable of.  The civil rights movements were inspiring, but only necessary due to the immoral behavior of our people.  The ability to send men to the moon was the greatest technological achievement in human history, but that technology was used to massacre a people across the world in a war which meant nothing and protected nothing.  And though movements against such a war were noble and legitimate, they were capped by the desecration of the men and women whose only crime was fighting for their right to produce it.  And the three people who could most likely take us to a very special place in civilization’s history were assassinated in the same year:  LBJ figuratively, RFK and MLK literally.

I’m getting tired of this cultural fight.  I’m tired of hearing the banalities of the opposition, and I’m tired of seeing its effects (from my side as well as theirs).  Most of all, I’m tired of feeling like I have to engage in it.  For a country supposedly founded on the ideals Christ exemplified, we seem to be ignoring much of His teachings.

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Group Who Created Capital Punishment Framework Says It Doesn’t Work

Today the American Law Institute, who wrote the framework for capital punishment the US Supreme Court adopted in Gregg v. Georgia, said that capital punishment in the US is a failure.  Specifically, they stated the US irretrievably fails in “ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.” Minimally adequate?  Ouch.

In the spirit of honesty, I should point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean they think the death penalty is a bad idea; merely that the US sucks at it.  Furthermore, they stopped short of stating a specific position against the death penalty in general.  (Glad that’s off my chest, now I can ignore it without guilt.)

Most people’s position on capital punishment is ideological and not really rooted in any objective premise one way or the other.  For example, many people who are interested in “justice” are really more motivated by revenge.  This became all too apparent in 2000, when then-Governor of Illinois George Ryan put a moratorium on all executions and commuted those on death row to life sentences.  The mantra coming from the anti-moratorium crowd was, “What about the victim’s families?”  Which is a very good slogan.  Ryan’s response was that while he was sympathetic to the families, they don’t own the issue; rather this is a legal issue and should be treated as such.  Which is very good logic.  Besides, if the criminal is brought to what is legally recognized as appropriate justice, the families should be satisfied, correct?  Well, no.  Evidently satisfaction is only given through execution:  it gives closure, and ensures a murderer no longer lives.  While I’m absolutely certain this would be my thought should I ever be unlucky enough to formulate a first-hand opinion on the subject, I also feel this is a position borne in vengeance, and not what is best serving justice.

That being said, I must admit my primary beliefs against the penalty reside somewhere between God’s commandment not to kill (which seems exceptionless) and the seemingly obvious irony in killing people to show that killing people is wrong.  While it’s obvious to me that the reasoning “two wrongs don’t make a right” is preferential to “an eye for an eye”, I also recognize that these are every bit as much ideological arguments as those I retort.

However, I think that the objective evidence does show that capital punishment is not a deterrent.  The death penalty had a four year hiatus in this country, and looking at this hiatus it’s apparent that the death penalty really didn’t have much of an effect, one way or the other.  Further, the “fixed” capital punishment system didn’t have much, if any, improvement over the “broken” one the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional.  According to data given by the Justice Research and Statistics Association (pg. 38-39), the US murder rate was quite low in 1900, but around 1905 started to dramatically increase, leaving a murder rate well above 9% at the height of the Great Depression; started to decrease to below 5% in the 1950s; then started to hike again during the Vietnam War.  Reaching a peak over 10% in 1980, the murder rate did not begin to significantly decrease again until 1993.  1993 was Clinton’s first year in office, which is only relevant because he was the fourth President following the reinstatement of capital punishment by the Supreme Court in 1976.

The insignificance of the death penalty on murder rates can be seen in the following graph, derived from The Disaster Center data.  I used this graph because the data syncs up better with US Census Data.  That’s my official explanation.  The real reason is because I like making graphs:

Murder Rates Are Ambivalent About the State of Capital Punishment



So I got to thinking, what is the murder rates of the US versus other countries who do or do not have capital punishment?  You can certainly make the argument that, in general, countries without the death penalty have lower murder rates.  In fairness, that does seem too general.  While Europe, which as a continent has almost anonymously eliminated the death penalty, has some of the lowest murder rates in the world, both Mexico and Russia have abolished the death penalty and their murder rates are higher than the US.  China has a relatively low murder rate of 2.36 per 100,000 people (less than half the US level), and executions run rampant (of course, those are official numbers, which in China may not necessarily mean accurate, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt).

So I decided to go the easier route and compare the rates by state (see below).  Fifteen of the US states have abolished the death penalty (Washington D.C. makes sixteen).  According the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, of these states thirteen have murder rates in the best half, and nine of the lowest fifteen murder rates in the country come from this list.  (In fairness, six of lowest ten states have the death penalty, but then the next five are all sans executions.)  In fact, when taking population into account, the murder rate of these states is almost 35% lower than from death penalty states – 3.8% vs. 5.7%.  Even if you include Washington DC, which has no death penalty but a shocking 31.4% murder rate, the total murder rate for all states without capital punishment is 4.0%; still 30% lower than in states with the death penalty.  Even more damning, a study by the FBI showed that the high murder rates in the South, which is almost completely a capital punishment friendly zone, are a major factor in the whole country’s high murder rate.

At best, the list points to complete ambivalence about the whether the death penalty is effective or not.  However, I do believe a little bit of Pascal’s Wager is appropriate here.  The death penalty may or may not be immoral, and it may or may not work.  We should ask ourselves if the bet that it works is worth the payoff, as the sum collected should we lose could very well end up being our souls.

Murder Rate by State
2008 Figures, United States Federal Bureau of Investigation
States without Capital Punishment in Mauve

State Popluation Murders Murder Rate
North Dakota 641481 3 0.5
New Hampshire 1315809 13 1
Utah 2736424 39 1.4
Idaho 1523816 23 1.5
Hawaii 1288198 25 1.9
Wyoming 532668 10 1.9
Minnesota 5220393 109 2.1
Oregon 3790060 82 2.2
Maine 1316456 31 2.4
Montana 967440 23 2.4
Iowa 3002555 76 2.5
Massachusetts 6497967 167 2.6
Wisconsin 5627967 146 2.6
Vermont 621270 17 2.7
Rhode Island 1050788 29 2.8
Washington 6549224 192 2.9
Colorado 4939456 157 3.2
South Dakota 804194 26 3.2
West Virginia 1814468 60 3.3
Connecticut 3501252 123 3.5
Nebraska 1783432 68 3.8
Kansas 2802134 113 4
Alaska 686293 28 4.1
New Jersey 8682661 376 4.3
New York 19490297 836 4.3
Kentucky 4269245 198 4.6
Ohio 11485910 543 4.7
Virginia 7769089 368 4.7
Indiana 6376792 327 5.1
Michigan 10003422 542 5.4
Pennsylvania 12448279 701 5.6
Texas 24326974 1374 5.6
Arkansas 2855390 162 5.7
California 36756666 2142 5.8
Oklahoma 3642361 212 5.8
Illinois 12901563 790 6.1
Arizona 6500180 407 6.3
Nevada 2600167 163 6.3
Florida 18328340 1168 6.4
Delaware 873092 57 6.5
North Carolina 9222414 604 6.5
Georgia 9685744 636 6.6
Tennessee 6214888 408 6.6
South Carolina 4479800 305 6.8
New Mexico 1984356 142 7.2
Alabama 4661900 353 7.6
Missouri 5911605 455 7.7
Mississippi 2938618 237 8.1
Maryland 5633597 493 8.8
Louisiana 4410796 527 11.9
Washington D.C. 591833 186 31.4

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Today’s Proof That Obama is a Socialist

According to the Associated Press, Pfizer was fined $2.38 billion, including a $1.2 billion criminal fine, for the paltry indiscretion of marketing a drug for off-label use.  The Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli evidently prosecuted the case, illustrating our socialist regime’s obvious intent of rationing our health care by preventing pharmaceutical companies from marketing drugs for uses they aren’t approved for.  Next thing you know, the Administration is going to insist on lengthy and expensive research regimens before drugs are approved for any kind of use.

And this coming only one week after I received my new “machine-readable health plan beneficiary card” in the mail.  Those commie bastards!!

By the by, did you read the text for Obama’s “school speech” to be delivered today?  Obviously a ploy to indoctrinate our children into his evil socialist agendas.  The only thing a President should be reading to our children is The Pet Goat.

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Progressive is Pragmatic, Not Punishment

There has been a lot of talk about taxes lately, as in a desperate attempt to regain control in the election John McCain is accusing of Barack Obama of raising taxes on the middle class while simultaneously claiming that his tax cuts on the middle class, which he insists won’t exist, paid for by rolling back tax hikes of the Bush administration, which he was originally against, are some form of socialism.

Of course, the American tax system has been a progressive tax system since the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913. There were two income taxes prior to that, during the Civil War and the 1880’s, which had flat rates. However, both of those taxes were only levied on the wealthiest of individuals in America, and therefore still adhered to the principle of the progressive tax which claims that those who make the most should shoulder the largest burden.

The historical battle between America and communist/socialist governments has made throwing around the terms “communist” and “socialist” very attractive. But I don’t know anybody in this country who is completely against any government program which dabbles in socialist ideology. I would have very little respect, and suspect very, very few Americans would oppose this view, of those who wanted to eliminate some of our programs which are quite socialist in operation, such as Social Security, Medicare, the postal service, the military, or Major League Baseball. But I digress . . .

There are two prevailing arguments against any sort of tax increase on the wealthy. The first is that the rich already pay far more than their fair share. You hear all sorts of statistics like “the wealthiest six Americans pay more in taxes than the rest of the US population, the crew of the Starship Enterprise, and every Chinese person since the beginning of time combined.” The part they leave out is that they make much more money than everybody else. So I set out to find some statistics which compare income distribution with tax burden. And I stumbled upon a very cool Excel spreadsheet (if there was ever a such thing) made up by the Congressional Budget Office. Check it out here. Unfortunately, it evidently takes two years to come up with this data (as a government employee, I should not have been as surprised as I was), because the most recent data was compiled in December 2007, but is only through 2005. Still, more recent data would actually prove my point better, because Bush helped push through another tax cut on the wealthy in 2006, as one of the Republican Congress’s last actions.

Instead of spouting a mountain of numbers, I decided to create some graphical evidence that our tax system is merely progressive and not some punishment for making money (click on the graphs to see a larger, more legible size):

I stumbled on another interesting little tidbit. Since the other popular argument among the right is that decreasing taxes for the rich increases wealth for all individuals, al la trickle down (I prefer the term “voodoo,” originated by someone whom I’m sure was ultra-liberal) economics, I decided to see how damaging increasing tax rates on the wealthiest individuals was for their earning power. Turns out, it’s not much damaging at all. In fact, their pre-tax income follows their tax rate much more proportionally than inversely:

And mean tax rates vs. mean income follows the same trend:

So it looks like demand side economics isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Of course, I’m not advocating for WWI tax rates, when the richest were taxed at about 70%. But it would appear that rolling back Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthiest while providing breaks for those who can least afford their taxes would hardly be the fatal mistake some would imply it would be.

Many argue for the flat tax as a way to eliminate the “redistribution of wealth.” But since we currently have a progressive tax system, doing so successfully could only result in one of two outcomes: either tax rates on the lower and middle classes would sharply increase, with the increase most severe on those making the least amount of money; or a drastic cut in government spending, inevitably targeting the most drastic cuts in programs designed to support the poorest individuals. Either way, it would also be a massive redistribution of wealth, this time from those most incapable of affording it to those who need it the least.

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