Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

On Alliances

March 19, 2017

I was just thinking about Trumpsky’s comments. About how other countries should pay the US for defending them. About how much we pay for defense, and his rationale for spending more.
He’s a fool. You probably knew that, but maybe someone will explain.
The US, to the best of my knowledge, never spent a dime to benefit other nations.
Ponder that carefully.
The money was for our benefit primarily. If it also helped them, great.
Consider Germany; we spent quite a bit keeping folks like me there in the mid to late 20th Century, in my case on various hilltops waiting for the Soviets to roll across the border. So why did we do it?
Think how many men and women we had in the armed forces, how many machines we bought, and how much this nation spent fighting WWII. Just off the top of my head, I think we had around 7m people in the armed forces.
But not now. We don’t maintain a huge standing army, and that results in an enormous savings. I’ve seen it called the ‘peace dividend’.
Why?
Because we have allies. They have men and women in uniform, machines, ammunition, you name it. They maintain armies which allows us to keep ours relatively small.
Sure, we might want them to spend more, but even that has limits. If they expand their armed forces too much, the temptation is there to use them. Sort of what a number of American presidents have done, send troops to fight in wars against nations that had not attacked or even threatened the US.
What we’ve bought with our alliances (including NATO, whose nations are closest to our immediate threat, Russia) is peace and savings. Also security.
Someone should explain that to the guy who works more on his golf game than on governing.

Democrats, Economics, and Me

October 14, 2015

I noticed something last night. Hillary Clinton doesn’t even know what capitalism is. Really. When asked a question, she went on about small businesses. Those are entrepreneurs, not capitalists.
Bernie Sanders calls himself a ‘Democratic Socialist’, but to be honest, he favors the social safety net, not socialism.
As for me, you’re going to have to find a new description. I’m not socialist, I’m not capitalist. But at the same time, I’m not totally against either of these, so long as they’re only part of the economic system. Part, because there are advantages to be gained from those, and other systems.
Begin with private enterprise, AKA entrepreneurship. Someone sees a need, starts a business, begins making a living. Maybe they even hire an employee or two. Pretty much every candidate at least pays lip service to this, even if they don’t know what it is.
Toss in capitalism. If the opportunity is large enough, that entrepreneur can take in a partner who has money, or several thousand ‘partners’. They’re using surplus money to earn more money. Set up a means of selling or buying the shares they own in a company. Now you’re using ‘capital’, and this is ‘capitalism’. So far, so good; but like communism, unrestricted capitalism must be regulated lest it gain control of the entire system.
Restricted capitalism works fine. It earns money for investors, but isn’t allowed to damage the economy. We need more of that. When a capitalist company moves jobs offshore, because that way they make more profit, they damage the economy. We need a system of regulating this, but short of a major tax overhaul it won’t happen. We can’t keep a corporation from relocating to where it will, either to increase profits or to shelter income from taxes; what we can do is tax each corporation based on access to the American economy. You sell here, you pay taxes here, regardless of where you claim to be based. It’s called a gross-receipts tax system, and it can cancel the advantage that corporations currently have.
Meantime, regulated capitalism works well enough for domestic corporation that can’t offshore, things like the gas company.
Finally, there’s socialism. Socialism can be part of the social contract, part of the social safety net. Socialism is direct government ownership or investment in part of the economy. Socialism does what capitalism won’t do, it funds non-profit activities. Used properly, socialism can be the ‘governor’ that regulates the economy. Make the government the employer of last resort. Lose your job? Work for the government. Do what the CCC and WPA did during the 1930’s. All the money paid to workers is immediately spent, generating more economic activity. When the economy picks up, people take better-paying jobs. But no one has to fear going homeless because he/she can’t find a job. And we’ve surely got things that need to be done in this country.
Education and healthcare are two fields that are currently capitalist, but that need to be socialist. Simply put, they’re too important to be provided only to those with money.
So how do we pay for socialist enterprises and the social safety net? Simple: Quantitative Easing, the same system that was used to bail out the big banks at the end of the Bush presidency. It’s how the Fed creates money, electronically. No printing of currency, just an electronic message generating a balance that banks can use. Or, for that matter, the Social Security Administration can use. Or a new Civilian Conservation Corps. The only thing the Fed needs to keep an eye on is inflation. Economists such as Paul Krugman have written that we need MORE inflation to stimulate the economy.
Unlike efforts such as the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement, this doesn’t rely on any other country to help us keep our economy stable. We can do it ourselves.
So: I favor a balance of private enterprise, capitalism and regulated capitalism, socialism, and a social safety net for individuals.
Not socialist, not capitalist. I think you’ll need to come up with a better descriptive phrase for me.

Facebook, and Censorship

June 8, 2015

I’ve begun sending Facebook messages of complaint.
Have you tried to share something and been told “Sorry, this feature isn’t available right now,”?
I’ve seen it twice this morning. The first ‘controversial’ subject was a post describing how Charles Darwin was a geologist before he made the discoveries that led to his Origin of Species book. The second said that Bernie Sanders was less than 10 points behind Hillary Clinton in a recent poll.
By refusing to allow me to share the articles, Facebook has managed to impose censorship on my right to express a belief that runs counter to that held by religious fundamentalists and to express my support for Bernie Sanders. I also mentioned that Hillary wouldn’t get my vote if she refuses to stop straddling issues and express an opinion I can support. I don’t vote for parties, I vote for candidates based on issues; it’s why I’m an Independent.
While Facebook is a private company, they’ve become so dominant that what they do transcends that ownership. Like a newspaper, FB has responsibilities, and at the moment the way they exercise those responsibilities denies my rights to freedom of religious belief and freedom of political speech, through censorship.
Why would an essay about Charles Darwin reflect on religion? It mentions that his discoveries (others had made similar discoveries before Darwin) counter the opinion of Bishop James Ussher that the Earth was only some 4000 years old. Why would this be controversial? In most western nations, this is conventional belief. Only in America is there controversy, because fundamentalists not only believe in Biblical literacy but also in interpretations by churchmen.
If you’re a fundamentalist and you’re pondering this, consider that other churchmen denied the discoveries of Galileo. They placed him under house arrest and he lived out the rest of his life under that restriction. Churchmen also burned Joan of Arc…you may have heard of her…for heresy. I will only mention, but without dwelling on it, that churchmen in general have established an unviable record in modern times.
But according to Facebook, Darwin is controversial.
Pointing out that Bernie Sanders is closing in on Hillary Clinton is controversial.
IMO, censorship by Facebook is more worthy of controversy.

Responsibilities, Political Leaders and Citizens

July 3, 2013

I’ve been thinking. Somehow, our political ‘leaders’ have managed to forget their jobs and how those jobs should be done.

The job is to care for the American people. Period.

Included within that is the need to provide protection for those people. Protection from invasion by military forces, but also protection from natural disasters such as wildfires and floods and wild weather. And where protection isn’t possible, assistance in recovery should be available. Protection from criminals, too, people who prey on others.

And after you’ve identified the needs, it’s then necessary to pay for those solutions. It’s necessary to raise money, through creation of money or taxation.

If the land and water and air are not being protected, our political leaders aren’t doing their jobs.

If old people, sick people, people who have become jobless because of economic fluctuations, veterans, and citizens in general have no medical care or support structures in place for protecting citizens from the economic criminals we call multinational corporations, our political leaders are not doing their jobs.

If our foods are not the healthy sorts that we expect, if our medications aren’t free of tainted drugs, if banksters steal a lifetime’s work due to foreclosures, if gamblers rule the markets that define capitalism, then our political leaders are not doing their jobs.

And if we keep electing these ‘leaders’, then we citizens are not doing our jobs.

Responsibility

March 17, 2013

I’m a moderate in most things, but I frequently get called “liberal” because I don’t accept much of the Neoconservative silliness.
I got involved in a discussion in my Facebook group, The Intelligent Round Table, and the general commentary favored the rights of citizens and Americans and how the government was intrusive and spied on all us innocent people. So I wrote this in answer:
Turn the situation around and look at it from the other side.
Say you’re charged with the task of protecting your people and your government. You accept that responsibility.
Now what? Are you going to decide that you can’t possibly spy on people inside the country? Knowing that there are enemies who are going to universities, working at jobs, taking classes, suborning others? Not fiction; it’s happened and continues to happen.
Or are you going to exempt citizens, while realizing that naturalization or even native birth won’t prevent them from actively working against your country by raising funds for terrorists and attempting to encourage others to attempt terrorist attacks?
Do you believe, if you’re in that situation, that you could excuse failure by taking the high moral road?
Recall something I posted earlier, about military officers: a commander is responsible for everything his command does or fails to do.
Excuses aren’t acceptable. The costs of failure are high, even extreme. Remember Poland in 1939. France. Belgium, Holland, Norway, Finland. Or Nanking, or for that matter all of China under Japanese control, and other places like the Philippines.
Or more recently, Kuwait. Without foreign intervention, Kuwait would now be a conquered province of Iraq. And even when the Iraqis were driven out, they hauled everything they could steal with them until finally being forced to abandon their loot.
I can’t prescribe a solution for this dilemma. I can only say that it’s much more complicated than simplistic suggestions are prepared to accept.
Older, educated, trained, and presumably competent people get to make most of the decisions. But the final decision often comes down to a young person with little education or training or judgment. And at that level, things aren’t straightforward at all. Act, or don’t act? Follow orders, or deviate while accepting responsibility (think Wikileaks). Even then, those responsible people exercise poor judgment, as evidenced by the documents that were leaked. And some of those younger people command aircraft and have literal life or death at hand.
It’s not a perfect world. Indeed, it’s quite messy, because we are discussing humans and human behavior.
If this makes you think, then I’m happy. I don’t care which side of the question you eventually favor, so long as you think about it and then accept responsibility for your conclusions.

Suicide by Drone

March 7, 2013

I hate to waffle on a comment; as a general rule, I don’t believe that there’s a valid excuse to target an American citizen in America. If law enforcement knows the location of the person, then arrest him/her and take them in for trial. But…
That said, I can foresee circumstances. Suppose the person is involved in attempting assassination of a political leader or other criminal acts; and normal means of apprehending him/her are not available. Say this person is surrounded by a militia or other armed group, AKA David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, which is prepared to resist legal efforts to arrest their leader.
How many law enforcement persons are to be sacrificed in the attempt to arrest this person? Or put another way, at what point does law enforcement effort become military effort?
And how much right does an accused person have to resist arrest?
Once an accused is notified that he is being sought by law enforcement, if he refuses to submit to arrest then I consider that anything that results from this are his own fault. An accused person is often permitted to surrender at some nearby facility and to be accompanied by their lawyer when they do so; happens all the time.
Failure to comply with the law, for example when police tell someone to drop their weapon, is likely to get you killed. It’s called “suicide by cop.” Add “suicide by drone” to that label.
If an accused refuses the surrender option, then I would see no blame for a president or even a sheriff or police chief or FBI supervisory agent in applying whatever force is necessary to carry out the neutralization. “Neutralization” means, in this context, arrest if that’s reasonably possible, or targeted killing if that option isn’t present.
I’m much more prepared to see the accused killed than I am to see law enforcement agents killed. It’s not uncommon nowadays to see cops targeted by accused individuals, or as happened in California, to be the object of revenge killings. Once the accused was located in a cabin (as happened), why send in cops to winkle him out? Notify him that he must come out with his hands in the air, with no weapons on his person, and if he refuses, send in the machines. In California that meant machines to begin dismantling the cabin. A drone strike does the same thing. If it saves the life of a cop, I’m for it.

Pity the Poor Fed

February 12, 2013

Economics, and politics. Pity the poor Federal Reserve.

Taxation, and spending. Taxation removes money from the system. Government spending replaces it in the economy. Done right, taxation can slow uncontrolled growth and spending can stimulate a sluggish economy. In so doing, taxation and spending can damp the boom-bust cycles that plagued the economies of nations a century ago. Cycles are still there, just not so damaging as the Great Depression turned out to be. Upturns and downturns we have; but we can generally prevent people from dying due to famine.

But taxation and spending are driven by politics.

Political interest is in turn driven by self interest; how to acquire money, and what is the money you’ve acquired worth? Inflation (adding money to the supply) decreases the value of the money already out there. Inflated money is easier to acquire but invariably buys less. That’s why inflation tends to hit people on fixed incomes, that is incomes that can’t adjust via such things as pay raises, hardest. It also means that people who have acquired money and squirreled it away really hate inflation; that money slowly loses value. Interest paid on saved money helps, but currently interest is actually less than the rate of inflation, so savings in the US lose value instead of gaining.

So politics ties up government as one group urges us to spend more and thereby stimulate the economy. Another group urges that we spend less and not borrow or tax to raise money that’s being spent. These two groups are usually driven by self interest at some level instead of the needs of a rationally managed economy.

And then there’s the Fed. Their purpose is to manage the economy. They attempt to do this by increasing or decreasing the money supply, and have been using something called Quantitative Easing to increase the money supply and thereby stimulate the economy. And even as they do this, politics is working to counter their activities by REDUCING the amount spent by government. Cutting spending is the mantra of the TeaPublicans in Congress, and even the Democrats are buying into this idea. According to Robert Kuttner, the Obama administration is committed to reducing government expenditures by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

Note the problem here, which is the problem of government in general: no flexibility. The reduction is to take place regardless of what the economy is doing. The Fed at least meets quarterly and attempts to make adjustments based on what the economy is doing at the time; but political rhetoric is not so agile. Having convinced your supporters that taxation is the problem or that government spending is out of control, you’re not going to be able to change their minds.

Even if the politicians who use this to get themselves elected really do understand economics. And most of them are about as ignorant as the people who vote for them.

So it’s not so much that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing in our government; it’s that the right hand is actively countering what the left hand is up to.

Pity the poor Fed.

Political Economics in the 21st Century

January 12, 2013

Written in answer to a series of comments by a friend:

Gavan, I have a different take on this. Those governments didn’t loan money in good faith.
They INVESTED money in US bonds with the expectation that they would be paid back, and that this investment was in their economic self interest. They’ve also been permitted to ride along as the US economy boomed, investing in American companies and even buying some outright. Diversification, in effect the financialization of national economies, has protected all the world’s economies to an extent.
The Constitution requires that we pay our debts. Any bondholder who faces default on American debt has the right to sue in federal court to get paid. And our courts would have no option but to force payment on the debt.
Meantime, we’ve got a political party that’s in the minority but which is willing to stop the US Government in order to force their vision on our politics. And they appear not to care at all whether other nations get paid. Regardless of the Constitution they claim to respect.
But the US is a sovereign nation, not bound by such things as Euro Union entanglements. Many have advocated simply creating money by fiat, as our laws permit (and also the laws of Australia and Canada and Britain, I think). That possibility was always there, and the nations and individuals who purchased US investments knew it when they invested. They did so, invested their money, with no assurance other than the belief that the US Treasury Bonds (German bonds, too) were the safest places in the world to invest. That’s why interest rates, set by auction, are so low on those bonds. Lower, in fact, than the rate of inflation.
So what’s being discussed is an end run around that arguably-insane political party. They, the Republicans and specifically the Tea Party Caucus of the Republican Party, are willing to see the government shut down rather than tax their wealthy sponsors. They also insist on cutting health care and unemployment and pensions paid to old persons, people who’ve been paying into the system for years already. They aren’t really about paying off the deficit, so much as they are about cutting payments to people they consider to be ‘freeloaders’. And the people who are sponsoring them, the real freeloaders who game the tax system to avoid paying taxes, are happy for this to go on.
Congress first votes to spend the money; they then refuse to raise taxes to fund the projects they’ve agreed to spend money on, and also to raise the debt ceiling to borrow money to spend on what they’ve agreed to fund. Get the picture? Only Congress can vote to spend money, and only Congress can set the tax rates. The debt ceiling is a fairly recent maneuver. There are a couple of other Congressional maneuvers they’ve used, as well; our two-party system allows the Speaker of the House, the leader of the majority party in the US House of Representatives, can block legislation from being voted on. He represents the majority, and sometimes a minority of that majority can force their will on the others. That’s what the Tea Party has done. They call it the ‘Hastert Rule’, after a former Speaker.
And so our Congress is paralyzed by this minority.
But there are a couple of ways that the President can bypass them. Rather than shutting down the government, he can either issue scrip coupons that could be bought by exchange houses, who would then make money by discounting those scrip coupons. They would be the ones to profit by Congressional gridlock, while people like me would lose because of the discounting. Or the Treasury could simply mint one or more platinum coins, in any denomination they wished. Those coins would then be deposited with the Federal Reserve, and an equivalent amount issued to government agencies to pay their bills or even pay off the debt. This has the advantage of not incurring any debt at all. Normally this course might be inflationary; but our inflation rate, because of the economic ills of the world, is quite low. Economists such as Paul Krugman, a Nobel winner, think it’s too low. So if the injection of money into the economy via government spending were to slightly raise the inflation level, that would be a good thing if it also stimulated the economy to begin producing.
And the restaurant owner gets paid, too.

Political commentary

August 20, 2012

To me, there’s an issue of character about Romney and also Ryan. Bluntly, I don’t see anything I’d label as character about either. And I’m not at all sure that Romney’s evasions are always legal. Show the records; let investigators dig into them.
Meantime, it may be very satisfying to boot Obama. But what will you replace him with?
What will Romney do? He won’t say. So we’re asked to ‘trust’ a man of no demonstrated character to take principled stands regarding jobs and housing and immigration and education? A man who famously has said he’s not concerned with the poor, that he likes firing people, that he thinks we don’t need cops and firemen and teachers? Who would turn more social programs over to the rapacious healthcare insurance executives and for-profit entities to teach children? To care for old people at the end of life? We’ve see what their objective is: profit. Anything else is secondary. We’ve seen rebates from companies that spend less than 80 of the money they collect on healthcare for people; that, after paying executives tens of millions per year. Trust the man who thinks this is good? A man who led the offshoring of jobs? Who deliberately wrecked companies so he could loot the bones, regardless of the human cost?
No character. No ethic, other than personal profit first. No morality beyond “I’ve got mine!” And no openness from a man who conceals great wealth offshore and who now asks you to trust him.
Obama has made some mistakes by not being bold enough, in my judgment. Romney? He’s going to cost lives and increase national misery by exponential amounts.
It’s discouraging that others refuse to recognize this.

Noblesse Oblige

July 19, 2012

This is a concept that’s gone missing in our modern world. But I think the idea is important and we should consider what its absence has cost us.
Robert Heinlein understood what this is. In To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Dr Johnson says, “Does your common man understand chivalry? Noblesse oblige? Aristocratic rules of conduct? Personal responsibility for the welfare of the state?” And in Glory Road, “Noblesse oblige is an emotion felt only by the truly noble.”
But it’s an ancient concept, this idea of responsibility that goes with privilege.
Homer wrote of it in The Iliad. Honore de Balzac, William Faulkner, so many others have written of it.
Some grasp the concept even if they don’t articulate it. When they finish work, a tool is cleaned and any necessary maintenance done before it is put away. It’s responsibility at the most basic level.
Horsemen know of it. It’s a poor horseman who doesn’t care for his horse when he’s finished riding. And it’s also selfish; next time, that horse might well be sore or lame or simply unwilling to cooperate.
Heads of families, tribal leaders, understand. They accept responsibility for the welfare of their people.
Military officers and noncommissioned officers know of it. Not all, but those who are privileged to command people, from the sergeant leading a squad or section to the general officer commanding an army, they’ve been indoctrinated in the concept from the first day they assumed a position of leadership. Care for your troops. If there’s no shelter, you the leader should be there sharing the hardship. When you’re in the field, the troops eat first. The day you’re offered mashed potato sandwiches because that’s all that’s left, or perhaps nothing when even that is gone, you understand. I was a sergeant and got the mashed potatoes; the lieutenants got a slice of bread each.
Henry Ford understood. He deliberately paid his workers well because, as he said, he wanted them to be able to afford one of his cars.
Our business leaders now don’t understand the concept. The Walton family owns Walmart and Sam’s, and they’re among the richest people in the world. Their annual income collectively is in the billions. Their workers are barely above minimum wage…if that. Apple doesn’t understand the concept; their CEO gets a salary that, with stock options, is in the hundreds of millions; the Apple salespeople and the ones who operate the Genius Bar are again, paid very poorly.
The managerial elites don’t understand the concept. They use free-trade agreements to offshore jobs. In effect, they force American workers to compete directly with the most poorly paid workers in the world.
The world has a visceral understanding of the concept. Around the world, you find unrest because people understand that the game is rigged, that there will be winners but that the part of the common man is to be exploited, the loser every time.
That was acceptable once, at least to a degree. Nobles, royalty, were expected to take the field in war. They might not share all the hardships, but they shared the danger. The British royal family still does this; princes serve, and they even go to war. In America, our ‘new nobility’ rarely serves in the armed forces. In Dick Cheney’s words, they “have other priorities.”
Even the American electorate has in large part lost the concept. So many simply rely on a bumper sticker or a talking point from a TV personality. They recognize no responsibility to learn, to attempt to see past the slick façade. They accept no responsibility to help the less fortunate.
A few of us haven’t forgotten. You’ll see us, the political activists, the demonstrators, the Occupy people, and in other places you’ll see the Indignados and the Arab Spring and perhaps a Chinese demonstrator burning himself alive. Even the common man often understands, where the New Nobility has forgotten, if indeed they ever learned of this at the elite schools they attended.
Our political leaders don’t understand the concept. They don’t use Social Security as their primary retirement system or Medicare as their health care. They accept no responsibility for the voters who elected them.
Instead, they recognize only their own profit.
Before any action is taken, their first consideration is “Will this help me get reelected?” Included in this is the pandering to lobbyists who come provided with fistfuls of cash, some of it in the form of campaign contributions, a thin disguise at best. And some of it is hidden among favors done but not admitted to and occasionally even as direct bribes. It happens; we all know of it. Duke Cunningham is serving a prison term because of it…but he was not the only one.
Their second consideration is akin to the first: will this help the party, which by extension asks will the party later help me get reelected?
If there’s a third consideration, for the public who elected them, it’s well hidden. Consider this worst-ever Congress; they made no effort to hide their intention, not to govern for the well-being of the nation but to act in such a mannas to deny Mr Obama a second term. And the American public elected them. We should not be surprised that they’ve done just as they promised to do.
And now the Republican Party is represented by Mitt Romney. He has no concept of noblesse oblige.
He has the arrogance of the New Nobility, but not the requisite sense of responsibility.
He famously declared that he paid only those taxes that the law required, and not a penny more.
We now find that he may well have paid less. We don’t know. He has not yet released a single complete tax return, despite the law requiring that.
He’s not concerned with the poor; he said that. He also continued by reminding us of the safety net. He failed to mention that he intends to do all he can to destroy that. We don’t need things like teachers and firemen and cops, said My Romney. More correctly, HE doesn’t need those things. And feels no responsibility for helping to provide them to you.
Mitt Romney doesn’t understand the concept of noblesse oblige.