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Technorati is indexing me again! They had to make a code change to fix the problem with my blog getting stuck in their queue. Kudos to Eric M. and the guys at GetSatisfaction.com where they have "community powered support for Technorati".
Well, they're "sorta, kinda" indexing me anyway. It's on a 24 hour tape delay or something. So I never get picked up by Memeorandum because they pull from Technorati and Technorati has stuff I posted yesterday listed as my latest blog entry. And that's old news to Memeorandum.
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In the comments, @TheBigHenry told me that this upcoming presidential election was all about the negatives. Romney may be log(1), but Mitt's candidacy should still evaluate greater than the "cons" surrounding Obama's.
This started me wondering: how does Obama stack up against some recent presidents in terms of negatives?
|Kennedy||Johnson||Nixon||Ford||Carter||Reagan||HW Bush||Clinton||W Bush||Obama|
Seems to me that Obama is slightly better than average, equaling Reagan and Ford with only two negatives. And before any of you start pounding me in the comments, I admit there are some gray areas here. First of all, I'm sure many of the Reaganistas will argue that their idol being shot was a positive. I don't really think being lynched, nailed to a cross, or bullet ridden is a plus, but I'm willing to grant it so long as you don't try to convince me that Iran-Contra wasn't a scandal. Anyway, if I reluctantly grant being shot isn't a bad thing, then Reagan ties HW Bush as our best president in my personal memory. Wy should be happy about that. Kennedy and W Bush are the worst. And our current President remains in the "doesn't-quite-suck-as-bad" category.
How Romney will fare, should he be elected, is hard to say. I think he's clean and sober. He might keep his junk locked away. I don't think he's particularly ugly, but there might be some sort of scandal lurking in his future, probably financial if I had to guess. He is pitching pretty hard that he'll cure the economy, but we've heard that lie before. My opinion is that endless war, the 2008 financial meltdown, Medicare Part B, and the impossibility of raising revenue will remain a weight on the budget for more than just four more years, regardless of who wins in November. I guess I'd predict two negatives for Romney, tying him with Obama.
PS: While technically (according to the life-begins-a-month-before-conception people) I was alive when Eisenhower was in office, I don't remember him. Thus I did
not include him above.
In this space, my friend @Nadz posted an interesting commentary entitled Tax The Churches. The ongoing discussions have been quite lively, and I've been following them with great interest. Since I also have some views on the subject, I thought I'd add my two cents to the collection plate.
Recently, Daniel Jenky, the bishop of Peoria, Illinois, did not hesitate to play the persecution card in the dispute with the Obama administration over required health insurance coverage of birth control. Evoking the history of "terrible persecution" of the Church, he said: "Hitler and Stalin would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care. Barack Obama — with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda — now seems intent on following a similar path." In an effort to clarify the statement, a diocese spokesperson said, "We certainly have not reached the same level of persecution. However, history teaches us to be cautious once we start down the path of limiting religious liberty." (She did not explain just what the bishop regarded as the Church’s current "level of persecution" by the administration.)
Jenky’s remarks are only a bit more extreme than standard rhetoric from bishops and other conservative Catholics, who now routinely talk of an "attack" or "war" on religious liberty. Are things really this bad? Or are we seeing a perhaps politically motivated "tempest in a holy water fount? To get some perspective, let's take a look at the main rational arguments — as opposed to rhetorical appeals — that the bishops and their supporters put forward.
The argument is based on the right of conscience. It agrees that all employees of a Catholic organization have a right in conscience to practice birth control, but that the organization also has a right in conscience not to pay for (or otherwise facilitate) the practice. The nub of the argument is that an organization’s not offering birth control as part of its health insurance does not take away an employee’s right to birth control; it would at most make it a bit more difficult to obtain. By contrast, the administration’s requirement that the organization offer birth control coverage does eliminate, in this case, its right not to support the practice.
This argument makes a valid point, but omits the rights of a third party: the government, which has a right (and duty) to set up rules for the common good of the nation. In some cases, this right takes precedence over the rights of conscience. The government has the right, for example, to force people to serve in wars they think are unjust or pay taxes to support activities like birth control that they think are immoral. Organized religions have, in our system, greater rights to conscientious exemption than individuals, but there is no absolute immunity that keeps a religion’s claim of conscience from being trumped by the government’s right to "provide for the general welfare." Once we take account of the government’s right, we see that this argument does nothing to show that Catholic organizations' rights outweigh the rights of the government in this case.
This argument correctly points out that the government — in the sense of the executive branch — should not be the sole judge of what rights of religious freedom a particular religiously affiliated organization may have. But it is equally wrong to claim, as the argument suggests, that the Church itself should be the ultimate arbiter of its own claims. Nor does it make sense to claim that every effort of the government to restrict religious rights should be rejected on the grounds that it is a step toward the total undermining of religion. One could just as well argue that every restriction on individual liberty is a step toward totalitarianism.
This argument expresses the main case made by Catholic bishops and their supporters against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate. They correctly assert two basic truths: that religious people and institutions have rights to act according to the dictates of conscience, and that there are limits on the government’s right to interfere with those rights. But they ignore the complex question of how to balance the right of government to do its job of promoting the general welfare against the right of religious believers to be true to their consciences. They fail to show that, in this case, the government is wrong. At best, the arguments show that there is a need to ask the courts to resolve these complex questions.
There may be a cogent case against the government’s position. But there is no slam-dunk appeal to outrageous violations of the First Amendment, such as genuine instances of persecution or a war on religion would provide. Rather, there are arguments based on complex (and contestable) legal considerations — for example, interpretations of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act — turning on the question of what sort of burden of proof the government has to show that its requirement is necessary to achieve its legitimate goal. The bishops may have a viable legal case against the Obama administration. But they have no case for a call to the barricades.
My own state of Pennsylvania passed a law a short time ago which requires people to show government-issued photo IDs to vote. The question is: why?
Before we can answer that question, we need to define exactly what we're talking about. "Voter fraud" is individuals casting ballots knowing they are not elegible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system. Note that there are a great many things that tend to get lumped into the term "voter fraud" which are really not the same thing: voting machines sometimes have technical glitches and don't record votes properly; voters and election officials, being human, sometimes make honest mistakes; sometimes outside groups spread disinformation about polling places and hours; incidents of thuggery and intimidation are not unheard of. These are all election administration problems to be sure, but conflating them as "voter fraud" makes it appear that real fraud is much more common than is actually the case.
The number of cases of outright voter fraud in Pennsylvania is vanishingly small. More people in the state are likely to be killed by lightning this year than would be charged with such a crime.
So why did the Legislature go to all the trouble, and the Governor sign the law? Such laws are only potentially worthwhile if they clearly prevent more problems than they create. These photo-ID laws only prevent individuals from impersonating other voters at the polls. If policymakers distinguished real voter fraud from the more common election irregularities which are wrongly labeled as voter fraud, it would become apparent that the limited benefits of laws like photo ID requirements are simply not worth the cost. They are more likely to disenfranchise a relatively large number of elegible voters than to bar access to the ballot box for the rare few. Just today the Brennan Center released a study showing that nearly 500,000 eligible voters in those states without IDs do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office. It's often said that it's better for ten guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to go to jail. Shouldn't the same logic apply here?
Of course, in politics, it's often logic be dammed. Royal Masset, the former political director for the Republican Party of Texas, concisely tied all of these strands together in a 2007 Houston Chronicle article concerning a highly controversial battle over photo identification legislation in Texas. Masset connected the inflated furor over voter fraud to photo identification laws and their expected impact on legitimate voters:
We're now in week two of the blackout of Viacom channels on DirecTV. Thank goodness The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are on hiatus; I'm also relieved that one kid is away at camp for the summer and the other is far too old for Nickelodeon and Dora The Explorer. But a few choice words from the DirecTV folks got me thinking about the cable TV racket.
Whoa, stop the presses!
Broadcast TV content distributors like cable companies such as Comcast or Verizon FIOS, and satellite TV outfits like DirectTV and Dish make their money off of selling bundles of dozens to hundreds of channels to their subscribers. (It would be an interesting bit of research to try to figure out where this "in order to get A you also have to buy B" racket started. Off the cuff, the earliest such instance I can remember is when I was six or so and the family went car shopping: in order to get air conditioning, Dad had to "step up" to the next more luxurious (and expensive) model, with a bunch of other accessories he didn't want.) My current sat TV package has 225 channels, but I remember we likewise had to step up to this package in order to get a dozen or so specific cable channels the family really wanted. Throw in the local broadcast channels and some occasional special programming, and the total number we watch most frequently won't come to more than a couple of dozen channels in all. Yet every month I have to pay $50 or so for things like:
- 21 different sports channels
- 17 different news channels
- 25 "family" channels (including 6 different Disney channels)
I could go on and on. And I'd bet that a good share of my monthly $50 goes towards these things "I don't watch or care about".
That's why I am so delighted to see DirecTV taking the principled position that bundling TV content is "unreasonable". Finally, someone in the entertainment industry is going to get out in front of a trend towards decollectivization, where the content owners and distributors decide what and when you can and can't watch. If the other content distributors don't follow their lead, then a-la-carte and on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu will wind up eating their lunch.
In his 1912 book, Hilaire Belloc makes the case for the natural instability of pure capitalism. He argues attempts to reform capitalism lead to an economy where state regulation has emasculated capitalism, removing its essential freedom. This endpoint he calls "The Servile State". Force of law, as opposed to social custom or natural economic necessity, dictates certain people work for others like slaves. In Belloc's words, "...If we do not restore the Institution of Property we cannot escape restoring the Institution of Slavery; there is no third course."
Capitalism proponents, many of whom congregate in this blog, often argue that "small" insults of the marketplace, even when writ large, are a necessary evil worth tolerating for the greater good deriving from general economic prosperity. Socialism proponents, often caricatured in this blog, argue that no amount of trickle down prosperity can justify the unjust cruelty and exploitation of the marketplace. Our political discourse has polarized along this axis for at least a century. Proponents on either side are sure if they just "got their way" things would be better, but history proves both systems are unstable. In fact, I've previously quoted the words of the great historian Will Durant who concludes that "the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive redistribution."
That such historic patterns exist is indisputably known. How to use this knowledge to avoid repeating their sad excesses is subject to lively argument here and elsewhere.Belloc, along with the consummate Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton were proponents of a stabilizing solution called "Distributism". Based upon the traditional principles of Catholic social teaching, Distributism is a third-way economic philosophy in opposition to modern, anti-traditional forces found in both socialism and capitalism. In Distributism property ownership is a fundamental right. The means of production should be spread to as many people as possible. The tools to make a living should not be centralized under the control of the state, nor should they be controlled by a wealthy elite. G.K. Chesterton said it this way: "The problem with capitalism is not too many capitalists, but not enough capitalists". In an ideal distributist world, everybody has the basics to support themselves as a small-scale capitalist, but no monopoly capitalism can emerge. Distributists argue that in such a world a just social order develops, with our spiritual, intellectual, and family life taking proper precedence over economic activity.
Some of the things President Obama says may seem distributist. For example, his "I want an America where everyone gets a fair shot" talking point has a mild distributist feel. But Obama is not a distributist; he's a Whig, as I've previously argued. The distributist view is in direct opposition to the theory of Whig history that interprets the past as an inevitable progression toward better things, particularly centrally, scientifically, bureaucratically organized "better" things. Say, for example, CFL light bulbs. This is not to say there's also some appreciation of liberalism in distributist thinking, at least in the abstract. Distributists are well aware of liberalism's limitations. Chesterton once stated "As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals." Maybe Chesterton was thinking about his long time "friendly enemy", George Bernard Shaw.
Personally, the theory of Distributism resonates well with my own economic philosophy. Most of my career I've been an independent contractor and entrepreneur. I've built small businesses from the limited "means of production" left available to me. Difficulties I've faced -- those few that weren't caused by my own stupidity or laziness -- typically stem from giant monopoly Captialists cutting off the means of production from little guys like me, or to "well meaning" yet onerous regulations by the state intended to reign in the excesses of those giant monopoly Capitalists. I've been screwed rather equally by the right and the left.
If you want a concrete example, take Internet access. Almost 20 years ago I started an Internet business. Back then, net access was wide open. You didn't need permission to "host" or "resell". Anybody could lease a link to somebody that had net; create a business; make money. It wasn't trivially "easy", but the means of production (computers, software, and net access) were pretty much available to everybody equally. There were some big data centers, and some small ones, but anybody could homestead some Internet acreage, hitch up a mule, and plant as much corn as they pleased. All that separated someone from success was hard work and perseverance. Nowadays, things are becoming quite different. A small number of giant monopoly providers control many aspects of the network. Fears developed that these big monopolies create a non-neutral network. Regulations appear to reign in these excesses and abuses. A consequence of these regulations is that there now is a definition of a "supplier" and a "consumer". Most of us are consumers now. We are protected from the oligopoly of suppliers, but as consumers we are discouraged from becoming a supplier ourselves. The Internet business I created in 1993 could never be created today because of these trends.
Or so we're told. I mean, the Christers hate homosexuals, won't let 'em get hitched and all. And them Catholics, they're anti-woman, keepin' 'em all barefoot and preggers and stuff by denyin' access to Holy Birth Control.
Gator Doug took a minute to contrast Christians vs Muslims, on account of this week's perpetually aggrieved complainer who's whining about folks exercising their God-given First Amendment rights to free speech. Feller wants to "Stop the Hate". Well, OK then. Try this on for size.
This story displays the difference between radical Christians, and radical Muslims. The group demonstrating in front of the mosque are what I might call radical Christians. They, at least in my view, take their religion too far. But, too far for them is carrying "offensive" signs, or maybe burning a Koran. The man who tried to kill them is what I might call a radical Muslim. He, and many other Muslims take their religion too far too. But, instead of carrying "offensive" signs, they KILL people, for simply expressing their opinions. See the difference?
There are other examples, examples the Left refuses to acknowledge. Take how Fundamentalist Christians treat Homosexuality for example. Yes, they say Homosexuals are going to Hell, or that Homosexuality is sinful, and tend to oppose Gay marriage. The Left rails against these Christians. The Left labels them bigots, backwards, hateful, etc. Now, consider how homosexuals are treated under Sharia (Muslim) Law. They are executed! Yes, executed, as in beheaded, hanged, stoned, as in DEAD! See the difference?
How about drinking? Christians discourage drinking to excess, they see it as sinful. But, they pray for those who over indulge. Under Sharia Law, drinking is grounds for lashing, yes, brutal public whippings. Again, can you spot the difference?
Adultery? Christians strongly condemn adultery, with words. Under Sharia Law, adulterers are often executed, maybe they are shot, maybe stoned to death, or maybe they get off "light" by receiving dozens of lashes. And understand that while Christians define adultery as cheating on your spouse, Sharia Law defines it as, well, a woman talking to a man in many instances. Can you spot the difference?
I could go on about the differences between "radical" Christians, and radical Muslims and how they treat gamblers, hint, Christians do not beat gamblers, teens who have sex, hint, Christian nations do not hang 16-year-old girls who have sex from cranes like Iran has been known to do. Christians also do not forbid women from driving, or dressing as they choose, nor do they forbid girls from being educated. Sharia Law, which again, is MUSLIM LAW, does those horrid things. One last time, can you spot the difference?
I understand that many Liberals cannot, or to be more precise will not note the differences. They are too obsessed with their perverse definition of "equality" and moral relativism. They simple refuse to recognize that some cultures are superior to others. They will, however, gladly denounce Christians for opposing Gay marriage. Yet, try to find any Liberal of note denouncing the executions of Gay people, or those even suspected of being Gay in some Muslim nations?
Yes, certainly Liberals will denounce the so-called "war on women" they claim, falsely, I might add, that Republicans are engaged in here in America. Yet, again, try to find the Liberal outrage over how women are treated under Sharia Law. Yes, the Left will gladly denounce the evils of Western Culture, but do they denounce Sharia Law? Cue the crickets chirping.
Golly gee Doug, you sure don't mince no words! Good for you. The powers that be in this here country are too busy pussyfootin' around the Mohammedans to notice what kind of fellers they really are. Take 'em seriously, I say. If they tell ya their a-fixin' to kill your infidel ass, then you sure as shootin' ought to be ready for 'em.
And when they say "stop the hate", tell 'em "You first Omar".
I hadn't realized that Mitt Romney, who wishes to become our next president, is all for what they call judicial extremism. We're all aware that the current Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, could be the most extremely conservative court ever. So clearly, in Chief Justice Roberts, the candidate had everything he could have wished for. Yet some days after Justice Roberts cast one vote he disapproved of - the vote that saved the Affordable Care Act - Romney declared that Justice Roberts is no longer conservative enough.
"No longer conservative enough" says Mitt about the man who led the court to strike down hard-won clean election laws; made it more difficult for women to sue for equal pay; squashed a number of class action suits, and consistently favored large corporations over the individual citizen.
Now, the polls show that the issue on which President Obama has the clearest lead is the makeup of the Supreme Court. That seems so clear it makes me wonder how smart is Mitt Romney coming out against the Chief Justice? Then again, it could be said that taking this seemingly unpopular position is a measure of how committed Mitt is to his philosophic convictions. Seriously? If there is anything we've learned about this man over the endless months of his candidacy it is that he changes his convictions as often as his shirt. Okay, so we've let him get away with it so far. But, when he is already polling so low on the issue, to change his mind about the man who was for so long his idea of what a Chief Justice should be - I mean, how dumb is that?
Actually, much of Romney's problem is caused by the GOP leadership. On a couple levels, the weird rift between Romney and the rest of the party makes sense. Congressional leaders have different imperatives. They want to trip up Democrats, they want to win majorities, and they're under enormous pressure to build a legislative record that shows bipartisan opposition to key pieces of "Obamacare". From that arguably myopic perspective running with the tax attack makes some sense. But, of course, attacking the mandate as a tax is exactly what movement conservatives have done. It would've made sense to defer to the Romney camp's original view that the mandate is a penalty - not a tax - that the Court should have struck down.
Unfortunately for Romney, the GOP cheerleaders like the Wall Street Journal editorial board aren't in the business of making sense, and they hammered their candidate-presumptive for not getting with the GOP program. Predictably, Mr Romney tucked in his tail and has awkwardly acquiesced. And, predictably, Mr Romney is now getting grief for having claimed he didn't hike taxes in Massachusetts. On the campaign trail, predictably, Obama is sticking it to Mr Romney for spineless flip-floppery.
And when they examine the corpse of the Romney campaign in November, the first question that will be asked is, "Was he pushed or did he fall?"
Once upon a time the government had a vast scrap yard in the middle of a desert.
Congress said, "Someone may steal from it at night."
So they created a night watchman position and hired a person for the job.
Then Congress said, "How does the watchman do his job without instruction?"
So they created a planning department and hired two people, one person to write the instructions, and one person to do time studies.
Then Congress said, "How will we know the night watchman is doing the tasks correctly?"
So they created a Quality Control department and hired two people. One was to do the studies and one was to write the reports.
Then Congress said, "How are these people going to get paid?"
So they created two positions, a time keeper and a payroll officer, then hired two people.
Then Congress said, "Who will be accountable for all of these people?"
So they created an administrative section and hired three people, an Administrative Officer, an Assistant Administrative Officer, and a Legal Secretary.
Then Congress said, "We have had this command in operation for one year and we are $918,000 over budget, we must cut back."
So they laid off the night watchman.
NOW, slowly, let it sink in.
Quietly, we go like sheep to slaughter. Does anybody remember the reason given for the establishment of the Department of Energy during the Carter administration?
Didn't think so!
Bottom line is, we've spent several hundred billion dollars in support of an agency, the reason for which very few people who read this can remember!
It was very simple... and at the time, everybody thought it very appropriate.
The Department of Energy was instituted on 8/4/1977, to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.
Hey, pretty efficient, huh???
And now it's 2012 -- 35 years later -- and the budget for this "necessary" department is at $24.2 billion a year. It has 16,000 federal employees and approximately 100,000 contract employees; and look at the job it has done!
(This is where you slap your forehead and say, "what were they thinking?") 34 years ago 30% of our oil consumption was foreign imports. Today 70% of our oil consumption is foreign imports.
Ah, yes -- good old Federal bureaucracy.
Now, we have turned over the banking system, health care, and the auto industry to the same government?
Hello!! Anybody Home?
Signed...The Night Watchman
It isn't your imagination: Political polarization has risen sharply in recent years. The Pew Research Center confirmed it in a recent poll.
Interestingly, Pew's survey shows no similar rise in polarization along racial gender, or religious lines — only political affiliation. What seems to have happened is not a change in value systems but a sorting of those value systems into more ideologically cohesive political parties. Conservatives have become Republicans; liberals have become Democrats. It's not just self-identified partisans. Poll Watch notes that it's happening to Independents as well: "Independents who say they lean — but are not committed to — either party have grown further apart from each other, particularly in their views on the role and effectiveness of government."
This process — not any decline in "civility" or whatever — explains the passing of the supposed Golden Age of Bipartisanship. Cooperation across party lines used to be more possible because there were regional idiosyncrasies in the U.S., conservative Democrats in the South and liberal Republicans in the Northeast. Those idiosyncrasies are being ironed out and the parties are becoming more internally homogenous. What's more, the process appears to be inexorable and irreversible. Polarization is the new normal.
This is well-understood by political types and even, I think, by the Average Joe and Jane. There's just a lot more fighting now, a lot more heated tempers, petty sniping and point-scoring, hacks on TV yelling at each other. Americans are also sorting geographically, so personal exposure to other points of view is declining. Politics is becoming one of those things that you don't mention in mixed company lest feelings get bruised.
What is much, much less well-understood is that the process of polarization is not symmetrical. The parties have not become equally ideologically homogenous or moved equally far toward their extremes. They do not behave in the same way or share the same attitude toward established social and political norms. Republicans have moved farther right than Democrats have left. More than 70 percent of Republicans in the electorate identify themselves as conservative or very conservative, while only 40 percent of rank-and-file Democrats call themselves liberal or very liberal. It is far easier for congressional Republicans to forge and maintain a united front than it is for Democrats.
In April, longtime scholar of American governance Norman Ornstein, about the farthest thing from a leftie firebrand one can imagine, wrote an op-ed stating flatly, "Republicans are the problem."
The U.S. cannot address its political challenges — and they are many
— until its pundits, public, and politicians understand the shape of
the situation we're in. Asymmetrical polarization is the defining feature of
American political life. As George Will might say, "deal with it." The sides
are drifting farther and farther apart, one far out into the choppy waters of
reactionary lunacy. Those attempting to find a place between them are
increasingly, well, at sea.
Is there anybody that still thinks pennies are a good idea?
A cup of coffee at a nearby WaWa is a buck and fourty-six cents. To avoid walking out with four useless disks of copper, I pay them with a credit card, shafting the WaWa corporation with a transaction fee of several cents and profiting a frequent flier mile. I have a hypothesis that the WaWa corporation is a money laundering operation for the mob, their stores hand out so much unnecessary coinage.
If anybody needs evidence that our government is incapable of cutting useless expenditures, they need look no further than the coin mints. Pennies and nickels cost about twice their face value to make, yet congress has repeatedly sidelined legislation that would reform currency.
Before I go on, I'd like to know how many of your right-wing extremist readers of the WyBlog are with me on this? Are any of you conservatives out there clinging to your guns, religion, and pennies? I'd like to know what possible argument you could have against rounding prices the nearest nickel, at least. Do you all have old houses with screw-plug fuses replaced with pennies? Too cheap to play nickel-ante poker? Fans of Abraham Lincoln? Does drill baby drill extend to dig baby dig for copper and zinc?
If conservatives could say yes to anything, maybe they could assent to eliminating costly pennies. Then again, I expect I'll soon lose any bi-partisan support should I suggest eliminating nickels, dimes, quarters, and paper money as well. Nevertheless I say: get rid of it all. Physical currency is increasingly expensive to manufacture as more and more "high tech" features are needed to discourage counterfeiting. Maybe North Korea prints more US hundred dollar bills than the US Treasury. And who among us hasn't wasted precious minutes of our lives waiting on line behind some old biddy as her palsied hands tediously extract penny after penny from her coin purse.
Please calm down. Before you all freak out and tell me why you love the Benjamins -- why paper money is the salt of the financial earth -- and that I'm a lunatic for suggesting we eliminate it, please give me a chance to explain. To begin with, I am not suggesting we eliminate cash. Cash is fundamental to commerce. In fact, I think the more we all use cash for transactions, the more fault tolerant our economy becomes. Nor am I suggesting a gold standard or auditing the Fed. Please try to pay attention.
What I'm suggesting is that the government stop minting physical currency; the government should promote the use of electronic cash instead. Traditionally minted paper and metal currency needs to go the way of wampum and buffalo hides. The direct benefit will be billions saved in minting costs and lower currency friction. Freed from the difficulties associated with credit cards, affordable "micropayments" in electronic commerce can become possible.
When I say electronic cash, or ecash, I'm not talking about credit cards, debit cards, cell phone payments, EZPass, or any scheme where there is no value intrinsic to the medium of exchange. These things are not ecash. There's no value inside a credit card. A credit card merely stands as thin proof that you might someday pay for the good or service rendered with "real" money. Similarly, debit cards don't have value in themselves, but simply provide a convenient means for accessing value stored elsewhere. None of these systems are anonymous. There is a central authority that knows the identities of all the parties involved in every transaction, and makes sure "real" money is ponied up where necessary. None of these systems provide final payment. They are revocable. Sales are not final; buyers can renege on purchases, possibly months later.
What I mean by ecash is a system like Bitcoin. Operating without any central authority, Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to enables near-instant, irrevocable, near-anonymous cash-like payments to anyone. Value is stored as information and any transactions are audited collectively by the network. There is no "central bank" regulating Bitcoin. There is no corporate overlord or government sovereign to provide a magic fiat to make Bitcoin work. Bitcoin works because it's based on mathematics. But Bitcoin is not an academic future possibility; it exists today. Millions of Bitcoins are in circulation. There are markets established for converting between Bitcoin and major world government currencies.
Ecash has many advantages over physical cash. It can't be counterfeited, and it can be transmitted at the speed of light rather than the speed of a Brink's truck. On the other hand, an ecash system like Bitcoin shares some disadvantages of paper currency. If you are careless, ecash can be lost or stolen. Then again, unlike the paper currency stuffed in your mattress, ecash savings can't burn up in a fire (assuming you have your ecoins saved in the cloud or on offsite backup), and modern cryptographic algorithms that protect your coins are stronger than any vault. From the point of view of government and society, a possible disadvantage shared between ecash and paper currency might be the difficulty in taxing ecash. Law enforcement may have difficulty tracking ecash transactions by criminals. Yet these disadvantages are nothing new. Governments have tolerated these problems with cash for millenia. And remember: physical cash is the preferred medium of exchange for bribes to politicians and government officials.
Although the Bitcoin economy exists today and continues to grow, I'm not necessarily suggesting the US government adopt Bitcoin as a replacement for pennies. I merely point at Bitcoin by way of proof that such a system can work. You could trade Bitcoins for products and services right now, assuming you had any coins. But wait! The WyBlog can set you up with free money. Do you want to try ecash first hand? Well then here you go: the first 10 individuals to post a comment here that includes a Bitcoin
payment address will receive one free bitcoin. You heard that right. Free money from the WyBlog. Last I checked, 1.00 BTC was worth about six bucks. Enough for coffee and a breakfast sandwich at WaWa. Keep the change.
On an otherwise slow news day, here's just the thing to beat the heat we've been experiencing lately on the East Coast: from 11 AM to 7 PM today, you can stop by any 7-Eleven store and get a free 7.11 ounce Slurpee! All flavors are included, and there are quite a few to choose from, including standbys like Cherry Coca Cola and Blue Raspberry, to newer concoctions like Dragon Fruit and something called "KZ3 Battle Fuel" (which I am hoping does not taste like slushy kerosene).
The Slurpee is, like many great innovations, the product of happenstance. The invention of slushy drinks is credited to Omar Knedlik, a Dairy Queen owner with a broken soda fountain. According to legend, Mr. Knedlik was forced for a time to sell bottled sodas out of his freezer, where the sodas became cold and slushy. Customers loved the consistency, and Knedlik developed the machine that became the ICEE machine. 7-Eleven bought special licensing rights from ICEE in the 1960's, and as a result today we have free Slurpees.
In an era of man-made climate change, this humble yet cool and satisfying drink may be all that stands between us and heatstrokes still to come.
According to a report by Roll Call, Speaker of the House (and Ray Bolger understudy) John Boehner recently offered this spirited endorsement of the presumptive Republican nominee for President, when a woman in West Virginia asked Boehner if he could "make me love Mitt Romney":
"Solid guy." You know your party hasn't exactly chosen wisely when the most compelling case its leader can make for its candidate is that he's "solid". Sorry, Republicans, you've cast your lot with a humor-challenged guy whose religion probably weirds you out. But he does have lots of money and a great head of hair.
It would seem that times are hard all over, as NPR reported today:
Doherty says his city has run out of money.
Scranton has had financial troubles for a couple of decades — the town has been losing population since the end of World War II. But the budget problems became more serious in recent months as the mayor and the city council fought over how to balance the budget.
There were thirteen Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy filings in 2011, and six so far this year. Noteworthy among this year's indigents are Stockton, California (which would be the largest such filing to date), and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (our state capital). Other cities have gone bankrupt before, largely due to cost overruns on public works projects, or bad investments. But unlike these, Scranton is one of a new breed of failing cities, swamped by routine costs, pension payments, payroll for city employees, a years-long economic slide, and depressed housing tax receipts. For years these problems have been swept under the rug: no one will raise taxes, fixed costs are rising, urban tax bases are shrinking, and state and federal aid have been cut back sharply.
The much-discussed budget apocalypse on the horizon in Washington can only hurt the situation, as local governments depend heavily on trickle-down funds from the Feds and the States. The right wing says it's those darned greedy municipal unions that have gotten us in these messes; the left wing blames hard-line austerity budgets imposed by the right. I say a curse on both your houses, and fiscal finger-pointing doesn't do anything to solve the immediate problems. I don't have a comprehensive solution to the economic woes of government these days, but I do know that cities can't do without police, fire departments, and teachers. Washington's deficit problems are real and growing fast, but are not immediately threatening. Municipal debt may be smaller, but sometimes immediacy counts more than size.
The Supreme Court's decision last week upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was only the latest landmark moment in a long debate that goes back to the very founding of our nation. I'm not talking about trivia like the scope of the Commerce Clause, or strict constructionists versus more liberal interpreters of the Constitution. The real debate was and is one between Constitutionalists and Confederates.
Well, perhaps a better term for the latter would be Confederationists, just to avoid unnecessary confusion with those unruly Civil War era states down South. But those who favor state's rights, state nullification, and a generally weak federal government appear to favor a system more like the Articles of Conferation than that of the U.S. Constitution.
George Washington once wrote that the weakness of the Articles, which lacked the Constitution's power to tax and spend for the general welfare, almost cost us the Revolutionary War. The founders addressed this by writing a Constitution that empowered Congress to "legislate in all cases for the general interests of the Union." Since then, American leaders have had the power necessary to solve large national problems, including the Great Depression, legal segregation in the 1960s, or inadequate access to health care in the 2010s. Under the Confederation, programs like Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, or the ACA likely would have never stood a chance. When Congress banned whites-only lunch counters, segregationists claimed the ban exceeded the federal government's authority; likewise, that states could simply ignore decisions like Brown vs. Board of Education. Fortunately, they lost, unanimously, in the Supreme Court (another innovation in the Constitution which was missing from the Articles). Even today, secessionists want to take their marbles and go home because the ACA decision didn't go their way.
The ACA decision was not just a victory for President Obama, but for the
much-extolled wisdom of the Founding Fathers in scrapping the unworkable
Articles of Confederation with the the enduring Constitution.
Some politically motivated quasi-religious gored oxes think they deserve a triple-plus-special deal for their religious beliefs. Even though there are an average of 24 churches per town in the USA, religious icons are everywhere, and religious dogma is inextricably intertwined with our society, these greedy zealots pretend there's some sort of War on Religion being waged. Recently, they've outdone themselves in hyperbolic paranoia, claiming their fragile "religious rights" have been significantly injured by laws like the Affordable Care Act. They want special exceptions to this law to protect their religious rights.
Sorry. I don't think so.
Why their request for a "special deal" should be denied was expressed best by Reagan-appointed Antonin Scalia. This conservative justice authored the majority opinion in the 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith finding that religious liberty is insufficient grounds for being exempt from generally applicable laws. In Smith, the Court established a standard anyone (even a gored ox) can understand. The standard asks simply whether the governmental action is neutral toward religion and whether the action is generally applicable (whether it applied to all relevant activities without exception). As long as a generally applicable law does not single out religious activities for special restrictions, those that argue such a law limits their religious freedom do not have a constitutional remedy. As part of his opinion, Scalia quoted from Reynolds v. USA, a case from 1878 finding that religious duty was not a suitable defense to a criminal indictment. Wysocki calls me a liberal, but on this point of denying religious exceptions to general laws I agree with conservative and devout Catholic justice Scalia.
What's more, it's absurd to accuse the government of taxing religion. As exceptions to general laws go, how about that double-plus-special exemption for churches granted in the IRS code? Is that exemption not the heavenly Father of all special-interest deals? In case you don't know about this loophole, let me explain. Unlike all other charitable organizations and non-profit corps that come under 510(c)(3) regulations (yes, including Universities like RPI, Wy), a church does not need to petition for tax exempt status, nor does it need to open its books to prove ongoing compliance. Nope: no form 1023, no form 990. Churches simply are trusted as tax exempt entities with no requirement to apply, be audited, or publish reports. Don't believe me: look for yourself. I can't think of a bigger special deal and license to free exercise than an a priori presumption of tax free status. God bless you US taxpayer. Do you think a default, unaudited exemption like that might lead to some abuse? What scandals lurk behind that exemption, I wonder. Can you imagine the IRS simply trusting the rest of us to decide if we owed taxes?
My point is this. Although I'm an atheist myself, I do rather believe in belief. Thus, I have no serious beef with modern, mainstream religion. I know that most churches are run on the up-and-up and they do objective good in the community. The corrupt exceptions are, well, regrettable exceptions. I'm cool with much of it. What I'm not cool with is a vocal minority of political activists leveraging the presumed moral authority of religion to achieve political ends. Good arguments tell me that freely available birth control can lower the generally shared burden of health care costs by a significant margin, so there are no fiscal "damages" to Catholics by making birth control available. Catholics won't be "paying for people to have sex". Nobody is forcing Catholic women to use birth control, although a large fraction of good Catholic women certainly choose to do so.
The total cost to everybody is lower when birth control is available freely through insurance. Why should the rest of us pay more so that these partisan zealots can score political
points and possibly win yet another special exception that even their own legal scholars admit they aren't due?
What could be a better dessert for an Independence Day celebration than a delicious slice of Jimmy Carter Cake!? Made with 5 parts Justice and only one part Liberty, it's the perfect way to sober up after an orgy of truculent US chauvinism and bad beer. I recommend pairing this delicious cake with a cup of shade grown sustainable java.
Some claim that there are two kind of people: those that think there are two kinds of people, and those that don't. Me, I think that very statement is false. So, I'm not sure what kind of person that makes me. I do know some of you have labeled me "liberal", Maybe I don't salute the flag in exactly the perfect way you imagine the founding fathers originally intended. Fine. If calling me a liberal pleases you, so long as it doesn't cost me any money, abuse any kids, pollute my water, or displace the deer population from your subdivision into my cornfield, you can call me whatever you want. Sticks and stones, baby. Sticks and stones.
What I am may be uncertain, but I am most assuredly not Wysocki. I did the best I could to amuse you in his absence, but even my best efforts fall far short of his worst. I was flattered he thought I could hold the fort for him in his absence, but now that he's back I'm relieved I no longer need to live up to his standard. It's not easy being the warm up band for Springsteen, let me tell you.
I will now retire from the WyBlog front page, returning my liberal, left wing, Islamist sympathizing, pinko, pansy, one world, eggheaded ideas to the comments where you can more easily ignore them.
UPDATE 01 Aug 2011 20:01:
Wy here; please allow me to say a few words of thanks to my friend Nadz.
And no, I didn't pay him for that amazing testimonial up there! Wow, a guy could get a big head or something if he wasn't careful. Thanks bud.
You done good by the blog my friend, you carried the torch with style. Like you said, it wasn't my style, but man can not live on WyWords alone. That's why I have that blogroll down yonder! And the occasional friend who pinch-hits when I'm off recharging my batteries.
Speaking of occasional friends; Myron sends his kudos too. You know how hard he is to please, so consider yourself doubly commended.
I want to say thanks as well to all of my loyal readers (both of you…) for making Nadz feel at home here. Yeah, even you guys who were pissed off at me for pulling this little switcheroo. You kept coming back, didn't you? Hits is hits baby!
Now be forewarned; there's always next summer. Maybe I'll ask one of the whingers to trade hurling insults at Nadz from the cheap seats for a stint in the bullpen. Bring it!
Any conservative worthy of the name resists change. Yet this defining characteristic hurts the conservative cause by making them less agile in criticizing the adaptations of their opponents. For example, right wing dogma paints Obama as a Liberal with a capital "L", but this hackneyed label is badly misplaced. Every time I hear a right-wing pundit blather about how Obama is the most liberal politician ever, I instantly stop listening. The person clearly isn't uttering original thoughts; he's stuck in a 20th century conservative rut. What year does he think this is? 1940? 1965? No, President Obama may be a lot of things, but I don't think he's a liberal.
I see Obama as a Whig.
Yes a Whig. To my way of thinking, Obama resembles Henry Clay more than classic political liberals such as Lyndon Johnson or FDR. Obama is an intellegent man with a complex vision: an American Plan like Henry Clay. There's much Whiggery, not Liberalism, in the Obama presidency.
The more I learn about the Whig Party from the mid 19th century, the more I think this is where the modern Democratic party is moving, toward whiggery. There's actually a Modern Whig party, founded when Obama took office.
Conservatives take note: your opponent has moved to a new idealogical stronghold. If your guns are still aimed at LBJ, I think you'll miss by a large margin where the modern Dems are headed. A symptom of this cockeyed targeting are the accusations of socialism hurled at Obama. They are nowhere close to the mark. Whigs are not socialists. They are planners inclined toward complex solutions, but not socialists. My, my no!The original Whig party formed in opposition to Andrew Jackson, who was sort-of the Ronald Reagan of his day. A great communicator, with folksy charm, it's said that "Old Hickory" was the first president to really understand the power in popular opinion. His Whig opposition followed the elitist axiom that ordinary citizens would naturally accept their betters in Washington had things well in hand. Does that sound like Obamacare?
Therefore, if the Republicans want to beat Obama in 2012, I think they need
a candidate who can run effectively against a Whig. Sara Palin or
Mitt Romney are bad choices for this. Get somebody like Andy Jackson,
or better yet, Jackson's protégé: James K. Polk. Don't know much
about Polk? I think if you read
about the man you'll agree with me that he's exactly the sort of man needed
to defeat a Whig. Look at Polk's simple campaign platform: secure our borders, stabilize
the treasury, cut tarrifs, keep the federal government out of local affairs, and (this is the best one) get it all done in four years and
not seek re-election. Polk achieved all of his campaign promises. Polk was, without a doubt, the most
effective President we've ever had. In addition,
Polk swept away the progressive, elitist American Plan of Henry Clay and the Whigs. Read
about his Rivers and Harbors Veto
and I think you'll agree that Polk would have been a Tea Party favorite.
Wy likes tea, I like coffee. Wy's religious, I'm an atheist. Wy enjoys football, I'm a baseball fan.
Speaking of professional sports in the context of politics, I always think about the absurd anti-trust exemption that Major League Baseball enjoys, an exemption no other sport has. Since the supreme court said so in 1915, baseball games "are purely state affairs", and thus not interstate commerce for the purposes of the Sherman Act. As a result of this incredible ruling, MLB has been able to arbitrarily crush competition in any form without fear of legal pushback. The MLB juggernaut is only limited by the 1972 ruling Flood vs Kuhn, where the court ruled that MLB's anti-trust exemption did not extend to labor relations.
In 1957 when the NFL wanted some free stuff for its millionaire owners, in Radovich [sic] vs National Football League the supreme court said, sorry Charlie, professional football, unlike professional baseball, is clearly subject to antitrust laws. No free stuff for you.
You see, baseball, like Mickey Mouse and Jesus, is simply special.
Wysocki and I have had many discussions regarding Environmental issues. I believe that we both agree on the core issue: suicidally dumping crap on ourselves is a bad idea. That said, we seldom agree on the surface issues. Wysocki generally takes the position that the environmental movement comprises a bunch of radical lunatics that care more about Mother Gaia than all us endangered people that attempt to live on her. I try to oppose that point of view, but I admit it becomes very difficult to disagree with Wy when I read something like this.
Talk about delusional! Hey Wysocki, if I ever claim that environumbskulls don't exist, remind me of the "environmental philosopher" Patrick Curry, OK?
Anyway, although I doubt I need to, let me explain where Curry goes wrong in the above statement. His mistake is when he tags capitalism as the source of all Mother Gaia's ills. Let's take the first example he gives: overpopulation. It's hard for me to see how overpopulation is a result of capitalism. A much better explanation for overpopulation is that people like to have sex and make babies, and ethical systems in societies throughout the world tend to promote this excess-people-producing behavior. In that sense, it's arguable the root cause of overpopulation is a major world religion that prohibit birth control and opposes pretty much anything that might impede the production of more babies -- whether or not they can be reasonably supported by society.
If capitalism plays any role in overpopulation, it allows all these "extra" people on the Earth to not die. Capitalism generates so much economic value that the excess value can be taxed to support billions of extra people who would otherwise die off. It appears that Curry would prefer that economic support for our current population vanishes and consequently all these "unsustainable" people would quickly die. Problem solved.
Of course, if you listen to right-wing rhetoric you can sometimes get the idea that conservatives also want to pull the plug on the extra people. Cut entitlements, cut taxes. Let people sink or swim. Oh, and by the way, every life is sacred.
In fairness, I'm taking liberties in my sketches of these polarized opinions, but the polarizing rhetoric I hear from people on the left like Curry is easy to caricature into what I hear from the right. Curry probably doesn't want all the extra people to die. He probably wants us to pay even higher taxes so that the government can magically transport the extra people out of cities, scattering over the face of Mother Gaia to form ecologically ethical self-sustainable communities where they will all eat locally produced native species plants and free range animals, live in carbon neutral homes, and eschew most of the fruits of technology. In short, become neo-Amish (conveniently ignoring the fact that the Amish are, without a doubt, brutally competitive capitalists.)
And the conservatives? No, they don't want the extra people to die either. Atlas
wants to shrug off these freeloaders for their own good. With this shock
of being cast off, and despite being
single moms, elderly, or incarcerated, these reformed freeloaders
are suddenly inspired to pull themselves (and
their babies) up by some sort of heretofore unnoticed
bootstraps. They ultimately start businesses, create jobs,
and generate even more economic value so as to support even more extra people,
with liberty and justice for all (cue music).