Sunday, April 3, 2011

Congressional time-wasters

So what are the big issues on Capitol Hill these days? The federal budget, right? I mean, the situation's so ridiculously urgent that we really do need to have a decision made.

Of course, the newest thing that Congress is wasting it's time on - the Muslim threat. Get this, an actual debate is going on about the threat posed by Muslims in America who live near each other, build communities separate from others, and believe in the role of Islam in law. Please note that (as least as far as I know) there has been no push to make Islamic law part of American law by the Muslims in question. To quote Mike Royko, "This may not be the stupidest thing I've ever heard, but it's close."

Why don't we take this point by point?

1. There have been a lot of stories about disaffected Muslim-American youths trying to commit acts of terror against the U.S. in the media lately. The sad fact is that disaffected youths will always find some method of lashing out. Religious fundamentalism has become a popular bandwagon for some of these morons. But they's still be morons without it. And they'd do something similar without the religious trappings.
2. Ethnic groups tend to gather together. Several cities have areas called "Chinatown". There are parts of Chicago where you rarely see a car on Saturdays and most of the men are wearing black clothing, hats, and sidecurls. (for those of you who don't know, these are indications of Orthodox Jewry).
3. It is a fallacy that religious communities and religious laws do not influence the American legal and justice system today. For starters, the American legal system is based on Old English law and Judeo-Christian principles. Also, does anyone really believe that the Catholic bishops have no power in certain Boston or New York precincts and Congressional districts? What about local judges who get elected because of patronage by local religious leaders? Why should Muslims be any different?
4. This brings me to possibly the most important point. Are these beliefs hurting anyone? As I said, there is no evidence of efforts to push Islamic law into the secular arena in any official sense. Given that, we as Americans are not supposed to care. One of the greatest strengths of this country, at least in my opinion, is the freedom it allows for anyone to believe whatever they want as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else's freedom to do the same. I fail to see how most American Muslims are doing anything to interfere with anybody else's freedom of religion.

Now all of the above points are fairly obvious. So why is Congress wasting its time on debating this fear-mongering garbage? Well, it's similar to the reasons for the success of the fear-mongering efforts of Senator Joe McCarthy (remember him?) in the 1950s or Hitler in Germany in the 1930s. Things aren't going as well as the people in power would like. Who's to blame? THEM! Who's them? COMMUNISTS. JEWS. MUSLIMS. They're too blame. Not us! Not you! Not fate!


Monday, February 28, 2011

Political Philosophy and current events

In recent days I have been hearing a lot about how the American government cannot seem to get anything done. The folks on Capitol Hill are stalling about the federal budget (five months into the current fiscal year) and certain state lawmakers are fleeing their homes in order to prevent their legislature from being able to have the quorum necessary to pass certain bills. Yes, I am being deliberately vague. Whatever I may feel about the issues, this is about the process.

The American government is not an efficient. Thank God. An efficient government is not one that allows the voices of the people to be heard. Also, history shows us that, when a small number of people have a disproportionate amount of power, corruption and decline always follows. Perhaps not right away, but soon enough.

One of the reasons I admire the founders of our country is that they had the wisdom to realize this. They designed a system of for our federal government that delegates as little power as possible to the executive branch. We have since managed to strip away some of these protections, but our head of state is still hamstrung in many ways.

I am frustrated with much of the recent politicking going on. It seems like no one wants to sit down and compromise. Yet I can't help but feel proud. Even though the lawmakers are fleeing their homes, they are only doing it to make a political point. No one is going to arrest them and drag them back to vote.

The independence and freedoms we hold so dear mean that we will have to deal with this sort of nonsense. So would we rather fight the hard battles and clear the air about our issues or have a bunch of old wise people telling us to do what they say because they know best?

Monday, April 19, 2010

More about the Tea Party

I read an interesting commentary on today. Sorry I don't have the exact link.

Anyway, the gist is that we should be celebrating the outpouring of ideas of the Tea Party. Of course they have a lunatic fringe. So does any political group. But the movement is about protesting what they see as bad government and bad policies.

For the most part I agree with this sentiment. I do think that we need to keep an eye on the fringe element. Some of them have clearly lost their minds. However, I think that any radical of any stripe needs to be watched closely - not just the ones affiliated with the Tea Party.

Also, the author of the commentary agrees with my stance that the Tea Party's positions are idiotic. However, they have a right to them, as do we all.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Tea Party - Really?

Sorry I haven't posted lately. I've decided to join the Tea Party after my emergency lobotomy. Or maybe I'm being too hard on them. Somehow I don't think so.

As much as I believe in the free marketplace of ideas, it scares me how ignorant some of my fellow countrymen and women seem to be.

For example, the idea that people who work hard should not have to subsidize the health care of those who can't pay for it under the present system. Guess what? We a;ready do that! If someone is dying, our hospitals have to treat them even if they can't pay. Guess who picks up the bill? Should we ask for proof of insurance or cash upfront before treating a heart attack victim? Or what about a homeless child with a burst appendix? Why should someone who has no health insurance in the free market system be cared for on the public dime? Isn't this the logical conclusion to the argument?

Now some may make the argument that this is exactly right. The free market is brutal. Free market, shmee market! Aren't we supposed to be a civilized, forward-thinking society? I don't particularly want to live in a country where the dying are just allowed to die for lack of funds.

Okay. So why should we have to pay for more than just urgently needed treatments such as appendectomies or gunshot wounds? Well, the answer is that much of this emergency treatment would not be necessary if people could afford basic preventive care. For example, if a child has diabetes that is left untreated, he or she can have major health problems, including blindess and death. Treatment for these complications would then cost the taxpayers lots of money. Routine doctors visits, on the other hand, could help to diagnose these types of problems before they become so dangerous. Also, access to medicines such as insulin and even simple devices such as blood sugar monitors would drastically decrease the risk of dangerous (and expensive) complications.

Now, I am not saying that everyone should have so-called "Cadillac" health insurance. I just think that it's very dangerous for the overally health of this country for so many people to only go to the emergency room when they are on the verge of death, and then use up far more of the taxpayers money than they would have with decent subsidized health insurance.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Health care reform and the Democrats

Has anyone been reading about the latest tactic of the Democrats for health care reform? The idea is that they will simply deem the bill passed by a 51-vote majority in the senate and then vote on all of the provisions separately. The Republicans are calling them a number of nasty names.

The most telling point, in my opinion, is the comment I read that, if the Democrats do this and actually pass some form of health care reform, we will spend the rest of the year dealing with attempts to get it overturned. My opinion is that we need to get something passed completely aboveboard. This has taken so much time and energy already. We can spend a little more time now to save time later.

Of course, this may be a moot point. As I've noted in earlier posts, planning for the future instead of looking at the (very) short-term gains seems to go against human nature.

Monday, March 15, 2010

banking regulation proposal

Apparently Senator Dodd of Connecticut has proposed a new bill to make sure that what happened in 2008 won't happen again. The banks were too big to fail and were completely unregulated. I see his point. I would like to note, however, that the new regulatory office he is proposing will need to have actual enforcement power. Otherwise it's just a sop.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

school closings

Earlier this week I heard that Kansa City is planning to close about half of its schools. Apparently, due to increasing budget problems and lower enrollment, the majority feel this is the best solution. As an impartial observer who does not live in Kansas City or have children in any public school system, I can see the logic in the decision. If they don't have to maintain as many facilities or pay as many teachers and maintenance staff, they should be able to help the schools that will remain open.

Of course, a lot of people are unhappy. Their children will have to change to schools that are further away. They may no longer be in the same schools as their friends. Bus drivers will have to change routes and add new ones as more students start taking busses to school. And no one wants to be the ones to lose their jobs.

It seems like schools all over the country are in trouble. As people leave an area due to foreclosures and loss of employment, the population goes down and the high school dropout rate goes up. Marshaling the remaining resources to provide a decent primary education for the students who remain is absolutely essential. Better that they should have to travel further for safe buildings and well-equipped facilities. I know that in an ideal world compromise wouldn't be necessary. As I have said before, we do not live in an ideal world. Welcome to reality.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Housing - Again!

So anyone have any thoughts on whether or not the $8000 new home buyer tax credit will be extended again? Yeah, I didn't think so.

The economy is still settling. The housing market is one of the things that is just going to have to settle into a lower state of equilibrium.

LEt me explain. For a long time, American businesses and consumers were living under the assumption that expansion was always the best move. Getting money for this expansion involved taking out loans. And then leveraging to take out more loans. And so on to the nth degree. This is what's known as living beyond your means, or trying to create virtual wealth. Real wealth, of course, is created with real assets (such as ideas, natural resources, and industries). Again, the party can't go on forever.

So what does this have to do with the housing market and the new home buyer credit? As I said, housing prices are still declining to what they really should be rather than their inflated levels. Unfortunately, no one wants to buy a home, and, even at the lower prices, fewer people can afford them. We still have a long way to go to reach any kind of stability in the housing market. Hence the continuing efforts of the politicians to cushion the fall by enticing more people into buying a home...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Policy making

I'm going to elaborate a bit on my last post. It just boggles my mind that supposedly intelligent leaders and scholars expect people to always behave rationally. A person can be rational and unselfish and all of that. People in groups just don't behave that way. Any student of history can tell you that. It's one of the human race's inevitable flaws. We're not perfect. By our nature, we can't be perfect. Therefore, any public policy or economic plan has to take that into account.

Oh, I'm not saying that people need to be led around like sheep. I just think that sensible regulations and an acknowledgment that a lot of folks don't give a toss about the the common good (especially when it adversely affects their pocket books) is necessary for successful policy making.

Simple, right? I'm thinking not.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

2008 and today

I was just thinking about how lucky I actually am economically-wise. I mean, I have a steady government job with medical benefits and I spend less money than I make. It seems like I have it made compared to a lot of people I know or have heard about.

It's awful what's been happening since the big economic meltdown in 2008. It's just hard for me to quite believe that no one in power saw this coming. I admit that the second Bush administration scared me from the start. Dubya surrounded himself by yes-men and pandered to his vision of what the world SHOULD be, not what it actually was. Nor did he and and his team have the ability to make long-term plans based in reality instead of fantasy to fulfill their vision. I could go on and on about Dubya and his meery men and women (and I'm sure I will in a later post), but he was not the only one at fault.

I've heard a lot of people complaining that no one could have predicted the 2008 collapse. That's just not true. People did predict it. Several award-winning economists predicted it. The sad part it that some of these economists had been making correct predictions of economic trends for decades, and still no policy maker wanted to listen to them. For more specifics, look up Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, both Nobel prize winning economists with new books out on the current situation.

Okay, so we can't say that we weren't warned. The truth is that no one wanted to hear it. The politicians were remaking the market into their ideal while pleasing their wealthy campaign-funding consituents. Traders knew on some level that, if they did the responsible long-term planning thing, their short-term profits would be cut. Who wants the party to end? Why should we look inot our policies and our mortgage and lending policies while we're making so much money?

Something that is often forgotten by high-minded idealists in any field in my experience is that people aren't perfect. As a general rule of thumb, people focus on the short-term and don't worry about the long-term, expecially when working in groups. Honestly, how many times have universities decided to put off repairs on an older building for yet another year in order to maintaing the annual pay raises? Or politicians focused so much on winning the next election that they don't think about what their votes and rhetoric will actually mean twenty years down the line? Or people selling their bodies on the street in order to feed themselves? It's not pretty or idealistic or high-minded, but humans can't just be wished into behaving the way we think they should!

Enough ranting abuot the past. The present administration is having problems. They are, as a group, inexperienced in political maneuvering or holdovers from the previous administration. At least their hearts seem to be in the right place. At least they're trying. Some people think the current administration is being too indecisive and not getting anything done. I would like to remind those people that the legislature in this country has the lion's share of the power, with good reason. And right now, the legislature seems more interested in tearing itself to pieces than actually coming up with some realistic, workable compromises.