I just finished reading Robert Heinlein’s “Logic of Empire” in the March 1941 Astounding* and there were two quotes that jumped out at me as particularly apropos to current events in the Federal government today.
“I suppose you’re a radical now?”
Doc’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “Not at all. Radical and conservative are terms for emotional attitudes, not sociological opinions.”
And the second quote, from toward the end of the story:
“…sweet reasonableness won’t get you anywhere in this [political] racket. To make yourself heard you have to be a demagogue, or a rabble-rousing political preacher like this fellow Nehemiah Schudder. We’re going merrily to hell, and it won’t stop until it winds up in a crash.”
“But–Oh, the devil! What can we do about it?”
“Nothing. Things are bound to get a whole lot worse before they can get any better.”
It’s eerie how we sometimes read seventy-year-old science fiction stories that are near perfect reflections of today. I guess some things never change.
(*I’ll have more to say about “Logic of Empire” in Episode 21 of my Vacation in the Golden Age, coming on August 8.)
Two ridiculous things for a Monday:
- Congress. I’m reminded of the old joke: if “pro” is the opposite of “con” what is the opposite of “progress”?
- Kids wearing diapers at Disney World. Kids mind, you, not toddlers. The Little Man is in the very early stages of potty training. So naturally, Kelly was searching online about the subject and discovered one site in which people were discussing how they encouraged their family members to wear diapers or pull-ups at Disney World to avoid having to use the restrooms. Presumably they want to maximize their time at the park. There are a number of reasons given for doing this, but they all read to me like blatant rationalizations by parents who think more about themselves than their kids. I don’t know what else to say about this. I was stunned.
At the moment both of the above items weight equally in my mind in their overall absurdity.
Dear Washington Politicians,
Please do something–anything–other than worrying about how whatever “it” is will play for reelection. Your constituents would appreciate the reminder that government can do something and that we are not better off replacing our politicians with marble statues (which at this point would seem equally effective).
Got that? Thanks!
Jamie Todd Rubin
I was paying unusually close attention to the news this week, this big story of course being the thread of a government shut down. I had two reasons to be interested in this:
- Kelly is an employee of the Federal Government and a shutdown would have a direct affect on our bottom line.
- I like in the metro-DC area and a shutdown would have a direct effect on the region
As it turned out, a shutdown was averted. A budget was agreed to and both sides are claiming their victories. I’m a lifelong Democrat, but I have to day that I am bitterly disappointed with the behavior of both sides. The parades in front of the cameras yesterday and this morning provide clear evidence, to me, that the bargaining and deal-making was done in the best interest of the politicians, not the best interests of the people. The people, and specifically, the 800,000 federal employees were held hostage through this crisis.
Republicans and Democrats alike are already claiming victories and pronouncing flaccid sound-bites on how their side “won”. They are using that word. “We won!” Or this is a “victory” for “us”. Maybe a few will mention how this was a victory for the American people, but I have a difficult time seeing how. I get the feeling that if this was big business it would be the corporations that won and the consumers that got the short end of the stick.
Of course spending needs to be cut, but grow a backbone! Raise taxes, too. Sure, it hurts everyone, but we all sacrifice in the short term in order for the long-term benefit. But even the bravest politicians turn cowardly when it comes to raising taxes. Not because it is not the right thing to do, but because it is a virtual guarantee that they won’t get re-elected. So what? We shouldn’t have politicians in office who value their careers before the people they serve. We are a representative democracy and as such, we vote for people to make decisions on our behalf. That doesn’t mean do what we think you should do, that means do what’s best for everyone. Sometimes what’s best is not what we’d like. I hate going to the dentist, but I do it because it’s good for me.
Our politicians on both sides of the aisle haven’t averted a crisis, they’ve just delayed one. There is still a rather large deficit and it seems to me that the endless quest for growth is unsustainable. We need smarter, braver people in office if we are going to really weather this storm and come through on the other side. But we’ve become an instant gratification society with no thought for patience for the future.
So we’ll very likely get what we deserve.
It’s about time. This was a terrible policy from the outset and it is to Congress’s shame that they can’t seem to learn from history. There was a time in the U.S. military when certain races were excluded and the thought of integration was repellant for similar reasons given by the military today, that it would disrupt unit cohesion and moral. But the military survived integration (to its benefit) and you’d think they’d learn from that.
A lot of people are crediting Congress and patting them on the back for doing something which should have been done a very long time ago. I’m overjoyed to see this remarkable example of cowardice finally repealed, but I’m disappointed in Congress for doing so through what I think is another remarkable example of cowardice: it took a lame duck Congress to finally repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Lame duck congressmen and woman have no threat of voter retaliation since they’ve already been voted out of office. Courage would have been to repeal this long before the mid-term election.
It is yet another example of why I think term limits are needed. It’s the only way to force politicians to get things done and not worry about the next election.
Regardless of the method, though, I am glad to see Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed. Let’s just hope it stays that way.
I’ve never gotten economics. It’s one of those subjects which my simple brain isn’t designed to handle. Economists are like mystics in my mind. I mention this as a preface to what follows because you have to know where I’m coming from. Yes, I took an economics class back in college. No, I didn’t do well in it. (D+ and that was after reading the text book cover-to-cover and attending every lecture.)
I am confused by the new tax deal. Or perhaps, more accurately, I am confused by the motives behind it. From what I do understand, it extends the tax cuts put in place by Bush for another 2 years. It extends those tax cuts for everyone, regardless of how much money you make. Taxes aren’t going down for anyone, they are just not going back up to where they were. Presumably, this means that people will have more money in their paychecks than they would have if the bill was not passed.
So here are my thoughts on these economic matters:
- Save, spend, or…? What is it exactly that we are supposed to do with this “extra” money that we will have in 2011? I realize that we can do with it whatever we want, but certainly the federal government had something in mind. My guess is that we are supposed to spend this money and therefore further stimulate the economy. But according to the folks at CreditCards.com, the average American household carries $15,788 in credit card debt at an average interest rate of 14.35%. So wouldn’t it make sense to pay down some of that debt, as opposed to save or spent the “extra” money? Getting rid of that debt at those high interest rates could ultimately result in more money in each paycheck, since a big hunk of it wouldn’t be going to credit debt, right?
- Allowing the tax cuts to expire isn’t really a tax increase. I understand that politics is all about framing the issue and those supporting the new tax deal have made it clear that a vote against it is a vote for tax increases. But strictly speaking, it is not a tax increase, but merely restoring income taxes to the levels they were at prior to Bush cutting them. Do people really believe that taxes can continue to be cut without ever going up?
- Corporations and governments face budget cuts, why not people? If the tax bill did not pass, people’s taxes would go up next year meaning they would have less money in their paycheck than they had this year. Another way to look at this is a budget cut. Families have budgets (or should, it seems to me). Knowing ahead of time that you’ll have less money to spend in the coming year is like knowing that your budget is going to be cut, and people can (or should) plan accordingly. The problem is, I think, people don’t want to cut their spending in proportion to the money they take home. They don’t want to switch to a cheaper data plan, or cancel cable television for the year, or put off buying the new flat panel TV. In short, people don’t want to–
- Make sacrifices. Despite phrases like “tough economic times” and “worst economy since the great depression”, people don’t seem to want to make sacrifices in the style of living they have become accustomed to. People don’t want to make cuts in things like cable, or televisions, or iPads or new cars. People generally seem unwilling to make these sacrifices. But if you go without a vacation for the year; or if you put off buying a new car; or if you stop buying name brands for the year, those savings can add up. Sure, you make a sacrifice, but presumably, so is everyone else and the money that could have been used to maintain the tax cuts can be used for things like paying down the debt and improving government services–like education, for instance.
- But what about people who are already at their limit? If the tax bill didn’t pass, there would many people who wouldn’t be able to pay their bills, and have nothing left to sacrifice. They wouldn’t be able to pay their mortgage, or would have to decide between paying tuition or paying for health insurance. We need to be sure that we can help those most in need but there is no easy way to do this because even people who make a lot of money will come out of the woodwork claiming, ridiculously, that they are in need, too. Perhaps an exception could be made for people in these circumstances. The sacrifices of others would allow these people to continue at a lower tax rate while everyone else’s is returned to what it was before the Bush tax cuts. But that probably isn’t realistic. People these day seem too selfish for this kind of altruism.
- What’s the big deal about the middle class? If I were cynical, the only important thing about the “middle class” is that they are the largest voting base out there. That is because that almost everyone thinks of themselves as middle class. (I suspect that is why subclasses evolved in the first place, so that some people will say “lower-middle” while others say “upper-middle”.) Saying that you are going to extend tax cuts to the middle class is a political way of saying you are going to extend tax cuts to just about everyone. And everyone who gets a tax cut is therefore defined as middle-class going forward, which is right where they want to be.
- Is this really just some kind of accepted bribery? Okay, the real cynic in me has to ask this question. Because Americans tend to be issue voters and rarely see the big picture, is an extension of the tax cut really nothing more than a bribe for votes. “I’ll let you keep an extra $3,000 dollars in your paychecks next year, if you vote for me in 2012.” And by “me” I mean anyone who voted for the bill, Democrat, Republican, or Independent. It’s a kind of quid pro quo that is accepted at face value.
The truth is–for me–I’d be fine paying more taxes next year (I won’t say “happy”) if it meant that my little boy would have a more economically sound future–and economically sound government. Because when all is said an done, this tax bill simply defers the inevitable. The government is adding to its credit card debt and since we all make up the government (“of the people, by the people, for the people”) we will eventually have to pay that debt. And if we don’t pay it our children will, or our grandchildren, or suffer the consequences. That’s not what I want to see for my little boy, and so I would have accepted a resumption of the previous tax levels with what grace I could muster, knowing that I would be helping to close the government deficit, not increase it.
But like I said, Americans generally don’t look at the big picture. We can barely think to the next paycheck let alone the next generation.
I imagine there will be people who criticize this position as typical of one party or another. (I am a life-long Democrat, but to be honest, even I am not certain what party these economic opinions of mine represent.) But in my mind, they are the most rational opinions one can hold while looking at the big picture. People may not be willing to make sacrifices for their fellow citizens. But have we gotten to the point where we are not willing to make sacrifices for our own future–and our children’s future–either?
I had my fill of politics during the four years in which I obtained my degree in Political Science. (A degree, I might add, which I promptly put to good use by becoming a software developer.) The problem with political science is that it is far more political than it is scientific. In fact, there is little about politics which is scientific and that makes it a difficult beast to understand. I used to be interested in politics and what was going on around me, however, over the last few years I have grown increasingly frustrated and disheartened by it, and the recent election and the events since have led me to the (unscientific) conclusion that not much good will come from politicians anytime soon, unless some drastic changes are made to the way politicians and the voters operate. I can think of two steps that will help set things in the right direction:
- Term limits. The argument against term limits is that is prevents good men and women from continuing their service beyond their initial term. The argument for term limits is that is eliminates the “career” politician and in our current state, I think the career politician is one of the most destructive influences we have in government. Politics should not be a career. It is public a public service. We have made it into a career, but with a certain level of willpower, we can unmake it. Term limits across the board are in order, I think. Those people lucky (or unfortunate) enough to be elected should spend their time governing, not running for reelection. The decisions they make in office should be what’s best for all of the country, not just the people who will likely vote for them next term. Setting hard term limits seems to me to be the only way to achieve this. Some might argue that in doing so, we rule out an entire class of potential leaders, but at this point, I am wary of any politician, Democrat or Republican, who wants to make a career out of politics. We need people who are willing to solve problems without much thought (or fear) of reelection. Realistically, of course, this is like the fox guarding the hen house. What politician in their right mind would vote for legislation that would effectively limit their career? The answer to this question highlights the state of our affairs, I think. But for the country to move out of the political stagnation we’ve wandered into, a term limit on politicians at all levels is the only way I see out of the quagmire.
- Education. We have become a nation of issue voters, where typically one issue that has little to do with governing decides an election. This is our own fault of course. If voters were better educated, I think they would make better decisions. But we simply don’t value education the way we should. If we did, we wouldn’t be falling behind in rankings against other nations. Party politics uses hot-button issues to scare voters into thinking that a vote for Candidate A means that you will lose the right to X. A smart voter knows that this isn’t true and they recognize that any politician who depends on votes based on a single issue isn’t one worthy of governing, I don’t care what party they belong to. We all need to be looking out for the big picture. We all need to learn to compromise where compromise is appropriate. Understanding the issues helps. An understanding of history helps. (Nothing we do is unique, it has all happened before in some form or another.) The smarter the voters, the better the politicians we will get.
I’m not optimistic about the next decade or so in U.S. politics. But the pendulum eventually swings back the other way. This are bad and then things are good. It is learning how to control the pendulum that is the trick we have yet to learn, be it the economy or other issues that face us. Either way, a message needs to be sent that we simply will no longer tolerate career politicians making decisions for us. It’s a message that I doubt very much will gain the momentum or visibility it needs, but I see it as one way out of this mess we’re in.
Am I the only one who thinks that the United States is once again embarrassing itself with its sudden posturing on illegal immigration? In my mind, Arizona has become the laughing stock of the nation, to say nothing of the world. And now, Republicans seem to want to amend the Constitution to undo the citizenship clause (which says that if you are born here, you are a citizen). The clause is a simple and clear one:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.
There are those who feel that this encourages illegal immigrants. Maybe it does, but so what? What ever happened to “give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free…”? I suppose Republicans look upon the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty as naive; these are the same people who view the second amendment as unalterable. It seems to me that the nation was founded on the principle of acceptance, of a better life. It’s why we are all here in the first place. Excepting Native Americans, no one here can claim they were not a beneficiary of the open immigration policies of the United States.
And now we are trying to make it even harder to give other people the same opportunities. This is one of those things that makes me sad, and ashamed to call myself an American. What a hypocritical nation we have become! Arizona leads the pack with its “papers, please” approach to illegal immigration. I wonder what it is that people are so afraid of?
- Illegal immigrants take away jobs from honest Americans? Show me a truly honest American (that is, an able-bodied citizen not attempting to be a career welfare recipient, or a professional litigant) and I’ll show you someone who has no fear of losing a job to an illegal immigrant.
- Illegal immigrants cost the state an enormous amount of money? We call ourselves a “Christian” nation, but I don’t see it. Where is the notion of charity? Amnesty? There are certain core decencies that you simply can’t cast aside because they cost too much. We are obligated to pay it forward.
- Illegal immigrants encourage crime and poverty? This is true of anything illegal or taboo. Drugs would not be as exotic if they were legalized. Children wouldn’t be as fascinated at the notion of sex if it wasn’t a mystery. If we made it easier to be a legal citizen, much of the crime and poverty associated with it would go away over time.
I think we need to look this ugly side of ourselves in the face and at least lost the hypocrisy. We are the “haves” of the world, and we don’t want to give up any of what we “have” to the “have-nots”. That is what people are really afraid of. If only these same people had the courage to admit this–at least then they couldn’t be called hypocrites. Then they’d only be honest bigots.
Overall: a pretty good speech. There were things I wanted to hear, like a focus on jobs, getting out of Iraq, working to pass health care reform, and repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I liked that President Obama seemed feisty at times, as when he criticized the Supreme Court for their recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. I liked the proposed spending cuts, and the increases in spending, particularly for education, which needs it. I liked the President’s challenge to legislate rather than bicker. I liked the humor and humility he injected. Yet in many ways, it was like any other State of the Union, lots of proposals, with lots of wait and see to follow.
What troubled me the most is the way the address is covered. I watched it on ABC, a news team that I typically like, although I’m sure they are not much different than any of the other networks. What I found troubling:
- Why does the camera have to look at the audience at all? Why doesn’t it just stay focused on the President. The actual address is not, in my opinion, about how people are reacting to it. Focusing onto the Senators who aren’t clapping or standing (or who are) takes away from the speech. It also tends to reveal a particular news agencies biases.
- Why does anyone care how much total time people were applauding? Or how many times they rose to applaud. Toward the beginning of the speech, there was point where people were cheering with each sentence. Biden, at least, hesitated and then finally applauded only when everyone else did too.
- Why were we getting reports of the tweets coming from the chamber? Maybe it’s me, but it seems somehow disrespectful to be a member of Congress, tweeting away while the President is giving an important speech. How much attention could they be paying to what was actually said?
- Why does the President have to shake everyone’s hand going in, and sign autographs on his way out? Haven’t most of these people already met him?
- Why do we need fact checkers? The fact that informed citizens can’t or won’t check facts for themselves says something significant about the state of the union.
I’m just sayin’…
While reading Frederik Pohl’s autobiography, The Way the Future Was last night, I was struck by the following remarks he made in the first chapter:
Hoover did not plant the seeds [of the Great Depression], they were sown over the boom years of the 20s, in easy credit buying and mad stock swindles
I realize that people have been calling what we are in a recession and not a depression (and they are very careful to do this). But what struck me about the above statement is its strong parallels with our current situation. This recession was sown over the boom years of the late 1990 and early 2000s (especially in the real estate market); in the easy credit that made people think they could afford houses they couldn’t actually afford; and in mad stock swindles like we’ve seen at some of the big financial institutions that have gone under, to say nothing of the Madoffs and Stanfords of the world.
Of course, we can’t call this a depression since we have social security and unemployment and welfare and all the other social aid that folks in the 1930s didn’t have. But come on. Set those things aside and who are we really kidding?
I don’t care if you are a Republican, Democrat or something in between, if you are going to lead people, you have to lead by (good) example. If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t lead. Period. Not paying income tax is leading by poor example and it should automatically disqualify someone from serving as a leader in government. There may be excuses, there may have been mistakes, it may be "complicated". Regardless, it distracts from the business of the public and worse, it creates a bad example. Finally, even if you make it through the confirmation process, you’ve got something hanging over your head, an example that can be pointed to by others to say, see here, you did it, and you got away with it. Why not me?
It shouldn’t even be a question. I appreciate folks like Governor Richardson and Nancy Killefer who bow out as soon as this issues arise, and thereby setting a good example of the right thing to do when you’ve done the wrong thing.
The DC office was closed today so I worked from home. Good progress in the morning, one phone meeting, and then I took some time to watch the inauguration on TV. It’s all been said already, but let me just give a few of my own impressions:
- Kind of funny how our Chief Justice doesn’t know the Oath of Office. It seems to me I had to learn that in sixth grade.
- Great speech by Obama. A lot of metaphors and imagery, but what most impressed and excited me was "We will restore science to its rightful place". Kind of sums up some of what went wrong with the last eight years.
- How about the crowds on the National Mall, and how well-behaved everyone was?
- How about how youthful, funny and energetic Obama seemed throughout the day; he seemed to be having a great time.
- It seemed that almost everyone was enthusiastic about President Obama; sure, there were a few exceptions, professional blatherers like Rush Limbaugh. But for the most part, it seems like everyone in the world is a fan.
There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the incoming Obama and outgoing Bush. It really does feel as though we’ve been in some kind of coma for the last eight years, and we are now waking up and the veil has been lifted. The darkness is receding and the sunlight is overtaking the land.
Congratulations, Mr. President.