The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Unintended consequences? Or the greatest good for the smallest number?

At some point, some wise guy decided that, in order to accommodate the few people who are wheelchair-bound, every transit bus needs to be equipped with wheelchair lifts — complex mechanical contraptions that frequently break down. This morning I had an experience that bore this out. I got on a bus, and a few stops down the route there was an intending passenger in a wheelchair; the lift broke down as the driver was lowering the lift to take her on. So the bus was stuck, with its wheelchair lift mechanism stuck in a middle-of-the-track position, and about thirty passengers had to wait half an hour until the next bus came along.

Why could the powers-that-be not have decided that wheelchair passengers could be accommodated by alternative transportation — such as specially equipped vans — and allowed the buses to be left alone? It seems that, for the benefits of a very small number of wheelchair-bound passengers, requiring such breakdown-prone equipment is really perverse. Is it a case of "unintended consequences"? (The people mandating the wheelchair accessibility not realizing that it's just one more device that can break down?) Or is it "the greatest good for the smallest number"? (The people mandating the wheelchair accessibility simply deciding they don't care about the majority of the bus-riding public — we can all go to hell, so a few wheelchair-bound people don't feel discriminated against? And is it really discrimination, if they can't use a regular bus and need to call for a special vehicle to take them somewhere? After all, they'd probably have the whole van to themselves!)

I find myself daily, every time I get on a bus, hoping there will not be anyone in a wheelchair wanting to get on it, or if there is already one on the bus, that he will not want to get off before I do. And if I'm waiting for a bus and there is someone in a wheelchair waiting at the same stop, just praying that he doesn't want the same bus I do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The homestretch

We are now in the last week before the elections. And clearly there are important races to be decided. (Some people have already taken advantage of "early voting" provisions in their States' election laws to vote earlier than the standard election day. So they just have to wait till the results come in.) At this point I want to review what I've already advocated for the voters of the country.

In one district, the 6th District of Virginia, voters can put a new face in the House of Representatives, Jeff Vanke, who stands for a kind of moderation sadly lacking in today's politics. The Modern Whig Party, which he represents, deserves the vote of thoughtful residents of that district. Unfortunately, some of the remaining 434 districts do not have good choices available to them; there are some where candidates, usually incumbents, are running unopposed. But in most of the districts, voters do have a choice (of varying degrees of viability). It is imperative that the voters choose as many Republicans as possible to retire Nancy Pelosi from the Speakership. If you have a Democrat as a representative, even if he (or she) seems reasonable and moderate, remember that the first vote that Congressman will take in January, if re-elected, is for Pelosi as Speaker. And that is good enough reason to vote for the Republican opponent. (In districts like mine, of course, it won't do much good: Chris Van Hollen will win, even though Mike Phillips would be a far better choice.) But even if it's only going to be symbolic, cast your vote for the Republican.

In the Senate, it's a mostly similar story. It looks to be unlikely that the Senate will actually go Republican, so Harry Reid (or Chuck Schumer, if Sharron Angle can win Reid's Nevada seat) will be the Majority Leader. But in the Senate, the minority has more power than in the House. So again, it's necessary to elect Republicans. However, just as there is one House district where the Republican is not the preferred candidate, there are two States whose Senate seats need to be given to someone other than the "official" Republican candidate. These are at opposite corners of the country, Florida and Alaska. In both States, there are moderate Republicans running independent candidacies, who have real chances to win, running against extremist right-wing Republicans who won the "official" nomination. So Charlie Crist, in Florida, and Lisa Murkowski, in Alaska, deserve people's votes. And in neither case will splitting the Republican vote elect a liberal Democrat. In both States, the Democrat is running a distant third.

Governorships are slightly different. It's not like the Senate, where a vote for any Democrat helps elect Reid or Schumer to a position of power, or the House, where a vote for any Democrat helps elect Pelosi to a position of even more power. Governorship votes stand and fall on themselves. It's still a good thing to elect the Republican in most states — though not in New York State, with the primitive Carl Paladino as candidate. (But he has little chance of winning, so you can vote in clear conscience for one of the numerous third party candidates in that State. And this is exactly what I think you should do.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Running against whom?

There are a lot of campaign signs in my neighborhood for Mike Phillips, the Republican candidate for Congress in my district. and all of them seem to couple his name and the office he's seeking with one other thing: Replace Pepco. Now, Pepco, for those who do not live near here, is the local electric company, and they have proved rather incompetent in handling some of the power outages resulting from recent storms, so a lot of people might be swayed to vote for anyone running against Pepco like this, but what on earth does a U. S. Congressman have to do with Pepco's franchise to provide electric power in this area? I might see "Replace Pepco" as a vaild campaign point for a candidate for County Council or County Executive, or possibly even for the State legislature, but it seems Phillips is running against the wrong opponent. Certainly, I'm sure that he realizes that Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic incumbent Congressman, is still so popular that he'll be hard to beat. But I cannot see how he can tie Van Hollen to Pepco's shortcomings. He could run against Nancy Pelosi's leadership, which Van Hollen certainly abets (in fact, he's a trusted member of her team, as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee). Or he could point to things that Van Hollen has actually done to hurt the district. But this seems a strange campaign tactic.

Now, Phillips will get my vote in November. He was not my choice in the primary, but once the primary is over, we need to get behind the winner — especially to try (though I'm afraid it's an impossible task) to defeat someone as important to the Pelosi/Reid/Obama team as Chris Van Hollen. But I think it's a crazy way to run a campaign.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Campaign finance reform and term limits: two cures worse than the disease?

Some people (including John McCain, a man with whom I agree on a lot of things, and was willing to give the Presidency to, though this does not mean I think he's always right!) have thought it desirable to put various limits on campaign funding — on who can contribute, or how much, for example. This is, to me, an interference with freedom of speech, and I prize the First Amendment enough that I think it's not a good idea. It seems to be based on the premise that if you have enough money, you can buy an office. But when was Ross Perot our President? Or Steve Forbes? I think we can handle the influx of money without limiting it. There are better approaches.

Another proposal that has been made is term limits. I really dislike this, because it means that the most qualified people for an office, the people who have actually held it, are barred from the job. I know of no field outside politics where a person with no experience is preferred to an experienced one in seeking any job. And we have a perfect mechanism for ending the term of office of someone who is doing an unsatisfactory job: the next election.

In fact, when the 22nd Amendment was put into the Constitution, it was by Republicans who resented Franklin Delano Roosevelt's flouting of the two-term limit tradition, and it immediately came back to haunt them — the first President who was barred from running for a third term was Dwight Eisenhower, who just might have won a third term if he had been allowed to run!

I don't see any good case for either of these reforms; in fact term limits are an extremely bad idea, because I believe that experienced professionals are usually better than amateurs at almost anything, so I cn only see negatives to that idea.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Advice to New York State residents

Though I've been living in Maryland for over 20 years, I still retain an interest in New York State politics, because I grew up there and first formed my political views seeing that Nelson Rockefeller was an outstanding Governor. And I've looked at this year's New York State Gubernatorial election, with the Republicans nominating the joke named Carl Paladino, and the Democrats nominating Andrew Cuomo, the son of a pretty far left Governor of the past. I want to repeat something I said in my previous post, more emphatically. If you live in New York State, vote this November. Don't vote for Paladino or Cuomo, though. Cuomo will win, whatever you do. But in New York State, the law says that any party that gets 50, 000 votes will have official status for the next four years. Fifty thousand votes in New York State is not a lot. So you can help a small party get a line on the ballot. There is a Libertarian candidate, Warren Redlich; a candidate whose party says "Rent is too damn high," Jimmy McMillan; a candidate of the Freedom party (which says that the Democrats are taking black voters too much for granted), Charles Barron; a candidate of the "Anti-Prohibition Party" (apparently for legalizing prostitution?), Kristin Davis, and a Green candidate. Some of these candidates may not be very serious, but if they can get 50,000 votes, there will be more voices heard in New York State politics the next four years. If you live in New York State, please vote for a minor party candidate for Governor, any minor party candidate for Governor, November 2.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The New York State gubernatorial race

Yesterday, on a trip to the drug store to have a prescription filled, I saw among the newspapers on display, the New York Post. And in big letters on page 1 was the headline announcing the Post's support for Andrew Cuomo for Governor of New York.

When I was growing up, in New York City, my parents' favorite paper was the Post, and it certainly would not have been unusual in those days to see it endorsing the Democratic candidate for any major office. In those days, the publisher, Dorothy Schiff, and the editor, James A. Wechsler, were far-left liberal Democrats, and generally if they did not endorse the Democrat for some office, it would be the Liberal Party candidate that got their endorsement (an example was Rudolph Halley who ran as a Liberal for Mayor of New York City.) The one exception I can think of was a gubernatorial election in the 1950s where publisher Schiff endorsed Nelson Rockefeller, and this led to an open split between editor and publisher, where Wechsler put in an editorial, signed with his name (a very unusual practice!) where he stated that he could not go along with the publisher's position.

But Dorothy Schiff sold the Post long ago. And it is now Rupert Murdoch who runs the Post, and Murdoch is known for being rather conservative. (Actually, this, in a way, returns the Post to its roots; the paper was founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, known in his day as a leader of conservative politics!) So the Post's endorsement of Cuomo in 2010 is not the usual thing. And this implies one thing: Carl Paladino is so far off-base that he even repels normally-Republican conservatives.

If I were living in New York State, I certainly could not endorse Cuomo. But Paladino — with his misguided anti-gay remarks and his rather coarse threats to take a baseball bat to Albany — is not a great alternative. So if I were still living in New York I would do what I actually did in 1974, when I did live (at least officially) in the state — vote for a third-party candidate (in that year, Jerome Tuccille, the candidate of the Free Libertarian party, which is what the libertarians in New York State called themselves in 1974). (In 1974 I had actually considered voting for the Democrat, Hugh Carey, because when President Gerald Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller to the Vice-Presidency, Malcolm Wilson, who succeeded from the Lieutenant Governorship to the Governorship as a result, had been a singularly ineffective Governor, even with a Republican Legislature. What turned me off Carey was that he, in turn, campaigned as if the worst thing that could be said about Wilson was his support for Richard M. Nixon, who I then considered, and now still consider, a much better President than the reputation he has gotten.)

I don't know who is on the ballot in New York State besides Cuomo and Paladino, but if there is anyone else even vaguely acceptable, and you live in that state, that's the one you should vote for!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Mark McKinnon's program (Part 3 of 3)

The last four of Mark McKinnon's proposals:
9. Go nuclear. The ultimate green strategy, good for the environment, good for the economy and therefore doable, is a natural-gas-to-nuclear-power plan proposed by contrarian Robert Bryce. Wind and solar power are land-intensive, a green sin, but not energy-dense, and affordable only when heavily subsidized. And wind power must be supplemented with hydrocarbons for reliability. Texas leads the nation and is sixth globally in wind production, yet only 8.7 percent of installed capacity is dependable during peak demand. And it provides only 1.2 percent of the state's total energy need. In Denmark, the poster child for wind power, neither carbon dioxide emissions nor hydrocarbon consumption have been reduced. Natural gas resources in the U.S. are equivalent to three times the known oil reserves of Iraq. Natural gas is the near-term solution for cleaner fuel and the bridge to the fuel of the future—nuclear, the most carbon-neutral, power-dense, relatively affordable and available energy source. As Bryce says, "If you are anti-carbon dioxide and anti-nuclear, you are pro-blackout."
I have long agreed with this proposal. People are afraid of Three Mile Island-type scenarios, but nobody was harmed by Three Mile Island. People were seriously affected by Chernobyl, but that was a type of reactor we don't think of building in the U. S., precisely because of the hazards associated with it.
10. Get right. Repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the U.S. military and legalizing same-sex marriage are issues of equality for all. Sixty percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Gay people serve their countries openly in the British, Canadian, and Israeli military. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is discriminatory, and it limits our ability to recruit and retain the greatest numbers of the best and brightest, especially critical while we are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both back this needed reform. And for the first time since Pew started tracking opinions on same-sex marriage 15 years ago, fewer than half of those polled now say they oppose legalizing the institution. Republicans constantly claim to be the party that defends the Constitution. In my opinion, we have no legitimate right to that claim until we get right on gay rights. It's way past time for the GOP to come out in support of equality for all.
Frankly, I've said enough on this topic that anyone reading this blog knows McKinnon's proposal has my full approval, so I need to say nothing more.
11. Open the borders. Any act that proposes 16,000 additional IRS agents can't be good. But President Obama is right: "Consumers do better when there is choice and competition." Unfortunately, the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does neither. Seventy-nine percent of Republican voters, 56 percent of voters not affiliated with either party, and a majority of voters in the battleground congressional districts still favor repeal. As an alternate strategy to lower costs, it's time to open the borders to allow the purchase of private health insurance across state lines, and to allow consumers and businesses to associate for better pool rates. Just six months after the bill was signed into law, consumers face increasing premiums, fewer choices when it comes to health-care insurers and providers. Squeezed by Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement payments below cost and mounting liability insurance costs, doctors may soon be an endangered species. There's a reason doctors have flocked to Texas since 2002: tort reform. Tort reforms are needed to protect patients' access to health care providers.
When I first looked at his title, I thought this proposal was going to deal with illegal immigration, but actually, as will be seen below, that is his next proposal. In fact this #11 is a really common-sense proposal. Some pieces of it have already been endorsed on this blog; I really agree with just about all of it.
12. Recognize reality. It's time to fix illegal immigration. Voters in Arizona and Texas are rightfully frustrated by the federal government's disinterest in protecting our sovereignty. Though unemployment numbers are high, low-skilled immigrants actually expand the size of the overall economy. Punishing those who work hard, who do not hurt others, and who seek a path out of poverty for their families is not the answer. The fixes need to begin now, and begin in parallel. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has the right plan. Secure the border; ceding a no-go zone to foreign drug lords on American territory is not acceptable. Deport illegal immigrants with felony convictions. For the 11 million already in this country, provide a tough but fair path forward which would include paying fines and back taxes, passing background checks, proving English proficiency and going to the back of the line to work toward lawful permanent residence. We need to expand and simplify the farm-worker program to address seasonal work needs. Issue all legal U.S. workers, including citizens and immigrants, a biometric ID card. And strengthen the penalties and enforcements for employers. At the same time, we need to expand the number of visas issued for high-skilled workers in science and technology, the next Einstein may be waiting.
This is probably a pretty reasonable way to handle it. It is close to the plan which was proposed by both George W. Bush and John McCain, but extremists on both sides led to its being scuttled.

McKinnon closes by saying:
It's not a brand that brings the middle together. It's a shared belief: The promise of America still exists. Though the system is corrupted, and government now rules as the master, not the servant, the ideal of liberty balanced by responsibility lives on—right in the middle.
That is a pretty good summary.

Monday, October 18, 2010

On Mark McKinnon's program (Part 2 of 3)

The next four of Mark McKinnon's proposals:
5. Stop the cannibalization. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will consume all tax revenues by 2052 at current rates. We are eating our young, spending their earning potential before they are even born. It's time to save the safety nets—for them. On this issue, the Democrats are the party of no (no grasp of reality). But Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has the right idea: Give the people the same choices Congress enjoys. Protect folks over 55 today from any changes to the commitments made. Give those under 55, as they become eligible, vouchers to purchase private health insurance, just as Congress does. Sicker and poorer enrollees would get larger vouchers. Vouchers put the consumer in charge, forcing providers to compete against each other to deliver care more efficiently rather than lobbying for reimbursement rate increases under Medicare's current single-payer plan. Let workers invest a third of their payroll taxes in their own savings account, guaranteed and managed by Social Security. Raise the retirement age, indexed to average life expectancy. And decrease benefits by 10 percent for everyone under 50.
This is probably a good idea. The idea of giving people vouchers to purchase insurance privately — as opposed to the mandate in "Obamacare" — makes it much more like the Medicare Part D system which I praised in an earlier post. I think I would favor this proposal.
6. Neuter the czars; let the sun shine in. Signing statements, executive orders, and the appointment of czars were once considered a serious threat to congressional power. Obama's pledges of transparency and accountability have expired. Unelected, unchecked, and unaccountable staffers now have the power to regulate our physical and financial health. The most frightening words in the health-care act are "as the Secretary may determine." Whether with nudges to dictate "lifestyle behavior modification," or with not-so-veiled threats of IRS action against private industry, or with guilty-before-proven-innocent charges against an organization of small businesses and private individuals, the ends do not justify the jackboot means. It's time regulate the regulators and let the sun shine in on the executive and legislative branches. Fannie, Freddie and the Fed must come out from behind closed doors. Congress must reform and rebalance the power of the people. And Congress should have a say in any regulation that has a fiscal impact.
Certainly this is a good idea. People objected to "the imperial Presidency" when it was Nixon in charge; Obama is doing far more to interfere with people's rights.
7. Stop teaching our children (the wrong lessons). That we fail our children is our greatest shame. Newark, New Jersey, spends more than twice the national average per pupil but graduates only half its students. Will a $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg improve results? Underfunding is not the reason for underperformance. Nationally, charter schools and voucher programs produce better results with less money. And though real federal spending per public school pupil has more than tripled since the 1960s, achievement scores remain flat and graduation rates are the same as in 1970. Radical education reform is needed. It's time to get the unions out of the classroom. The American Federation of Teachers spent $1 million to defeat D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty for his support of education reformer and school chancellor Michelle Rhee, who resigned Weds. The right ideas are already out there. Hold schools accountable to national standards, but allow problem solvers at the local level to design education solutions that reward performance for students, teachers, parents, and schools.
He is totally right there. I couldn't have said it better.
8. Copy Clinton's conservative moves. To open up new markets and create American jobs, we need to make global bilateral free trade agreements a priority as they were under the Clinton administration. Free trade grows jobs here. President Obama agrees: "Export growth leads to job that pay 15 percent more than average. So at a time when jobs are in short supply, building exports is an imperative." It's the trade deficit, importing more than we export, not free trade itself that kills jobs. The U.S. has a manufactured goods trade surplus with its free trade partners but a trade deficit with countries that have not entered into an agreement. Without agreements, 60 percent of available markets are closed to us. Free trade grows jobs here, and helps improve lives in developing nations—a cause that should be shared by all. But to unleash the powerful potential of free trade, we also need to slash the deficit, which diverts billions in foreign spending to the purchase of American debt rather than American goods. And while we're at it, let's kill farm subsidies.
Though I have no love for Bill Clinton, the specific areas McKinnon points to are right on the money.

The final four points will be discussed in the next post.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Mark McKinnon's program (Part 1 of 3)

Mark McKinnon's post had a total of twelve proposals. Discussing all of them in one post would be impossibly long to digest. I'm going to divide them into three groups of four, and even so the posts will be quite long. His first point was:
1. Get lobbyists, corporations, unions, and bundlers out of buying federal elections. Give the power back to the voters. In the last two weeks before adjournment, House candidates attended more than 400 fundraisers in the D.C. area. The top 10 heavy hitters, a list that includes trial lawyers and more unions than corporations, have contributed more than $355 million to the two parties from 1989 through mid-September. Forty-eight Super PACs with unlimited giving potential, from the right and the left, have registered with the FEC in the last few months. No wonder 70 percent of voters believe most members of Congress are willing to sell their vote for a campaign contribution. We can start reforming the system by passing the Fair Elections Now Act, and we can radically disrupt the way campaigns are financed through state constitutional conventions. Congress won't reform itself, but the framers anticipated such a problem, giving us Article V to go around Congress.
This was the old McCain-Feingold Act's proposal. The whole reason that the Court found it unconstitutional was that it restricted First Amendment guarantees on freedom of speech. And I really think the court was right there — you just can't sensibly restrict freedom of speech just because some people (and corporations, but they simply act in accordance with whatever the people who control them want) have a lot of money and can buy more advertising. The fact is that money can't buy an election if the candidate isn't what the people want (think of Ross Perot). So this is no worry of mine. (Imagine if one could buy the Presidency, or a Governorship. I'd be happy that Meg Whitman would be unbeatable in California!)
2. Butcher the pork, freeze the fat. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is wrong. We do care about "all those little, tiny, yes, porky amendments." With a deficit of $1.4 trillion, does it make any sense to be spending taxpayer dollars on researching exotic ants in the Indian Ocean? If expanding the government to such gross levels was good for the health of the nation, Europe would be leading the world, not suffering from economic sclerosis. When the government tries to borrow and spend its way to economic growth, the private sector—the job creators—cuts back its investments in anticipation of tax increases. An economy that's hostile to business will go the way of Greece. It's time to focus government spending on only mission-critical services, and not just freeze spending but reduce spending to a fixed percent of GDP. All spending, discretionary and non-discretionary, needs to be on the table. No sacred cows. Not even NASA. (Call me an interplanetary isolationist, but I think we should take care of lives here on Earth before we search for life on other planets.) Follow the model of Secretary of Defense Bob Gates: Reduce overhead costs by eliminating excess and duplication without risking critical force structure. We should permanently ban earmarks. Break up spending bills into individual requests. And restrict emergency spending for real emergencies only.
To a large part I agree. But we need to set priorities, and some of these things may be well worth spending money on. I certainly would not shut down NASA. Government spending on scientific research may well be the only way to get it done. (I say this with a certain prejudice, because most of my working life was done on projects that were government-contracted, so I see more value to such work than McKinnon might!)
3. Call an end to the privileged class. Middle America believes in fair play, an equal opportunity to succeed or to fail. But as seen in the GM bailout, unions are protected from failure with taxpayer dollars. Unions have destroyed the manufacturing sector, forcing jobs overseas by driving labor costs above the price consumers here will pay. Though membership has drastically declined, there are now more union members in the public sector than in the private sector. Eighty-six percent of state- and local-government workers have employer-provided health insurance versus 45 percent of private-sector workers. And unfunded public pensions already threaten to bankrupt California and New York. It's time to get unions out of federal, state, county and municipal government services. And it's time to privatize non-essential government services. According to the Office of Management and Budget, one-third of federal employees have jobs that could be performed by a private contractor. There are probably more. Let's start by privatizing the ever-in-debt postal service, which pays 1,125 employees to sit idly each day at a cost of $50 million annually.
With most of this I agree. Especially what he says about unions, which have made us uncompetitive in the world. The remark about "federal employees [who] have jobs that could be performed by a private contractor" actually resonates with me, as I've had a lot of those private contractor jobs, and I think we worked a lot harder than our Government-employee opposite numbers.
4. Flatten the world (of the IRS). When unabashed capitalist Steve Forbes and former Gov. "Moonbeam" Jerry Brown are comparing notes on a flat tax, it's time to pay attention. Lower tax rates spur economic growth, which generates more government revenue. Both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan recognized this. And under President George W. Bush, get ready for this, the rich actually paid more in taxes—because tax rates were lowered. In 1980, when the top tax rate was 70 percent, the top one percent of earners paid 19 percent of all income taxes. In 2008, with a top tax rate at 35 percent, half the rate of 1980, the top one percent paid 38 percent of all income taxes, double the share of 1980. Today almost half in the country pay no federal income tax; many actually "make a profit" through tax rebates. Taking more taxes from job creators, as will happen if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, creates no sustainable, self-funding jobs. A simplified, lowered, and flat tax will increase revenues and create an all-in approach that would force folks to think more clearly about benefits they will have to help fund. No deductions, credits, or loopholes. Only one exemption setting a taxable income threshold based on family size. A flat tax treats people fairly: Those who make 1,000 times more than the average Joe pay 1,000 times more in taxes. While I'll leave it for economists to pick the right rate for consumers and corporations, if 10 percent is good enough for God, 15 percent ought to be good enough for government work.
This is probably the right way to go, though the excat percentage will have to be determined by how much the money the Government actually needs, and that cannot be worked out until points #2 and #3 have been looked into. The "exemption setting a taxable income threshold" should be set based on the minimum amount needed to live, and thus automatically adjusted annually, based on cost of living, so people who do not make enough to live on don't get taxed out of money they cannot afford to give up. If this is done, I favor the proposal.

These are the first 4 of his 12 points; more to follow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

One man's idea of a centrist position

Through a posting on the "Big Tent Revue" I recently was led to another post by Mark McKinnon. Though I can't agree with all his ideas, he makes some points I consider valid. I will discuss these issues on this blog.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Anything is RIGHT 'IF' it does NOT hurt anyone anywhere in anyway !"

Yes, the title of this post is not quite correct English, but it is very correct philosophy. I found an article with this title last night, and though the author, whose native language is one of the many spoken in India, has not quite learned English, and although the article is 2½ months old, I really thought that this hits the nail on the head as to why I think "social conservatives" seem so hateful to me. I think this is a pretty good statement of what I have already adopted as one of the principles of this blog.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Two sides to every question?

There was a post on Dennis Sanders' blog, “Big Tent Revue” which quoted my recent post entitled “A Blight on the Republican Party.” I'm glad he liked my post enough to repeat a large part of it, but another person calling himself “Bubbaquimby” posted a response which, among other things, said:
While I agree fighting gay rights is a losing and morally bankrupt position, I wish the Frums of the world would stop throwing pro-lifers under that bus. Abortion and gay marriage are not the same politically. Every year more voters become accepting of gay rights because their is a large generational divide on the issue. This however is not the case with abortion.

The two biggest issues I see the GOP needing of a change are gay rights and immigration. Because they are going to lose in the future if they continue with their views. However I don’t see the need to have two pro-choice parties.

Well, I don't like the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” for reasons I've already given, but what is wrong with both parties taking the same side on an issue, if the other side is ridiculous?

Should one party come out in favor of the flat earth theory, just to oppose the other?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The next chapter on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

The Federal judge who ruled against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, has now let the other shoe drop: she has issued an injunction barring its enforcement. And I am certain that the homophobes of this country will gnash their teeth and bewail "judicial activism." But the judge knows what she is doing. This policy certainly interferes with freedom of speech, because any gay serviceman or -woman saying anything that gave away his/her sexual orientation would be expelled, while a straight person doing the same is just fine. What I'm curious about is whether the Obama administration will appeal, as they in theory have the right to do, or will immediately comply, which would be more in conformity with the pro-gay-rights rhetoric that seems to be characteristic of liberal Democrats. (It's interesting, but it took a suit by a Republican group to get this ruling!)

Anti-gay-rights bigots have said repeatedly that they are willing to grant "equal rights," but not "special rights," but this is a bit of a red herring. Suppose that a Christian homophobe was told that, in Saudi Arabia, he had the same right to worship Allah as all Muslims have; he just is barred from offering Christian prayers. Would he consider that to be "equal rights"? (I think not!) Or suppose that he found himself in the pre-1989 Soviet Union, where he had the same right to be an atheist as anyone else? Or, skipping religion, suppose some homophobe were to be told he would be given the right only to marry a same sex person, and this would be the same right that gay people would have?

No, let it be absolutely clear: What they want is the special right: to impose their views of morality on others.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's bizarre!

Here I am, reading the headlines showing a major Republican year, and I'm sitting in a state that obstinately refuses to go along. The Real Clear Politics poll summary shows the GOP picking up enough seats to move from behind 59-41 to a 50-50 tie, with Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas possibly setting a new record for worst defeat of an incumbent Senator, and yet, Barbara Mikulski is winning polls by a nearly 20 percent margin over Eric Wargotz. It's just bizarre.

What gives in this state? As dissatisfied as the whole country is with President Obama's performance, here the Governor, Martin O'Malley, actually brought him in to campaign for him. This is really curious. O'Malley must be just about the only Democrat that isn't running away from the Obama link as fast as possible.

I feel I've gotten stuck in a bizarre caricature of a body politic.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A blight on the Republican Party?

The Republican Party's candidate for the Governorship of New York State has been sounding off about gay people recently. First, he is quoted as saying "Don't Be 'Brainwashed' Into Thinking Homosexuality Is 'Equally Valid'," apparently to an orthodox Jewish group. Then he tried to backtrack on it, but seems only to have dug in more deeply. Finally, he later tried to claim to be for gay rights, but still could not disavow all he had said. This is a problem for the Republican Party. Because of homophobic candidates like Paladino, the party comes off as homophobic. And I can certainly imagine a gay voter in New York State, who shares Republican values on economic issues and other such things, being driven to vote for the Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, next month, against his feelings on those issues, because Paladino is against the rights that mean so much to such a voter.

The District of Columbia once had a gay Republican Councilman, David Catania. Because of anti-gay remarks by people in the 2004 Bush campaign, Catania left the party and endorsed John Kerry, though he did not become a Democrat formally because he has a Council seat reserved for non-Democrats. I am certain that Catania's endorsement of Kerry was purely because of the gay rights issue, since Catania had obviously good reasons for being a Republican at first.

It is "social conservatives" who are hurting the GOP by being a part of it! By making the GOP appear anti-gay, anti-abortion, and such, they are driving away those who belong in the party because they dislike the "socialism light" that the Democrats favor. The GOP would be better off without them. They are a blight on the party.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Recent polls for 2012

There have been polls among the Republicans seeking to determine their preferences for the 2012 nominee. And though I think one really ought to see what happens in next month's election, I am certainly interested in the results. They seem to put Mitt Romney first and Sarah Palin second, with other names well behind.

Now, of all the names being discussed, I can accept all of them except one: Mike Huckabee. But of the ones being discussed, Romney is my favorite, so I'm pretty happy so far. (I don't like the vacillation on some issues that Romney has shown in the past, so I'm not entirely happy with him. But he is certainly the most qualified, having been a Governor of a major state and a successful businessman, and actually making an Olympics profitable, which is usually impossible! I'd like to know more about two of the also-rans, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota; what I've seen about them looks good, but I know too little. Palin is certainly not my first choice, but I don't see in her the idiot the Democrats make her out to be. She's too right-wing for my taste, but not as far to my right as Obama is to my left, so if Palin runs against Obama, she certainly gets my vote.

But what about next month? There are people like Meg Whitman, who are not being discussed so far, but if they win, I think they should be. So I think it is really too premature.

Friday, October 08, 2010

When people's rights collide

One would think that it would be a First Amendment right for a church to picket people they consider to be sinful, involving both freedom of speech and freedom of religion. And even though their message may be bigoted, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, and anti-gay, that does not change things. But what if the people being picketed are grieving widows, orphans, and other relatives of a dead soldier, at the funeral which is supposed to give them some little comfort in their grief? Certainly society has an obligation to them to protect them from harassment, doesn't it?

This is the issue that just came before the Supreme Court, as Snyder v. Phelps.

This is a very difficult case. It is clear, from the questions asked by the Justices, that they are likely to rule against the church (which apparently consists entirely of Phelps' relatives). And it is very hard to fault either side. I strongly believe in the First Amendment, but as I have said in the principles that rule this blog: "Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms." Now, Phelps has not exactly been causing Snyder physical injury, though the emotional injury has certainly been grave. And it does appear that Phelps has been depriving Snyder of his freedoms in a sense, though the Constitution does not speak of a right to grieve one's dead (unless it's considered, like the right to privacy, a corollary of the Ninth Amendment). So this is very hard for me to call. Both sides have a case.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules, there will be people who will bitterly protest the decision. And no matter which way the decision is, these protestors will have a valid point.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Why three parties can't work here

Sometimes, it's actually one of the two national major parties that looks like it's third. In the 23rd Congressional District of New York State last year, Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava saw herself as third, and essentially withdrew from the election, giving her support to the Democrat in order to defeat a Conservative candidate she abhorred. Perhaps something similar is happening in Florida currently, though in this case a centrist candidate will be the beneficiary. In fact this looks like a mirror image of the election in Connecticut in 2006. When an extreme left-wing candidate, Ned Lamont, won the Democratic primary in Connecticut, Joe Lieberman ran as an independent (well, really as a third-party candidate, but the "party" was a sham created because of Connecticut's ballot access laws) and won, mostly by getting Republicans to abandon their own candidate, Alan Schlesinger, and vote for him to prevent Lamont from winning.

Now fast-forward to 2010 in Florida. Interchange "left" and "right," and also "Democrat" and "Republican." We have the same picture. An extreme right-wing candidate, Marco Rubio, won the Republican primary in Florida. Charlie Crist chose to run as an independent. So will Democrats abandon Kendrick Meek, their candidate, as Republicans abandoned Schlesinger? There does seem to be a possibility! It hasn't happened yet, but people are talking about it. The post I am linking to speaks of Florida black Democrats; since Meek is himself black, this would be a major surprise, but if they really want to prevent Rubio's election, that's about the only way to do it.

Let us see. But this shows why three-party elections don't work well in plurality electoral systems.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A viable third party? I'd bet against it

Over on the "Big Tent Revue" blog I'm reading yet more about the prospects of a centrist third party. I can't see it happening. The rules of the game just make it imposssible.

First of all, we have "single-member plurality" elections for all offices. It is really well known that this leads to the demise of minor parties. This fact even has a name: Duverger's law. There are countries with SMP that have some viable minor parties, but they are either regional, or they have very few seats despite the number of votes they receive; look at Britain for examples of both. [Regional parties like Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party do reasonably well. But the Liberal Democrats, while getting nearly as many votes as Labour in the last election (23% vs. Labour's 29%), got just enough seats to make it into a coalition, less than 9% of the parliamentary seats.]

But even those 9% of the seats were enough to make a difference, because Britain is a parliamentary country and it required a coalition to form a government. In a presidential system like the US, you don't ever need to form coalitions. So third parties just die. Instead we get coalitions within the parties. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic caucus in either house of Congress is monolithic, and even a Joe Lieberman, defeated in his party's primary, joins the Democratic caucus when he's elected. Similarly, James Buckley, who ran as a Conservative against the Republican in New York in 1970, joined the Republican caucus. That's the way it has to be; the rules of both houses of Congress make them operate as two-party systems as well.

So I just don't see any third party in the near future.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

How to Vote in 2010

It's four weeks until Election Day, but because some states have early voting, it may be useful to mention these recommendations this early.

There are thirty-something states with elections for the United States Senate this year. With various degrees of enthusiasm, in all but two I hope that readers of this blog will vote for the Republican candidate, as a rebuff to the Harry Reid leadership if for nothing else. (Hopefully, Reid will himself be retired by this year's vote, but I hardly expect Chuck Schumer's leadership to be any different.) In some cases, such as Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, and even Eric Wargotz in my own state of Maryland, there is not much enthusiasm on my part, because the Republicans are rather badly flawed, and there could have been better candidates chosen in the primaries, but defeating the Obama/Reid/Pelosi agenda is first on the priorities. In other states, there are candidates about whom I am truly enthusiastic, such as Carly Fiorina in California. But in every case (except two, as I said), the Republican candidate is to be preferred.

The two exceptions are at opposite corners of the country: Florida and Alaska. In both cases there are Republicans who lost their party's nomination, but chose to run as independents, who are better than the official nominees, and who actually stand a chance to win. Unlike the usual situation, where voting for an independent would simply help elect the major-party candidate further from the preferred one, in both states the Democrat is probably going to finish third, behind both the official Republican candidate and the independent. And both Charlie Crist and Lisa Murkowski deserve support. I hope people in those states who like this blog will vote for them.

In the House of Representatives, the situation is somewhat similar. Obviously, in 434 of the 435 districts the name of Nancy Pelosi will not be on the ballot. But in a sense a vote for any Democrat is a vote for her, and helps the Obama/Reid/Pelosi agenda. So, in 434 districts (the one exception will be mentioned in a moment!) I hope the vote of anyone who reads and likes this blog will be cast, when possible, for the Republican. (In some of them, I'm sure, this will not be possible because the Republicans will not have a candidate, but I'm not sure which, or even how many, districts they are.)

Now that one exception: If you happen to live in the Sixth District of Virginia and read this post, I hope you will consider voting for Jeff Vanke, the Modern Whig Party's candidate. Though he is running against a Republican, the more votes Vanke gets, even if he does not win, the more there will be a sign of popular desire for some moderation in the two parties' combative attitudes. I do not expect Vanke to win (though I would not be unhappy if he did!) but I hope he gets a respectable vote total.

There are gubernatorial elections in a lot of states. I don't know much about most of the candidates, but I do heartily endorse Bob Ehrlich in Maryland, who was an excellent Governor when he was in office from 2003 to 2007, and I certainly hope that Californians will elect Meg Whitman. (The difference in terminology is simply because I only "endorse" candidates in elections where I myself can vote.)

I hope that readers of this blog will vote for the candidates I have mentioned favorably in this post.

Monday, October 04, 2010

A message to my readers

I started this blog in 2006, not expecting to make a post a day, but probably one or two a week, but in those days there was no statistics report available, and after a few months I was disappointed at the lack of feedback. For about a year I posted nothing at all, because it was hard to sustain my interest in writing when I wasn't sure anyone was reading what I wrote. I eventually came back to the blog, and actually did more posting than my original one or two a week in the period leading up to the 2008 election (if you look at the log you'll see this), but I never was sure anyone read what I wrote except that one of my posts in March 2008, on, of all things, election methods (a pretty esoteric topic!) got more feedback than anything else. But you'd think that the other posts would have gotten more attention, and I continued to be frustrated at the lack of evidence that anyone was reading this blog. Still, I kept posting, sometimes going a few weeks without a post and sometimes posting more than once in a week. Finally, a couple of months ago, Google introduced stats. I could finally tell I was getting an audience, at least it looked like about 3 people a day (which — then — seemed like a lot!) So I felt more encouraged to post, and I did more. And the audience got bigger — to 8 a day and 10. It was obvious that what I'd read — that you need to post frequently — was true. Lately I've been posting nearly every day, and averaged 50 hits a day in September. Of course, part of that was that just before the primaries I had days with immense numbers of hits, which was in itself a big surprise because I was mostly talking about really local issues, of interest to Marylanders only, or even only to people in Montgomery County! But in the process I picked up some fans — I must thank Neil Cohen for featuring a link to my blog on his campaign pages, which has sent quite a lot of people here, and Dennis Sanders' "Big Tent Revue" which has also been a source for some visitors here.

Currently I'm averaging as many people as I did in September, even though September's average was inflated by those days just before the primary and if those days had been ignored my month average would have been much lower. So I want to thank all of you who have discovered this blog and, obviously, are coming back frequently. It would have been nice to get this traffic before, but I hope I'll be able to hold your interest.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Political Compass, and other similar self-rating sites

I just took the "political compass" test (again, in fact; as stated below, I've done it before). The result was "Economic Left/Right: 5.38; Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -0.72" — not too surprising on the first, because I consider myself an economic conservative, but a little surprising on the second front, as I've thought of myself as rather libertarian, and my score is just barely libertarian. It is interesting that the chart they give of world political leaders shows nobody in the lower right-hand quadrant, so compared to the people they rate, I suppose I am rather libertarian.

This is actually the third time I've taken the test; the first time it was (5.62, -1.54), somewhat more libertarian and a tiny bit further to the economic right than my recent score; the second time was actually the other way from my recent score (unfortunately, I never recorded the exact numbers), so this one is pretty close to midway between the two times I took it before.

There's another political quiz I just took called "Politopia" On that one I was not given a numeric score, but I was ranked as a centrist. On their diagram, I was much closer to George W. Bush than John Kerry (I guess they haven't changed their diagram in 6 years!), which surprises me not the slightest, as I strongly preferred Bush over Kerry. And compared to Bush, I was very slightly more pro-free market, but significantly more toward "more personal freedoms," which is exactly as I would expect. So no surprise, though it would be nice to have a numerical score like the one Political Compass gives.

Of course there is the famous "World's Smallest Political Quiz," put out by a libertarian group, which obviously tends to be biased toward libertarianism, and puts me deeply into libertarian territory. I am 80% on their personal issues score and 70% on their economic issues score scale. Since the goal of this test is to show people how much they agree with the libertarian ideal, it does not surprise me that I come out where I do, as I am relatively libertarian though not up to the standards of the party of that name.

Interestingly, I found one quiz that called me a "social liberal" — but their diagram put me almost on the crossing point of "libertarian," "centrist," and "liberal." They gave me a personal freedom score of 73% and an economic freedom score of 46.9%; probably 50% on the latter is where they draw the boundary between "liberal" and "libertarian," which is why it came out where it did. I'm surprised how different my score was on this quiz than the Political Compass. This one uses a diagram very similar to the "World's Smallest Political Quiz," so it's easy to compare them, and the personal freedom scores are pretty similar, but my economic freedom score is quite a lot different on the two.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Unity '08: How *N*O*T* to build a center party!

In the posting on "Big Tent Revue" which I was talking about in my previous post, there was a reference by Rev. Sanders to the movement entitled "Unity '08." I remember that movement: they were going to try to build a ticket for the 2008 election which would take a Presidential candidate from one of the two major parties, and a Vice-Presidential candidate from the other of the two. This would in fact have been a blueprint for disaster. And in fact, we are seeing this happen this year in Massachusetts, where an independent ticket with a Democrat running for Governor and a Republican for Lieutenant Governor just broke up, with the Lieutenant Governorship candidate withdrawing and endorsing the Republican ticket.

The fact is that there is too big a separation between the Democrats and the Republicans who are currently in politics. Just about any Republican, no matter how moderate, is still closer to his fellow Republicans than to the most moderate Democrat. And just about any Democrat, no matter how moderate, is still closer to his fellow Democrats than to the most moderate Republican. (For the Republicans, perhaps I should have said "her" rather than "his": the most moderate Republicans in, say, the United States Senate would be the two Senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, now that Arlen Specter has crossed over to the Democrats.) In fact, this was demonstrated by the fact that Arlen Specter, who had been the most moderate Republican in the Senate, was not accepted by Pennsylvania Democrats as one of their own and went down to defeat in their primary. On the other side, do you think that Ben Nelson, who is probably the most moderate of the Democrats, will ever join the Republicans? I'm very sure not.

Perhaps the only pair of a Republican and a Democrat who might have been able to work together would have been John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, who are such close friends that their differences would have been able to be overcome. (In fact, there are stories that McCain wanted to put Lieberman on his ticket, but the idea was shot down by other Republicans.) But since the Republicans co-opted McCain in 2008, Unity '08 could not put up a McCain-Lieberman ticket.

No, the only way a group like Unity '08 could have put together the type of ticket they wanted to would be to nominate obscure people that nobody would have heard of, and this would not have drawn any votes. The only way that a centrist party could be created in a top-down manner would be for someone akin to Ross Perot, without close ties to either party but with enough money to advertise himself to the people, to be the nominee. And Perot was not interested in party building in his first campaign, while by the second, the bloom was off the rose; people didn't see Perot as presidential material any more. The other alternative, building from the bottom up, is one that the Libertarian Party has had some success with, electing a few state legislators and other local officers. If a centrist party were to go that route, they might have a chance, but I think our electoral system still makes it very difficult for any new party to succeed.

NOTE: Back in 2008, I'd thought that the post I made just after the election would be the last ever with a "2008 election" label. I guess I was wrong!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Why no viable center party?

A few hours ago I was looking at a post on one of the other blogs I like, Dennis Sanders' "Big Tent Revue." This post had to do with the fact that no viable centrist party has been created in the years he's been blogging, though people keep saying it ought to be done. And Rev. Sanders quotes with approval an essay by Malcolm Gladwell in "The New Yorker," making the comparison with the civil rights movement of the 1060s and 1970s, when people were willing to risk their lives for a cause. In that case, the people joining together were often personal friends — Rev. Sanders (and Gladwell) points to the contacts the four students responsible for the sit-in in Greensboro, N. C. had among themselves prior to the sit-in (including the fact that one of them dared the others to do it) as an example. By contrast, contacts people make on Twitter or Facebook are weaker ties. They may be "friends" in quotes, but they really aren't friends.

But while this is part of it — it is not the same kind of commitment to pledge a few cents on Facebook to help people in Darfur as to get together in East Berlin for a rally to bring down the Wall in 1989 — I think one must realize that there is a good reason, having nothing to do with being closer to people you have met face-to-face than "friends" on Facebook. It is this: African-American students in North Carolina in the days of segregation, and East Germans in the 1980s, were really oppressed. Their lives were bad enough that it was worth the risks. Centrists here may be unhappy with the direction of this country; but it isn't really hurting them the way segregation in North Carolina or Communist dictatorship in East Germany was oppressing the people described earlier.

In short, it's a cost-benefit thing. There are still major tasks required to create a viable third party in this country; it's not easy. It may not entail as much risk as sitting in at a lunch counter in Greensboro in the 1970s. But it's still a big project. And what you get is not as valuable — it's not as if centrists are currently as downtrodden as African-Americans in the segregated South.

Yet another point is unity of purpose. The people fighting for civil rights in the South were all looking to accomplish the same thing. "Centrist" here in 2010 America is not a united concept. Mike Huckabee and I might both qualify among Republicans as "less extreme." But Huckabee is frequently "left" where I am "right," and "right" where I am "left." I'm actually in less agreement with Huckabee than I would be with a totally far-right Republican. Centrists are really like the proverbial Jews (I can say this because I am Jewish!): You get two Jews in a room, you'll hear three opinions!

So Rev. Sanders may have, from Gladwell, one reason there is no viable center party; there are other reasons, however, which are important as well.