Tag Archives: politics

After The Counting

There has been a lot of fuss about the recent election here in The United States. The Democrats, of course, are smug. The Republicans, well, some (not all, but some) are in a positive frenzy of angst, predicting the end of freedom and the coming Socialist Apocalypse.

I pretty much don’t give a damn. I’m more concerned about getting done some necessary home repairs and wondering what kind of drapes the wife is going to pick out for downstairs.

I am, you see, a real independent, not a “can’t make up my mind” independent. My beliefs do not fit neatly into the obligatory party line of either party, but I will throw my weight, such as it is, behind whichever party seems to best suit the needs of the moment. Typically, that means that I am opposed to whichever party is in power at the moment. This time I supported Obama, because of the gross incompetence of the current regime. Next time around I might support someone else. I’ll see how things look then.

The one unwavering plank in my party platform is a firm belief in personal freedom. In being left the hell alone. Neither party is even vaguely committed to that. It’s not even a talking point. As far as that goes, the only difference between them is that the overlap of which freedoms they want to restrict is not 100%. (The rule of thumb, not entirely accurate, particularly in the current changing economic climate, is that Democrats want to regulate the economy and Republicans want to regulate morality. It works as at least a vague guideline.) As the man sang, everybody knows that the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost.

Beyond that position, I don’t much care. The form of government doesn’t matter much to me. Democracy, Republic, Kleptocracy, Monarchy, whatever; if they’ll leave me alone, I’m fine with it. Hell, I’m not even irrevocably wedded to capitalism. Capitalism is great at finding the most efficient way to do certain things, at least on quarter-by-quarter bottom-line basis, but efficiency is not necessarily the highest goal in human society. (Maintaining nursing homes and orphanages isn’t efficient. It would be much more efficient to kill the old people and enslave the orphans. There have been societies that did exactly that, but we do not admire them for it.) A far-right society ruled by the unrestrained greed of huge corporations would be as much a nightmare to live in as a far-left society ruled by the all-powerful State.

Besides, capitalism is a system of shortages, limited resources. “Supply and demand.” As technology evolves, and we move out into space, where the resources and the energy to exploit them are practically infinite, how will capitalism work? We could be facing that situation as soon as a century or two from now, maybe sooner. That’s not all that far in the future; my grandchildren, if any, may live to see it.

So forgive me if I can’t get too worked up over which set of thieves gets to rob us for the next four years. I think we’d be better just picking people at random; then we at least might get someone honest and competent.

Why History Matters

A friend mentioned that she wasn’t very good at history, and I’m afraid my reply ran a little long. It’s a subject that has fascinated me almost since I first began to read, oh so many years ago. (Clay tablets back then. This fancy ‘paper’ stuff hadn’t been invented yet. It was a LONG time ago.) So, for the edification of the masses, I have reproduced my latest sleep-deprived ramble on why you should know something about history.

The problem most people have with history is the way it’s taught. They just get a bunch of names and dates to remember, and that’s it. The teachers don’t make the history come alive, and they don’t make it relevant. People will learn something if it’s interesting, and they’ll learn something if it’s dull but important, but something dull and meaningless, not so much.

The problem isn’t history, it’s the teachers. History is the story of how people used to live, and how we got where we are today. History let me predict exactly what would happen when we sent troops into Somalia, and Iraq. You’ve heard the old sayings about history repeating itself? Not true.

Brown’s Law of History: History doesn’t repeat itself. It just gives pop quizzes to see if you were paying attention.

If you know history, it is much harder for governments to fool you. You have perspective. If you can draw on a pool of knowledge five thousand years deep of what people and governments and societies do, you have a much greater understanding of what is going on in the world around you than someone who only lives in the TV news cycle of three days or so.

For example: April 2003. US forces are preparing to invade Iraq. Think on this quote, from nearly 60 years before:

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. …Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” — Hermann Goering

It gives some perspective, doesn’t it? Look at those last two sentences. Doesn’t that precisely sum up US foreign policy over the last several years? It has worked exactly that way for, literally, thousands of years. Some tricks work well enough that they stay in use for a very, very long time.

Back in ’89, right after the Berlin Wall came down and all the media were talking about the end of war and all like that, a friend of mine asked me who I thought the next enemy was going to be, now that The Commies were gone.

“Islam,” I said without hesitation. “We’re going to go back to the old enemy.”

It took a little longer than I thought, but I was dead on. Because I knew the history.

Of course, being so clever hasn’t done me much good, has it? I still have to work for a living.

History isn’t the only important thing to know, but it does matter.

History Pop Quiz

Extraordinary optimism sustained an orgy of speculation. Books were written to prove that economic crisis was a phase which expanding business organisation and science had at last mastered. [….] In October a sudden and violent tempest swept over Wall Street. The intervention of the most powerful agencies failed to stem the tide of panic sales. A group of lending banks constituted a milliard-dollar pool to maintain and stabilise the market. All was in vain.

The whole wealth so swiftly gathered in the paper values of previous years vanished. The prosperity of millions of American homes had grown on a gigantic structure of inflated credit, now suddenly proved phantom. Apart from the nationwide speculation in shares which even the most famous banks had encouraged by easy loans, a vast system of purchase by installment of houses, furniture, cars, and numberless other kinds of household conveniences and indulgences had grown up. All now fell together.

It should not, however, be supposed that the fair vision of far greater wealth and comfort ever more widely shared, which had entranced the people of the United States, had nothing behind it but delusion and market frenzy. Never before had such immense quantities of goods of all kinds been produced, shared, and exchanged in any society. There is in fact no limit to the benefits which human beings may bestow upon one another by the highest exertion of their diligence and skill. This splendid manifestation had been shattered and cast down by vain imaginative processes and greed of gain which far outstripped the great achievement itself. –Winston Churchill

Winston was talking about events now 80 years gone. But history does not, despite the popular saying, repeat itself. It just gives pop quizzes to see if anyone was paying attention.

Auto Non-Industry

I just sent this to President Obama (or rather, of course, whichever staffer gets to read these things):

Regarding the auto-industry bail out.

As a long-time General Motors stockholder, I would like to say PLEASE STOP. General Motors are Chrysler are bankrupt. Chrysler will never be a viable business on its own. General Motors might be, but it will take years and hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer (MY) money to get them to that point…if it ever happens, which is improbable.

The arguments based on jobs don’t work. Workers will have to be laid off anyway as the companies scale back. The arguments based on patriotism don’t work. A Honda built in the US is a more significant part of the US auto industry than a Chevy built in Mexico.

Ford MAY be viable, if they can survive their huge debt load long enough to get the products in the pipeline into the hands of consumers. They’ve done many of the right things, and have good products. They just need some time.

It is time to perform triage. If there must be an auto industry bail out, the limited resources available should be put into a company that has at least a chance of surviving without infinite taxpayer support.

Abandon Chrysler. There is no hope there, and never will be.

If you MUST bail out GM, do so through a structured bankruptcy. Simply giving them a blank check without forcing any change will simply led to more blank checks to a non-viable company.

Put most of the resources behind Ford, if they need it. The money there might do some good.

The American taxpayer is tired of opening his wallet to bail out incompetent companies who just happen to be short on brains and long on lobbyists. Stop the madness.

First They Came for the Smokers….

Selling other people’s stuff is a very profitable business. Ask any burglar. It works just as well when the ‘stuff’ is intangible. Ask any government.

It has become common practice to persuade people to vote for restrictions on activities that they do not participate in. Don’t ride motorcycles? Then you probably won’t mind if there’s a law requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Don’t own a gun? You probably won’t mind if there are more legal restrictions placed around gun ownership. Don’t smoke? You probably won’t mind if smokers are taxed more heavily, and limited more in where they can smoke. Don’t drink? You probably don’t mind if legal limits on blood alcohol are lowered to the point where having a bottle of beer in your refrigerator can make it illegal for you to drive. Not overweight? Then you probably won’t mind if overweight people have to pay more for health insurance, are maybe told how much they can eat, how much they have to exercise.

That’s a common refrain these days. This or that lifestyle choice–smokers, the overweight, people engaging in ‘risky’ behavior–are driving up the cost of health care. They are costing us money. (Whenever someone talks about someone’s behavior costing ‘us’ money in healthcare, what they really mean is that they are costing the insurance companies money. Keep that in mind.) They are a problem to be solved.

That sort of thinking is very troublesome. Everyone, you see, uses some sort of freedom that some other people don’t. Thus, everyone can be turned against everyone else, and in the end we all lose.

“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.” — Pastor Martin Niemöller

The old Roman saying, divide et impera is usually translated as ‘divide and conquer’ but that’s not quite right. A better translation would be, ‘divide and rule.’ Divide the people against each other, and you can always gain the support of one group in putting down any other. “He who robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.” A cynical old aphorism, but our government today exceeds it. Now they rob Peter to pay Paul one year, and then rob Paul to pay Peter the next, and so gain the support of both.

We have forgotten something, here in America. We cluster in our little tribes–Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Christian, Muslim, white, black, smoker, non-smoker, Mac, Windows–and we forget that ultimately, we are all in this together. If the country, if society as a whole, suffers, we all suffer. Eventually, the government will want to take something from you, and your neighbors will be more than willing to sell it to them. Just as you were willing to sell their stuff to the government.

Maybe it will cost us a little more money, allowing people to drink, smoke, be overweight, eat meat, drive cars, participate in sports. But isn’t freedom worth paying for? If it’s not, then what is?

Perhaps it is time to close ranks, at least on this one principle. Perhaps it is time to say, “No. Our freedoms belong to all of us, and they are not for sale.”

Thinking Points

“RightNetwork launches on television, web and mobile in the summer of 2010.
Mission: To entertain, engage and enlighten Americans who are looking for content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and worldview.”

Wow. Check out that mission statement.

“…content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and worldview.”

Another way of saying that is, “We will tell you what you want to hear.” I’m not kidding; that is exactly what that means. Is that really considered a good thing, now? I suppose it is. There are, sadly, many people who are only happy hearing things that ‘reinforce their…worldview.’ Hearing different point of view just angers and upsets them.

Personally, I am always questioning my worldview, trying to gain a deeper, not necessarily more comforting, understanding of what is going on in the world. Sometimes that results in me changing my mind about things, which is something else that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and is seen by many as a sign of weakness.

Surely I can’t be the only one, though. Thus, my ‘thinking points.’ As contrasted with ‘talking points.’ I don’t necessarily have answers to them; they are things to think about. If I can make even one person uncomfortable by challenging their worldview and making them think, that’s a good day.

Thinking is good for you, right?


Thinking Point #4

Does a country have a right to restrict who can come and live there? Or, conversely, does a country have an obligation to accept everyone who wants to come and live there?

Brown’s Law of Politics

Any mature political system, no matter what it’s particular mechanisms, is based on increasing the wealth and power of the wealthy and powerful.

The Leaky Economy

It’s a pretty standard course of action these days that when the US economy gets in trouble, the government starts ladling out ‘stimulus’ money. This ‘stimulus’ (whether in the form of direct payments, tax breaks, or low interest rates) is supposed to jump-start the economy and create jobs. The idea is that creating demand for products (either from consumers or other businesses) will encourage companies to hire people to meet that demand. Increase demand, increase production, create jobs. Seems straightforward. Unfortunately, the borders of the US economy are porous.

That was not always the case. Between WWII and 1990, it took about eight months for the jobs lost in a recession to be recovered. Job recovery from the 1990 recession took 23 months. Job recovery from the 2001 recession took 36 months. We’re still waiting on the current recession.

The reason behind these ‘jobless recoveries,’ I think, is that in our globalized economy the demand created by stimulus spending no longer has to be met by workers in the US. The stimulus money basically leaks out of the US and stimulates economies all over the world. Imagine a colander in a sink. You keep pouring water into the colander, but it never gets full. Not until the entire sink is full enough of water to raise the level in the colander.

That is the situation we have when the government tries to ‘stimulate’ the US economy. The money pours out into the global economy as fast as they can pour it in. They’re not really stimulating the US economy; they’re stimulating the entire planet’s economy, which takes a lot longer and a whole lot more money.

And so we get ‘jobless’ recoveries. As the global economy grows, these recoveries are going to take even longer, unless we drastically re-think how we go about managing our financial crises.

There seems to be three different ways the problem could be approached. (Well, four if you count “Don’t do anything,” which is the likeliest course of action.)

The social safety net could be strengthened so that there isn’t as much urgency to stimulate the economy. The downside of this is that increasing unemployment payments, and extending low-cost health care to the unemployed, would be expensive. The upside it that it would probably be less expensive than what we’re doing now.

The stimulus could be made more direct, to focus it on the US economy. That would require more direct government involvement, not just writing checks to consumers and businesses and hoping they do the right thing with the money. The government would have to directly put people to work, require that companies create their new jobs here in the US, that sort of thing. The downside is that government job programs are generally inefficient, and any government involvement in the economy causes some people to begin bleating, “Socialism!” The upside is that it would keep some of the money in the US economy.

Finally, we could make the borders of the US economy less porous. This would involve a small tariff, say about 5%; just enough to impose some friction on the money leaving the country. The downside is that it would annoy many of our foreign trade partners, who are used to having unfettered access to markets in the US, and many US companies which are used to being able to move parts of their operations overseas without restriction. The upside is that it would restore some of the competitive imbalance that US companies currently operate under, and keep many jobs here in the US.

I favor a mixed approach; strengthen the safety net for workers, and impose a small tariff on all imports. The tariff would go a long way towards paying for the safety net.

This would raise the cost of some goods, either directly in the case of imports, or indirectly in the case of companies having to maintain more expensive operations here in the States (as opposed to hiring people in China or Indonesia and importing their products), but with more jobs and money kept in the country people would be better able to afford the more expensive goods. NOT doing it will mean increased taxes to pay for all that stimulus money that is pouring out of our country, to benefit workers all around the world. We simply can’t afford that any longer (though that is exactly what the powers-that-be want to keep doing).

In either case we pay. This plan at least lets us pay each other.

Winners and Losers

A child who was in 2nd Grade when the 9/11 attacks took place would now be old enough to go fight in Afghanistan. A whole generation of young adults can barely remember a time when America was not at war. We have undermined the traditional values of American society, creating a culture of fear and obedience, and destroyed our economy, all in pursuit of an unattainable objective.

Every war has winners and losers, and the common people of both sides are usually among the losers. We aren’t just losing the War on Terror; we have lost.