Archive for July, 2011

Nonsense: Debt Limit Increase and Deficit Reduction

30 July 2011

The United States Government’s debt limit is too low.

I have been reading that Republicans in Congress have been claiming otherwise. They are wrong. On top of that, they insist that any increase in the debt limit be accompanied by debt reduction measures providing as many dollars in debt reduction as the amount by which we are increasing the debt limit.

If you think that makes sense, you are wrong, because if you think the total debt now is too high, then you must want a balanced budget now. Some set of cost savings that totals, say, two trillion dollars over the next ten years is not going to serve to pay back an additional two trillion dollars that you borrow now, if you are running a deficit.

If you had a budget now that was projected to balance over the next ten years, then you could say, “Hey, promise me two trillion in savings over this present projection, and I’ll be happy to let you borrow two trillion now. Because I can see how you’re going to pay it back, see?” But if your current projection for the next ten years is for five trillion in new debt, then a promise of two trillion dollars in cuts still accumulates three trillion more in debt over the ten years, so how do you say it’s okay to borrow two trillion more now? Your stand, it seems, is “No, you shall not go further into debt, and no further debt shall be incurred unless it is getting paid off in ten years.” To meet that demand, you need a surplus over the next ten years for whatever additional debt you allow today.

So why isn’t that the demand? Because everyone in Washington knows it can’t be done, that’s why. So the cynical Republicans take this logical-sounding but impossible requirement and convert it into some lesser but still difficult requirement, and pretend it still fits that logic.

But the logic is broken. Be honest, Republicans, and tell your tea partiers that you can’t get that no-more-debt result.

So what should we require before we raise the debt ceiling? Nothing. We just raise it. We will have to honor that new debt just like we have to honor the 14 trillion of old debt. If you think that’s too much debt, here’s what you ask for: movement towards a balanced budget. If you show me how the budget will be in balance ten years from now, there’s no need to demand that all debt be wiped out in the meantime, or that all of this year’s new debt be wiped out in the meantime. Just get to where the budget is balanced and the economy is growing faster than the debt.

And if you can get the budget to balance, you can try a little harder and get a surplus, and then you can go about reducing the debt burden if it truly is excessive.

That’s still a tall order, but it’s achievable. How about working for this achievable thing? And if you’re serious about it, give up the no-tax-increase pledge. Taxes pay bills. If you can’t stand the borrowing, increase the tax take to pay the bills you need to pay. There isn’t a trillion dollars of spending to cut in our federal budget. Try for cuts, but if you are serious, don’t suppose that with current tax levels we can honor our commitments to senior citizens, maintain a world-dominating military, and keep some semblance of the government services we have today. The numbers don’t add up that way, and congressional leaders know that.

Reagan Made Me a Democrat

24 July 2011

In 1980, when I was in college, I had no enthusiasm for Jimmy Carter. I didn’t have a political party preference, but I held some conservative views and was interested to see who the Republican nominee for president would be. The contest was between George Bush, the moderate with the foreign policy and national security credentials, and Ronald Reagan, conservative critic of big government.

To me, the salient dispute between the two was in fiscal policy. Reagan touted a theory of Arthur Laffer that tax rates were too high, and that lowering them would actually increase revenue. George Bush called that “voodoo economics”. I thought Bush had that right.

The Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan. I didn’t vote for him or for Carter. I voted for John Anderson, largely because I believed him to be a credible fiscal conservative. Reagan won, and he brought the voodoo, all right. After Reagan’s ridiculous huge tax cuts, the deficit grew, despite some remedial tax hikes later on in Reagan’s tenure. By 1982 I believed that the party label meant more than a candidate’s individual character or political pitch, and I was pretty much in the Democratic camp. In 1984 Mondale was my man and so would any other Democrat have been. I have been Democratic all the way since then.

I still have my conservative leanings that comfortably coexist with my liberal ones. Sometimes I’m dismayed with the Democratic Party, but I despise Republicans, on the national level at least.

Republicans in Washington have refused to support any tax increase in the face of huge deficits, while promoting more military spending than ever, against small enemies we keep creating for ourselves, and making no meaningful reduction in federal spending despite many years in control of both the White House and the Capitol. There’s nothing for me to like there.

When Republicans impeached a president for the alleged high crime of lying to a special prosecutor about his sexual relations with a White House staffer, I vowed never to vote for a Republican for Congress until every last impeachment supporter in the Republican caucus was gone from Congress. They weren’t upholding principles of morality or personal integrity, they were cynically magnifying the scandal in an enormous abuse of their own constitutional power.

I have to sigh and consider the millions of my fellow Americans who still have an affinity for this Republican Party. I suppose, if you want a government in Washington that safeguards individual wealth and gives free rein to diverse powers in business, media, and religion, especially catering to the viewpoint of white English-speaking socially conservative Christians, then the Republican Party seems to be tailor-made for you. They can start wars with disastrous results, but they make it feel righteous. They can preside over economic slumps, but they always have arguments, suitable for endless repetition, about how the liberals are to blame.

But where’s the balance? My fellow white cultural champions (yes, I am one), don’t you even want to be able to look at Americans who have darker skin or strange accents or religions, or who don’t conform to your idea of normal sexual boundaries, and say, “I want this country to work for you, too”? Do you not believe there exist any facts that do not support the view of the world that you are comfortable with? Do you seriously believe that your interests aren’t protected and advanced by our present governmental and financial system, the one you seem eager to see blasted to pieces, or drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub?

How much not-Republican am I? They’ve left Reagan’s style of leadership far behind, and are pursuing a purified and radical realization of his rhetoric. And I am not some old broad-minded Reaganite who thinks we just need to add some wisdom back to the Reagan philosophy. Reaganism is at the root of the problem, and I knew it when I first saw it.

In 1980, Reagan was unrealistic and too far off to the right for me, although he could voice a conservative ideology that had some appeal. Now the Republicans—well, they are so far right they’ve left America, you might say.

Update, 24 July: Fixed my spelling of “rein”.

Heat Index

22 July 2011

Heat index calculations might not be a Communist plot, but they do not mean much. They aren’t reported regularly enough for anyone to have a sense of how hot some particular heat index value is. Relating heat index to ordinary temperature makes it seem like it means something, but who knows what that is?

A head index isn’t a temperature. There is something else factored in, so just relating it to a temperature leaves a degree of freedom hanging. It doesn’t satisfy to say, for instance, “The heat index is 110, and that means it feels like the temperature is 110 degrees,” because if the real temperature is 95 degrees, say, and you’re telling me that this 95 degrees doesn’t really feel like 95 degrees, then I guess I don’t know what 95 degrees feels like, and so how do I know what 110 degrees feels like?

I have become fond of dew point, however. For one thing, I know exactly what it signifies, technically. For another thing, I’ve looked for it in weather reporting for the last few years, enough to have a sense of what a particular dew point value feels like. I don’t try to think what it would feel like as a temperature; that’s not what it is. I appreciate the dew point as its own thing. When it comes to summer heat, I want to know the dew point first, before the temperature.

Just Because You Think It’s a Good Idea Doesn’t Mean My Insurance Ought to Pay For It

21 July 2011

I want to take this on now. Kevin Drum cites a Washington Post article about an advisory panel’s recommendations, now under consideration by Health and Human Services, that health insurers be required to pay all of an insured’s costs for prescription birth control. According to the WaPo article, Jeanne Monahan at the Family Research Council voiced concerns that some insured might object on religious grounds to paying for birth control through their insurance premiums. Kevin derisively casts Monahan’s stance as

Everyone should have the right to insist that they be covered by an insurance company that doesn’t cover anything they disapprove of for other people.

Well, if this means the right to choose from among different insurers based on what you like or don’t like about their coverage, that seems all right to me. I don’t think that’s the actual policy question here. All most religious conservatives would expect is that health insurers be allowed to refrain from covering things that a large number of insurance customers might not consider essential or proper health care services.

I think religious objections are worthy of consideration, but free-market objections might have more weight. Insurance should not cover things that almost everyone can manage to choose, plan for, and pay for out of their own pockets. This especially applies to services that some significant cultural group would avoid using even if it was paid for by insurance. Even if no one had a moral objection to someone else’s use of contraceptives, that still would not mean that everyone would be happy with having their health insurance plan bear the cost. I can pay for my own contraceptives, if and when I decide I want them; let others do the same. (Similarly, I buy my own running shoes and other fitness equipment. No health insurance coverage on those, yet.)

I understand that there’s some reasonable basis for treating birth control as preventive care. It makes good sense for those responsible for paying for a person’s health care to nudge that person into taking inexpensive steps now to head off more expensive health issues later (like a pregnancy). I do wonder why anyone thinks an insurer has to be required to pay for such things, when it is so plainly in the insurer’s financial interest to do so.

If the thinking is that some insurers might be swayed by religious groups to leave birth control uncovered, I say let’s let them be swayed according to how they gauge their customers’ preferences. Must we always demand that commerce serve to advance some centrally determined code of justice?

[Update: edited typo “oost” for “cost”.]
[Later update: another typing/wording fix: “understand there some” -> “understand that there’s some”.]

Casey Anthony Verdict

15 July 2011

I don’t know much about the Casey Anthony case. I understand how people who heard about it invested their emotions into seeing justice done, but I don’t get caught up in sensational murder stories much.

I commented once before on O. J. Simpson, that once he got his big break and was acquitted of murder, I wish he had been able to live a quiet life of seeking redemption. I thought the public lust for revenge was a little disgusting.

I think Casey Anthony is in line now for continual public persecution. I don’t feel good about that. The justice system had its shot at her, and missed. Now I would just let God be the judge. Let not the mob rule.

How the People Crying “Hypocrisy” are Hypocrites

5 July 2011

This has been on my mind for a while; it’s about time I made a post of it.

A standard feature of any commentary about any conservative politician who is exposed as an adulterer or some other kind of sexual miscreant is to denounce them for hypocrisy. Often it’s framed this way: this person’s private life doesn’t matter to me, but since they’ve supported family values agenda, they are hypocrites, so that’s what I condemn them for. The ultimate spin on this is that the support for family values is the wrong thing.

I don’t like this line of attack. If you’re an elected official, holding a position in support of some public policy is a promise to promote that policy by your official actions on behalf of the people who vote for you. If you privately go against the moral principles that motivate your policy positions, that doesn’t mean you cannot continue to stand for those policies. It just means that there’s a difference between what you do for your job and what you do for fun.

I even think the charge of hypocrisy ought to be turned around and leveled at the critics. Many of them proclaim time and again that personal sexual conduct between consenting adults is exempt from being judged by others. This is a high principle with many. What people do in their bedroom is no one else’s business! they’ll repeat. Yet they leap at any opportunity to judge any unfavored politician by his private actions. Oh, yes, because it’s hypocrisy: that family-value type wanted to limit others’ privacy, so he isn’t entitled to his own.

That might sound like unassailable reasoning, but it seems to me that those who don’t want to be judged for their private behavior should not impose any linkage between a politician’s public stands and his or her private life. If your principle is that what you do in your bedroom is no one else’s business, then here’s what you do: assume the politician’s bedroom activity has no bearing on their official duties. Do not demand consistency where no consistency should be expected—by your own principle.