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Thinking Inside the Bubble

So when Mr. Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks, he wasn’t, in his own mind, saying anything outrageous or even controversial. He was just repeating a view that has become increasingly dominant inside the right-wing bubble, namely that a large and ever-growing proportion of Americans won’t take responsibility for their own lives and are mooching off the hard-working wealthy. Rising unemployment claims demonstrate laziness, not lack of jobs; rising disability claims represent malingering, not the real health problems of an aging work force. – Paul Krugman

 

            When Democrats say they want to help the poor, protect the middle class, save industry, and cry out against the rich not paying the same rate. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, but presume that they are motivated by good intentions, but poor economic understanding. After reading Keynes, I even see the reason why his theories of stimulus and deficit spending are lauded. This professional courtesy of assuming good intentions behind policies, regardless of correctness, is rarely returned as evidenced by Krugman’s caricature of how liberals understand Republican arguments.

            As a republican, I look to the argument made to see whether there is any merit to claiming that unemployment demonstrates laziness. The short answer: No. Unemployment claims are filed because people are seeking jobs and the reason the unemployment rate was central to the Republican campaign was because it was a signal that there were not enough new jobs being created, not laziness. Some on the right may view the population that use welfare or long-term unemployment benefits as “moochers”, but the idea that unemployment claims are perceived as not a result of too few jobs is exactly what Republicans have been arguing. Note that the discussion of job creation is central to a Republican agenda.

            In regards to the claim that Republicans uniformly regard rising disability claims as entirely caused by malingering and not real problems is a straw man. The issue raised over disability is that it does not carefully investigate systemic fraud, which is different from saying republicans assume that those filing are malingering.  I would not put it past some individuals who are conservative to actually hold a view which is a broad generalization, but that is completely different from presuming that the issue with concern for rising disability claims may in part be due to an inefficient system for dealing with fraudulent claims.

            Keynsians such as Krugman may not believe that supply-side economics is the most effective measure for dealing with an economy; they believe that there is a pathway for government to be more efficient than the private sector and to make better priorities than private individuals. There may be some merits to their points, and Krugman’s advocacy for greater infrastructure as a public good is a valid point. Presuming, however, that the arguments of Hayek, Sowell, or Friedman concerning long-term public interest, reducing poverty, or capital formation are motivated by some sort of malicious sneering or living inside some sort of insulated bubble from reality is not only an ad hominem, but does a great disservice to the idea of a productive national dialogue. After all, you cannot discuss solutions to problems if you cannot respect your interlocutor.

Playing the Gun/Car Game

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I will agree that we should not compare guns to cars. Driving is a privelage (hence the need for a license) and owning a weapon is a constitutional right. But, rather than get into the subtleties of “gun-nut” logic. Let’s look at whether the rules governing guns and cars really are so different.

Should people have to pass a test before they can use a gun? Well, they are required to pass a background check to ensure that they are responsible individuals. They must also declare an intent with regards to the purchase, and need to get a license to use it as a hunter (which, depending on the State, may include a test or orientation). If the declared intent is self-defense or home-protection, (i.e. it is not intended for use unless the owner is threatened) what test should they pass before using it? Can we start prosecuting people who defend themselves with a weapon because they did not pass a test prior to use? If they do not declare a desire to use the gun unless threatened, what test do they need to take?

Should guns be insured? Well, cars must be insured when they are driven on public roads, but a car does not need to be insured if it is not driven or driven on private property with permission of the owner. Why should we require guns to be insured any differently from cars? Should we require insurance to carry a gun in a public place? To what end? Are there so many gun accidents that require insurance in the country? If a gun is deliberately used in a way to cause damage in a public place, what exactly is the point of insuring intentional acts in guns, but not guaranteeing coverage for deliberate acts in motor vehicles?

Should guns be registered with the state every year? Why? Once the state has the gun registered to the gun owner, why should they need an annual reregistration?  Will the gun fail to pass emissions? Does the state need to check if private property is functioning properly? If so, why not also require annual registration of wiring, ovens, or swimming pools? Because, if you got the permit for these items, there is no reason to annually update the government since nothing has changed. If the gun becomes illegal to own, what difference will it make to the state if it was registered 3 years ago or 7 years ago?

Should guns need to pass annual government inspections? For what purpose? If a gun is a collectors item, should the government make sure it looks good in its case? If it is for hunting, what are they inspecting it for? If your gun breaks, do you need the government to inspect it and give you a certificate saying “broken, needs repairs/replacement”?  What will the inspection of a gun determine that knowing the type of gun will not do?

Finally, if you do not follow the rules, should you lose the right to use a gun and have your gun impounded? Well, if you do not follow the rules with a car enough times, you may lose your right to operate it for several years, and you can get your car back from impound. You are never banned from owning a car, only from operating it temporarily But, if you break the law (even unrelated to gun use) your weapons are confiscated permanently and you are banned from owning or operating a gun for the rest of your natural life.

Clearly, stupid gun nuts need to think twice before saying that cars kill more people than guns do, as though such a careful analysis of the two would show that guns were subject to anything like the rigorous and intense licensing and rules governing cars. Yes, cars do kill more people than guns, are less regulated,  and less severely restricted to offenders, but that’s not the point.  The point is that calling people gun nuts and tea-baggers has become a substitute for careful consideration of the merit of their arguments, and only serves to reveal the juvenile character of the name-caller.

 

The Violence Against Women Act and No-Brainers

“You’d think the Violence Against Women Act was a nonpartisan no-brainer: can’t we all agree that the federal government should work to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of violent crimes against women?” – Kelly Baker “Say Goodbye to the Violence Against Women Act”

 

            Ms. Baker’s assertions that we should all agree that the Federal government should work to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of violent crimes against women is something that we actually all agree to, but that’s not why there is Republican objection to the amended VAWA.  The problems in how this bill was amended in April without consideration, deliberation, or compromise on issues of duplicating other agencies, creating conflicts of interest, creating questionable strategies, watering down focus on domestic violence, violating due-process, or creating situations in which jurisdiction of crime was blurred is a serious issue that requires examination.

            First, let’s consider that the absence of this legislation does not create a vacuum of domestic violence investigation or prosecution of those who are accused of violent crimes against women. Given that domestic violence is already prosecuted by the states and services are provided locally, this legislation does not constitute a crisis requiring its immediate passage without amendment as implied by Baker. Therefore, Republicans are not failing to act against a crisis and are correct in refusing to pass flawed legislation without amendment.

            Second, the amendments to VAWA may or may not be justifiable on other merits, but VAWA is supposed to help victims of domestic violence and resources diverted from VAWA to prisons or to child abuse may be noble causes, but those resources should be allocated in separate legislation when appropriated or monies should be allocated to prisons and CPS, not duplicated by unnecessary agencies in VAWA. The spending for VAWA should be evaluated on its use and resource to domestic violence, and spreading the resources to other issues will harm victims of domestic violence, not help them.

            Third, this legislation creates a serious problem in surrendering U.S. citizen’s right to a trial in a U.S. court in the event of a claim of domestic violence occurs on Native American territory. The tribal court would claim jurisdiction over the case, but these courts do not hold the same vision of accuser or victim rights as U.S. courts do, and this is a serious breach of due process. Also, the act redefines stalking as domestic violence (which, while a problem that needs prosecution, should not be devoted limited resources to those who are actually hurting women).

In conclusion, Kelly Baker is correct that is a no-brainer, but not in the way she intends.  It takes very little brains indeed to support legislation on the basis of shallow intent, feel good notions, or because it has an Orwellian title, and to accuse those who would critically examine the contents of pettiness. It is tempting to accuse Kelly Baker and others like her of a malicious distortion of the facts, but that would be giving them too much credit. Kelly Baker is moralizing her narrative of the noble acting democrats vs. villainous republicans, and moral preening indeed requires no brain.

Going Over The Compassionate Cliff

“If these women see their monthly checks slashed, where do they turn when they can’t afford food at the end of the month?” – Bryce Covert “In Fiscal Cliff Deal, Don’t Chain Grandma to Smaller Social Security Check”

 

            As Bryce Covert points out in “The Nation”, there is a lot of pain for many people if we go over the fiscal cliff. That makes the perils of going over the cliff relevant and important for everyone involved, but to presume that our options are a) going over the fiscal cliff and hurting Grandma or b) accepting the President’s plan and everything is peaches and rainbows, is to ignore the deeper issues facing a nation which spends and leverages itself past a certain point.

            To frame the liberal/conservative split on the proper path moving forward on the fiscal cliff as “Oh, those scheming liberals want to pay off their constituents with goodies so that they keep voting liberal” or “Oh, those selfish, rich, conservatives want to keep their beautiful money and beat up grandma” is as irresponsible as framing the split as “We want to help the poor who rely on our services” and “We want to do what’s best for strong economic recovery.” The truth on what path is best for the country means recognizing that going over the fiscal cliff or taking the compromise comes with benefits and costs. The problem is getting everyone to recognize that simple fact.

            If conservatives take the President’s deal, then we will not hurt grandma right now the way that Ms. Covert describes, but that comes with the cost that the pain down the road from fiscal insolvency is also going to hurt grandma (and everyone else) much worse than the hurt will be if we don’t reach a deal. While the U.S. may not face the meltdown that Greece did at 170% of Gov’t debt to GDP in 2011 that led to crises they face there, we should not assume that the U.S. is so “special” that no ratio of debt-to-GDP would cause a similar crisis. And, with the numbers involved at such a debt-crisis, we should also not assume that any international body would have the financial or political means to relieve such obligations.

            As a conservative, I concede that going over the fiscal cliff will hurt. It will hurt grandma, it will hurt families, and it will hurt my family, but this is a problem that needs to be solved with our heads guided by our hearts (not the other way around). The President’s plan does not avert us from fiscal insolvency and failing to address the spending in excess of revenue on the part of the Federal government will come with a greater pain price tag. We are not looking out for grandma, women, or anyone else if we go over the cliff such compassion may drive us towards.

 

Hiding Behind Historical Ignorance

“If you don’t understand the full historical and political context of the second amendment, go and learn before you shoot your mouth off about it being a way of allowing us to “protect ourselves from our own government.”” (Post on the Democratic Underground by Bright)

“”I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
George Mason
Co-author of the Second Amendment
during Virginia’s Convention to Ratify the Constitution, 1788

I can understand a desire to change gun laws, to reconsider the role of weapons in society, and the interest of preventing future tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting. But why is there a need to revise history in order to make the case against gun ownership? Why not appeal to the evidence as a reason to change the rules?

There are two reasons not to appeal to evidence: First, the evidence does not support the laws proposed.  Statistics do not support the idea that banning guns or greater gun restrictions reduce massacres or violent crime in any state or country looking at violent crime rates before and after new gun restriction. Second, the guns in this case were obtained illegally after current laws prevented the killer from getting guns legally.

It is not rational to presume that law-abiding gun owners pose a threat to the public any more than we should presume that responsible drivers are the leading cause of car accidents. While there is consensus that unhinged people should not have access to weapons, there is no logical step which then leads us to find legal gun ownership by responsible individuals poses a threat to the public (as presumed by a recent New York newspaper which inexplicably published the names and addresses of gun owners in its area.)

The reason anti-gun advocates are appealing to a false historical context is because it accomplishes two rhetorical goals in the debate: It shifts the burden of proof onto those who advocate for the second amendment, and it creates a false tradition which, it is argued, should be conserved. From this position one does not need to argue about the statistics of guns or the rational basis for bans, one can accuse one’s opponent of hypocrisy, ignorance, or stupidity, and thus gain the upper hand. Thus the argument in the democratic underground post by Bright ends with the following:
These are the real spirit of the second amendment, not the paranoid nutnicks hoarding canned goods and wearing camo and muttering about the President setting up FEMA camps and conspiring to take their gunz away.

Case-in-point, the opponent must now prove they are not paranoid nuts, and must prove what the “real spirit” of the second amendment is.

So, am I a paranoid nutnick hoarding canned goods, wearing camo, muttering about FEMA? Do I not fully understand the political and historical context? There’s only one way to find out. I note that there are 3 cans in my pantry and I’m wearing jeans and an “Oregon Ducks” shirt. I haven’t talked about FEMA camps or muttered anything about the president, but I may be an exception to the rule of paranoid nutnicks.

Am I politically and historically ignorant? Well, I note that the co-author of the second amendment seems to believe that guns are to prevent us from being enslaved. Now, perhaps Mason is referring to enslavement from other sources, but a reading of the Annotated Constitution (a site everyone should have bookmarked) shows that historical and political analysis by the courts falls into the vein of “paranoid nutnick” jurisprudence.

The latter issue was addressed in McDonald v. Chicago,8 where a plurality of the Court, overturning prior precedent, found that the Second Amendment is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment and is thus enforceable against the states.9 Relevant to this question, the Court examined whether the right to keep and bear arms is “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty”10 or “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”11 The Court, relying on historical analysis set forth previously in Heller, noted the English common law roots of the right to keep arms for self-defense12 and the importance of the right to the American colonies, the drafters of the Constitution. and the states as a bulwark against over-reaching federal authority.13 (Annotated Constitution http://www.law.cornell.edu/anncon)

Now then, who is it exactly who is going and shooting their mouth off without learning the political and historical context of the second amendment again?

Burning Crosses in Libya: The Real Reason the GOP Opposes Susan Rice’s Nominination to Secretary of State

One issue that has come to the forefront after the election has been that the attack at Benghazi was a failure of the State Department to protect embassies in likely target areas. This has resulted in criticism of Susan Rice’s work at the State Department and skepticism that she should be appointed Secretary of State in replacement of Hillary Clinton. How can the American public understand this criticism by such Senators as McCain and Graham? Well, it must be sexist and racist attitudes held by the GOP of course as suggested by Representatives Alan Colmes and Marcia Fudge, there is no acts on Rice’s part which merit such criticism.

Oh, the GOP denies its secret racism and sexism? Well, thankfully we have a record of Graham and McCains votes for or against Secretaries of State in the past. That should give us great insight into their true standings on race and gender! As Exhibit A we need to look no further than their vote to confirm Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. In 2008 these two racist and sexist Senators voted to…confirm Hillary as Secretary of State? Wait, aren’t they too sexist to do that?  Well they were at least critical of her nomination. They weren’t? Must be some anomaly in their record.

Ok, maybe they’re not sexist, they’re racist! Just look at their vote in 2000 to establish Colin Powell as Secretary of State with lavish praise! If only Colin Powell were a black man, they would have been critical of his nomination and “deeply troubled”. Wait, Colin Powell is black? But the racism…um…maybe they weren’t wearing their glasses when they met with him or something? That makes more sense. (Or maybe he can make himself look white to republicans and black to everyone else.)

Fine, so we have a few strange votes that mean nothing as to Susan Rice’s nomination. It will be a cold day in hell when the GOP would ever vote to confirm a black woman whose last name is Rice to become Secretary of State! Such a non-bigoted vote has never, ever happened in our past. In fact, the final and most damning evidence against these bigoted and chauvinistic GOP senators must be in their vote in 2004 when Condaleeza Rice (obviously a black woman) sought the nomination to become Secretary of State. She was voted in 85-13 with all these supposedly racist and sexist Republicans voting unanimously to…confirm her as our nations first black and female Secretary of State.

We are thus left with two possible explanations for the opposition to Susan Rice’s nomination to Secretary of State: The Republicans, after failing to be bigoted enough to oppose the nominations of blacks and women over the last 20 years to the post, are now unable to stomach the idea of another black and/or female Secretary of State.  Or, there may be legitimate criticism of a nominee based upon her record and the left is trying to make burning crosses the cause of the smoke pouring from our embassy in Libya.

Them’s the Facts Jack

Science finds that conservatives are more likely to twist facts, not recognize change, or to deny what everyone knows to be true because they dislike change and love tradition. This diagnostic tool for rejecting conservative positions was promoted by Chris Mooney in “The Republican Brain”. Before we get into this, let me be clear that believing that man has no impact on climate change, that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim bent on a new world order, or that the legislative boondoggle of the Affordable Care Act would cause death panels are positions some conservatives have adopted, but are not themselves conservative positions. Nor is the evidence that in tests of some conservatives who do twist facts, not recognize change, or hold factually inaccurate positions, that this can be generalized to a critique of American conservative principles.

Let’s think of it this way, when we say conservative and liberal, what do we mean? To conserve is to hold onto something worth keeping, but the concept conserved is not equivalent to the mindset that conserves it. Thus we may wish to conserve the principles of the U.S. in terms of the ideals of individual liberty, but liberals in other nations where conservatives try to preserve Monarchy or Statist government hold such notions. Would the concept conserved here of individual liberty be a sign of mental deficiency in the U.S., but of practical pragmatists if done so ten thousand miles away? Is belief in the free market over a controlled market a badge of intellectual superiority in China where the young liberally revolt against years of Communism, but a sign of intellectual deficiency if defended in the U.S.? That seems to be the notion Mooney and a host of liberals are offering.

When it comes to public policy in the U.S., is the debate in economics really a fight between a bunch of climate-change denying, rape-don’t-cause-pregnancy arguing, death-panel, birthers vs. the astute and factually grounded democrats who, befuddled that they must even point out to us that the CBO’s static model analysis doesn’t show that something will cost more, that you can’t lower tax rates without lowering revenue, and that, as pointed out in a recent study, millionaires do not flee the state they live in because it raises taxes. How can Republicans be so dumb (or as Mooney would say “smart idiots”)? Well it must be that they have a brain deficiency that needs diagnosis and treatment rather than to pointlessly argue with them.

But wait a second, the position taken by Republicans with regards to economic policy is technically liberal as the policy conserved by Democrats now is the Keynsian policies started under Clinton, conserved under Bush, and continued under Obama. Now, given the reversal of position, where Democrats are insisting that we shouldn’t change what we believe, challenge our assumptions on economics, or question why we use static models to calculate a dynamic system, and Republicans call for change and reform, should we now go about trying to find out why Democrats are mentally deficient? Is it time to scratch our heads and consider referring our sweet, but clearly befuddled conservative democrats to the loony bin while we go about fixing the errors of their ways?

No! The way in which someone becomes committed to a position that is either right or wrong is interesting, but is not a refutation or a suggestion of refutation of a position. I am a conservative who believes homosexuals should be allowed to marry and adopt children. Is this position enlightened if held by a liberal, but backwards thinking because I embrace it? Clearly not, yet this would seem to be the conclusion one should reach in taking the conclusions of studies on groups of people who have a belief and extrapolating tenuous conclusions about the substance of those beliefs on others.  As Washington revisits the strategy we will take to address the “fiscal cliff”, be on the lookout for the Looney Mooneys who will try to make this an issue of fact-based democrats vs. deluded republicans. This is an issue of sound economic policy for the nation to promote growth and whether the solutions proposed by the left or right are correct for the nation rests solely on whether the economics works or not and let me remind you that history shows that raising tax rates is hardly an untraditional position.