18

Fifty Million Plus Dollars Later

 

 

Republicans are now 4 for 4 in special House elections since Trump took office:

 

Republican Karen Handel has won Georgia’s record-breaking special congressional election, dashing hopes by Democrats to pull off an upset in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections.

Seen as an early proxy for whether Democrats can flip certain Republican-leaning districts in the President Donald Trump era, Tuesday’s election drew national attention and record cash from around the country. Democrats have aimed to leverage Trump’s dismal approval rating and opposition to the Republican health-care bill into winning Republican seats and potentially taking control of the House in 2018.

The race for Georgia’s 6th District for the seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price pitted Handel, 55, the former Georgia secretary of state, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year old former congressional aide. Fueled by a rush of donors from around the U.S., Ossoff pushed for an upset in the suburban Atlanta district that Price repeatedly won easily.

 

He came up short, as Handel won by about 5 percentage points, according to incomplete returns.

The two campaigns and outside groups supporting and opposing the candidates shelled out at least $36 million as of May 31, including more than $22 million from Ossoff’s campaign. The election easily set a record for spending in a House race, according to NBC News.

 

Continue Reading

6

Hamilton: Art Fails as Politics

 

The United States have already felt the evils of incorporating a large number of foreigners into their national mass; by promoting in different classes different predilections in favor of particular foreign nations, and antipathies against others, it has served very much to divide the community and to distract our councils. It has been often likely to compromise the interests of our own country in favor of another. The permanent effect of such a policy will be, that in times of great public danger there will be always a numerous body of men, of whom there may be just grounds of distrust; the suspicion alone will weaken the strength of the nation, but their force may be actually employed in assisting an invader.

Alexander Hamilton, “Examination of Jefferson’s Message to Congress of December 7, 1801” (1802)

 

 

 

 

I have rather liked the musical Hamilton, although I have understood that it bore only an accidental relationship to the history it purported to represent.  However, at Reason Nicholas Pell has a scathing review of Hamilton, and he makes some good points:

 

 

Some are irritated about the people who aren’t white playing white people, but I’m not. The whole production plays so fast and loose with the truth that it’s hard to pick any particular piece to criticize, there’s a reality correlation approximating that of the Weekly World News. At the top of the list, though, has to be casting Alexander Hamilton as some sort of proto-multicultural progressive. That’s either stupidity or mendacity, take your pick. Hamilton was, if anything, the most aristocratic of the Founding Fathers, the closest thing to a Colonial Tory. You know that electoral college you’ve been gnashing your teeth over for the last couple months? Guess whose idea that was? Continue Reading

30

Mark Shea, Pro-life and Religion as Politics

 

Mark Shea has taken his agree-with-me-on-these-issues-or-you-are-not-really-pro-life routine to the pages of the Jesuit rag America:

But weirdly, when the topic is not the unborn, many allegedly pro-life people often forget their wisdom. Result: on many issues ranging from war to torture to refugees to the death penalty, it is extremely common to run into people who are anti-abortion, but not pro-life.

And so self-identified pro-life people, in a solid majority, favored the launch of the Iraq War, despite the fact that it failed to meet a single criterion of Just War teaching, was sternly denounced by Pope John Paul II, warned of by the world’s bishops, and dismissed as folly by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who famously remarked that the “concept of a ‘preventive war’ does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church” and who warned that it would result in catastrophe—as the destruction of the Chaldean Church, the deaths of at least 100,000 people and the transformation of Iraq into chaos eloquently attests.

..
Relatedly, self-identified pro-life Christians supported, in greater percentages than the general U.S. population, the use of torture against prisoners. Indeed, along with Evangelicals, self-identified pro-life Catholics may constitute the single most enthusiastic supporters of torture in American public life. This is despite the fact that the church describes torture as gravely and intrinsically immoral—exactly the same terms in which she describes abortion.

Similarly, the death penalty is sometimes treated as an issue in which the church’s guidance to inflict the punishment only if absolutely necessary is rejected on the theory that God “commands” rather than reluctantly permits the death penalty. Some even go so far as to declare the church, not merely entitled to an opinion from which they dissent, but actually “wrong” and work to execute as many victims as possible.

Finally, there is the strange spectacle of some Catholics opposing pre-natal help for low income women (thus increasing the likelihood of abortion for poor families who fear they cannot afford another child) and the even stranger spectacle of self-identified pro-life people brandishing guns and screaming for desperately poor refugee children from Central America to be sent back to the extreme dangers of rape, sex slavery and murder.
Continue Reading

8

The Reality Gap

We’ve reached the point in the election where the press decides to mostly report on how the election is being perceived rather than on any particular events, and since the president is doing well in the polls this results in a lot of “desperate Republicans do foolish things” stories. The flavor of the week seems to be the media’s discovery that somewhere out there in the right-leaning internet, there are people who have made a hobby of “re-weighting” polls in order to reflect what the re-weighters think is a more likely partisan composition of the electorate come election day.

There is, yes, a certain sad desperation about this. Now that election reporting is often more about “the race” than about issues or events, being behind in the race is crippling and so people come up with way to try to explain it away. Those with long memories (eight years counts as long in our modern age) may recall that when Bush was so rude as to be ahead of Kerry in the 2004 race, Michael Moore and those like-minded rolled out a theory that all the polls were wrong because an army of voters who only used cell phones and not land lines (and thus couldn’t be polled) were out there ready to vote against Bush.

However, just as everyone’s getting ready to announce that Republicans, in their constant flight from the “reality based community” have decided they don’t believe in polling, we find out that the left has its own reality problem: They’re convinced that the economy has been getting better over the last couple months, despite the fact there’s little reason to believe this. Gallup and the Pew Research Center both have data out showing that Democrats’ opinions of the economy and the job market have suddenly started improving, despite almost universally bad news over the last several months.

As you can see, partisan affiliation wasn’t much of a dividing factor in assessments of the economy a year ago, but now that a bad economy might mean President Obama not being re-elected, Democrats obediently come to the conclusion that the economy really isn’t that bad. According to Pew, the same divide now exists on the job market, consumer prices, the financial market, real estate, and even gas prices. You would think that at least people could agree on what the level of gas prices is, but no, apparently not, though the gap is narrower there than elsewhere: 89% of Republicans say they hear mostly bad news about gas prices while 65% of Democrats do.

The trope goes that you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. However, as the political divide has become wider and more entrenched opposite sides increasingly do have their own facts, as reality become filtered through a partisan lens.

6

Tax Dishonesty

I’ve been listening to music via Pandora a lot recently (while writing) and the result is that although I’ve been hearing more than my usual share of political ads. (Since I don’t watch television or listen to commercial radio, I’m normally exempt from these despite living in Ohio.)

One thing that particularly struck me is the rampant dishonesty in regards to tax policy that’s going around, in part due to the both party’s bad habit of making tax breaks look more affordable by enacting them only for short terms, thus necessitating frequent renewal.

The first bone of contention is the “Bush tax cuts”. These tax cuts, which affected taxpayers all across the income spectrum, are estimated to have a “cost” of $3.3 Trillion over ten years (this “cost” is the combination of foregone theoretical tax revenues and the cost of servicing the debt resulting from federal spending not going down by a similar $3.3 Trillion.) Democrats like to refer to the “Bush tax cuts” as “tax cuts for the rich” and to quote the full “cost” of $3.3 Trillion as being the cost of those cuts. What this ignores is that two thirds of that $3.3T actually went to what President Obama refers to as the middle class (families making less than $250,000 per year.) So while it’s true that the “Bush tax cuts” had a “cost” of “over three trillion dollars”, the attacks against this ignore the fact that two thirds of that total is “tax cuts for the middle class” which Democrats support.

Just to make it even more confusing, Democrats like to call extending the Bush tax cuts “massive tax cuts for the rich”, despite the fact it is simply an extension of tax rates which have already been in place for some time. Republicans, on the other hand, like to refer the potential expiration of the tax cuts as a “massive tax increase.” This is accurate, to the extent that people would indeed experience their taxes going up, but it ignores the inconvenient fact that Republicans wrote the tax cut in such a way as to expire (in order to avoid having to make hard budget decisions to ‘pay for’ the tax cut.)

As if one set of expiring tax cuts that everyone talks about in different ways were not confusing enough, there’s also the Obama payroll tax cut: a cut of 2% in the payroll tax that pays for Social Security. This was never meant to be a permanent tax cut, but rather a short term economic stimulus. Social Security has financial problems to begin with, it doesn’t help to make a significant cut in its funding. (And that’s ignoring the fiction that the money you put into Social Security is the money you’re get out again.)

However, even though both parties have signaled that they’re essentially willing to let the temporary payroll tax cut expire at the end of this year (though both parties hope to see this done as part of a broader overhaul of taxes suited to their own priorities) that hasn’t stopped some commentators and advertisers from characterizing Republican support for letting the cut expire as “a tax increase on the middle class”.

13

Sometimes I Feel Like Sarah Connor

I have to remind myself sometimes to refrain from immersion in current events, politics, and social issues because I swell up with machine-like resolve and start thinking of myself as a Sarah Connor, the fictional mom in the Terminator films who transformed from a timid victim to a hardened warrior on the verge of losing touch with her own humanity. She knew Judgement Day was coming, and her son would have to fight evil mightily. She knew she had to prepare and protect him.

I don’t think I’m the only mom that conjures up such an image. We lay awake at night wondering what kind of battles our children will face as adults. Will they lose faith? Will they be hurt? Will they be warriors? Will they be martyrs? Will they be ready? Are we doing enough to take a stand as Catholics? No kidding, there are nights when I feel compelled to rise and do chin-ups on the door frame to flex some muscle (though I’d faint after three).

I have learned, instead, to pray. As awful as I may think some current events are, this world still belongs to God. If I believe that Christ healed the sick, commanded demons, and died and rose for the salvation of souls, then in faith I need to guard against despair and overwhelming ferocity. Remember what the centurion in Capernaum said to Jesus when he wanted his servant to be healed? He had great faith. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” He also had humility. That last part reminds me of St. Francis’ advice, “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.”

Surely in some ways we do need to become a legend among the resistance, to warn that humanity is doomed to self-destruction if they don’t listen, and to store up a proverbial cache of weapons for our children if there is a rise of the machines; but mostly what we need to do is to accept the graces and abundances offered now in this time of our own lives. We do need to fight, but we can’t let ourselves become so steeled we forget we are human.

Even so, I wouldn’t mind having her deltoids, and I admit I rather like imagining myself standing strong with a steady gaze across the landscape as I prepare to defend and inspire my children, but without the cigarette and Commando rifle.

5

Question: If they trust women, why don’t they trust mothers?

SHOCKER: Teens need their mothers. Mothers can help their daughters. Even in crisis.

There’s an article forthcoming in the journal Economic Inquiry by Professors of Economics, Joseph Sabia and Daniel Rees, that shows parental notification or consent laws are associated with a 15 to 25 percent reduction in suicides committed by 15- through 17-year-old women. The researchers analyzed National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health data collected from 1987 to 2003 and found results that are consistent with the hypothesis that laws requiring parental involvement increase the “expected cost of having unprotected sex,” and, consequently, protect the well-being of young females. (Hey, they’re economists.)

Here’s the reasoning, taken from this paper by the same authors.

  • Researchers have already found, using state-level data from 1981 through 1998, that parental involvement laws reduced teen gonorrhea rates 12 to 20 percent among teen females. (Klick and Strattman, 2008)
  • Other recent studies provide evidence that female adolescents who become sexually active at an early age are more likely to suffer from the symptoms of depression. (Hallfors et al. 2004; Sabia and Rees 2008)
  • Research has shown that multiple sex partners increased the likelihood of substance abuse. (Howard et al. 2004)
  • It is also been found that adolescent females who had multiple sex partners were 10 times more likely to develop the symptoms of major depression than those who remained abstinent. (Hallfors et al. 2005)
  • There was no evidence of a similar relationship between male multiple partners and adolescent depression. (Hallfors et al. 2005)

So the hypothesis is: If parental involvement laws discourage minors from risky lifestyles that affect their physical health, then they would promote emotional health of teenage females as well. Analyzing suicide rates will give an indication since there have been many studies that link depression and suicide. The national suicide data was analyzed and that’s exactly what they found – a supporting correlation. Parental involvement laws correlate with fewer suicides. Further in support, there was no evidence of a similar relationship among male adolescents, and no correlation between parental involvement laws and suicide for older women because, well, neither group would be affected by those laws.

Makes sense, right? You’re probably thinking, “Did we need to pass those laws, wait and see what happened, and then count suicides?” No, we didn’t, and there’d be at least some justice if the people opposing those laws would take notice.

You’d think someone who really cares about women would be able to take an objective view of this data and consider it as an appeal to our collective conscience. You’d think someone who parrots, “Trust Women!” would be consistent enough to also trust mothers who are raising teens. When the state comes between teens and their parents, it just follows that the adolescents will not be as close to their parents as they ought to be.

This only affirms what we already know. Parents of teen girls can be trusted – should be trusted for the psychological benefit of a daughter in crisis. The abortion advocate community doesn’t seem as concerned about young women, though, as they are about politics and agendas. They instead say that people just want to make it harder for teens to have abortions, and that teens have a “fear of abuse” from unrelenting parents. Oh, and they’ll say something about how correlation doesn’t equal causation, revealing that they either are ignorant of analytical methods or, even worse, knowledgeable of them but dishonest when the results don’t fit their predetermined conclusions. Some will even say that teen women should be trusted to make their own decisions even when the decision for these desperate young women is to end their own lives. Of course, we all know why Planned Parenthood doesn’t want the parents involved. Ac$e$$ to abortion.

So I have a little hypothesis of my own. I predict (but would love to be proven wrong) that not a single abortion advocate will come forward and honestly reassess parental consent laws even though there is no body of data to support their premise. Could they admit that maybe, just maybe, the default condition is not that most parents of teens are abusive. Imagine!

If they trust women, why can’t they trust mothers and fathers? Where does this automatic distrust of parents come from anyway? Perhaps there’s a cost associated with believing that a mother has the right to kill her own child in the womb, and that cost is faith in people to love their children unconditionally at any point in life, even during difficult times.

H/T:  Michael J. New at National Review

Image: Microsoft Powerpoint

11

A Real Job

I’ve had it suggested that I write about motherhood a bit; be careful what you ask for.

 

….Yeah, I’m posting on that.  Some idiot talking head makes a slam at a grandmother with MS and everyone has to comment about it.  I think I have something worth saying, though, rather than just talking about it because it’s big.

 

I’m a stay at home mom.  A home-maker.  A house wife.

 

I have worked outside the home, before I got married, in a very similar field—I was a Petty Officer in the Navy, specializing in calibration. (Making sure things that measure are accurate enough.)  Before that, I was in another similar field, at least sort of—I was a ranch kid.

 

Perhaps some folks look at those things and are curious—what on earth is the connection between being a mother, working with cows and fixing stuff that’s used to fix planes and ships?

Continue Reading

16

Weakness and The Truth

“Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil.  For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Therefore, take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day and to stand in all things perfect”  Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesian 6: 11-13

 

Mr. Voris is exactly right.  The American bishops are asking for a fight after having failed to feed, train and arm their military.  There is no way a single letter, as well intentioned and necessary as it is, read from the pulpit on a single Sunday, urging us to call our elected representatives, is going to save our freedoms and protect our right to practice the faith that Christ handed to us.  It will not help catechize the silly young woman mentioned in the Real Catholic video, nor will it educate the nation as to why the Church teaches abortion, artificial contraception and sterilization are evils.

I hate to say this but in many ways the bishops almost deserve to be ignored. Truth be told, they have lost an immense amount of respect among the devout laity (the non-devout obviously having no respect for them). This is not a loss of respect for the position,  but for the men and the way they hold it; weak and timidly.  The result is a wasteland of liberalism and heresy that is to be found in so many parishes across our nation.  Now, after having the President of the US attempt to force them into committing mortal sin, they want the help of those few who actually believe, practice and uphold the faith to come to the rescue. Continue Reading

40

The Oft-Repeated Lie About Warren Buffet’s Secretary’s Tax Rate

For last night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama invited Warren Buffet’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, to sit in the First Lady’s box during the speech and specifically promised in that speech to support tax changes in order to mend the injustice Buffet claims occurs allowing him to pay the lowest tax rate of anyone in his office, including his secretary. This line of attack is doubtless partly designed to pave the way millionaire Barrack Obama to make populist attacks on multi-millionaire Mitt Romney during the upcoming presidential campaign. Romney is, after all, very, very rich, and his income comes primarily from investments.

David Leonhardt at the NY Times asks both right-leaning economist Greg Mankiw and the left leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to comment on this alleged tax injustice. Mankiw makes a fairly reasonable case that the reason capital gains are lower is that investment income is based on corporate profits and corporate profits have already been taxed. Companies would have more profits to pass on to investors (either as dividends or in the form of being worth more) if they didn’t pay corporate taxes, and so the tax on investment income is set lower to avoid this “double taxation”. Chuck Marr of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities must know the facts aren’t on his side, because instead of answering the question he provides a canned response about income inequality and how tax rates are lower than in the ’70s. The column is worth a read.

However, there’s another issue here which I think is worth pointing out. Progressives writing on this issue usually act as if billionaire investors such as Warren Buffet are all paying right around 15% (the capital gains rate) in taxes — Buffet claims that he pays 17.4% — and that “middle class Americans” are paying the top marginal income tax rate of 35%. Continue Reading

1

Battleground Ohio

In the 2012 election, Ohio will once again be a key battleground state at the presidential level. This will be a new experience for me, now an Ohio resident, as I’ve spent my voting live up until now in California and Texas — two states so solidly in their opposite party’s columns that one at times wondered if it was worth the time to stand in line and vote.

The Ohio vote froom yesterday getting national and international headlines was the rejection of Issue 2, repealing a law which limitted collective bargaining for state employees including teachers, police and firemen. State employee unions poured huge amounts of money into the “No on 2” campaign and focused heavily on scare tactics. The most frequent claim was that if unions could not negotiate over staffing levels, that police or paramedics would not arrive when you needed them. “Vote no on Issue 2. It could save your life.”

The victory in the No on 2 campaign is being taken as a positive sign by Democrats nationally, but it is likely to be a bad sign for the actual state workers who campaigned so hard for their unions. In the same election, voters rejected a number of local tax levies (both new and renewals) which in combination with the striking down of Senate Bill 5 (via the No on 2 campaign) means that local government will be stuck with old, more expensive contracts and also come up far short on revenues. This means that voters are still very much in a low tax, low budget mood (probably a positive for Republicans come next year) and that unions just spent an unprecedented amount of money in order to get more of their members laid off. Oops.

In yet another state-wide referendum, voters, by a 2-to-1 margin, voted to ammend the state constitution to ban any form of health insurance mandate in Ohio. Given that state constitutions cannot override federal laws, this is mostly a symbolic gesture, however with the ammendment getting a majority in every single county, it underscores how unpopular some of the key ideas of ObamaCare remain with voters.

It remains to be seen which of the two statewide issue votes prove to be the more suggestive of how Ohio voters will lean in the 2012 election.

5

Drone Killings and the Slippery Slope

There have been worries expressed on both sides of the political spectrum about the use of drone killings against Al Qaeda, and more especially so as it’s come out that the Obama Administration has a secret “kill list” which even includes American citizens who are working with Al Qaeda overseas (as was the recently killed Anwar al-Awlaki).

It seems to be that there is a legitimate worry here. In a sense, drones are the modern American equivalent of pillars of the Victorian British Empire such as Charles “Chinese” Gordon — gallivanting about the world to put down disturbances wherever they occur. However, they’re also relative unobtrusive and cheap. Thus, I would imagine that there is more danger of them being used to embroil us in conflicts that we really don’t want to be in. (Which, come to that, is more or less what Gordon managed to do for the British Empire on an occasion or two.) While I think that US hegemonic power, like that of others such as the British and Romans in the past, is generally a positive force in the world, power is often a temptation to over reaching. Putting international intervention only a joystick away, without any need for congressional approval or oversight, seems to put just a bit too much power in the hands of an already imperial presidency.
Continue Reading

20

What Everyone Was Thinking of the Debt Debate?

A Pew/WaPo poll over the weekend asked people to give the one word they believed best described the then-still-ongoing debate in congress over the debt ceiling and budget cutting issue. The results are:

The disgust was shared by Democrats, Republicans and Independents, and people reported that their impressions of both Obama and the Republican congressional leadership had worsened (from their already low levels.)

That no one is impressed with the specter of a bunch grown men and women squabbling endlessly is probably unsurprising — if we saw what congress was up to more often we’d probably have this reaction frequently. However, it seems to me that there are two things which make this go-round particularly bad.
Continue Reading

21

Why Doesn’t Warren Buffet Pay Extra Taxes?

This WSJ editorial caught my eye, because it makes a seemingly valid point about wealthy people who call for higher taxes on the rich.

I wish I had a dollar for every time a wealthy liberal has declared he thinks he should pay more taxes. That list includes Warren Buffett, George Soros, Bill Gates Sr., Mark Zuckerberg and even Barack Obama, who now says that not only should rich people like him pay more taxes, they want to pay more. “I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me,” he said of his tax-hike plan. “They want to give back to the country that’s done so much for them.”

So why don’t they? There is a special fund at the Treasury Department for taxpayers who want to make “gift contributions to reduce debt held by the public.” But very few do. Last year that fund and others like it raised a grand total of $300 million. That’s a decimal place on Mr. Zuckerberg’s net worth and pays for less than two hours worth of federal borrowing.

I understand the basic satisfaction of saying, “Look, mister, if you really want to pay more taxes, no one is stopping you,” but I don’t think that it’s actually a very good argument. The reason why people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet advocate for higher taxes but don’t voluntarily pay higher taxes than the law requires is pretty obvious: Continue Reading

7

Tax and Spend Impasse

Reading a rather cursory opinion piece this morning (calling for federal spending to be decreased) it occurred to me that there’s an interesting symmetry to what the more aggressive advocates of tax increases and spending cuts suggest:

The most passionate tax increase advocates frame their calls for tax increases in terms of some prior level of taxation: “We should roll back all the Bush tax cuts and return to the tax rates people payed under Clinton. We all remember the ’90’s; the world didn’t end when the top marginal tax rate was 39.6%” or “By golly, we should go back to the tax tables that were in force under that ‘socialist’ Eisenhower. 91% top marginal rate. That’ll teach those corporate fat cats to vote themselves bonuses.”

Similarly, when passionate spending cutters explain their plans, they tend to phrase it in terms of rolling back to a previous level of spending: “These ‘draconian’ cuts in fact only represent a return to 2006 spending levels. Did we starve in the streets then? Did the world end?” Continue Reading

28

If I Weren’t Catholic, I Would…

As a Catholic, one is sometimes accused of being so mindlessly doctrinaire that one “accepts anything the pope says without thinking”. However, at other times, one is faced with the opposite challenge: Does your Catholic faith cause you to take any political or moral positions that you wouldn’t take anyway?

Typically, both of these objections are leveled by people who don’t like one’s political or moral stances, but while in the one case it stems from a belief that one would obvious agree with the speaker if only one’s head wasn’t befuddled by religious notions, the other seems to stem from the idea that if only one really took one’s faith seriously, one would agree with the speaker on the point at issue. (Or perhaps alternately, merely a skepticism as to whether anyone actually modifies his life at all due to religious beliefs.)

I think this is a pretty valid question, but if one attempts to think about it seriously, it is a very difficult question to answer, since it leaves one to try to puzzle out how much of one’s beliefs and character are the result of one’s faith, versus how much one picks one’s faith based on beliefs or tendencies one already has. Continue Reading

19

Rewinding Taxes to the Good Old Days

For decades, progressives tended to accuse conservatives of wanting to bring back the ’50s, but in recent years the shoe is on the other foot, with some prominent progressives saying they yearn for the good old days when unions were strong, manufacturing was the core of the economy, and the top marginal tax rate was over 90%. I wanted to see what the real tax situation was for people in a number of different income situations, so I decided to pull the historical tax tables and do the math.

Luckily, the Tax Foundation publishes the income tax tables for every year from 2010 back to 1913. I decided to compare 2010 and 1955. Here are the 2010 tax tables:

I then got the 1955 tax tables and adjusted the income brackets to 2010 dollars using this inflation calculator. (For those interested, the inflation factor from 1955 to 2010 is 713%) The result is as follows:
Continue Reading

19

The Left and the Political Blood Libel

As indicated by the video above, many people on the Left have been relentless, since news broke of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims, on trying to blame conservatives somehow for the actions of one crazed lunatic.  There is no evidence that the gunman was motivated by anything other than the severe mental illness that he seems to be afflicted with.  However, those on the Left seeking to demonize those they politically oppose will not let a little thing like the truth stand in their way.  Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, takes a look at all this today in a column in the Wall Street Journal:

Shortly after November’s electoral defeat for the Democrats, pollster Mark Penn appeared on Chris Matthews’s TV show and remarked that what President Obama needed to reconnect with the American people was another Oklahoma City bombing. To judge from the reaction to Saturday’s tragic shootings in Arizona, many on the left (and in the press) agree, and for a while hoped that Jared Lee Loughner’s killing spree might fill the bill.

With only the barest outline of events available, pundits and reporters seemed to agree that the massacre had to be the fault of the tea party movement in general, and of Sarah Palin in particular. Why? Because they had created, in New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s words, a “climate of hate.”

The critics were a bit short on particulars as to what that meant. Mrs. Palin has used some martial metaphors—”lock and load”—and talked about “targeting” opponents. But as media writer Howard Kurtz noted in The Daily Beast, such metaphors are common in politics. Palin critic Markos Moulitsas, on his Daily Kos blog, had even included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s district on a list of congressional districts “bullseyed” for primary challenges. When Democrats use language like this—or even harsher language like Mr. Obama’s famous remark, in Philadelphia during the 2008 campaign, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”—it’s just evidence of high spirits, apparently. But if Republicans do it, it somehow creates a climate of hate.

There’s a climate of hate out there, all right, but it doesn’t derive from the innocuous use of political clichés. And former Gov. Palin and the tea party movement are more the targets than the source. Continue Reading

9

Divided Thoughts over the Tax Deal

I find myself with oddly divided feelings about this whole tax deal making its way through congress. On the one hand, while extending the tax cuts which we’re already experiencing seems prudent, especially in a recession, piling additional tax cuts on top of those (especially the across the board 2% reduction in social security withholding) seems seriously unwise when our deficit is already the size that it is.

On the other hand, I could certainly use the extra $150+ per month in take-home income. As I look at moving bills and such, I keep thinking, “Well, if this passes my paychecks will go up soon.”

We routinely scorn politicians for being easily bought, but I’m feeling rather hungry for my pot of lentils myself about now.

4

Big Government and Small Society

The Democratic Party suffered a historic drubbing a couple weeks ago. However, one of the things with which several left leaning commentators publically consoled themselves was that demographics are in their favor. The parts of the electorate which tend to vote for Democrats are growing, while those who tends to vote for Republicans are shrinking. Progressives like to focus on the examples of this they feel proud of: the non-white percentage of the US population is growing, and non-whites tend to vote Democratic. Young people also lean more heavily progressive on a variety of issues than previous generations did at the same age.

From a progressive point of view this sounds pretty good: progressivism will succeed in the end because it is supported by young and diverse people, while conservatism will die out because it is supported by old white people — and no one like them anyway, did they?

I’d like to propose an alternate reading of the data: Continue Reading

10

Narrative Failure

There’s nothing more annoying that excessive crowing over an election, but I can’t help taking just a moment to observe that there’s something which doesn’t quite fit about the idea that the GOP (and in a number of cases, the Tea Party wing of the GOP) did so well yesterday because the electorate was outraged that Obama and congress didn’t tack harder left in the last two years. Yes, it’s true that it was moderate Democrats, in many cases, who lost, but that’s mainly because those moderate Democrats were elected in 2010 in districts which were to the right of them, districts which had previously been held by the GOP. But the fact that Pelosi was reelected while Driehaus lost doesn’t mean that the electorate as a whole wants people on the hard left — it’s because Pelosi’s district is in San Francisco while Driehaus’s was in Cincinnati.

What both rightists and leftists should keep in mind after elections like this one and 2008 as well is that elections in the US are decided by a swing bloc which might charitably be described as pragmatic/a-political (or uncharitably as generally ignorant of political ideology and policy.) Continue Reading

15

The Super Secret, Mystical Recession Cure

For some reason, I found myself reading through Paul Krugman’s recent NY Times material. Perhaps it was a desire for a little mental vaunting, what with the direction the elections seem to be taking, and if so I should have come away quite satisfied as Mr. Krugman is in full Chicken Little mode. A GOP takeover of congress will be a disaster, and we should all be very afraid. Stupid people are allowing their emotions to run away with them and will destroy the world economy through getting all moralistic about debt. And of course, the reason why the entire world doesn’t see things Krugman’s way is because macroeconomics is too hard for them to understand.

Well, I’m certainly prepared to admit that Krugman’s expertise in macroeconomics is greater than my own — and I’ll even stretch and say that my understanding probably goes farther than that of the average bear. Continue Reading

18

Are Public Employees Overpaid?

If you believe what you read on blogs or hear from certain politicians and pundits, a new kind of haves-vs.-have-nots class war is brewing across the land. Not between the rich and the poor, but between private and public sector workers, as related here.

Scandalous stories of public officials enjoying lavish or disproportionate pay and benefits at taxpayer expense, such as in Bell, Calif., and elsewhere , frequently make headlines and prompt calls for reductions in such compensation.

As with many other economic and taxation issues, the answer to the question posed in the title of this post usually depends on which side of the political spectrum you are on. Conservatives tend to answer “yes,” while liberals tend to answer “no” .

But which side is correct?

Before I delve into that question, I will first make some disclosures.  I am a full-time employee of the state of Illinois, making $35,000 per year. I do not belong to a union, and due to the nature of my job and agency, probably never will. I have only received one raise the entire time I have been so employed (nearly 4 years) due to a promotion to a slightly higher job level. I do not expect to receive any raises for the foreseeable future; in fact a pay cut is a distinct possibility. Prior to that I worked 20 years in private sector employment in the newspaper field. In some instances the pay and benefits were comparable to, and even better than, my current job. In other instances they were not as good.

Now to the question: are public employees overpaid? That depends on who you ask and how one defines “overpaid”. The average pay of state and federal employees in general is higher than that of private sector workers in general. When broken down by education, profession, etc. the picture is not as cut and dried. For lower-skilled jobs requiring only a high school or vocational education — e.g. custodians, receptionists, guards — the public sector pays better, whereas for professional jobs requiring a college degree or higher (attorneys, doctors, CPAs, etc.), the private sector pays more — often a lot more. These articles from Kiplinger and from Governing.com explain the differences in greater detail.

Two of the biggest reasons for these disparities are that 1) public employment tends to have a greater percentage of jobs requiring a college education or beyond and 2) public sector jobs are more likely to be unionized.

Public employee unions are a favorite bete noire of fiscal conservative politicians and candidates at the moment, and much of the public seems to agree with them. The fact that public employees continue in many (though not all) states and localities to enjoy benefits most private employees no longer have, such as regular salary increases, defined benefit pension plans, and caps on health insurance premiums and co-pays, arouses resentment among ordinary citizens who are forced to pay for such benefits via taxation.

Although many officeholders and candidates talk a good game when it comes to reining in public employee benefits, in practice the most frequent targets of budget cutting measures such as layoffs, furlough days and pay cuts, are lower or mid-level non-union employees. They often end up being punished for the sins (real or perceived) of their higher placed or unionized colleagues, simply because they are the easiest targets — not protected by either union contracts or political/personal connections.

The biggest problems on a state and local level are pension deficits — the growing gaps between the amount of money in public pension funds and the amount of benefits those funds are expected to pay in the future. According to this report by the Pew Center on the States, pension shortfalls are fiscal time bombs that threaten to devour entire state and city budgets if nothing is done to defuse them before it is too late.

How did the situation get that bad? In most cases it was due to a variety of factors — yes, generous union contracts played a part, but so did repeated failure on the part of lawmakers to invest properly in public pension funds, demographic changes (aging of the Baby Boomers, people living longer), and investments tanking due to the recession. No one factor can be singled out, and the entire blame for the pension crisis cannot be laid at the feet of one person or group of people. But regardless of who is or was to blame, the problem has to be dealt with, not swept under the rug.

Private sector employees are quick to point out that while they have to support public employee benefits with their taxes, public employees are not forced to do the same for private employees — they can choose whether or not to do business with a private company.

I agree, and this is in my opinion an argument that should be taken most seriously. For that reason, public employees are by necessity accountable to the public and will always be subject to various restrictions and considerations that do not apply to private employees (e.g., their salaries being public information).  This is not “unfair” or unequal, but simply part of the deal one signs up for when working for a government body.

Another claim often made by private employees is that government workers, by virtue of the pay, job security and benefits they enjoy, are artificially insulated from the realities their privately employed neighbors face — the constant threat of being fired or laid off, lack of retirement security, worry about medical bills, etc.

That might, perhaps, be true of top officials/administrators with strong political connections who make six-figure salaries, whose spouses have equally high-paying positions, and whose children or other family members are completely healthy. Otherwise, I am not so sure.

Many public employees, particularly non-union ones, are regularly threatened with layoffs or missed paychecks (most often at the end of a fiscal year). Given the poor financial standing of many public employee pension funds, combined with the fact that some public employees don’t get Social Security, I’d say many of them (including myself) who are 10 years or more away from retirement are just as worried about their retirement as you are.

Also, most public employees do not live in a bubble or a vacuum. Most used to work in the private sector at some time in their lives, and many are married to spouses who work in the “real world” or are currently unemployed or disabled. Their grown children, their parents, their siblings, and their friends and neighbors  include private employees or unemployed persons looking for work. The only exceptions I can think of might be political “dynasty” families like the Kennedys or Daleys. Plus, public employees pay all the same taxes everyone else does — federal, state, sales, property, the whole works. If taxes go up, it cuts into their budgets too.

Just because someone has a government job doesn’t mean they have, or should have, no interest in whether private business succeeds. If factories close and move overseas, if private companies go bankrupt and abolish or raid pension funds, if high taxes drive up the cost of living, if college education becomes unaffordable without taking on ruinous levels of debt — it affects them and their families too. It is in everyone’s interest, no matter what kind of job they have, to have a fiscally sound and honest government, competent public employees, and a sustainable tax structure.

Also, do not forget that for every instance in which a public official received undeserved pay, pensions or perks at taxpayer expense one could probably cite an equally egregious case of a private business executive enjoying lavish pay and benefits at the expense of fired workers, closed factories/offices, or raided pension funds. Greed is greed no matter where it occurs, and no sector of the economy is exempt from the effects of original sin.

Finally, since this is a Catholic blog, we should approach this issue from a religious perspective as well. Christ Himself chose a public employee, Matthew the tax collector, to be one of His Apostles. He also told His followers to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” So, apparently, He did not believe that working for the government was inherently evil, unproductive or exploitive.

Some more pointed advice was given by Christ’s precursor, John the Baptist, to the public servants of his day who came to see him (Luke 3:12-14):

“Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

John was referring to practices for which the public employees of the day were notorious — tax collectors often overcharged citizens and pocketed the “profit” they made, while Roman soldiers were known for shaking down citizens of the provinces they occupied for money, food, or other goods. Here John is telling them simply to do their duty, not demand any more of the public than the law requires, and be content with what they are paid. If today’s public officials and employees did the same, there would be a lot fewer problems.

As with most problems in a fallen world, there is no perfectly just way to balance the need for a professional, competent government workforce with that of a private sector free of unnecessary taxes and regulation. This does not mean, however, that we should not attempt to find as just a resolution as possible. However this will require people who are not to blame for the situation to help clean it up, and at considerable personal cost.

For public employees, this means more work for less pay, more out of pocket expenses, and for some, no job at all. For the rest of us it could mean higher taxes, reduced services or some combination of the two. All these things will impact thousands, even millions, of good, hardworking people who are simply doing the best they can and had no part in creating the situation. It may not be perfectly fair, but life ain’t fair.

26

Ideology and Economic Knowledge

Prof Daniel Klein of had a brief piece in the WSJ this week talking about how people’s economic knowledge or ignorance breaks down by ideological lines.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents’ (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.

Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: “Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.” People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree.” This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer “not sure,” which we do not count as incorrect.

In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.
Continue Reading

16

Is Arguing About Politics a Waste of Time?

This study suggests an interesting reason why that may be the case:

The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking.

“We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” says Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory who led the study. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.” Westen and his colleagues will present their findings at the Annual Conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Jan. 28.

Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions — essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted — not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward — similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains.

Continue Reading

48

All Morality is Personal

One hears, at times, frustration expressed that too many Catholics think only in terms of “personal morality” or “personal piety” and that insufficient attention is paid to social or political sin. Certainly, the results of an average Catholic’s examination of conscience might seem paltry on the stage of political activism. How can people worry about paltry wrongs such as, “I lied,” “I took the Lord’s name in vain,” or “I indulged in lustful thoughts,” when there are third world workers being cheated out of their just wages, the environment being destroyed, racism being perpetuated, nuclear weapons being built and imperialist wars being fought? Isn’t it time that we stopped obsessing over these small issues of lying and swearing and sex in order to concentrate on the massive, societal evils that afflict our country and our planet?

This line of thinking strikes me as, in the end, an approach no less dangerous than that of the Pharisee who was so notoriously contrasted with the publican. Why? Because while there are unquestionably social evils that afflict us at a wider level (though there is certainly room for debate as to the precise nature and cause of social evils, I don’t think there’s any question that such things do exist) morality must, in the end, be examined at the level of individual actions. And for us, that means our actions. Societies do not perform sins, people do. While it may make sense to talk about some pervasive evil such as racism as being a “social sin”, racism does not in fact consists of “society” being racist but rather of a number of individual people within a society behaving in a racist fashion. If workers are being treated badly or paid unjust wages, it is not because society does this, but because a certain number of individual people choose to commit those acts.

Continue Reading

61

The Lure of Authoritarianism

There seems an odd attraction towards Chinese-style authoritarianism among certain more technocratic/elitist segments of the left-leaning political elite. On the one hand we have we have people like Thomas Friedman arguing that Chinese one-party-autocracy is more efficient in passing the sort of regulations (“green” energy and nationalized health care) that he cares most about. On the other, we have Harold Meyerson’s claim that China is doing a better job of providing clean political process and economic recovery than the US, and that if Republicans don’t get in line behind Obama’s agenda the rest of the world will resolve to follow China’s autocratic example rather than American-style democracy.

Continue Reading

21

What We Know Now

As it so happened, I was in Washington DC on that National Mall as congress was voting on the mess which is our “health care reform” bill. I hadn’t been to our capitol city before, and it was a simply beautiful afternoon — one on which it was hard to believe that our elected representatives were bringing us one large step closer to a major budgetary crisis point, and Representative Stupak was busy selling out the principles everyone had imagined to be as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar for a rather paltry executive order which may (or may not) come after the fact. (Call me a cynic, but I could well imagine the EO never coming. Though in a sense, why not issue it: It would have no effect and could be repealed at any time. Still, there would be a great deal of justice and truth in Obama using the old Microsoft line, “Your mistake was in trusting us.”)

Still, though sun, green grass, and stone monuments are fresh in my mind, and the largest looming problems in my mind revolve around children wailing that they need a bathroom right now while traveling on the metro (let’s just say that didn’t end well) I don’t want to seem as if I’m discounting the importance of what we’ve just seen. And there seem to be some fairly clear conclusions we can draw:

1) Stupak had no desire to be to abortion what Joe Lieberman chose to be to foreign policy. Lieberman was hounded out of his party and continues to hold office only because of people who disagree with him on nearly every other issue admired his principled stands on Iraq, Israel, etc. If Stupak had brought down the Health Care Reform bill in defense of the unborn, he would have received similar treatment from his own party to what Lieberman has received, and he clearly didn’t want to be that person. Instead, having talking himself into a corner he really didn’t want to be in, he seized upon a fig leaf when it was offered and did what he’d clearly wanted to do all along:

Continue Reading

22

Poll Shows Americans Would Like to Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

The Washington Post has a new poll out which will please both political parties, since the American people in the main agree with both of them. A majority of people want Congress to scrap the current Health Care Reform bills, and a majority also think Obama has done a bad job of handling the health care issue. Yet a majority also want Health Care Reform passed this year and blame Republicans for lack of progress.

Solid majorities think that the current HCR bills are too complex and too expensive, but majorities also approve of the main components: require employers to provide insurance, require people without insurance to buy it, subsidize people who can’t afford insurance, and require insurance companies to give everyone insurance regardless of their medical histories or problems. So basically, people would love the bill as is, so long as it didn’t cost anything and wasn’t complex.

And in the results most likely to give legislators pause: People say they’re looking for new candidates of incumbents in the next congressional election by a 56 to 36 majority. 71% of people disapprove of how congress is doing its job. And of the 62% of the population that has private insurance (15% have MediCare, 3% have Medicaid and 17% have no insurance) 74% trust their insurance companies to do a “good” or “great” job of processing their claims fairly.

If people like the idea of health care reform, but don’t want it to cost anything or be complex, while distrusting congress and trusting their insurance companies, it sounds to me like nothing is likely to happen on the health care front this year.

7

Coakley: Faithful Catholics Shouldn't Work In Emergency Rooms

“Ken Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don’t want to do that.

Martha Coakley: No we have a separation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Ken Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Martha Coakley: (…stammering) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

A charming sentiment from Martha Coakley running for the Senate seat in Massachusetts.  For this gem, I award Ms. Coakley the second American Catholic Know-Nothing Award.  If I were living in Massachusetts, I would be out next Tuesday to cast my vote against this bigot.

16

At Least I Know I'm Free: A Myth That Unites

I was talking with a relative recently who was telling me about an incident a while back where the maintenance staff at the building he worked at had gone on strike and were picketing the building. Emails had gone out from the building management telling people not to get into arguments or cause incidents with the picketers, and it became a source of quite a bit of topic around the office. My relative was amused to hear expressed several times the sentiment, “That’s what makes our country different from the rest of the world. Here, they have the freedom to hold a protest like that.”

It if, of course, true that they have the freedom to picket their employer here. However, that’s not necessarily a contrast with the rest of the developed world. They could do the same in thing in Canada, or the UK or France or Germany, etc. There is, as my relative pointed out, a tendency at times for Americans to assume that because our country was very consciously founded in order to secure certain freedoms, that this means that people who don’t live in the US don’t have the same freedoms. Obviously, some don’t. One’s freedom of political and economic expression is severely limited if you live in North Korea or China or Cuba or some such nation. But there are many other countries in which people enjoy basically all the same freedoms that we do.

This American tendency to assume that we are the only ones to enjoy the freedoms outlined in our Bill of Rights is something which very much annoys many people who consider the US to be dangerously nationalistic, or who would prefer that we see the US as just one other region, not better or worse than others. Continue Reading

47

Humpty Dumpty Defines Conservatism

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll 

For whatever reason, adults on the internet often fall into relabelling each others politics with all the glee that second graders find in saying, “Am not!”, “Are too!”, “Am not!” 

Sometimes, it gets downright silly, as in this comment:

Hah! Nobody has yet addressed my basic point – American arch-liberals, direct offsprings of the Enlightenment, are under some illusion that they are “conservative”. Couldn’t be more wrong. As for me, I’m an old-style Christian Democrat with not much time for rights-based individualism, the so-called separation of church and state, lassez-faire liberalism, or muscular nationalism. I’m a corporatist, I’m fully on baord with Bendict’s world political authority, and I’ll take Catholic social teaching over American Calvinist economics any day, thank you very much.
 
Who is supposed to be the conservative again? 

Now, let’s think for a moment on what “conservative” means, if you’re not Humpty Dumpty. Continue Reading

1

I Want One Of Them Stimulous Jobs

There is something in me which, when it sees to related numbers, wants to immediately do a calculation, so when I saw a news story stating that the $215 billion in stimulous money given out thus far had resulted in 640,329 jobs, my first question was, “How much is that per job?”

Answer? $312,339.44

Not too shabby, eh? I’d like one of them jobs just fine.

Continue Reading

12

The Bi-Partisanship Fallacy

There’s a school of thought which greatly admires “bi-partisan” approaches to solving political problems. The idea of representatives and senators putting aside their differences to “reach across the aisle” and work together seems admirably, if only because our social training all points towards the importance of compromise in order to get along with others.

However, I’d like to question whether there are often pieces of legislation which are genuinely bi-partisan.

Some legislation is essentially non-partisan. Instituting a national alert system to help track down kidnapped children, for instance, is hardly something which has a major political faction aligned against it.

In other cases, there’s legislation which applies to factions within each party — a result of the fact that our two major political parties include sub-factions which disagree with each other on major issues. For instance, “bi-partisan” immigration reform might draw support both from the business faction within the GOP and the pro-immigration faction within the Democratic Party, while being opposed by labor focused Democrats and immigration focused Republicans.
Continue Reading

4

Let's find the fallacy!

Yesterday The Nation‘s John Nichols wrote a rather scathing piece about President Obama: the piece is entitled “Whiner-in-Chief” and the first line reads, “The Obama administration really needs to get over itself.”

Of course, I tend to agree with perspectives like that. 🙂  But near the end of the piece Nichols tries to argue that the country isn’t as divided as the White House thinks, and along the way, he makes a heckuva non sequitur:

Continue Reading

17

What He Said

Here’s Prof. David Post at the Volokh Conspiracy describing politics through an analogy to sports (the easiest way to explain anything to me):

I then said something like – “but it does seem like the overall level of defense is improving all over – I see so many great plays these days . . .” before I recognized how stupid a comment that was.  Of course I was seeing more great defensive plays than I had 10 or 20 years before – because 10 or 20 years before there had been no Sportscenter (or equivalent).  In 1992 (or whenever exactly this was), I could turn on the TV and catch 20 or 30 minutes of great highlights every night, including 5 or 6 truly spectacular defensive plays; in 1980, or 1960, to see 5 or 6 truly spectacular defensive plays, you had to watch 20 or 25 hours of baseball, minimum.  [That’s what ESPN was doing, in effect – watching 10 or 12 games simultaneously and pulling out the highlights].  It was just my mind playing a trick on me; I had unconsciously made a very simple mistake.  The way in which I was perceiving the world of baseball had, with Sportscenter, changed fundamentally, but I hadn’t taken that into account.  Without thinking about it, I had plugged into a simple formula:  Old Days:             5 spectacular plays in 25 hours of baseball watching. New Days:          5 spectacular plays in ½ hour of baseball watching. And I had reached the obvious (and obviously wrong, on reflection) conclusion that the rate of spectacular playmaking had gone up.

Continue Reading

46

Signs and Portents

Gallup Party ID

The first in an on-going series.  I have never been interested in sports, much to the quiet chagrin of my late father.  Other than hockey in my college days, I can’t recall ever spending any money to see a sporting event.  On the weekends no sounds of athletic contests emanate from the McClarey household TV.  I suspect that my strong interest in politics takes the place of sports for me.  I am endlessly fascinated by it, pay close attention to all news regarding politics and have familiarized myself over the years with a fair amount of the technical aspects of the craft.  For political junkies like me our season is about to begin.  Next year’s congressional elections are just a little over a year away and I think looking at the political tea leaves as they stand now might be amusing to those of our readers who share some portion of my passion.

Continue Reading

Irving Kristol, 1920-2009

And so we lose another giant. A self-identified liberal “mugged by reality”, Irving Kristol, commonly heralded as the godfather of ‘neo’-conservatism, has died. Hillel Italie gives an account of his life for RealClearPolitics.com:

A Trotskyist in the 1930s, Kristol would soon sour on socialism, break from liberalism after the rise of the New Left in the 1960s and in the 1970s commit the unthinkable — support the Republican Party, once as “foreign to me as attending a Catholic Mass.”

He was a New York intellectual who left home, first politically, then physically, moving to Washington in 1988. … his turn to the right joined by countless others, including such future GOP Cabinet officials as Jeane Kirkpatrick and William Bennett and another neoconservative founder, Norman Podhoretz.

“The influence of Irving Kristol’s ideas has been one of the most important factors in reshaping the American climate of opinion over the past 40 years,” Podhoretz said.

Among the host of publications he is credited as founding and/or editing was Commentary magazine (from 1947 to 1952); The Public Interest (from 1965 to 2002) and The National Interest from 1985 to 2002.

Kristol’s life, along with that of his fellow “New York intellectuals” Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer, was the subject of the 1998 documentary, Arguing the World. In July 2002 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, the highest civilian honor in the United States. Continue Reading

12

A Public Option: the Left's Waterloo?

Blackadder has had a couple very interesting posts lately arguing that a public health insurance program wouldn’t sound the death-knell to private insurance companies (and hence competition for the consumer) which many have been arguing it would.

What I find interesting is the vehemence of the left regarding a public option… consider this quote from a WaPo story today: Continue Reading

8

I Really Hate This Part…

If I’ve seemed a bit reclusive on all the recent fuss over the health care bill, town hall meetings, etc., it’s because the debate over the current reform package has now entered the phase of American politics that I really don’t like. There’s an early stage in which ideas are discussed and bills are drafted. People try to put coallitions together, compromises are discussed, and various groups push their policy recommendations. That’s the realm I find interesting, and in my small corner of the blogsphere, I enjoy participating, in a strictly informal fashion, in the debate.

But then there’s a point when an actual bill (or bills) are on the table, and the democratic melee is let loose. Over the last week I’ve been reading Alessandro Barbero’s The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, and in light of that it strikes me that there’s a certain Napoleonic-battle aspect to all this. A month or two ago we were staring at maps and discussing the merits of different formations, but now everything is shrouded in smoke while innumerable combatants in this democratic struggle (most of whom, on both sides, honestly have a fairly rudimentary understanding of the overall debate) slug it out until we find out which side will hold the field and which will break and run.

In a democratic republic, this is a necessary part of our political process. Continue Reading

19

Clout and Catholic Education

Too often, Catholic education, particularly at the high school level, seems to be valued not so much for its moral and religious content as for its prestige in the community, or for its ability to produce graduates who get into the “right” colleges and get higher-paying jobs later on.

In my experience, Catholic high schools tend to be known in their communities as 1) schools rich kids attend, 2) a way to escape poor-quality public schools, 3) athletic powerhouses, or 4) institutions whose graduates enjoy disproportionate wealth and influence — the quality Chicagoans famously call “clout.”

Just today, in fact, I heard someone refer to alumni of a local Catholic high school as a “Catholic mafia” that allegedly dominates local business and politics. Although this characterization is probably not entirely justified, many alums of this particular school do seem to end up in positions of influence in the community.
Continue Reading

26

Basing Victory on Failure

It is one of the interesting contradictions of politics that political factions sometimes rely on the problems they seek to eliminate for their existence. For instance, it has been widely noted that while it is generally part of the Democratic set of ideals to reduce economic disparity, while Republicans tend to be accepting of it, Democrats are most successfully elected in areas with high economic disparity and Republicans are most successfully elected in areas with economic homogeneity. One might imagine that this is because those who actually experience inequality see the folly of their actions and switch to become Democratic voters, and perhaps there’s some level of truth to this, but still it seems odd that the Democratic hold on a region strengthens as its inequality increases. In other words, they do better if their goal of creating a more egalitarian economy fails.

I was reminded of this reading an article this morning about a group of newly elected Democrats in the House who are from some of the nation’s wealthiest congressional districts. (Democrats now control 14 out of the 25 richest congressional districts in the country.) These congressmen are worried about a provision in the pending health care legislation which would fund much of the new spending with a tax increase of 1-5.4% on income groups making $350k/yr or more.

I don’t have an objection in principle to taxes that hit the rich harder than the poor. As was observed about the reasonableness of robbing banks (if one is going to be a robber): That’s where the money is. Continue Reading

50

Palin Resigns

Governor Sarah Palin announced today that she will not run for a second term as governor of Alaska, and that she will be stepping down shortly and handing the reigns over to the Lt. Governor. Among reasons cited are desire to take public scrutiny off her family, and the fact that Alaskan law does not allow a sitting governor to collect any kind of donations or outside payments — which means that her personal legal bills in defending herself against frivolous ethics complaints have left the family in very significant debt. (The resignation would allow her to make money from a book contract or speaking events.)

Governor Palin provoked a wide range of reactions as McCain’s running mate during the ’08 campaign, and provoked a truly revealing hate-fest among some partisan Democrats which was deeply revealing about their real attitudes towards class and women. Many Republicans hoped to see Gov. Palin make a run for the presidency in 2012 or 2016, while many others questioned whether she had the abilities and experience to be president.

Others may disagree, but I would tend to think that resigning before the end of her first time as governor indicates that she does not have future political plans. I don’t see the “quitter” reputation as being something one could overcome, regardless of the reason.

25

The Abortion Issue as Pressure Without an Outlet

I have an reflexive admiration for writers who writers who actively think through questions and come to conclusions which are not necessarily indicated by their initial commitments — even though this effect is usually achieved by the writer disagreeing with me on at least some basic elements of worldview. Megal McArdle, who blogs for The Atlantic, is often one such, and she has a very interesting set of posts dealing with the murder of abortionist George Tiller.

The War on The War on Abortion

A Really Long Post About Abortion and Reasoning By Historical Analogy That is Going to Make Virtually All of My Readers Very Angry At Me

One More Post on Abortion

There are a couple more as well, but these struck me as the most fascinating. McArdle is basically pro-choice, and an economic libertarian, though in most ways was more an Obama supporter than a McCain one. But her take on this is event is a characteristically interesting one:

if you actually think late-term abortion is murder, then the murder of Dr. Tiller makes total sense. Putting up touching anecdotes about people he’s helped find adoptions, etc, doesn’t change the fact that if you think late-term abortions are murder, the man was systematically butchering hundreds of human beings a year–indeed, not merely butchering them, but vivisecting them without anaesthetic. I’m sure many mass murderers have done any number of kind things over the course of their lives, to which the correct response, if you’re trying to stop the murders, is “so?”

Imagine a future in which the moral consensus has changed, and our grandchildren regard abortion the way we regard slavery. Who will the hero of history be: Tiller, or his murderer? At the very least, they’ll be conflicted, the way we are about John Brown.

Continue Reading

27

Rhetoric and Violence

As several commenters have pointed out in other threads, there were two potentially ideologically motivated murders in the last 48 hours.

On Sunday morning, a well-known late term abortionist was shot and killed while attending services at his Lutheran church.

On Monday morning, a man opened fire on the recruiters at an Army-Navy career center in Little Rock, Arkansas — killing one and injuring a second. (The military being a needed and honorable profession, my prayers are all with these men and their families.)

Suspects for both crimes are now in custody and doubtless the machinery of justice will do its work in due time.

However, only the first of these is considered national political news, and while many are calling for soul searching on the part of the pro-life movement (or in some cases for government surveillance and downright suppression on it) few seem to be making similar calls in regards to the anti-war movement.

Continue Reading