Saturday, June 30, 2012

Muddle

The Supreme Court Decision on the Affordable  Care Act is a confusing set of concurrences and dissents.   The decision, written by the Chief Justice, concludes for a majority that the Act could not be constitutional under either the Commerce Clause (where he argues persuasively that application of the clause would "open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority") nor to the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution.   In addition, he argues that while the individual mandate is within the broad powers to tax (even though the Congress conscientiously avoided calling the penalty a tax) the mandate is appropriate as a penalty. He said that the provisions of the Anti-Injunction Act (which only allows suits against taxes be accepted after the tax has gone into effect) do not apply here.  Finally, he argued with six other members of the court that the expansion of Medicaid with the severe penalties attached was an overextension of authority but could be cured by simply limiting the penalty to states to money advanced from the feds beyond current funding as that subject to penalty.   Roberts also makes the case that the Court cannot be assumed to be responsible for rescuing us from lousy policy making done by Congress, that is for the political process to do.   In each of those decisions, there is some point and counter point.

For example, while the Chief Justice argues that the penalty paid by persons who do not purchase health insurance is a "penalty" not a tax (and thus subject to the provisions of the Anti-Injunction Act) he does affirm the mandate as within the broad powers to tax.   My concern is that the rather elegant distinctions made in his written opinion could well be swept aside by another expansive view of the commerce clause, by simply calling the mandate a penalty.   Under Roberts' reasoning almost anything some politician thought was necessary would be proper.

In his majority opinion, the Chief Justice then goes on to cite the many problems created by the enactment.  He argues that the community rating reforms and guaranteed issue requirements "sharply exacerbate that problem by encouraging individuals to delay purchasing health insurance until they become sick, relying on the promise of guaranteed and affordable coverage."   In the next instance he says the act will impose significant new costs on insurers by limiting their ability to make actuarially sound ratings decisions.  

His discussion on the Commerce Clause is scholarly.   He says that the clause has always been applied only to reaching activity.  He makes a strong case that inactivity cannot be included - the "broccoli" argument.   He suggests that the "individual mandate, however, does not regulate commercial activity." He makes a strong case that Congress is prohibited from using its "commerce power to compel citizens to act as the Government would have them to act."   The slippery slope of the necessary argument (we need this because even people who are not involved in purchasing insurance are involved in health care) is rejected emphatically.    The Chief suggests that the proposition that "Congress may dictate the conduct of an individual today because of prophesied future activity finds no support in our precedent."   In this case, Roberts makes a clear case that the concept of enumerated powers, with the exception of taxation, is significantly proscribed.   That is an argument that is not supported by any of the liberals on the court.

Roberts argues that the "penalty" is indeed a tax, although not covered in the sense of the Anti-injunction Act.  And with that formulation he then dismisses the inactivity issue, which would be created in the commerce clause analysis, if the penalty is a tax.   People cannot avoid a tax by inactivity, even if they cannot be compelled to join in commerce.   Roberts tried to limit his analysis on taxation by suggesting that the ability of taxes to compel behavior is limited.   He suggests that the commerce clause gives Congress a better opportunity to regulate behavior than the tax power.   The opinion clearly argues that the Federal Government does not "have the power to order people to buy health insurance."  But the dissent points out the folly of that distinction.   Ultimately, individuals will be compelled to act in odd ways.  Roberts' opinion is hoisted on on a logical abyss.

In the Medicaid discussion Roberts' logic is even more confused.  He argues that "Permitting the Federal Government to force the States to implement a federal program would threaten the political accountability key to our federal system."   While I think his statement is correct, enactments like No Child Left Behind and many provisions in the health statutes have key elements of compulsion.   What Roberts argues is that the Medicaid expansion is a bridge too far.   He conditions that in part on the idea that Medicaid is a significant part of the total spending in states.  (Ginsberg notes in a footnote to the Roberts opinion that Medicaid spending will only increase by .8%).

From my perspective I think Roberts was trying to work on the legacy of the court rather than think about the issues before the court.   Clearly, he rejected almost all of the major issues proposed by the Solicitor General in his oral arguments and written briefs.   But support for his well reasoned decision was slight.   Support for the arguments about the Necessary and Proper and Commerce Clause came more from the four who dissented than those supposedly in the majority.    The strongest majority in the opinion was the seven justices who rejected the Medicaid funding coercion.

In one odd footnote to the decision, the Sacramento Bee and the New York Times this morning included an article that the Solicitor General whose performance in the case was so widely panned by both left and right, feels "vindicated."   I find that strange.  Mr. Verilli  argued that the Commerce Clause could be used and that the Necessary and Proper Clause was an appropriate exercise of power (a majority of justices disagreed).  He argued that the mandate was not a tax (a majority disagreed).   He argued that the involuntary expansion of Medicaid was appropriate (seven justices disagreed).   So the substance of his arguments were substantially rejected.   But the law was upheld.   Somehow pyrrhic victories come to mind.

At the same time Justice Ginsberg came up with a novel interpretation of the law.  The rest of the court's liberals signed on to part of this expansive argument.   While I will quote some of their reasoning below, it seems to me that Ginsberg's lead writing argued that the necessary and proper clause could be interpreted thusly "If I think it is necessary, it is proper.'   Justice Ginsberg's lack of appreciation of the limits of federal power is appalling.    Ginsberg argues that the huge expansion into health care is simply an extension of the growth of federal powers that started with the creation of Social Security.   She mocks the Chief in commenting that his "crabbed reading of the Commerce Clause harks back to the era in which the court routinely thwarted Congress' efforts to regulate the national economy in the interest of those who labor to sustain it."   She goes on to justify this expansion of power because health insurance is costly.  (Not sure where the Constitutional justification based on cost is found.  In reality that is a nonsensical formulation.)   She also says that the a more expansive reading of the Necessary and Proper clause can be justified because 50 million people are not consumers of health insurance. (And she infers that the reason for this number is that those people cannot afford to purchase insurance.  Unfortunately she makes this assertion without any evidence.)

What troubles me most about Ginsberg's notions is that she immediately concludes that just because there are problems in the health care market, Congress should have the power to establish a command and control solution.  She seems not to have even considered that there are plenty of other alternatives that would be possible without rolling over the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses.   She even suggests that the solution created by the ACA was actually lesser than THE alternative which was single payor.  (Never considering that there could have been market based solutions that would be less violative of key constitutional provisions.)   Congress solved the problems of health insurance, according to Ginsberg, by requiring guaranteed issue and community rating but she says those remedies were not going to work unless you compelled individuals to participate in the market.   If it is necessary, it must be proper.  She also assumes that (from a quote I believe misapplied from the McCulloch case) that the Constitution would "change over time" - any constitutional scholar understands this but Ginsberg assumes that the constitutional limitations of powers are not immutable.   Obviously, there was not an internet, or even health insurance when the Constitution was drafted but Ginsberg also assumes that the framers had no knowledge of immutable principles that would guide regardless of changes in situations.   For example, while there was not heart bypass surgery at the end of the eighteenth century - there was knowledge of the moral hazards of an overly expansive government.   That is exactly the point that the framers made in constructing the idea of enumerated powers - which both Roberts and the dissenters seem to understand and which Ginsberg blithely ignores.  

What is also interesting to me is that Ginsberg then goes on to assume that the Court should not intervene in decisions by Congress.   She quotes a well known phrase from the Pension Guarantee case which from my view is not dispositive to the argument about whether the court has the ability to throw something out which does not fit within the broader principles that underly the limited nature of the Constitution.   As I said, I am appalled by this inability to understand that the Constitution is not an open-ended relationship between the governing and the governed.    Has Justice Ginsberg never read Federalist #51?  (But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.)   Ginsberg also ignores the potential negative effects of defective legislation (which Roberts' recognizes but then dismisses).   Ultimately Ginsberg assumes that health is a special market so other principles should not apply.   Ginsberg's ultimate judgement is that all of the act is just fine.   As noted above from my perspective that is an absurd position.


The four dissenters, who ultimately uphold the interpretation of the Chief on the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, argue (I believe correctly and in opposition to Ginsberg's exuberant interpretation of congressional authority) that there are "structural limits upon federal power" especially as it relates to private conduct.   They point out that one of the difficulties in this area is that there are a group of individuals (people who are young and healthy) who choose not to buy insurance.  They suggest that "Congress' desire to force these individuals to purchase insurance is motivated by the fact that they are further removed from the market than unhealthy individuals with pre-existing conditions, because they are less likely to need extensive care in the near future."   But as the dissenters argue and the liberal side ignore is that there are plenty of alternative ways to nudge people into decisions which would be more community supportive.   For example, a few pages later the dissenters argue that people who did not purchase insurance could be compelled to pay a surcharge for insurance services if they chose to join the insurance pool later in life.    The dissenters also argue that  there are plenty of markets where non-purchasers can affect markets.  For example, people who do not consume broccoli will affect the market for broccoli - that is the very nature of markets.  While the emotional issues in health care are higher than the ones for broccoli - both are a demonstration of the responsive nature of markets and there the Constitutions has(in my opinion) wisely restricted the ability of Congress to compel behavior.   "If all inactivity affecting commerce is commerce, commerce is everything."   While I agree with the logic of the dissenter's concerns, I also recognize that Roberts' discussion that the Court should not be in the business of rewriting bad policy decisions.   In this case, I think the Constitutional hazards in the statute, which was a 900 page document that few people read (which is one of the reasons I read the decision so carefully), were so substantial that the better move would have been to declare the entire Act unconstitutional.   Contrary to Justice Ginsberg's rant about the limitations of the Court's power (one of the few areas where she seems to recognize limits on governmental authority), I believe the Court was well within its authority to throw the whole thing out.


The dissenters are passionate in their argument that the court cannot "rewrite what is not."   A tax is a tax not a penalty.  If it is a tax certain statutes apply.


One is drawn to whether the balance that I believe the Chief Justice tried to achieve was accomplished. I believe it was not.   The key decisions in the case (which threw out the arguments on the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clause) were agreed to by Roberts and the four dissenters.  (And only partially by some of the other justices.)   The consensus that Roberts sought was not achieved except on a very limited notion that the Medicaid penalty was excessive.    Calling a penalty (which Congress declared the mandate to be) a tax does not change the fundamental effect of the mandate.   My objection to the ACA was that it had the potential to increase demand for health care without doing anything serious about increasing supply.   There is no reason to believe that the Solomon like decision of the Chief Justice did anything to correct the very real problems in our healthcare system.  In the best of circumstances both the liberals and the conservatives in Congress would spend some time trying to figure out how to improve a defective statute (which Roberts says is not the Court's job to do).   But what I fear is that the supporters of the ACA will claim victory and ignore the real problems of the Act (including the very real ones described in the four dissenter's opinion) and the opponents will try the symbolic but meaningless act of voting on repealing the statute.   We deserve better.



Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Parlor Banjos

When I retired I decided to do a couple of me things including getting reacquainted with my 5 string banjo.  I have three 5 strings.   A 1962 Muse (a custom made ODE) with a resonator,  an open backed 1909 Washburn that was restored by Banjo Maker Extraordinaire Monte Hendricks and a Deering Parlor.

A parlor banjo is used for a couple of tasks.  First, it can be a great starter banjo - at under $400 it is an inexpensive way to see if you like it.   Second, it can be great for a kids banjo - the next is 19 frets and so a bit shorter and lighter.   Third, with a soft case (called a gig bag) it can be used as a travel banjo.  Light enough to carry around or stick in the back of your car.

There are a couple of parlor banjos made that I know about.   Saga has one called the SSP-10 and Deering has a Goodtime Parlor.   There are also some lesser known brands.   For me, the Deering is the superior instrument.  I got it as a birthday gift - so even better.   I traded off the Saga when I got the Deering as a gift.

Parlor banjos are tuned one key up and this one has a very nice action.   You can get up into high frets without problems.  It has a soft touch.   Because of the lack of a resonator and a slightly smaller head it does not put out as much sound as my other two banjos - so were I to use it in a band, I think I would figure out a way to amplify it.   I have enjoyed this instrument a great deal and it compares quite favorably to either of my two other instruments even though it is only a fraction of the cost.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The State of Civic Discourse



On Saturday, my son posted the following photo on his Facebook page and I actually reposted it.

A long time friend from college immediately responded with "Carter was bad but not even close to the abject failure of GWB. If anything, Obama should have been far more forceful in pointing out the abyss he was handed."


What amuses me about the response is that I think it misses the point of the shot.   Ronald Reagan came into the Presidency when interest rates were approaching 20%  unemployment was around 10%, and inflation was out of control.   One could argue (although I never would) that some of this was not the fault of the prior administration.  But Reagan, after the campaign, went about the business of being President.  He proposed a series of changes in federal fiscal policy including significant changes in the tax code.   He also proposed a fairly significant increase in defense spending.  Some commentators then and now argue that he raised the deficit to unacceptable levels.   But the point is he took the job of president seriously.


The current president was swept in on a wave of concern about the prior one.   Whether you agreed with his policies or not, and I did not agree with many of his ideas, during Bush's tenure we went through a major meltdown in the financial markets.   Comparisons to the last years of the Carter Administration are instructive.   Compared to 1980 interest rates were artificially being held down, based on a very accommodative monetary policy.   Unemployment was in the same range as it was in the end of the Carter Administration.   Inflation, at least the data that most people rely on, was not a problem, at least for now.   But the deficit was growing.  Not as fast as the first couple of years of Obama but the increases were pretty big.


Had I been elected (God Forbid!) I would have concentrated on coming up with a solution to the problem(s) facing our economy.   In the President's view, part of that would be enacting the stimulus bill.  There are plenty of arguments against Obama's stimulus (and the data seems to be accumulating that the most important result of all that dough being spent was a tremendous increase in the deficit and the accumulated debt of the US).   But that was a one trick pony.   Instead the President concentrated on getting the Affordable Care Act - without any significant effort to involve the opposition.   In 1980-81 the Reagan team worked hard to identify democrats who could be broken off from the majority.  Remember that Reagan faced a much less accommodating Congress than Obama in his first two years.
Dodd-Frank then tried to figure out how to improve the situation on financial regulation.  But one could argue that the ACA fight diverted him from the more important question.   AND at the same time he spent precious little time trying to get anyone on the other side to join him.   The vote in 2010 was a reflection about how many Americans felt about that set of choices.


He also argued that all of his problems came from W.   The point of the Facebook post was that Reagan did not bother assigning blame for his predicament.   He was after all one who sought the job as it was.
Leaders lead.   They don't spend a lot of time trying to explain why their policies were not as successful as they wanted them to be.  They also don't spend a lot of time whining about the hard hand they were dealt.   The point is, this President, whined a lot.


In 1980 there was a lot of effort by the President's supporters to do two things that this President has not not, besides the complaints about the horrible mess he was left in (which Reagan did not do).   First, he looked for ways to build coalitions of people who did not agree with him on a lot of his policies.   So he courted democratic members of congress who might support some or all of the issues.   Second, he got a lot of scholarly support for his positions and tried hard to promote those ideas in a lot of venues - many of which were not sympathetic to his goals.


Nobody said being President is an easy job.   Getting GOP members to cooperate may be tougher than it was in the first couple of years of the Reagan presidency.   But had the President worked a bit harder at that task and a bit less time on detailing the tough hand he had been dealt, he, perhaps, would have been more successful.


I am a skeptic about the current brand of politicians who want to see if they can spin events.   How about actually trying to build consensus?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Newman!

In the old comedy series Seinfeld there was a character which Jerry often referred to as "Newman!" with a derogatory tone.   Last week a Valedictorian in the small town of Newman generated some publicity which made me think of the reference.

Saul Tello is a success story.  He graduated as a Valedictorian from a small high school in Newman - which is near Modesto.  He chose to give his Valediction in Spanish.  He had originally wanted to give the speech in both Spanish and English - but his principal told him they did not have enough time so to choose a language.

I think there were a couple of wrongs here.   First,  the principal should have recognized the teachable moment here.  By adding a translator, so that Mr. Tello could make his speech but the English speakers in the audience could understand him, he would have been able to demonstrate that the possibility of an American success story was indeed possible.   Second, Fox News Commentator Bill O'Reilly got into it and grumped about this speech.  Doesn't O'Reilly recognize that this should be something that Americans should celebrate?  He should have kept his mouth shut.

The Modesto Bee covered is thusly - http://www.modbee.com/2012/06/20/2247748/newman-students-speech-in-spanish.html

Congratulations to Tello.  Shame on Bill O'Reilly.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Is Fast and Furious Watergate with Guns?

There are some amazing similarities between Watergate, the scandal that brought down a president, and Fast and Furious the absurd policy operation by the Obama Justice Department.

Oddly, Fast and Furious, until the assertion of Executive Privilege, had received scant media attention. It should have it represents a major breach in public policy.   As I have traveled and worked in Mexico many Mexicans are furious about the program and its effects of escalating the drug related killings there.


Here is the story.   The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division, either with explicit attention from the Attorney General or without it, released several thousand captured firearms to Mexican drug cartels.  The theory (if one can actually claim there was much careful thought about this bozo idea) was that the ATF would then be able to track firearms movements among criminals.    The guns were transferred and ultimately have resulted in a lot of killings in Mexico and the death of at least one US border official.

In both cases the Attorney General tried to maneuver out of the problem only to become mired more deeply.  In both cases the AG seems to have been involved up to his hips at least.   In both cases there was a denial of direct responsibility.   I suspect both cases were begun by insiders, you know the kind, who walk around with tons of manila folders filled with stuff and have little or no sense of how things actually work in the real world.

One major difference is that in Watergate no one was killed and in Fast and Furious, at least one American was.   Under any reasonable standard that should merit an intense review of what led up to the problems.   It is hard to believe that the AG was not directly involved in approving this operation.  It is less clear whether the President knew about this effort.

During his last stint in DC Holder was involved in some very questionable pardons at the end of the Clinton administration.   Holder also has a long tradition of hostility to handguns.  He was an Amicus filer in the attempt to uphold the DC ban on handguns.

One other consideration.   Watergate disgraced a lot of people.  It was an abuse of power.  Fast and Furious evidences a disgraceful lack of judgment.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

With no respect for this floozy, Andrea Mitchell is a liar

After Mrs. Grenspan misrepresented the remarks of Mitt Romney and she was caught the network tried to recover when it made the following comment the next day - "The RNC and the campaign both reached out to us saying that Romney had more to say about that visit -- about federal bureaucracy and innovation in the private sector," she said before the clip aired.


MSNBC issued a statement stating that it "did not edit anything out of order or out of sequence and at no time did we intend to deceive our viewers."  Yeah Right, and Dan Rather was a responsible journalist.  Distorting the context and substance of a candidate's remarks is unethical.  But then this idiot does not understand anything about journalistic ethics.

The simple response to a journalist who has been caught as a liar is to proclaim what she did.  She lied. She got caught.  She should be fired.   But then MSNBC is already at the bottom of the ratings pile so who would care?   For one, I would.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Andrea Mitchell, Disgraceful



Mrs. Alan Greenspan showed her bias again on one of the most under-watched cable networks.   Mr. Romney was in Pennsylvania and made a point about how competition works.  But Mitchell tried to make it out as Romney being out of touch with modern conveniences.

But here is how the clip actually took place -



His concluding remark ended on the idea that the feds could use some competition.   In this age of instant video one wonders why this "journalist" would even attempt to lie.  The best part about her attempt to influence the election is that probably very few people were watching.  

Mitchell has a history of distorting the news and acting like a haughty aging Washington hostess.  So we should not be surprised.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Imperial Presidency

From my perspective the President's announcement on Friday evidenced a severe disrespect for the processes of government.   When Mr. Obama was running for President he promised to bring a new atmosphere to Washington.   In the polarized world of Washington today and the 24 hour news cycle - that was not going to be an easy task.   But repeatedly the President has given the feint of trying to work with Congress and then simply demanded that they adopt his proposal(s).


The issue of immigration and how to treat the portion of undocumented or illegal immigrants is a tough one.   I am not at all happy with the responses that Mr. Romney has proposed thus far but there is a difference between being a candidate and being president.   Mr. Obama could have said "we need to come up with solutions and stop the gridlock and if you elect me I will say my way or the highway."  Had he done that I suspect he would not have been elected.   But immediately on both the stimulus and the health care bill he immediately, with his allies in Congress, moved to limit options to ones he proposed.  


The best presidents have been able to figure out how to work with the other side.  The weakest ones claim, as Jimmy Carter did, that the country is in a malaise or some other four dollar word which evidence a laziness that is unfitting the President.  If the President had any integrity he would have laid out a proposal and then done the hard work of getting both his party and the GOP into discussions to come up with a solution that made sense.  Many of his ideas are sound but if he lacks the personal fortitude to fight for his ideas, he does not deserve to be re-elected.  Dana Milbank, who has often been a cheerleader for Obama on the pages of the Washington Post said about the President's economic speech "I had high hopes for President Obama's speech on the economy. But instead of going to Ohio on Thursday with a compelling plan for the future, he gave Americans a falsehood wrapped in a fallacy."   That seems to be what the President and his advisors think will be a winning strategy.  If he is successful he will not have a mandate.  So it seems like a foolish bunch of politics.
When I was an undergraduate I had a professor who believed that James McGregor Burns, who is a big believer in presidential authority, was a smart guy.  I've always reacted negatively to the thesis because I think the best presidents understood the inherent tensions in the systems as evidence in Federalist #14 and #51.   But even Burns describes a key element of transformational leadership as the ability to engage others.  So far the President either does not understand or does not care about the critical role in his job.  Had he lived up to his original promises, I suspect he would be in a lot stronger position than he is today.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nullum prandium non es gratuitum

In a recent article for the lefty British paper the Guardian, Timothy Haidt wondered why the working class often vote conservative.    He muses "Why on Earth would a working-class person ever vote for a conservative candidate? This question has obsessed the American left since Ronald Reagan first captured the votes of so many union members, farmers, urban Catholics and other relatively powerless people – the so-called "Reagan Democrats". Isn't the Republican party the party of big business? Don't the Democrats stand up for the little guy, and try to redistribute the wealth downwards?"


He explains that most of the left believes in a duping theory.  (That the working class are duped into voting against their self interest.)  After all who would not accept all that free stuff?   But Haidt comes to some pretty sound conclusions.   He argues that people may well understand that all that "free" stuff comes at a cost (Nullum prandium non es gratuitum).   Language counts here.  Equality, which assumes that outcomes will always be equal, is a false promise.  Try as I might, when I was younger it was unlikely that because of my size I would be equal on the basketball court.


Haidt concludes that the working class vote readily for these ideas not because of a denial of their self interest but they are voting for their moral interest.   Evidently, another explanation is that conservative voters learned something about self-control when they were young.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Hats, Rabbits and Campaigns

In 1976 President Ford in a debate with future President Carter claimed that Poland was close to free.   While there were many things that may have doomed his re-election bid this may have been the final straw.   Yesterday in a press conference President Obama may have had a similar moment - he commented 



"The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we've created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government—oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.
"And so, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry."  (Highlights added)
What struck me and a lot of other people was how fundamentally wrong the President's perceptions are on the economy.   
"We've created 4.3 million jobs" - No economy, even this moribund one, is static.  Based on population growth of our society, one would expect that the economy would create jobs.   The problem is that this economy is not creating enough jobs.  8.2% unemployment (you will remember that when the first stimulus was adopted the President's advisors argued that if we passed the measure unemployment would not rise to 8%).   Half the recent college graduates in the country are unemployed or underemployed.   The weak jobs numbers earlier in the week are a clear testament to the Administration's failures in this area.
"The private sector is doing fine.  Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government.."  - So the President believes that state and local government employment is the driver of the economy?   Part of the reason for the declines is that a lot of the stimulus artificially increased the number of public employees.   The President goes on to blame fewer revenues coming in on this situation - but what would he say about 40% of the federal budget coming from borrowed money?
"And so if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments..."   I have left off the sop to the construction industry because the President's conception of helping the construction industry is in "shovel ready" projects.  We've tried that and it did not work.   The way to build the economy is to enlarge the public sector?  Really??? So how is growth in the Euro zone?   
Many people are appalled by these comments.  I was pleased.  Although the President tried to cover his blunder at the end of the day - expect his words to come back to him many times before November.   In 2008, for a lot of reasons, the President was able to shield his views on the economy.  Yesterday, he presented a clear and unambiguous view of how the economy should grow - a higher fraction of resources being dedicated to the public sector.  It is pretty clear that in all of his education the President never thought much about supply and demand and other basic economic concepts.  That lack of knowledge is troubling.    As he tried to do yesterday afternoon he will try to get the rabbit back in the hat.   This time I do not think that will be possible.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Parallel Paranoia

Occasionally I will listen to left wing radio for chuckles.  As I was driving back from a board meeting this afternoon I listened to Randi Rhoads try to explain away the victory of Scott Walker in Wisconsin.


Rhoads is one of the best cheap shot artists around.  She consistently claimed in the half hour I listened to her that the Governor is under investigation (no credible news source can confirm that and the one story in a Google search suggests that the Governor himself initiated the Grand Jury like proceeding) and that Walker continued a deficit brought on by his predecessor (according to David Brooks of the New York Times Walker  "did turn a $3.6 billion deficit into a $150 million surplus, albeit with the help of a tax collection surge. He did make it possible for willing school districts to save money on health insurance so they could spend it on students."   The PEW Center for the States counts it the same way.)


But what struck me as particularly amusing about her rants was two things.   First, left wing and right wing radio have very similar sponsors (Gold sellers, stamps.com, a testosterone and female hormone replacement pills).   Second, both have their dark villans (which are different) but they use remarkably similar adjectives to describe them.  Rhoads boogie man was "billionaires" - who spent eight times what her poor underfunded candidate, the Milwaukee mayor, had.   Interesting but wrong.   There seems to have been a funding advantage for Walker's side although most people are still sorting out the dough.  It is clear that organized labor contributed some pretty huge checks.  


But third, lout mouthed (and I intentionally changed the D to a T) people like Rhoads and Michael Savage on the other side, tend to disrespect the idea of civil discourse.   Ultimately the way we will work ourselves out of the problems we face on public budgets is to begin to a) look at the facts and agree on them and b) then begin to quit calling each other names.


Tom Sowell, in a book called A Conflict of Visions, argued that the left and the right actually have different meanings for the same words (so for example Equality means something different between the two sides).  In this case while the language may be the same, their meanings are different.  In the long term that does not help us out of our fiscal mess.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Election Results

Tuesday's election was remarkable for its clarity.  In addition to Mitt Romney winning 81% of the GOP primary there were some other results.   Scott Walker won by about the percentage that most of the polls had him at although early in the evening he was up by as much as 15%.   At least according to NPR in Wisconsin(with 99% of the votes in) three of the GOP senators held on to their seats and the fourth looks to have lost by the narrowest of margins.   That is a stunning defeat for the public employee unions.   Remember that the GOP controlled redistricting in the state and so the districts in which legislators will run in 2012 are different than the ones for the recall.   Many pundits expect the GOP to pick up seats in the state senate in the fall.

This was somewhat strange territory for me.   In my home state it is easy to find results almost instantaneously.   But in this case as you did a Google search, a lot of the results were either not this election or were written from a point of view.   My daughter relies on Huffington Post for a lot of her news and at least in this case their coverage was almost completely useless.  Huff post spent a lot of time quoting democratic hacks who complained about not having any money (they were outspent) - organized labor, according to John Fund, spent $35 million to try to defeat Walker and the four senators (from my perspective that is not chump change) yet both the Democratic Chair and one labor union leader (Richard Trumpka) used the phrase "Nobody wants divisive policies."  - Exactly what would you call the policies advanced by those "leaders" in the last year and a half?

There were two exit poll findings which interested me.  First, pro-Walker voters were much more motivated to vote than anti-Walker voters.  When the news about turnout (which was high) came out many speculated that would mean a democratic tide.  In this case that was not true.   Second, according to one exit poll, 60% of the voters thought the recall strategy was inappropriate.  This is only the third recall election against a governor since the procedure was first implemented (North Dakota in the twenties was the first and California in 2003 was the second) and this was the first one which was unsuccessful.

In California, voters seem to have accepted by pretty wide margins the change in term limits.   I thought the arguments against this change (which will allow future legislators to be elected for a total of 12 years in either house - so in one sense a shortening and in another a lengthening -Assembly members can now serve 6 terms rather than 3) were downright silly.   The tobacco tax, Proposition 29, failed by the narrowest of margins.  The map to the right shows the vote on Prop 29 - you can see the significant political divisions in the state (the blue is YES on 29 - these maps are from our Secretary of State and are quite useful - they can be found at http://www.ss.ca.gov ).    It is unclear what will happen to the initiative on the ballot in November which would eliminate the ability of public employee unions to extract involuntarily political contributions from their members.  The expected result is that California will not vote for such a measure - but the Wisconsin results may suggest a slightly different result.   Another concern, at least for the blue politicians in the state, is what the fate of the Governor's massive tax increase will be.  These numbers could bode poorly for that measure.   Our long time Senator, Diane Feinstein, failed to garner 50% of the vote from a field of candidates who were notable for their lack of name recognition.

From my perspective, this puts yet another Obama state in play (North Carolina and Indiana already seem to be there).   As I think I have said before, this election will be about American's perspectives on the President's handling of the economy.  And there is a lot of time between now and November.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Shad Fishing with Bob Sparre


video
Yesterday, my son and I went fishing for Shad on the American River with a local guide named Bob Sparre.   We were fishing for Shad.  Most of the fish we caught were about 2-3 pounds.   We used Spinner rods - which I had never done before.   During the afternoon we hooked into about 10-12 fish each.

At this point in my fishing I have been with a lot of different guides.  I have fished with some of the best guides in various areas and with some who are not so skilled.   The value of a good guide comes from two things.  A good guide will get you where the fish are.    That is both a skill and an art.   At the same time a good guide is a good teacher.   The guide helps you get better at fishing.

Sparre fills both of those roles quite well.  We had a fun and low key afternoon.  Like the best guides I have been with, he was constantly checking conditions and offering suggestions but never seemed to intrude.  The most interesting thing about Shad fishing for me was the release; people who read this blog know I am a catch and release fisherman.  When the fish is netted, one gives them a pancake flip and the hook (which is barbless) is released.  The second flip then puts the fish back into the water.

Sparre has a wide range of trips and fishes about 200 days a year.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Why the Episcopal Church is in trouble


Yesterday we attended the ordination of our nephew at Grace Cathedral.  I have not been at Grace for a long time and it is a marvelous place.  Our nephew completed seminary and was ordained a deacon yesterday with the expectation that he will become a priest in about six months.   He has a position in Jacksonville, Fla.   As part of the service the President of the Episcopal Foundation gave a homily off the following gospel (according to Mark 8:34-38):

34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

As a part of the his homily he argued that being a priest in these "Post-modern (Postmodernism is a range of conceptual frameworks and ideologies that are defined in opposition to those commonly associated with ideologies of modernity and modernist notions of knowledge and science,such as formalism,materialism,metaphysics,positivismrealism,reductionism, and structuralism. ) and "Post-Christian" times is tougher than it once was.  I've always thought the term post-modern to be as Wikipedia defines it - a silly bit of muddled thinking.   Just what is post modern?  Is it antiquated?  Does modernity or change happen in one direction?   And what about being a post Christian?  

What bothered me about the discussion was that besides the sloppy thinking - it clearly had only occasional acquaintance with the passage he was explaining. It is hard to think of a time when Christianity was the dominant force.  Certainly there have been times when parts of the world had a larger share of Christians than they do today.  But fundamentally the notion that living a Christian life has been easier in other times is just plain nonsense.   The challenges that are presented in the passage are both universal and timeless.   Mark's challenge in the passage is that it is hard work to live up to the ideals set by Jesus.   That was true in Christ's time; it was true in the modern period (whenever that was) and it will be true in the future.