Saturday, September 24, 2011

What was Santorum Thinking?

In Thursday's Republican presidential debate, former Senator Rick Santorum was asked whether as President he would make any changes to the military that would undermine the recent repeal of Don't Ask-Don't Tell.

Santorum responded by saying "Yeah, I -- I would say, any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military."


Did he think that, before the repeal of DADT, the military was chaste?

And then he went on to say: "And the fact that they're making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to -- to -- and removing 'don't ask/don't tell' I think tries to inject social policy into the military."

Does he think that the repeal of DADT gives gay and lesbian soldiers a special privilege to engage in sex at times or in places not permitted to heterosexual soldiers?

So what was he thinking?

He seems to have a perspective that 180 degrees opposite from the majority of American people who believe that the repeal of DADT will remove social policy from the military.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Taxing the Wealthy

President Obama's proposal to impose higher taxes on those earning more than $1 million each year (which would certainly qualify as "wealthy" by anyone's definition) in order to insure that the wealthy pay at least the same rate of tax as middle income Americans, has produced the usual claims that higher taxes on the wealthy will hurt economic growth.

Claims which are absolute nonsense (to put it politely).

Economic growth generally comes from increasing demand for goods and services, and demand comes from four areas:

  1. Domestic consumer spending (including housing);
  2. Investments by businesses in plant and equipment;
  3. Exports (i.e., sales to other countries); and
  4. Government spending on goods and services.

Increasing taxes on the wealthy would have no effect on exports, and would allow more spending by the government (which is expansionary), so increasing taxes on high-income Americans would reduce only the first and second types of demand, if its going to reduce anything.

Almost by definition, wealthy people earn more than they spend on themselves. Someone who earns $1 million each year is not going to be spending that $1 million, but is going to be saving or reinvesting most of it. So increasing taxes on the wealthy is not going to reduce consumer spending.

Increasing taxes on the wealthy might affect business investments, because wealthy people who invest in stocks and corporate bonds help those businesses raise capital for investments in new plant and equipment. But that's not what's happening right now.

  • Because demand is down, businesses currently have excess capacity, meaning that they have plants and equipment that they are not using to full capacity and have no need to invest in more.
  • As a result, businesses are currently holding hundreds of billions of dollars of uninvested cash.
  • Because businesses don't need cash to invest and aren't looking for capital or loans, investors are putting their money into federal securities, which is driving interest rates on federal securities down to record lows. (At the August 31 auction of inflation-protected bonds, four-year bonds actually sold at a negative yield, meaning that investors were willing to pay the United States to hold their money for them as long as they got back money with the same value.)
What that means is that, if you let a wealthy person keep more of their income, they are going to take that money and buy more government securities and not invest the money in the economy.

Right now, the best way to expand the economy is through increased government spending that will put more money in the hands of consumers, and that means tax breaks for middle-income taxpayer and more government spending on construction, which provides more employment.

Which is what President Obama is proposing.

Monday, September 05, 2011

God's Wrath

Every time a major storm hits a major city (e.g., Katrina and New Orleans or Irene and New York), someone, somewhere, says that God is punishing that city because of its acceptance (or tolerance) of homosexuality.

But isn't the opposite claim just as easy to make?

Isn't it possible that the extended and extreme drought in Texas is God punishing Texas being hostile to homosexuals?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Is Osama bin Laden Really Dead?

To those who think that Osama bin Laden might be alive, two questions:

1. If OBL were alive, wouldn't his #1 priority be to release a new video, showing him holding a newspaper with a current headline (perhaps one announcing his own death), in order to demonstrate that the leaders of the USA are incompetent, or liars not to be trusted, or both, and so rally his followers?

2. Isn't the continuing absence of any such video further evidence that OBL is in fact dead?

I doubt that bin Laden is a fan of western literature, but I am quite sure that, if her were alive, he would love to announce that the reports of his death were an exaggeration.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Rhetoric of Violence

[This is something I wrote in back in August of 2010, but for some reason never published. The recent events in Tucson make me regret not publishing it sooner.]

Republican leaders have gone through the motions of renouncing the threats of violence that have been reported against Democratic leaders during and following the enactment of health care reform, and those Republication leaders seem to consider themselves entirely free of any responsibility for those threats. But those threats are entirely consistent with the rhetoric of the right, including the rhetoric of Republican leaders, and the rhetoric helped to justify violence in the minds of the far right.

Both international law and domestic law recognize times when violence can be justified. The most-well known example in domestic law is the law of self-defense, which allows you to touch, injure, or even kill another person in order to defend yourself against an attack. More broadly, there is a "justification" defense, which allows the use of violence to defend others and not just yourself.

And international law recognizes that a nation may legitimately use force to defend itself against invasions or other foreign threats.

But in each case, the level of violence that can be exerted must be appropriate to the level of violence of the aggressor. You can't respond to verbal threats with physical force, and you can't respond to physical force with deadly violence. In other words, you can't shoot someone who slaps you or shoves you. Similarly, the use of force by nations must be "proportional" to the threat. A country can't bomb a city in response to a border obstruction.

If the health care reform enacted by the Democrats were nothing more than bad policy, bad philosophy, or bad judgment, threats of violence could obviously not be justified, even by the most fervent opponents. But that's not the way the issues were framed by Republicans and conservatives. The health care bill was described as "oppressive" and would deprive Americans of "freedoms." Earlier, there was talk of "death panels." And the procedures used to enact health care reform were attacked as undemocratic and illegitimate. The Republicans described health care reform not merely as bad policy, but as the product of an oppressive, illegitimate government that threatens our life, liberty, and property. They described health care reforms in terms that, if taken literally, would justify armed revolution.

The extremist rhetoric of Republican leaders might not have incited threats of violence by the right, but the rhetoric justified threats of violence. And their defense is that they should not have been taken seriously?