Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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I Am Not Really Shocked

April 6, 2009

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20090403/NEWS/90403010

The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously rules that marriage in Iowa is open to any combination of gender. They affirmed that churches are free to only marry people of different genders, but the State itself cannot deny gay couples marriage licenses.  They basically said, “Your religion my not support gay marriage, but the Constitution of the State of Iowa is not subject to your religion.”

Iowa has a strong history of independence, liberty and fairness.   Let me quote some passages from the state constitution:

"Sec. 1.   All men  are,  by nature, free  and equal, and  have certain
          inalienable rights  among which  are those  of enjoying  and
          defending life and  liberty, acquiring, possessing  and pro-
          tecting  property,  and  pursuing  and  obtaining safety and
          happiness."

I think it is safe to say that most people consider marriage part of the "pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness."

"
Sec. 4.   No religious  test shall be required as a  qualification for
          any office, or public trust, and no person shall be deprived
          of any of his rights, privileges, or capacities, or disqual-
          ified from the performance of  any of his public or  private
          duties,  or  rendered  incompetent  to  give evidence in any
          court of law  or equity, in  consequence of his  opinions on
          the subject of religion; and any party to any judicial  pro-
          ceeding shall have  the right to  use as a  witness, or take
          the testimony of, any  other person not disqualified  on ac-
          count of interest, who may be cognizant of any fact material
          to the case; and parties to suits may be witnesses, as  pro-
          vided by law."

Which lays out all the ways in which religion is not allowed to affect the state government.  Iowa has a strong list of protections from religion.

I am also glad the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against civil unions.  They smack of "separate but equal," which was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

So, yeah for liberty in Iowa!
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I Am Tired

March 30, 2009

I am tired of all the hyperbolic histrionics that get bandied around in politics and especially political commentary.  Four (and eight) years ago, I got tired of hearing how Bush was a facist and was going to turn the U.S.A. into a police state.  I got tired of hearing about how all these liberals were going to leave the country if Bush was (re-)elected.

I am now tired of hearing about how Obama is a socialist and is going to turn the U.S.A. into a socialist state.  In four years, I do not want to hear about how if Obama is re-elected all these conservatives are going to leave the country (or create compounds out in the wilderness.)

Anyone who actually believes that a president can turn the U.S.A. into either extreme of facism or socialism has basically given up on the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. in general.  In order to conver the entire nation to one thing or the other would require incredibly massive changes to happen in less than a year.

Why a year?  Because there are elecitions (local, county, state and/or federal) occur every single year.  That gives the people the chance to change their government some every year.

What a lot of pundits seem to forget is that most voters fall closer to the middle of the political spectrum, not the extremes.  This means that if the government swings far right or far left, the large number of middle-voters are going to vote the government back away from that extreme.

Frankly, I find the idea that the U.S.A. will become either a facist or socialist state ridiculous.

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Bailout Trade-Offs

January 31, 2009

I am pretty sold on the idea that, for long-term economic growth, tax cuts are one of the best things.  They keep more of the money in the economic machine.  However, short term, I do not think tax cuts have any real stimulating effect.

So, what do we do?  Do we spend our way out of the problem?  I believe a large spending stimulus package will stimulate the economy in the short term.  Throwing that much money into the economy and money will start flowing through the economy.  What remains to be seen is how far and how fast it will flow.  If it flows fast and far enough, it might just get us out of this downturn.

The downside to the large stimulus package is the large increase to federal debt.  It prevents larger future tax cuts because that debt needs to be paid back with interest.  So, it appears the cost of stimulating the economy now may be slowing the economy’s long-term growth.

Is it worth it?  I do not know.

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Unions?

November 25, 2008

One group being blamed for the Big Three automakers is unions.  They demand high wages, pensions, great healthcare, and a number of other concessions.  The UAW drives up the cost of producing cars, reducing the margin the US automakers make on every car, raising the price of cars, or both.  Are they worth it?

In general, unions have been a good force in the labor market.  Even though I do not work in a unionized store and have never been a member of a union, I have seen some benefits from them.  My workplace is safer than it might be because of safety laws inspired by unions.  I also probably make more money than I would be if unions had not existed.

However, I feel that some unions have outlived their usefulness.  I think the UAW may very well be one of these unions.  As I stated in the last post, the Big Three pay a lot more per hour to their employees than the Japanese car makers do.  The union is giving the Japanese car makers a competative advantage over their employers.  It is a case of biting the hand tha feeds you.

I think the UAW needs to take a serious look at how it can help Ford, GM and Chrysler reduce their labor costs and still provide suitable pay and benefits.  Everyone is going to have to give something up if they are going to stay in business.

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Should We Bailout The Car Companies?

November 17, 2008

So, the US government has already pumped a bunch of capital into national banks.  Now the auto industry is asking for a handout.  Should we give it to them?

I think the government should loan GM (and the others) money, but with one stiupluation: they go into bankruptcy.  This does a number of things:

First, it lets a judge alter GM’s debt and labor contracts.  This would lower GM’s debt payments and labor costs.  GM’s average hourly rate (with fringe benefits) is $71 an hour.  Toyota’s is $47.  I know the labor unions will cry about it, but if GM goes under, the unions are not going to be much help to the tens of thousands of unemployed union memebers, will they?  The unions worked with the airlines that went into bankruptcy, and that allowed the airlines to come back out.  The UAW needs to consider doing the same thing or have it done for them.

Second, going into bankruptcy lets the US government give GM “debtor in possession financing.”  This lets GM keep running, but give the US government dibs on repayment and assets if GM goes belly-up.  This gives the tax-payer the most protection.

GM has been hemorriging money for years, even before the credit crunch.  They need some punishment to go along with any help they get.

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This Is What Annoys Me About The “War On Terror”

August 1, 2008

This lovely article in the Washington Post describes how it is the Department of Homeland Security’s policy to not require suspicion to take your laptop, camera, mp3 player, etc. away from you and keep it for an unknown amount of time.  Literally, if you are entering the country, U.S. citizen or not, they can take your stuff and examine it away from you for as long as they want for no reason at all.  They can do this because they claim it helps fight terrorism.

I have no idea how this cannot be in violation of the Fourth Amendment:

Amendment 4 – Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

There is no probable cause.  None.  Entering the country is only probable cause if over 50% of the people entering the country are bringing in illegal things.  Show me a scientific study that proves this true, and I will eat my words.  Until then, you can try and seize these words.

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Everyone Wants Me To Help Them Lobby

July 9, 2008

Recently I have gotten two emails asking me to contact my Congressmen.

The first is from the SETI@home project.  SETI@home uses the spare processing power of your computer to analyze data gathered from the Arecibo Radio Telescope to find anything that might be a signal from intelligent life in outer space.  I have donated the spare power of various computers I have owned over the years to the project.  I help in fits and starts.  I will run the program for a few months, take a year off, and then run it again some more.  It may not be the best way to find extraterrestrial life, but it is better than anything else I can come up with.

So, why are they contacting me? Because apparently Congress is looking to drastically cut the funding to the telescope.  There are two bills before the two chambers to continue financially supporting the the telescope.  SETI@home sent me the link to a letter I can print out and send to my Congressmen.

The second email I received was from an airline.  Apparently they feel that the price of oil is being driven up by speculators in the oil market.  So, they want me to go to this website and contact my Congressperson asking them to regulate the commodity markets more.  I am going to paste the website below so I can address a few points in it:

Tell Congress to Act Now to Lower Energy Costs

The oil price bubble is unfairly taxing American families and restricting our nation’s economic potential. While everyone is aware that supply and demand constraints contribute to price increases, there’s another force at work that, like gravity, is invisible yet powerful. This force is rampant speculation.

Okay, let us dissect this thing paragraph by paragraph.  First up, they call the oil bubble a tax.  Taxes are bad, so therefore the oil bubble must be bad because they called it a tax, right?  As for it hindering our economic potential, the price of oil is directly aiding the oil companies.  Exxon could never have posted their highest profit ever if it were not for the oil bubble.  It is also helping out hedge and pension funds.  So, the oil bubble is not universally bad.  Oh, and by calling it an invisible and powerful force, they are trying to evoke some kind of low-level dread.

Every time you buy products such as food or gas, you are impacted by unregulated, secretive and often foreign commodities futures markets. Speculators in these markets are increasingly buying and selling commodities such as oil even though they have no intention of using the product. As unregulated speculators pocket billions of dollars at your expense, the price of commodities has increased out of proportion to marketplace demands.

Hmm, the Republicans have been telling us that deregulation leads to things like lower prices and better service.  Is this necessarily a bad thing?  As for secretive, yeah, that is probably a bad thing in a market of any kind.  Transparency is important to be able to determine the health of a market.  Now, for my favorite adjective here, foreign.  Who cares if the markets are foreign or not?  Are all commodities supposed to only be sold in a US market?  Would that not make those markets foreign to everyone else in the world?  They are just trying to play on a fear of the unknown.

It is not a bad thing if someone buys and sells something they have no intention of using.  Store owners do it all the time, and stock traders do it all the time.  Just because someone makes a profit, even a large one, from buying and selling things they are not going to use does not mean they are doing anything wrong.

Please take a moment and tell Congress to act now. By adopting common-sense solutions, Congress dramatically reduce the price of oil and gas, providing immediate relief for businesses and hard working Americans.

Calling something common-sense does not make it common-sense, especially when you are calling for the immediate and dramatic reduction of the price of something in a market.  Most people call that a “crash.”  Besides, the change in price of oil is not felt by buisnesses and “hard working Americans” (Yo, Joe!) until months afterwards.  It has to filter down through the supply chain to finally affect the consumer.

With that all said, I do think greater regulation is probably needed.  However, the last thing we need is another bubble bursting.  We need to deflate it slowly.  So, we need to hit the problem from three different sides:

  1. Reduce demand.  If you are not putting anything in the back of your SUV, minivan, or pick-up truck that could not fit in the trunk of a car at least twice a month, get a smaller car.  It would actually be cheaper to rent a pick-up truck when you needed it than to make the payments on a higher-priced vehicle and pay for the lower gas milage.  Moving from an SUV to a compact car saves a lot more in gas than moving from a compact car to a hybrid, so that is why I am focusing on the big vehicle owners.
  2. Raise interest rates.  It strengthens the dollar, reducing the price of oil.  It also makes money more expensive to borrow increasing the price of the leveraged buying hedge funds like to do.  Finally, it pushes people towards smaller cars since it costs more to buy a car.
  3. Finally, increase regulation, but do it slowly.  Give people time to gracefully exit the market.

One great benefit of the high oil prices is that alternative fuels are finally getting a fair shot.  It is only when prices get this high that alternative fuel research and adoption becomes economical.  Hopefully we will get enough progress made on them by the time oil comes back down that they will still be viable, economically speaking.