Skip to content

Democracy shoul…

December 17, 2013

Democracy should be about more than two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.

by James Brovard

literary-coffee.jpg

December 17, 2013

One PB taking a break

August 18, 2011

I’ll be taking a break through at least the end of calendar year 2011, due to the fact that I’ve accepted an internship with a political campaign. Campaigns have Press Policies and this campaign’s press policy includes “no blogging”. I’m excited about the chance to get a little further inside a campaign than I have in the past as a mere volunteer, so I’m willing to put up with the no blogging policy.

See you in 2012! Meanwhile, the Plastered Bastard will be writing here from time to time. Check him out!

— best wishes, the Political Bitch

Political Views – Nature or Nurture?

August 4, 2011

Do your political views come from thoughtful analysis, media influence, or your DNA?

In a recent post my blog colleague Political Bitch was “pretty sure” her father held a particular view because, “he got [his position] from Fox News because he’s a White man pushing 80…”  Let’s unpack that.

At first, it appears she attributes her father’s position to him being racist, sexist, & ageist – a White man pushing 80.  Or is she simply projecting her own racism, sexism, & ageism onto her dad?  Not enough information to say one way or the other.  Regardless, her opinion would fall into the DNA explanation (he was born that way) for the “White” & “man” aspects, along with a touch of thoughtful analysis considering he’s “pushing 80”.

Additionally, media influence comes into play as her dad is apparently a fan of Fox News.

Therefore, according to Political Bitch, all 3 factors are likely influencing her dad’s view on various issues.

I don’t know whether her dad watches Fox News because he’s a White man (Nature) or because he’s pushing 80 and with age comes experience and thoughtful analysis (Nurture).  If Nature, he didn’t really have any choice – he was born that way.  If Nurture, he chose Fox News based on analysis of his experiences gained over a lifetime – in a word, wisdom.  Her dad believes, rightly or wrongly, that Fox best represents reality as he perceives it, compared to other available sources.

At this point the Plastered Bastard could get all philosophical on you by launching into a dissertation on Freewill vs. Determinism.  Be thankful he’s not sober enough at the moment.

To shed some light on this Nature vs. Nurture dilemma a book by Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain, has recently been published.  Shermer is the founder of Skeptic magazine.  Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine has written a nice review.  Since I have yet to read the book, I’ll be quoting from Bailey’s review.

Shermer believes that beliefs come first; reasons second.  Shermer has a belief about beliefs.  We acquire beliefs because our brains naturally “look for and find patterns”.  Once a pattern is found, we “then infuse it with meaning”.  The infused meaning can be true, false, or some combination of the two.  All this seems intuitively correct to the Bastard.

Now here’s the good part… Bailey on Shermer: “Our brains tend to seek out information that confirms our beliefs, ignoring information that contradicts them.”  I’ll drink to that!

Ignoring information, valid or not, is known as confirmation bias.  The bad news is nobody is completely free from it.  We like to have our personal beliefs (patterns) confirmed by others.  It gives us a certain comfort by reducing anxiety.  Similar to possessing a full bottle of Tokay before a cold night.

And it gets worse:  “When we come across information that confirms what we already believe, we get a rewarding jolt of dopamine”.

On no!  You mean there’s a biological/neurological component cementing our beliefs such that any information to the contrary causes a dopamine withdrawal?  No wonder people get angry and upset when their beliefs are challenged.  It would be like breaking their bottle of Tokay!

Whether Political Bitch’s father possesses a true or false belief is debatable.  What’s not debatable is that whatever we believe is highly resistant to change.  We come by our beliefs by noticing patterns.  And once a pattern is found it tends to stick regardless of opposing facts, much less a stronger argument.

This isn’t all bad.  Pattern recognition is what distinguishes us from other species.  It’s necessary for our acquisition of knowledge.  Our brains seem to be hard-wired in this regard.

But our brains are material (hardware).  It’s possible – though anxiety producing – to change our minds (software).  In this we have freewill.  Weather we use our freewill or not is a matter of choice.  A choice that doesn’t “just happen” but one that requires a conscious effort.

Evolution is a process of physical change over time.  It’s automatic, mechanical, habitual.  Spiritual evolution is a process of conscious change over time.  It’s contemplative, meditated, deliberate.

Which have you chosen?

Why American politics is so mean

August 4, 2011

image credit to artist Toby Ng. You can see samples of his award-winning art and graphic design on his website at http://www.toby-ng.com

This graphic represents the population of the entire world, but the U.S. is no different. People inherently realize the truth of this graphic, and the 94 of us fighting over the 41% we allowed to own are getting restive. You 6 percenters should look out.

Startling thought on “entitlement programs”

July 31, 2011

My father, the Libertarian, has an interesting take on the debate over our entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, etc.

Why do they call them entitlement programs? I PAID for those benefits, I should get them.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Although I’m pretty sure he got that from Fox News because he’s a White man pushing 80, so he gets most everything there…   still, I’m not sure he’s wrong.

The Republicans throw around the phrase “entitlement programs” in a derogatory way, implying under their breath that liberals — who want to break our budget impasse without cutting spending on these programs  — are somehow irresponsible, greedy and selfish.

But in reality, our elderly DID pay for these programs. My father worked full time for over 50 years of his life, and every paycheck had FICA and other tax deductions that were used to pay for his current Social Security income and Medicare health insurance plan.

If you’re employed like I am, then we’re both PAYING for entitlement programs. OK, it’s true that these programs are in trouble, largely because of our aging demographics and skyrocketing healthcare costs. So they need serious tweaking.

But we all are paying into these programs. We’re not selfish, or lazy, or greedy to expect some return from those payments, in our future lives when we’re elderly and/or disabled.

Maybe it’s time we started calling these programs Pre-Paid Social Insurance instead of entitlement programs.

Is U.S. debt close to 100% of GDP?

July 29, 2011

I had a political debate with some guys on Facebook the other day. It was about the federal debt.

Facebooker…The national debt is getting close to 100% of the GDP. We need to get things under control!

For the moment let’s put aside the fact that the phrase “national debt” includes debt at the state, city and municipal levels for which the federal government is not responsible.

We also need to put aside the fact that the statement “debt is close to 100% of GDP” is including some debt it shouldn’t, namely $4.5 trillion of “intragovernmental holding”. In plain English, that’s debt that we owe to ourselves (e.g., Treasury securities held by the Social Security Administration). That is not really debt, it is just a promise that one arm of the government will deliver money to another arm. (source, Business Insider).

The truer picture of debt is “Debt Held by the Public” which currently sits at something between $8.6 trillion and $9.7 trillion. I say “between” because the CBO charts are a little hard to read, and the number is a moving target. Also, the CBO prints some reports using “Potential GDP” but others using presumably “Actual GDP” (source, CBO page 12 of PDF, and CBO).

What’s this mean? Actual debt is something like 60% to 65% of GDP. The problem of course is the recent very rapid rise of debt as a percent of GDP. It’s on an unsustainable trajectory, and we must get it under control. It’s like a automatic transmission automobile that starts moving over a flat surface when you let your foot off the gas. It’s a whole heckuva lot easier to stop the car when it’s going 2 m.p.h. than when you let it pick up speed going down a hill and it hits 15 m.p.h.!

Temporarily Bad

That said, we’re in the middle of the Great Recession. That means we’re in a temporary situation that looks worse than it is because GDP is down sharply (consumer spending was 2/3 of economy and they’re not spending much anymore due to housing bubble, etc). Meanwhile, spending is up (2 wars going “on budget”, TARP funds mostly but not completely paid back, stimulus spending didn’t boost economy enough, Bush tax cuts to UberRich continued at GOP behest). To panic now because our debt is nearing 100% of GDP is nonproductive.

Think of it this way….  Looking at our debt picture at present is analogous to a family where hubby lost his job and wife’s hours were cut back by 1/3. They charge 9 months of living expenses to their VISA, then look at their debt profile and panic. It’s not time to panic; it’s time to look at all the facts at hand and come up with a reasonable plan for getting back on track. That plan is certainly going to include getting a part time job (more income) and cutting back spending.

History Repeating

What’s more, we’ve been close to 100% debt-to-GDP ratio before and bounced back very nicely, and quickly, thank you. In 1950, US debt was at 80% of GDP; in 1960 it was only 46% of GDP. Yet total debt actually increased by during that decade from $219 billion to $237 billion (source and source).

What happened? The economy boomed. That means more GDP which makes debt as a percent of GDP smaller.  Moreover, the economy boomed despite the fact that the top marginal personal income tax rate was 91% (source, TruthAndPolitics.org) and corporate tax rates were above 50% compared to today’s corporate tax rate of 35% (source, Visualizing Economics.com).

Booming economy = diminishing debt-to-GDP ratio, even when debt actually grows a bit.  Truly, it’s (still) all about The Economy, Stupid.

What we need are jobs. The idiots in charge of the GOP scream “The government can’t create jobs” and (I assume) by that they mean government spending doesn’t create jobs. (more on that fallacy in a later post). In addition, they’ve hoodwinked millions of their party faithful into believing the opposite: that cutting government spending does create jobs. It doesn’t. Cutting government spending might make currently smug/angry people (i.e. Tea Partiers and other curmudgeons) feel smugger and justified, but it will not create jobs. And don’t give me the ‘trickle down’ theory that the wealthy who get tax breaks will work that much harder, creating more tax revenue. Bullshit. The UberRich might work harder but they’re use those extra dollars to hire another tax accountant to shelter their millions offshore. I’m sure the Plastered Bastard will have something contrary to add on this.

Instead, here’s a jobs creation idea

…let’s federalize the National Guard. There are approximately a half-million people in the Guard. We can put them to work patrolling our borders**, at our shipping ports and airports, our federal buildings and court houses. Hooray! Better national security! Take that, Al-Qaeda! (**screw the border fence, Nat’l Guard is cheaper!)

But what about those empty jobs vacated by the Guardspeople? Bammo! Welcome to Part 2 of my plan. Businesses can hire long-term temporary employees to replace the National Guard personnel who left town. Because businesses are apparently incapable of doing anything without a tax credit, let’s offer a nominal tax credit of some kind in exchange for every formerly-unemployed person they hire and keep on the books for 2 years.

We could ease the economic burden of departing national Guard soldiers by offering their families a temporary stipend to cover the income gap between the former pay and the pay the Guard gives out. Before you get all crazy about the Feds handing out cash, check out the study that shows the single largest return-on-investment for any type of government program is for Food Stamps and Unemployment checks, which are essentially cash. The return into the greater economy is $1.61 for each $1.00 spent funding unemployment checks. ROI on tax credits to individuals is 32 cents for every dollar spent. (source, The Economist and Moody’s Economy.com)

If the Feds announced a plan like this, and said it would continue with rolling deployments for up to 2 to 3 years, businesses would have a great deal of certainty about how long they needed to hire and retain temp workers. That’s what businesspeople claim they want.

Voila!! New jobs, which is what we really need anyway, plus better national security.

New jobs = more consumer spending and more tax collections = higher GDP = debt as percent of GDP drops. Of course we must subtract something for the tax credits and unemployment checks written. I’ll let the policy wonks figure out the numbers. If it pencils, we should do it. If it costs more than it saves, I’ll go back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, smoke ’em if ya got ’em  (translation: reply if you’ve got something to offer or add).