Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Government Spending Is Out Of Control! We’re All DOOMED!!!…Or Are We?

These days, it’s very common to hear about how Obama and the Democrats are spending away our future, and especially how the country is “broke”. The federal budget has grown to over $3 trillion, and in the past few years the deficit has been more than $1 trillion.

Typically, I hate fear mongering. And I see a lot of it when conservatives rail again the Obama administration’s policies. To be clear, I do think that we should cut spending and lower taxes, but I do not fear that the government is somehow out of money.

The first reason is that the government has, in theory, an infinite supply of money. If it needs to, it can just print more. Now, printing money can be a very very bad thing as it leads to huge inflation. But, if it wanted to, it could simply print up $15 trillion and pay back all its debt-holders immediately, at the cost of devaluing the dollar to around what a nickel is worth today. The government would be completely debt free, although the rest of us would be screwed.

Imagine if you had a large debt, say $500,000, and you made nowhere near that much to pay it off in any reasonable amount of time. However, imagine you could also go up to an ATM and withdraw and unlimited amount of cash. Does a $500,000 debt even mean anything in that scenario? It doesn’t, really.

Another reason I’m not worried is that I did what a lot of scientists (and very few regular people) do: I looked at the data. I compiled three charts that compare the government’s annual deficit spending, its total spending, and its total debt, with the GDP of the nation, basically the total amount of money we spend as a nation, from 1929 to 2011. The colors indicate the political party currently in the White House, just for comparison. The first is deficit as a percentage of GDP:

The most noticeable feature is the huge spike on the left from 1942 to 1945, obviously caused by World War II. Since then, our deficits have been quite low, even dipping negative at times as the government runs a surplus for some years. There has, however, clearly been a recent trend upwards, with a second smaller spike occurring in 2009 with the beginning of the recent economic stimuli. So, yes, the deficits have rose, but it’s not an unprecedented rise.

But these are how much the government has gone over budget. What about it’s total spending? Surely there’s been a large increase recently:

Well actually, again, there is an increase, but it’s quite small. Again, note the huge spike from WWII. It’s important to remember that we experienced one of the largest and most prosperous periods right after that (the 1950s). If we recovered from that, surely we can recover from this.

But what about debt? That’s all we hear about, how much we owe to foreign nations and so on (really, much of the debt is owed internally, to state and local governments, and to individuals. Ever owned a U.S. Savings Bond? If so, then you owned part of the federal government’s debt.) Here’s how it measures up:

Ok, so there has been a relatively large increase over the past thirty years or so, but it’s still not unprecedented. We recovered after WWII, we can do it again. If you look closer, you can see that it was during the Republicans’ best friend Ronald Reagan’s term that increase seems to have started, even though Reagan was, ostensibly, all about minimizing government spending. What’s that quote? “Our government is too big, and it spends too much”. Really, Gip? We seem to have been doing pretty nicely for the few decades before that.

Even after Reagan and Bush Sr., the Clinton administration seems to have gotten things under control, but W. raised it again and Obama seems to be continuing the trend, but has promised to cut the budget after the economy has been sufficiently stimulated. I don’t know how well he’ll fare, but it is interesting to note that, if you didn’t know any better, you might be inclined to think that it’s the Republicans who like to run up debt and spend money, while it’s the Democrats who like to hold off and be fiscally responsible. Hmmm.

Well anyway, I hope that this at least shows that we’re not doomed. If anything it’s just business as usual.

So Much For Meg Whitman

It’s 2010 which means come this November Arnold Schwarzenegger will no longer be Governor (being capped to two terms). I heard on the radio a candidate by the name of Meg Whitman, who seemed to be in touch when it came to government spending and general economic issues. I believe  in cutting spending and decreasing the size of government and Ms. Whitman seems the clear choice in that category.

But then I looked up her stance on various social issues and found that she supported Prop 8 and Prop 4, two measures I very strongly opposed. Oh well.

It’s an interesting problem. I want Ms. Whitman as Governor so she can (hopefully) finally fix our state, but do I really have give up my and other people’s freedoms to do so? No, I won’t do that. Even though it pains my cold, black, libertarian heart, social issues should be considered more important than economic ones.

I guess its back to the ol’ candidacy board. Maybe I’ll even have to vote (horror) Democrat.

A New Government

At times I wonder whether our country is on the verge of a second revolution. There is widespread distrust and dislike of the government. The government itself is constantly seen as a huge bureaucracy mess, unable to respond to even the most basic issues in a timely manner (this is all a bit exaggerated, but what matters is public perception not the actual facts).

Of course there are a few differences between today and the time of the first revolution. For one, we can vote. Before, we had no say in the government that controlled our lives. Two, the current government is honestly a whole lot less oppressive than the British government was in the 18th century.

Still, it is still useful to imagine how the government could be improved to be effective. So, I propose two ideas that could potentially help. The first is to formalize the process of judicial review by the Supreme Court and make it a part of lawmaking. In short:

1. All bills proposed must be ratified by an independent panel to be constitutional. If they are not, the bill dies.

Basically, once a bill is passed by Congress, instead of going to the President it goes to this independent panel (which could be the Supreme Court, or another body), which is not subject to the will of Congress. This allows them to be objective and rule against legislation that is unconstitutional (i.e. stuff that the government has no business in doing) without worrying about their own job security. They cannot create legislation, only ratify or veto it (and no line-item vetos either). I think it would be best if this cannot be overruled by Congress, however they can modify the bill to make it constitutional again, which is then subject to another vote.

The second idea deals with term lengths. One of the problems, I think, the government has is that their relatively short terms mean they are unwilling to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. This is especially true of Presidents which are limited to two terms (plus another half if they happen to take over from a previous President after half a term has expired). If something is going to happen twenty years down the road, they may feel no real need to deal with it since they definitely won’t be in office then.

Of course, it’s also not a good idea to let a leader be in office for an indefinite period of time. It a very short road from that to a dictatorship, so let’s see if there’s a way to keep good leaders in their position, while retaining the ability to remove bad leaders (by public vote, not just impeachment and conviction which should obviously still be in effect). I think there is.

2. Terms are to be two years long, with an automatic term renewal should public opinion polls show a significant number of people favor the incumbent. If not, their seat is up for election, although they can still run and be reelected. Should they be removed, they are no longer eligible to hold that office.

Basically, an official public opinion poll is taken by an independent panel (perhaps the same on that votes on the constitutionality of bills) to determine how popular the incumbent is at regular intervals during their term. Perhaps this is done at six month intervals. If the polls during any interval show that too few people still approve of said office-holder, they must rerun and potentially lose their seat. I think that it should be relatively easy to trigger the re-election cycle, but not so easy as to have it happen every two years, which would tire votes. I think that the trigger should be set at 35-40% approval. They should still be able to rerun because maybe the person screwed early, but was able to fix it and the people still want them in.

Furthermore, there should still be a limit to the number of terms one can serve, even if the people approve. My best suggestion is a total of ten to fifteen terms (for a potential of twenty to thirty years in office). Furthermore, if a person is removed by popular vote, they should then be ineligible to hold the position again, no matter how long they served before.

If this system were in effect, we likely would have gotten rid of Bush in 2006, and save two years of lame-duckness.

Anyway, those are my ideas. It is possible to get them implemented by amending the constitution. Plus if I ever get around to writing my stories I can implement these ideas in any fictional government I set up.

Ah Shucks, I Guess I Can’t Be A Republican

Today, the GOP decided to require their members to conform to at least eight out of ten of the following ideals otherwise they’ll lose their backing. I decided to see how I stack up against the “ideal Republican”:

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill

Yes, I am all smaller government, lower taxes, and less power in the hands of the government. As the old adage goes: “He who governs best, governs least.”

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare

Yes, while it would be great if we could figure out how to make sure to insure everyone, government-run anything tends to just be bloated, inefficient, and a drain on our society. It is the separation of the buyer (i.e. the patient) and the payer (i.e. the insurance company) that has caused health care costs to skyrocket (it’s the same reason my textbooks are so expensive. The professors choose the book, but we students have to pay for it). By eliminating this separation, it will force doctors and hospitals to economically compete, causing prices to go down.

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation

Yes, I believe the free-market is the best way to transition us from oil-based to post-oil-based power. As cheap oil starts to run out, the price of oil goes up and other forms of energy become economically competitive, and will eventually take over. Although, I would like to see a lot more government investment in alternative energy so that it’s ready to take over when oil runs out.

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check

I actually had to look up what this was (even though I’m part of a worker’s union. Go figure), but I’m actually against it. It’s not that I’m against having a secret ballot for forming a union, but I do think that both paths (secret and open ballots) should be available.

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants

Yes, although I would like to see lower barriers for legal immigration.

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges

No, simply because “victory” is pretty much undefined. What is “victory” in Iraq, really? We ousted the Hussein and the Ba’ath Party six years ago. Was that “victory”? If so, what do you call everything since then? And in Afghanistan? Same deal. When you investigate why these people in the Middle East are becoming insurgents, you realize “victory” is impossible. The only options are retreat or stagnation.

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat

Yes, especially Iran. Although invading either is out of the question as it would likely just become another Iraq.

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act

No. Government has no business messing with people’s personal lives. What I don’t understand is why the Republicans, ostensibly the party that wants limited government, would use it to force people to conform to their sense of dignity.

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion

Yes, except for the last part. Again, why do the Republicans want to control people’s behavior in this area*? Then again, maybe the government shouldn’t be funding abortion, but it should still be legal to get in private hospitals and clinics.

10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership

Yes. Again, the government doesn’t have the right to mess with what people can and can’t do with their own property, including guns. Of course, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have their guns taken away if they misuse them and shoot people. But that would be similar to tearing up someone’s driver’s license because they were a dangerous driver, something no one argues again.

So, I score a 6.5 out of 10 (counting number 9 as half). Close, but I guess I lose my right-wing funding. Oh wait, I don’t get funding anyway. D’oh! 

*Don’t answer, I do know why, and, honestly, if it could be shown that a fetus is a person, I’d be against abortion too.

The Problem With California

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the state of California is scrambling to fix its budget problems. I live in California, and it’s easy to blame the Governor, or the state legislature for our woes, but really, I think they are simply victims and caught in the middle of what the real cause of our problems is: us.

By which I mean the voters. As an almost too perfect example, I refer you to Proposition 1A, passed last November, a ballot measure that proposed building a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, at a cost of nearly $10 billion.

To put it bluntly, we don’t need it. But we passed it and it we now have to borrow $10 billion (because people don’t want their taxes raised) to pay for it. How do I know we don’t need it? Because it isn’t being built already by private industry.

You see, if a high-speed train were really needed, there would be demand for it. If there’s demand for it an investor, or group of investors, will see the opportunity, come in, and fund the project with their own money. That isn’t happening, thus we don’t need it (mostly because of that wonderful new invention call the automobile. And also the airplane).

But the worst part is that they are raising bonds to pay for it, rather than raising taxes. That means the state is going into more debt, and getting further away from a balanced budget. Of course, some might say that the debt will be paid off by passenger fares, but since it’s not needed, who’s going to be riding the train and paying the fare?

To me, it’s like a kid with a credit card thinking “I can buy all this stuff and not pay for it! Hurray!” It’s completely fiscally irresponsible and it’s 100% the people of California’s fault, not the government’s (well, I voted against it because of this, so it’s not my fault). And this is something that can’t be cut from the budget, since it was approved by voters. It would be illegal to remove it. The state of California now must build a high-speed train for $10 billion.

So why is it like this? Why do the people have so much power over the state’s financial affairs? Mostly it has to do with the period when California was first organized into a state, called the Progressive Era. Then, there was widespread distrust of government (much like today) and it was thought that it would be better to put a lot more power into the hands of the people instead of the government. Now, I know too much government power is a bad thing, but too much “people power” can be a very bad thing. Simply because people just don’t have the training and discipline to deal with political and fiscal issues. That’s why we vote people who are trained (ideally) into office. I mean, the voters can amend the state constitution by ballot measure. That’s what Proposition 8 was, which banned same-sex marriage. It is now not just illegal but unconstitutional for any government agency in California to recognize a same-sex marriage.

Perhaps dissolving the state government and drafting a new constitution wouldn’t be such a bad idea. 

Declaration of Independence

Today is the 4th of July when we celebrate the day, 233 years ago, when we declared ourselves an independent nation and no longer under the tyranny of Great Britain.

To formalize this declaration, we drafted the Declaration of Independence which basically stated our justifications for leaving Britain. It’s a rather remarkable document and says a great deal about the philosophy of government. But unfortunately, most people don’t understand what it says. I think mostly because it’s written in 18th century English which uses a lot of obscure words and unusual syntax.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to translate the document into modern day English:

When one group of people decides they are going to break away from another group which they have usually been a part of, they better have some pretty good reasons to do so.

It is obvious to us that all people are equal. They are all born with certain rights that cannot be removed, some of which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In order to maintain these rights, we have governments, which derive their power from the people they govern. If a government ever screws up and stops protecting these rights, then the people are justified in replacing that government with a new one that will.

Of course, existing governments shouldn’t be replaced because a small bump in the road. We know that people would rather grin and bear some things than replace everything they know and are used to every time something goes wrong. But when a government has continually abused its power and caused its people to suffer, it is the right and the duty of the people to overturn that government and form a new one that will protect them in the future.

The colonies have been consistently abused as stated above, and so we’ve decided we need to create our own government. The king of Great Britain has repeatedly conspired to establish absolute rule of the states. Now, this is why we say this:

He has refused to pass laws which are needed for the public good.

He has denied local governors the right to pass laws that are immediately important, and when he allows them to pass laws, he delays them for further review, then never gets back to them.

He has refused to pass laws for some groups of people, unless they give up their right to represent themselves in government.

When he calls the legislature into session, the meeting places are always very difficult to get to, making the legislature members fatigued into submission.

He has dissolved legislatures that oppose him when he invades the rights of the people.

He has repeated refused, after dissolving a legislature, to let the people elect a new legislature. This has led to us being at risk from foreign invasion and internal anarchy.

He has made it difficult for us to increase our population by obstructing immigration and naturalization of foreigners, refusing to pass laws that would encourage such immigration, and making it more difficult for people to obtain land.

He has refused to establish an adequate justice system.

He has control of judges by threatening their job security and controlling their salaries.

He has hired a number of people to harass others and to reduce their standard of living.

He has kept a military force present, even in peacetime, without consulting our legislatures.

He has made the military above and unaccountable to the laws of the people.

He has subjected us to laws we do not agree with or have acknowledged, and passed by a legislature that is not representative of us.

For forcing us to house troops in our homes.

For protecting his troops by acquitting them of murder in fake trials.

For refusing to let us trade with other countries.

For forcing us to pay taxes without us voting on it.

For sentencing us for crimes without a fair trial.

For transporting people out of the countries to be tried for fake charges.

For establishing an absolute government in Quebec and annexing territory for it, as if to use it as an example for creating an absolute government in the colonies.

For dissolving our laws and charters, and fundamentally altering our forms of government.

For dissolving our legislatures and declaring that they have the power to legislate for us.

He has declared us out of his protection and waged war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is, as we speak, sending a large number of foreign mercenaries to destroy us in ways that are worse than what we’d see in the most barbarous ages, especially not from a king of a civilized nation.

He has drafted our people who are captured overseas to fight again their own country, execute their friends and family, or force them to kill themselves.

He has encouraged insurrections, and has bribed Native American tribes to attack frontier settlers.

We have tried to petition the king for each of these grievances, but in each case he has only continued to dominate and oppress us. He is not fit to be ruler of a free people.

We have also tried to reason with the citizens back in Britain, with which we still have family ties and friendships. We have told them that their legislature is passing laws against us. We have told them why we left and came here. We tried appeal to their sense of justice and fairness, and have tried to argue through that if the oppression continues, we will be cut off. They too have ignored our pleas for justice despite their close relation. We must then view them as enemies, unless there is peace.

Therefore, we the representatives of united states of America, declare that we should be completely free from Britain. We declare that we should have the power to declare war and peace, make alliances, establish commerce, and everything else a sovereign nation has the right to do. For the support of this declaration, we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our honor to each other.

And Iran…Iran So Far Away…

Turning to the other major evil nation on Earth, Iran is actually currently in the middle of what could be termed a revolution. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know alarge segment of the population is currently in revolt and protesting against the highly-religious conservative government (conservative in Iranian terms, like using the Koran and Hadiths as absolute law). The people revolting support a more progressively-person, someone who could hopefully help guide Iran out the shadow of Islamic rule and into a fairer, more secular society.

For both the sake of Iran and the world at large, the people revolting need to succeed. It’s unfortunate that they have to resort to violence, but sometimes that’s the only way to free yourself of a tyrannical dictator. Hey, it worked for us, didn’t it?

The reason is because of the fact that the country is completely ruled by a theocracy. And the worst part is that the religion in question is Islam. For me, religions fall on a sliding scale. Some, like Buddhism and Jainism, are near the good end. There are relatively benign and sometimes even beneficial. Jainism, for example, basically commands its followers to never hurt any living thing ever. Christianity is somewhere in the middle, trending towards the good end (now that the Inquisition is over, and Europe is no longer effectively ruled by the Pope). Islam however, is firmly and squarely near the bad end. Islam doesn’t have a problem. Islam is the problem.

I mean, perhaps it’s unfair to completely condemn a religion that is practiced by over a billion people, but when you really look into it, you can see how scary and insane it is. On nearly every page of the Koran, God directs Muslims to make war on unbelievers, to either kill or convert them, and that getting yourself killed in the process is not only unimportant but encouraged. Seriously. Imagine that you seriously believe, with all your heart, that if you go on a rampage and kill as many unbelievers as possible before being taken out yourself, God will put you on the fast-track to heaven. That you will be able to take with you any persons you select to join you (though there is a limit I can’t remember right now). Suddenly, it becomes surprising there aren’t more suicide bombings.

When an entire nation adheres to this ideology…yikes. And combine that with the fact that they are trying to acquire nuclear weapons…oh my. Plus they already have the technical capability hit any other point on the planet with a missile…excuse me while I go change my underwear.

But what does all this have to do with the protests? Everything. If the people protesting are actually successful, then Iran will no longer be (hopefully) absolutely ruled by Sharia Law. Iran will no longer be (hopefully) a threat of nuclear war. And, you know what? This is exactly the path it needs to take. Reforming Iran, and the Middle East in general, can’t be done from outside. It has to be done by its own people, by courageous people standing up and demanding change. If we were to put sanctions on or even invade Iran, all it would do would bolster support for the local government to stop us, and Iran would slide even further back. But if people inside start opposing the government, others who may also have grievances will also stand up, and so on.

Incidentally, the media, particularly the internet, is helping keep this revolt alive. All totalitarian governments need to have control of information to maintain their power. Without that, people learn what’s going on outside their country and how other countries view them. And then, the government loses their power. This is one reason the Soviet Union collapsed, particularly in the Soviet Bloc. People began having things like television, where they could see how screwed up their world really was, and did something about it.