Sunday, January 23, 2005
  Help Me Out Here - The Ownership Society Part II

I'm all for the Ownership Society. It's a good thing for citizens to have a tangible stake in social order to go with the massive (but sometimes slippery) intangible stake we all share.

I am a member of the Baby Boom generation, so I don't hold out a lot of hope for coasting through my golden years on Social Security. No real complaints, though. It was a good idea when it was launched in the 1930s, and it has largely accomplished what its designers intended.

I like the idea that the government can encourage Americans to save for their retirement, and I certainly recognize that monies put into an index fund of stocks will yield much better returns than we can achieve with Social Security over 15 or 25 or 50 years. In short, private savings accounts to supplement Social Security are a good idea.

Now here is my problem: why does President Bush insist that the money for the private savings accounts has to come from the workers' pool of Social Security taxes? Why can't we just extend the limits of the IRA savings accounts?

How does it "save" Social Security to pull money out of the system?

Money is fungible - though there are distinctions beween pre-tax and post-tax dollars, I know. Nevertheless it does matter which fund or pool of money is designated as a source of the "private savings" account. As a political matter, what purpose is served by drawing from the Social Security pool instead of "cutting taxes" by using pre-tax, non-SocSec monies to fund this aspect of the Ownership society?

Looks to me like the President is just poking a stick in the eye of the Dems and inviting a fight on confusing ground.

So help me out here. Where am I wrong?

Friday, January 07, 2005
  Probably and Aggie . . .

So a speculative Gig 'Em from this Longhorn. These guys impress the absolute hell out of me.

  Please check out Diplomad

Here is a snippet from a recent post. Very good stuff. It starts off with a quote from a Dutch report (actual diplomats on the ground in Aceh), and finishes with a commendation for the Aussies in Diplomad's own voice.

"The US military has arrived and is clearly establishing its presence everywhere in Banda Aceh. They completely have taken over the military hospital, which was a mess until yesterday but is now completely up and running. They brought big stocks of medicines, materials for the operation room, teams of doctors, water and food. Most of the patients who were lying in the hospital untreated for a week have undergone medical treatment by the US teams by this
afternoon. US military have unloaded lots of heavy vehicles and organize the logistics with Indonesian military near the airport. A big camp is being set up at a major square in the town. Huge generators are ready to provide electricity. US helicopters fly to places which haven't been reached for the whole week and drop food. The impression it makes on the people is also highly positive; finally something happens in the city of Banda Aceh and finally it seems some people are in control and are doing something. No talking but action. European countries are until now invisible on the ground. IOM staff (note: this is a USAID-funded organization) is very busy briefing the incoming Americans and Australians about the situation.

The US, Australia, Singapore and the Indonesian military have started a 'Coalition Co-ordination Centre' in Medan to organize all the incoming and outgoing military flights with aid. A sub-centre is established in Banda Aceh."

Isn't that nice? Europeans with a sense of reality.

The only fault The Diplomad can find with the Dutch report is that it understates the role of the Australians in the relief effort -- they deserve considerably more credit than this report gives them. It's hard to praise the Aussies too much for what they have done in the wake of the tsunami. They are absolutely splendid -- too bad they've got that thing about that weird game, uh, cricket, is it?

Go to the main site and read down to the post on how the UN is more concerned with getting 24-hour catering service in their five-star hotel than with actually helping anyone hit by the tsunami.

  God help me, I do love it so.

Is it still over?
Are we still through?
My phone still ain't ringing.
So I assume it still ain't you.

Country music remains the king of clever lyrics. I love it. God help me, I do love it so.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
  The Ownership Society - Part I

I am fond of exploring obvious, but overlooked, implications of big ideas that are simply stated. Let's talk about the Ownership Society.

There was a time when the political franchise was limited to property owners (free, male property owners, that is).

One effect of converting the US to an ownership society is to turn back the clock. When more of the electorate own homes, businesses, stocks, etc., it means that the franchise is more nearly like it used to be. Though property ownership is no longer a pre-condition of the political franchise, the effect of successful prosecution of the ownership society policy will once again make property ownership and the franchise co-conditions.

The reason, of course, that it is desirable to identify the franchise with property ownership is the salubrious negative feedback effect. When property owners vote for taxes, they vote to tax themselves. When those without property vote for taxes, they vote to tax someone else. Hence the bread and circuses cautionary example of the Roman Empire. It is important that people vote on how they will pay the bills - not on how the government will dispense largesse to the voters.

President Bush's promotion of the Ownership Society could achieve a profoundly conservative objective by broadening the property-owner class rather than restricting the voting class. It is the kind of solution that I like - turning voters into stakeholders by expanding the class of stakeholders to include everyone with a job.

Of course, that is already the case. It's just that very few people understand that the "Social Security Trust Fund" is nothing more than an IOU that is redeemed month after month by drawing on the total revenues received by the federal government. Not a Ponzi scheme exactly, but an inter-generational compact imposed by the recipients without the consent of the payors.

The effect (if not the goal) of the partial privatization of Social Security portion of the Ownership Society initiative is to focus our collective attention on the financial reality of guaranteeing retirement incomes in an aging polity. It does not "solve" the Social Security problem, but it should put us in a more sober state of mind to attack the problem.

Sunday, November 28, 2004
  American Fighting Forces Are Scary

This from Thomas P. M. Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map:

You want to know what makes our military so scary to the rest of the world? Our noncommissioned officers wield more combat power than every other nation's admirals and generals. When you fight Americans, you face the worst of all enemies: disciplined creativity.

Check out Barnett's web site. And read his book. I'm with him about 90-95%. Almost all of my reservations, I am sure, are simply rooted in my ignorance of the world that he knows - but I cannot get past some of his rhetoric. My ignorance is my own, and I just have to live with it until I can learn a little more.

UPDATE: For anyone who has read Barnett's book or heard him speak, I have a question. He posits the US Leviathan force as fighting individuals who seek to impose disconnectedness on significant populations. Just how far does this go? Can the Leviathan force avoid conflict with garden-variety criminal organizations in the end?

Sunday, November 21, 2004
  What It Means To Be An American

Chris Wallace ended the Fox News Sunday program today with a profile on the director of the Smithsonian. The report concluded with the ovservation that the director considers it his task to help visitors to the Smithsonian to understand what it means to be an American.

I find that definition provocative because the single most determinative factor defining an American is the choice, active or passive, to be an American. All other nationalities are defined almost exclusively by birth. Who were your parents? You are what they were.

My near ancestors (within the last 200 years) were immigrants - to America, to Tennessee, to Texas. Twenty-five years ago I realized that I could do my business (software development) from virtually anywhere on the planet. In the wake of that choice, I discovered that I was a Texan. Quite a surprise considering that I had always thought of myself as a citizen of the Galaxy.

I am pleased to be among those who have made a similar choice. I don't even mind that quite a few of them (most of them, actually) aprehend their citizenship differently. We have, after all, such a wide array of choices available to us. And the opportunity for choice never leaves us. Nowhere else on earth - even among those nations and populations most nearly like us - is the process of defining oneself so pervasive, so enduring. And so widely exercised.

No one has to be an American. It is not like being Jewish, or Arab, or Hispanic or Black, or Slav, or . . . anything else. We are a mongrel race made up of Jews and Arabs and Hispanics and Blacks and . . . anything else. While very few governments will let us abdicate our ethnicity, virtually any of them will allow any American to forswear his citizenship - even the US government. Chuck your American citizenship, and peoples all over the planet will fete you and sing your praises - while marveling at your stupidity for surrendering such a treasure.

I am a numbers guy - with a past association with the Show Me state. Follow the bodies. Who emigrates to Russia? Or to India? Or Japan? Or France? With the exception of Arabs (to whom the remainder of the planet must look like paradise) and of the kleptocratic class in Africa, immigration to Europe is a trickle compared to emigration to the US. An airline ticket to France costs a lot less than Mexicans pay to smugglers to get them across the porous US border, yet they take the more expensive route because the opportunity is so much greater here. Shoot, for what they pay to get here, they could take a luxury cruise to Europe and see all of the sights - but it's just so much harder to fit into a society that is suspicious of "outsiders."

I know that it is not easy getting here and re-establishing one's life. Most immigrants through our history have had to burn a generation to give the next one a leg up. I think about all of the pioneers who settled the American West, all the refugees who sweated their way across the Atlantic or the Pacific, through Ellis Island or on the railroad crews - the incredible hardships that they overcame to plant that second generation here. Risk takers, visionaries, survivors, inventors - that is the stock from which Americans are descended. And though the ratio of the hardiest immigrants to the now-native population is much lower than it used to be, it so far passes the ratios of other countries or continents as to make us a different kind of critter.

At the core of the definition of an American is that choice - the decision (active or passive) to be an American. Behind that choice is a level of competence that is wholly admirable. It is the competence and its progeny that define what it is to be an American. That's what I identify with - the drive to be better and to make the the world better. And there is no more fertile zone to nurture that drive and all of the good that flows from it than the US.

  Noam Chomsky Was Once Right

This is taken from the follow up to one of the most revealing (and tasty) academic parodies of our time. The payoff quote:

George Orwell once remarked that political thought, especially on the left, is a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of fact hardly matters. That's true, unfortunately, and it's part of the reason that our society lacks a genuine, responsible, serious left-wing movement.

It's just too easy to pick on Chomsky now. But is is both sobering and sad to think about the fact that he was once so right.

BTW, I actually studied transformational grammars in the early 70's. It was a trivial process for anyone with a reasonable mathematical background. At the time I thought I might be able to excell in a new scientific area, but I learned pretty quickly that the folks involved were not the least bit interested in science - only the cache' of the scientist.

Saturday, November 13, 2004
  Y'alls and Neckies

Damn! I wish that I could be this good.

Here are a few goodies (but you gotta go read the whole thing):

"Stern is now living with friends after her parents kicked her out of the house for spending her bat mitzvah money on a bass boat."

"We became suspicious after several heavily made-up students arrived at Katha Pollitt lecture in a pink Cadillacs," says Swarthmore Dean of Students Geraldine Marcus.

"Then I realized the truth -- he was wearing a mullet. I was shocked, but he swore to me that it was only ironic."

"Pausing for furtive glances, several of the teens share sniffs from a bottle of Harmon Triple Heat deer scent."

"Shit, y'all, I heard Branson's got like four Wal Marts, and more $5.95 all-day breakfast buffets than Glencoe has Starbucks," enthuses Dakota, adding quickly that "pardon my French."

  Why Do They Hate Us?

More accurately why do they despise and mock us? Is there no limit to the degradation and insult that the Blue Staters will heap upon us Red Staters?

This morning's email contains yet another offer from the "American Refinance Group" (yeah, right), telling me that "As of midnight, The [Jones] family residence at Po Box [xxxxxx] . . . is Pre-Qualified ." Further, the message assures me that "[s]low or none payment history OK" and that "4 out of 5 people are accepted in most cases." (emphasis added)

Now, it's true that most of us folk in flyover country fell off a turnip truck - but not last night for crying out loud. So what initially appears to be an attempt at economic flattery descends immediately into an obvious and wicked insult intended to spite us with its faux peon grammar.

The message itself, however, is nothing when compared to the source address of the email -

I say, "Cease, fishwife." Taunt me no more. You and all of your qgetboob cronies - sore losers, the lot of you - channel your ire in some other, more positive direction. Look into your own hearts and cast out the dark spirits there. Only then can you step out into the Light and feel the love that we Red Staters share for our country and understand the respect we carry for the vast store of Good that America offers the rest of the world.

But, if the APR gets down under 5%, give me a call.

Friday, November 12, 2004
  Mars Needs Women!

And, according to today's Austin American Statesman, Mexico needs donkeys. (No online link available, alas.) I have not actually read the story. The headline is enough to get my motor running. Immediately images come to mind viz the American political scene. After all, there is a school of thought that claims America needs more donkeys as well. Probably not a good idea to ramp up a 60's style "donkey gap" hysteria - if for no other reason than the hell you'd have to take from the PC (i.e. donkey) crowd over the phrase "donkey gap."

Still, less direct but more creative solutions also intrude. Could we contribute from our vast over-supply of horses' asses? Even if there is no actual profit to be made on the exchange, surely we could fashion a win-win for us and our southern neighbors. How about our superabundance of jackasses? High-quality, first-rate goods - and our major supply is in LA, just a few miles from the Mexican border. Many of them have already voiced a desire to quit our shores, so we might be able to make the transfer without incurring any shipping charges at all. As an added bonus, almost all of them have considerable experience "working with" Mexicans in the agricultural and personal services industries.

My only caveat is that this has to be one of those "all sales final"-type deals. We'll have to make the re-stocking fee exhorbitant to discourage any returns.

I'm psyched. I'm pumped. I think we can do this. Oh, I know that it's an ambitious goal, but just how often do you have the opportunity to do so much good for so many people at one time?

To paraphrase one of those old, dead, white, male, European poets:

A man's reach should exceed his ass, or what's a NAFTA for?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004
  Extremely Cool Maps

The first "purple" map - unscaled - is very cool, indeed. Check the notes at the top of the page closely - the maps are available as wallpaper for computer screens.


From Ann Althouse. Life imitates The Simpsons - repeatedly.

Monday, November 08, 2004
  G-File Cracking Wise

Jim Geraghty at the Kerry Spot turned me onto this one:

Take the two leading liberal columnists at the New York Times, Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman. As we all know, one's a whining self-parody of a hysterical liberal who lets feminine emotion and fear defeat reason and fact in almost every column. The other used to date Michael Douglas.

And of course readers of Best of The Web know that the one who did not date Michael Douglas is a former Enron consultant who predicted that the Enron story would be a much more significant and long-lasting influence than the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

As Bugs would say, What a MAROON!

Sunday, November 07, 2004
  Prescience from Harvard

A very interesting and apt comparison of the elections of 1948 and 2004 - before this year's vote. 
Saturday, November 06, 2004
  Let's be honest

Nice take on the rest of The Governator's "losers" answer at Ace of Spades HQ. Well, the first part is good - not the student loan stuff. Pay your bills, Ace. 
Friday, November 05, 2004
  Hoist by their own petard*

Surely most of you are aware of the effort by the UK paper The Guardian to have its readers appeal to the residents of Clark County, Ohio, to support John Kerry in the presidential election. Today's Political Diary from the Wall Street Journal includes the following in its first entry:

"Of the 115 Ohio counties that Al Gore won in 2000, John Kerry won every single one -- with the conspicuous exception of Clark, which went to Bush this year by 1,620 votes."

* A petard is an explosive device,** not a lance or spear. Thus one is hoist (lifted) by his own petard - not on it.

** petard - "A small bell-shaped bomb used to breach a gate or wall. "

Wednesday, November 03, 2004
  Unintended Consequences

Funny how things work out. Two examples of the immutable law of unintended consequences stick out in this year's electoral results. First, soon-to-be-former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle was instrumental in the questionable defeat of John Thune two years ago - and this year is involuntarily retired by that same John Thune - effectively trading away his own seat to keep Thune out of the Senate for two years.

Second, Ross Perot exorcised his own demons in 1992 - leading to the defeat of George H. W. Bush. Absent his father's defeat, it is difficult to imagine that W could have become the architect of two consecutive terms as president - and the expansion of the influence of the Republicans in the House and Senate. Not, I am sure, what H. Ross had in mind a dozen years ago.

Perhaps you have your own examples from this year's results. Funny how things work out.

Monday, November 01, 2004
  Let Freedom Ring!

Time to go vote, folks. Or not. It's a privilege; it's a right. But it is not really an obligation, and, if you don't want to, or don't feel comfortable, or don't think you know enough - then, by all means, stay out of it. No reason to get involved in something so dirty without a clear reason to do so.

My first election was 1972 - just after I turned 22. Until this year I have never voted for a presidential winner. Or a presidential loser, for that matter. That is to say that I have never voted for either a Democrat or a Republican for President. That is not quite so bizarre as it first sounds when you consider that I live in the predestined electoral college state of Texas. Never a doubt which way Texas is going to go.

My defense against irrelevancy has been to vote for third-party candidates. (First complaint: Even the designation "third-party" grates on me. Implicit in the designation is that there are only two "real" parties. I get upset even though, as I will explain later, I strongly prefer a two-party system.) I have even developed a transparently self-serving explanation for why that makes sense.

My basic observation is that the two main parties in US politics are both very centrist - and between them, cover about 10 degrees of arc in the full political circle. Picture it as approximately 11:59 to 12:01 on a round, analog clock face. (Or you can make it 11:55 to 12:05, if that seems too clausdrophobic.) This is a good thing. It is important that major institutions - particularly institutions as large and important as the US government be stable over long periods of time*. That stability is hard to maintain when fringe politics play an active role in government.

That's where the "third" parties come in. There is an irreducible minimum of any population that is determined to be discontented with human progress or human nature or human existence or . . . . humans. Usually those folks are religious - or claim to be. The purpose of third parties is to act as a safety valve - to provide a "free speech zone" for the moonbats for whom getting along with their fellow citizens and getting on with life are classified as "selling out." Third parties such as the Socialist Workers Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party (now THAT is an oxymoron!) give these nut jobs an innocuous place to play while the adult Americans run the world.

Because Texas is (with respect to the Electoral College**) a deterministic state, I have used my vote to preserve the third-party sandbox in our state. I have voted variously for the Socialist Workers, the Libertarians and the Greens as the opportunity presented itself. And I have never considered such a vote to be "wasted" - because my votes have served a valid and positive public purpose.

Only once in the past have I even considered voting for a Republican or a Democrat. If there had been any chance - even 0.000000000000001% - that Jimmy Carter could have carried Texas in 1980, I would have voted for Reagan. I think that I voted SWP or Libertarian that year.

This year, however, I succumbed; I did the dirty deed. The only third-party on the ballot was the Libertarians, and they had just offended me too deeply this year by promoting the conspiracy theory that the US government was a participant in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Win or lose, I might decide to publish my choice at a later date. I just had to get this much off my chest now.

* I have more to say on this topic in the upcoming Federalist series
** This is in the Federalist series, too.

Friday, October 29, 2004
  "Voting Procedures Understood By People of Average Intelligence"

This report in from a contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy:

Your student is right: the ballots are not confusing. Yes, the numbers don't line up, some candidates are deleted, and in my voter booklet, the senate candidate race wasn't even part of the book, but just a loose sheet of paper.

Overall though, the concept is simple: find your candidate, find their number on the ballot; punch the hole. It blows my mind that people smart enough to complain about the ballot being a violation of their rights are too stupid to figure out what amounts to a voting inspired version of Chuck E. Cheese's Whack-A-Mole Game.

The urge to hype the conflict seems to have taken over the bulk of the news organizations. Perhaps the phenomenon is a result of self-selection - people who thrive on the breathless (oh! the horror!) reaction to each and every problem - people to whom all problems are equally problems - those who can make money or a reputation by stirring the pot.

I have seen this phenomenon in personal lives - expressed by manufacturing conflict or argument. I have chalked it up to the need for excitement - a type of adrenaline fix. Those of us who lead more sedate lives find all the hooplah disconcerting or amusing depending on our mood and just how close the "action" approaches our lives.

Thursday, October 28, 2004
  This'll keep you going for days

From INDC a marvelous story of patriotism and courage that we just don't hear enough about.
  Rowdy Yikes!

DailyRecycler highlights our choice for this coming Tuesday. Fits with my earlier post. W is a real guy. Edwards may be a wonderful husband, dad and lawyer - but it is very hard to accept him as "a heartbeat away" from leading the War on Terror.
  And that reminds me . . . you're gonna kiss me first.

The previous post reminds me of the first moment when I decided to give W a chance. The story comes from Newsweek (August 7, 2000):

The most famous Bush convert was the late Bob Bullock, the crusty Democratic lieutenant governor [of Texas] who for many years was the most powerful politician in the state. Bullock was still skeptical of the governor in 1997 and told him at a meeting: "I'm gonna f--- you on that bill." Bush, who reads people extraordinarily well, came over and planted a big kiss on Bullock and said: "If you f--- me, you're gonna kiss me first." Bullock loved it, and became a close friend and campaign contributor to Bush. On his deathbed last year, Bullock told Bush he would make a great president.

I do respect people who make decisions and act on them. I admire competence - here illustrated by the audacious kiss. Who do you know who reads people so well? Who have you ever met that could pull this off? Wow.

  Gotta love this - Black Watch

I just love these stories. And, no, I don't expect that every affront is treated this way. But if you treat just a few of them like this, affronts come your way just a little less frequently.
Monday, October 25, 2004
  Heal thyself has a problem of its own. The problem here is at the end: 75-20 with 38 democrats voting against.

Total intelligence spending is a classified figure, but was estimated at the time to be $27 billion per year. So, the cut Kerry proposed amounted to an estimated 3.7 percent -- hardly a proposal to "slash" expenditures. That measure was debated on the Senate floor and on Feb 10,1994 it was defeated 75-20 with 38 Democratic Senators voting against it.
Friday, October 22, 2004
  An embarassment of riches

The Volokh Conspiracy has several posts on Prof. Snider's assignment (scroll all the way down for his list of "Topics on which there is, in my opinion, no other side apart from chauvinistic, religious, or bigoted opinions and pseudo-science").

Even for someone teaching English 101, Prof. Snider has an unpracticed ear for the delightful nuance of the language. For instance, he uses the phrase "It is no secret" in place of the more accurate "my friends and I agree that." He poses "What can be done about the overpopulation of the earth[sic]?" as a topic without recognizing that the [human] population of the Earth can reasonably be described as insignificant (with respect to actual capacity of the planet) or as likely to begin a natural decline in about 45 years.

More obvious - from an English 100 point of view - is the ready answer to his proposed topic "What can be done about the apparent increase in abandoned babies?" One must first determine whether the 'apparent increase' is a real increase. But then, of course, one runs the risk of violating the tenet of academic freedom by the wanton introduction of actual fact into an argument.

The professor also taps into one of my pet peeves with his link to the "bipartisan web site: The Constitution Project ." The implication that 'bipartisan' covers all bases gets my hackles up - particularly when it is endorsed by someone who is supposed to be helping students learn how to think. There are more than two ways to skin a cat.

  Wolves at the door

Check out this Bush ad at the dailyrecycler.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
  Plus ca change . . .

The common lack of historical perspective is exposed in the Gantelope's left-handed exhortation to the French. Be sure to read the quote from a 1954 L A Times story.
  ALCS - The Electoral College disenfranchises NYY

Iowahawk has a wonderful Electoral College post today. More on this later.
  . . . so, anyway

INDC has a compelling entry today on the difficulty of achieving perfection in war-time decision making.

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