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So, What AM I For and Against Politically? Part 3

10 Sep

OK, we are whittling doen the list of issues at play in the current political environmemnt.  Please, for any of this to make sense, please at least read the part one of this series for a foundation.  In this module we’ll cover Gay Rights, dealing with the debt ands deficit, and education.  Once more, if you are starting here because of a search term or key word, please, in order to make sense of the topics covered here, please, please first go to part one and read it for the foundational data.

GAY RIGHTS

I believe everyone has the right to be light-hearted and of cheerful spirit.  After all that is what the word means.   I refuse to, in my own use, devolve it into something that most certainly does not seem to describe the individuals to whom it is modernly applied.  While I do believe that statistically those life-style choices are at variance from the norm, nevertheless, so long as they do no harm to themselves or each other, as individuals they should have every right to every protection the law provides for any of us.

Consequently, I believe the existing tort and criminal laws, if properly and uniformly applied and enforced, state that ALL individuals have certain legal protections against unlawful actions such as assault (or worse) and fraud, discrimination, etc. so specific wording to encompass specific groups is, to me, superfluous.

I do not think an already despicable action becomes even more so (or less so) depending on the rationale behind the intent to do harm.  I do not think , therefore, that attacking, much less murdering someone because they have done something to anger you is any less of a crime than murdering them because of their skin color or sexual orientations.  Murder is murder, assault and battery is assault and battery no matter who the victim and who the criminal perpetrator.

Regarding marriage between same sex couples, or plural marriages or, for that matter any union outside the definitions commonly accepted in our society, I am of two minds.  On one hand, I think happiness is in desperately short supply these days and that if two… or more… individuals find it, even if in some fashion not normal to the rest of us, then good for them.

If they form a loving, supportive relationship that just happens to lie outside the common definitions, then given that within the common definitions there certainly exist unions that are destructive and vile, I have no problem with them.  And further, I think that once committed to each other in a relationship that in every way other than the genders or number of the parties involved mirrors what we see as an ideal for “normal” marriage, they should be granted all of the legal status and benefits (and constraints) of any married couple.  If they are harming no others, or themselves, but are creating a productive and positive relationship, and, to paraphrase Jefferson, neither “picking my pocket nor breaking my legs” then I see no reason to oppose the union.

My problem is not, and never has been, with the activity, nor for that matter with having the same benefits that might flow to it under more socially acceptable circumstances.  It is with the semantics and the semantics alone that I take issue.  But from a practical standpoint, in some manner I think such unions need to be recognized, sanctioned, and protected at law.   Individuals who care for each other and want to spend their lives together will be involved in such unions, law or no.  But to force them to do so outside the law starts a potential negative, counter-productive chain.  This law is easy to break because of the emotional and personal needs involved.  And there are any number of other laws against which those forces and influences might also be arrayed.  Worse, with damaged inhibitions they’ll be much easier to break the next time.  Then there will be more and it will get easier each time.  And at some point, the acceptance of and reverence for the law will erode entirely.

Personally I do not think that inspiring law breaking by creating pointless laws of prohibition is a good thing especially when, in this particular case, the law itself, and by extension the law-abiding citizenry, have nothing to lose by altering their stand.  None of the other citizenry are harmed by changing the laws to accommodate these unions however all of them might someday be harmed if respect for the law erodes.  I would personally prefer that we use different labels for these different relationships because I am an old stickler for language, but by whatever name, I would insist that they all have the same complete rights and benefits.  And if that is not workable, then I’d rather live with a word I personally think is misapplied (marriage) but in a more peaceful and law respecting environment.

After all, I’ve almost learned to live with the misapplication of the term “gay.”

SOLVING THE DEBT/DEFICIT

Economics is one of those few disciplines in which a practitioner can attain high degrees and reach near celebrity status and yet never once been correct in their conclusions.  Depending upon which variables make it through their philosophical filters, the same data can lead to widely variable conclusions and assertions.  That has been true from the beginning and is still true as evidenced by the fact that well-credentialed economists come down solidly on very different points of view over our nation’s (and now the world’s) current economic woes.  Each party has their pet experts to trot out to try to persuade the citizenry of the merits of their own approaches to the detriment of other views.  So I do not think we can find any definitive answers in academia for this issue as each has their own agenda to support.

But I do think there are a few elements of common experience and increasingly rare common sense that can be brought to the table.  Forget economics and think, simply, about common issues in standard finance, accounting, and bookkeeping.  In those areas, and when applied to personal income a truism that is utterly inescapable emerges.  You cannot continually spend more than you receive or you start to go in the hole.

Ah, but, you say, “If I am out of “cash on hand” I can use my credit card” to get what I want… and that is true.  But in the real world most people know that assets purchased on credit are not really your own until actually paid for.  Think of your car.  If you took out a loan for the car you do not get the title from the loan holder until it is paid off: the lender actually owns the asset since it was their money that purchased it.  It is the same with your home.  And though there is normally no “title” involved for smaller purchases made daily on a credit card, it is obvious that the creditor has an asset in the amount loaned to you and you have a liability for it that must be paid off at some point.

If you continue to borrow more than you receive then sooner or later you reach a point of such heavy liabilities that you have no chance of so increasing your income to pay for them and you are bankrupt.  When the creditors call in their loans you are in trouble and likely to loose either the actual assets such as car or house, or the dollar value of the collection of smaller assets.

A nation with its own sovereign currency, unlike individual citizens and even, States, has one alternative to bankruptcy when they reach a point where the creditors will not continue to back them — and that is to print more money.  But they can only do that after disconnecting their currency from a commodity basis such as gold, and allowing it to float and be valued as what the government says it is, i.e. a “fiat” currency and not any inherent value based on a backing and securing by some commodity.

But the problem with that alternative solution is inflation and that has ALWAYS followed the printing of more money.  Actually it is inescapable.  The math is simple, when the amount of currency in play is its own limit on value, when the amount increases the value drops.  To help prove that point, take a look at the “value” of the commodity upon which our currency used to be based.  Value, remember, means what can be obtained for a certain amount of the commodity.  Personal value is however much of whatever you call your “life” you are willing to give up to obtain something.

What is noteworthy is that an ounce of gold will buy, with near precision, the same today that it has always bought.  A good suit in the 1930s was about $30-$40 when an ounce of gold was $32.50.  Now it is about the same price as an ounce of gold  which, removing sales fees and average market fluctuations and investment buying, is in the $1,600 – $1,700 range.  In the 1880s a Colt Single Action Army revolver was about $20.00, the value of an ounce of gold.  Today from the Colt Custom shop they are still about the price of an ounce of gold.  Things have NOT increased in value based on commodity currency, but the value of fiat currency has dropped as more and more is printed.  Inflation is a necessary by-product of a fiat based currency.

The Fed implies it is helping things by printing additional money with which to buy our own bonds and thereby keeping interest rates down.  This economic slight of hand called “quantitative easing” works out on paper and most accept it since it serves their purposes.  But it is the drop in value of the increments of currency that are the real interest rates anyway.  When something costs you a dollar today but three dollars next year due to inflation, a drop in already very small interest rates does not make up for the loss in value.

I fear that to help mask the realities of our actual economic condition the Fed will soon engage in another round of such “quantitative easing” and that such a move risks pushing us over the tipping point into hyper inflation so virulent it could literally be the push that sends us off the fiscal cliff.

So addressing the debt and deficit has to be something tackled on multiple fronts, all of them now carried to a point far, far beyond the painless point.  No ox is going to remain ungored in any workable solution since we let it go so far out of control.  So all sides need to accept that, accept also that the debt/deficit issue is one not just of economy but of national security, and agree to some very disagreeable compromises at least in the short term of, say, the next 20-30 years at which point painful solutions can be sunsetted and reviewed.

All – ALL — of the steps below will need to be taken even though each is hateful to some or all of the people effected.  Our country has spent like drunken teenagers to boost our collection of goodies and demand our collection of free things from the government which of course actually means from those willing to work to earn the money to provide it which means the government must remove from the workers money and incentives in order to give it to those others who have not earned it.  There is an inverse relationship between free goods and freedom that is inescapable.  There are no historical exceptions so why would we expect to be different in outcome?

Cutting Costs.  A critical step is to cut costs, i.e. government spending even when it is called by the euphemism of government investment.  Not by cutting the programs equally across the board, but by prioritizing them in a sort of economic triage based on the needs of the country to remain strong and viable.  Personally I think providing for the common defense, as noted in the Constitution, and helping provide education are the two most important things a government can do for its people and should receive the lion’s share of apportionment.

Each specific spending area also needs to be triaged to see what is working within its control and where the money is being distributed to make sure efficiency and reward for success is the criteria for distribution.  Next in priority after education and defense, should be national infrastructure to help in commerce such as the federal highway system.  Only if there is anything left should we then look at entitlements and free goods from the government, and then only if the potential recipients are truly physically, medically, or psychologically unable to be productive on their own based not on what they would like to do but on what is available to do.  And only if there is anything left after that should we ever look at sending money abroad especially to nation states that hate us or simply use us to facilitate their own corruption.  It is time to realize we cannot solve the world’s problems if we cannot solve our own.

Increasing Taxes.  We have let this economy get so far mired in crisis there is no way we can avoid also having to look at taxes to help increase revenues.  This is analogous to a family in trouble.  The first thing to do, even while trying to find ways to increase income, is to first cut costs.  Then, as it becomes possible, also increase revenue.  An individual can try to get promoted or take a better job.  But what can a government do?  It can do two things: promote policies that increase productivity and, as a last resort, raise taxes knowing that move comes with risks of backfiring.

I do believe getting government out of the way of small businesses and entrepreneurs as well as big businesses will ultimately result in more tax revenues as their productivity and ability to hire tax paying employees goes up.  But in the short term, of, say 10 years, that is probably not going to be sufficient so some taxes will have to be raised as risky as that move will be.  As noted several times, we are beyond pain free and also beyond risk free to solve the mess we are in.

Often liberals point out to the tax rates of the 1950s as models but forget the inflationary math noted above.  The highest tax rate in 1950 was 84% for those with an adjusted income of over $400,000.  That 1950’s $400K is the equivalent of about $1.3 million in today’s currency – not a bad take-home amount.  $250,000 was, in 1950 dollars, not that big a deal, a little over $70,000.  So I would make the people making over $1 million in adjusted income pay a higher tax rate for ten years, perhaps 60-65% of the income over the target amount.  And nobody with an annual adjusted income of $25,000.00 or more would pay zero taxes for the same ten years, being taxed at a rate of at least 10%.  However, if we reached a balanced budget state in less time, then that would automatically sunset this tax increase and trigger a balanced budget amendment to be in force from that point on.

But it is important that you understand this suggestion is about solving a problem; it is not about resolving some imagined inequity.  The nasty top 5% of taxpayers now pay just short of 60% of ALL federal tax collected.  Nearly 50% on the bottom pay nothing in federal taxes.  I do believe that some are not paying their fair share but it is not the top 5%.  But making things truly equitable with a flat tax, something that, done right, I might support, is still not going to solve the incredible hole we are in for any reasonable length of time.  The temporary increase I suggest here will help but without the other steps as well, will never be enough.  In fact, if 100% of American taxpayers paid 100% of their income in taxes, it would not erase the deficit.  So get real all you “fair sharers” and do the math.  We ALL must get involved but in such a way so as not to drive the golden goose to other venues in our incredibly mobile world.

Revaluing Currency.  The Fed needs to be audited and the use of fiat currency, created in secret and passed without a national vote even though it is in violation of the Constitution which pegs value to gold and silver, needs to be seriously re-examined with the return to commodity based currency as a viable potential unless the efforts to reign in our printing of more money is serious and inescapable.  By halting inflation based on the supply of fiat currency the loss of value of personal income and saved wealth increases and then stabilizes which is a boon to every one other than bankers and stock brokers.

This would, of course, create a massive shock wave in Wall Street and the banking industry, but so do the above measures create one in normal businesses and in middle and low income individuals.  All have shared in the profligate spending and debauchery of the currency that have brought us to this point and unfortunately, I think we will all have to share in the pain of the measures needed for recovery.

Wall street and the bankers got their bailouts and many squandered or hid theirs.  The common citizen got nothing even though the amounts of the bailouts to the financial and auto worlds would have paid off the mortgages of virtually all home-owning citizens, certainly those in the middle class.  With no mortgage payments to undermine income the economy might have soared on its own but we will never know now.  But it is way past time to look at measures that will allow the citizens and not just the financial world to stabilize their economic situations so they can again comfortably rejoin the world of the consumers we depend on for our economy.

EDUCATION

Education, as noted above, commands the future of our country, our culture, and our society.  No single activity has such a direct impact on our future other than a nuclear attack.  It should be the primary priority of the federal government, following directly after national defense, to help achieve the goal of an educated and informed citizenry.  And maybe it should precede it in importance because if it fails us there will be nothing to defend worth the cost.

Yet our governor, here in California, stated that as budgets decline education will be the first cut, the first to feel the pain.  What?  Governor are you nuts?  It should be the LAST thing cut and the first thing funded by a State who does not have to worry about a defense budget.  If ever there was a proper place for governmental “investment” it is in the realm of education.

But we should not fall for every hare-brained scheme, such as the NCLB plan of Kennedy and Bush.  Additionally, it needs to carefully control and audit the distribution of money to the system.  Our problem is not a paucity of money going into the educational system; it is a paucity of that money making it into the classroom without being skimmed off by a top heavy and overpaid bureaucracy in the school systems and districts.

America already shells out more per student than anywhere else in the world and yet our system and the quality of its graduates has become a world class laughing stock.  It is therefore not about the money per se; it is about what happens to the money, or, more properly, what does NOT happen to it.  It is NOT the classroom teachers that are overpaid; it is the bloated educational administrative bureaucracy that is overpaid.

Having said that, however, the teachers’ unions seem to be dedicated to self-perpetuation and then protecting dead wood that needs to be cleaned out in order to create devoted and needy members desperate for their protection.  If we, as teachers, are not willing to clean our own house, we should not have the gall to ask for more money.  Good teachers are shamefully underpaid for the critical service they provide.  But there are enough bad ones, protected by the unions, that the entire collective has gotten a bad name.  That needs to be addressed openly and honestly.

Thomas Jefferson argued the need for an informed and educated public and therefore for the public school system.  But his argument was based on the need to improve the quality of the citizen, not to make them just more job-ready.  Schools are not parents though they are expected to take their place.  Schools are part of an industrial or information age system that includes parents and employers as part of the complete process of education.  Though being job-ready is not the main goal of a school’s work, turning out smart but unemployable students should never be an acceptable outcome either.  Morals, standards of behavior, future goals perspectives, ethics including work ethics are not the purview of schools to teach but graduating students who do not have them will be eaten alive in the market place of the real world.  Knowing the value of study and education must come from the modeling found at home.

Education is in the interests of everybody who wants to see this country strong, proud, and once again a world leader, not to mention improving the standard of living of our own people.  Harming it via budget cuts in concert with bad distribution of whatever funds are available and the allowance of marginal teacher quality is, right after debauching the currency, the surest way of destroying a nation.

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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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