Thursday, August 9, 2012

If You Read This, You Will Probably Be Offended

I've been asked for my political opinions of late, which just goes to show that some people don't have nearly enough to do. In any case, here's a list of things that influence how I will be voting in the coming election, and what I think about politics in general. There was no way to keep this short enough to read if I justified even a single item, so I gave up on that. It's just a list. You will almost certainly disagree with at least some of it. Don't say you weren't warned.

You might consider looking at pictures of cute kittens instead. You will stay calmer, and sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

  • By the time anyone is running for (or being appointed to) high office, I assume they are totally corrupt. No exceptions.
  • Politicians and their campaign staffs will - deliberately - take anything their opponent says out of context in an attempt to make him or her look bad. I call this what it is: lying.
  • No politician - of any party - will be able to reduce the deficit. They will never be allowed to stop spending. Both will get bloodied by their constituencies if they even try. Don't even bother listening when a candidate claims otherwise.
  • The only way to shrink the deficit is to get the economy moving again, and then avoid both increasing spending and pay down the deficit while times are good. Yes, that is highly unlikely, but it is the only approach that could work.
  • Just how important is the deficit in the short term? I honestly don't know. But if it is as bad as some make it out to be, why is the rest of the world loaning us money at about 2.6% for 30 years as I write this? That doesn't even cover inflation. We must look like a good bet, or everyone else looks really bad. Right now, at that interest rate, borrowing money isn't all that big a deal. Heck, simple (low) inflation will pay the interest and even some of the principle.
  • In the longer term, the national debt is unsustainable. That has to be fixed over time, and the fix will require several things:
    • Stop spending money on pointless wars. Get us out of the ones we are in now.
    • Stop spending money on pointless military weapon systems.
    • Reduce the size of the standing army.
    • Reduce the nuclear arsenal stockpile in a big way.
    • Phase in cost savings to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That probably means gradually increasing the age at which people can collect, and gradually introducing means testing, so the wealthy collect less, or not at all.
    • Increase taxes on the wealthy.
    • Here's a big hint: we cannot solve the nation's fiscal problems with only spending cuts or tax increases: nothing is ever that simple. Nothing. Current tax rates are at record lows and spending is at a peak. Changes to both things must be part of the solution. A growing economy would help too.
  • Despite stating above that we have to make changes to our social programs, there is an iron clad, real, need for a social safety net. It must remain, and probably be made even more effective in the process, given the number of people who are falling through it now. To remove or reduce what we have in any substantial way is immoral and repugnant.
  • In any system - government or business - there will always be people who cheat and take advantage of it for personal gain. This is not a good thing, but pointing the finger at government corruption without admitting that the problem is just as big in industry - or vice versa - is missing the point. Reducing corruption is a good thing, and the way to do it is openness and accountability in all transactions, both public and private. Until we get to that - or at least closer to it - there will always be corruption, regardless of which system you prefer. And that corruption hurts us all, regardless of where it occurs. Don't be so narrow minded as to think that business is better than government on this front, or the other way around. Humans are the real problem.
  • Not all regulation is evil. More regulation and monitoring of the high risk mortgage and derivative markets would have been a good thing back before 2008, and we are still suffering from that lack. That said, regulation can be overbearing and stop things that are actually good if it gets out of hand. The trick is to walk the razor's edge, and it is hard to do. Mistakes will be made - in both directions - and need to be corrected without going too far the other way and causing significant new issues.
  • Unions aren't my favorite thing. There was a time when they were required - in certain industries, at least - to offset serious abuses. I get that. And there may be similar problems in places now. But every union is made of people, and people cheat, work systems for personal gain, and so on. Unions are just as corrupt as business and government. It has to be that way thanks to the human element. Besides that, unions simply cannot be universally good. How does a great employee shine in an environment where she cannot ask for a raise or get promoted more quickly than her peers because of union rules and agreements? Waiting for everyone who was hired before you to be promoted, quit, retire, or die is not good for anyone's job or position in an organization. I don't think unions work well with human nature because of this issue.
  • Personal responsibility should be a bigger part our our culture. People need do much more on at least these fronts in my opinion:
    • Save for their retirement.
    • Save for their own health care.
    • Keep their debt down.
    • Defer instant gratification in favor of longer term stability and financial security.
    • Stop suing everyone for every little thing.
Such things would let phasing in changes to our social programs be simpler and more effective, among other things.

  • Health care in the US is all screwed up. The wrong incentives are used to pay too much for the wrong things. In addition, the legal system creates additional, perverse incentives that drive prices up as well. The net result is that we pay way too much for comparatively poor health outcomes.
  • Insurance companies are evil. Give me a single payer system any day, but remember that the wealthy should pay for more (or all of) their health care themselves, probably by reimbursing the single payer system for some or all of their care.
  • Anyone who thinks his religion trumps our (man made) laws is inherently unfit for office.
  • Anyone who thinks forcing his view of religion on others is acceptable is also unfit for office, and is pretty much unfit in general.
  • Anyone who discriminates on the basis of religion, creed, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, etc. is unfit for office - and generally - as well.
  • Abortion is for the woman (or the woman and her partner) to decide upon, not the government, which should stay out of it entirely.
  • The war on drugs is lost. Decriminalize most of it and tax it. Release - at a minimum - anyone in jail for charges solely related to drug possession (for use) and who has no history of violence.
  • Mandatory sentencing laws are, in general, idiotic.
  • Marriage is a loaded term. We should stop using it in any legal way. Instead, all states and the federal government should recognize contractual, civil unions. Anyone of age should be allowed to specify who their partner is - regardless of gender - and all the things that currently go with marriage (hospital decision making, visitation rights, child custody, inheritance, etc.) should be based on that contract. If you want to get married - in the eyes of your church - that's fine, but it should have no benefit as far as the government is concerned. You can set that up with your church and do whatever you want there.
  • Assuming that we cannot get to a strict civil union setup, it is important to note that your marriage is in no way threatened by the marriage of a gay or lesbian couple. Get a grip on reality and let them be happy together, in the eyes of the law such as we have it setup now.
  • What consenting adults do in their bedroom is no one's business but their own. Butt out. As an aside, I'd bet that anyone who disagrees with this would be very uncomfortable if someone started digging into their private lives in the same way. "Don't mind me... I'm just setting up a bunch of wireless video cameras in your bedroom and, oh heck... your whole house. Just go about your business. You'll never know you're being watched if you have nothing to hide."
  • Personal liberty - which I will inadequately define as freedom of expression and the avoidance of pointless, intrusive surveillance - is critical, and must be supported. In passing I note that ever since 9/11 the entire US population is so terrified of its own shadow that any government from any party has no problem passing just about any law that claims to make the population safer in some way, no matter how idiotic said law might be. And those laws are places where all kinds of abuse can hide.
  • I like clean air & water. Regulation is needed to avoid pollution because humans are weak and stupid and some of them will do the wrong things. And pollution doesn't keep to state or other boundaries... it moves around. We're all much better off since the EPA was created. It - and a few other organizations like it - need to stick around. But always with that pendulum in mind. If any organization gets too nasty and causes more problems than it fixes, it needs to be reigned in.
  • Global warming is real - very real - and humans are causing it. Get over your pointless disbelief and let's work to figure out what - if anything - we can do to mitigate the problem. I worry that it is already too late, but I don't have kids who will suffer. You might... let's do something about that.
  • I like markets that are fair. Capitalism may be the most efficient way to move goods and services around, but it is subject to the same thing I have been harping on: people are weak and stupid and some will cheat if they can. That cheating, when it happens, can affect millions of us, and regulation is needed to reduce the chances that it will happen, and to correct the problems when it does. Again, though, the caveat about pendulums and keeping both regulations and regulators in check is key.
  • Do you remember the saying: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent"? Well, guns are the very last refuge of the most incompetent. It is just barely possible you could be the 1 in 100 (or whatever... it's a tiny number) who happens to have his firearm handy sometime in his life when it can be used to save a life or stop a crime. Statistically, though, you're much more likely to have it stolen, or worse. The wild west is (thankfully) long gone, and we don't need firearms around all the time anymore.
  • The death penalty is dumb. Remember, people are weak and stupid. Prosecutors and police will sometimes make things up, or just get something wrong. People will confess to things they didn't do because they don't know what else to do, or they are browbeaten, tired, and confused. Lawyers can give bad advice. Juries are notoriously inaccurate as a gauge of the truth. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable. And nothing will bring back the dead, not even killing someone who might have committed the crime. We should eliminate the death penalty entirely and stop stooping to the level of state sanctioned murder. We already know we get it wrong from time to time.
  • If you are wealthy, you owe more to society. It's really that simple, and it is a key part of the compact that keeps us going. You may be very smart, or have created something new and wonderful that everyone wants, but you stand on the shoulders of those who have come before you, and who did or created things you depend upon. Much of that stuff that came before is now in the commons: roads, bridges, etc. Be generous and willingly pay for your share and use of such things. That's the right way to live. Taxation is the general way such things are paid for, and that's why taxes on the wealthy are higher. It's fair that way, and makes everyone's life better, including that of those paying the taxes.
  • Health care for the poor and indigent benefits the wealthy. The reduction in communicable disease is one direct way. The increased output of the economy is another that is less direct. Letting people die when they could be treated is counter productive as well as immoral and unethical. It's also stupid.
  • That said, there is a population problem, and more people isn't always better. While we may not yet have reached the maximum capacity of the planet, we will one day. And it will get ugly. The single biggest thing it appears we can do to keep the population under control is educate girls everywhere. Once they start school, they take control of their own reproductive future, and birth rate goes down. That's a good thing, and should be encouraged.
  • Communism sounds great on paper - to me, at least - but it will never work in reality. Humans aren't wired like that, and no matter how many times a heart surgeon listens to John Lennon singing Imagine, he is always going to expect to be paid more than a ditch digger, and there will always be people that cheat on their taxes, or find ways to game a system. Sadly, they tend to wind up in power, and then you have serious nastiness.
  • Superstition is not an alternative to science, no matter how you sugar coat it. Move on. Science is our best hope for finding the truth, and for saving our species from disaster.

As you might guess from this list, I am a cynic about human nature, and probably a hypocrite about a few things as well. Such is life. I also think the chances of changes I like are vanishingly small, which means I am unlikely to be happy about American politics for the foreseeable future.

So how will I vote in this election? Nothing is certain, but examining the issues I see the following:

  • Since I don't think either party will make any headway on the deficit - short term or long - I discard that as a reason to choose one over the other. Mind you, both parties will claim they are going to fix it, but they aren't telling the truth, and the American people won't let them fix it in any case.
  • Both presidential candidates will do just about anything to get into (or stay in) office. As a result, neither has a lead there. Honesty would be such a nice change, but neither side has shown it in the heat of the campaign.
  • On issues relating to privacy and personal liberty, neither party has an advantage either. Both stink.
  • On the ongoing wars and related foreign entanglements, once again neither party has a particular lead. Obama hasn't exactly gotten us out of Iraq and Afghanistan faster than I think a Republican would have, and he may even have delayed our exit as I see these things. Then again, confronted with the situation, McCain might well have kept us in longer than Obama will in the end. No way to tell, and thus I cannot lean one way or another on that.
  • That more or less leaves the social issues, and I there come down more on the side of the Democrats. They aren't a perfect match but the Republicans - with their overwhelming religious intolerance, bigotry, and war on women - are actually repugnant, so here the Democrats really do have a lead with me.
So unless things change - and they might, I am not a registered member of any party, and I don't think any of the parties accurately represent my view of things - you can pretty much guess which way I'll go. Those who know me will not be surprised, even if individual items above might surprise (or more likely disappoint) them.