Sunday, May 12, 2013
Last week, President Obama gave a commencement address at The Ohio State University.
Here are some excerpts that have garnered attention:
And that’s precisely what the Founders left us -- the power, each of us, to adapt to changing times. They left us the keys to a system of self-government, the tools to do big things and important things together that we could not possibly do alone -- to stretch railroads and electricity and a highway system across a sprawling continent. To educate our people with a system of public schools and land-grant colleges, including The Ohio State University. To care for the sick and the vulnerable, and provide a basic level of protection from falling into abject poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. (Applause.) To conquer fascism and disease; to visit the Moon and Mars; to gradually secure our God-given rights for all of our citizens, regardless of who they are, or what they look like, or who they love. (Applause.)
We, the people, chose to do these things together -- because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.
Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
The founders trusted us with this awesome authority. We should trust ourselves with it, too. Because when we don’t, when we turn away and get discouraged and cynical, and abdicate that authority, we grant our silent consent to someone who will gladly claim it. That’s how we end up with lobbyists who set the agenda; and policies detached from what middle-class families face every day; the well-connected who publicly demand that Washington stay out of their business -- and then whisper in government’s ear for special treatment that you don’t get.
But more than anything, what we will need is political will -- to harness the ingenuity of your generation, and encourage and inspire the hard work of dedicated citizens. To repair the middle class, to give more families a fair shake, to reject a country in which only a lucky few prosper because that’s antithetical to our ideals and our democracy -- all of this is going to happen if you are involved, because it takes dogged determination -- the dogged determination of our citizens.
The speech was loaded with bad advice. The commentators above touched on the historical inaccuracy of the President's characterization of what the founders thought, the conflation of private help and public help, the dangerous characterization of our relationship with strangers as like that of a family (which I've criticized before).
What bothers me most is the dangerously bad idea of replacing healthy skepticism of big government (which the President confuses with cynicism) with blind credulity in political leaders' assertions about the great things that come from more government spending and power.
It's as if the President is the leader of the statist religion, urging citizens to reject their own personal judgments about costs and benefits and put their faith behind the words of their political leaders. But, this faith isn't merely harmless signaling of solidarity with other group members (as with most modern religions). This faith, while it also give people self-righteous satisfaction and the joy of tribal efficacy, leads to people getting killed, people getting imprisoned for offending the sensibilities of neighbors and leaders, people obstructed from peacefully following their dreams, people impoverished by the satiating of egalitarian "crab-mentality" emotional reactions of their neighbors.
I'm sure the President doesn't view himself as tyrannical, but he's professing "virtues" that make tyranny easier.
I have some advice for graduates (and everybody else):
If you want to make the world a better place, do it peacefully through voluntary institutions; not through government. If your goal seems great enough to justify forcing your neighbors to support, there should be strong enough arguments to garner plenty of support without coercing those who disagree.
If you feel the urge to improve the world through political action, try to expand the sphere of freedom and to shrink the sphere of coercion.
Monday, April 15, 2013
It's a sad fact of life that it's much easier to be destructive than constructive.
The recent bombings in Boston is our latest major reminder of this.
We'll never be able to prevent determined, misguided, people from doing great harm to innocent people and property.
But, one thing we can do is to try to avoid reacting stupidly and adding our own self-inflicted damage to that of the attackers.
That will make us better off, and remove some of the incentive from the next would-be attackers.
Friday, March 08, 2013
Rand Paul has become my favorite politician. Of course, that's a bit like being the tallest pygmy.
I found his talking filibuster in the senate the other day to be inspiring; and I'm somebody who's very skeptical of any romantic associations with government activity. It did remind me of the dramatic filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Every politician talks about principles, but Rand Paul seems to really take them seriously.
The administration was getting away with not responding to congressional inquiries about its theories about limits to its authority to kill Americans who were not active, imminent, threats to security without due process of law. Most of the people who would have been outraged by a Republican administration doing this were busy covering for their guy.
The issue of explicit, clearly defined, limits to executive authority is an important one. I understand the administration's reluctance to announce any limits to its power, but that's part of the reason we need it done. It's not about whether we really believe that there's a serious threat of Barack Obama ordering our death or indefinite detention for annoying him without any due process. It's about not having to worry about any future president thinking that he has the power to do things like that, or about people following such orders.
The system shouldn't depend on angels being in power; it should be able to handle bad people (or normal, corrupted, people) in power. The issue deserves public attention, and it took a dramatic act like this to make it happen.
Also, Rand Paul has distinguished himself as a smart, formidable, leader (2016???). Many people will disparage this as a stunt, and want to paint all tea-party supporters as simple-minded slogan shouters. But, Rand Paul was able to stand and speak intelligently on the record in front of the world for almost thirteen hours.
I couldn't do it. Could you?
For those who weren't following it, here are some good links on it:
And some video:
Reason.TV short video with the beginning and end of the filibuster bookending other related clips.
Jon Stewart on the filibuster. (first few minutes of this, anyway)
Thursday, February 28, 2013
So, it looks like the budget sequestration might actually go into effect tomorrow.
I don't need to remind anyone who's been paying attention of the degree of exaggeration that's been going on in describing the size of these "cuts". Even with these modest spending reductions (from proposed budget levels), 2013 federal spending will exceed 2012 spending.
Of course, I understand Obama's interest in portraying this as drastic, and using fear to rally political support for fewer cuts and more tax hikes.
But, if he actually prioritizes these tiny cuts in such a way as to inflict the greatest harm to people who have come to rely on federal programs, rather than eliminating wasteful spending in ways that the public shouldn't even notice, it will only demonstrate his incredible incompetence as an executive.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
I didn't watch the presidential inauguration live, and I didn't watch any video of it until today when I saw a video of the inaugural address.
I, personally, find the pomp of the inauguration and the adoring crowds distasteful. But, I understand that others see it as an important tradition, and an opportunity for the newly elected president to set a tone for his administration.
There have been many reactions to the speech, with many on the left praising it as a bold statement of progressive principles that will be furthered regardless of what the opposition thinks of them; and, many on the right criticizing it for similar reasons. I suppose that it's refreshing, in a way, that he's stopped pretending to be interested in reaching out to those who disagree, and that there's any reason to "Hope" for any positive "Change."
I didn't think much of the speech. There was a promising section that seemed to recognize reality, and the distinctive virtues of this country:
Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.
But, the rest of the speech belied any commitment to those words.
One particularly despicable section was this straw man argument:
No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.
Sheldon Richman wrote a better comment on this than I could.
But, beyond the usual rhetorical tripe, what struck me about the speech was the constant use of "We", and "Together."
I never felt included in these assertions about what "We" believe and what "We" must do, except as one of the intended victims of the extortion that would finance the schemes of the real "We". And, the real "We" is Obama himself, the government, and those who collude with them. When Obama says "We" he means himself (The Royal "We") and his misguided followers.
And, "Royal" seems to be an apt adjective for this president, since his behavior has often been reminiscent of a king or dictator (e.g., going to war without congressional approval, illegal "recess" appointments and other abuses of executive orders, kill lists, targeted killing of an American and his child without due process, declarations that he will not debate with Congress on issues legally requiring its approval...).
Thursday, December 06, 2012
This video put out by the California Federation of Teachers (narrated by Ed Asner) is amazing in its spectacular stupidity and noxious contempt for the economically successful as well as the intelligence of its viewers.
Here's a rebuttal video that addresses just a few of the problems, but it hardly seems necessary to anyone with even a passing familiarity with how the world works.
I'm not completely sure how much of this the creators believe and how much is an attempt to manipulate idiotic viewers into supporting tax increases on the rich and blaming them, rather than excessive and ineffectual government spending, for our economic troubles. I'm also not sure whether assuming it was the former vs. the latter would be more charitable. In either case it's contemptible.
As I commented to the facebook post that brought this to my attention, I don't think this is anti-Semitism (although there's always this), but the nature of the argument (with its misinformation and emotional appeals to outgroup animosity) makes me think that this is what anti-Semitic propaganda would look like.
I wonder how many of the union's members are proud of this production, and I pity the students forced to endure them.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
I suppose I need a blog post with a few thoughts I've had since the November 6, 2012 election.
While Obama certainly deserved to lose, I'm not sure that it would be much better for the country's long-run prospects if Romney had won. The gridlock (YEA GRIDLOCK!!!) situation seems similar to what it was before the election (Republican House and many Democrat senators in Republican-dominated states), so I don't think it will be easy for Obama to do as much damage as he'd like to do (you know what I mean). Obamacare will likely become well-entrenched (but states can still interfere with that) and we'll probably have some worsening of the Supreme Court (I wish for the best of health for Scalia, Kennedy, and Ginsburg), but that's about it for the down-side of this result.
And, to me, it seems like being President of the United States for the next few years will be a terrible job, and Obama deserves that. So, congratulations to him for that.
Romney would have been as bad or worse on many issues and it's possible that he wouldn't be able to get rid of all of Obamacare anyway, leaving even more of a mess that would make private health insurance uneconomical. Paul Ryan will probably do more good chairing the House Budget Committee than he would have done as vice president.
If Chief Justice Roberts thought his Obamacare ruling would help lead to a Republican victory that would enable complete repeal, then it was a very bad mistake.
Perhaps limited government will fare better in four years after more failure by a president who was openly hostile to it than it would be if we'd had a president who gave it lip-service but never really believed in it or enacted it.
I agree with Nick Gillespie that if the Republicans want to do better in the future they'll have to drop (or at least tone down) their socially conservative and anti-immigrant positions; because the demographics don't look good if they don't.
I'm very happy that gay marriage equality propositions all went the right way (more marriage equality). And, the two marijuana legalization initiatives (in Colorado and Washington State) could be a more significant development than anything that happened at that national level. If these help lead to the end of the insane "War on Drugs" we'll all be much better off!
Gary Johnson getting over a million votes (about 1%) is significant as well. Politicians in close races will have to think more carefully about whether they're willing to ignore people with libertarian inclinations who are willing to "throw their votes away" on libertarian candidates rather than vote for major candidates who are unacceptable. Maybe it will at least lead to better rhetoric, and eventually to better policy.
I'm not going to get into why I think people voted the way they did because I think there are many different reasons and that kind of analysis usually just ends up being little more than people confirming their prior assumptions.
As for the future, I'm cautiously optimistic (as always). The world is still getting better (although bad things happen all the time), and most good things happen outside of politics. I still expect private progress to outstrip government politics and voter stupidity.
Friday, October 12, 2012
I was thinking that Vice President Joe (gaffe-machine) Biden might not be the best person to criticize the Romney "47%" statement. And, Paul Ryan responded perfectly:
UPDATE: The other notable aspect of the debate, for me, was Biden's unreserved, contemptuous, facial expressions of disdain for Paul Ryan, regardless of what was being said at the time.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
On one hand, it might be a sign of the dwindling effects of 9/11 on me that when I saw my first flag at half-staff today I briefly wondered who had died.
On the other hand, as soon as I remembered the date I felt really bad and remembered the horror of that day.
So, at least for me, it's still a very big deal. I'm not sure if it will ever not be one, for me.
According to John Mueller at the Cato Institute, apparently, many people not only still feel strongly about it, but they still feel terrorized.
In November 2001, about 35 percent of the public were very or somewhat worried that they or a family member would become a victim of terrorism. A decade later, 34 percent profess the same fear. And 75 percent consider another major attack in the near future to be very or somewhat likely, about the same as in early 2002.
I'm not one of those people, but I can understand that it still has a strong emotional pull that I'm sure affects people's estimates of risk. It also affects their willingness to comply with stupid responses. As Mueller also notes:
Since the public remains terrorized, it seems likely to continue uncritically to support extravagant counterterrorism expenditures, including incessant security checks, civil-liberties intrusions, expanded police powers, harassment at airports, and militarized forays overseas if they can convincingly be associated with the quest to stamp out terrorism.
That's another tragedy.