Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The Antichrist

By way of disclaimer, I have not read the Revelation of St. John the Divine, the last book in the Bible, and the source of such beliefs as the Antichrist, the rapture, the final fight between right and wrong, and all that.  I have to make up my own definition of the term "Antichrist."  Here it is:
I believe an Antichrist (oh, there must be many of them, like antipopes) is a person who masquerades among us pretending to be the true Christ and telling us things that we, or some of us, believe to be extensions of the teachings of the real Christ.  All the time this mountebank is influencing us to do things that are very harmful and perhaps even fatal to us and seducing us to believe things that are in fact the exact opposite of the teachings of the true Christ.
I have a candidate for an Antichrist who is living among us this very day.  This person is persuading some of us to believe and act in ways that are very harmful to our country and by extension to ourselves and our descendants.  We know that our country has an ailing economy.  Unemployment is high.  Jobs are scarce and becoming scarcer as more and more of them are being moved to China and other low-wage countries.  We have a negative trade balance which causes foreign countries to use the dollars they receive from us for our purchases to buy our bonds.  We know in our gut that the poor economy is the number one problem we face as a nation.

So, what is this Antichrist up to?  He has persuaded a significant fraction of us that the number one problem is the size and the expense of the federal government.  To achieve moral purity, we must put aside all these expensive entitlements, like social security, medicare, unemployment insurance and compensation, environmental regulations, and the like, and reduce taxes.  Taxes are too high, they must come down.  We must go back to the nineteenth century, when there was no income tax and when the only functions of the federal government was maintaining a safe currency, running the postal service, and clearing the western lands of the ignorant and worthless natives who lived there and made problems for the white settlers.

Who is this Antichrist and how has he obtained so much power?  He has power, no doubt.  He has made it impossible for our elected representatives in Congress to address the problems of unemployment and a weak economy.  Instead, they are compelled to quarrel over how to reduce the deficit without raising taxes.  He has caused nearly every Republican member of Congress to sign a pledge not to vote for any tax increase  regardless of any consequences.  He has vowed to reduce the size of the federal government until it is like a baby that could be drowned in the bathtub.

This man has been exposed in television interviews several times.  The most recently aired interview was with Mike Croft last Sunday on the CBS program Sixty Minutes.  I thought Mike did a good job of exposing the man's intentions for all us to see.  The man's name?  Grover Norquist.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011


The argument in favor of small government

Any number of conservative polemicists have argued in favor of small government, low taxes, and few regulations on business.  Some of the arguments are phrased in moral terms: with small government people will have to learn to take care of themselves and not depend on a large, inefficient, unresponsive government to help them.  Other arguments are specific to the desires of their rich patrons, who favor low taxes and freedom from any public limits on their behavior.  To me the most appealing argument is that large government can become unresponsive to the needs and desires of most of its citizens and, being large, is almost impossible to change.  I say that this is the most appealing argument to me.  Actually I don't care for any of them.

Historically, governments have tended to be either weak or tyrannical.  In neither case the government cared little about and did little of benefit for the "common" people (that is, us 99%).  Roman emperors arranged spectacles to entertain the commoners, such as fights between gladiators or feeding Christians to lions, but did little to make sure that the commoners were well-fed, well-clothed, and well cared for in old age.  In modern times it was Otto von Bismarck who recognized that a stable government depended on a satisfied population, and set about creating governmental institutions to provide health care and other benefits for the whole population of Germany.  By contrast, a century earlier the Kings of France were making sure that wealthy Frenchmen were happy and satisfied.  We know where that policy led.

Small, weak government leads necessarily to a society in which the richest individuals have the greatest power.  They can create walled and gated enclaves in which to live.  They can hire thugs to keep the less privileged away.  They can dictate the conditions and the wages of working people.  The hired thugs guarantee that the workers accept the wages and conditions.  Who wants to be a member of the 99% in such a society?

Not me, certainly.  However, Howard Jarvis looked forward eagerly to the creation of such a society.  Today Grover Norquist advocates shrinking government to a size that it can then be drowned in a bathtub.  Mr. Norquist would almost certainly deny it, but it seems to me that he advocates anarchy; that is, no government at all.

We, the 99 percent, need a strong government committed to making sure that the one percent don't simply squeeze us from the paltry share we have of the nation's wealth and other amenities.  The government is strong; unfortunately, it has been taken over by the one percent.  Corporations now have as much legal standing as persons.  (I wonder if corporations can be put to death if convicted of murder?)  We also need strong non-governmental-organizations (NGO) such as unions and associations dedicated to protecting our rights to help us withstand the power of the one percent.

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Bound to Fail

The congressional super committee, charged with agreeing on a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to achieve a balanced budget by Wednesday, November 30 is, according to reports that I have seen, no closer to reaching an agreement than it was two months ago.  The failure of the committee to find a compromise is an indicator of the failure of our federal government to operate as a democracy.  A history professor once told me that democracy can't work unless there is an agreement among all (or most) factions about fundamentals.  Now an important fundamental is the kind of government that we should have.  Should our government act to improve the economy by creating jobs, providing relief for the unemployed, acting to correct an endemic unbalance of trade, provide health care for all of us, provide decent retirement pensions, etc.?  On the other hand, should the government not get involved with any of those things but instead stick to maintaining a stable currency, provide enough military prowess to intimidate any potential enemy, make sure that crimes against property are punished, etc.?

One faction in congress and on the super committee is pledged to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.  The other faction is pledged to use government to improve life for its citizens.  These two concepts can't be compromised.  There is no agreement on fundamentals.  Democracy can't work.  The committee is bound to fail.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Senator Russell Pearce is out

As an unabashed partisan "old" Democrat, I took pleasure in seeing the glum face of Senator Pearce of Arizona on the front page of today's newspaper (Thursday, November 10, 2011).  This is the man who authored and pushed the Arizona law regarding illegal aliens that has had so much publicity in the past year or so.  I almost feel sympathy for the poor man.  He found a hot issue that many Arizonans cared about and created a law that matched their desires.  Now, a year or so later, Arizona voters have turned against him and have recalled him from office.

What's a politician to do?  If he's ambitious he wants to appeal to a large segment of the population so that he will be in position to seek a higher elective office.  Our government is supposed to be a democracy, isn't it?  If the people want something, they should be able to get their government to give it to them or at least do something about it.  A year or two ago many Arizonans wanted government - State or federal - to crack down on illegal immigrants.  Found them up.  Carry them to the border and dump them back into Mexico where they belong.  The federal government has no consistent policy on undocumented immigration.  Senator Pearce authored a law that allowed (or required?) police officials to check the immigration status of anyone they arrested who had some chance of being "illegal," and if so, see to it that they were taken back to the nearest foreign country or turned over to the federal INS.  Tough, definite action in response to a strong public sentiment.

What's happened to that sentiment?  Are Arizonans becoming soft on illegal immigration, like us softies in California?  What's a politician supposed to do in a democracy if not respond to strong public opinion?

Well, there's the rub.  Years ago I read a book by a professional pollster who noted that Americans do not have good ways of working their way from "mass opinion" to "public judgment."  Mass opinion is a sentiment that can be very strong for a while, and then simply blow away.  Public judgment is a sentiment or opinion held by a majority of voters that is pretty fixed.  The voters have heard and studied all the arguments for and against a thing and have become settled in their support or opposition.  Senator Pearce should have consulted the pollster.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Herman Cain - burning out?

The Herman Cain campaign may be coming to an end because of an allegation of sexual harassment several years ago.  He fervently denies the allegation.  However, the allegation and his heated denial are getting a big play in the main stream media.  If his campaign crashes, it will be a result of an allegation that may not be true, or may be true but is irrelevant to the question of whether he should be President.

He should not be President, to be sure.  He has some of the goofiest and most dangerous economic ideas I've ever heard.  If he were to become President and were to put some of these goofy ideas into practice, it would be very harmful to the country.  But goofy ideas don't sell newspapers.  Sex scandals sell newspapers.  Hence, the space given to a possible sex scandal, compared to the space given to a critique of his 9-9-9 tax plan, illustrates the economics of publishing and selling newspapers.

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