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I’ve already broken my campaign promise

Now you know to never vote for me. I’ve already broken the one campaign promise I made this year — and the election hasn’t formally occurred, yet. That’s right, I voted in the congressional election on my early ballot. Specifically, I voted for the Republican douchebag over the Democrat harpy. I’m not enamored of Paul Gosar, who has positioned himself as a social conservative in addition to his au courant, Tea Partyish support for free markets and smaller government, but incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick voted for the porculus bill and Obamacare, and that’s really all I need to know about her. Basically, I voted for divided government that will occupy its time entertaining us with angry gridlock rather than hurrying us over the brink and into the abyss.

Getting it in the front from Democrats and from behind by Republicans -- it's like being trapped between a Kennedy and Larry Craig!And no, I’m not one of those deluded fools who believes that “every vote counts.” I’m well aware that for any individual, voting is an essentially pointless activity that papers over irrelevance with a warm-and-fuzzy illusion of participation. But it’s a low-cost means of expressing an opinion and relieving a bit of my political angst.

Gosar, by the way, was the only Republican I marked on the ballot.

Arizona has a long list of ballot measures to choose from, this time around, and several are especially attention-worthy. In particular, I voted for Prop. 106 which would bar any rules or regulations that might force people into a health-care system. Basically, it would outlaw mandatory socialized medicine. Whether the measure could actually stand as a barrier to some federal decree is an open question, but I think it’s worth a try. It’s a giant “fuck you” to the folks who would herd us into for-your-own-good government systems, anyway.

And Prop. 203 would, once again, legalize marijuana for medical use. Arizonans have voted for medical marijuana before, only to be overruled by the state legislature, so this is a sort of “yes, we really mean it,” reminder to the state’s office-holding control freaks. The measure isn’t perfect, since it would turn marijuana users into a protected class that can’t be fired by pot-hating employers (a violation of free-association rights). But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

And yes, oh social authoritarians who stumble across this site (did your preacher let you out of the basement for the day?), I do support legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, or any other use to which people may wish to put it. Heroin and cocaine, too. So there’s no “stealth” aspect to my support for the measure.

Boy, I feel so civically responsible, today! It’s giving me a tingly feeling.

Or maybe that’s the bronchitis.

So … Would Britain be willing to take us back?

From the Financial Times:

The UK’s Conservative-led coalition has announced the most drastic budget cuts in living memory, outstripping measures taken by other advanced economies which are also under pressure to sharply reduce public spending. …

The UK cuts of £81bn ($128bn) over four years are the equivalent of 4.5 per cent of projected 2014-15 gross domestic product. Similar cuts in the US would require a cut in public spending of about $650bn, equal to the projected cost of Medicare in 2015.

The UK deficit is about 10 per cent of 2010-11 GDP. The US deficit was $1,294bn, or 8.9 per cent of GDP, in the 2010 fiscal year.

Declaring that “today is the day where Britain steps back from the brink”, George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, revealed dramatic reductions to core departments over the next four years, a £7bn fall in welfare support and 490,000 public-sector job cuts by 2014-15.

Actually, I’m just kidding about rejoining the UK, what with some significant differences in free speech protections, self-defense laws and other civil liberties issues. But if the Brits want to handle our federal government’s spending policies for a few years…

How can you bridge deep divisions over the role of the state?

Recovering from both a wedding and the stomach flue while awaiting an overdue flight at San Francisco International Airport (and if you’re ever stuck in Terminal 1 at SFO, allow me to recommend Go Bistro’s Asian-fusion-whatever. It doesn’t suck.), I came across USA Today‘s front-page story on Gallup Poll results measuring Americans’ deep differences of opinions over the size and scope of government. Based on the polling data, the article divides our countrymen into five distinct groups that, while still broad, are rather more helpful than the usual red/blue bullshit that is spoken of all-too-often.

• Keep it small: This cohesive group wants government to stay away from regulating the free market or morality. They trust private enterprise over public institutions and overwhelmingly oppose Obama and the Democratic Party. Many support the Tea Party movement.

They are the wealthiest, the most conservative and the most predominantly white and male of any of the groups.

• Morality first: This group also is decidedly Republican, and they don’t endorse a large federal role in addressing income disparities. But they are solidly in favor of the federal government acting to uphold moral standards and promote traditional values.

A Republican governing coalition that includes both the first and second groups could risk fracture when the issues turned from a more limited government on the economic front to questions such as whether to oppose same-sex marriage or restrict abortion.

• The mushy middle: This pragmatic group avoids the extremes. Those in this category split more evenly on attitudes toward the GOP, the Democratic Party and Obama than others.

Ninety-five percent of them end up somewhere in the middle when asked to place themselves on a five-point scale on the proper role of government — “1” meaning the government should provide only the most basic functions and “5” meaning the government should take active steps in every area it could.

• Obama liberals: This group wants the government to take a big role in addressing economic disparities but a small one in upholding moral standards. It is the most suspicious of business: Six in 10 say business will harm society unless regulated by the government.

They are the youngest group and the group with the highest percentage of liberals, Democrats and Obama supporters.

• The bigger the better: The members of this group are the most likely of any to trust government and to endorse its involvement in areas from upholding morality to addressing income inequality.

What’s interesting to me is that the first group, which “wants government to stay away from regulating the free market or morality” — what we could generally call libertarians — makes up 22% of the population. That grouping is directly opposed by the 20% that is “most likely of any to trust government and to endorse its involvement in areas from upholding morality to addressing income inequality.”

So two segments broken out in the poll, making up 42% of the population, hold completely incompatible views about the relationship of the individual to the state. You can’t satisfy one without offending the other.

But the other groups include traditional conservatives who “don’t endorse a large federal role in addressing income disparities. But they are solidly in favor of the federal government acting to uphold moral standards and promote traditional values” and traditional liberals who “wan[t] the government to take a big role in addressing economic disparities but a small one in upholding moral standards.” Their different visions of a more expansive state than that favored by the libertarians are also incompatible.

This leaves us stuck, right? I mean, completely stuck. Americans really want entirely irreconcilable political structures.

I wonder, though …

It’s one thing to want, in abstract terms, the government to do something, and it’s entirely different to deal with a real program with an entrenched bureaucracy — especially if it engages in activity you find excessive or offensive. That is, I wonder if a relatively inactive government doesn’t, over the long term, engender a stronger positive, or at least neutral, response than a relatively active government which might breed the likes of the Tea Party movement. Given the nearly even division in preferences demonstrated in the Gallup Poll, that may suggest a tendency towards somewhat limited government in the United States. Limited government — not minimal government — but limited nevertheless.

Of course, that runs up against the obvious example of the steady growth in the state over past decades, but that may be because we hadn’t hit the (admittedly generous and probably shifting) limit set by the country’s political divisions. And some serious incursions into economic freedom (think trucking and airline prices) as well as civil liberties (think gay rights and the rights of racial minorities) have, in fact, been rolled back.

Or maybe that damned stomach bug just has my mind wandering in strange directions.

UK greenies apparently suffering from massive brain tumors

At least, that’s the only way I can explain this completely insane propaganda piece intended to pressure people to reduce their carbon emissions:

Let me know if the embed goes dead, since there’s reportedly a huge CYA effort underway in response to the collective puking that met this film.

Note: In case the video is disabled, this is a seriously intended video, partially funded by the British taxpayers. It features Gillian Anderson (the most recognizable face to Americans) and starts with schoolchildren being urged to slash their carbon footprint by 10%, with those who decline being blown up on the spot, splattering their guts on their classmates. Yes, really.

Sorry — I dozed through the Fourth Amendment lecture

Says the Associated Press:

A Justice Department investigation has found that FBI agents, including several supervisors, cheated on an important test covering the bureau’s policies for conducting surveillance on Americans.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said Monday that his limited review of allegations that agents improperly took the open-book test together or had access to an answer sheet has turned up “significant abuses and cheating.”

Hmmm … Is anybody actually surprised that FBI officials considered even their own bureau’s rules regarding surveillance to be unworthy of a little study?

Just how hermetically sealed is New York’s insular political culture?

In the September 20 issue of New York magazine, there’s a brief piece by Dan Amira called “Tea House 2011.” Touted in the table of contents as a look at “lesser-known lunatics of the tea party,” the article is supposed to be a peek at the beyond-the-pale madmen who “are operating out of the national spotlight this campaign season.” These aspiring members of Congress get a tiny photo, a brief bio, and a few words on the unquestionable insanity they espouse, to which we’ll all supposedly be subject should the Tea Party get its way come November. Their craziness is taken as so obvious that no analysis is required once their opinions are stated.

And sure enough, of the exactly six would-be congresscritters profiled in this article, there’s an honest-to-God … well … apparent birther in the mix. He’s running for Colorado’s Fourth District. Cory Gardner is also the least outsidery of the bunch, considering that he’s already a state legislator.

But two of the “lesser-known lunatics” are on the list because they (drumroll please) question Social Security and Medicare. Todd Young, running for Indiana’s Ninth District, “[r]eferred to Social Security as a ‘Ponzi scheme.'” And Jesse Kelly, running in Arizona’s Eighth District, “said he ‘would love to eliminate’ Social Security and eventually end Medicare.” He’s also opposed to the minimum wage.

Uh huh. So of the six crazier-than-crazy Tea Party candidates profiled by New York for their “lunacy,” two of them are in there for positions that are widely held by professional economists. Wikipedia’s entry on the minimum wage summarizes surveys finding that as many as “90 percent of the economists surveyed agreed that the minimum wage increases unemployment among low-skilled workers” and “46.8% wanted it completely eliminated.” Similar surveys of economists find that they consider Social security a mess — 85.3 percent agree that “the gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged.” And Hell, even Michael Kinsley agrees it’s a Ponzi scheme (although he thinks that’s OK). And it’s hard to defend Medicare when the program is widely used as an example of a government scheme run amok.

But, in polite New York circles, criticizing Social Security, Medicare and minimum wage laws is just not done — to the point that anybody who ventures in that direction is considered laughable

From time to time, I miss the sophistication of my old digs. But whenever I get to hankering for exotic restaurants, creative theater and innovative arts in my home town, all I need for a cure is a reminder of the … well … lunatics who run the show there.

Christine O’Donnell may well represent America

Granted that newly minted Republican candidate for one of Delaware’s U.S. Senate seats, Christine O’Donnell, dwells at the intersection of crazy and stupid, but you have to wonder whether it was such a good tactic for GOP hierarchy to essentially forbid voters to support her in a decade in which they’ve pissed away their credibility, and whether it’s wise for her opponents to continue to emphasize her mortgage default and her creative accounting during an era when Americans have demonstrated themselves to possess the financial acumen of your average crack whore with a stolen credit card.

Crazy, stupid, financially irresponsible and despised by the establishment? Americans may decide to send somebody just like themselves to the Senate.

And no, I’m not suggesting that a smarmy control freak like Chris Coons is better. I’m just intrigued by how closely we’re approaching menckenesque perfection.

I’m sitting out the congressional election

Here in Arizona’s first congressional district — a monstrosity of 58,608 miles into which you could drop New York State with room to rattle around — the incumbent Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick appears likely to join the tide of congressional Democrats polishing up their resumes after November. Should that happen, her successor will be Paul Gosar, a Flagstaff dentist who won the favor of both Sarah Palin and Joe Arpaio — the Arizona equivalent of having an image of the madonna appear in the steam on your bathroom window.

Kirkpatrick clearly anticipated a few speed bumps on the way to reelection — she spent the better part of the last year wandering the district and collaring people to assure them that she had no intention of kicking in their doors and grabbing their gun collections. Nobody ever really suspected otherwise, of course. This is the southwest; if anybody had ever suspected her of gun-controller-ish leanings, her political career would have required a change not just of area codes, but of driver’s licenses. That put her repeated pro-gun reassurances in the same camp as the cheating ex-girlfriend who tries to smooth things over by saying, “well, at least I never slept with your brother.”

Well, yeah, babe, you answer — but my brother is gay!

Who she did tryst with was Obamacare, and that’s not going down too well in CD-1 — especially with a medical type gunning for her under the Republican banner.

Frankly, though, I’m sitting this one out. In years past, I’ve dragged myself, unenthusiastically, to the polls to register my opposition to the candidates who most disgusted me. That usually involved voting for a few Libertarians, and whoever sucked less on the Republican and Democrat lines and then going home to lick my wounds. But this year there’s no Libertarian running for Congress in the district. And the Democrats up and down the ticket are competing with Republicans primarily by arguing that they hate Mexicans every bit as much as their opponents.

Yes, Ann Kirkpatrick also promises us that it makes her so mad when the feds throw taxpayer money around — except for the porculus bill, of course, which throws a deep, dark shadow over all other federal check-writing efforts.

But lest we think that fiscal sanity may dwell elsewhere, Paul Gosar chimes in to assure us that he wants to keep Social Security as bloated, ill-conceived and disastrously unsustainable as Kirkpatrick (all we have to to to save it is let Republicans spend money instead of Democrats).

And Gosar likes throwing young American bodies into overseas adventures just as much as does the current congresscritter.

Oh yeah. And Kirkpatrick wants to outlaw burning the American flag as a form of political protest.

Gag.

These aren’t stupid people, but they are craven, nasty thugs who show no obvious interest in reining-in government, promoting peace or expanding freedom. They spin their presentations slightly so that one candidate is a bit more in line with one party and the other candidate favors the line for the opposition, but it’s a race to the bottom to see who can wave the flag in the most disgusting way. I can’t see much there to motivate me to get out of bed on election day.

So I won’t.

Police state by default

I’ll say right out that Paul Karl Lukacs has bigger stones than me. When I’m going through Customs — or airport security in general — I may venture into testiness on my own behalf or run interference if my young son is getting the third degree (yes, it’s happened), but I’m generally focused on getting past the Gestapo, not on asserting my rights. So I applaud Lukacs for answering “none of your business” to a nosy Customs official when questioned about his overseas trip. His experience went like this:

“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country,” I said.

This did not go over well. She asked a series of questions, such as how long I had been in China, whether I was there on personal business or commercial business, etc. I stood silently. She said that her questions were mandated by Congress and that I should complain to Congress instead of refusing to cooperate with her.

She asked me to take one of my small bags off her counter. I complied.

She picked up the phone and told someone I “was refusing to cooperate at all.” This was incorrect. I had presented her with proof of citizenship (a U.S. passport) and had moved the bag when she asked. What I was refusing to do was answer her questions.

Ultimately, Lukacs was allowed to go on his way because Americans really don’t have to do anything but show a customs declaration and proof of citizenship in order to re-enter the country. Of course he had to cool his heels first because … well, just because. He hadn’t respected their authoritah, after all.

It makes you think …

There are a lot of protections against official nosiness and pushiness on the books or in our legal traditions that go relatively unused. They go unused, of course, because officialdom makes it increasingly unpleasant to assert those rights. If the cost of telling a police officer to mind his manners is a strip search and a night in the lock-up, followed only months later by a lukewarm apology and an off-hand acknowledgment that you were in the right, many people simply stop telling cops where to get off. Even the occasional cash settlement isn’t going to be worth it for the average person. As time goes on, we forget what our rights are, and officials are trained in procedures rather than the legal scope of their authority. Eventually, the rights in question may still exist on the books, but largely as quaint museum-quality exhibits.

And then you run across the occasional Paul Karl Lukacs, willing to take a figurative bullet in the hopes that one of the gray-haired supervisors remembers a few vestigial legalisms.

So the question is … Is it a tactic on the part of officialdom to expand their power? Or is it more of a case of institutional mission-creep, fueled by our own timidity and laziness?

Either way, our rights become meaningless if we abandon them because it becomes a hassle to assert them.

And note that not a single statute is altered along the way to changing the balance of power between the folks wielding the power of the state and the rest of us.

Modern-day ‘capital strike’ becomes more likely

Pundits have been speculating for months that the United States is undergoing a “capital strike” of the sort that occurred during the Great Depression — that is, frightened and confused by government policies and the (often contradictory) directions in which they tug the economy, investors are sitting on their money rather than putting it into new and existing ventures that might generate jobs and prosperity. That speculation appears to be firming up into reality, as new reports indicate both disenchantment with the Big O among his well-heeled backers and (likely related) widespread unwillingness to invest in the U.S. economy.

Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man, described the earlier version of the phenomenon in a 2009 column:

“Fat cats” is what President Barack Obama just called bankers. He also invited them to the White House this past week.

The reason for the mixed message is that the president is cross with banks: They have refused to heed his orders to lend. The dynamic of preachy executive and elusive lenders recalls the mid-1930s, when a petulant Franklin Roosevelt gave a label to banks’ puzzling behavior: “capital strike.” …

Observing that banks maintained what had once been considered ample reserves, 1930s monetary authorities reasoned that increasing reserve requirements on paper would have little effect: Their increase was merely a de facto recognition of an accumulation that had already occurred.

The authorities forgot these bankers had been burned. The wary banks reacted by stashing away yet more cash. The result was an unforeseen tightening and less cash in the economy.

Election cycles also contribute to capital strikes. Banks today know that whatever the White House says, it has to stop pouring out the cash eventually, probably after midterms. Banks in the 1930s held on to cash because they knew Roosevelt would stop spending after the 1936 election, and he did.

House winnings

High taxes, or the prospect of tax increases, do damage as well. In 1937, a tire company executive explained the effect of Roosevelt’s confiscatory rates upon the investor: “He will not risk financing new ventures if the government take is greater than that of the average gambling house.”

Infantilizing the private sector also makes it shut down. In the 1930s, Roosevelt, like Obama, alternated between coddling banks and companies and giving them the equivalent of a good spanking. Both can be counterproductive. The editors of Time magazine formally recognized that by printing a regular rubric over its weekly reports: “Last week the U.S. Government did the following for and to U.S. Business …”

Writing in The Freeman, historian Burton Folsom, Jr. further draws out some of the parallels between then and now:

The sequence of massive federal spending followed by a lack of recovery plus tax hikes is poison for a politician. Therefore Roosevelt sought scapegoats to explain his failure. Wall Street bankers were his favorites. He called them “economic royalists” and blamed them for causing the Great Depression. He also blamed America’s top businessmen for instigating a “capital strike”—they were refusing to invest in order to make him look bad. FDR then launched IRS investigations of key Republicans and used the newspapers to encourage hostility toward these targets.

Obama has followed FDR’s playbook of attacking Wall Street bankers and various corporate leaders. He condemns the raises these bankers sometimes receive and the profits earned by some large oil companies and health insurance companies.

In June, on ABC News, George Will raised the possibility that Obama is reaping the same results as FDR, saying:

The Bush tax cuts are going to expire. Interest rates have to go up sooner or later. The House, just before going on recess, passed a so-called jobs bill with $80 billion more dollars of taxes in it. There may be climate change regulation. No one knows quite how Obama Care is going to effect the private sector. In pandemic uncertainty, capital goes on strike.

But, so far, this has largely been speculation. Have the Wall Street types who heavily supported Barack Obama’s presidential run turned against him? And are investors really stashing their cash rather than risk it in an environment of anti-business hostility and economic uncertainty?

The Magic Eight Ball now seems to suggest the answer is: You better believe it!

The New York Times reports on the u-turn a major Wall Street backer of Obama has made in his opinion of the president and his policies:

Daniel S. Loeb, the hedge fund manager, was one of Barack Obama’s biggest backers in the 2008 presidential campaign.

A registered Democrat, Mr. Loeb has given and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Democrats. Less than a year ago, he was considered to be among the Wall Street elite still close enough to the White House to be invited to a speech in Lower Manhattan, where President Obama outlined the need for a financial regulatory overhaul.

So it came as quite a surprise on Friday, when Mr. Loeb sent a letter to his investors that sounded as if he were preparing to join Glenn Beck in Washington over the weekend.

“As every student of American history knows, this country’s core founding principles included nonpunitive taxation, constitutionally guaranteed protections against persecution of the minority and an inexorable right of self-determination,” he wrote. “Washington has taken actions over the past months, like the Goldman suit that seem designed to fracture the populace by pulling capital and power from the hands of some and putting it in the hands of others.”

This is important, even the Times concedes, because:

Mr. Loeb’s views, irrespective of their validity, point to a bigger problem for the economy: If business leaders have a such a distrust of government, they won’t invest in the country. And perception is becoming reality.

Just last week, Paul S. Otellini, chief executive of Intel, said at a dinner at the Aspen Forum of the Technology Policy Institute that “the next big thing will not be invented here. Jobs will not be created here.”

Mr. Otellini has overseen two big acquisitions in the last two weeks — the $7.7 billion takeover of the security software maker McAfee and the $1.4 billion deal for the wireless chip unit of Infineon Technologies. If he is true to his word, those deals will most likely lead to job cuts in the United States, not job creation.

And it’s not just one ticked-off hedge-fund manager and a disgruntled tech executive — it seems to be oodles of investors preferring to keep cash under the mattress rather than throw it into whatever the economy and the unpredictable folks tinkering with its controls may bring their way. Business Week interviewed Professor John Paglia of the Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Project about his latest semi-annual report. Paglia tole the magazine that, despite high demand for investment among small businesses, and increased credit-worthiness, “there’s a dearth of capital opportunities for the upstart businesses that potentially—down the road—could lead us to economic prosperity.” Banks, venture capitalists and angel investors are declining to make loans to such an extent that “[t]he No. 1 concern for private companies is access to capital. Nearly 31 percent cited that, even more than the 27 percent that said the economy is their top concern.”

Earlier this year, the Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Project reported that almost half of venture capitalist plan to sit on their cash, despite growing demand for investment, at least over the next year. Said Paglia: “The long-road out of the current recession and tepid marketplace has made it easier to simply keep money locked up.”

The Pepperdine data suggests that the “capital strike,” such as it is, is a reaction to economic uncertainty, rather than a refusal to make money and generate prosperity just to spite the administration (as FDR used to charge). Of course, the Times piece makes it clear that much of that uncertainty can be laid at the feet of the government, so the end result is the same.