Wednesday, May 18, 2016

We need a President that ...

People love to talk about what we need in a President.  Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong, and sometimes they are right but irrelevant.

What do I mean by right but irrelevant?  I mean they are referencing a quality that everyone has - often in an attempt to insult their opponent.  "We need a president that ....wears clothing/breathes/talks English."

Lets discuss some of the qualities and which are right, wrong, and irrelevant.  I am going to start with the irrelevant ones, because frankly, they are the most interesting.

  • Strong Willed
  • Good Leader 
  • Makes the Right Decisions
  • Willing to Take Risks

These skills are necessary but irrelevant for one major reason - you can't win a Primary unless you already have all of them.   For at least the last century, the US Presidency has been so valuable a prize, that the best men of a large, successful country (and not enough women, go Hillary!) have fought over it toe to toe.   No matter what the other party says, a weak person can not win a national primary - it's too nasty a gauntlet.   Whether it's your competition claiming you aren't an American citizen, claiming you had a black child out of wedlock, or calling up voters past midnight and pretending to work for your opponent, the US Presidency is not for the weak.

Similarly, making it past the Primaries, requires that you be a good leader, make the right decisions and willing to take risks.   All of these qualities are more than tested long before you make it to the General Election.  Yes one candidate may be slightly stronger than the other, but in the most extreme example, we are talking the difference between an 9 and 10, which isn't worth mentioning.

But people love to claim they have these qualities, implying their opponent doesn't.  It's easy to claim a winning move took no courage, was not their idea, was an obvious decision, and not a high risk.  Similarly, it's easy to claim a losing move was done out fear, after being pushed, a wrong decision, and was clearly far too risky.   Then they claim that they wouldn't do such a thing - or they claim they never would have been put into that position in the first place.  This is all bravado and lies.   All serious Presidential Candidates have been strong people, good leaders, made good decisions, and were willing to take risks.

Next are the qualities people think you need, but are not important for a President.

  • Religious/Good Christian/Morale/"Character"
  • Honest/Trustworthy
  • Charismatic  (more than the top 10%)
  • Intelligence (smarter than the top 10%)
All of these categories are not necessary to being President.  This is not a 'christian country', it is a country that goes out of it's way to ensure religious freedom.   The President has to abide by a set of rules that normal humans do not.  They are routinely placed in a situation where they have to order people to their death - both their own citizens and enemies of the state.   I am not saying that morality or religion is a bad thing (they are some people's best qualities) - just that they are not necessary to be a good President.   He can cheat on his wife (Clinton, JFK), flash his dick to everyone (Johnson), win an election using dirty tricks (Nixon, JFK, Bush), and make deals with terrorists (Reagan).   Being Morale/Good Christian is not necessary to be a good President.

Similarly, superior honesty is not necessary.  The Presidency requires that we keep secrets and lie to other governments.  Hopefully they won't lie to the American people but often you can't lie to your enemy without at least misinforming your own people.   Past Presidents have lied to our enemies and it helped the country - that's pretty much the definition of a 'covert' operation.   Part of being good at keeping secrets is being a good liar.

Charismatic and intelligence are also not needed because we can hire people to that part of the job - as long as you are not totally obnoxious or an idiot.  A good speech writer and good advisers can take care of those parts of the job.

Religious/morale, Honest, Charismatic, Intelligent  - these are all good qualities, that people like, so they pretend they are necessary for the job.  But they don't substantially help a person be a better president.

That brings us to the qualities a good President needs, but aren't guaranteed by the process.   Failing to have these make you far less effective as a President, and you can win the Primary without them.

  • Consensus builder.
  • Finger on the Pulse
  • Good Judge of Character
  • Flexibility

Consensus Builder - as Obama demonstrated, and Trump is proving again, you do not have to be good at building a real consensus to get elected.  You can simply be better than the alternatives.  The problem is this limits your effectiveness tremendously.   Aside from one major piece of legislation - Obamacare - we didn't as much out of Obama as some hoped.  He was a good President, but not and  FDR, nor a Reagan.   Trump would be even worse.  He can't  get his own party' support, let alone the Democrats, who are most likely to rule the Senate (and the Supreme Court).   But to be an effective leader, you need more than just the White House, you need to convince at least some of your political opponents to support your bills.  Hillary is a lot better than Donald Trump when it comes to Consensus Building, she has won back the Black vote after losing it to Obama. 

Also Consensus building is NOT negotiating.  Ambassadors and Secretaries of State negotiate.   Presidents do not negotiate.   Negotiating means you strive for the best possible deal at all costs.    Consensus means you give up the best possible deal in order to keep everyone friendly.  You negotiate with your enemies, competitor, and clients.  You build a consensus with you wife and Congress.

Finger on the Pulse of the Nation is a strange one.   In truth, you do need it beat the Primary, but from the time you win the primary, the process does it's best to rip your hand off the pulse.  You get surrounded by advisers, spin doctors, security, cut off from the people.  It is extremely hard to maintain the sense of what 'regular' people are doing.  Without it, you come up with horrible ideas that everyone hates and don't understand why they hate them.   The ability to stay in touch with the common man is tough.  Let's be honest here, neither Hillary or the Donald have any idea how normal people live.  Trump says he does, but then he thinks he will win the Mexican and Women vote.  Honestly, he understands how a certain subset of the US (disaffected male non-hispanic white voters) work, but is clueless about the rest.  Lies - even self delusions - don't help you out here.

Good Judge of Character: the ability to pick the right people for the right job is key.  If you are smart enough and charismatic enough, then you don't need this skill to win the Primary.  But being President takes more work than winning the Primary - no one can do it alone.   You need to be able to pick the right people who will do their jobs well.    Again, neither Hillary nor Trump has a good record.  Trump has many bad calls when it comes to failed businesses, and Hillary has issues with the people she trusted for email security and for state security in Libya.

Which brings me to Flexibility.  You need to be willing to admit when you were wrong and change your opinion.  Why?  Because no one is right all the time.  If you were right all the time, that means you were unwilling to take risks.  If you don't take risks, you can never be wrong - but you will always be behind the times, leading from the rear.  It means not pushing for Gay Rights, not telling Gorbachev to "Take Down This Wall."  because you are afraid of being wrong.  The only way to take risks is to accept that occasionally you will be wrong.  Trump is good about walking mistakes back, but refuses to admit that what he originally said was wrong.  He lies about it - and that pisses off his opponents who know he is lying.   Hillary on the other hand, is more willing to admit she was wrong (despite being wrong less often than Trump).  She has admitted mistakes graciously.

Note, most of the other Republican candidates failed because they never had their Finger on ANYONE'S Pulse.  Trump at least knew what white males were thinking.  If Bernie Sanders had been more  Flexible and a better Consensus Builder, he would have been a better nominee.  If Trump could figure out what gay, black, Mexican women really want (and be willing to support it), or if Sanders found a way to walk back some of the socialism and compromise with conservatives, they would be far better candidates.

Right now, Hillary is the best we have.   She is good  at Consensus and is Flexible when it comes to the tough choices.   She needs to get better at judging other people's character and find some way to regain a sense of what other people want.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Don't compare Trump to Hitler - Trump is nicer than Hitler

Everyone loves to compare their political opponent to Hitler.   He is the 'go-to' bad guy.  Unarguably evil, unarguably a bad military and governmental leader - despite having significant public speaking skills, he makes for a powerful and therefor overused comparison.

Let me be very clear - Donald Trump is not Hitler.  There are several ways that Trump is better.   Hitler was stupider than Trump (Hitler dropped out of college and repeatedly screwed up good military strategy).   Few if any people will disagree when I say that Donald Trump is nicer than Hitler.  (Good T Shirt...) That statement is pretty clearly true.  A low bar, but Trump can make it over the bar.

But there IS a World War II leader that Trump is comparable too.  No, I am not going to compare Trump to other bad guys.  It's not Stalin or Mussolini.   It's Henri Petain, leader of Vichy France, the 'Lion of Verdun' that surrendered to Nazi Germany, and was later sentenced to death for his treason (sentence was commuted to life in prison).

The similarities are clear.  Petain was a bigot, that refused to help refugees based on things he had heard about their religion.   Previously he demanded a giant wall to keep invading murders out.

Petain was an anti-Semite that went beyond preventing Jews from entering France, he also specifically removed protections originally granted to french Jews.  (source)  He was scared that the Jews would not be loyal to France - and instead would engage in acts of violence, perhaps try to take over France.  In truth, the Jews were just fleeing persecution.  Trump, like Petain, want's to block a group of refugees - Muslims in Trump's case - from entering the US.

Petain was one of the major forces behind the Maginot Line - a giant wall that was supposed to keep Germans out of France. (source)   But the Germans had  airplanes to fly over the wall.   It was also so big, that it had week spots - too expensive to build a strong wall that large.  Similarly, Trump want's to keep Mexican out because he thinks they are murders.   Petain at least was right about Germany, but Trump doesn't even have that going for him.  

Petain also married a woman 20 years younger than him, violated the Constitution of France, and ran the government along the lines of his previous profession (military) rather than using the normal political means.  Trump has married a woman 20 years younger than him, has been told by the military that they will not obey illegal orders to torture the family of enemy soldiers, and claims that he will run the government like his previous profession (business).

Donald Trump is nothing more than America's Henri Petain.   We can't afford to let Trump do to America, what Petain did to France.

We need to do better.  We need someone that does NOT simply try to offer up simple, obvious solutions to complex problem.  Because if the answer was simple, we would have already solved it.

Real life is complex and requires harder, more difficult solutions.   Simple solutions are simply wrong.  Walls haven't worked since the invention of the airplane.   Judging people - even for a short amount of time - on their religion is called prejudice, and history has shown that it is evil, not good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Capitalism, Patents and Healthcare.

I am a strong believer in capitalism who also realizes the need for government intervention in healthcare.   How can I reconcile such apparently divergent views?

The United State's of America does NOT use capitalism in it's healthcare system - and never has.  

Wikipedia list six separate characteristics of Capitalism:

  1. Private Property
  2. Capital Accumulation
  3. Wage Labor
  4. Voluntary Exchange
  5. Price System
  6. Competitive Market
If you don't have those features, it's not capitalism.   Socialism is famous for preventing capital accumulation via taxes and the competitive market via regulating prices.  Communism goes further, wanting to get rid of the rest, but even the Soviets at their height claimed that was an ideal utopia they aspired to, rather than something they could implement.

But Capitalism predates Communism by more than 100 years.  Lets' compare it to Mercantilism, the system we had before Capitalism.

In Mercantilism, there was Private Property, Capital Accumulation, Wage Labor and a Price System.  They did not have really have Voluntary Exchanges, nor a Competitive Market.  Specifically, they had government control of exchanges - what you could buy and sell was strictly controlled.   They were known for banning the importing of many protected goods and the export of gold.  They also were known for monopolies.   Lots and lots of monopolies created by the government, given to favored people.    Queen Elizabeth of England granted monopolies on everything from coal to wine.

In Elizabethan England, under Mercantilism, they called these monopolies "patents of monopoly".

Yes, that's right, patents are not part of Capitalism.   Patents restrict people from engaging in business, which directly prevents a competitive market. They are a hold over from Mercantilism.    If you are defend the concept of patents, you are not a pure Capitalist, you are at least partly a Mercantlist.

Why do we still have patents?   We needed a way to incentivize invention, so we took the old concept of a patent, reworked it, and now they only apply to things you invent, rather than any old thing the government wanted you to have a monopoly on.

Capitalism is a pretty strong systems.  It is more than robust enough to handle some flecks of impurity.  Patents have always been a problem for Capitalists, but it's something we can usually live with.

As long as we keep the other five characteristics of Capitalism, it works well enough.

But that brings us to Health Care.   Here, we don't just have patents on medicines, techniques, and devices.  If you don't buy necessary health care or you die.  That's involuntary, not voluntary.  No different from putting a gun to your head - or ordering people to buy this or go to jail.

Notice how hospitals don't list prices?  Name one other business where that happens.  I can't think of any.  The reason is simple:  you have to pay or you die.  It's not a voluntary exchange, and they know it, so they don't even bother to tell you the cost till after it's done.

Still, it would be mostly OK, as long as we didn't also have the patents and other restraints on free trade.   If there was open market, where you could get the stuff you need to live from multiple sources, the free market would keep the price down.  When you take away both the voluntary exchanges and the patents, there is no free market - that's Mercantilism, not Capitalism.

Which   is why the US has such a problem with Healthcare - we don't use capitalism, we use a mercantile system.  That's not something new that Obama created, it's been that way for more than a hundred years.

I'm not saying we have to get rid of patents* - and by it's very nature, we can't make health care "voluntary".  (Note, we could at least require hospitals to list prices and stick to them).   But we can recognize that system is not capitalist, and that it requires government intervention in this case, because we have already intervened to help out the suppliers (by enforcing patents, among other things).  We need to counter the aid to the suppliers by also helping out the patients.

Price limits are a totally reasonable method.   We don't want to do it directly, so we chosen let the insurance industry negotiate the prices, rather than have government legislate it.  But that means everyone has to have insurance to do the price negotiating for them.  If you don't want to let the government legislate the prices, you have to require that all people have insurance to do the negotiating for them.  Or we could simply rule that the government sets prices if you don't have insurance. 

Health care is not and never has been a free market.  That's why we need consumer protections and pro-patient regulations, on top of the many pro-business regulations such as patents.**

*Note 1:  I am also not saying we can't get rid of patents - a bounty system could be established by the government rewarding innovation might work.  So could a set 10% royalty systems where anyone would be allowed to sell patented objects as long as they paid a 10% royalty would also work.

**Note 2:, I do know that not all health care involves patents, but  the far majority of medical care is involuntary, rather than voluntary, and even without patents there are other issues with the competitiveness of the market (see hospital prices mentioned above, one sided information, limited providers with barriers against entry) that similar issues apply throughout the entire industry, not just patented medicine.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The problem with low interest rates

Money is a complicate concept.  For the purposes of this discussion, we shall treat money as grease for an economic engine.

While there are other explanations for it, this is the one that is most applicable for current economic theory. 

First, some back ground - current economic theory has changed dramatically since the 1950's.  Before then we did not attempt to use interest rates to fight inflation.  In the 60's that changed.

The basic idea was that inflation was caused by not enough grease in the system, so we applied more grease (lower interest rates = more lending from banks = more money available for use).

The problem is this what happens when you lower interest rates and the banks don't lend more money?  This began to happen recently, mainly because interest rates hit extreme lows.  Small difference in interest rates give little if any impact.  Lowering from 15% to 7% will have a huge impact, but from 7% to 3% is small, and from 3% to 1% is no impact at all.

You see, you can't just apply grease to the system and hope it goes where it is needed.  There are times when banks won't lend more even if you PAY them to borrow money from you (negative interest rates to the banks).  Once you go negative, the bank can simply borrow money, hold on to it without lending anything then give less back to you and make a profit.  No need to lend at all.

We need a more modern system of applying the grease.   We need to apply the grease not to the banks and hope they lend more, but directly to the parts of the economy that need it the most.

What would those parts look like?   There are several places to look at.  One is new businesses.   If you want to rev the economy up, offering to make more generous Small Business Loans - for guarantees, surety bonds, and Venture Capital, - works well.

Another is to look at parts of the economy that NEED the grease but aren't getting it.   Currently a major source for that is College debt loans. They can't be refinanced, no matter what happens to current interest rates.  Often they are held by hard working, intelligent college graduates.

So another thing the Fed could and should do is to refinance any education loan that has no late payments for the past 5 years.  It could even be set up to automatically work whenever the Fed lowers interest rates to banks - boom, instant refinancing allowed.   The people that benefit from this would be exactly the ones who could make use of the grease.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Check Your Privileged" is evil.

Sometime before April 2006, an autocratic idiot, possibly at came up with an incredibly  evil concept. They coined the phrase "check your privilege" in a rather inept attempt to explain to racists that the reason why blacks, latinos, women, lbgt, non-christians, etc. etc. do poorly is because of systematic biases that do not affect tall, white, straight christian male Americans.

Some people still think it is a socially acceptable way to explain things.  Let me be clear, those people are wrong.  It does not in any way explain anything to a prejudiced person.  It makes things worse.  Yes, often people that have never had their rights violated do not understand how pervasive the problem is.  But using the word privilege makes it harder, not easier, for them to understand the problem.

This is partly because it is often used as an insult, but that is a side issue.

It is NOT a 'privilege' to:

  • Walk down the street without being catcalled.
  • Not be stopped by a police officer for walking/driving/standing while black, latino, etc.
  • Wear my religious gear, including artifacts of faith - such as a kirpan blade.
  • Get a mortgage based on my financials without regard to race, gender, etc.
  • Get married to the man/women of my choice without regard to my own gender

Those are not privileges. These are Rights.  Constitutional Rights in America, Chartered Rights in Canada, Human Rights in England, etc.

When you call these things as privileges, not rights you are saying these violations are not so bad.  You are saying that certain people get the advantage of not having to deal with them.   These things do not happen to tall, white, straight christian male Americans but that is not an unearned privilege that can/should be taken away from them, putting them in the same place as minorities.

That is the idea of an autocratic, dictatorial tyrant, not a democracy.

When you talk about "privileges" in this manner, including the incredibly obnoxious phrase "Check  Your Privilege", you are being totalitarianist.  You are making the problem worse, not better.

Anyone using the words "Check Your Privilege" is worse than the racists they are talking to.    The racist may not be aware of rights being violated, but at least they know Rights exist.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

In Defense of PACs

Political Action Committees are almost universally despised.

They allow politicians to avoid responsibility for 'their' advertisements, raise ridiculous amounts of money, and have a history of poor use of the funds.  (Some of them have been accused of diverting money raised for political speech into the hands of the people that run the PAC).

While all this is true, I have recently come to see certain benefits to PACs.  I'm not entirely sure (yet) that PAC's are not evil, but here are the ideas I have been mulling over.

1) PACS, while they may increase (or at least maintain) the big money in politics, put a wall up between the politicians and the money.   Which means large donations to PACs can not hide the kind of outright corrupt bribery made famous by Boss Tweed.   While the money may still be stolen for non-political speech, it will be stolen by the people running the PAC, not the politician.  The politicians may still be corrupt, but we have cut out at least one major method of them stealing from the people.

2)  Attack ads are not anything new, they have always been around.   While the PAC's do protect the politicians from blame, it also allows truly ethical people to run.   At one point in time a saintly man could NOT win an election because he could never get down and dirty enough to beat the devilish men willing to do or say anything.   Some people think this is why McCain lost the 2000 GOP Primary (Bush's people accused him, among other things of being the father of his adopted black child, while McCain said nothing that bad about Bush).  The existence of PACs allow a saintly man to run and still win, if only because his less saintly allies can act without his knowledge or permission.  

Let's assume that PACs are here to stay.  What can we do to make our elections fair while keeping the PACs.

  1. Start actually enforcing strict "no cooperation" rules.   If you run a PAC, you can never talk to anyone connected to a political campaign you are funding.  Not on the phone, not in person.  Put in an exception for listening to public addresses (speeches, ads, etc.)
  2. Require that only US citizens election may donate to a PACs.   Foreigners, and corporations (which may be secretly owned by foreigners) are not allowed to donate to a PAC - but they may of course independently pay for their own advertisements.  
  3. Require the PAC to list on their website - WITHIN ONE DAY, any donation that exceeds $10,000 and whose name was on the check.  We can set this to some other limit, such as the cut off for the lowest possible tax bracket, currently about $9,000.  When you check your bank account on-line you see it that same day, no reason we can't do a similar rule using modern technology.  Free Speech is a legal right - but there is NO right to anonymous free speech.  
  4. Make a "No Shouting" rule.   Limit spending by any one PAC to more than 1/2 as much the second candidate raised.   Money may be speech, but we don't let one person monopolize the conversation.  Both candidate's speech should be far more important than someone that isn't running.  Similarly, no person may contribute more than that same limit to PACS - so no one can give 1 billion to two PACs that proceed to each spend the maximum allowed.
If we enact these rules, PACs lose a lot of the problems we have with them.  No more will US politics be dominated by anonymous speech from the wealthy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Obama's successes

Obama's successes are fairly well known (and despised by the GOP).

The death of Bin Laden, the passage (and sustance) of the Health Care bill, and the two Supreme Court Judges, and the destruction of DOMA

In addition, he dealt a near mortal blow to Fox News, by proving them oh so very, very wrong about his election.  

It is looking more and more to me like he will also get a win major immigration reform.

The reason he has won is that the GOP is dysfunctional.  They got caught up in the idea of beating the liberals at all costs, even at the cost of what's good for the country.

As such, they moved very far to the right, so as to avoid compromising in any way shape or form. 

The thing is, as much as this ensures that the President will be a Democrat for the foreseeable future (at least the next presidential election - the GOP continues to push candidates that have no chance of winning), it is bad for the country.

The US needs a loyal opposition, not just an opposition.  The entire concept of Democracy depends upon it.

We need a Republican Party to yell at the Democrats for letting the NSA invade privacy.  We need a Republican Party to yell at government agencies from time to time, just to keep them honest.

We need a Republican Party to ensure that we get the best possible Democratic candidate, and not just some schlub that knows the right people.

And honestly, the GOP needs us Democrats as well.  Without our shining example, they would continue to believe their favorite lies - chief among them is that Americans like the GOP's political philosophy.

But most importantly, the GOP needs as incentive to raise their game.  They need to forget about the Minor leagues (state governments) and get back into the Majors.  They need to focus upon the things that americans focus on.  

Instead of letting the Democrats steel Healthcare right out from under their presidential nominee and make it our issue, they could have made it their issue.  They failed.  They failed BIG time when it came to healthcare.

Honestly, what they really, truly need is for the GOP to take David Frum's advice.

Specifically, they need to get rid of their sacred cows, talk about income inequality, deal with environmental issues instead of deny them, accept Healthcare, and stop labeling Obama as the devil incarnate. 

Because quite frankly, at this point it is obvious to all Democrats and quite a few independents that Obama is a very good President and their attempts make them look as stupid and out of touch as a Holocaust denier.