19 December 2012


The terrible tragedy in Newtown Connecticut leaves us stunned and at a loss for words, or at least it should. Unfortunately there are those who right away try to use this awful event to push an agenda of some kind, based on whatever previous predisposition they had, like the tone-deaf Michael Bloomberg. Now is not the time for political posturing, but rather for empathy for the immensely painful grief these parents and family members must be feeling at this time. Imagine being in the process of buying Christmas presents for these children with thoughts of their smiling faces only to be forced to experience the unbearable shock of losing them. It is not the kind of mourning that can end any time in the foreseeable future. My grandparents lost a child, which echoed down through the generations, and such things may never leave us. It is said that when his son died my grandfather buried his head in grief and never lifted it up again. The pain and overwhelming sense of loss is simply unimaginable to those of thus who have not experienced it. 

There is no simple answer as to how to prevent this kind of massacre. There are those who believe that guns are the problem, and that consequently regulation should be severely applied, or that they should be banned outright. I am no fan of guns and have never owned one, but stringent actions on this account will not ameliorate the situation. Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but these regulations did not prevent the incident in Newtown. Banning them totally is unrealistic because then only criminals would possess guns. Here in New York City it is virtually impossible to buy a gun legally, yet most of the murders that take place here are nevertheless committed with guns. Granted guns are not a good idea in a crowded metropolis like New York, but in rural areas the situation and attitude towards them is different. What makes sense in one place does not work in another, so there can’t be a single standard.  Then there is the possibility had someone been armed at the site a lot of the killing could have been prevented.

It is not possible to simply legislate such problems away, any more than we can legislate away mental illness. Mass murders of this sort represent a much deeper social pathology. Consider this: In the past, despite no regulation of guns and the widespread possession of firearms, even in the “wild west,” mass murder of this sort simply didn’t happen. We have only heard of them in the past fifty years or so, which ought to tell us something. Just what that is may not be completely clear. It could be attributable to the collapse of standards and traditional family life, which coincides with this period, along with the abandonment of any kind of moral code by the entertainment industry, as some claim. But the incessant sex and violence would only affect those who are not grounded in family values in the first place, (which might be a considerable population these days). People who are morally centered don’t do these things, but there is no easy way to get the rest to behave properly. 

Then there is the matter of evil, which clearly exists in our world. An even worse school massacre took place in Beslan Russia some years ago. It was the work of Chechen terrorists who deliberately targeted innocent children. This was, however, a strategic and coldly rational decision, designed to inflict maximum pain and suffering on the Russians. It was also totally evil in intent and outcome. Thus, people do not need to be “possessed” or out of their minds to commit evil deeds. All it takes is denial of the humanity of others. 

The purest evil was visited upon these innocent children and teachers. Evil cannot be prevented; it can only be vanquished. It comes down to hearts and minds. What we really need to do is to produce better people, and for that we need good parents rather than good government. 

06 December 2012


The congress and the President are now at an impass over just how to get more taxes out of the “rich.” The President thinks this consists of anyone making over $250,000 a year, but even some in his own party find this hard to swallow. Senator Schumer thinks it should apply only to those making over a million, apparently thinking of his high-income, hypocritical liberal constituents, given what the cost of living is here in New York. The Republicans, on the other hand, are willing to raise revenue by changing the tax code to eliminate or limit various deductions for the wealthy, while lowering rates across the board. 

This may seem like a trivial difference to some people, especially in the affluent media, given that either way the government is going to get more tax revenue from those who are relatively well off, the Republicans having conceded as much already. But the underlying philosophies of each position stand in clear opposition. It essentially boils down to who should control other people’s money. The President’s position is that the rich should pay “more” on the basis of “fairness” and equality. Given that this kind of logic seems to appeal to a current majority of the public, he seems prepared to demagogue this issue over the “fiscal cliff,” even if alternative policies might actually raise more revenue with lower rates, calculating that with media support, he can successfully blame the consequences on the Republicans. They, in turn, argue, rather cogently I think, that this will only reduce investment and economic growth, particularly by burdening small business owners and confiscating capital from more productive uses. 

It then ultimately becomes a question of who should spend the money- the people it belongs to or the government. It is as much about power and the direction of things as it is about revenue. The Democrats want it for social purposes, while the Republicans reject that for economic reasons, as well as based upon opposition to expanded government programs and power. The President essentially wants to maintain the current tax code and  simply raise income tax rates, while the Republicans want to maintain or reduce current rates and change the tax code. In this they have a strong argument; unfortunately they are not very good at articulating it. 

The current tax code is full of deductions, exemptions, and benefits skewed towards particular interests (talk about fairness), that reduce the taxes they pay and raise everyone else’s. This results in crony capitalism, rewarding those favored by the government at the expense of others. The advocates of such policies mean well, to the extent that these favors are designed to get people to do things they otherwise would not do, or that make no economic sense on their own. This favorable treatment is designed to provide “incentives” to achieve various political goals, such as green energy through Solyndra-type outfits. Thus, the government then effectively controls how money is spend both indirectly, as well as directly, by taxing all those who are not favored more. It means more power over decision-making, based upon the assumption that somehow politicians and government bureaucrats know better how a business should invest, than its owners. 

I’m not going to get into all the reasons these schemes frequently fail, or the distortion of investment decisions, but will address them on the liberals’ own terms: it’s just not fair. What would be fair is a system where the same rates apply to everyone without exception, even if they are progressive, and where no one could curry favors from the state. If all these exemptions and favors were eliminated, not only would there be less economic distortion, but then the rates for everyone could be lowered across the board. The Republicans have a strong argument here, provided they stick to it and don’t dole out favors themselves. Under the present system, to paraphrase Pericles, you may not be interested in government but government is interested in you. As long as exceptions and favors are done by the state, supposedly in the public interest, it forces organizations to be involved politically. This inevitably invites corruption.

As bad as all this is on individual taxes, it is even worse when it comes to corporate taxes. Today the US has the highest corporate income taxes in the world, nominally, but exclusion and deductions effectively lower them for some who are favored. Eliminating the goodies for crony capitalists would allow rates to be significantly lowered across the board, thus encouraging more investment in this country. Again, by simply being fair, everyone would benefit. 

But there are other interests at play besides the private sector, such as state and local government, and nonprofit organizations. Reducing, or eliminating deductions for state and local taxes usually leads to howls of protest from representatives of high tax states like New York. These concerns are, however, misplaced. New York sends far more taxes to Washington than it gets back. Thus logically every time a representative from here votes for more federal programs and taxes they are effectively voting against the interests of New York taxpayers. That is a strong argument that the Republicans in this state are unfortunately too inept to make, and thus keep losing elections. Reducing deductions for “charitable” contributions also results in protests from nonprofit organizations, who fear they might lose revenue. Never mind that wealthy donors often “contribute” via dinners and social events, they also get “naming” rights. In my view when a billionaire gets to plaster his name all over the place on something, usually in proportion to his ego, he should not get a tax benefit for it as well. Real charity is giving without expecting anything in return. People would still be charitable, it would just be on less of an industrial scale. 

I’m not advocating eliminating any of these deductions or particular policies, but would insist than any increase in revenue be exclusively devoted to debt reduction. Beyond that, I would point out that any real reform also has to include state and local taxes, given how onerous, i.e. property taxes are for many people. I would suggest that we eliminate or drastically reduce taxes on all the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. There could be limitations and caps to avoid rewarding ostentatiousness. Instead let everything beyond these elements be taxed, most of which is elective and not essential to life. Thus, for example, we ought to instead have an entertainment tax, (take that Hollywood) which would be relatively painless, given that it would be based upon optional expenditures. No one can seriously argue that entertainment is an essential expense at present.  Furthermore, if society continued to prosper (and this should delight liberals) the list of nontaxables might even eventually be expanded to include some “social” goods, at least as long as it does not increase debt or raise taxes. It is far preferable that these things be provided and decided by individuals themselves rather than the government. That means individual choice instead of state direction. This is only a preliminary proposal, but accompanied by a rational tax system that treats everyone equally, we could reduce overall taxation, increase growth, and pay down the debt. After all, it is only fair. 

21 November 2012


Tomorrow over 50 million turkeys will be consumed in America as families gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table. How all those turkeys get there is a mystery to most people. They never really have to think about it, but the production, distribution, and sale of the ingredients in this dinner are emblematic of the miracle of the market. Specialization and mass production enable it all to be provided at a low cost. 
Less than a century and a half ago you would have had to raise your own turkey on the farm, where you would more likely still be living, or go out and hunt for a wild one. Then you’d have to go through the work of slaughtering, plucking and cleaning it, which few of us today could do without a lot of angst. Fortunately today someone else takes care of that.
The ancestor of the gobbler we eat today was a wild turkey of the kind you can still see in natural settings. It is a much leaner bird than the gobbler, whose plumpness is a product of controlled breeding over many generations, and like many other domestic animals, does not exist in the natural world. It is native to North America, but the appellation we now give to the Meleagris gallopavo actually got its name from the country Turkey, via the British, since much early American trade had to pass through Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) on its way to England.
In the past the Thanksgiving meal did not always contain turkey, until preservation and mass production made it practical and inexpensive for everyone. The holiday itself goes back to colonial times, but was first officially proclaimed by President George Washington, and subsequently fixed as the fourth Thursday in November by a congressional resolution in 1941. It was originally supposed to be a day of prayer and thanksgiving, but modern times have seen a number of other things added to it, such as football games in the 1890s, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade beginning in 1924, the presidential turkey pardon in begun by Ronald Reagan in 1987 and the commercial “black Friday” on the following day. This is how traditions come about. 
Most people still give thanks, but you always have those on the fringes who try to spoil the holiday, such as atheists who object to the religious nature of observances, and others, such as nutty professors who label it a day predicated on the “genocide” of the native population. This is the sort of thing that appeals to the conscience of some liberals, who cannot abide anything that any minority finds offensive, no matter how innocuous. For them it becomes a day of misgivings rather than thanksgivings. 
Otherwise, families across the country will gather around the table  to give thanks and have their turkey dinner, and they do indeed have a lot to be thankful about, due to the work, sacrifice, as well as the inventiveness of their ancestors. For although it may not be the best of times, they are fortunate to be living now as citizens of this great land and to partake of its bounty. Let us give thanks. 

11 November 2012


I recently saw a decidedly dopey television program which purports to show what would happen if the power suddenly went off everywhere. The government conveniently disappears and something called the militia represents the bad guys, (although in the real world the militia is usually something that maintains order) and people behave violently and selfishly. Younger audiences seem to have bought into this nonsense, but I’ve seen enough disasters to know that people in this country do not revert to savagery.  We don’t inevitably descend into what Thomas Hobbes called a “war of all against all.” 

To be sure there are those who behave badly on gas lines, or when stores are out of necessities. But generally, as we’ve seen in the great storm that just hit the Atlantic coast, people if anything become more cooperative with others and helpful to their neighbors. Indeed when the government failed to come through, volunteers from everywhere did.

However, this is by no means a universal behavioral characteristic, insofar as there are many countries where personal trust is very low and anarchy can indeed arise, but America is not one of them. There may be some communities where such things might happen, but by and large this country is blessed with a very strong civil society. In what is normally the most anonymous place in the country, New York City, people remarkably come together in a crisis. 

It may be possible, at some point, for an enemy to actually disrupt the electric grid unless we shore up our electronic defenses, and we are indeed very reliant upon electricity. However the fallacy is that the government would somehow disappear and chaos would ensue. But the state would not suddenly disappear, and although it might not be able to do a lot of the things it does now,  it could still perform its most basic functions. There was civilized life before electricity, and this country had a well-established democratic government in the 19th century before Edison’s inventions. What we do electronically today was done mechanically, albeit much slower and with greater effort.  Nevertheless everything in our wired world is predicated on the civilization which preceded it, and it is more likely that we would simply revert no further back than that, rather than fall apart. Furthermore human ingenuity would soon enough develop technologies appropriate to the situation, which would improve life before long.

However such a general, nationwide apocalypse is unlikely to happen if basic precautions are taken. There may be disruptions that make it seem like that, such as the terrible storm the east coast just experienced, where after two weeks there are still areas without assistance, due to official ineptitude. People have been on their own, and many are still suffering, but they have not gone crazy. Citizens rise to the occasion, and where they can they assist their neighbors.  It is not inevitable that we would descend into chaos.  I’m not suggesting that human beings are inherently good, but at least most people in this society have been inculcated with the spirit that Tocqueville observed in the 19th century, reflected in free association, spontaneous organization, and cooperative group behavior; and that was long before our electronic age. 

10 November 2012


The recent election could have gone either way, based upon shifting polls and momentum. It was probably not the watershed election many now claim it is, nor was it primarily a reflection of demographic trends. It was, rather, simply a case of who actually showed up to vote. How could the predictions of so many conservative-leaning analysts have, for the first time really, been so wrong? There was an assumption that groups voting for Obama would not turn out in the same numbers as they did the last time, which didn’t happen. Furthermore, prior to this election it was almost always the case that many polls chronically undercounted those who wound up voting Republican. This time that didn’t happen, as millions of likely Republican voters did not turn out, and Romney actually wound up winning fewer votes than McCain did last time. For months it seemed as though they were the more energized voters, with more motivation to go out and vote, but in the end that was not the case. Why not? 

These days it is generally understood that, in simple terms, the Democrats overall are the “party of government,” while the Republicans are the opposite. Democrats are far more likely to oppose cuts in public spending and instead advocate increases. It follow that people who are dependent on government, either because it supports them, or they directly or indirectly work for it, are more likely to support Democrats. But it goes deeper than that. They are also more likely to be interested in government and politics as a result.  The Obama campaign “micro-targeted” these voters and successfully aroused the fear that Romney was a threat to them, thus leading to a greater propensity to vote. On the other side, people who get nothing from the state are more likely to be less interested or enthused about the political process. They don’t care as much, which means it takes a lot more effort to persuade them about how it directly affects them, i.e.  in terms of costs, unless there are other issues salient enough to capture their attention.

What is occurring here may well signal the beginning of a new paradigm vis a vis political behavior. It replicates what we have seen for many years in local school board or other district elections. Public employee unions are well-organized and highly motivated to get people to vote their way, which often happens, because turnout is generally sparse in such elections. Even though this often results in tax increases, they have to become especially onerous before people are motivated enough to negatively respond. (This is not intended to be a rap on everyone who works for the government, often in necessary fields, but rather what the unions do with their money). At the national level it may be too simple to view this in terms of“makers and takers,”  but clearly the more people are brought into the government orbit, the more likely they are to vote for more government, and, it now appears, they are also more likely to vote, period. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve reached the tipping point in terms of dependency yet, but it does indicate, for the present, that the Republicans have a lot of work to do in terms of organization and bringing out the vote. 

08 November 2012


First and foremost Republicans should avoid what has already auspiciously begun, namely recriminations from all quarters. In addition there should not be any panic about the over-hyped "demographic" problem the party supposedly has for reasons that will become clear below. Keep in mind the big picture: the presidential vote could have gone either way, and whoever is being blamed isn’t really responsible for the outcome. 

Don’t blame Romney. Some claim he was too moderate or even liberal, others that he shifted too far right, or that his campaign was badly flawed. It wasn’t. It did take him too long to find his stride, and he would have benefited from more time, but there wasn’t much more he could have done. He is a good man who had a decent campaign. 

Don’t blame those other people. There are those who are lashing out at the “Republican establishment” (which in my mind is largely comprised of elected officials) for putting up Romney, never mind that he won the primary vote. Then there are those who seek to blame the Tea Party or the “extreme right” and want to exorcise them for their convictions. To go down this path is to fulfill the fondest expectations of the left in terms of a supposed “civil war”  or the heated “struggle over the party direction.”  Live and let live. 

Don’t blame the liberal media. It’s not that they aren’t liberal, it’s not that they didn’t again favor Obama or ignore things like Benghazi and the economy, but they are already a given on the political landscape. Yes, two of the debate moderators skewed the questions  to reflect liberal concerns and issues, but Republicans stupidly agreed to the format configuration. The media has been liberal for at least fifty years, and things were far worse in the past when there were no alternative news sources. More importantly, everyone already knows this, they already have very little credibility left,  and there aren’t that many people left that can be swayed by them any more. Sure they should do an honest job with integrity, but at this point it is more of an annoyance than a hindrance. They certainly didn’t stop Republicans from winning big in other elections. 

Don’t blame the Democrats. They pursued a winning strategy, if not a decent one. Yes they dodged the issues, presented no ideas, did not defend their record, and ran a small campaign. They sought to define Romney quite negatively early on with some success, and micro-targeted their base of various interest groups, who voted in large numbers. I find this strategy toxic and divisive for the country (something liberals have often accused Republicans of doing, oblivious to the fact that they are the main instigators of division), but for better or worse it worked this time.

Stop defending the “rich.” This doesn’t mean the party should start attacking the rich. But given that eight of the ten richest counties in America voted for Obama even though his campaign demonized them, being perceived as their representatives is a losing proposition, and worse, isn’t even true. There are very sound reasons for a tax policy that encourages investment and growth which might benefit the rich, but there has to be a clear argument along with proof that it benefits everyone else. 

Don’t ignore the working class. The notion that American workers are just going to have to wait for the rest of the world to catch up before their standard of living can be bettered is just atrocious and unacceptable. This does not mean abandoning free trade, but it does mean pursuing policies that will uplift this population. We have to recognize the reality that these people are experiencing downward rather than upward mobility, and happy talk about opportunity just doesn’t cut it, particularly for the unskilled. The goal and policies of the party should be based on the statement that “we will make your lives better,” not by more government, but with incentives and targeted programs to achieve this goal, while showing genuine empathy for their concerns. 

Don’t write off whole sections of the country. When the party concedes states, such as those on the coasts, without even trying to compete, it becomes harder and harder to put together a winning vote total. These states have a huge number of electoral votes and have been winnable in the past. California was once actually Republican-leaning and New Jersey used to be considered a swing state. The problem is that the party has become totally dysfunctional in states like New York and California. There needs to be a concerted effort to assist these places in rebuilding party infrastructure so that they can successfully compete. This requires an ongoing organized strategic effort, instead of the ad hoc structure that rises and falls with each particular campaign. 

Don’t buy into the “inclusiveness” shibboleth. This supposes that the Republicans have made insufficient efforts to reach out to minorities, which is not true. There have in fact been considerable efforts, particularly in the Bush administration, and “diversity” was certainly displayed on the podium of the convention. But the important thing is that not one of those speakers was there based on a career of “representing” minorities, but rather based upon their own individual achievement. That is the crux of one of the main differences between the parties, and probably the main reason I favor Republicans. To its credit, the party does not try to appeal to people based upon a group identity, but respects them as individuals. Whenever it has tried to do this it has gotten nowhere. The party simply cannot compete with Democrats in building “coalitions” of interest groups, nor should it try. Instead it should take this approach head on and point out the insidiousness of this kind of appeal, and show that they respect people too much to corral them into a category or group. 

Few people make decisions about their lives and the world around them based upon their ethnicity. They do not view the world through a racial lens, with the unfortunate exception of many, but not all black people. Their individual interests and reasons for voting the way they do are based upon a complex variety of economic and social perceptions, their own circumstances, and the environment they live in. That people appear to coalesce into groups has little to do with any kind of conscious group identity, but rather with similar conditions that lead them to behave and think the way they do. Inevitably these factors will be fairly common and shared with a large number of other people, but individuals do not vote on the basis of a category they have arbitrarily been assigned to by someone else. Thus, the notion that women, for example, vote primarily based upon some kind of female identity is preposterous. The aggregate votes of men and women may produce different results, but it has little to do with their sexual identity. Just about the only people who vote based on identity politics are people whose careers are predicated on that notion, such as self-appointed community “leaders.”

Do not try to expand the “base” of the party. Instead reject the “base” concept out of hand and concentrate on having good candidates who can give people good reasons to vote for them and have a broad appeal. When the Democratic party wins an election political “analysts” ceaselessly point to a supposed coalition of single women, minorities, young people, etc., and then echo a new conventional wisdom that Republicans have a demographic problem. This is based upon the observation that whites are a shrinking part of the electorate. However, that does not mean that white Republicans are necessarily shrinking. The segment of the white population that is still having children is largely conservative. The shrinkage of the white population is occurring primarily in liberal precincts because they are not reproducing. Over time the proportion of white Republicans will likely increase, not decrease. 

In addition raw demographic analysis produces a lot of  simplistic nonsense that dispenses with the deep complexities of life. This is not to deny that there are perceptible voting patterns that can be collated, but rather that these groupings are not the primary basis of why people vote the way they do. The party must avoid the temptation to pander. The Democrats cannot be outbid, but the extent to which they are patronizing can and should be highlighted. To try and crack the Democrats “coalition” and create a Republican version just isn’t going to work. To understand why this is the case we need to examine these coalition components in some detail to see where additional votes can be found. 

Women. As it stands the majority of married women already vote Republican. Single women do not. There are some votes to be had here, although many identify with government services and are not going to be swayed much by a smaller government philosophy. However, some votes can obtained if the well is not poisoned by idiotic comments about rape, contraception, etc., although it may take some time to undo the damage. In any case women do not vote primarily on purported “women’s issues.”

Minorities. Unfortunately the majority of black voters are a lost cause, at least until the Obama administration finishes. Others, however are more promising. The first thing to do is to recognize that there is no such thing as an Asian” or “Latino,” insofar as the people lumped into these categories come from a wide range of different nationalities that have little in common. The party should recognize this and show enough respect, familiarity, and understanding to avoid using these stereotypes, and instead expose the vacuous nature of the Democratic party approach. Those categorized as “Asians” for the most part are enterprising, hard working, family-oriented, and have higher than average incomes. They are a natural fit for the party, and although this may vary with national origin, many are likely to mirror the “white” population in their voting habits. The biggest unknown is what happens with Hispanics, given their numbers, although this will also vary by nationality. The question is whether they will follow blacks into the identity politics that is holding them back, or whether they will assimilate like every previous immigrant group. Anything that enhances their identity as “Latinos” is bad, while anything that increases their identity as Americans is good. Support policies that encourage assimilation and dispense with those that encourage the minority group mentality. There is fluidity and opportunity here, provided ethnic appeals are transcended and issues of concern are addressed. 

Youth. Finally, there is that amorphous grouping referred to as “young people,” and this is probably the most persuadable population of all. It is disturbing that the party is currently losing them so badly.  Some will change over time as their personal responsibilities increase, or if and when they form families. Others will come to realize that the world has not always been the way they see it now, but is in an ongoing process of continuing change, superseding the point at which they first came into awareness. The most difficult problem is that generation which formed their political attitudes while being alienated by the Bush administration. But many can come to understand where their interests lie, in terms of the long term viability of entitlements they are paying for and may not receive, the huge debt they are going to inherit, a stagnant economy, a declining standard of living, and limited career opportunities. This requires clear and coherent explanations that elucidate the impact of proper policies on their personal situations.

Overall the dire prognostications of decline are not inevitable, and are probably wrong. The party is going to have differences, i.e. between people of strong faith and libertarians, but neither has to be subsumed by the other. What is needed is an overriding purpose on the order of the way strong opposition to communism once united various factions. In my view that ought to consist of the elevation of the individual as the primary focus of our efforts, with complete disregard for group characteristics. This represents a respect for their intelligence, an appeal to their better nature, and the integrity of principle. For in an age of ever increasing individual autonomy it is the notion of group identity that is likely to become obsolete. It will come to be perceived as laughably simplistic, if not downright insulting, and to the extent it continues to be emphasized, it is the other party that will come to be perceived as hopelessly stuck in the past. 

07 November 2012


After the expenditure of billions of dollars, endless months of continuous campaigning, and the efforts of so many people, the end result of this election is that things are pretty much where they were before the election. Not much changed. The Democrats continue to occupy the White House and Senate, while the Republicans control the House of Representatives and most of the Governors and legislatures across the country. One thing everyone can agree on is that there has to be a better way, not just in terms of the way we conduct elections, but the voting system, where people needlessly have to stand on line for nearly three hours in cold weather, as we did here. The answer for the election situation is to mandate time-limited campaigns and allow elected public officials the preponderant say in terms of who their party nominates, as I’ve stated many times here. 

As far as voting goes, this is a state and local matter, and as with many things, we should see what works best experimentally in different places before changing things wholesale. In this connection, I was happy to see that Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, and hopefully the feds will not interfere. This gives us an opportunity to see how this works when implemented, what the consequences and results are, and whether it is a viable policy. In my view the “war on drugs” has been a disaster, costing billions of dollars, showing little progress or making things worse, and needlessly incarcerating massive numbers of people for nonviolent offenses. We now have an opportunity to observe what will happen in a controlled experiment and take things from there. There are fifty states and thousands of local governments, any of which can be a laboratory for policy experimentation. The worst thing we can do is adopt policies at the federal level, as often happens, without a clue as to what the consequences will be. In addition, the best decisions are those made closest to home.

Overall this election produced stasis, and possibly continuing gridlock, which sometimes is not a bad thing when it stands of the way of more and more federal control, but not a good thing when serious problems are left unaddressed, especially our precarious finances, which are the result of years and years of borrowing and spending more money than we take in. It is useless to blame one side or the other. What needs to be achieved here is a consensus, which inherently means compromise. Here the onus is on the President to provide leadership, not to insist on having his way, but rather to get involved in the political give and take and nudge things towards a solution. That requires approaching things with a sense of humility, particularly insofar as the election results were far closer than the last time, meaning many more people were dissatisfied with his leadership or policies, like the still unpopular unwieldy health care overhaul, which could and should have been approached incrementally and experimentally as described above. 

However, the notion that we are a nation closely divided is far less salient than it seems to be on the surface. This was a very fluid election that could have gone either way. Some will try and assign blame to one thing or another, which usually means hammering something they don’t like and didn’t like before, attributing the loss to that. But it just isn’t that simple, just like the endless shallow “analysis” that incessantly points to the Republicans’ supposed “demographic” problem. I truly loathe the division of the population into identity or interest groups. It is poisonous, but more importantly it is simplistic. The fallacy is that people assigned to these discrete groups vote primarily based upon an identification with that group, when in reality, for most of the population this is not a serious consideration in how they make a political decision. None of this rationalizing would be happening if the presidential election had gone the other way, which could have easily occurred.

Prior to the east coast storm it probably would have gone the other way. At that point Romney had the momentum going into the final days until the storm came and dominated the headlines for several days, after which, for whatever reason, the trajectory of things was reversed. There are always unanticipated events, and clearly if the election had been held on a different day, or during a different week the results would not have been the same. For if the polls were fairly accurate on election day they presumably were accurate on other days predicting different results. That being the case, and given the closeness of the election, there is no room for triumphalism or recrimination, since neither side was able to sway the population decisively. 

Then there are intangibles. Ironically, Romney was actually still favored on the economy and most other issues. He lost on empathy, or the perception of it. There were also some instances of self-inflicted wounds, where Republicans managed to blow the Senate due to incredibly inept candidates, (although the Democrats were able to elect a truly nutty candidate, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, despite having gone through life with a farcical American Indian heritage). Nor does the blame fall on the tea party, which has been almost entirely about financial problems, not the social issues that led to goofy gaffes by these candidates. In short there is no blame to assign anywhere, outside of unanticipated circumstances, and recriminations are pointless. 

05 November 2012


It is troubling how partisans of each side predict a win in tomorrow's election for their candidate based upon differing favorable polls. This is at best wishful thinking because no one really know what is going to happen. There are simply too many variables, in terms of who turns out, in what numbers, etc. Predictions of decisive victory are mostly based upon a best case scenario for their candidate, which seldom ever happens any more than the worst case does. What is disturbing is that while people are entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts, as Senator Moynihan once said- or are they? 
Increasingly we find people in many fields seeking out facts to support their preconceived notions or preferences. These things may in and of themselves often be factual, but taken out of context, or ignoring contradictory evidence makes their veracity highly questionable. This happens even in scientific pursuits, and is one of the main reasons why so much innovation is brought about by individuals who are not bound by the conventional wisdom. This sort of fact mining is especially bad in social sciences, where studies are concocted to prove that other people, (especially conservatives) are crazy. But when I hear a social psychology professor has conducted a study to prove great similarities between conservatives and Nazis, it makes me wonder about the value of “social psychology,” to the extent that it can seriously entertain such ideologically biased nonsense. This does not mean that truth is just relative, or that there is no  objective truth, but rather that you can only begin to perceive it when you dispense with all blinders. 
Fact-mining  is at its worst and most obvious in political campaigns. Even where there are “fact checkers” they may also bring their own biases into the process. The reality is that people are predisposed to believe the “facts” conjured up by someone they agree with, less due to the facts than due to their own preferences. The root of all of this is more emotional than rational. People’s sense of right and wrong is based less upon information than feelings, and that sense is at the root of political ideology, for those who are driven by it. Most people are not that political, otherwise we would all be at each others’ throats all the time. Many people do have crypto-ideological predispositions they may not be aware of, so the goal of political campaigns is to try and bring them to a conscious level, or at least to the point where individuals intuit that someone is saying the right things. Others simply are unaffected, if not uninterested, and these are the ones who make up the bulk of the “undecideds,” who ironically often decide the election outcome. 
It disturbing how much of this election is predicated on one side getting out “their” people to vote as opposed to the “other,”  often motivated by a fear of what the other might do if they get power. This has lead many observers to bemoan the extent of “hyper-partisanship,” although to me it does not appear to be especially different from the past. Obviously things would be more congenial if there were a broader appeal, but we don’t get there by laying all or most of the blame on one side, as does a coterie of intellectuals formerly associated with the right, much to the glee of liberal media. They have spun a new myth, that it is all the fault of congressional Republicans, largely because they don’t like some of the things many of them, or more particularly their supporters, believe in. In this category are people like Norman Ornstein of the supposedly conservative American Enterprise institute, David Frum, and the editors of the British magazine The Economist, who get off on pompously lecturing us on what we ought to be doing. I personally do not agree with some of the social positions now attributed to the party, but I find the notion that one side is mostly to blame for this preposterous. All these observers are doing is expressing their own biases. 
Underlying this sort of thinking is the notion that things would be fine if those other people would just disappear. But life is never that simple, and that sort of thinking was the foundation of the murderous totalitarian excesses of the last century, where regimes actually did “disappear” perceived enemies. In a democracy what you have to do is try and reach some kind of consensus, starting with the things you may agree upon. For in reality many of the most daunting problems we face don’t have that many options and whoever is in power can only act within certain parameters. Other things are totally unexpected or beyond our control so that anyone in office is inevitably constricted by the circumstances they find themselves in. Approaching these things through the prism of ideology just leads to more problems, as we have seen over the past several years. 
Given that we are handing over power to someone else to see to things that may affect us, the real choice we have should depend on character and judgement, since no one knows what particular events are likely to occur in the future. My own view is the less they stir the pot the better, because every action has unanticipated consequences, and when it comes to government they are usually not good. That said, there are important  differences and I am supporting the candidate of my choice, but I don't begrudge anyone else who thinks differently. 


If the polls still show a dead heat by the end of the day, my guess is that Romney will win the election for a couple of reasons.  The polls chronically undercount Republican voters, who usually wind up running ahead of what the polls predict. Whatever undecideds are left usually break for the challenger not the incumbent. Right now both sides are putting their faith in the polls that show them running best, with a lot of wishful thinking that may or may not pan out. 
There is something incongruous in a system where after months upon months of nonstop campaigning and the expenditure of two billion dollars the race is still too close to call. As I’ve indicated in the past, we need election reform, or at the least some kind of limit on the amount of time in which campaigns can be conducted. As it stands now politicians must put far more effort into campaigning than into governing, especially at the congressional level, although this president has broken all records for the unprecedented amount of time he has spent campaigning. 
That is one of the biggest problems of this administration. He is far more comfortable campaigning with agreeable crowds than with the nuts and bolts of government, or with the engagement and political give and take that is required to get anything done, where he is totally clueless. He is patronizing and petulant because his self-regard, reinforced by those around him, vastly exceeds his actual abilities. He made little effort to work with the opposition, and when his party had full control of the congress he left crucial details to them and forced through a monstrous, costly, unpopular, and poorly conceived health care bill instead of focusing on the economy, job creation, and growth first and foremost. The result is that people are no better off than they were four years ago, and things are not getting significantly better. 
Given all that, his campaign has been devoid of substance, reliant on celebrities, and on attacking his opponent with little in the way of a positive message. He has avoided even the generally supportive mainstream media,  instead trivializing the office by going on late night television, talk  and comedy shows etc. where he only has to answer congenial softball questions. Meanwhile our standard of living is declining, and many of us who have been around awhile realize sadly that life was better in past decades, and the country we have known and loved seems to be slipping away. Granted the President is not responsible for all of this, and indeed blame goes across the board in terms of ineptitude. The problem is that he has shown no capacity to address these fundamental problems and has provided no vision for doing so in the future, and is completely lacking in leadership skills. Strictly based on performance, this election shouldn’t even be close. 
The House of Representatives will remain in Republican hands, and possibly the Senate, (although a couple of goofy candidates may have blown the latter). That means there would be stormy days ahead if there is divided government and the outlook will be dismal. On the other hand, if Romney is elected there is at least the possibility that some of these problems may be successfully addressed, we may begin to get out of debt, and business confidence will be restored. In that eventuality I believe the stock market will rise and more importantly we will see an economic boom in the years ahead. There will be major job growth, a renaissance in American industry, and rising incomes across the board. Even if you don’t care much for Republicans the choice you have is to continue the dismal present or take a chance on something better.  After four years of “charisma” it’s time for some competence. 

03 November 2012


There is an increasing possibility that Romney may win the popular vote and lose in the electoral college. This is likely to result in calls to abolish the electoral college, as there were after the 2000 election. There are a number of reasons why this would not be a good idea. Given past history and current potential voting patterns the electoral college does not give an advantage to either party. If the election was to be decided by the popular vote, and if that vote was very close, as has happened frequently, it would be far more perilous to recount votes nationally than in a single contentious state. In addition, any attempt to change the electoral college wholesale will fail for the simple reason that smaller states would lose out and get even less attention than they are getting now. Since smaller states outnumber larger states there is no way such a change could get through congress, where a 2/3 majority is required, never mind the states, where a 3/4 majority is mandated, to pass a constitutional amendment. Since an amendment is required to make such a change there is simply no way it would ever pass. In any event, there are always unintended consequences when something is changed at the federal level before it has been tried in the states, which is why the federal government should be doing far less than it does and allow the states to experiment more.

However, incremental changes are possible. According to the constitution “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress....” This means that the state legislature could select the electors in any number of different ways. Nothing binds us to the “winner take all” system that prevails in most states; it is simply convention. 

One suggestion out of California is that state electors be mandated to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. This is ridiculous because it effectively disenfranchises not only the voting minority, but the majority as well, so no one’s vote counts. For example, it is quite possible for one candidate to win the popular vote in that state, but lose the national popular vote, which would then require the electors to vote for a candidate that they, and the majority of the state’s voters, opposed. 

Nevertheless, nothing stops a state from allocating its electoral votes the way they see fit. In a large state those voting for the losing candidate are technically disenfranchised because the winner gets all the state’s electoral votes. But this could easily be changed. For example, there is nothing to stop a state from allocating its votes by congressional districts, giving the electoral vote to the winner in each district. In that case instead of one candidate getting all the state’s electoral votes, they would be apportioned based on who carried each district. This system is actually being used now in Maine and Nebraska. There is nothing to stop other states from doing the same, or for creating electoral districts on some other basis. As indicated in the constitution, the states have a fixed number of electoral votes which their legislatures can apportion in any number of different ways. 

Thus changing the electoral college begins at the state level, as it should. Realistically however, politicians are more likely to consider changes less on the merits than whether or not they get any political advantage from it. Any change is going to produce winners and losers, so the only way that significant changes can be implemented is through consensus, which is as it should be. 

02 November 2012


Michael Bloomberg is a little man with a very big ego and a penchant for plastering his name all over anything he gets ahold of; so for example, the venerable magazine Business Week became Bloomberg Business Week. He overturned term limits to get a third term as Mayor of New York City, because, well, he’s special and shouldn’t be bound by rules meant for lesser men. The problem is, like most egomaniacs, he is nowhere near as consequential as he thinks he is, and his pontifications do not carry the weight of infallibility. 

Witness his unbelievably stupid and inconsiderate decision to proceed with the New York City Marathon, thereby diverting resources from places like Staten Island, which are in desperate need of things like the generators set aside for the marathon, or the police, or for that matter, the basic necessities of life. It never would occur to him how callous his decision was, because in his mind these places are backwaters, outside of the media bubble he lives in. His notion of the city is a media construction, not the reality on the ground. Early on he raised property taxes by nearly 20%, and when the little people complained he basically said that living in New York carries a premium and you just have to pay more for the privilege of living here. 

It’s not that he’s been a bad mayor. Indeed one could even argue that he’s even been a relatively good one, but he certainly is not a great one.  He did find time to weigh in on the presidential election, citing global warming as a major factor in his decision. But you’d be hard pressed to find anyone saying anything about climate in this election cycle. He further pronounced that the storm that hit the region was due to such climate change, just like green entrepreneur Al Gore; never mind that there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support that assertion. This is not to deny climate change, but rather the claim that this storm was attributable to it, when every meteorologist says otherwise. But the facts don’t matter. Bloomberg has spoken. 

But he is not as exceptional as he thinks he is.  This is a city full of other people with the same attitude- that their wealth is proof they possess some special grace. But they confuse an ability to make a lot of money with an inherent mastery of every other subject, and assume their pronouncements are rooted in a knowledge that they do not in fact possess. Many people do not perceive themselves as others see them, but the greater the disparity, the more they play the fool. But this is usually lost on them because they surround themselves with people who confirm their self-image. A man like Bloomberg is too full of himself to perceive his limitations, and the more conceit he brings to his pronouncements, the more he appears like an emperor with no clothes. 

31 October 2012


The terrible storm has passed and the damage is extensive. Millions are without power, and it may take several days before it is restored. In our part of the city things are fine, while nearby areas have severe problems. It is just a reminder of how much life can often boil down to chance, luck, providence, or whatever you want to call it, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time when disaster strikes. A tree falls and kills people who happen to be in a particular spot at the wrong time. Conversely those more fortunate have been at the right place at the right time, but given the way things actually unfold, they should approach this life with humility. For in truth, much of what happens is beyond our control. 

Natural disasters of this magnitude are unusual in New York; our disasters are usually more of the man-made kind. That makes the site of the streets in downtown Manhattan flooding and an actual river of water flowing through the tunnels all the more incredible. We’ve never seen anything like this before. It has been nearly two hundred years since something comparable happened. We have only been settled where we are for a few hundred years, and most places in this country far less. Thus our longer term experience is very limited. People who sometimes view us critically in places like Europe just don’t realize the extent to which the forces of nature are so much more powerful in America. The temperatures are far more extreme, as is the weather, with hurricanes, tornados, flooding, wildfires, etc. happening frequently. Some places are unusually wet while other places are extremely dry. For there is still a wildness here. In some parts of the country predatory animals still roam, while other wild animals are frequent visitors, even in urban or suburban areas. You can get as close to nature as you want, although up close we often find it less than idyllic. 

The notion that we are masters of this planet is laughable, given how powerless we are before the forces of nature. For all the impact we think we have had on the planet it is miniscule alongside of what occurs naturally. When people abandon spaces it is striking how quickly nature takes over again. The unexpected often happens. In the days leading up to this storm we knew it was coming, but prior to that no one could have foreseen it. All predictions of any kind are only viable for a very short term. Beyond that the future is unknowable. 

We often lament our misfortunes, while forgetting all the times we were lucky enough to avoid the worst. Life by and large has been good enough to instill a sense of comfort, to the point where many of have forgotten the phrase “count your blessings.”  Bad things happen to someone else, somewhere else. Some have even come to believe that they are entitled to be happy all the time, forgetting that life often consists of misery, suffering, and pain. Our ancestors knew this because they lived during times when life was a daily struggle for existence.  They were thankful if they simply managed to get through a day no worse off than before. In modern times we usually have modern problems, which are trivial alongside the havoc the forces of nature can cause. It takes a storm like this to remind us how insignificant we really are in the face of natural forces, which instill in us a sense of stunning awe, and if we are wise, humility. 

20 October 2012


There are millions of feral cats who live short, miserable lives. My cat Caesar, who just passed away, was far more fortunate in that he lived as good a life as any creature ever had. That doesn’t assuage the sense of loss, but does provide some perspective on how painful life always is for most living things. When we take in pets we free them from the cruelties of nature and in the process they become something more. A bond is formed. We give them names and they adapt to us as we adapt to them. Then we come to realize that this is, in some sense, a sentient individual with a distinct personality. 

Caesar was a source of endless wonder and joy to me. He had perfectly refined features, and even at the end the vet remarked how handsome he was. He was a very loving cat, unusually good-natured, gentle, and provided endless fascination in the way he interacted with the world around him. He became an intimate part of our lives, so that with his passing there is a deep sense of loss. 

This is something that anyone who has pets inevitably has to deal with, and our tendency is to feel sorry for them. But if we have treated them well, the sorrow is all ours, for death and loss is mainly painful for the living. Of course I will miss Caesar, but inevitable loss is a part of life that we have to deal with. That is far outweighed by the precious, immeasurably rich experience of having shared a part of my life with him. 

17 October 2012


No matter how this election turns out, Republicans have their work cut out for them as far as the national electoral map goes. Looking at that map it is clear the “red” states are retreating. I hate the terminology of “red” and “blue” states, especially since red is a color long associated with the left, that has improbably been glued onto Republicans.  This was foisted on us by NBC news some years back and I really hope we can get rid of this idiotic terminology. In any case the reality is that Reagan could get re-elected winning 49 states in a landslide. It is hard to see how that could be done today. 

When you get to the point where Virginia becomes a swing state, along with some western states, it is clear the party has a problem. In the not so distant past California was a swing state, even leaning slightly Republican, and even New York was competitive. Now both, with a huge number of electoral votes, aren’t even being contested. This has a lot to do with the miserable, dysfunctional state of the party in both states, for demography alone cannot explain such a precipitous decline. In addition a whole region of the country is basically written off. If Mitt Romney can’t carry a New England or even a northeastern state it is hard to see how any Republican can. The result is that the electoral vote math for Romney is very limited, to the point where nearly everything hinges on carrying Ohio. There is some irony here with regard to liberal complaints about the electoral college, for it is quite possible that he could win the popular vote and still lose the election. 

Whatever happens in this election, the national Republican party has to make a serious effort to reorganize and resuscitate itself in order to again be competitive across the board.  The usual mantra on this is being more “inclusive,” which is symbolic nonsense. What has to be done is to win more minds and hearts on matters that concern people, whatever their background, while building a viable organization. The latter is currently essentially ad hoc, put together from campaign to campaign rather than through any kind of sustained effort. 

The course of a national election is still going to be determined by the overall state of things, or at least the perceived state of things, If you don’t even try to make the case in several states the odds for winning only get worse and worse. A national election should not hinge on a particular state. We need nationally competitive parties again. 

06 October 2012


My first reaction upon returning home from a trip to Europe, (in this case Spain) is one of embarrassment. I can’t imagine what people think when they arrive here from abroad to a dismal airport, and then are transported along really terrible roads to their destination, at least here in New York.  The contrast with the immaculate roads and traffic system over there is stark, and even gassing up (albeit at high prices) is far more pleasant at extremely well maintained facilities. There is absolutely none of the all too familiar grunge we have here, apart from the unfortunate presence of graffiti.  That only exists because it is tolerated, as Spain still appears to be reacting to the Franco years and rigid Catholicism, and so have gone to the opposite extreme. 
Things have definitely changed. As my wife noted, decades ago there was virtually nothing around the coast of Marbella. Now the entire Costa del Sol is one long continuous chain of resort development, populated mostly by tourists from more northern European countries, especially Great Britain. But nowadays it is impossible to tell where anyone is from until they open their mouths, because they all are dressed like sloppy Americans. Often that consists of t-shirts with American subjects they might not even understand, jeans, and sneakers (or godawful flip-flops). So if you’re planning on traveling abroad and don’t want to stand out as an American, the good news is that they all look like Americans these days. It has become a generic “western” look. Good taste is another matter. 
Equally ubiquitous is the unfortunate presence of American popular culture on radio and tv. Now I love my country and I’m proud of it, but not of the crap that Hollywood puts out, which seldom reflects the true reality of American life. The radio is full of American music, or if not, Europop derivatives of it. The end result is that it is difficult to find any true local culture these days, and that is a sad thing. When traveling we want things to be quaint, with plenty of local color.    But people, given a choice in most places want to be “modern.”  Unfortunately the price of that is too often a loss of cultural authenticity. That is compounded by the idea of “Europe” itself. 
For Europe as it exists today is largely an American creation. American forces saved it from the Nazis and then the Communist tyranny, and continue to provide it with a defensive shield and one of the longest stretches of peace it has ever known. But after a prior century of horrible wars people have lost faith in everything and live only in the present, to the detriment of future generations. They can, and should be more than second-rate Americans, but that will only happen if a sense of nationhood is restored. They unfortunately are infected with the same self-loathing and obsession with “racism’ as the American left, and similarly denigrate their own past and institutions. But the truth is that they are the source of a truly great civilization and the foundation of our own. Our ties run deep and we share a common destiny.
On that basis I would favor even closer ties than we have now. It is kind of annoying when arriving there to see one line for EU members while we get lumped in with third world peoples. I think we ought to have a reciprocal special status for say, NATO members, in terms of movement, travel and trade. If this is categorized as  a “Eurocentric” view I’ll accept that and be damned proud of it. 
A few notes on Spain, specifically, and Andalusia, where I spent my time. Notwithstanding poor economic conditions the country is perfectly safe to visit. Whatever crime there is is petty thievery that is easily avoided with common sense. Driving to the major cities and sites is pleasant, outside of the congested coast. Gas prices were not as bad as I expected, considering what we’re paying here today, running about $6 per gallon. When you drive inland there is little traffic and wide open spaces similar to driving out west. Entering a major city is easy because all you need to do is take the main boulevard into town and follow the signs for the city center, where most of what you want to see is usually located anyway, and then park in an underground garage, which is easily found. The weather is still like summer, warm enough to swim, and there is still daylight until 8 o’clock. Castles, cathedrals, and gardens are everywhere, and a pleasure to visit. If you want to visit the Alhambra in Granada you need to get tickets months in advance, otherwise the only way you can get in is through tour operators, who scoop up most of the available tickets. It is worth a visit, but I think the equivalent site in Cordoba is more impressive, as is the cathedral in Seville. The sites are still attractive, and to the extent you can avoid other tourists, they can still magically transport you back to an earlier time.