Tuesday, March 26, 2013
On this day, when the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a California ban against same-sex marriage--which would have a good chance of losing if it were to come up for a vote today, given shifting views on this issue--I propose an interesting thought experiment. As the opponents of gay marriage descend ever deeper into more illogical and convoluted justifications of their bigotry (is marriage really only valid if it produces children that are the naturally born genetic offspring of both parents due to heterosexual sex? really? really?) it has occurred to me that there is actually a better argument to be made for banning marriage between (most) Christians. Yes, I am serious about this--banning routine marriage between Christians, and possibly also taking away their children if they convert to Christianity later on. Now of course I am mainly bringing this up as a "shoe on the other foot" rhetorical tactic, in order to see how they feel if suddenly other people in society are talking about taking away their right to marry whom they love, on what appears to be a wholly discriminatory and unjustifiable basis. Really, the unfairness of disallowing marriage of one Christian to another may sound harsh, but it is no more unfair than disallowing gay and lesbian people to marry. Try this thought experiment, and I think you will immediately and perhaps more viscerally feel how unjust it is to single out one group for bigotry and intolerance. But beyond this, even though I don't ultimately support a ban against marriage of one Christian to another, the strange thing is that it is probably more justifiable, even if those justification do not ultimately outweigh the simple fact of equal justice under the law. Let me explain. For one thing, while gay and lesbian people do not have a sacred text of their own that would discourage marriage (as far as I know? maybe there is a secret text I have not seen because I'm not gay myself? just kidding...), the Christian sacred text--i.e. the Bible--does contain a prominent statement against marriage--presumably heterosexual marriage mainly, though the passage, like the rest of the Bible does not mention same-sex marriage one way or the other. In the Paul's first letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament (7:8-9) we find a fairly emphatic statement on this point. Here is that good ol' King James Version, for the traditionalists out there: "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I [i.e. remain unmarried like Paul]. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." Here is the New International Version (one of the favorite translations of present-day evangelicals): "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." Now of course many Christians, self-proclaimed marriage advocates that they are, have explained this away, through various contextual readings, some of which can be persuasive. But a literal reading of the Bible in this instance would seem to suggest that Christianity's own sacred text is against marriage, except in cases of imminent "burning" or burning with passion. So perhaps we need to take those Christians at their word and refuse to grant them marriage licenses--for their own and society's good--unless they can demonstrate conclusively that they will go to hell otherwise. (A notarized statement from Satan himself would be decisive proof, I would think.) In the interim, we can do no less than to protect society's interests by banning Christians from marrying, to prevent them from harming themselves in the eyes of God. And we have other societal reasons to ban Christian marriage: the harm it causes to some children who are raised in Christian households that are excessively intolerant. Maybe we would be justified in taking away such children if their parents convert to Christianity and there is any danger that they might have such intolerant views forced on them. Societal interests would seem to suggest that the sacredness of marriage as a bond of love and commitment not be sullied by the potential for procreation in a household where harmful treatment of children might result. Are Christians really fit to be good parents? I'd say on the average, no more than gays and lesbians, and possibly less in some cases. (Of course there are many Christian households, including my own when I was growing up, where love and tolerance are taught, but we can't legislate based on the exceptions to the rule, now can we?) We would also need to consider the risk of exposing the children to close proximity to people who on the verge of burning in hell (otherwise they shouldn't be getting married, as the Bible says). I think if we were really serious about protecting children and society's interests--not to mention the adherence to the Bible itself for people who hold it sacred--we would be discussing whether to ban marriage between Christians. When that debate comes, I will argue against the ban on the grounds of tolerance and equal justice under the law, just as I do with gays and lesbians, but at least that debate would make a little more sense. Any thoughts? Are others ready to start a movement banning Christian marriage, if only to prove a point?
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Mint the Coin or Be Impeached?
I just had a thought, which is a bit too long for twitter, so I'm putting it here: Doesn't the President HAVE to "Mint the Coin"--i.e. the $1t platinum coin, or whatever combination of coins is necessary--in order to prevent default of the U.S. government, if the Republicans in Congress refuse to raise the debt limit? And, if the President won't do it, is that not grounds for his impeachment? Let me explain. The President is obligated by law to spend X amount of money and to take in only Y amount of revenue (where Y is obviously less than X), and further it is stated in the Constitution that the government is obligated to honor its debt. If the Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, then these laws would seem to come into conflict. However, as we all now know, there is also a law in force with plain language allowing unrestricted platinum coinage in any denomination. Thus, the President could direct the Secretary of the Treasury to do this, and thereby keep from violating one of the laws. Would it not therefore be an impeachable offense for the President to violate the Constitution by refusing to mint the platinum coin? Is he not required to do this, since it is permissible and would allow an obvious way to mutually uphold the budget and revenue provisions legally in force? So, to my mind, the issue is not *COULD* the President (through the Secy Treas) do this and survive Supreme Court scrutiny, or *SHOULD* the President do this as a matter of policy or politics, but rather that he *MUST* do this, unless they can find another way around the debt ceiling. As I see it, it is the President's obligation to uphold the Constitution, in conjunction with the revenue and spending laws duly enacted by Congress and signed by the President. If the President refused to Mint the Coin, would he not be subject to impeachment for refusing to implement the laws of the land using a clearly available means? Hence my conclusion, Mr. President: Mint the Coin, or Be Impeached!
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Let's Ban (Most) Guns, Repeal Second Amendment
After several days now of reading about and reflecting on the horrific Newtown massacre and the various commentaries thereupon, I have come to the conclusion that we need to abandon the incremental approach and instead advocate for a more drastic shift on gun policy in America: the banning of most guns except appropriate and limited firearms for hunting and other strictly regulated purposes. Yes, I am talking, seriously, about banning most guns in America and implementing a program to buy back those in private hands, followed by outright confiscation if needed. I realize this will sound highly implausible and impractical to many readers--not to mention potentially counterproductive in seemingly driving away some allies--but hear me out. We are evolving as a society, and we have to open ourselves to the possibility of rapid shifts. For example, legalized gay marriage seemed hopelessly out of touch idealistic not that long ago, yet now it is becoming a reality. The resistance to gay marriage was deep, culturally and morally charged, and fierce (still is, in many places, though thankfully as a dwindling minority viewpoint). Admittedly, gun control faces a daunting Constitutional issue, which I will address shortly, but I think we need to face these challenges squarely, courageously, and unflinchingly. The carnage has simply become too great--already was many years ago, but I have new hope that we may be on the cusp of a gestalt switch that will transform the gun debate. (1) First, we simply must address the "second"--Second Amendment, that is. It will sound like anathema to the advocates of incremental change, because of its potency, but it must be said that the (gun rights) emperor has no clothes. The Second Amendment does not, has not, and will not protect any fundamental human or civil rights in the manner that is fantasized about by pro-gun zealots. It may have theoretically served to guard against tyranny in the early days of the United States, before we had an immensely powerful standing military force--although even then, historical research has suggested that it was less a high-minded or principled statement than an expedient to resolve the state vs. national militia power debates of its day--but it is ludicrous to suggest it could ever serve any such purpose today. The Second Amendment is archaic, barbaric, and has been tragically perverse in its consequences. It is time to REPEAL the Second Amendment, completely, unreservedly, and with our only regret being the carnage and bloodshed caused by our failure to come to our senses sooner. I think a major factor in our reluctance to do so, beyond the fear of sounding immoderate, is the sacredness with which the entire "Bill of Rights" is treated, and I will admit that I myself have felt squeamish about tampering with the Bill of Rights, so potent has been the air of sacredness that permeates the First Ten amendments to the Constitution. Indeed, so many of the other First Ten (as I shall call them instead) are rock-bottom principles I would be loathe to ever compromise, and are indeed sacred to the preservation of democracy. But it is time for us to abandon the idea that this flawed historical construct of the First Ten can ultimately be conflated with "civil rights" or "human rights," or that sacredness inheres in all of the First Ten just by virtue of them being passed through some political machinations in the early days of the American republic. There is much in the First Ten that must be protected at all costs, and such things as free speech, assembly, press, and religion, as well as protection from cruel and unusual punishment, habeas corpus, etc., are indeed sacred to democracy, but we must protect these specific rights on their own merits, as core principles of universal human, civil, and democratic rights. "Gun rights" do not meet this standard (nor, I might add, are all the crucial rights we should strive to enshrine and preserve even in the First Ten!), and in fact, given the tremendous killing firepower now available for those who threaten mass murder in public places, arguably the Second Amendment does more to threaten these other crucial human and civil rights (particularly freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion) than to protect them. It is time to push for full repeal of the Second Amendment. (I realize I have sidestepped entirely the pivotal debate over the meaning of the "well-regulated militia" clause, but given the Heller decision a few years ago, I am not inclined to trust the Supreme Court to interpret the Second Amendment in any way that would allow the necessary gun restrictions I am advocating. And so I am essentially saying we need to grasp the nettle and pull it out by its roots.) This will not be easy, but we must begin the struggle in earnest. (2) A second point that should be made, underlining the necessity of pushing for full repeal, followed by strict federal (and even stricter state and local) gun regulation, is that incremental and piecemeal reform is unlikely to fully address the problem. Closing gun sale loopholes, better background checks, limiting magazine sizes, and banning certain assault-type and semiautomatic weapons are certainly all well worth doing--and if advocacy for Second Amendment repeal does nothing more than make these approaches easier to swallow, then it will have at least served that purpose in the short term--but the truth of the matter is that America is awash with guns and there are too many ways around these partial measures. For example, in the case of background checks, it is too difficult to keep weapons from falling into the hands of the wrong person. (3) But "wrong person" doesn't even quite capture the fullness of the danger we face from guns. It is time to abandon the simplistic idea that we can somehow divide the population into the "good" and "bad" people--or even that, if such categories existed, we could reliably tell them apart. The truth of the matter is that good people do bad things, and people who are having difficulties in their lives, for whatever reason (mental illness being just one) often do terrible things. We don't always know why, and we certainly can't predict it with anything close to certainty. So unfortunately having the killing power of a gun so widespread and accessible means that heated arguments, boiling anger and rage, mistaken identities, and countless other reasons have produced violence on a grotesque scale. If we are honest with ourselves, I think we all have to admit that we are imperfect creatures--we are all sinners, after all!--and, if we had more humility, we would do whatever we can to prevent ourselves from turning our moments of weakness into deadly tragedies. (And I haven't even mentioned the suicide risk posed by guns, which dominates the gun statistics.) The only real solution is to dramatically reduce the number of weapons by criminalizing them and removing the vast majority of the guns from circulation--in the first stage, with a buyback program during a transition period, followed by law enforcement action to arrest violators. (And, yes, there will be lots of them initially, but with enough determination and social pressure, I believe we can make it happen.) Once most guns become prima facie illegal, then it will be quite obvious when anyone has one that it is in violation of the law. Manufacture of the vast majority of gun types will be shut down as illegal, and only hunting rifles and other strictly permitted, registered, and regulated uses will exist, according to very narrowly drawn laws adopted without fear of Second Amendment objections or of the whole (undeserved) aura of sacredness that therefore permeates such discussions. It will be so much easier to track the relatively small number of guns. (Not to mention, it will be make it much easier for other countries as well, such as Mexico, much of whose drug war weaponry comes from the United States.) (4) And speaking of other countries, it is about time that we call out peculiarly American pro-gun attitudes for what they are: the height of nationalistic arrogance. Dozens of other industrialized countries exist in conditions of very high freedom without anything like our Second Amendment "gun rights" in place. They strictly control guns and have dramatically lower gun violence rates. If we forego the arrogance, we can learn from them. Their experiences are relevant to ours, and vice versa. We are all part of one big world, we are all human beings, and we are more alike than different. America's peculiar gun culture is not immutable and can be changed--so let's make it happen!
Saturday, December 08, 2012
A $140 Billion Solution?
Let's assume for the sake of argument that the whole "fiscal cliff" debate isn't just about rich people trying to force the mass public to accept an awful "grand bargain" compromise to shred the social safety net, and let us further assume that those participating in this discourse are trying in all sincerity to simultaneously achieve long-term deficit reduction while propping up economic growth in the near term. (Okay, I agree that both of those assumptions are very shaky...but let's play along.) But then shouldn't this CBO chart be the starting point for all serious discussions of how to balance deficit reduction with GDP growth? What the CBO chart basically shows is that, due to widely divergent fiscal multipliers, the tax cuts--particularly the high end tax cuts, which have a truly miniscule GDP effect--provide much less "bang for the buck" than government spending, payroll holiday, or unemployment benefits. Of course, we knew that already, but it is nice to see it confirmed and depicted in a simple chart created just for the occasion. This suggests to me that anyone truly concerned with avoiding the negative fiscal effects scheduled for Jan 1, 2013, would restore all government spending first and foremost (including, alas, defense spending--hey, maybe that is something the GOP can "get" in the negotiations?) by undoing the ridiculous "sequester," as well as preserving payroll holiday (or something equivalent) and extended unemployment insurance. The tax cuts, on the other hand, have an underwhelming and disproportionately low impact on GDP, even though they consume the lion's share of the government funds (66% if I have calculated correctly!) Indeed, letting all the income tax cuts expire actually would have less GDP impact than the other components together, even though the latter cost much less. And, hey, while we're at it, since government spending has such a high multiplier, why don't we just go ahead and let all the Bush tax cuts expire ($330b), then redirect a portion of the savings sufficient to generate an equivalent GDP--and if nondefense spending of $40b is associated with 0.4% of GDP, as the chart indicates, then we will only need about $140b of the $330b--and then we can bank the rest as deficit reduction! (Not that we need deficit reduction desperately right now anyway, but since that's what they say they want...) And $140 billion could buy a lot of important things, either directly at the federal level or through subsidies to state and local government: K-12 education, state universities, alternative energy research, environmental conservation, infrastructure spending, you name it--everything we've been watching get pummeled since the 2009 stimulus bill started winding down. So it seems that Obama's whole strategy may be wrong, despite his strengthened bargaining position. Maybe he needs to be asking to allow the whole tax cut to expire and then to spend half of the money on government programs that people value even more than the tax cuts, which are, it must be said, disproportionately skewed towards those closer to the top--whether Obama's "top" of $250k or GOP's "top" of infinity. (And am I the only one who finds Obama's whole "My2K" gambit aggravating??) How about, instead of My2K, "Our $140B"? (I also happened to notice that Medicare and Social Security are not on this "fiscal cliff" chart anywhere. And I sure hope Obama realizes how desperately most Americans want to keep it that way!)
Friday, April 20, 2012
The "Buffett Rule" Rule
I would like to humbly propose a new political rule, which I am dubbing the "Buffett Rule" rule. Given all the whining from Republicans, such as Mitt Romney, about how "little" money the Buffett Rule would raise by taxing the very rich--$46.7 billion over 10 years--here is the new rule: Anyone who opposes the Buffett Rule on the grounds that it doesn't raise a significant amount of money and is therefore a "political gimmick" must henceforth be forbidden from complaining about any government expenditure less than $4.67 billion per year (the 10 year figure divided by 10). If this simple rule of argumentative consistency is observed, it should save us all a lot of conservative whining. To be sure, the Buffett Rule is only a small start in improving the fairness of our tax system. I am no great fan of the Obama Administration's timid approach to policy. The Buffett Rule is really the bare minimum we should be doing. I don't see how anyone who claims to be concerned about the long-term budget deficit could possibly oppose raising $46.7 billion over ten years from the people most able to afford it. But, even if this timid yet sensible proposal fails (which it seems destined to do, at least in the short term) from now on I hope we can enforce the "Buffett Rule" rule against anyone who claims $46.7 billion is a gimmicky, insignificant sum.