Thursday, January 31, 2013

When 28% Are Off Their Rockers

Bush receiving warm welcome in Iraq. Guy liked him so much, he lent him both his shoes.

The figure of "28% of the American people" has stuck in my head ever since the final approval numbers were tallied for George W. Bush at the end of his administration. 28% still approved of him. I've long thought of those people as Bush dead-enders, based on Donald Rumsfeld's comments on the Iraqi "dead-enders" by which he meant the final few who wouldn't accept that America had won the Iraqi War. Of course, that was before we figured out that we hadn't won the war and that it would mean thousands more American soldiers dead and wounded before we ended up pulling out completely and leaving Iraq to be self-governed by, erm, the Shiite half of those same Iraqi dead-enders. This was a hollow "victory" indeed, as those Shiites built close relations with their Shiite brothers in Iran.

That narrative would, of course, not make any sense to the Bush dead-enders because, one, they probably thought the war was wisely begun and wisely fought and no doubt "won." Anyway, there's your 28%.

Who are they today? They're the locked-in support for any of the whacky tea-party ideas, or birthers, or conspiracy theorists that think that Barack Obama is holding back the economy with secret tricks so he can continue on his wild spending rampage, or the old white people that want the gubmint to keep their hands off their Medicare, oblivious to the fact that the government runs their Medicare and couldn't keep their hands off it if they tried. They're also the bulk of those in any poll showing 32% or 35% opposition to anything Obama or the Dems might support.

So many things wrong with this picture, including but not limited to Medicare being a government-run socialized medicine program for seniors. Two, the women carrying the sign is practically a child, who wouldn't qualify for the program. Other than that, the Soviet touch is nice...

But to today's point: I've recently spent time debating, on a Google+ forum, a card-carrying Ayn-Rand objectivist and libertarian who's main political and economic philosophy essentially amounts to this:
  • I succeed because I'm smart, work hard, and I shouldn't share any of my money with the poor losers in society because they're just unlucky people who ended up with loser genes. If they have loser genes, helping them survive with government help (using my taxes!) is not good for the country because then they'll survive and have loser children and then the cycle just goes on.
  • We don't need any regulations on markets and commerce because that's just a socialist effort to take my money, and, plus, there's never been a successful socialist country in history. (Scandinavian or other European or Asian examples (ex-China, of course) don't count because they're not "pure" socialist states.)
  • We should never regulate guns because more guns have meant less crime, always make people safer and any statistics that prove otherwise are just "manipulated to fit your agenda."
Wow. And then last night I sat in a brew pub and "debated" a 62-year-old local who held similar beliefs, although his set didn't include the Nazi eugenics of my online friend. The centerpiece of his belief structure was:
  • Capitalism is the greatest system in the history of the world. It works perfectly when left unregulated.
  • The income-inequality thing is pretty overblown and in any event the rich deserve their money and the poor shouldn't have any of it.
  • The unemployed shouldn't receive extended benefits because they're all just slackers gaming the system. It's a complete scam. Let 'em sink-or-swim, and it's time we stopped coddling them.
  • The poor are all just slackers, too.
  • Unions are terrible, and government workers are leeches who don't deserve their healthcare and pensions because they just steal from the rest of hardworking Americans. They should all be easier to fire because unions are the only reason they even have a job and they're mostly incompetent.
  • Obama is a wild, way-left socialist bankrupting America.
  • Social democracies in Europe work only because they're homogenous societies. Couldn't work at all here in America because we're diverse.
  • Guns should be just as unregulated as markets.
Okay. Though having two slightly different focuses, these two gentlemen have two traits in common: Both of them have zero empathy and neither of them would lend any credence to a single fact I presented. For example, if I said that the number of children in the U.S. living in poverty is approaching 25%, the response was "No, that can't be right," or if I offered that statistics show that Texas child poverty exceeds that of the U.S. as a whole or that the state had the highest number of the uninsured in the healthcare area, he'd reply that "No way, Texas has really low unemployment because they're so unregulated, no those poverty statistics can't be right."

Begging: must be slackers, especially the baby.

We can't count on fixing America's ills when a segment of the people are this willfully ignorant as I believe the lingering Bush dead-enders are. We could also call them "refuseniks" in that they refuse to accept any fact if it doesn't support their world view.

This is, no doubt, what Barack Obama meant in his inauguration speech when he referred to "absolutists." There's about 28% of them, higher in some states than others, and they're not going anywhere anytime soon. And neither is America if a big block of them have a home in the House of Representatives.

And today, 69 GOP House members co-sponsored a bill that ends the federal income tax. That's a bold, intelligent move, right? I have a notion why they think it's not crazy, and it's that those darned 28% live in their districts and will shout "right on!" and embrace the bill and be ready to vote for their representatives in 2014.

Holy crap. We're all so screwed. (For now...)

Update. I discovered that, although 28% was the approval rating for Bush for most of his last year, I'd forgotten that his actual final tally was closer to 22% (that was, though, after his term was up). Let's call those people the hard-core dead-enders! (His current ratings are up, but still in negative territory, making him the only living president with that distinction.)

I didn't invent uncivil discourse.
Update 2. Look, I know that "I'm right, you're wrong" is never a comfortable thing to imply or say outright. It's arrogant, and off-putting. Even some of my closest friends sometimes criticize my tone, a criticism I take to heart. But the specific point I'm making with this post is not "I'm right, you're wrong." It's more of an observation that people who are such ideologues that they can't recognize the truth when confronted by it or show themselves to be willfully ignorant or engaged in rhetorical flimflamery, deserve the beating they'll take, even if my goal is civil discourse. Remember, right to the left of this blog are my general principles, of which No. 10 is: If you consider making stuff up a viable tactic, you are disallowed from civil discourse. Making up one's own universe super-qualifies, and I'm not around to make you feel better, just so I look like a nice guy. It's your bullshit-ridden fantasy world, not mine, and I aim to prove it, the way it's supposed to be done, with facts.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Random Revelation on a Comment Thread

I discovered this below the LA Times article of Phil Mickelson apologizing for complaining about the rising tax burden on his $48-million-a-year earnings on the PGA tour by swinging his club about seventy times about four times a week when he's on tour (courtesy the LA Times):
TrishaDoherty at 8:40 PM January 29, 2013 none of you leftists or your precious childrens lives are worth 30 million if it was my money, and I would watch you all die of starvation rather than pay for your food . You are unimportant to me, thus stop pretending your life is worth my tax dollars.
I suspect we've got work to do trying to win back the, uh, lost tribe. Oh, and if you think my quote is too random, here's the next in the thread:
Errol Koschewitz at 1:36 PM January 28, 2013 i agree  with  phil  let  the public  pension pay  62  percent of there  retirement  pay  good  lord it could be in debt close  2 a trilion  dollars  in calif no one reely nos or better  yet  let  the young kids  working at walmart  or starbucks at that awesome  mininmum wage no insurance pay for debt  for generations 2 come  wow  public  pension has destroyed calif
In case you think I'm not offering the other point of view, here's the very next one:
Eric Miller1 at 5:55 PM January 24, 2013 I totally agree with Phil. Things are getting out of hand here in California. For example, Two-Buck Chuck now cost $2.50! This is outrageous. I can no longer live the extravagent lifestyle that I feel entitled to lead. I am moving to Mexico.
Lay it out, straight, Eric Miller1! Thanks for you evolved view.

I'd like to mention that I don't claim this to be the authoritative, academic view of this issue. I only mean to point out that this is the level of what fuels the conversation known far and wide as the Tea Party.

Dude sponsored by a bank who rigged bank rates to skim profits even Phil Mickelson doesn't understand. Way cool, sorta.

Note. Uh, fuck Phil Michelson. Seriously. I don't have to explain. Fuck the dude. And I'm a lefty, too. (I mean in this case I'm left-handed.) I love golf. Dude inspired me. Fuck him. Go Tiger, and everyone else on the tour, for now, until someone else complains that taxing their freaking $48 million a year is, like, so lame. Asshole.

Chilling Video from Today's Senate Hearing on Guns

I've had fun -- if you want to call it that -- with the rhetorical dissembling of GOP senators caught on video on the gun issue. This video from C-Span via Daily Kos is essential viewing for people with a sincere interest in the issue. I offer it here without comment (it's a little long, but I promise, it's worth watching and listening to every little bit):

The Further Adventures of GOP Gun Rhetoric

This is a long-time, leading Republican voice in the Senate, Lamar Alexander. See if you can spot the part where he speaks from wisdom, common sense, knowledge, or what-have-you. Also, watch to see if he actually responds directly or even indirectly to Chuck Todd's crystal-clear question:

This has been another edition of substance / rhetoric = ?.

Bonus question: Where does Alexander's answer land on the Manly Courage-Cowardice Scale?

(h/t Daily Kos)

Note. For those unfamiliar with the Manly Courage-Cowardice Scale, it's a 100-pt scale running from King Kong (100) to Pee-wee Herman (1).

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chuck Grassley Demonstrates Rhetorical Trickery (Hint: Use This to Instruct Your Children on Methods of Willful Deception)

Really great stuff in the baddest sense:

Can we hope this side of the gun debate continues to discredit itself, or is America too gone for that?

Monday, January 28, 2013

It Gets Better, on So Many Fronts

Barack Obama announces first presidential run in Springfield, IL.

I'm amazed at the breakneck speed of civil rights in this country in the past four years. Let's run down the breakthroughs:
  • The U.S. elects its first black president.
  • Congress passes the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
  • The president nominates, and the Senate confirms, two more female Supreme Court justices, one the first Latina justice.
  • Health-care reform marks a move toward real inclusion, especially of the needy, in our society.
  • The "It gets better" campaign, while not a change in law but in custom, does have a continuing impact on societal acceptance of gays, especially gay youth.
  • Don't ask, don't tell ends in the armed forces.
  • Cracks in the wall of marriage discrimination moves forward in spits and starts, then with support for gay marriage by Joe Biden, followed quickly by Barack Obama. Several states uphold legislative ending of marriage discrimination.
  • Movement toward decriminalization of marijuana -- more common sense than civil right -- picks up steam (may run into federal wall).
  • First black president re-elected, proving that it's a real, lasting change.
  • Pentagon moves to end job-assignment discrimination based on sex, especially focusing on combat.
  • Boy Scouts of America on the verge of admitting gays to membership and leadership positions (may not affect the 25% of membership in Mormon or Roman Catholic chapters).
  • Real immigration reform -- with a path to citizenship -- is at least on the horizon. 
Yeah, women got nuttin'.

I'm probably leaving something important out, but you get the idea. It's almost breathtaking. Why is it happening? I can't help but attribute it to pressure from the millennial generation. American youth are simply not prone to the old prejudices earlier generations were heir to. When you join that powerful force -- one that is a somewhat marginal voting bloc -- with those in other generations who were ready to accept change, however unexpected, you can reach critical mass pretty quickly.

Dan Savage said "It gets better." Holy crap, dude was right.

I don't know where this train pulls into the station. I hope it rolls on and on. Although not outright civil rights issues, there are other areas that could be affected by this urge toward change:
  • Gun safety, long a bugaboo for conservatives, conspiracy theorists, and gun fetishists, has a real chance of moving forward in coming months and years. (I consider freedom from gun violence a human right.)
  • Violence in football is being questioned in unexpected but very necessary ways. Expect some common-sense reforms soon.
  • Growing possibility of ending the War on Drugs, with attendant reduction of prison over-population.
  • General reduction in overly punitive prison sentencing (see California repeal of three-strikes laws).

Perhaps we shouldn't forget international progress, as well. The jury is not in on the prolonged Arab Spring, but when the smoke clears, I can see Western democratic values making great headway in the near term. Hot spots around the globe such as Indonesia have quieted down, though others, like Pakistan, have been roiled. Burma has, tentatively, asked back into the family of nations.

Barefootin' it in Yangon, Burma. Didn't see that coming.

I admit I'm an unrestrained optimist, but I see changes south of the border that can aid the environment in the Western Hemisphere. I anticipate a tamping down of the drug violence in Mexico; the socialist-populist movements in Venezuela and Bolivia will relax their anti-American vehemence; and don't be surprised if we manage a breakthrough with Cuba. The impasse between such neighbors makes no sense in the 21st century. Come on, folks, communism? Seriously. Open trade, open travel, at least.

Last but not least, there's a least a slow boil building towards what many consider a near-lock on Hillary Clinton ascending to the presidency in 2016. That's getting a little ahead of ourselves, but think on this: back-to-back presidencies of a black man and a woman (up to sixteen years, holy crap!). The opportunity for continued societal reforms and cultural transformations and a continued movement toward expanding inclusiveness are, well, self-evident. I, for one, am, for now, exhilarated.

Side by side, back to back? Whoa, don't get crazy.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gun Fetishists Aren't Interested in Facts

Gun fetishist: Yeah, that's about right.

I got involved in a debate about gun safety on Google+, and I ran into a fellow (I won't name him here) who, no matter what argument I put forth or what facts or statistics I offered in support of my position, his stock answer was that I was distorting the facts or using them out of context to fit "my agenda." It didn't matter how much evidence from reputable sources I offered, I was still misusing the data to satisfy my argument. I was, in any event, full of crap and untrustworthy and downright devious.

Ted Nugent: busy proving my point...
There's nothing to be done with such people. In the gun debate positions are hardened very much in the way that "the takers are ruining our country" or "throwing tax money at it never solves anything" are not worth refuting. Pointing out that we aren't a nation of takers or that gun fetishists are very keen on throwing money at defense doesn't seem to work. They live in a bubble, one that is very much self-sustaining.

Here are a couple of links for all of you -- even the gun fetishists -- that provides a very broad picture of what you need to consider in the gun debate. They're here and here, being part one and part two of a long article in the San Diego Free Press. I don't need convincing, for I've been researching this for a while. If this information doesn't give you pause, then I can't help you, and I'm not sure America can be helped, either.

At least not in the very short run. I've been downright amazing at how fast seemingly entrenched views have shifted on Don't-ask-don't tell, gay marriage, and women's civil rights, especially in light of the Lily Ledbetter Act and the very recent opening of armed combat roles to women on a equal-opportunity basis. Even Obamacare was a surprise, no matter how disappointing its approach is to those of us who preferred a single-payer solution. It still represents a decent step forward, especially on women's health issues. So there's hope. We are a nation at some kind of crossroads, and most of our turns have been in the right direction.

I just don't want to have to have a couple more Auroras, or Virginia Techs, or Newtowns to finally move this ball forward. It pains me to even think that way for a second, even as I believe it might be true.

Note. This post on Daily Kos by a registered member (not a contributing editor) called "What is a Gun Fetishist?" demonstrates two points for us: If you read well down into the comments you'll see how the author, FrankRose, has no interest in advancing any position other than just fucking with us. Also, he's a textbook troll, of the highest (read lowest) order. Salamanders, newts, and toads, oh my! (Though, to be sure, it's better to collect amphibians than guns.)

Note 2. The more I read comments by gun fetishists -- or even just plain gun advocates -- the more I realize that their positions are, by and large, black and white, which is what makes the "fetishist" label apt. They can't recognize the difference between sensible gun regulation -- that might take very few of the actual gun rights away -- and the "they're coming after our guns" hysteria. They simply refuse to. I know that "fetishist" is a hot-button charge regardless of how apt it is, so I throw the charge of paranoia at gun advocates with a slight caution. They do, however, seem pretty paranoid to me. We could go into the "what you really want is to take our guns" or "we'll go all 1776 on you if you try" or whatever. But if you investigate the commentary on whatever site you want, you'll still see why we have a serious problem with guns in this country. And Wayne LaPierre is right: It is a mental-heath issue.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Unregulated Guns Are the Real Tyranny

We're, uh, not coming after your guns.
There are a number of falsehoods perpetrated by gun nuts. One is that guns make us safer. They don't. Another is that without our guns -- and access to military-style guns, magazines and ammo -- we'd be sitting ducks for a tyrannical government. There is almost zero chance of a tyrannical government arising out of the American system, and, anyhow, we'd be no match against a government hellbent on totalitarian rule, no matter how many AR-15s we had in the closet.

There is a tyranny to worry about, but it's not that of an all-powerful government. The real tyranny is that of fear, the fear created by unregulated guns.

Think about it. Gun "advocates" -- by which I do mean gun nuts, not mature, rational gun owners with a couple of hand guns well secured and maybe a hunting rifle or two -- will tell you that guns can guarantee our freedom and keep us safe from fear. But the outcome of unregulated guns is far from that.

Guns are a scourge on our country that they aren't in so many other civilized nations in the world. These guns have made city after city unsafe, fearful places to live. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, in fact in the North Bay where life is lazy and most of us don't even think about public safety. If we have a problem, it's all the tourists on the highways heading to and from wineries. But that's something we can live with. It's good for business, and it's good for the tax coffers.

Oakland residents want it to stop, too.
But sometimes I find myself needing to go to Oakland, or pass through Richmond on the way to somewhere else, and I don't mind telling you that I get a little nervous. These towns aren't safe, and there's only one reason: Gun violence is prevalent. I wouldn't think about safety otherwise.

As I pass through Oakland, would packing a little heat make me feel safer? Hardly. I'm not looking to win a gun fight. I'm just hoping not to get randomly shot.

Look, I have no idea how likely it is that I'd get shot driving through Oakland to get to Chinatown, where I do sometimes go to shop for things Asian, but it's not zero chance and it is higher than in my sleepy hamlet of Sonoma, where there is a near-zero chance of getting shot.

More guns can fix East St. Louis? Right.
What gins up the fear of being in Oakland? Guns. Since I moved to the Bay Area some 40-odd years ago, thousands and thousands of people have been shot in Oakland, and thousands of those have died. It almost doesn't matter where you live in the U.S. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you have some places you'd rather not hang out, whether it's East St. Louis or Chicago's South Side. You know what I'm talking about. (As an aside, it's actually out in the boonies, far from urban violence, that gun ownership makes the most sense since you're more likely to rely on yourself for protection because law enforcement is spread so thin.) Hell, I think many of the people in our more violent city neighborhoods would rather be somewhere else, too.

Look, this is not about me. I'll take my chances, I'm a big boy. But I'm on the side of the people of Oakland and Richmond, and every distressed urban space in America, for that matter. Oakland and Richmond and their people are part of the fabric of the Bay Area, and I want them to be as safe from violence as I am up in the North Bay. Right now, they aren't safe, and relief isn't coming any time soon.

I can list all the statistics or point you to links where you can find them. If you're a gun nut, you've got all your talking points lined up to counter the overwhelming statistics that put the lie to your point of view. But if you're a reasonable, basically thoughtful person -- who's also looked at the statistics -- you'd tend to agree with me, that guns cause a tyranny of fear, don't make us safer, and in fact can't possibly contribute to our "freedom."

Okay, there is a time and place for guns.
Our liberties in America don't come from the barrel of a gun, unless of course you're actually talking about the military, which has played a role in securing our freedom. That's a different story. No, Americans feel the freest when they're the safest. And guns don't establish that. Gun ownership may provide one a feeling of power and, in a sense, a feeling of fearlessness. Actually, however, that feeling is illusory. The safest place in America would be a place without guns, and that would be the place for me. Which, I imagine, is one of the reasons I live in sleepy little Sonoma.


The National Debt and Deficit Ain't Such a Big Deal After All

Whaddya mean there's no deficit to worry about?
A lot of steam has been building behind the idea that our national debt and annual deficit isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that's liable to be rather unsettling to Republicans who routinely cry wolf about our crushing deficits, which have been brought on by Barack Obama's spending spree. (Of course, there was no Obama spending spree, but that's not the point.)

So let's take a look at the issues involved and break down where the sides stand.

First, it's important to note that Republicans have never really given a damn about deficits -- remember Dick Cheney's famous "Deficits don't matter" remark? Republicans have only cared about what could be targeted by deficit fever, and that's entitlement cuts. You see, the holy grail for conservatives has always been the shredding of the safety net dating from FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society. The lever has always been "Deficits will kill us! They're eating us alive!"

Only it turns out they're not, and that's really making it tough for the congressional Republicans to maintain their all-out assault on entitlements. Here's Paul Krugman putting it in a nutshell:
To say what should be obvious: Republicans don’t care about the deficit. They care about exploiting the deficit to pursue their goal of dismantling the social insurance system. They want a fiscal crisis; they need it; they’re enjoying it. I mean, how is “starve the beast” supposed to work? Precisely by creating a fiscal crisis, giving you an excuse to slash Social Security and Medicare.
The idea that they’re going to cheerfully accept a deal that will take the current deficit off the table as a scare story without doing major damage to the key social insurance programs, and then have a philosophical discussion about how we might change those programs over the longer term, is pure fantasy. That would amount to an admission of defeat on their part.
Now, maybe we will get that admission of defeat. But that’s what it will be — not a Grand Bargain between the parties, acting together in the nation’s interest.
If I read Krugman correctly, he's saying that solving the deficit problem without trashing entitlement programs would be more than a hollow victory for Republicans. It would be a catastrophe because it was never the deficits that mattered, it was the opportunity "deficit panic" offered to smashing welfare programs for the poor and elderly.

Whaddya mean Obama's wised up to our tricks?
That's why, in my view, Mitch McConnell kept saying "President Obama refuses to do what he should, which is to lead on these issues. This is a monumental failure of leadership." No, Mitch, it's not.

McConnell just wants Obama to put forward a plan -- as part of the nonsensical Grand Bargain -- that would cut Social Security and Medicaid so that Republicans can then vote against the plan because Obama also insisted on raising revenue. No new taxes!

Then, the deficit is once again not tackled, but Obama and the Democrats are politically on the hook for entitlement cuts, which the Republicans are drooling over in anticipation of using it against the Democrats in 2014. Worked in 2010 but won't work this time -- we hope -- because, so far, Obama looks to have gotten wise to the game.

By standing up to the Republicans -- and, frankly, negotiating from his newly found strength stemming from the election victory -- has yielded a cave on the fiscal cliff and just this week another cave on the debt ceiling. Sure, they've kicked the can down the road, pretending that they can force an entitlement showdown with the sequester, due to hit March 1st, the continuing resolution funding federal agencies, which expires March 27th, the federal budget, due by April 15th, as well as the next showdown date on the debt ceiling in May.

But what chance is there that the President is going to cave then when he hasn't so far? As for the 2014 budget, Obama is required to issue one by February 2nd but says he will be late because of delays caused by the fiscal cliff fight. He may put it off until the Senate produces its own, which is due April 15th. Of course, the expiration of the continuing resolution offers the Republicans a chance to shut down the government, but it's unclear whether Republicans have the stomach for it (see Gingrich, 1995-1996).

If the Republicans can't gin up a new crisis after letting all of the above slip through their fingers, they will be without a fiscal crisis after having shot their wad without dinging entitlements. What ever will they do?

More Krugman today:
But that crisis keeps not happening. The still-depressed economy has kept interest rates at near-record lows despite large government borrowing, just as Keynesian economists predicted all along. So the credibility of the scolds has taken an understandable, and well-deserved, hit.
Second, both deficits and public spending as a share of G.D.P. have started to decline — again, just as those who never bought into the deficit hysteria predicted all along.
The truth is that the budget deficits of the past four years were mainly a temporary consequence of the financial crisis, which sent the economy into a tailspin — and which, therefore, led both to low tax receipts and to a rise in unemployment benefits and other government expenses. It should have been obvious that the deficit would come down as the economy recovered. But this point was hard to get across until deficit reduction started appearing in the data.
Now it has — and reasonable forecasts, like those of Jan Hatzius of Goldman Sachs, suggest that the federal deficit will be below 3 percent of G.D.P., a not very scary number, by 2015.
Not so scary indeed. If you take the above link to Jan Hatzius's outlook, you'll find he has some surprisingly upbeat predictions for 2013 and 2014.

Whaddya mean my no-tax pledge is not relevant anymore?
If there's no reason for fiscal panic, whatever are the Republicans to do? Gin up another fiscal crisis out of thin air? Oh, they'll try, but will they succeed? Do they have the grit to play catastrophe politics over and over? Will they instead realize that graduating from the Party of No to the Party of Doom is not a way out of the wilderness for the Party as a Whole. They have been pretty crazy, though, and we can't count on the recent smackdown in the 2012 election to knock some permanent sense into their heads.

There even more good news (for Americans, not Republicans) in this report by David Kamin as reported in WaPo's Wonkblog by Dylan Matthews:
But we may not even need that additional deficit reduction. Kamin estimates that health-care spending growth will cause a significant increase in revenue from the Obamacare excise tax on expensive health-insurance plans. What’s more, rising incomes will naturally increase income tax revenue by pushing more people into higher bracket, and the aging of the population means money will start to come out of tax-preferred IRAs and 401(k)s and suddenly become taxable. These factors alone reduce the long-run deficit by 2.8 percent. Combine that with a permanent Social Security fix — or, if you’d prefer, a policy of tying discretionary spending growth to the rate of inflation and population growth — and you barely have any long-run deficit problem to speak of[.]
Read the whole report to see some pretty convincing graphs.

As I'm recently retired, it should have occurred to me that there was a huge tax revenue increase slated to swell as the boomers retire, but, well, it didn't. I don't relish paying all those delayed taxes, but if it helps to end the deficit-hawks nonsense, it'll be well worth it.

Sez here in the Post my taxes go up when I retire and tap into my IRAs. Who knew? (Hint: your accountant.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

GOP Feverish Over Guns -- and Your Money

The graphic above represents the Democratic Party's all-out assault on your gun rights. Nuff said.

The graphic above represents the Republican Party's use of the gun safety debate. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks in a fund-raising email:
Dear Patriot,
You and I are literally surrounded. The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out-assault on the Second Amendment. On your rights. On your freedom.
Just the other night, President Obama urged them to act. And then he went one step further, spelling out the 23 different Executive Orders he will take to get your guns.
My friend, our freedom is under direct assault.
From those who want take your guns. From those who want to shred our Constitution, and as our good in friend Rand Paul from Kentucky says, from those who want to be King.
Let me tell you, Mitch McConnell is ready to lead the fight to protect your rights. Will you stand with Mitch today?
Our Founders fought a revolution to secure our rights. They would have been appalled by what they heard from an American president the other day.
President Obama has the left wing media in a frenzy. And, like his old Chief of Staff, he is determined to not waste a crisis.
The gun-grabbers are in full battle mode. And they are serious.
 Any questions? Yeah, one: Is Mitch McConnell interested in gun rights or money? Also: Is he a truth-teller? Bonus question: What is a grifter?

Bonus graphic: Can you identify Mitch McConnell's constituency?

Obama: Hey, Tea Party: My Crew Are Gonna Drink Us Some Coffee

Barack Obama making his case: only to his tribe? Maybe, but we get to draw the lines.

 Sampling some of the inside-the-beltway takes on Barack Obama's second inaugural address, it's easy to see how divided our nation is. The breakdown is stark, between the reactionaries, who see our nation's job as winding down the progressive movement that guided our nation from early in the 20th century until Ronald Reagan blamed it for our ills, and a new progressivism starkly called back into action by Barack Obama's fighting words. The dismal beltway words of David Ignatius and Dana Milbank contrasted with the more positive views of E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson. Robinson said it very well:
You’d think that steering the economy away from the abyss, passing landmark health-care reform, guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work, ending our nation’s shameful experiment with torture and ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — for starters — would add up to a pretty impressive first-term résumé.
Voters clearly thought so, but a lot of my fellow pundits seem not to have noticed. Instead, they demand to know why Obama has not somehow charmed Republicans — who announced, you will recall, that their principal aim was making him a one-term president — into meek submission, I suppose through some combination of glad-handing and perhaps hypnosis.
The truth is that it will take many years to fully assess the Obama presidency. The verdict will depend on what he accomplishes in his second term — and how his initiatives pan out in the coming decades. On health care and the long-term debt, in particular, my hunch is that Obama is taking a much longer view than his critics realize.
A longer view indeed, than the pissy snit-fits of Ignatius and Milbank.

Washington mind-set: set in stone?

One theme I heard loud and clear was acting together to solve our nation's ills. It's no accident that Barack Obama is quietly converting his campaign troops from Organizing for America into an army for his second-term progressive causes called Organizing for Action. David Corn noticed this call for action in Obama's address. Corn's column was my favorite on Obama's well-crafted declaration of his second term's intentions:
Though the speech was certainly written for a wide audience, it targeted Obama's people. He paid homage to Seneca Falls (women's rights), Selma (civil rights), and Stonewall (gay rights). He spoke directly to those Americans attuned to those progressive struggles of the past and their present-day manifestations:
For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.
Days after Obama's campaign outfit transformed itself into Organizing for Action, a permanent grassroots political machine that will whip up support for the president's initiatives, the president was communicating with his troops, seeking to rally them for the struggles that await him (and them) in his second term.
 Thus we see in stark relief Barack Obama's marching orders. We must work together for the common good to achieve individual goals. A clear statement of progressive ideals, that. For the Tea Partiers, he drew the lines:
The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us.
They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.  We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.
Some heard pugnacity in Obama's words and maybe rightly so. He's ready to fire up his own grassroots movement in support of his second-term agenda. Obama is, after all, an organizer; he expressed American ideals in his address and said they were worth fighting for. It's time to fill up the coffee thermoses and head to the barricades. It's not like there isn't an army on conservatives, libertarians, and beltway sourpusses waiting to take us on. But Obama is ready to drink coffee in a can and is, in fact, organizing for struggles ahead.

Let's get ready to rumble. The Republicans have been spoiling for a fight since Obama was first elected. Our president, finally, may be ready to bring his game.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Inauguration Made Me Feel Good

Signing on for a second term.
An Inauguration Day is almost always a day full of promise. Depending on your tribe, you're happier or not, but citizens of all stripes, hopefully, still are moved by the renewal of our democratic ideals.

Barack Obama began his second term with a speech that first and foremost spoke to urge and praise, if you will, a united country, spoke to "We, the People." Sure, in parts of it, he pulled no punches and laid down markers for the goals of the second term, including immigration reform, civil rights (including gays, a first in an inauguration speech), climate change, and, surprisingly, support for entitlements.

It was easier for me to feel good because Barack Obama, though essentially a centrist politician, is still representative of progressivism and basic liberal values. His willingness to articulate his opposition to the anti-science, anti-inclusive elements on the right was uplifting. Maybe we can believe he'll fight harder for liberal values. We can only hope.

This day, though, it's easier to feel that hope, that promise. Let's hope it lasts, at least, well, longer than today.

Kelly Clarkson's smile summed up the feelings of the day.

Update. Finding Richard Blanco's inaugural poem online, I thought I'd reprint it here, just in case you didn't find it yourself. It's grand and delicate in its reach and sweeps through and beyond our every-days and dreams. It was so very good for today:

One Today

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Very well done. And so were the songs, from the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir to James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson, and Beyoncé. All American voices, ringing clear and true, for today.

All Power to the People -- Not! (yet)

I don't remember who said that famous phrase -- all power to the people -- and I suppose I could Wikipedia it. But the implications of that sentiment from my long, lost youth remains relevant and key to our understanding of our times. Where does the power reside as we begin Barack Obama's second term in office?

Tommy Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City: Could they have envisioned Obama?

It doesn't reside in the people. It resides in the hands of the moneyed interests. In all things political and economic, in the realm of the public interest, the people don't come first. They almost always come last, and this arrangement of how we work for the public good and how we actually succeed at the task is almost always shaped by forces of irrationality imposed on us by economic interests that run counter to best practices and ideal outcomes.

Why? It's not complicated. Money does all the talking.

Is health care in the U.S. being decided by the people? No, it's being decided by the insurance companies. As Paul Krugman would argue, the PPACA, Barack Obama's signature first-term, heath-care achievement, is a Rube-Goldberg imperfect solution where a simple one -- expansion of Medicare to all -- would have been much better, but still what we did get is not trivial.

We would have done so much better if Republicans and even some key Democrats weren't in thrall to the insurance lobby. (In fact, that applies to Bush 43's Medicare Part D: By not allowing the government to negotiate with the drug companies, the people gifted Big Pharma.) We don't have to ask why these measures are disappointing. When money is talking, our politicians are listening.

PPACA: some health care progress...
So it is with everything. When we contrast TARP -- a program that bailed out the too-big-to-fail banks and insurance companies -- with Barack Obama's stimulus, ARRA, the people did not come out on top, the banks did. And for the banks, that outcome was not trivial, it was huge. They're not all the way back: For Citigroup and Bank of America, the road has been choppy. In general, though, they've been given a free pass for the havoc they caused.

What about ARRA, the stimulus package? It wasn't big enough by most accounts, but it was not trivial. Without it, we'd still be in the soup. Instead, we've come a good deal of the way back to prosperity. But we'd be so much further toward full employment if the deficit scolds, the fake chicken-hawk fiscal sheriffs, the anti-tax Rottweilers hadn't fought tooth and nail to avoid spending the real money we needed to rebuild our nation's infrastructure and our road to full employment and to deal with our deficits at the same time. No, that would have meant the dreaded Moral Hazard. No free ride for the poor and middle classes. No, that's reserved for the banks and insurance companies.

More would have been better...

And so it will be for the gun issue, as well. If we're lucky, we'll get a couple of measures past the gun lobby. Universal background checks will be nice, and if we keep the size of magazines down, that will also work around the margins. An assault weapons ban, the holy grail of true, non-trivial gun reform, appears out of sight.

Yes, I'm one of those progressives who find our politics, with its non-trivial progressive victories eating away at the margins instead of taking big chunks out of the hides of the moneyed class, frustrating and disappointing. I still find our politics stinky.

We have made progress under Barack Obama. And we have hope that more can be done as we enter his second term. Still, we find ourselves with the people firmly still out of power and The Man still firmly in control, even if that grip is weakening a bit.

Let's hope the changing values of our younger generations, and the political leanings of our new demographics, lead to a new, stronger progressivism. The politics since 1980 have left us in a few ditiches and made it difficult to get out of this one. Can we turn a corner in Obama's last term? We'll see.

Now I remember. White straight men take note. (Trust me, they have.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Getting to the Nub of the Gun Debate

More of these please?
I am opposed to guns in general, though guns useful for hunting sound reasonable. I can even conceive of the validity of modest guns in the home for protection. If I had my way, though, we'd repeal the 2nd Amendment and then pass gun laws that severely restrict what is permissible in an advanced society.

Assuming the 2nd Amendment and the current Court interpretation remains in effect, then the nub of the gun debate rests for me in the areas of open carry, concealed carry and stand-your-ground laws. The bottom line, for me, is that I don't want to be around your guns, and I shouldn't have to be. Leave your guns at home. Below, I'll point out why even that's a bad idea.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo offers his life experience to explain why he's part of the non-gun tribe. Very thoughtful. But in a later post he gets to the heart of the matter:
My friend Steve Clemons talks in the context of international relations of high-trust versus high-fear relations between states. The last time we discussed this (on some panel I can’t remember just where) it was about how the doctrine of preemption had created a world that was more the latter than the former. I think something similar applies to civil society. Maybe everyone carries guns but everyone is deterred from firing them in anger because everyone else has a gun and someone will shoot back. But even if we buy that mass gun deterrence vision, that’s a high fear society, not one I want to live in. It’s also not a vision of freedom that I buy into or want to be a part of. More like a race to the bottom of autonomous violence.
My point of characterizing this as ‘tribes’ was to make the point that I get that there are parts of the country where people carry loaded weapons and that’s the culture and it seems to work for the people there. And that’s fine. It’s a different culture. It particularly makes sense, as I noted in my post, in rural areas. If you’re living in the middle of nowhere, far from where police or anyone else could get to you quickly, the safety and defense issue becomes very different. One emailer talked about living on a ranch and needing a gun for work, another about walking his dogs in the woodlands near his home and carrying a pistol because there are wolves in the area. Whatever the reasons, a whole different calculus applies in cities.
That just about nails it. I don't want to live in a high-fear society. Wayne LaPierre's prescription for armed guards in every school in America is not only dangerous -- for obvious reasons -- and likely highly ineffective, but also it flies in the face of what everyone should understand about schools: For the good of our children, schools need to be high-trust areas, not high-fear areas.

This notion of high-trust areas should include theaters, restaurants, malls, churches, and, let's face it, most every public place. Anyone who would argue with that has a different agenda from those who appreciate civil society generally have. Meaning, of course, that those who favor open carry or legal concealed carry want to live in a high-fear society either because they are very afraid or they want others to be very afraid. Either way, they're not demonstrating any regard for or possibility of an actual civil society.

Like Josh, I wouldn't focus on the attitudes on rural America. Sure, I do have a solid disposition against rural white Christians who, strangely enough, don't seem to hold actual Christian values about non-violence as stated clearly in the Bible. But I do realize the situational need for guns in rural areas, both because it's closer to actual hunting areas, and the remote nature of the rural dwellings offers a compelling case for being armed for self-defense where law enforcement is generally absent.

Possible gun fetishist sighting (aka not in my tribe).
There's a huge difference, though, between "gun nuts" who resist any kind of gun regulation and people who want or need arms for legitimate reasons. Gun nuts want people to fear them, as it may be the only way in which they feel powerful. I hate to disparage a class of people, but it's why I think they like guns, to feel vital in a world where they feel increasingly diminished. Otherwise, they really do want to kill lots of people if they ever get the chance, or they really are very fearful that the jack-booted thugs and black helicopters of tyranny are about to descend upon them, in which case I'm really sorry for their departure from reality.

In my case, I want to be in Josh Marshall's non-gun tribe. Unfortunately there are thousands of examples every year for why that's the best bet, and I'm not even talking about the Sandy Hooks and Auroras. Just talking about the everyday gun violence all around us. It doesn't have to be that way.

Here are some pretty good examples from Josh Marshall and Atrios that make obvious anti-gun points:
  • Josh shares an email from a reader here that makes a sadly powerful case for gun regulation.
  • Atrios recalls an event back in college that rings the same bell.
Finally, here are the key points about why gun ownership is self-defeating (in general and not necessarily negating the case for guns for hunting or reasonable self-protection): here, here, here, and here. Money quote:
For most contemporary Americans, scientific studies indicate that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns. There is compelling evidence that a gun in the home is a risk factor for intimidation and for killing women in their homes. On the benefit side, there are fewer studies, and there is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in. Thus, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents not to have guns in the home.
I believe the evidence and, accordingly, don't have a gun or want to be around one. I'm in the non-gun tribe. Also, it is self-evident that the argument in favor of more guns and not fewer guns is not rational. Anyone who thinks it is is either not rational or has another agenda other than public safety.

Just what the doctor ordered in a civil society?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance Armstrong Is In His Own Special Category of Horrible

Live strong, asshole.
I was inspired by Lance Armstrong, though I wasn't taken by him in the way a fan might be. He was just darned impressive while not being a particularly likeable character. He just won Tours de France as if he were born to do it.

Turns out he wasn't. Unlike other frauds in sports -- Barry Bonds and others in the steroid era of baseball come to mind -- Lance Armstrong grew his legend through what can only be described as a monumental criminal enterprise.

Which, quite simply, makes him a horrible human being.

I like second acts, I believe in forgiveness, I believe in redemption. For Lance Armstrong, though, I hold a special contempt. So let him have his second act, let him redeem himself, and, yes, I'll forgive him at some point. But first, let him give up all his spoils of deception and wear a serious hair shirt for a serious length of time. Then let those who are inclined to forgive him do so.

I'm no fan of Glenn Kessler, the WaPo fact checker. But he rang my chimes with his world-record granting of 28 Pinocchios to Lance Armstrong (the previous top negative rating was always 4).

Robert De Niro in The Mission
I remember being impressed by Robert De Niro's character, Rodrigo Mendoza, in the movie The Mission. After killing his brother in a rage, he seeks forgiveness from a priest with whom he shared a friendship, played by Jeremy Irons. As I recall, the Irons character had Mendoza carry a cross up the frigging Amazon and up a very tall waterfall to earn forgiveness. Maybe Lance Armstrong could carry a bicycle on his back as he scaled, beam by beam, the Eiffel Tower.

Sounds about right.

In the meantime, if I never see another Tour de France -- a true disgrace of an athletic competition -- it'll be too soon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When Knowledge Is Expensive

Aaron Swartz
A few days ago a "hacktivist" by the name of Aaron Swartz hanged himself at the age of 26. As near as I can tell he might have taken that course as a way out of facing federal charges -- that could result in up to 35 years in prison -- that he illegally "stole" information from JSTOR, a digital information source of academic journals and primary source material. Some material was free at JSTOR, but other stuff required a paid subscription.

Aaron Swartz was known to have suffered from depression, so the causes of his suicide are more complicated than that he was a victim of "the man," in this case Barack Obama's Dept. of Justice.

RSS feed icon
Swartz was considered brilliant in the tech world, having, at the age of 14, co-invented RSS news feeds, which allowed automated dissemination of digital content to people's in-boxes, and later, while still a teen, founding Infogami, which later merged with Reddit, of which he is considered a co-founder and co-owner until it was sold to Condé Nast in 2005. Also key in his short but brilliant bio was his successful efforts to stop SOFA, a congressional effort to rein in freedom of content on the Internet.

I've probably made errors in this highly condensed version of Aaron Swartz's life, but, oh well. To get a sense of Aaron Swartz's impact on the geek and tech community, read this moving reaction to his death from Danah Boyd, a social media researcher I've been following and learning from for almost ten years.

MIT was implicated in throwing the book at Swartz, as the actions he took to "steal" the information from JSTOR apparently took place on its campus. Many people in the geek community are really mad at MIT right now for not helping the world to back off of Aaron Swartz, likening his actions to being more like "taking too many books out of the library" than a really serious crime.

College life: It's not all about learning.
My takeaway from this tragic story is that, although it's more complicated than "information should be free," we live in a world where knowledge is increasingly more expensive in spite of its increasing availability on the Internet, especially in terms of the access to knowledge that leads to productive, successful lives, i.e. a college education.

I don't have to give examples of how expensive and out of reach most top universities are to our shrinking middle class. Even heretofore inexpensive public universities are becoming too expensive for ordinary souls.

I also get that people need to be compensated for packaging and delivery services. If I decide I love roasting coffee and want to build a business, I can rightfully expect to be compensated for roasting, packaging, and distributing my beloved product. JSTOR perhaps should be, as well.

There is a difference between coffee and knowledge, and somehow the commoditization of information is more problematic than, say, Huggies. But there is a difference. If nothing else, "information wants to be free" makes sense. It's not confusing.

Real online university in our future?
There is hope. Just like gay rights came seemingly out of nowhere to make unexpected breakthroughs, and gun safety, though it'll be resisted tooth and nail by the gun nuts, is poised to have its own breakout moment (after a couple more Newtowns, I'm afraid), a college-level education may become as free as books from the library, very, very soon.

As more and more top-flight professors from top-tier universities put their courses online for free using services like Coursera, Udacity, and edX, a rich and broad education may become available to those who want to take the time to access it. Though fees are inevitable with any meaningful emerging technology, hopefully they will be more incidental than anything else.

The cynical side of me wonders if the MOOC (massive open online course) movement is simply a way for top universities to deflect criticism from how elite and unavailable they are, a sort of buffer against the outside world in order to maintain their privileged status while appearing to want information to be free. But who cares? If the result, over time, is that anyone can get the knowledge and training they want, if knowledge gets well packaged and well delivered for an everyman price, I say that is progress indeed.

Afterthought: Aaron Swartz dropped out of Stanford after one year, Bill Gates never finished Harvard, and Steve Jobs didn't last a year at Reed College, so I don't mean to imply that college is a necessary component of a satisfying life. Still, for the everyday mook, college represents the way to improve opportunities for success in life or, if not, then a way to expand one's horizons. It worked wonders in both categories for me, even if my degree remained unused until I was nearly forty, when it was the catalyst for a most fulfilling couple of decades of work and play.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The American Human Goes Mainstream on Guns!

Okay, fine. I get that requiring all but single-action handguns and hunting rifles with low-capacity magazines to be banned is a non-starter. So, after viewing data that shows what the consensus opinion is in the U.S., I decided I could live with it. Here it is:

Yes, I'm for laws reflecting this. It will help, especially over the long term. Let's do it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Are Economists Dumber than Average Americans?

Uh, no, but that's beside the point because average Americans think they are. A paper recently introduced at a major economics conference -- the American Economic Association -- demonstrated that average Americans differ markedly with economists on a range of issues, none so vivid as with trade.

I learned of this on Noah Smith's blog Noahpinion, where many an economic idea or controversy is artfully and entertainingly discussed. Noah is rightly intrigued by this paper, by Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales, entitled "Comparing Beliefs of Economists and the Public," in which it becomes obvious that the average citizen doesn't think much of economists' notions or expertise, treating them more like zany, out-of-touch Zen masters than people with relevant ideas.

I don't agree, but there's nothing more emblematic of our time than the average citizen's contempt for experts, especially in the area of money and spending and counting and predicting based on it. The average citizen thinks, "I'm broke, I'll stop spending. Why doesn't the government get it??!!?" Of course, what the average citizen forgets is that most of us are in hock up to our eyeballs already, with mortgages, car loans, and credit-card debt, and are in no position to criticize. Plus, they also forget that governments don't function like households, and they also forget what they don't know yet, which is, unfortunately a lot. But I digress.

The sharpest difference between the "expert" economist and the average American, according to Sapienza and Zingales' data, is in the area of trade. Most economists agree that free trade is superior to managed trade -- or protectionism, if you will -- because although free trade can have deleterious effects on certain industries, especially in developed nations with a heretofore higher wage structure, in the long run winners and losers in free-trade battles will both win in eventual absolute terms. Or something like that.

The Old South: Talk about cheap labor.

The average American thinks differently. If the American South used to have a robust textile industry that was decimated by the availability of cheaper textile goods from Asia, then the average American would conclude that our government should have prevented that from happening, should have "protected" us from this consequence.

The New South: Atlanta tech CEOs ring the opening bell.

An economist might see a bigger picture, one where things would settle down into a set of interconnected comparative advantages among nations and regions. Whereas Indonesia might gain a comparative advantage in textiles because of cheap labor, Atlanta, Georgia, might switch from textiles over time to technology because of our comparative advantage in that area. In fact, this is the kind of change countries and regions all over the world undergo constantly. And if in the end, burgeoning middle classes develop all over the world, then these richer, healthier, stronger economies will begin to consume more, and that consumption might be of technology from Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, etc.

As standards of living rise around the globe, education flourishes and citizens begin to demand more attention be paid to areas like healthcare and the environment, which can only help the collective population of the planet. Do you think, for example, that an expanding middle class will put up with the pollution in China as we witnessed just this week? See the picture below, and, yes, the answer is no.

Beijing, January 2013: This is not fog, my friends.

Still, I don't expect the average American to take all these things into account. They generally see things only in their own backyards, and it's easier to blame the government, or foreigners, or "libtards" for their misfortunes. Sometimes that can be true, as in Washington's recent failure to include a public option in Obamacare.

No, the average American is too busy shopping at Walmart -- buying up a slew of cheap Asian textiles -- to pay attention to trade issues. But they'll still have an opinion about it, even if it runs counter to the way they actually conduct themselves in the regional, national, or world economy.

Until and unless education can work to reduce ignorance, or the media begin to understand economics enough to help in this war against ignorance, we can expect the citizenry to continue to march off to Walmart, max out their credit cards, while marching around chanting "Buy American" or "Guvmint get your hands off my Medicare" or "What part of 'stop running up deficits!' don't you understand??!"

Good grief. If only ignorance truly were bliss. We're beyond that now, in the Internet Age, where ignorance is, uh, contagious.

Attention, Walmart shoppers: Don't forget to stay within your budgets!
Note. I don't mean to imply that all information on the Internet is tainted by ignorance. Yes, looking around the comments on news articles, blogs, and Web magazines, there's a lot of intellectual insight demonstrated, though it's often drowned out by hoards of ignorant ranters. I don't like the word rant, feeling it's over-used, but it's apt all too often in comment areas. Oh well. But there's a lot of healthy vitality out there, too, and it's of course why I blog in the first place. Let's keep it up, and fight the good fight.