Beyond the Cusp

January 23, 2014

Politics Teaches All About Language and Statistics

Many commentators decry the state of political debate complaining about the polarization and the ever increasing gap between the right and the left. They tend to see nothing to be gained as gridlock and harsh discourse is all they are able to see but there are lessons if not in the actual debates, then in the way the arguments and validations are fashioned. Language is probably most defined by the position of the user’s politics more than any dictionary could ever intimate. There are key words whose meaning is in doubt until one realizes whether the user is arguing from the right or the left of the political spectrum. One such word which is brutalized by both sides is equality, especially when applied to the economy and the consequences of the different degrees of wealth as well as opportunity. Where one side using equality it means that the result after everything has been said and done and the government has acted will result in near equality in levels of wealth while the other side defines equality as everybody working in the same system under the same rules on a level playing field thus having the same opportunity and any difference is determined by many factors of which they will stress the extent of effort and natural abilities. One side believes that equality means leveling out the inequities resultant from the disparate outcomes while the other believes that at birth we all start with the same potentials for the most part and any differences result mostly from efforts and being able to grasp opportunities and that government should not be there to take from the successful to give to the less successful.

 

Another word which has unique definitions is charity. One position is that charity should be left to the individuals or to religious and private organizations and should never be a consideration of government as government enforcing charitable giving through taxes and redistribution is simply a form of theft. The other definition claims that the inequities are too great and that many are too greedy and selfish resulting in the necessity for government to enforce some degree of charity otherwise the needy would end up neglected. The definition of a fair tax is another area of disagreement where one side would claim that a fair tax would levy the same percentage in taxation on every citizen while the other side holds that a fair tax would levy the percentage in such a way that those with more wealth and income would pay at a higher rate while those below a predetermined level of income would be left untaxed. Experiencing the uses of words in the political domain constantly provides examples of how varied and opposing words can be used in supporting opposing ideas and ideals. Probably the most mangled words are those used as the names of the sides in the political arguments. Somebody who is called a liberal no longer means that they are a libertine who believes in individual independence with minimal interference by the governing bodies. A conservative does not necessarily hold views which demand that things remain exactly as they are or desires a return to how they were in the recent past. Those claiming to be independent voters often have a voting record which would rival the most ardent party member of any of the parties and simply claim to be independent in order to avoid having to explain or defend the party which they actually support almost without exception. Another term which has been completely coopted to mean, in many cases, whatever position you desire to support is choice. Those who support the Second Amendment adamantly claim that people should be free to have the choice of whether or not they wish to own a firearm and that as long as the individual accepts all the responsibilities and consequences of carrying a concealed weapon, they should be free to exercise that choice. There is the pro-choice position which most are familiar with where it allows for women to have the option available to terminate a pregnancy. Many libertarians claim that people should be allowed to have the choice to use drugs and claim that the War on Drugs interferes with personal choice and freedoms. Libertarians actually are very liberal when it comes to choice as they support personal independence almost to a fault. The one place where choice is often restricted to the point of absurdity is within the walls of government where they seem determined to pass laws which restrict people’s lives to the point where there will be no opportunity for choice as they will all have been legislated out of existence.

 

The one place where words are most often twisted and manipulated in order to produce a predetermined and defined desired result is in polls. Many polls which are commissioned by PACs, organizations, political parties and virtually any other source one can determine what the end expected result is simply by inspecting the phrasing of the questions. Politics is a place where words are tortured and polls are where they are executed. Even the time of day chosen to take the samples or the location where the polling is taken also will determine the results. Often polls will use emotional phrases which engender a certain reaction early in the poll in order to skew the rest of the answers to the poll questions. This is not to say that there are no polls which are crafted fairly with great attention paid to using unbiased wording and phrasing and avoiding hot topic words which might skew results, but these types are usually commissioned by businesses and not political entities. Polls can be slanted by having qualifying questions which limit those who are questioned and included in the tabulations, often this is done by age though whether one is employed or regularly votes are other qualifiers often implemented.

 

The other thing which is often related to polling that is mutilated and twisted in order to portray a particular political position is statistics. As the old saying goes, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Statistics when utilized in politics is the precise science of massaging numbers to produce a predetermined result. One easy to understand example is the wealth gap. If one takes the statistics of those who are in the top ten percent of income earners and those in the bottom ten percent of income earners over a period of years the result will currently show that the income gap is growing significantly. But if instead one takes the people in the initial year who were in the top ten percent and those in the bottom ten percent and followed these individuals over the same time period the income gap will be shown to have shrunk. The reason for the disparity is simple, the people in the top and bottom ten percent change from year to year and those initially in either extreme will both slide towards the median income over time while other people take their place at the extremes. Thus, if one wished to exaggerate the income inequality they would use the first set of statistics while if instead one desires an accurate description of the fluctuations in income and the constant flux with people changing their income potentials as they move through life and their opportunities and conditions change, then the second set of statistics will serve you better. Another way of misrepresenting numbers but not necessarily statistics is by comparing apples to oranges, as the adage states. An example was the claim that Warren Buffet’s secretary paid greater amount in taxes than her boss. There is a very logical reason but the emotional response to this truth is being played for all it is worth when this unequal and unfair comparison was used. The taxes they were referring to were payroll taxes which are levied on one’s salary, not one’s wealth. Where Warren Buffet has great wealth and most of his wealth comes from investments, he thus has little salary per se but has wealth which would be taxed under capital gains while the secretary does have a salary and pays income based taxes but she likely pays negligible if any capital gains taxes compared to her boss. Language, statistics, numbers, emotions and truth all take a back seat in the political arena if not a total vacation. The real lesson is we need to take care and carefully inspect anything we are presented with which has political implications as when politics is in play the truth takes a well-deserved holiday.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

January 1, 2014

Happy New Year?

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Welcome to 2014 and almost all the same old problems from 2013 are still with us. In the United States the politicians will only put in six months of making life worse for many just to satisfy their big money donors and largest constituencies and then spend the rest of the Year until election day spending those funds gathered from their big donors to convince everybody that everything going on is not their fault and how they have worked tirelessly to address all the problems that any particular audience cares about most. They will defy the laws of nature and manage to become, or at least appear to become, all things to all people. The real magic is how they can talk to a group at Planned Parenthood in the morning and sound like their best backer and then talk at a Catholic Women’s Auxiliary and sound just as solidly their best backer and do both with equal appearance of honesty. I have concluded that the reason for this phenomenon is simply, most of the politicians have compromised so much that they no longer have any personal opinions and simply read the prepared speech and do not even bother to really read what it is they are saying. Perhaps that is why so many politicians get so befuddled when somebody actually bothers to ask them why they voted one way or the other; they do not even know themselves why they vote as they do. The one thing politicians are competent at is feigned sincerity. Perhaps it is the requirement to vote for legislation you know any honest and truthful person would never consider, but because you need others to back your legislative agenda to assist and help your constituents, you have to swallow your pride, reputation and every last vestige of self-respect and vote for items such as a bridge to nowhere Alaska in order to get the highway funds to repair a bridge in need of replacement that threatens to collapse into the river. Exactly how many of such compromises, and many far worse, does it take to corrupt even the most honest individual? That is probably the best argument for term limits as that might save the people’s souls we send into government before the government way corrupts them completely.

 

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, could also earn a new nickname, the Destroyer of Your Health Insurance Plan which President Obama will try to convince you that you did not really like it and the one he has for you is so much more. And we have to give the President his due as the insurance he will foist on you is more, expensive that is and covers so many items you did not realize you needed to insure. I am sure that most people need to cover maternity care, birth control, newborn care, mental health, substance use disorder services, ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices and so much more. I look at the coverage guaranteed to be on every individual’s plan and other than the obvious lack of almost half the population, meaning males, have little need for maternity care and nobody will be in need of birth control and maternity and newborn care running concurrently. I am sure with some deeper research there would be numerous other conflicting coverage situations. Obamacare will even make the cost of taking your pet to the veterinarian due to the new tax on medical devices which will also be applied to the devices used by your veterinarian if they can be construed as also having applicable use on humans. There will be other taxes on other items which have but the slightest connection to healthcare such as a tax on tanning salons. On top of all these little disasters is the really important duo, you will not necessarily get to keep your doctor and the government is doing everything in their power to make sure you cannot keep your current health insurance plan going forward. Obamacare was never meant to provide healthcare to the American public, it was designed to destroy healthcare to such a point that even totally government run socialized healthcare would appeal to even the most ardent capitalist.

 

The United States does not get all the problems and disasters going into the New Year so now we take a look at some other problems which will continue to be with us from almost half way around the globe. In Syria they continue to destroy the entire country while decimating the population either by forcing them into squalid refugee camps or simply murdering them in numbers beyond sane thought. The Syrian refugees are left living in tents or whatever cover they can find. Iraq is well on their way to being almost as dangerous as Syria as sectarian violence continues to spread and mount daily. About the only agreement between the Sunni and Shiite in Iraq is they both victimize and murder Christians. Egypt is still fighting a low level civil war and also persecuting their Coptic Christian population. Things are slightly different in Libya where they are having multi-tribal conflicts where the individual tribes are fighting one another vying for preeminence. Yemen has its own version of a civil war with tribes from the north fighting the government who are also at war with al-Qaeda which is occupying areas in the south of that war torn country. In Turkey the government is crumbling under the ramifications of corruption from graft, bribery, favors and other criminal acts. It is even possible that Prime Minister Erdogan might end up having to resign which might deliver a silver lining to this whole sordid affair, the slowing or even reversing of the Islamization of Turkey and the undoing of all the safeguards which Ataturk had put in place to preserve the secular nature of his beloved homeland. Then there is the Arab-Israeli war by the name of peace process. The Arabs, represented by their agents the Palestinians, are still attempting to make a peace with Israel which does not require the recognition of Israel as the homeland for the Jews and that will guarantee that Israel will simply become another Arab Muslim state.

 

The New Year will also be bringing us a former problem which we had all hoped we had seen the last of years ago. President Putin has been quietly squeezing through trade and even military intervention the former central Asian and easternmost European nations which had split from the Soviet Union upon its collapse back into a close and closed orbit of the new hegemonic Russia. The last major event had been the intimidation of Georgia by Russian tanks a few years back. The current target of Russian President Putin is the Ukraine. The leadership of the Ukraine, with the full support of the people, had been attempting to reach a trade agreement with the European Union. After threats and intimidations from President Putin where he threatened to cut off all Russian trade with the Ukraine as well as preventing the flow of oil between the two nations, the President Viktor Yanukovych of the Ukraine backed away from the agreement with the European Union and signed a long contract exclusive trade agreement with Russia. The people of the Ukraine are protesting en masse taking control at times of the center city of the capital, Kiev. Popular protests exist in other Ukrainian cities but as they are dependent upon receiving assistance from the European Union or from the United States, their position does not appear favorable. The Europeans, especially those in the European Union, have no stomach to take on a trade war with Russia and especially President Putin. As for the United States, the Ukrainian protesters had best take a serious and long look at the Green Revolution of 2009 in Iran and see what happens to people who try to bring democratic change to their nation and remove oppressive leadership and include assistance from the United States and President Obama and then seriously consider going home unless they believe they can win on their own.

 

We could continue on and cover Iran and nuclear weapons, China and their encroachment and their finally coming out as a new Pacific naval power, the gender and religious apartheid in Saudi Arabia and much of the surrounding world, the still total anarchy in Somalia and so much more, but its New Year’s Eve and I would rather go to a party, any party. Just the same, may everyone have a healthy and memorable New Years and may none of the world’s cares or worries interfere with your lives. Take care of your friends and family and try to commit to one kind effort each day as eventually the little changes we each make will eventually add up and bless us in return. May your lives have meaning and your cares have solutions which are within your grasp. And most of all, may G0d bless you and your loved ones with health, peace and contentment. May your life be full of health, smiles and precious joys. Happy New Year to all.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

November 23, 2013

The Debate is Cloture and Not the Filibuster

The main reason that the mainstream media is talking about the Senate changing the rules on the practice of filibuster is due to their being too lazy to explain what the Senate really did and actually educate the people who might not be as up on their United States Constitution as used to be the norm earlier in American history. The Senate changed the rules on cloture which is the means by which a filibuster is ended, not prevented or even stopped dead but ended with a possibility of allowing limited debate time to each Senator if the rules so permit. So, let us take a short trip back through history, and I promise to try to be brief. When the Constitution was ratified and became the founding document for the governance of the United States in 1789 there were no rules limiting debate in any manner. Senators could talk on any legislation pending before that august body until the cows came home and beyond. That was the beauty of the Constitution and the original interpretation of the idea that the House of Representatives was a rough and tumble and coarser body while the Senate was proper and deliberative with cordial rules and mutual respect, a far cry from what we have today and even originally. Do not for one second believe that American politicking has become raucous and vile only in the recent past as it actually has become more sensitive and polite. Nobody is referring to the other candidate for President of being a hermaphrodite or of being the son of a half-breed Indian squaw. To quote the two gentlemen in question behind those remarks, and they are to this day considered gentlemen though I doubt the shorter of the two would have agreed with such a description when he was alive; the Jefferson campaign described President Adams as a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman,” and Adams in return defined Vice President Jefferson as “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Yes, believe it or not these were the President and Vice President of the United States at that time as originally the candidate with the most votes became President and the candidate who came in second became the Vice President but we obviously changed that as it became a tad unworkable and obviously so. The Twelfth Amendment in 1804 put this problem to rest allowing for separate ballots for President and Vice President but did not dictate that the two office holders be from the same party, it is still possible though unlikely that the President and Vice President could come from different parties.

Back to the “nuclear option” voted on by the Senate this past week. The Senate rules call for a simple majority vote with limited debate for any motion to alter, add or deduct from the rules under which the Senate operates thus making any chance for a filibuster basically mute. Because of that the Democrats with their four seat advantage won the passage of the new rules by a 52-48 vote. President Obama took the opportunity to continue his war against the minority Republicans in the Senate in a short speech after which he delegated a person to answer any questions in what has become a normal routine of never allowing the President to be questioned by the press directly or be allowed to ever go off of the carefully scripted words on his teleprompter. Sometimes I think that it would be both revealing and educational allowing for the truthful revelation of the character and inner feelings of a President if it were required that he take a session answering press questions at least once each month and could be required when asked to appear before either branch of Congress to answer questions on any legislation brought to the floor by request of the White House or any member of the President’ own party. Any additional information that is revealed concerning a President’s inner feelings, ability to think quickly and respond to unexpected queries and situations as well as anything that fills the people with additional truths about the person supposedly running the nation and being the face of the American people and the nation on the world’s stage should be encouraged, even mandated. The Senate changing the rules such that a cloture vote which restricts virtually ending debate on appointment for judgeships and other posts to a simple majority has basically changed the process into simply the Senate being a rubber stamp for all but the absolute worst nominations, and even then it might be questionable if the Democrats would not simply bow before the President’s will. This may prove to be catastrophic or it may simply end up as a tempest in a teapot, it all depends on which appointments now gain affirmation who might have been prevented by a Republican or a single Democrat deciding to filibuster the nomination. This I just one more time will tell and I have found that time usually tells long after anybody is paying attention. A perfect example, except that people are paying attention, is Kathleen Sebelius and the catastrophic rollout of Obamacare. Had that gone relatively smoothly with only minor glitches we would have never known how vacuous that woman is and how Health and Human Services is being directed by an incompetent who appears incapable of managing a major project any better than a junior project manager in training.

 

There will be some commentators and political talking heads who will go off the deep end and erroneously relate that this move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was unconstitutional and that the Constitution enumerates the right and procedures known as the filibuster and cloture vote. They are mistaken at best and intentionally misleading at worst. The truth is that the Constitution says absolutely nothing about either process by name. Under the Constitution the original Senate had absolutely no limit on the length of the debate thus allowing every Senator and thus every State to have ample time to discuss and debate the merits of legislation and even return home to get their marching orders from the State Legislatures which chose the Senators. The Senate under Article I, Section 5, Clause 3 was empowered to write its own rules concerning debate and the procedures which govern the same. The Senate adopted its first anti-filibuster rule in 1917 calling such a procedure cloture. Traditionally the cloture vote has taken some form of supermajority in order to shut down debate. The rules of the Senate, according to the writings of the Founders, was to be a more deliberative body which fully debated legislation thus allowing the Senate to reject any legislations which was passed under emotional or other reaction to momentary events and to represent the individual States within the Federal Government such that the States would be protected from the rapacious appetite for power and dominion by any Congress or President. It is interesting that the initial limitation to debate came in 1917, four years after the ratification of one of the most destructive laws to ever make its way onto the books, let alone the Constitution, the Amendment XVII which forever changed the Congress and permitted the unrestrained expansion of the powers, reach, and oppressive abilities of the Federal Government. Under this amendment the States no longer appointed their own Senators in any manner they saw fit, be it appointed by the Governor, appointed by the Governor and ratified by some branch of the State Legislature, appointed directly by the State Legislature or even directly elected by the people which any State could have enacted as their method had they so chosen. This was a direct assault on the rights of the States and took place under a wave of humanist excitement where it was believed that the people, if allowed to voice their combined will, would reach a more reasoned and duly proper decision than any that could be reached by the corrupt and despicable State Governances. The members of the Federal Government even back then looked upon the State Governments, from which many of them had originally served, with contempt and disdain. They saw them as incapable of reasoned thought or honest debate. Looking at the Congress of today one might come to the conclusion that a monarchy might be preferable, but surely I jest. It is likely certain that had the Senate remained as intended a product of the individual State Governments deciding their selection process that the vast majority of States would have decided to allow for the direct election of their Senators in the Federal Government anyways, so there is probably little difference today that if the Amendment XVII were never passed or ratified. One note on history, both the Amendment XVII and the Amendment XVI, which enacted the income tax, have both had claims made that they were not truly ratified by the necessary States within the time limited by the Constitution and are therefore not enforceable. Thus far nobody has won a court case challenging either Amendment. Given my personal choice, I would prefer ridding the United States of the Amendment XVII as returning a greater amount of limiting force by the individual States would do more to limit and turn back the growth of the Federal Government than anything else I have ever heard promoted. The one item that would cease to exist immediately would be the imposition of unfunded mandates on the individual States by Federal legislation as that has become a nasty and not all that uncommon way that the Federal Government passes legislation while forcing the States to finance the implementation and continue maintenance of the legislation and not burdening the Federal budget with such costs. Imagine a Federal Government which was forced to pay for every consequence of their legislative agendas. They would soon go on a legislative diet which the press would label gridlock and the Representatives and Senators would label sticker shock from seeing the financial consequences of all of their actions and being unable to pass the costs off on the States. That was an imagine that Mr. John Lennon missed in his song, but being British I guess he should be forgiven.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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