Friday, March 23, 2012

America's Taliban

Baptist Mullah Dennis Terry introduces Rick Santorum with a speech sermon in which he demands that those who do not worship Jesus get out of America. Rick Santorum joins in the standing ovation.

He doesn't mention Jews and atheists by name, mostly because he's too busy railing against Buddhists, Muslims, gays, and abortion, but he's quite clear that those who aren't Christian, as he defines it, don't belong in America. (I wonder if he realizes that Rick Santorum is one of those Mary-worshipping papists.) He also claims he's told he cannot voice his beliefs and can't pray, a claim belied by the fact that he's perfectly free to give his crazy hate-filled rant.

In fact, it's astounding how much freedom these crazy people have. The bigoted loon who keeps jumping up in a standing ovation (e.g. 2:38 and 3:16) is desecrating the American flag, in violation of U.S. Code Title 36 Chapter 10 Section 176 (d) and should be incurring criminal penalties under Louisiana state law. Yet no police officer interfered with this anti-American scofflaw. Maybe it's time we cracked down on these crazy people when they violate the law.

Regardless, "we" at Unforeseen Contingencies do agree with with Mr. Terry that those who don't love America and don't like the way we do things should get out. Of course, the actual American way is individual liberty, not mandatory fundamentalist insanity.

Here's his maniacal rant. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

America's Taliban strikes out again

Rick Santorum's campaign is going down in flames, as I suggested it would. His thinking is disorganized, and his campaign reflects that. His campaign was unable to correctly file in at least three states: Virginia (didn't make the ballot), Ohio, and in Illinois (reducing his eligibility for delegates in these latter states). His campaigning in Puerto Rico reduced his support there when he fabricated a provision of the Constitution that mandates English. The only consistency he's capable of is his crazy religious conservatism, and that will not sell with most Americans.

I've occasionally argued that this is unfortunate: if Santorum were the GOP candidate, he'd be utterly crushed by Obama, and the landslide would greatly discredit religious conservatism as a political force. Instead, when Romney loses, the religious nuts and their conservative bedfellows will claim it was because Romney wasn't sufficiently conservative, and no doubt because he isn't Christian. That's unfortunate, because we desperately need a sane opposition to the progressives and leftists.

But in truth, the Republican primaries ought to be enough evidence that the religious right is not a crucial political force. After all, it is Romney who is gathering all the delegates, not Santorum. If the religious right were a politically decisive force, one would expect Santorum to be clobbering Romney, instead of the reverse. When Santorum does win, he just squeaks by with maybe a third of the vote. That even among the Republican party core only a minority is infected with Santorumitis ought to be enough evidence.

Despite not being a decisive political force, the religious right is a dangerous one. It's able to get its crazy ideas a hearing, and in doing so poisons our political debates. There's no war on religion, but the in pandering to the religious right, the Republican party has repeated the crazy claim. And why is contraception a political issue? This is utterly crazy. I can only hope that the exposure the religious right's ideas are getting is discrediting them.

It would be a good thing if the religious extremists are badly humiliated in an election. It's unlikely they'd learn much from the experience, but it might teach politicians that pandering to this crowd is not worthwhile. What we really need are politicians with enough courage and sense to tell the religious right to mind their own business and stop trying to seize the state to force their theology on the rest of us. What we need are politicians with actual convictions who are willing to speak out against religious lunatics, instead of trying trying to win their votes. We need more people with the forthrightness of Barry Goldwater:

"The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'"

More from Goldwater:

"I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics. The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength."

And more:

"By maintaining the separation of church and state the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars . . . Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers? Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northem Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state? ... The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives. . . We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn't stop now. ... To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic."

Amen Brother Goldwater!

I suspect America's Taliban will not go away, but I certainly hope they lose all credibility.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sam Harris, Islam, and Liberalism

Spring break! Time enough to post something! (Even if it is just a post about someone else's blogpost.)

Sam Harris has an excellent short essay on Islam vs. Liberalism, certainly worth reading. In it he discusses, with his usual refreshing frankness, the anti-liberal and often homicidal tendencies that infect so much of Islam and the immoral and crazy defenses of it from the politically correct left. Apparently he's something of a target for attacks from the PC diversity crowd as a result, leading him to lament he feels "liberalism is simply doomed."

He's confused -- the craziness and malignance of the PC left is not a sign of a problem within liberalism. Harris repeatedly makes the error of assuming that modern progressives are liberals. They are not, and their intellectual ancestry is not liberal. They're not the descendants of John Locke, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, and other genuine liberals. In the utterly incoherent political taxonomy employed in the United States the PC left is called "liberal," but it isn't liberal and never has been. The real liberals were always about primacy of the individual, the liberty of the individual, understood that coercion and unreason are the fundamental threats against that liberty, and saw the institutionalized sources of coercion -- especially the state -- as dangerous things to be carefully constrained and limited. Try finding any of that in the modern counterfeit liberalism. You can't. (It's not in conservatism, either.)

The threat to liberalism in this case is that liberalism has been abandoned by intellectuals some time ago, in favor of some alleged "higher" value -- the good of the state, the proletariat, society, God, whatever. The illiberal intellectual, of whatever political stripe, assumes s/he has special insight for the rest of us how we should be constrained and limited in order to further these alleged higher values. The bizarre thing about the diversity PC version of illiberalism is that it refuses to choose among the phony "higher values" to which individuals are to be sacrificed: so long as there is a substantial religious or cultural tradition (preferably not one's own) it is to be carefully protected and defended, no matter how ridiculous or monstrous.

This confusion over liberalism isn't crucial to Harris' essay, which is a nice rebuttal of Islam and the crazy PC defenses of it.

I'm much more upbeat about the future of liberalism -- maybe not in the United States, or in the west, where it is actively opposed by "liberals" and conservatives alike -- but liberalism, real liberalism meets a human need that is not going to die because of cranky ideologies and religions.

Postscript: I'm slowly working my way through Harris' book The Moral Landscape, and at some point will post a substantive review of it. It's an extremely important book, and his arguments deserve very careful thought.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Dynamic Scoring and the Debt

Here's an excellent short analysis of "dynamic scoring," by John Buckley, Visiting Professor of Tax Accounting at the Georgetown University Law School. While the subject seems esoteric and wonky (perhaps because it is) it's vitally important. Dynamic scoring is the practice of incorporating economic theory into projections of fiscal policy.

For example, suppose Congress cuts marginal tax rates by 10%. What happens? The usual CBO practice is, more or less, to assume normal economic growth, hold everything else constant, and project what would happen -- static scoring. Of course, we know that changing tax rates changes behavior, an that this has effects on the outcome. Dynamic scoring tries to incorporate our theoretical understanding of these changes and effects. Unfortunately, in macroeconomics, our understanding is much less than perfect, making dynamic scoring an exercise in "assumptions in, assumptions out."

Currently a number of Republican politicians are advocating the use of dynamic scoring by federal authorities to evaluate tax and spending proposals...and what they have in mind is incorporating wildly wrong assertions from supply side economics. Dynamic scoring using these assumptions would almost certainly make proposals that are fiscally irresponsible appear to be reasonable -- all one has to do is assert growth effects that outweigh any negative consequences. Buckley's piece carefully dissects this dangerous nonsense.

Simon Johnson calls dynamic scoring "making the United States more like Greece," in that it would be a way to hide the extent of America's debt. I suppose proponents claim to have justification for their assumptions, and there is a modicum of truth to supply side insights, but it is hard to understand how anyone can believe strong supply side assumptions. Cutting taxes won't balance the budget. The GOP is promoting accounting fraud as a political tool.

Bruce Bartlett, former economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, makes exactly this argument in New York Times, that this is primarily a political strategy. I hasten to add that these conservative proponents are also poisoning economic science with this fraudulent nonsense (something Bartlett has argued elsewhere). This harms the case for the free market, for limited government, and for fiscal responsibility. The advocates of this smoke and mirrors accounting only pretend to be interested in the free market, limited government and fiscal responsibility -- and their nonsense makes it extremely difficult for those of us who really do care.

Buckley's piece is important. Read it!

Thanks to Simon Johnson and Tax Analysts for making Buckley's piece publicly available.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Have Republicans gone crazy?

What has happened to the Republican electorate, at least those who vote in the primaries? Evidence from Gallup suggests that the federal debt is one of the most important issues to them (92% identified it as very important or extremely important). Presumably by this they mean they are worried about its explosive growth, and not that is it growing too slowly.

So how to explain this? The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget recently released a study of the budget proposals of the four remaining Republican candidates for President. They compare the specific proposals of the candidates to what they call a "reasonable baseline," which is something akin to CBO's "alternative fiscal scenario." The baseline assumes permanent growth in the debt-to-GDP ratio, i.e. it is unsustainable. What do they find the GOP candidates proposals do, relative to this unsustainable baseline?

Gingrich: increases the debt-to-GDP ratio 30% by 2021.

Romney: increases the debt-to-GDP ratio 1% by 2021.

Santorum: increases the debt-to-GDP ratio 19% by 2021.

Paul: reduces the debt-to-GDP ratio 9% by 2021.

A separate study suggests President Obama's proposed 2013 budget would roughly begin to stabilize the debt in the same period.

Whether or not any of the budget proposals could actually be put into place if the candidate were elected is beside the point. (President Obama's proposed budget is likely DOA.) The puzzling point is... why isn't the Republican electorate outraged? The evidence is that President Obama's budget proposals are more fiscally responsible than those of the real Republicans. (Let's face it, while Ron Paul is not genuinely a libertarian, he's surely not a conservative Republican, either.)

It's hard to fathom the hard core of the Republican electorate, those who are voting in the primaries. This study has been widely reported. How can the vast majority of them be voting for utter fiscal irresponsibility? I can only conclude that they are ignorant, stupid, and so out of touch with reality that they do not believe that facts matter. In short, yes, they are crazy.

Update, 3 March: It's clear that of the four candidates who remain, only one, Ron Paul, can in any way said to be serious about tackling the debt problem, and also about actually constraining and reversing the alarming growth in the power of the federal government that has occurred over the last 12 years (or maybe we should say 224 years). And he's also the only one of the four who has not won a state primary race. (Although Maine is suspect, since the "official" totals omitted more than 10% of the votes cast, much more than Romney's "victory" margin.) It's quite clear that the hard core of the Republican voters, given the chance, will not vote for liberty and smaller government, despite their professed, and I think in some ways sincere, concerns about debt and the growth of government. What could this be but irrational thought processes and extreme self-deception? Yes, certifiably crazy.

Results for U.S. Republican Presidential Primaries
(with apologies for my inadequate use of HTML code)

State Gingrich Paul Romney Santorum
02/28 AZ 16.2% 8.4% 47.3% 26.6%
02/28 MI 6.5% 11.6% 41.1% 37.9%
02/11 ME 6.7% 34.9% 39.0% 18.1%
02/07 CO 12.8% 11.8% 34.9% 40.3%
02/07 MN 10.8% 27.1% 16.9% 44.9%
02/07 MO 0% 12.2% 25.3% 55.2%
02/04 NV 21.1% 18.8% 50.1% 10.0%
01/31 FL 31.9% 7.0% 46.4% 13.3%
01/21 SC 40.4% 13.0% 27.8% 17.0%
01/10 NH 9.4% 22.9% 39.3% 9.4%
01/03 IA 13.3% 21.4% 24.5% 24.6%

Source: AP

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Good news-Bad news?

In something of an ironic twist, Syrians are giving their lives in battling for liberty, against tyrannical government. Most of the world is aligning itself with the Syrian rebels. Assad's sole supporters now seem to be Russia, China, and Cuba. The values being fought for are fundamentally those that America was built on, and regardless of how Syria's nightmare turns out, these values seem to be ascendant -- the oft-suggested alternative of authoritarian "capitalism," as in the China model -- is not... not even in China.

The ironic twist is that a sizable share of the American electorate seems to be in the grip of an opposing set of values -- those of authoritarianism. Consider that a fair number of Republican voters appear to be delighted with Rick Santorum, the candidate who explicitly denies that individuals should be free to make their own decisions. The "God given rights" he prates about are, to him, the "right" to obey God's commands, nothing more, and it is the job of the state to be sure that we do. Of course, since God is not saying what this entails, it's the job of Rick and his fellow annointed ones to decide for us. In other words, in a Santorum regime, we'd all have the "right" to obey the moral law Santorum lays out for us.

It's understandable that these kinds of crazy ideas still have currency in an isolated, undeveloped, wartorn, utterly backward place like Afghanistan. It's much harder to fathom how they could have any support at all in the country that was born as the home of individual liberty, the country based on unalienable rights that supersede any and all government power or authority.

It's clear that there's no future at all in the tyranny and oppression promoted by madmen like Santorum and the Taliban. These ideologies cannot sustain a civilization, and in the end, freedom is much more appealing to most people than coerced "morality." If America were to elect a Rick Santorum as President, we'd be placing ourselves on the wrong side of history. Of course, Santorum has no chance of winning the GOP nomination, much less the Presidency. But it's not so clear that this is because Americans are deeply committed to liberty, and unfortunately his dangerous rantings are pushing the Republicans closer towards embracing religious tyranny. And as Santorumitis and other strange delusions grip the core of the Republican electorate, the majority of Americans, who still seem to be relatively sane, will have no alternative but the Democrats, who at least pay nominal respect to freedom, to reason, to science, but who -- like Santorum and his ilk -- will also be only too happy to expand the size and scope of the state, given the chance.

It's very possible that American values could be on the ascendancy, while they are being permanently discarded at home.

Holy Books Burned!

Another American apologizes over crisis over the burning of the Qurans in Afghanistan. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

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