A Philosopher's Blog

Mad PACS: Money Road

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 25, 2015

“The road to the White House is not just any road. It is longer than you’d think and a special fuel must be burned to ride it. The bones of those who ran out of fuel are scattered along it. What do they call it? They call it ‘money road.’ Only the mad ride that road. The mad or the rich.”

-Mad PACs


While some countries have limited campaign seasons and restrictions on political spending, the United States follows its usual exceptionalism. That is, the campaign seasons are exceptionally long and exceptional sums of money are required to properly engage in such campaigning.  The presidential campaign, not surprisingly, is both the longest and the most costly. The time and money requirements put rather severe restrictions on who can run a viable campaign for the office of President.

While the 2016 Presidential election takes place in November of that year, as of the May of 2015 a sizable number of candidates have declared that they are running. Campaigning for President is a full-time job and this means that person who is running must either have no job (or other comparable restrictions on her time) or have a job that permits her to campaign full time.

It is not uncommon for candidates to have no actual job. For example, Mitt Romney did not have a job when he ran in 2012. Hilary Clinton also does not seem to have a job in 2015, aside from running for President. Not having a job does, obviously, provide a person with considerable time in which to run for office. Those people who do have full-time jobs and cannot leave them cannot, obviously enough, make an effective run for President. This certainly restricts who can make an effective run for President.

It is very common for candidates to have a job in politics (such as being in Congress, being a mayor or being a governor) or in punditry. Unlike most jobs, these jobs apparently give a person considerable freedom to run for President. Someone more cynical than I might suspect that such jobs do not require much effort or that the person running is showing he is willing to shirk his responsibilities.

On the face of it, it seems that only those who do not have actual jobs or do not have jobs involving serious time commitments can effectively run for President. Those who have such jobs would have to make a choice—leave the job or not run. If a person did decide to leave her job to run would need to have some means of support for the duration of the campaign—which runs over a year. Those who are not independent of job income, such as Mitt Romney or Hilary Clinton, would have a rather hard time doing this—a year is a long time to go without pay.

As such, the length of the campaign places very clear restrictions on who can make an effective bid for the Presidency. As such, it is hardly surprising that only the wealthy and professional politicians (who are usually also wealthy) can run for office. A shorter campaign period, such as the six weeks some countries have, would certainly open up the campaign to people of far less wealth and who do not belong to the class of professional politicians. It might be suspected that the very long campaign period is quite intentional: it serves to limit the campaign to certain sorts of people. In addition to time, there is also the matter of money.

While running for President has long been rather expensive, it has been estimated that the 2016 campaign will run in the billions of dollars. Hilary Clinton alone is expected to spend at least $1 billion and perhaps go up to $2 billion. Or even more. The Republicans will, of course, need to spend a comparable amount of money.

While some candidates have, in the past, endeavored to use their own money to run a campaign, the number of billionaires is rather limited (although there are, obviously, some people who could fund their own billion dollar run). Candidates who are not billionaires must, obviously, find outside sources of money. Since money is now speech, candidates can avail themselves of big money donations and can be aided by PACs and SuperPACs. There are also various other clever ways of funneling dark money into the election process.

Since people generally do not hand out large sums of money for nothing, it should be evident that a candidate must be sold, to some degree, to those who are making it rain money. While a candidate can seek small donations from large numbers of people, the reality of modern American politics is that it is big money rather than the small donors that matter. As such, a candidate must be such that the folks with the big money believe that he is worth bankrolling—and this presumably means that they think he will act in their interest if he is elected. This means that these candidates are sold to those who provide the money. This requires a certain sort of person, namely one who will not refuse to accept such money and thus tacitly agree to act in the interests of those providing the money.

It might be claimed that a person can accept this money and still be her own woman—that is, use the big money to get into office and then act in accord with her true principles and contrary to the interests of those who bankrolled her. While not impossible, this seems unlikely. As such, what should be expected is candidates who are willing to accept such money and repay this support once in office.

The high cost of campaigning seems to be no accident. While I certainly do not want to embrace conspiracy theories, the high cost of campaigning does ensure that only certain types of people can run and that they will need to attract backers. As noted above, the wealthy rarely just hand politicians money as free gifts—unless they are fools, they expect a return on that investment.

In light of the above, it seems that Money Road is well designed in terms of its length and the money required to drive it. These two factors serve to ensure that only certain candidates can run—and it is worth considering that these are not the best candidates.

LaBossiere UC 2016Since I have a job and am unwilling to be bought, I obviously cannot run for President. However, I am a declared uncandidate—my failure is assured.


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How You Should Vote

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 13, 2014

As I write this in early October, Election Day in the United States is about a month away. While most Americans do not vote, there is still in question of how a voter should vote.

While I do have definite opinions about the candidates and issues on the current ballot in my part of Florida, this essay is not aimed at convincing you to vote as I did (via my mail-in ballot). Rather, my goal is to discuss how you should vote in general.

The answer to the question of how you should vote is easy: if you are rational, then you should vote in your self-interest. In the case of a specific candidate, you should vote for the candidate you believe will act in your self-interest. In the case of such things as ballot measures, you should vote for or against based on how you believe it will impact your self-interest. So, roughly put, you should vote for what is best for you.

While this is rather obvious advice, it does bring up two often overlooked concerns. The first is the matter of determining what is actually in your self-interest. The second is determining whether or not your voting decision is in your self-interest. In the case of a candidate, the concern is whether or not the candidate will act in your self-interest. In the case of things like ballot measures, the question is whether or not the measure will be advantageous to your interests or not.

It might be thought that a person just knows what is in her self-interest. Unfortunately, people can be wrong about this. In most cases people just assume that if they want or like something, then it is in their self-interest. But, what a person likes or wants need not be what is best for him. For example, a person might like the idea of cutting school funding without considering how it will impact her family. In contrast, what people do not want or dislike is assumed to be against their self-interest. Obviously, what a person dislikes or does not want might not be bad for her. For example, a person might dislike the idea of an increased minimum wage and vote against it without considering whether it would actually be in their self-interest or not. The take-away is that a person needs to look beyond what he likes or dislikes, wants or does not want in order to determine her actual self-interest.

It is natural to think that of what is in a person’s self interest in rather selfish terms. That is, in terms of what seems to benefit just the person without considering the interests of others. While this is one way to look at self-interest, it is worth considering what might seem to be in the person’s selfish interest could actually be against her self-interest. For example, a business owner might see paying taxes to fund public education as being against her self-interest because it seems to have no direct, selfish benefit to her. However, having educated fellow citizens would seem to be in her self-interest and even in her selfish interest. For example, having the state pay for the education of her workers is advantageous to her—even if she has to contribute a little. As another example, a person might see paying taxes for public health programs and medical aid to foreign countries as against her self-interest because she has her own medical coverage and does not travel to those countries. However, as has been shown with Ebola, public and even world health is in her interest—unless she lives in total isolation. As such, even the selfish should consider whether or not their selfishness in a matter is actually in their self-interest.

It is also worth considering a view of self-interest that is more altruistic. That is, that a person’s interest is not just in her individual advantages but also in the general good. For this sort of person, providing for the common defense and securing the general welfare would be in her self-interest because her self-interest goes beyond just her self.

So, a person should sort out her self-interest and consider that it might not just be a matter of what she likes, wants or sees as in her selfish advantage. The next step is to determine which candidate is most likely to act in her self-interest and which vote on a ballot measure is most likely to serve her self-interest.

Political candidates, obviously enough, try very hard to convince their target voters that they will act in their interest. Those backing ballot measures also do their best to convince voters that voting a certain way is in their self-interest.

However, the evidence is that politicians do not act in the interest of the majority of those who voted for them. Researchers at Princeton and Northwestern conducted a study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”, to determine whether or not politicians acted based on the preferences of the majority. The researchers examined about 1,800 policies and matched them against the preferences expressed by three classes: the average American (50th income percentile), the affluent American (the 90th percentile of income) and the large special interest groups.

The results are hardly surprising: “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” This suggests that voters are rather poor at selecting candidates who will act in their interest (or perhaps that there are no candidates who will do so).

It can be countered that the study just shows that politicians generally act contrary to the preferences of the majority but not that they act contrary to their self-interest. After all, I made the point that what people want (prefer) might not be what is in their self-interest. But, on the face of it, unless what is in the interest of the majority is that the affluent get their way, then it seems that the politicians voters choose generally do not act in the best interest of the voters. This would indicate that voters should pick different candidates.


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Democrats at Work

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 6, 2013
The "Kicking Donkey" party logo is s...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post has been created to allow comments about Democrats at Work to be made in a relevant context. Drop those comments like Weiner drops his pants. Drop them hard like…um…best not to go there.

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Tax or Penalty?

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 6, 2012

Taxes (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

The United States Supreme Court ruled that the ACA is constitutional. However, there was an interesting twist in the ruling: while the administration’s main argument for the mandate was made in the context of commerce, this was rejected. Instead, the ruling noted that the ability to impose the penalty for not purchasing the insurance did legitimately fall under the right of congress to tax.

Not surprisingly, a rhetorical battle began shortly after the ruling regarding whether or not the penalty is a tax or not. The Republican’s main narrative is that the penalty is a tax and that it will be very bad indeed. The Democrat’s main narrative is that it is a penalty and that it is a necessary if not good thing. There is, of course, the question of what the truth of the matter might be.

Given the ruling, the Supreme Court’s view (or at least 5 of the 4 members) seems to be that the penalty is a tax. This is mainly because the power to impose the penalty comes under the power of congress to tax rather than being justified in regards to commerce. As such, the idea that it is a tax has a reasonable foundation. That said, it seems to be an unusual sort of tax in that it functions more like penalty-that is, one pays it for failing to do something that is required.

On the face of it, taking the penalty to be a tax is somewhat like taking a ticket for not wearing a seat belt (a common practice in the United States) to be a tax. After all, one has to pay a penalty for not following the requirement to wear a seatbelt just as one has to pay a penalty for not following the requirement to get insurance. It seems rather odd to call such penalties taxes. After all, folks generally don’t say things like “I was taxed for speeding today” or “I got taxed because I parked illegally.” In the case of penalties, they generally seem to aim at punishing people for what they did (or failed to do).

While taxes do cause pain, they generally seem to differ from penalties. After all, when I pay a sales tax, this does not seem to be a penalty (or maybe it is—perhaps I am getting punished for buying local rather than via Amazon.com). Similarly, when my salary is taxed, I find that unpleasant, but it is not intended to deter me from working. That is, it is taxing but not penalizing.

As such, the penalty would seem to be a penalty that has been legally justified under the power to tax.

The obvious reply to this is that this makes all the difference. While it is a penalty, it is justified under the power to tax and is thus a tax. This, of course, does raise a question about what justifies the state in imposing penalties. The state can, of course, arrest me, lock me up, take my property, and kill me and these are justified in terms other than taxes. That is, an execution is not a tax one pays with one’s life. If the state can impose such penalties to get people to do and not do things without them being taxes, then it seems to indicate that the penalty in the ACA could be so justified. The main difference is that the mechanism of imposition is via the IRS rather than via the police.

The obvious reply to this is that involving the IRS makes it a tax—after all, that is what they do.  If the penalty was handled another way by another agency, then it might not be a tax. But, if it is handled via the IRS, then it is a tax.

While this does have considerable appeal, there are other cases in which one agency performs a function that does not automatically make it a function of that sort. For example, the military sometimes functions in a police role or a firefighting role, but it would not be claimed that police functions or firefighting are thus combat actions because they are done by a government body that normally engages in combat. Likewise, just because the IRS is providing the mechanism by which the penalty operates, it need not be a tax.

The counter to this is, of course, to note that the IRS is handling it like a tax. So, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. So, the penalty is a tax.

At this point (if not earlier), readers might be wondering why it matters. After all, calling it a “tax” or calling it a “penalty” does nothing to change anything about the penalty/tax and this makes it seem to be a mere semantic point.

This does, in fact, seem to be the truth of the matter. The main dispute is not something substantial that would change the law if one side was right and the other wrong. Rather, it seems to be entirely a rhetorical battle. On the current typical Republican narrative, if something is a tax, then it is bad. So, if the penalty is a tax, then it is bad. By imposing this tax, the ACA is also bad.  Plus, Obama claimed he would not raise taxes for the non-wealthy and that the penalty is not a tax—so if it is a tax, he would be wrong twice. As such, the Republicans can score rhetorical points if it is seen as tax.

On the Democrat’s narrative, the penalty is a penalty, but it is what makes the ACA work and hence it is a good thing because the ACA is a good thing. Plus, the claim is that only a tiny percentage of people will actually be impacted by the penalty.

Thus, it does seem that the dispute is not over anything substantial but rather a rhetorical battle. This is not to say that the dispute is not important. It is, since there are political points to be won or lost here based on which label sticks. For those of us on the receiving end, whether it is a tax or penalty does not seem to change anything—either way we have to get insurance or pay. Or do we?

One part of the dispute that does have substance is the matter of the impact of the tax/penalty (perhaps it should be called a tanalty as a bi-partisan compromise). On the Republican narrative, it is supposed to be something both substantial and bad. On the Democrat’s narrative, it is supposed to be minor and good (or at least necessary).

Interestingly, Forbes did an analysis of the penalty that seems to indicate that both narratives are flawed.

It is estimated that, using today’s data, that about 7% of those under 65 would face the possibility of the tax/penalty. The other 93% either have insurance or are exempt from the penalty/tax.

Of those who might be subject to the tax/penalty some will probably buy insurance. About 60% of them will qualify for insurance subsidies. 3% of those possibly subject to the penalty/tax will have to pay full price. Of course, changes in 2014 (when the law goes into effect) could result in changes in these numbers. However, unless there are radical changes, the vast majority of people will not be subject to the tax/penalty.

But, suppose that a person is subject to the penalty/tax and a person refuses to get insurance. The Republican narrative is that this will be a significant tax while the Democrats claim it will not be that bad.

The price starts off at a modest $95 in 2014 and increases to $695 or 2.5% of your income (capping at $2,085—adjustable for inflation). While not something I would like to pay, the penalty/tax is not terribly high. Of course, I am sure that most folks would prefer to avoid paying it at all—which seems to be something that can easily be done.

While the law specifies that the IRS is to enforce the law by imposing a tax penalty, the law also prevents the IRS from using most of its standard tax enforcement methods. For example, the IRS is not permitted to treat the refusal to pay the tax penalty as a criminal act, thus eliminating that avenue of enforcement. Imposing a tax lien will also apparently be rather difficult. In fact, Professors Barry and Camp contend that the mandate is not very mandatory.

The main tool that the IRS does possess in the context of the ACA is that it can reduce a person’s refund. This does provide some bite since about 2/3 of taxpayers get a refund. This does lend some credence to the penalty being a tax—after all, by removing it from the refund it as if the person’s tax burden has increased. Of course, the overall result is the same as a penalty—a traffic ticket for $95 would have the same overall impact as the penalty in 2014.

Of course, even this bite is not as toothy as it might seem. After all, low income households are exempt from this tax penalty and hence their refunds would be untouched even if they decided to do without insurance.

In the face of this, it would seem that the Republican narrative that the tax will be a significant burden seems to be untrue. After all, it will not apply to the vast majority of people, the price itself will be fairly low, and it seems that even those subject to it stand a good chance of being able to avoid it. At most, it will impact those who are well off enough to afford insurance and who will receive a refund and who do not have insurance. That will probably be a rather small number of people.

Ironically, the same facts that seem to defeat the Republican narrative also seem to undercut the main point of the tax penalty. The ACA requires that pre-existing conditions can no longer be a factor in a person qualifying for a policy or its cost. Naturally, the insurance companies are in the business of making money, so they need to cover the additional costs this will impose on them. The tax penalty is supposed to be onerous enough to push people into buying insurance, but it does not seem to be harsh enough or certain enough to serve that function. It also does not seem that it will generate enough revenue to help offset the increased cost. This, interestingly enough, does support another Republican narrative, namely that the ACA is supposed to increase insurance costs. Somewhat ironically, this narrative seems plausible because of the seeming implausibility of another Republican narrative. After all, if the tax penalty were as onerous and sweeping as has been claimed, then it would either push people to buy insurance or provide revenue to offset their failure to do so. As such, it would seem that both parties appear to be in error. That, I am sure, shocks no on.

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Obama’s Broken Promises

Posted in Business, Environment, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 15, 2012
Official photographic portrait of US President...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I am often accused of bashing Republicans while looking away from the sins of the Democrats, this is not the case. After all, I have written posts critical of Democrats. I will, of course, say that the Republicans generally seem to do more things that are in need of criticism-perhaps because the Democrats are known for being a bit weak and passive.

While I will most likely to continue to favor Obama over Romney, I do have serious concerns about some of the policies and actions of the Obama administration (such as the administration’s policy regarding assassination). Thanks to a recent leak, I now have concerns about Obama’s trade policy.

One concern that seems to be bipartisan in nature is that the administration seems to have provided corporations with more information than has been provided to congress. While Republicans are general pro-corporation, at least some of them seem dismayed by this approach. I agree with this concern. While the people who run the corporations are concerned parties, congress is still the legislative body in this country and hence should be at least as well informed by the administration as the corporations are.

A second concern that should also worry the left and the right is that the agreement being pushed by the Obama administration would allow foreign companies operating on US soil to appeal our laws to an international tribunal that could overrule our laws and impose sanctions on us.

For folks who are seen as left leaning, the obvious concerns are that foreign companies could be allowed to violate our labor and environmental laws in ways detrimental to Americans. Ironically, American corporations have often taken actions aimed at allowing them to be exempt from laws in other countries (or to simply see to it that the laws allow them to do as they wish). While corporations do see clear advantages in being able to operate without the burden of such regulations, the price of such freedom is invariably paid by the people impacted by this freedom. That is, the people who are economically exploited and subject to the environmental damages inflicted by said corporations. Since I have been consistently opposed to corporations using there power to the detriment of people overseas, I am opposed to the United States being treated as a third world country.

Folks who are not left leaning should also be concerned about this agreement. First, while the agreement will allow foreign corporations to potentially violate United States law and regulations, American corporations will not be exempt (unless, of course, they cease to be American corporations-and this new agreement would give them an incentive to do so). This could give foreign corporations an unfair advantage over American corporations. In addition to being unfair, it should also dismay those who are supporters of American corporations. Second, this agreement would allow an international tribunal to override the sovereignty of the United States. While folks on the right generally oppose regulation, they generally also rail against attempts to impose on United States sovereignty. Of course, the past criticism from the right on this matter has typically been in regards to more stringent environmental regulations and other things that might seem to be coming from the left side of the political spectrum. Some on the right might sing a different tune when the imposition is to allow foreign corporations to ignore the laws of the United States.

Given the above arguments, I have two main points. The first is that the administration needs to change its approach to dealing with foreign corporations. To be specific, as much as I dislike Congress, I contend that they need to be kept properly informed. They are, after all, a branch of the government. The second is that the proposed agreement is unacceptable.

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Referendum on Obama?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 3, 2010
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...
Image via Wikipedia

The current Republican talking point seems to be that the election was a “referendum on Obama’s polices.”

On the face of it, it obviously was not-his policies were not on the ballots to be voted upon. Of course, the Republicans do not mean that. Rather, they most likely mean that their winning the majority in the House (and doing well in the various gubernatorial races) is an indicator that the majority of Americans have rejected Obama’s policies.

On one hand, this has  a degree of plausibility. After all, the Republican’s tended to run on anti-Obama talking points and have asserted that they will focus on undoing what Obama has done. As such, when people voted for the Republicans they could be taken as also rejecting Obama. Of course, since the Senate is still held by the Democrats and the Democrats won some races, it would seem that the alleged referendum on Obama was not a complete rejection. Naturally, the fact that most folks don’t vote, that people might be voting for specific candidates (or against specific candidates)  also needs to be factored into determining whether this was, in fact, such a virtual referendum.

On the other hand, this notion that this was a referendum on Obama can be disputed. As noted above, it is worth considering the impact that the specific candidates had on the elections. So, for example, perhaps some Republicans won because voters preferred them to the Democrats running against them, as opposed to expressing a general rejection of Obama’s policies.

Another factor worth considering is that most people seem to be unaware of the actual content of the policies in question and their actual effects. As such, to say that this was a referendum on said policies would seem to be implausible. Then again, people do often vote on actual referendums in ignorance of the actual content, so perhaps voters could be seen as rejecting these policies even though they generally do not know much about them. To steal Locke’s phrase, perhaps they are rejecting “they know not what.”

There are already polls being taken as to what Americans think about this talking point. One election day poll indicates that 52% of the voters did regard it as a referendum on Obama. Of course, factoring in a margin of error, it could easily be the case that most voters did not see it as such. However, even if a majority did not see it this way, this is still a significant result.

As far as why the Republicans are pushing the talking point, the most obvious explanation is that they intend to use these results as a mandate to attack Obama and his policies. They have, of course, planned to roll back Obama’s health care legislation and other policies. There is even talk of impeaching Obama, even though he has rather clearly done nothing that would provide a rational justification of such a process.

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Crist Goes Independent

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 2, 2010
A cropped version of :Image:Charlie Crist.
Image via Wikipedia

Being a resident of Florida, I have been following the saga of Charlie Crist. Crist is currently governor of the state but wants to be a senator. A while back it seemed likely that Crist would secure the Republican nomination. However, as the Republican party began steering across the hard line and towards the Kingdom of No Crist decided on a more moderate course. He even accepted federal bailout money for the state.

His moderate leanings (which some claim were the results of pure politics rather than an ideological commitment to being a moderate) prevented him from passing the purity test. This resulted in his failure to secure the Republican nomination and his decision to switch to being an independent. This has created that rare American political beast: a three way race. Michael Steele has expressed his dismay over this and his remarks seemed to indicate that the way elections are supposed to work is that there is a Democrat running against a Republican (with the Democrat losing). Crist claims, of course, that he is doing this for the good of the people of Florida. The more cynical seem to be inclined to say that he is doing this for the good of Charlie Crist.

While I am always suspicious of the motivations of politicians, perhaps Crist does have a good point. Some pundits have pointed out that while Crist could not win the primary, he actually stands a chance in the general election. If this is true, then it makes sense for him to leave the Republicans and run as an independent. After all, if a significant number of voters want to vote for him, then he should have the opportunity to run.  Otherwise, the primary system would seem to serve to deny people the chance to chose the person they want and to give those who dominate a party that choice. Actually, even if most people would vote against him, then he should still have that opportunity-this is supposed to be a democracy, after all.

This situation does raise questions about the primary system as well as the two party system. As I see it, the current system actually limits democracy. I infer that this is exactly what it is supposed to do. As noted above, Steele seems to think that the race should be limited to a Republican and a Democrat (“The voters out there should be given a chance to have a clean call between the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee, Congressman [Kendrick] Meek”). However, I do not think that these two parties have the right to claim a joint monopoly on the election. That is, to say the least, against the very notion of how a democracy should work.

While I am not a major Crist supporter, I do think that he should run as an independent. I am not just saying this because I tend to be a Democrat. Rather, I am saying this because I think that the two party system restricts choice and impairs our democracy.

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Health Care Bill

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 9, 2009

As most folks know, the House narrowly passed the heath care reform bill. Of course, it still has to face the merging process with the Senate. Here are a few points worth considering.

First, the vote was rather close. This indicates that the Democrats are not as unified as once alleged. This might be a division primarily on this issue. To be specific, many Democrats from conservative areas are no doubt thinking that there voters are against the reform bill and hence are doing what they think is needed to get re-elected. Of course, this division could also show a true split in the party between liberals and conservatives that will have ongoing implications.

Second, the bill is extremely long. It is so long that  it is difficult to imagine that anyone has actually read the whole thing. Naturally, it seems reasonable to suspect that all sorts of sneaky deals are hidden in the vast forest of pages. While a vast bill does not automatically entail a bad bill, it has such a vast size that it is reasonable to be concerned about how so many new rules will impact things.

Third, the estimate is that the plan will cost $1.1 trillion over the next ten years. As it stands, it is claimed that it will be paid for by taxing wealthy Americans and by savings from Medicare. Naturally, it is sensible to be suspicious of how the actual funding will work. Years ago, when I did high school and college debate, people would always include a funding plank for their cases. The most common plank was that funding would be acquired by saving money in some other area. Even back then most folks regarded that as completely unrealistic BS and I think that still holds today. So, one wonders where the money really will come from. The answer, as always, is more taxes.

Fourth, the bill requires that everyone buys insurance. This is no doubt thrilling to the insurance companies-if the bill goes through, then everyone is legally required to buy their products. Of course, they are not so thrilled about not being able to refuse insurance based on pre-existing conditions and other related aspects of the bill.  However, the profits of the insurance companies are in no danger. It also seems likely that the cost of medical care will also increase. After all, with insurance people can pay more to hospitals and it would be odd if they did not decide to make even more money by taking advantage of this.


Obama Wins the Marathon at Mile 6!

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 9, 2009

When Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, I began to have doubts about the folks in charge of that award. While Gore was tireless in promoting his agenda and made significant sums of money (presumably he is now tired and rich enough to stay quiet), it was not clear to me that he had made any meaningful contributions to peace. After all, he was talking about global warming, which does not seem to fall under the heading of peace. To avoid any needlessly hateful commentary, I am worried about climate issues and I am generally for peace.

I found out this morning that Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. I was a bit surprised by this. After all, the nominations for the award closed about 12 days after he took office and he has only been in office a few months even now. While he has clearly changed how America handles diplomacy and he has obviously spoken about peace, he really does not have any meaningful achievements at this point. This is not to say that he has not made progress-it is just that I really cannot point to anything he has done and say “lo, this has brought peace.”

To use an analogy, awarding him this prize is like awarding someone the gold medal at mile six of the Olympic marathon. Sure, it is impressive that the person is there, leading the pack at the sixth mile. But, the race is far from over and there are still 20.2 miles to go. Likewise, Obama is off to a great start, but he is still working towards achievements rather than actually achieving them.

Some folks at CNN noted that the award might be because the folks in charge of the award expect him to do great things based on what he has done so far. Going back to the marathon analogy, you don’t get the gold medal because people think you will win. You get it when you win.

Interestingly, some folks on the right claim that “this will backfire on them for a while” and that it is  “a gift to the right.” Naturally, I suspect this sort of claim is just wishful thinking on the part of the right. After all, winning the prize will almost certainly help his standing in the world.  Also, this sort of comment is what I expected to hear. After seeing those folks cheer at Chicago losing the Olympics, I realized that there are conservatives who seem committed beyond reason to being against Obama in all things.

Of course, I am willing to consider that the claim might have some truth. After all, if people think the award is undeserved, then they will most likely think a bit less of Obama for accepting it. After all, if someone tried to hand me a first place trophy six miles into a marathon and I accepted it, my fellow runners would look at me with scorn (and rightfully so).

Folks on the right who are suspicious of foreigners and foreign influence will also see this award as a bad thing. They will probably take it as a sign that Obama is somehow “in” with those foreign folks and this will certainly not enhance their view of him. Of course, these folks are already against him, so I don’t see this as being much of a gift for the right, unless it somehow pushes some folks off the fence towards the right side.

Folks who are very pro-Obama will, of course, see this award as a great thing and no doubt take it as evidence that the world sees the greatness they see. Folks who are for him but lack such devotion will probably not be moved much either way.

My final thought is that while it is great that the President has won the Nobel Peace Prize, I really wish he had actually earned it. I do think that he will, eventually-but the race is not yet run. As any runner will tell you, the award ceremony is after the race, not during it.

Talk Radio Regulation

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 16, 2009

Bill Clinton recently claimed that there needs to be “more balance” on the radio. To be specific, he has asserted that, in response to the “right wing talks shows”,  the government should either revive the Fairness Doctrine or that there should be more programs that present the “other side” (presumably the liberal side).

While no stranger to big money himself, Clinton expressed the worry that ” there’s always been a lot of big money to support the right wing talk shows” and he noted that Rush Limbaugh is very popular.  While I am not aware of a detailed argument from Clinton, his reasoning seems to be that steps need to be taken because there is an imbalance in the political content of radio shows. This imbalance, or so he seems to claim, arises from the support of those with significant amounts of money and the popularity of at least some of the radio personalities.

Clinton is not the only one to speak on the subject. Some Senate Democrats have made noises about holding hearings on the matter, but (as one might expect from Congress) have yet to do anything about it.

The Fairness Doctrine has been applied before and required broadcasters to air “both sides” of controversial subjects. Not surprisingly, it was ruled unconstitutional in 1987. While Democrats in Congress tried to bring it back, Reagan put a stop to it with his veto. However, with Obama in the White House, some Democrats probably see a chance to muzzle the right wing radio hosts.

My view of most right wing radio (and TV) programs is that they mainly serve to spew forth emotion based fallacies (scare tactics, appeals to anger, and so on). Naturally, I often disagree with many of the views presented on such shows. However, I am against the return of the Fairness Doctrine.

One minor reason is that I am always wary of things with names like “Fairness Doctrine.” Generally, such names seem to be applied to proposals to do the exact opposite of what the name entails (like the infamous Committees of Public Safety). Of course, this need not be the case and to argue from the name would be poor reasoning indeed.

One significant reason to not have such a doctrine made into law is that there seems to be no need for such a law. My view of laws is that they should only be created when there is legitimate need for such laws. For example, a significant wrong that requires regulation and legislation to fix would justify the creation of a law. This proposed (or rather, muttered about) law seems to aim at addressing no significant wrong. While it might be contended that the right wing dominates the radio talk shows, it is a fact that the Democrats now control Congress and the White House. As such, there hardly seems to be a compelling reason to reign in the right wing radio folks. Of course, if the left wants the right to split radio time, then perhaps the left would be willing to fork over some political power to balance things out and make them fair.

Another significant reason to not have such a doctrine is that the battle over ideas should not be, in general, fought by using laws (yes, there are obvious exceptions-like laws against censorship and laws against harmful speech). Rather, the battles of ideas should be waged with ideas. If the Democrats want to balance things out with the right wing radio folks, they need to get people on the radio to argue their positions. To call for a law to curb the presentation of ideas you do not like is not the way intellectual exchanges and debates should occur. For example, if my view on the nature of the mind were to start to predominate in philosophical circles, it would be absurd for the philosophers in the minority to demand that my presentations be restricted. Rather, they should sharpen up their arguments and get their ideas out there.

Naturally, if my predominance were due to illegitimate actions on my part (threatening journal editors, for example), then action should be taken. But, if my view is popular because people like it and want to hear it, then that is no grounds for accusing me of unfairness.

In the case of right-wing radio, it could be argued that they have an unfair advantage when it comes to money. However, if the Obama election campaign is any indication, the left has access to vast amounts of money as well. Hence, they should be able to buy radio time as well as the right wing folks. Further, even if they left has less money, that is (to be pragmatic) the way things are. If the left can complain that it is unfair that their competition has more money to spend and hence there needs to be fairness, then small companies can complain about the big companies in regards to advertising. Of course, it can be argued that controversial subjects are a different manner and, of course, it can be argued that such disparities in advertising power are unfair.

It could also be argued that right wing radio has an advantage in that people actually want to listen to folks like Rush Limbaugh. Left wing radio, it can be argued, needs to be supported and protected because it has been vastly less successful.

While there is something to be said about protecting the weak, it seems unreasonable to consider popularity an unfair advantage. There are, after all, popular left wing figures and they surely could be persuaded to get on the air. Also, if the left cannot compete on talk radio fairly, then they need to work on their game rather than insist on handicapping their competition. After all, if I can’t beat someone in a 5K, what I need to do is train harder and better rather than insist that he needs to drag weights when racing.

So, if the Democrats are really worried about the right wing radio folks, they need to get their own radio shows and work on their popularity. Muttering about the success of others and then trying to hobble them is not fairness-it is just lazy, malicious and petty.