4.22.2014

Wealth Isn't Constant

Here's an interesting little factoid about the legendary 1% - well, not the 1% exactly, but the top 400 income earners in a given year.  Within 10 years, 98% of them won't be in the top 400.

We often speak of various percentages of income earners - the top one percent, the bottom quintile, and so on - as if these are fixed, immobile, and entrenched.  I don't know about other places, but in the United States, that isn't the case, especially for those in the top income brackets.

There's also the problem of looking solely at income.  For two years - 2005 and 2006 - my income was at the poverty level or less.  In the second of those years, my adjusted income didn't make it to $10,000.  But I was not poor.  We had two late model cars, a very nice house (rented), three kids in private schools, and were making our way through the $100,000 I'd cleared when we sold a house in 2004 while I looked for another job.  Others also may have decided that their assets are such they can live off those for a while, supplementing a meager income with substantial savings.  For many, this is in effect what "retirement" amounts to.  Low income? Sure, but not poor by a long shot.

Nor should we kid ourselves into thinking the child of somebody in the top percentage is not provided serious advantages or that the child of somebody in the bottom percentage is not with equal seriousness disadvantaged.  There are realities to systemic, multigenerational poverty and wealth.  It can take several generations of Kennedys to squander the wealth accumulated by old Joe.  And the children of a person on welfare are far more likely than the children of one who is not to themselves, in turn, require welfare.

But it is not welfare that helps people achieve prosperity.  Nor is inherited wealth proof against eventual poverty.  We must begin to look at these as dynamic, and assess the impact various behaviors have on both wealth and poverty.  It is a free country, and we should not tell somebody that they have to live this way rather than that way.  But we can look at how we dispense our charity, whether in government or through private organizations, and dispense it in ways that encourage the kinds of behaviors that tend to move people out of poverty.

It is clear - and there is greater uniformity of opinion on this point than there is on global warming - that simply distributing government dollars via Food Stamps, housing assistance, welfare payments, and so on encourages behaviors that keep people impoverished.  It is less clear how they might be restructured to change those incentives and move people towards behaviors conducive to prosperity.

But it's time to admit our present method is not working and start trying some other ideas out.  Let us find ways to encourage this mobility rather than discourage it.  It's one thing to be poor.  It's another to have no hope of not being poor.  The programs of the last 80 years (since FDR) have taken away most of the hope without really providing anything else.

There Are Two Kinds of...

It's not the last word on what's going on in Ukraine, but it is certainly a valid word - worth reading and considering in the context of other views.  He certainly helps to bring the complexities to the fore.

The American government, as the American people, tend to look always for a bifurcation.  There's good, and there's evil.  There's Republicans, and there's Democrats.  There's chocolate, and there's vanilla.  During the Cold War, there were Russians (Communists) and Americans (Free peoples).  Nixon and Kissinger made some hay when it dawned on them that Communists in China weren't the same as Communists in Russia, but still it was hard to get it into our heads that there might be more than two.  People kept bringing up this notion called "The Third World" or "Non-Aligned Nations" but American foreign policy typically oscillated between ignoring them or believing them actually aligned with the other guy, you know, the Commies.

Even in terms of race, despite our multi-ethnic nation, we make it about two - white and some variety of colored.  We don't call them "colored," though.  We call them "ethnic" as if white people have no ethnicity to speak of.  And we rather assume that all of the white people think one way while all of the non-white people think an opposite way.  We get blindsided by the tension between Black and Hispanic communities and by the varying communities among Spanish speakers.

The descriptions of what's going on in Russia and Ukraine available in most of the US media also assume a neat bifurcation is the issue - Ukraine has to choose between Russia and Europe.  There are "nationalists" and... Well, we're not quite sure what the other side should be called, but we're pretty sure there are two sides.

But what if there aren't two sides.  What if there are dozens?

Questions of basic geography come into play, too.  The Alps and Carpathians rather seal off the Balkan countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Hungary, Bosnia, and Greece).  The Oder River - roughly the German-Polish border - forms a neat, natural eastern boundary.  But there's not much by way of a natural border between the Oder and the Dniepr River, or after the Dniepr until you get to the Volga.  As countries and peoples meat in this vast area, mix, mingle, fight, divide, and start all over again, it gets hard to say who's part of one people or nation and who's part of another.  It doesn't help that the major geographic feature - the Dniepr River - doesn't function as a boundary but instead cuts through the middle of Ukraine as it winds its way down to the Black Sea.  Various kings, potentates, apparatchiks, dictators, and foreign ministers have had their fun drawing lines on this map and then re-drawing them over more than a thousand years.  The latest re-drawing of lines happened after WW2 and when the Soviet Union broke up, those boundaries were just kind of taken as a given.

I am not saying this, by the way, in order to defend Russia's actions.  I have no desire to do so.  I think they were wrong on multiple levels and the sooner Putin is effectively challenged, the better.  But I think it is important to remember that this world is far more complicated than the neatly divided "us vs. them" quite a bit of our media simplistically displays.  There are not two kinds of people in this world, but some seven billion.  Find me two who think exactly alike, and I'll find you at least one who isn't thinking at all.

4.18.2014

Once Bosworth Meets Her Farewell, Her Followers Will Cry Out for Another

I've been thinking about what Cory Heidelberger said in his comment on this post.  Perhaps I should make more of an effort to find out who the misguided sheep are that Dr. Bosworth is fleecing.

What comes to mind though, is a verse from the Eagles' song Learn to Be Still


We are like sheep without a shepherd  
We don't know how to be alone 
So we wander 'round this desert 
And wind up following the wrong gods home 
But the flock cries out for another 
And they keep answering that bell 
And one more starry-eyed messiah 
Meets a violent farewell- 
Learn to be still 
Learn to be still

There are a lot of Christians who get involved in politics looking for a messiah.  Find a candidate who professes Christ, who is open and bold about that profession.  Somebody who seems to be a true believer.  If we can just get that person into office, then everything will be well.  The world will be saved.  Life will be wonderful.  Jimmy Carter roped people in that way.  Mike Huckabee played to that audience, too.  Pat Robertson toys with them.  James Dobson encourages them.

Some don't want the messiah figure in politics.  Some just want him as a preacher.  He'll tell me what I need to know.  He'll save me.  Robert Schuller, Jimmy Baker, and many, many others have played this game to lead people not to Christ, but to themselves.

Sooner or later, though, just like Dr. Bosworth, they turn out to be mere mortals after all.  Finding they've followed the wrong god home - one who is no god at all, their supporters abandon them in disgust, but they do not learn to be still, trusting the messiah who's resurrection we celebrate this weekend.  Instead, they wander around this desert a while, crying out for another.  And there will be another - they keep answering the bell.

I suppose I should make the effort, though.  In a way, this blog is part of the effort.  I want people to see it is possible to be Christian, engaged in politics, and not act as if every opinion I hold, no matter how much I believe it to be true, defines the boundaries of Christian faithfulness.  I want people to see in what I write here what is, frankly, a fairly strident political conservativism that nevertheless acknowledges the tentativeness and temporary quality of all human opinions.  I don't want people to think I've got some inside track on the mind of God.  I even want people to see at the outset enough of my faults that, no matter how much they may concur with my opinions, they have no delusions about me.  I am mere man, no more, no less.  The messiah is someone else, not me.

If I can figure out a way to publish a bit further abroad, in areas where Dr. Bosworth is playing her messianic schtick, I will.  But I fear most of those so reached will only look for - and find - another to fleece them.

Dr. Bosworth in Trouble, But Not as Much as She Ought

For those of you who read my blog but don't follow South Dakota politics, there's been a bit of a brouhaha over the last several weeks since Dr. Bosworth submitted her nominating petitions.  As you may recall from an earlier post, Mr. Heidelberger over at Madville Times noted that she had signed an oath indicating she personally had witnessed the signatures on several sheets whose dates coincided with her highly publicized trip to the Philippines.

In other words, she lied under oath.  The short word for that is "perjury."  Whether this was done because she is careless and didn't really read the oath (which is what I suspect) or with malice aforethought is, frankly, irrelevant.  The facts are not in dispute.  She signed on to the oath and dated it.  A notary confirmed it was her signing it.  The dates in which she supposedly was here collecting signatures coincide with her trip to the Philippines.

When this was brought to the attention of our illustrious Secretary of State, he said that wasn't his bailiwick.  He probably said some other things, too - at least to himself - things like "Oh s**t. What am I supposed to do with this steaming pile of excrement?"  Since it was a question of violating the law - misdemeanor perjury - he figured he could pass that warm feeling over to the Attorney General.  The AG, not being born yesterday, tossed it back to the Sec State on the grounds that the law makes him the only one able to determine validity of petitions.

Meanwhile, Republican state Representative Steve Hickey filed suit to force a ruling on the validity of those petitions on which Dr. Bosworth lied under oath.  He later withdrew the suit when it became clear that the court, the Sec State, and the AG were going to toss this pile back and forth until it was too late and the primary vote had occurred.

A local talk radio guy - Greg Belfrage - who likes to portray himself as conservative, decided to invite Rep. Hickey on his show to get his take on Dr. Bosworth and why he filed the suit.  Dr. Bosworth, playing the high school drama queen role to the hilt, hit the studio during the Hickey interview demanding equal time.  Belfrage gave it to her, but not until the following day.  By all accounts, Dr. Bosworth would have done far better to stay off the airwaves, but that's not how drama queens see it.  Opposition to her is satanic in its origins - after all, it's only because an atheist communist liberal blogger (that would be Mr. Heidelberger over at Madville) said something.  She didn't do anything wrong.  Something about dead Indians that nobody has been able to figure out.  She's just a poor, picked-on little Christian girl.  She had legal counsel before she signed.

Oops.  That got the attention of her legal counsel.  So today we find, over at SD War College (where a fair bit of back & forth has been going on over this - just check the comments sections of several posts) that she issued a correction.  She didn't get legal advice before signing.  Her lawyer confirmed it was her signature (notarized it) and that is all he did.

Personally, what bothers me most about Dr. Bosworth is her claim that her nomination is a mandate from heaven, that being Christian means supporting her, that she and God are in perfect sync.  What is more, she is using that claim to excuse her taking short cuts with the truth, as if rules that apply to others shouldn't apply to her.  It is bad enough to claim that God requires us to vote for her.  It is far worse to use her profession of Christianity as justification for dishonesty - that crosses into blasphemy for it profanes the name of Christ.

Bundy Is Wrong, But That Doesn't Mean the Feds Are Right

Lest there be any confusion on my stance regarding Mr. Bundy of Nevada, let me state categorically, I am not supporting his actions.  I think the confrontation highlights the problems in the way our federal government currently functions - to the extent it can be said to function at all, anyway.

I also think the question raised by certain Republicans in Montana, as reported by Travis Kavulla over at National Review Online, is pertinent: What kind of landowner lets a tenant go 20 years without collecting rent?

Bundy only owns a quarter section (160 acres).  The rest of the land he uses belongs to the federal government which has let him use it for 20 years without collecting rent.

There is - as someone noted in a comment on an earlier post - a mechanism by which the bureaucrats at the Bureau of Land Management set the rent and collect it.  I think that mechanism is part of the problem, but that there is a mechanism is incontrovertible.  Yet for 20 years that has not been enforced in Bundy's case.  It's rather like the immigration mess we face - we have not been serious about enforcing the law for decades.  Doing so now is unavoidably problematic.

Congress doing its duty and holding to its own authority as a coequal branch of government would go a long way towards avoiding such confrontations in the future.  When the rents (and taxes) are set by elected representatives, there is far less sympathy for those who resist them.

The federal government selling off the vast swaths of land it owns but does not need for military purposes would also go a long way towards avoiding such confrontations.  I would go so far as to have the federal government turn over all national parks, monuments, etc. that do not cross state boundaries or lie within the borders of tribal lands to the individual states.  And I would have them negotiate with the several tribes regarding the parks or monuments within their territory as tenants of the tribes.  The argument wouldn't happen if the feds didn't own so much land in the first place.

And consistent, early enforcement of all the laws would also go a long way towards avoiding such confrontations.  When enforcement is sketchy, late, and arbitrary, it is easy to portray one's self as the victim of political machinations rather than simply a law-breaker.  This also puts considerable pressure on the government to keep the scope of laws within the scope of their actual ability to enforce them.  Fewer laws uniformly enforced will do far more to create respect for the law than do the multitudinous, contradictory, byzantine, morass of regulatory bureaucracies that beset us in all areas of life.

Bundy is wrong.  But somebody like Bundy is inevitable under our current dysfunctional federal government.  There will be another, and probably in the not-too-distant future, and he may have a leg to stand on.

4.16.2014

Congressional Dereliction of Duty Underlies Bundy Confrontation

If you regularly peruse the South Dakota War College, you'll see a lot of press releases from Senator Thune and Congresswoman Noem.  These tend to fall into three categories - event announcements, information about bills they want passed, and correspondence with regulators in the executive branch.  Interestingly, Noem's are more often about bills she wants passed or other actions the House is taking.  Thune's are more often correspondence with regulators, but that's because the Senate is run by Democrats, so legislative accomplishments are few and far between for Republicans.

The thing is, even Noem's are often focused on proposed legislation directing regulators to act in certain ways, as a quick perusal of SDWC's Noem posts reveals - well, that and other feel-good things ("Yeah! Moms!" or "Yeah! Farmers!" and such like).

Here are a few of Thune's.

But, whether in Thune's letters or Noem's legislation, it all sounds as if we, through our elected representatives, are coming on bended knee to beg and scrape before our betters in hopes they will hear our pleas and have mercy upon us.

And that's exactly bass ackwards.  But that attitude is behind the Bundy confrontation and why so many rallied to what is, in reality, a rather poor place to stand and fight for freedom.

Bundy's comments and statements as far as I can see reveal a curmudgeonly crackpot.  For decades his family has used land to graze cattle without owning it and paying taxes on it.  When the government started levying grazing fees, and then changed those fees, he balked.  His legal defense was silly, although I'm sure it made sense to him.

So why did so many flock to his side to defend his lunacy?

Because so many of our representatives don't function as legislators but as highly paid supplicants to bureaucrats to whom those same representatives have, over the last 80 years or so, increasingly ceded the authority that is supposed to be theirs.

Did Congress set the grazing fee?  No.  The BLM did, because Congress told them to take that on.  Did Congress decide whatever silly turtle is supposedly "endangered" was threatened?  Nope.  Bureaucrats decide what species are and are not endangered - because Congress told them to take that on.  So we have a United States Senator writing to some bureaucrat over at some agency begging him to temporarily alter some regulation so we can get propane for less money.  Excuse me, but Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???  Or we get a United States Representative gushing her thanks because another bureaucrat gave some money to some farmers after their cattle froze.  Huh?  These are not the statements of powerful legislators who have authority.  These are the statements of humble supplicants begging their betters for attention.

Now, I rail against these unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats and I don't retract anything I've said about them recently, but it is important to note, they are only doing the job Congress told them to do.  How is it possible that an anonymous - until excrement hit fan - functionary in the IRS could stymie so effectively the people of this country as they tried to petition their government for a redress of grievances?  Because Congress ceded that power to the IRS through its byzantine tax code, just as they ceded authority over health care regulation to HHS with Obamacare.

People are tired of that.  Bundy flashed, people responded - not because they really think Bundy is a great civil rights leader.  He isn't.  He's a crackpot.  But because people are tired of having to just take it from nameless, faceless, distant, authorities they cannot know, cannot understand, and cannot throw out of office, they saw this as a chance to stand up to them, so they did.

It won't last.  Bundy will lose this fight and I think that's probably right.  But it is a harbinger of things to come if our legislators - Democrat and Republican - don't start trimming the bureaucracy they've created, taking up the mantle of authority they've ceded to the executive branch, and pull back the reach of the federal government.  Another flashpoint will arise, one with far greater merit, and in a situation where all sides are far less willing to listen to cooler heads.  Don't know when, but it will happen - just a matter of time.

4.15.2014

Nevada Stand-Off - Bundy Violating a Law That Should Not Exist Imposed By an Agency That Should Not Exist

Been brushing up on the whole deal in Nevada surrounding rancher C. Bundy.

I come away with a couple impressions.

1) Bundy is clearly in violation of the law.

2) The law changed suddenly and arbitrarily, without regard to any impact it might have on him and without any opportunity for input by him because it was not changed through legislators, but bureaucrats.  Bundy's protest is thus akin to "no taxation without representation."

3) The president and his administration seem more concerned with protecting turtles than protecting U.S. borders, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or freedom of the press.

4) The president is more interested in enforcing the letter of the law here than he is in enforcing the letter of the Obamacare law - a law he has routinely ignored and rewritten on the fly as needed to suit his political requirements.

5) Far too much of Nevada is owned by the federal government.

6) Obama has made the law arbitrary, capricious, unpredictable, and whimsical by his arbitrary, capricious, unpredictable, and whimsical decisions on enforcement.  This is not an approach conducive to respect for the law.

The ceding of legislative authority to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats - and they are unaccountable as Lois Lerner and others amply demonstrate - along with the president's own example of disregard for the law are primary causes of the dispute.  The dispute is rendered more likely by the fact the federal government now reaches into every nook and cranny of our lives to manipulate and control via the regulatory power granted those unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.

Bundy is violating the law, but the law should not exist, nor the agency that established the law, nor should the government own the land that is in dispute in the first place.