Thoughts On Trump

Many people are confounded by the candidacy of Donald Trump.

Given his multiple marriages, lack of military experience, business bankruptcies, lack of religiosity, and much, much, more, a lot of people are confounded about why he is so popular with many conservatives. Yes, he showed up in Iowa carrying a Bible, but that seemed like transparent pandering to me. A few of his companies have declared bankruptcy, which left others holding the bag, so there goes personal responsibility. And he has a few other business practices that seem a bit shady.

Sometimes he would push his bankers to the wall, saying if he went under they would have problems. (This is an example of Keynes’ quote that if you have a small loan, you have a problem, but if you have a big loan, the bank has a problem.) He used the financial crisis as a way to get some breathing room from his bankers, but he would not give tenants any breathing room because of the financial crisis.

And a some of his projects went under in the financial crisis. He and his family would say that those were not properties they ran, they just licensed the Trump name to other people. But I think that still shows a lack of business acumen. Perhaps they should have been more careful who they licensed the name to.

But, as Krugman, Robin and Isquith state, conservatism is not about freedom, or business, or religion. It is about the people in charge trying to stay in charge.

I am a bit surprised that Trump actually ran. I thought he would not because for years he refused to state for the record how wealthy he was. He loved to throw out numbers, but he never backed them up. A reporter for the New York Times wrote a book about Trump, and stated that Trump’s net worth is less than $1 billion. Trump said it hurt his business, and sued the reporter, the publisher and the Times. He never produced any documents or statements to prove his wealth. I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the burden of proof was on Trump, and he did not meet it.

I am not clear why he did not produce documents and statements before. He wrote books and gave seminars telling people how to make money in real estate. If you claim you are going to show people how to increase their wealth, and implicitly or explicitly point to your wealth as proof your techniques work, then I think asking you to produce some hard numbers is a fair question.

I was surprised he released some information. But according to lawyer Doug Litowitz, the disclosure forms were so convoluted they really did not tell people what Trump’s net worth is. Many writers and journalists looked them over, and they all came away with different numbers. Litowitz states he thinks Trump might be broke, or at least not a billionaire, based on his investments and behavior.

Maybe like Herman Cain, this is all performance art. Or, again like Herman Cain, this guy is really not all that bright. Or like Mike Huckabee, it’s a way to get publicity and more TV deals. Someone pointed out that Trump has attacked just about every GOP nominee except Ted Cruz. Could this be an elaborate conspiracy to elevate Cruz to the nomination? I don’t think those two are that smart, but that could be the unintentional result.

But I think there might be a question that I think nobody has addressed: If he is elected, what happens with his assets? Elected officials usually sell holdings or put them in a blind trust. From what I can gather, his holdings are vast and complex. Liquidating and moving his assets will probably take more time than any other candidates. Does he have a plan in place to do this?

Politicians do this to remove or reduce potential conflicts of interest. If Trump thinks those standards do not apply to him, then is he any different from the sort of politician he claims to be better than?

Image from, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Mister Ben Condescending

Ben Carson recently said he wants to get rid of the income tax, and replace it with a flat tax. He did not use the term, but that is what he was talking about.

He said that poor people can pay the same percentage as rich people, and then he said it is “very condescending” to say otherwise.

Do not tell me what is condescending, Mr. Carson. I will tell you what is condescending. At the top of the list is: Mister Ben Carson.

Followed by just about every other Republican.

First off, you trot out the flat tax. And then you tell us it’s just one of your new, fresh, common sense ideas. And that your policies will not favor the wealthy, but instead will be better for everyone. And you think that people will not notice that your new ideas are really the same old ideas, and that you are just another fool carrying water for people who want to bring back feudalism.

Conservative politicians have proposed the flat tax. Many times. They tell us their experts have told them that all we have to do is close the loopholes, and we can make it 10 to 15%, and we can bring in just as much revenue as we do today. And every time, just about every economist who is not advising the latest doofus to push the flat tax tells us that none of it is true. All the other economists say that in order to maintain revenue, the flat tax would have to be closer to 30%, and that low income people would wind up paying a LOT more under a flat tax. And the wealthy would pay a lot less.

And then what happens is the politician pushing the flat tax will exempt people below a minimum income from paying. Which is a concession that the flat tax was regressive even though they said it was not. And makes it less flat and less simple. This happens just about every single time. I think we should pass a law that suggesting a flat tax disqualifies you from elected office.

And a note to Mike Huckabee: You can call the flat tax a “fair tax”, but it is basically the same thing.

What is also condescending, Mister Carson, is you go on about self-reliance and we should get rid of programs that help poor people, when you yourself have admitted that you got government help growing up and would not be where you are today without it. But now that you are successful, you want to pull the ladder up after you and lecture everybody else. Like Paul Ryan and Social Security. Or Marco Rubio with Medicare and student loans. It’s always Republicans who do this. And they seem to think we would not notice. Or that we should change the rules for them. And yet it’s everybody else who is “condescending.”

It seems Mister Carson thinks he is better than all the poor people in this country. That HE can make use of a handout and that they are all too stupid. Yet somehow it’s everybody else who is “condescending.”

One thing I found strange about Mister Carson talking about the flat tax is that he said low income people would pay less under his scheme. Yet Mitt Romney told us that a lot of people pay no taxes at all. So I am not clear how low income people will pay less under a flat tax than they do now.

I don’t think the GOP really wants to change the tax code. They need the IRS to kick around. Granted, if they hate how the IRS operates, they could pass changes to the tax code, since they have the House. During part of Bush 43’s time in office, they had both houses of Congress, yet there was no simplification of the tax code. I think it is because if we had a flat tax, they can’t promise goodies to people.

Plus, how would a flat tax work in reality? I think the government has the power to levy income tax because of the 16th Amendment. If you wanted to get rid of income taxes, wouldn’t you have to overturn the 16th Amendment? What would stop a future president and Congress from going back to an income tax?

Image from Democratic Underground, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Thoughts On Illinois and Voter Turnout

I saw an article recently stating the new governor in Illinois has a very low approval rating.

I wonder why this guy was elected in the first place.

Part of me thinks I know why: Most people do not vote. So I guess the real question is: Why don’t more people vote? Why do they let snakes like Rauner into office? I know people would rather vote for someone they like than vote against someone they do not like, but some people deserve being voted against.

He seems like a typical conservative: It seems the answer to the world’s problems is to give the wealthy free reign, and trust me, the crumbs for the rest of you will be wonderful.

From what I could tell, his campaign’s main message was that Illinois is not very friendly to business. He made about $50 million in 2013, and his net worth is about $900 million. He owns serveral homes. In one year he paid more in property tax on one home than most people in Illinois earn. He spent about $24 million on his own campaign. If Illinois is so bad for business, how did he get so rich? And why did people fall for it?

He is engaging in some short-sighted job poaching targeting Indiana. As Richard C. Longworth writes, American states need to realize that their competition is not each other, but Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Now he wants to decrease the minimum wage, and pay highway construction workers less money. Why is it that rich people think that a prosperous society requires everybody else to be poor? And why do people fall for it? I paid some attention to the campaign from here in Texas. I wonder if he tried to paint himself as a different kind of conservative, or saying that he has new, fresh ideas. It sounds like the same old conservative feudalism to me.

According to Wikipedia, 3,627,690 people in Illinois voted in the 2014 election. According to the US census, in 2014 the population of Illinois was 12,880,580. 23.5% were under the age of 18. So there are about 9,853,643 eligible voters in Illinois. So only about 36% of the eligible voters took part in this last election. What the heckflame and darnation is wrong with people?

In all seriousness, why don’t people vote? Non-voters that I talk to seem think they are too smart to vote, they are not fooled by the system, that the two parties are the same. It is hard to take these people seriously. They think they are beyond the two party system, they are smarter than the general electorate, yet I think they are the ones being taken for a ride. If you are not willing to press a button once a year, is it rational to expect society to be something that you approve of?

If voting did not matter, why is the GOP trying to limit people’s access to voting? If voting did not matter, why are the Koch brothers planning on spending almost $1 billion to influence the 2016 election? A few hedge fund billionaires in Chicago gave a LOT of money to Bruce Rauner. I am guessing they voted.

Over time, as turnout decreases, distrust in government increases (I know this shows the numbers for federal government, but I think the point is valid).  So many people are cynical about government and think that government will try to restrict our freedoms. Perhaps people need to realize that the real threat is some parts of the private sector encroaching on other parts of the private sector.

What we are stuck with is more bitterness, and more people souring on “both sides”. I was happy to see some pushback on Little Green Footballs against the “both sides” fallacy: “Both parties not measuring up to desired standards doesn’t mean that both parties are the same.” Another commenter pushed back on some “both sides” nonsense to tell someone that if they REALLY did not like the two main parties, then look into third parties.

Every election, turnout decreases, people are more unhappy with government, and nobody makes the connection.

Someone on Little Green Footballs wrote We get the government we deserve.

I am NOT getting the government I deserve. I am stuck with the government other people deserve.

Image from Wikimedia,  assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Language: Thoughts On The Word Public

I am a regular listener of Freethought Radio, which is produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. One of their activities is to prevent or stop government endorsement or support of religion.

When they talk about this, they will sometimes use the word “public” to describe the activities in question.

Usually it is something like prayer at city council meetings, or a city or county giving money to a church. They will describe it as “public support” or “public endorsement” of religion. This is the same use of the word “public” that we use when we say that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a “public” university.

Many of the opponents of the FFRF will use the word “public” differently when they attack the FFRF. They say that the FFRF wants to eliminate “public expression” of religion, or they want to “take religion out of the public square”. Here, I think the word “public” has a slightly different meaning. Here “public” means being a part of society, and does not refer to government support. Sort of like when parents tell their children to behave in public.

I wonder whether some critics of the FFRF are intentionally misleading people by this use of the word “public”. The FFRF does not have a problem with the “public expression” of religion, or of religion being in the public square. There are a lot of billboards put up by churches and religious organizations, and the FFRF does not try to have them taken down. The FFRF does put up its own billboards as well. They have no problem with religion existing in society. They simply do not think it should be supported by our government. And for the most part the courts agree with the FFRF.

The word “public” can also be a bit confusing in the business world. The “public sector” refers to the government. Many people in this country work for various levels of government, and are said to work in the “public sector”.

However, a “public company” is a company that is not owned by the government. It is owned by people and institutions in the private sector, but it is called a “public company” because shares of ownership in that company are sold on stock exchanges. A “private company” is a company whose ownership is not traded on an exchange. So a company in the private sector can go public, trade for years on an exchange, and then go private, staying in the private sector the entire time.

There are some government entities in the United States that do own shares in public companies. These tend to be the retirement funds for workers in the public sector, usually at the state, county or city level. Many people in the US do not like the idea of governments owning a company, yet public retirement funds is not considered a problem. These funds are generally given some independence from the governments whose workers’ money they are managing. Some of these funds (such as CalPERS) have been activist shareholders, but their goals are no different than other activist shareholders. Some retirement funds invest largely in index funds. But these retirement funds never get a majority stake in companies. At least not in the US.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Thoughts On Synchronicity and Conservative Logic

I know many say the concept of synchronicity is BS, but I did notice an interesting sring of coincidences over the past couple of weeks.

Paul Krugman wrote a piece about Stephen Moore, a right-wing hack. He pointed out that a lot of these conservative hacks keep making predictions that are not true. Yet they never seem to suffer any negative consequences for constantly being wrong. The basic thrust of the piece is questioning why these “pundits” are not forced to find other work.

One of the commenters wrote something that explains it:

Ah but they’re not “predictions.” They’re simply statements about the world works couched in predictive language. You’ve got to remember, these people are deductive not inductive reasoners. They don’t build a model from observations and refine the model to reflect new observations. They know what they know and that’s that. Everything follows from first principles. You don’t *need* to make predictions if you have faith. After all, what’s a better demonstration of “faith” then believing something when all evidence points against it?

I supposed we could see if it’s turtles all the way down, and ask why they think that way. But it does seem to answer the immediate question.

Then there was a post on the Meditation subreddit in which the poster noted that of all the religions, the Buddhists seem to get more things right than everybody else, and asked why that is. Again, there was an interesting comment:

Generally I could say though that one camp is “sky religions”, prophetic.. and the other is “earth religions”, born out of observation and contemplation instead of prophecy. If you make conclusions based on observations you have a good chance of being right..

Then on March 7, CFI Austin had an event with Ryan Bella Seventh-day Adventist preacher who decided to go “a year without god,” and then decided to make it permanent (his website is here). He said becoming an atheist was a long process for him. A big part of it was that he had a hard time believing that people who believed differently than he did would go to hell, even if they were moral people.  He felt that way about people in other denominations, other religions, no religion, gay people. He could not accept that someone who treats others well will go to hell simply because they have the “wrong” belief.

At one point he made an observation about conservative Christians and liberal Christians.  Conservative Christians see the Bible as inviolable, revealed text, and that the world must be shaped around that. Liberal Christians look at how the world is, and try to interpret the Bible to conform to what they see.

If I had to choose one of his categories of Christianity, I would go with the liberal camp. But I think (and he seemed to agree) that eventually you keep interpreting the Bible so much that there is nothing left.

I also read a couple of articles recently that kind of hit upon this with regard to taxes. Minnesota increased taxes on the wealthy and increased the minimum wage, and things are going pretty well there. A column in Bloomberg pointed out that California is also doing pretty well since Jerry Brown raised taxes on the wealthy. I am sure that taxes can go too high, but a lot of conservatives always seem to think that raising taxes is always bad and cutting taxes is always good. Minnesota and California have not reached the breaking point. Cutting taxes has not worked out too well in Kansas (see here, here, here). And Scott Walker has not gotten the job creation he said he would either. Conservatives usually want to move everything to the right. The Laffer Curve is the only thing they want to move to the left.

The article on Minnesota was in HuffPo. The commenters there generally acknowledged reality. There was a bit more conservative distortion on the Bloomberg site. Some of the people there basically espoused the right-wing doctrine: If Plan A does not work, keep trying Plan A.

I would like to live in a world without tax. But I like having roads, being surrounded by educated people, and have some confidence that food at the grocery store has a good chance of not killing me. It would be nice to get all that for free, but just because I want it all for free does not mean I can get it for free. You can try to look at the world as it is and then try to make your way within that, or you can only think about what you want and then spend your life complaining about the price.

Image from source unknown, assumed allowed under Fair Use. I wanted an image of people synchronizing watches, and I found one of George Harrison. How cool is that?

Huckabee: Just Following Orders

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has been in the news lately.

First he said that we must become a god-centered nation, and that laws come from god, not from man. Well, Governor Huckster, god is not telling me what to do with my life, you are. Put if you are telling people what god wants, aren’t you putting yourself in god’s place? Isn’t that a sin in your religion?

He also said that he really, really doesn’t want to hate gay people, but he has to. He’s just following orders. He has to be a jerk until a new version of the scriptures comes out. “…It’s really not my place to say, ‘Okay, I’m just going to evolve.'” But it is your place to say that. You are choosing to follow the bible, you are choosing to let it guide your decisions. You are not the passive agent you are claiming to be.

The Immoral Minority lists many other rules that Huckabee is choosing not to follow. He is not advocating helping the poor either, even though that is mentioned many more times in the Bible than homosexuality. He doesn’t think his god is telling him to help the oppressed, but it’s telling him to kick people around. I guess it’s another example of christians doing the easy thing instead of the right thing.

Christians use this excuse to evade responsibility all the time. This happened to me once on the CTA. Some bozo starts trying to talk to me about religion. I told him there is no god, and he told me I was going to hell. He said, “If you have a problem with that, talk to god.” I told him that god wasn’t the asshole pestering complete strangers on the bus.

You should not advocate a position and then evade responsibility for that position.

Image from Wikipedia,  assumed allowed under Fair Use. The picture is of Peter von Hagenbach, who used the Superior Orders Defense in 1474.

2015-02-08 Blog Title

New blog title:

Recursive Fury

This one is not one that occurred to me.

University of Bristol Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (and two other researchers) published a paper stating that climate change denial is associated with a belief in conspiracy theories. The work was based on surveys filled out by readers of climate change denial sites who were invited to participate.

The response of many climate deniers was that Lewandowsky et al did not in fact use  responses from true climate change deniers, but instead from people who only claimed to be climate change deniers. The assertion is that the responders were people who accepted the science of climate change, but claimed to be deniers to make the deniers look bad. Some climate change deniers insisted this was done in collusion with the researchers.

In other words, when accused of being conspiracy theorists, climate change deniers insisted they were not, and that any allegation that they were conspiracy theorists was in fact, a conspiracy.

He then wrote another paper called “”Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation”.  This got the deniers more upset, and some threatened legal action against the journal that published the paper. This second paper was retracted.

At the time of this writing (early February, 2015), you can find the second paper on a site hosted by the University of Western Australia here.

Image from Blogger website.

Guns, Property, and Religion

A bill was filed with the Texas Legislature called the Teacher’s Protection Act. You can find the text here. The basic idea is to limit liability for teachers in self-defense situations.

First off, I thought that people already have a right to self-defense, regardless of who or where they are. According to the article, lawyers at the Association of Texas Professional Educators feel the same way.

But what is interesting about this one is that it allows “deadly force”. That phrase is used several times. I am guessing this means guns. I guess it’s not enough to be a pro-gun legislator in Texas. You have to be so pro-gun you have to file redundant bills.

It does say that “force or deadly force” can be used by the teacher to defend themselves or other people. What is interesting is there is also a provision for using force to protect school property. Not defense while ON the property, but defense OF the property. I guess putting that in the same section as defending actual human beings was not enough.

Back in the 1990s, Whoopi Goldberg had a talk show that was on late at night. One of her guests was George Carlin, and he said something that has stuck with me all these years: Democrats care about peoples’ rights, Republicans care about property rights.

Republicans seem to want to take that as far as they can. Some of them probably want to go back to the 1850s.

This bill was mentioned on The Immoral Minority blog. There is one paragraph in the comments that I think sums up a lot of the religious people in this country:

You righties mock the Islamists, yet you do the same things: glorify weapons of death, glorify those who use them, teach the usage of weapons of death to children, and by your ideology teach your people to hate the ‘other’ – thus ensuring that eventually, the ‘other’ is obliterated by your weapons of death. All because you, just like the Islamists, are totally lacking in any positive, socially transformative, ideas that are uplifting to your fellow man, including those with whom you disagree. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is anathema to you, just as it is anathema to the Islamists. Your ideology is ‘obliterate your neighbor’, the same ideology that they have.

Image from Wikimedia,  assumed allowed under Fair Use.

SSDD In Texas

We have a new governor and new legislature here in Texas. Mostly Republican, largely Tea Party. The current group of wingnuts said the last group was not conservative enough. Granted, the last group said the group before them was not conservative enough.

I think a lot of conservatives are pathological. Nothing is ever conservative enough for them. News flash: If nothing is conservative enough, maybe the problem is you.

A few writers on the Texas Tribune Tribcast were wondering how much more conservative can some of the policies get, especially with abortion. I write this in jest, but it may come to pass: Perhaps there will be a menstruation fee, since that is a potential fetus leaving a woman’s body. If they are willing to lie about the timelines for fetal pain and fetal heartbeat, what would stop them from saying life begins at ovulation?

Governor Goodhair is leaving the scene. He was a state representative for six years, then Ag Commissioner from 1991 to 1999, Lt Gov for about a year, and was the longest-serving governor in Texas history for 14 years. What is it with conservatives who spend a long time in government, all the while saying government is the problem? (And Republicans think the answer to bad government by Republicans is to elect more Republicans.)

We might see less “crony capitalism” here in Texas. Perry started the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which seem to steer a lot of money towards Perry’s contributors. He also started the Texas Enterprise Fund, which unlike the other two does not have a reputation for being a slush fund for his friends, but does play a part in bringing business to Texas. All three have not always been closely monitored to ensure that companies were creating as many jobs as they claimed they would. Perry is one of those conservatives who think the government should stay out of the free market when it comes to clean air and water, but not when it comes to giving money to people and companies that do not really need it.

If Texas is such a great place to do business, why does the state have to bribe them to come here?

Perry is also famous (or infamous) for going to states with Democratic governors and telling companies based in those states to come to Texas. In all seriousness, why did he never go to states with Republican governors? If you really think that Texas has a better model that all 49 of the other states, then why not say so in all 49 of them? For one thing, you might inadvertently inspire companies in those blue states to look at other red states, and not come to Texas. And why is it that Perry would ask people from more educated states like California and Illinois to come to Texas, but he never went to Mississippi or Alabama? Does Perry want people from more educated states, or does he need them to come here? Whose model is really being validated here?

In other words, Perry is practicing corporate socialism: It works until other states run out of educated workers.

And then there is our new governor, Greg Abbott. Mr Stuff For Me, But None For Thee. He is in a wheelchair because a tree fell on him. He is rich because he sued the landowner and landscaping company and they paid him about $14,000 a month for several years. And he has been against accomadations for handicapped people at public facilities, and all for tort reform. I wonder what would have happened if Greg Abbott’s policies had been in place when the tree fell on him. But I am sure there is some convoluted legal argument about why it’s okay for him but not for you.

While he was still AG, his office ruled that chemical plants did not have to file reports about what compounds they had at their sites. The reasoning was that terrorists might use that information. But then Abbott said if anybody wanted that information they could just ask the chemical companies. If I can just ask for it, why can’t a terrorist just ask for it?

It is hard to believe that this is happening after the disaster in West, Texas. There is a town called Athens that almost had a similar disaster a few months ago (see here and here). Abbott said all you need to do as a homeowner is drive around your town to see if there are any potential risks.

This sounds like the typical conservative idea that companies need to be coddled and shielded from any liability or responsibility for their actions, and all the burden is on citizens. I think that companies should file that information with the government, and it should be available to citizens. If a company is putting people at risk, the burden should be on the company to tell people. Conservatives talk about responsibility, but they always seem to shift it to the people least able to bear it.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Conversation With A Libertarian

I was at a conference in Minneapolis recently. I talked to a lot of people. One guy said he was a libertarian. He seemed like a nice fellow. He may be a guy who can say he is a “true” libertarian.

A lot of times, people who call themselves “libertarian” are using that term to put lipstick on a pig. Frequently they are racist or homophobic, or really just don’t like paying other people a day’s wage for a day’s work. There was a good article on Pando pointing out that a lot of people think of themselves as “libertarian” without realizing that other people call themselves “libertarian” and have some pretty nasty ideas.

So this guy said he was into Bitcoin. I just kept nodding as he kept talking. But after a few minutes I thought this guy might be sincere about libertarianism and freedom.

He worked for another crypto currency and got paid in Bitcoin (using a three-day moving average). He was involved in a Meetup in the Bay Area about Bitcoin. Two of the other organizers were on the far left politically. He reported his Bitcoin income to the IRS.

He even said that Bitcoin may not replace fiat currency, but complement it. He also said that Bitcoin itself might be replaced by something else in the future. A lot of Bitcoiners (like a lot of gold nutjobs) think that all we have to do is go to Bitcoin and everything will be wonderful. Just press this magic red button one time, set the dial right there, and everything will be okay. The fact is if you change the rules, then people just find new ways to cheat. Plus they seem oblivious to the idea that changing society in their image might hurt other people, even if other people think society is just fine. A lot of Bitcoiners sound like the Underpants Gnomes from South Park: 1. Dislodge fiat currency. 2. ???? 3. Utopia. What is step 2? No idea. So for a supporter of Bitcoin to say that Bitcoin might not be the final answer is surprising.

He also talked about how Bitcoin can be used in Africa. Apparently cel phone minutes are used as a form of currency. He pointed out that the banking system in many African countries is not that great, and that Bitcoin can do some good there. (The conference was a few weeks ago, and I honestly have forgotten some of what he has said.)

A lot of glibertarians are pretty racist (see the Pando article I linked to above). So here was a guy who actually thought that he was doing something to help people in poor countries. He seemed pretty sincere about it.

I am still skeptical of libertarianism in general. But I will say this encounter opened my eyes a bit.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.