Friday, July 20, 2012

Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the “Grand Bargain” Robert George

The fundamental error made by some supporters of conjugal marriage was and is, I believe, to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck with their opponents: “We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any type. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them.” There was never any hope of such a bargain being accepted. Perhaps parts of such a bargain would be accepted by liberal forces temporarily for strategic or tactical reasons, as part of the political project of getting marriage redefined; but guarantees of religious liberty and non-discrimination for people who cannot in conscience accept same-sex marriage could then be eroded and eventually removed. After all, “full equality” requires that no quarter be given to the “bigots” who want to engage in “discrimination” (people with a “separate but equal” mindset) in the name of their retrograde religious beliefs. “Dignitarian” harm must be opposed as resolutely as more palpable forms of harm.

As legal scholar Robert Vischer has observed, “The tension between religious liberty and gay rights is a thorny problem that will continue to crop up in our policy debates for the foreseeable future. Dismissing religious liberty concerns as the progeny of a ‘separate but equal’ mindset does not bode well for the future course of those debates.” But there is, in my opinion, no chance—no chance—of persuading champions of sexual liberation (and it should be clear by now that this is the cause they serve), that they should respect, or permit the law to respect, the conscience rights of those with whom they disagree. Look at it from their point of view: Why should we permit “full equality” to be trumped by bigotry? Why should we respect religions and religious institutions that are “incubators of homophobia”? Bigotry, religiously based or not, must be smashed and eradicated. The law should certainly not give it recognition or lend it any standing or dignity.

The lesson, it seems to me, for those of us who believe that the conjugal conception of marriage is true and good, and who wish to protect the rights of our faithful and of our institutions to honor that belief in carrying out their vocations and missions, is that there is no alternative to winning the battle in the public square over the legal definition of marriage. The “grand bargain” is an illusion we should dismiss from our minds.

via www.thepublicdiscourse.com

Hmmm. George might be right. Betting on people who generally hate religion to respect religious liberty when it is not in their interest to do so (because there is no enforcement mechanism) does not seem particularly prudent. I also suspect that some significant fraction of those who support gay marriage most actively actually do want to destroy the traditional, conjugal conception of marriage and replace it with a new conception which is so flexible that it would just disappear over time, which would be fine with the people I have in mind. On the other hand, I have met nice gay couples who seem to make much better marriage partners than heterosexual couples I know, the relevance of which is, I'm not sure what. Another question is, if a "grand bargain" were somehow enforcible, would (say) religious Catholics support it? A collary of George's argument is that the contraception mandate really undercuts the idea that a grand bargain is possible. US bishops thought they had made a bargain with O, and what chumps they turned out to be. N.B. some of us, such as yours truly, did warn them that this is exactly what would happen.  --TS

July 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (3)

The rich are different from you and me, and also from each other, and we are also different from each other
Tom Smith

Paul Krugman really has a thing about the very rich. Or probably one should say the very, very rich as he is himself by any normal measure very rich, if he has managed his money in any reasonably prudent way. There was his Nobel Prize money (a million or so), his Enron consulting fees (undisclosed as far as I know), numerous speaking engagements, and so on. The description I read somewhere of his crib in Princeton made it sound like a multi-million dollar affair. So, I gather he means, even richer than he is himself -- those are the people who are really bad.

Some things to get out of the way first. Anybody in academia knows that nothing irriates academics more than people who are richer than they are, which includes a lot of people. Nobody cares more about status than academics either or about free booze. There is no place more dangerous in the world than between academics and an open bar, especially if it is serving snob-grade booze (Glenlivet, wines you've heard of, etc.). Part of what is going on with Krugman is doubtless the usual, and tedious, resentment of the academic who thinks he is one of the smartest people in the world for those who are among the richest people in the world.  It seems so unfair.  We are invited to have a good boohoo over the injustice of Krugman not being even richer than he is. He deserves a crib even bigger than Thomas Friedman's, smarter than whom he is, let alone Mitt Romney. But let us turn our eyes from the unattractive spectacle of Krugman the bleating troll chagrined that he is not even richer and more influential than he is. Were he more so, it would be that much more of a problem for our theodicists.  Let's leave that to them.

Instead, let us address the question Krugman poses and provides his glib but not very insightful seeming answers to -- are the very rich so very different from you and me, and are they that bad? Krugman avers with F. Scott Fitzgerald that they really are different from you and me.  I lean toward Hemingway's alleged answer: "Yes [the rich are different]. They have more money." Papa's implication being, of course, that the difference is ultimately trivial, that the difference is evident but hardly essential.

Krugman says more or less and with no more subtlety than this, that the rich are big, whiny, entitled babies who think that their privileged position of ease, luxury and power are their birthright and resist vociferously the most reasonable efforts, such as those of our young president, to get them to pay more of money they don't need. For someone who holds himself out as being not just an economist of rare power, but an overall far-seeing observer of human affairs generally, this strikes one as a remarkably purile observation. Some large percentage of modern literature, since the nineteenth century at least, is about the inner lives, habits, trials, disappointments, follies, accomplishments and so on of the rich, and that's the best Krugman can come up with? Didn't he take any English classes in college? Just saying this sort of thing ("Rich people really suck. It's OK to take their money.") lowers the average tone of public discourse by injecting into it a particularly crude and hateful note. Whatever a columnist for the New York Times should do, he should not make his readers stupider, but that is exactly what this sort of thing does. I can well imagine that "rich people" would want to avoid the company of Krugman if his personality in person is anything like what he evinces in print, but it's hard to believe he would hazard such a generalization if he knew very many of them. He should probably get out more, but I imagine in his case that could be a challenge.

Some rich people do indeed want to be treated like VIPs because they have so much money (and frequently spend a lot of it just so they can get that treatment, which does give them a contractual claim on it, actually) and that's annoying. And yet, you too can be treated like a rich person if you are willing to pay for it. But Krugman more even than most academics wants the world to follow his policy oracles even when they fly conspicuously in the face of common sense and I gather the views of many or perhaps most economists who actually are experts in the matters he opines on. The latter is much worse, in fact, both in terms of the arrogance expressed and the danger posed to the common weal. The rich want special parking spots and the best seats in the house. Krugman wants to rule the world. I know which scares me more. And rich do actually pay for their jets and yachts. Krugman wants to rule by virtue of his dazzling genius alone.  My view is that if Krugman wants to rule a planet, he should buy one. Someone should send him a copy of SimCity.

A lot of the caterwalling of the rich lately seems to be in response to sentiments expressed by our young president to the effect that they don't need or really even deserve all of the their money and so he is going to come and get some of it. The main complaint I hear lately from the rich is that their money belongs to them because they earned it. This may not make them the secular saint Obama pretends to be or the man with all the answers Krugman pretends to be, but it's a pretty defensible position. It strengthens their position too I think that money taken from them would not be used to feed starving babies but rather handed out to public sector unions, boondoggle projects, political cronies and various others whose claim on the money of the rich is a lot weaker than those who happen to created the wealth (or their children). You don't have to M.R. Hare or the like to figure out, moreover and obviously, that it's just not relevant whether you like somebody, think they are spoiled, offend you in some way or another, or have unpleasant, entitled personalities, if the question is, is the state entitled to take their money. But that seems to be the essence of Krugman's case:  The really rich are disgusting; let's take their money. The argument in logical form is the same as Jews are disgusting; let's kill them. Or insert any social group you want to stir up hatred against for political reasons, and characteristic of political extremists and elements of the American Left and Far Right. It is politics of the very lowest kind. It's why it's called class warfare. Krugman needs some sort of remedial class in ethical thinking and public discourse. He is not a well educated man, whatever his technical skills may be and his influence of the tone of public discourse is unfortunate. 

July 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Strassel: Obama's Enemies List—Part II - WSJ.com

This column has already told the story of Frank VanderSloot, an Idaho businessman who last year contributed to a group supporting Mitt Romney. An Obama campaign website in April sent a message to those who'd donate to the president's opponent. It called out Mr. VanderSloot and seven other private donors by name and occupation and slurred them as having "less-than-reputable" records.

Mr. VanderSloot has since been learning what it means to be on a presidential enemies list. Just 12 days after the attack, the Idahoan found an investigator digging to unearth his divorce records. This bloodhound—a recent employee of Senate Democrats—worked for a for-hire opposition research firm.

Now Mr. VanderSloot has been targeted by the federal government. In a letter dated June 21, he was informed that his tax records had been "selected for examination" by the Internal Revenue Service. The audit also encompasses Mr. VanderSloot's wife, and not one, but two years of past filings (2008 and 2009).

Mr. VanderSloot, who is 63 and has been working since his teens, says neither he nor his accountants recall his being subject to a federal tax audit before. He was once required to send documents on a line item inquiry into his charitable donations, which resulted in no changes to his taxes. But nothing more—that is until now, shortly after he wrote a big check to a Romney-supporting Super PAC.

via online.wsj.com

A Congressional committee should get an IRS official on the hot seat about this ASAP. The White House using the IRS to intimidate political opponents is a serious, serious abuse of power. It might be a coincidence. Or it might be a quiet word from the WH to a political friend in the IRS. And the labor department as well. Idaho's congressional delegation needs to get on this right now. --TS

July 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Experts argue Obamacare mistake could doom key part of law | The Ticket - Yahoo! News

A missing word in the law's definition of a health insurance exchange could prevent the federal government from doling out crucial subsidies to aid middle class and lower-income people in buying insurance in states that refuse to set up their own exchanges. (Only 14 states are close to setting up exchanges so far. The federal government will set up back-up exchanges in states that don't have their own by 2014.) If Cannon and Adler are right, the federal government would also not be able to fine large employers in states without exchanges if their lack of coverage leads employees to buy insurance in a federal exchange.

The law defines a health insurance exchange as a "governmental agency or nonprofit entity that is established by a state" in one section of the law, and then says later that individuals who participate in exchanges under that definition are eligible for subsidies. Because the law only says a "state" and not "a state or the federal government," Cannon and Adler argue that the federal government cannot legally dole out subsidies or tax breaks to people who buy insurance from federal exchanges.

The Obama administration has said that the intention of the law is clear, and that they fully plan on handing out subsidies when they set up federal exchanges in states that do not set up their own. (Other legal experts agree. Tim Jost, a law professor at William and Lee University, told Yahoo News the pair's thesis is "wishful thinking.") But Cannon and Adler argue the "mistake" was an intentional choice to push states to set up exchanges, and that the administration must deal with the consequences.

via news.yahoo.com

July 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Secret Online Weapons Store That'll Sell Anyone Anything

The Armory began as an offshoot of The Silk Road, notable as the Internet's foremost open drug bazaar, where anything from heroin and meth to Vicodin and pot can be picked out and purchased like a criminal Amazon.com. It's virtually impossible to trace, and entirely anonymous. But apparently guns were a little too hot for The Silk Road's admins, who broke the site off from the main narcotics carnival. Now guns, ammo, explosives, and more have their own shadowy home online, far from the piles of Dutch coke and American meth. But the same rules apply: with nothing more than money and a little online savoir faire, you can buy extremely powerful, deadly weapons—Glocks, Berettas, PPKs, AK-47s, Bushmaster rifles, even a grenade—in secret, shipped anywhere in the world.

via gizmodo.com

July 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jury awards man with penis injury $7.5 million | UTSanDiego.com

A former Navy man was awarded $7.5 million by an El Cajon jury in a lawsuit stemming from a motorcycle crash with an auto dealer’s courtesy shuttle that left him with a penis permanently shortened by more than an inch.

via www.utsandiego.com

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. --TS

July 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mitt didn't get himself elected President. Somebody else did that for him
Tom Smith

Mitt backers are getting euphoric, probably too euphoric. But I can't resist the irony that if it turns out O's super-gaffe ("you didn't build that") is a turning point in the campaign, O will indeed be able to take credit for his opponent's victory. He'll be able to say -- he didn't do that; I did it for him. Probably not what he had in mind, but still a nice irony. 

It will also be interesting to see if the, uh, curious strategy of the WH of just denial, even in an age of digital tape, the internet, transcripts, etc. etc., will work.  Can the MSM get so much on message, repeat often enough "no one could possibly sincerely think that the President meant that!" that people will come to believe it, a la repeat a lie often enough? (Assuming of course there is such a thing as a lie; I take no position.) It actually worked pretty well with the open mic incident with Russian tyrant-lacky Medvedev -- oh, ha, ha, who could actually think O was telling a foreign leader he was going to say one thing to the American people but not to worry, he was just BS'ing them, and would be quite flexible after he got himself reelected. No outrage, just LOLs.  That Obama is such a caution! Cue the sitcom music and laugh track. Unbelievable.

So how this plays out is not a foregone conclusion. If I were an O operative, I would want there to be a debate about what the president really meant, let that reach some sort of crescendo, and then he can come forth and say, more in sorrow than anger, that his has been misunderstood (meaning deliberately) by some (his evil enemies) and of course he meant [insert innocuous and barely plausible to the credulous explanation here -- I prefer the "those darn roads and bridges; where would we be without them?" variable, but I defer to the experts]. Some chunk of independent voters may even buy it. A little emphasized fact is that many independent voters are deeply ignorant when it comes to politics and not the sharpest pencils in the pencil holding thing. OTOH a lot of them are small business sorts and even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and kicked.

And this:

It’s as if President Obama climbed into a tank, put on his helmet, talked about how his foray into Cambodia was seared in his memory, looked at his watch, misspelled “potato” and pardoned Richard Nixon all in the same day.

And that's what makes it so special. Do you also get the sense that somewhere up on a mountain some Greeks gods are ROFLing? Speaking of those who engage in illicit sex, as Greek gods so often did, it would be interesting to hear what Bill Clinton is saying about this. Probably less printable words have never been spoken. Paul Mirengoff is probably also correct that if this gaff does not turn out to be a defining moment, that will itself be a defining moment, in a bad way. Sort of like the elites being able to redefine American standards from What?! to Whatever in the matter of Clinton's formerly unbelievable but eventually entirely understandable activities in the White House with certain young person(s), which was personal.

July 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Meaning of "That"

Sure, it's obvious that when Obama said "you didn't build that" he was talking about roads and bridges. But who cares? You can take that one sentence out of context, lie about what "that" in the quote refers to, and you've got evidence of Obama's America-hating heart.

And yes, it is a lie, a word I use carefully. Romney and the people who work for him know full well what Obama was and wasn't saying. But they decided to go ahead and engage in an act of intentional deception anyway, and I'm sure he'll be repeating it many times.

via prospect.org

It's obvious. Got that? Obvious, obvious, obvious. I can hardly believe how obvious it is. Very obvious. Obviously obvious. Anyone who says it could possibly mean what some evil person might take it to mean in his evilness is a liar. Obviously. Anyone who thinks O was saying something shockingly statist, collectivist, un-American, and deliciously quotable by his enemies is (obviously!) wrong. He was only saying something obviously true, obviously, to wit, that the government has built roads and bridges and we should all be grateful for that. Heck, we've got a hellava bridge right chere in San Diego! And I'm grateful for it! Obviously! Where would we be without our roads and bridges! And teachers! And cute kids! Obviously! --TS

July 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Frege on latest campaign imbroglio
Tom Smith

I try not to focus too much on trumped-up campaign gaffes, but I did study demonstratives (i.e. the meaning of the words "this" and "that") in college and these remarks from Frege in "Thoughts" seem clearly relevant to the controversy over what Obama meant about the interplay between business success and public infrastructure 

[T]he mere wording, as it can be preserved in writing, is not the complete expression of the thought; a knowledge of certain conditions accompanying the utterance, which are used as means of expressing the thought, is needed for us to grasp the thought correctly.  Pointing the finger, hand gestures, glances, may belong here, too.

via www.slate.com

This is too precious. Matthew Yglesias invokes Frege to support Dem defense of O's embarrassing "you didn't build that" gaffe?! The "that", another Dem story goes, actually refers to "roads and bridges" not the small business somebody started. MY seems to be saying the hand gestures, etc., make it clear O is saying, I'm not sure what exactly, but not what Mitt says O is saying. Heelarious.

Republicans need to respond to this philosophical gambit quickly! Perhaps by invoking the later Wittgenstein -- did he not eschew Frege and those fusty logical positivists in Philosophical Investigations? Isn't what "that" refers to a matter of what people take you to be referring to when you use "that" in a sentence? Well, isn't it? Perhaps check out this excruciatingly dull volume.

I think true Democrats should all sit down at once and read the Groundwork of Arithmetic, learning German first if necessary. After that, the unabridged Principia Mathematica, even though sadly, it turned out to be wrong, or rather, a member of the set of all books that turn out to be wrong, which is OK, because it is not itself a book. Or, if that's not enough fun for you, try pulling out your teeth with a pliers.

Yeah, but I don't think MY's argument works -- many people, maybe most, take O to be saying what it sure seems to me he is saying, that people who are successful in business don't really deserve the credit for their success; that it instead belongs diffusely to the collective, especially as mediated through the state. (Hey, it's a point of view!) I don't think the hand gestures or anything else change that. Or maybe what he meant is really just what was in his brain at the, uh, time, I imagine something like, it's OK to resent the rich because your life sucks! Stick it to them! Vote for me! A rough translation, the discernment of hidden meanings being tricky stuff.

July 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1)

The real problem with private equity.

The big socialized loss in the case of this kind of "breach of trust" scenario is loss of trust and economy-wide loss of ability of managers and workers to form flexible implicit arrangements with one another. Summers and Shleifer write that it's difficult to assess the systematic impact of this because to do so "we must analyze a world in which people trust each other less, workers are not loay to firms, and spot market transactions are more common than they are at this time."

via www.slate.com

What rubbish. Private equity deals lead to a loss of trust on the crew deck of spaceship America, and this in turn makes us less je ne sais quoi-ish than Europe or something. Last time I checked the empirical literature that PE deals, like LBOs, lead to big returns to shareholders was all but overwhelming. The claim that they lead to a reduction in something that cannot be measure is not even economics. You might as well say, PE deals make my neck hurt; I just don't like them for some reason I can't explain. It's something else if pension funds get looted, for example. But taking firms out of disastrous collective bargaining contracts can be a godsend. If GM had been PE's a decade ago, it would not have needed to be bailed out. And if it had been bailed out on economically sound instead of political terms, it would have looked a lot more like a Bain deal than a sweetheart kiss to UAW. So I guess the point is -- we have all these informal, firmish, Coaseian arrangements, you see, trust and all that. OK. Fine. But then you want to lock all those in somehow, make it impossible for somebody following the rules to raise a bunch of capital, usually by borrowing it and taking on a bunch of risk, buy up control of the company, these days usually in a non-hostile, negotiated deal, and change those arrangements to make the company more efficient? That's insane. Firms get stuck in ruts all the time. If they can't get out, they fail. PE helps them get out. --TS

July 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)