San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, March 16, 2012

Two Lessons I Have Learned Over The Years

There are two lessons I have learned over the years that allow me to generally predict the behavior of other human beings.  The conclusions that I have drawn from these two lessons are not always true and I am most certainly not claiming any special ability to understand and predict the behavior of human beings. There are some times when I get it wrong and I am pleasantly surprised to discover that what I expected to happen does not.  In those situations I end up having a truly enjoyable time and frequently end up making a new friend.  Nevertheless, in the great majority of my interactions with other people, these two items come true. 
First, I expect that people will always, and only, think and talk about themselves.  C.S. Lewis described this as the sin of "pride" and said that although everyone seems to be able to see it in everyone else, everyone also seems unable to see it in themselves.  Just listen in on the vast majority of conversations you hear over the course of a day.  Is it not true that a conversation between two people is usually just a series of "I" statements being traded back and forth, with no real interaction and no questioning?  The thing that you just said does not make me engage you in the topic. Rather, it makes me think of something about myself that I now tell you.  Repeat this pattern and we have most human conversations.  This lesson, however, is not the one I want to illustrate today.
The second lesson I have learned is that I should never expect any human being to respond to a logical, rational argument.  People are just not that way.  Or at least, very few people are.  The criteria for truth for the great majority of the people in the world is, do I like it?  If I like it, it must be true.  If I dislike it, it must be false. That is as far as it goes.  Thinking back upon my history of interactions with other people, I believe it is fair to say that I have never actually changed the opinion of another person on a topic with a rational argument.  I used to try harder, and apply more logic.  Now I have simply given up.  It makes me mad, of course.  So I post a comment on my blog.
Yesterday the Denver Post carried two letters in "The Open Forum" that readdressed the issue of President Obama's Executive Order mandating religious organizations to provide contraceptive and abortive health insurance for all employees.  Both letters were examples of how a preconceived bias made it utterly impossible for the writer to see the truth.
Kent Karber of Colorado Springs is (rightly, I believe) upset that requiring an employer to provide health insurance that includes contraceptive and abortive products is simply another example of the government exceeding its boundaries.  He concludes his letter by asking, "Where does it stop?  When everyone gets a pony?"  I certainly agree that the government should not be in the health insurance business. However, to arrive at this conclusion he begins by asserting that the debate is not about the Constitution and religious freedom.  Earlier he says, "...those who have religious concerns over the practice will not be affected."  The "practice" he is writing about is the practice of forcing religious organizations to purchase health insurance for their employees that includes contraceptive and abortive services and products.  His assertion that Obama's Executive Order does not "affect" churches is ridiculous.  It directly affects churches.  Churches are ordered, by the federal government and under penalty of law, to provide insurance for products and services deemed to be immoral.  Yet, Mr. Karber is more concerned with advancing the cause of reduced government (a good cause).  The result is he is unable to see the attack upon religious organizations for what it is.
Anne Culver of Denver is concerned about advancing her cause as well.  Ms. Culver believes that the world is overpopulated.  She believes that Obama's Executive Order is a good thing because it will fight against the problem of overpopulation.  She says, "The primary issue is not the autonomy of women or supposed religious freedom: it is the future of a planet whose ultimate well being is threatened by the consequences of an overpopulated world."  How could she have missed the point of the debate so badly?  Simple. She perceives everything she reads and hears through the grid of her crusade against overpopulation (whatever that is).  This grid moves her so far off the mark that she eventually comes to the conclusion that "religious freedom that forces families to have children they cannot afford or care for is not freedom; it is tyranny."
I added the above underlines.  Look how far Ms. Culver has departed from the topic.  She believes that the primary issue in Obama's Executive Order is overpopulation.  She believes that not having an Executive Order requiring religious organizations to provide health insurance that includes contraceptive and abortive products and services is equivalent to forcing families to have children they cannot afford or care for! 
Both of the above examples illustrate the second lesson I learned in life.  Both of these letter writers have come to their conclusions because it makes them feel good about themselves.  The things they write have absolutely nothing to do with the real issue.  That does not matter.  They have expressed themselves and they feel good.  That must be all it is about, right?  Now, let me talk about me for a while.....

No posts to this blog until March 26th.  Spring Break Vacation.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Americans Are The Most Evil People In The World

Wait!  Don't shoot me, I am just the messenger.  I would not have guessed that US citizens are significantly more evil than citizens of other countries around the world.  Actually, I would have guessed that when it comes to the propensity for evil, people are pretty much the same everywhere you look.  But who am I to disagree with those who know better?  Who am I to disagree with the US government itself?  For, you see, it is the US government that believes we are the most evil people in the world.
When I write of the US government I am writing of all three levels of government in the US.  Federal, state and local governments are all involved in the appraisal of our moral condition.  Based upon the actions of our federal, state and local law enforcement systems we are forced to come to the conclusion that US citizens are the most immoral in the world.  How do I know this?  Because we imprison more of our citizens than any other nation in the world.  Assuming that we imprison people because they are immoral and have done bad things, it necessarily follows that the country that imprisons the most of its citizens is the country with the most immoral citizens.  Here are some statistics about our immorality, based upon incarceration rates, that may surprise you.  (All rates are per capita)
  1. US citizens are 25% more immoral than the second most immoral people in the world.  The second most immoral people in the world are those who live in Rwanda.  Rwanda imprisons 25% less of its citizens than we do.
  2. US citizens are 39% more immoral than citizens in the Russian Federation.  Given all the ex-KGB members running around Russia, this is indeed surprising. 
  3. US citizens are 53% more immoral than citizens of Cuba.  Maybe they should enforce trade sanctions against us.  Plus, Cuba isn't exactly a bastion for free thinkers.  We have to believe that many of those incarcerated in Cuba are actually not immoral people.  Yet Cuba still incarcerates 53% less of its citizens than we do.
  4. US citizens are 123% more immoral than citizens of Iran.  Why should we go to war to liberate the citizens of Iran when they are so much better than we are?
  5. US citizens are 272% more immoral than our neighbors to the south, Mexico.  
  6. I am pleased to announce that the United Kingdom (including that most significant of countries....Wales) is 376% more moral than the US.  
  7. Those tyrannical despots in China have imprisoned 509% less of their citizens than the United States.  This is true despite the fact that the Chinese authorities have a strong predilection towards imprisoning large numbers of  "political prisoners". 
  8. US citizens are 535% more immoral than our neighbors to the north, Canada.  This is indeed odd. Our two countries have so much in common.  Yet, despite our historical and cultural similarities, we are drastically more immoral than they are. 
  9. Iraq, the country we have just liberated from despotism, is made up of people who are 636% more moral than we are.
  10. India is the most moral of all the larger countries of the world.  Indians are 2300% more moral than US citizens.
.7% of all US citizens are in prison.  2.3 million US citizens are in prison.  3.2 million (1%) of all US citizens are either in prison or on probation.  No other country in the world even comes close to the rate of incarceration found in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  So, what are we to conclude?  Are we really more evil than everyone else in the world?  Or is something else coming into play here?
I believe that human beings are pretty much the same.  I believe that the human propensity for evil is pretty much the same, and unaffected by geo-political borders.   I believe that the number of US citizens in prison in this country needs to be accounted for by means other than differences in our innate evilness.  Allow me to suggest that there is another way that the statistics on incarceration can be interpreted.  It does not have to be the case that all of those who are in prison are guilty of a crime.  It is possible that people are in prison for behavior that is not immoral.  In that case, a higher rate of incarceration is indicative of a higher rate of governmental tyranny, not a higher rate of personal immorality.
Based upon the incarceration rate in this country I am driven to conclude that the US is the most tyrannical country in the world.  Based upon the incarceration  rate in this country I am driven to the conclusion that the US imprisons more innocent citizens than any other country in the world.  Based upon the incarceration rate in this country, all of the other countries of the world should be considering wars of liberation against us.  We are the ones who need to be freed from tyrannical despotism.  We are the ones who have locked up almost one out of every hundred of us, many times  for behavior that is not immoral.  We are the ones who need to be free.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Politicians And Oath Taking

A story in today's Denver Post describes how Colorado state Senate President Brandon Shaffer has come up with the idea that witnesses who testify before Senate committees should be required to swear an oath prior to doing so.  His suggestion would require the posting of a witness sign-up sheet that would have the following statement attached:  "By signing below, I affirm that the testimony I will give before this committee will be truthful to the best of my knowledge in accordance with CRS 2-2-315 and CRS 18-8-502."
Initial response to Schaffer's proposal has been lukewarm.  State Senator Nancy Spence (R-Centennial) said, "I think it's outrageous."  Unfortunately, the story did not go on to describe why she believed the oath proposal to be "outrageous".  In defense of his proposal Shaffer said, "I think it's reasonable to expect people when they testify in committee to be truthful."  You think?  Arguing against the proposal was Senator Bob Bacon who said, "There are probably some professional witnesses that need to take the oath.  But many of the witnesses who come here are unfamiliar with the process and nervous already, and we ought not to intimidate them."  Have all of these people lost their minds?  How is it intimidating to expect people to tell the truth?  Why are only "professional witnesses" expected to tell the truth?   Let's think about this for a minute.
The swearing of an oath is a long standing practice in official judicial and governmental proceedings, where the goal is to remind the person who is testifying that he is morally and legally bound to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Prior to the common era it was understood by all people that the oath was to be sworn in the name of God.  The entire purpose of the oath was to acknowledge that it is possible that men will lie to their fellow men, but it is not possible to lie to God.  How things have changed.
Note that the oath Senator Shaffer wants folks to swear is in the name of two Colorado statutes!  An oath is always sworn in the name of a superior power and the best superior power the good Senator could come up with is a couple of Colorado laws that pertain to telling the truth and the penalty for perjury?  I guess this should not be surprising since the oath that is now sworn prior to giving testimony in criminal and civil cases in Colorado asks, "Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to the best of your ability?"  I had to swear that oath prior to giving a deposition in a civil case.  In essence I was swearing to the superior power of my own name.  What a joke.  An oath that invokes my own name, or some obscure state laws, is not an oath.  It is merely something to say to make people feel good about themselves.  It is totally meaningless.
Perhaps some of the reticence on the part of the Colorado Senate to adopt the sign-up sheet oath has something to do with the fact that practically every politician (Ron Paul being the only exception I can think of) immediately breaks the oath that he swears when he is installed in his office.  All politicians swear to uphold the constitutions of their various states. Or, in the case of the federal government, the US Constitution is the document that federal Congressmen swear to uphold.  By the end of the first congressional session for all freshmen congressmen that oath has been broken.  It makes sense, if politicians have any conscience at all, that they might feel a little guilty about lying when they swore their oaths of allegiance to their respective constitutions.  Perhaps that explains why they are less than enthusiastic about requiring others to swear an oath when testifying before them.  Maybe they realize that requiring others to swear an oath to tell the truth is utter hypocrisy since they make their livings by refusing to tell the truth.  I don't know.  I am not in their pitiful heads and have no way of knowing what motivates these folks.
Remember when the mid-term elections ended and the gang of freshmen Republican congressmen announced that every piece of legislation that was brought to the floor of Congress would be required to have some statement in it that proved it was consistent with the Constitution?  How long did that promise to those who elected them last?  A couple of hours?  Maybe, if we are generous, a couple of days?  Once they were installed in their positions they became just like every other politician in Congress.  The oaths they swore to uphold the Constitution gets in the way of protecting their political careers.  Guess which one gets tossed away?  Rather than continue with the fiction of taking an oath of office, politicians should have the courage to admit that they have no intention of following the law of the land and abolish the oaths that they swear.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bogus "Stress Tests" Hide The Real Issue

The Federal Reserve announced today that four of the nation's nineteen largest banks failed their "stress test" for financial viability.  According to a report on cnbc.com, "The stress tests, now mandated under the Dodd-Frank financial-services law, were first instituted after the 2008 financial crisis, which saw the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG and the near-failure of several other big banks. The US government was forced to inject billions of dollars into credit markets to prevent the entire financial system from collapsing. The Fed's latest stress test tried to determine whether the banks have enough capital to withstand another financial crisis, including a 13 percent jobless rate, a 50 percent drop in stock prices and a 21 percent decline in housing prices."  So much in that paragraph is misleading or downright wrong.
The stress tests are mandated by Dodd-Frank.  Dodd-Frank is one of the most onerous pieces of financial legislation to come out of Congress in a long time.  Dodd-Frank was commissioned to investigate the causes of the financial crisis of 2008-2009.  Not surprisingly, Dodd-Frank discovered that all of the problems of 2008-2009 were directly related to the operation of the free market.  The federal government was exonerated of any responsibility for the crisis.  Also not surprisingly, Dodd-Frank mandates massive new regulations on the financial industry in this country.  The annual stress test for banks is one of those new regulations.
The US government was not "forced to inject billions of dollars into credit markets to prevent the entire financial system from collapsing."  This is the story the federal regulators love to tell but it is the opposite of the truth.  The federal government was primarily responsible for the financial crisis in the banking industry due to the fact that it changed national rules for accounting and required banks to value mortgage backed securities at their market value, rather than par.  When the market for mortgage backed securities suddenly froze, those assets were valued at zero and banks suddenly became insolvent.  As we have seen however (More Fed/Treasury Lies And Hypocrisy, March 5th), mortgage backed securities were never worth nothing.  Banks were never close to being insolvent.  The entire "crisis" was created by the federal government as a way to expand power over the free market, especially banking.
The conditions stipulated for the stress tests are ridiculous.  As is always the case with government, it is fighting the previous war.  Since the last financial crisis revolved around high unemployment, a stock market drop, and a decrease in housing values, the stress test assumes negative outcomes in those three sectors of the economy, and nothing else.  There are millions of items that could create economic problems in the future.  To single out those three and "test" for them is utter folly.  It tells us nothing.  It allows the officials at the Fed to stand around and making speeches.  It allows government officials to look important and pretend they are on the job, protecting our economy.  It gives fearful citizens another opportunity to praise their elected rulers for their wisdom and foresight.....until the next crisis comes along.
The last crisis was a creation of government.  The solution to preventing future crises is, surprise, more government!  Never expect government to admit it was the cause of the problem.  Never expect government to admit that the solution to the problem is less government.  It just does not work that way.  
The real problem with the banks in the US is not that four of them failed a government administered "stress test".  The real problem with the banks in the US is they are members of the Federal Reserve.  As members of the Federal Reserve they are involved in the creation of fiat money.  As members of the Federal Reserve they are encouraged to engage in fractional reserve banking.   The real problem with the banks in the US is they are a part of the engine of inflation, powered by the federal government.  Passing a stress test is the financial and moral equivalent of putting a ribbon on a hogs head.  It tells us nothing, but it sure looks pretty.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Food Stamps And Contradictory Government Behavior

In fiscal year 2011 the United States paid out a total of $71.8 billion in food stamp programs.  This is up from $64.7 billion paid in 2010 and $50.4 billion paid out in the depths of the last recession in 2009.  Five years ago total food stamp payments were $30.2 billion.  Hence, food stamp payments to citizens of the United States have increased by 138% over the past five years.  These are cold, hard facts.
Real (inflation adjusted) disposable personal income stood at $10.2 trillion on 1-1-12.  This represented a small increase from 1-1-11 and was an increase from the $9.9 trillion level of 1-1-10.  Five years ago real disposable personal income stood at $9.8 trillion.  Hence, real disposable personal income has increased by 4.1% over the past five years. These are also cold, hard facts.
Since it is true that changes to personal income over time are not evenly distributed among the various income groups, let's take a look at the data on a per capita basis.  Real disposable personal income per capita was $32,675 on 1-1-12.  It was $32,719 on 1-1-11 and $32,080 on 1-1-10.  Five years ago real disposable personal income per capital stood at $32,682.  Hence, real disposable personal income per capita remained essentially flat over the past five years.  This is an indisputable fact.
Could somebody please explain to me why it is the case that people in this country are receiving 138% more in food stamp benefits while, at the same time, they are making the exact same amount of money?  Although food stamp programs are of dubious value to begin with, I could at least understand a 138% increase in payouts if the average disposable income of each person in this country had gone down by a significant amount over the past five years.  But that has not happened.  Income has remained the same while food stamp payments have more than doubled.  Why?
If you have ever had the opportunity to visit one of the parks administered by the National Park Service you have probably come across one of the signs exhorting you to not feed the animals.  Wildlife managers tell us constantly that feeding wild animals causes them to habituate to human beings and brings about a state of dependency that will eventually result in their demise.  It seems that animals become accustomed to having food handed to them without having to graze or forage.  It seems that they prefer to have humans feed them rather than work for food themselves.  It seems that they can become so completely dependent upon human support that they will eventually get to the point where they cease working for themselves and would starve if the human support is removed. 
The comparison is obvious.  Still, there are some recipients of food stamps who are so filled with envy and hatred at those who are providing the funds for their welfare payments that they take offense at this comparison.  Here is a selection from the website of one such person (edited for offensive language, of which there was plenty):
"I am so *** sick of my family (and families like ours) being compared to stray animals. I don’t even have words right now for how angry I am. You rig the economy, you take away our jobs, you make college an impossible pipe dream, you cut the social safety net and programs that save lives, you keep us unhealthy working dangerous jobs and eating *** ***  food, you refuse us medical care, you keep us drowned in debt (and refuse to let student loans be discharged in bankruptcy), you send us to war as cannon fodder, and then you have the audacity to say ***  like this?! You are the epitome of a *** parasite. Your precious capitalism would be nothing without the exploitation of the working class. Nobody gets rich without exploiting the working class. "  (Identity protected in a vain attempt to shield this poor man from the consequences of his own stupidity.)
Wow!  Now that is a mouthful.  This person says that he has a moral claim on my income to pay for his food. Then he says that I have taken away his opportunity to go to college (although later I am accused of forcing him to pay back his student loans...how he came to have student loans without ever going to college is not explained),  I have cut his food stamp program (even though we have just seen it is has gone up by 138% in the past five years), I force him to work at a job he believes is unhealthy and dangerous as well as forcing him to eat food that he does not like.  Even worse, I refuse to pay his doctor bills, force him to borrow money, force him to pay that money back, and force him to go fight foreign wars.  I had no idea I was such a bad person.  I thought I was just working and paying my fair share (30% in state and federal payroll taxes last year) of taxes.  Now I find out I am a "parasite".  I always thought a parasite was something that lived on the back of something else.  Now I discover that the true parasite is the one who is giving up 30% of his income to the one who does not want to work or pay his bills.  Somebody has a distorted view of reality.