Defending the Game

Our institutions matter.  Our Constitution matters.

No, our system of Government isn’t perfect.  But point me to a better one.  Okay, maybe we could vote differently, or set up representation in a way that made more sense.  Nevertheless, the Constitution is there to protect everyone, in recognition of a democracy peopled by the feisty, the iconoclasts, the oddballs, the convicted.

So its understanding of who constitutes everyone has rightly expanded, the truth remains: America was colonized by rabble-rousers, risk-takers, greedy mofo’s who didn’t like rules, and petty empire-builders.  To paraphrase: England didn’t send us its best.  England sent criminals and dissidents, those who refused to bend to the status quo, hardliners, greedy bastards, outcasts, and the occasional rapist.  And for that motley crew to peacefully co-exist, we all had to agree to some baseline propositions.  Namely, you do you, and I’ll do me, and instead of killing each other over a dispute, we’re going to build this system of laws and courts that ultimately allows society to function in a way that enables capitalism.

And so it went with three branches of government, equal in power, checking and balancing itself out.  Disagreeing parties grappling over power in proscribed ways to ensure that, when the tables turned, the disadvantaged could trust the advantaged to respect the institutions.  All of it based in a common understanding of reality: we are always going to disagree.  There will always be tension between chaos and order.  A pluralistic society is a nightmare to maintain peacefully, and yet we do it because we like the outcome of all of this more-or-less peaceful coexistence.  We aren’t tolerant because we are good, we are tolerant because we need others to give us the same courtesy we are extending by minding our own damn business.

We don’t have to like how others use their freedom.  Football players can protest any way they see fit.  Barbie pundits can complain about how said protest is carried out.  The pundit is allowed to look stupid defending her right to criticize how someone else is executing their right to free speech by claiming her right to free speech.  The protest goes on indifferent to opinion, because the opinion is breath and vibration and is gone, while the law remains.

We can wish to convert the whole country to a single belief system and to justify laws based on those beliefs.  But we can’t, and we should be grateful.  Because my inability to force everyone to be strictly rational about everything means that the local Christian Scientists couldn’t deny my mother medical care in the face of cancer.  And I’ll happily bow to the Constitution limiting my right to enforce my belief system on others because it equally denies the Christian Scientists the ability to dictate my life according to their beliefs.

We can want a Supreme Court that rules according to our religious beliefs.  (How is a Christian wanting a Supreme Court to uphold religiously-motivated laws any different than a Muslim wanting a legal system that enforces Sharia law?)  But the risk to the system as a whole to throw a temper tantrum about the rules not breaking your way this time ignores the fact that the system means the rules will break to your preference in another way, at some other time…  It is shortsighted and jeopardizes the one thing that makes a pluralistic society work: the agreement to play one game according to one set of rules.  We aren’t going to get a monolithic society, so chucking the ground rules is beyond dangerous.  You might as well replace the foundation of your house with wonder-bread.

There will be consequences.  This backlash ultimately won’t be partisan, it won’t skip the Fox News crowd…  What we are dealing with here isn’t the second coming of the Third Reich, it is the redux of the French Revolution.  The peasants are rising, some initially called by seductive falsehoods (it is all someone else’s fault), but eventually the entire political spectrum will feel this truth: there are more of us than there are of them.

We can disagree about substance.  That’s what we do in America.  But we used to play by impartial ground rules set up in the Constitution, fleshed out in the Bill of Rights, and strengthened by decorum, norms, and 200 years of legislation.  Not out of the goodness of our hearts, but in the recognition that anything I can do to you, you can do to me when the balance of power shifts.

The power will shift.  If the GOP is smart, it will start reigning itself in, re-asserting the rules for itself that it wishes the Dems to abide by, and valuing the rules of the game to the same degree they seem determined to win the game.

American Democracy is the game.  If one side wins, the game ends.  Don’t forget: Game over isn’t a good outcome.  For anyone.

Defending the Game


Just a drive-by note on sequestration.

  1. If we have to make our peace with that weirdo George in policy who picks his nose at his desk and insists on debating the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase before he’ll pass judgement on that thing that was due five minutes ago, Congress can put on their collective big girl panties and get on with doing their jobs.
  2. This is a giant pissing contest intended to win the approval of a populace that happens to be judging the winner from the middle of the field.  How likely do you think it is that we’ll look favorably on the schmucks that just spent the past two years pissing on us?

Look, we all know that the days of solving governmental problems by throwing cash at them are over.  That’s a good thing.  We all need to recognize that the mentality that got us here – “cut that program over there that doesn’t actually impact ME” – has to end.  Everything needs to be trimmed.  We need to automate where we can.  We need to consolidate programs and functions.  We need to simplify, simplify, and simplify again.  We also need to remember that we can’t have everything.  When we paid Clinton-level taxes, we had a balanced budget.  And the 90’s are pretty universally remembered as a time of prosperity.   Do the math.

We’re in a mess that we created.  We created it by consistently sending the prom king or queen to represent us in Congress – all style and no substance – and now we’re surprised that they’re too busy preening on Fox/CNN/MSNBC to do any damn work.  We created it by being greedy and wanting our tax breaks AND our special interest funding.  We won’t get out of it by demanding that other people sacrifice in order to preserve our entitlements.

Raise taxes, solve the budget crisis, balance the budget, and sensibly drag the US government into the technological revolution.  Shrink the size of the federal payroll through the wave of federal retirements that are inevitable.  Reward efficiencies instead of rewarding the ability to plod on doing the same old shit in the same old way.  But by all means, don’t screw over our soldiers in the process.

In other words, we all need to quit our entitled bitching and get on with it.


Because Smart is the New Party

Could we have more of this, please?  (This being a book review on a book that looks at urban and suburban sprawl from a “conservative” fiscal perspective and comes to the conclusion that expanding cities and infrastructures isn’t good investing.)

Please, pretty please, can we have a party that sheds the idiocy and ideology of both parties in favor of stuff that simply makes sense?  I’d really like to vote for those people.

Because Smart is the New Party

Napkin Calculations

Ok, I know it is more complicated than this, but let’s consider a hypothetical ship that the US Government buys from Northrop Grumman.  Say they pay $10,000,000 for it, but it only costs them $9,500,000 to make.  The government gets back 35% of that 500,000, or $175,000.  That remaining $425,000 goes to shareholders who also have to pay their own taxes on it…  another 15%.  Giving the Government $48,750

If 60% of the costs are in materials and there’s a 6% sales tax on that, the government gets $342,000 in sales tax.  I think it is fair to guess that a large part of the cost to produce those components that get bought also gets eaten up in salaries, so let’s assume that these people are making money in the 28% tax bracket.  That’s another $1,276,800 that goes back to the government.

The remaining 30% goes to salaries and 10% to facilities.  (Yes, I’m pulling these numbers out of the air, but it’s a thought exercise.  I am hoping that Freakanomics will take on this question and address it for real.)  There has got to be some taxes associated with running the facilities, but I don’t know what they are, so we’ll stick to the salaries.  Assuming that these people make a little more than the poor suckers producing the steel that makes up the ship, we’ll tax them at 30%.  That’s $840,000.

So for every $10,000,000 the government spends, it gets $2,633,800 back in first-degree taxes.  Take it down another level and contemplate what the salaries are associated with what the people who are getting that first-degree salary are buying…  House and pedicures and grocery stores and malls and so on.  Because we know we aren’t putting that money into savings.

Does it change anyone’s view of government spending knowing that, at least roughly, for every $1.00 spent, $.30 comes back to it?

Napkin Calculations

On Politics

I was listening to NPR this morning while I put on my makeup.  They had two Marks on, both strategists, one for the Dems and one for the Republicans.  Both sides, equally, just don’t get it.  Seriously.  When the words fall out of their mouths, do they believe them?  Are the Dems convinced that the GOP looks “hard and uncompromising” to the whole freaking nation?  Is the GOP certain that the Dems are perceived as … whatever they say they are perceived as? 

As a nation, are we truly confused by the rhetoric that makes it sound like we are talking about two different things?  My day job is in communications, a profession which seems more and more dismal as my fellow communications professionals spin up messaging with all the substance of cotton candy and the political parties stand by that message as if it had the weight-bearing capacity of concrete.  For the love of all that is good and tangible, why can’t we just talk about what is real using plain language, not slippery political speak designed to be wiggled out of later? 

And who bears the responsibility?  Are our politicians more cowardly than they used to be?  Is the public less educated or more apathetic?  Are the issues just that much more complex?  Do we make them more complex than they are?  Are we responsible for hiring the prom king when we really need the nerd with the pocket protector?  Do the handlers pay more attention to the polls than makes sense?  Does no one realize that a poll is only as good as the way the questions are worded, and that if you word a question correctly, you can drive the answers in whatever direction you want?  Has our media failed us? 


What is the answer?  A thing which we do not seem capable of unless all other choices are removed: reject the hypocrisy and hyperbole, hire people who can make hard choices that hurt in the short-term but mean long-term health and stability for the country, turn off the talking heads that incite fear in order to cloud the issues and drive us to a preordained conclusion, and ban business from lobbying Congress for anything. 

We must look in the mirror and address our own choices.  We must own that our whole freaking country has become sloppy and slovenly; we have gorged ourselves to death on calories and credit that we can ill afford; we have sold our futures for houses that won’t last, cars that rust, consumer goods that will be outdated the moment they are pulled from their packaging.  Meanwhile, we whine and moan about things that cost us but matter – educating our kids, taking care of our elderly, setting the conditions for people to be their best through consistent, available, and affordable health care.  No government did this to us.  No one put a gun to our head and said “instead of investing in American jobs by aiming our consumer dollars at American-made goods, you must buy cheaply from China and fund their economy instead of ours.”  Like all good tragedies, we did this to ourselves. 

And for as long as we buy into the system, as long as we don’t demand some commonsense measures (for example, the get business out of Government thing which might singlehandedly break free some major deadlock on big issues and allow our elected officials to make decisions based on what is good for the country, not what is good for the companies that will fund their re-election), as long as we insist that someone else should do all the sacrificing but not us, we will have exactly this.  And it will be the end of America as a shining beacon of what is right in democracy.

On Politics