Sunday, September 25, 2011

What wonderful balance!

Here, we see a wonderful case of journalistic balance, where the author is careful to avoid any partisan sniping. By reporting equally on what Republicans say and what Democrats say, we avoid any messy, partisan conclusions, like "the citizens of this country have a right to vote."

Because, honestly, who would like to have a mere journalist take on such a contentious issue? Sure, we nominally grant the right to vote to all citizens, age 18 or older, but is that non-controversial? In the past, we've only demanded registration and a reasonable cause to believe that a person lived in the proper voting district, but that, while allowing people to vote, certainly allowed the possibility of voter fraud. And, sure, one can argue that these new voting rules could disenfranchise millions - but there have been dozens - yes, dozens! - of fraud prosecutions. So, clearly, there's controversy here, and no journalist should come out and make the hideous, partisan suggestion that we should allow all citizens to vote.

Thank heavens we have fair and balanced journalists. What kind of country would it be if journalists took on basic principles, like "the citizens have a right to vote" and held politicians' feet to the fire if they dared try to restrict that right? Especially when the principal that one citizen gets one vote is so controversial!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Let's try this...

What's the difference between a Ponzi scheme, and life insurance?

In both cases, sales people try to get people to put in money. And, some people - the people who "withdraw" early, get huge returns on their investment.

But with life insurance, actuaries figure out how much money must be on hand to pay promised benefits. And, they figure out how to balance the amount paid in versus the amount that will be paid out (barring unexpected calamities).

With a Ponzi scheme, there's no balance. If there was - if people could keep paying in, and taking out, indefinitely - it wouldn't be a Ponzi scheme.

So, which model fits Social Security better?

Do I really have to answer? Okay, I guess I do.

Social Security uses actuaries, and can plan for births, deaths, and the increasing average age of our population. Just as an insurance company has to use careful statistical models to plan for how many plan participants are required to support each beneficiary, Social Security uses similar models to plan how much money is required in Social Security taxes to continue to pay benefits.

So, what does this tell us about people who claim Social Security is a Ponzi scheme?

Well, they can be stupid - so stupid that they open their yaps without learning what a Ponzi scheme actually is.

Or, they can be liars.

(Or, they can be the sort of person who trusts people like Rick Perry. These people aren't exactly stupid, but they are too trusting.)

There's not much middle ground here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

More media incompetence

Okay, this is opinion, but don't we deserve competence even there?

First, let's look at the title: "Why Warren Buffet is wrong".

Does the article actually show that Warren Buffet is "wrong"? No. It shows that a libertarian doesn't want rich people to pay taxes, and will repeat libertarian talking points because if something is repeated often enough, the Very Serious People will think it's a Very Serious Point and that it Deserves Consideration.

But let's not quibble; let's dig in.

The first problem with Buffett's view is that the number of super-rich is too small for higher rates to make much difference to our budget problems.

"The first problem with Buffet's view is that, while his ideas will help, they won't magically make all problems go away!" Yeah. Not very impressive. No one claimed that if the rich pay a tad bit more in taxes, the world would turn to Magical Rainbow Land with Cotton Candy Clouds and cute baby kittens and puppies that poop gold.

No, Buffet's point was that we have a political party that's whining that it's horrible and unfair to make the rich pay even a penny more in higher tax rates, and that's stupid. The rich have done quite well, and have received massive benefits from a strong government that protects their interests, and helps them do business, and therefore, it's perfectly justified to ask them to pay a bit more in taxes.

We then see the naked assertion that if we were to place, say, a 10% surcharge on the income of the very rich, "...the super-rich will avoid or evade much of the surcharge, significantly lowering its yield."

This is an interesting idea to consider. There was a time when the top marginal rate was 70%. You know what a lot of well-to-do business owners did? They started generous pension funds. These funds would tend to have more than 30% of the benefits going to the business owner, who was typically older (and hence, closer to retirement), and, obviously paid more.

Note that at a 70% tax rate, giving one's self more than 30% of the pension contributions means a net benefit to the employer, since taking the money home would mean a 70% tax hit.

Another thing business owners did was make charitable contributions - maybe they supported the local little-league team if they had a few bucks, or maybe they supported the local opera company if they had more.

Not every tax avoidance scheme is a bad thing - many are good!

Let's look at the next point:
Focusing on the super-rich also fosters a counterproductive attitude toward material success. The way to promote a hard-working, entrepreneurial and innovative society is to celebrate great wealth so long as it has been earned by legitimate means. When this is not the case, policy should target the wrongdoing directly, not demonize everyone who hits it big.

Get this: if you think a person making a million bucks a year should pay, I dunno, 5, 10, 15% more in taxes on the money over that first million, you're DEMONIZING SUCCESS!!!! You horrible, awful person!

Or, maybe you're just saying that hey, the wealthy make their money in large part because of the country we live in, so maybe they should help support that country.

Look: when Apple and Google and Microsoft and who-knows-who-else get into a big patent fight, there are possibly billions of dollars at stake. Well, we have courts just sitting there, willing to give them a clean, final judgment on who is right and who is wrong. That judgment is worth a lot more to them than it is to some working class person making $30,000 a year. So, why not let the millionaires and billionaires pay a bit more towards the government that keeps that court system up and running for them? And, of course, the courts are just one example of the many places where the wealthy get proportionally more benefit than the less-wealthy.

The fact of the matter is, a good, strong government is what makes the wealthy able to become wealthy; asking for a few extra pennies on the dollar in taxes in return for those proportionally higher benefits is only fair.

At this point, the article meanders into nonsense.

Excessive licensing requirements, permitting fees, restrictive examinations and other barriers to entry into medicine, law, plumbing, hair styling and many other professions are bad for economic productivity because they artificially restrict the supply of these services. And these barriers redistribute income perversely by raising incomes for those protected and raising prices for everyone.

When did Warren Buffet say "Oh, yeah, and licensing requirements! Permitting fees! They should all be raised, too!"? He didn't? Okay.

See, I told you - libertarian talking points. And not even very sensible ones, given the discussion topic.

Finally, we come to this:

Buffet asserts that taxing capital income has never deterred anyone from investing. Well, then he has never discussed the issue with me or many of my friends.

Folks, Buffet is an investor, and a wise one. Now, it's true that tax rates on capital income can create distortions. If inflation is 3%, and taxes on interest income is 50%, then anything less than 6% earned interest is wasting your money - interest rates will have to start at about 10% to attract investors. (50% taxes on 10% interest gives you 5% interest - 2 points above inflation, which is generally the lowest interest that will be, well, "interesting".)

So, yes, tax policy needs to be set carefully. If you tax capital income in a foolish manner, you will distort what investments are sensible.

But people with money to invest will find a way to invest it. That's the wonder of the free market. We don't need to give them a free ride; we just need to make sure the taxes aren't so high as to discourage investment.

Are they so high they discourage investment? Well, remember the big crash in 2008? That was caused by wild levels of over-investment. Can I prove that our tax policy caused companies to leverage themselves 40-to-1, and caused them to be so greedy, so dishonest, and so stupid, as to bring us to the brink of a worse collapse? No. But let's not pretend that "investment" is a purely good thing, either. Distorted investment was at the base of a financial collapse that caused a huge amount of grief, and could have caused a lot more.

No... let's not pretend that the wealthy need a free ride, or that they shouldn't support the system that makes them wealthy, or that we have to leave them free to invest wildly, possibly causing another big bubble to pop. Let's instead consider sensible tax policies, which will, of course, include sensibly higher tax rates on the wealthiest among us.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Econ and trade, Part II

Earlier, I talked about how econ is not a moral science. Free trade always (or, nearly always) improves economic outcomes, but if a company has an advantage through, say, slavery or letting companies poison their citizenry, it doesn't mean that free trade is the right thing to do.

There's another side to this, as well. What is the great benefit of free trade? Well, more goods and services are now available, for everyone, for less money. (Technically, for fewer resources - but let's pretend that resources and money are exchangeable.)


Well, if there's less money being paid for goods and services, that means there's less being earned for goods and services. It's great for the well-off, who get more stuff more cheaply, but it's bad for those who just lost their job because someone in another country can do the same job cheaper.

Over the long term, economic growth is likely to turn things around, of course. But in the short term, opening up new trade often means a lot of people will get hurt.

In a nation with a strong social safety net, this is not a problem. Some people lose their jobs, and have to find something else - but with a good safety net, the impact to their lives is minimized.

In the US... well, there isn't a very good safety net, is there? And it's been slowly shredding for many years. The Republicans want to throw it away. And the Democrats, well, the Democrats want to maintain it for the poorest of the poor, and throw it away for everyone else.

And its ridiculous. It's a poor economic decision, for one thing. Look, if the safety net is too good, sure, people will live off the dole without looking for work. But we are so far away from that situation that it's hard to imagine at this point! What you want - what a society needs - is a safety net.

Not, as Clinton stupidly said, "a hand up instead of a hand-out." A safety net. Something to make sure that, when you fall, you're caught; nothing horrible happens.

It's a perfectly fair trade for free trade; boost free trade, but also boost the safety net. This way, you benefit everyone. There are more goods and services for everyone, and those whose jobs are lost have a much easier time moving to the next job... and, they can keep spending a bit while looking for work, which helps the economy to grow.

But of course, in this country, fairness isn't a virtue any more, is it? Free trade, to make the rich richer, and the safety net gets cut. Because, you know, "booga booga, deficit gonna kill you in your sleep!"

Saturday, August 06, 2011

"Entitlement reform"

You're going to be hearing that phrase a lot - "Entitlement reform". Because, in the end, projected growth of entitlements is most certainly what is going to put the most pressure on the nation's finances.

There are two big entitlement programs: Social Security, and Medicare.

Social Security is paid for through around 2037. And, the Social Security payroll tax used to affect 90% of all salaries, now it's only affecting about 84%; before we talk about cutting benefits, we should first bump up the maximum until it's taxing closer to 90% of salaries again, and see what that gets us.

Then, there's Medicare.

Here's the problem with Medicare: we pay far too much money for health care in this country.

I've seen figures that show that the US government spends more per capita on health care than other nations do, including nations that have single-payer health care.

Let's go over that again: the US government pays more, per citizen, for Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and other health care programs, than, say, Canada pays per citizen to completely insure all of its citizens.

If this were Canada, we could provide health care for everyone, based just upon what we currently spend on Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and so forth. All of the money spent on private health insurance could be spent on other things.

If you're like me, part of you is thinking that's impossible. Well, remember: the US spends about twice, per capita, what other nations spend. If half of that spending comes from the government - and it does, near enough - then what I've just said is true. We should be able to cover just about everyone, just with our government expenditures. Throw in a boatload of extra cash, if you want; imagine cutting all private health care costs in half, so there's rivers of extra money to allow hungry capitalists to find a bit to feast on. We should still be able to cover everyone, for much less than we're spending to cover about 80%.

Every other advanced nation does this... but we don't.

Do we need to reform the "entitlement" known as Medicare? No. We need to reform how health care is paid for. Once we're paying rational amounts for health care, we can figure out what our true Medicare liabilities are going to be like.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The big question - are Republicans serious?

So, Republicans decided they'd play their brinksmanship game again. "Let's hold the fate of the country hostage! Let's demand whatever we want, and count on the Democrats to cave!"

And they've been playing BOOGA BOOGA, DEFICIT'S GONNA KILL YOU IN YOUR SLEEP! for... well, how long has it been since they lost the White House? About that long, maybe a bit longer.

So, they say that they have this big, big, big problem, a huge, horrible serious problem, and they can't possibly raise the debt limit unless that huge, horrible, very bad, very serious problem was dealt with.

But! But but but!!!

But that problem isn't worth raising any revenue over. Not one penny. Nope. Rich people gotta get richer, and pay lower taxes, and poor people gotta stay poor, and have all of their support programs cut, and, by the way BOOGA BOOGA, DEFICIT'S GONNA KILL YOU IN YOUR SLEEP!

Here's a bit of math for you - a bit of tax accounting. Let's say you're a sole proprietor or a partner in a business. Your salary each year is the amount your company gains or loses, revenue minus expenses.

Employee salaries are expenses. Keep that in mind.

Let's say you've had a good year, and you have an extra hundred grand in cold, hard cash you can do something with. You can take it home as a bonus to yourself - it's your company, you did good, maybe you deserve a reward. Or, you can hire another person or two, expand your business a bit.

What happens to that cost - *to you* - if your tax rate goes up?

If tax rates are, say, 30%, then hiring some new people with that hundred grand costs you a net of $70,000. If you'd taken that money home as a bonus, you'd lose 30% to taxes, and only get to keep $70,000.

If your tax rates go up - to 35 or 40% - what happens?

Now those new employees cost you a net of $65,000 or $60,000. See, if you'd taken the money home, you'd have paid 35% or 40% tax on it. The cost has come *down*. Sure, taking home $60,000 is better than a boot to the head, but lower taxes still make the cost higher.

Are you starting to see why we had such good growth under higher tax rates, when the top marginal rate was 70% or even more? People hired more - the cost was lower - and more people had good paying jobs so they had more to spend.

So, let's not pretend to buy into the Republican line that higher taxes on the so-called "job creators" would be hideously bad.

And lets get back to the main point.

Are the Republicans serious?

They had deals for two trillion, three trillion, maybe even four trillion, in spending cuts, and all they had to do was maybe - maybe! - bump up the top marginal rate back to where it was under Clinton. Just a few percentage points.

Well, if they're serious about BOOGA BOOGA, DEFICIT'S GOING TO KILL YOU IN YOUR SLEEP!, then a modest tax increase is certainly justified.

Hell, if they were serious about getting the deficit under control, they'd have let the tax rates go through, and then whined about how the Evil Obamonster forced them to raise taxes (as if they themselves hadn't ginned up the whole debt ceiling crisis!). They have a very good noise machine, trying to shame people into feeling bad if the government actually helps them out a bit, and trying to protect the rich at all costs.

But what's their latest response? To pass a bill that they know can't become law. A tantrum, in other words. "I'm going to hold my breath until the country turns blue!" they scream. And you know what they'll do, next. "We passed a bill! The Senate has to agree, and so does the President because we passed a bill!"

And maybe they'll even get some people to agree with them, and pretend like they've been negotiating in good faith.

Or maybe... maybe people will remember that they passed up trillions in cuts, because the deficit which was going to kill us all in our sleep wasn't actually dangerous enough to allow a modest tax increase on the people who've made out like bandits while the rest of the nation searches for decent jobs.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Problems with the media...

One of the biggest problems we're facing in this country is the media. They're incompetent.

There's little enough real reporting, and soi disant "news" organizations are pleased to report "Democrats say this, Republicans say that, who can tell the truth?"

Any why wouldn't they? Like Rush Limbaugh, they're not trying to be honest or truthful (and I hope you realize those *are* separate issues); they're in it for the money.

Here's a prime example:

This is not just reporting conflicting views; it's making damnfoolish statements.

Here's one:
When first created in 1935, the earliest retirement age was 65, a year older than the average life expectancy. Today, with the average life expectancy at 79, beneficiaries can begin collecting at 62 and might well live for decades into retirement.

Anyone who doesn't understand that life expectancy has increased because more people survive to adulthood doesn't have any business discussing social security.

In 1935, there were a lot of people who died in early childhood. If you have ten people, and one dies as an infant - 1 year old - and the other 9 all live to 75, what's the life expectancy of that group?

9x75 = 675, + 1 = 676. That one person who died at the age of 1 changes the average from 75 down to 67.6.

Figuring that this is a possibility isn't hard; it's grade school math. And finding out that it's true isn't hard either... not if you care enough to learn the truth.

Let's look at the next one:

Meanwhile, the base of support from workers paying into the system has shrunk dramatically. In 1950, there were 16 active workers paying for every retiree.

Wow! That sounds like, in 1950, for everyone who was 65 or older, there were 16 other people who were working - from, say, 18 to 64. Uh... that doesn't sound right.

And it's not. There were 16 workers for each retiree because there were a lot of people who were eligible, but not nearly as many who'd reached retirement age. This is exactly what you'd expect when Social Security eligibility is expanding. The people who made estimates for social security knew this, and planned for it.

Finally, we come to the biggest bit of foolishness.

With more money flowing out and less money flowing in, and the baby boom generation hitting retirement age in force, the Social Security trust fund is expected begin shrinking by 2015. By 2037, the fund is projected to run out of cash, which means it could only pay out as much as it takes in. That would force immediate benefit cuts of about 25 percent if no changes were made before then.

Oh, noes! In 26 years - *26 years*! - the trust fund will be exhausted. Well, that's a crisis. Seriously. I mean, how much could the world change in a mere 26 years?

Let's see, 26 years ago was... 1985. The Apple Macintosh had come out a year earlier - remember that cute "one reason why 1984 won't be like 1984" commercial? I seem to recall it had 128 kilobytes of memory - *128*! That's *twice* the memory of the Commodore 64! And it had fancy new floppy disks that held *720 kilobytes* of data each!

And I think it cost about $2000. I don't know if it came with a modem, but if it did, it probably would have been a 300 bit per second modem... quite a speedy little devil for its day.

Now, that computers and computing have advanced by light years in 26 years doesn't mean that Social Security has no problems - but it does show that if we're facing a problem that's 26 years in the future, we don't have to run around like our hair is on fire! Things will change in 26 years - there will be technological advances we might not even be dreaming of yet.

So we have time to think. And so we can think about reasonable solutions.

So, for example, we can reject stupid ideas like increasing the retirement age. Sure, rich people are living longer after retirement age these days... but poorer people aren't. Increasing the retirement age would be a huge burden on the working poor, and it would force them to stay in the work force longer, increasing the labor pool, and thereby increasing unemployment. (More workers looking for the available jobs means more people unemployed.)

We should also probably reject any benefit cuts until it seems likely that we'll need them.

Finally, in the "Credit where credit is due" department, let's give a nod to Mr. Schoen for getting one right:
As recently as the 1980s, the Social Security payroll tax covered roughly 90 percent of wages, according the Simpson-Bowles commission. But as wages above that cap have grown faster than the cap, the proportion of overall wages has fallen. Today, only 86 percent of wages are collected; by 2020 that will fall to less than 83 percent.

Before we make any other changes, let's seriously consider raising the wage cap - the wages on which OASDI is collected - until it once again covers 90% of wages, the way it was planned to. Then we can figure out what our projected shortfalls are.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Econ and trade...

I've been doing some Economics reading recently, and finding it surprisingly accessible. Of course, I've been reading mostly Paul Krugman who is not just a brilliant economist, but also a good writer. I've nevertheless noticed something.

Although economic arguments are frequently made, and the arguments used to try to drive policy, economics is inherently morally empty.

Economics is a study of people trading, getting goods and services in return for other goods and services, either directly or indirectly. And economics can tell you about things that will decrease overall levels of goods and services, and what will increase them. But it doesn't (and shouldn't!) include a moral component.

For example: trade. Every economist will agree that trade is good. Trade between nations is good, and, with free trade, you'll see more goods and services for less effort than you'll see without it - even if other countries aren't trading freely with you, trading freely with them will (almost surely) create some kind of advantage in production of goods and services.

Let me re-emphasize that: even if the other country is engaging in protectionist practices, engaging in free trade with them is nevertheless likely to be better - more goods and services at a better price - than not.

Krugman had a fine way of looking at it. Imagine someone said they had a magic factory that could produce certain goods or provide certain services cheaper than you could get here. You give this person money, and they provide those goods and services. Well, you don't understand how this all works, but clearly, if this person can provide nice things cheaper than others, there's no problem with rewarding that person, right?

Then, you learn that there's no factory at all - just a fleet of trucks, or boats, or planes. Hah! Gotcha! It's just international trade!

Let's all pretend that none of us saw that coming, and have a good laugh at ourselves. Of course, *something* will always be made a bit more cheaply, a bit more efficiently, somewhere else. Let's import that something, and export something that we make a bit more cheaply or efficiently.

Now, let's consider another possibility. Someone says that he can provide raw cotton more cheaply than other places can provide it. He has this "magic factory". We, thinking that, of course, it's just another fleet of trucks or boats or planes, buy the cotton and discover that, whoops - no, this time it's slave labor providing the advantage. Well, the cotton didn't actually become more expensive, did it? It might still be cheaper than one could get elsewhere, right? But that shows us the problem with this model of trade as a magic factory.

Economics is not concerned with how, or why, a country has a competitive advantage in trade. It's only concerned with noting that there will be such advantages.

The advantage might be workers who are slaves, or the next best thing to being slaves. The advantage might be a lack of workplace safety that results in the deaths of many workers. It could be lax environmental controls that poison people near the factory.

Economics won't consider these things. That's not its job.

What does scare me is that there are economists who won't consider those things either. Nations gotta grow, after all... if Country_A wants to let polluters pollute and treat its citizens likes slaves to get GNP higher, so be it.

But economic growth is not everything. Money isn't a moral principle. And a nation that has a competitive advantage at manufacturing widgets will either still have that when there are good worker and environmental protections - or, they won't, and they'll find something else to export.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The debt ceiling debate

I'd like to talk to some of my liberal friends out there about what's really bugging me about the debt ceiling debate.

I've seen a lot of anger at Obama for not taking a stronger stand against the right-wing. Why is he giving in to their demands for steep cuts in spending?

Well, I don't know what the deal might entail at this time, but... the hard and fast truth is, the US does have an ungodly amount of debt, and it does need a plan to reduce it. Even if we could eliminate the deficit tomorrow, we'd be carrying a very heavy debt load compared to GNP.

Yes, the right-wing has lied about us being in dire financial straits before, and they're lying now about the effects (the deficit has nothing to do with our immediate problems with slow economic growth an unemployment), but we are in a serious bind, financially.

Now, either a moderate can try to formulate a good plan to try to fix that problem, and try to get the Republicans to buy into it, or, we can just let the Republicans scream about it, and kick up a fuss, and keep grabbing headlines, and keep driving the debate.

Now, there were two ways that this could have happened. There could have been a strong, politically active, energized left-wing to push some good ideas and get them a lot of press, and show that there was good political cover for pushing those ideas.

That didn't happen.

Or, someone like Obama could notice that the Republicans had telegraphed that they were going to take the country hostage over the debt ceiling, and see that there was an opportunity. If he offered a good plan, the country could see that he was offering a good plan, and the Republicans could either take the deal, or look like hostage takers.

He could, as Laurence O'Donnell put it, let them realize they were playing the hostage game with a President whose last reaction to hostage takers was to shoot them in the head.

Now, me, I don't like some of what I've heard about possible deals. I've heard of chained CPI for Social Security; I don't like that a bit. Right now, the payroll tax covers a smaller percentage of total salaries than it has historically; we ought to at least change that before considering reductions in benefits.

I've heard of cuts in Medicare, and... well. Folks, we pay more for medical care than any other nation; I've seen charts that suggest that the US government pays more per capita for medical care just in Medicare and Medicaid than other countries pay total, for all health care.

Think about that: just Medicare and Medicaid, alone, should have enough dollars being spent to cover everyone... not just Medicare and Medicaid recipients, but everyone in this country!If that's the case, we sure as heck have find cost savings in Medicare! We just need an intelligent plan to do so. We can't cut it by loading the cost on senior citizens (as the Ryan plan, passed by House Republicans, would do), and we can't cut it by reducing benefits; what we need is to find out how those other countries manage to provide benefits for so much less money than we do.

I've heard about a lot of cuts in other programs, and, yeah, I hate it. I really hate it.

But we do need to get indebtedness under control. And we know the Republicans aren't going to discuss a good idea in good faith with the President. Remember health care reform? He took a plan the Republicans used to propose, and they called it horrible, socialist, unconstitutional, and spread lies about death panels. (Yes, I know, not all Republicans spread death-panel lies - but they all let the lies be spread, favoring party loyalty over honesty.)

So what choice did Obama have? He had to let them spring their trap, to take their hostage, and make their demands... and find a way to turn their demands around to something sensible.

That was the only way. Why? Because, face it - for all the passion and concern on the left, the left is far too passive in trying to drive the news cycle. The Republicans can whip up front page headlines out of a couple of peace-loving Muslims who've helped the US fight terrorism, because those folks want to buy an old Burlington Coat Factory. Could the left-leaning folks do that?

Why would they want to? Okay, good question. But the fact is, they couldn't whip up that level headline-grabbing over something important either.

And that's the secret weapon of the Republicans these days. They do grab the news cycle, and keep it moving. And I don't mean their elected officials.

Liberal folks in the US just don't do this. And that's partly why we're in a situation in which the GOP can take hostages, and then we blame our potential allies for doing the best hostage negotiating they can.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Not like anyone'll notice, but...

I think it's time for me to pack in this blog.

On Saturday, someone tried to murder Gabrielle Giffords.

And, a lot of people remembered that Sarah Palin had targeted her with a gun sight, and cheerfully tweeted crap like "don't retreat, reload!" and it upset them.

In any sane world, everyone would be upset, and Sarah Palin's future could be determined based upon one thing, and one thing only - was her apology for having made such a hideous picture sufficiently sincere and tearful that people really, truly believed she felt horrible about this awful coincidence.

Instead, she pulled down the poster, and had her aides claiming that, no, they weren't gunsights, they were surveyors symbols!

I'm betting she'll get by just fine. Lots of supporters will stand by her against the evil liberals.

But it's not just her. In any sane world, everyone who spoke angrily or hatefully would be thinking "what if someone else ends up dead?"

And they wouldn't be thinking of political futures or financial success. They'd be thinking about families and friends of the deceased. And they'd realize that, by all they hold holy and good, they do not want *anyone* to remember *anything* hateful they said about the next victim, if this happens again.

It would have become real. People would stop and realize these are real people, with real lives, that are being hurt - and sometimes killed.

Do you see any signs of anything becoming real? I don't.

I realized a long time ago that I wouldn't make a big difference in the blogging world. Much though I wish otherwise, I don't have the voice for it. But after a day like today, I realize I don't even have grounds for hope.

Oh, I will, again, someday. And maybe then, I'll try writing more in the political spectrum. But not now.

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