I know, we need LESS money!

The principles behind Paul Ryan’s recent budget proposal should be mandatory for personal finance too—at least for Republicans. Here’s the Cleaver family:

Ward: June, you know that cough I’ve been having?

June: You means the one that’s been leaving those nasty blood stains on the sheets? You ought to get that checked out, Ward.

Ward: I did. Doc Hibbert says I need x-rays and a CT scan!

June: So just do it, honey. Find out what it is.

Ward: Well there’s a little problem. We don’t have health insurance anymore. Mr. Burns decided our company’s profits weren’t high enough so he canceled health coverage. Now the hospital wont do anything unless I pay cash up front! And between our Middle-Eastern vacation cruise and buying that big pack of guard dogs, we’re in debt to our eyeballs. We can’t borrow another cent.

June: Come on, Ward, that cruise was fun (well except for the part when the Beaver fell off the mast and got a concussion) and we have to keep our home safe—the dogs are great at keeping the Mexican kids next door out of the yard. Wont your mom give us some money?

Ward: Now June, you know it takes everything she has to pay for her own rent and all her doctor visits.

June: So what are we going to do?

Ward: Well, I was looking at Paul Ryan’s budget proposal last night, and I realized we just have to do the same thing our Republican leaders suggest when the country doesn’t have enough money to pay its bills.

June: Invade someone? Well, I suppose we could use the dogs…

Ward: No! You know how the only answer to Obama’s deficit is to cut taxes?

June: Of course, dear.

Ward: Well, obviously then the answer to our family deficit is for us to cut our income! I’m going to ask Mr. Burns to immediately decrease my salary by 50%!

June: Oh, ok! So then we’ll qualify for the government Medicaid program! That’s my Ward, always one step ahead.

Ward: No, no! Newt says Medicaid is evil…besides, we’d still make too much to qualify.

June: So wait a minute. How does us taking in less money help the problem that we can’t afford to pay our bills?

Ward: It’s easy. Now, see, the way Paul Ryan explained it is my salary comes from Mr. Burns… So if I take less money from Mr. Burns, then he’ll have more!

June: Well, duh. And then we’ll have less and be in an even worse hole! How exactly does it help us to let Mr. Burns have more? He’s already the richest man in town.

Ward: Umm, let me think…It made sense when Paul explained it. Ah, it’s like this. Mr. Burns will have more money and then he’ll make a bigger factory and make even more money!

June: Ok…I’m waiting for the part where this helps the Cleaver household.

Ward: Well, if Mr. Burns makes enough money, then maybe someday he’ll give me back some of the pay cut I took! There, see!

June: So if Mr. Burns is feeling generous, someday years from now our income might just end up back where it started but minus the extra debt we need in the meantime to cover your salary cut (if we can borrow anything)? Hmm…Wouldn’t it be better just to ask Mr. Burns right now for a raise? Instead of a salary cut? I mean, you’re worth it, and we need the money to see about your chest problem now, not later. And don’t forget we have to take care of your mom.

Ward: Oh no, I wouldn’t dare ask for a raise. I couldn’t expect Mr. Burns to raise salaries. Then he wouldn’t have as much money. That wouldn’t be fair.

June: No, you’re right, that would make Mr. Burns very unhappy.  All right, go ahead with your salary cut. Mom probably doesn’t need all those doctor visits.  And since the Beaver hit his head, I’m sure he wont need college—maybe he can get a job mowing Mr. Burns’ lawn once the dogs finish chasing the Mexicans away. Plus, Rick Santorum does say that college is overrated, which he should know, since he went for so long. And let me take a look in the garage, there’re probably still a few things left to sell. Oh Ward, I’m so proud of you and Paul Ryan!

Children’s Right to Know Act

I love Republican euphemistic names for bills, don’t you? You know, like the “Healthy Forests Initiative” that encouraged logging in national forests. In Pennsylvania this week, we have the “Women’s Right to Know Act.” Now, from the title, you might think this has something to do with, say, women being entitled to know what salary men doing the same job make, or where their husbands really were when they went on that “Appalachian Trail hike.”  But of course, what this bill is really about is women’s “right to know” that anti-abortion legislators want to poke them in the privates with an ultrasound wand and then harangue and shame them about wanting an abortion.

So, in the same Republican spirit of limited government intervention and individual freedom (and carried out by forced mandates on private doctors), I propose the Children’s Right to Know Act. This legislation will require pediatricians to identify parents’ political leanings at all office visits of school-aged children. Children of Republican parents will be shown videos of people with no teeth living in trailers, soup kitchens, crowded prisons, oil-covered beaches, closed factories and collapsed bridges. It will end by the magic of technology with a shot of the child’s face (taken from her mandatory ID card) superimposed on that of a soldier in a squad attacking a group of dark-skinned people in a desert village. The pediatrician must then inform the children that these are the consequences of voting Republican. I mean, they have a right to know, don’t they?

Stop the Impostors!

The PA State Senate voted Wednesday to pass Republican-inspired House Bill 934, which requires all voters (not just first-time voters) to show approved photo ID at the polling place in order to be allowed to vote. This will clearly stop the horrible epidemic of people pretending to be their neighbors and sneaking in to vote for them. Ha! That’ll be a good trick on Porter, someone will come to the polling place, say they’re me and vote Republican! Of course, I’m one of the election inspectors who signs people in to vote (and matches their signature with the one in the log of registered voters) so that might not work too well. But they could pretend to be someone else in Chadds Ford—unless of course we knew the person, or the impostor was the wrong age or had the wrong signature. Impostor voting is the kind of thing that wouldn’t be very secret because it would be immediately apparent when the real person came in to vote. But I’ve never heard anyone describe this—not even the right wingers who rail about “voter fraud” (the issue there is registering voters).

 So what’s the deal with what appears to be a solution in search of a problem? Well the “problem” is pretty clear. Who doesn’t have photo ID? I mean, does anybody not have photo ID these days? Well, about 10-15% of the very youngest and the very oldest registered voters do not, and about 25% of the voting poor lack such ID. Except for the elderly, these people skew Democratic. If the Republicans can put up some barriers to them voting, they’ll get an edge. Huge difference? Not really, but when 51%-49% is considered a solid election victory, then a couple percent fewer Democratic votes is well worth gunning for.

Now the argument is that people who don’t have photo ID can go get a non-driver photo ID from the DMV. Of course if you don’t drive, getting to the DMV is your first issue. Then you need (per  http://www.dmv.com/pa/pennsylvania/apply-id-card) :

  • One form of acceptable identification (birth certificate with raised seal, valid passport, certificate of citizenship or naturalization)
  • 2 proofs of residency
  • Your social security card
  • $10

 Barrier to voting, anyone?

Bomb, Bomb Iran—another Middle East War

Here we go again. In a desperate bid to alienate the 9 remaining Muslims who don’t already hate the USA, the Republican candidates now seem to differ only on whether to bomb Iran right away or just real soon.

Now of course bombing is the Republican default solution for international problems, just like cutting taxes for the wealthy is their universal remedy for internal woes, so I can’t actually be surprised about these drumbeats. What would surprise me would be some discussion of the risks and benefits of the various geopolitical options.

I think we can agree that, all things being equal, Iran not having nukes is better than Iran having nukes. Religious nutcases with nuclear weapons make everyone nervous (an excellent reason to keep Rick Santorum out of the White House). But all things are rarely equal. So what do we risk by bombing or not bombing Iran?

The risks of bombing include

  • Immediate war—that might not even achieve its stated aims
  • Consolidation of the Iranian theocracy
  • Long-term polarization of the Muslim world against the USA

War: Bombing another country is of course an act of war and the Iranian rulers would be at significant risk if they didn’t respond. Likely retaliations would include missile strikes on Israel, terror attacks on US military and civilian targets around the world, and interference with oil shipments to the West. Israel thinks the missiles would kill “only” hundreds, which they would tolerate. Not sure how many terror bombings and increases in the price of gas the US would tolerate without escalation to strikes on Iranian military targets and even invasion. Furthermore, although it’s likely that bombing would slow the Iranian nuclear program, it’s unlikely that material damage could stop it. Israel’s hope (see NY Times op-ed by a former chief of Israeli military intelligence) is that an attack would deter Iran from further work on a nuclear capability. However, it’s equally arguable that they would consider an attack prima facie evidence that they need nuclear weapons and would double their efforts.

Theocracy: Enemies are a despot’s best friend. There’s nothing like an external threat to unite people behind a regime, however oppressive and incompetent (eg, 9/11 and G W Bush), and an actual war is even better. Who could fail to rally ’round the flag when bombs are falling? Right now, the Iranian theocracy is tottering, as last year’s near-revolution showed. However, an American and/or Israeli attack would confirm the mullahs’ fear mongering and lock them into power for another generation or more.

Polarization: The main problem with nuclear weapons is not other countries having them, it’s other countries using them. On us. The more the USA is viewed as the enemy, the more likely we are to come under attack, conventional or nuclear. One more war with a Muslim country would probably be one war too many for most Muslim nations, and the populist movements we have seen spring up in many places would likely turn anti-American. The biggest existential threat to the USA in the next half-century (aside from a far-right-wing revolution) is a global nuclear exchange against a united Muslim world. Right now, they are too fragmented, but given sufficient motivation, the Muslims might well come together—united to protect themselves against us. Note that the Muslim world is already completely polarized against Israel, so this element is a risk only for the USA.

 The risks of not bombing involve Iran developing nuclear weapons, leading to

  • Nuclear missile attack on Israel or nuclear terror attack on USA
  • Deterrence of Israeli and American interventions in the Middle East
  • More brazen conventional terror attacks on Israel

Nuclear Pearl Harbor: A surprise nuclear strike on Israel or the USA is the specter that is raised in public. Scary? Yes. Gonna happen? No. Not even close. The reason being that Iran would be turned into a glowing wasteland in retaliation. Just because they send a few people to blow themselves up in shopping centers doesn’t mean they’re willing to destroy their whole country. And they’re not going to gamble that a weapon donated to a terror group would not be connected to them. The reality is that Iran would join the same nuclear stand-off that has prevented nuclear war since 1945.

Deterrence of US and Israeli interventions: The USA and Israel would feel less confident about intervening (i.e. invading and bombing) countries tied to Iran—Lebanon and Syria, both of which have made trouble for Israel over the years. Israel wants to maintain a free hand to quash threats from these countries. This is almost certainly the main reason for Israel’s strong push for us not to interfere with (and preferably to help) a military strike on Iran.

Increased terror attacks on Israel: Tied to previous point. Iran might feel emboldened to support an increased level of terror attacks on Israel. However, for this to be true, it would have to be the case that Iran hasn’t gone beyond current levels for fear of Israeli nuclear retaliation. It’s not at all clear that Israel would launch a nuclear strike solely in response to terror attacks.

So, in total, I’d say the benefits to the USA are far outweighed by the risks. For Israel, the balance is more in favor of an attack, and that’s likely what Netanyahu will push for on his visit here next week. So is it American or Israeli interest that will drive American foreign policy this year? Let’s see what President Obama tells AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, self-described on their website, http://aipac.org/, as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby”) when he addresses their annual policy conference tomorrow. They’re pushing hard for unqualified US support of whatever Israel wants to do. What do you think will happen?