Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sebastian's summer video

Sebastian made a film with clips from the summer.  It's worth watching if you want to know what we did this summer.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wildlife on the ride to and from school

As we're in the middle of summer here in Springfield, I'm now riding my bike to school each day, usually four or three days per week. This morning there was a wild turkey just a few feet away from the bike trail, and it didn't flee as I rode past it.  About a mile further along my way a small snake slithered across the bike path just in front of me. It wasn't a garter snake, although I have seen garter snakes along the route before. Back in May I was riding into school very early, around 8:00 a.m., and it was a foggy morning, and I found a doe standing in the middle of the road.  It looked at me as I appeared out of the mist, and just stared until I was nearly upon it, and then it clattered off the road and casually walked into the meadow on the side of the road.

In the colder winter or the stormy days of spring I drive my car instead of biking, but I enjoy the bike riding, as there are many sights and smells to enjoy.  The ride takes about 45 minutes (eight miles each way).  It's good exercise I suppose.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Arthur's presentation on John Berryman

Arthur had to do a presentation on the poet John Berryman.  It's up as a web page if you care to see it.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Abbottabad seems like a nice place

Well, I wonder if anyone I know has recently been in Abbottabad.  Seems like a nice place to visit, or just hide out and get away from the world.  They have a medical college there for women.  Oh, there was a report of a helicopter crash there at night, evidently on May 1st, and the sound of gunfire.

I'm sorry the correspondents on CBS and ABC I was watching tonight listed terrorist attacks and only mentioned ones against American targets (embassies, naval vessels, the 9-11 attacks), and didn't mention attacks in Madrid, London, or the many, many attacks in Iraq, and even attacks in Saudi Arabia, or perhaps they could have mentioned the attack in Mumbai.  This creed of terrorism has been a global phenomena.  They should have interviewed survivors of attacks whose family members were killed by "al-Qaeda in Iraq" as well as the American survivors of such attacks. The American news media is so hopelessly within a bubble in which only America matters.  'Abdu'l-Baha commented on this when it visited North America.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The legal issues in American involvement with UN action in Libya

Today I’m writing about the United Nations intervention in Libya. It seems to me that many people are opposed to the participation of the United States in this Libyan action. Evidently there have been opinion polls showing only about half of Americans support the use of American military in attacking Libyan air defenses and military equipment and soldiers. One point of this oppositions seems to hold there is something illegal in an American president ordering the use of American military force in acts of war (not declarations of war) without first getting consent from Congress.  
There are a few ways that American military forces can become engaged in acts of war.  
The first method, a method that has been used five times in American history, is for Congress to declare war.  This is contained in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution. We know from records of the Constitutional Convention (and various other records illuminating the process of drafting the Constitution) that “declare” was the verb chosen because people (e.g., James Madison and Elbridge Gerry) wanted the president to have the ability (as Commander and Chief of American armed forces) to act suddenly to repel attacks without waiting for Congress to authorize defensive military action. The American Congress has declared war on the United Kingdom (1812), Mexico (1846), Spain (1898), Germany and Austria-Hungary (1917), and Japan, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania (1941 & 1942). 
The second method, a method that was modified by various War Powers Resolutions (see chapter 33 of Title 50 of the United States Code), allows the President to engage in hostilities short of war with the approval of Congress. Under the current law, the President must consult with Congress before introducing forces into hostilities, must report to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President pro tempore of the Senate a report about American armed forces engagement in hostilities, and must get authorization from Congress in order to continue military action beyond 60 days (see Title 50, Chapter 33, Section 1544).
A third method exists under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (Article VI, paragraph 2), which states that the Constitution and federal laws and treaties have the force of law and have supremacy over state laws. This part of the Constitution effectively means that when the Congress ratifies a treaty signed by the President, the treaty becomes part of American law.  For example, the United Nations Charter, which was signed by President Harry Truman and was ratified by the American Congress (Senate) on July 28th of 1945, has the force of law in the United States, just as much as the War Powers Act of 1973 (Title 50, Chapter 33, Sections 1541-1548 of the United States Code).  If a treaty (for example, a mutual defense treaty, as the United States has with NATO partners) says that the United States will commit to the military defense of some other country when that country is attacked, and then that country is attacked, the United States is legally obliged to provide for that country’s defense.  
It is not entirely clear whether a military act conducted because of legal implications of treaty obligations must also be subjected to the requirements of Chapter 33 of the United States Code (War Powers Act). For instance, if Congress refused to authorize military action, but the military action was required by a treaty obligation, I suppose the Supreme Court would need to decide whether the Supremacy Clause authorized the President to continue the use of military force despite the lack of approval from Congress, as required by the War Powers Act.  My sense is that treaties probably take the force of federal law with supremacy over federal law, since Congress or the President can rescind or withdraw from a treaty, and if they haven’t done so, this implies that the particulars of the treaty remain in force and have not been repudiated. Also, in order for a nation to have the ability to even enter into treaties it is a fundamental requirement that governments be able to enforce or hold to treaty obligations. So if American law allowed Congress to cancel treaty obligations by simply passing laws that had supremacy over treaties, without rescinding or withdrawing from the treaties, that would pretty much ruin the American government’s ability to even make treaties, as there would be no credibility in assurances that the American government would hold to their treaty obligations.
Another point here is that a treaty may request or permit military actions without requiring military action.  If the United Nations Security Council passes a resolution asking all United Nations member nations to unite in carrying out whatever is necessary to effect the destruction of some military force that threatens civilians, this resolution may not impose on the President the same sort of obligation to act that a mutual defense treaty does.  So, if a treaty puts some obligation on a President to do something, but does not specifically require the President to commit armed forces to acts of war or military hostilities, then there arises a question of whether the request can be used to authorize the use of American forces under treaty obligations and the Supremacy clause, or whether the lack of a specific obligation for military action makes American action discretionary, in which case a President would perhaps be more likely need to follow the War Powers Act. 
So now, let’s look at some facts here.  First of all, the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution has had plenty of history in the Supreme Court, and many state laws have been overturned because they conflicted with Treaty rights.  Here are some examples of cases in which treaties were in conflict with state or local laws and ordinances, and the Supreme Court found that the rules in the treaties voided state laws or local ordinances:
Ware v Hylton (1796) and
Hopkirk v. Bell (1807) and
Foster v. Neilson (1829) and
the Head Money Cases (1884) and
Geofroy v Riggs (1890) and
Nielsen v. Johnson (1929) and
Kolovrat v. Oregon (1961)
But what about contradictions between a federal law and a treaty? Or what about when there are two different processes to follow, one described in a federal law and another described in a treaty?  I am not aware of any Supreme Court decisions on these questions. I’m confident that a contradiction between a federal law and a treaty would be resolved in favor of the treaty, because while older laws my be nullified or modified by later laws, treaties are nullified or modified by diplomatic actions and the process of withdrawing from a treaty or rescinding it or repudiating it. As to the the situation where a treaty allows one sort of process and a federal law allows a different process, for committing troops to some hostile activities, for example, I’m not sure what the Supreme Court would decide. I think there is a good case that a President ought to follow both a treaty and a federal law when there was no contradiction between the two.  I also think that because it’s very important that an American government have credibility in international diplomacy, a good case can be made that processes or conditions given in treaties would have primacy over federal laws. 
Let’s consider the source documents.  First of all, here is the U.S. Constitution. Article VI, paragraph 2:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
So, Treaties made under the Authority of the United States are the supreme Law of the Land. Yes, but so are Laws of the United States. 
Now, let’s consider the United Nations Charter.  It was passed by the Senate on July 28, 1945, by a vote of 89-2.  President Truman had already signed the Charter, and the UN Charter was signed by 50 nations in San Francisco on June 26 of 1945.  By the provisions of the United Nations Charter, it came into force on October 24, 1945 (after the five permanent members had all ratified it). The United States has not withdrawn from the United Nations, and has not repudiated or rescinded its charter.
Next, we should consider United Nations Charter, especially Articles 24 and 42, which bear on the use of force.  
Here is Chapter V, Article 24, sections 1 and 2, and also Article 25.
Article 24 (1):  In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf.
Article 24 (2):  In discharging these duties the Security Council shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. The specific powers granted to the Security Council for the discharge of these duties are laid down in Chapters VI, VII, VIII, and XII.
Article 25:  The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.
This seems to me to tell us that, by American law (the Charter has the force of law according to the American Constitution and the fact that we have signed and ratified the U.N. Charter), that America (and about 190 other countries) have given the Security Council primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, and the Security Council acts on behalf of the United States when it carries out its duties. This implies, to me at least, that if the United Nations Security Council says that such-and-such is required for international security, it’s the same thing as if the American Congress has said that such-and-such is required.  That is, the U.N. Security Council can act on behalf of the United States (our Congress and President) in carrying out duties to maintain international peace and security.
Next, let’s examine articles 41 and 42 (in Chapter VII) of the United Nations charter:
Article 41:  The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.
Article 42:  Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.
Following Article 42 are eight more articles (Articles 43-50) related to the use of force. Among these are Article 49: 
The Members of the United Nations shall join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council.
So, the United Nations Charter does allow the Security Council to decide that military action (“other operations by air, sea, or land forces...”) should be taken. It also provides for the United States to join in carrying out such measures. The Charter also makes the Security Council an entity that acts on behalf of the United States.  So, it seems clear to me that acts of the Security Council are legitimate and legal means for the United States President to commit American forces to hostilities. 
 Has the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of force or made some sort of a call that would authorize the U.S. President to commit armed forces to hostile action in Libya?  Yes, Resolution 1973 made two demands (complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians... and Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law...).  Security Council Resolution 1973 also made a decision to establish a flight ban over Libya.  And then it authorized member states to take all necessary measures to enforce this. Here is point 4 of the resolution:
Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council;
So, it seems pretty clear to me that the President can send military forces to Libya, but he can’t place an occupation force there. He is authorized to do this by Security Council Resolution 1973 and the United Nations Charter and the second paragraph of Article VI in the U.S. Constitution. It seems likely to me that this authorization is the only authorization he needs, given the language of the United Nations Charter, and that Chapter 33 of Title 50 of the United States Code (the War Powers Act) does not take precedence over the United Nations Charter.  However, in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution and Chapter 33 of Title 50, I think the president ought to observe the procedures and obligations of the War Powers Act. The Senate’s ratification of the U.N. Charter back in 1945 already authorizes this particular application of force in Libya, and also addresses the concerns that motivated the authors of our Constitution to give war-declaring powers to Congress (they were concerned with the history of despots and monarchs declaring war and claiming wars were necessary for their nations, when in fact the wars were not necessary, and were actually quite costly and wasteful, and often immoral as well).  
My understanding is that the War Powers Act applies to American unilateral military action or joint military action with international allies when that action is not specifically authorized by ratified treaties.  The War Powers Act ought not apply in cases of American military action authorized by ratified treaties, as for example in cases where the United Nations Security Council has authorized the use of armed forces, or when one of our NATO allies has been attacked.  Still, there is no harm in observing the requirements of the War Powers Act, and there is probably great benefit in doing so, so I think the Obama administration ought to go along with the rules about notification and consultation, and perhaps seek some sort of a Congressional endorsement of any prolonged (more than 60 days) military involvement.  
Incidentally, someone was saying that too much effort has gone into inventing and deploying weapons, and not enough effort has gone into figuring out a way to have peace.  They were speaking about the conflict in Libya, but making a general observation about the allocation of resources in this world.  I agree, but I wanted to point out that there are already some very satisfactory suggestions and institutions for establishing peace.  The person asked about a blueprint for peace.  Here was my response:
A blueprint for peace? Have you read the charter of the United Nations? Or how about the writings of peace activists, visionaries, and spiritual leaders such as ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malread Maguire, etc.? Or speeches of various winners of the Nobel Peace Prize? There are many blueprints for peace. It’s up to us to build the structures outlined in these blueprints.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Less Can Be More

Less can be more
And small can be beautiful
For life isn’t all
Just big and wonderful
‘n’ what do I need when you get right down to it?
All my cares come from greed
And it’s time that I knew it
Things I can’t do without 
are the small things that life is all about.
Less can be more
And small can be beautiful
I don’t want it all
Just part of wonderful
For what do I need when you get right down to it?
Just a garden and seed
and the love to pursue it
Things I can’t do without 
are the small things that life is all about.

This is the best song from the Rankin and Bass animated movie of the Return of the King. In terms of keeping with the spirit of what Tolkien was getting at in his Lord of the Rings, the Rankin and Bass version may be closer (slightly) to the masterpiece than Peter Jackson's work.  Neither version really does justice to the literary and philosophical themes. 

Glen Yarbrough came all the way from the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Island to record this song in New York, and then he went right back to his boat. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Celebration of the resignation

Arthur and I just went out in the front yard and shot off a pack of bottle rockets in celebration of the resignation of the Egyptian dictator and tyrant, Mubarak. I'm very optimistic for the future of Egypt.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Hadley-Ives channel on YouTube

I've finally figured out how to use iMovie 2008 (I used to use iMovie 2006), even though there is already an iMovie 2011 available.  I have made a few videos of the snow situation here on our street.

And see also a similar film here.  And here is one showing the piles of snow on our driveway.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Weather extremes.

Today and tomorrow we're having a blizzard here in Springfield. I came home from work at about 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, and the driving conditions were awful.

I was reflecting on some winter extremes I've experienced.  I think the coldest temperature I've ever experienced was in 1977 (January 16) when I was a child in Indianapolis, and the temperature dropped to -20 F (-28 C). There was a storm with high winds, so the wind chill was -40 F (-40 C).  I bundled up and went out in the storm to enjoy the white out conditions.  The most snow I've ever seen in a single snowfall must have been in the blizzard of 1978 (January 25-26), when we had 15-16 inches of snow in Indianapolis.  That was fun.

  This snow we're having today and tomorrow may exceed that record from my childhood, as the forecast is for anything from a total accumulation of 12-20 inches here.

   Some other records would be the hottest temperature I've ever experienced, which was 45 C (113 F) while in Tblisi, Georgia, in the old Soviet Union back in 1985.  That was hot.  The most rain I've ever seen was during  Typhoon Mindulle in early January of 2004.  It came over Taiwan and then just stalled for a few days and sat on top of the central and southern part of the island (I was in Chiayi), and dumped rain on us as its winds weakened.  We experienced about 900 mm (35 inches) in one day, but the rain was also very bad the day before and after that.  Up in the mountains there was considerably more rain, and I remember calculating that during the whole storm Ali Shan had received nearly 2000 mm (79 inches) of rain.

Postscript:  We had only 9 inches (according to some sources, although our local newspaper reports 13 inches as the total for Springfield), far below the minimum snow amount predicted, but still enough to make impressive drifts. Now we get bitter cold, but the low should only be -7 F (-22 C) tonight.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Climate Change and Weather Disasters

It turns out that 2010 ties 2005 as the hottest year on record (I think records go back for about 111 years).

And now, in just two weeks of year 2011, look at what we have in terms of rainfall:

Terrible floods in Brazil.  Over 400 feared dead  (dateline Jan 13, 2011)

Terrible floods in Australia, over 20,000 homes swamped, dozens dead across the country, with floods in Brisbane, the state of Queensland, and Toowoomba.  (dateline Jan 12, 2011)

Record flooding in Sri Lanka, with 300,000 people fleeing their homes (dateline Jan 13, 2011)

Bad floods in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, with evacuations and some drownings. (dateline Jan 5, 2011).

And of course, California has been having the heaviest winter rains on record (highest December rainfalls ever).

In December, parts of Eastern Europe also had the heaviest rains ever in living memory.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin had 22 inches of snow on December 11th, part of that massive snow storm that hit Minnesota and Wisconsin December 9-11th. A few days later the United Kingdom and Europe were hit by one of their worst winter storms ever. More snow storms actually happen in warmer years.

Okay, so the world is a big place, with thousands of regions and areas, and at any given moment, just by statistical chance, there will be a few places having their wettest or driest, coldest or hottest weather on record, right?  So, are all these extreme weather events just a statistical blip, a random event, or are we seeing something indicating a change in global climate patterns?

Meanwhile, an anti-science conservative has just taken leadership in the House of Representatives.  The Chamber of Commerce, which opposes research into development of renewable energy, has successfully helped elect its friends into office.  Meanwhile, China is about to go far ahead of us in investment in renewable energy.  The Chinese are building entire new cities with an emphasis on getting power from renewable energy. What is America doing?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Recent Right Wing Violence or Threats

When you combine serious mental illness, depression, horrible life circumstances, and social isolation with some sort of ideology or rhetoric that blames a group of people for the world's problems (liberals, Jews, Democrats, whatever), you get situations where bad stuff can happen.  There is an interesting question, through, whether certain crazed lone gunmen wouldn't just kill randomly anyway.  I mean, is it worse for a violent maniac to shoot down a politician or judge or a bunch of people at a political meeting than a group of school children or a group of shoppers, or a group of sports fans?  If people didn't have a certain right-wing paranoid narrative to focus their hatred toward police or liberals or federal agencies or politicians, wouldn't they just find some other group to focus their hatred and fear?  Perhaps there would be mass shootings on Wall Street, or in banks, or in customer service departments of cable companies or phone companies, instead of attacks on Democrats or abortion doctors or whatever.

 But when I think of shooting rampages or violent threats against political figures, I can't think of any in the past 40-50 years that were motivated by Communist or Socialist ideologies, unless possibly the Assassination of JFK had some connection to Marxism. There have been many threats against liberals and Democrats, but do conservatives and Republicans get the same degree of threats and murder attempts?  In most of the shooting sprees, I think untreated mental illness plays a role, and the shooters are not politically motivated (think of Charles Whitman, the University of Texas shooter, who was suffering from a brain tumor, or John Hinckley, Jr., Ronald Reagan's would-be killer).  Here are some reminders of the sort of attacks Democrats and liberals have experienced in recent years:

On December 10th of 2010, Charles Turner Habermann, of Palm Springs California, called Democrat James McDermott and threatened to kill him. Mr. Habermann threatened to assault and murder a United States official, with the intent to impede, intimidate, and interfere with the official’s performance of official duties (he tried to persuade McDermott to vote in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy).  It’s Case MJ11-16.  Read the Complaint of Violation, and see how Habermann said, “He [McDermott] advocates stealing people’s money to give it to losers.”

Last April, Charles Alan Wilson made a threat against Patty Murray, another Democrat of Washington State.  He opposed the health care bill, and didn’t like the fact that Patty Murray had voted in favor of it.

John Troy Davis, A Colorado man who claimed to be suffering from schizophrenia, also threatened a Democrat, Senator Michael Bennet. Mr. Davis was having difficulties getting his Social Security, and he warned Bennet’s home office staff that he was “going to come down there and shoot you all.”

In July of 2008, Jim Adkisson killed two people in a Unitarian Church. He wanted to kill liberals, and every Democrat in the Senate and House.

In April of 2009, Richard Poplawski shot and killed three police officers. Mr. Poplawski was fearful that the Obama administration was going to ban guns.

In July of 2010, Byron Williams was on his way to kill people at a liberal non-profit in San Francisco when he became involved in a gun battle with police.

In late May of 2009 Scott Roeder assassinated Dr. George Tiller. Mr. Roeder had been a member of the Freemen group.

Would it be possible to think of a similar list of conservative and Republicans who have been threatened or attacked?  If not, why not?

The first comment on this post was an excellent observation from an anonymous source, who pointed out that there were indeed many threats made against prominent conservatives.  I followed up on some advice from the comment, and found some good links to share here.

Here is one about threats made against President Bush.  I'd make a distinction between people who carried signs saying "kill Bush" (awful and illegal and unethical) and those who wanted to see Bush put on trial, found guilty, and executed (awful and legal, and of debatable ethical quality). I personally would find it satisfying to see Bush put on trial, and if he is guilty of crimes, which I suspect he is, I'd like to see him forced to make restitution or receive punishment for it, although I'm open to the possibility that he is innocent, and I certainly don't think putting him or his worst cabinet officials and administration functionaries on trial should be a priority. But at any rate, as the page I've linked to shows, there was very hateful and angry and violent imagery at some anti-Bush rallies, and I think it's clearly in the same category of troublesome rhetoric as what we see aimed at Obama and his administration.

And here are other stories about conservatives being threatened: Ann CoulterFreedomworks and the Tea Party; and other famous conservatives.  Compare those to the cases I've cited and linked to above, or similar threats.

And yet, I see a difference as well. It seems to me that some of the voices using the violent rhetoric and exhibiting hateful paranoia against liberals and the president now (and during the Clinton administration) are relatively famous mainstream people. And while it's now clear people on the left can be just as vicious and divisive, it just seems to me that there aren't so many public figures on the left that are this angry or hostile.  I guess two of the harshest anti-conservatives I know of on the left are people like Michael ParentiTed Rall, and Jim Hightower, and comparing them to their conservative equivalents (perhaps Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, or Sean Hannity), it just seems to me that the rhetoric from the mainstream far right conservatives is harsher than the rhetoric from mainstream far left liberals. When it comes to name-calling or threats from the mainstream left, I think of Al Franken and his mildly amusing book "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot," but it was not the sort of book that claimed Limbaugh was an enemy of America, at least I don't remember it being so.

And it's clear that there have been death threats against people on the right, and disgraceful violent rhetoric against some people on the right.  But, does the left have anyone like Jim Adkisson, who really did kill a bunch of Unitarians because they were liberals, and really did take some of his inspiration from right-wing radio personalities and mainstream far-right authors?  Or is there anyone on the left who acted beyond theats, and really shot at people or attempted to kill people, like Byron Williams?  The closest thing I can think of is Washington Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad, who was apparently somewhat motivated by class and race (against European-Americans and middle-class or wealthy persons).

I'm not sure I have a point here with this post.  I'm just asking some questions, and trying to see if there is a fair cause to distinguish between political sides in assigning blame for the debasement of rhetoric and debate. It is clear there are crazy people on the far left who will threaten violence, just as there are on the far right. Maybe there is a difference in degrees or frequency or style of threats and actions by these partisan extremists and hateful persons.

This past year I listened to the debates between Lincoln and Douglas (acted by Richard Dreyfus (as Stephen Douglas) and David Straithairn (as Lincoln).  The debates were heated, and there were personal attacks, but although the debates were aggressive and full of conflict, I thought the tone and style was far more agreeable, and less demagogic than what I've heard or seen in modern media. I wish partisan debates today were as full as substance and eloquence and courtesy as these debates were over 150 years ago.

Update on April 1, 2011: The left now has a person crazed by her anger, who threatened the lives of Republicans. This is Katherine Windels of Wisconsin.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Household consumption in the Hadley-Ives family, 2010

I keep track of my spending and consumption, and almost every transaction, be it with cash, credit card, or checking account, gets recorded and assigned a category in some spreadsheets I use. Every two weeks I check on these and update them. The spreadsheets keep a running total for our spending in the various categories. I’m interested in my own household as a case study in economic life.

So, let me share how our expenses went into various categories in 2010.

The top two categories are:
Housing: 12%
Travel and Lodging: 12%

The four-way tie for third place in spending are:
Groceries and household expenses: 10%
Taxes: 10%
Vehicle purchase, maintenance, and insurance: 10%
Other: 10% (mostly retirement savings)

In seventh place, we have:
Utilities: 7%

Then, tied for eighth place, we have:
Health: 6%
Education: 6% (mostly college savings)

The remaining categories are:
Giving: 4%
Food out-of-home: 3%
Entertainment: 3%
Clothing: 3%
Gas: 2%
Interest on debt: 2%
Communication: 1%
Money given to our sons: 1%

Explanation of these categories follows:

The housing figure includes both the interest and principle on our mortgage, but not our property taxes. I figure unless one is wealthy or inherits a home, the interest on a mortgage is unavoidable, and is just part of the cost of owning a home, so I keep it as a housing expense rather than looking it as interest.

The travel and lodging category includes both work-related travel for which I was later compensated and personal travel, and also includes all cash withdrawals made while traveling abroad, even though much of the cash spending could more accurately have been assigned to “food out-of-home” or “entertainment” or “groceries”. If we subtract the money I received from faculty development or scholarly grants for the travel, it would drop to 11%, and another 1%-point could be reassigned from travel to entertainment, and probably another 1% reassigned to food out-of-home. Gas costs for travel are kept separate in the “gas” spending category. So, a most realistic estimate for actual travel expenses in 2010 would be 9% of our spending. That is still quite high, but we all went to Asia this summer, and Jeri went back to Taiwan in March and December as well. I had conferences to attend in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Dallas, and Strasbourg. We also visited Vancouver and Oregon this year (I went to Oregon twice), although most of the expenses on those trips were covered by others, so not many of those expenses are included in this category.

The groceries and household expenses include any charge or spending made at a grocery store, department store, or hardware store. Well, if I remember specifically buying prescription drugs, clothing, or toys I do assign those expenses to their appropriate categories (e.g., health, clothing, entertainment). Mostly though, if we buy something to eat or use in our home, it goes in this category.

Taxes include income taxes and property taxes, and some small portion of our total sales taxes. Actually, if I went through our purchases and shifted all the sales taxes we pay into the tax category, it’s likely our groceries and household category would shrink by nearly half-a-percentage-point, and taxes would go up by half-a-point.

The “Other” category is mainly the retirement savings from my paycheck, life insurance, and a few miscellaneous expenses that are hard to categorize. I do not qualify for any social security (I’m a state worker, and exempt from Social Security taxes, but I won’t get any Social Security benefits when I retire). I also will not receive any pension when I retire (I’m in the self-managed plan for academic workers in the University of Illinois system, which means that when I retire all I get is the money I’ve saved in the self-managed plan, and no pension). As my family has a history of heart disease and I have (treated) high blood pressure, I assume I won’t have many years of life in retirement, if in fact I live long enough to retire, and the self-managed plan has the benefit that my heirs and survivors will get all I’ve saved, whereas if I was enlisted for a pension my survivors would get very little.

The Vehicle purchase, maintenance, and insurance category costs include the costs of repairing my bike and our two cars. It also includes the interest in the loan we used to purchase our minivan, which seemed more appropriate in this category rather than in the “interest” category.

The utilities cost is much higher this year because we had a new heating and cooling system installed this year. That was put in “utilities” rather than “housing” as a spending category.

The education spending category includes the college savings we have put away, and certain purchases of school materials, educational books, subscriptions to news and science magazines and journals, and so forth. My memberships in scholarly associations are also included as “educational” expenses in my system of accounting. Our educational expenses ought to be much less, as we must save a high percentage of our income to pay for college, and college ought to be far more affordable (subsidized by the public).

The health spending category includes medical, dental, and vision care, including services, insurance, and medicine or glasses / contact lenses. At only 6%, it’s a bit low, as a household such as ours ought to be paying much more for health services (to make health care universally accessible to poor, sick, and elderly households). I include Medicare taxes in health spending rather than in the taxes category.

Our giving is about 2.5% charitable giving and 1.5% buying gifts or sending money for family members and friends.

Our “communications” spending includes our internet service, phone service, postage on packages and stamps, and our subscription to the local newspaper.

Politically-Motivated Assassination in Arizona

It is dangerous to have rhetoric of talking about "taking out" political opponents and having political campaign rallies in which people shoot guns at targets (I find it difficult to believe reports that Gabrielle Giffords' opponent in the 2010 mid-terms actually had supporters shoot at photos of Gabrielle in a campaign rally—that must surely be an exaggeration). The hateful partisan rhetoric, using violent imagery, is most dangerous because in a nation with over 200 million adults, some fraction are unbalanced, and suffer from disorganized thinking, delusions, and perhaps hallucinations, and some fraction of these persons are highly suggestible, and some fraction of those highly suggestible persons with psychotic disorders will pay attention to the hateful rhetoric with violent imagery, and take it seriously and literally.

There is also a danger that persons who are cunning and calculating and not suffering from a diagnosable mental illness will be pulled into conspiracies to assassinate or act violently against our democratic system and political figures with whom they disagree, but it always seems to me that poisonous rhetoric is most likely to poison persons who minds are weak and vulnerable, as Jared Lee Loughner's mind clearly was. Some terrorists, whether claiming Islamic or Christian religious identity or no religious identity, have had loose connections to reality in their minds (think of Michael Enright and Zacharias Moussawi).

Judge Roll, who was assassinated, had been threatened, and local Arizona rhetoric against him was very heated. This was partly because he had presided over a court case in which undocumented immigrants were suing an Arizona rancher. It seems possible that someone older (and less mentally disorganized) person helped Jared Loughner get to the rally.

This reminds me of the reaction to Timothy McVeigh's terrorism, where people talked about how bad the anti-government rhetoric had become, and suggested it be toned down. Really, we ought to instill in Americans a sense of disgust with rhetoric that crosses a certain line, so that hate-mongering demagogues wouldn't be so popular. The quality of public debate and rhetoric ought to be a subject for consideration in middle school and high school, and perhaps even elementary school.

Christina Taylor Green, 9-years-old, wanted to go to college and learn how to help people. Maybe she would have been a social worker, a nurse, or a lawyer. She was recently elected to her student council, and this interest in leadership and being an elected representative might have inspired her to go see her congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Christina was evidently born on September 11, 2001. Her uncle, Greg Segalini described her as, "real special and real sweet."

Another person killed in the assassination was Gabe Zimmerman, a social worker with an MSW, who worked as Gabrielle's community outreach worker. I will certainly mention him and describe his life and work to my future classes of students in social welfare policy or community organizing. "He had a heart for people" said Doug Hart.