All posts by Jon Murphy

Information for new leg amputees

I am updating my web site and found that there are two articles, The Phantom Limb and The Phantom Limb, continued, that I wrote nearly five years ago. They have been sitting in the top bar of the site since then as I haven’t paid attention to the site.

For any who search the tags on this who are new amputees there may  be some things of interest there. The site is murphsays.com.

Middle class, not here

I’m tired of politicians defending the middle class and promising to fight for it. Class is a term not appropriate for our system as it implies a fixed position. We have people of varying incomes, so we have low income people, middle income people, and upper income people. In old Europe, and much of the rest of the world, people were classes – and couldn’t move between them. Here we have mobility, although perhaps not as much as we’d like.

I have met many upper income people that I’d call low class, and many lower income people I’d call classy. Class is a distinction of the individual, not a fixed group. Notice that the politicians never refer to the “lower class”, that would be an insult, they refer to the poor. Neither do they refer to the “upper class”, that would be to much of a compliment to many who don’t deserve it. But they do refer to the “middle class”, as everyone can identify with that. “I may make a couple of mill a year, but I’m middle class just like you”.

Class, as such, is a Marxian concept – an attempt to divide. Income is another misnomer, a family income of $100,000 may be a darned good life in some states where living costs are low, but nearly poverty level in places like Manhattan where the rent on a studio apartment is nearly $30,000 a year.

Class, as a defining word, is a classification. Classification is a form of fixing, or defining, a group. A rainbow is a splitting of the colors of light into discrete groups, our melting pot has historically mixed the various components into a culture that changes over time, but changes as the ingredients are added.

 

 

 

Solyndra, and investment

I have a new Murphy’s Law. If a company builds a fancy corporate headquarters and plant before it makes a profit then it is a bad investment. We saw the photos of Solyndra’s HQ – and some years ago saw the same thing with the “dot coms”. The difference is that the dot coms wasted investor’s money on saunas and gyms at the HG – Solyndra wasted tax payers money on the same.

Apple was different, the product sold before the HQ was built. I know a bit about it, a friend and college classmate was the seed money that nurtured the company in its early years. He took them public when they had a working, and selling, product. In the nineties the investments were on concept, not substance. The same applies now to the “green” companies. Make a product first, then build the HQ.

 

In God We Trust

I just heard on TV that the Congress had a vote to confirm our national motto of “in God we trust”, the vote had nine nays, one of which was a Republican. I am atheist, not an Atheist. I note that on our currency it is “IN GOD WE TRUST”. The all caps removes the “name of god” from the motto. God is a concept, not a name. One of the conflicts among the major religions comes from the naming of a god, be he Allah or Jaweh or just God.

The mistake of the advocates of a particular religion is that their god is the God. The mistake of the Atheist is that there is no god as an absolute dictum. The science of particle physics, and the postulates on the nature and origin of our universe (and possibly others) neither confirms nor denies the existence of some form of god, be it an eternal “force” or an anthropomorphic being. Unfortunately we will each find out some day, and I say unfortunately as I am 76 and getting closer. But actually we won’t find out even then, if the “higher power” doesn’t include the extension of our souls in a new life that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a higher power.

In the meantime I’m quite comfortable with “in god we trust” on our coinage, each can interpret the meaning of god in their own way. Some may give it a capital letter, as in a name – others may leave it lower case, as in an undefined existence. Those like me might think of it as a trust in the values of man that evolved as man became a social animal – I find those values “god-like”, the Ten Commandments may have come from God, or may be the product of man’s evolution. Either way they are pretty good rules, including the first two that relate to God – as they can be taken as relating to god as a value.

I do rather hope that I’m wrong as atheist, I’m atheist as I’m without knowledge (agnostic, in the Greek). But I know that the Atheists are wrong, they have a religion based on a faith in the absence of a god. None of us can know until the time comes, we can only act on faith. I have no faith, but I do have hope. I lead my life in accordance to the Ten Commandments, not as commandments but as good rules for mankind. When I go I’ll go with the knowledge that I have done my best to obey the rules that mankind evolved for survival of the species – and should I meet St. Peter at the end of that tunnel of light I’ll be comfortable that I’ve passed the test (and also overjoyed at the prospect of eternity as a bonus).

 

Best, Jon

 

The Fallacy in the Debt Limit Agreement

Republicans and Democrats in the Congress and in the Executive have been arguing back and forth about the duration of the debt limit raise. Democrats want it to go beyond the next election, Republicans want a shorter agreement.

The fallacy is that the raise in the limit has no duration – it is only a dollar amount. The assumptions being made are that the deficit will rise at a known pace, and that therefore one can have an expectation of when the next rise will be needed. The “2 year” rise that will probably be agreed on (given the Sunday negotiations) could be six months (if the deficit grows faster) or it could be three years, or more, if the deficit shrinks.

Keynes was right (although my fellow conservatives wouldn’t agree). Deficit spending is not a bad thing of itself. But if my memory of J.M.K.’s thesis is correct he would be rolling over in his grave at the current use of his theory. A debt that increases consistently at a faster rate than productivity is a recipe for disaster. In boom times the debt should be paid down by using the surplus of government receipts over revenues rather than increasing expenditure to match revenues. This has the effect of “cooling” an overheated economy and promoting sustainable growth, as well as bringing the growth of the debt into line with the long term growth of the economy.

We hear of the Clinton boom, but we often forget that much of that was in the “dot.com” bubble where there was no real productivity. If I may use an analogy, picture a steep hill with a winding path to the top. One can cut the corners and climb the pitch, but if one can’t sustain the climb one will fall back below the sustainable path. Sometimes we call that the “business cycle”, and it will always happen. But when one cuts the corner too far, and never takes a rest (i.e., a  bit of surplus to pay down the debt) then the fall becomes irrecoverable.

I hope we aren’t on that path, but I’m afraid we may be.

May I finish this by discussing the Laffer Curve, a  much maligned theory in the Reagan days. Academic economists called it wrong, and I agree to an extent. The shape of the curve is yet undefined, but the principle is a tautology. At a zero taxation rate there is no tax revenue to the government. At a 100% taxation rate there is no effective tax revenue to the government (it may be defined as tax revenue, but it is actually a form of slavery). Somewhere in between is a tax rate (or set of rates) that will optimize the revenue – and that is yet to be defined. I think it is at a lower rate (but with less adjustments to income) than it is today.

Enough, I digressed from the original topic.

Best, Jon

 

 

A Conservative against the Balanced Budget Amendment

The beauty of the US Constitution is the lack of specifics – the assignment of the rights and responsibilities to the states, the people, and the branches of the Federal Government. The Constitution of the EEU is hundreds of pages of detail, as are those of other social democratic nations.

We tried to get specific in an amendment with Prohibition, it didn’t work. We hear discussions of an anti gay marriage amendment, or other specifics. I’ll address the latter. I would support an amendment to Article IV, section 1, to state that the several states need not recognize the “licenses”, etc. of other states should those be illegal in that state. New York should not have to recognize the driver’s license of a sixteen year old from a plains state, the roads are quite different. Nor should NY be required to recognize a gun permit to carry from Texas.

Those haven’t been contested, and won’t be. The courts would “toss” them. But isn’t it a parallel if a state with gay marriage gives a license, and the couple moves to another state. Marriage implies a spousal relationship, and under law a sharing of assets and benefits. Should Arkansas have to give spousal benefits to a state employee married in MA under the gay marriage law of that state?.

The issue could be covered with the simple amending of Article IV to limit the “full faith and credit” of the acts of other states to those legal in the state involved.

In the same fashion an amendment forcing Congressional responsibility in spending could be designed (not sure yet how, but I’m thinking about it). A balanced budget is a fiction, in that one can exclude capital investments and other such by fiat (unless the amendment is so detailed as to be burdensome). Numbers are also a fiction, how many times have we seen them change as different “base lines” are used. This kind of detail doesn’t belong in the Constitution.

Here’s a try.

The United States, a republic comprised of several sovereign States, has certain obligations under the Constitution for the defense and international relations of those State. The Federal Government has also incurred implied obligations by legislation agreed to with those States. The budget of the Federal Government must be balanced with regard to income and expenditure each year with regard to the implied obligations, but it is given the ability to borrow for expenses with regard to the original franchise of defense, international relations, and national disasters. These borrowings must be a first obligation on future revenues when in surplus (with regard to those obligations and expenditures). Recognizing that moneys must be spent in deficit during special circumstance this amendment doesn’t require the budget must be balanced each year, but recognizing the danger of excess debt the amendment requires that all funds be applied to paying the principle of said incurred debt when there is surplus.

Not good yet, I’m working on it.

Some thoughts on the death penalty

The current trial of Casey Anthony has raised the matter of the death penalty again to the forefront. There are many moral arguments for and against, and there are also Constitutional arguments. I’ll refer to these briefly, but then raise another issue that is neglected in most discussions – the burden of proof.

Our Constitution, as amended, has a prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The uneven application of the death penalty in the several states led the U.S. Supreme Court to prohibit it for a time, until the states clarified their laws. Unusual could be defined as inconsistent application, and that was their effective ruling. I agree.Whether the death penalty is cruel is a matter for a higher authority than myself.

Let me state my personal opinion before going on to my suggestions. I believe that anyone guilty of heinous murder, the killing of individuals with cruel disregard for life, should suffer the death penalty. Some states have incorporated that into their law, but have not policed it with regard to the local prosecutors (I could name a few in my home state). Death will come to us all, it is not death that is our fear – it is the knowledge that it is imminent. The killer who kills the undefended despite the pleas for life. It seems to be inconsistent, but I see a difference between the killer who shoots in the commission of a crime, and the killer who has completed the crime and kills anyway. It is a dichotomy in my personal opinion, and one I’ll not try to explain.

Another moral matter is the accomplice, there have been cases where the “driver” gets the death penalty while the “shooter” gets off for “turning state’s evidence”. There was a case about 15 years ago in Georgia or the Carolina’s like that.

But those moral matters aren’t my main concern as to the law. Our traditional law, taken from the English common law, states that guilt must be found “beyond reasonable doubt”. I am not a lawyer, although I studied Jurisprudence in college – and was Legal Officer on my ship in the Navy. (Or was it Law Officer – one was an attorney and the other had seven weeks of  UCMJ schooling).

My standing request, in Court’s Martial where I was defending or Trial Counsel, were that the President of the Court instruct the Board on the definition of reasonable doubt. “Any reasonable scenario where the events in evidence could have occurred, and yet the defendant not have caused them, is reasonable doubt. The personal opinion of the Board members as to innocence or guilt is irrelevant, the relevant factor is whether it was proven in court beyond reasonable doubt.

I believe that the burden of proof for the imposition of the death penalty should be “beyond shadow of doubt”. Years ago NYC Police Commissioner Murphy was asked if he thought the death penalty was a deterrent. He answered “I don’t know, but it does reduce recidivism”. Glib, but only accurate if the original conviction was valid. But now we have to define “beyond shadow of doubt” – another damned problem.
Let me try, I’ll offer two scenarios.
I  hear an altercation outside my ground floor apartment in Greenwich Village (I did live there a while ago). I am young and brave (I was that once) and I run outside. I’m in time to directly witness the gratuitous murder of someone who has already been knocked to the ground and disabled by his assailant – the assailant pulls a gun and puts it to the head of his victim and fires. The assailant is wearing blue trousers and a red shirt. I tackle him before he can get away, my neighbors grab the gun and call the police. The assailant is never out of my control before apprehended.
Same scenario, but this time I’m slower – I see the assailant running away, and he is faster than I. He turns the corner and runs up Hudson Street. The neighbors call the cops. A man in blue trousers and a red shirt is apprehended two blocks north, and he has the gun.
In the first case there is no shadow of doubt, but in the second it could be that another man in similar clothing was on Hudson Street and the assailant had tossed the gun. The second man picks it up and decides to keep it, but then runs because of the sirens (and doesn’t want a gun possession rap). The assailant turned the next corner and was ignored in the chase of the more obvious suspect.
The latter is not a reasonable scenario, it is very unlikely. The man apprehended should be considered guilty beyond reasonable doubt. But it is a possible scenario, so the guilt is not beyond shadow of doubt.
The death penalty should be reserved for cases beyond shadow of doubt, the normal burden of proof should be raised so as to avoid unreversible error. The issue of the morality of the death penalty is secondary to the issue of the burden of proof. We should all be able to agree on that.
Best, Jon

A Flaw in the Constitution

Section 1 of Article IV needs to be amended. “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State”. This needs to be amended to add “unless they would require that other State to recognize and accept said Acts, Records and judicial Proceedings when they are illegal in that State”.

The matter of gay marriage is not a primary concern of mine, but it will suffice to raise the issue. The Defense of Marriage Act, and the pressure for an amendment to extend it, would not be necessary if the states could choose whether to recognize spousal benefits conferred by other states where the marriage is legal. The nature of the federal system is such that the rights given in one state should not be forced on another state – a Bible belt state should not  be forced to give marital rights to those who couldn’t be married in that state.

Wow, I can already see the responses – I’m bigoted, anti-gay, etc. Before answering let us consider some other licenses. I grew up in NJ, I could get a driver’s license at 17. I was not allowed to drive in NYC (20 miles away) until 18. In western states with wide open spaces some could get driver’s licenses at 14. Should NJ have been forced to recognize, under Full Faith and Credit, those licenses? I had a rifle at 12, and a pistol at 18 – should my NJ gun licenses allowed me to take them to NYC? (Had a problem with that – when I was on sea duty in the Navy my parents moved back from NJ to NYC, and took my pistol among my possessions. When I visited I took it, separated the cylinder from the body of the gun, and took it to my home port, Naval Station, Newport – and tried to give it (in two bags) to the guards at the gate. They sent me to the local police, no one wanted to touch it. I just kept it in my car with the body in the trunk and the cylinder in the glove compartment).

OK, I got off on a tangent – but it is still to the point. We have accepted for many, many years some matters where Full Faith and Credit are denied – but all have been logical. A young driver from Montana isn’t necessarily qualified to drive in NYC traffic, but a case could be made that he had the right under S.1,A IV.

Do the advocates of gay marriage, and the commensurate burden on states where it is not legal, also advocate that a “carry permit” from Texas should apply in NYC?

As this is in an area likely to raise controversy I’ll offer my own opinion on marriage. Marriage is a word, and a word long associated with a religious ceremony (even before secular governments). Let’s just drop the government from the process. Civil unions for all, no “marriage” certificate from the town clerk. Government’s only purpose in the union is to set the rules for spousal benefits in taxation, law, etc. – it should not be involved in the terminology. Offer a “certificate of union” to both hetero and homo sexual couples (and the commensurate requirement of a “certificate of divorce”.

That last is a point that is actually a concern of mine. I lived in Greenwich Village for about 25 years. Most of the couples in my building were gay – and a number of them city employees (teachers, etc.). I strongly resented that the gay partner got spousal rights without benefit of commitment. Let me say before you jump on me that the majority of gay relationships I knew were of long standing and didn’t “game the system”. But there were enough who did to be annoying. They would have serial relationships, and the structure of the City’s system allowed them to bring in the new and throw out the old.

So I guess I’m coming to my viewpoint. I’m in favor of gay “marriage”/unions  – and in favor of gay divorce requirements. In order to get spousal benefits from the government (joint tax returns, legal rights, etc.) one should have to commit legally, and submit to the courts when one wants to break up the property. To that end I’d like to drop the word “marriage” or “wedding” from official forms – just call them all a civil union, be they a prince and princess, or be they two queens. Reserve the old words for the church, and let each church make its own choice.

Oh Hell, I really wanted to discuss the Full Faith and Credit, and I digressed. Suffice to say that there will be another article on Obama Care, EPA, etc, and the “commerce clause”. There is a relationship between the commerce clause and A.1/S.IV and their implementation.

Best, Jon

The Koran, and the holy word

The statement has been made, in the wake of the recent violence, that as the Q’ran is the direct word of God (in contrast to the Jewish and Christian Bible, which were written by men over time) that it is therefore a greater offense to burn the Q’ran than to burn a Bible.

There are orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians who consider the books of the Torah (and for the Christians also the New Testament) to be the word of God. There are others who see the books as a history, one inspired by the word of God – but not totally the direct word of God, as the words were transcribed by men over time.

Muhammed either wrote or transcribed the word of God over a brief period, brief when contrasted with the centuries that it took for the Old and New Testaments. It is not my place to judge whether Muhammed was putting the word of God into writing, or whether he was writing his interpretation of the word of God.

But it is disturbing that so many accept that Muhammed’s writing is a direct transcription of the word of God, while most accept the metaphor, history, and dicta of the Bible/Torah. If the base assumption of Islam is that the Q’ran is the direct word of God then why is our society so dismissive of the orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians who see the Bible as the same. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, unless one has an agenda.

Personally I’m atheist – not an Atheist, Atheism is in itself a religion as the denial of the possibility of a god is as much a matter of faith as the affirmation of the certainty of a god. From the Greek, I am without god (atheist) – and that because I’m without knowledge (agnostic). But being of an age I’d be quite pleased to find that there is one, and that I’ll live an eternal life.

Hitchins, Dawkins, and others, are religious. They have a faith in the lack of a god, and they believe they have the knowledge to say that. Religeon is a faith in the unprovable, whether it be the presence or the absence of the diety.

Bringing back the circle to the beginning. The apologists for the violence following the burning of the Q’ran by the fool are falling into the trap of acceptance of a militant religion – the Q’ran is the true word of God only to those who take it so. It can also be the metaphorical word, as the Bible/Torah are taken by most, and it is about time that the Muslim community stood up and took a stand on that

If there is a God I doubt that the creator of the universe would sweat the details of beards, kosher food, or the day of worship. Such an omnipotent being would have a pride in the development of His creations – as long as they respected his other creations.

Best, Jon

The use of “torture”

The definition of torture is a matter for argument. At one extreme some call anything that makes one uncomfortable, or in fear, to be torture. At the other extreme it is defined as the permanent disabling with extreme pain. Let us assume the former, for the sake of discussion. That would make the playing of loud rock music outside Noriega’s compound torture (and I might agree, being a musician). BTW, that is the proper definition of “begging the question”. It means allowing a proposition one may not agree with for the sake of the argument – not ducking the question.

The FBI, and other criminal investigation agencies, have shown studies that indicate that “coerced interrogation” does not get reliable information. The CIA has had success with extreme methods, as shown in the tracking down of UBL.The problem is that we are dealing with apples and oranges. The criminal investigation agency is looking for evidence that can be presented in court. Even if we didn’t have the Constitutional prohibition of self incrimination, and the requirement for due process, there would be the “Inquisition problem”. The subject may say anything to stop the torture, the evidence is faulty.

On the other hand, the CIA, and other agencies involved in the protection of the US from ongoing war, or whatever one wants to call it, don’t have the need for accurate information. They need bits and pieces that they can then verify by other means. They aren’t looking to convict a criminal, they are looking to prevent further attacks. They aren’t going to send in the troops on the “confessions” of one who is interrogated – they are going to spend a lot of time connecting the dots from various sources.

I am in full sympathy with Senator McCain’s view that torture is not effective – he went through it. But he was being tortured for propaganda and political reasons – as a POW military pilot he could have no information that the Vietnamese could use to counter the US prosecution of that war. The torture was a gratuitous attempt to break him and make him an instrument of propaganda. But the same doesn’t apply in an asymmetrical war where the enemy is an amorphous entity, and the captive individual may have bits and pieces of information that can lead to the core of that entity. (Note that I’m careful to use general terms, I’m not waffling – I’m trying to avoid the current situation’s terms on purpose).

There is a moral question involved, and I accept that. “We don’t use torture, it is against our principles”. And Wilson’s Secretary of State said we wouldn’t spy – “gentlemen don’t read other people’s mail”. The valid purpose of saving lives, and particularly the lives of our fellow countrymen, should be a higher morality than the prohibition of torture.

Having said that, I’ll say that I’m against torture for any purpose. I now come back to the original premise as to the definition of torture. The rack, the Iron Maiden, the auto de fe, the pulling of fingernails. Those are torture as they inflict extreme pain as well as permanent damage. But the “enhanced methods” of interrogation – water boarding, sleep deprivation, and other such – are designed to be temporary, and to inflict fear of further methods. The interrogation is normally done later, when the subject has had time to absorb the treatment. It is an effort to weaken resolve, not to get any invented “confession” to stop the pain. The Inquisition was a primary example of the latter, say anything to be allowed to die and stop the torture.

And that is where the apples and oranges lie. One approach is to get good information that may be used as evidence – the other is to get leads that can be checked out and compared with other leads. One is to convict a criminal, or to find his associates in a crime that has already been committed – the other is to gain information that may help in preventing an act of war, or terrorism. The latter should only be used with the authorization of the heirarchy of command, up to the CinC. It should be used carefully, and with review.

Best, Jon