Advocatus Diaboli – If you hear me mumbling / Just be happy!

Mr Rogers gives advice on bad things and good helpers

I admit to being a busybody at times. One of my Facebook accounts exists just so that I can meet outrageous (and occasionally some sane) people so that differing perspectives are always coming my way.

Embrace the opposing logic to make your own stronger … or so my theory goes. Argue multiple sides of an issue and discover your own weakness in the process.

Along the way I have become a bit cynical. My great discovery is that many, maybe most, people are not really all that interested in the facts. Yes, even I split hairs with some facts … yet since I am being the judge here let me restate my point as simply: a great many people do not actually know why they believe what they believe.

How can we make a meaningful difference if our lives are not focused on resolving differences — rather than trying to ensure that one point-of-view comes to dominate another?

So along the way I have adopted the modus operandi of being an Advocatus Diaboli, a Devil’s Advocate. It has become so much of my persona that at times I debate myself. Really. So if you hear me mumbling in public it will be because the internal debate has escalated and thought alone is insufficient to express what I am thinking.

The secret to success for being a cynical optimist or Advocatus Diaboli, and not losing your mind in the process, is to constantly believe that someone somewhere exists to help make good happen. Expect bad. Seek good.

xx

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Veterans, the 1% COLA cut, longterm impact – Yes, we have a problem

If you are a military veteran under the age of 62 you undoubtedly believe that the recent congressional budget accord reached by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and approved overwhelmingly by the House is a really, incredibly bad deal.

Part of the deal is funded by realigning the pension plans of almost every federal recipient with a pension under the age of 62.

Mea Culpa: I criticized the reaction of some veterans groups which played up the cuts as if military veterans were getting gored and carrying the budget debt burden almost on their own — certainly there was no mention of the more significant impacts on other parts of the federal government. I also criticized the huge numbers being thrown out and challenged them to do the math. I want to admit that my own math had issues. The math of the veterans groups is essentially correct, albeit without some important context provided to their audience.

Math, Options and the Need for Balancing the Federal Books

I am one of those veterans that will take cuts to my retired paycheck.

Veteran Group Math: My challenge to veterans groups is that I wanted to see the math. A conversation broke out and an interactive spreadsheet (Excel required) was sent to me that shows how the math worked. If you are a veteran you can enter your current monthly retirement pay in the green spreadsheet cell, press your return key, and a calculation across 24 years will automatically be done. The spreadsheet assumes that COLA/CPI increases an average of 2.5% each year.

My Math: Actual COLA/CPI can shift radically from year to year as economic conditions change. I tested the 2.5% average COLA, adjusted it down to 1.5% average per year (the new REDUX solution by Ryan/Murray), and contrasted it against historical COLA/CPI rates for the last 22 years — which is the time period that Ryan/Murray used to achieve their numbers.

I provide my math as a PDF spreadsheet that lets you see all the numbers together on one page. My example retiree is an E-7 with 20 years of service.

Short version of the results:

  • Using 2.5% as an average annual baseline COLA/CPI rate tracks relatively well with the results of using actual COLA/CPI rates across time.
  • Due to the magic of compounding interest, even at 1% of the annual COLA/CPI rate, there are significant longterm impacts on the veteran retiree paychecks.
  • An E-7 with 20 years of services would take home approximately $7,070 less per year by my calculation in their 22nd retirement year, and $10,750 per the 2.5% average COLA/CPI calculation.

Over 22 years the example E-7 will lose enough money to put several kids through a state university plus probably buy a new car. That is a significant impact.

Unhappy? Sure. However, if we want this fixed then we need to offer up some options.

We need folks to step forward and to do more than just decry cuts to their pensions and to their programs. We need a bigger conversation about federal funding of budgets, programs and promises.

If we want our pay restored then we need to do more than to focus on ‘me’. We need options and solutions that address how the federal government itself is funded.

Yes, military retirees were asked to give up 1% of their annual COLA/CPI adjustment — which is what their annual pay increase is based upon, and not based upon the pay raise given to the active military.

However, MANY federal employees are being asked to now pay an additional 4.4% of their full pay into their pension fund — which is the equivalent of the military being asked to pay 8.8% instead of just 1% of COLA/CPI.

I do not want to be an apologist for what is a hurtful policy. Yet our nation is facing an unparalleled financial challenge and as long as a majority of Americans and/or their congressional representatives refuse to raise taxes to pay our nation’s debts and promises then the only other alternative is to make cuts.

Veterans have powerful lobbyists working in their behalf. The cuts do not go into effect until 2015. We have time yet to achieve some different outcome. Yet every other group that also got hit will also be scrambling to get their cuts fixed too. If veterans and veterans groups want an equitable outcome then we need to offer up options and to put those options on the table. One of the reasons that we are in our situation is that we want without also wanting to pay for the benefits.

Brainstorming Time

We need to be creative. Every problem needs a solution, a menu of options. We, and veterans groups and all special interest groups, need to do more than just decry hurtful decisions. We/they need to step forward and to also offer policy options.

I look forward to hearing your options proposals. I will cheerfully help get out the word and work for change.

Please keep in mind that they cuts were based upon each of the 12 federal budgets taking cuts in proportion to their size within the overall federal funding schema. So to restore military veteran pay the BIG QUESTION remains: are you asking that Americans pay higher taxes, OR what military programs would you cut, OR what military efficiencies would you demand to pay for restoring the cuts?

The cuts were balanced proportionately. It will not work to in these challenging times to demand that the others that took cuts also give up more to pay for restoring our cuts without their concerns also being remedied.

Best regards,
Bill G.
WGolden@Bill4Dogcatcher.com

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Would Someone Just Shut The Pope Up?

Would Someone Just Shut That Pope Up?

Some on the political right are going absolutely nuts over Catholicism’s new pope, Pope Francis.

Rush Limbaugh has labeled him a Marxist and numerous rightwing conservatives want the pope to stick to moral and spiritual issues rather than discuss economic challenges of the common man, which he supposedly knows nothing about — it seems that the pope has limited infallibility powers, although Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was heavy on economics: not an economic prescription but clear recognition that there are those that have and do not work to benefit those with little, and those that are without much more than their soul through the length of their lives.

Pope Francis biography

Yet, not all American conservatives are going bonkers. The American Conservative just published a piece that takes a balanced look at what the pope has actually said and tried to consider his words in context, which is rare in almost any discussion of policy these days.

From the opening paragraphs of The American Conservative‘s story Would Someone Just Shut That Pope Up?

Since the release of Evangelii Gaudium there have been countless articles and commentary about the economic portions of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation. Some of the commentary has been downright bizarre, such as Rush Limbaugh denouncing the Pope as a Marxist, or Stuart Varney accusing Francis of being a neo-socialist. American conservatives grumbled but dutifully denounced a distorting media when Pope Francis seemed to go wobbly on homosexuality, but his criticisms of capitalism have crossed the line, and we now see the Pope being criticized and even denounced from nearly every rightward-leaning media pulpit in the land.

Not far below the surface of many of these critiques one hears the following refrain: why can’t the Pope just go back to talking about abortion? Why can’t we return the good old days of Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI and talk 24/7/365 about sex? Why doesn’t Francis have the decency to limit himself to talking about Jesus and gays, while avoiding the rudeness of discussing economics in mixed company, an issue about which he has no expertise or competence?

Pope Francis has done much more than just talk, the pope has made some early substantial changes both in how the church interacts with people (moving homeless centers to where the homeless are) and in how the pope personally presents himself to the public (less bling, more humility, less judgement and more embracing of people as having challenges).

Reality is that Pope Francis is not trying to prescribe economic policies. He is acknowedging that our economic lives have gone a bit of whack. Those that have seem to have much more than they did just a few years ago, and those without seem to have less. This varies based upon locale. In many areas of the world where 25-50% of work-age adults have no jobs then the pope’s message is bound to ring true. Within the USA, with its widespread affluent society, the message will seem quixotic to many as we live life in our zoned affluent neighborhoods and do not have to live with those that fall from economic grace — because when they do they move out and disappear.

Below are some ways that Pope Francis is working to portray himself as a pope of the people:

1. Uses a wooden chair instead of a golden throne.
2. Does not wear the gold-embroidered red stole.
3. Wears his old black shoes instead of the classic Prada red slippers.
4. Wears a metal cross instead of the one with rubies and diamonds.
5. His papal ring is silver, not gold — and he reused a prior design. Tradition is that each pope have a unique design created for their reign.
6. Wears black pants under the cassock, same as he wore when a common priest.
7. Had the red carpet removed.

 

Pope Francis - how he is different

Pope Francis – how he is different in personal style from his predecessors.


Note: I am not a Roman Catholic. As a Unitarian we are taught to investigate and to honor the best of thought and philosophy offered by all of the world’s religious traditions and teaching. Pope Francis seems to be off to a good start on getting a conversation going about where our society is and where it is going. In my personal belief, all actions undertaken in our lives are economic actions no matter how trivial or whether an exchange of money is involved. Economics involves the making of moral decisions, whether that is our intent or not. I look forward to hearing more from Pope Francis. Actions are more important than words.

Bill Golden
aka Bill4DogCatcher

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Nelson Mandela and flying the U.S. Flag at half-staff

Nelson Mandela and flying the U.S. Flag at half-staff

There has been some grousing that President Obama has order the U.S. flag to fly at half-staff in honor of South African President Mandela’s passing.

“The president may order the flag to be flown at half-staff to mark the death of other officials, former officials, or foreign dignitaries. In addition to these occasions, the president may order half-staff display of the flag after other tragic events.”

– U.S. Flag Code, para 3.

Twice before has a president directed the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff for a foreign dignitary.

President George W. Bush ordered flags to fly at half-staff at the passing of Pope John Paul II in 2005, and President Lyndon Johnson bestowed the honor in recognition of the passing of Winston Churchill in 1965.

American flag at half mast

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Nelson Mandela the Terrorist?

Nelson Mandela the Terrorist?

Nelson Mandela - 1990 South Africa
Nelson Mandela – 1990, South Africa

Not all of what has been written since President Mandela’s death has been about the good that came from his life. There are those that prefer to focus on why he went to prison in the first place: armed terrorism … or was he a freedom fighter? =^)

My buddy Lou D’Abbraccio gave an eloquent perspective on this and the plight of black South Africans:

“… would the country have agreed to the changes necessary to address past injustice without the threat, or the reality, of violence? That question will go unanswered; Were I in his position, I might have embraced the same tactics if that is what it took to bring about change. If he had persisted in those tactics after de Klerk ended apartheid, he would have been like any other post-colonial thug. What made Mandela different, and worthy of praise, is that when he rose to power, he did reject those tactics, and pursued reconciliation over retribution. He could have been Mugabe – but he wasn’t. In his moment, he chose to be a statesman. It doesn’t excuse the rest, no – but it is worthy of praise nonetheless.”

Well said, Lou.

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U.S. Appropriations Committee Republicans Urge 2-year U.S. Budget Deal

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers and 12 other Republicans on the panel have called on budget negotiators to agree to spending levels for two years by Dec. 2 so Congress will be able to pass annual spending bills and avoid another government shutdown. The lawmakers warned in a letter that if an agreement on spending caps is not reached, it could result in another shutdown. In the letter, to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, they wrote, "If a timely agreement is not reached, the likely alternatives could have extremely damaging repercussions."

Bill4DogCatcher sez: Yes, this would be a brilliant idea in many ways. It would move the budget wars beyond the 2014 elections, letting us focus on running government, and it would give us a better budget tool for stable funding of federal programs. We should consider going permanently to a two year budget cycle, with the funding cycle falling on odd years so that we keep this part of government out of the hair-on-fire election years.

FULL STORY U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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Three Rules of Living a Public Life

Three Rules of Living a Public Life

Rule #1: Never, ever admit that you are wrong. It makes you look weak.

Rule #2: Gently flipflop if you have to admit you possibly were factually challenged. Attack the other side as having misled and then say that honest people can reach different conclusions … and if that doesn’t work:

Rule #3: See Rule #1.

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Evolution – in search of a bumper sticker with meaning

Advocatus diaboli is my calling.

A good devil’s advocate challenges everything, even their own beliefs.

Over the last several years I have clung to the adjective conservative as somehow defining the whole me. Once upon a time it did describe me.

Once upon a time does not last forever. Am dropping the word ‘conservative’ as describing my general philosophy on life.

Classic liberalism is often associated with being conservative. Once upon a time I thought so too. They are not the same. I am not sure when and where they diverged. The classic liberal view still appeals to me but I find the appellation of conservative as something very negative and inflexible.

I see too many conservatives, as well as liberals, as being unwilling and possibly incapable of playing well with the other children on the playground. You do not always get what you want. Conservatism and its cousin Liberalism have both become capable of turning on its own quickly over any infraction of orthodoxy — although orthodoxy as a functioning concept in the modern liberal realm may best be described as cooperative chaos when it comes to decisionmaking.

I strive to be an independent observer of American/World/Local politics, economics and trends. I want to know why. I want to see the data. I strongly dislike people and movements that hide behind talking points.

My nature is pragmatism and centrist. Am a social liberal but a fiscal conservative. I guess that makes me a ‘a pragmatic libertarian’ … a classic liberal. Coexist. The 80% solution is usually a pretty good deal.

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Zenfully solving problems

Half of all problems can be ignored and they will turn out all right. Somehow magic will happen.

The other half of the problems we will just make them worse by trying to fix them. If you don’t have a good solution then don’t muck with it.

The important thing is to focus on just a few things which make a real difference and let everything else work itself out.

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Equal Marriage Rights – My View

Equal Marriage Rights

Suddenly lots of folks have discovered that maybe government should get out of sanctioning marriage — except they don’t really mean it.

>>> Example: Some would argue that rather than allow marriage among gays that the government just get out of the marriage business altogether and allow traditional marriage to be between a man and woman — but outside of government definition. This newfound solution to a modern problem sounds good but really it just sidesteps the larger implication of ‘what is marriage’.

‘Marriage’ is about economics and property rights more often than love and just wanting to live life with someone.

We could probably solve this quickly if government really did decide that ‘marriage’ happened between two people and was none of the government’s business … and if everyone that wanted to claim benefits and/or property rights filed for ‘civil union’ status then we could fix this quickly … whether man-woman, man-man, or woman-woman.

=========

Am straight, married and with two kids. I admit to not understanding the attraction to the same sex … but I also accept that it happens for other folks and it is normal for them. It would be nice if the Supreme Court redefined ‘marriage’ as meaning ‘civil union’ and we march on …

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