Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Guilt By Association?

One of the fundamental differences between eighteenth century European Law and American Law is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Bush administration has fought continuously over the last seven years to erode this fundamental right.

The Bush crew has used fear to gradually work the American public into accepting the idea that the government knows better who is guilty and who is innocent. You would think that people on the right who fear that the government might take their weapons away would also fear this new threat. However, the conservatives’ self-righteousness has been able mask this fear. Conservatives tell themselves that they are above the law because they are good patriotic Americans. Obviously they should not fear that a government might choose to arrest them and hold them indefinitely.

Progressives know this fear a bit more personally. This is because progressives and conservatives don’t always show their opposition to the government in the same way. Progressives most notably tend to gather great numbers of people to stand outside events where the opposition is gathering. Progressives like Amy Goodman who is a reporter for a “real” left wing media program “Democracy Now - The War and Peace Report” have experienced guilt by association directly. She was reporting at the Republican convention during August when she had heard that her producers were beaten and arrested. She promptly dropped everything and ran to the site of the protests where her producers were arrested and she was manhandled and thrown into jail with some of the protesters. She was with the protesters, therefore she must be one was the attitude of the police. This was a sad day in American history, and it got very little coverage in the mainstream media. How liberal is this media?

Any American from the left or right should shudder at the telling of this story. Eventually she was freed and not considered a terrorist. That may have been because she was palling around with liberal protesters and not a former 1960’s radical. Obviously there is some standard for this guilt by association that I really don’t understand. Are you guilty if you aid and abet a person who bombs abortion clinics, the Atlanta Olympics and then hide in the woods for a number of years? Are you guilty if you meet with a man that had been found guilty of a felony, served his time, changed his life and has become a force for good in his community? In the first case many pro-life supporters helped a wanted fugitive hide from the authorities while in the second case people are urged to question a presidential candidate’s ulterior motives.

Guilt by association works both ways so it makes sense that this form of slander should not be assumed to only work against your enemy. If we also consider the six degrees of separation that suggests that we are separated by as few as six contacts from any person in the country or perhaps the world we have a further need to worry about this dangerous concept of guilt by association. Where does it end? If someone you know has “palled around with terrorists” does that make them a terrorist by association. If they are a terrorist then doesn’t that make you one too?

In Biblical times guilt by association was one of the rules. People believed that they were punished directly for their sins. For example when we read about the man who was blind from birth Jesus is asked what sin he or his parents had committed. Isn’t this another form of guilt by association? Today’s Christians should remember that not only did Jesus heal this man, but he also pointed out that this man was not born blind as a punishment for either his sin or his parent’s sin.

And, what types of groups do we consider a danger to our national security? For example, a group that seeks secede portions of the country threatens the very makeup of our country. These groups exist around the country with various motivations and ideologies. Some of these groups lament the fall of the Confederacy and would like nothing better than for a new South to rise again. It would be hard to argue that a group that seeks to tear the fabric of the country apart would not be a terrorist group. After all, the main motivation behind this group is the destruction of the country, our country -- The USA.

A similar group exists in Alaska where a group would like to make Alaska an independent country. And interesting point here is that Sarah Palin, governor of the state of Alaska and current Republican Vice Presidential candidate has a husband that not only pals around with this group of secessionists but he is an active member. Perhaps we should not condemn Sarah Palin as a member of this group for merely associating with her husband. However, we should also consider the fact that Mrs. Palin does not just pal around with these people, but she also supports their cause as evidenced by her address to the secessionist party’s convention. Shouldn’t question Sarah Palin’s terrorist connections to these people?

The point of this diatribe today is to point out that it doesn’t matter if you talk to a liar, it does not make you a liar by association. If you share a meal with a thief as Jesus did, it does not make you a thief by association. If you have a business meeting with a former radical that has repented and served his punishment it does not make you a radical. The only way to prove that you are guilty of a crime is to prove it with the evidence -- Like a speech in front of radicals supporting their cause.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tough Times

When times get tough, the tough get going.

This truism might be just be right, or it might be another piece of dogma used to summon the unity of the people to work together. Either way, it would be nice to have one of leaders step up and tell us that we need to work together to solve this mess.

In reality I don’t worry about the value that I lost in the stocks I own or the house that I own. The value was based on arbitrary amounts of money that people were willing to spend to buy similar items. Actually the value was based on the arbitrary amount of money that banks were willing to lend to people who were willing to invest that money in bad mortgages that were used to fuel the economy on all of that borrowed money. People took this artificial value out of their houses to pay for vacations and home entertainment centers. The money fueled manufactures of automobiles and other big ticket items that people buy on credit. But in this world of buying everything on credit we still have the last shoe to fall -- the easy credit line of credit cards. As our credit markets get tighter the crisis won’t be over until we stop getting those damn credit card offers in the mail.

The value of the stocks of all of the companies on Earth have been based on the future earning of these companies. These companies could have huge future projections when all of those earnings were based on people running up their credit card debt into the thousands of dollars. Reality won’t strike home until banks begin to put realistic limits on the credit that they extend.

In tough times people behave in erratic ways. That might be part of what we see in John McCain’s erratic behavior as of late. But, just because some people behave in erratic ways it doesn’t mean that we want our leaders to behave that way. In fact the test of our great leaders is based on what they do in tough times, not what they do when times are easy. In tough times people act erratic and we need our leader to calm their nerves and get them to behave like civilized people. That is the difference between civilized behavior and stoking the flames of rebellion and revolution that leads us to the destruction of our civilization. When John McCain stokes the flames of his frustrated supporters at his rallies he is reacting to them and not being the leader that we need.

In tough times we need a calm and cool leader who is willing to look the problem over, consult with the experts and make the wise decisions. And, as far as I can tell that leader is Barack Obama.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Both Sides of the Greed Equation

I have written about greed before, and I am sure that I’ll write about it again. In capitalism the central motivation is the magic belief in self-interest.

I have been told by the loyalists on the right that greed is somehow magic. Greed drives the markets and those markets will be driven by greed to correct themselves. I have argued forever that greed AND information are needed for a market to work properly. However, disclosing information is often contrary to the greed incentive.

Let me try to illustrate this with a recent example. Suppose for a moment that you would like to upgrade your lifestyle and move into a bigger house. Normally this means that you would need to pay a higher price in order to move into that new house. However, when a real estate agent tells a potential buyer that one can afford this new house at a lower monthly payment (albeit temporary) one is easily persuaded into buying a house by using one of these sub-prime mortgages. Many of those tempted by these dangerous loans know about the adjustment of the mortgage interest rate -- but that’s three or five years down the road. When people are living month to month, how can they realistically think about three to five years down the road. And, perhaps they are even thinking: “What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll be kicked out of my house and I’ll either find a new low rate loan or I’ll go back to living in the apartment.” Greed in this respect is obviously encouraging people to get what they can for the moment and disregard any future consequences. In this case, most of the information about the consequences of the loan are right there for the home buyers to see, but the worst case scenario is a net gain. They buyers get to live in a nice house for a few years and then they are kicked out into their old situation when the interest rate jumps. The possibility of the house value falling is inconceivable and never mentioned. In this case greed encourages bad social behavior.

Conventional wisdom has it that one person’s greed is blunted by another person’s greed. If someone is trying get something for nothing they most likely have their hand in someone else’s pocket. That person should be motivated by greed to prevent that hand from removing any property. However, the principle of “time dilation” adds distortion to the picture. The problem is that greed also plays a role on this side of the relationship.

In a loan relationship the person loaning the money is expecting to receive additional money in the form of interest and fees in return for that loan. The motivation to loan money at a low interest rate comes in the form of a promise to get that higher interest rate some time later in the relationship. In other words, the initial rate is the bait used to lure in the prey that will pay higher rates over the majority of the life of the loan.

In this case the greed and patience of those who loan the money are believed to be rewarded when the interest rates readjust. However, those who make the loans are motivated by short-term greed to sell these loans and make the money up front, instead of waiting for the interest rate to adjust. Technically these loans are expected to be repaid -- but greed prevents the true risk of these loans from being communicated to the new owners of these loans. Without knowing the true risk one who purchases these loans can not assess the values and will often pay too much for the loans. If the information was there, then the purchasers would pay the proper price, or the loans may never had been made in the first place. The problem is the lack of information transmitted in these relationships.

This current crisis is only the most recent aberration in a system that has lost its moral compass when the regulators cease to regulate. Greed motivates industrial giants to have little disregard for the community around them. Greed motivates secrecy and deception when a troubled company is trying not to let the stockholders find out the truth -- the shareowners would jump ship and the stock price would plummet.

The point is greed is a force of self-interest, but we certainly know that self-interest is not always good for the community. Markets may be a mechanism that converts self-interest into community interest -- to some limited extent. But the markets do not automatically extend to making community life better, making the environment better, making health care better or even making our culture better. It is true that we work harder for our own self-interest. It is also true that fear of being caught breaking laws is often enough to modify anti-social behavior. But, there are people who have very little fear and they may take huge legal risks in dangerous market situations. And, this same lack of fear may also result in taking serious illegal risks as well. Without serious regulation these people will always take advantage of the system -- be it real or perceived.

On the other hand regulation sends a shiver of fear down the spine of most conservatives. They imagine regulations as the “know nothing” government setting out to “fix” the business of the country. It is quite obvious that a government bureaucracy can not do good things on the microscopic level where there are more exceptions than rules. But, government regulations do not have to dictate every action that business wants to take. Government regulations need to protect the honest business person from the dishonesty that greed temps in every person. Why should a businessman remain honest when he sees his fellow businessman rake in the cash because he disregarded the spirit of the law?

Regulations and the enforcement of those regulations are meant to keep the playing field even for all those who participate in the markets. Under that premise regulations and a free market can share the stage. The greed that drives these markets will still exist, but it will be tempered by regulations that will force legal creativity slightly less profit instead of the illegal creativity that allowed people to pillage the ignorant with loans that could not be afforded by those that were just as greedily seeking short term gains and ignoring the long term repercussions.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit