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October - December 2012

Ode to a Second Term

Begging, Inc. or LLC?


Sunday, December 30, 2012

   Ode to a Second Term -  The flurry of activity this fall, a bout of bronchitis and an unusually heavy harvest of tomatoes and hot peppers (the latter of which require time to turn into jelly) have left me unable to adequately keep up with my blog, but finally I can do so.

     The race for the presidency was, of course, the issue of the year.  Before election day I was asked to participate in a post-election panel discussion, basically to provide a debrief type of commentary.  I was asked to provide some economic content in what would otherwise be an exercise in political perspectives.  [There were six panelists - four professors and two students.]  My economic analysis was pretty straight-forward - we're in big trouble and it didn't matter who was elected.

     Then, I took the liberty of offering up some political commentary, making the following observations:

It's hard to beat an incumbent.  While I think there was great hope that Romney could win (including my own overoptimistic prognostication), a cursory look at elections since WWII shows how hard it is to beat a sitting president.  It has only happened twice - to Jimmy Carter and to George H. W. Bush.  And, both had one common feature - a strong challenger other than the winning opponent (i.e., other than Reagan and Clinton).  In 1980, Carter faced Ted Kennedy in the primaries, which is almost unheard of for an incumbent.  Indeed, Kennedy didn't give up his quest to usurp Carter until the Democratic Convention!  In 1992, H. Ross Perot mounted a very strong third party effort which I am quite sure took away more votes from Bush than from Clinton.  Perot took almost 19% of the popular vote (and, much less in 1996).  Incumbents may look vulnerable (e.g., Truman and the second Bush), but without a strong third challenger, it is hard to beat them.

Second terms are problematic.  Incumbents that win a second term seem to be especially cursed.  Except for Eisenhower, you'd be hard pressed to find a successful second term in the bunch (besides Ike, they are Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush).  Every other one had impeachment hearings against them in the House of Representatives - Nixon and Clinton.  President Reagan suffered greatly from the Iran-Contra scandal, but avoided impeachment.  President Bush was the most "successful" of the bunch, but he started his second term with a bold proposal to privatize Social Security, which went nowhere, and he lost Republican control of both houses of Congress during the next mid-term election.

If you like Obama, celebrate now.  I don't think history will be any kinder to Obama then it has been to earlier presidents.  The "Fast and Furious" scandal has yet to fully play out.  The debacle in Benghazi can, I believe, lead to impeachment hearings (especially since Republicans still control the House of Representatives).  There still may be fall out from the many failed loans to so-called "green" businesses.  And, the fiscal cliff problems, which could lead to another recession, would seal the deal.  Even if the fiscal cliff is avoided, the debt issue is so enormous that I think it will continue to gnaw at the reputation of Obama's tenure.

     The panel discussion was interesting.  The other profs were all left-leaning, and as the time passed, they tended to wear their opinions on their sleeves and our interactions got more ... lively.  The two student reps, leaders of the campus Dems and GOP, were probably less strident than the rest of us! 

Monday, December 31, 2012

   Begging, Inc. or LLC? -  I traveled to Denver for the Christmas holiday and had a few experiences with beggars that I thought worth commenting on.  The first was a guy trying to bum some gas off me at the Love's station in Gallup, NM.  This is the third time I have encountered such a scam, for it cannot be anything else.  He had a story, kind of convoluted and, I think, too well rehearsed.  He lost his wallet, needed gas to go back down the road to find it, blah, blah, blah.  I politely listened and then said no.  The ploy seems to me outdated.  Who could possibly believe any such nonsense?  Now, if someone had lost their wallet, and, say, their phone, and wanted me to call up their mother, brother, friend, then I'd be inclined to think about helping them.  But, the plea for gas money is just pure theater.  More on this later.

     Then, while in Denver, I was visiting up in Boulder, which is the preeminent "college town."  Up and down the main mall there were people panhandling for "bus money," or "lunch money," or just plain "help."  The temperature was in the mid 20s, and I thought that this must just be their jobs.  Otherwise, who in their right mind would be out on such a cold day?  And, I remarked to my brother-in-law, it must earn a decent return.  Could any of these people be in real need?  I absolutely think not.

     Now, that is not to say that I haven't seen people that are homeless and in somewhat dire straits.  I've seen them here in Flagstaff.  But, their situation is not without recourse.  There is public (ugh) and private (yeah) assistance available to these people.  They choose not to seek it out, or accept it, or whatever.  [Indeed, here in Flagstaff we have the unbelievable rationale that public assistance needs to be provided not because the private assistance is insufficient, but because it's too religiously-oriented.  Bleech.]

     And, while in downtown Denver for dinner a couple of nights later, there were still beggars trolling the streets.  Some people call them transients.  I think Greg Gutfeld prefers to call them "hobos," but I think that seems too dignified.  They are more like parasites.  And I mean that in a bad way.  They not only feed off the productive members of our society, they feed off of the good will that people have.  Helping one of these beggars probably means someone who really needs help doesn't get our time and attention (and money).  I see them here in Flagstaff, especially in the summer.  Funny how they manage to travel here during the pleasant season.

     Back to the guy in New Mexico.  So, I'm coming back to Flagstaff exactly a week later.  And, I stop for gas at the Pilot station about ten miles east of Gallup.  While I'm filling up, a guy drives by trying to bum some gas off me.  It was the same guy!!!!  I knew it was a business!  He probably lives in the area and I can't help but wonder if he doesn't get away without buying any gas all year long.  Alms for a poor ex-leper?

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