Thoughts on Indiana’s “balanced budget” amendment

Another Reddit thread turned blog post, as someone asked how to think about Indiana’s proposed “balanced budget” amendment. You’ll be asked about it on your ballot and it’s not getting much attention. I agree with most commentators that it will likely pass because it sounds good and smart. But here’s my thought process in the context of the Reddit thread:

Libertarians like reigning in government, setting strong limits, and keeping the fiscal house in order. This amendment checks all the boxes.

Libertarians (and I suspect most people) also like smart, efficient government (or at least the idea of it) and treating constitutions like well-respected, protected texts. That doesn’t mean they can’t change, but the spirit of them from history is worth recognizing.

That said, Indiana already has debt-guidance in the 1851 Constitution. Like many states, our Internal Mammoth Improvements Act (mostly canals) bankrupted the state when the economy crashed.

We defaulted on payments in the late 1840s, raised taxes by as much as 3x or more, slashed services, and had no money except to pay interest. Come 1851 our forefathers said, “Never again”. They wrote in rules about how debt was to be used by the State. Some exceptions were to repel rebellion and invasion, for instance. General debt to float a shortfall or two was allowed, so long as it was temporary and we felt secure in knowing we could pay it based on revenues.

That is the sticking point House and Senate R’s today have latched on to. Nothing in the 1851 Constitution says the budget has to be balanced. It just says we have to be smarter about debt. R’s are right in saying the only thing that’s balanced our budgets is our current desire to always do so.

So now I ask: what is the worst case scenario with this new amendment? Really worst case: another civil war where slightly less than 2/3 of the House and Senate don’t agree that it’s a rebellion, we have no money, and we can’t repel the invaders. In other words, the South rises again, a bunch of our legislators think it’s fine and are sympathetic, and this amendment fails to garner the 2/3 Supermajority vote to do anything about it.

What is a more likely worst-case scenario? Another depression or recession where state projects and services are cut. Democrats fear this and say we should go into a bunch of debt for it, but they seem to forget states, unlike the feds, can’t just print money. We’re already bound by the limits of monetary reality anyway.

But we just had a recession, and many others before that, and came out fine. The 1851 language has worked for us for 150 years. Amending it for political points, which is what this seems like, seems unnecessary. And for that reason, I’m voting “no”. The Constitution isn’t a cocktail napkin you just get to add political buzzwords to so you feel better. Fiscal responsibility comes from making hard decisions and leadership, not forced amendments that may or may not come back to bite us in the ass in 100 years.

We already have limits on debt that have worked. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Also for what it’s worth, I don’t like the idea of requiring “supermajorities” for things. That’s not the spirit of democracy. Thomas Jefferson didn’t run around requiring 2/3 of the Continental Congress to establish Independence. Lincoln didn’t run around Congress vying for 2/3 of the votes to free the slaves.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter

Confederate States: the original idiocracy

There’s this belief among some people that southern states wishing to secede from the United States in the Civil War were acting not because of slavery, but because of “states rights”. I saw this the other day in a Facebook thread.

I never gave it much thought until I watched Mississippi Burning and thought to look up the succession declarations of southern states. Here are two declarations of why Mississippi and Texas voted to secede (emphasis mine).

Mississippi:

It [The U.S.] has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.

It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.

It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.

It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.

Texas:

They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition.

They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.

They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding State.

And, finally, by the combined sectional vote of the seventeen non-slave-holding States, they have elected as president and vice-president of the whole confederacy two men whose chief claims to such high positions are their approval of these long continued wrongs, and their pledges to continue them to the final consummation of these schemes for the ruin of the slave-holding States.

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.

State sovereignty is a sugar coating for treason. Southern states did not like the supreme law of the land binding on their states, and specifically their economies.

Yet in an idiotic twist, the Confederate Constitution they ratified all but denied the right of succession. Claims that a state could secede and “do so peacefully” were vague and thrown out. States feared a state might borrow a bunch of federal money then secede and never pay it back.

Further still, southern states took most provisions from the US Constitution en bloc that represented a denial of states rights. Under the Confederate Constitution, no state could, for instance, enter into an alliance, make a treaty, or coin money. John Nicolay wrote years later that the Confederate Constitution, “…represented a sweeping practical negation of the whole heretical dogma of supremacy upon which they had built their revolt.” 

Next time someone fluffs this “state’s rights” line, ask them how they square up Texas’ declared reasons for leaving and joining a worse union.

Local news and mastery of the press

When people ask me what Twitter is for I always say, “Twitter is great for following individual reporters, not just the publication they work for.” I’m reminded of this as these local reporters are telling people they need to pay for local news.

I agree people should pay for local news and anything else they consume. But like any rational person, I’m only interested in paying for a product that meets my needs. If I wanted to pay for the promise of something, I’d visit Kickstarter.

With local news we have options between the Indy Star, the Indianapolis Business Journal, Indy Monthly, Nuvo, four local TV stations, WFYI, and probably more I’m forgetting.

I have significant problems with all of them.

Television news is terrible and designed for the least common denominator. I don’t care what random people on the street think about something they’ve never thought about. I don’t care about the crime and fire stories because there are always gangs fighting over drugs and buildings catching on fire. A cursory glance at FOX59.com right now shows 28 stories. Nine of them are stock photos of IMPD cruisers or police tape and are about crime. One is about potato chips, one about pie, one about grilled cheese, a state police lip sync video, the death of two children, four about the Colts, and a couple business stories.

The Indy Star isn’t much better. More about Colts, the VMAs, a crappy pizza place in Carmel opining about road construction, something about a guy named Adam Driver who I’ve never heard of talking about the KKK, and more still about the Colts and IU sports.

Nuvo focuses on a niche I don’t care about — local music and arts isn’t something I care to read much about. But they have their audience and seem to do well. Indy Monthly has great pieces from time to time, but appears more as a place for foodies, wine lovers, and the sort. That’s fine, but I don’t live to eat all the time.

I’m guessing these outlets have viewership data that tells them crime n’ grime sells. That anything with Colts attached gets clicks.

I can’t justify paying for that. You are selling a product I do not care about.

What I care about is rare. A legitimate news story about corruption in the City-County Building, the Mayor’s race, and sharp reporting on what large organizations around Central Indiana are doing.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want more smart coverage that shows a mastery of a segment of news. But that costs money, and without it, I get less. I hear that argument. But publications like the Star seem to relish the endless sports coverage and junk like random pizza joints closing in Carmel because they have their reporters chasing stories for the sake of stories at times when there just is no news.

The Star’s coverage on USA Gymnastics is stellar investigative reporting. But if I pay for all the Colts and Carmel fluff, I’m never guaranteed the Star will put the money into more USA Gymnastics stories. It’s like going to a restaurant where it’s sometimes good, sometimes terrible. Eventually, you stop going altogether.

As the election rolls around, there’s almost no coverage of township races or school board races. Something else I’m sure outlets have viewership data on that says no one reads those stories. Or, they’re so hyper-local and resource-intensive they can’t be produced no matter how much we pay. In things like school board action, we’re almost at the mercy of local bloggers.

The IBJ for its part demonstrates mastery of a segment of news by focussing on matters of importance to business. I think the sustainability and mastery of a news cycle that comes with that focus is in their favor. WFYI’s partnership with Chalkbeat is a good example on the education coverage front. More news outlets would do well to devote their attention to specific areas.

 

Can I take 3 minutes to convert your political beliefs?

The Indiana Republican Party is holding their convention this weekend. There is a debate about whether to remove marriage being defined as a man-and-a-woman in their official platform. Last night, the report came that Speaker of the House Brian Bosma is against it. Governor Holcomb dodged it and refused to form an opinion. It’s up to the delegates, and I have no idea how they’ll vote.

But as they’re voting, literally a half mile up the street Indiana’s largest gay Pride parade and festival will be marching along.

I’ve written about Pride before. To recap: I don’t quite understand it, and I’m still not convinced it helps win over the hearts and minds of the people that have hearts and minds that need reaching. But people have fun, it does no harm to me, and best I can tell it doesn’t cost a bunch of money from public funds (parking revenue losses may be a wash with other parking revenue elsewhere, and police presence may be a regular shift of officers. I don’t know.)

I know a lot of gay people. I know a lot of Republicans. And I know a lot of Democrats. I know two gay Republicans. I know that Republicans get booed, with few small exceptions (like former Mayor Greg Ballard), and most of the people there are firmly in support of the Democrats. It’s not hard to imagine why.

But this does not align with reality. We know that about half of the population has to be conservatively-minded and half are progressive and liberal. It’s been this way forever. So how can you have that many thousands of diverse individuals at Pride and not have more than half a dozen people in favor of a narrowly defined government, cost savings, and personal freedoms?

You can’t. At least a third of the people there have some conservative ideals.

Over the years I have shifted between political parties, often voting fiercely independent in each election. But this does no one any favors because it still rewards bad behavior. There’s one party that is so hung up by civil liberties and personal freedoms they can’t help be renege on their own platform and deny them to people. This is idiotic and hypocritical.

But for the millions of gay men and women looking for a party, the Democrats are “the least bad choice” in most but not all circumstances around their personal freedoms. But what if you think charter schools might be worth looking at? What if you don’t think a government program is a solution to a problem? This is no way to live. This is no way to run a country or a state. Because then you’re tied to the baggage of the rest of the platform.

If you’re reading this and nodding slightly in agreement — regardless of our sexual orientation — consider if the Libertarian Party isn’t exactly who you are. Consider that maybe people should be free to do with their bodies as they wish, love who they choose, take part in safe, lawful events as they choose, and also we can do things in this country without it being a government program. That maybe there are some cost savings yet to be found in a few places. That maybe some government programs do more harm than good. Perhaps the solution to not every problem is an increase in taxes, but a re-alignment of taxes. That the best way to honor our veterans is to avoid sending them to more wars. And that maybe, just maybe, adults are free agents capable of deciding what’s best for them in every circumstance of their own lives. Perhaps a policy of “do no harm” is ideal.

A lot of this used to be the Republican Party, which does not seem to exist anymore. Someone once told me the reason they don’t vote Libertarian is because “Libertarians don’t win”. Well, you know what changes that, right?

Thoughts on the SCOTUS “gay cake” decision

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the Colorado bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. The headlines on this are terrible because people conflate “SCOTUS rules narrowly” with a 5-4 decision. In fact, it was 7-2. The “narrow” decision derives from the mere declaration this ruling decided just this case, mostly punished the Colorado agency that administered too unfairly, and doesn’t have much impact on other cases going forward.

That said, this is a good ruling. I know my gay and lesbian friends see this as a “loss” but that’s looking at this through the same partisan team mentality we decry every other day. For you to win it doesn’t always mean the other team has to “lose”.

Guys, it’s a cake. It is not an unreasonable request. It’s not like it was water service or electricity or a life-saving heart surgery. It’s a cake.

It is not unreasonable to ask for a cake. It is not unreasonable for someone to decide they don’t like you. It is not unreasonable for you to decide you don’t like them. It’s not unreasonable for you to decide not to hire them or for them to serve you. It’s not even unreasonable for you to tell your friends about it and for them to tell their friends about it. In fact, that’s all that should have ever happened.

But it went to court, as is their right to do, and it went to court again and again.

Guys, it’s a cake.

You can ask for a cake, be declined, and go somewhere else. I can’t even get a plumber to respond to several requests over the last two weeks and they don’t know anything about me or my life. They just straight up don’t respond. So I try someplace else until someone does respond. This only becomes a problem if the issue is so systemic and ingrained people can’t get access to vital services or trivial ones. Yes, we have had that problem in the past. But this was not that problem and courts can only solve the problem presented directly to them.

This is an okay decision. It means the government has no precedent to force someone to do something for someone they don’t like. You may argue that we should just criminalize bad thoughts, but this cuts both ways. If a gay woman didn’t want to bake a cake for a guy with a swastika on his forehead, she could still decline to do that. And the swastika guy can screw off somewhere else until he finds a Nazi baker.

And you know what — maybe if you tell your friends and all your friends agree, the business will suffer. And maybe it’ll go away like another restaurant people got up in arms about. Because unlike government mandates, businesses can go away.

This is a good thing.